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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Stockholm Card

That's the Stockholm Card. I was a little bit apprehensive to get it at first because at 795 Swedish Crowns, it's really expensive, but it was really worth it. For our short trip, we wanted to cover as much ground as possible, and at the same time not spend too much time inside museums. Without much advance planning though, we just decided to visit the major sites, while being spontaneous along the way ("oh look, there's the Nobel Museum! let's go in!" "hey, that's the Spritmuseum, we can get in there for free").

Let's have a look at all the attractions we visited in three days and the figures:

Transportation costs & tours and entrance fees

  • 72 hour public transportation card - SEK 230
  • Historic Canal Tour - SEK 160
  • City Hall Tour - SEK 100
  • Drottningholm Palace - SEK 215 UNESCO World Heritage Site alert!
  • Storkyrkan - SEK 40
  • Nobel Museum - SEK 100
  • Nordic Museum - SEK 100
  • Vasa Museum - SEK 130
  • Spritmuseum - SEK 100
  • Skansen - SEK 150

TOTAL: SEK 1,325

Stockholm Card: SEK 795

Savings with the Stockholm Card: SEK 530

Verdict: WORTH IT!

Stockholm Card - worth it or not? appeared first on No Stopovers

Published in Sweden

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

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
    Accessories
  • 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

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.

SNACKS

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?

Sunblock

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!

The last time I paid a visit to Sin City was when I was 10 years old, approximately 13 years ago, to visit relatives. As one would guess, I wasn't able to partake in any wickedness the city is known for. I made up for that with my recent trip to Vegas.

I had covered the basics of Las Vegas in 2000; touring the Strip, seeing Sigfried & Roy's white tigers, going on the New York, New York roller coaster, taking in the light show on Fremont Street, and the like. This time around, yours truly got to see a whole lot more of Las Vegas. Unfortunately I can't share everything with you, (what happens there stays there, remember?) but will be happy to tell you my travels and tips!

Our hotel view-love those mountains!

 

 

My three-day trip first began when my boyfriend and I (whom I will refer to as 'S') got a good price on a hotel not too far from the strip. They had a great deal going on at check-in where for $50 dollars you could pick two tickets to a large variety of shows, plus get 2 free buffets and $50 worth of playing money at the Luxor. Sounds awesome, right!? Like any deal, it was mostly too good to be true, as we had to endure a 1.5 hour spiel about time shares. But, we got an additional free lunch out of the offer, and once the presentation was over we were on our way (and feeling pretty good we didn't cave and buy).

For the show, we chose Cirque du Soleil's Mystere. I had previously seen Saltimbanco and loved it, and wanted to add another Cirque show to my plate. Mystere was interesting, for lack of a better word. The acrobatics were amazing, but I was a little thrown off by the theme-and the adult baby that kept making an appearance throughout the show. Don't get me wrong, it was a great show, but I probably would not go see it again. After the show we decided to take a stroll down the Strip and use our gambling money at the Luxor. I had forgotten how much fun it is to see the hotels and all that they offer! In the casino, I decided to try my hand at Black Jack, which I had never played before (or any card games, for that matter). Both me and S ended up ahead, so we erred on the side of caution and decided to stop. It was so much fun though-I can't wait to play again! After that, we headed down to the buffet area and I was overwhelmed at first. Sure, I'd been to a buffet before, but nothing like that. I spent a good five minutes planning my strategy and execution, and quickly decided salad bar was out. Who was I kidding, I was going to end up with five desserts anyway, so no need to have salad take up any space. Even after all that planning, I ended up taking those desserts but not having room for any of them. Later, we decided to go out on the town. I foolishly wore a pair of black heels that night that I hadn't worn for over a couple hours at a time, and by this point I'd been wearing them all day. So naturally, by 9 PM, I wasn't up to much walking. I decided to power through it as this was our only night to live it up in Vegas. We went to a couple bars but realized it probably wasn't the best night to go as it was a Wednesday night during the off-season, and there were not many people around. That didn't stop us from having a good time, though. After an hour or so I suddenly remembered that I had to check off one of my Bucket List items: dancing on the bar at Coyote Ugly. Ever since I had seen that movie I promised myself I would do it one day. Not wanting to disappoint my 12 year old self, we went to New York New York and visited the bar there. It was not very crowded and I wasn't so sure about getting up there anymore, and I kept waiting for a good song to come on. Finally after about 5 subpar songs, I decided to just get up there. I danced around to a stupid 80's song and came back down. Sadly, it wasn't up to my expectations, but I was glad to be able to check it off my Bucket List! Next time I'll have to visit the real Coyote Ugly-Hogs and Heifers Saloon, and maybe then I'll feel a bit more satisfied. 

The Strip At Night


The next day, we got up early and went back to the strip. We had originally planned on going swimming, but as luck would have it we were there during an unseasonably cold streak, so we decided to visit as many hotels as we could and do some exploring. With so many different themes and activities, it's hard to pick a favorite hotel! I really liked the style of the Venetian, with the indoor canal and gondola rides available. It let us have a small taste of what Venice might be like. 

 

The Venetian

When I was 10, I remember walking into the MGM and having that feeling of being overwhelmed and in awe of the sheer size of everything. This time around, I was starting to wonder if I'd get that feeling again. We had stepped inside nearly every hotel on the Strip and while I admired every one of them, I still hadn't gotten that "feeling". Granted, I was about 4 feet tall back then so everything looked bigger-but still. Finally, the lobby of the Luxor changed my view-it was huge! I was a happy camper and glad to have the feeling of awe back. 

 

The Luxor Lobby

That night, S told me he had a surprise for me and of course a thousand things were running through my head; A helicopter ride over the city? Tickets to a sumo-wrestling match? A life size sculpture of me made out of candy? After all, this was Vegas and virtually anything could be possible. He led me to the Mirage Hotel and there he surprised me with tickets to the Beatles Love Cirque du Soleil show. I had wanted to see this show SO BADLY and had a hard time trying to contain my excitement. After jumping up and down and making a bit of a scene, we waited in line for the doors to open. Finally we were let in to the lobby and it was awesome, it was decorated exactly like I imagined it would be; tons of colors,  fun props and of course, Beatles music. 

 

Walking into a Beatles Wonderland

 

We were then led to our seats and I kept wondering when the guy would stop walking and point us in the direction-he kept getting closer and closer to the stage and I started getting more and more excited, until we were directly in front of the stage in the first row. I looked at S and thought there must be some mistake-I had never been this close at a show before. It wasn't a mistake, so I sat down and thanked my lucky stars-and S-and waited for the show to begin. It is hard to describe the whole show, and I don't want to give anything away, but it was honestly the BEST show I had ever seen in my life. If you love Beatles music, or even like it somewhat, you have to see this at some point. It showcased a good 20 songs, and every song had its own theme. There was so much going on, and I would say it was a 4D experience. I was amazed throughout the whole show, and didn't want it to end. If you ever have a chance, GO SEE IT!

 

 

 

After the show, we headed back to the hotel to get a good night's sleep, as we had to get up at 5 AM the next morning! We had purchased tickets for a bus trip to the Grand Canyon and Skywalk, and while I was excited it was hard to be enthusiastic about anything at 5 in the morning. Since we purchased the tickets online, I wasn't sure what to expect about the whole thing, but once we got to the tour headquarters I felt more at ease. They gave us more detailed information and sent us off with coffee and a granola bar. Our bus driver was great-really funny and knowledgable. We drove through Las Vegas and the surrounding counties until we hit the Hoover Dam. I hadn't seen it before, so it was nice to have a few minutes for pictures. 

 

Hoover Dam

 

After that, we got back on the bus for another two hours. I hadn't realized how far away the Grand Canyon was from the Vegas area. I had always assumed it was pretty close but it is actually a good 3 hours away. No wonder this trip was designated 12 hours on the website! But, our tour guide had great commentary along the way and entertained us pretty well. After a long and bumpy road, we had finally made it to the Grand Canyon! It was definitely worth the drive as it's not very often you get to see a view like this:

Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon experience was different than I imagined. I had always pictured it as being very sunny and hot, while climbing up and down various hills and spotting tourists on donkeys every now and then (blame it on the movies, or maybe I just totally made all that up in my head). It was a tad different, as we were there in November in the coldest week they'd had (low 50's), and it was cloudy and windy. Also, I didn't spot any donkeys. However, the weather didn't change the amazing view of the Canyon, and it was truly spectacular. It definitely put things into perspective for me, seeing something so naturally breathtaking. I also never knew how close you could get to the drop-offs as there are no barriers! You could literally fall right off! Every time I got about five feet from the edge I got a little dizzy and a big adrenaline rush and decided to knock it off and be sensible. S and I had a really fun time with our mini photo shoot and have some great pictures to show for it. 

 

We also had tickets to the Skywalk, which is pictured above. It's built so it juts out approximately 70 feet over the edge and the drop from the Skywalk to the ground below is between 500-800 feet. The floor is made entirely of glass. Camera's and any other personal items are not allowed on the Skywalk, so if you want a picture you have to purchase one. There are a couple photographers on the walk that take multiple pictures of you in different poses. We ended up choosing one that looked like we were about to fall off the ledge. Yeah, a bit cheesy, but you just gotta do those things once in awhile. We were able to stay on the Skywalk for about 10 to 15 minutes. If you ever visit the Canyon, I would say spend the extra money and get a Skywalk ticket, it was definitely worth it and added a unique perspective of the Canyon. 

 

After the SkyWalk we had one more trip to the Hualapai Ranch, a Western/Cowboy themed place not far from the Skywalk. The brochure said there would be a "Wild West Show", so again, I got excited thinking it would be like the movies; an old fashioned cowboy quick draw. It may have been because we were there during the off-season, but it looked more like a ghost town than anything else. There wasn't any type of show to see, but there were little stations set up where you could throw a tomahawk, learn how to rope, and quick draw. We tried our hands at roping and it's a lot harder than it looks! I was a little better at the tomahawk throw-and a little better than S. :)

 

It wasn't perfect, but at least I hit the board!

We ended our trip with a red-eye flight back home, very tired but happy we could fit so much in our 3 day trip. Las Vegas has so much to offer, you definitely can't see it all in one vacation. I can't wait to come back and make some more memories! What's your favorite Vegas memory?

Published in United States

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

 

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

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

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.