Categories
Road Trip

The 10 Best Road Trips in the U.S.A.

Editor’s note: Due to COVID-19 concerns, the U.S. State Department is encouraging potential visitors to reconsider all travel. Read more here for updates on the situation and information on when it might be safe to travel again to destinations like the ones below.

A road trip is as American as a barbecue on the Fourth of July. The open highway. Sing-along playlists. A cooler full of sodas and snacks. Unforgettable conversations about nothing and everything.

The United States has a grand variety of road trip-suitable routes, from straight shots across deserts to stomach-churning switchbacks through the mountains. Whatever type of adventure you seek, however much time you have, and whatever you want to see, there’s a road out there for everyone. Read on to see the top road trips in the U.S.A.

Best Romantic Road Trip: Pacific Coast Highway, CA

pacific coast highway

Route: Route 1, from Monterey to Morro Bay (123 miles)

Let’s hope your partner makes your heart soar; if not, the unimaginably gorgeous views from the Pacific Coast Highway will. Frequently coined the most romantic road trip in the U.S.A., the highway jogs alongside California farms and cliff-edged beaches, across high bridges and near groves of towering redwood trees. Tour the famed Monterey Bay Aquarium, enjoy lunch at a posh Carmel-by-the-Sea cafe, see the famous waterfall at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (check the updated status of the park here), and take a romantic sunset stroll at Big Sur. There are plenty of romantic Victorian bed and breakfasts where you can spend the night.

Where to stay to start your journey: Munras Inn, Monterey

Runner-up road trip: Charleston to Savannah, South Carolina

Best Road Trip in the Middle of Nowhere: Marathon to Presidio, TX

canyon with river flowing through

Route: U.S. Highway 385, FM-170 (160 miles)

The only companions you’ll have during long stretches of this paved, two-lane road through Big Bend National Park are cacti and migratory birds. This is one of the most isolated of all U.S. national parks, but it’s also one of the most dramatic, with desert, canyon, and mountain landscapes. Santa Elena Canyon is worth the detour from the main park road to see its 1,500-foot drop-offs. Stop for lunch at the 1930s-era Starlight Theatre in the historic Terlingua Ghost Town. Movie buffs will marvel at the abandoned Western film sets at Contrabando.

Where to stay to start your journey: Holland Hotel, Alpine

Runner-up road trip: Great Basin Scenic Highway, Nevada

[st_related]How to Enjoy (and Not Just Survive) a Family Road Trip[/st_related]

Best Thrill-Seeking Road Trip: The Road to Hana, HI

road to hana view of cliffside highway and ocean with green lush mountains lanscape

Route: Routes 36 and 360, from the town of Kahului to Hana and a little beyond (68 miles)

Brace yourself—literally—for the ride of your life. Maui’s Hana Highway may sound tropically dreamy, with its lush rainforests, multi-tiered waterfalls, and scenic turnouts, but it’s not for the faint of heart—or weak of stomach. The winding, narrow road encompasses hundreds of curves and dozens of bridges (many of which are one lane), and the first time a fearless local in an SUV zooms by you, you’ll wonder where your breath went. Good places to stop and find it? The Ke’anae Arboretum (just past mile marker 16), Upper Waikani Falls (mile marker 19), and Ka’eleku Caverns (mile marker 31).

Where to stay to start your journey: Maui Seaside Hotel, Kahului

Runner-up road trip: La Ruta Panoramica, Puerto Rico

Best Wildlife Road Trip: Jackson to Yellowstone National Park, WY

elk in yellowstone national park

Route: U.S. 191 (82 miles plus mileage within the park)

Bison, elk, wolves, moose, bears, and dozens of bird species live in America’s first national park, making it one of the best places in the United States to view wildlife. While animals are abundant inside the park, you’ll likely see some species on the short drive from Jackson to the park’s south entrance, and at Grand Teton and Jackson Lake along the way.

Where to stay to start your journey: Mountain Modern Motel, Jackson

Runner-up road trip: Seward Highway, Alaska

[st_related]11 Summer Road Trip Essentials Under $100[/st_related]

Best Foodie Road Trip: Stowe to Rochester, VT

Route: Route 100 (49 miles)

Farms, breweries, wineries, creameries, gourmet shops, and restaurants are nestled along the rolling pastures of Route 100, which bisects the prettiest state in New England. Take a leisurely drive along the north-south artery and its side roads, stopping to nibble artisanal cheeses at various farm shops and creameries. Sip apple cider and buy maple syrup at Cold Hollow Cider Mill in Waterbury Center, and taste robust red wines at Boyden Valley Winery in Cambridge. Browse Weston’s Vermont Country Store—its retro candies are worth the stop alone. And the grand finale? A tour of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream factory in Waterbury.

Where to stay to start your journey: Town & Country Resort Motor Inn, Stowe

Runner-up road trip: North Carolina Barbecue Society Historic Trail

Best Motorcycle Road Trip: Los Angeles, CA to Taos, NM

motorcycle riding on highway

Route: Interstate 40 (916 miles)

Aching to be your very own counterculture hippie on a soul-searching odyssey? Billy and Wyatt (a.k.a, Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda) covered this course and then some in the 1969 film Easy Rider. They were headed to New Orleans for Mardi Gras; if you don’t have it in you to make such a lengthy trip, we suggest just covering the section from California to New Mexico (or at least Flagstaff, Arizona), with a detour to the Grand Canyon.

Where to stay to start your journey: Sheraton Gateway Los Angeles Hotel, Los Angeles

Runner-up road trip: Trail of Tears, Tennessee to Alabama

Best Fall Foliage Road Trip: Lead Hill to Hot Springs, AR

waterfall and swimming hole in forest autumn

Route: Arkansas State Highway 7 (179 miles)

I’d normally select New England for autumn’s most kaleidoscopic colors, but even its most out-of-the-way back roads can be congested during peak periods. Instead, drive along Arkansas’ first state-designated scenic byway to Ozark National Forest, which has 42 different species of oak trees, plus hickories, maples, beech, and ash, among others. Such a vast variety of trees results in unimaginable colors painting the region’s low river valleys and hillsides. If you get an early enough start, have breakfast or lunch at Cliff House Inn and Restaurant overlooking Arkansas’ version of the Grand Canyon, in the town of Jasper.

Where to stay to start your journey: Hotel Seville, Harrison

Runner-up road trip: Anywhere in New England (see Scenic Autumn Drives in the Northeast)

[st_related]8 Things You Need for a Road Trip with Your Pet[/st_related]

Best Classic America Road Trip: Beartooth Highway, MT

beartooth highway mountain view

Route: U.S. Highway 212, from Red Lodge to Cook City, Montana (68 miles)

A zigzagging road with countless switchbacks, endless views, and steep climbs, the Beartooth Highway seems to have changed little since Civil War General Philip Sheridan led 120 men along the route. Certainly, the views are the same: snow-topped rocky mountains, the bluest of blue skies, and bypasses through Custer National Forest, Shoshone National Forest, and Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness. No wonder longtime road tripper Charles Kuralt, the late CBS correspondent, called it “the most beautiful drive in America.” Note that the road is only open mid-May through mid-October.

Where to stay to start your journey: The Pollard Hotel, Red Lodge

Runner-up road trip: Pierre to Mount Rushmore, South Dakota

Best Out-of-This-World Road Trip: Dark Sky Parks, Panguitch to Torrey, UT

highway on dark road with bright sky stars

Route: Scenic Byway 12 (270 miles)

Utah has 11 certified International Dark Sky Parks, so why not create a road trip to all of them? In addition to the well-known Bryce Canyon, other parks with an IDA-certified designation include Capitol Reef, Goblin Valley, Cedar Breaks, and Kodachrome Basin. Along the way, you can glamp in a Conestoga wagon and yurt. If you’re feeling really ambitious, you can start at Zion and make your way through the state’s five national parks, ending at Arches in Moab.

Where to stay to start your journey: Big Cedar Lodge, Ridgedale

Runner-up road trip: Phoenix to Sedona, Arizona

[st_related]Cheap Weekend Getaways from 9 Major U.S. Cities[/st_related]

Best Mountain Road Trip: Beaver Creek to Keystone, CO

highway in rocky mountains

Route: Interstate 70 (70 miles)

Whether you’re planning an epic ski vacation or an outdoor adventure trip to these mountains off-season, the Rocky Mountains are your best bet for a mountain road trip. Start in Beaver Creek and then head to Vail. During summer Vail is home to “Epic Discovery,” where you can zip-line, alpine coaster, summer tube, and more. Make stops at Cooper Mountain, Frisco, and Breckenridge, then end in Keystone. Just don’t leave without having dinner at the Ski Tip Lodge.

Where to stay to start your journey: The Osprey at Beaver Creek, Beaver Creek

Runner-up road trip: Asheville, North Carolina to Gatlinburg, Tennessee

More from SmarterTravel:

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Ashley Rossi contributed to this article.

Categories
Booking Strategy Experiential Travel Health & Wellness Oddities Travel Etiquette

33 Ways to Sleep Better at a Hotel


Rattling ice machines. Dinging elevators. Bachelorette parties down the hall. The sleep gods have their work cut out for them if you’re expecting to snooze well while staying at a hotel.

We’ve compiled one of the most comprehensive guides available to sleeping in a hotel, covering everything from what you should ask when you’re booking the room to how you can swiftly take care of noisemakers so you can get back to sleep.

When Making Your Reservation

1. Ensure that you get a quiet room. Two requests that are absolutely vital and pretty widely known when selecting your hotel room: a room on an upper floor and away from the elevators.

2. Book a room midway down a hallway. This is generally the quietest part of the floor, as it’s away from the ice and vending machines, guest laundry facilities, exits, housekeeping closets, and other places where noise can be made.

3. Ask for a room on the concierge or suite level, if the hotel has one. Sometimes those rooms have taller ceilings, giving you a little more air space from the people above you.

4. Avoid rooms facing a pool. While the view might be pretty, pools can be late-night gathering places—despite posted closing times—and noise echoes off water.

5. Ask what time the trash is collected if there are dumpsters or recycling bins outside your windows. If the time is too early for your liking, get a different room.

6. Request a room at the back of a low-rise hotel. They are generally quieter (especially if they’re away from the parking lot). Even if the view is poor, the peace is worth it.

7. Get a room at least two or three levels above banquet rooms, bars, or other public spaces if the hotel has them. You’d be surprised how many floors a pulsating and thumping bass beat can penetrate.

[st_related]How to Get the Best Hotel Room[/st_related]

8. Ask if the hotel is undergoing or has recently completed renovations. Usually these are done in segments—a floor or section at a time. You want to avoid floors that are adjacent to those currently being updated. But you do want to be on a floor that has finished being renovated—which will usually be cleaner, smell better, and have newer beds and linens.

9. Inquire whether guestrooms have blackout shades. These are the heavy, thick curtains that keep the light out, and you want to have them.

10. Make sure yours is a non-smoking room. If you’re not a smoker, the scent of old cigarette smoke will keep you from feeling at ease (awake or asleep).

11. Ask about pillow options. If you’re vulnerable to neck or back pain from using the wrong pillow, find out if pillows with different levels of firmness are available. Some hotels stock firmer ones in guestroom closets, or have a secret stash at the front desk. If the hotel doesn’t offer what you need, consider bringing yours from home.

12. Request two beds if you’re traveling with a friend. You’ll get a more peaceful night’s sleep if you snooze alone than you will if you bunk with someone you’re not accustomed to being next to.

[st_related]5 Things You Should Never Do at a Hotel[/st_related]

Packing for Your Stay

13. Pack earplugs. Uncomfortable as they can be, wadding little bits of foam in your ears is far less annoying than being kept up all night by noise. Better yet, invest in Bose’s Noise Masking Sleepbuds which play soothing sounds to cancel out noise and let you sleep. You can also bring your own travel-size white noise machine, download a white noise app onto your smartphone, or stream white noise from your laptop on a free website like SimplyNoise.com.

14. Bring an eye mask. They are for your eyes what earplugs are for your ears—and they’re especially important if your room doesn’t have blackout curtains. Look for ones that are contoured so they don’t restrict your eye movements during deep sleep.

15. Pack a sleep sack if you tend to worry about the cleanliness or comfort of your hotel linens. They also are helpful for folks with skin sensitivities who are worried about the detergents or bleach used to clean hotel linens.

16. Spray your room. The chemicals used to clean hotel rooms or launder sheets can be a little overpowering. Add your own scent with a spritz or two of a gentle linen spray you bring from home. (Consider one with a lavender scent, which is known to be soothing; here’s one travel-size option from Amazon.)

[st_product products=”198292,190819,191487″]

[st_related]The Best Over-the-Counter Sleeping Pills for Long-Haul Flights[/st_related]

Preparing to Hit the Hay

17. Don’t read, eat, or work in bed. Admittedly, this is not always possible, as seating can be limited in a hotel room. But try not to use your bed to do anything but sleep.

18. Don’t eat a large or overly rich dinner late at night. A belly that’s churning away digesting a big meal interferes with your ability to sleep soundly.

19. Abstain from alcohol. Although alcoholic beverages can help you fall asleep faster, even a moderate dose of alcohol right before bed can cause your sleep quality to suffer.

20. Sip tea. A small cup of chamomile tea or other warm, non-caffeinated beverage can induce sleep. Don’t drink too much though, or else you’ll need to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom.

21. Silence your cell phone notifications, especially if you’re in a different time zone than your friends and family. People could be trying to contact you when you’re trying to sleep. Turn off notification sounds for texts, emails, and calls before you go to bed so you’re not disturbed.

22. Take a melatonin. This supplement mimics the natural hormone that your body produces to go to sleep. According to Dr. Aleksandar Videnovic, Principal Investigator at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Sleep Center, “Melatonin helps our body recognize when it’s time to sleep, and it can be very helpful in alleviating symptoms of jet lag.”

[st_related]How to Make Your Bedroom Feel Like a Hotel Room[/st_related]

Just Before Bed

23. Hang the “do not disturb” sign on the outside doorknob. This is especially important if you’re planning to sleep in. Some housekeepers start their service at 8 a.m. or earlier. If your room doesn’t have a “do not disturb” sign, request one from the front desk.

24. Set backup wakeup calls. How many times have you set an unfamiliar alarm clock, only to wake up the next morning in a rush because it never went off (or awakened in the middle of the night worrying it wouldn’t work)? For greater peace of mind, use two alarms—such as the hotel’s wakeup call service, your cell phone, a wristwatch, or a travel-sized alarm clock. Even if you’re not using the hotel’s alarm clock, check it to make sure the previous occupant of the room didn’t set it to go off at an early time.

25. Take a warm bath. The relaxation can help you sleep better.

26. Adjust the room temperature. According to Sleep.org, most people sleep best in temperatures between 60-70 degrees.

27. Read a non-suspenseful paper book or magazine. Avoid the TV, smartphones, and laptops, as they emit an artificial blue light that can have a stimulating rather than soporific effect. An e-ink e-reader, like the Kindle Paperwhite is a travel-friendly way to read without blue light.

28. Try a meditation exercise that’s designed to induce sleep. There are plenty of apps out there (such as headspace)  that will guide you through nighttime meditations to help you relax.

[st_related]15 Things Your Hotel Won’t Tell You[/st_related]

Once in Bed

30. Breathe deeply. Being out of your element can be stressful. Take some deep, slow breaths before bed to help you relax and unwind tense muscles.

31. Don’t wait to report noise. Hotel rooms have notoriously thin walls, and your neighbors may not realize their conversations are crystal clear to you. Sometimes a quick pound on the wall will do the trick to quiet down a noisy neighbor. (See: When the Hotel Guest Next Door Won’t Shut Up.) If you’re not comfortable doing so, just ring the hotel front desk. They’ll phone the guest or send security personnel to the room with a warning. Excessive noise or repeated warnings could result in the guest being asked to leave.

32. Ask to move rooms. All hotels should give a guest the option of relocating to a quieter room if uncontrollable noise—such as traffic, a humming ice machine, or the elevator—is persistent. Of course, it’s not exactly peaceful to have to pack up your belongings and relocate in the middle of the night, and the hotel might be sold out. But if you’re staying in a hotel for multiple nights, this could be an ideal solution.

33. Get out of bed if you can’t sleep. This is a good all-around rule, for traveling or at home. Rather than tossing and turning, get out of bed, turn on a low light, and read a mindless magazine until you’re ready to try again.

Our Favorite Clothing to Wear for Better Sleep at a Hotel

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

More from SmarterTravel:

[st_product products=”255582,240075,190065″]

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Booking Strategy Budget Travel

9 Ways to Save on Summer Flights to Europe


Dreaming of a summer trip to Europe? If so, here’s the bad news: So is everyone else. Thanks to warm temperatures and school vacations, summer flights to Europe are in high demand — and priced accordingly. But here’s the good news: Relatively reasonable rates are available for travelers willing to take the time to seek them out.

With a little research and flexibility, you could save several hundred dollars on the price of a ticket. In addition to the following tips, the best advice we can offer is this: If an airline does happen to cut prices or offer a discount on summer flights to Europe, don’t sit on it and wait for an even better fare. Whip your credit card out and grab that deal.

Travel in Late Summer

Aside from the rare last-minute bargain, airfares nearly always go up as your travel date approaches. As we noted in Want the Lowest Fare? Here’s When to Book, the best time to purchase Europe flights is at least three months in advance — so the later in the summer you can travel, the better.

Another reason fares are lower in late August: Many students and teachers are headed back to school, making for slightly lower demand.

Be Super-Flexible

Unless there’s a specific and unchangeable reason why you have to be in Europe on a certain day, be flexible on your travel dates. Use a flight search site such as Kayak or TripAdvisor Flights and select the “flexible travel dates” option. For example: When I searched for a flight from New York to Paris during the first two weeks of July, the difference between the lowest and highest prices was $271.

However, keep in mind the additional costs that may come along with an earlier departure or later return. Will you have to pay for additional hotel nights and meals, for example? Do the math to determine if leaving earlier or returning later would be worth it — or if an earlier-than-planned return home would save you even more money.

[st_related]Top 25 Ways to Save on Europe Travel[/st_related]

Fly on a Weekday

For the aforementioned New York-to-Paris flight, the lowest-priced flight was on a Tuesday. Midweek flights tend to be cheaper across the board. Aim for Tuesday or Wednesday departures and returns.

Fly to a Gateway City

This rings especially true if you’re planning to go to Central or Eastern Europe — flying to Western European cities tends to be much cheaper, and then you can connect with flights on one of dozens of European discount airlines. (Learn more about international discount airlines.)

London especially is one of the most affordable hubs in Europe, with a plethora of no-frills airlines — easyJet and Ryanair among the longest-running, most popular and best priced. Frankfurt and Amsterdam are two others.

Let’s say you’re planning to spend a week in Poland. Flights from Boston to Krakow in mid-July are priced at $1,265 including taxes and fees, but flying from Boston to London on the same dates is only $657. Using Skyscanner.net — the best website to aggregate flights on Europe’s discount airlines — we turned up a rate of $133 roundtrip for Ryanair flights between London and Berlin (and that’s expensive for Ryanair; we’ve seen rates as low as 20 bucks!).

Of course, there are a few caveats. Flights from the United States usually land at London’s Heathrow International Airport, while Ryanair flies out of Stansted Airport 65 miles away — so you’ll have to connect via shuttle bus and plan on extra travel time. And the budget airlines tend to have much stricter luggage weight limits and smaller maximum sizes for carry-on bags than the big airlines.

[st_related]Tips for Finding Cheap Airfare[/st_related]

Consider Nearby Departure Airports

As in the tip above, maybe it’s worthwhile to consider other airports besides the one closest to your house. Could you save a couple hundred dollars by driving to Montreal for your departure instead of flying out of Ottawa?

Shop Around

Don’t just visit one booking site such as Expedia or Kayak and call it a day. Such sites can be a useful starting point to get an overview of which airlines fly your intended route, but you should also check individual carrier websites as well as lesser-known sites such as Vayama.com (which specializes in international flights) and Momondo.com (an aggregator site that Frommer’s recently deemed “the best place to find the cheapest airfares every single time“).

[st_related]Planning a Trip to Europe: Your 10-Step Guide[/st_related]

Sign Up for Special Alerts

You probably already receive the weekly email blasts and special offers that airlines send out, but don’t expect miracles from them; so many people receive them that it can be hard to nab a deal when it’s available. Better yet is to track your desired flight paths through sites like Airfarewatchdog (SmarterTravel’s sister site) or Kayak.com.

Follow Twitter Feeds

Things change at a moment’s notice in the fast-paced, algorithmically driven business of determining airfare, and Twitter is a good place to keep up with it. A few feeds we’ve been following lately to monitor airfare include: @airfarewatchdog, @traveldeals, @SecretFlying and @TheFlightDeal. (While you’re at it, don’t forget to follow Smarter Travel on Twitter too!)

[st_related]12 Simple Tricks for Saving Money on Summer Airfare[/st_related]

Buy a Package Deal

Package deals that include lodging and/or rental cars can often save you money over purchasing all the elements of your trip individually, especially if you’re flying into and out of different cities.

For example, I found a nine-night trip to Eastern Europe, including New York-to-Prague and Budapest-to-New York flights, nine nights’ hotel, breakfast, train fare between cities and hotel taxes, for $1,416 per person through EuropeanDestinations.com. The flight alone costs $892 per person on Expedia; nine nights’ worth of hotel accommodations would easily add up to more than $754 ($377 per person), even before you factor in train fare or breakfast.

More from SmarterTravel:

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

[st_deals_search search_type=air]

Categories
Booking Strategy Health & Wellness Passenger Rights Security Travel Trends

State Department Bans Americans from Traveling to North Korea


Increasing concerns over the risk of being arrested and detained in North Korea have led the U.S. Department of State to restrict Americans from traveling there. The ban is expected to go into effect on September 1.

[st_content_ad]“The safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas is one of our highest priorities,” State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said in a statement.

North Korea Travel Ban

The announcement came after an American traveler died earlier this summer, days after being released from incarceration in North Korea. Arrested during a tour in January 2016 for trying to steal a poster, university student Otto Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment with hard labor; he died days after being returned to the U.S. in a coma in June.

Tour companies operating in North Korea had been weighing restrictions on Americans since Warmbier’s death. Young Pioneer Tours, the outfit Warmbier traveled with, stated it would not accept Americans any longer. Uri Tours was in the process of reviewing its policy on Americans, tour manager Elliott Davies said, when the new ban was announced.

The restriction is unfortunate, said Brian Saylor of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, who arrived home after a tour of North Korea just days after Warmbier died. He traveled with Uri Tours.

“Don’t get me wrong: I was apprehensive on that trip,” said Saylor, a 40-year-old police officer and Army veteran who spent five days in North Korea during a month traveling in Asia. “We get the impression from our own media coverage that this is a dark, oppressive, tyrannical state and that everyone is miserable and starving. But it’s not true.”

While he was there, Saylor said several North Koreans asked him about the Warmbier situation, and about why there was so much tension with the United States. Saylor noted that if the U.S. government is not going to have formal diplomatic relations with North Korea, individuals traveling to the country for tourism, sports, or the arts could engage in citizen-to-citizen dialogue.

[st_related]How to Be Safe and Culturally Sensitive When You Travel[/st_related]

Why did he choose to visit North Korea? Saylor was stationed in South Korea during his time in the U.S. Army and later spent a semester studying abroad there. The mystique of the closed country to the north intrigued him, and he finally decided to go to North Korea in spring 2017.

The trip dispelled a number of myths he had in his mind about North Korean people, Saylor said. “You see some cultural similarities between North and South Korea. You see it as one country culturally and linguistically. But they’ve lived a very different economic life for the past 60 years or so.”

Though Americans won’t be able to travel to North Korea, travelers from other nations can still go—and still face ethical quandaries when considering traveling to a regime-run country with oppressive policies. Saylor said he gave thought to that before booking his trip.

“I don’t gloss over human rights issues,” he explained. But ultimately, he decided that tourism—like sports, music, and the arts—serves as “a small gateway to open up some kind of dialogue.”

Such an examination is what the organization Ethical Traveler suggests travelers do when deciding whether to go to a controversial destination like North Korea: Consider how you can minimize negative impacts and maximize positive ones.

“In this case, we mean mindfulness in terms of [whether you are] supporting the regime and in terms of the risk to each individual traveler,” says Ethical Traveler co-founder Michael McColl.

Four categories of Americans may still be able to go to North Korea by applying for an exemption, according to the State Department. The categories are journalists covering North Korea, American Red Cross or International Committee of the Red Cross staff on official business, other aid workers with “compelling humanitarian considerations,” and travelers whose trips are deemed in “the national interest.”

More from SmarterTravel:

[viator_tour destination=”972″]

Categories
Health & Wellness

Travel Health Tips from Head to Toe


Having taken three weekend road trips in a row, it’s no wonder my back has been tied up in knots. And an autumn cold came on during this last trip, giving me lots more downtime at a West Virginia Airbnb cabin during the height of fall foliage season than I wanted.

I take good care of myself at home, but traveling requires a different set of healthy habits—ones I need to pay more attention to, even during long weekend getaways and small trips. Here are the articles I’ll turn to next time, and the best travel health tips, from head to toe.

Travel Health Tips for Every Part of Your Body

Avoiding Airplane Colds: Don’t Get Sick After Flying: We’re constantly lectured to stay hydrated on airplanes but rarely told why. It’s because humidity is lower at higher altitudes. This dries out the throat and nasal passages, which are the first lines of defense in preventing colds, explains SmarterTravel’s own Ed Hewitt. Best tip: Sip water throughout a flight to stay hydrated and you’ll be better poised to prevent a head cold.

How to Travel with Neck Pain: Best tip: Pack disposable heat wraps, or bring an empty resealable bag on a plane and ask a flight attendant for ice.

8 Expert Tips to Prevent Backache: If you must lift a heavy bag into an overhead bin, first lift it to seat level, then lift it to the bin. Don’t lift it from floor to bin in one fell swoop. (For more advice, see 7 Tips for Traveling with Back Pain.)

Preventing Traveler’s Diarrhea: Don’t be embarrassed—we’ve all been there. You probably know to tote hand sanitizer, but another good tip is to pack your own bar of soap and keep it in your daypack. Then you can use it at restrooms where soap isn’t provided. (For more advice, see our own guide to warding off traveler’s tummy.)

6 Tips for Traveling with Knee Pain: It’s all about the aisle seat.

Shoe and Foot Care During Travel: I tend to travel with two pairs of shoes—one set of walking shoes and the other a nicer set of flats for the evening. But based on advice from experts, I’ll be switching over to two pairs of super-comfy kicks and alternating them by day. Best tip: Clean your shoes frequently. Clean shoes breathe better.

More from SmarterTravel:

Categories
Experiential Travel

8 Unique Ways to Experience Fall

Apple picking, corn mazes and fall foliage drives have their charms, but the crisp air and advent of winter beg you to do something more active. Don’t shelve the typical harvest rites of passage — just add to them from our picks for amazing autumn activities around the world.

Biking Acadia National Park’s Carriage Roads

Oil baron John D. Rockefeller Jr. was so enraptured by the beauty of the Maine island called Mount Desert that he commissioned the construction of 45 miles’ worth of carriage paths on it. Today, those paths make for some of the most phenomenal crushed-stone-trail biking in the United States — made even more gorgeous with a curtain of color from fall foliage.

Mount Desert Island is the second-largest island on the Eastern Seaboard (behind Long Island) and is connected to the mainland by a bridge. The carriage trails take bikers over rustic bridges, past secluded ponds and to scenic overlooks framed by white birch, beech and maple groves.

Swimming with Whale Sharks Off the Mexican Coast

Donning snorkeling gear and hopping into the ocean with a fish the size of a school bus is easily one of the coolest wildlife encounters you could ever have. Spotted like dominoes, with a 4.5-foot-wide mouth, whale sharks are docile and curious, allowing humans to swim alongside them and observe their unique filter-feeding habits.

Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is one of the best places in the world to swim with whale sharks, with the optimal time in the fall running from mid-September through late October. Water temperatures are in the upper 70’s Fahrenheit.

All outings must be done with a tour operator, most of whom run trips from Cancun, Holbox, the Maya Riviera and Isla Mujeres. Make sure to select an outfit with a solid environmental record.

Guzzling Beer at Oktoberfest in Germany

As synonymous with autumn as Thanksgiving and blisters from raking leaves, Oktoberfest is one of Germany’s biggest exports to the world. Every city has some version of it — Kitchener and Waterloo, Ontario, co-host the largest Oktoberfest outside of Germany — but the original in Munich remains the largest and most authentic.

Shouldn’t it be called Septemberfest? Back when it first started in the early 1800’s (to honor the Bavarian crown prince’s marriage), Oktoberfest did indeed happen in October. Subsequent celebrations started earlier, and organizers soon realized September weekends tended to be warmer and attract bigger crowds. Thus the majority of the event happens then.

This year, the first keg will be tapped during a ceremony at noon on September 22, and the festivities last until October 7. What do they involve? Smooshing yourself onto long benches at tables under tents and drinking beer from liter mugs bigger than your head. Prost!

Birding in the United States

Motivated by the need to eat and stay warm, birds migrate seasonally along important “flyways” around the world. The United States has many significant migratory paths, with refuges for birds to make vital pit stops each autumn en route to their wintering homes.

If you visit a key wildlife refuge during a peak period, you could potentially see dozens of species in one day. A few noteworthy ones include the Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge in Missouri (best visited from early October through early November), Wisconsin’s Horicon National Wildlife Refuge (early October) and Cape May, New Jersey (October through early November). Some of the best early-fall bird watching is in early September at Sunrise Coast in Maine; flocks arrive as late as the end of November at Point Loma, California.

Must-haves for your packing list: good binoculars, foul-weather gear and reliable walking shoes.

Experiencing Fall Festival Season in Bhutan

Residents of the Land of the Thunder Dragon commemorate the saint who brought Buddhism to Bhutan in the eighth century by hosting three- to five-day ritual dance festivals called tsechus. They’re among the biggest social events of the year. While they’re held throughout the year in different districts, October and November see the most.

The festivals involve monks and locals donning masks and colorful costumes and performing mystical, ritual dances. It’s considered an important step in the obtainment of enlightenment to attend these events, so gussied-up Bhutanese families sporting coral and turquoise jewelry and toting bamboo picnic baskets flock to the capital city of Thimphu or to anywhere else the festivals are being held. While serious business is at work, there are also some moments of comic relief, usually provided by big-nosed clowns called atsara.

Taste Testing Truffles at Festivals in Italy

Italy has numerous fall festivals celebrating foodstuffs — chestnuts, wild mushrooms and wine among them — but none takes center stage like the tartufo bianco, or the white truffle. More than three dozen truffle fairs take place throughout northern and central Italy in October and November; you’ll find one happening every weekend — some big and touristy, others intimate and local.

Tuscany, Umbria, Piedmont, Emilia Romagna and Le Marche are regions that have especially popular ones, with Piedmont’s Alba White Truffle Festival the oldest and largest. The San Miniato Truffle Fair is in the namesake medieval Tuscan town midway between Pisa and Florence, and runs the last three weekends of November.

During the fall, truffles are the centerpiece of Italian restaurant menus and tastings. Other events at festivals include donkey races, prize ceremonies for the best-picked truffle, markets, wine tastings, theater performances and marching bands.

Grape Stomping in California

Lucille Ball was hilarious in 1956 when she hesitantly climbed into a barrel full of grapes and began stomping with reckless, slippery abandon, on one of the most beloved episodes of the TV comedy “I Love Lucy.”

Blessedly, the laws of wine-making states around the world prevent producers from creating the nectar of the gods by foot these days. That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t give it a try.

About a dozen wine-making regions in California host grape-stomping activities in September and October. Pick your own grapes, then mash them with your piggies in St. Helena. Watch experts juice the competition during the World Championship Grape Stomp during the Sonoma County Harvest Fair in Santa Rosa (October 5 – 7). Other locales feature Italian music accompaniments, bocce ball competitions, country buffet dinners and hayrides.

Whale Watching in South Africa

Technically, October is springtime in the Southern Hemisphere. But the whale watching off the southern coast of South Africa is so spectacular that it’s worth fudging the seasonal calendar for a closer look.

Southern right whales come to the shallow bays and secluded coves around Hermanus to mate and breed. They get so close to the shoreline that you can observe them from terra firma. Grab a prime seat along the cliffs edging Hermanus and you’ll likely see more than a few whales breaching.

Very few cruise boats are allowed in the water at this time, so as not to interfere with mating and breeding. If you want to take a whale watching expedition, look for outfits departing from Cape Town.

Categories
Booking Strategy

Getting Around Norway: Transportation Tips


Because of the country’s immense natural beauty, Norway transportation here isn’t merely a way to get from Point A to Point B. It also serves as an exceptional way to experience the country, perhaps more so than other places you might travel.

It’s quite efficient and reliable, and various forms of public transport often work in tandem to provide seamless connections. For example, a popular unescorted tour called Norway in a Nutshell (NorwayinaNutshell.com) offers an independent itinerary that takes you to the fjords in one day by combining the country’s best train, ferry and bus rides.

However, getting around Norway isn’t cheap, so it pays to plan in advance and search out deals and discounts.

Flying to and Around Norway

Norway is served by more than 50 airports, eight of which are international. Most out-of-country visitors arrive at Oslo Airport, which is 30 miles north of the city and accessible by train, bus and taxi.

Domestic flights are a great option for those seeking to make the most of their time in Norway and for travelers with remote destinations on their itinerary, like the North Cape and Svalbard.

SAS Scandinavian Airlines operates the country’s largest fleet. If you’re flying SAS to Norway across the Atlantic Ocean, check out its “Visit Europe and Scandinavia Airpass,” which can offer impressive flight discounts depending on your itinerary.

Two regional companies, Wideroe and Danish Air Transport, operate smaller fleets; Wideroe offers its own flight pass called the “Explore Norway Ticket.”

Resources:
Dat.dk/en
Sas.no/en
Wideroe.no/en

[st_related]10 Best Norway Experiences[/st_related]

Renting a Car in Norway

Traveling by car in Norway gives you the freedom to go at your own pace and is generally not difficult. However, winding mountain roads are not for the faint of heart, and drivers heading into the more isolated north, or those who are traveling during the winter months, will need to do a bit of pre-planning before departure.

Most major car rental companies are found in Norway — Hertz, Europcar and Avis among them. Prices can be steep, so shop around online for discounts. You’ll need to be at least 21 years old to rent a car from most companies, and those under 25 will likely pay a surcharge. Many rental companies require that you’ve been driving for at least one year and that you have an International Driving Permit (available from AAA) if you don’t have an EU/EEA license.

Confirm whether the rental is a manual transmission or automatic. If your car pick-up and drop-off locations differ, expect a substantial price increase.

Take advantage of National Tourist Routes, which have visitor centers and viewpoints overlooking the breathtaking scenery along the way.

A few driving tips to keep in mind:

– In the colder months winter tires are required, as snow and ice are common. Smaller roads can close in poor weather conditions.

– There is no need to stop for tolls on main roads; each car has an electronic tag, and rental companies will pass along the charges to you.

– On country roads deposit tolls into clearly marked “honesty boxes.”

– Headlights must be on at all times, and every passenger is required to wear a seatbelt.

– Speed cameras are plentiful and fines are steep, so follow the locals’ example and obey the limit. If you’re pulled over for speeding, expect to pay the ticket on the spot. You should receive a receipt.

– Using a hand-held phone while driving is illegal.

– Norway has extremely strict drunk driving laws and a low legal limit; one beer could put you over.

– Watch for moose along the road, especially in the mountains.

– When traveling in rural areas, gas stations can be few and far between, so top off at every opportunity.

– You must carry a yellow fluorescent vest and a red warning triangle in the event of an emergency; make sure your rental car comes equipped.

Resources:
Europcar.com
Hertz.com
NasjonaleTuristveger.no/en

[st_related]International Car Rental Tips[/st_related]

Norway by Train

The state-owned Norwegian State Railways — NSB for short — is the country’s primary operator, running both local and regional trains. Tickets can be purchased online, by mobile app, by phone or at ticket machines. A surcharge is assessed for passengers who buy tickets after boarding.

When it comes to long-distance train travel in Norway, it pays to plan as far ahead as possible. NSB sells a limited number of discounted minipris tickets. Minipris can be purchased between three months and 24 hours before departure; on long journeys you can save well over 50 percent compared to a standard-priced seat. They are unavailable on certain routes and at peak periods, and aren’t changeable or refundable.

Some trains permit you to upgrade your seats from standard class to “komfort,” which is slightly roomier and provides power outlets along with free coffee and tea, for an additional fee. Two-berth sleepers are a great option for overnight travel. Reserve seats in the family coach to take advantage of the children’s playroom, stroller space and other amenities.

For those planning multiple train trips in Norway, the Eurail Norway pass, which is available for three to eight days of travel within one month, can also provide considerable savings.

NSB’s Bergen line, which begins in Oslo, is one of the highest railways in Europe and a must for those wanting to experience Norway’s natural beauty. The privately owned Flam Railway line takes passengers along one of the world’s steepest and most scenic railways. The 50-minute journey, which passes through 20 tunnels, is considered an engineering feat and one of the world’s best train rides.

Resources:
Eurail.com/eurail-passes/one-country-pass/norway
Nsb.no/en
VisitFlam.com/flam-railway

[st_related]The World’s Most Spectacular Train Trips[/st_related]

Norway by Bus

Buses are a reliable long-distance transport mode and, indeed, perhaps your only public transportation option when traveling to Norway’s small, remote towns.

Nor-Way Bussekspress is the largest long-distance company, teaming up with smaller carriers to form an extensive network. It provides connections with trains and ferries too. Express bus tickets can be bought onboard by credit card, but booking online may reward you with considerable discounts. Note that mountain routes are usually suspended during winter months.

Discount carrier Lavprisekspressen offers routes from Oslo to Kristiansand, Trondheim and Stavanger. Tickets can only be purchased online (the website is currently just in Norwegian).

Resources:
Lavprisekspressen.no (Norwegian only)
Nor-Way.no

Norway by Taxi

Taxi rides in Norway are pricey and, thanks to efficient public transport options, easily avoided. Rates vary by company and can be paid by kroner or credit card (just let your driver know in advance). Taxi stands are typically easy to spot in cities; you can also hail a cab on the street or order one by phone. You’re not expected to tip your driver, though some customers choose to round up their bill. Oslo Taxi offers service in the capital, and Norges Taxi is found in several cities.

Resources:
Norgestaxi.no/english
OsloTaxi.no

Norway by Ferry

The only way to visit many of Norway’s isolated islands and coastal villages is by ferry. Ferries are also the best way to experience the country’s dramatic fjords.

The most famous ferry voyage is the Hurtigruten, which runs along the western coast between Bergen and Kirkenes. Roundtrip, the entire route covers more than 2,500 miles, stops at more than 30 ports — most of which are above the Arctic Circle — and takes 11 days. You can extend the journey by hopping on and off or shorten it by joining just a section of the trip.

The 11 ferries that make the voyage vary in age and style, but all include a restaurant and cafeteria, and most can accommodate cars. Though certainly not cruise-ship comparable, the ships and their cabins are comfortable and casual; different features are outlined on the Hurtigruten website. You can book online or call to make reservations. Though the experience isn’t cheap, you can find deals on reservations made well in advance as well as last-minute departures.

There are numerous additional operators of regional car ferries and passenger express boats in Norway, including Norled in western Norway and Senja Ferries in the north. In summer months, arrive early to queue for boarding.

If your travels include other European nations, ferries connecting Norway to Sweden, Denmark, Germany and the Faroe Islands are available.

Resources:
Hurtigruten.us
eng.Norled.no
Senjafergene.no

You May Also Like

Oslo Travel Guide
Where to Stay in Norway: Lodging Tips

Categories
Active Travel Adventure Travel Booking Strategy

Peru Travel Guide: What to Do in Peru


Peru is most often equated with its top attraction, Machu Picchu. The 15th-century Inca city high in the mountains is rightfully one of the most fascinating attractions in the world, but there’s much more to this South American nation than its ancient artifacts.

Peru is an active traveler’s dream, with countless sporting activities throughout the country (sand surfing, anyone?). It’s a country known for its festivals, markets, food, varied landscapes and wildlife. Truly, there is something to keep everyone wide-eyed and occupied.

Check out our list of 10 recommended experiences in Peru; then read our guides on where to stay and how to get around.

Ride a Dune Buggy in the Desert

Just west of the city of Ica is a strange sight: sand dunes emerging from the landscape out of nowhere, with a palm tree-lined lagoon plopped right in the middle. You’d think the scene was created for a Hollywood movie, but it’s completely natural. Local families flock to the lake for day trips, but dune buggy rides on the soaring dunes have become an even more popular attraction.

Nearly every hotel in Ica offers dune buggy rides, as do local tour operators (see Huacachina.com and MysteryPeru.com). Like riding on a roller coaster, you’ll zip up and down and around the sandy dunes for a few hours via the open-air buggies. Some travelers combine the ride with dune surfing. Others go in the late afternoon to take in sunset views from the top of the mounds. Sunscreen, sunglasses and a bandana to cover your nose and mouth are a must, as the sand goes flying during the thrilling desert sprint.

Browse Cuzco’s San Pedro Market

From the outside, the market looks like a dilapidated, shabby building you’d never want to enter. But the San Pedro Market is a dizzying kaleidoscope of noise, color and aromas, and is truly one of the most multisensory and exciting experiences in all of Cuzco. This is an honest-to-goodness, authentic commerce center for locals, who come to buy their food for the week among the seemingly endless stalls of fruits, vegetables, breads, meats and cheeses.

Benches line makeshift restaurants where fried guinea pigs rest on Styrofoam plates. Children weave among the locals, drinking freshly made juice and eating homemade gelatins. Around one corner, you might run into piles of potatoes in colors you’d never imagine; in another, you might spot a table full of donkey snouts. Plan to wander and sample eats for hours.

The marketplace building takes up three blocks off Tupac Amaru and spills out onto the streets. It’s open every day.

[st_related]12 International Foods to Try Before You Die[/st_related]

Advice from a Traveler Who’s Been There

The Best Cities of South America by Michael Z.
“At over 11,000 [feet] above sea level, Cuzco takes your breath away both literally and figuratively. Nestled in the Andes, this is the continent’s oldest continually inhabited city and a great hub for exploring the magnificent archaeological sites nearby. Cuzco is filled with a diversity of people. Travelers rub shoulders with the progeny of the Incas. Peruvian Spanish mingles with the language of tourists, complemented by the Quechua, spoken by the locals making their living alongside the stepped streets.” Read more!

Monitor Macaws in the Rain Forest

Macaws are what researchers call a “flagship species.” That means that scientists study them in order to glean clues about the health of the surrounding environment. By watching these colorful birds, you can determine how well the Amazon rain forest is doing.

Travelers can aid researchers studying macaws at the remote Tambopata Research Center deep in the Amazon. Accessible only by boat, the center sits on a river where hundreds of parrots and macaws congregate at a clay-lick (where they get essential nutrients from the mud).The work researchers are doing includes studies of blue and gold macaws’ feeding habits, examinations of genetics and parasites, and population counts. Travelers can choose to help with some of the more basic tasks.

The research center has a lodge with 18 rooms and eight shared bathrooms; it can be reserved through PeruNature.com.

Spend the Night on a Floating Island

The Uros people have lived atop floating islands on Lake Titicaca since pre-Incan times. The islands are made of woven reeds called totora that the residents are constantly replenishing. That they’re able to exist on these massive, woven “rafts” is astounding — nothing like it exists anywhere else in the world.

Through a handful of tour operators, such as Titicaca Tour (ToursLakeTiticaca.com) or All Ways Travel (TiticacaPeru.com), travelers can learn about the Uros’ way of life and spend the night with a family in their home. You can help them cut reeds to add to the floating islands, go fishing or help knit sweaters, which is one of the main livelihoods for locals.

Advice from a Traveler Who’s Been There

Unbelievable Peru by John Rybczyk
“The boat ride on Lake Titicaca was long. We heard about the Floating Island, sure, a floating island where people live and work and eat and sleep, sounded good, but a floating island. Well, seeing is believing. I think the first thing that struck me was the colorful clothing the people were wearing and when they explained how they made the ‘floating island,’ it’s unbelievable.” Read more!

Witness the Festival of the Sun

Hundreds of thousands of people converge on Cuzco in June to celebrate Inti Raymi, or the Festival of the Sun. It’s one of the largest gatherings in all of South America, with the pinnacle of the weeklong celebration taking place at the ancient fortress Sacsayhuaman on June 24 (the winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere).

The festival honors the Sun God and traditionally helped the Incas feel assured they’d have good crops in the coming year. Banned for a period of time by Spanish conquistadors, who thought the pagan celebration was contrary to the Catholic faith, the event today includes live music and street fairs in Cuzco and an actor-led procession to Sacsayhuaman for a daylong ceremony culminating in dances around bonfires.

Given the volume of people at the festival, lodging can be hard to come by. Book as far in advance as possible, or reserve a package deal.

Advice from a Traveler Who’s Been There

Three Weeks in Peru by Mike6725
“High on [our] list was the local fortress or temple Sacsayhuaman (pronounced ‘Sexy Woman’ by tourists). Another wonderful example of the stonework of the Incas, it took thousands of workers more than 50 years to construct. As impressive as the structure is now, about 80 percent of the stones were removed by the Spanish for use in construction elsewhere.” Read more!

Look for Penguins in the Ballestas Islands

Three tiny islands sit right off the coast of southern Peru. The jagged rocks, with their wind- and wave-carved arches, would normally seem unexceptional, except that they are a vital sanctuary for many species of marine wildlife and birds. In fact, the Ballestas Islands and nearby Paracas National Reserve are frequently called the “Galapagos of Peru” because they harbor such a wide variety of species. Among them: blue-footed boobies, Inca terns, flamingos, fur seals, sea lions, dolphins and endemic Humboldt penguins.

Visitors are not permitted to go ashore, but plenty of boat tours take you near enough to see the wildlife up close. Peru Dream Travel runs excursions from the town of Pisco, while Peru for Less includes the Ballestas Islands on several of its package tours.

Soak in the Chivay Thermal Pools

The town of Chivay is a popular launch point for hikers venturing into the Colca Valley or Colca Canyon (a gorge twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the United States). Following a long day of trekking or a bumpy bus ride through the mountains, nothing is more soothing to achy muscles than a dip in one of the thermal pools outside Chivay.

La Calera Thermal Waters are manmade pools filled with water collected from nearby springs. It’s not fancy by any means, but the mountain views are priceless. La Calera has five reasonably priced pools, with free towels and lockers available to rent.

Cruise the Amazon River

The second longest river in the world after the Nile, the Amazon snakes its way across three South American countries. Peru is the most popular among the three countries to offer tours via riverboat. The hub of river activity is Iquitos, where tourists board 20- to 60-person ships for weeklong cruises into the upper stretches of the river; you can also hire a driver/guide for a day trip on the river.

The longer trips take you deeper into the river basin to the wildlife-rich Pacaya-Samira Reserve. Shorter trips will reveal some of the wildlife of the rain forest, but mostly you’ll get exposed to human life on the river: locals transporting bananas and other produce to market, illegally harvested trees floating downstream, weathered fishermen paddling themselves in dugout canoes, beer barges that barely seem like they can float. For the most bustling experience, head out onto the river at sunrise or in the late afternoon.

[st_related]Cruising the Amazon River: Hits and Misses[/st_related]

Taste Lima’s Mistura Festival

Peruvian cuisine is the ultimate fusion food; it beautifully melds native cooking with Chinese, Japanese and Spanish influences, among others. Sample everything from traditional dishes to modern nuevo cooking during the annual Mistura Festival, which draws hundreds of thousands of people and is considered the second largest food festival in the world (after the Taste of Chicago).

Everyone from Peruvian farmers to world-famous chefs converges on the fairgrounds in Lima for the weeklong festival, which includes food competitions, classes, demos and lectures. Hundreds of vendors in the Grand Marketplace dole out samples of such items as coffee, quinoa, cocona jam and mashed purple potatoes, and restaurants sell full meals.

The festival is traditionally held in September. Monitor the official website at Mistura.pe.

[st_related]12 Delicious Destinations for Foodies[/st_related]

Best Time to Go to Peru

Roughly speaking, the best time to go to Peru is in May or September — what amounts to the shoulders around the country’s “dry” season. Peru’s weather can be roughly split into wet season (November – April) and dry season (May to October), but there is regional variance depending on whether you’re hiking the highlands (Andes), visiting the Amazon jungle or on the more desert-like coast, which includes Lima. During the dry season in the Amazon basin, the mosquito annoyance quotient reaches its nadir. Meanwhile, Inca trail trekkers will find that the dry season offers the clearest, warmest weather for wandering the landscape and ruins (it still can get to near freezing at night at higher elevations).

Peru on a Budget

Peru is a decently budget-friendly country, with a large cottage industry of hostels and campsites catering to the many backpackers who come to visit the jungle and/or hike the Inca trail. The majority of visitors come to Peru in July and August — so avoiding those months will save you money. Places with significant tourist infrastructure, like Cuzco, gateway city to the Inca Trail, offer plenty of over-priced dining venues, so try to find where the locals eat. The bus system can be a cheap way to get around — but patience (and possibly a motion sickness pill) is a virtue. Be careful when considering certain budget busters, like taking a flight over the famed Nazca lines.

Categories
Adventure Travel Cities

Where the Most Traveled Want to Travel


Those who have made a career of traveling the world seem like they’ve been everywhere on the planet. But even frequent travelers have bucket lists.

We reached out to a dozen popular travel bloggers and editors to find out which destinations they most want to visit. Their responses range from countries filled with lush rain forests and wildlife to islands many people have never heard of.

Read on to get inspiration for your own bucket list.

1. New Zealand

“New Zealand has been at the top of my list for quite some time. I want to experience the beautiful landscapes and see if it can actually outdo South Africa for the title of most beautiful country in the world (in my opinion!). I also want to experience the adventure activities and get close to nature in a way that is become increasingly rare for me, living in a big city.” — Kate McCulley, Adventurous Kate

[st_related]13 Best New Zealand Experiences[/st_related]

2. Madagascar

“We would love to travel to Madagascar. Where [else] in the world can you see such unique and beautiful nature and wildlife? Nick [Wharton, her co-writer] would love to go scuba diving in the waters surrounding the island, and I would love to visit the villages and meet the people — well, we would both love to do that. The Avenue of the Baobabs, the lemurs, the chameleons, the people, the Indian Ocean … it would all be incredible.” — Dariece Swift, Goats On The Road

3. Iceland

“There is one major reason why I am dying to visit Iceland: Even if I’m well known for hating cold climates, Iceland would be the perfect setting to unleash my photographic passion. From the northern lights to the volcanoes and majestic waterfalls, everything in Iceland has the ‘wow’ factor!” — Clelia Mattana, Keep Calm and Travel

[st_related]10 Best Iceland Experiences[/st_related]

4. Brazil

“Brazil, because the national parks look mind-blowingly beautiful and it’s not a place many travel bloggers cover.” — Kristin Addis, Be My Travel Muse

[st_related]10 Best Brazil Experiences[/st_related]

5. South Pacific

“The first item added to my travel bucket list before I even knew such a thing existed was the South Pacific. Even today it’s a place I haven’t visited but want to desperately. I blame James Michener and his books ‘Tales of the South Pacific’ and ‘Hawaii’ for instilling in me a fierce desire to see these bucolic places for myself. I’ve thankfully visited Hawaii, but French Polynesia still eludes me.” — Matt Long, LandLopers.com

[st_related]10 Best French Polynesia Experiences[/st_related]

6. Rwanda

“We’re dying to visit Rwanda. We have always wanted to trek to see the mountain gorillas.” — Deb Corbeil and Dave Bouskill, ThePlanetD

[st_related]Traveling in a Developing Country: 11 Dos and Don’ts[/st_related]

7. Cuba

“I’d have to say Cuba is tops on my list. Ever since the forbidden fruit became legally accessible, especially by cruise, I could not wait to board and make my way to see the Caribbean’s time capsule. … It’s hard to go wrong with classic car taxis in a tropical setting.” — Jason Leppert, Popular Cruising

[st_related]How Americans Can Travel to Cuba[/st_related]

8. Central Asia

“I haven’t really spent time in Central Asia, and that’s a part of the world I’d love to gain a better and more direct understanding of. For me it’s the ‘Stans generally, but Turkmenistan especially.” — Gary Leff, View from the Wing

[st_related]10 Ways to Survive a Long Flight[/st_related]

9. Big Island, Hawaii

“I am dying to visit the Big Island of Hawaii. I have been to all other visitable Hawaiian isles and this is the last on my list. I absolutely adore Hawaii — the friendly people, the beautiful scenery, the warm ocean waves, the fresh pineapple … what’s not to love?! The Big Island is appealing for all of these reasons, plus it has active volcanoes! My kids and husband are dying to go too. In fact, we made a family vision board and Hawaii was the one common wish we all shared.” — Colleen Lanin, Travel Mamas.com

10. Socotra, Yemen

“Number one that we have never been to would probably be the island of Socotra in Yemen. It has been described as the most alien-looking place on the planet, and its dragon blood tree is not found anywhere else. The local food and culture also seem fascinating — a mix of South Arabian, Somali and Indian that have been isolated for years on the island to produce something truly unique.” — Nico Petit and Gabi Zanzanaini, The Funnelogy Channel

11. South Africa

“I’ve always wanted to go to South Africa. I feel like it’s a multi-faceted destination that appeals to a variety of senses: from the wineries to surfing, from history to wildlife sighting and outdooring, with a European heritage mingled with deeply African traditions. Few other destinations, to my knowledge, capture all of these aspects in such a relatively small area.” — Marie-Eve Vallieres, To Europe and Beyond.com

[st_related]10 Best South Africa Experiences[/st_related]

12. Sao Paulo, Brazil

“I’m most interested in visiting Sao Paulo, Brazil. I’ve never been to South America before, and I’ve heard so many great things about the city, from its beaches to the massive parties and liberal attitudes toward sex, sexuality and open-mindedness.” — Adam Groffman, Travels of Adam

You May Also Like

8 Ways to Make Your Dream Trip a Reality
9 Creative Ways to Save for a Trip
Carry-On Only: How to Pack Light

Categories
In-Flight Experience Security

Avoiding Identity Theft: A Cautionary Tale at 35,000 Feet


During a flight from Mexico last week, I sat next to a guy I’ll call Lenny Loquacious (not his real name, obviously).

Apparently I’m more concerned about protecting his identity than he is, because for nearly five hours, Mr. Loquacious talked nonstop to the business associate sitting to his left. Non. Stop. For five hours. Loudly.

Lenny was blindly oblivious to the dirty looks that the half-dozen passengers around us kept giving him. Even the flight attendants rolled their eyes at him, and slipped me free bottles of red wine out of pity.

More disturbing than his behavior, however, was how much personal information he revealed during the course of the flight. I knew where he worked and lived. I learned his wife’s and children’s names. I knew where he traveled for work and when he would be away next. I overheard the names of his home town, his university, a few past employers and the chi-chi private club he was a member of.

In addition, he left his iPhone and business card-as-a-bookmark on his seat when he went to use the restroom. I could have pick up his phone and accessed a good deal of information if I’d wanted to; I knew the phone wasn’t passcode protected.

[st_related]11 Ways to Prevent Identity Theft While Traveling[/st_related]

Clearly, the guy had no self-awareness. But even worse, he put himself at risk of a number of different crimes, according to an identity theft expert I contacted the next day.

“This is an individual who gets an F grade in security,” says Robert Siciliano, CEO of IDTheftSecurity.com in Boston. “He’s already given out enough information [to] allow someone to pose as a bank or a credit card company or even his employer and be able to extract even more data from him to commit fraud.”

The lessons here are obvious: Don’t leave items containing valuable personal information unattended. Watch what you say when you’re in a public place like an airplane. And for the love of the passengers around you — not to mention the information about yourself that you should hold near and dear — pipe down.

As Siciliano says, “Nobody except for criminals wants to hear what you have to say.”

[st_related]7 Ways to Keep Your Stuff Safe When You Fly[/st_related]

Categories
Packing

Don’t Just Pack Lighter; Pack Smarter with Tips from Sonia Gil


Confession: I’m a habitual under-packer. On the surface that seems like a good thing — I never have to worry about lugging a heavy bag or paying checked baggage fees. But this seemingly good habit attracts other problems: I end up cold because I refused to pack a sweater that I declared too bulky, or I run out of hair conditioner midway through a trip and look like a fuzzy-headed mad scientist in half my photos.

Most people aim to pack less. I aim to pack smarter.

Thankfully, I discovered a smart woman who’s helping me: Sonia Gil, an online travel expert with an array of practical packing videos on her YouTube channel. After nearly two decades spent researching travel packing tips, I thought I’d heard it all. But I actually learned some new things from Gil, a spunky 34-year-old from Venezuela.

For instance, she doesn’t merely parrot rules about liquids needing to be in 3.4-ounce bottles — she actually recommends specific bottles, such as ones with wide mouths and made of ultra-squeezeable materials. (One of my biggest travel pet peeves: When half the lotion or shampoo remains lodged in an already-tiny bottle.) Check out her thoughts on “How to Achieve Carry-On Perfection” below:

Other great tips from Gil:

– A hotel hair dryer can do an adequate job of de-wrinkling clothes. No need to whip out the iron and ironing board (if your room even has one).

– If you’re traveling to a cold-weather destination, put a pair of insoles in your shoes. They’ll help keep your feet warmer.

– Use masking tape to seal toiletries so they don’t leak. Seal the opening itself and run a loop of tape around the lid seam. Before learning this tip I had put my toiletries in individual zipper bags, but that often left me with a mass of sticky bags that ended up going to waste.

– Tuck a few Band-Aids in your wallet. I always pack them in my toiletry bag, but how’s that useful when you’re out touring and end up with a cut or a blister miles away from your hotel? A no-brainer.

[st_related]The Ultimate Guide to Travel Packing[/st_related]

Gil offers other fun and useful videos, including how to sleep on a plane, how to exchange currency and how not to gain weight when traveling.

Categories
Booking Strategy

Europe — By Plane or By Train?


Europe’s extensive network of railroads was once the only affordable option for folks traveling around the continent, but lately the rails have lost their supremacy. Discount airlines like Ryanair and easyJet have made jetting around the continent quicker and cheaper; in fact, Ryanair often offers sales with fares as low as 8 GBP (about $13.36 USD).

With fares this cheap, does it make sense even to consider traveling by train anymore? The answer: It depends. For one thing, the discount airlines aren’t actually quite as cheap as they appear. Even if you do net an incredibly affordable flight, government taxes and fees bump the price up to at least $25 or $30.

Then come the airlines’ own fees. On Ryanair, there are so many that the airline has put together a handy table so you can see at a glance what you’ll be charged for checked bags (with higher rates during the summertime and December holiday “peak” periods), online check-in, priority boarding, even purchasing a flight (you’ll pay an “administration fee” of 6 GBP unless you make your booking with a MasterCard prepaid debit card).

EasyJet charges similar fees for checked baggage and for booking with certain types of credit or debit cards.

One more factor to take into account? Discount airlines tend to fly into secondary airports that are an hour or more outside of the city you’re trying to visit. Trains, on the other hand, typically arrive in or near the center of town, and usually link up easily with the city’s mass transportation system.

We tested fares on easyJet, Ryanair and Rail Europe to see who had the lowest price, the most convenient connections and the quickest journey. See below to see how each travel provider stacked up on three common European itineraries.

[st_related]Top 25 Ways to Save on Europe Travel[/st_related]

London – Paris – Rome – London

This popular itinerary was our first test subject since London is the cheapest gateway to Europe for most Americans. It’s important to note that London has four different airports, and that most Americans will fly into Heathrow or, less commonly, Gatwick. The discount airlines, meanwhile, fly from Stansted, Luton or Gatwick, not Heathrow — so be sure to allow plenty of time to transfer between airports if your itinerary so requires.

The Winner: EasyJet edged out Ryanair for first place based on convenience and total travel time. EasyJet offers direct flights for each leg of our itinerary, so booking was a breeze, and the travel time was a little less than six total hours in the air. The price with taxes: $317.94 (if purchased with a Visa Electron card — which is not available to Americans), $332.64 if purchased with a Visa debit card or $341.53 (if booked with another type of credit card). These prices include one checked bag on each flight, prebooked on the easyJet Web site. (Check your bag at the airport and the fee doubles.) EasyJet’s site was easier than Ryanair’s to use, allowing us to search “all London airports” when booking.

Note: For our three flights, we had to fly in and out of six different airports — Charles de Gaulle and Orly (Paris), Luton and Gatwick (London), and Fiumicino and Ciampino (Rome).

The Runner-Up: Ryanair offered somewhat similar pricing to easyJet — $309.59 with a single checked bag up to 15 kilograms (33 pounds) or $376.35 with a single checked bag up to 20 kilograms (44 pounds) — but, surprisingly, offered no direct flights from London to Paris. Because the search function on Ryanair.com won’t make connections for you, we were forced to try out a variety of connecting cities one by one. We found the best deal on flights from London Stansted to Glasgow Prestwick and then on to Paris Beauvais, but the extra flight and layover boosted our total travel time significantly. A few other caveats: Beauvais is probably the least convenient airport for Paris-bound travelers, requiring a shuttle bus ride of over an hour to get into the center of the city. And while Ryanair.com was easy to use, there was no option to search all London airports; instead, we had to test each of the three individually.

The Loser: The train was the clear third choice for this itinerary since the cities involved are so far apart. The total estimated time of all three legs was a vacation-eating 28 hours — and the price couldn’t compensate for the transit time, adding up to $412 per person.

[st_related]Discount Airfare Deals[/st_related]

Rome – Florence – Venice – Rome

This itinerary is a common one for first-time visitors interested in seeing Italy’s highlights. We assumed here that our test traveler flew from the United States into Rome, usually the cheapest Italian gateway city for Americans. Because of the relative proximity of the three cities involved, this turned out to be a much more train-friendly itinerary than our first test case.

The Winner: Eurail won this round by a landslide, offering the shortest trip and most convenient itinerary. The lowest available price was $137 for this itinerary, with a travel time of 12 hours. Cut the travel time down to seven hours (by taking high-speed express trains) and the price goes up to $313. Eurail was the only option of the three that served all three of the cities we wanted to visit (Ryanair and easyJet fly into Pisa, not Florence). One final perk of taking the train? In most cases you’ll arrive at a train station near the center of each city, with quick, easy connections by subway to hotels and sightseeing.

The Runner-Up: Neither airline really shone in this comparison, with no direct flights between any of the cities on our itinerary. However, Ryanair gets our vote for runner-up because we did eventually manage to piece our itinerary together with 17 hours of flights and layovers. (That doesn’t even take into account how early you need to arrive at the airport before your flights to get through security!) The initial fare quote was $298.82 for six flights — 65 bucks more than the fast trains — and that’s not including the checked bag fees. Checking a single bag for all of those flights will set you back an additional $222.36 to $266.52 (depending on weight and whether you travel during peak or off-peak seasons), for a total price up to $565.34.

The Loser: EasyJet loses out because we couldn’t find a way to get between Pisa and Venice on our selected travel date; we tried layovers in several different cities, but the flight times were simply incompatible. Our only choice would have been to stay overnight in the connecting city — or to have skipped Florence altogether and just flown on the convenient, nonstop flight from Rome to Venice.

Paris – Barcelona – Lisbon – Paris

This itinerary is a bit less common than our first two, and it proved impossible to book on Ryanair, which doesn’t offer flights to Lisbon. We used Paris, another common gateway for U.S. travelers, as a starting point. Because the cities are relatively far apart, this itinerary favored easyJet over Eurail.

The Winner: EasyJet came out on top with an affordable total cost ($304.90 if booked with a Visa debit card or $313.79 with a non-Visa Electron credit card) and direct flights for all three legs. The fare above includes a single checked bag of no more than 20 kilograms.

The Runner-Up: Rail travel comes in at a distant second place, at $481 for a Eurail Select Pass, which allows five days of train travel in three countries and is several hundred dollars cheaper than booking point-to-point tickets. We added up a total of about 47 hours of travel time. While that’s significant, keep in mind that overnight trains are an option; these allow you to save time (and money on a hotel room) by traveling while you sleep.

[st_related]Learn About Eurail Passes[/st_related]

The Loser: Ryanair is the loser by default, as the airline doesn’t fly to Lisbon. It does fly elsewhere in Portugal, to Porto and Faro, both about three hours away from Lisbon by train. Ryanair flies direct between Paris Beauvais and Barcelona’s main international airport — but Beauvais is more than an hour by bus from downtown Paris.

The Bottom Line

We learned quite a few things in the oft-laborious process of testing all these itineraries — first, that finding a good deal takes time! Though easyJet.com, Ryanair.com and RailEurope.com are relatively easy sites to use, it often takes a bit of manipulation to get the itinerary you want, especially when connections are involved.

Our second lesson was that although discount airlines may be on the rise, you shouldn’t dismiss the train option altogether. Particularly for itineraries where the cities aren’t far apart, the train may still be your most economical and even your quickest choice. However, the more distance your itinerary covers, the more appealing a plane is likely to look (unless you’re willing to consider overnight trains).

You might also want to consider combining your options. EasyJet may offer the cheapest fare for the first leg of your trip, but the next leg may be better served by train. If easyJet doesn’t fly to your city of choice, there’s a chance Ryanair might. To search more than one discount airline at a time, try SkyScanner.net, which shows you estimated prices for routes within Europe on various airlines including Ryanair, easyJet, bmi, Aer Lingus and more.

[st_related]Tips for Finding Cheap Airfare[/st_related]

Finally, ultra-cheap flight offers aside, beware of the many hidden costs that could significantly boost your price tag — everything from baggage fees and credit card surcharges to the price of transferring from one London airport to another. Keep in mind that flights may look shorter on paper, but you’ll also spend more time going through security and transferring into the city you’re visiting than you would for a journey on the rails.

You May Also Like

–written by Sarah Schlichter; updated by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

 

Categories
Booking Strategy

Getting Around Spain: Transportation Tips


Given its well-designed and prompt public transportation network and a highway system that’s easy for drivers to follow, Spain is a simple destination to navigate. Nearly the entire country is covered by rail lines — some of them high-speed — and by bus routes that safely carry you between big cities and towns.

There are few difficulties to getting around Spain; if we had to pick one nuisance, it’s the reduced schedules on Sundays and holidays (noted on timetables as domingos y festivos). But with the right amount of planning, even that’s not such a big deal. Read on to learn more about your Spain transportation options.

Flying to and Around Spain

The majority of international visitors arrive at Madrid’s Barajas Airport or Barcelona‘s El Prat, both of which are less than 15 miles from the city center. Spain has dozens of international and local airports, though the best options for connections are from Madrid or Barcelona. Both are well served by national and discount airlines, including Iberia and Air Europa, and offer daily flights to almost every corner of the country and also to the Canary and Balearic Islands.

Resources:
AirEuropa.com
Iberia.com

[st_related]10 Best Spain Experiences[/st_related]

Spain by Train

While Spain’s state-run rail network may not be the most efficient in Europe, it serves its purpose. RENFE, which runs the rails, has improved its timeliness in recent years. Madrid serves as the heart of the system, with service radiating to major cities in all directions.

Spain has several types of trains:

Long-Distance: There are high-speed (AVE) and regular service (Talgo) trains, with fares based on type of train and class of seat (first/club, business or tourist class). Most long-distance trains have bar and restaurant service, air conditioning, movies and reclining seats. Overnight trains offer sleeping berths (couchettes) for an additional fee. High-speed trains can cost significantly more than the slower trains, but get you to your destination much faster (Barcelona to Seville, for example, is about five and a half hours by high-speed train, versus 11 and a half hours via slower services).

Medium-Distance: Talgo trains also operate medium-distance routes, which generally are just a few hours in length. Onboard amenities sometimes include a drink and snack cart.

Local: Denoted by the word cercanias, local trains offer just one class of seat and are usually under two hours. They tend to make a lot of stops.

Fares in Spain are among the lowest in Europe. You can purchase tickets online, at a RENFE ticket office or from a station agent. Local train tickets also can be bought from ticket machines, when available. And of course you can purchase seats in advance from a travel agency, but expect to pay an upcharge for the service.

At large stations, such as those in Madrid and Barcelona, make sure you get in line at the correct window — some windows book only local trains (cercanias) and others handle long distance (largos recorridos). To make matters even more confusing, you’ll likely find yet another window that only makes advance or international reservations.

Travelers 60 and older qualify for discounts between 25 percent and 40 percent. Show ID at a ticket window and request a gold card (tarjeta dorada). Children under the age of 13 also are discounted, with free tickets available for children under 4 who share a seat with an older traveler.

[st_related]European Train Tips[/st_related]

Buy tickets no later than one hour before departure, though that can even be cutting it close; naturally, you’ll want to plan farther ahead when traveling on holidays and during peak tourist seasons, such as Holy Week. And specify whether you want one way (ida) or roundtrip (ida y vuelta).

Resources:
RailEurope.com
Renfe.com/EN/viajeros

Spain by Bus

Almost 200 cities and towns are served by Spain’s excellent bus network. Intercity buses are clean and safe, making them a stellar option for all travelers, not just those on a budget.

The hardest part about using Spain’s bus network is trying to figure out which bus company to use and where the bus station is — easy in small towns, but a challenge in big cities, where the terminals could be miles apart. For example, Madrid has two main bus terminals — Avenida de America and Estacion del Sur.

Some companies, such as Avanzabus, are established enough that they have English-language websites where you can view schedules and buy tickets, but it can be hard to know if online timetables are up to date. More reliable are timetables posted at the stations themselves or the website Movelia, which allows you to make advance reservations for a small processing fee and is the best resource for information on buses in Spain. You can also buy tickets at the station on the day of your trip.

Resources:
Avanzabus.com
Movelia.es/en

Renting a Car in Spain

International car rental agencies are widely available in Spain; they include Budget, Hertz, Avis and Thrifty. European agencies, such as Europcar, and Spanish companies, including Pepecar, are also available.

Advance reservations online nearly always get you the best rate. Most pick-up and drop-off locations are at airports, with some at train stations or city offices.

Foreigners must be 21 years old and have had a license for at least one year to rent a car in Spain. U.S. and European Union driver’s licenses are accepted.

A few points to keep in mind:

Highways are called autopistas and have speed limits of 120 kph (75 mph). Secondary roads are called autovias and have speed limits of 50 to 90 kph (31 to 56 mph).

Some of Spain’s highways are toll roads — look for signs with an “AP,” “R” or the Spanish word peaje on them. While credit cards are accepted, we recommend paying with cash, just in case there’s a problem with the credit card reader accepting an international credit card.

Parking can be beastly in some cities and historic towns. It can get so crowded in some places, like Granada, that local governments have instituted fees during high-traffic times of day. If you’re visiting a congested city, consider staying at a hotel that offers parking.

If the police pull you over for speeding or for speaking on a mobile phone while driving (it’s banned), don’t be surprised if you’re asked to pay a fine on the spot. Pay in cash and ask for a receipt.

To learn more, see International Car Rental Tips.

Resources:
Europcar.com
uk.Pepecar.com

Spain by Taxi

Taxis are a reasonably priced option in cities or if you need transport from a town to a rural destination. In general, Spanish taxi drivers are trustworthy and do not make a habit of bilking tourists.

In a city, hail a taxi on the street or seek one out at a taxi stand (parada de taxi), which can be found at train stations, airports and major intersections. Available taxis have green lights or signs that say libre (free) on them.

Taxis run on meters in cities; drivers taking you long distances won’t necessarily use the meter, which is fine as long as you agree in advance on the fare.

Note that if you phone a taxi company to request a ride, you will need to pay for the taxi’s journey to your pick-up spot. Also, it’s common to pay a surcharge or a higher per-kilometer rate at night and on Sundays.

[st_related]The Best Way to Carry Money Overseas[/st_related]

Spain by Ferry

Most people going from mainland Spain to the Balearic Islands travel via ferry. Ferries depart from the east coast cities of Barcelona, Denia and Valencia. Express service is available. Tickets should be purchased in advance, as the ferries often sell out.

Additionally, it is possible to travel between Spain and Italy, Morocco, Algeria and even England via boat. Companies include Grimaldi Lines, Trasmediterranea and Brittany Ferries. Some ships offer luxury accommodations, swimming pools, restaurants, even nightclubs.

Resources:
Balearia.co.uk
Brittany-Ferries.co.uk
Grimaldi-Lines.com
Trasmediterranea.es/en

You May Also Like

Barcelona Travel Guide
Where to Stay in Spain: Lodging Tips
Top 25 Ways to Save on Europe Travel

Categories
Sustainable Travel

Social Impact Travel: A Q&A with Michal Alter


Michal Alter has spent her career working on behalf of underserved communities. So when the Israel native and New York resident decided to launch a tourism operation two years ago, the needs of others were at the forefront of her mind.

The company Alter cofounded, Visit.org, allows travelers to find and book authentic and impactful excursions in the U.S. and overseas. Visit.org carefully vets the organizations it works with to ensure that the activities make a social impact and that 100 percent of the fees a traveler pays for an activity is invested in the local community.

From her office in New York, Alter talked with us about this rapidly growing platform for what she called “social impact travel experiences.”

Independent Traveler: Why did you start this company?

Michal Alter: We launched Visit.org in 2015 in response to the travel industry’s immense potential to generate economic sustainability for local communities. The $7 trillion travel industry is the world’s top economic driver, yet only 5 percent of earnings are left in local hands. With this in mind, we created a platform that enables social ventures like nonprofits and other community-based enterprises to create and market mainstream tourism products that will finance their missions.

IT: How many different activities could a traveler book through Visit.org?

MA: As of March 2017, we have 545 exclusive experiences in 65 countries. We aim to reach more than 1,000 do-good partners by the end of the year.

IT: Why is it important for travelers to support local communities?

MA: When we do not support local communities, local cultures and natural resources get diluted. What makes the destination so unique and different from our own home towns then disappears. When travelers support local communities, they are leaving funds directly in the hands of the local hosts whose communities’ natural resources, labor, social fabrics and cultures are affected.

IT: What are some of the more unusual experiences someone could arrange through Visit.org?

MA: Some of my favorite experiences are in always inspiring Paris. The most unusual offers guests the chance to upcycle trash into artwork. Visitors repurpose waste into something beautiful as well as learn about the importance of responsible waste management.

In Cuzco, Peru, you can go to a potato park with a group that works to preserve local ancestral agricultural knowledge and celebrate the country’s unique potato heritage. There are 1,500 native types of potatoes grown in Peru!

[st_related]3 Secrets for Traveling Like a Local[/st_related]

IT: Can you tell me a little about the vetting process you go through before selecting the organizations you partner with?

MA: We focus on partnerships with locally operated grassroots organizations as they are the best equipped to serve their communities; they have vast knowledge and understanding of the issues. Our high-level vetting criteria includes confirming a measurable track record of significant impact on the local community and a commitment that 100 percent of hosts’ revenue from the experience will be invested into the local community. We then conduct extensive online research about potential organizations and use existing official databases of highly vetted nonprofits around the globe to identify new partners.

Once we’ve identified a new potential partner organization, we send someone from our global network of more than 200 “travel ambassadors” to visit the organizations in person. After the meeting, the ambassador fills out a detailed report.

IT: Your activities are not very expensive. Do people have a misperception that social impactful travel equals more expensive travel?

MA: There is definitely that misconception. It comes from the fact that a lot of what is marketed to consumers as “social impactful travel” is either an expensive and long-term volunteer tourism commitment, or a high-end, highly curated culturally immersive itinerary. This is where Visit.org’s innovation lies, as we make impactful travel experiences both affordable and easy to book.

IT: If a traveler is told that an excursion or activity will support the local community, what can he or she do to confirm that’s indeed the case?

MA: Travelers can check a provider’s website to see what type of company it is, review the mission statement, research what the vendor is incentivized by and see how revenue will be spent. Also, check customer reviews to see if past guests had meaningful experiences and look to see if the company has responsible travel certifications from such organizations as the Center for Responsible Travel, the Global Sustainable Tourism Council and the International Ecotourism Society.

IT: What have been some of your most memorable culturally immersive experiences from your travels?

MA: I recently visited Al Hagal, an Israeli social enterprise that leads yearlong youth empowerment programs through surfing to underserved youth from around the country. I took my first wave-surfing lesson. Surfing the waves for the first time was a lot of fun, but much more powerful was getting to know the staff and youth, taking in the contagious passion with which the staff speaks about their youth program, and listening to stories of transformation from the program’s participants.

[st_related]Voluntourism: Does It Really Help?[/st_related]

Categories
Budget Travel Food & Drink

How to Save Money on Food When You Travel


Based on the lavish menu of items that Pam Tobey and Rick Durham dined on during an independent trip to Reykjavik, Iceland, you’d think a hearty chunk of their budget was spent on food. Think lamb pate, cod in mustard sauce, salmon with brown bread, and skyr (the national cheese).

You might be surprised to hear, then, that during their five-day jaunt through one of Europe’s most expensive cities, they only ate in a restaurant once. Otherwise, they bought ingredients from little stores and cobbled together their own meals.

“Half the fun of our overseas travel is exploring local markets and groceries,” says Tobey, a graphic designer in Washington D.C. Not to mention that frequenting local markets is the number-one way to save money on food while traveling.

If you’re willing to map out an eating plan that includes buying provisions at grocery stores and following some of our other tips, you can save a good chunk of change on your travels, and still eat well.

[st_related]8 Ways to Savor a Local Food Scene[/st_related]

Navigating Grocery Stores

It’s simple, really: Shopping for foodstuffs at supermarkets, small groceries, farmers’ markets, even drug stores with pantry aisles, will save you loads of money on food. Fresh bread, a few slices of meat or cheese and a piece of fruit make for a wholly satisfactory meal and will set you back just a few dollars.

If you are planning to make this style of eating a part of your next trip, some simple advance planning will make the experience easier on your budget.

– Bring or obtain simple utensils. It’s generally easy enough to find paper plates and plastic forks, spoons and knives when you’re traveling — or you can bring your own set of reusable utensils from home.

– Don’t buy items that require a special tool to open. If you didn’t bring a corkscrew on your trip, get wine with twist-off caps. Canned items without flip-top lids will go uneaten unless you pack a can opener.

– Tote along a small cache of quart- and gallon-size zip-top bags for securing leftovers and preventing leaks. A collapsible insulated cooler bag is helpful too.

– Order small quantities of pay-by-weight items from counters, and only order what you realistically will eat. This is a great way to sample a variety of local foods.

– Pop into markets and small bakeries in the late afternoon. Some sell baked goods at half price in an effort to recoup expenses before throwing items out. A few rolls safely secured in a zip-top bag and voila! You’ve got breakfast the next day.

[st_related]12 Delicious Destinations for Foodies[/st_related]

Putting Restaurant Meals to Work for You

Restaurant meals are generally unavoidable when you’re on the road. And let’s face it: Trying out new spots can be part of the fun of traveling.

If you’re staying at a hotel, avoid asking concierges for recommendations of places to eat. They tend to have a set list of pricey or touristy spots near the hotel that they suggest. Instead, ask bartenders or baristas where they personally like to eat, or consult travel guidebooks and their companion websites for lists of the best cheap eats in a city. The “Rough Guides” and “Let’s Go” series of guidebooks are two good choices.

Read local food blogs before you go on an overseas trip. Chole Current, an American living in Istanbul, where she works as a university professor, says that “expats living in the area know where to go to get the best food at the best prices.” Her go-to source is a local blog called IstanbulEats.com.

Americans tend to devour their largest meals of the day at dinner, when menus usually are most expensive. Make lunch your biggest meal instead — most people in other countries do anyway, so you’ll fit in better with the locals.

If you’re traveling on your own, eat light and just order an appetizer as your meal. A couple can split an entree, perhaps ordering a salad or an additional side dish to complement it. Alternately, order from the fixed-priced or tourist menu, if one is available. Those traveling with children should seek out restaurants with “kids eat free” promotions (note that these are more prominent in the United States than overseas).

[st_related]Finding the Best Restaurants on the Road[/st_related]

Be a Restaurant Bargain Hunter

The benefit of traveling during a difficult economy is that many restaurants have been offering coupons and discounts that they promote in a variety of outlets. Some of the best places to look for restaurant special offers include:

– The official tourism website of your destination before you go on a trip. Many post coupons or other discounts.

– International restaurant booking sites such as TheFork.com, which offers a network of more than 12,000 restaurant partners across Europe. We also found LunchaLot.com for discounts in Sydney, Australia, and a U.K. branch of OpenTable at OpenTable.co.uk.

– Google. Try simply searching your location + restaurant discounts and see what comes up. There are plenty of international dining sites with local discounts available that you can Google translate if need be.

– E-mail offers from such promotional sites as LivingSocial.com and Groupon.com.

– Pay-in-advance offers from sites like Restaurant.com. You can regularly find $25 restaurant gift cards for only $10 on Restaurant.com — and if you sign up for its e-mail newsletters, you’ll get special promo codes and offers for even better discounts.

– The Entertainment Coupon Book, a thick, annually published compilation of coupons for restaurants, hotels, rental cars and attractions. It costs just $35 and often pays for itself after just a meal or two (and can help you save some bucks on other aspects of your travels too). Bonus: The books tend to be deeply discounted in the summer. See Entertainment.com.

– Membership organizations like AAA and AARP. These organizations often offer discounts at popular chain restaurants.

Hotel Rooms: The Best Tool in Your Arsenal

For budget travelers, a hotel room could be Command Central for the preparation of the majority of your meals.

Choose hotels that offer full or half-kitchens ensuite (and make sure they’re stocked with basic dishes and utensils). This is especially helpful if you have children, who generally eat simply anyway and have low tolerance for sitting in restaurants for long spans of time. Backpackers, meanwhile, benefit from hostels, which often have communal kitchens.

Don’t have access to anything more than a mini-fridge and a coffee maker? No problem. Cold cereal with milk or instant oatmeal with water warmed through the coffee maker are great for breakfast. Sandwiches, cups of soup and ramen noodles for lunch are easy to prepare.

Speaking of mini-fridges, here’s something important to know: When you check in at your hotel, ask the staff to clear out the minibar for you. Some fridge models can automatically track when items are removed and will tack ridiculously marked-up charges to your bill, even if you just temporarily remove some items to make room for your own stuff ($4 for a tiny can of Pringles, anyone?).

Even if you don’t have a mini-fridge, you can still get by with some basic non-refrigerated staples — like peanut butter, jelly and bread. If you’re traveling to a spot where a grocery store isn’t convenient, bring the items with you. If you can’t do that (because of airline restrictions, for instance), ship them to your hotel in advance, or use a grocery delivery service.

If you don’t wish to prepare your own food in a hotel room, at least choose a property that offers free breakfast. And don’t be shy — gorge away! Tuck an apple or muffin into your daypack for a snack. We’ve never heard of a hotel objecting to that. (Have you?)

Abra Benson Perrie of Gainesville, Virginia, says she always asks for a hotel room upgrade to the concierge level, where continental breakfast and afternoon snacks are included. “I did this in both Bermuda and Bali, and it worked out great,” she says. “I only really needed to buy lunch.” Even if she can’t get the upgrade for free, sometimes the cost differential is still less than she and her husband would pay for two meals a day.

[st_related]12 International Foods to Try Before You Die[/st_related]

Hitting the Streets

Some of the best budget food in the world comes from street vendors. It is hearty and cheap, and permits you to sample many local delicacies without shelling out too much money.

It also can be some of the riskiest food you eat while traveling. There’s no better way to ruin a trip — and potentially run up your travel expenses with medical bills — than coming down with a case of food poisoning.

So what’s an intrepid diner to do? When trying street food, “Be sure your dish is served hot, and take a look at the cart or kiosk before ordering,” advises Sarah Schlichter in Food Safety: How to Avoid Getting Sick While Traveling. “Does it look clean and well kept? Is it busy? (The fewer the customers, the longer the food may sit before being served.)”

To Drink or Not to Drink?

Who gets the munchies when they drink? Who loses the ability to think budget-mindedly after throwing a few back? Who’s surprised by the food and drink tab the next day when reviewing receipts stuffed into jeans pockets?

Guilty.

Killjoy alert: The best way to keep on budget is to avoid alcoholic beverages altogether. However, if you do plan to throw a few back, seek out happy hours, order the house wine during dinner or buy your booze where the locals do (and have your drinks in your room before you go out).

Some bars also offer free food during happy hour. In places like Spain, tapas are served whenever you order a drink. Drink enough, and your belly’s full.

So what should you imbibe if you’re on a very limited food and drink budget? To maximize your savings, only drink tap water, if it’s safe to drink (if not, consider bringing a reusable bottle with built-in filter). Bring powdered drink mixes from home if the idea of only drinking plain water is a bore.

[st_related]Drinking Water Safety[/st_related]

If you must consume bottled water, purchase it at a grocery store rather than from restaurants or street vendors, as it will be less expensive.

You May Also Like

–written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a subsidiary of TripAdvisor, Inc., which also owns TheFork.com.