Archive of ‘Travel Tips’ category

Overcoming Homesickness During the Holidays

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Homesickness can hit anytime when you’re traveling, but it’s almost a sure thing when the holidays roll around. This is especially true if you’re a solo backpacker. Here are some tips for making the best of it.

Christmas holidays homesick travel

1. Find fellow travelers to celebrate with.

If you haven’t already made some travel friends in your current location, ask around at your hostel to see if they’re hosting any special holiday events. Coordinate with others to have a Secret Santa gift exchange and decorate your bunks. It can also be fun to share stories and traditions with people from all over the world. I personally loved hearing about how the Dutch celebrate Christmas.

2. Get a taste of the familiar. Literally.

Cook some of your favorite dishes if that’s your thing. If not, go out for some Western-style food. While I love experiencing the local cuisine of my travel destinations, sometimes you just need a little comfort food that reminds you of home.

3. Create a new tradition.

Adopt a tradition from fellow travelers, locals, or maybe even come up with something new entirely. When I was in Thailand, my friend and I scoured the beach for seashells and decorated our hotel room (and Christmas tree) with them.

4. Do something amazing.

It’s hard to feel homesick when you’re out and about exploring amazing sights. Take a hike or go on a cool adventure that you wouldn’t be able to do back home. You’ll appreciate celebrating the holidays right where you are. After all, most of your friends and family would kill to be in your shoes right now.

5. Download the classic tunes and movies.

Share them with your new friends or buy some chocolate, book a private room, and take some “me-time”to revel in your usual holiday standbys.

6. Take a break from social media.

When you’re traveling, you often can’t wait to brag and share photos of all the cool places you’re seeing. But when that homesickness sinks in, all you see on Facebook is how happy your friends and family seem hanging out with each other. Without you. This is the perfect time for a social media detox.

7. Send gifts home.

Or even just postcards. Embrace the season of giving in a completely new way. Your family and friends will appreciate that you’re thinking of them.

8. Go out and party.

Even if you’re not a big party animal, it’s fun to get out and socialize. Plus, you won’t be getting much sleep anyway since everyone around you will be celebrating whether you like it or not.

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13 Tips For Responsible Tourism

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Travel is such a wonderful thing. Most of us do it with the right intentions and really want to experience different cultures. However, we aren’t always well equipped with the knowledge we need to practice responsible tourism. Responsible tourism can essentially be summed up as, “First, do no harm.” Here are some tips to make sure that you do no harm to the people, animals, and nature of the world.

1. Support local trade

responsible tourism shop local markets

When buying souvenirs, food, or even going on tours, shop local first. Big corporations and international chains don’t need your money. The locals do.

2. Learn local customs and values

Research to the best of your ability so that you can be respectful. Learn how to greet locals, appropriate body language, and anything that is considered rude or offensive. Also keep in mind that there may be some rules and laws that you would never have guessed.

3. Dress appropriately

Modesty is very important in many cultures and countries. Find out how much you should cover up in different situations, such as visiting local temples.

4. Leave no trace

Don’t litter. Try to reuse things and avoid papers and plastics, as many developing nations will not have an abundance of recycling bins. Instead of buying water bottles, you can refill your own thermos by using a water sterilization tool.

5. Don’t patronize businesses that treat people or animals inhumanely

This includes riding elephants and taking photos with drugged animals. Also avoid “attractions” that exploit people, like orphanage tours.

6. Don’t buy from children

Don’t support child labor. You don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes nor where that money’s really going.

7. Don’t give money to beggars

Like the above, you don’t know where that money is going. Plus, it helps perpetuate the cycle of dependence on the “white savior.” Instead, donate money to established organizations that work to create sustainable self-reliance within the country.

8. Ask permission before taking photos of locals

responsible tourism locals

They’re real people living their lives. They’re not there for your amusement. It’s demeaning and voyeuristic. That’s not to say you can’t ask. I found the majority of people were excited to be in my photos.

9. Be responsible about volunteering

First off, you should not participate in voluntourism. It’s extremely harmful to local communities. However, if you have an in-demand skill, like nursing, do your research before setting off.

10. Don’t buy ivory products

Also consider reporting it. Selling them is illegal in most countries.

11. Look out for your fellow travelers

Everyone’s out of their element. Many people are traveling on their own. Look out for them and help them stay safe.

12. Negotiate, but be fair

In many countries, bargaining at markets is part of the culture. But it’s important to keep in mind that this is how people make their living. What’s chump change to you could be a lot to them.

13. Don’t step on, or touch anything while snorkeling

With the coral reefs and many ocean species in danger, it’s so important to respect sea life.

 

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The Dangers of Dental Tourism: How I Broke My Jaw

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er broken jaw

Unhappy ER selfie

Dental tourism, traveling to another country to save money on dental work, is super popular right now. There are even entire websites dedicated to helping you find the best providers. It’s generally considered pretty safe as long as you take certain precautions, such as checking their reviews and taking a look at where the dentists received their degrees.

I’m no stranger to dental tourism. When I went to Bali, I decided to have my teeth whitened. Everything went swimmingly and I raved about it. What’s better than saving over 50% of the cost it would be in the U.S.? Maybe the fact that I was traveling there anyway and it didn’t interfere with my relaxation time at all.

Since moving to San Diego, CA, I’ve been visiting a dentist in Tijuana, Mexico. This is relatively common here and I’ve met other people who do the same thing. It just seems to make sense economically. Can you even call it dental tourism when you’re only 30 minutes from the border?

Things Take a Turn for the Worst

When the dentist told me I would need two of my wisdom teeth removed, I figured I better get it over with right away. The dental staff were so friendly and comforting and I felt safe. But things didn’t turn out so well.

First of all, I looked in the mirror to find that they had taken out the wrong tooth! They took out the bottom left wisdom tooth instead of the top left. When I told them this, there was a bit of back and forth until they told me they would not charge me for the third tooth and I would have to wait two weeks for them to remove it! Furious, but deliriously swollen, I agreed. I later realized this didn’t even begin to make up for what was essentially malpractice. In addition to the unnecessary pain and the time it would require for me to keep going back, it also put me at increased risk for infection, especially since I am over 25. But this was far from the worst of it.

When I got home I tried to eat liquid foods, as recommended. But each time I went to swallow I felt excruciating pain in my jaw. Several times it seemed to slip out of place entirely! I immediately made an appointment with a local dentist so he could take a look at it. The dentist assured me that this was common and likely a normal part of healing. I kept regular appointments with this new dentist so he could keep tabs on my condition.

Unfortunately, things got worse instead of better. I could only open my jaw the width of my finger and my teeth weren’t even touching on one side. I was definitely not healing. Finally, I was referred to a specialist.

Three Days in the Hospital. Two Months of Suffering

Nearly three weeks after the procedure, I finally received a panoramic x-ray. I’m not a doctor, but it didn’t take a genius to see the results in that x-ray. It was broken. Badly!

broken jaw dental tourism X-ray

I was told to immediately go to the ER in the hospital across the road. So much for a weekend with friends visiting. I spent two days waiting, one night in surgery, and one day recovering.

The surgeon informed me that since the break was so bad and since it was so long after the initial fracture, my jaw would have to be wired shut for a whopping six weeks! Meaning I can only eat foods that are pure liquid with no chunks. I also can’t exercise or talk very easily. Since my food intake is limited, I’m constantly weak and tired. I try to get out of the house, but I mostly stay in bed because I have frequent dizzy spells.

Moral of the Story

Sure, this could have happened in the U.S. The surgeon told me my jaw was very small and susceptible to fracture. BUT if this had happened in the U.S., I could have very rightfully sued. Since it didn’t, all I can do is kick myself for making this mistake.

In addition to all the pain and loss of time I could have been looking for a job, I’m out a lot of money. And the bills won’t end here. Due to the force of the wires, my teeth are shifting and I will likely need braces again. Furthermore, I’m at an increased risk of cavities since I can’t brush the inside of my teeth. Yes, the wisdom tooth procedure was a fraction of the cost it would be in the United States, but my total costs are now much, much higher.

Yes, there are some great dentists abroad. However, I can’t recommend that anyone else take the risk of dental tourism.

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10 Ways to Stay Fit During Long-Term Travel

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Long-term travel has a way of taking its toll on your body. Eating out at every meal, long travel days without exercise, and cheap drinks all add up. But it’s possible to maintain (or even lose) weight while traveling. Here’s how.

1.) Cook your own food

Choose hostels and AirBnBs with kitchen access. Buy your own groceries and cook for yourself. Compared to the U.S., produce elsewhere is generally much fresher and more delicious so you don’t need to be a pro-chef to create something amazing. This will also save you a ton of money.

2.) Workout videos

Download some workout videos onto your tablet or laptop so you can watch them offline. Then recruit some of your travel buddies to join you so you can stay accountable.

3.) Go on active adventures

hiking active fitness travel

Hiking, swimming, biking, and even just walking around a new city are fun ways to stay fit. More adrenaline-filled activities like climbing, canyoning, and surfing also fit the bill.

4.) Limit sugary cocktails

Sure, they seem like such a great idea when you’re on the beach. But all they really give you are excess calories, dehydration, and a hangover. If you’re in the mood for a drink, stick to wines, hard liquors, and beers.

5.) Don’t go crazy with the free breakfast

Whether it’s a hostel with endless bread and cereal or a full-on breakfast buffet at a nice hotel, it’s easy to over-do it. This is especially true when you’re trying to save money and think it will help you skip on lunch. Guess what? It won’t because carbs only fill you up temporarily. So go easy on the breakfast and make your own healthy sandwich for lunch.

6.) Pack healthy snacks so you don’t need to stop for a huge meal

While portion sizes are generally smaller abroad than they are in the U.S., they’re still pretty damn big. And a lot of people have three of these huge meals a day since they aren’t home with access to snacks. Pick up some nuts and fruits at the grocery store so you don’t have to go crazy with the restaurant meals.

7.) Limit indulgences to special, local foods

vietnamese food hanoi local cuisine

When it comes to traveling, moderation is key. You can’t go to a foreign country and not indulge. Trying the local cuisine is a huge part of the culture and experience. So skip the burgers, but occasionally opt for the local pasta or unique desserts.

8.) Take advantage of body weight exercises

If you don’t have time for a full workout video, you can still fit in several reps of body weight exercises. Squats, lunges, push-ups, etc are all great ways to ensure your muscles don’t whittle away during those long train rides.

9.) Take local classes

Muay Thai in Thailand, yoga in Bali or India, and dancing in Argentina or Spain are all unforgettable ways to stay in shape and have fun.

10.) Cut yourself some slack

vacation tanzania beach zanzibar

Don’t set unreasonable goals. More importantly, don’t feel bad when you screw up. You’re on vacation for Christ’s sake! Be flexible, be good when you can, and forgive yourself when you indulge too much or are too tired to get out of bed.

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10 Ways to Get the Most Out of Solo Travel

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I love solo travel, and thanks to social media, more and more people are beginning to feel the same way. But a lot of people are still afraid to travel alone. Even if they’re not worried about safety, they’re concerned about feeling lonely or not getting enough out of the experience. Here are some tips for using the fact that you’re on your own to your advantage. Most importantly, be safe but have fun!

1. Visit somewhere spiritualsolo travel bali temple yoga

Temples, cathedrals, and ancient ruins are perfect spots to explore by yourself. Actually, any quiet, beautiful place will do. You can be more introspective and meditative than you ever could if you were with someone else. Let the dramatic realizations begin!

2. Avoid romantic places

Sure, some people are okay riding down the canals of Venice alone, surrounded by kissing couples. But this would probably make most of us feel a little lonely (and grossed out). Personally, I prefer to save the romantic spots for someone special and go everywhere else on my own.

3. Take yourself on dates to restaurants

Even if you would never do this back home, you should absolutely try it while traveling! For one, you’ll get to try so many different foods than if you just limit yourself to street food. Second, you’ll get to see local culinary customs in action. Lastly, it’s super fun! After all, you are your own perfect date.

4. Go to cute little cafes and people watch

In my mind, there’s nothing more European than this! Grab an espresso or an afternoon tea and take it all in.

5. Head to the park for some quality me-time

botanical gardens singapore

I love going to the largest park in every city I visit. I think it’s usually the most beautiful part and you get to see locals taking a rest from their busy lives. Bring a book, notebook, or sketchpad and enjoy!

6. Do things your way

Embrace that there’s no one else around that you have to please. This is by far the best part of solo travel! Sleep in if you want to. Wake up early and catch the sunrise if you want to. Spend a lot of money on a fancy dinner or grab some ice cream and eat it in bed. Your options are unlimited.

7. Befriend the locals

What better way to get a true feel for local life than by making friends with the locals? Learn from each other.

8. Make friends with fellow travelers

Sure, you’re solo traveling and want to do and see things on your own. But you can’t be alone all the time! One of the best parts of traveling is sharing stories with other backpackers from all over the world. And since many people are on their own, nearly everyone is friendly and up for a good conversation.

9. Go shopping

markets bali Indonesia shopping shops

Shopping is always more fun when you’re not slowing anyone down and can do things at your own pace. Find some hidden gems or just browse the local markets for a few hours.

10. Take a local class

Whether it’s yoga, pottery, or cooking, learn a new craft from the local experts. Plus, you’ll probably make some new friends while you’re at it!

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5 Things I Wish I Knew Before My First African Safari

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This year, I (quite spontaneously) embarked on the journey of a lifetime when I booked an African safari tour. I took part in several game drives throughout the trip and the experience was unforgettable. But there are a few things I wish I knew beforehand.

1. You May Not See the Big Five

lion african safari

In fact, it’s very likely that you won’t. I only saw a few, but I was lucky and grateful to see the animals I did see. It’s very much a luck of the draw whether you will see very many animals at all. This is difficult to accept after spending a fortune on the trip and it’s important to stay positive and focus on what you do see and learn. Personally, I was glad to see the beautiful African landscapes, even if the wildlife was a bit sparser than I had hoped. Moreover, I think it’s important to relax and stay in the moment. It’s easy to become caught up in desperately searching for the Big Five and miss out on what’s currently going on around you.

2. Not All Safaris Are Created Equal

sunset african safari botswana

There’s a reason why some national parks, like Masai Mara and the Serengeti, are more popular (and expensive). They simply have the best landscapes and selection of wildlife. I chose to skip on these due to the cost. Instead, I went to Etosha and Chobe National Parks. I still had an unbelievable time and got to see many animals, but I regret not doing a safari in the former locations. The photos that my travelmates had from the Serengeti were National Geographic-worthy. They saw so much wildlife, and their view was unobstructed due to fewer trees and flat land.

3. Get a Seat in Front and Wear Layers

storm african safari botswana landscapeI really wish I had made a point of this. While some jeeps are better than others, for the most part it’s difficult to see everything over the people next to and in front of you. When you sit in front, you can get a better view of the animals from multiple angles. I also found it difficult to hear the guide and ask questions from the back.

I was also surprised to find that it can get really cold when you head out for a morning safari. In my case, we started at our campsite and drove over the main roads to the national park so it was also very windy. Wear layers so you can keep warm until the sun comes up.

4. Rent a Good Camera or Lens

hippos hippopotamus chobe safari AfricaI actually don’t own a good camera. When I travel, I just rely on my phone. In most destinations it’s much more convenient than carrying around a camera and I don’t have to worry as much about damaging it. Although the Google Pixel does take better photos than most, it still didn’t have many features that are practically necessary for an African safari. Most importantly, it doesn’t have a good zoom function. Luckily, I was able to rely on others on my trip for good photos, but I really wish I could have taken some of my own.

Whether you don’t own a camera or just don’t have good lenses, you can rent them without making a commitment and shelling out a fortune. BorrowLenses lets you rent equipment for very reasonable prices.

5. You May Get Emotional
elephant african safari big five

Okay, this one may be just me. But seeing wildlife up close is amazing and inspiring. We saw lions mating right next to our vehicle, baboons protecting their young, and elephants just being their majestic selves. I did tear up a few times. It often felt like a spiritual experience.

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