Archive of ‘Travel’ category

The Most Unusual Foods I’ve Eaten Abroad

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For me, one of the most exciting things about traveling is trying the local cuisine of different cultures. To quote travel writer Deborah Cater, “You have to taste a culture to understand it.” Most of the unusual foods on this list are considered novelties in their respective countries as opposed to traditional fare. Still, I had such a fun time trying them and don’t regret any of them!

Thailand: Scorpion

scorpions unusual food thailand abroad

Foul. It honestly just tasted burnt and I couldn’t finish it. I wouldn’t recommend falling for this tourist trap. But if you insist, you can find it on all the most popular streets in both Bangkok and Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Vietnam: Rat

This was an interesting experience. With a local guide we ended up in a family home of a local tribe community in Da Lat. They were so eager to have us try everything they had, further supporting my theory that the poor are much more generous than the rich. They gave us a vase filled with what they eat for dinner every night. We asked our guide to translate and tell us what was inside. He refused to tell us until after we tasted it. Well it was chunky and I think I tasted some hair. It wasn’t awful, but I definitely wouldn’t ever eat it again. When the guide confirmed that it was rat, I don’t think anyone was surprised. Still, I was grateful that this family allowed us to try their food.

Vietnam: Crickets

crickets unusual foods vietnam

I also tried crickets in Da Lat. They were deliciously seasoned and came with a sweet and sour dipping sauce. They reminded me a bit of potato chips. I would love to try them again. Luckily, I may have the chance within the U.S. since insect protein is predicted to be the next big thing in sustainable cuisine.

South Africa: Warthog

My friend ordered this dish in a restaurant called Mama Africa in Capetown. Honestly, it just tasted like steak. I was a little thrown off as I expected it to be more similar to pork. Regardless, I highly recommend this restaurant if you’re ever in Cape Town. Delicious, traditional food along with music and dancing every night.

Namibia: Zebra

zebra game meat african food namibia

Out of all the strange things I’ve tried, I have to say this was my favorite. It tastes like meat…but better somehow. However, my dining companions were torn and there were some who really hated it. Head to Joe’s Beer House in Windhoek to sample this along with a host of other local game meats.

Namibia: Crocodile

This was also at Joe’s Beer House. I have to say I liked this as well. Probably because I’m not the hugest fan of meat and this had more of a fishy texture. I believe that most people at my table enjoyed the crocodile as well.

Malaysia: Cendol

cendol strange food malaysia dessert

The only non-meat dish on this list, Cendol is a common dessert in the hawker centers of Georgetown in Penang. While I generally loved the food in Penang, this was a little too much for my taste. It’s basically shaved ice cream with “jelly noodles” on top and red beans throughout. It’s an odd combination of sweet and bitter, but my friend loved it.

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Why Malawi Should Be on Your Bucket List

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malawi village africa chitimba

When I embarked on a 34 day tour of Africa, I’ll admit that I didn’t know all that much about some of the countries I would be visiting. I certainly didn’t know anything about Malawi. But after spending five days there it quickly became my favorite country that I’ve ever visited.

Upon entering Malawi, I was immediately struck by the beauty of Lake Malawi, Africa’s third largest lake. The lake runs nearly the full length of the east side of the country. To the west, a green landscape emerges full of mountain ranges.

This incredibly diverse landscape provides for plenty of local activities, including snorkeling, fishing, horseback riding, and hiking. The hike to Livingstonia, a town that lies on top of the mountains, is particularly impressive. Many locals make this 4-hour hike everyday to trade goods. In addition to offering amazing views of Lake Malawi, the hike also takes you past impressive waterfalls, caves, and swimmable natural springs.

Malawi Livingstonia hike waterfalls

However, the hike certainly isn’t easy. Midway through I suffered a sprained ankle and had to hang back. This seeming misfortune ended up being a great opportunity for immersing myself into the local culture. While waiting for the rest of the group to finish the hike, I spent two hours talking to the local people and sharing stories.

I realized that Malawians were some of the friendliest people I had ever met. Malawi does not have nearly as many tourists as many other African countries, so the locals were so excited to see me and invite me into their world. Despite being one of the poorest countries I’ve ever been to, I found the people so positive and welcoming.

We ultimately ended up staying in Malawi longer than planned since the only bridge allowing us to travel onwards had collapsed from the rain. The locals worked together to rebuild it within two days without any help from the government.

malawi africa children livingstonia school orphanageWhile we waited for the bridge to be rebuilt, our tour group had the opportunity to visit the local school and orphanage. Upon entering the village, we were immediately ambushed by children wanting to hold our hands. When we got to the school, we were taken aback by the lack of resources and poor conditions. We ere able to sit in on a lesson and were stunned to hear that they were learning about HIV prevention and medication side effects at such a young age! It was a truly eye-opening experience.

lake malawi africa livingstonia hike

Seeing the orphanage was equally intense. We walked into a nearly empty room where children were sitting on the floor sharing a single toy. Most of them had lost their parents to HIV. Unlike the children at the school, these children were not excited to see us. Instead they seemed shy and nervous, traumatized from all they had been through.

The bridge collapsing was definitely a blessing in disguise. I’ll never forget the stunning landscapes and friendly faces that are Malawi. Moreover, I gained a new appreciation for the simple things in life. I will certainly be back and I hope to help in any ethical way I can.

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6 Reasons Backpackers Make the Best Employees

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Backpacking

World travel is far less valued in the United States compared to most other developed nations. We get fewer vacation days and have more financial obligations post-college (hello, student loans) so taking the time to do some serious traveling is not usually on our radar. Furthermore, it’s not generally respected by potential employers, who may perceive it as a sign of instability or lack of commitment.

As it turns out, these concerns are not only unwarranted, but they also cause companies to overlook some of the most amazing individuals out there who could really bring something unique to the team! After all, backpacking requires people to develop some skills that are essential to the workplace. So whether you’re an employer who wants to develop a more well-rounded workforce or an applicant who wants to play up your assets, here are 6 skillsets that backpackers hone on the road, making them excellent employees.

1. Planning

Although traveling often consists of last-minute decisions and spontaneity, there is still a lot of planning and research involved. Backpackers have extraordinary attention to detail because we analyze and compare the value of everything in our trip. This could mean anything from evaluating the cost to value ratio of several hostels or which attractions are worth our limited time in a given city.

2. Adaptability

Travelers are able to handle whatever is thrown at us. Delayed flights, undesirable hostel environments, and confusing metro systems are just a few of the unexpected situations we need to adapt to. We need to remain flexible because so much can change at a moment’s notice. This makes us great at working under pressure and dealing with last-minute setbacks.

3. Budget Management

bargaining market travel employees

Backpackers are notoriously skilled when it comes to budgeting. It requires talent to visit 10 countries in 4 months on $5k. In addition to our excellent planning skills, we are also great with negotiation. In many third world countries, prices aren’t fixed in the local markets. Personally, I’ve learned to love the art of bargaining and it has saved me a lot of money. We also occasionally barter our services, such as offering some copywriting help in exchange for accommodation.

4. Teamwork

Backpacking often requires living in close quarters, whether we’re staying in hostel dorm rooms or joining group tours. While this may drive some people crazy, frequent travelers learn to make the most of it and actually thrive in group environments. This leads to strong emotional intelligence, cultural awareness, and overall social networking skills.

5. Independence

On the other hand, we are also very independent and can work well with little guidance. There are plenty of situations where we have to figure everything out on our own, especially when language barriers come into play. My most difficult moment abroad was attempting to navigate the Vietnam public bus system when I first arrived in Ho Chi Minh. I had different people telling me different things until I finally just took a leap of faith and jumped on the closest bus. Luckily, I eventually got to where I needed to be. Overcoming these challenges takes our confidence to a whole new level. This means we’re ready to take on anything and step out of our comfort zones.

6. Large Worldwide Social Network

travel friends social meet people

While this is not a skill or personality trait, it is definitely an asset. Frequent travelers have a larger network than you could possibly imagine. In addition to meeting the locals in our destinations, we also meet fellow tourists from every corner of the world. And we stay in touch. I have places I can crash all over the world and friends in all industries.

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Voluntourism: Why I Didn’t Volunteer in Africa

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voluntourism volunteering africa school childrenI recently went on a tour of Africa. 40 days, 6 countries, and a whole lot of unforgettable experiences. However, I’d wanted to visit Africa for years and I had always planned on going as a volunteer. I wanted to make a difference. But as I started to read more about the concept of “voluntourism,” I learned that my good intentions could actually leave damaging marks on the communities I visited.

For one, I don’t have the skills to make a genuinely positive impact. This is true of most who go on voluntourism trips. Instead, local communities often use more resources for training volunteers than they would if they just hired local workers. In addition, even with training, volunteers are usually still not equipped with the skills necessary to do a good job. I’ve heard countless stories of missionaries going to build schools or hospitals only for the locals to have to rebuild.
It would have been much more cost-efficient for the locals to take the volunteer’s money and put it towards the project directly rather than towards their training.

I also do not think that 40 days is enough time to dedicate to volunteering. In addition to the time and resources that the communities need to dedicate to each new volunteer, it can also be damaging to continuously have new volunteers come and go. This is especially true in orphanages, schools, and hospitals. Many of the children may already be traumatized. Becoming attached to new people that will leave a few weeks later is not helping the cause.

Furthermore, there’s the issue of the “white savior” complex. Constantly having volunteers coming in from Western society perpetuates the view that impoverished communities are helpless and can only be “saved” by outsiders. This is especially true with children. In schools and orphanages, children may come to view their white visitors as their heroes. These visitors who are having the ultimate “volunteer experience” for just a few weeks are revered, as opposed to the local teachers, administrators, and even parents who work full-time to improve their situation. Moreover, this complex leads communities to depend on the short-term help that voluntourism provides rather than developing long-term solutions to create a self-sustainable foundation.

Finally, after reading about the detriments of voluntourism, I had to reevaluate my true intentions behind wanting to volunteer. Many volunteers just want something to put on their resumes or new Instagram photos. I thought my motivation was better, but was it really? Did I really want to help people, or did I want to feel like I was helping people? If I’m being completely honest, my inspiration was at least a little bit selfish. I think that most volunteering is a bit selfish, and that’s fine if it ultimately brings good. But it can also be misleading. It can lead us to believe that we are doing good simply because a little child comes up to hug us. We want to believe we are doing good so we look for any immediate signs to support this hypothesis. We don’t realize how much effort and time it would really take to make a difference. More importantly, we ignore the harm we are doing in the process.

I’m not saying that all volunteering is bad. In fact, I met many volunteers while I was traveling who seemed to be making a difference. These volunteers were skilled doctors, nurses, and teachers who were able to commit several months to the cause. I think this is one of the few exceptions to the voluntourism problem. However, I think there are other ways to make a positive impact for those of us who do not have these skills. We can help by donating and increasing awareness. And as Charlotte Robertson suggests we can help behind the scenes of organizations where locals are the ones working in the field. This eliminates the problem of the white savior complex while also ensuring that the people who know what’s best for their community are the ones doing the work.

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How I Spent A Month in Vietnam for Under $500

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vietnam travel budget backpacking

A lot of people ask me how I can afford to travel so much. There’s a very in-depth answer to this that I’ll share in a future post, which includes frugal living, saving, side jobs, and prioritizing. But choosing affordable destinations is equally important. Here’s how I spent a month traveling through Vietnam for less than $500. You may spend more or possibly even less depending on your spending habits and priorities.

Budget Breakdown
  • Visa: $40
  • Transportation: $91
  • Accommodation: $84
  • Food: $51
  • Alcohol: $18
  • Water: $9
  • Toiletries and Necessities: $7
  • Tours and Activities: $192

Total: $492

Vietnam Visa

The cost of a visa will vary depending on your country of citizenship, as well as where you apply. I found it was much cheaper to apply for my visa in Cambodia than it would have been to apply in advance in the US.

Transportation

I traveled throughout Vietnam exclusively by bus. Many were overnight buses, which were surprisingly comfortable and I had a (mostly) positive experience. However, I’ve definitely heard horror stories as well. Alternatively, you could take planes or trains, which are a bit more expensive but still a lot cheaper than you would pay nearly anywhere else in the world. For $91, I took buses from HCMC-> Mui Ne-> Da Lat-> Hoi An-> Hue-> Hanoi-> Sa Pa-> Cat Ba.

Accommodation

I stayed mostly in hostels and homestays, with the occasional night on a sleeping bus or boat. Rates per night ranged from $2-$7. I definitely wasn’t staying in the nicest hostels, but I made sure not to skimp on anything that was important to me either. Check out my post for tips on picking the best hostels.

Food and Drinks

vietnamese food hanoi

I will admit I probably spent less than the average person in this category. Many of the hostels I stayed in included meals and free/discounted water refills. I also ate mostly budget-friendly, local food rather than dining at tourist restaurants. Western food tends to cost nearly double, but when you’re traveling for a long time I can understand the appeal. I also had the occasional night out, but I didn’t get too heavy with the drinking. Alcohol is very cheap in Vietnam, with mixed drinks coming in under $4, but this can add up quickly if you’re a big partier.

Tours and Activities

A lot of budget backpackers like to skimp on tours in order to save money for alcohol and food. I tend to believe in the opposite philosophy. While I definitely prefer to experience culture through interacting with locals as opposed to taking tours, there are some things that you just can’t do otherwise. I do not regret any of the activities I paid extra for and I highly recommend abseiling, Mr. Rot’s Secret Tour in Da Lat, and trekking in Sa Pa.

Tour Breakdown
  • Sand dune tour in Mui Ne: $10
  • Abseiling in Da Lat: $32
  • Mr. Rot’s Secret Tour: $35
  • Overnight cruise of Halong Bay: $94
  • Trekking in Sa Pa: $26
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Living with the Locals in Sa Pa, Vietnam

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sa pa vietnam trekking

Sa Pa lies up in the North of Vietnam among the mountains. It’s a very scenic town and some even call it the Vietnamese Alps. Unfortunately, it’s become very touristy and the city center is no longer a pleasant area to stay due to aggressive sales people and over-priced restaurants. But a 2-hour hike brings you to the most amazing views and a true local experience if you dare to take a chance.

Most people who visit Sa Pa book an organized tour, often leaving from Hanoi. Others take the bus or train to Sa Pa and book a homestay through one of the Hmong people advertising on the streets. While a homestay is nice in theory, most are crowded and not much different than staying in a hotel or hostel.

I was lucky enough to get some great tips from fellow travelers prior to arriving, including the contact information for a local Hmong woman. As soon as my travel buddies and I arrived in Sa Pa, I called her and arranged to go trekking and spend the night in her home.

The next day, we met Mama Sumy and she took us trekking through the mountains to her small village in the hills. While the hike wasn’t too difficult overall, we did struggle with some steep inclines that we were amazed Sumy easily climbed in slippers. Throughout the trek, she offered a lot of insight into our surroundings, showing us green tea plants, her family’s rice field plot, and the local animals. We were careful not to disturb the wild buffalo as we walked a mere 5 feet away from them. Mama Sumy even made us hats out of the wild plants.

sa pa vietnam trekking mountains

That night, we headed back to her home, which was modest but much more developed than we would have thought. She made us tea and introduced us to her two small puppies. She even showed us the marijuana plants growing in her yard but informed us that they were strictly for selling to tourists as most locals do not smoke. Later we chopped vegetables and helped cook dinner, which was a delicious feast of spring rolls, beef, and stir fried veggies.

We were joined by her 15-year-old son for dinner. Her husband was away in town for work and her other three children were in school. Because the school is a long hike away, most students live there during the week and come home for the weekend. Although Sumy spoke English very well, her son did not since it is not taught in school.

After dinner, we still had a lot of time to kill before bed. Sumy insisted that we all drink some “Happy Water.” When asked what was in it, she simply replied, “alcohol!” It was much too strong for us! We pulled out some cards and attempted to teach her and her son a game. We quickly realized the language and cultural barriers made this difficult. Even games that seemed simple to us proved to be too different for them to understand. But we had fun trying!

The next day, Sumy made us pancakes for breakfast. She gave us bananas which we rolled in the pancakes and ate like hot dogs. She then insisted that we try on her traditional clothing! We looked ridiculous and she had a good laugh. Afterwards, we hiked back to the city center of Sa Pa.

This was one of the most memorable travel experiences for me. There were definitely more moments of silence than I’m used to and some uncomfortable situations, but I highly recommend that everyone stay with a local from a truly different culture at least once.

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7 Tips For Choosing the Perfect Hostel

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youth hostel beds budget backpacker

Staying in a hostel can be rough sometimes, but for backpackers it’s often your best option. Hostels are cheap and a convenient way to meet people. However, the wrong hostel could ruin your trip. Here are my tips on choosing one that suits your needs.

1.) Don’t Book the Cheapest Hostel

Unless it also happens to be the best one! But don’t sacrifice on location, comfort, and friendly staff to save a few bucks as it will definitely impact your trip. Nobody wants to be far from the action in an isolated hostel with no friends. Likewise, you don’t want to be in a noisy, party hostel if you know that’s not your thing. While traveling on a budget, the difference between $10 and $7 a night can seem like a lot, but make sacrifices elsewhere in your budget if you need to.

2.) Use the Map Function

Speaking of location, don’t assume you’re in a good one just because the hostel is located in the city you want. Use the map function on Hostelworld to see exactly where it is. I like to make sure I’m near other hostels as these areas are generally safe, and it’s nice to be nearby other travelers. That said, if you don’t like noise, you also want to make sure you’re not on the same street as all of the bars. In addition, make sure you’re near the attractions that are most important to you.

3.) Read the Reviews

This seems simple enough, but I’ve had travel buddies who have booked places solely based on the star ratings on Hostelworld. Problem is, the star ratings include all reviews and there are so many things that can happen over time, like a change in management. When you actually read the 5 or so most recent reviews, you might find that the 7 star hostel is now better than the 9 star one.

4.) Know Your Priorities

For me, these change based on my mood. But I generally avoid party hostels at all costs. I like to get a good night’s sleep. But I also like a social environment so I can meet other people. You can have both if you look hard enough! It’s usually pretty easy to tell from the reviews if it’s a party hostel. But to ensure that there’s a social scene beyond that make sure that there’s a common area/bar/TV room. If there are organized activities, like BBQ nights or games, that’s also a good sign.

5.) Ensure Basic Needs Are Met

Almost every hostel has working showers, free linens, free Wi-Fi, and basic security features. But some don’t! Double check that everything you need is there. I’ve been to (seemingly nice) hostels where there were no locks on the doors nor any lockers provided. It’s a bit difficult to sleep when you have to keep one eye open.

6.) Decide Whether the Free Breakfast is Worth It

Some backpackers won’t consider a hostel without a free breakfast. However, most hostels that serve free breakfast only give you toast and cereal. Not very nutritious or filling. It might be free, but in most places you can just buy your own groceries for a few bucks extra and live off them for your entire stay anyway. So it may not be the best deciding factor when you’re torn between hostels.

7.) Look for Extra Amenities

Once your basic hostel needs are met, keep your eyes peeled for fun amenities. No, you’re not at a luxury hotel, but you’d be surprised by some of the fancy “flashpacker” hostels out there. I’ve stayed at hostels with nice pools, free dinners, free laundry, and other cool perks. Check out some of the coolest hostels in the world.

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Da Lat, Vietnam: Not to be Missed

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da lat vietnam

When it comes to Vietnam, the backpacking route that most travelers take is pretty simple: Saigon, Mui Ne, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Hue, and Hanoi, with a stop in Halong Bay. Maybe because its less talked about and more difficult to get to, many people skip Da Lat. Big mistake. Along with Sa Pa (also skipped by many), Da Lat was one of my favorite places in Vietnam by far. The people are so friendly, the city center is lovely, and there are so many activities.

Where to Stay

Backpacking accommodation options in Da Lat are unique in that they are mostly homestays with friendly and personable hosts. They usually include free breakfast and family dinner nights. I stayed at Lucky D’s Hostel, which I cannot recommend enough! Lucky was such a friendly man who cooked for us some nights and took us out to dinner other nights, often on his own dime. He also did our laundry for us and really made us feel at home.

What to Do

I found that there was a seemingly endless amount of things to do in Da Lat. Even just walking around the city is very pleasant as the people are so friendly and there is a beautiful lake, where you can sit and sip from a bottle of the local wine. Every evening there’s a night market, which sells very affordable fake “North Face” jackets and sweaters (which you’ll need here) as well as handmade goods.

While Da Lat isn’t as much of a party town as some other cities in Vietnam, I enjoyed the nightlife here much more. There’s a place called 100 Roofs Cafe, also known as Maze Bar, and it may have been the most fun I’ve ever had at a bar. It’s five or so stories of twists, turns, and little nooks; a full-on maze. Definitely not a place that locals frequent but a great place to get lost, meet new people, and laugh.

Day Trips

canyoning da lat vietnam

While I adored the city of Da Lat, my favorite parts of my stay were actually my day trips into the highlands. On my first full day I went canyoning (~$30), which involved abseiling down cliffs and waterfalls. The tour also included sliding down waterfalls! It was such a blast and the falls were beautiful. It’s geared towards beginners so don’t let fear hold you back!

On a different day we booked Mr. Rot’s Secret Tour. As the name implies, we didn’t know what we were getting into but other backpackers I met were raving about it. While I don’t want to ruin the surprise, I can tell you that this was one of the best tours I’ve ever taken and they stray away from the touristy in favor of the authentic. The tour guide himself once belonged to a local tribe so he knows what he’s doing. Furthermore, Mr. Rot and the other guides bring so much humor and life into the trip that it’s impossible not to have a good time. Book at the Villa Pink House and try not to do too much research or you’ll ruin the surprise!

What to Eat

We ended up not paying for many meals since they were either included in our hostel or in the tours we booked. However, we thoroughly enjoyed the street food that we did try. If you walk through the local mall, you’ll find an abundance of authentic local food options on the other side. When we went, we were the only Westerners there! Bún riêu was a dish that really stood out and seems to be more popular here than in other Vietnamese cities.

How to Get There

Unfortunately, Da Lat is a bit difficult to get to because of its location in the mountains. We got a bus from Mui Ne, which took about 6 hours and was fairly painless (and a bargain at $4). However, if you’re coming from the North it’s a much less comfortable ride. Upon leaving, we took the bus to Nha Trang, which was about four hours but very bumpy and dangerous. The bus drivers here are a bit aggressive, which leads to a lot of swerving and short stops.

Your other option is to fly in/out. The local airport has flights to Danang (a quick bus ride from Hoi An), Ho Chi Minh, and Hanoi.

 

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Do You: Getting Out of the Bucket List Mindset

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bucket list

In the age of social media, it sometimes feels like life is one constant bucket list. We check off items and casually brag about them on Instagram and Facebook. This is especially true when it comes to travel.

It seems like every other travel website has an article about the new must-see travel destinations, or places you “need” to visit before you reach 30. While these can definitely be helpful in giving you ideas, they can also give you a lot of unnecessary pressure that goes against the point of travel in the first place. Even more importantly, you could fall into the trap of doing things because other people say you should rather than doing what you want to do.

I’ve fallen into this trap myself and, honestly, I’m still working on how to get out of it. I first realized this when I went to Amsterdam. I just wanted to have my idea of a good time: partying with the locals, people watching in cafés and seeing some cool architecture. But I kept getting lists from friends of all the museums I just had to see. It really got into my brain and made me start thinking, “How could I come back and say I’d gone to Amsterdam without seeing all of the sites?”

Ultimately, I didn’t go to any museums on that trip (unless you include the cheese factory tour I did on a day-trip to Zaans Schans). And I don’t regret skipping them. I’m just not the type of person that generally enjoys museums. It took me a long time to admit this. It feels low-brow of me. But I think it’s important for us all to accept what we enjoy and make our own travel plans based around that. While some may prefer museums, art, and music, I prefer thrill-seeking activities, nature, and architecture. There’s no shame in that.

What’s been an even bigger challenge for me is getting over the checklist mindset of the bucket list. Travel shouldn’t be about just checking places and experiences off and thinking, “Been there, done that.” It should be a continuous exploration. I should spend as much time in a place as I enjoy and continue to revisit places I’ve fallen in love with. I should also be able to fully immerse myself in each new place and experience without rushing so I can move onto the next.

I’m not quite sure yet how I’ll get over this. I’ve met several people on my current Southeast Asia trip who have asked why I’m not going to Thailand. “Well, I already visited Thailand a few years ago.” “Did you like it?” “I loved it.” There’s inevitably a pause and I realize how silly I sound. While I sadly won’t have time to revisit Thailand on this trip, I now know that I will prioritize it in the future.

Looking back, my most enjoyable travel moments weren’t when I was rushing around and sightseeing. Instead, they consisted of late-night conversations with new friends or people watching at an outdoor café. That’s not to say I don’t cherish the amazing sites I’ve seen. But I think the best moments in life aren’t planned. By getting out of bucket list mode, travel can become easier to appreciate. To quote the wise Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

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Group Tours vs Solo Travel

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group tours thailand
One dilemma a lot of backpackers face is whether they should join group tours or truly go at it on their own. There are benefits and drawbacks to both. Group tours are like having built-in friends, while solo travel can get lonely in some cities. Group tours also save you a lot of the hassle of planning. On the other hand, group tours are generally more expensive than traveling on your own and don’t give you the same flexibility. Ultimately, I think it comes down to where you’re going. Here’s a guide based on my personal experience.

When to Use Group Tours

  • Traveling in unsafe countries, such as the Middle East. I don’t think this one requires further explanation
  • Traveling in countries with limited or confusing public transport, such as most of Africa. Some choose to rent cars, but I wouldn’t recommend doing this on your own as the roads and laws are much different than what you’re used to.
  • Covering a large amount of ground in a short time. Tour guides are experts at making sure you maximize your time in each spot. Plus, trying to plan this on your own can be a real headache.
  • Traveling somewhere expensive, such as Japan. I know this sounds contradictory. Didn’t I say that group tours are more expensive? Yes and they usually are, especially for cheap countries. But for more expensive countries you save money since, again, the tour guides know where to stay and the cheapest ways to get from Point A to Point B. Plus, they are often able to get deals since they are booking for such a large group of people.
  • When you’re nervous or a first time solo traveler. I did a group tour my first time traveling by myself. While it was definitely more expensive than it would have been to explore Thailand on my own, it gave me peace of mind and the confidence to travel by myself going forward. Plus, I was way too shy at that point to make friends on my own.
  • Visiting areas with language barriers. Towns where the tourism industry is less developed may be less likely to speak English. This can be a real struggle if you’re on your own and aren’t fluent in the local language.
  • Visiting major cities. This one is more of personal preference and you may have a different experience. But I find that major cities, especially in Europe, are so fast-paced that it’s difficult to make friends. Backpackers tend to rush from site to site and stay in one place for a shorter period of time, as opposed to small towns where people linger and explore.

When to Travel Solo

I’m of the mindset that everyone should travel on their own at least once. It’s a life-changing experience and really causes you to grow as an individual. In fact, I would recommend solo travel in more situations than not. This is especially true in the following cases.

  • Visiting well-traveled areas, like Thailand or Vietnam. They’re so popular that you don’t have to worry as much about safety. You can also read almost everything you need to know about getting around online.
  • Visiting famously cheap countries.  Countries in Southeast Asia, Central America, and South America belong in this category. You’ll spend so much more by doing a tour. I recently received a newsletter advertising tours for Cambodia that were nearly double what I paid traveling solo.
  • Notoriously friendly regions. Although I think it can be more difficult to make friends in the hostels in many European cities, it’s so easy to make friends with locals in places like Ireland that it doesn’t matter. Wouldn’t you rather hang out with locals anyway?

 

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