Posts Tagged ‘backpacking’

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

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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

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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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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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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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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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8 Ways to Befriend the Locals While Traveling

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One of the best ways to truly immerse yourself in a different culture and have a unique travel experience is by befriending the locals in a new city. They can show you things you would have never found on your own and share with you insider pieces of knowledge. They can show you what daily life is truly like for the average person in that area, as opposed to your run-of-the-mill, sugar-coated tours. Yet, making friends is difficult, especially in a foreign country. Here are some ways to break through these barriers. And remember that learning about the local culture and being open-minded can greatly help your chances!

travel friends locals

Hanging out with the locals in Kilkenny, Ireland

1.) Reach out on social media

You might be surprised by how many friends-of-friends or distant relatives live in the destinations you want to visit! And more often than not, they will be happy to let you into their world and show you some local treasures.

2.) Stay with locals

Couchsurfing and Airbnb are two great resources for finding locals willing to spare a bed (or couch). Read through the host’s reviews to see if they prefer to be more independent or if they are the type to introduce you to their friends and show you around town.

3.) Stay in hostels

There are multiple ways to make local friends by staying in hostels. First, I’ve found hostel owners to be some of the kindest and most knowledgeable people I meet in most cities I go to. Especially at smaller hostels, they may be willing to show you around, introduce you to friends, or simply give you advice on where the locals hang out. Second, befriending other hostel goers is a great way to make connections. Their hometown just might be your next destination. Finally, I have occasionally met people from neighboring cities who were trying to save a few bucks while traveling for work. You really never know who you will meet!

4.) Go solo to local pubs

Hitting up a bar or pub for dinner and a drink is a great way to mingle with the locals. Whether it’s the bartenders or other patrons, let’s face it: people are most open to outsiders when they’ve knocked back a few. This is especially effective in smaller towns and cities in Europe, where pubs are often very much a part of the local culture. I think it’s also important to go alone and sit at the bar. Going with friends or acquaintances seems to hinder your chances of actually connecting with new people. I frequently did this in Ireland and I made many new memories, such as being invited to a party by members of the Irish navy.

5.) Try WithLocals

Currently available in Asia and select European cities, WithLocals site allows you to book unique experiences, such as home-cooked meals or arts and crafts, with a city’s locals. Some of the most unique options include sleeping in a cave with your host in Malaysia and net fishing in Cambodia.

6.) Couchsurfing events

Couchsurfing also hosts events where travelers and locals can connect in a fun, no-pressure environment. Also, since most Couchsurfing hosts prefer to board members with good reviews, these events are a great opportunity to gain positive references and make a name for yourself in the community.

7.) Think outside of the box

Look for opportunities that put you in contact with the locals, rather than traditional tours. When I was in Colombia, I located a tour of Santa Marta that was produced by a local who introduced us to his home and served us lunch. It was an incredible first-hand experience of the local culture and living conditions. I had a similar experience in Sa Pa, Vietnam. It just takes a bit of deep research on the internet to find these unique experiences.

8.) Join clubs or volunteer

If you’ll be staying in a city for an extended period or are moving abroad, try joining clubs, meet-up.com groups, or volunteering. You’ll be ditching the other tourists and you’ll be connecting on an entirely different level since you’re being united by a common interest or goal. Language exchange programs are also great for this!

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Adventures in Ireland (Part 2)

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Read Part 1 here.

Day 6: Ring of Kerry

One of the highlights of my trip was the Ring of Kerry, but it wasn’t accomplished without difficulty. Once I got to Killarney I kept hearing from other travelers how the bus tours are pretty awful and you need to rent a car to get the full experience. I was terrified of driving on the left side of the road, but that ended up being the least of my concerns. After lots of phone calls I ended up getting the last automatic car available in the area… But I had to pay nearly €200 for one day! People who rented in advance paid less than €20 a day for a stick shift. But after moping about it for awhile I decided to just do it because it’s a once in a lifetime trip. I’m so glad I did!

I spent the day driving around the southern peninsula of Ireland. The roads there are scary! They’re just slightly big enough for one car, yet they’re meant to be two-way streets. So whenever a car came the other way, one of us would have to slowly back up to make room. Yikes!

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But at the same time the roads are so beautiful. Driving the winding roads along the cliffs over the ocean was amazing. I would stop every once in a while to explore and take pictures. I also made a number of detours whenever I saw an appealing sign. This included a trip to Ireland’s best chocolate factory and even a trip to a subtropical jungle (who knew?) I also stopped by a few farms to “play with” (read: gawk at from a distance) the cows. A highlight for me was when I found an empty beach surrounded by cliffs. I took the time to take a break and relax, while I took in how small I felt (in a good way) compared to the world.

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Later, I stopped in the quaint and colorful town of Sneem for dinner on the river. As I made my way back to the hostel, it was starting to get dark but I wasn’t done with the adventure yet. I spotted another place to stop and started to take a little walk when I realized there were wild sheep all around me staring me down! I briskly (read: cowardly) walked back to my car. But I have to say it’s hilarious to look back on!

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Days 7-9: Kilkenny

Finally I made it to Kilkenny, the town where my great grandmother is from! This beautiful city feels more like a small town and, from what I gathered, most people seemed to know each other. That being said, Saturdays here are a little…well the only comparison is Vegas. Stag and Hen Parties (translation: bachelor and bachelorette parties) like to come here for debauchery and the pubs turn into nightclubs for that one night a week. Let’s just say I wasn’t a fan. But by Sunday and Monday, everything was back to normal.

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I spent some time exploring the cute little shops, walking through the park, and seeing Kilkenny Castle. I stopped in friendly, local pubs for meals and drinks as I did everywhere else, but somehow it just felt homier here. On Sunday night, I stopped in a pub that had fun Irish music playing. As soon as I sat down, I found myself in a conversation with an elderly musician who frequently plays in New York and a few other men closer to my age. That’s one of the great things about Ireland. It seems that age isn’t a barrier and everyone is friendly with everyone. Anyway, they taught me a lot about the music and the town. That night, everyone in the bar seemed to come together, from the “posh” girls to the farmers, in the name of music (and maybe a few too many pints). Either way, it was a sight to see.

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