close

Travel Tips

10 Essential Things To Pack For A Day Hike

On top of the mountain

Since I am hiking in Northern California’s Redwoods these week, I thought it would be the perfect time to share my packing essentials. Here is my packing checklist with 10 essential items I always pack for a successful day hike:

1 Hiking clothes

This is clearly the most important thing to make a hike successful: you need appropriate gear. I recommend quick drying pants, made from a light, synthetic material. Avoid cotton, because it traps sweat. If you’re starting early in the morning, you might want to add an extra layer – fleece is perfect to keep you warm. Depending on where you’re hiking, you might also want to pack a lightweight rain jacket and a hat to protect you from the sun. If you don’t want to spend a whole lot of money on new hiking gear, I recommend checking out BC25.com, a website where users can find deals and discount codes. You can look up coupon codes by category, for example gear coupons, or us the handy outdoor gear price checker which gets you instant price comparisons. These discount codes include major brands like The North Face, Cotopaxi or Patagonia and outdoor stores like REI.dani sabino canyon hike

2 Footwear

Just as important as comfortable hiking clothes are comfortable hiking shoes. It pays off to invest a little more in a good pair of hiking shoes. I recommend shoes with a waterproof, breathable membrane and sturdy, supportive high ankles. Brands I love include Merrell’s, Vasque and Hi-Tec. When it comes to shoes, expensive doesn’t always mean ‘the best’. What’s most important is that your feet are comfortable in them, that the soles will last for a while, the shoes are not too heavy and that your feet can breathe. When buying a pair of new hiking shoes, make sure to try them on. There needs to be wiggling room for your toes and the shoes shouldn’t feel tight anywhere.vasque velocity trail running shoes

3 A solid backpack

Just as important as comfortable footwear and clothes is the right backpack. It is important to find the right size – not too big, but also not too small, a pack that fits well, is light weight, is well designed (with practical pockets) and has an extra hip support belt. Key is not to fill up your pack all the way – make sure you only bring things you’ll really need.dani negev desert hike

4 Bug spray / Bear spray

DepMount Lemmon bear warningending on where you are hiking, you need to pack a can of bug repellent and/or bear spray. I’ve been on several hikes where I got eaten by mosquitoes and quite frankly, it can completely ruin a hike, because no matter how beautiful the scenery you’re walking through – if all you can think about is your itching bites, you won’t be able to enjoy it. As for bear spray – if you’re hiking in bear country, and you don’t take any precautions for a possible bear encounter, you’re stupid.

5 A Map or Compass

Knowing where you’re going is key on a hike. If you’re hiking in a State Park with clearly marked trails, this is less important, but it is still a good idea to download an offline map. If you’re doing a wilderness hike, a compass is absolutely essential.white sands new mexico

6 A Flashlight or Headlampmexico hike

I personally prefer a headlamp because it allows me to have both hands free, but a flashlight also works. If you’re thinking you’ll be back before dusk – still pack a flashlight. I’ve gone on several hikes now where I completely underestimated how long it would take me. Even my hike up to the Hollywood Sign in LA a couple of months ago had me scramble down the unlit dirt trail in the dark because I had enjoyed the views from up there for much longer than expected. Luckily I could use the flashlight on my smartphone, but if you decide to rely on your phone’s flashlight, make sure you have enough battery or pack a portable charger. I’d still preferred a headlamp in the uneven terrain that I was walking through so that I’d be able to hold onto things for a better balance.

7 Sufficient snacks and water

No matter how short the hike you’re going on, never leave without water. As for snacks, make sure you calculate an appropriate amount of snacks for your hike – nothing is worse than a long way down the mountain with a rumbling tummy. Good snacks include for example trail mix, nuts, nut-based bars, fruits and veggies, energy bars, sandwiches and granola bars. Staying hydrated is extremely important – carry at least 2 liters of water, but more when you are going on desert hikes.makhtesh katan hikers israel

8 First Aid Kit

Another absolute must: a first aid kit. The main items it should contain are band aids, sterile dressing pads to stop bleeding from an open wound, tweezers and safety pins, an antibiotic ointment, duct tape, ibuprofen and antihistamine. While it is easy to put together your own first aid kit, the most convenient thing to do is to invest in a pre-packed first aid kit for hikers.

9 Camera Gear

Obviously I am biased here, since I never leave the house without my camera, but when you’re on an epic hike, you’ll want to make these memories last forever. Most people are content with the quality of the photos their smartphone takes (again, make sure to bring a portable charger), but if you’re looking to enlarge some images later on to a canvas sized poster, you might want to look into some more expensive camera gear. For a hike, I highly recommend a lightweight and compact mirror-less camera. CNET has a fantastic overview of the best mirror-less cameras that are out there right now. dani with camera

10 Sun and/or rain cover

Depending on where you’re hiking, you’ll want to bring a rain cover for your backpack and for yourself. The cheap waterproof hiking pants I invested in when I hiked to Machu Picchu were some of the best hiking equipment I ever bought (and they were only $6). I’ve already mentioned a rain jacket under #1, and this can usually double as a wind breaker. For sunny hikes, sun screen, sun glasses and a hat are a must.dani redwoods

read more

Five of The Top Destinations to Visit During December

october thailand long tail boats

Holiday season is almost upon us in every sense of the word. With so much excitement building and preparations to be made some people just want to get away from it all.  There are many great destinations to visit during the month of December and some excellent skiing holidays to choose from.  All those pretty snow scenes would definitely have the avid ski lover gathering up those skis and poles to pack for the snowy climes.Zugspitze view & clouds

Visit the Caribbean for Winter Sunshine

This is the number one paradise of choice with the world’s most beautiful unspoiled beaches, the best hotels, villas and restaurants.  Saint Barth comes highly recommended with one of its highlights being the venue for one of the world’s most thrilling yacht races. It is a hotspot for the super-rich and celebrities from across the globe and especially during December when they need to unwind from hectic schedules.isla mujeres beach mexico

Guatemala

Guatemala comes highly recommended and number two on the top list of destinations to visit during December. It is a beautiful and colourful country. It borders Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador. It boasts astonishingly beautiful coasts both on the Pacific and Caribbean sides. It has amazing volcanic landscapes and very pretty towns and as December has the sunniest and driest days this is the best time of year to visit.Antigua Street & Arch

Things to Do in India in December

December in Konark is home to classical Indian arts and culture. Here one can enjoy a celebration of classical dances hosted by an annual dance festival. Jammu and Kashmir which are known for their nature walks, parks and views during the summer months’ play host to one of the best skiing and paragliding destinations in December in India. India comes in at number three of the best locations worldwide to visit during December.indian family in hampi

South-East Asia, a Top Winter Delight

Cambodia and Laos have the perfect climate during December. Why visit while the weather is hot and wet – wait until it is perfect and embrace beautiful colonial towns buzzing with amazing places to eat and drink. They are both large countries with plenty of space to get away from the crowds and have some peaceful alone time in gorgeous surroundings. It may take some extra planning but nowadays with international money transfers it is always easy to top up while away from home. This destination is rated number four in the world’s top destinations for December.vientiane temple

Prague’s Old Town for December

There is nowhere prettier to be found in December than Prague. Those gorgeous ancient streets look like something right out of a fairy tale, and even come with a real castle. Prague is extremely cold in December but is well equipped with lots of cosy restaurants and rich cuisine. At number 5 Prague must be added to the list.mdina cathedral door

read more

What to Pack for a Weekend Getaway in the French Alps

bavaria-snow

A weekend ski getaway in the French Alps is a great way to relax while also having a lot of fun at the same time. However, you may worry about practical matters such as what to pack before you go.

You certainly don’t want to end up heaving around heavy luggage that is packed with lots of un-necessary items. Having said that, you don’t want to find yourself short of clothes or gear when you out there either.

Bearing that in mind, it is worth thinking about what you should pack before you get away. The following are some of the best ideas for you to consider.

Warm and Suitable Clothes for Skiing

If you are going for a weekend in the French Alps then it seems safe to assume that you are going to try out some of the world’s finest ski slopes while you are there. Places like Les Gets, Morzine, Meribel, and Chamonix are fabulous places to go skiing.

The first step towards making sure that you have a brilliant time on your skiing trip is to get the right sort of clothing to use out on the slopes. Of course, you need warm clothing as it is going to be pretty cold at whichever French Alps resort you head to.Snowboarder by John HammondBasically, the typical skiing outfit involves a warm base layer or two, a ski jacket and pants, goggles, a hat, and ski boots. The more warm layers you use the cozier you will be, but you also need to feel comfortable and be able to move freely at the same time.

You may feel a little bit ridiculous when you put on so many clothes at home but you will be pleased to be so wrapped up once you get to the Alps. In the worst case scenario, you should be able to buy some skiing gear locally once you get here, but it is far better to go fully prepared.

If you are looking for a great ski trip vacation for kids then it makes sense to get their clothing sorted out well in advance, to avoid the risk of them feeling cold once they get there. You don’t want to be rushing around trying to find new clothes for them as soon as you arrive and their teeth start chattering.Snowboarder_in_flight_(Tannheim,_Austria) by Soren Hoven

Something Smart for the Après Ski

For many of us, the very best thing about going to a classy ski town is the chance that it offers to enjoy the vibrant après ski scene. The best resorts here are packed with amazing bars, pubs and even some night clubs for you to enjoy.

However, you might want to have a different outfit or two, so that you don’t need to go out in the same gear you wore to go skiing earlier in the day. Even sitting down for a nice meal in a smart restaurant can be awkward if you are wearing your bulky skiing clothing and are all hot and bothered.

Many of the bars and restaurants here are nice and snug inside, with a roaring log fire being a fairly common feature to look out for. This means that you are likely to be a lot warmer indoors than you are when outside.

Because of this, it makes perfect sense to go out wearing layers that you can peel off as the need arises. So, you will want the clothes you have under your jacket to be ones that you are proud of and comfortable to wear in a social setting.

The most popular ski resorts are seen by many as being wonderful places to try out some of the best winter fashion styles. You will see plenty of people looking fabulous and will want to try and fit in with that if you are going to feel comfortable going out for some après ski.Beer Tasting

Comfortable Clothing for Staying In

Another terrific part of a ski trip that not everything thinks of is the time spent in the chalet, apartment or hotel. These are often lovely places where spending a few hours soaking up the views and having a glass of wine or three is an extremely tempting option.

This is going to be especially true if you are going on a group or family ski break. In this case, it is entirely possible that your accommodation becomes the hub where you all eat, drink and chat together.

This means that you will want to take along some comfortable clothes that you will feel happy lounging around in. In this way, you can fully relax and treasure these informal moments without any worries.

It is likely to be a lot warmer indoors than it is outside, although you might want to avoid turning up the heating too much and making it too big a difference. However, you should pack something a bit lighter for wearing indoors in case you start to feel the heat.

If you are staying in an apartment or chalet with a balcony or other outdoor space then you will probably want to wrap up well in order to be able to enjoy some quality time out there. By booking with a quality site such as iGOSKI you can be sure that you get the right type of accommodation where you feel right at home.bavaria-snow

Think About What Else You Want to Do

Apart from skiing, what other activities are you interested in trying out while you are here in the French Alps? By taking a look at your destination online you should start to get an idea what it offers in terms of other things to do.

Perhaps you will head for a day in a local spa, take some yoga classes, go to the swimming pool or do something else exciting and a little bit unexpected. It is a smart move to think ahead about the type of activities that you might need to pack some clothes for.

If anything crops up that you haven’t planned for then you might get lucky looking for what you need in one of the local stores. Most of them have mainly winter clothing on offer but you might find exactly what you need if you are in a bigger resort with more variety.Snowboarder by John Hammond

What Not to Pack

The good news is that packing lightly is easy for a French Alps ski trip. For a start, if you are staying in an apartment or chalet then you can expect it to be fully equipped with everything that you need.

If you are going to be cooking there then you should have a local store or supermarket not too far away. Certainly, there is no need to take away food or cooking equipment with you.

You also don’t need to take away any ski equipment, as you can hire this once you get away. This means that you can go away feeling light and unencumbered by heavy luggage.

Getting your packing right is one sure fire to get your ski trip off to the best possible start. By putting a little bit of thought into it you can pack only what you need and enjoy a wonderful trip with no hassles at all.Glacier Hintertux in Austria

read more

Golf Destination Travel: Danang, Vietnam

danang-golf-club2

Danang is the third largest city in terms of urban population in Vietnam and remains one of the most important ports in the country.  Located in central Vietnam, Danang is known for its lovely beaches and interesting history, as a French colonial port.  New hotels and restaurants are emerging all the time and the street food has to be seen to be believed, it’s delicious.  Danang makes a good base for day trips in this region of Vietnam and more importantly, a great base for sampling the nearby selection of golf courses.  Below, we have some of the best Danang golf courses, which are must-play when staying in this region of Vietnam.laguna-lang-co-golf-club

Ba Na Hills Golf Club is a mountainous design, created by Luke Donald.  It’s the first golf course to be designed by the English golfer, not just in Asia but the world and can be found near the cable car station, in the foothills of Bana Hills.  Managed by IMG, the layout of Ba Na Hills Golf Club is spread through several valleys and features plenty of elevation changes, throughout the 18-holes.  The higher points of the course provide great views of the valleys below and large trees and streams are prominent on many of the holes.  Playing at over 7,800 yards, the course is quite long and is enjoyable and challenging in equal measure, for players of abilities.  The back nine holes are perhaps the more testing and come complete with many blind shots and doglegs.  The greens are not as undulated as one would expect, giving the style of the rest of the golf course and this allows them to be attacked, with good pin positions throughout the 18 holes.  With a modern clubhouse, driving range, putting green, pro shop, restaurant and flood lights, allowing late night play, Ba Na Hills is a great Danang golf course.

Another quality Danang golf course, which should not be missed, is BRG Da Nang Golf Resort.  This golf course is designed by Greg Norman and was opened in 2010, to great acclaim, as it went on to win a number of awards.  It was voted best golf courses in Asia, by readers of Asian Golf Monthly on three occasions between 2011 and 2013.  Constructed on the sandy soil of Danang beach, the course is steeped in history, as this was the sight of the first American landing during the war in the 1960’s.  This is a true links-style golf course and has mother nature to thank for its layout, as much as Greg Norman.  The undulating greens, make good approach play crucial and the fairways are framed by long needle pines, so anything off the fairway, can lead to a difficult second shot, off the sand and needles.  Large, natural waste areas have been cut from the sand dunes and the wind can also be a factor here, making club selection tricky.  If the links courses of Scotland are your thing, you are sure to revel in playing at BRG Da Nang Golf Resort, it’s a truly excellent golf course.montgomerie-danang

A 90-minute drive from Danang, is the Nick Faldo designed, Laguna Lang Co Golf Club.  Opened in 2012, the par-71 course is suitable for beginners and experienced golfers alike, measuring 6,958 from the back tees and 5,263 from the front tees.  Nestled in a picturesque area, between the beach and the mountains, the backdrop to the course is a delight, with ocean and mountain views across the course.  The 18 holes weave their way between the natural streams, trees, paddy fields, imposing rocks and alongside the beach itself.  There is a great variety of holes, each offering something different and man-made influences have been kept down to a minimum, which adds something a little special to the course.  Laguna Lang Co Golf Club also includes the Banyan Tree Resort and they combine to make this on of the great Danang golf courses.

When discussing the top Danang golf courses, one which always makes the list, is the Montgomerie Links.  This course was designed by famous European golfer, Colin Montgomerie and was voted as being Vietnam’s best championship course, in 2013.  As the name suggests, this is a links-style golf course and if it was not for the warmer temperatures, you could easily believe you were playing in Scotland or Ireland, it really is that good.  Rolling fairways and huge greens are the key features to this testing and exciting golf course, with thick rough and deep bunkers being the major hazards.  The only difference from a traditional links course, are the natural lakes and streams which are situated throughout but these add a local feel to the course and do not detract from it in any way.  When considering where to play golf in Danang, the Montgomerie Links should be at the top of your itinerary.danang-golf-club2

read more

The cultural attraction of Havana

street-art-cuba

Cuba is like nowhere else. Thanks to the long trade embargo with the United States the Caribbean island nation has been stuck in its own unique time warp. For better or worse this has given the country a uniquely timeless flavour that endures to this day. As the relationship with its larger neighbor finally starts to thaw, now is the best time to visit and experience this unique country before everything changes.

Havana

Nowhere are Cuba’s contradictions more apparent than in its Capital Havana. The most evocative of all the cities in the Caribbean, Havana has a special dichotomous allure. It is also the best place to experience Cuba’s richly complex and proud culture.

The wealth of different treasures found just below the city’s often shabby façade reward discovery, and before the island turns into another typical holiday destination you should take a chance to experience it for yourself.

One of the most striking this for first-time visitors in Havana is how grand the city is. Despite the obvious signs of neglect, the city boasts impressive boulevards, resplendent city squares and striking colonial architecture all around. Combine this Spanish colonial grandeur with the ever-present 50s muscle cars, erstwhile Americana, and Caribbean verve and you have one of the world’s genuinely unique cities.

Walk along the Malecón

Havana’s most famous thoroughfare the Malecón (or the Avenida de Maceo to give it its official name) is a five-mile-long sea-front road. As popular with locals as it is visitors, the Malecón is one of the best places to people spot and take in the Cuban capital’s atmosphere. Thanks to years of disuse many of the buildings along its length have fallen into ruin, giving you a fascinating glimpse into the history and struggles of the city, yet it remains as alive and vibrant as ever. The street is one of the safest in the city and is seeing improvements as Cuba continues to open itself up to western visitors. Make sure and visit at sunset, as the views across the water are worth it.cuba

Image by neiljs used under Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0)

Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes

While more famous for its music, Art plays a vibrant and vital role in the country’s cultural life. One of the best places to experience Cuban art is at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. Found in the beautiful surroundings of Centro Asturianas, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes contains the finest examples of Cuban art as well as many international pieces from the colonial period and beyond.

La Fábrica de Arte Cubano

A multidisciplinary cultural/community hub, there is always things going on at the La Fábrica de Arte Cubano. Located in an old renovated government-owned factory, the FAC is always a buzz of life with everything from folk dancing, photography exhibitions, painting, and all manner of other cultural goings-on.cuba2

Image by Anton Novoselov, used under Creative Commons license CC by 2.0

331 Art Space

Another artistic space, Studio 331 offers a small slice of Cuban art as the studio of three young local painters Frank Mujica, Alex Hernandez and Adrian Fernandez. Found in a recently refurbished colonial-era mansion, the aim of the space is to bring attention to contemporary Cuban art and has a range of paintings available to buy.

Fusterlandia

Fusterlandia is the nickname of the seaside village of Jaimanitas on the outskirts of the Cuban capital. It gained this moniker due to the artistic endeavors of local artist Jose Fuster. Originally found in his home of Casa de Fuster, these murals and 3D pieces of art are now found across the village offering visitors a rare way to experience Cuba’s artistic side. You can also still visit Fuster’s original studio for yourself.

 

read more

Is it safe to travel in Colombia?

colombia-flag

Confession: I almost didn’t get on my plane to Colombia because in the days leading up to my departure, I got scared. I spent the last few hours before my flight departure in agony, going back and forth about canceling my flight. I had just read this article:

Solo Female Going to Colombia? Just Don’t.

I came across it the very day before my flight, and reading the headline alone made me wonder if I should read the article or not. It wasn’t just that article: a few days earlier during a travel meetup, a friend of mine offhandedly mentioned to me that her friend recently got back from Colombia where she and her friend had being robbed at gunpoint and lost everything.

I was scared, if not terrified.

dani ciudad perdidaWas I crazy for traveling to Colombia as a solo female traveler, just as many family members and friends suggested I was when I told them I had purchased a plane ticket to Cartagena? Even though the country has gotten considerably safer in recent years, there is still a government warning for travelers to Colombia in place, which reads:

Tens of thousands of U.S. citizens safely visit Colombia each year for tourism, business, university studies, and volunteer work. Security in Colombia has improved significantly in recent years, including in tourist and business travel destinations such as Bogota, Cartagena, Barranquilla, Medellin, and Cali.

However, violence linked to narco-trafficking continues to affect some rural and urban areas. Despite significant decreases in overall crime in Colombia, continued vigilance is warranted due to an increase in recent months of violent crime, including crime resulting in the deaths of American citizens.

And it continues:

… there were several homicides of U.S. citizens in connection with robberies, including armed robbery on streets and in taxi cabs, public transport, home invasions, and muggings…

(You can read the full travel warning issued by the U.S. Department Of State here:

Colombia Travel Warning)

The only reason why I did get on my flight the next morning was that friends who had been to Colombia calmed me down and encouraged me to go and not to cancel my trip. This reminded me why I had decided to go to Colombia in the first place: because everyone was raving about the country. Many of my friends who had traveled around South America declared it their favorite country on the continent, and everyone who had been to Colombia loved it. I hadn’t heard a single bad word from people I knew.

Before I get into details on how safe I felt in Colombia, I want to say this: Had I not boarded that plane, had I let those horrible experiences of other travelers discourage me from visiting Colombia, I would’ve missed what would become one of my favorite trips to date.cartagena dani

Everyone’s Travel Experience is Different

Travel experiences can vary drastically. The two female travelers whose experiences I had learned about just before I set off to explore Colombia, both had terrible, even traumatizing, experiences. And reading about those experiences  definitely made me more careful throughout my own trip.

I expected to get robbed and lose all of my stuff, so much so that I opted for the more expensive World Nomads travel insurance, the Total Explorer instead of the Standard Policy (because it covers more). After reading what was necessary for a claim, I even took pictures of the serial numbers of all of my electronics (camera, laptop, kindle, iPhone) and emailed them to myself. I made sure that I had a digital copy of my passport, and left an external hard drive with a backup of my laptop at my friend’s house. I was ready to hand it all over to some rebels who for sure would rob me on a bus ride through the mountains in which they were hiding out.

Spoiler alert: That never happened. I traveled through Colombia for ten weeks, visited big cities like Bogotá and Medellin, the sketchy border triangle of Peru, Colombia and Brazil in the Amazon, and the coffee region, where my friend’s friend had been robbed a few months before I got there.

villa de leyva colombia1
Ville de Leyva, hands down the place I felt the safest in all of Colombia.

Did I Feel Safe?

Yes. I was a nervous wreck at first, but I relaxed quickly. It definitely helped that I had a companion for the first two weeks, and that every solo female traveler that crossed my path who I bombarded with questions about incidents assured me that they felt completely safe. No incidents whatsoever.

That helped ease my mind before I continued my trip on my own. After a 14-day trip almost without any incidents (I explain the ‘almost’ later on) through Cartagena, Santa Marta, Minca and Palomino with my friend, I set off on a four day trek through the jungle, which has become so popular in recent years that not just one group of hikers heads out into the Sierra Nevada Mountains to discover the ‘Lost City’, but groups from four or five different trekking companies, accounting for 50 to 60 people on the trail every day! Sure, that’s still far from the numbers of the well-worn Inca Trail but the ever expanding campsites showed just how much tourism has grown in recent years.

dangerous creatures of colombia
The things I was most scared of most in Colombia: Being attacked by one of these.

Kidnappings in Colombia?

To show you how much safer Colombia has become: on that very trek, eight hikers were kidnapped by ELN rebels (Ejército de Liberación Nacional), a left-wing guerilla group, in 2005. Our guide’s tales of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, another left-wing guerilla group) coming to his family’s property and claiming it, forcing them to support them or they’d be shot, seemed like they came from another century, but these tales represented  their harsh reality and had happened only a few years ago. And now I was walking through the jungle there, sometimes all by myself for long stretches, but I never feared some rebels would jump out of the bushes to kidnap me.dani ciudad perdida hikeAs far as kidnappings go, they don’t seem to occur in touristy areas, if at all, now that the FARC and the Colombian government came to a peace agreement. Kidnappings have decreased drastically over the course of fifteen years in Colombia: while in 2000, over 3,500 people were kidnapped, the number had dropped to 213 in 2015 and continues to decline. And let’s take a closer look at the recent kidnappings of foreigners that made international news: a Norwegian guy was kidnapped by guerillas in 2013 when he was crossing the Darian Gap on foot (which is insane!), and an American was kidnapped by the FARC in the same year while trekking in the rain forest near the Ecuadorian border – against the advice of Colombian police and others, so go figure. As long as you are staying on the tourist trail, you probably  won’t find yourself face-to-face with the few guerilla groups that are still operating.

Traveling on Public Buses

You may encounter guerilla groups while on a public bus, however, or at least armed robbers, like Anne and Jaimee who were just six days into their trip when their bus was hijacked by six gun-wielding passengers who took everything from them, consequently not only ruining their trip but also leaving them deeply traumatized. I had emailed Anne prior to my trip and took her advice to avoid public buses and take planes whenever possible instead (luckily domestic flights are very cheap!). Anne also sent me the link to her guesthouse in Salento which has some information on bus robberies in that area on their website, stating that ‘in the past couple of months the last bus from Armenia to Salento has been held up twice by armed robbers.’ Even though the information is older, it is obviously still relevant and worth a read for the safety precautions they mention.

I ended up taking the bus from Pereira, where I had flown into, to nearby Salento, one of Colombia’s most charming and most touristy little towns. I decided, however, to stay in Pereira for a night instead of taking the bus in the evening since my flight got in after dark. I am usually okay with long bus rides, but after hearing about Anne’s experience I flew from Santa Marta to Bogota instead of taking the bus, and the few buses I took were only during the day, and I wore a T-shirt with a secret pocket (see below in safety tips). I survived all bus rides I took just fine and was more scared to be killed by the crazy driving of the drivers (which seems to be a problem in all of South America) than by hijackers. But again – this is situational, and Anne and Jaimee who were in the same spot a few months earlier were not as lucky as I was.

valle de cocora
The Valle De Cocora near Salento – I am glad I went because it is so beautiful

I would recommend avoiding night buses and opt for flights whenever possible.

As for inner-city buses: I took them several times and I never encountered any issues, but I read that pickpocketing on buses in Bogota is not uncommon, so be vigilant if you take the bus and always keep your backpack with you, ideally on your lap, never in the overhead compartment or under the seat.

Is Bogota Safe?

Bogota was the city where I was the most worried about my safety because the city doesn’t have a great reputation. I really wanted to stay in La Candelaria, the historic center, but had heard that this was the most dangerous part of the city, with muggings and robberies even in broad  daylight. The Lonely Planet painted such a black picture of the city that I even contemplated skipping Bogota entirely. You can read their take on Dangers in Bogota here.

Eventually, I decided not to skip Bogota but to stay in the Chapinero neighborhood for the first couple of days, right in the heart of Bogota’s financial center, where you find more upscale hotels and where global corporations have their offices – in short: a safer area of town. To check out La Candelaria, I hopped in a cab (more on cabs in a minute) and went there during the day to see how safe I felt about it and if I wanted to move into a hostel over there.Bogota la candelaria streetWhen I arrived in La Candelaria, I was a bit nervous, and probably a bit paranoid, and the presence of heavily armed police officers throughout the neighborhood didn’t help in calming me down. However, I loved the neighborhood with its colorful street art and Spanish colonial houses and moved over there a few days later. I thought to myself that the police presence was probably a good thing to keep the bad guys out of sight (ironically, the police men all disappeared as soon as it got dark though).

While my paranoia/fear never completely  faded, I felt safe enough to carry my laptop with me during the day, my dSLR camera, and my phone. However, at no time did I flash any of these items, and when I took photos I made sure to put my camera or phone back in my bag immediately after I took the shot. I ended up staying much longer in Bogota than expected and was glad that I didn’t let the Lonely Planet or other travelers’ experience scare me off visiting Colombia’s capital.

Two of the articles that made me super cautious about La Candelaria was this one by Britany:

Robbed in Bogota, and this one: Getting Mugged At Knifepoint In Bogota.

In it, Megan writes:

One of the main problems with traveling in a place like Colombia is the mixed information that you’ll get. Some people say it’s perfectly safe and that they’ve never had any problems. Other people have endless horror stories. The thing they often have in common? They were doing the same things in the same places and conducting themselves in the same way.

And I couldn’t agree more with this – I had heard so many horror stories about Bogota and especially La Candelaria, and yet, I was completely fine. I was walking around the deserted streets of La Candelaria at 2am all by myself, and during the day, I walked with my laptop in my bag to work in coffee shops, and not just once, but almost every day (I spent well over a week in Bogota). I hiked in the Valle De Cocora without any incidents but other people were robbed on that very same hike. I felt extremely safe in Medellin, especially in the upscale Poblado neighborhood, but only a few months before I visited, an American tourist was killed there when he refused to give up his valuables in a robbery. Like I said, it is all situational. The main thing to know about Colombia is: there is a chance that something could happen to you. And that’s the difference to a country like Japan, for example, where safety isn’t something travelers have to be concerned about.bogota cathedral1

Being Drugged

Another reason why I was so afraid of spending time in Bogota was because somebody had told me about a drug named Scopolamine (also known as Devil’s Breath and Burundanga) which is a powder that is usually blown off a piece of paper into a victim’s face, with criminals would walk up to tourists with a map in their hand pretending to wanting to ask for help. But instead, they are drugging you.

villa de leyva drinks
Always keep an eye on your drink!

Scopolamine makes victims completely lose control over their own thinking – they can be talked into walking to an ATM and withdraw money, or hand over their credit cards complete with PIN numbers, and so on. And the worst part: victims usually don’t even remember anything of what happened to them! Another way to get drugged with Scopolamine is by putting it in your drink, so not only was I on the lookout for people with a piece of paper in their hands, but I always made sure I didn’t leave my drink out of sight when I went out at night.

I wanted to mention this here because I had never even heard of this drug but reading up on it prior to my trip made me be more aware of my surroundings and apparently cases of Scopolamine druggings  went up by 133% in Medellin in 2015 – so this is definitely something to be aware of. Especially female travelers , because other than theft, rape is the most common thing the drug is used for.

WorldNomads has a good article on how to avoid getting drugged in Colombia: How to avoid getting drugged in Colombia – Stay safe!

Are Taxis Safe?

My very last stop in Colombia was Medellin, where I was staying with some friends. When they found out that I didn’t use UBER, but normal taxis, they freaked out. “This isn’t safe!!”, I was told, and then I was schooled on taxi kidnappings and robberies in which cab drivers bring you to a deserted area of town to rid you of all your belongings. Hearing that freaked me out, but then, looking back at ten weeks of me waving down cabs, I realized that not once did I feel unsafe in a taxi. I guess it helped that I speak Spanish and was always able to converse with the driver. In Bogota, when I took a cab from the airport to the hotel, the driver even ran after me to bring my iPhone to the reception, which had fallen out of my pocket in the cab.

Were There Sketchy Moments During my Time in Colombia?  

I’m not going to sugarcoat my experience in Colombia – while nothing bad happened to me and I felt safe there, even when I was by myself, there were three sketchy moments I should mention.

  1. Burglary in Palomino

For one, my beach bungalow in Palomino was burgled. I am still so grateful that I didn’t lose anything, because that happened only a few days into my trip and could have easily ended it right then and there.

It happened during the day, and the burglar(s) must have jumped on the chance of an unlocked window (even though my friend and I were sure that we had closed them), climbed in through the window and started to look through all of our belongings. When we returned from the beach later that day, we came back to find our room looking like something had exploded in there: all of our stuff was strewn across the floor.

palomino bungalow break-in
The break-in aftermath

Someone had emptied out little cosmetic bags and rummaged through all of our luggage. Everything except for the main compartment of my backpack, which I had locked up with a little padlock (mind you, the key for the lock was hidden in the room!). A real thief would’ve just sliced the bag open, or even taken it, which is why I think it was someone who simply saw an opportunity and got interrupted at some point, and so he/they left without our passports, cash, credit cards, laptops and other valuables. I know: I am incredibly lucky!

Even though that happened at the beginning of the trip, it didn’t change my mind about how safe I generally felt. Beach bungalow break-ins happen everywhere in the world, not only in Colombia. And we were assured that the sleepy beach village of Palomino was one of the safest places in the country, which I fully believed.

  1. Heeding a Warning in Medellin

The only time I felt a little tense about my surroundings was in Medellin. I had explored the city on my own and was ready to head back to my friends’ house. I typed the address into Google maps on my phone and followed the directions. Halfway, I was stopped by a guy on a pedestrian bridge who was walking in the direction I just came from. “What are you doing here?”, he asked me in Spanish. I replied that I was on my way home to where I was staying. “You really shouldn’t be here”, he said. “Why?”, I asked, since the area seemed perfectly fine to me. “It’s not safe”, he answered, and I immediately turned around with him, taking a longer way home. Even though that path seemed fine to me, I wasn’t going to risk it after being warned by a local.

medellin botero sculpture15
20 years ago, Medellin was everything but safe. 30 people were killed and more than 200 wounded when a bomb, placed in the base of this Botero sculpture, exploded. One of only many attacks during the time when Medellin was controlled by the Cali drug cartel.

And that’s my main advice: Listen to locals and follow your instinct. My instinct in that moment was to go back. In other towns I visited, like Pereira, a city I barely knew anything about, I asked the hostel staff if it was fine to walk around by myself at night, and whenever someone told me to take a cab, that’s what I did.

  1. Guerrillas in Leticia

Leticia is a small town in the Amazon, right on the border to Peru and Brazil. I wouldn’t have thought of it as unsafe, but then I happened to come across this short paragraph on safety in my Lonely Planet:

‘A longstanding military presence in the region tries to keep Leticia/Tabatinga and the surrounding region safe, but there are issues. Former narcotraffickers, guerrillas, paramilitaries and raspachines (coca-plant harvesters) who have been re-inserted into mainstream society and now live on the outskirts of Leticia and Puerto Nariño run poker houses, dubious bars and the like around the city. Don’t wander outside these urban areas on your own at night, especially on Leticia’s infamous ‘Los Kilometros’ road.’

leticia colombia1
Quaint little Leticia

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a border town in a region known for its drug production and trafficking is sketchy, but I never felt unsafe walking around there – until one day when my travel companion and I were on our way back to the hostel from dinner.

A motorbike with two guys passed us, the one in the back carrying a large rifle or some kind of machine gun. They looked at us, then turned around and drove back towards us. My heart dropped. I felt how my friend also stiffened up and pulled me behind a little wall. I was so scared that I started shaking, and all I could hear was my heart beating in my chest. I was sure we were going to get shot. However, they did not come back for us. I am mentioning it because this was by far the scariest moment I had in all of my time in Colombia (and the only time that I saw someone I’d identify as a guerilla).

Conclusion

As you can see, even though nothing happened to me personally and I didn’t necessarily feel unsafe, I never felt as carefree in Colombia as I did in Chile for example, where I never worried about being robbed or drugged. But in Colombia, where I had heard just too many negative stories, I never let my guard down. It can get quite exhausting to always be ‘on alert’, but being with another person helped me a lot to relax, which is why I tried to travel with someone as often as possible.

snake dangers colombia
Other serious dangers in Colombia: Very poisonous snakes, who are carnivores.

I had such an amazing time in Colombia that I wouldn’t think twice about recommending it as a travel destination to other independent travelers, including female solo travelers (I know that others will disagree here). Just don’t be stupid. Take precautions and be aware of possible threats to your safety, and inform yourself before you visit Colombia, for example with this article and the following tips for staying safe in Colombia:

My Tips for Staying Safe in Colombia

Dar Papaya: Do (not) give papaya

This is a very common saying in Colombia, and while it sounds strange when you translate it literally: give papaya, it means making yourself an easy target, setting yourself up to have something taken from you. Basically: if you flash jewelry or a fancy phone, it is your own fault when somebody tries to take it from you. Don’t ever flash your money or valuables.

dani and sloth
This is exactly what you SHOULDN’T do: flash both your iPhone and your expensive camera. But hey.. THERE WAS A SLOTH!!

Don’t carry any valuables

On that note, try to have as few valuable items on you as possible. I would only ever take my credit card with me when I was planning on taking out cash, and I had only as much cash on me as I was planning to spend. I rarely had more than $20 on me – unless I was traveling to a new city and had everything I owned on me. For which:

Be pickpocket-proof

With that I don’t necessarily mean wearing pickpocket-proof underwear (even though I wore my Clever Travel Companion T-Shirt with an invisible, hidden pocket every time I was traveling from one city to another), but just keeping your wallet and phone in a safe place where it can’t be reached easily. If you keep it in the pocket of your jacket, make sure you zip it up, if you carry a wallet, make sure it can’t be taken out of your bag or pocket easily. I usually just carried a bit of cash in my jeans pocket which are almost impossible to get into, especially without me noticing.clever travel companion tshirtBe prepared for the worst case scenario

And should the worst case scenario happen to you, be prepared. Email yourself a digital copy of your passport before you leave on your trip, and most importantly: invest in travel insurance. I use World Nomads, and as I mentioned before, I took down all the serial numbers of my electronics to make sure I’d get reimbursed for them in the case of theft. Read the small print of the travel insurance you are buying to find out what you need to make a claim. And most importantly: Make sure the travel insurance of your choice covers Colombia! Some travel insurances don’t cover countries for which a government travel warning is issued. Also know the numbers to call in case you have to report a stolen credit card and write down your credit card information somewhere.

Use only safe ATMs

I only ever took out money at ATMs in proper banks, not at ATMs in the street. I tried to always have someone with me, and if I was by myself, I was monitoring my surroundings for sketchy people extra carefully.

Trust your instincts

If something feels off to you, get out of the situation. That goes for a dodgy taxi ride, questionable travel buddies, or anything else that sets the alarm bells off in your head.palomino beach daniUse UBER or another taxi app

If you’re feeling uneasy about taking regular taxis, download UBER (iOS/Android) or one of the other two popular taxi apps EasyTaxi and Tappsi (download for iOS/download for Android). EasyTaxi (download for iOS/download for Android) is more prevalent than UBER in Colombia, but Medellin and Bogota both have UBER. It is affordable and worth the few extra dollars to have peace of mind, knowing your driver is registered with the app, so they will be less inclined to bring you to the outskirts of town and leave you there, driving off with your belongings.

Team up with other travelers

Team up with other travelers whenever possible. It is always easier to keep an eye on your belongings when there are  two pairs of eyes instead of just one. It is also safer to go out at night in a group, making you a less easy target than if you were walking around all by yourself.bogota friends

Inform yourself

I made it a habit to always read the safety section in the Lonely Planet before I arrived at a new destination to inform myself of the safety concerns in that area,  and I always read the entire WikiTravel for a place I visit, not just because it has generally very useful and comprehensive information, but the ‘Stay Safe’ section is usually more up-to-date than the one in a travel guide. I also googled ‘robbed in Bogota’ or ‘robbed in Salento’ for example, before I got there, because I knew it’d bring up Tripadvisor forum discussions or blog posts for these keywords, giving me the chance to find out if there had been any incidents lately.

Further reading:

…and finally:

My 13 favorite travel moments from Colombia

…to remember why it is worth it to travel to Colombia!

Have you been to Colombia? Did you feel safe or did you have any unpleasant experiences? Share in the comments below….

read more

5 Unconventional Ways To Make Money For Traveling

siquijor beach with hammock philippines1

It’s the ultimate dream for many people: take a year off and travel the world. But realistically, only very few are able to make their dream come true. A mortgage, car payments, and high cost of living are eating our pay checks and it is difficult to put money aside to save up for a year of travel. While it doesn’t have to be very expensive – my first year of travel cost me much less than a year of living in London! – you definitely need a chunk of money to be able to travel, no matter if that’s an extended vacation or a year of backpacking around the globe. It’s not impossible though – and here are some unconventional ways to make an extra income that don’t require a lot of time:rise gear rolling

1 Rent out your spare room on Airbnb

Most people have a guest room or second bedroom they never use – if you’re one of them, why not rent it out on Airbnb? That’s actually how i subsidized my travels when I lived on a graduate salary in London. It doesn’t take much time to set up a profile on the website, and preparing the room for guests isn’t any different from preparing it for your family coming to visit. If you’re thinking about putting your free room on Airbnb, check out this handy guide on how to get started and how to make the most of your property on Airbnb.venice apartment bed

2 Side hustle: online

I know that a second job isn’t easy to pursue for most people who are already working 50 hours or more a week, but there are several options that don’t require a commitment for steady hours or even commuting to a second gig. There is plenty of work that can be done online, such as tutoring or translation work. Set up a profile on Elance or Upwork and see what jobs come up for your skill set – you might be surprised! Since most jobs on these platforms are ad hoc projects, you can apply only for those that match your schedule. If you prefer creating your own product or your own online business, you should look into eCommerce options. 10 Places to Find Online Business Ideas for an Ecommerce Website (With Examples You Can Steal) has some great ideas on how to get started.digital nomad office

3 Side hustle: offline

If online work isn’t for you, there are plenty of ad hoc jobs that you can do offline. You could join Uber, Lyft or another ride sharing company, for example. You get to decide when you’re available, and if you’re paying for a car but only use it to commute to work, you might as well use it to make some extra money! You’re sitting at home all night watching TV? Why not get paid for it? Set up a profile on UrbanSitter.com and offer your babysitting services. Most of the time, the kids are in bed already by the time you arrive and the parents simply need someone to be around while they are enjoying a night out.

dani and millie in arizona
An easy way for dog lovers to make extra money: Dog walking or dog sitting

Or set up a profile on Fiverr.com, where people can offer and buy all sorts of tasks for $5. You can create a logo? Design a business card? Proofread a letter? Offer your skills on Fiverr. $5 might seem not a lot, but that’s the rate you only offer initially, and you can reach the higher paying Level 2 status quickly with excellent customer reviews? Don’t think you can earn a lot on Fiverr? Then read this Forbes profile on three people who make 6 figures a year on Fiverr.

4 Rent out your car

I know, this one scares a lot of people, but fear not: your car is insured! There are several companies and apps now that all offer a similar service: you rent out your car while you’re away, or your second car if you don’t necessarily need it, and get paid for it! The people who use these services don’t have to deal with the usual car rental bureaucracy and benefit from lower rates. If you and your spouse both have a car and you think you can get by with sharing one for a while, that’s a great way to make passive income. Some of the services that are looking for people to rent out their car are Flightcar, Getaround and Turo.flightcar dani santa monica

5 Sell your stuff

Last but not least: Look through your stuff and see if there aren’t some things you don’t need anymore. That bicycle you never use? That old skateboard? The record collection you never look at anymore? Get rid of all that stuff. Put it on eBay, Craigslist, or have a garage sale. If you have a storage room filled with old stuff or things you’ve inherited but don’t know what to do with them, it might even be worth it paying for a flea market stand. You’ll be surprised how much money can come together from selling a few items that are just laying around your house.hells kitchen flea market dogsDo you have anything to add? Share some ways in which you’ve made money in an unconventional way in the comments below!

 

read more

13 Things About Berlin That Might Surprise You

berlin cathedral and tv tower

I’ve talked about Berlin a lot on this site, providing you with some useful guides for the city (check out:

das ist so berlin
That’s so Berlin.

…but returning after a year, several first-time visitors in tow, I noticed that there are quite a few things that I’ve never shared with you: The things I find surprising about Berlin, and the things people I show around find surprising and interesting. So without further ado, here are 13 things about Berlin that I find surprising and that might surprise you, too:

1 Berlin is the vegan capital of Europe

This one is surprising – who would’ve thought that you’d find one of Europe’s most vegan-friendly cities in meat loving Germany? It seems like vegan cafes, bars and restaurants are popping up everywhere around the city, but I was skeptical when my friend Sam told me that Berlin was the vegan capital of Europe. A quick Google search revealed that he was correct though, and Berlin is in fact the city with more vegan restaurants than any other city in Europe, according to CNN. Germany’s first vegan supermarket chain, Veganz, was founded here, and Berlin is home to the biggest vegan festival in all of Europe. You can get vegan versions of the meat dishes that Berlin is famous for, doner and curry wurst, and you can get pretty much anything vegan: wine, cheese, ice cream, pizza… There are vegan versions of everything, and then there are of course the 60+ purely vegan restaurants and cafes in the city.vegan berlin

2 Berlin is not pretty

Compared to other European capitals like Paris, Budapest, Lisbon, Amsterdam, Prague or Ljubljana, which are known for their impeccable beauty, charming atmosphere and postcard-worthy photo opps around every corner, Berlin can only be called a city with some pretty corners at best. Gritty fits Berlin much better than pretty, and people traveling around Europe are often surprised when they get to Berlin and realize it’s not like the picture-perfect cities that they’ve got to enjoy in other European countries. That’s why Berlin isn’t for everyone – and I have to admit that it can be difficult to grasp the sprawling mess of neighborhoods. But if you make an effort to explore both the pretty and the less pretty parts, you’ll find that the city has much more facets than the cleaner, neater neighboring capitals.gritty berlin

3 Berlin is quiet

One thing that almost everyone visiting Berlin comments on is how quiet the city is. And I agree – I don’t think there are many cities the size of Berlin where you can find yourself frequently in tranquil, peaceful spaces. Even walking through the Mitte neighborhood (Central Berlin) there are a lot of spots where you feel more like you are in a small town rather than in Germany’s capital. And in the residential streets of Kreuzberg, Neukölln or Prenzlauer Berg, the only noise I found myself surrounded by was the chirping of the birds. Heavenly!

dani tempelhof
You can always find quiet, empty places in Berlin!

4 Berlin doesn’t have a skyline

Berlin doesn’t have much of a skyline – in fact, there aren’t any skyscrapers in Berlin. The highest building in Berlin is the omnipresent TV Tower at 1,207 ft (368 meters), which always peaks out from the lower buildings of the city. The Park Inn Hotel, right across from the TV Tower on Alexanderplatz, is one of the very few other high buildings in Berlin, but at 410 feet (125 meters) it is considerably smaller than the TV Tower.berlin sunset

5 Berlin is cheap

People are always surprised about just how cheap Berlin is, and I agree: having traveled all over Germany this year, I have to say that I have yet to find another city that has prices as cheap as Berlin. Food is super cheap, and drinks are moderately priced in most places – a large beer for €3.50 is seen as expensive, and €2 glasses of wine are not a rarity. Plus: groceries are cheap in the supermarkets, the Turkish Market in Maybachufer has the most inexpensive fresh produce I’ve come across in the whole country. Since many sights are also free, Berlin is one of the most budget-friendly cities in Europe.

cheap berlin
€5 lunches and an entire box of avocados for €3? Yes, please!

6 Berlin is smoky

And with that I don’t mean ‘smoggy’, no, I actually mean smoky as in cigarette smoke. Having spent so much time in the US in recent years, I am shocked every time I get to Germany and realize just how many people smoke there. The worst thing? Many bars have found loopholes to avoid the smoking ban, and so I find myself constantly surrounded by cigarette smoke when I go out in Berlin, waking up with hair that reeks of cigarettes. Ick.berlin smokers

7 Everyone is drinking beer (everywhere!)

Everyone in Berlin is walking around with a beer bottle in their hands. Well maybe not everybody, but probably 90%* of people you’ll pass in Berlin, especially in Neukölln or Kreuzberg, are carrying an open beer bottle. And if not beer, then Club Mate, a popular hipster soda drink.. but if you find yourself in Berlin, just look around you and you’ll notice that almost everyone has a beer bottle in their hands. The most plausible explanation for this is that a bottle of beer is usually cheaper than a bottle of water, so why not enjoy a bottle of fine German beer? But why not enjoy a beer at any given time, considering that it’s cheaper than a bottle of water?  And yes, it is completely legal to booze in public, and Berliners take advantage of that privilege all the time – more so than in most other German cities.

*number might have been slightly exaggerated by the author of this articleberlin beer

8 Finding German food in Berlin can be tricky

When my friend announced she wanted to try some German food, I broke out in a sweat. Where the heck could we sample some German food that goes beyond the ubiquitous currywurst? Berlin has so much ethnic food – Turkish, Vietnamese, Indian, Lebanese, Indian, Thai, Mexican.. you can find pretty much any cuisine you’re craving. But German food options seem to be few and far between. And even though you’ll discover that there are quite a few German restaurants once you start looking for them, be warned: not all of them are great. The quality varies drastically! If you find yourself in Berlin and hungry for German food, check out Dicke Wirtin, Zeit fuer Brot (their bread is amazing!), Schwarzwaldstuben and Marjellchen.Berlin foreign food

9 Doner Kebab is everywhere

While we’re talking about food: one thing you won’t ever have difficulties finding is the doner kebab, a national treasure when it comes to German fast food. Even though the kebab is a type of Turkish kebab, made of meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie (similar to the Arab shawarma) some people claim it was invented in Germany, and the Wall Street Journal states that There’s Nothing More German Than a Big, Fat Juicy Döner Kebab. Yes – the döner, how the Germans call it, is popular not only in Berlin but throughout the entire country with over 17,000 doner slingers, and it even outsells hamburgers and sausages, taking the #1 spot for fast food in Germany.

mustafas gemuese kebap
Mustafa’s.

Apparently there are more doner stands in Berlin than there are in Istanbul! You can’t go to Berlin and NOT have a doner – and the fight for the title of ‘Best Doner In Berlin’ is an ongoing one. Opinions vary (ask a group of Berliners what their favorite doner place is and it’s likely you will trigger a dispute among them!), but here are The Guardian’s 2016 picks for the best doner in Berlin, Thrillist’s best doner spots in Berlin, and Berlin Food Stories’ favorite doner places.

10 Berlin is cash only

maybe you should go fuck yourself
What I feel Berliners are thinking every time I ask if I can pay with card

Try to use plastic in Berlin – and you’ll get frustrated quickly. Germans do not like credit cards (or even debit cards) and Berlin is no exception here. Whenever I visit and try to pay by card, I get to hear ‘We’re cash only’ almost every time. Cash is king in Berlin, so get out a huge chunk of Euros as soon as you arrive. I am not sure why Germans are so adamant about paying in cash, but if you don’t want to end up in constant frustration about not being able to pay with your card (I find that most places that do accept card payment only accept German ‘EC’ or ‘Giro’ cards, but no foreign debit and credit cards), have your cash ready.

11 Berlin is a bike city

bike traffic light berlin
Bikes even have their own traffic lights in Berlin!

When people think of bike cities in Europe, they usually think of Amsterdam or Copenhagen, but not of Berlin. However, Berlin is just as much of a bike city as the aforementioned two, with a constant stream of cyclists using the well-marked bike lanes. One morning during rush hour, I found myself in a bike traffic jam and was surrounded by sharply dressed business men on their bikes, women in heels and suits on their way to the office, and moms with two kids on their bike on the way to kindergarten to drop them off. No matter what time of day – there always seemed to be more bikes than cars on the streets. And I have to say: cycling is the best way to get around Berlin, so do yourself a favor and rent a bike for the day at one of the many bike rental places around the city.

12 Berlin is green

Did you know that one fifth of Berlin is covered with trees? And there are 2,500 green spaces and parks in the city, ranging from massive parks like Tiergarten (Berlin’s version of Central Park) and the city forest of Grunewald to small green spaces like Monbijoupark or Helmholtzplatz. There are a number of Volksgärten (people’s parks), and there are plenty of green spaces along the canals and the river Spree that flows through Berlin from east to west. And then there’s Tempelhof, of course, Berlin’s city airport that was, after closing down, turned into a public park, larger than Central Park.green berlin

13 Berlin is full of street art

A lot of people are aware that Berlin has a thriving street art scene, but they don’t expect there to be so much street art… everywhere! In most cities, street art is confined to one or a couple of neighborhoods, but in Berlin you can’t walk a few meters without stumbling upon a piece of street art, graffiti or a mural. Even in the most random places, inside staircases for example, you’ll find tags or graffiti. Sometimes I feel like there is not a single door in the city that doesn’t have something painted on it! I personally love it, and I think it adds so much to what makes Berlin such a special place.berlin street art

No, the city is not perfect, but that’s what makes me love it even more.

Have you been to Berlin? Was there anything about the city that you didn’t expect / that surprised you? Share in the comments below!

read more

Jandals, thongs or simply flip flops: Interesting facts about my favorite travel shoes

funky keyboard flipflop phnom penh

It’s safe to say that I’ve learnt (and am still learning!) a lot about how to travel. I am pretty adept at choosing a destination, fitting in with the locals and going with the flow (as after all, being a bit nomadic means that life is unpredictable and you need to learn to roll with it!).

shoes17But, what I am really getting good at is knowing what to pack in my suitcase. Whether that means throwing in sports gear for a holiday that involves a bit of running, a beach holiday (to one of these destinations for example) that requires a bikini or two, or a city break that warrants bringing sensible but stylish clothing, I know what I’ll need.

One such thing (and trust me, this is a must-have for any destination you’re travelling to), is a pair of flip-flops. I find them incredibly useful for slipping on and off, and usually they’re nice to look at as well as being really practical.

What isn’t so nice to look at? People’s feet when they haven’t got them flip-flop ready! So, I thought I’d share this infographic with you in case you find it useful before you head off on holiday this summer. What do you make of these tips, and can you believe what happened to that couple in Capri?!


Get Your Feet Flip-Flop Ready

Brought to you by Travel Republic

read more

Carry-On Travel: How To Choose The Right Bag +Rise Gear Giveaway

rise glider1

rise gearAfter over half a decade of full-time travel, I am ready to put my backpack to rest for a while and go on shorter trips instead of globetrotting nonstop. I started a trial for that last summer with a five-week trip around Europe: Berlin, Iceland, Amsterdam, London, Italy and Oktoberfest were on my itinerary, and one thing I realized quickly was that I was in desperate need of a decent carry-on bag. I’ve been traveling with a giant 65 liter backpack for years now, which is great for a notorious overpacker like me but impractical for shorter trips. The duffel bag I chose for my Euro trip last year, which spanned Iceland’s cold glaciers and Italy’s glorious summer temperatures, meaning I had to pack for summer and winter, turned out to be absolutely impractical. That’s when the search for an adequate carry-on bag began.

Luckily the search didn’t last long because soon after I was introduced to Rise Gear, a Canadian luggage company that focuses on efficient packing. More on that in a minute – let’s talk first about the factors you should consider when you’re in the market for a new piece of carry-on luggage, because there are so many different kinds and brands now that choosing one can be overwhelming. Here are the things you should pay attention to:

Price vs quality

You pay what you get for – and that definitely holds true for luggage. I have three (!) suitcases where the handle broke off, and had to throw out several cheapie rolling suitcases where the wheels or the handle broke after only a few times of using it. Now I am more interested in a piece of luggage that lasts for a decade or longer, rather than going for the cheapest one.

Type & Style

Are you looking for a backpack or a trolley suitcase? Are two wheels enough or are you looking for four wheels? Hard case or soft case? Duffel bag or a stylish flight briefcase? There are hundreds of variations. You’ll have to find out what works best for you – I for example dislike always having to pull a trolley and prefer a backpack or a duffel bag that has wheels.

Practicality

There are some stylish pieces of luggage out there these days, but when I observe other travelers in airports, I sometimes wonder how practical their luggage is. More important than optics should be things like: storage capability, durance, the stability and length of the handle, the durability and performance of the wheels. If you are looking to buy a convertible bag, try out how easy it is to convert the bag. Extra features such as internal and external compartments and organizer pockets, an expansion system and integrated locks are also important.rise transformWeight & dimensions

With airline restrictions becoming stricter and stricter when it comes to carry-ons, especially on low budget carriers, you have to make sure that the dimensions of your luggage match these restrictions. If you are like me traveling with lots of electronics, I say: the lighter the better! To check carry-on restrictions (by weight and dimensions) for every airline, I highly recommend this practical luggage size chart.

How to travel with carry-on only, even on long trips

As I said before, I am not very good at restricting myself when it comes to what I bring on a trip, especially a long one. I think I could fill up a carry-on with shoes alone (but I’ve learned to downsize!), and I like having choices. The only reason why I am finally able to travel with carry-on only is the book The Carry-On Traveller: The Ultimate Guide to Packing Light by Erin McNeaney which I read earlier this year. I highly recommend it to anyone who also struggles to travel with carry-on only – the book is filled with invaluable on how to pack for trips spanning different climate zones and even long-term trips (the author has been traveling with carry-on only for over six years now), it taught me how to deal with airline restrictions such as liquids, and has plenty of tips from long-term travelers on how to pack practically – from families to make-up fanatics to photographers who travel with lots of gear. And not only that – for less than $5, you also get advice on things like travel insurance, bank accounts that are suitable for overseas travel, super useful travel apps and sample packing lists. Erin’s advice on how to find the right carry-on for you has also been indispensable for me.
rise gear

Introducing the Rise Glider

When I was introduced to Rise Gear, I found the RISE Glider carry-on bag in their range, which I thought was perfect for me since it wasn’t only a rolling suitcase but it also came with backpack straps so that I could use it as a backpack. And since my number one recommendation for most places usually is to travel with a backpack instead of rolling suitcases, I thought this combination of backpack and suitcase couldn’t get any better. I could pull the luggage in places like airports, but strap it on my bag in places where it’s inconvenient to have luggage on rolls, such as train or subway stations where I find myself running up and down stairs all the time. Or cobble stones – especially in Europe it’s just hugely inconvenient to drag around a rolling suitcase, so having the option to wear it on my back seemed ideal.
rise gear gliderBut that’s not what makes the Rise Glider special – what makes it stand out of the ever-growing range of practical luggage is its collapsible shelving system. When I tried it, I had to ask myself why nobody else has come up with it. Check out the video below to see how exactly the shelves work:

You basically pack everything in the compartment you assign for it – there are compartments for clothes, but also for shoes and toiletries, laundry and a padded 15″ laptop compartment. And when you arrive, you simply pull out the shelving system and hang it in your hotel room or in the apartment you’re staying. The shelves are detachable, by the way, so you can store your suitcase in a different place, but you could also just leave it hanging underneath the shelves. I really don’t think you could pack in a more efficient way – during a Europe trip like the one I did last year, with lots of moving around and several stops, this packing system is perfect.
rise glider shelf systemYou always find your stuff right away. And also: with lots of cobble-stone streets everywhere in Europe, I love that I can unpack the straps (they can be stowed away in a pocket on the outside of the bag) within seconds and carry the suitcase on my back. I always prefer a backpack over a rolling suitcase and I have found it to be very comfortable when I carry it on my back since the front side of the Glider, to which the straps are attached, is padded. And because the suitcase is carry-on sized, it can’t get too heavy either – so far, I haven’t been missing the extra waist support that comes with a proper backpack.

I have also used the trolley function of the Glider, I am able to easily pull it with its solid metal telescoping extension handle, and find the rolling wheels to be sturdy and robust.
rise gear rollingThe only downsides of the luggage – or let’s say room for improvement: I like having a large outside pocket on my bag for travel documents and a magazine, but because of the backpack straps, there are only two small outside compartments on each side. The suitcase is also pretty heavy, so I am not sure if I’d get into trouble boarding a plane with it, which I have yet to try.

rise gear shelf systemPractical information

The luggage I am using is the Rise Glider rolling carry-on with a blue shelving system and detachable backpack straps. You can buy it via Rise.com, and if you sign up for the Rise newsletter, you’ll get 10 % off!

  • Dimensions: 22″ x 14″ x 9″ inches (56cm – 36cm – 23cm); the hooks of the shelving system fit comfortably around 1.5″diameter bars
  • Weight: 11 lbs (5kg)
  • Materials: Polyester, nylon, metal, and rubberized strength steel hooks
  • Volume: 45l
  • Price: $323.00 (free shipping in the U.S. and Canada)

Note: If you are looking for a smaller bag, check out Rise Gear’s overnight jumper ($99) and Weekender ($139) duffel bags. Both come with the collapsible shelving system that makes Rise Gear so unique.
rise gear

Rise Gear Giveaway

I love the concept of the collapsible shelving system which is I am giving away one Riser, which fits in a carry-on. The system has shelves for clothes, a shoes and toiletries compartment, a laundry compartment, and each shelf holds up to 20lbs.

You can enter the giveaway via the pop-up window in this article!

read more
1 2 3 28
Page 1 of 28
css.php