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Travel Tips

Is it safe to travel in Colombia?

colombia-safety

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….

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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.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!

 

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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!

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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

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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!

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Peer-to-Peer Renting: Transforming How you Travel

London houses

As a homeowner, you know quite well all of the responsibilities that go hand-in-hand with maintaining your home. There are expenses like heating and cooling, electricity, water, Internet…so on and so on. It makes things like going on vacation a well-planned (if not rare) event each year. Peer-to-peer renting marketplaces are changing all of that.  Renters and homeowners are using places like Airbnb, HomeAway, OneFineStay, Rent Like a Champion and similar others to either rent out their homes temporarily, or find nicer, more affordable places to stay at on vacation.

What is Peer-to-Peer Renting?

Think of it as the same economic principle that created Uber. It all centers on collaborative consumption, or a ‘sharing economy.’ A homeowner rents out their home for several days, weeks or months; and a renter is able to stay in these accommodations that beat any standard hotel room or rental agency property. In general, it’s a way for people to make supplemental income or save money while they travel.

Putting things in perspective, the average hotel room costs $137 per night. In comparison, a house on Airbnb costs an average of $80 per night.prospect lefferts gardens historic houses

Benefits for Homeowners

Again, everything these days cost a pretty penny. It’s hard to save up and go to the beach, the mountains or visit another country. For that reason, peer-to-peer renting is transforming the rental market. It benefits both the homeowner and the renter. Using Airbnb, the average homeowner makes $7,350 per year just from temporarily renting out their homes. Other places, like Rent Like a Champion (which caters to sport fans), hosts make an average of $1,100 per weekend.

Of course, location plays an important factor in demand. Popular U.S. cities like New York City, Las Vegas, Orlando, Chicago, San Francisco, San Diego, Washington D.C, Charleston, New Orleans and Honolulu are easier than others to rent out or find available properties.garden district mansionPeer-to-peer renting could be exactly what you need to get away. And where safety is concerned, remote home monitoring provides a solution to knowing the status of your home at all times. Receive custom alerts and notifications, based on your preferred settings. Be able to remotely control things like the thermostat (after all, no one likes large energy bills). Now you can explore all the places you’ve been missing out on—without worrying what’s happening back at home.las vegas new mexico victorian house

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Explore America’s Beauty with an off the Beaten Track Adventure

Canyon de Chelly3

America is one of the most stunning, diverse and breathtaking continents in the entire world. Great lakes, canyons, desert, swamps, mountain ranges and electric cities are just a handful of what there is to explore. This makes it the ultimate adventure destination. Often, when people visit the States they will fly in to the major cities, which can be fantastic, but often the most amazing experiences are found off the beaten track and in the lesser explored areas of this great country.

The Ultimate Road Trip

It is the dream of many people to do the ultimate American road trip from coast to coast, but sadly not many people get to experience this. A group of friends, the open road, great music and a breathtaking and varied backdrop is the perfect setting for an unforgettable and eye opening adventure. This is not your typical holiday and a break from the norm, and it is always the off the beaten track expeditions which are the most exciting and create the most stories.

Monument Valley street

Must See Places

There are many highlights to see in America, with a few being absolute musts for those wanting to break the norm. Southern gems such as Nashville, Mississippi and New Orleans provide breathtaking scenery along with a distinctive atmosphere, whilst The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is also a must and be sure to take your camera.

St Louis CathedralThe Grand Canyon in California will be the top of many people’s lists and for good reason, but be sure to head into Las Vegas for some fun and games. Yosemite National Park cannot be missed, and a drive through the desert will have you reminiscing about all the great Western films. Driving along the Pacific Coast will give you amazing views and an eclectic mix of brilliant cities and perfect beaches which many visitors miss. Deadwood in South Dakota is a charming town where you get easy access to amazing places such as the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone National Park.Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas

Small Group Adventure Tours

All of this only scratches the surface of what you will find on an American road trip off the beaten path. To ensure you do not miss a thing, it may be in your best interest to use holiday companies like TrekAmerica to plan your trip. These companies organise brilliant small group adventure tours that uncover the best hidden gems in all of America. Additionally, many of these companies can also arrange fantastic activities such as horse riding, white water rafting, mountain biking and more.Monument Valley horseback ridingAmerica is a land of awe-inspiring natural beauty. This landscape is also incredibly diverse, making it an incredible place to explore both in the major cities and everywhere in between. An adventure off the beaten path in America is sure to be an astonishing, fun and life changing experience and a trip out of the ordinary.

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Explore the World’s Hidden Treasures on an Unforgettable Cruise

Sunset koh lanta thailand

There is nothing greater than expanding your horizons and seeing more of our beautiful planet. It can be an eye opening experience and also one which gives you a much greater appreciation for the globe, but unfortunately not many people get to see anywhere near enough of it.

An Adventurous Holiday

When deciding on vacations, it is common for people to select predictable destinations and places they have visited before. Whilst this will still be a great trip, it is also not particularly adventurous and there are many incredible yet often overlooked destinations. One terrific way of seeing areas of the world that not many people get to see is to go on a cruise. With cruises, the journey becomes the holiday and you will be treated to often unseen natural beauty out at sea and along the coastlines.

adventure of the seas cruise ship

What You May See

A cruise enables you to see many amazing things, regardless of the destination. You will gain a better understanding of the size of the globe as you will be travelling by sea and not by air, and this will allow you to see and visit many secluded ports in some of the most wonderful countries on the planet. Whilst out at sea, there is a very good chance that you will see some majestic and colourful wildlife which you would not get with any other type of holiday.

The World’s Hidden Treasures Uncovered

On top of all this, some cruises will allow you to explore and get up close to some of the greatest sights in the entire world. The Norwegian Fjords cruise from specialists such as Bolsover Cruise Club, for example, takes you on an unforgettable trip where you get unparalleled views of the breathtaking Fjords. Thanks to these cruises, anyone can explore and discover some of the more unusual and magical places on the entire planet.

cinque terre.JPGThere are many other brilliant destinations that you could visit and cruises that go around the globe. You could see the Polar Regions, Angel Falls (the world’s highest waterfall), Hawaii, the diverse landscapes of the Middle East, the Black Sea, the Caribbean Islands and many other incredible sights. Not only this, but cruises are also brilliant fun and there are many benefits of going on one.

An Eye Opening Experience

Whilst there is a lot to be said for going on a safe and simple holiday, it is also not particularly adventurous. There are all kinds of breathtakingly beautiful places and things to discover out in the world; seeing these could give you a greater appreciation for the planet and be a real eye opening experience. The best way to explore the world and uncover these gems is through a cruise, as this will take you on a fun and unforgettable journey across the oceans to your destination.

corsica & cruise ships

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How to travel smart: Top 10 travel hacks

Plane

‘’If travelling was free, you would never see me again’’ – Isn’t this true for most of us?

Travelling, which a few decades back meant recreation, is now a lifestyle and career for some! People jump at the idea of travelling, and are more than happy to travel to far-fetched places for the heck of an experience. However, there are few things that can hold even the seasoned travellers back, it could be something as mundane as long queues, to something as serious as being lost in an unknown country without a phone!

Frankly, all these hiccups are relatable. But, do we let them overpower us? Hell no! Instead, we will find our ways to combat them and travel every inch of this magnificent place called ‘Earth’ in the smartest possible way!

Enclosed are 10 smart travel hacks recommended by HolidayMe (EN|AR), which will ensure that you have a happy vacation minus the hitch!

Tip # 1 Dress up smart

You will get to read a lot of tips that will ask you to travel light – reduce the number of clothes, shoes and what not. But, hey we don’t want to get around in the country looking like a hobo, right? So, what we do? We dress up smartly. For instances – get infinity scarves that not only looking stylish but also double up as a blanket when it’s cold. You could also fold it over your face to block out the light for a nap. Use an all-in-one makeup product instead of the blush, brightener, and lipstick. Ditch the jeans, and opt for Leggings for they are a safe and extremely comfortable for traveling. Wear them under dresses and skirts, or for a workout (if that’s your thing). Remember to wear something with deep pockets on the plane—it’ll prevent you from having to dig through your bag for your phone, wallet, and boarding pass every five minutes.

Try and pack one colour scheme, and make sure it’s a dark one, which means all of your clothes will match and you don’t need to waste time worrying about putting together outfits.

Tip # 2: Cheap flight deals.

Airfares jolt majority of travel plans. The airfares, most of the times, are so high, that we end up reconsidering our travel plans. Here is the tip – if you are looking for cheaper fares, book your flight tickets on a Tuesday afternoon or on a Thursday, because that is when the air fares drop a little. Also, remember to turn your browser’s “incognito mode” ON to ensure that these websites do not track your activity and change their prices accordingly, whenever you are browsing an airline or a travel website for flight details.

lufthansa A380 plane LAX

Tip # 3: Say bye-bye to stink.

Clothes endure a lot during long flights. If you are looking to keep your clothes smelling fresh, place a dryer sheet in your suitcase. This will also help reduce static. Run out of dryer sheet? Throw the hotel bar soap into your dirty laundry bag.

Tip # 4: No more broken pins or misplaced charger.

Dealing with broken charger pins, entangled wires, or simply a charger that goes missing amidst heap of clothes, are situations that are simply nightmarish. You could relate to it even more if you are hooked to your phone 24X7. The solution? Carry your charger and headphones in a glass case that will keep them safe and handy.

Tip # 5: Keep important documents in check.

It happens more often than not, that we tend to lose our baggage or wallet, while vacationing. To be caught without important documents in a foreign land is a nightmarish situation. Scan all the important documents, passport, tickets, and more, and have them emailed to you. So, even if you lose your originals and their copies, you would still have them in your inbox.

ProTip: No time to scan? Click their photo through your mobile and upload them on cloud or email them.

passport

Tip # 6: Laundry? Who needs that!

Okay, now this one is a little twisted but when you really think of its utility, you would possibly want to smother its inventor with ‘thank-you’ kisses. If you are travelling light and need to wash your clothes for free; enter the shower with your clothes ‘still on’, use the hotel soap or shampoo to first clean/wash your clothes and then yourself.

ProTip: To dry your clothes A.S.A.P, roll them tight in a towel. The towel would suck up the extra-moisture and allow it to dry faster. Alternatively, you could invest in some quick drying fabric like ones offered by Ex-officio or Marmot.

Tip # 7 Surf Google Maps – Offline.

I had a friend who just went on a solo backpacking trip, telling me that she had a tough time figuring out the directions, for the internet on her phone wouldn’t work! The physical maps were too tricky to follow and not knowing foreign languages, added to her woes. If you are stranded like her – Google maps will come to your rescue, yes, they work even offline! As soon as you get access to Wi-Fi, select the address you would want to get to. Next, type “OK Maps” and the visible area will be saved for future access. You can also zoom in on a part of a map that you want to save for offline browsing.

indian visa - chiang mai map to indian embassy

Tip # 8 In Rome do as Romans do

One of the best ways to save money and enjoy the vacation to the hilt, is to simply follow the rule that “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”. This in context of a vacation, loosely translate to, ‘get out of your comfort zone, and don’t be a stubborn traveler’. Ensure your safety by dressing up modestly, if the country’s culture demands so. Eat locally – trying the local cuisine will save you more money and makes you experience new, delicious, flavorful meals.

Tip 9 # See extra cities for free

Who doesn’t like freebies? We all do, especially if it’s a bonus city – courtesy ‘layover’.

Some airlines offer free stopovers, generally in their hub city, which means you can visit an extra destination or two minus any extra cost.

mexico city airport

Tip # 10: Where’s my luggage?

In order to save yourself some time and energy when collecting your luggage from the baggage claim conveyor belt, make your luggage identifiable by sticking funky stickers or ribbons on it. Waiting is not your thing? Put “fragile” stickers on your suitcases and they should be among the first ones to arrive on the conveyor belt. Not only that, the staff will be extra careful while handling them.

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Seven restaurants you can’t miss in Dubai

maltese food

Dubai is one of those idyllic destinations where a traveller can enjoy sunny weather all-year-around, even when the summer heat may prove a little too much for some (there are still many ways to enjoy yourself indoors with air-conditioning on full blast). Everyone knows there’s no shortage of things to do in trendy and sleek Dubai, there’s a plethora of attractions beckoning your call. Endless skyscrapers, huge shopping malls, a buzzing nightlife, fantastic beaches, stunning resorts, desert safaris and many more unique draws makes Dubai a top destination for virtually every type of holidaymaker.

But Dubai is not only known for its skyscrapers, ultra-luxurious hotels and ambitious malls, but also for its extravagant culinary options and gastronomic experiences. Dubai Holidays is a site with a great collection of restaurants for you to plan your trip as it would be incomplete if you don’t take the opportunity to experience at least one of the top culinary options offered across a variety of quality restaurants. And you don’t have to break the bank either, there’s a tasty meal for every pocket, and even some gourmet delicacies to be found at moderate prices. You can also find freshly-prepared meals expressly hand-crafted to satisfy a variety of dietary conditions – from gluten-free to lactose-free, vegetarian and even vegan, there’ll be a restaurant in Dubai (often more than one) to cater for it all. Be it continental, Emirati, Thai, Mediterranean or Indian, you will find a sea of delicacies to taste.

Let us now go over our pick of hotel restaurants where you can experience some of the best gastronomic experiences in Dubai:

Omnia Gourmet: Designed by Silvena, this celebrated Emirati theme restaurant is the best option for health-conscious diners. Foodies arriving here are welcomed with lush green, mismatched ceramic tiles giving a perfect ambience that echoes the restaurant’s green credentials. The 24 carat gold chocolate sphere is a must- dessert to finish off a healthy meal and the cafe is ideal for those looking for vegan, organic, glute-free or raw cuisine.

Bateaux Dubai: If you want to experience dining by the waterways of Dubai Creek, then this restaurant is the best option to go for. There you can enjoy some finely prepared gourmet dishes and premium beverages with top-notch personalised service.

Zuma: Considered one of the finest restaurants in the world, this Japanese restaurant has a variety of menus on offer. It’s most famously known for its Japanese Izakaya specialties, perfectly complementing the Japanese theme prevailing all-around. If you’re looking for a fine-dining experience with a Japanese twist, then this is the one not to miss.

zuma restaurant
Zuma by Côte d’Azur on flickr.com

Mint Leaf of London: This restaurant is the perfect combination of sweet aromas and an electric atmosphere. Located on the 15th floor of South Tower in the Emirates Financial Towers, this is the place to enjoy a contemporary take on Indian food, not to mention the breath-taking views over the city that can be admired through the floor-to-ceiling glass windows.

Armani Hotel- Amal: If you’re looking forward to enjoying typical Indian fare then Amal is the right option to go for. Located in the magnificent Burj Khalifa, and part of the exclusive Armani hotel, this elegant restaurant serves some authentic Indian food along with signature luxury.

Entrance to the Armani Hotel at the Burj Khalifa
Entrance to the Armani Hotel at the Burj Khalifa by David Jones on Flickr.com

Pier Chic: Located at Al Qasr, Madinat Jumeirah, this refreshing restaurant offers high-end Mediterranean seafood for real foodies looking for a fresh taste from the ocean. This romantic eatery is open for lunch and dinner with a menu featuring the finest selection of oysters, scallops, sashimi and lobster. The restaurant also has bar and lounge for those looking to enjoy a nice pre-dinner or apres-dinner cocktail.

Sarband by Nillo’s: This is the best Iranian restaurant in Dubai, and you’ll find it in Century Village. It’s famous for the high standards of its cuisine and its relaxed al fresco setting. It is also known for a reputed Iranian Head Chef who serves classic Persian fare like Khoresh-e-fesenjan. Many expats and tourists in Dubai are frequent diners and come here for simply the best Iranian food anywhere around.

abshar sangak with cheese, walnuts, greens
abshar sangak with cheese, walnuts, greens by Krista on Flickr.com

As you can see after checking out this list, Dubai’s gourmet gastronomy spans a wide variety of worldwide cuisines. Whether you’re visiting during the Dubai Shopping festival, to enjoy the awesome theme parks and eye-opening attractions, or to simply unwind on the beach, you should certainly not miss the most highly recommended restaurants.

Photo credit: All images used via Flickr’s creative commons licensing. (1) Zuma restaurant by Côte d’Azur; (2) Entrance to the Armani Hotel by David Jones; (3)Abshar Sangak with cheese, walnuts and greens by Krista

 

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