April 24, 2014

5 tips for how not to chase a deal

Hotel and airline “deals” are a big part my long-term travel strategy. My husband and I are constantly chasing promotions if we think they’ll help us gain another day, week, or month on the road. In fact, quite often we find ourselves making our travel plans based on the deals we find.

We’ve learned a lot about living out of hotels. You can read about our general tips for living out of hotels here. But in the process of cultivating that list of tips, we’ve made definitely had some flops.

Hotel Leonardo Berlin

For instance last summer we found a list of hotels throughout Germany that had been mistakenly priced at around $20 for a week’s stay. In our circles this is called a “mistake-fare.” It’s always up to the hotel as to whether or not they’ll actually honor this kind of accidental rate or not but in the case of these Germany hotels, they approved. The first hotel booked under this mistake-fare rate, a hotel not far from downtown Berlin, was great. The second one on the other hand was in the middle of an industrial park far from any of the beautiful sites Hamburg had to offer.

While the comforts we agree to give up for a good deal may vary from person to person, there are a few general “do’s” and “don’t's” that may be helpful across the gamut.

As someone who has chased a lot of deals…and made lots of mistakes as well, I’ve created a list of general rules for how not to chase a deal.

How not to chase a deal.

1.) While it’s ok to go somewhere you know nothing about specifically for a deal, don’t go somewhere you aren’t interested in for a deal, and don’t be afraid to ditch the deal and leave if you find that’s the case when you arrive.

If you are a person who works online as you go, it’s not always important to be in a place that stimulates your curiosity if you’re in a place that instead stimulates your work stamina! However, being a place you hate is not likely to be a place that stimulates anything but negativity. A deal isn’t worth that.

parkhyattshanghairesized

2.) Don’t forget to factor in what your price-cut is going to cost you.

In other words, sometimes you get what you pay for. In the example I gave above the awesome price cost us a good location. There was not even a cheap restaurant in walking distance let alone a place to get internet or laundry or any of the other needs that come up. So staying at our “good deal” hotel probably would have doubled our food budget, taxi budget, and internet budget as we usually choose hotels with internet included.

3.) Not all that glitters is gold…and not all hotel points and airline miles are useful.

Loyalty programs are becoming really popular so every hotel and airline seems to have one. But some of them are more “fluffy” than others and you may find yourself feeling fairly disappointed when you’ve made a few hotel stays for the sake of a promotion only to find the hotel chain is a regional hotel with very few locations you’ll be able to use. Or only to find that the points expire in a short amount of time.

4.) Don’t let luxury convince you a deal is better than it is.

This really comes down to letting math guide you out of the enticing siren-song of luxury. Fifty-percent off of something twice as much as your normal budget brings you back down to your normal budget. That’s not really a good deal, it’s just a special treat. It doesn’t necessarily help you stretch your budget even if it does give you a good experience. Maybe you’ll decide it’s worth it and that’ s totally fine. But don’t get into the habit of going for “deals” on luxury that trick you into spending a little bit more than your ordinary budget. (At least, not without simultaneously earning enough points to make up for it later as discussed in my previous post about how luxury hotels can save us money).

5.) Don’t sample a really great deal when you could go big.

We’ve done some wacky things for really good deals. One time Club Carlson was offering a brief promotion of 50,000 points (enough for up to ten free nights) per stay. This means that every time you make a stay, regardless of how many nights your stay included, you’d earn 50,000 points. Even though we felt funny about it, the hotel had plenty of unsold rooms so we each got a room for the night despite being a married couple. We didn’t even use the second room but we paid for it knowing we could get more than our money’s worth out of it in free stays with the points we’d be earning.

If the hotel had been close to full occupancy I would have felt too guilty about occupying more space than we needed, but as it was, the hotel certainly didn’t mind us paying for a second room that would have otherwise gone unsold. And we certainly didn’t mind paying for a room that would earn us 10 free nights.

Even with our 100,000 point earnings, we quickly regretted only making two stays during that promotion.

Conclusion

Ultimately every traveler has their own lists of what works, what doesn’t work, and what they’ll try to do differently next time. What are some of your rules? What will you and won’t you do for a deal?

 

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Category: Hostels/Hotels

April 23, 2014

Field Report: Nimbin, Australia – Where flower power retired

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Cost/day:
Nimbin is a hard place to spend money. You will find that much of the town is free to browse, the area almost feels like entertainment in itself. We spent around $40 dollars on food and drink but this was out of choice. Nimbin is very backpacker friendly so we were able to park our van off a side street and sleep for the night cost free.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
This small town is strange in itself. If you think the flower power era died, you’re wrong, it retired to the hills of New South Wales. The feeling of a bohemian left wing society resonates from every glass fronted building. The town is radiant in bright colours from yellows to oranges to luminous greens. Not a dash of dull colour is wasted on the walls and door frames. You don’t need to step out of the van to be overwhelmed with happiness.

You’ll spot the odd skateboarding OAP, an abundance of dreadlocks and beards, many musicians, writers and artists alike. Amongst all of this, the very backbone of the town is the use of alternative ‘herbs’ and the strong unity it has between locals and travellers alike.

Describe a typical day:
Nimbin only needs a day or two at most if your enjoying the vibe.

We drove in from Byron Bay. This can be just over an hour and a half without stopping for a coffee. If a space can be found amongst the variety of campervans that line the streets then you can park up and walk everywhere on foot.

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We stopped by the local information centre and picked up a few leaflets on what was happening in and around the town. Our first stop was the Nimbin Hemp Embassy. This is where you will find lots of Hemp and Nimbin memorabilia. Small pieces of Nimbin’s history and community are displayed here. The most interesting of which is the history of the “Mardi Grass” festival, a celebration for Marajuana. Although use of Marajuana is still illegal in Australia, Mardi Grass allows the town to come alive and voice their own opinion of the current Australian Laws. From the many photographs and videos on show it’s seems to bring the town’s heart beat to the surface with a celebration of colour and music.
Among the various displays at the Embassy you’ll find sculptures from many of the previous Mardi Grass festivals hanging from the walls and ceilings.

Nimbin has a selection of alternative cafés but we were recommended The Rainbow Cafe. A selection of salads, burgers, and other meals are on offer with a great choice of drinks. I recommend their strawberry shake. The café is in keeping with the towns laid back, colourful, hippy like vibe and the staff were very friendly. It was nice to watch the world go by and soak up the atmosphere as I tucked into a gorgeous homemade cheeseburger.

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Then it’s off to the Nimbin Museum. Multiple rooms detail the history of Nimbin and it’s surrounding areas. We learned about the intriguing Aquarius Festival and just what prosperity it bough the this community. The museum has plenty to discover and is great for understanding and gaining a perspective of how this quirky town came to be.

We wondered around the various shops from Happy Herbs to a Bong shop. Each selling local products or certain contraband for alternative lifestyles.

If you want a slight reality check take a short drive out to Mt Warning. There is an 8km trek to the top, but to look out at the beautiful surrounding lands is certainly worth the walk. Take a picnic and enjoy the sunshine and a breath of fresh air.

To finish the night, it’s time for a scooner or two at the Nimbin Hotel. Locals and travellers sit alongside each other taking time to meet and greet. We were glad to have stumbled on a night of music from a local guitarist. So we settled down and enjoyed some pub grub, sat back and relaxed whilst enjoying the surroundings. Then a stumble back to sleep in the campervan!

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Describe an interesting conversation:
Much of the interesting conversation can be made when conversing with local shop owners. Many of the locals seem to have settled in Nimbin rather than raised here. I was interested to understand why people settle here in Nimbin. However the most interesting ‘conversations’ you will get here are the very brief interactions in regards to local “herbs” or “special cookies”. A small glance, a quick whisper and off they would disappear as quick they had appeared. No ones pushy and they seem to respect tourists.

For anyone with a mind to visit Nimbin please don’t be deterred by it’s alternative thoughts. It is free spirited but can be enjoyed for its creative and artistic, and historical nature.

What do you like about where you are? Dislike?
I really enjoyed Nimbin, it is a hive of creativity and has a great feeling about it. The locals seem like a proud folk who enjoy their lives. It may be a simple way to live but no one seems unhappy. It almost felt like I was in a small corner of Amsterdam where everyone had found their place in the world.
Above everything else they welcome you with open arms, are happy to meet you and seem genuinely interested in who you are.
The only dislike I have is the lack of things to occupy your days. I would have loved to have spent more time just soaking up the energy. Unfortunately a thorough exploration can be done over 2 days at a steady pace.

Where next?- Gold Coast here we come

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Category: Destinations, Oceania

April 22, 2014

Vagabonding book club: Chapter Four: Preparation

boots & a backpack

Just how extensively you should prepare yourself before vagabonding is a topic of much debate among travelers. Many experienced vagabonders believe that less preparation is actually better in the long run. The naturalist John Muir used to say that the best way to prepare for a trip was to “throw some tea and bread into an old sack and jump over the back fence.” …

It’s important to keep in mind, however, that experienced vagabonders already possess the confidence, faith and know-how to make such spontaneous travel work….

For the first time vagabonder, of course, preparation is a downright necessity– if for no other reason than to familiarize yourself with the fundamental routines of travel, to learn what wonders and challenges await and to assuage the fears that inevitably accompany any life-changing new pursuit. The key to preparation is to strike a balance between knowing what’s out there and being optimistically ignorant.

Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel  Chapter Four- Rolf Potts

 

Rolf is right, preparation is a hot topic in vagabonding circles. There are firm proponents of both minimal and diligent preparation. I laughed at the John Muir quote, as that approach resonates with me. I’m well known for grabbing my bag and hopping continents on very little notice and at the slightest suggestion of an adventure. However, Rolf’s point is well taken: that spontaneity and the ability to hop a plane and hit the ground running, the ability to roll with the punches and come out on top, is something that develops over time. I’ve been traveling for a long time. I’ve survived enough things to know how to hedge my bets and trust that the odds are in my favor. It’s not that way when we’re starting out.

I’m engaged in preparing for a small adventure with an old friend of mine for this summer. We’re going to walk 800 km of the Camino de Santiago. Hardly an edgy adventure, but it’s one that has meaning for my friend and I. I feel quite privileged to be invited along on her first foray into vagabonding. Our differing preparation styles have been a source of mutual amusement and have caused me to remember the joy of first journeys and big leaps into the unknown. It has become our joke that she’s prepared for all things and I’m going to show up still lacing my boots. One approach isn’t better than the other, they are just different. We are both doing the necessary preparation for our level of experience with the unknown, and we’re learning from each other in the process.

What about you? How do you prepare for a journey? Are you of the “tea and bread in a bag,” school of planning, or do you, like Rolf, relish the preparation as much as the journey? How much preparation is enough. How much is not enough.

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Category: Vagabonding Advice

April 21, 2014

At its best, travel is indistinguishable from just living life

“Travel is at its most rewarding when it ceases to be about your reaching a destination and becomes indistinguishable from living your life.”
–Paul Theroux, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star (2008)

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Category: Travel Quote of the Day

April 20, 2014

Post Salkantay trek, Peru

Well, I did it! Just barely, but I managed to “conquer” around 60 kilometers (37 miles) on one of the most challenging treks I’ve ever done. Four days and three nights of difficult uphill, painful downhill, sunburns, rain, aching muscles, and freezing nights in a tent was rewarded with some of the most beautiful scenery that ends with a visit to Machu Picchu. If you like a good challenge, llamas, starry skies, snowcapped mountains, sleeping in tents, and good food, then this is a trip for you.

The trek started out with a steady incline at almost 10,000 feet above sea level, so the air was thin to start with. The terrain changed from dirt to rock and back again pretty much the entire way. Horses would occasionally run by unmanned, local families would walk past carrying supplies, and sometimes a different tour group would pass us (or at least me). There were birds, flowers, wild animals, and sunshine all along the trail. The people in our group (11 of us) were from Denmark, France, America, and Ireland, and they were all lovely.

In my previous post I mentioned that I felt a bit unprepared, and I have to admit that I questioned my ability to get through the whole trek on day one, when I got hit with altitude sickness. I was worried that it would be an issue for me, and almost wonder if I talked myself into experiencing it subconsciously. After walking uphill for a few hours in the direct sunlight, I suddenly felt like I couldn’t take in enough air, felt dizzy and panicky, and needed to sit down. Fortunately, our guide Primo had his “magic potion” with him, which is some mix of herbs that are supposed to help open up your lungs to take in a bit more oxygen. After resting for a few minutes and breathing in the mixture, I was able to get going again, slowly at first, but I made it through the rest of the ascent with no issues. Sadly, since I had a little trouble the first day, I decided to take a horse for two hours at the beginning of the second day, which is exactly what I had hoped wouldn’t happen. I’m not a big fan of riding animals because I find it terrifying. Especially up windy mountains, through rivers, and down rocky terrain. However, I managed to survive, and on day two we made it to the highest point, which was 15,000 feet above sea level. I give approximate numbers for things like distance and altitude because even the guides seemed unsure at times of the exact numbers.

The company we chose was Cuscoperuviajes and our guide was great. He put up with our constant slowness due to picture-taking, outfit rearranging, and water breaks. The tour included horses to carry up to 6 kilos per person and cooks that ran ahead of the group to prepare the meals and set up camp. It was almost freezing at night, and we were so tired from hiking at least 12 miles every day that I could barely make it through dinner without passing out. However, being up so high on a clear night allowed us a view of the brightest star-filled sky I’ve probably ever seen.

In the end, I felt that I was prepared enough as far as gear went. We packed for pretty much every temperature, had great shoes and socks, plenty of first aid stuff, bug spray and sunscreen, snacks, raingear, and camera equipment. I definitely recommend plenty of pairs of socks and warm layers for sleeping. Also, you are provided with a thin sleeping mat but no pillow, so I was glad I remembered my travel pillow. I packed extra snacks but was surprised at my lack of hunger while trekking. I wasn’t in my absolute best physical shape, but it only slowed me down, I still finished.

At the end of the third day, we were taken to the hot springs, which were beautiful and very much needed. The rest of the group stayed on for a 4th day that allowed for activities like ziplining, but me and my two friends took a bus and train to a hostel in Aguas Calientes. We were determined to go out for drinks to celebrate surviving the three tough days, but of course wound up being tired and went to bed early to rest before our big day at Machu Picchu. We were pleased that it wasn’t as crowded there as we had feared, and we were free to roam around one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, frolicking with the llama population.

I definitely recommend this trek, and visiting Peru in general. Cusco and Aguas Calientes were both really neat cities that you have to pass through to get to Machu Picchu. Overall we spent two weeks, and we didn’t see nearly enough of Peru. If anyone has any questions about the trek or getting around I’d be happy to help, you can reach me here or on my website. Thanks for reading, more photos below!

(more…)

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Category: Backpacking, Destinations, South America

April 19, 2014

Up Cambodia without a phrase book

landmine

Image credit

I am 15 minutes into my hike down the muddy little stream when a tree carving captures my attention. Sticky with sap and arcing brown across the bark, it seems to have been made recently.

I drop to my haunches and run my fingers over the design. After three days of living on the Indochinese outback without electricity or running water, I feel like my senses have been sharpened to the details of the landscape. I take a step back for perspective, and my mind suddenly goes blank.

The carving is a crude depiction of a skull and crossbones.

Were I anyplace else in the world, I might be able to write off the skull and crossbones as a morbid adolescent prank. Unfortunately, since I am in northwestern Cambodia, the ghoulish symbol can mean only one thing: land mines. Suddenly convinced that everything in my immediate vicinity is about to erupt into a fury of fire and shrapnel, I freeze.

My brain slowly starts to track again, but I can’t pinpoint a plan of action. If this were a tornado, I’d prone myself in a low-lying area. Were this an earthquake, I’d run to an open space away from trees and buildings. Were this a hurricane, I’d pack up my worldly possessions and drive to South Dakota. But since I am in a manmade disaster zone, all I can think to do is nothing.

My thoughts drift to a random quote from a United Nations official a few years back, who was expressing his frustration in trying to clear the Cambodian countryside of hundreds of thousands of unmarked and unmapped mines. “Cambodia’s mines will be cleared,” he’d quipped fatalistically, “by people walking on them.”

As gingerly as possible, I lower myself to the ground, resolved to sit here until I can formulate a course of action that won’t result in blowing myself up. (more…)

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Category: Adventure Travel, Asia, Destinations, Rolf Potts

April 18, 2014

Vagabonding Case Study: Luke Armstrong

Luke Kenya
 

Luke Armstrong

TravelWriteSing.com

Age: 28

Hometown: Kalispel, Montana

Quote: “Instead of living in a specific place in the world, you simply live in the world. Everywhere is your home and everyone is your neighbor.
(more…)

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Category: Vagabonding Case Studies

April 17, 2014

We all see the same sun

Each time I touch my feet to the soil of a new country, I am reminded of just how huge our world really is. Every so often, I catch my breath when I think about the diversity of our cultures, the depths of our oceans, the span of our land, and the sheer volume of people that call earth “home”.

I am simultaneously pulled along by an undeniable knowledge of our interconnectedness. Of a deep understanding that while I may not be able to see it “all”, that shouldn’t really be my goal anyway. Those who have come before have seen quite a bit and those who come after will see quite a bit more. My role in the march of time is to witness this world as it is, right now, and to participate as honestly as I can in our collective life on earth.

No matter where I go, the sun rises and the sun sets and it is this simple rotation of the earth that keeps me rooted to the fact that there is no “other” when it comes to our collective humanity. A day is always beginning and ending somewhere on earth and we all lays eyes upon the same sun, no matter what corner of the earth we inhabit.

Sunrise over the Ganges River- Varanasi, India

Sunrise over the Ganges River- Varanasi, India

Sunset in Hyderabad, India

Sunset in Hyderabad, India

Sunset in El Tunco, El Salvador

Sunset in El Tunco, El Salvador

Sunset over Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Sunset over Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Sunset at El Cuco Beach, El Salvador

Sunset at El Cuco Beach, El Salvador

Sunset over El Cuco Beach, El Salvador

Sunset over El Cuco Beach, El Salvador

How could we not feel connected, knowing that we are looking at the exact same sun, no mater what corners of the earth we travel to?

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Category: Ethics

April 16, 2014

Vagabonding field report: London,UK

Cost/day: ~$40 USD (we had free lodging)

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?

I don’t know that I would say anything was particularly strange, but London has a lot of quirkiness, especially when it comes to street art. The East End is likely the most notable area for street art, and you’ll find examples all over the place. In terms of art installations, anyone is pretty much welcome to add to the collection, so you’ll find art of all kinds adorning buildings and signs, from the small to the gargantuan.

East End street artHuge street art
Some of the older buildings have been declared as heritage sites, so their facade has to remain intact. You’ll also find many buildings with the windows bricked over. This is because at one time they used to tax people according to how many windows they had. So some people simply bricked them over to pay less tax.

This is the front of someone's apartment. It's a heritage site, so they can't change the exterior.

This is the front of someone’s apartment. It’s a heritage site, so they can’t change the exterior.

Window tax evasion

Describe a typical day:

As is often the case, London is best explored on foot or bicycle. There is an extremely robust (and expensive) transportation system. We usually would take the tube (the underground metro) to a spot and walk around from there. Once you’re in central London or a large neighborhood (like the East End), it’s really quite easy to see a lot of things by walking around.

In fact, you can see most of the major iconic landmarks without wearing holes in your shoes. Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, 10 Downing Street, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, the Tower Bridge, and the London Bridge are all within reasonable distances of each other.

London from the London Eye

Describe an interesting conversation you had with a local:

We didn’t really have that many chats with people. Most of our experience was asking people for directions. For being in quite a large city, I was surprised at how friendly Londoners were, and they were always seemingly happy to help. We did do a rather wonderful food tour, however, which was run by a local. We learned a lot about local history and culture as well as some of the historical buildings in the area. We even stood near the site where Jack the Ripper’s first victim was found. Quirky is a big theme here.

In that tour we learned why proper English tea is black. They used to drink only green tea, but people started just adding colors to it to make more money. The dyes were making people sick, so they switched from green to black tea, and it’s been that way ever since.

What do you like about where you are? Dislike?

I loved London’s quirky side, but the history was a big winner for me. Almost everywhere you turn is a building or site that has some historical renown. It was quite impressive to walk among buildings dating back hundreds of years and see them still in use. For example, the huge Victoria Tower is actually now an archive for Parliament.

London has so much to see and experience, and I also loved the rather plentiful ethnic diversity.

London's Chinatown

Describe a challenge you faced:

The biggest challenge was financial. If your bank account uses the US dollar, you’re at a major economic disadvantage in the UK. We were lucky that we had a friend who lives in London and was on holiday, so we were able to stay in their flat at no charge. Otherwise, I doubt we could’ve afforded to stay a week in the city. There are definitely ways to make a visit cheaper, but it’s still a hit on the wallet.

What new lesson did you learn?

I can’t say it’s totally new, but I learned that it really is valuable to see a city for yourself and not just rely on the experiences of others. London had never really been high on my list of places to see. In fact, I had absolutely no plans on visiting it, but my son was eager to see the Tower of London and ride the London Eye. Since were flying into London on our way to a house sit in North Yorkshire, I figured why not stop. I’m so glad we did because London ended up being one of my favorite cities.

The Thames

Where next?

Brasov, Romania

You can follow along or learn more about our adventures on our blog and by connecting with us via Facebook.

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Category: Destinations, Europe

April 15, 2014

Housesitting: A strategy to lower costs and extend travel

housesit costa rica

When I handed in my resignation letter, put what few belongings I hadn’t sold into storage and packed my life into a 55L rucksack, I became a vagabond.

Without bricks and mortar, without a stable income and without fear of regret, I altered the direction in which my life was headed and set off to travel the world.

Long term travel is a romantic notion, one that many aspire to but never achieve.

Why? (more…)

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Category: Hostels/Hotels, Vagabonding Advice
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5 tips for how not to chase a deal
Field Report: Nimbin, Australia – Where flower power retired
Vagabonding book club: Chapter Four: Preparation
At its best, travel is indistinguishable from just living life
Post Salkantay trek, Peru
Up Cambodia without a phrase book
Vagabonding Case Study: Luke Armstrong
We all see the same sun
Vagabonding field report: London,UK
Housesitting: A strategy to lower costs and extend travel


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