15 Travel Questions

Now that I’ve booked trips to Egypt and South Africa, I’ve officially caught the travel bug again. I thought I’d get into the spirit by answering a few fun travel questions!

Where was your first trip abroad?

Montreal, Canada in 2013 when I was 18. I visited my online friend Nina and also took a train to London, Ontario to meet my (then) boyfriend Colin for the first time! Needless to say, it was all amazing.

Which country would you most like to visit and why?

Thailand. The food, beautiful beaches, elephant sanctuaries, scuba diving, and so much more!

What is your favorite travel memory?

Oh my gosh, so many! Can I do a top 5?

Meeting Nina for the first time (Montreal, Canada, 2013)

Learning to scuba dive in Hawai’i (Maui, 2015)

Visiting Giant’s Causeway after it was on my bucket list for the good part of a decade (Northern Ireland, 2015)

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Plan With Me: Christmas Holiday

How exactly do I plan my trips? What options are out there? What are ways I save money?

In this post, I will think out loud for everyone as I go through the motions of planning my holiday.

Where in the world do I want to go?: For this trip, I don’t want to wander too far or travel for too long as I don’t want to spend too much money and want to return to Brighton promptly for work and New Year’s. However, I would very much like to go outside of Europe. With that, I consult my travel bucket list (which, admittedly, has changed a bit since it has been published) and the top 250 global attractions I wish to visit and go from there. Right off the bat, Egypt and Jordan look most appealing to me for scuba diving and seeing the pyramids and other archaeological sites.

Getting there and other transport: I recall that my choice budget airline, easyJet, has flights to Egypt, but I can’t quite remember where. Let’s take a look…

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Lessons Learned on the Camino

Going into my pilgrimage more or less blind, I came out learning a few things:

  • Signposting: I really should have known this before I left, but yes, the Way is posted! Once you know what the signs look like and you have that search image, it’s really hard to get lost. Also look for the signs on cafes, hostels and restaurants, they may offer a pilgrim discount!
  • Stamps and certificate: I also should have known the rules of the stamps before I set off, but the completion certificate wasn’t exactly my endgame. You can read about it more in detail here, but for walkers, you need at least two stamps a day for the last 100 kilometers to earn a completion certificate in Santiago. Your best bet for stamps are tourist offices and hostels, but even restaurants, cafes and bars might dish them out, especially the closer you get to Santiago de Compostela.
  • Start early: The earlier you start, the earlier you get you pick of hostels at your destination for the day. Plus, with breaks for lunch, admiring the view, walking around town or simply fatigue, walking is going to take you longer than you expect.
  • Not so fast…: As the uncultured American I am, before this trip, I have never eaten grapes with seeds in them or fish with bones in. If you’re not familar with the local food, take small bites at first, you never know what you’ll find.
  • Don’t look and walk: If the view is nice, stop and then have a look around, don’t keep walking. It’s not worth a twisted ankle.
  • Snacks galore: In some areas, food is hard to come by. Some days, I would have to walk miles still at peak meal times to get to the next village that had a food shop. Pack snacks, but not too much so that it adds an uncomfortable weight to your bag. I usually only carried around a few pieces of fruit and granola at a time.
  • Crossing water: On my Way, I had to cross into Spain by ferry. What I hadn’t even considered was the tide that could effect ferry times. Thankfully, I got to the port at high tide so I could cross immediately, but don’t rely on my luck. Do your own research about tides if you have to cross water.
  • Don’t stop at the first place you see: I know you’ve had a long day of walking, and so do the locals of towns through which the Camino crosses. I reckon on the outskirts of town, the prices are especially high as weary travelers would be willing to pay most anyting to lay their head down. My general rule of thumb was to skip the first few lodging places and go into the proceeding few and stick with the cheapest option of those.
  • Don’t dock hotels: While pilgrim hostels (albergues) are cheap and a good way to meet fellow peregrinos, hotels can be a nice break to have a big, comfortable bed and private bathroom for a small cost more. The hostels I stayed in were about €15 per night, where a simple hotel room was about €25. Not a big difference for the upgrade of value!
  • Don’t keep up with anyone: While getting to know other pilgrims on the Way is exciting, I don’t recommend walking with them. Everyone has their own pace and to make your Camino most enjoyable, you shouldn’t have to answer to anyone else’s. The best place to talk is in the hostel at the end of the day while you’re all relaxing!
  • “It’s your Camino”: This is what I was told when I was caught jamming to my music out loud by a walker that snuck up on me. I apologized, embarrassed, but she simply told me, “But comfortable, it’s your Camino.” Do whatever makes your walk most enjoyable.
  • Don’t set a break time: With the gears constantly going in my head, I was always concerned about when and where would be a good place to rest; I would try to set times or distances to aim for. While keeping up a good pace is a good goal, listing to your body is more important. It’s simple: take a break when you want to, walk when you want to.
  • Plan for days off: You’re going to need it.
  • What I wish I brought: In my preparation post, I talked about what I packed. Additionally, I wish I packed an umbrella or rain poncho, a casual outfit, flip flops, light blanket (some hostels only give out a fitted sheet to lay on), no cotton (I brought exactly one cotton shirt and I sweat through it in a matter of minutes, stick with lighter material), a few pens and cell phone service (I was originally going to go without service, but my U.K. provider includes service in the E.U. for free. I don’t know what I would have done without it).
  • Training: With my training, my objectives were to break in my shoes and build stamina. Clearly, my shoes weren’t broken into enough (or simply not of high quality) as I had to stop my Way early due to horrible blisters. My training was so small and infrequent I’m not sure how much of a difference it made. When I train next time, my main objective will be to understand what causes my blisters and how best to take care of them seeing as they were my biggest problem on this Camino.
  • What to research: While winging it worked more or less for me, here are a few things I wish I would have known: alternatives to get to your destination if you get hurt or tired (I used the Rome2Rio app on the road), different stretches to relieve pain you experience in training, different types of accommodation and perhaps a brief history about the places you’ll be staying and passing through.

Long Haul Flights

Since September 2015, I’ve made the transatlantic flight from the United States to the United Kingdom six times. That’s a lot of time to kill.

Here are some of my best tips to surviving such flights:

Booking: The first step in surviving long flights is to book your flight to make it as easy on yourself as possible. The best value flights to me are the ones with only one layover (I actually prefer one layover to none on such long flights because it gives me a chance to look at something that isn’t the back of the seat in front of me and walk around). I also prefer layovers that are about two hours long. Finally, I prefer to land later in the day to avoid jet lag. I compare these parameters with price to choose the best flight for me. If you are taller, you might want to consider an exit row seat or otherwise premium seat for the extra leg room.

What to wear: For such long flights, I try to dress as comfortable as possible. I usually wear a t-shirt, leggings, long socks and a light jacket with a hood. I make sure that every inch of my body (except my hands and face) are covered because there is nothing more uncomfortable than a small sliver of skin being blasted with the airplane air conditioner.

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Planning for the Camino de Santiago

Ever since I watched The Way in Spanish class in high school, I wanted to walk the Camino de Santiago. At first, I was really stressed about where to stay, how long it would take me, how to prepare physically, what to bring and more. But after speaking with someone who has hiked it themselves at says it’s not something you have to bend over backwards preparing for, I was put at ease. Regardless, I still did all the preparing I could to make this trip go as smoothly as possible:

Choosing my way: I don’t know how I came to decide on the Portuguese way, exactly. Perhaps because I’ve never been to Portugal and flights to Porto were cheap. Either way, upon looking at Camino ways starting in Porto, I had two options: the Coastal Way or the Central Way. I love the beach, so I went with the Coastal Way, even though it’s a couple miles longer, in hopes that a nice sea breeze will keep me cool on my trek.

Self-guided tour, guided tour or completely solo?: Upon looking for travel tips, I stumbled across a tour company called Camino Ways that offer a wide range of tours on several different Ways. The difference between guided and self-guided tours with this company are self-explanatory and with the company, you get to build your own package of hotel stays and create your itinerary with the option of dinner, airport transfer and luggage transfer between stops. For the Portuguese Coastal Way (last 100 kilometers only), the self-guided tours start at €550 for accommodation alone for five nights and the guided tours start at €1,000 for seven nights all inclusive (you don’t have the option to customize your trip like you can with the self-guided). Between the two, I would prefer the self-guided tour, but €100 per night just in accommodation seems quite expensive, even considering the “price” of convenience. So, I decided to book the whole thing from scratch using various websites and forums to answer any questions I had (I will list all resources I used at the bottom of this post).  

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Empire State Building vs. Rockefeller Center

In my trip to New York in 2015, I went up the Top of the Rock observation deck at Rockefeller Center. In my more recent trip this summer, I went to the observation deck in the Empire State Building. I will compare my experiences so those visiting the Big Apple can decide what to do for themselves:

Cost: For two, Top of the Rock standard tickets are $75. For two, Empire State Building standard tickets are $70. However, the Top of the Rock tickets are purchased for a particular day and time where the Empire State Building tickets are not timed and good for any day a year from the purchase date.

Location: Both observation decks are easily accessible by subway in midtown Manhattan and close to other tourist attractions.

Visit duration: Both visits lasted about an hour.

Views: Both buildings are in the center of midtown Manhattan, so you get similar views. Here they are from the Empire State Building:

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American vs. Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Science isn’t just my degree, it’s my passion! On my holiday to New York and Washington, D.C., I couldn’t resist visiting both the American Museum (New York) of Natural History and the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History (Washington).

I’ll start off by saying I personally preferred the American Museum, they both definitely had their different strengths (and weaknesses):

Cost: At the Smithsonian, you can simply walk in. At the American Museum, you pay a donation (the suggested donation is around $20) for a scanned ticket to get in. At the latter, there is definitely more pressure to donate, but ultimately, it’s up to you what you pay. Perhaps pay a small initial donation and at the end of your visit, donate what you think the experience was worth.

Location: Both museums are in great locations that are easy to access for any tourist. The Smithsonian is right on the mall with virtually all the other monuments and museums and the American Museum is just west of Central Park half way between the north and south ends of the park, making it easy to do both in one go.

Visit duration: We spent about two hours in the American Museum before it closed, but if time wasn’t a constraint, I could have easily spent two more hours in there. We spent about three hours in the Smithsonian and saw all we wanted to.

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Mastering a Weekend Away

With the pesky “study” part of my study abroad program, most of my trips were limited to the weekends. However, after spending many weekends abroad, I like think I had it down to an art, and here is how I did it:

How to get there: With such limited time to spend on holiday, it’s best to weigh your options on timeliness of different modes of transport and cost. For all my weekends away, I flew, and with budget airlines such as easyJet and RyanAir, it can be quite affordable. If you’re taking a weekend away based in mainland Europe to another country in the mainland, I would suggest looking into buses or trains if it’s 300 miles away or less (that will take about 3-5 hours). However, if you’re traveling from the British Isles to the mainland (or vice versa), flying is your only timely and budget option.

What to pack: I usually travel with just carry-ons because budget flights usually charge quite a bit for checked bags (that’s where they get you). Be sure the check baggage size restrictions for carry-on luggage. I find it really useful to make a list so you can pack quickly, not forget anything and use it for future trips. Here is a list of my travel essentials.

Where to stay: If you’re hoping to travel while you study abroad, you’re more than likely going to want to travel on a budget. With that, I highly suggest you stay at a hostel. I use HostelWorld to find my accommodation, I wrote a bit about staying in hostels here (I have also written about every hostel I’ve stayed in here, as well). As a quick recap: I (personally) search for the city, filter by rating and price, then use the map to choose hostels close to public transit and then, finally, compare pictures and facilities of the remaining hostels. Your own search method will differ by your priorities, however, I highly suggest you stay somewhere close to public transit routes. I can’t tell you how great it was to live near local train lines in big cities like Berlin and Paris.

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Interrail vs. Self-Planning

Recently, I read a piece from a travel blog I like a lot, On the Luce, on the popular Interrailing. I have never used an Interrail pass personally, but I’d like to speculate on the pros and cons based on Miss Lucy’s post.

To summarize, Interrail is an extremely flexible service that lets young people travel within a country or between several countries by rail, getting on and off when they please over a fixed time period, for a fixed price. Eurail is the sister service for non-European citizens or residents. 

I have traveled through quite a bit of both Germany and Italy by train, both for ten days each, which more than the maximum time allotted for the Interrail passes. For simplicity sake, I will only use my traditionally booked Italy route to compare to the Interrail and Eurail passes.

Here was my route (taken in mid-March 2016) and current, average prices on the Italian train service, TrenItalia, for the last week of July (for last-minute planners) and the second week of August respectively:

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What’s In My Bag: Carry-On Edition

As I get ready for my visit to the United Kingdom, I’d like to share what I have in my carry-on backpack to make the long-haul flights a breeze. As a simple rule of thumb, I try to only check clothes and toiletries: things that are easily replaced. Additionally, for these long flights, I recommend covering every square inch of your skin or bringing layers that will allow you to do so later (nothing is worse than having the air conditioning blast your ankles for eight hours because your pants just weren’t quite long enough). This includes long socks, long pants, a comfortable sweatshirt and a blanket (although long flights usually supply this, they’re usually thin and scratchy). This is by no means an exhaustive list of what to pack, this is personally what I like to have with me.

I usually bring two bags: a backpack and a purse. Things I will used often and would like easy access to go in the purse while everything else goes into the backpack.

Passport, boarding pass: I will usually carry these until I’m seated.

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