Archive | October, 2013
October 28, 2013

Ways to See Europe

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Here at To Uncertainty and Beyond, we like to encourage you to consider ways of exploring a region that you hadn’t previously considered. As people get into their 30s, backpacking can start to wear thin. A night or two in a hostel can be a fun way to connect with your 20-something else, but after that most 30+s are ready for their own bathroom!

Here are some ideas for some ways to see Europe that aren’t backpacking centric.

Leasing a car.

Several places in Europe have options for short term leasing a car, most notably France. The minimum time frame is usually 21 days and it works out a whole lot cheaper than rental plus insurance.

Our friends the Benders just did this. This did have one little issue….. their car got towed in France. Let their misfortune by your lesson 😉

Driving gives you incredible freedom.

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A month in…

Friends of mine spent 2 months in Amsterdam a couple of years ago and loved it. Likewise it’s fairly easy to rent a vacation apartment in Paris for a month at a not-too-outrageous price.

A base in Paris would also allow you to hop over to London for a weekend and a West End show. You might even be able to find someone in London to apartment swap with for that weekend.

Cycling Trips.

There are all sorts of levels of cycling trips, ranging in how much roughing it is involved

Most roughing it – you take camping gear on your bike

Medium roughing it – “Credit card touring” – you bring clothing on your bike but stay in hotels and eat at restaurants so you don’t need to haul camping and cooking gear.

Least roughing it – Organized tours were you have a support vehicle to carry your gear (and you if you flake).

Portugal, Italy, and France are popular destinations for cycle touring.

Walking tours.

Like the cycle tour option you can also do walking tours, either carrying your own gear or with a support vehicle. Once again, Portugal is a popular country for these, as are Austria, France, Spain, and the UK. There are some options in which you walk on your own, without a guide, from hotel to hotel but your luggage is transported. One of the things we’ve notice is how we increasingly prefer active holidays, but we also increasingly prefer paying more and avoiding discomfort. You can also do free (pay what you wish) half day walking tours in numerous European cities.

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Cruises.

While personally I’m prone to motion sickness, my parents love cruising. Sometimes the cabins can be pokey but there are some amazing luxury options. I think most people think of the Mediterranean when they think of cruises in Europe but there a bunch more options that take in Eastern Europe highlights like Budapest and Prague. Read our Prague Tips. And, our Budapest tips.

photo credit: Miroslav Petrasko (blog.hdrshooter.net) joiseyshowaa via photopin Maurice cc

October 27, 2013

First Time Dubai

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Dubai is known as a popular tourist attraction among the rich and famous, though there are still many tourists on a budget who pick this city as a holiday spot, especially for stopovers. However, before setting foot in the airport and boarding the plane that will take you to Dubai, it is important to know a few things you need to do or avoid, especially if you are travelling for the first time.

Pay attention to the season.

Dubai is scorching hot in summer. For the hottest 6 months of the year, the average high temperatures are 35C to 40C (95 – 104F)!
There’s a really good climate chart to Dubai here.

Dress modestly

Since Dubai is situated in a Muslim country, it’s important to respect the local customs and dress appropriately. That means no revealing or tight clothes! Bathing suits should only be worn at the beach, and not on the way there or back to the hotel. Nudity is also forbidden on the beach. Short skirts and shorts, as well as revealing and strappy shirts are considered inappropriate. Men are also not allowed to go out shirtless.

Avoid PDA

Public displays of affection, such as kissing and holding hands are seen as socially unacceptable in Dubai and the whole country. Swearing and making lewd gestures, which are viewed as a crime and which attract various penalties from local authorities.

Be careful with medication

Take note that some medication in your country might be illegal in the UAE. Check to see what you are allowed to bring with you from home. If your prescription consists of medication which isn’t allowed in the country, you might need a note from your doctor and contact your embassy. Some prescription drugs can be obtained with approval.

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Avoid city tours

This only applies if you’re travelling in Dubai, as it is much cheaper to explore the city yourself with a taxi. However, if you’re travelling outside the city, or if you’re going on a safari it is recommended that you hire a guide for safety reasons. Also, if you’re truly set on sightseeing, then avoid staying in Deira as a first time traveller. The area is beautiful, as it is the older part of Dubai, but it is still too far away from the city to be considered a good option for first timers. Jumeirah and Bur Dubai are much better if you’re looking for accommodation, and they’re certainly much closer to the main tourist attractions.

Don’t be afraid of public transportation

Public transportation is highly recommended for those who are visiting Dubai, whether it is their first visit or not. There are many transport options and it is fairly easy to get to the places you want. However, if you want to rent your own car, you can certainly do that with ease, though you will need an international driver’s license. Travelling by taxi is also recommended.

Visit the Burj Khalifa

Known at the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa is allegedly three times the size of the Eiffel Tower, and offers a breathtaking view of Dubai. If you’re not scared of heights, you can go on a tour of the observation deck at the top of the tower.

Go shopping

This might seem like an obvious thing to do, but you should definitely set some money aside for a complete shopping experience. Dubai is home to a large number of malls and bazaars. January and February are the months in which the so-called Dubai Shopping Festival takes place, and when you can enjoy huge discounts, raffles, fairs, and firework displays. However, hotel rates typically go up during that time, so it is advisable to book your room very early. The summer equivalent of the DSF is known as Dubai Summer Surprises, which is more family-oriented. Hotel prices are cheaper, but this benefit comes at a price, due to the incredibly hot weather.

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Go on an aquatic adventure

Atlantis is a famous resort in Dubai which boasts with boutiques, a spa, several restaurants, displays of marine habitats, and a water park named Aquaventure. This tourist attraction is aimed at visitors of all ages who seek both relaxation and adventure in one place. Some of the famous rides in Aquaventure are aptly called The Tower of Neptune and The Tower of Poseidon, which are always featured in advertisements promoting Dubai. If you don’t have the courage to go on these exhilarating rides, there are various other slides and river rides for people of all ages.

photo credit: Aih. » Zitona « Crazy Diamond via photopin cc

October 27, 2013

Self-Drive Australia – Routes and Options

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Doing a self-drive trip in Australia is a great way to go off the beaten path and retains lots of flexibility. Australia has SOOO much to offer beyond the main centres. If you dream of exploring Australia, you should definitely follow our friends from YTravelBlog as they make their way around the whole of Australia, self-driving. They just left on their trip and will be on the road for more than a year.

If you want to bite off a bit less (translation: a lot less), you have some great options. From any one of Australia’s major cities you can plan great excursions.

1. South from Sydney.

Although the beaches North of Syndey are more well-known, those South of Sydney are less visited and spectacular. For example Hymas Bay. You could drive South from Sydney to Melbourne, stopping off at beaches along the way but I’d probably just go as far as the great beaches and then return to Sydney. For variety, you could could also check out the Hunter Valley wine region which is inland to the North West of Sydney, but not very far.

2. The Great Ocean Road from Melbourne.

The Great Ocean Road is an easy trip if you happen to visiting Melbourne and want an excursion from there. Personally I’d rather go to the beaches on the East Coast of Australia rather than the South Coast.

3. Sydney to Brisbane.

The most classic self-drive trip in Australia is just to go up the Coast from Sydney to Brisbane, stopping off at Byron Bay. If you have kids they’ll probably love the Gold Coast theme parks (such as Dreamworld and Sea World). I loved those as a kid! This route can also easily incorporate the aforementioned Hunter Valley Wine Region detour just outside Sydney.

Wallaby, Phillip Is

4. Perth and the Wild West.

Now we’re starting to get a bit more outside the most touristed parts of Australia. The West Coast of Australia around Perth has amazing beaches and a great climate. However, it’s a super long flight across the country. If you’re coming from Asia you can get really cheap flight deals on Air Asia to Perth. You might choose to do just the West Coast of Australia and save the East Coast for another time. You cannot go wrong exploring the coastal areas around Perth.

5. 4WD Trips in the Outback.

If you’re really adventurous and want to feel Australia’s incredible vastness, you do a 4WD trip. Typical routes are
– from Darwin to Alice Springs and Ayers Rock to explore AU’s “red centre”
– “The Top End” heading east from Darwin to check out Katherine Gorge National Park,
– The Kimberley region heading West from Darwin and crossing the state boundary between the Northern Territory to Western Australia.

One of our favorite ways to plan a trip is to look at tour company itineraries. Regardless of whether you end up booking a package or piecing something together yourself.

Are you itching to go to Australia? Let us know your questions! More info on top sites to see when visiting Australia.

October 27, 2013

First Time USA

First Time USA

Manhattan skyline from Brooklyn Bridge
Manhattan skyline from Brooklyn Bridge

My first solo trip to the USA was when I was 23 and took in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Washington DC, and New York.

I spent 3 weeks in New York, a week in Los Angeles, 3 days in Vegas, and around 5 days in Washington DC.

Fast forward 10 years and lots of USA trips later and I would still consider this a near perfect itinerary for a first time traveler visiting the US. I’d possibly swap Las Vegas for San Francisco or Portland, but that’s about it.

Here are some options you can consider when planning your own first time itinerary to the USA.

1. Hawaii.

I adore Hawaii. It is far better to visit between April and September than during the Hawaii winter months if you like calm water. I also prefer the main island of Oahu over the other islands because Oahu has more good swimming beaches.

Lanikai Beach, Oahu, Hawaii
Lanikai Beach, Oahu, Hawaii

You’ll need a car to explore the best of Hawaii and driving there is very easy for those who are used to driving on the left. There are essentially only a couple of main routes around the island and highways aren’t scary like they can be in places like Texas and Los Angeles.

If you can swing it, book a trip to Hawaii with a mainland US stopover, ideally a different stopover in each direction. If you’re time limited you might do a direct flight in one direction and a stopover in the other.

2. Just the West Coast, just the East Coast, or both?

If you’re heading to the West Coast from the UK or Europe, you may as well stopover for a few days on the East Coast. If you only want to do the East Coast, a NYC + Washington DC is a great first trip option. You could include Boston too, but honestly I wouldn’t bother.

Fly into one NYC and out of DC or vice versa. You can easily get the train or the bus between the two cities. It’s only around 4 hours. Mega Bus and Bolt Bus usually have tickets under $20. The train fare is north of $50 and departures are less frequent. Still it’s more comfortable.

You won’t need a car in either of Washington DC or New York so this will dramatically decrease the cost of your trip. Grab an unlimited metro card, both cities have awesome train systems. You may/may not need to use a bus a few times for but can also use your metro card for that.

3. Where to go on the West Coast?

San Francisco and I don’t get along too well because the weather there can be chilly even in Summer. Being a tech nerd, I want to love San Francisco. My lack of love for it is purely weather related. Portland also doesn’t have the best weather but that doesn’t bother me as much since it doesn’t have the “It’s California, it’s supposed to be warm” connotation.

Farmer's Market, Portland
Farmer’s Market, Portland

Las Vegas is fun but you only need a few days there. If you want to see some nature on your trip, you can include the Grand Canyon. Picking up a Grand Canyon tour or hiring a car and driving is easy from Las Vegas. See these tips for How to Save Money in Las Vegas.

Los Angeles allows you to spend some time sitting on the beach and seeing some of that iconic beach culture, which anyone who grew up watching Baywatch will appreciate! The sea is cold and doesn’t look very clean off the Coast of Los Angeles, so don’t plan on swimming. Go to Hawaii for that! Travel in Los Angeles can be a bit tiring because every time you want to go anywhere you need to deal with driving, navigating, and traffic. I still enjoy it.

Portland is a lovely small city that’s worth considering. If you’re also spending time on the East Coast, I’d recommend picking two destinations on the West Coast from San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas or Portland.

October 27, 2013

First Time Thailand

First Time Thailand

Koh Tao

Thailand is a destination virtually everyone likes. It’s cheap, easy, and the food is great. As such, it’s a great option for a first trip to a non-Western country. Here are some brief tips for new travelers.

1. Plan based on the monsoons.

Those gorgeous beaches you’re after only look like that in their dry season. The West and East Coasts have different monsoon seasons. The West Coast is at it’s best from November to April. The East Coast is best mid year.

2. Don’t rent a motorbike without insurance.

Not to be a killjoy but it’s highly unlikely your travel insurance will cover you for riding a motorbike if you don’t have a motorbike license in your home country. Anyone who has been to Thailand will have seen lots of tourists with motorbike injuries.

3. Get massages.

You can get a 90 minute Thai massage for around $12. These aren’t anything like a Western massage. They typically take place in a room with lots of clients and masseuses in the same room together. That’s normal in Thailand. There is no oil used and it’s a rougher experience than a Western massage. If you need the person to be more gentle, just ask, and ask again if need be. If you’re tensing up during the massage experience, it’s probably not doing you any good.

Thais get massages frequently too. They’re not just for tourists.

4. Consider going flashpacker-style.

Flashpacker style means a nice clean place with air-con, usually an attached restaurant, internet, and sometimes a swimming pool. You can get this type of accommodation for $30-40 a night all over Thailand. If you’re looking for more luxury for a honeymoon, or you’re traveling with parents who prefer a higher standard of accommodation, that’s also an option.
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Pool at a “flash packer” hotel

You’ll need air con, especially if you prefer to keep your windows closed to keep mosquitos out. Unlike in the US, there tend to be lots of gaps where mosquitos can get in and doors and windows don’t usually have screens.

5. Eat at the street food and at the small, local restaurants.

You can pretty much choose to eat anywhere that looks like it’s busy and be assured of good tasting food. Street vendors are everywhere in Thailand and you’ll never be short of a place to buy a snack. These include vendors selling delicious, cut up tropical fruit. Thai street food pics.

Strret food hawker

6. Take internal flights.

The distances in Thailand are large. The trains have delays. Bus travel is fine if you’re a 20-something backpacker but unless you’re on a very tight for money budget flights make more sense for trips of more than 4-5 hours driving time.

The bus ride from Bangkok to Koh Chang is not too bad. To Koh Samui, definitely take the flight over the train/ferry or bus/ferry combo.

Air Asia is the most reliable Thai budget airline. I’ve heard rumors some of the other airlines don’t have the best maintenance programs, so I stick to Air Asia.

October 24, 2013

Peru Tourism – Sponsored Post

Peru Tourism has asked us to show this travel video to our readers to promote Machu Picchu as must-see travel destination.  This is a sponsored post on their behalf as part of their Marca Peru (Made in Peru) campaign.

 

I haven't been there yet but like most keen travellers, it is certainly on my bucket list. My best friend walked the Inca Trail earlier this year and raved about her experience so I don't think it will be too long before I go myself.

I love history but admit to easily succumbing to museum fatigue, especially when artifacts are served up out of context from where they originated. It is so much better to experience historical sites and artifacts in situ, where you can walk among the ruins and try and imagine yourself there 600 years ago. A great example of this was my visit to Angkor Wat, Cambodia, another iconic ancient civilization whose ruins I visited 4 years ago. It was a lifetime travel highlight and I can imagine Machu Picchu would be the same.

The city of Cusco, the gateway to Machu Picchu, is a favorite among people backpacking through South America and offers fun options such as chocolate classes. It’s a great place to meet other backpackers and get on-the-ground intel about other people’s experiences and highlights traveling around the region.

 

JetBlue started flying to Lima from Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 2013 providing an affordable flight option for those based in the US, or for people who want to combine a visit to the US with a visit to Peru.

 

Post Patrocinado

 



October 24, 2013

Welcome to Miami, Bienvenidos a Miami

Whenever I think about Miami (or I need to crank up my running speed on a treadmill), I think of this Will Smith song. I never knew the video was so cheesy!!

Here’s our quick guide to the Miami area.

Overview.

Miami is one of those places in the US that has it’s own distinct culture that’s separate from general US culture. It also has 10 hours a day of sunshine over the spring and summer and 14 hours/day of daylight. During winter it’s still warm, but not as warm and sunny as you’ll get in Summer, which is why a Spring or Summer trip is ideal. Other people may disagree with us on this but we like hot weather.

South Beach.

South Beach is the most famous area of Miami. If you’ve only got one day you’ll want to see the beach and the surrounding Art Deco architecture.

Hiring a poolside cabana for the day at a fancy hotel is a pleasant and surprisingly affordable to spend a day in Miami. You typically don’t need to be an overnight guest of the hotel.

Food in Miami.

Vegan – Kristin from Will Travel for Vegan Food has the most comprehensive, up-to-date and mouthwatering intel on Miami’s vegan and vegetarians restaurants, including some darn good looking vegan red velvet cake and vegan berry cheesecake. Make a beeline for these places!

Yelp is also useful for surveying all the eating options based on what type of cuisine you feel like.

If you’re not vegan/vegetarian and want to sample the flavors of Little Havana, check out this amazing guide which describes the Cuban food options on offer and gives restaurant recommendations.

Getting Around.

Seeing Miami by public transportation is definitely doable. Here’s a great roundup of the public transportation. If you have time for an excursion out of Miami, rent a car for at least part of your trip so you can take a trip down to the Florida Keys.

The video below shows a National Park camping experience I am itching to do. Check out the night sky at around the 50 second mark in the video below.

Florida as a jumping off point.

There are quite a few options for sidetrips you can take if you’re visiting Florida. The Bahamas is only a few hundred miles off the Florida coast and you can take day or overnight cruises down there. If haven’t tried a cruise previously but you’re interested in dipping your toe in the water of cruising this is a great option. If you’re planning a Florida trip, the cheapest flights tend to be into Orlando. Miami is THE gateway to the Caribbean. Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic (land of crazy-good value package deals), and the US Virgin Islands are all close hops. If you need to get to Fort Lauderdale for a flight, you can take an easy train from Miami, meaning you can pick a flight that goes from either airport. If you’re in Florida on your way to Central America, check out Kim’s experience learning Spanish in Guatemala.

October 23, 2013

Options for Getting Around Australia

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Australia is a massive and ahh-mazing country. The size means that getting around takes some planning. Here are your options.

1. Ferry.

Huh? If you want to go to Tasmania, which is Australia’s most forgotten about state, then you can hop a ferry from Melbourne. There are lots of reasons to visit Tasmania, including great beaches and it’s not baking hot in the summer. Seriously you can fry an egg on the sidewalk on hot summer days in Australia.

Another popular ferry trip is the short hop from Perth to the spectacular Rottnest Island, off the West Coast of Australia.

2. Cruise Ship.

Another way to incorporate Tasmania is via a cruise that takes you down the East Coast of Australia. Not many people think of cruising when they think of Australia.

3. Sailing boat, jetboat, or helicopter. Choose your luxury!

The Whitsundays, which are an absolute must-see when visiting Australia, are accessed by some type of boat. Or, if you’ve got more money to spend, a helicopter trip!

You’ll also need to take boat trip if you want to snorkel or dive the Great Barrier Reef. It’s incredible and I only snorkeled.

4. Train.

Australia is famous for the “Indian Pacific” train trip which runs Sydney – Adelaide – Perth i.e., from the East Coast of AU to the West Coast. This is a spendy luxury. However, there are also some intercity train options that connect Sydney with Melbourne, Brisbane, and Canberra. Tickets cost $100-200, around the same as an equivalent flight. See all the details on the Man in Seat 61’s blog.

I would definitely consider this as an alternative to flying next time I’m in Australia even though I’m not a huge train nerd.

5. Hire car or campervan.

Car rentals in Australia are usually quoted with the insurance included. Typically there is a high excess (US equivalent of deductible). This might be around $3000, meaning if you have an accident you pay up to that amount.

A car rental is probably a great option for part of your trip but you won’t need it while you’re in inner city Sydney, Brisbane, or Melbourne.

Vans that have a converted sleeping space are a popular option in Australia and New Zealand. These setups have been featured in some consumer protection type TV shows and the results of their testing have suggested that the maintenance is often not the best. May still be a great option, if you don’t get car sick like I do…. see below.

6. Domestic flights.

Qantas, Jetstar, and Virgin are the main domestic carriers. Curiously, the cheapest way to book is often through Expedia Japan (they don’t charge Australian sales tax). See Flashpacker Family’s post about this. Domestic flights are priced as one ways so you won’t pay more if you want to use a flight in one direction only.

7. Bus.

I’m mentioning this last because I’m not a bus fan. Even on city busses, I feel sick. On longer trips I load up on anti-nausea medications. Yup, you won’t catch me on a bus very often. I took a bus from Cairns to Townsville once. It wasn’t too bad. Comfortable and on-time.

Have you ever taken any of these options when traveling in Australia? What was your experience?

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