Getting the local perspective when you travel

One of the greatest gifts you can receive as a traveler is the gift of hospitality.  The world over we were invited into the homes of locals, sometimes for a coffee, sometimes for a meal and still other times for a safe, warm place to rest.  In fact, spending time with locals played a huge role in our trip around the world.  Locals served as hosts, tour guides, drivers, advisors and more often than not travel companions. The kind of generosity and hospitality we experienced is far and beyond the greatest souvenir we could take home because it was authentic.  It was real.  It was a genuine experience.

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Bowl of Pho.
Photo Credit: Flickr user Michael Pittman

I remember being in Vietnam and getting into Ho Chi Minh City late in the day. We looked all over for a nice place to stay, settling in at a hotel that was modernly furnished in the heart of a tourist zone.  It was inexpensive and couldn’t have been more comfortable, but we walked for what seemed like forever looking for a restaurant that didn’t have a menu in English and tables full of Westerners.  Of course what we found was a small cart with little white stools around it. We had a delicious bowl of Pho, communicating with gestures and broken English with the proprietress.  It was delicious, but more than the food I remember her smile and her gesture for us to sit down.

These experiences happened to us all over the world, but they were more often than not the result of happenstance. Now of course, just a few years later, there are websites like Withlocals and even apps that will help you connect with locals.  From a home cooked meal to a cooking class with someone’s grandma and a local tour on the back of a motorbike exploring the countryside, the possibilities for authentic travel are expanding and that makes me excited to get back to exploring.

I’m looking forward to sharing the world with the twins.  Of going to places and having experiences that will share with them the amazing people and places that make up this world.  We had to wait until we were in our 20s to have those kinds of experiences, but with the opportunities that exist in travel today there’s no reason why they should have to wait.

Let’s just hope the girls master the art of chop sticks soon, I don’t want to see them attempting Pho with their hands!

Choosing the Right Backpack

When people think about choosing the backpack they need for their travel they often have a preconceived notion based on what they’ve seen other people use.  Obviously, it’s always best to choose the right pack for you, but even more important is to choose the right pack for what you’re going to be doing.  Most large backpacks are really made for camping and hiking, true backpacking, when it comes to travel you needs will likely be different.  Let’s first take a look at what the traditional backpacker needs to look at for taking a hike, and how that changes for the traveler.

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Knowing how you’ll use your pack is important

For the backcountry backpacker Size and Fit are the most important factors.  These are important for the traveler as well, but differ in a few specific ways:

·         Size.  When a hiker is going into the backcountry, he or she needs to ‘pack in’ all their own food as well as a cook-stove, tent and sleeping bag, and then all the other gear like clothing.  A traveler doesn’t need quite so much large equipment.  A backpacker might be looking at a 60L-80L outdoor rucksack, depending on the type of trip, while the traveler should be looking at 40L-60L.  (For our 21 months we had under 50L by the end)

·         Fit.  Have you ever met a traveler, who sleep in a hostel and takes a bus from city to city, who wears his pack for 8 hours a day while hiking over mountains?  No…me neither.  After making sure your pack fits all the gear you need to survive, making sure your back doesn’t fall apart at the end of the day is the next most important job of the backcountry backpackers pack.

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Size and fit are important considerations

For the traveler, the backpack game is different.  The traveler carries his or her pack far less time and over far fewer mountains.  The traveler should be concerned with comfort, yes, but that applies more to security and convenience than it does to size and fit.

·         Pockets.  Lots of different compartments helps to keep your life organized.  Remember, at home your milk is stored in your kitchen and your shoes are in your closet, keeping some semblance of organization is a plus.  Also, are you carrying a laptop or a tablet, you’ll probably want a sleeve against your back to keep this safe.

·         Security.  For me, this comes in having a smaller, nondescript pack.  For others this means having locks all over the thing.  After 21 months on the road, and never having anything taken from my pack, I’ll keep it small and unappealing.

·         Comfort.  Those big packs come with lots of big cushions.  Sometimes it is better to save on bulk, make sure you bag can fit in the overhead bin space on an airplane, and go lighter and forgo the extra cushioning.

·         Waterproofing.  This doesn’t hurt and can only help.  Even if the pack is only water resistant it can mean a big difference in comfort if you’re caught in the rain.

adventure travel Choosing the Right BackpackThis post was made possible by Berghaus who sell waterproof jackets and outdoor clothing.

Gear For Travel – Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

It is really remarkable how quickly technology has completely changed the face of travel.  Our RTW trip lasted nearly two years, 2009-2010.  As we embarked, we invested in some of the best technology to get the job done that was possible.  We thought of ourselves as flashpackers extraordinaire.  That included a brand new netbook, an unlocked cell phone, and a fancy DSLR camera.  Now, just a few short years later, when I look back on all of that still functioning gear, it just looks so old and antiquated.  That’s the nature of technology.

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This old piece of hardware was our PC for two full years.

 

The Phone – Our mobile phone was nothing but an unlocked GSM flip phone.  We were excited when a SIM card we purchased allowed us to make calls home from the Sahara Desert in Sudan for Mother’s day.  Now with VOIP calling, a smart phone can make calls around the world for free…and from anywhere.  The best part is that there are finally some cutting edge phones (e.g. Galaxy S4 Active) that are water and drop resistant making it even easier to stay connected and travel adventurously.

The Tablet – These did not exist while we were our trip and are a tremendous game changer, at least if you are blogging or sharing pictures while you travel.  We shared one netbook as we traveled, weighing and taking up far more room than two tablets would have taken in our packs.  Any of these today – iPad, Android or even a Windows tablet – are both lighter and more powerful than our “state of the art” netbook was. Plus there is wifi virtually everywhere now making a tablet a really useful tool for travelers to check in.

The Camera – This area has changed a lot less, mostly these cameras now come with more features and more megapixels than before.  However, by and large, they still do the same job.  The big add-ons here are the ease by which photos can be geotagged and quickly uploaded.  Camera processing has also improved allowing for better low-light photography and much better videos.  That would have saved us quite a bit of time geotagging our photos.

This article is NOT about what gear to go out and buy, there are plenty of review sites on the Internet,   It is merely a comparison of what has changed in less than 3 years time.  In the next three years will Google Glass remove the need for a tour guide?  Streaming video and video conferencing might ultimately replace the written word when it comes to blog posts.  We might even be able to sterilize our meals on our plates with a UV light and completely make food poisoning a thing of the past!  Sounds good to me.

4 Bachelor Party ideas for Las Vegas and Beyond

Typically, most bachelor parties here in the USA involve a lot of booze and often a trip to Las Vegas or Atlantic City.  In a few weeks, I’ll be heading out on a bachelor party myself and although some of the other guys wanted to take a traditional Vegas trip and stay at a place like the www.arialasvegas.com, the bride to be was dead set against that option.  Several still took the time to research Vegas flights and things to do in Sin City but it was to no avail.  Las Vegas can be a great place, but it is only one of the options we have here today.

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A Backwoods Adventure.

Nothing quite says manliness and male bonding like a camping trip.  Somehow the challenge us urban and suburbanites face when lighting a campfire always makes stories for the ages.  Add to that a few rounds of brew and no real stressors and you can have yourself a nice relaxing trip…but that’s not what bachelor parties are all about.  Instead, try to take a mountain biking or a white water rafting trip.  The nice thing about rafting is that by choosing a rafting company, such as the one we used on my bachelor party, no one needs to have any real skills or gear.

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Be A Kid.

With this upcoming bachelor party we chose instead to do something that would be simple and fun.  We’re visiting Cedar Point in Ohio where we will ride roller coasters until we’re blue in the face.  To add a little bit of manliness to the weekend we’ll also be hitting a baseball game and grilling out for dinner.  The really exciting thing is that none of the crew has been to this park before; most have never been to Ohio for that matter.

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In sticking with the theme of doing something new, why not take that same airplane and turn it in another direction.  Recently I went to a Bachelor Party that took place in Puerto Rico, no passport needed and relatively inexpensive airfare still left us in a new country with plenty of options for things to do.  Although if you have more money at your disposal, you could follow the British Stag Party tradition and visit Prague instead!

 

 

adventure travel 4 Bachelor Party ideas for Las Vegas and Beyond

Where I Want To Take a Cruise

Living in South Florida I’m greeted almost every day with the sights of cruise ships docked and taking on passengers.  Some of these boats have space for over 5,000 passengers with thousands more spots reserved for crew.  While these huge cruise ships have their place among those that like a little relaxation and pampering on the high seas, I’m more intrigued by the smaller vessels that can take you smaller ports of call.  Here are a few (one from each continent!) that are high on my list:

North America – The Alaskan Marine Highway

We have been trying to arrange a trip up to Alaska for a few years now, but it remains elusive for one reason or another.  This year we almost made it but as luck would have it, we found something better to do instead (we had twins!).  Our plan was to cruise along the marine highway, using public transportation, to Whittier, Alaska.  From there we would visit the rest of the Kenai Peninsula before heading north to Anchorage, Fairbanks and Denali itself.  The best part of the cruise trip, from Juneau to Whittier was that with State of Alaska’s hop on hop off ferry system, allowing us to create our trip itinerary as we went along. Where I Want To Take a Cruise

South America – The Amazon River…from Peru!

Most Amazon cruises move along the ‘busy’ part of the river between Manaus and the Atlantic Ocean.  The Amazon river itself though, has its headwaters in the Andes mountains.  That being the case I don’t see why you wouldn’t want to head to Iquitos, Peru, to start the trip.  You’ll have to fly into Iquitos as it holds the ubiquitous distinction of being the largest city in the world that cannot be reached by road. From there it is 3600 km to the Atlantic Ocean.  Just don’t forget the mosquito repellant and a hammock.

 Where I Want To Take a Cruise

Africa – A Nile River Cruise

Although I’m not so sure many people are planning on taking a Nile Cruise in 2013 with all the mixed news coming out of Egypt, I’m sure that those who do go find exceptional value everywhere they go along the river.  One of Egypt’s chief exports is tourism and much of the industry is hurting.  The city of Luxor alone could keep the budding Egyptologist busy for weeks and given how inexpensive Egypt was when it was crowded, it is a downright bargain right now.

 Where I Want To Take a Cruise

Europe – The History of the Danube

I’m not entirely sure what it is that makes me want to take a cruise along the Danube but I think it has something to do with the amount of history those waters have seen.  Vienna, Budapest and Bratislava are all cities I’ve seen and really enjoyed but it’s downriver—Croatia, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria—that attracts my attention.  Of all the ideas listed here this is certainly the most expensive but it also represents the crossroads of Western Civilization.

 Where I Want To Take a Cruise

Asia – A Thai SCUBA Live-aboard

The problem with Asian rivers is that many are simply too dirty to enjoy.  Instead, I’d suggest doing a bit of Island hopping off the coasts of Thailand and Malaysia.  This is some of the best SCUBA diving in the world and the mainland has plenty of low priced creature comforts anytime you want to come ashore.

 Where I Want To Take a Cruise

Thanks to BTerryCompton for use of the Alaska image via a Creative Commons License

adventure travel Where I Want To Take a Cruise