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Thursday, 1 November 2012

Scotland Travel Choices

We love your blog and videos and are planning a trip to scotland in early May. We were mostly wondering about whether to "hire" a car or try to catch buses to each place (we'd like to see Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Skye, and possibly Loch Lomond and Ben Nevis.) Also if there's any particular advice you'd like to impart we'd be grateful for it :)
Thanks so much!"
Your trip sounds very similar to what Krystin and I did in Scotland so we can tell you what worked for us.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

10 Days Away from Takeoff!!!

I’ll be traveling to Italy next week for 16 days, visiting Florence, Sienna, Pisa, Lucca, Cinque Terra (my favorite), Venice, Montepulciano and Rome. This trip will be a completely different experience for me than all my previous European journeys. This time I’ll be accompanying a college class that met one day each week this semester discussing Italian art and architecture, literature, photography and travel etiquette (my teaching part was the last two).
Now that I’m about 10 days out from my departure day, there should be a few things to be starting to think about and checking off a list – lists by the way are a great invention for backpackers, travelers, tourists, or however you want to define yourself. In no particular order, hopefully you have done most of this, or will be doing it ASAP before you arrive at the airport.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Around the World Travel

I got a question from someone who had the great fortune to take a year off and travel around the world for a year. I have never had the pleasure to do this but I'll try to offer some guidance on the matter. The main question was how much it would cost, which is very vague and I wish I could put an exact price on it. In a few books I’ve read about people selling all their belongings and traveling for a year, they claim they spend less traveling than they would at home with rent, utilities, insurance, car payments, etc. Krystin and I lived in Lincoln, England for a year to get our masters degrees and came back about even with our jobs we had gotten working 20 hours each week and making minimum wage. We also did some traveling and had fun money.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Smart Phones, Laptops and Tablets

I have always been a huge advocator for not taking phones or laptops abroad. The first time I backpacked through Europe the only people who owned phones that could access the internet were tie wearing business types with Blackberries. Now it seems like everyone has their head stuck in the sand looking down at the bright colors on their phone.

The main reasons why I personally recommend not taking your phone with you to Europe:

1. Aren't the sights and sounds of Europe more important than facebook and twitter?
2. Lost or stolen. There is so much else going on in a strange place that it might be hard to keep track of your new device.
3. Recharging. Not all hostels have plugs in every room, so if you want it charged, you might have to leave it behind the front desk all night, or hang out inside with it while your burden free friends enjoy the bier garten, walks on the Mediterranean, etc.

Having used an iPhone recently in a strange city I have found the uses of maps, restaurant locators, internet capability that can look up opening times of museums, and instant contact with family extremely useful. There is no way I or anyone will be able to convince you that your phone should be left at home. So for those of you that are attached at the hip to your social media, a new service is available to take advantage of. It's called Tep wireless.

There appear to be two choices, a prepaid smartphone that you rent and use while abroad, or a small device that emits a wi-fi signal for up to five devices (travel group friendly). The wi-fi device seems more appropriate for most applications in my opinion. It works with tablets, phones or laptops. Their web site does not give current prices but below is my "live chat" and I was surprised with the cost that I found. (I made up travel dates and locations so they may differ greatly. Contact tep wireless for accurate rates)

Ben: May I know your travel date please?
→Oct. 5 for about 10 days
Ben: Do you need a pocket wi-fi of smartphone?
→I think pocket wi-fi, it will power multiple devices at once correct?
Ben: You can connect it with up to five devices at the same time.
Ben: What country will you be traveling to?
→France, Germany, UK, and Netherlands. How do prices work, is it per day, per amount of usage, country?
Ben: Let me check it out.
Ben: The rental price is £52.10 (£4.74/day) [Current conversion today is $7.78 per day]
→Is that for a max amount of usage per day?
Ben: pocket wifi (Europe) - 50 MB per day from 05/10/2011 to 15/10/2011
→Ok. If I go over the 50 MB what happens?
→Is there a feature that tells me to stop before an extra cost kicks in?
Ben: The charges would be 1.5 pounds for 1gb.

I can't seem to find out exactly how much 50mb will get you, but many smartphones get that allotment a month. Now if five members in your group will be using at once, the usage will get eaten up pretty quickly.

Getting from town to town can be boring and it would be a dream to get some of your research and hostel booking accomplished while on the train, bus or ferry. Internet cafe's vary greatly on usage costs, normally by the hour fee. $2-$5 per hour is about normal so if 2-4 members in your group are buying an hour, you've paid for the tep, but you don't need internet daily.

In my opinion smartphones and laptops should stay at home, but for some of you who have the extra money and need access to everyone from almost anywhere, this may be a good travel option for you.

Thursday, 14 July 2011


It's not a bad idea to take some sunscreen if you plan on making it a point to sit by the beach. Common sense right? Well the after affects are much worse on a backpacking trip with lobster arms than on a spring break week.

I got too much sun over the Fourth of July weekend and days after took a hike and was forced to endure the severe shoulder pain with a tiny backpack on my back, let alone a heavy pack.

Keep you shoulders covered or reapply the sunscreen as often as possible to stay away from shoulder burns that will make carrying your pack a living hell.

Europe sells sunscreen so don't feel like you have to take it, but I always find it is one of those items that seems rather expensive. It can easily get overlooked when a bottle of it can be the same price as dinner.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Amsterdam Hostels

One of Red Wine's followers in Canada asked a great questions about hostel accommodation in Amsterdam. All the hostels he was finding ranged from $50-60 a night.

I have been to Amsterdam twice and I really enjoyed it. Whether you're into the drug scene, or just to see Amsterdam as a really nice and laid back town.

The first time I went I staid in a town close by called Utrecht. I had an unlimited rail pass so the journey into Amsterdam was free and maybe only took 30-45 minutes. I just looked in my journal and it was 15 euro a night (this was a few years ago, but still can't be 50-60) and it had free internet and free food. All types of pasta, cookies, cakes, bread and eggs. I didn't write the name of it down, but after looking at it might be this one. It will also give you the chance to see a city other than Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

It says it has free internet, breakfast and lunch and only cost 16 euro for a dorm bed (but $30 for booking online, so it might be worth sending an email to double check price). I will preface that this place wasn't the cleanest, and was crowded, but if a bed is all you want, it might be worth it. Not sure if it had lockers, so you might have to ditch your bags at either the Amsterdam or Utrecht train station which might cost a few extra Euros, but if you get free meals, it's hard to beat.

The second time I went to Amsterdam I stayed in the city and it's nice because after a few beers and coffee bars, it gets hard to remember the train schedule to make it back to Utrecht. All I've heard from anyone who go to Amsterdam is the hostels they've stayed at aren’t the cleanest. I think they jack up the prices so they don't get the bums, drifters and drug addicts staying there, but try to keep it safe by accommodating young travelers hoping to see a sex show and buy weed.

If you look at a map of Amsterdam, find the train station. See all the canals that make a series of "U" shapes? The closer to the station in the center of the "U" is the main part of town with all the coffee shops and red light district. The further you get out of town the cheaper a hostel should be. This one for instance is $30 per night.

The only bummer is no smoking or alcohol is allowed, but if that doesn't bother you, it might be up your alley. The area around Vondelpark I thought was nice and it's not that far from the city center.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Cold Weather Traveling?

A cold weather question from a fan.

"Hi guys-

I was directed to your blog by a friend who spent this past summer backpacking across Europe, and she swore by your site!

My boyfriend and I are getting set to do some of our own traveling in Europe toward the end of February and through March. My question is how to properly pack for the cooler weather at the beginning of our trip without weighing down our packs. Do you have any tips on how/what to pack for this time of the year?"

"The first step I would take is to visit or the local tourist web site for the countries you’ll be visiting and find out exactly what the temperatures will be (look at past year averages). I haven’t done much traveling in cold months, but I have traveled to cold countries. Scotland will be much different than Italy and Greece different than Switzerland.

The quick and easiest answer for you is layers. Even when I was exploring in fall and spring, evenings can get very cold and I always had the option to wear a t-shirt, long sleeve t-shirt, long sleeve/collared button down shirt, hooded sweatshirt, windbreaker/rain jacket and my pajama pants under my jeans which always kept me pretty warm when I needed it to. Doing this meant I really only got the layer closest to my body dirty.

One bummer with the cold is your outer garment will be the same in every photo you take, and you won’t have room for two winter coats. Even when it was cold, my wife always took off her rain jacket for photos. Her being a style aficionado, she would also recommend to make sure everything matches to either black or brown, so if you take an extra sweater, make sure it goes with everything.

Companies like The North Face and Arc’Teryx (among many, many others) make all kinds of cold weather shirts, pants, coats and hoodies. They are specially designed from fabrics to keep the body warm when extremely cold and cool when it gets warm. The fabrics breath easily and help whisk moisture away from the body. These items are great but they get very expensive. These are made for weight conscious people when every ounce in your pack counts. You can easily drop $50-100 for one shirt. However, if you plan to do more traveling or you like hiking and camping, a couple of these might be worth the investment, but I’m always about saving money when traveling, not spending hundreds before you leave the country.

Like I said with my packing list of layers above, I would also take a sweater so when I was in a museum or at dinner, I didn’t have to wear my hoodie all the time. I would also take one pair of gloves and one hat and if you’re a scarf person take one of those too, but I wouldn’t do more than one of each. I might also change my normal pajama pants for thermal long-underwear. Granted this stuff is not heavy, but it is bulky.

I have received many emails and comments about cotton hoodies vs. fleece. Like every person in the US, we all own a hoodie with our high school, college or favorite sports team name on it. I own one of these so I took that and not fleece. Many avid campers and hikers have told me that fleece is much warmer than cotton, dries quicker if it gets wet and also much lighter. I have personally never done field research on this, but I believe what I've been told. I chose my hoodie because it had a hood instead of taking a hat, a nice front pocket instead of gloves and most importantly, I already owned it.

Do some research with the temperatures and try out my list of layers to see if it keeps you warm enough. (granted if you live in Florida it might be hard to recreate the English winter). I personally would not take a “winter coat”. What I mean by “winter coat” is one that is heavy and warm enough to only wear a t-shirt underneath and be warm. My packable wind/rain resistant jacket was great and it packed up very tiny. When you go inside a place for a meal or internet cafĂ©, it packs up to fit in your day pack instead of having to lug around a big coat.

Safe (and warm) Travels!!!!

p.s. A little word or warning, it might not happen to you, but it did to me a few times, especially in eastern Europe, but the trains did not have heat. During the day I didn’t notice it, but when it was dark and I was trying to sleep, it was bitter cold.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Travel Clothing from SCOTTEVEST

I stumbled across an advertisement for some pretty cool travel clothing. I'm not endorsing these items because I've personally never tried them out, but I thought I would point everyone in the direction to check it out for yourself, especially with Christmas around the corner it might not hurt to put it on your list since the items are a bit costly.

sells all sorts of travel clothing from hats, winter coats, pants, hoodies and more. The main draw to the clothing is the many hidden pockets to fit all your important travel documents and expensive gadgets. The main goal behind starting the company was for the CEO to carry all his stuff without having to lug around a man-purse.

My initial thought on the clothing is that it seems very useful, especially the Revolution jacket that has 26 pockets and fits your MP3 player, phone, iPad, water bottle, has a hidden passport pocket and more. The price for this is high at $175, but it seems pretty cool for people who might be traveling in cold months and don't want to carry a day pack. The only bummer I can see about this is having anything in the pockets and then trying to wear your pack. The straps would inevitably overlap something important and make it uncomfortable or crush something. The other is trying to get through security with this thing seems like a nightmare. I'd never get all the metal out of the pockets.

I few of the items seem ridiulous like a hat with space in the bill for cash and boxers that have a pocket for your smart phone, but I guess if you have the money for it, why not have underwear with pockets?