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April 2017

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Tourist Hotspots: Popular for a Reason

Have you ever checked out the reviews for the famous landmarks of the world? The Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum, the Great Pyramids: they all have something in common – someone is out there calling them “overcrowded,” “overhyped,” or a “tourist trap.”

We disagree.

We firmly believe that most tourist hotspots are hotspots for a reason. Yes, everyone goes, but that’s usually because they’re worth seeing.

We’ve heard so many people belittle places on the tourist trail, saying “there’s so much more to see! Do you just want to go because everybody else has?”

And while we agree that a truly worthwhile trip goes off the beaten track for a bit, we’d never discount a city’s most popular sights as a waste of time.

We like to make our own discoveries, but we also appreciate the experiences and recommendations of others – and we want to make our own memories there, too!

We haven’t regretted a visit to any tourist hotspot, even when we don’t stay long. An hour or two is usually enough time, so we still have plenty of time to see the rest of what a new city has to offer.

Here’s a few of the famous landmarks (or events) we’ve been to so far. We would certainly recommend them!

Taj Mahal, India

We saw the Taj Mahal at sunset and sunrise when the lighting was just right (and the heat not so extreme). Even with a little scaffolding, our pictures turned out amazing.

At sunset we were in the gardens where there was a lot of room to avoid crowds. We found an empty area with plenty of shade to snap photos, take a seat and watch the sun go down.

The next day we arrived at the Taj Mahal right at sunrise. There was a line to get in, but the crowds weren’t overwhelming yet so we were able to get several pictures without anyone wandering around in the background.

Things to consider:

  • Avoid the Taj Mahal at midday. Not only will it be very hot, the sun will reflect off the white marble making photography difficult.
  • Don’t forget to visit the gardens around the back for a relaxing viewpoint and a different perspective.
The Full Moon Party, Thailand

It’s hard to find many positive reviews of Thailand’s infamous Full Moon Parties.

The thousands who attend each month are often mocked or used as a negative example of a “fake traveller.”

It’s true, a Full Moon Party is in no way an authentic Thailand experience. But it’s still one of the best nights we’ve ever had! Why does it need to be more than that?

It’s crazy, it’s cheap, and who wouldn’t love a party under a full moon on a stunning beach in the South of Thailand Seriously, give it a try! If you love nightlife, you won’t regret it.

Things to consider:

  • Be smart, like you’d need to be on a night out anywhere. Keep an eye on your drink, don’t accept a drink from a stranger, and protect your valuables.
The Great Wall of China

Seeing the Great Wall was an expensive journey for us. We ended up paying for a private car, a bus, a cable car and, of course, the entrance fee. But we believe it was worth the cost, because up in those mountains we saw one of the world’s most incredible creations! It was so surreal to walk along the wall taking in the stunning views.

Things to consider:

  • The Great Wall is huge! There are many entrances, and some are more crowded than others. We asked our driver to take us somewhere with fewer crowds, and we loved where we ended up.
  • Yes, the Great Wall is very long – but you don’t need to see the whole thing. It looks the same, with similar views, nearly everywhere. We kept our visit to only an hour or so.
  • The Wall goes up and down very steep mountains. Be prepared for a lot of inclines and steps!
  • When you’re finished, you can slide down the mountain instead of using the cable car again. Ask about it when you get your tickets.

The Patronas Towers, Malaysia

If we had to choose our favorite building or urban backdrop, it would definitely be the Patronas Towers. They are iconic and stunning. If you’re a sucker for a great photo opportunity (like us – we’re shameless!), they’re seriously worth a look.

Things to consider:

  • Go at nighttime. While they’re stunning in the day, they’re unbelievable at night!
  • You can also tour the towers, but we were happy just walking around the outer grounds for free.
Sydney Opera House, Australia

We’ll admit, the only draw was the photo opportunity. But that alone is worth a recommend for any famous landmark, in our opinion. It’s free, nobody can stop you taking pictures of the outside of these buildings, and it’s far less crowded.

Things to consider:

  • Unless you’re interested in one of the performances, there’s not much point in this other than the photo. However, the surrounding views of the harbours could be a great place to spend the day.
The Blue Lagoon, Iceland

We came so close to missing out on this because every review warned us that it was an expensive tourist trap. It ended up becoming our favorite traveling experience to date! While most landmarks are good for a quick look and a few photos, we easily spent many blissful hours here. You can read more about our experience here.

Things to consider:

  • Book in advance. We usually like to do things more spontaneously, but tickets for the good time slots (morning or early afternoon) disappear weeks beforehand.
  • Give yourself plenty of time there – you’ll want it!
  • The basic ticket is fine. You’ll feel relaxed and pampered without handing over any extra money for added luxuries.
  • Winter is probably the best season to go. We enjoyed the Lagoon during a beautiful snowstorm that made our day (and photos) look like a dream world.

We have so many more famous landmarks to see! We’ve barely even made a dent on our wishlist, and we can’t wait visit more. Next up, hopefully Petra in Jordan, The Burj Khalifa in Dubai, and Machu Picchu in Peru!

Don’t listen to the bad press. These places are famous for a reason. Don’t be stubborn and miss out on something you could truly love.

Have you been to any famous landmarks or taken part in a famous organised event? We’d love to hear your experiences.

Poetry Around the World

It’s National Poetry Month!

As a bit of a poet nerd (I am slowly working toward an MFA degree), I enjoyed spending April exploring the poetry of other countries – from India where I have been traveling most of the month, but also from countries I’ve been to recently.

It is interesting to see familiar themes from American and British poetry also being explored all around in the world in many different cultures and languages.

Here are some of my new discoveries:

Ocean Oneness by Sri Aurobindo (India)

I grew up by the beach, so the ocean is as familiar to me as home. Even beaches half way around the world give me that comfortable, back-where-I-belong feeling. I have written countless pieces on the ocean, and I love to read descriptions from other writers – such as this one from India.

Quiet Night Thought by Li Bai (China)

This poem talks of homesickness, which is a chronic state for every traveler, on some level, even if it is often overshadowed by our need for adventure. And the more places I spend long periods of time in, the more places I feel homesick for. I especially love that this poem comes from China, the first country I lived in when I left America, because it’s a place that will always hold a lot of nostalgia and meaning for me.

The Style of the Times by Jónas Hallgrímsson (Iceland)

I am drawn to the story behind this poem – I love old legends and love stories, and these short lines manage to encompass both.

Our Old House by Saif Al Rahbi (Oman)

This is one of my new favorite poets – I just love the way he uses language. My favorite poems usually explore a topic I find relatable or curious, but my favorite poets can write about anything and their words still pull me in.

I believe travel is always enriched by an interest in the arts or creativity.

I love to be overwhelmed by how different people and places around the world can be. I crave new experiences as often as possible! But I also love to find the universal.

Poetry (or painting, or dance, or music) is definitely universally created and celebrated. There is something so satisfying about discovering someone from a different culture or era who creates work similar to yours in style or theme.

My fellow poet nerds – who is your favorite writer or what is your favorite piece from a country not your own?

Surviving Hangover Hell When Travelling

We like to think that we are not the typical sightseeing tourists.

Sure, we love to see famous landmarks and snap a few pictures. We would never skip these hotspots, but they aren’t the be all and end all of our travels.

One of our favorite things to do in a new city is explore the nightlife. There’s usually no better way to meet and laugh with locals and fellow travelers. A few drinks will help those conversations go beyond the typical small talk. Some of our most memorable, surreal traveling moments have been thanks to a night out.

Of course, this typically ends with us getting a little inebriated, and the next morning (or day) can be rough because of it.

Some nights end a little messy 😉

We have yet to discover an instant cure for a hangover. (If you have, please send it our way!)

But we do have a few tips to make those travel hangovers as tolerable as possible.

Don’t worry if a day gets wasted.

A good night out usually requires a slow, easy day afterward. Don’t force yourself out of bed the next day to go sightseeing. Plan to explore on other days, but also make room for a lazy, relaxing day at the hotel when you can recharge. This balance is key to an enjoyable trip.

Don’t get drunk the night before a day of transport.

Just like you won’t want to be sightseeing, you definitely won’t want to be on a plane, train, or boat. Can you really be dealing with an all day flight via layover with a saw head? Can you really be dealing with rickshaws, ferrys, buses, taxis and planes in one day after not sleeping and leaving straight from a full moon party? Can you deal with a 10 hour mini bus ride after a night out? The answer is never! Be careful when you plan your travel.

Air conditioning helps.

While cold countries seem to cure a hangover easily, hot temperatures will make them much worse. You’re hungover due to dehydration, and the sun won’t do you any favors. Make sure your hotel has decent air conditioning, and lock yourself away in your cool room.

Have a food plan.

The food you choose can make or break your hangover day. Surely, at home, you know exactly what to eat when you’re in a state. Unfortunately, when you are in an unfamiliar country, your favorites will be harder to track down. Worst case scenario, the closest food vendors to your hotel might only serve spicy curry or scorpions. It’s worth putting some thought into this before your night out.

Get water!

Water is the number one thing you’ll need during a hangover. But most tap water isn’t safe to drink abroad, so make sure you’ve stocked up enough for the next day. Trust us, you won’t want to do a water run when you wake up. We’ve developed strong water instincts since travelling. Our drunk selves may not seem like the most responsible people, but we absolutely never forget to buy endless water for the next day. It really helps!

Dont forget to stock up on water.

Get late check out.

The typical 10am, 11am or 12 midday check out times are the bane of travel life. If you’re not travelling onward right away it’s unpleasant. If you’re hungover it’s a disaster. Just pay to extend the room if you don’t need to move on until late afternoon or evening; it’s the only answer.

Get in the pool or go to the beach.

This is the closest we’ve found to a true hangover cure: get in a pool or head to the beach. A sweaty, noisy city brings out hangovers from hell. A quiet beach is miraculous. Maybe this means that bad hangovers are mostly mental.

It’s the best cure we’ve found so far.

Go to the bar.

For some reason, we rarely take this advice from friends who swear by it, but when we have, it has worked! A small amount of alcohol balances everything back out – just don’t overdo it or you’ll be right back where you started soon enough.

Beware of India.

We’re writing this post from India, and while we love the chaos and unpredictability around us in the big cities, they haven’t been great for a hangover. It’s unbelievably hot, it’s crowded, it’s noisy, and everyone seems to be moving at 5,000 miles an hour. The hustle and bustle is not what you need when feeling delicate. That said, the night before will be one heck of an experience and very worth it.

This is not what you need hungover! 

Hangovers are usually the result of a great night – a night that will never be forgotten. However an epic night can lead to an epic hangover. Tread carefully and don’t give youself unessesary pain. We hope our tips will help!

We would love to hear your travel hangover from hell stories. Leave your best ones below!

Easter Traditions Around the World

Happy Easter!

We are spending the holiday in New Delhi this year, where Easter celebrations are few and far between. But there are many traditions currently being practiced around the world, and there is a surprising range to them.

While we are used to bunnies and chocolate eggs in our home countries, others have a diverse variety of customs to celebrate this time of year.

Exploding carts in Florence – This Italian city celebrates Easter with a bang! A wooden cart is filled with fireworks and set off. This display is said to bring peace and good luck for the new year.

A cheese race around the village – Meanwhile, in Panicale, there is an annual cheese wheel rolling race for “Little Easter,” on the Monday after.

Ribbons in Costa Rica – In hopes of answered prayers, people tie long ribbons to an icon of Christ during Easter week. The color of the ribbons represents their requests. The finished product is then paraded around the city, and the ribbons are later removed and sold as good luck charms.

Easter bells in France – Rather than receiving candy from the Easter Bunny, French children get their treats from bells that have flown to Rome to be blessed and filled with sweets by the Pope. This tale began as an explanation for why bells are not rung in the days leading up to Easter – a custom that honors the trial, crucifixion, and death of Christ.

Breaking clay pots in Greece – On the island of Corfu, the resurrection of Christ is celebrating by throwing clay pots off of balconies and watching them break.

Water fights in Poland – The day after Easter is spent indulging in a giant water fight. It is traditionally men and boys holding the buckets and girls getting soaked. But most girls don’t mind. Superstition says that the most drenched girls will be married within the year.

A rabbit hunt in New Zealand – Bunnies still find a place in New Zealand’s Easter traditions, but with a darker twist. There is a traditional rabbit hunt that takes place every year, awarding the hunter who bags the most rabbits. This celebration helps New Zealand farms, as wild rabbits often eat their crops.

There are many more Easter and springtime festivities around the world. Have you ever celebrated in a different country ? What new traditions did you see?

Budget Travel – Is It Worth It?

As regular travelers, we love a good deal or trick that keeps our wallets full and happy.

We aren’t getting rich on our teaching salaries, so every trip needs a budget and a plan to stretch our cash as far as it can go.

Unfortunately, sometimes this frugal mentality gets the best of us, and we end up making very poor decisions that we regret deeply when the consequences arrive.

Sure, we’ve saved a little money, but is that always worth it? We don’t think so – especially when the cheapest choice results in only minimum savings alongside maximum discomfort.

We want to share some of our funniest and most ridiculous “budget travel” stories – please, learn from our mistakes!

Shanghai

Shanghai is an expensive city, so we couldn’t believe our luck when we found a hotel at nearly half the cost of every other “cheap” option. Of course, we should have seen that as a red flag, but we were blinded by the money we were saving. We happily booked a room and patted ourselves on the back for our shrewdness.

We started to realize our mistake when the taxi drove us from one end of the city to the other, and then kept going. Where were we? Why was it taking almost 2 hours to get to our room? Was the taxi fare going to be more expensive than the room itself?

When we finally arrived, we were in the middle of nowhere. You couldn’t even tell that we were in the largest city of China anymore.

Later we figured out that we were next to a different airport and the hotel was mostly for people with overnight layovers. But we weren’t flying out of that area, and now we were in the worst location possible.

To add insult to injury, our room was horrid in every sense of the word.

Lesson learned: Some things are more important than cost. Location should always be a top priority in your accommodations.

The centre of Shanghai was getting further away.

Reykjavik

What’s worse than a hotel in a terrible location?

No hotel at all.

Yes, we once decided to save money by skipping a hotel altogether.

We had an early morning flight, and we thought we could get away with a homeless night in Iceland by staying overnight at the airport.

There were several problems with that plan. First, Reykjavik’s airport had strict rules about not sleeping. There were signs forbidding it, and security guards roamed the halls waking up any sleeping travelers. Second, we missed the last bus to the airport anyway, so we couldn’t get there until morning.

Where did we spend that night? In a bus station, with no heater, during a blizzard. Suddenly the extra 23 dollars we’d saved on accommodations didn’t seem nearly worth it.

Lesson learned: Don’t voluntarily go homeless. Especially during winter in the Arctic Circle.

An arctic blizzard made it an uncomfortable evening.

Myanmar

To save a measly 5 dollars, we ended up in a wood hut full of spiders, cockroaches, and flies. Just 5 dollars!

Lesson learned: Concrete is worth another 5 dollars. Always..

Koh Samui

When you live in Bangkok, getting to Koh Samui should be a breeze.

There are daily direct flights, you’ll only spend about 30 minutes in the air, and then you’ll have a quick 5-minute taxi ride to the center of the island.

But we always know how to make things more difficult.

Again, trying to save money, here’s what we did instead: Plane to Surathani, a 2-hour bus ride, a 2-hour ferry, and then a 1-hour song tao. We saved about 40 dollars.

Lesson learned: Just go direct when its available! Travel days are stressful enough without adding several legs to your journey.

Take the cut and fly sometimes.

Vietnam

Ah, night buses. They are a frugal travelers dream!  They are cheap, you can skip a night in a hotel, and along with saving you money, they also save you some time.

There’s just one catch: they are horrid.

They play loud, terrible music.

They honk their horn every second (and so do the other cars on the road).

The toilets leak and stink up the whole bus.

They drive like mad.

You won’t sleep, but you will be terrified, stressed, and annoyed.

Lesson learned: No, you won’t sleep through the journey. Save yourself the headache and book a flight.

The night buses are grim. 

Sri Lanka

Once again giving up a simple, direct flight, we ended up with an 8-hour layover in Mumbai. If those 8 hours weren’t reason enough for regret, we also quickly realized how ridiculous this flight itinerary was. Bangkok to Sri Lanka – stopping in Mumbai meant we had gone past our final destination just to turn around again.

Lesson learned: Check a map to see if your flight plan makes sense. You might save some money with certain itineraries, but you could also be wasting a lot of time.

Have you ever found yourself in a ridiculous situation while trying to save money? We want to hear your stories!

Songkran: Behind the Party

Those who find themselves in Thailand for Songkran, the country’s New Year Festival, will enjoy huge water fights and parties with both locals and fellow visitors. It’s quite the experience: hilarious, a little mischievous, and pleasently random from the western point of view.

But how many travelers truly understand what they are celebrating and why these traditions exist?

When participating in a foreign holiday abroad, knowing a little background on the festival often makes it a more memorable and meaningful experience. Here’s what you should know about Songkran:

  • It’s name comes from a Sanskrit word that speaks of the passage of time and transformation. It is believed to signify  a fresh start. You can put old mistakes and struggles behind you and start anew.
  • There are three rules you are meant to follow on this particular day. 1) Put your work aside for the day, and don’t encourage others to work by shopping, eating out, or hiring any services. 2) Do nothing to harm other humans or animals. 3) Only tell the truth.
  • The water fights and chalky pastes are for purification. Think of it as washing away the negatives in your life. After the celebrations, you are clean and ready for a new year full of hope.

  • It’s not all a party. Traditionally, the mornings tend to start on a more serious note. People will sprinkle water over the elderly in their family, the graves of their ancestors, and a statue of the Buddha.
  • It’s also a time for charity. Donations are made and food is given to monks at the local temples.

  • Bright colors are worn to celebrate Spring. You will see a lot of bright floral shirts and flower necklaces. This is welcoming and celebrating the warmest time of the year in Thailand.
  • Fireworks are set off to scare away malicious spirits. These displays are most common in the South.
  • Similar to China, each new year is represented by an animal. The same animals are used, but the years do not match. In Thailand, 2017 will be the year of the Monkey, a time for playfulness, optimism, curiosity, and fun.

 

Songkran Festival – Where to Celebrate and What to Know

Once a year, Thai streets fill with happy party goers holding water guns, hoses and buckets. It’s Songkran, and it’s right around the corner. Are you ready for a massive water fight? We’ll help you prepare.

What is it?

Songkran is Thailand’s New Year festival. The new year begins on the 13th of April every year, with the festival usually lasting from the 13th – 15th April, if not longer. Thailand’s Songkran festival ties in with many lunar new year festivals and holidays being celebrated across Asia in countries such as Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Sri Lanka and parts of India.

Traditionally the celebrations center around a water festival. Everyone, young and old, gathers in the streets with their families and engages in water fights and street parties. The water is used to clear away the misfortunes of the old year and signify a fresh start to the new one.

Where should you celebrate in Thailand?

Bangkok – While most of the city vanishes to their hometowns, Bangkok becomes pleasantly quiet for the period. Even so, there is no shortage of places to gather and have a splashing time. RCA has a stage and arena set up for an all-night party. Khao San Road is usually bustling with locals and backpackers, while Silom Road (Patpong) closes for traffic and fills with celebrations. Many locals will take to smaller sois while various hotels and residences offer tickets for Songkran pool parties.

Join the party on Silom Road

Chiang Mai – The party is centered around Tha Pae Gate. You’ll find stages, music, plenty of water, and crowds of party goers. There are also many street stores, so you’ll never run out of food, water, water guns and beer.

The Southern Towns and Islands – Wherever you choose down south, there will be some sort of Songkran celebration going on. Two popular islands include Koh Samui around Chaweng Beach and Phuket around Patong Beach. Other beach areas we’d recommend are Ao Nang and Krabi. Wherever you end up, you’ll find plenty of party opportunities by the beach.

Where can you celebrate around the world?

Not in Thailand this year? There are a number of other Asian countries that embrace the Thai New Year festivities and water parties, although they’ll tend to have a more traditional approach. You can find celebrations all over Laos, but specifically in Vientiane. Other places include Siem Reap in Cambodia, Yangon in Myanmar and parts of China.

Songkran lovers celebrating in China.

What should you know?

Clothes – It’s true that Thailand is scorching hot this time of year, and Songkran is a water fight, but keep in mind that Thailand and many Asian countries are conservative Buddhist countries. Depending on where you are celebrating, your clothes should be respectful. Take note of what everyone else is wearing – especially the locals.

Nighttime – Want to party all night? You’ll need to find the right place. Festivals on the streets shut down quickly when darkness falls. Designated party zones usually keep going until the early hours of the morning. If you find yourself in a place that seems to be winding down, you’ll need to be flexible. Find a street or party that’s still hopping, and don’t continue to soak people who are ready to call it a night.

You can’t stay dry – It’s just impossible! If you don’t like the idea of getting splashed, Songkran isn’t the festival for you. Even a quick walk to the store will result in someone throwing a bucket of water on you. If you dare to look annoyed by this, three more buckets will take aim. Smile and enjoy yourself!


You won’t know what to expect – Sometimes the water is freezing. You might even notice some ice cubes in the mix. Sometimes the water will feel like warm bath water. Some water has soap in it, so you’ll want to avoid getting it in your eyes or mouth. You just don’t know what’s coming until you’ve been splashed!

Motorbikes and Scooters – The most common time for motorbike accidents and traffic fatalities in Thailand is Songkran. If you decide to drive a bike during the water festival, stay alert and move slowly. Water will be thrown at you as you drive, and the roads will be slippery with soap.

Protect your valuables – It’s easy to find waterproof phone cases during Songkran. Buy one; you’ll need it.

Think before you splash – Be thoughtful and don’t throw water over monks, babies or the elderly.


Got a funny story from Songkran? What did you like? What did you hate? Let us know.

The Magic and Myths of Sicily

I have always been a bit fascinated by the different mythologies, legends, and superstitions around the world – so Sicily was like a magical playground for me.

This Italian island was ripe with stories about ancient gods and curses and heroes among men. I could feel it on every street, and I wanted to hear every story.

If you share my passion for the otherworldly around the world, here’s what you’ll want to know before you arrive in Sicily.

There is a monster trapped under Mount Etna. 

Mount Etna is one of the most famous active volcanoes in all of Europe, and it has quite the legend behind its towering and ominous presence.

When Zeus ruled the heavens, he was once challenged by a monster called Typhon, who wanted the cosmos for himself. If he could steal the kingdom of Zeus, all humans and divine beings would be under his command. He concocted a scheme and attempted to kill Zeus one night as he slept.

Typhon was easily defeated, but Zeus knew he was too dangerous to continue to roam freely. To contain the monster, he imprisoned him under Mount Etna where he remains to this day.

Sicily is the home of Cyclops.

But Sicily’s most infamous monster is not trapped under a volcano, he is living in caves and appearing in many legends to oppose the heroes of old.

Cyclops first appearance comes in the Odyssey, where he eats four soldiers trying to journey back home from the Trojan war. As the rest of the men escape, the monster pitches a fit throwing large boulders after them. These rocks can still be seen today off the coastline of Sicily; they are called ‘I Faraglioni di Aci Trezza.’

Cyclops later falls in love with a sea nymph named Galatea. He is overcome with jealousy upon discovering her lover, Aci. Again, Cyclops decides large rocks are the answer to his problems. He crushes Aci under one, believing he now has Galatea all to himself. But Zeus, always the romantic, reunites the couple by transforming Aci’s blood into a river and Galatea into sea foam.

The god of wine made a delicious discovery here.

But not every legend set in Sicily features monsters or creatures from the dark! Here’s a feel-good story sure to put a smile on your face:

One day a young god, Dionysus, was exploring Sicily during his travels. He found an unfamiliar vine, cut off a piece, and brought it home to experiment with. This vine was a grape vine, and soon Dionysus had created a new favorite drink: wine. Needless to say, it’s popularity spread among all divinity and mankind.

We’ll all raise a cup to that!