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A Day At The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary in Thailand

With bunches of bananas in hand, we walked slowly up the hill through the trees and into a clearing. It was there I encountered my first elephant, up close and personal. There were three of them actually, happily chomping away at the sugar cane that littered the ground around them. The group we came with jumped in without hesitation joining in with the mahouts to feed the three large creatures now turning their attention to the bananas offered. I stopped at the edge of the clearing and watched for a moment. I wanted to take it all in, this incredibly odd and surreal experience. It was somehow nothing like I’d expected and at the same time, more. Perhaps I expected a larger than life, life-altering experience when what I actually got was a calm and peaceful sense of being, in that moment, complete. I had finally found my elephants.

The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary

elephant jungle sanctuary chiang mai

We spent the night before our trip to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary at Baan Kuhn hostel, also run by Mamma Noi and where we had to go to purchase tickets to the sanctuary. As we had mentioned in our last post on The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, it was through the efforts of Mamma Noi and the Karen Hill Tribe, with whom she is working, that the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary was established and we thought it fitting that we stay, at least the one night, at the hostel.

The group of us heading to the elephant sanctuary were all guests of the hostel which meant we left straight from the accommodation with no detours to pick anyone up. With a final goodbye, and a bottle of water for each of us from Mama Noi, we set off in the “minibus”. If you’ve ever ridden in a minibus in Thailand you’ll know that it is really more of a pickup with a few seats in the cab and a covered trailer lined with rows of benches on either side. It can make for a bumpy ride if you are going over unpaved roads…and we were definitely were! Fortunately for us, we somehow got put into the cab and had a little less of a rocky ride – less being the operative word.

The ride was not bad until we hit the mountains. It was here that the road turned to a narrow, rut-covered, dirt road – it would be futile to pave the road, our driver told us, as the monsoon season brings large rains that flood and cause landslides that wash out the roads each year. Lucky for us, the road was dry and our driver was experienced. We made our way to the hill tribe village and were greeted by several people, including Robert, one of the instrumental people in organizing and creating this sanctuary.



Hopping out of the truck, we all grabbed our backpacks as the bunches of bananas and cases of water were distributed among us to carry. The excitement was building. We could feel it vibrating, see it clearly on each others’ faces as we started out, on foot, through the rice fields and forest.

Meeting With Elephants of Thailand

visiting the elephant jungle sanctuary

We chose The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary because we had wanted to visit elephants in a more natural setting, knowing they were not being abused, forced to take riders, chained, or mistreated. We wanted to see the elephants roaming free. And roaming free these elephants certainly were!

After a hike through rice paddy fields and some hilly paths, we found our way to a clearing where we were able to put down our bags and take a moment to don the traditionally mahout garb before heading to find the elephants. That was the beauty of the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. The elephants weren’t just brought to you… you had to go find them, in the forest, where they roamed with the mahouts (their keepers) in as natural a setting as was manageable.

We took the bunches of bananas and were led up a hill to a forested area where we were told we would most likely find the elephants. After a short climb up a gentle hill, the trees gave way to a small clearing. It was here that we had our first glimpse of them. Three elephants stood chewing happily on sugarcane under the shade of the tall trees. A bursting energy seemed to erupt from the entire group – a silent excitement that bubbled up in uncontrollable smiles and quickened steps. THIS was why we wanted to visit Thailand. This experience of coming face to face with a creature so magnificent and incredible, of looking into its intelligent eyes with depths we’ll never fully understand, and for one moment sharing a connection.

visiting elephants at the elephant jungle sanctuary

Taking turns, we handed bananas over to the two adult females and one baby elephant, taking time to stroke their trunks and sides. The baby was incredibly playful. Head butting the mahouts and some of the group, reaching its trunk around bodies and attempting to sneak in some extra bananas. He was cheeky and he was happy. Having been born and raised in a sanctuary, he was unaware of any other way of life. Unfortunately, for the two older females, life had been harder for them until they were taken in by the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary.

mahout at elephant jungle sanctuary

One of the men of the village explained to us the circumstances in which the older two were found. He went through the techniques used to break them, to train them and to keep them in line. It was devastating but also heartwarming to know that they would no longer be subjected to this treatment again, especially as the younger of the two females was pregnant.

It didn’t take long for the elephants to demolish the banana offering we brought and decide that it was time to leave. Since this was about them, no effort was made to stop them. Instead, they were followed by the mahouts and we made our way back down to where we had left our bags to enjoy some lunch.

lunch at the elephant jungle sanctuary

Food in Thailand is amazing and is one of our favourite cuisines. The food that they cooked and served for lunch could compete for one of the best meals we’ve had while in Thailand, and even abroad. Freshly prepared chicken, veggies and noodle dishes, rice and fresh fruits were laid out for the entire group to enjoy. It was a wonderful time to reflect on our first meeting with the elephants as well and to get to know the rest of the group.

After lunch we were told we could change into clothes we didn’t mind getting dirty or wet. For the majority of us, that meant bathing suits. This time, the elephants were led to us for what appeared to be one of their favourite activities of the day – a mud bath.

With everyone joining in, we helped the elephants play in the mud. And when we say play, we mean play. They rolled around, they threw it on their backs, they threw it at each other… and they threw it at us! If it wasn’t enjoyment, we don’t know what it was!

elephant mud bath at elephant jungle sanctuary

Following the incredibly fun (and messy) mud spa, we headed to the nearby stream to meet back up with the elephants and help them bathe. This was another incredible up-close experience. Standing close to them and cleaning off the mud, we had yet another chance to really appreciate these animals. Large and powerful, yet gentle and timid. We knew a lot of their calm had to do with their upbringing and treatment, but seeing the playfulness of the baby and looking into all their eyes again, we could tell it’s also a part of their basic nature.

After the elephants were finished bathing and we’d all had a swim of our own in the stream, we headed back to dry off. The rest of the group would be returning to the hostel, while we had booked an overnight stay with the hill tribe. Knowing we’d be seeing the elephants again, we happily went on our way to learn more about the people who opened their lands to us and the elephants.

A Night With The Karen Hill Tribe

As we had mentioned in our last post, it is through the help and efforts of the Karen Hill Tribe Village and Mamma Noi that the sanctuary was created. Bringing in tourists to visit the elephants for the day became only one part of the experience. Staying within the village for a night, or two, was another part and we decided to stay a night to better understand the program and the people of the village.

staying at the elephant jungle sanctuary with the karen hill tribe

After the rest of the group left, we were brought back to the main part of the village by Robert who, as mentioned, was one of the integral members of the sanctuary’s creation and a cornerstone of the program itself. We sat for a while, chatting with him about the village and its history, the sanctuary and its origins and the hopes his people have for the future.

We learned of the struggles to keep the land. The struggles to acclimate to a changing cultural landscape where development and advancement occurs around them and without them. The government, he said, provided them with a handful of solar power panels… years ago. Most of them are now no longer working so they are stuck with even more limited power options and little by way of means to improve their way of life.

It’s become a controversial topic. We discussed it and he acknowledged it. Greater society would prefer to keep these more isolated and primitive cultures untouched, “untainted” by the hands of tourism and technology. But Robert told us, that’s not what he and his family want. The people of his village believe they deserve a chance to advance as well. Why shouldn’t they be able to better themselves and their situation, he asked us. We couldn’t argue his point.

With this in mind, and the connection to Mamma Noi with her desire to help elephants, the sanctuary and the stay in his village was born. Hoping to provide more for the village and the elephants of the country, it was established and open up to tourists. Hopefully, we were told, the worries of poor rice harvests and the necessity to partake in backbreaking work simply to produce and collect food, would lessen.
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary CHiang Mai Hill Tribe Village

We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening with Robert and members of his family. We took a tour of the area, helped feed the livestock, prepared a meal on an open fire and made our way to our room in one of Robert’s siblings’ houses who was visiting in-laws in a another village. We spent the day and evening without electricity, cut off from the world and, in the process, deepened our understanding of a culture struggling to retain their identity while at the same time, attempting to advance and integrate with the rest of society.

baby elephant at the elephant jungle sanctuary chiang mai

The next day brought a new group of visitors to the sanctuary and we were able to participate as we had the day before. We woke up for breakfast with Robert and headed to meet the new arrivals. Walking behind them, we watched their faces as they approached the elephants for the first time and saw the same awe-filled expressions we knew were wore the previous day. To our surprise, the awe of seeing the elephants up close was still as strong for us.

This time though, we got to take in the experience with an eye to all that they were looking to achieve at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary and this time, when we looked into the eyes of the elephants, we also saw a glimmer of recognition.

An Unforgettable Experience At The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary

If you are looking to visit the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, tickets for 1-, 2- and 3-day visits can be purchased at Baan Kuhn Hostel in Chiang Mai – 119/10 Thapae Rd, Chang Klan, Chiang Mai, 50100 tel: 053-273415. More information for visits or volunteering can be found on their site at www.elephantjunglesanctuary.com.

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Beginner Travel Hacks to Travel for Less

By Anne Slater-Brooks of Travel The Globe 4 Less

What if there was a way you could stay in top hotels for free? Or you could fly business class for less than economy? Would you be tempted to travel more?

Well rest assured, it really is possible to bag free hotel nights and fly in style for less than the price of an economy ticket. It’s called travel hacking and for those unfamiliar with the term, this is simply the art of using airline and hotel rewards programs to travel for less.

Travel Hacks To Get You Going

Whether you’ve never heard of travel hacking and want to get started pronto, or are looking for some tricks to add to your arsenal, here are my top tips for kick-starting, or growing, your travel-hack journey.

Hotel Loyalty Programs

hotel robe hyatt city of dreams

Make sure that every hotel night you book is rewarding you in some way by signing up to their rewards program. You have two choices, either join the individual hotel loyalty program (but then you will be restricted to hotels in that group) or opt for hotels.com, which allows you to earn rewards for every night booked, irrespective of the chain or hotel you stay at.

The latter offers more flexibility but means you may miss out on achieving tier status (levels reached that result in greater rewards) and thus better benefits. You do however, earn one free hotel night for every ten stayed. Other programs allocate a grade to each room type and this corresponds to the number of points required for a redemption.

The best thing about hotel reward programs is that rooms are entirely free. No taxes or fees to pay on top. All you have to do is collect enough points to book one or more free nights. It has been known for me to enjoy a trip to the Florida Keys almost entirely free (excluding flights from the UK of course!)

You can also double dip by taking out a branded hotel credit card, meaning that every hotel you book will not only count towards your ten free nights, but will earn you additional hotel rewards.

Get Cheeky

This is just a minor point in relation to existing points balances. You may occasionally find that a long forgotten balance you collected from some past hotel stay has expired. This is by no means a guarantee but I have had success by simply emailing them and politely asking them to reinstate the points.



This is less likely to be successful with airlines but often you can prevent miles expiring with them by simply buying something through their shopping portal or taking part in an online survey. For instance, to prevent my American Express miles expiring this week, I simply signed up to E-Rewards and completed a brief survey. I also bagged 100 points in the process!

Flight Reward Programs

westjet in the air

Most airlines offer a loyalty scheme but before you go filling in lots of forms to join them all, you need to think smart. Many airlines are members of an airline alliance meaning you only need to join one loyalty program within the alliance to earn points for all flights taken with any of the airline alliance members.

This is a much better approach as it allows you to build points balances quicker than building up minuscule balances in lots of programs only to see them expire if you don’t use them within a specific time period.

Miles collected can be redeemed for flights in any class but the downside is that usually taxes and fees are extra. If you are based in the US, you are lucky because your taxes can be incredibly low allowing you to redeem points for flights for little more than a Starbucks coffee!

If you are in places like the UK or Canada, the taxes and fees are a killer and for this reason, I don’t usually advocate using rewards to book flights in economy and instead prefer to go upmarket booking flights in business or first class and depending on the program, using these rewards for upgraded seats can even allow you to fly business for less than economy.

Get Credit From Your Credit Cards

Now this is where it gets super interesting! Once you are signed up for those all important airline reward programs, you can apply for a credit card allowing you to add to your balance significantly. American Express offers a variety of cards which allow you to convert membership rewards into points for many airlines, giving you great flexibility.

They also offer very attractive sign up bonuses with the AMEX Gold card paying tens of thousands of points after spending an initial minimum amount. The sign up bonuses tend to be really high if you are US or Canadian based, though they’re pretty significant for those in other areas of the world as well.

American Express may not be for everyone however and if not, branded cards providing rewards for specific airlines such as Emirates, Etihad and Lufthansa are available in the UK . There’s a much longer list of available cards in the US (you lucky things!) so you can really target the card you sign up for to coincide with the airline reward program you joined, such as Southwest, Delta, and Jet Blue. In Canada, credit cards are often available with a travel rewards option and the points can be converted into the specific points used by each airline before a ticket purchase is made.

As an example, I have a British Airways American Express card and AVIOS points, but I also have a Lloyds Bank AVIOS Duo which includes a MasterCard for those occasions when AMEX isn’t acceptable.

Earn Top Cashback

top cashback logo

Top Cashback in the UK is a godsend. It allows for cashback to be converted into AVIOS with British Airways or Tesco Clubcard points (more on that next!). Substantial Cashback balances can soon be accumulated if you make a point of conducting all your online shopping by clicking through to the relevant store from Top Cashback. Not all stores are covered but there are hundreds which are. For instance, I book my trains, hotels, some flights, Christmas presents and more through the store.

Cashback earned can be cashed out for real money if you are in need of some holiday spending, or alternatively, you can convert them into miles with British Airways. You can also convert into Tesco Clubcard vouchers and then convert them to AVIOS (British Airways currency) earning 12,000 points instead of 5,000 if you send them directly to British Airways.

Top Cashback USA also allows you to earn Cashback on many hotel and airline bookings however this is cashback in the true sense of the word. It may help you out with spending money for your next trip, or even allow you to purchase a few extra air miles but there is currently no facility to convert them directly into airline or hotel reward points. On this one, us Brits really have the better deal! Although American based, Top Cashback USA is also open to residents of Canada or Mexico, though not all retailers will ship outside of the US. In addition, there are limited payout methods for residents outside North America.

Interestingly, Top Cashback is also available in India, Japan and China on dedicated sites for those countries.

Use your Tesco Clubcard Or Other Customer Rewards

For anyone unfamiliar with Tesco, it is one of the leading supermarkets in the UK and offers a loyalty card, known as Tesco Clubcard (similar to your CVV Reward card) whereby you earn points for shopping in store, at petrol stations and online. These can then be converted into either Virgin Flying Miles or British Airways AVIOS.

In Canada and the US, equivalent cards, such as Air Miles or Aeroplan miles, are also available to be collected at grocery stores, gas stations and various other retailers and can be used to purchase flights or hotel stays, or converted into equivalent points on an airline or hotel chains points program.

If you pay with your credit card you will also earn those reward points on top – double whammy indeed!

Shopping Portals

The sake and wine selection in your room at the Nobu Manila

Almost every airline and hotel brand seems to offer either a shopping portal or partner earning opportunities. Similar to Top Cashback, if you head to the hotel or airline website first, find the store you are interested in, click through and buy, you will earn additional points payable within six to eight weeks.

This is definitely one of my top ways to earn. Between Top Cashback, British Airways Gate 365 and the AVIOS store, I have thousands of stores covered and after credit cards, this is my most lucrative earning strategy.


Related Post: Learn some great road trip travel hacks!

road trip travel hacks


Sign Up For Updates From Travel Hacking Blogs

When I started travel hacking, I found the information on other blogs invaluable so I promise this isn’t just a pitch to encourage you to part with your email address. Signing up for updates keeps you advised of new offers and opportunities to earn more rewards.

My top picks are Head For Points in the UK, and any of the Boarding Area sites in the US. The Points Guy also has a section dedicated to Canadian credit cards among other general tips and guides for anyone looking to delve into travel hacking.

Use FlyerMiler

When it comes to redemptions I highly recommend checking out FlyerMiler which allows you to search for the best value reward flights for your chosen destination. You can filter your results by class of travel, redemption cost, airline and other options making it a quick way to establish the best value redemption options. You may even wish to use this system to research which airline alliance may be best for you as it would be shame to commit to one airline to discover they charge double for their redemptions of a similar airline you could jump into bed with.

There can be a huge difference between redemption prices of different airlines and some airlines regularly offer redemption sales. I’ve seen flights to Beijing from London with Lufthansa in business for as little as 70,000 whilst British airways would charge you around double this in points.

Start With These Top Travel Hacks 

So there you have it, some great ways to help you on your travel hacking journey. It does take time and research is needed to workout the best programs and strategies for you, but in the end the travel rewards will be worth it!


Anne Travel the globe 4 less profileABOUT THE AUTHOR

Anne, of TravelTheGlobe4Less, works in financial services by day and moonlights as a travel blogger over on www.traveltheglobe4less.com by night. She has travelled to more than seventy countries on six continents and uses travel hacking to indulge in business class flights and luxury hotels. You can also find her on Twitter or Facebook.


 

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The Best Hikes In New Zealand

By Rea & Nejc

New Zealand is a one-of-a-kind country with amazing coffee and friendly people but most notably, it has the most diverse and stunning nature we have seen on our travels so far. In this small island country you can find absolutely everything: from beautiful beaches, wild ocean, jungle and forests to photogenic mountains, glaciers, active thermal areas, lakes, fiords and much more. We have spent one whole year working in New Zealand and discovering this amazing country and travelled to almost every corner of it.

Exploring New Zealand By Foot

As big nature lovers, we decided to explore as much of New Zealand’s nature as possible on foot. We were absolutely impressed by the thousands of possibilities that this country has to offer: from simple one day hikes to advanced multiple day hikes which are all very well marked and preserved. The truth is that New Zealand is undoubtedly one of the friendliest hiking destinations.

No matter where you are, the simple one to three hour walks will always be available to stretch your legs and breathe in the beauty of the surrounding nature. The best way to see what short hikes are available in the area is to simply pop in to the local i-site and have a nice chat with whomever may help you. Also, if you are on a road trip, you will see countless brown boards along New Zealand’s highways indicating points of interest. Just pick the ones you might be interested in visiting and you’ll discover many off-the-beaten paths you didn’t even know existed!

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However, if you’re a hiker by heart and you would like to spend more days exploring New Zealand’s nature, there are also many multiple day hikes available all over the country. Nine of them are named as the New Zealand Great Walks and get pretty busy during the season (October – April), but there are also many others that are less crowded and also well, cheaper!




If you go for a multiple day hike, you have two options of spending the night: you can either decide to carry all your camping gear with you and spend the night in provided campsites, or you can stay in a hut, sharing a bunk bed with other people. Either way, you will have to book the hut or the campsite in advance as they get really busy in the summer. However, this only goes for the nine great walks – all the other walks should be done without previous bookings. You know how it goes: first come, first served!

5 Of The Best Hikes In New Zealand

In one year in New Zealand, we’ve done a lot of hiking, and we are now ready to share our favourite ones with you, the ones we think are the best hikes in New Zealand!

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing

tongariro-alpine-crossing-new-zealand

When planning your hikes in New Zealand, this hike will probably be the first one you will come across. It is referred to as the best day hike in the world by Lonely Planet, and we’ll be honest, once you’ve done it, you will understand. With its indescribably beautiful volcanic landscape, it is certainly the best hike we’ve done so far.

The day before the hike, we booked a shuttle bus that picked us up early in the morning and took us to the Mangatepopo car park where we started the hike. Although you can do the hike from either direction, it is recommended to start from here for two simple reasons: first because you’ll get much better views from this side, and second because it makes the hike much, much easier to start from this point.

The morning was cold, but the sky was clear, and even before the sunrise we knew we were going to have a perfect day. It happens very rarely that you have a sunny day without wind when crossing the Tongariro, and we were one of the few lucky ones.

The first part of the hike already blew our minds: with its spectacular views over Mt Ngauruhoe (also known as Mt Doom from The Lord of the Rings), it was simply the perfect way to start the morning. After we warmed up our bodies, we slowly started ascending and reached the South Crater where we stopped for a short break. We then continued to the Red Crater (the highest point of the track if you decide not to climb to the top of  Mt Ngauruhoe), and then slowly descended to one of Tongariro’s biggest highlights: the Emerald lakes. Allow an hour to stop here for lunch and take pictures, as I am pretty sure you will want to take many of them. With its crazy green colours, these lakes are one-of-a-kind! Recharged with energy, we continued our way to the Blue lake, and then all the way down to the Ketetahi car park, trying to capture the best views over lake Taupo on the other side.

The Kepler Track

kepler-track-new-zealand-best-hikes

Being part of the nine New Zealand’s Great Walks, the Kepler track is well worth the effort. This 60 km loop track can also be done from either direction but spending your first night in Luxmore hut, and thus doing the track from this direction, would be a much better option.

The Kepler track is part of the Fiordland National Park, the third wettest area in the world, and having good weather during this 4 day hike is like winning the lottery! The bad thing about the New Zealand Great Walks is that you have to book the huts or campsites in advance and therefore you can’t postpone the track if the weather is bad. Well, I guess we were one of the few lucky ones again as the weather was on our side.

We left the car park early in the morning, still with some clouds surrounding the valley of Te Anau. The first hour of the track was an easy walk, but it got much harder once we started making our way up through the beech forest. We reached the Luxmore hut in early afternoon, with enough time for a cup of tea while enjoying the beautiful views on the golden tussocks all around us. We thought the second day would be easier than the first one, but we couldn’t have been more wrong! The first steep ascend was still bearable and well worth the views over Fiordland, Lake Te Anau and the surrounding mountains.=, but once we started to descend deep down into the valley, we started to feel our legs, our knees, and even our arms; we were tired and hungry, but happy as ever.

The third day was not as exciting as the second one, but still very nice as we walked out the forest, overlooking the mountains, but this time from the bottom to the top. The weather forecast for that day wasn’t very promising, and we started checking the alternative options to finish the track earlier. Although we already booked the night in the last hut, we ended the track a day earlier at the Rainbow Reach car park. We were quite happy we made this decision as the rain started to fall late in the afternoon, and continued throughout the whole next day.

The Routeburn Track

routeburn-track-new-zealand-best-hikes

Another New Zealand’s Great Walk, The Routeburn track is the second most popular right after the Milford track, and is therefore extremely busy. We tried to book the huts more than two months in advance, bud sadly figured out that there were no beds left to be booked. Tracking the Routeburn was high on our bucket list, and after doing some research, we figured out we could actually do it without spending the night.

This 32 km long track can be done in 2 to 4 days from either direction. This information was the key for our decision to do half the track and head back from one direction, and then do another half from the other one. The big disadvantage about this track is that it starts on one side of the mountain range, and finishes on the other one, meaning that there is no direct road connection through the mountains between the two points. To get from one side to another, you have to drive over 300 km around the mountains, which makes this track very inconvenient. The good news is that it is totally manageable the way we were planning to do it: splitting it in half.

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do the first half of the track that starts on the way to Milford Sound as it was pouring rain for days, and we got a little tired of waiting for the sun to show up. Fortunately, the opposite was true when we attempted the other half that starts in Glenorchy, near Queenstown.

The first part of the track didn’t seem very promising as the valleys and the mountains were completely wrapped up in clouds when we started walking early in the morning, but once we reached the Harris Saddle, the highest point of the track, the sky suddenly cleared up completely and the most amazing views were revealed in front of our eyes: the beautiful hills, topped with yellow tussocks on one side, and the majestic mountains, covered with glaciers of Mount Aspiring National Park on the other one. It was a perfect day.

routeburn-track-best-hikes-new-zeland

Once we started making our way down back to where we started, we could perfectly enjoy the beautiful views we missed on our way up, and we reached our starting point in late afternoon.

Attempting this track in two halves is certainly not for everyone as you’ll walk over 30 km in one day for about 10h. However, if you’re a fit hiker and decide to do half the Routeburn up to the Harris Saddle and back, you will probably have the walk of your lifetime.

Roys Peak

roys-peak-new-zealand-best-hikes

I don’t actually believe I am saying this, but Roys peak nearly beats Tongariro crossing in terms of the amazing views. This demanding one day hike above Lake Wanaka is simply a must do experience. It could be quite hot during summer as there is almost no shade to hide yourself from the sun, but we did it at the end of March and it seemed like perfect timing.

The hike itself is not as diverse as other New Zealand’s tracks, but once you get to the top of the mountain, your mind will be literally blown away. Getting to the top is quite a challenge as the hike is a steep and constant 3 hour climb, but don’t give up: the view over Lake Wanaka, its town and the mountains of Mount Aspiring National Park in the background is simply breathtaking.

The Abel Tasman National Park Walk

abel-tasman-national-park-new-zealand

Again one of the nine New Zealand’s great walks, Abel Tasman track is very unlike the others. It is actually a coastal walk that can be combined with kayaking, and doing both activities is a must! We decided to kayak through the upper part of the national park, the marine reserve, and walk the other half back to the starting point.

There is no other way to kayak through the marine reserve but by booking a guided tour, and we were a bit skeptical about the whole thing as we usually don’t do “tourist activities”. Turns out it was one of the best trips, and we would absolutely recommend it to anyone. By kayaking you’ll get a different perspective on the beaches, as well as be able to see the typical New Zealand’s coastal wildlife: different kinds of birds and sea lions will be your constant companions.

Walking on the coast line and ascending up and down through the hills surrounding it is just as amazing as kayaking. Between hopping from one beach to another, to climbing up on the hills to get the beautiful views over the sea and the whole national park, it makes it a perfect hike if combined with kayaking.

 


Curious wanderers profile                                         ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rea & Njec, of Curious Wanderers, are a travelling couple from Slovenia who found a mutual passion for discovering new countries and cultures. Together, they sold their belongings and left their country to travel the world! With a love of nature they also explore the outdoors of the countries they visit, especially by navigating many a hiking trail! You can also follow their travels on Facebook & Instagram!


 

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Must Visit Toronto Neighbourhoods

Toronto. A constantly changing metropolis checkered with recent history and populated with people from all walks of life. If you’re taking your cue from the rapper Drake, you probably know it as “the 6”, though for years it was affectionately dubbed the ‘T-Dot’. Whatever you choose to call it, Toronto is for any traveller and, as Canada’s largest city, a destination that offers some of the most multicultural and dynamic experiences in the world.

If you’re headed to Toronto, the sprawling cityscape, vast network of roads and unending number of neighbourhoods, blending from one into the other, may leave you wondering exactly where you should be going to optimize your time in the city. Even to those of us from Toronto and the surrounding area, the districts tend to blur, though each one is unique in its own way.

Exploring Some of the Best Neighbourhoods in Toronto

Toronto Neighbourhoods Union Station

To help you narrow down the areas and explore the city even better than a local, we’ve teamed up with Expedia.ca to put together some of the best neighbourhoods in Toronto to visit! In case you want to know more about the city or need even more Toronto inspiration, check out their Toronto Travel Guide!

Bloor-Yorkville

Looking for gourmet restaurants and designer shopping? Elegance and fine dining combine in one of Toronto’s most fashionable neighbourhoods. This area is a huge shopping district boasting haute couture while also offering visitors a taste of Toronto’s theatre and fine art scene.

Each year, the restaurants, shopping and art of this chic neighbourhood draw stars and film buffs alike who have come to the city for the Toronto International Film Festival. Take a stroll in this area at the right time of year and you may find yourself bumping into Ryan Reynolds, Christopher Plummer or Drew Barrymore.

You’ll also find city parks like the Village of Yorkville Park, which continues the neighbourhood theme of art and design, or Ramsden Park, which offers a taste of nature and outdoor sport in the middle of a commercial hub.

Not enough culture and art for you in Yorkville? Just a short walk away gets you to the Royal Ontario Museum and the Planetarium.

**Bloor-Yorkville is approximately within the boundaries of Bloor St West, Avenue Road, Davenport Rd and Yonge Street. Closest subway stations for this area include Museum, Bay and the Yonge/Bloor Interchange.**

Harbourfront

Toronto Harbourfront area

If you head to the Harbourfront in the summertime, you’ll find yourself in a lakefront playground with a whole host of daily activities. It’s one of the most popular areas for tourists and with good reason.

A wave of events and festivals are ushered in with the warm weather offering music, dancing, food, film and theatre often incorporating the international flare so integral to the whole of the city. The Harboufront Centre is the main hub of activity where you’ll find most of the events of the area and is also a place we love to frequent to see what new festival or event happens to be going on.




Prefer to get on the water rather than enjoy the view from the shore or boardwalk? Boat rentals are available if you’re looking to cruise the lake and see the city line from the waters. If you’d rather be a spectator, you can hit up a baseball game at the SkyDome (true Torontonians will rarely call it The Roger’s Centre!), an event at the Air Canada Centre or observe an underwater world at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada.

Of course, no visit to Toronto, or the Harbourfront, would be complete without a closer look at the CN Tower, probably the most well-known and visited attraction in the neighbourhood.

**Harbourfront is approximately within the boundaries of Bathurst Street and Yonge Street on the North shore of Lake Ontario below Queens Quay. Closest subway station for this area is Union Station.**

Entertainment District

Just a short distance away from the Harbourfront is Toronto’s Entertainment District. It’s here that you’ll find the most activity during the Toronto International Film Festival. Fans and celebrities flock to the area to walk the red carpet and watch those films that have yet to make it to the big screen. It is such a huge event, it’s often been considered second only to the Cannes Film festival.

If you’re more partial to live theatre, the famous Roy Thomson Hall and the Princess of Wales Theatre can also be found here. Walking just outside these buildings will have celebrities like Jim Carrey and Rachel McAdams literally underfoot… on the stars of Canada’s Walk of Fame that is!

As day turns to night, no matter the season, the entertainment district becomes party central with nightclubs and lounges drawing in crowds looking to dance, enjoy a variety of music and experience the nightlife in Toronto.

**The Entertainment District is approximately within the boundaries of University Ave and Spadina Ave around King Street West. Closest subway stations for this area are Union, St. Andrew and Osgoode.**

Chinatown

Chinatown Toronto Neighbourhoods

Though the greater Toronto area has seven Chinatowns, the most well-known is located on Spadina and is often referred to as Old Chinatown. As one of the largest in North America, we are often in awe at the atmosphere and look of the area. It is completely reminiscent of the streets we walked in Beijing with colourful authentic signage and decorations gracing the many storefronts and restaurants. For us, dim sum is our first stop but you’ll also find many Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai restaurants.

With fresh markets and many places to find a cheap but delicious meal, Chinatown is a great place to visit to experience some of the cultural diversity of the city. If you’re visiting Toronto in the beginning of the year, this is the place you’ll want to be to celebrate Chinese New Year.

No matter the time of year though, a walk through Chinatown will have you enjoying the cuisine, style and traditions of a culture half the world away.

**Chinatown is approximately within the boundaries of Phoebe St and Oxford St along Spadina Ave. Closest subway stations for Chinatown are Queen’s Park, St. Patrick or Osgoode.**

Queen West

While you’ll want to visit Yorkville to find all the designer shops you need, if you’re looking for some of the most trendy shopping in the city, Queen West is where you should head. Also known as the Art and Design District, Queen West is a 2km (1.2 mile) strip lined with over 300 businesses including vintage clothing stores, shoe stores, arts and craft shops, restaurants and boutique hotels. It’s in this area that creativity abounds.

Extending further, West Queen Street West is considered a separate area though the vibe and creative bent continues from the Art and Design District. If you’re looking to discover some hidden gems, chances are you’ll have good luck in this neighbourhood.

Funky, original styles, boutique shops, many art galleries and small cafes are hallmarks of this area that is quite possibly one of the most artistic neighbourhoods in Toronto.

**Queen West is approximately within the boundaries of the King St, Queensway & Roncesvalles Ave intersection and Yonge Street along Queen Street. West Queen Street West lies on Queen Street between Bathurst St and Gladstone Ave. Closest subway stations for this area are Queen or Osgoode. The Queen St streetcar, Route 501, services the entirety of Queen St.**

Old Town

Toronto Old Town Neighbourhood

An original neighbourhood in Toronto, and the first to have an official nickname, Old Town is where you’ll find loads of history. Exploring this area offers a glimpse of the past when horse-drawn carriages clip-clopped their way down cobble stone streets, warehouses and factory buildings pumped out cast iron products and metalwork and distilleries poured with local brew.

Whether you’re a history buff looking to scope out the Victorian-era architecture that abounds in the area or are more interested in experiencing the revitalization of Old Town with its shops, restaurants and galleries, you’ll find this area provides a unique glimpse into Toronto’s heritage and local culture.

One of the must-see spots within Old Town is the St. Lawrence Market. It has been considered one of the world’s best food markets and is an integral part of Toronto’s history and current culture. You’ll also find some great deals and fresh local products from the 120 vendors that open shop 5 days a week.

For those of us who grew up in the area, regular visits as children to the market to pick up meats from the butchers, fresh produce from local farmers and straight-out-of-the-oven bread was commonplace. It’s an institution in the city that’s rooted in the history of Toronto and the memory of residents and visitors alike.

Every Sunday, when the St. Lawrence food market is closed, an antiques market is opened in the north building. Here you’ll find collectibles, antique books, vintage jewellery and a host of rare and unique items.

**Old Town is approximately within the boundaries of Queen St E and Front St E, and between Parliament St and Church St. Closest Subway Station to the Old Town is King Station.**

The Beaches

Think you can’t find sun and sand in Toronto? Think again! While not the white sand of some southern destinations, The Beaches is as close to a tropical oasis as you’ll find in Toronto with four beaches and, even though many people aren’t aware, waters that are safe to swim in.

The area is reminiscent of any other beachside town with a boardwalk for a leisurely stroll, some jogging or rollerblading, areas for beach volleyball and numerous cafes and clothing shops off the water.

Perhaps one of the biggest annual draws to the neighbourhood is the Beaches International Jazz Festival. One of Canada’s largest free jazz festivals, it spans over 10 days and draws international performers and local talent in addition to the hundreds of thousands of attendees yearly.

It’s probably not what you would expect to find in a large metropolis like Toronto but then, visitors will soon realize there’s a bit of something for everyone if you delve under the surface of the city.

**The Beaches is approximately within the boundaries of Coxwell Ave and Victoria Park Ave below Kingston Road. Take the Queen Street East, Route 501, streetcar to the Beaches.**

Distillery Historic District

Distillery Historic District Toronto

Though technically part of the Old Town, the Distillery Historic District could probably be considered an area to itself. If the Old Town as a whole offers you a glimpse of the past, the Distillery District transports you there. Abandoned Victorian buildings have been restored and turned into restaurants and storefronts to create a small village-like area open year-round to visitors.

During the holiday season, the Distillery District is transformed into a Christmas market that reminds one of those found in Europe and is a definite must see local attraction in Toronto. The cobblestone streets are lined with wood cabins selling a variety of holiday goods, food and handmade items. A festive, and enchanting, atmosphere is created by the lights and holiday decorations while people stroll the area grabbing some hot chocolate or mulled wine to warm up from the cold, before enjoying some of the delicious food offered by the many vendors. It’s a festival we attend every year, if we are in the area!

If you’re looking to tap into the history of Toronto – Spring, Summer, Fall or Winter – the distillery district is one place you shouldn’t miss.

**The Distillery District is approximately within the boundaries of Mill St and the Gardiner Expressway and between Parliament St and Cherry St. The closest subway station to the area is King Station though the King St East Streetcar has closer stops.**

Downtown Yonge

One of the areas where everyone in Toronto wants to be is Downtown Yonge. With The Eaton’s Centre, downtown Toronto’s largest mall, and a seemingly unending number of restaurants, bars, cafes and shopping options, it’s a popular stop for residents of the city and those just passing through.

At the heart of Downtown Yonge is Yonge-Dundas Square, an outdoor space that hosts events, concerts and other live music showcases in the summer. If the outdoors isn’t where you’ll be entertained there’s a movie theatre across the street and Massey Hall is close by!

**Downtown Yonge is approximately within the boundaries of Richmond St and Grosvenor St and between Bay St and Church St. The closest subway station is Dundas Station.**

Bloor West Village/High Park

High Park Best Toronto Neighbourhoods

 

Perhaps one of our favourite neighbourhoods to visit, Bloor West Village is located in the outskirts of the downtown core and has such a relaxed vibe you really do feel like you’re in a village rather than the busy city that is Toronto.

Though largely residential, the shopping district offers trendy restaurants and cafes, small markets with fresh produce and a variety of specialty shops selling clothing, food and household goods. We love walking down the street, taking in the people passing by and window shopping as we go.

What may be the highlight of this area however, is Toronto’s biggest park – High Park – though whether it is actually a part of Bloor West Village is debated. Walking trails, playgrounds, dog parks, cafes, a nature centre, a pool, a winter ice rink, and a zoo are just some of the activities and features of High Park. In the warmer months, it is a popular place for all manner of people looking to get active, relax in the shade of a tree, or just enjoy being in the outdoors.

Our favourite reason to visit High Park? The Sakura, or cherry blossoms, that bloom sometime at the end of April or beginning of May, if the weather is right. With a full bloom, the park is transformed into a magical, light-pink wonderland.

**Bloor West Village is approximately within the boundaries of Jane St and Olympus Ave along Bloor Street West. The closest subway stations are Runnymede Station or Jane Station for Bloor West Village, and High Park Station for High Park.**

Church-Wellesley Village

Church-Wellesley Village is an LGBT community that is inclusive of all people and is located right in the downtown core. Heading here you’ll find an eclectic variety of restaurants, cafes and shops.

Two larger events occur in this area annually. The first event, Halloween on Church, is a massive street party on October 31 where thousands of people dress in costume and head out to the streets to enjoy the festivities including live music, food and mass amounts of celebrating!

The second event is Pride Week which is centred around this neighbourhood and is one of the largest pride festivals in the world. Ten days of parades, concerts, events and parties celebrate the diversity of the city and the pride taken in Toronto’s acceptance of all people.

**Church-Wellesley Village is approximately within the boundaries of Yonge St and Jarvis St and between Charles St E and Gould St. The closest subway stations are College and Wellesley.**

Kensington Market

Kensington Market Toronto

If you’ve ever wanted to experience a round-the-world trip, you’ll not need to go any further than Kensington Market. It is a diverse neighbourhood of narrow streets lined with colourful Victorian houses and all manner of shops and restaurants.

Here you’ll experience the very definition of multiculturalism and take that trip around the world as you find shops and goods from the Middle East, South America, Asia, Europe and the Caribbean.

If you’re around in the summer, head down on the last Sunday of each month when the streets become pedestrian-only and street performers emerge to entertain shoppers as they browse the goods available!

**Kensington Market is approximately within the boundaries of College St and Dundas St W and between Bathurst St and Spadina Ave. The closest subway stations are Queen’s Park or St. Patrick station though the College St or Dundas St West streetcars have closer stops.**

Centre Island

Since it is bordered by water, we consider Centre Island a type of neighbourhood or district in itself. Located a short ferry ride from Toronto’s downtown, it is one of the chain of islands off Toronto Harbour. Though it may not be what you typically think of as an island getaway, it has many components of that ideal image: beaches, canoe and kayak rentals to take out onto the water, outdoor sports areas and restaurants. The only thing missing is accommodation which can easily be found back in the city by Toronto Harbour or on one of the neighbouring islands, Algonquin Island, which has a bed-and-breakfast.

Centre Island is also home to Centreville Amusement Park, popular with families for its rides, bumper boats, water slides, miniature golf and animal farm. For those looking for more adult entertainment, music festivals are held on the island in the summer including Electric Island, a concert held at least once a month from May to September.

**Centre Island can only be accessed by ferry. See: currentCentre Island. The closest subway station is Union and the Spadina streetcar has a closer stop.**

 

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Heaven on Earth – Island Hopping in El Nido, Philippines

By Rocio and Julian

To start off with, El Nido is a small municipality located in the northern part of the province and island of Palawan, roughly 400 kilometers away from the capital city of Manila in the Philippines. It is a protected conservation area due to its recognized ecological, natural and cultural values. It is also one of the nicest and most beautiful beach destinations throughout the Philippines (which are known for having a lot of incredible and stunning beaches!). It is officially nicknamed “Heaven on Earth”, which I realized after writing the title of this post (honestly!). It absolutely deserves this name and I am about to tell you why.

el nido 01

Experiencing Paradise While Island Hopping in El Nido

Getting to El Nido can be a bit of a journey. We took a flight from Manila with Cebu Pacific to Puerto Princesa, the provincial capital of Palawan and the main gateway for flights to the island. From there you have to take a bus or mini-van to El Nido, which is another 5-6 hour ride away. The actual town, or población, of El Nido is nestled in a sheltered bay surrounded by huge limestone cliffs and hills, hence its name (El Nido = Spanish for the nest).

The town itself is nothing special but rather serves as a starting point for island hopping tours around the Bacuit Archipelago, probably one of the most beautiful natural treasures of Asia. These tours can either be booked directly through a hotel or guesthouse or from a tour operator. They usually take the whole day, leaving at around 9 in the morning until 4-5 in the afternoon. There are options of going with a group or hiring a private boat.

No matter with whom you end up going and no matter which tour you end up taking, you will be left speechless by the abundance of natural beauty! Pristine and spotless white beaches surrounded by crystal clear waters are something you will encounter for sure.




el nido 04

We were a rather small group and managed to leave on time to make our way to our first island stop. The weather was perfect and our bangka, a traditional Filipino motorized boat with large bamboo outriggers, easily navigated its way out of the bay. We were amazed by the limestone rock formations and hills which are very typical for this region.

After 15 minutes the boat reached the white shores of the first beach, the clear, blue waters blinding our eyes as we finally felt the powdery sand between our toes. The beach was not very crowded as we arrived earlier than the other tour boats. We spent some great time relaxing and were excited about finally being here and experiencing this slice of heaven.

While island hopping in El Nido on a tour, you can spend usually around 30 to 60 minutes on each beach, depending on the place and if people want to stay longer or not. The tour guides are very friendly and give you explanations about the different areas that will be visited. They also truly respect the environment and really help in keeping this place a pristine tourist destination. Being part of a natural conservation area also helps the beaches remain very clean – something that unfortunately is not always the case. We were impressed by how unpolluted these beaches, in general, were.

el nido 02

After enjoying some nice time in the sun and taking a refreshing dip in the water we continued to our next stop. We left the main island of Palawan behind us and headed out to the smaller groups of islands which were lying a bit further away. The great thing about island hopping is that you can really see a great variety of different beaches, from large to small, and also find those secret little gems in between. One of those gems that we were to explore was in fact behind a small range of karst rocks.

Apart from the beaches there are a few incredibly beautiful lagoons in El Nido. As we approached another smaller beach the boat stopped and the tour guide pointed us towards a small opening in the rocks. We stepped out of the boat and slowly waded through the shallow waters and carefully climbed into a small hole. This was the entrance to a small, hidden lagoon on the other side. A total surprise, we were fascinated by this place as it was something very unique and not comparable to anything else we had seen so far.

el nido 05

With still half a day ahead of us, we approached another beach spot where we had a nice lunch. Even before we got there, the tour guides had already started to barbecue on the back of the boat and prepared some nice fish, meat, vegetables and fruits for us on the beach. It was absolutely delicious and really added up to making the island hopping tour a great success.

More and more giant rock formations popped out of the waters as we continued our trip, opening up like spread-out arms, inviting us to their beautiful beaches. We stopped by a few more and also managed to do a great deal of snorkeling. Compared to some other diving and snorkeling spots throughout South-East Asia we found that there were a lot of active and intact coral reefs here. We were amazed by the sheer variety of different fishes and corals – truly a must-see place if you are interested in discovering the underwater world.

el nido 06We made it back to El Nido town in the afternoon and were still amazed by the beautiful places we experienced during the trip. We were so amazed that we decided to join another tour the next day as we really wanted to see more!

El Nido has absolutely blown our minds! It is an incomparable natural paradise with breathtaking views, pristine white and endless beaches, amazing underwater life, spectacular limestone rock formations, crystal clear waters and beautiful lagoons. It is, for sure, one of the most unique seascape areas in the world and has truly impressed us.

 


apenoni profile pictureABOUT THE AUTHOR

To read more about Palawan & other beautiful spots around the world, head over to apenoni.com, a blog about travel stories, food, itineraries & photos by Rocio and Julian. They are a wanderlust Mexican-German couple passionate about traveling & exploring the world & want to convince you to do the same! Join them on Twitter & Facebook as well!


 

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Why You’re Too Young For A Viking River Cruise


When we initially announced we were going on our first Viking River Cruise, amidst the excited questions and responses, we also got a lot of curious people wanting us to scout the trip for them and let them know if “they were too young for a Viking River Cruise” and if it was okay that they were not “in the demographic” considered typical of passengers. Getting ready for our second cruise, we’re getting more of the same questions. Now, we’re not going to define what is meant by “too young” as the people who asked the questions were of a HUGE range of ages and it seems that there is almost always an older generation with a different opinion on what is considered ‘young’. So instead, if you’ve ever asked “am I too young for a Viking River Cruise?” the answer we’re going to give you is…

yes.

And here are the reasons why.

Viking River Cruise Ship on the danube

Young People Don’t Like Luxury

Luxury? Who wants that? We all know that ‘young people’ don’t want to be comfortable when they travel. Give them hard-as-cement beds, paper-thin pillows, and dismal service. Luxury isn’t a term for the younger generations, whatever age that may be, and when you’re on a Viking River Cruise, you’re guaranteed to experience a great level of luxury food, service and accommodation.

Viking River Cruises promotes excellent service and perfection in everything they do. From their 5 star level dining experiences, incorporating much of the regional cuisine, to their stellar service on board and off, the cruises allow for a level of comfort and quality that can only be classified as luxurious.

Think soft, comfortable beds and linens, heated bathroom floors (perfect during winter cruises), daily room service and turn-down service, self-serve refreshments at any hour, and waiters that come to know you and your needs whenever you head to the dining room for a meal.

So, if you’re ‘young’, this probably doesn’t sound like something you’d like at all.

View Over Budapest Hungary

Young People Don’t Like Choices

Every morning you have way too many choices to make for it to be enjoyable for a young person. You’ve got to choose what you’re going to order for breakfast, lunch and dinner, whether you want to have a relaxed meal in the upstairs lounge or a sit-down meal in the dining room. Then, you have to choose whether you want to go on one of the many guided tours or walk the town yourself and if neither of those float your boat (see what we did there?) you have to choose whether you just want to stay on board and spend the day relaxing, dining on more luxury cuisine and enjoying the view of the shoreline.




Who would want to be able to choose what to do with your day in incredible destinations and have a selection of amazing food to decide from, meal after meal? Certainly not young people!

Viking River Cruise food beef wellington

Young People Aren’t That Into Gourmet Food

In our opinion, Viking cooks up some of the meanest meals we’ve ever eaten. Let’s start with breakfast. Entering into the dining room, you choose your seat and can head over to the buffet that offers things like eggs anyway you want, hot and cold cereals, breads and toasts, yogurts, sausages and bacon, and much more… but it doesn’t stop there. There’s also a special menu where you can order eggs Benedict, pancakes, French toast, hash browns, or all of the above on one plate. Seriously, ordering whatever combination of whatever you want on the menu is basically a rule.

Lunch is served buffet style in the upstairs terrace, a more casual experience and lighter selection. In the dining room, a buffet of salads and pastas is set up with a menu to order from for starters, mains and desserts and often incorporates dishes and ingredients from the area you are sailing in that day.

Viking River Cruise Dessert

Dinner again offers you an option (more of those dreaded choices!) to dine upstairs on the terrace or more formally in the dining room, though there are no formal nights. The bulk of the menu changes each day – offering different starters, mains, desserts and cheese plates – again, incorporating the local cuisine. There is also an ‘Always Available’ section which allows you to default to some simpler, well-known meals such as salmon, chicken breast or New York Steak (if you can call those simpler!). There are also paired wines chosen for each of the day’s menu, again usually drawing from the region to really bring together the experience.

For young people, this is torture: meal after meal to choose from some of the most gourmet foods and dishes imaginable, executed to perfection, served fresh and customized depending on your restrictions and preferences.

Cathedral Europe

Young People Don’t Like To Be In A New Place Everyday

If you’re on a Viking River Cruise, you’re going to be seeing several different ports in one trip. In fact, chances are you’re going to wake up almost every morning in a new town or city, sleeping peacefully as the ship cruises through the night eliminating any of the hardships travel days usually bear.

It’s probably going to really annoy you to get to see so much in the span of your trip. Most likely, having the trials and tribulations of catching your plane, train or bus removed from your travels will be unbearable. Not having to pack up to head out, search out your accommodation and unpack what you need, only to start all over again, will really put a damper on a young persons trip. Believe us when we tell you, you are too young for a Viking River Cruise.

Viking River Cruise Stateroom

Young People Would Rather Carry Their Luggage With Them From Town to Town

You’re definitely too young for a Viking River Cruise if the thought of having all of your belongings, plus accommodations, follow you as you explore and travel. Ridiculous, right? Who wants to unpack once and relax as you’re taken from town to town, city to city to see the sights and fully immerse yourself in the destination. Who wants to venture off into a new place without the burden of their heavy bags or oversized wheeled luggage and to find their accommodation has headed along the river with them to pick them up where they left off for the day?

We didn’t know what it was like to walk unfettered, without the weight of our bags or without the stress of locating a new hotel as we travelled to a new destination. When we went on our first cruise with Viking, we realized the amazing freedom and comfort of being able to do just that… but that’s probably not really for young people.

Viking River Cruise ship on the danube

Young People Don’t Like Trying New Things

Our experience with Viking was like nothing else we had known in the past. A different style of travel, a different type of immersion into the culture of each of our destinations and a lot less stress involved in the planning as, from meals to exploring, much of the details were already dealt with.

But young people don’t like to try new things or find a new way of travel. Sticking to the status quo is the motto of younger generations, staying within their comfort zone is what they do best.

Budapest Chain Bridge

Young People Don’t Like Breathtaking Views

More likely to have their eyes on their phone scrolling through their Facebook feed then looking out into the world, young people would rather comment on an incredible Instagram photo then see a breathtaking view right in front of them or take that Instagram-worthy photo themselves.

Cruising on a river offers a unique advantage over other forms of transportation and other kinds of trips: stunning views of the shore almost all day, everyday. On top of that, there are a variety of ways to observe all that scenery – from your veranda if you have booked a stateroom with one, while seated in the terrace overlooking the front of the ship, or on the top deck where you’ll have a choice of which direction to look and an overall panoramic view.

Too Young For A Viking River Cruise

Too Young For A Viking River Cruise?

So there you have it. Our answer to all who want to know if they are too young for a Viking River Cruise. You probably are –  if that’s your mindset.

River cruises are cultural, experiential, educational and scenic. Enjoy the ride, take in the surroundings, learn about the countries you are visiting – from history to local life, food to language – and experience the destinations in a thoughtful way.

You can enjoy the cruise down the river, admiring the views along the shore, educating yourself in the local culture at each port and experiencing five star dining and service.

Sure, there’s an older crowd and the “demographic” is directed to that age group, but that’s not to say there’s any one age that’s more suited for a Viking River Cruise. The people on board are welcoming, no matter their age, and the experience on the ship and off are directed towards a variety of age groups and interests. When we cruised with Viking last, there was a range of ages from 13 to, well, older, and every person on the ship looked like they were having a great time.

We had tons of fun engaging in conversation with fellow passengers and making friends over meals. There were always people to talk to, eager to participate in the on board activities and to share a meal with if we were looking for some additional company. Age really failed to matter in any way.

If you want our real answer to whether you’re too young for a Viking River Cruise it is this:

River cruising is about attitude… not age.


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Staying in Shape While on the Road

By Dan Ramos

Staying in shape while you’re on the road can be difficult.  Whether you’re travelling for work or on vacation, the amenities and structure you’re used to at home are typically hard to come by.  Not to mention, the urge to indulge in local cuisines is a difficult battle for us foodies out there.  Despite the challenges, staying fit while travelling doesn’t have to be so hard, and I’m here to tell you it can actually be fun with the right mindset!

Tips For Staying Fit While Travelling

First and foremost, you have to plan ahead.  Knowing what kind of food you’ll be eating, how you’ll get that food, when you’ll be working out and how you’ll be working out are all critical things to think about when you’re travelling. Here are some tips and tricks to help stay in shape while on the road!

Pack Healthy Snacks

Being on the road typically means you’re schedule is a little out of whack, but that doesn’t mean your diet and workouts have to be.  Letting yourself get too hungry is a major reason we overeat and something we need to defend against.  Grabbing some healthy snacks is a perfect way to keep us full in between meals.  Things like peanuts, beef jerky, fruit, granola, tuna pouches and sliced vegetables are all great options.  If you’re going to be spending a lot of the time in the car I would recommend picking up a cheap Styrofoam cooler with some ice which will provide you with more options for the types of snacks you pick up.

hiking-lake-tahoe

Eat at Places That Post Nutritional Information

I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve been with people who have ordered a salad thinking they were being healthy, just to find out it had just as many calories as the cheeseburger.  Just because something seems healthy doesn’t always mean it is.  More and more restaurants are posting their nutritional information, taking the guessing game out of the calories and macronutrients you’re consuming.  If the place you’re eating at doesn’t supply nutritional information, feel free to modify your meal for healthier alternatives.  Salad instead of fries, dressing on the side, grilled instead of fried and holding the cheese and mayo wherever possible.

Stay at Places with Kitchenettes

Instead of eating out for every meal, why not stay at a place with a kitchenette?  Kitchenettes are great because you can cook your own healthy meals and know exactly what you’ll be consuming.  The one added benefit to renting a place with a kitchenette is you’ll actually save money.  Yes, they’re generally more expensive than regular hotel rooms, however that cost is offset by the amount of money you would save from eating out for every meal.




surfers-carlsbad

Cheat Meals Are Actually Okay

How can you travel to Japan and not want to try their sushi, or go to NYC and not want some thin crust pizza?  One of the perks about travelling is getting to try food for which the area is known for.  And I’m here to let you in on a little secret…. It’s okay to try this food!  But before you order that large pepperoni pie I should say there’s one little caveat.  Cheat meals are fine, but moderation is key.  This goes back to packing healthy snacks and not letting yourself become too hungry.  Eat slow and savor every bite as you should use healthy meals to keep you full and cheat meals to get a taste of the city.

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Workout First Thing in the Morning

If you’re on the road it’s usually safe to assume you’re there for a reason and not to just sit in the hotel all day.  With that being said, you probably have an erratic schedule which could make it much harder to sneak in a workout later in the day.  For this reason, I highly recommend getting your workout done first thing in the morning.  That way it’s taken care of, you no longer have to worry about it and there aren’t any excuses you have to make as to why you didn’t work out… because you already did it!  If mornings just don’t work for you, schedule a time every day that you can commit to getting a workout in.  Having a routine to rely on is key when the rest of your schedule is up in the air. Simply put, make your workouts a priority.

Find the Workout that Works For You

Once again this goes back to the planning stage.  Know yourself and know what kind of workouts work best for you. Are you the type of person that always goes to classes?  If so, don’t fool yourself into thinking you’ll use the hotel gym. Research some local gyms that offer classes in the area or find a public workout on Meetup.com and go!

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Get a Franchised Gym Membership

Larger franchise gyms like Golds, Planet Fitness, NY Sports Club and Anytime Fitness will typically give you access to all their gym locations once you become a member.  Going this route can save you a lot of money in the long run as you don’t have to pay every time you want to use a gym at a new location.  Not sure which gym to go with?  Almost all gyms today offer some kind of a free trial, pick one of those up and take it for a test run.

Portable Workouts

If gyms and classes really aren’t your thing, maybe you should try the at-home workout method.  There are a boatload of options in terms of equipment you could bring with you on the road, but personally there are two that I won’t leave home without –  a jump rope and resistance bands.  Being both extremely lightweight and portable, these two items will give you practically everything you could need for a full body workout.  Want to take the at home workouts to the next level?  Try out the TRX Pro.  It’s definitely more pricey than the jump rope and resistance bands but it offers a wider variety of workouts and increased difficulty as you’re now using your bodyweight for resistance.

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Plan Fun But Challenging Activities

Workouts don’t have to be limited to your hotel room or a gym.  Find some local activities that will get your blood flowing. Personally, I would recommend participating in activities that the area is well known for like snorkeling in the Bahamas or SUP (stand up paddleboard) in Lake Tahoe. No matter if it’s surfing, snowboarding, hiking, walking on the beach or rock climbing, these are all great ways to burn calories while having some fun.

 

 


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dan is a former professional baseball player turned software engineer and world traveller.  Working 100% remote for startups to fortune 500 companies he’s able to maintain a nomadic lifestyle without sacrificing the security of a full time job.  To read more about his story checkout  http://danramdom.com/omc. You can also see more of his story and work on Twitter.

 


 

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Travel Hacks For Planning A Road Trip

Summertime is right at the doorstep – the time for cottages, camping and road trips. We love road trips, maybe more than the average couple. From sleeping in the car in Germany, or scooting from Chiang Mai to Pai in Thailand, no matter where we go we try to get a road trip or two in the itinerary… we’re almost always planning a road trip. We’ve been on so many it’s hard to keep track. There was our spontaneous road trip to New Brunswick for a long weekend and then there was the time we took our rental car from southern Spain to the northern city of Pamplona. With all this booting around in a car over the years, we’ve learned many road trip tips and want to share the knowledge we’ve gained. You can also head over to our tips for a long weekend road trip if you’re looking for some more tips for an even quicker trip!

11 Great Tips For Planning A Road Trip

car rental road trip in Germany

 

Here are some of our tips for things to bring as well as other travel hacks for planning a road trip to make it a cheaper, easier and less stressful trip!

1. Download Sit or Squat and Gas Buddy

These days it seems like hundreds of apps come out a day. We’ve found two that might be useful on the road trips you take this summer depending on where you’re travelling. If you’re the type of person who needs a clean washroom or else you won’t go, or at the very least just want to be prepared for what you’re getting yourself into, Sit or Squat is going to be your best friend. Sit or Squat allows users to add toilets anywhere and lets you know if you can “sit” (the washroom is clean) or “squat” (the washroom isn’t clean).

Gas Buddy is another useful app this time providing a list of the gas prices around you. By knowing your location, Gas Buddy is a key road trip travel hack that will save you money (even up to 20 cents per gallon) by showing the cheapest gas near you. Users can also collect points by submitting gas prices themselves.




2. Use a Car Charger Adapter That Will Even Charge Your Computer

BESTEK 200W Power Inverter 3 AC Outlets with 4.2A 4 USB Charging Ports

An inverter converts car battery power to household electricity so you can charge your electronics without a car charger. Bringing a power inverter is always a great idea and is probably the number one road trip hack that we follow, only because we bring our laptops with us everywhere we go. But it doesn’t stop at laptops, a travel power inverter can power almost anything, from camera batteries to powered coolers for your food and drink, there are a ton of useful items you can bring if you have something to power them up with.

No matter what inverter you decide to go with, make sure to choose the right voltage and wattage for your products. If you don’t pick the proper voltage for your electronics, you can cause big issues.

3. Portable Charger

Reeljuice 8000 mAh Portable Charger External Battery Power Bank with 4ft. Built-in Cable

Yes, we just told you how important an inverter is to have in the car to charge your electronics, but what about those times you are away from the car exploring? Or when you don’t have the car running? Or the car battery has died? For this reason, we never travel without a portable charger, no matter where we go or what our mode of transportation is. GPS on your cell phone and the ability to make emergency calls or look up information while on the road can be essential. Gone are the days when road maps and pay phones were found at the side of the road or at rest stops. Now, having functional electronic gear can be the difference between being lost for hours in unsafe conditions and enjoying a stress-free trip on four wheels.

Our portable charger of preference is ReelJuice 5X Portable Power Bank by Lynktec. Sturdy and reliable, it can charge your device 5 times – that’s enough power to last you for 2 days of charging! We also have cords aplenty to tangle when we travel so the retractable cord on this power bank is something we have appreciated on the go.  The other thing we love about taking this with us, especially on a road trip, is the ability to charge both the power bank AND our cell phone at the same time with the pass-through charging option so we don’t have to worry about waiting for one item to charge before we can charge the next. This power bank combined with an inverter means we’re set for all our electronic needs on the road!

Grab your own ReelJuice Portable Power Bank from Amazon!

 

4. Use Google Maps Offline

We use Google Maps everywhere we go, no matter where we go and no matter how we travel. Google Maps works in almost any country and is usually accurate while working offline. This makes it an amazingly handy tool to have bring on a road trip as it is basically the new age of a paper road map. As long as you’ve got a charge, you can open the app and navigate to your destination. The icon identifying where you are can be used as a compass of sorts and will even move with you as you go.

The other great feature we use constantly is the starred location feature. When you do have data, like when you are planning a road trip route at home or have stopped somewhere with WiFi, you can find a location or point of interest on the map and star it. That way, when you are offline again or, as was our case once in Thailand, in the middle of nowhere and without a signal, you can still see the star on the map and find your way there.

5. Need A Mattress? Try An Inflatable Pool Raft 

Sometimes on long road trips we like to take turns driving while the other one sleeps. At home (in Toronto) we have an SUV and by laying the back seat down we have a so called bed, you can lay down some blankets so it doesn’t feel so hard, but we like to take a pool raft to lay down to make it a bit more comfortable. An air mattress would probably do the trick as well, but a pool raft is quickly blown up, deflates to a smaller size, and can be re-purposed as, wait for it, an actual raft if your destination involves water. This may sound like a strange road trip tip but it can make all the difference!

6. Grab an Adapter That Plays Through Your Radio.

iClever Wireless FM Transmitter Radio Adapter Car Kit with 3.5mm Audio Plug and USB Car Charger, Black

Nothing makes a road trip great than a great road trip soundtrack. Creating that soundtrack from the constantly fading in and fading out radio stations as you drive however, is not so great. Instead, getting an adapter allows you to just download songs on your phone (or stream if you have data and a good connection) then plug and play. Radio adaptors are a savior on road trips, the further you drive from cities, the more you’ll have to change those radio stations & avoid static.

We’ve mentioned having your own personal soundtrack as one of the reasons to take a road trip in Europe but having some great music in the car really does enhance the experience. Music is also a great provoker of memory and associating the songs to the memories you are making will create a lasting connection.

An adapter like iClever Wireless FM Transmitter, will not only play your music through your phone, it will also keep your phone charged so you’re not draining your battery in the process!

7. Already Paid For Parking? Sleep in the Parking Garage in the Car! 

In larger cities, you’ll often find underground parking or parking garages the norm. If you’ve already parked in one to explore the city, you’ve just given yourself an amazing accommodation opportunity –  Pull out that inflatable pool raft and enjoy the extra security of the parking garage and a night’s stay already paid for.

We ended up in Heidelberg at one point during our Germany road trip. We had detoured because we wanted to check out a castle in town but we had no plan on where to stay. We parked our car close to the castle and spent the day walking around the castle and town. We loved Heidelberg so much we ended up exploring a lot longer than we expected… until 10 pm. After searching for places to stay we realized that the available hotel rooms in the area were out of our budget, so we decided to stay in the car in the parking garage that night since we had already paid most of the 14 euros it would cost us for 24 hours. We put down the back seat (in the Volvo) and  used the trunk cover to block the remaining light from our eyes and had an amazing night’s sleep believe it or not!

We should note that since we were in Europe, we were not able to bring our trusty inflatable pool raft and STILL managed to get comfortable.

8. Avoid Conflict. Use Apps like Venmo to Split the Cost of Gas & Food.

Going on a road trip with others can cause some awkward moments when it comes time to gas up or pay for other expenses. There’s the “oh I’ve got this one” and the “I’ll grab the next one” then there’s the “well you paid for the last one and it was twice this bill… so I guess I’ll grab this and the next”. No one means to forget to pay someone back for covering a cost or end up paying a lesser share of the total cost, but it happens. No one in the car may mean to short the other but it’s not uncommon when trying to cover costs of travel between two or more people. It can leave everyone feeling a bit uncertain of their place on the financial side of the trip… but it doesn’t have to.

If you think you are able to keep an accurate tally of the costs, or all the receipts, you can simply designate one person to pay all the expenses, divide the final tally by the number of people on the trip and get a per-person amount to be paid back. If you’re looking for a bit less hassle, you may just want to download Venmo.

The app Venmo allows you to split costs with ease without having that awkward moment of asking for money. While there is still one person who foots the initial bill, gas, restaurant bills, and the like can be split and paid back on the spot through the app.

Note: The transfers are NOT instant so there will be a delay and you’ll want to make sure you’ve set up your account and all is functioning before you hit the road to avoid any problems.

9. USB Charger

Anker 40W 5-Port USB Car Charger with PowerIQ Technology for iPhone 6s 6 5; iPad Air 2, mini 3; Galaxy S6 / S6 Edge S5; Note 5 4 3; Nexus 6 9 and More (White)

If you haven’t noticed it yet, we’re all about power. When you’re on the go with electronics it is a must have. Nowadays very few people don’t carry at least a cell phone with them, and like we mentioned before, it can be very important to have functioning electronics on certain road trip routes. Added to that is the inability to use the apps we’ve mentioned, and have yet to discuss, should you run out of juice while on the road.

When you’re on a road trip with multiple people you might need multiple USB chargers so everyone can charge their phones and tablets, because let’s be honest, we may highlight the importance of having a device charged for safety reasons but most people don’t want to go without a working cell phone or tablet. Whether you go for a car inverter or not, having a USB charger that powers everyone’s electronics Anker 40W 5-Port USB Car Charger can be a great tool that keeps the peace in the vehicle and allows for a smoother ride.

10. Know The Rules of the Road.

This may sound unnecessary but we can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard stories about tickets received or errors made while driving in a different province, state, or country. A huge part of planning a road trip should involve figuring out what you need to know if you’re driving in a new province, state or country. Whenever we rent a car in a foreign country, aside from searching for rules online, we now ask the car rental company if there are any rules that we should know about. They are a great resource for information as they will have heard the mistakes that other renters make on a regular basis.

You don’t want to come home and, a few weeks later, receive a large traffic violation in the mail. Trust us, it’s what happened to us in Germany. While coming off the autobahn we didn’t slow down enough and didn’t know that every off ramp has speed cameras. We might have known if we asked the car rental company about any tips to know or common mistakes made. When we rented in Spain, we asked about the rules and were given a lot of great information about traffic violations, typical mistakes and even information on highway names and numbers to avoid accidentally taking a toll route.

11. Look On Instagram (Follow us! @OneModernCouple)

Instagram is a fantastic way to find restaurants, attractions and accommodations in any place. Just punch in the hashtags for that specific city, town or country and watch the magic happen. Instagram is a great travel hack we use pretty much everywhere we go. We’ve even made many friends by finding fellow travellers in the area. We met another blogging couple in Taipei Taiwan and they took us on a hike to a place called Teapot Mountain, someplace we would have never known about it if we weren’t on Instagram.

Are you a foodie? We also have a food Instagram account – @OMCeats – come join us there too and find some great suggestions for where to eat!!

 

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