November 2019

How to Experience Cuba on a Budget

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a classic pink car in Cuba on a busy street
Posted: 11/28/19 | November 28th, 2019

As a Cuban-American, Talek Nantes has had a lot of experience traveling around Cuba. There’s a lot more to the country than just all-inclusive resorts! In this guest post, she offers some an in-depth breakdown of how to travel around Cuba like a local.

I’ve been traveling between Cuba and the US since I was born. (Actually, even before I was born: my mom came to the States when she was pregnant with me. I like to say I was made in Havana and born in the USA.)

As a Cuban-American who wrote a book on the country and runs tours there, I’ve made it my mission to share my appreciation for Cuban culture with everyone who wants to experience it.

People frequently ask me if Cuba is expensive.

It doesn’t have to be. It can be quite an affordable place to visit.

From obvious tried-and-true advice, like eat at locations at least three blocks away from popular tourist sites, to little-known tips only the locals know, here’s how to experience Cuba on a budget.
 

1. How to save money on Cuban currency exchanges

colorful buildings in downtown Havana
Cuban currency cannot be purchased overseas, as it is not traded internationally, so you’ll need to get it on arrival.

Cuba has two currencies: the CUC, which is what tourists and visitors use, and the CUP, also called the peso, used by everyone else. As a visitor, all your transactions will be done in CUC, which is roughly equal to one US dollar. There are about 25 CUP to 1 CUC.

In a country with 2 currencies, it is important to know the difference between a CUP and CUC. For example, you don’t want to overpay in CUC when something is priced in CUP. And when you receive change from a CUC, make sure the change is not in CUP. The best way to keep them straight is to remember that a CUC has monuments on its face and a CUP, or peso, has pictures of people.

Once in Cuba, you should exchange money at the airport “CADECA.” A CADECA is the official government exchange location. Keep in mind that you will need your passport in order to exchange currency.

Change only enough to get you to your accommodation, then change more at the CADECAs in town, as they have better rates. Avoid exchanging currency at banks and hotels, as these offer less favorable rates.

US citizens should be aware that credit cards drawn on US banks are not accepted in Cuba and ATMs cannot dispense money from US banks, so you must bring enough cash to last the entire trip.
 

2. How to save money on your accommodations in Cuba

a green car driving by on a street in Havana
For the best value for your money, you can’t beat a casa particular.

Casas particulares, or casas for short, are the homes of local Cubans who rent rooms to visitors like a B&B. You can rent a room in a private home for an average of 30 CUC per night.

The best part of staying with a Cuban family is that you can have an authentically Cuban experience. You eat with them, hang out in their living room, play with their kids or pets. You’re treated like one of the family while you are there. That’s a lot more rewarding than staying at a sterile hotel.

It’s easy to book a casa. You can reserve on Airbnb or any number of similar online sites (though Airbnb often has the largest selection and one of the few sites Americans can widely use). You should pre-book a casa from home at least for your first night’s stay in Cuba. Once in Cuba you can book the following nights yourself either through your host or just by looking for a house with the casa sign (a blue anchor with a roof on a white background) and simply knocking on the door.

Otherwise, hostels will be your best option for saving money. Some top-rated Havana hostels include the following:

Prices per night range from around 5 to 15 CUC, though most are around 11 CUC.

I find casas to be the best accommodation option. A hostel may be cheaper, but there are many casas with hostel pricing, so you get the best of both worlds: low cost plus interaction with a local family. Isn’t the connection with other cultures one of the main reasons we travel?
 

3. The best places to eat in Cuba without breaking the bank

vendors selling fruit on a street in Havana
The best places to eat in Cuba are paladares. These are privately owned (vs. government owned) restaurants. There are all types of paladares, from high-end establishments in renovated mansions to hole-in-the-wall stands.

Traditional dishes you will find at paladares include arroz con pollo (chicken and rice), ropa vieja (shredded beef), and lechón (roast pork). Typical drinks include the classic mojito, daiquiri, and Cuba Libre. Fruit juices are also readily available. The local beers, Bucanero and Cristal, are very good.

Any guidebook will point out the paladares. You can also find them in the A La Mesa app.
Typical costs (in CUCs) for meals in paladares are as follows:

High-end paladar:

  • Lunch: 10–25
  • Dinner 15–35

Mid-range paladar:

  • Lunch: 7–10
  • Dinner: 10–25

Some of my favorite paladares in Havana include Doña Eutemia, near the cathedral; Los Mercaderes; and San Cristóbal, where US President Obama had lunch. A typical meal at one of these will cost about 15–20 CUC.

Street vendors are also found throughout the country and offer little sandwiches, pizza, croquettes, pastries, and other snacks for 1 to 3 CUC. The food is not great, but it certainly is budget-friendly.
 

4. Cuban transportation on a budget

a bicycle parked outside an art shop in Cuba
Transportation is likely to be your biggest expense, with taxis being the most common. Rule number one for getting around in Cuba is to negotiate before getting in. Tell the driver where you want to go, or show him in writing and ask how much (“¿Cuánto?”). Whatever the driver says, counter with a couple of CUCs lower. The drivers are used to this; they generally start at a higher rate, anticipating that they will end up with a lower fee.

Yellow taxis are government-run (vs. privately owned). These are used by tourists and tend to be the most expensive.

Coco-taxis are essentially motorcycles with a cover shaped to look like a yellow coconut (hence the name), and they are everywhere. They tend to be cheaper but can only take two people at a time.

Bici-taxis are rickshaw-like bicycles that’ll take you around Old Havana.

Another option is the colectivo, or collective taxi. These are cars that travel busy thoroughfares within city limits, picking up and dropping off people as they go along. A trip from one end of a busy, central street to the other, or anywhere in between, will cost about half a CUC. The taxi is shared with up to six people.

Buses are overcrowded, unreliable, and not air-conditioned but they are very cheap. They travel major routes mostly outside Old Havana.

Typical transportation costs:

  • Yellow government taxi: 10 CUC within city limits
  • Coco-taxi: 5 CUC within city limits; only fits 2 people
  • Bici-taxi: 2 CUC per person; only fits 2 people; not motorized
  • Collective taxi: Half a CUC per trip in a shared taxi
  • Bus: About 0.20 CUC

A fun way to explore a big city like Havana is by taking a tour in a classic American convertible from the ’50s, but at 40 to 50 CUC an hour, they aren’t very budget-friendly.
 

5. Staying connected in Cuba without paying a fortune

a tropical beach scene in Cuba with a palm tree
Internet access in Cuba is iffy. It is not offered everywhere, and where it is, it is unreliable.

The best way to stay connected is to purchase an internet connection card, sold in increments of 1 CUC per hour, at the local ETECSA, the Cuban government’s telecommunications office with branches all over the island. You use the login and password on the card to connect your phone or computer.

You can also purchase an internet connection card at most high-end hotels, but the cost can be as high at 7 CUC per hour, so purchasing your card at an ETECSA is a huge savings.

Once you have your card, find a location where you can connect. Most parks have connectivity, as do areas around ETECSA offices. Just look for groups of people huddled over their phones.

Higher-end hotels also offer Wi-Fi at outrageous fees.

If you don’t use up your internet time, the leftover will be saved on your card and you will be able to use it again.

A typical daily budget
For a typical day in Havana, Cuba’s most expensive city, you can expect to budget as follows:

  • Breakfast at your casa: 5 CUC
  • Street food snacks: 2–5 CUC
  • Lunch at a paladar: 5–7 CUC
  • Dinner at a paladar: 5–10 CUC
  • Alcoholic beverage: mojito: 2–3 CUC, beer: 2 CUC, rum: 5 CUC/bottle
  • Room in a casa: average 30 CUC
  • Intracity taxi: 2–10 CUC
  • Museum entrance fee: 2–8 CUC
  • Entrance fee to a music venue: free or 2–10 CUC
  • Internet connection card 1–2 CUC

To be on the safe side and leave yourself a little room to splurge, budget 100 CUC/day. Keep in mind you may want to purchase the world-famous cigars and rum. The local art you find at the many galleries around town may also appeal to you.

Traveling outside of Havana
When traveling outside Havana, you’ve got a couple of options. The most convenient and expensive is to reserve a taxi that will pick you up at your casa and deliver you door to door. Your casa host or hostel or hotel staff can arrange one for you.

Another option is the national bus service, which extends across the entire country. The buses are air-conditioned, and the prices are very reasonable. Prices from Havana to popular destinations are as follows:

  • Havana to Viñales: 12 CUC
  • Havana to Trinidad: 25 CUC
  • Havana to Varadero: 10 CUC
  • Havana to Santiago, on the far side of the island: 51 CUC

You need to purchase your tickets at the Viazul bus station at Avenida Independencia #101, at the corner of 19 de Mayo. The buses will take you to the bus stations in your destination city, which are generally in very central locations convenient to wherever you want to go.

There are car rental agencies throughout Cuba with which you can organize a self-drive tour. However, keep in mind that the roads outside Havana can be in very poor condition and difficult to navigate. With easy transportation within the big cities and convenient bus service between cities, a car rental may not be your most budget-friendly option.

Domestic flights are pretty unreliable and I wouldn’t recommend it.

***

Before traveling to Cuba, US citizens should check the travel requirements. Ordinary tourism is prohibited for US citizens. All US visitors must travel to Cuba under one of 12 US government approved categories. “Support for the Cuban People” is the most commonly used category and can be selected when purchasing the airline ticket.

Experiencing Cuba on a budget certainly has its challenges, but it is totally worth it.

Cuba gets under your skin quickly. It bewitches and beckons you to explore more of it.

No matter how many times I return to Cuba I always find something to amaze me; a new art venue, a remarkable piece of 18th century architecture or an innovative take on traditional Cuban cuisine.

Cuba is a safe, beautiful country with welcoming people and a fascinating culture. Put it on your must-visit list and you won’t be disappointed.

Talek Nantes is an author, digital content creator and founder of the travel blog, Travels With Talek. She is a passionate travel enthusiast and enjoys sharing her travel experiences with others. She lives in with her husband in New York City and Miami. Talek leads tours to Cuba and her most recent book is Don’t just travel to Cuba, experience Cuba available on Amazon.

Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe, so you always know no stone is being left unturned.

Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld as they have the largest inventory. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com, as it consistently returns the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels. I use them both all the time.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it, as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:

Looking for the best companies to save money with?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! I list all those I use to save money when I travel — and they will save you time and money too!

The post How to Experience Cuba on a Budget appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.





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Is Jordan Safe to Visit?

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A blue sky over the arid Wadi Rum in Jordan
Posted: 11/23/2019 | November 23rd, 2019

Compared to many of its neighbors in the Middle East, Jordan is an exceptionally safe country to visit.

When I was in Jordan, I never encountered any safety issues. And few people gave me that “what are you doing here?” look. Instead, I found everyone to be happy, curious, and welcoming.

And a number of solo female travelers I know have experienced the same thing.

In short, while people may have some trepidation about the region, Jordan is one of the safest places to visit in the region, and likely little will go wrong here. In fact, the Jordanian government puts a lot of effort and money into making visitors feel safe through high-profile security and police presence in tourist regions and in hotels.

So what do you need to think about before you head to Jordan? And are there any parts you should avoid?

The tips below cover the safety issues you will need to consider before you travel to Jordan so you can enjoy every moment of your trip. If you keep these tips in mind, you’ll be very safe while in Jordan!

1. Be aware of your belongings – Thanks to an increased police presence in Jordan, even petty crime rates are pretty low, but it’s always sensible to stay aware of where your belongings are. There have been reports of pickpockets and purse-snatchers in some of the more crowded parts of Amman’s old town center and at major tourist sites.

2. Avoid the borders with Syria and Iraq – It’s common knowledge that Syria and Iraq are unsafe places to visit at the moment, and this extends to their frontiers with Jordan. None of the main tourist attractions are near these borders, so it makes sense just to keep clear.

3. Stay away from public protests – It seems that the regular public demonstrations in Jordan are nearly always peaceful, but just the same, it is common sense to avoid big gatherings like this if you can help it.

In the capital, Amman, there are often demonstrations on Thursday evenings or after Friday midday prayers, near the office of the prime minister. They also tend to occur when major economic issues are being debated or on significant anniversaries. Keep an eye on the local media so you’re able to avoid accidentally being caught up in any local protests.

4. Be aware of your safety in taxi rides – There have been a few reports from female travelers about harassment from taxi drivers. The best way to avoid this is to sit in the back and remain alert. These are very isolated incidents; generally speaking, taxi drivers in Jordan are really helpful.

5. Be careful on the Desert Highway – Highway 15, which runs north to south through Jordan, is one of the main routes between Amman and other centers, like Aqaba. There have been occasions when the highway is closed because of unrest in Ma’an in the south, and other parts are blocked from time to time. Check the local news for any closures and always follow police instructions.

6. Buy travel insurance – Whenever and wherever you travel, you should always have an appropriate level of travel insurance, since you never know when something can go wrong. Buy travel insurance when you book your trip to help you out of an emergency or to compensate you for theft or injury. I never leave home without it.

Frequently Asked Questions on Jordan Safety

Here are some answers to the most frequently asked questions I get about safety in Jordan:

Is the tap water safe to drink in Jordan?
Generally speaking, the tap water in Jordan is safe to drink. Many hotels will have water purifiers as well just to ensure you get clean drinking water. If you’re in doubt of your water’s cleanliness, boil it for a minute first or use a SteriPen or LifeStraw to purify it.

There are no comprehensive recycling programs in Jordan so most plastic ends up in landfills. Try to avoid single-use plastic if you can.

Are there any scams in Jordan?
Like most countries, there are a few scams you’ll want to be aware of when visiting. The most common scams involve taxi drivers overcharging you or taking you on a longer route, shop owners telling you that handicrafts are made locally when they are not, and shop owners selling “antiques” that are just cheap replicas.

Most of the scams are simply trying to rip you off so you needn’t worry too much about your safety. Just keep your wits about you and you’ll be able to avoid these common petty scams.

For more information, check out this post on common scams.

Is it safe to visit Jordan solo?
Like anywhere, there are a few extra precautions you should take when you travel solo, but Jordan is definitely a great destination nonetheless. The Jordanian people are really friendly and welcoming, and you’ll make lots of local friends.

Is Jordan safe to visit for solo female travelers?
Solo female travelers will want to take the standard precautions here in addition to being mindful of the clothing they wear. Of course, you’ll want to ensure you are properly covered when entering religious sites but you may also want to cover up when out exploring the country at large as well.

Unwanted attention can be kept at bay by dressing like the locals and covering your exposed skin. Long pants and long-sleeve shirts will go a long way in helping you look less like a tourist while also preventing unwanted attention.

Here are a few helpful posts on safety written by our solo female travel experts:

Should I worry about a terrorist attack in Jordan?
Government warnings for travelers to Jordan do mention the possibility of terrorist attacks, in light of some incidents in the past, especially one at Karak Castle in 2016, when a Canadian tourist was killed. There have also been several extremist terrorist plots disrupted by the Jordanian authorities. So the threat exists, but the government is usually good at monitoring and dealing with these.

Overall, the terrorist attack warnings are at the same level as many countries in Europe that you would probably visit without considering this at all.

***

Despite some of its neighbors being countries I don’t recommend visiting at the moment (such as Iraq and Syria) Jordan itself is very welcoming to tourists, and the government, which is keen to have more foreign visitors, has taken many precautions to ensure your safety.

The friendly locals — combined with incredible ancient architecture, stunning desert settings, and the uniqueness of visiting the Dead Sea, among other sites — will make sure you have a thoroughly enjoyable trip to Jordan.

Book Your Trip to Jordan: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned.

Book Your Accommodation
To find the best budget accommodation, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels. You can book your hostel with Hostelworld as they have the most comprehensive inventory. Here are some of my favorite places to stay in Jordan:

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:

Looking for the best companies to save money with?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! I list all the ones I use to save money when I travel — and I think will help you too!

The post Is Jordan Safe to Visit? appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.





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My 2019 Holiday Gift Guide for Travelers

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a camera in christmas lights
Posted: 11/25/19 | November 25th, 2019

Travelers can be a fickle group of people to buy gifts for. We’re constantly coming and going, we usually don’t carry a lot of stuff with us, and no two travelers are alike so finding the perfect gift for the traveler in your life can be tricky.

While a plane ticket is never a bad idea (I’m a window seat in case anyone is thinking of getting me one), I’ve put together this ultimate holiday gift guide for travelers as there’s a lot of great travel gear out there these days that helps people travel cheaper and better.

Even me, the gear-adverse traveler, likes a lot of this stuff!

This is stuff I actually think is super useful. No nonsense. No fluff. Just the best gifts for intrepid travelers and globetrotting nomads!

 

Gifts Under $25

1. Packing Cubes

travel packing cubesPacking cubes are an awesome tool to help you stay organized while you travel. Whether you’re a budget backpacker or traveling with half a dozen suitcases, packing cubes will keep you organized as you travel the world. They come in a variety of sizes, allowing you to store items big and small. If you know a traveler who needs a hand staying organized, this is the gift for them!

Buy now on Amazon!
 

2. Travel Padlock

Master travel padlockThis simple item is one of the most important for the budget traveler. Since many hostels have lockers, backpackers need to have their own travel lock when they’re on the road. While you can usually rent them at hostels, those prices add up after a while. I never leave home without a lock because I know it will come in handy.

Buy now on Amazon!
 

3. Earplugs

travel ear plugsAnyone who has ever stayed in a hostel knows that a quality pair of earplugs is a necessity. From chronic snorers to late-night drinkers to copulating couples in creaking bunks, hostels are known for their less-than-quiet accommodation. Add some earplugs to your shopping list. Because the gift of a good sleep is priceless!

Buy now on Amazon!
 

4. Sea to Summit Quick Dry Travel Towel

sea to summit travel towelHaving a lightweight, quick-drying towel makes a huge difference when you’re on the road. Big, bulky towels take up a lot of space in your backpack and they take a long time to dry. If you’re on the road, you don’t want a towel to delay your plans or stink up your bag. Enter the travel towel. It’s the compact, quick-drying solution that every backpacker needs.

Buy now on Amazon!
 

5. Travel Adapter

travel adapterNothing is more tedious than arriving to a new destination only to realize you can’t charge your devices because the electrical outlets are different. That’s why you’ll need a travel adapter. They’re a simple accessory. There’s a million out there but this is one I use as it covers every region of the world and comes with USB ports too. It’s cheap, easy to use, and lightweight. Everything you need in an adapter.

Buy now on Amazon!
 

6. Scratch Travel Maps from Landmass

travel scratch mapScartch maps are a fun way to keep track of your past travels while helping you stay inspired as you plan your future trips. You simply scratch off the parts of the world you’ve been. Simple. Easy. Landmass is my favorite company that makes these, though there are plenty of other companies that make them now so you can find them in all sorts of sizes and colors.

Buy now on Amazon!
 

7. Passport Holder

travel scratch mapA passport holder is a must-have for any avid traveler. Not only does it protect your passport from wear and tear, it makes your travels much more convenient. Most passport holders have slots for your travel credit cards as well as any cash you have, making it a safe and convenient way to keep your valuables secure while you travel. While there are tons of expensive and fancy passport holders out there, a simple one will get the job done and save you money in the process (money you can spend on more travels!).

Buy now on Amazon!
 

8. Toothpaste Bites

Bites toothpaste jar with spilled toothpaste tabsTraveling with liquids is always a pain. They’re a hassle at airport security and, when it comes to toothpaste, there is a lot of waste. The plastic tubes end up in landfills and you can never really get all the toothpaste out of the tube. Enter toothpaste bites. These dry tabs of toothpaste that come in a recyclable jar (no plastic!). They take some getting used to but they’re an eco-friendly option for the environmentally-conscious traveler. (And they clean your teeth well, which is also very important!)

Buy now at Bite!
 

9. Hand-drawn Food Maps

hand drawn food maps from Legal NomadsThese are unique, hand-drawn typographic maps of food from Legal Nomads and artist Ella Frances Sanders. They make a thoughtful gift for anyone who loves to eat and travel (and who doesn’t!). They come in a variety of sizes too! Jodi’s maps are the best! (Use the code SEALUP for 15% off!)

Buy now at Legal Nomads!
 

10. The Fearless Guide to Solo Female Travel

Solo female travel guidebookKristin Addis created this detailed guide to solo female travel, addressing all the concerns women have about traveling. The book includes tons of tips and advice, as well as interviews with other female travelers and writers. It gives you the specific, actionable information you need to conquer the world on any trip!

Buy now at Nomadic Matt!
 

11. Moleskine Notebook

moleskine travel notebookI never leave home without one of these. They are the perfect notebook for journaling during your trip as well as for writing down travel notes such as directions, contact information, and language tips. I think everyone needs to write more during their travels so they have something to look back on (other than photos).

Buy now on Amazon!
 

12. Travel Books

The Alchemist book coverFew things can inspire you to travel like a good book. They can transport you to new places and keep your wanderlust stoked while you work towards making your own travel dreams a reality. If you’ve got an avid reader who loves to travel on your holiday list (or if you’re just looking for something to read over the holidays), get a travel book. Books are the best gift in the world and on my Amazon page you can get a list of all the best travel books I’ve read over the years.

Buy now on Amazon!
 

13. Celiac Travel Cards

Legal Nomads celiac logoMy friend Jodi from Legal Nomads created these helpful travel cards for anyone traveling with Celiac disease. They are in-depth resources that communicate your concerns to restaurant staff in a way that allows anyone traveling with the disease to have a worry-free meal. If you or someone you love has Celiac disease, these travel cards are a useful resource! (Use the code SEALUP for 15% off!)

Buy now at Legal Nomads!
 

14. Dry Shampoo

Lush's dry shampoo in a clear plastic bottle
Dry shampoo is a convenient liquid-free alternative to regular shampoo. It’s a useful minimalist solution for budget travelers who travel carry-on only and an eco-friendly choice as well. Natural dry shampoos absorb the grease and oil in your hair, keeping it clean while you’re on the road — and with minimal effort too. It works for all types of hair and hair lengths as well so you don’t need to shave your head or do anythign drastic either.

Buy now on Amazon!
 

15. Ten Years a Nomad

$50 a day by Matt KepnesThis book is my memoir about my ten years traveling and backpacking the world, my philosophy on travel, and the lessons I learned that can help you travel better. It takes you on a trip around the world from start to finish: getting the bug, the planning, setting off, the highs, the lows, the friends, what happens when you come back — and the lessons and advice that come with all that. People have been really enjoying and connecting with it and I think you or any other traveler would love it!! (Plus, getting it helps support everything we do here!)

Buy now on Amazon!
 

16. Donate to Charity!

flyte charity logoFor the traveler in your life who has everything, why not make a donation to charity on their behalf! FLYTE is an awesome charity that I started back in 2015 to help high school students in underserved communities experience the transformational power of travel. Every year we send a new group of students abroad, but we can’t do it without your help!

Donate the gift of travel today!

 

Gifts Under $100

17. Trtl Travel Pillow

a comfortable travel pillowTravel pillows are perfect for those long-haul flights, delayed buses, and airport naps. Every traveler needs to have a travel pillow on hand to maximize that downtime and time in transit, and Trtl pillows are the best on the market. They help prevent jetlag and make even the longest, most uncomfortable trip a little more bearable.

Buy now on Amazon!
 

18. Suavs shoes

suavs shoesSuavs shoes are super versatile and durable, making them perfect for traveling. Whether you’re just exploring the city or in need of something that looks a bit fancier, these shoes can do it all so you don’t have to pack multiple shoes. They are flexible, light, washable, and breathable. I love them! (They look great too!)

Buy now on Suavs!
 

19. Travel Headlamp

travel head lampThis is a handy tool for both backpackers and anyone looking to do any hiking or camping. In a hostel, a headlamp is helpful if you need to check in or out but don’t want to disturb your fellow travelers. For outdoorsy folks, they’re useful for hiking, setting up camp in the dark, and for emergencies.

Buy now on Amazon!
 

20. LifeStraw

lifestraw water filterEnvironmentally, pollution from single-use plastics is something every traveler has witnessed. And, monetarily, when you’re traveling, continuiously buying water gets expensive. Do your part to help the planet by traveling with a reusable filter. LifeStraw is an awesome brand with a built in water filter. The filters last 5 years so you save money on changing them too.

Buy now on Amazon!
 

21. Superstar Blogging

Superstar BloggingIs there someone on your list looking to start a new career? Why not give them a leg up and enroll them in Superstar Blogging! We offer comprehensive courses on blogging, writing, photography, and vlogging that outline everything you need to know to succeed in the travel industry. You’ll learn from me and other top travel experts on how to level up your game, reduce mistakes, and get you heard above the noise!

Buy now on Superstar Blogging!

 

Gifts Over $100

22. Travel Backpack

REI Flash travel backpackIf you’ve got a budget traveler on your holiday list, a travel backpack is the gift that keeps on giving. A well-made bag will last for years and through dozens of adventures. Having a reliable travel backpack is one of the most important items for a traveler.

My favorite bag is the Flash 45 from REI but other companies worth checking out for high-quality bags are Osprey, Nomatic, and MEC (for Canadians).

Some bags worth checking out are:

(For a different backpack, check out my guide finding the right backpack for more options!)

23. Travel Clothing from Unbound Merino

Unbound Merino wool shirtThese travel clothes are some of the most versatile on the market. Made from merino wool, Unbound offers clothing that can be worn daily for weeks (and months!) without getting smelly. They are perfect for the traveler who wants to pack lighter. I really love the material, they’re comfortable, they hardly ever need a wash, and they last forever!

Buy now on Unbound!
 

24. Eco-friendly Luggage from Samsonite

samsonite recycled eco-friendly travel luggageIf you’re in need of proper luggage, Samsonite has been a go-to brand for durable, reliable luggage for ages. Now, I’m a backpack guy but I love this new luggage set. It’s made from 100% recycled plastic! Every little part of it! I can get behind something that environmentally friendly. It also comes with a limited 10 year warranty too in case something goes wrong.

Buy now on Amazon!
 

25. MacBook Air

MacBook air laptopThis is my favorite travel computer. It’s light, it’s powerful enough for regular use, and the battery life lasts a long time. While an iPad might be another potential travel choice, I find the Air much more versatile. You can do a lot more with it. When I’m on the road, this is the laptop I travel with.

Buy now on Amazon!
 

26. iPhone

iPhone 11While not a cheap phone, the iPhone 11 has such a high-tech camera that you don’t need to take a traditonal camera with you when you travel. It has a solid battery life, a grat lens, beautiful screen, and, is overall, just awesome. True, I’m an Apple fanboy so I might be biased but hey, it’s my list!

Buy now on Amazon!
 

27. Wireless Noise-Canceling Headphones

Bose QC35 headphonesThese are ideal for those long flights or bus trips as they block out background noise so you can read, work, or sleep without being disturbed. The wireless Bose QuietComfort 35 headphones are fan favorites and my go-to brand. They are comfortable, rechargable, and do an amazing job at removing background noise. If you’re on a budget, consider the QuietComfort 25 instead.

Buy now on Amazon!
 

28. Mophie External Battery

mophie external batteryThese days, we all travel with numerous electronic devices like phones and tablets. It can be hard to keep them all charged. An external battery solves that problem. Two high-output USB ports make this external battery incredibly convenient, and it can charge up to 100 hours of battery in one go.

Buy now on Amazon!
 

29. Kindle

a kindle from AmazonWhile I personally prefer to read physical books, I can’t argue against the convenience and simplicity of the Kindle. Hauling around physical books is a pain if you’re traveling often. With a Kindle, you can pack hundreds of books into a single device, and many versions can also use apps and access the internet. It’s a wonderful gift for the avid reader.

Buy now on Amazon!
 

30. GoPro Hero 7 Black

gopro hero 7Every traveler needs a camera, and few are as versatile and durable as the GoPro. They’re incredible for photos and video no matter the climate. They’re waterproof and are perfect for both everyday city exploring as well as more extreme and adventurous activities. They’re just awesome.

Buy now on Amazon!

***
Whether you’re searching for the perfect holiday gift for a traveler in your life or just looking for some holiday inspiration for yourself, this list will help you find an awesome gift for the holidays. No matter your budget, there is something here for you that will help you level up your travels or the travels of a loved one.

Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned.

Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay elsewhere, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels. I use them all the time.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years.

My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:

Looking for the best companies to save money with?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! I list all the ones I use to save money when I travel – and I think will help you too!

Photo credit: 13 – Electric Teeth

The post My 2019 Holiday Gift Guide for Travelers appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.





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30 Things to See and Do in Tokyo

Posted By : webmaster/ 218 0


The historic and famous Asakusa Temple in Tokyo, Japan
Posted: 11/23/2019 | November 23rd, 2019

Tokyo is an incredible, massive city home to over 10 million people. It’s the capital of Japan and home to a wide array of fun, historic, and quirky attractions. From the world’s largest tuna auction and the Imperial Palace to robot restaurants and vampire cafés, Tokyo really does have something for everyone.

Whether you’re here for a short stopover or living here as an expat, you’ll be able to find plenty of ways to pass the time and get a feel for the organized chaos that is Tokyo. To help you make the most out of your trip, here are the best things to see and do in Tokyo:
 

1. Visit the Fish Market

Some of the many fresh offerings at the massive fish market in Tokyo, Japan
The Tsukiji Fish Market was one of the most iconic staples of the city. In 2018, the market moved to Toyosu and is now twice the size of the original Tsukiji market. In fact, the new market is the largest fish market in the entire world. While you’ll need a visitor’s pass to enter (you can get one on arrival) the pass is free (which means you’ll have more money to spend on sushi!)

There are over 600 vendors here selling fresh fish as well as fresh fruits and vegetables. Gorge on sushi and marvel at the chaotic atmosphere of the world’s largest tuna market. The tuna auction here powers much of the world’s sushi supply, and it is truly a sight to be seen. You can also see a model of the largest tuna ever sold at Tsujiki — which weighed 500kg (1,100lbs!).

In addition to the new market, the old outer market at Tsukiji still has plenty of restaurants and shops. You can still head there to eat and look around, though all the action is now at Toyosu. Be sure to arrive early to beat the crowds (especially on Saturdays).

Tsukiji Fish Market: 5 Chome-2-1 Tsukiji, Chuo, +81 3-3542-1111. Admission is free. Toyosu Fish Market: 6 Chome-6-2 Toyosu, Koto, +81 3-3520-8205. Open Monday-Saturday from 5am-5pm, though most shops don’t open until 7am. Admission is free.
 

2. Explore by the Imperial Palace

The outskirts of the historic Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Japan
The Imperial Palace is the official home of the Emperor of Japan. It’s a terrific spot to learn about Japan’s history and culture. Formerly Edo Castle, the palace was built in the 15th century, and some of the walls and moats from that time are still in use to this day. When the Emperor moved from Kyoto to Tokyo in 1869, he took Edo for his new palace and renamed it the Imperial Palace.

You can’t go inside (or even get super close), however, the building itself is both regal and serene and a great place to relax or snap some photos. The palace is surrounded by beautiful grounds and a park, and there’s a moat around the massive stone walls. Admission to the grounds is free.
 

3. Experience a Tea Ceremony

No visit to Japan is complete without experiencing a traditional tea ceremony. Tea was brought to Japan in the 9th century by a Buddhist monk and by the 12th century, the ceremony began to take shape. While these ceremonies are usually long (not to mention expensive), there are plenty of budget-friendly options for anyone looking to experience one without breaking the bank. Here are a few budget-friednly tea ceremonies in Tokyo worth checking out:

  • Kyoto-kan (500 JPY per person, Yanmar Tokyo Building 1F 2-1-1)
  • Nadeshiko (2,700-4,400 JPY per person, 2-7-24-2F Asakusa)
  • The Way of Tea (5,500 JPY per person, Coredo Muromachi 3 3F)

 

4. Relax in Ueno Park

Ueno Park is a relaxing and beautiful spot to relax for a few hours (or an entire day if you’re not in a rush). It’s a serene spot to photograph the many cherry trees that line the park (which blossom in April and are a huge tourist draw) or to have a picnic on a sunny summer afternoon.

There are also a few important things to see in the park as well. Here are a few sights in the park you should make time to visit:

  • Tokyo National Museum – Established in 1872, this museum is located in the north end of the park and houses one of the world’s largest collections of art and artifacts from Asia, particularly Japan. 13-9 Uenokoen, Taito, +81 3-3822-1111, tnm.jp. Open daily 9:30am-5pm (8pm on most Fridays). Admission is 620 JPY.
  • Tosho-gu Shrine – This is a 17th-century Shinto shrine with stunning gold doors and ornate carvings. 9-88 Uenokoen, Taito, +81 3-3822-3455, uenotoshogu.com/en. Open daily 9am-5:30pm. Admission is free, though to go further into the shrine, you’ll have to pay 500 JPY.
  • National Museum of Western Art – Opened in 1959, this is one of the only art galleries in the country to focus on Western art. The collection is comprised of 5,000 pieces, dating from the Renaissance all the way to the 20th century. There are works by Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir, and Picasso as well as sculptures dating back to the 14th century.7-7 Uenokoen, +81 3-3828-5131 , nmwa.go.jp. Open Tuesday-Sunday 9:30am-5:30pm (8pm on Fridays). Admission is 500 JPY for adults, 250 for college students, and free for seniors and anyone under 18.

 

5. Eat at the Robot Restaurant

A musician dressed up as a rabbit playing the drums in the Robot Restaurant in Tokyo, Japan
This restaurant, literally called Robot Restaurant, is an absolute sensory overload. it has lasers, robots, monsters, music, dancing and much, much more! Sure, it may be a bit of a tourist trap (aka it’s not cheap), but it is an epic dining experience unlike anything you’ve ever seen. It’s definitely worth the price if you want to do something completely out of the ordinary — and something decidedly Japanese.

1 Chome-7-1 Kabukicho, +81 3-3200-5500, shinjuku-robot.com/pc. There are three performances a day on weekdays starting at 4:45pm, with afternoon matinees on weekends.
 

6. Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum

This small museum used to be the official residence of the Prince and Princess Asaka. Built in 1933, the building itself was influenced by the art deco movement in Paris. The prince had studied in Paris and wanted to bring the art deco style to Japan, hence the building’s style and decorations. In 1983, the residence transitioned into a museum and is now home to a rotating series of modern art exhibitions. See their website for information on what exhibits are available.

5-21-9 Shirokanedai, +81 3-3443-0201, teien-art-museum.ne.jp/en. Open daily 10am-6pm. Admission is 200 JPY, with discounts available for students, children, and seniors.
 

7. Stroll Along the Meguro River

The bright cherry blossoms lining the Meguro River Tokyo, Japan
The Meguro River weaves almost five miles through the city and makes for a magnificent stroll. There’s a path with a bit of green space that follows the water, so plenty of locals walk or exercise there. In the spring, you’ll be able to see a lot of cherry blossoms as you walk along the banks of the river as well.

While the walk is nice at any time of year, late March to early April is when the cherry blossoms will be in bloom. While there will be a lot of people then (cherry blossom viewing is a national pastime) you’ll be rewarded with some beautiful scenery in the heart of the metropolis.
 

8. Check out Asakusa

One of the many busy intersections in Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan as it rains
If you want to check out some of Tokyo’s historic and culturally-significant religious sites, be sure to spend some time wandering around Asakusa. Two places that I’d suggest you visit are:

  • Senso-ji – This is Tokyo’s most popular (and arguably most famous) temple. It’s beautifully painted and sits in a scenic spot near a pagoda and the Kaminari Gate. There’s a huge statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy, inside the main hall. It’s busy during the day so aim to visit in the evening to beat the crowds. 2 Chome-3-1 Asakusa, Taito, +81 3-3842-0181, senso-ji.jp. The grounds are open 24/7, though the temple itself is open daily 6am-5pm. Admission is free.
  • Asakusa Shrine – This is a Shinto shrine located near Senso-ji. It’s much more peaceful and less busy than Senso-ji as well. It was built during the Edo period and miraculously survived the air raids of World War II. 2 Chome-3-1 Asakusa, Taito, +81 3-3844-1575, asakusajinja.jp. Open daily 9am-4:30pm. Admission is free.

 

9. Have Dinner with Ninjas

For another unique dining experience, head to Ninja Akasaka. It’s a novelty ninja-themed restaurant designed like an Edo-era building. The waitstaff are clothed in stereotypical all-black garb and trained in all sorts of simple tricks, sleight of hand, and illusions. You’ll order off old scrolls while being entertained by the skillful tricks of your server. The food isn’t anything special it’s super fun and the atmosphere is unique.

Tokyu Plaza Akasaka, +81 3-5157-3936, ninjaakasaka.com. Open daily 5pm-10:30pm (9:45pm on Sundays)
 

10. Drink in Golden Gai

The narrow alleys of Golden Gai, Tokyo at night
If you are looking for something interesting to do at night, this alley of backstreet bars is a cool spot to start at. There isn’t much going on here during the day, but come sundown, these zigzag hallways and closet-sized beer rooms are filled with interesting people and cheap drinks. There are 6 alleys connected by narrow passageways only wide enough for 1 or 2 people, making it a rather unique place to start your night out on the town. It’s located in Shinjuku.
 

11. Visit the National Art Center

Opened in 2007, this museum and gallery doesn’t actually have a permanent collection but rather houses a never-ending series of temporary exhibitions, from impressionism to modern art (the Monet exhibition that was held here in 2007 was the most visited exhibition in the world). There are upwars ofr 60+ exhibitons each year so check their website to see what is currently being shown.

7 Chome-22-2 Roppongi, +81 3-5777-8600, nact.jp. Open Wednesday-Monday 10am-5:30pm. Admission varies by exhibit.
 

12. Eat Below the Girders

Not far from Ginza is the Yurakucho neighborhood. Below the elevated train tracks at Yurakucho Station is a 700m-long stretch of restaurants and bars. There are wine bars, beer pubs, and casual restaurants filled with businessmen. If you want to get a sense of local city life, this is a good neighborhood to explore after the workday is over.
 

13. Superhero Go-Karting

A group of travelers in go-karts in downtown Tokyo, Japan
If you’re a video game fan (or just want to do something different), check out Street Kart. This is a real-life Mario Bros. go-kart company that lets you dress up and race around the city. As long as you have an international driving permit (which you can get if you have a valid driver’s license), you can take part, racing around the city dressed up as Mario, Yoshi, or even Spiderman.

4-12-9 Sotokanda, +81 80-8899-8899, maricar.com/en/akihabara.html. Open daily 10am-10pm. The course will take 1-2 hours and costs 9,000 JPY per person. There are multiple locations around the city.
 

14. Check out a Sento

A sento is a traditional (and communal) Japanese public bathhouse. In the past, private baths were rare as accommodations in Japan are notoriously small. While private baths are much more commo today, sentos remaining important cultural hubs. The Japanese are not shy in sentos so you need to be comfortable with nudity! They are typically separated by gender. A budget-friendly sento will cost you just under 1,000 JPY. Just keep in mind that many have rules against tattoos.
 

15. Visit a Quirky Café

The bright interior of the Kawaii Harajuku Monster Cafe in Tokyo, Japan
Tokyo has all sorts of weird and wonderful cafés. Monster cafés, cat cafés, dog cafés, owl cafés, vampire cafés, and much more! If you can think of it, there is probably a café for it somewhere in the city. If you’re looking for something unusual to do (or just want a place to relax after exploring) then take a look and see what weird and quirky cafés are near you (they’re all around the city so you never have to go far to find one!).

Here are some suggestions to help you get started:

  • Kawaii Monster Café
  • Vampire Café
  • Christon Café (Christian-themed café)
  • Dog Heart (dog café)
  • Cat Café Calico

 

16. See Shibuya Crossing

The busy Shibuya intersection in Tokyo, Japan at night
This is generally considered to be the busiest (and most famous) intersection in the world. This nearby metro station transports 2.4 million people per day and it’s estimated that upwards of 2,500 cross it at a time during rush hour. At night, the interaction is buzzing. Futuristic bright lights line the streets, with billboards playing videos and ads. It has a sci-fi feel to it (it kind of reminds me of Times Square on steroids).

While you’re here, make sure to visit the statue between Shibuya Station and the intersection. It’s a tribute to Hachiko, a loyal dog who waited for its master every day for 9 years, not knowing his owner had passed away. The dog is something of a national icon in Japan, and the story was made famous by the film Hachi: A Dog’s Tale.
 

17. Stroll Around Shimokitazawa

Brimming with vintage shops, this Bohemian neighborhood is often compared to New York’s East Village. It’s a great example of the quieter side of Tokyo and offers some more relaxing streets to wander and window shop. Whether you’re looking to shop or just want to take in the scene, this is a cool neighborhood to explore for a couple hours.
 

18. Gaze at Mt. Fuji from Hakone

The view of Mount Fuji from Hakone, with a torii gate in the foreground
If you want to take a day trip (or a multi-day trip) from the city, consider going to Hakone. It’s located just over an hour from Tokyo and is one of the best places to get away from the city, relax for a few days, and take in the view of Mount Fuji. There are numerous guesthouses in the area, many with their own private onsen (natural hot springs), making it a great place to go for a romantic getaway or if you just want to pamper your yourself.

If you have the Japan Rail Pass you can get here for free.
 

19. Hang with the Harajuku Girls

Harajuku is an electric and quirky part of town known for its fashion, vintage stores, and cosplay shops. As you wander, you’ll often see “Harajuku girls” walking around town in unique clothing and colorful hairstyles (imagine a 1990s Gwen Stefani video come to life). In addition to all of the avant-garde fashion, there are also tons of trendy restaurants in the area as well. And there is also a monthly Harajuku Fashion Walk which highlights the costumed cos-players of the city as they parade around. For specific dates, check out the group’s Twitter account (@harajuku_fw).
 

20. Watch a Sumo Match

Two sumo wrestlers about to fight in a massive arena as the crowd watches in Japan
Kokugikan is Japan’s most famous sumo wrestling arena. It hosts tournaments three times each year, all of which draw huge crowds. Sumo wrestling (the kind we are familiar with today) dates back to the 17th century, though its origins date back even further. Even to this day, it’s still one of the most popular traditions in the country. If you’re in town at the right time, this is a must-do (even if you’re not a sports fan, it’s a unique and rare opportunity). Tickets sell out quickly so be sure to book early.

1 Chome-3-2-8 Yokoami, Sumida, +81 3-3623-5111, sumo.or.jp/kokugikan. Ticket prices vary, but expect to pay around 2,200 JPY.
 

21. Watch Traditional Japanese Theatre

Kabuki theatre is a traditional form of Japanese performance involving dance and drama. The costumes and makeup are heavily stylized, making for a very visual performance. The Kabukizaka Theatre, located in Ginza, is the best place to see these incredible and power performances. You can purchase tickets for an entire show or just one act if you’re not ready to commit to a longer performance (they’re in Japanese and usually last a few hours).

4 Chome-12-15 Ginza, +81 3-3545-6800, kabuki-za.co.jp. Performances are held almost daily. Check the website for the most up-to-date schedule. Expect to pay at least 1,000 JPY for a single-act ticket.
 

22. Visit Daibutsu (the Great Buddha)

The Great Buddha in Kamakura, Kapan against a bright blue sky
For another day trip, head to Kamakura. Here you’ll find a 13m bronze statue of Buddha that was built in 1252. The statue was initially constructed within a temple, but the temple was washed away — on several occasions — by storms.

Today, the statue now sits in the open air (along with a massive pair of straw sandals that belong to the statue). You can even go inside the statue itself (there isn’t much to see, but it’s still kind of neat to be able to step into a massive statue of that size and importance). The journey only takes about an hour so it’s a great destination for a half-day or full-day excursion.

4 Chome-2-28 Hase, Kamakura, +81 467-22-0703, kotoku-in.jp. Open daily 8am-5:30pm. Admission is 200 JPY. If you have the Japan Rail Pass you can get here for free.
 

23. Visit the Ghibli Museum

If you’re a fan of the award-winning director Hayao Miyazaki’s work (he’s the genius behind Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Princess Mononoke), then you’ll want to check out this amazing museum. The exhibition was actually designed by Miyazaki himself and is an immersive experience that any film buff will appreciate. The museum hosts a new short film every month, only available to visitors. While a visit here won’t take up a whole day, it’s not in a very central location so you’ll need to plan accordingly (it’s about an hour from downtown Tokyo).

1 Chome-1-83 Shimorenjaku, +81 570-055-777, ghibli-museum.jp. Open Wednesday-Monday 10am-6pm. Admission is 1,900 JPY for adults, with discounts available for youth and children. There are limited tickets available each day so book in advance.
 

24. Get Touristy at Tokyo Disneyland

Mickey Mouse on a flat at a parade in Disneyland in Tokyo, Japan
I’m a sucker for Disney attractions! This is a fun choice for anyone traveling with children, but also for any adults who just love amusement parks. Opened in 1983, it has seven themed areas to explore and is the third most visited theme park in the world. it has a lot of the same famous rides you’ll find at Disney World such as Splash Mountain, The Haunted Mansion, and the nauseating Mad Tea Cup Ride.

1-1 Maihama, Urayasu, +81 45-330-5211, tokyodisneyresort.jp/tdl. Open daily 8am-10pm. Admission is 7,400 JPY for adults and 4,800-6,400 JPY for children, depending on age.
 

25. Hike Mount Mitake

Located just over an hour from Tokyo is Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park. The park covers 1,250 square kilometers of rolling hills, mountains, and lush forests. There are plenty of hiking trails, though you can also take a cable car to the top and then hike to the shrine that sits on the peak, some 930m above sea level. It’s a 30-minute walk to the shrine from the peak/top of the cable car. From there, you can hike for an hour to a small valley with two picturesque waterfalls or continue on to Mount Otake, which is about 2 hours from the summit of Mount Mitake.
 

26. Stroll through Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden

This park spans over 144 acres and is home to some 20,000 trees. Most of the original park was destroyed in World War II, however, it was rebuilt and reopened in 1949. During spring, the park is one of the best spaces to see cherry blossoms. My favorite part is the Japanese landscape garden, which has several ponds with bridges and islands. It’s a peaceful little oasis within the hustle and bustle of the city.

11 Naitomachi, Shinjuku, +81 3-3350-0151, env.go.jp/garden/shinjukugyoen/index.html. Open Tuesday-Sunday 9am-4pm. Admission is 200 JPY.
 

27. Visit the Tokyo Tower

The Tokyo Tower at sunrise in Tokyo, Japan
Built in 1957, Tokyo Tower resembles the Eiffel Tower (though the Tokyo Tower is taller, standing 333m). It’s made entirely of steel and you can pay to go all the way to the top floor to take in the view. While the views are amazing, the main observation deck offers one that’s just as good for almost half the price.

4 Chome-2-8 Shibakoen, Minato, +81 3-3433-5111, tokyotower.co.jp. Open daily 9am-11pm. Admission is 900 JPY for the main deck or 1,600 JPY for the top.
 

28. Visit the Samurai Museum

No trip to Japan would be complete without learning about samurai. While they were known for their skills in combat, there was much more to the culture than just mastering the sword. This museum does a great job of illuminating life as a samurai and it also has some incredible displays of traditional weapons and armor (some of which you can even try on)

Kabukicho 2-25-6, +81 3-6457-6411, samuraimuseum.jp/en. Open daily 10:30am-9pm. Admission is 1,900 JPY per person. You can explore the museum on your own or in a group tour, which are conducted every 30 minutes.
 

29. Walk across the Rainbow Bridge

This is the city’s most popular bridge and offers some lovely views of both sides of Tokyo Bay. Built in 1993, the bright lights up at night with rainbow colors — hence the name. It makes for a pleasant walk during the day or at night if you need to stretch your legs after binging on sushi.
 

30. Drinks at the Park Hyatt

The dim and classy interior of New York Bar in Tokyo, Japan
New York Bar is the iconic bar from Sofia Coppola’s 2003 film Lost in Translation. Located on the 52nd floor, the bar actually lives up to the hype of the film. The atmosphere is classy, the drinks are great, and the view is absolutely stunning. There is live jazz every night, and while there is a cover charge (around 2,500 JPY), it’s definitely worth it if you’re looking to splash out.

3-7-1-2 Nishishinjuku, +81 3-5322-1234, hyatt.com. Open Sunday-Wednesday 5pm-12am and Thursday-Saturday 5pm-1am.

***

Tokyo is one of those cities that really does have something for everyone. Nightlife, delicious food, accessible nature, insightful museums, art galleries, relaxing parks — you name it, you can find it here. But where the city really shines is with its quirky offerings. You’ll find tons of weird and wonderful restaurants, cafés, and activities here — things you wont find anywhere else in the world.

While the city isn’t the cheapest in Asia (though there are lots of ways to save money here it offers visitors the opportunity to experience life in one of the most electric, futuristic cities in the world. And, to me, that’s worth the price.

Book Your Trip to Japan: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned.

Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld as they have the most comprehensive hostel inventory out there. If you want to stay in a hotel or guesthouse, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates. My favorite places to stay in Tokyo are:

  • Khaosan Tokyo Kabuki – This is one of the best hostels in the country. The staff go above and beyond, each room has its own bathroom, and it’s in a great location to help you explore the city.
  • Sheena and Ippei – This hostel is super homey, and the owners are both helpful and knowledgable. The lounge is open to everyone, and you can enjoy appetizers and sake on the weekends.
  • Hostel Chapter Two Tokyo – This is a small, family-run hostel in Asakusa. There’s a great view of the river and the dorms seem new and immaculately clean.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:

Looking for the best companies to save money with?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! I list all the ones I use to save money when I travel – and I think will help you too!

Looking for more travel tips for Japan
Check out my in-depth Japan travel guide for more ways to save money, costs, tips on what to see and do, suggested itineraries, reading, packing lists, and much, much more!

Photo credit: 1 – AlexTalmaciu, 4 – Nick Turner, 5 – shiranai, 6 – Liz Mc, 9 – Michael Mortola, 12- Ian Kennedy, 16 – HeatherLWilliams

The post 30 Things to See and Do in Tokyo appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.





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29 Things to See and Do in New York City

Posted By : webmaster/ 225 0


A aerial shot of Manhattan overlooking Central Park
Posted: 11/21/2019 | November 21st, 2019

New York City. It’s one of my favorite cities in the world and one of the most popular destinations in the US. Sprawling, busy, exciting — there’s a reason people call it the city that never sleeps!

It has something for everyone — including lots of budget-friendly activities for travelers looking to stretch their pocketbook. I lived in the city for years and still return often. Whether you’re looking for history, nightlife, food, or art, this city won’t disappoint.

To help you plan your trip, here are the best things to see and do in NYC — no matter your budget!
 

1. Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island

The Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island in New York City
At 151 feet tall, the Statue of Liberty is spectacular to see up close. But the real highlight of this duo is Ellis Island. Here you’ll learn about the immigrant experience and get a sense of the people who helped build the city. There’s such a great sense of history there that you can’t help but be impressed.
 

2. Central Park

The lush green trees and flowers of Central Park in New York City
The perfect way to relax in the city and leave the crowds behind is to spend the day in Central Park. It’s free, there are lots of paths to walk (or run), bike lanes, lakes to row in, and a zoo. The park spans over 150 square blocks (840 acres) it’s easy to spend hours wandering around. During the summer months, there are often free concerts and theater productions (line up early for tickets to Shakespeare in the Park).

From the late spring to the early fall, there are free guided walks run by the parks service on Saturdays at 11am. I’m a big fan of laying out in Sheep’s Meadow on a hot, sunny day with a book, some food, and a bottle of wine.
 

3. World Trade Center & 9/11 Memorial and Museum

The somber 9/11 Memorial at ground zero in New York City
Wander the somber memorial and then take in the view from the new “Freedom Tower.” On the elevator up, you can see pictures of the historical development of the city and how it’s changed over the years. To get a deeper understanding of 9/11 and the events that unfolded, visit the museum. It’s home to some moving exhibits that illuminate the significance of the tragedy and its impact.

180 Greenwich Street, Financial District, Lower Manhattan, +1 212 266 5211, 911memorial.org. Daily memorial hours are from 7:30am–9pm. Daily museum hours are from 9am–8pm (closes one hour later on Fri–Sat). The memorial is free to visit and entry to the museum is $24. Free admission on Tuesdays after 5pm (on a first-come, first-served basis).
 

4. Wall Street

The Charging Bull statue in New York City on Wall Street
Take a photo with the famous Charging Bull statue (which was commissioned in 1989 and is made of bronze) and then walk to Wall Street and see where all those bankers destroyed the economy. While there isn’t much to see here (the Museum of American Finance is temporarily closed) it’s still an iconic part of the city and worth seeing with your own eyes, if only briefly.
 

5. Battery Park

Named Battery Park for the old batteries (cannons) that defended the city, you can stop here for music and street performers in the summer, people-watching, relaxing, and some lounging in the sun with a good book. You can also explore the ruins of the old fort that kept watch over New York City. The Park is large and can get a little hectic but there are some tremendous views of the harbor that make it worthwhile.
 

6. Walk the Brooklyn Bridge

A shot of Manhattan from the Brooklyn Bridge during sunset in the summer
The Brooklyn Bridge offers an easy 25-minute walk into Brooklyn and the waterfront park on the other side of the bridge. Stopping to take photos and meandering along the way will make the walk about 40 minutes — which is definitely worth it! You get a lot of wonderful views of Manhattan as you make your way across. I enjoy doing this walk at night when downtown is all lit up (and there are fewer crowds).
 

7. Grand Central Terminal

Grand Central Terminal is the city’s historic train station. It was going to be torn down in 1975 but was saved by Jacqueline Kennedy, who raised money for its preservation. There are free historical tours on Wednesdays. I love coming to the main concourse and looking up at the “stars” in the ceiling and people-watching as everyone races to and fro.

Also, there’s an amazing eatery in the basement called the Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant. And for fancy (and expensive) cocktails, visit the Campbell Apartments and step back into the 1920s (dress code enforced). The space was once the office of John W. Campbell, a member of the New York Central Railroad’s board of directors and finance tycoon from the 1920s.

89 E. 42nd Street, Midtown, grandcentralterminal.com. Opening daily from 5:30am–2am. Tours are held daily at 12:30pm for $30 per person with discounts available. Purchase at mas.org/tours or at the ticket windows.
 

8. Trinity Church

Trinity Church is one of the oldest churches in America. The original building burned down in 1776, but the current church is still beautiful and one of the most iconic sights in the city. It has an ornate Gothic-style structure and is famous for its colonial graveyard, where you’ll find many famous Americans (including Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s founding fathers).

74 Trinity Place, Financial District, Lower Manhattan, +1 212 602 0800, trinitywallstreet.org. Opening daily from 7am–6pm.
 

9. The Guggenheim Museum

The exterior of the Guggenheim museum in New York City
This museum is home to a renowned collection of impressionist, post-impressionist, early modern, and contemporary art. The cylindrical museum (designed by Frank Lloyd Wright) is considered one of the 20th century’s most important architectural designs. It’s one of my favorite buildings (and museums) in the city.

1071 5th Avenue, Upper East Side, +1 212 423 3500, guggenheim.org/new-york. Opening Sunday–Wednesday and Fridays from 10am–5:45pm, Saturdays from 10am–7:45 (closed Thursdays). Admission is $25 with discounts for students and seniors. On Saturday nights from 5:45-7:45pm, admission is by donation.
 

10. City Hall

New York’s City Hall is a great piece of historic architecture. It also has a beautiful little park nearby that’s filled with office workers during lunch (in the summer anyway). To learn about the building’s history, art, and architecture, take one of the guided tours. On a tour, you’ll be able to see the rotunda, the city council chamber, Governor’s Room, and the City Hall Portrait Collection. It’s a great place to learn about the city and how it functions.

City Hall Park. Pre-reserved tours are typically offered for groups (10–20 people) on Mondays and Tuesdays at 10:30am and for individuals on Thursdays at 10am. There are also first-come, first-served tours on Wednesdays at 12pm.
 

11. Rockefeller Center

The view from the Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center in New York City at night
Wander around Rockefeller Center to see where they film The Today Show, shop, snack, and take the elevator to the “Top of the Rock” for another bird’s-eye view of the city (which I personally think it better than the Empire State Building, since this view includes the Empire State Building in the picture). It will be busy at sunset and on the weekends, so come during the week to beat the crowds.

30 Rockefeller Plaza, +1 212 698 2000, topoftherocknyc.com. Open daily from 8am–12am (last elevator up at 11pm). Admission is $36 to visit the observation deck once, $50 to combine that with a tour of Rockefeller Center, and $54 to visit the observation deck twice in 24 hours.
 

12. Times Square

Times Square in NYC lit up at night and bustling with people
No matter when you go to Times Square, it will be packed with people (usually other tourists). There are a few pedestrian areas where you can sit and take in the city but if you aren’t shopping or eating or planning to see a show then there isn’t much to do in the area.

While no New Yorkers hang out here, it’s still a fabulous place to people-watch for a few minutes from the top of the red steps of the TKTS kiosk. You can really get a feel for how busy the city is from here.
 

13. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

An ancient Sphynx statue in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City
The Met is one of the biggest museums in the world, and if you only see one museum in New York, this is the one I would recommend. It has a huge collection of art, historical artifacts, photographs, and other exhibits. There’s even a real Egyptian tomb in here! Personally, I enjoy its expansive impressionist and Greek exhibits. The museum can get a little chaotic and usually filled with people (especially on weekends) but since it is so big you can often find some quiet spots away from the crowds. You can easily spend hours here so budget a lot of time if you’re a history buff like me!

1000 5th Avenue, Central Park, Upper East Side, +1 212 535 7710, metmuseum.org. Opening Sunday–Thursday from 10am–5:30pm, Friday–Saturday from10am–9pm. Admission is $25 (includes entrance to the Cloisters and Met Breuer for three consecutive days). Free for kids 12 and under.
 

14. American Museum of Natural History

Made even more famous by the Night at the Museum movies, this is another museum that requires a lot of time. The exhibits on nature, human history, and marine life are comprehensive and educational so I wouldn’t try to rush your visit. Also, don’t skip the section on space at the Hayden Planetarium, which is run by science guru Neil Degrasse Tyson. They have really detailed exhibitions on the origin of the universe!

Central Park W. at 79th Street, Upper West Side, +1 212 769 5100, amnh.org. Opening daily from 10am–5:45pm. Suggested donation of $23 ($13 for children ages 2–12). Note: Even though this museum only technically asks for a suggested donation, be prepared to pay to go into any special exhibitions and/or movies.
 

15. The Frick Collection

The calm and serene interior of The Frick Collection in New York City
This collection features paintings by famous European artists as well as 18th-century French furniture and intricate rugs from Asia. To be honest, you have to really love Dutch artists to want to spend time here (which I do). Fortunately, they also host a lot of wonderful temporary exhibits so there is often a lot of other art to see in addition to their main collection.

1 East 70th Street, +1 212-288-0700, frick.org. Opening from Tuesday-Saturday from 10am-6pm and Sundays from 11am-5pm (closed on Mondays). Admission is $22 USD, with discounts available to students and seniors. Visit Wednesdays between 2pm-6pm and the entrance fee is “pay what you wish.”
 

16. The Museum of the City of New York

This museum will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about New York City. Architecture, parks, streets, culture, famous sights — you name it! There are multiple rooms that illuminate the city throughout the ages via interviews, maps, interactive exhibits, profiles of historical figures, and various artifacts. It’s the best history museum in the city. Also, there’s a fun exhibit here where you can create the future NYC (a la Sim City style). It’s great for kids!

1220 Fifth Avenue at 103rd St., +1 212-534-1672, mcny.org. Opening daily from 10am-6pm. Admission is $18, with discounted rates for students and seniors.
 

17. Empire State Building

The busy skyline of Manhattan
This is one of the most historic landmarks in all of New York City. Built in 1931, the art deco interior is beautiful and the view from the top is breathtaking. You can get a real feel for how densely populated New York is as you stare out at the city. Get here early or during lunchtime to avoid the lines and tour groups. And don’t forget to bring your camera!

350 5th Avenue, Midtown, +1 212 736 3100, esbnyc.com. Price: $36 to visit the observation deck once, $50 to combine that with a tour of Rockefeller Center, $54 to visit the observation deck twice in 24 hours. Discounts available for children and seniors.
 

18. Broadway Show

You can’t go to New York City, the theater capital of the world, without seeing a show. Current highlights and my favorites include:

  • The Lion King
  • The Phantom of the Opera
  • Wicked
  • Dear Evan Hansen
  • Aladdin
  • Chicago
  • School of Rock
  • Come From Away
  • Hamilton
  • The Book of Mormon

You can find discounted theater tickets at the TKTS offices around the city (Times Square, South Street Seaport, and downtown Brooklyn) for shows that day. They also have an app where you can see what they offer too! Expect to spend at least $100.
 

19. The Cloisters

The Cloisters museum in New York City
Few people make it up to the Cloisters (it’s all the way up near 204th Street), which is a branch of the Met devoted to medieval Europe. Even when I lived here, it took me years to finally see it — and I kicked myself for waiting so long! Built with Rockefeller money, the Cloisters was made from parts of five European abbeys between 1934-1939. The building and its stunning cloistered garden are serene and beautiful and a nice break for the hustle and bustle of the city. There are free tours each day that explain the history of the museum and the paintings and exhibits.

99 Margaret Corbin Drive, Fort Tryon Park, +1 212 923 3700, metmuseum.org/visit/visit-the-cloisters. Opening daily from 10am–5:15pm (closes early in the winter). Admission is $25 (includes entrance to the Met and Met Breuer for three consecutive days) and free for kids 12 and under.
 

20. The High Line & Whitney Museum

The High Line Park in the Meatpacking District in NYC
The High Line is a former train track that has been converted into an urban walking park. It stretches almost 1.5 miles from 34th Street to the Meatpacking District. Lined with overlooks, gardens, public art, food stalls, and greenery, this walk is one of the best things to do in the city — especially on a nice summer day. Go for a walk, sit with a book, people-watch — the High Line is a must-see and a true favorite among locals.
 

21. Lower East Side Tenement Museum

The brick exterior of the Tenement Museum in New York City
This is a fascinating museum that offers visitors a chance to visit former tenement apartments on the Lower East Side. You’ll learn how immigrants from around the world lived during the late 1800s and early 1900s as they tried to make it in America. It’s an insightful museum and a good follow-up to what you see on Ellis Island. You can only visit this museum via guided tours and they need to be booked in advance. Personally, I like the “Meet the Residents” tour, where live actors portray and share the story of newly arrived immigrants.

103 Orchard Street, Lower East Side, +1 877 975 3786, tenement.org. Open from Friday–Wednesday from 10am–6:30pm and Thursdays from 10am–8:30pm. Admission is $25 with discounts for students and seniors.
 

22. Take a walking tour

NYC is home to dozens of walking tour companies — and many of them are free! Be sure to take one of the many, many walking tours the city has to offer to get a unique and cultural look at the city that never sleeps from a local guide. There are all sorts of focused tours on street art, history, food, and much more! I always take my friends on at least one when they visit. A few walking tour companies worth checking out are:

For more suggestions, check out my favorite NYC walking tours.
 

23. Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

the sleek design in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City
Want to see lots of beautiful (and weird) modern art? You’ve come to the right place! Personally, I hate modern art. I just don’t “get” it. But, while I dislike modern art, the MoMA does have Van Gogh’s Starry Night as well as other post-impressionist art which makes it worth visiting. If you love modern and contemporary art, this (I’m told) is one of the best in the world.

18 W. 54th Street, Midtown, +1 212 708 9400, moma.org. Open Saturday–Thursday from 10:30am–5:30pm and Fridays from 10:30am–8pm. Admission is $25 with discounts for students and seniors. The MoMA’s Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden is free of charge to the public daily (9:30am–10:15am). On Fridays after 4pm, the museum is free
 

24. Prospect Park

Spend some time outside of Manhattan and go explore Brooklyn’s version of Central Park (the Brooklyn Museum is right next down and it’s worth a visit too). Opened in 1867, the park covers over 500 acres and is a great place to have a picnic, read a book, people watch, or lounge in the sun.
 

25. Bronx Zoo

A small monkey looking at the camera at the Bronx Zoo in New York City
Head north for a look at one of the oldest and biggest zoos in the United States. Opened in 1899, the zoo spans almost 300 acres and sees over 2 million visitors each and every year. Home to over 650 different species, it’s a great place to visit with kids. Gorillas, birds of prey, bison — there is a huge assortment of animals here and you’ll definitely learn a lot during your visit!

2300 Southern Boulevard, Bronx, +1 718 220 5100, bronxzoo.com. Open Monday–Friday from 10am–5pm and Saturday–Sunday from 10am–5:30pm (limited hours from November-April). Tickets are $22.95, but it is pay-what-you-want on Wednesdays.
 

26. See a Yankees/Mets/Rangers/Knicks Game

The New York Yankees playing baseball at Yankee Stadium in New York City
Like sports? Then you probably already know that NYC has some world-class sports teams. I’m not much of a sports fan but games are fun when you have friends to share the experience with. If you have a chance and the desire, grab some tickets to a game!
 

27. See a TV Show!

TV shows like Saturday Night Live, The View, Late Night with Stephen Colbert, The Daily Show, Last Week Tonight, and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon offer free tickets to their tapings (although they must be reserved well in advance). It can be very difficult to get tickets so try to get tickets for multiple shows to increase your odds. For more details, see the website of each show for details and to make reservations.
 

28. Batsu!

Walk through the narrow aisle of the Je Bon Sushi restaurant in the East Village, and head down the tiny stairway to find this hidden dinner theater. This four-person improv comedy competition takes place within the structure of a high-energy Japanese game show, with slapstick theatrical performances. Go with friends to enjoy some sushi, sake shots, and a night of ridiculous fun.

15 St. Mark’s Place, East Village, +1 347 985 0368, batsulive.com/new-york. Tickets from $30.50.
 

29. Ellen’s Stardust Diner

Since 1987, this diner is home to an incredible waitstaff of singers and dancers. Between tours and musical performances, actors and actresses wait tables at Ellen’s, where they belt out songs as they serve you slightly pricey, very American diner food (think shakes, burgers, and lasagna) in uniforms from the 1950s. It’s incredibly cheesy but good fun — especially if you’re a theatre fan!

1650 Broadway, Times Square, +1 212 956 5151. There’s usually a line so be sure to plan ahead!

***
No matter how long you’re here for — and no matter what you’re interested in — New York City will have something for you. While it’s not the most budget-friendly city in the country, there are plenty of free activities and lots of cheap things to see and do to keep you busy and entertained.

And if you want to splurge? Well, you’ve come to the right place!

With so many things to see and do it’s no surprise that tourists love to re-visit this diverse, lovely, and eclectic city. But don’t take my word for it — put this list to the test and let me know what you think!

Get the In-Depth Budget Guide to New York City!

NYC travel guideFor more in-depth information and tips on NYC, check out my 100+ page guidebook written for budget travelers like yourself! It cuts out the fluff found in other guides and gets straight to the practical information you need to travel and save money the city that never sleeps. You’ll find suggested itineraries, budgets, ways to save money, on and off the beaten path things to see and do, non-touristy restaurants, markets, and bars, and much more!! Click here to learn more and get started.

Book Your Trip to New York City: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Get Your Guide
Check out my detailed guide to planning a visit to NYC with suggested itineraries, places to stay, things to do, where to eat, and how to get around. Just click here to get the guide and continue planning today!

Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned.

Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay elsewhere, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels. I use them all the time. My favorite places to stay in New York City are:

  • HI NYC Hostel – One of the biggest and most popular hostels in the city with a ton of space, an outdoor patio, free Wi-Fi, events, activities, and a huge kitchen.
  • Jazz on Columbus Circle – My favorite hostel in NYC, with comfy dorms and a friendly environment.
  • Pod Times Square – Incredibly tiny private rooms, but with an excellent quiet location near Times Square.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:

Looking for the best companies to save money with?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! I list all the ones I use to save money when I travel – and I think will help you too!

Photo credit: 11 – Joyofmuseums, 16 – Jay

The post 29 Things to See and Do in New York City appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.





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How to Travel Kazakhstan By Train

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a gold-topped mosque in Kazakhstan
Posted: 11/18/19 | November 18th, 2019

Kazakhstan is a country I’ve always wanted to visit. In fact, I’ve always wanted to go to all the “Stans”. It’s the region of the world I probably want to visit the most. After having lived in Kazakhstan for 8 years, Doug Fears knows a thing or two about the country and how to navigate it. In this guest post, Doug offers some in-depth advice about how to travel around Kazakhstan by train!

Night spilled across the Kazakh steppe. The train’s steel wheels clickety-clacked below, gently prompting me to point toward a bowl of plastic-wrapped apples. Suddenly, my drunken dining car companion began gesticulating wildly while repeating his favorite, and perhaps only, English-language phrase, “No problem!” With a shake of the head and wave of the hand, this newfound friend seemed to dismiss all other apples as second-rate. Apples originated from Kazakhstan, after all, and we had just departed the city of Almaty, “the father of apples.” I simply had to try one. (It was delicious.)

Taking the train through Kazakhstan, the world’s ninth largest country, presents a changing cultural tapestry every time. Imagine a vast land, once secretive and closed to outsiders, where travelers can now experience an eclectic blend of Silk Road culture, offbeat Soviet-era history, and wide-open spaces spiced with warm Kazakh hospitality.

I’ve shared cabins with young soldiers, border police, language professors and martial artists, just to name a few. My favorite memories are the meals and card games enjoyed with these folks, even when I didn’t have a common language.

So forget everything about the movie Borat, and climb aboard as you browse ancient bazaars, ride the rails, and trek to pristine mountain lakes.

Planning Your Route

map of Lake Burabay in Kazakhstan
I suggest the following itinerary: flying into the capital, Nur-Sultan (formerly Astana) (airport code TSE), heading north to nearby Lake Burabay, taking a fast train back south to Karaganda, then an overnight classic train to Almaty in the southeast, with a possible extension to Turkistan (a city and region in the south of the country).

If you want to continue on in Central Asia, you can easily extend your trip from Almaty to see the gorgeous mountain vistas of nearby Kyrgyzstan or continue by train from Turkistan south to Uzbekistan.

The best time to go is between May and October, as northern Kazakhstan is blanketed in snow from November through April, with typical temps in the minus-20 range. Those wanting to snow ski or experience the excitement of New Year’s, the country’s biggest holiday, however, should consider a wintertime trip.

Visas are no longer needed for most visitors to Kazakhstan (for 30 days) and Kyrgyzstan (for 60 days), though advance visas are required for Uzbekistan, Russia, and China.

Buying Train Tickets

a statue in Karaganda
There are three types of trains: the fast business-class Talgo, regular long-distance trains, and regional electrics. Budget travelers should opt for regular trains for most trips. Regional electrics are generally slow and will be of limited use.

On regular trains — highly recommended for the best cultural experience — the two main classes are kupe (a four-person closed compartment with two upper and lower bunks) and platzkar (an open rolling dormitory holding 54 travelers on two-level bunks). The kupe is quieter and more private, but single women might want to choose the somewhat safer open platzkar, as they could be in a locked cabin with three men (no gender distinctions are made when making reservations). Also realize that not all trains run daily.

The new Kazakhstan e-ticket website is not easy to use: while there is an English menu, it requires you to enter destination cities using a Russian keyboard! Some foreign bankcards won’t work for payment, and even successful ticket purchases are often blocked by spam filters. However, there is an option to chat online with an English-language consultant who can help you find and purchase tickets.

My suggestion is to use this site as a reference to find train timetables and to purchase long-distance train tickets that are more likely to be sold out. You can use the helpful site Real Russia for international train ticket purchases (especially for traveling from Moscow to Central Asia).

Then go to a train station or train ticket office in the city, as some have kiosk machines that you can try. Another option is to write your destination and date on a piece of paper and present it to a ticket agent at a station or train office for help.

Once you have your ticket, the most important things to know are the date and time of departure, and wagon number. Check the posted signs in the station to find which platform number your train is on and walk toward that wagon — the conductor will check your ID and ticket and help you board.

Kazakhstan Costs

a mosque in Azamat, Kazakhstan
Traveling by train is much safer and enjoyable than by bus, and an incredible value for the long distances traveled. A standard overnight train ticket from Karaganda to Almaty will be about $9 USD for platzkar and $14 for kupe. By comparison, the business-class Talgo on the same route costs $25 in a four-berth kupe, but it does reduce travel time by six hours (and has much cleaner bathrooms!). A night train provides double value, serving as both bed and transport; they are cooler and more comfortable in the summer travel season too!

Local city buses are cheap, about $0.20 per ride, regardless of distance.

Hotel rooms in the city centers of Nur-Sultan and Almaty range from $30 to $50 per night with breakfast. Full apartments ($25/night) or shared guest rooms ($10/night) can be booked on Airbnb.

Food is also reasonably priced. I suggest finding a hotel with breakfast included on booking.com, eating picnic-style meals on the train, and enjoying a streetside café for other meals (grilled shashlik skewers, bread, salad, and drink for about $4), though if you can’t peel it or cook it, it’s best to forget it. And make sure to try the local apples!

Essential Kazakhstan Travel Hacks

Astana, Kazakhstan

  • Do reserve an upper bunk if you like relaxing onboard (lower bunks are shared during the daytime and used for communal meals), but you need to be reasonably fit to climb the mini-ladder.
  • Do bring a comfortable change of clothes to wear onboard (track suit, shorts, and T-shirt). It’s perfectly normal to ask others to step outside while you change.
  • Do bring extra food to share (tea/coffee, instant noodles, sausage, cucumbers, bread, biscuits, apples, sweets). Note: there is always a steaming samovar of hot water in each car for making tea or noodles.
  • Do pack a small train kit (mug, fork/spoon/knife, toilet paper, plate, wet wipes, plastic sandals, collapsible hand fan, deck of cards, bottled water).
  • Do take your street shoes off when entering a train compartment.
  • Do plan your bathroom visits, as the toilets are locked about 15 minutes before and after station stops (read the timetable posted in each wagon).
  • Do take some small gifts from your home country (magnets, key rings) to share.
  • Don’t buy unsold seats from touts lurking around stations — I’ve been stuck sharing a four-berth kupe with six people plus a giant-screen TV!
  • Don’t get scolded for lying on a bare mattress, but don’t pay extra for sheets and towels in kupe class. They are now included in the kupe ticket fare, but beware you may be awakened very early by the conductor collecting them on overnight trains!
  • Don’t be bullied by transport police or immigration officials at borders — show your passport and ticket and nothing more.
  • Don’t miss your stop, get stranded on the platform buying ice cream, or, above all, be forced to jump off a moving train!

Best Kazakhstan Train Routes

Kazakhstan trains
Because of the challenges with the ticketing website, I’ve listed the most helpful train routes for getting around. Note that all of these run daily.

While northbound trains from Nur-Sultan stop at Borovoye/Shchuchinsk, it might be easier to take a shared van or minibus for the short 2.5-hour trip. Just listen or ask for “Borovoye” at the Nur-Sultan-1 train station, where vans wait to fill up and leave throughout the day. You can do the same if heading directly south from Nur-Sultan to Karaganda, as a new tollway has opened, cutting the travel time between these two major cities to two hours, although all Nur-Sultan-to-Almaty trains also stop there. Note that both Nur-Sultan and Almaty have two train stations in different parts of the city — make sure you go to the right one!

Train #031 from Almaty to Semey in the northeast traces the historical “TurkSib” route — from here you can head east to explore the Altay Mountains or continue north into Russia to connect with the legendary Trans-Siberian route.

Route
Train No.
Departs
Arrives
Cost
Nur-Sultan-1 –
Borovoye
(Lake Burabay)
705 Talgo
07:56
10:04
$13
(4p kupe)
Borovoye –
Karaganda
706 Talgo
18:40
23:41
$14
(4p kupe)
$16 (2p)
Nur-Sultan NurlyZhol –
Karaganda
Almaty-1
010
20:10
23:22
14:40+1
$7platzkar
$10kupe
$18platzkar
$28kupe
Almaty-1 –
Nur-Sultan NurlyZhol
009
17:38
12:34+1
$18
(platzkar)
$28 (kupe)
Almaty-2 –
Turkistan
071
21:08
10:47+1
$18 (kupe)
Almaty-2 –
Semey
031 Talgo
13:25
07:52+1
$24 (kupe)

Note: +1 means “arriving the following day”; p = persons

What to See Along the Way

Kazakhstan mountains
The major cities of Nur-Sultan, Karaganda, and Almaty are all on the main rail line and make both good stopovers and bases for exploring the surrounding natural and historical sites. Other off-the-beaten-track locations, such as the Baykonur rocket base and Altay Mountains, require special permission and advance planning. Here’s an overview of the major destinations:

  • Nur-Sultan, formerly Astana) – one of the world’s youngest capital cities, a futuristic Tomorrowland-esqe blend of gleaming buildings, shopping centers, and sculpted monuments.
  • Lake Burabay (formerly Borovoye) – a scenic, forested lake resort just 2.5 hours north of Nur-Sultan, featuring a wide range of accommodations and attractions.
  • Karaganda – Kazakhstan’s “third city,” with its leafy wide boulevards, is a good base for exploring Soviet-era history, particularly the museum of political repression at nearby Dolinka, one of the largest labor camps in the Gulag system.
  • Almaty – Central Asia’s most cosmopolitan city. The stunning backdrop of the Tien Shan Mountains frames this busy business center, a great base for making day trips to the nearby mountains, the skate/ski center at Medeu/Chimbulak, and the red rock Charyn Canyon.
  • Turkistan – Kazakhstan’s holiest site, and the country’s best place to see Silk Road architecture and tile work.
  • Baykonur Cosmodrome – the world’s most active launch site for manned space missions. Rocket enthusiasts will need to book well in advance with an agency like Nomadic Travel Kazakhstan to try and see a launch.
  • The Far Northeast – Well off the beaten path, Semey, Ust-Kamenogorsk, and the pristine Altay Mountains are in a beautiful region worth the extra effort to see. Visiting the sensitive border zone or former Polygon nuclear test site will require special permits and advance planning.

***

As a child of the Cold War era, I recall hiding under my desk during drills to the sound of air-raid sirens, as we lived in genuine fear of nuclear war. I never dreamed I would visit the big blank spots on the map labeled “USSR,” especially the Siberian steppe and Central Asia.

Nowadays, with internet communication and open borders, an amazing opportunity awaits to wander across these once-forbidden zones, sharing goodwill and learning something too.

And one final tip: make sure to buy apples before you board the train! Though I only visited the train’s dining car once, I did purchase the pack of shiny apples that evening, munching on what I figured was a true local delicacy. The next morning when unpacking, though, one lazily rolled across the table, revealing a surprise sticker reading “Product of USA”!

Douglas Fears has always loved everything about trains, boats, and maps. After running a marathon on every continent and working as a computer consultant for 20 years, he moved to Kazakhstan and spent 8 years working in education and administration. He currently lives on the Black Sea and spends his time reading, mentoring young people, helping his wife teach English and writing funny travel stories for his blog Rails, Whales and Tales.

Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe, so you always know no stone is being left unturned.

Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld as they have the largest inventory. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com, as it consistently returns the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels. I use them both all the time.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it, as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:

Looking for the best companies to save money with?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! I list all those I use to save money when I travel — and they will save you time and money too!

The post How to Travel Kazakhstan By Train appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.





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The Best Travel Credit Cards for 2019

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a person using their travel credit card to shop on their laptop
Posted: 11/16/2019 | November 16th, 2019

It can be difficult to choose the best travel credit card. There are hundreds upon hundreds out there — and so many of them seem to be the same! Which one is right for you? How do you decide? Which one gives you the best points? Are the fees worth it?

For someone who isn’t deep into the travel the industry, it can be very confusing — and a bit nervewracking — to figure out which card to get.

Let me say this: the best travel credit card is the one that aligns with your travel goals.

Are you interested in loyalty to a brand, free rewards, or avoiding fees? Do you want to milk the rewards and bonus system to get free flights, or do you just want a card that won’t charge you a fee for using it at that restaurant in Brazil? Is elite status the most important perk for you? Do you want points you can use like cash for anything?

Obviously, the airline and hotel cards you’ll pick are going to be based on those you use a lot. For example, I have a Marriott card and a Delta card because those are my brands of choice.

But, for those general points credit cards, are some cards better than the rest for daily use? I think so. If you don’t have any specific goals in mind and are just looking for some you can use in your day-to-day life, here’s a list of what I think the best travel credit cards are, their features, and why and when you should have them.

Note: Once in a while I get new cards if they have a good bonus, but for the most part, I think that you shouldn’t spread yourself too thin.

MY TOP PICK: Chase Sapphire Reserve

For me, this is the gold standard of travel cards. Yes, there’s a high fee but you get a lot of perks (and cashback) that I think this card is worth the fee and it is the card I use the most. When you sign-up for the card, you get:

  • 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases
  • $300 in annual travel credit
  • 3x points on travel and restaurants
  • 1 point per $1 on everything else
  • The ability to transfer to points to a dozen travel brands (I use this feature the most)
  • A statement credit of up to $100 for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application
  • Free Priority Pass lounge access (a super awesome perk)
  • No foreign transaction fees

When you factor in that $300 credit, you’re really paying only $150 a year. You get 3x on restaurants and travel (which is most of my spending). Combined with the other perks, this is my all-around favorite card and the one I use the most for my day-to-day spending. I think this card gives you the most value for your money, especially if you are a frequent traveler.

—-> Sign up for this card by clicking here!

Chase Preferred

This card is like the “starter” version of the previous card. You don’t get as many perks, but if you’re dead-set on not paying a high yearly fee (this card only $95 a year), you can’t go wrong with this card. It’s great for the more infrequent traveler (this is the card I got my mother). When you sign for this card, you’ll get:

  • 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000
  • 2x points on travel and restaurants
  • 1 point per $1 on everything else
  • No foreign transaction fees

It’s a simple, easy to use card.
—-> Sign up for this card by clicking here!

Citi Prestige

I’m personally not a huge fan of this card and I don’t have a lot of Citi cards in general as I’m not a huge fan of their transfer partners. But, this card is great for people who stay at hotels because the fourth-night-free option (even though it’s capped) will cover the cost of this card’s fee right away. Plus, you get a $250 travel credit with this card too. Especially, when used right, you can actually make some money on this card! This card comes with a $495 yearly fee and the following perks:

  • 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000
  • 5x points on airfare and restaurants
  • 3x points on hotels and cruises
  • 1x points on everything else
  • Complimentary fourth night at a hotel when booking through ThankYou.com (capped at twice per year though)
  • Free Priority Pass
  • $250 travel credit every year
  • Points transfer to their partners, including 16 different airlines
  • No foreign transaction fees

I don’t love this card because I don’t use a lot of their transfer partners but if you stay in a lot of hotels and use any of their transfer partners frequently, this is a must get card because it pays for itself and is easy to get points through their spending bonus structure!

—-> Sign up for this card by clicking here!

American Express EveryDay

I love this no-fee Amex card for the bonus points and the 2x points at supermarkets. I use it when I’m buying groceries because it’s a great way to rack up Amex points. When you sign up for this card, you’ll get:

  • 20% extra points when you use your card 20 or more times each billing cycle
  • 2x points at supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year)
  • 1 point for every dollar spent
  • Double points on every dollar of eligible travel purchases when you book through AmexTravel.com

It’s simple, it’s easy, it’s a quick way to get points.
—-> Sign up for this card by clicking here!

Capital One Venture

I used to really dislike this card but, with the recent changes they made last year and the addition of transfer partners and 10x points on hotels via hotels.com, this is now one of my favorite credit cards. I absolutely think you should get this card, especially if you’re looking for a no-fee, easy to use card. When you sign up for this card, you get:

  • No fees for the first year, $95 after that
  • 50,000 bonus miles once you spend $3,000 within the first three months
  • Unlimited 2x miles on every dollar spent
  • 10x miles on bookings via hotels.com
  • Transfer miles to any of their 10+ travel partners
  • Up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck
  • No foreign transaction fees

Factor in the free first year and this a card that should be in your wallet. When they relaunched it, I liked it so much I got one myself!
—-> Sign up for this card!

Chase Freedom

If you’re looking for something more in the ways of cashback and/or want to stick with Chase points over Amex points, this is the best card for it. It’s simple and easy to use and the cashback points give you more flexibility than points. For a traveler like myself, I prefer points but, for some people, like my dad who doesn’t fly a lot, he’d rather get cashback. So he actually has this card. When you sign up for this card, you’ll get:

  • No annual fee
  • $200 cash back after you spend $500 on purchases in your first three months
  • 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter, and unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases

If you’re like my dad and want a no-fee card that gives you cash back, then this card is for you!

—-> Sign up for this card by clicking here!

***

One thing to remember is that there’s not one card to use for all occasions. Each card has its perks, so you want to maximize your point earning by sticking and matching your spending. I use three or four cards for all my spending. Chase for travel and restaurants, American Express for groceries, Delta for travel perks on the airline, and Marriott for my hotel stays. That way I always get the most points possible for every dollar you spend without spreading my points around too much.

So, if you’re looking for a travel credit card, pick one of the above. They are the best in my opinion.

Advertiser Disclosure: “Nomadic Matt has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Nomadic Matt and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.”

Editorial Disclosure: “Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities.”

Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe, so you always know no stone is being left unturned.

Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld as they have the largest inventory. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com, as it consistently returns the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels. I use them both all the time.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it, as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:

Looking for the best companies to save money with?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! I list all those I use to save money when I travel — and they will save you time and money too!

The post The Best Travel Credit Cards for 2019 appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.





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The Best Business Travel Credit Cards for Digital Nomads

Posted By : webmaster/ 206 0


an assortment of business credit cards, including a Visa, Mastercard, and American Express
Posted: 11/16/19 | November 16th, 2019

One of the best parts about running a business is the cool business travel credit cards you get access to. These cards tend to have a lot better points-earning abilities and perks than consumer cards. I’ve been running this website for eleven years and have tried a lot of cards during that time.

I’m often asked by other bloggers, creators, and entrepenuers which business travel credit card is the best.

Well, first, let me say, there is no “best.”

Every business is different, and everyone has different needs. For example, I love the Amex Platinum card’s Delta lounge perk since I fly Delta a lot. (The Centurian Lounges are wonderful too.) Similarly, I love the Delta card because the Medallion Qualification Miles (MQM) bonus helps me maintain my status. But if you aren’t a Delta flier, then that card doesn’t make sense for you. I also use Chase Ink a lot because their Ultimate Rewards points transfer to a lot of airlines I want to fly. But maybe you like to fly other airlines.

Everyone is different. I have friends who live by American Airlines card, Citi Cards, American Express, and so forth. We’re all different.

So ask yourself, “What is my goal?”

Are you interested in loyalty to a brand, free rewards, or avoiding fees? Do you want to milk the rewards and bonus system to get free flights, or do you just want a card that won’t charge you a fee for using it at that restaurant in Brazil? Is elite status the most important perk for you? Do you want points you can use like cash for anything?

Get the card that aligns with your goals.

But, while there is no one “best” card, there are some that are better than others. Here is my list of favorite travel-related business credit cards.

MY FAVORITE: Chase Ink Business Preferred Card

This is my favorite all-around business card. I really like transferring Chase points for Star Alliance flights and Hyatt hotels, I love the 3x points on digital ad spends (we run a lot of Facebook ads), and when you throw in 3x points per dollar spent on travel and you have everything I need. Plus, with an annual fee of only $95, it’s really unbeatable value for money. When you get this card, you’ll get:

  • 80,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases
  • 3x points per dollar on the first $150,000 spent
  • 1x points per dollar spent on all other purchases
  • No foreign transaction fees

This card should be in every business owner’s wallet. I can’t recommend it enough.

—-> Sign up for this card by clicking here!

American Express Business Platinum Card

This is one of the best cards out there, especially if you’re a Delta flyer or make a lot of large purchases. The perks include the following:

  • 50,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $10,000 (and an extra 50,000 points after you spend an additional $15,000) within the first three months
  • 5x points on flights and prepaid hotels using amextravel.com
  • 1.5x points per dollar on eligible purchases of $5,000 or more
  • 35% of points back when you use points for booking flights
  • $200 credit on fees related to your favorite airline
  • Up to $200 in credit with Dell
  • $100 for Global Entry
  • Free Priority Pass
  • Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status
  • Hilton Honors Gold status
  • One year WeWork membership (this expires at the end of 2019)

Fees: $595 annually, no foreign transaction fees

While the annual fee is pretty high, it does come with a lot of travel benefits that I tend to use a lot. The welcome bonus definitely makes it a no-brainer in the first year so you can get all those points. The added statement credits and lounge access makes the card worth carrying for me.
—-> Sign up for this card by clicking here!

Capital One Spark Miles for Business

I like this card because you get two points on everything. It’s simple. So I use this for the non-bonus categories like paying vendors, restaurants, and whatever else doesn’t come with a bonus from Amex or Chase. Whatever I can’t get 3 points per dollar on them with, I use this card for. When you sign up, you get the following benefits:

  • 50,000 miles when you spend $4,500 within the first three months
  • 2x miles on every purchase
  • No blackouts or seat restrictions
  • Points transfer to any of their 10+ travel partners
  • Up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre?
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $0 intro for the first year, $95 annually after that

—-> Sign up for this card!

American Express Business Gold Card

This is a great card to earn extra points on your biggest spending categories. You can get up to 4x points on selected categories so I will put my two largest spending categories on this card. This card comes with a $295 yearly fee and the following perks:

  • 4x Membership Rewards points on two select categories where you spend the most each month
  • 1x rewards on other purchases
  • 25% points back after you book a flight using Pay with Points
  • A $100 hotel credit to spend on qualifying dining, spa, and resort activities, and a room upgrade (when available) when you book two consecutive nights at any accommodation in The Hotel Collection
  • No foreign transaction fees

—-> Sign up for this card!

Airline and Hotel Cards

What about airline and hotel cards? Well, you should get the card for the airline and/or hotel you’re loyal to because they come with free checked bags and preferred boarding and a few other perks. I tend not to use them for my everyday spending since you get better value per dollar spent with Chase or American Express.

I always get the cards for the bonus offer and then keep the cards for the perks. Most fees are only $95 a year so it’s an easy business expense.

Here are my favorite business cards for various airlines and hotels:

***

There are a lot of options for business cards, so you can always find something to meet your needs. I usually split my spending between a few cards and then shift my spending if I need to hit any bonus requirements. I have a Delta card for the pay-with-points option, a Marriott card because I stay there a lot, and Chase and American Express cards for everything else.

If you don’t want this many cards and want to keep things simple, stick to a hotel or airline card for the perks and then pick whatever one other card has the most perks you need and just use those!

Advertiser Disclosure: “Nomadic Matt has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Nomadic Matt and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.”

Editorial Disclosure: “Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities.”

Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned.

Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld as they have the largest inventory. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels. I use them all the time.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:

Looking for the best companies to save money with?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! I list all the ones I use to save money when I travel – and that will save you time and money too!

The post The Best Business Travel Credit Cards for Digital Nomads appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.





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TravelCon: Speakers, Talks, and More News!

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Travelcon 2020 in New Orleans, United States
Posted: 11/14/2019 | November 14th, 2019

We’re now a little more than 6 months from TravelCon 2020! (Where does the time go?)

Today, I wanted to give you a little update on what we are doing with the event. As I mentioned last time, we’re making a lot of changes to next year’s conference:

  • We’re adding in a second lunch!
  • We’re doing a scavenger hunt through the city!
  • We’re adding in pre- and post-conference tours of the city and region!
  • We’re adding longer breaks between sessions.
  • We’re adding longer niche meet-ups so you can hang out with people more!
  • And we’re making a whole lot more changes that will be talking about soon

There’s a lot of exciting stuff happening. Moreover, we’re flushing out our speaker list a lot more and, while we still have lots more to add, we’ve confirmed some new speakers for you:

Annemarie Dooling

Wall Street Journal

Nora Dunn

The Professional Hobo

Lawrence Ferber

Writer

Rainer Jenss

Family Travel Association

Christine Kaaloa

GRRRLTRAVELER

Rachelle Lucas

The Travel Bite

Sol Orwell

Examine.com

Charu Suri

Writer

Somto Ugwueze

Somto Seeks

(For a full list of speakers, check out this page!)

Moreover, we’ve worked on our schedule more and I’m happy to announce that some of the talks you’ll find this year will include:

  • Ethics in travel writing
  • How to succeed as a freelancer
  • How to become a travel agent
  • How to gain clients as a travel agent
  • How to effectively build you network
  • How to create A/B tests
  • Writing sales pages
  • Tax and business issues
  • How to protect your IP
  • How to hire the right team
  • More talks on RV travel
  • More talks on LGBTQ travel
  • More talks on Instagram, incuding monetization, community, and photography

We’ve got a lot more talks than that but those are some of the new ones we’re adding this year!

Additionally, while I can’t give specifics in this post (the ink isn’t dry yet), we’ve lined up 20 confirmed sponsors so far, including a lot of new DMOs we haven’t had before! I’m really excited about that as we’re continuing to expand and grow the conference! (If you’re interested in sponsoring, check out this page!).

We’re really excited about next year’s event. Over the next few months, we’ll be nailing down our party details, fam trips, and other plans so I’ll be sharing them in the new year.

If you want to attend the conference, tickets to this year’s TravelCon are $349 until 12/31, when prices will go up to $399.

We’re capping our ticket sales at 800 again this year. We’ve currently sold 300 tickets to next year’s event and expect to sell out again so don’t wait to get a ticket.

That’s it for today’s update! I hope to see you at next year’s event! If you have questions, ask in the comments and I’ll answer them.

– Matt

Book Your Trip to New Orleans: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned.

Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels. I use them all the time.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:

Looking for the best companies to save money with?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! I list all the ones I use to save money when I travel – and I think will help you too!

Want More Information on the United States?
Be sure to visit our robust destination guide on the United States for even more planning tips!

The post TravelCon: Speakers, Talks, and More News! appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.





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Best Tour Companies in Israel

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people in front of the Western Wall in Israel
Posted: 11/12/19 | November 12th, 2019

From unexpectedly cosmopolitan Tel Aviv — including a rapidly expanding foodie scene with delicious organic offerings — and the holy city of Jerusalem to the natural wonders of the Negev Desert and the historic Masada National Park and other ancient archaeological sites, Israel has a lot to see.

Israel is home to thousands upon thousands of years of history, as well as key historical sites for the three major monotheistic religions, making this a destination for millions of tourists and pilgrims every year.

The country is pretty small and you can get around it very easily, especially if you rent a car. It’s just 290 miles from Haifa on the northern tip of Israel to Eliat in the south (about five hours of driving).

That said, some people don’t want to drive, and some places out in the desert are hard to get to. For those people, there are tours! There are lots of options, from walking tours in Tel Aviv to multiday tours across the country (and neighboring countries).

I’ve put together a list of my favorite tour companies in Israel. They focus on different kinds of travel, but all offer good value for the money:

1. Abraham Tours

Abraham Tours aim to suit independent travelers, and give you lots of information about the culture, history, and politics of the region so you can be better informed while you travel around Israel.

Generally aimed at budget travelers, the tours range between two and 12 days in length and cater to those keen to go hiking, experience Israeli food, or head into the desert. The company has short half- or one-day tours, like a Jerusalem graffiti tour for $28, or a kibbutz experience from Tel Aviv for $63. A three-day tour of Jerusalem and the Dead Sea starts at $146; a five-day trip through northern and coastal Israel costs $375.

They also run “dual narrative” tours of Gaza, Jerusalem, and Hebron, which include activities like driving along the Gaza border, exploring Jericho, seminars on the Gaza-Israel conflict, and video calls with Gaza residents, designed to help you understand both sides. These one-day trips cost around $100.

2. Delicious Israel

Delicious Israel offers small-group walking tours covering places like the Carmel and Levinsky Markets in Tel Aviv and the Machane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, where you’ll be able to taste authentic hummus, shakshuka, and much more. There’s also a tour that includes a cooking class after the shopping part. Tours range from $90 to $120, depending on the length.

3. Bein Harim Tours

These days, Bein Harim, founded in 1993, has over 70 tour options, so it’s easy to choose exactly what you want to see and do. It offers small group tours — both one-day visits to all the major tourist destinations and multiday tours up to 12 days in length, some including nearby Jordan. The one-day trips range from $73 to explore Jerusalem up to $125 to visit Bethlehem and Jericho. Multiday trips range from $300 for two days up to $2,000 for 12 days, for which you can choose options like the history and archaeology of Israel, or a Christian-oriented package.

4. Intrepid

Intrepid offers really high-quality, authentic tours in small groups, and focuses on staying in locally run accommodations like small guesthouses and homestays, and visiting locally-owned restaurants and shops.

Intrepid offers a dozen trips covering Israel and the Palestinian Territories, from a five-day highlight tour (around $770) up to 26-day journeys that also visit Egypt and Jordan (up to $8,000). It also has specialized tours, including a nine-day Christmas trip and a couple of lower-priced ones especially for those under 30.

5. Bike Israel

A unique and really enjoyable way to explore Israel is on a bike tour — it’s a country with reasonably short distances, and the routes these tours cover varied landscapes: desert areas, dirt roads, and seaside routes. (If you’re worried your fitness level might not be up to it, Bike Israel now also offers e-bikes.)

Tours range from a half-day seaside ride near Tel Aviv to multiday trips in the desert to cycling between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Prices range from $100 for a half-day; the longer trips, depending on the number of participants, can be as little as $400.

6. World Expeditions

World Expeditions focuses on thoughtful travel and wants you to experience cultural immersion on its tours. It has a focus on hiring well-trained, enthusiastic local guides and also includes some degree of adventure.

In Israel, World Expeditions offers trips between six and 14 days in length. Some are self-guided hikes with transfers between trails and accommodation each day, hiking through the Galilee and other beautiful areas (starting at $1,300). The longest tour takes in Jordan and the Palestinian Territories as well as the key sites of Israel, and spends one night in a Bedouin camp, for around $7,000.

7. Mejdi Tours

Mejdi Tours has a strong focus on cultural immersion, social responsibility, and giving back, and its tours focus on travelers who want to do more than just basic sightseeing. The word “mejdi” translates as “honor and respect,” which are values the company definitely works hard on.

In Israel, you can join various multiday tours, each with a different focus. For example, in 2020 it is running a ten-day multinarrative tour of Israel and Palestine in conjunction with Hands of Peace (from $3,900). As well as visiting Jerusalem’s holy sites and the Dead Sea, this tour includes meeting politicians and visiting a refugee camp.

If food is more your thing, then Mejdi also has a one-week culinary and wellness tour (starting at $4,900) that includes an incredible range of eating experiences along with yoga classes and personal development.

***

Joining a tour in Israel is a sure way to make sure you don’t miss out on learning all the cultural and historical nuances of this amazing country. From short walking tours of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, through one- or two-week trips covering most of Israel (and neighboring lands), and even specialized trips focusing on religion or politics or food or nature, there are many fantastic ways to see Israel on a group tour.

Book Your Trip to Israel: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned.

Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels. I use them all the time.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:

Looking for the best companies to save money with?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! I list all the ones I use to save money when I travel – and I think will help you too!

The post Best Tour Companies in Israel appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.





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