September 2020

Travel Insurance, Pandemics, & COVID: What You Need to Know

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An ambulance driving quickly at night with flashing lights
Posted: 9/28/20 | September 28th, 2020

The coronavirus has given us all a wake-up call about what travel insurance does — and does not — cover.

A lot of people assumed that travel insurance covered everything and, at the drop of a hat, would fly you home in an emergency. That incorrect assumption came as a shock to those who, for the first time, are actually reading their policies.

While many travel insurance companies provide evacuation coverage if you get injured overseas (if you meet the plan conditions), they generally are not there to get you home unless there is a specific clause in your policy that warrants such action and a doctor orders it.

And, as many of us have quickly learned, pandemics are often excluded from insurance policies.

Many of the emails I got from people screaming about their insurance policy when the pandemic began were issues related to such policy misunderstandings.

I know travel insurance is a complicated (and boring) topic. I understand it’s not fun to read about or research.

And reading an actual policy can put you to sleep. Most people gloss over it the way we gloss over iTunes user agreements.

But if COVID-19 has taught us travelers anything, it’s that we need to be more familiar with what exactly our travel insurance policy covers. It is literally of life-and-death importance.

Today, I want to provide a more complete picture of what travel insurance actually is — and what scenarios you may or may not be covered for. But use this only as general advice: terms and conditions will differ according to the travel insurance policy and the provider.

I know we’ve addressed this in the past, but it’s always a good time for a refresher, especially in light of COVID-19 and as people begin to start thinking about travel again.

Let’s look at some common questions:
What exactly is travel insurance?
First, travel insurance is emergency coverage. It’s there if you get in trouble and need assistance. Depending on your policy, it provides support (and reimbursement) if you break a bone while hiking, if you lose your luggage, if you get robbed, or if you need to return home due to a death in your immediate family. In short, it’s a financial safety net for emergencies abroad.

However, it is not a substitute for health insurance in your home country. (It’s also not a license to be foolish either, because injuries while stupid or drunk aren’t cover either.)

It’s your emergency lifeline should something bad happen unexpectedly during your travels.
What’s really covered if I’m sick?
Suffering from a recurring, preexisting allergy, or other condition? You’re on your own. Grab some medicine from a pharmacy and ride it out. Preventive or routine care resulting from a preexisting condition is not covered.

Unexpected and/or emergency situations are. Need to go to the hospital? That’s where travel insurance kicks in. Call your insurance provider’s emergency support line and let them know (when you can). They’ll be able to help you with the red tape and make sure you’re taken care of.

You may also need pre-approval of treatment or providers. For that reason, make sure you have the insurance company’s emergency 24-hour hotline saved on your phone before you travel. That way, you or someone with you can call them should the worst happen.

Since you may have to pay for everything upfront and then make an insurance claim to get reimbursed, keep your receipts.
What is covered if I am robbed?
If you’re robbed during your trip, you’ll be able to get compensation for the stolen items (usually not including cash and certain other items), up to a certain per-item amount and total maximum amount. You’ll need to fill out a police report and provide that, as well as documentation for the stolen items, to your insurance company. (If you have any receipts, send those in. I also like to take pictures of my items before I travel to prove I took them along.)

However, don’t expect travel insurance to give you money for the latest iPhone — you’ll either get an equivalent replacement or get reimbursed for the depreciated value of your stolen item. That is, if you bought a camera five years ago for $1000 but it’s only worth $100 now, you’ll get $100.

Since it takes a while for claims to be processed, you’ll likely need to replace your items out of pocket and then make a claim for reimbursement. However, if you cannot make any purchases because your wallet and passport were stolen, you’ll need to contact your insurance provider’s emergency support, as well as the nearest embassy or consulate.
My [insert company] went bankrupt. What’s covered?
If your airline/tour/whatever company goes bankrupt while traveling, you may be able to get reimbursed under the “trip cancellation” or “trip interruption” clause of your plan, depending on the timing of when you purchased your policy and when the bankruptcy occurred. Some insurance policies only reimburse if the travel company has completely ceased services; if there are alternative arrangements available, it may only pay for change fees.

However, in the case of airline bankruptcies, you may need to arrange alternative transportation yourself and pay for it upfront. Then you can submit a claim to have that amount reimbursed.

If you have not yet departed, your “trip cancellation” coverage would come into effect, and you would be reimbursed for what you spent.

While this all seems helpful, keep in mind that there likely are limits on what you can claim. Read the Schedule of Benefits for maximum amounts covered (and specifically for trip interruption and trip cancellation). From my experience, these claims usually reimburse up to the trip, cost with a max of around $5,000–10,000 USD (be sure to check the specifics in your policy), so if you have spent a ton of money on accommodation and new flights, you might not be able to get all of it back. But something is much better than nothing!
My trip was canceled. Can I get a refund on my policy if I didn’t use it?
If you haven’t started your policy or made a claim, you might be able to get a refund. Many companies also offer a “review period” (usually 7–14 days from purchase) during which you can cancel your plan without penalty, though some states don’t have one. If you pay for six months of insurance and need to cancel after one or two months, you’re usually out of luck.

However, if you’re outside of that review period, chances are you won’t be able to cancel your plan. Some companies may be making exceptions due to COVID-19, but you shouldn’t take that as a given. Why? This is just an industry practice. Since travel insurance works in retrospect (you go on your trip, you come home, file a claim, and then get paid) and they have to pay the full amount, you have to pay the full amount of the policy.

I tend to buy my insurance in three-month chunks. That way, I can extend my coverage or let it expire based on how things are going.

But, a caveat: Depending on how preexisting conditions work on your policy, you may not want to do this. For example, you’re not feeling well during one policy. You go to get a COVID test, and while waiting for the results, your policy lapses and you purchase a new plan. Because you showed signs of the disease in a prior policy, it may be considered a preexisting condition in the new policy and thus not be covered.

So keep that in mind when you are buying policies. It’s a risk I personally take — but it might not be good for you.
There’s a pandemic, so I’ve decided to come home to play it safe. Do I get anything?
To be eligible for coverage, your claim has to be based on a covered reason. If you had a policy without a pandemic exclusion, then trip interruption could come into play. But you’ll need to read the fine print before making claim. Getting sick from the pandemic may be covered, but if, say, you decided to rearrange your trip because you’d feel safer at home, that wouldn’t be.

Before you file a claim, you’ll want to first contact the tour companies, hotels, and airlines directly for a refund. Only after that would I make a claim to the insurance company.

Remember, these payouts usually only apply to prepaid, nonrefundable purchases (and in addition, may include one-way airfare home).

If filing a claim, you’ll need to gather all your supporting documents and receipts and submit them for review. It can take weeks (or months) for a claim to be processed, so be prepared for a wait (especially if there is a major crisis, like the COVID-19 pandemic). That means your change of plans will have to be paid out of pocket.
But the government urged citizens to come home and I did!
Depending on your policy, you may be entitled to some benefits. If you have a policy that includes trip interruption, you might be able to submit a claim to cover any nonrefundable purchases (such as flights and tours).

However, the reason why you need to return home is important. Natural disasters, terrorism, political upheaval, and pandemics are all covered differently, so the fine print of your policy is really important here. (Many people didn’t read it, and that was why there were so many issues when COVID struck.)

Your government saying “I think you should come home because of XYZ” is not the same as a government forcing you to return home (which does not exist*). If you’re making the choice to come home in that situation, travel insurance plans aren’t going to cover you. (This was a big issue during COVID and the source of most complaints.)

Circumstances that are not mentioned (outside the exclusion section) are usually not covered.

So it’s important to look at the specifics of your policy to see what is covered.

* Unless there’s you’re being extradited or have been declared persona non grata, but those are unlikely scenarios. Check your policy!

I had to come home and couldn’t reach the airline, so I bought a new ticket.
This was another issue during COVID as people scrambled to get home because of government warnings and border shutdowns. As airlines became overwhelmed and people couldn’t get through, many people bought a second ticket, thinking (incorrectly) it would automatically be covered.

Travel insurance makes you whole; it doesn’t give you extra money. If you’re already traveling, flights can be reimbursed under the trip interruption section of the policy if going home early is a covered event, which usually includes unexpected illnesses, strikes, etc.

However, if your flight is canceled, then the airline is responsible for rescheduling and rebooking. If you buy a second ticket and then submit it for reimbursement through your policy, you’ll be denied.

Moreover, not feeling safe isn’t a covered reason, and the new flight would not be reimbursed.
Can I get ANY coverage related COVID-19?
As many found out the hard way back in March, many travel insurance companies do not cover pandemics. They have been — and continue to be — written out of policies. You won’t get any reimbursement if you decide to cancel your trip because of a government warning due to a pandemic. The only policies that give that kind of blanket coverage are “cancel for any reason” policies. (Insure My Trip is a good place to find those.)

However, some companies, such as World Nomads, Allianz, and Safety Wing, do cover some medical costs. They will help you out if you get COVID or get quarantined by a physician and need medical care related to that.

Moreover, beginning on October 19, 2020, Medjet will be offering transport for members hospitalized with COVID-19 if they are traveling in the contiguous 48 United States, Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean, to their home hospital.

However, the coverage is just limited to medical care and related costs (though some policies also cover trip cancellation and trip interruption costs if you contract COVID). Be sure to read the specifics in your plan, as there are many caveats and exemptions and you’ll want complete clarity from your provider.

What about my credit card coverage?
Travel credit cards offer limited protection — even the very best ones. Usually, cards offer coverage for items that are lost or stolen; very, very limited medical expenses; and trip cancellation. But there is a big caveat here: these only apply if you booked your trip with that specific card!

I’ve had dozens of travel credit cards over the years. Even if your card does offer some coverage, the limit is often very low. That means you’ll have to pay the difference out of pocket (and you’ll be surprised at just how expensive that can be!).

While it’s nice to have credit card protection as a backup, I wouldn’t rely on it for my primary coverage when abroad.


Travel insurance is a complicated (and boring) topic. But, as we’ve learned over these past few months, it’s worth taking the time to understand — and it’s worth spending the money investing in a plan with a variety of coverage options that keeps you safe and provides you with peace of mind.

I never leave home without travel insurance. You shouldn’t either.

Just be sure to always read the print of the policy you’re buying.

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 as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels.

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 Travel Insurance, Pandemics, & COVID: What You Need to Know appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

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A Guide to Exploring Colonial New York City

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Trinity Church on a sunny day in New York City, USA
Posted: 9/24/20 | September 24th, 2020

As a history nerd, I love taking a deep dive into a destination’s past. I’m a firm believer that if you don’t understand where people have come from, you’ll never understand where they are now. It’s a big reason why I love museums so much.

As one of the oldest cities in the country, New York City has a lot of history.

First settled by the Dutch as “New Amsterdam,” the Dutch the city surrendered to the English in 1664. The city was a major trading center located at the mouth of the Hudson River. After the Revolution, New York was the hub of America’s power and government, officially becoming the nation’s capital in 1789 when George Washington was sworn in. While it’s no longer the nation’s capital (it moved to Philadelphia the following year and then to Washington, DC in 1800), NYC was still the beating heart of the country.

Since I love adding “themes” to my travels, a great theme for your visit to New York is colonial history – and much of the city’s colonial history is still present today.

Most of the sights are located in the financial district (one of the most underappreciated parts of NYC), so it’s easy to visit everything in a day. Here’s what to see:

1. The Battery (aka Battery Park)

The Battery aka Battery Park in New York, USA in the summer
Located on the southern tip of Manhattan, this park is where the Dutch built Fort Amsterdam in 1625 to defend their settlement. The British took the area over in 1664 and eventually renamed it Fort George. The fort’s cannon battery wasn’t used until 1776 when American forces took it over after declaring independence. While the fort was mostly destroyed during the Revolution, the battery was expanded after the war’s end.

Today, there are over 20 monuments and plaques in the park, covering everything from the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 to immigration and much more. You can wander around the fort and then stroll through the surrounding park and take in the beautiful waterfront views of the harbor, the Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island.

2. Fraunces Tavern

The historic Fraunces Tavern building in New York, USA
This is the oldest bar in New York City, having been converted from a home (built in 1719) to a tavern in 1762. Prior to the Revolution, the Sons of Liberty (a secret anti-British organization founded by Samuel Adams) would meet here to discuss their plans and philosophies.

During the war, the building was damaged when Alexander Hamilton stole British artillery, provoking a response from the British navy than sent a cannonball through the roof. After the war, George Washington said farewell to his officers and troops of the Continental Army here.

As the war was ending, meetings between the British and Americans were held here to discuss slavery. The US insisted that no slaves freed by the British could leave US soil (many had already been sent to freedom in what is now Canada). (It was not one of our finest moments as a country.)

Today, on the first floor, there’s a pretty decent restaurant (slightly overpriced though) and a bar with a great selection of draft beers. The tavern also hosts historical talks, as well as events like trivia nights. It is also home to a small museum on the second floor, which includes all kinds of historical documents and objects. For the 300th anniversary of the building’s construction in 2019, a new exhibition chronicling its history was created to highlight the pivotal events that took place here.

54 Pearl St, +1 (212)-425-1778, Open Monday-Friday 12pm–5pm and Saturday-Sunday 11am–5pm.

3. Bowling Green

Bowling Green Park in New York, USA
This public park is the oldest in NYC. During colonial times, the British installed a 4,000-pound gilded lead statue of King George III on horseback. It was repeatedly vandalized leading up to the war, forcing the British to build a fence around the park (the one that still stands today) and create anti-vandalism laws.

After the Declaration of Independence was read in 1776, the statue was toppled and dismembered. The head, allegedly, was mailed to England. The body, so the story goes, was melted down into bullets for the Continental Army.

Today, the area remains a park and there’s a plaque on the fence with a brief historical overview.

4. Trinity Church

The historic Trinity Church surrounded by skyscrapers in New York, USA
Built in 1698, the original Trinity Church was a small parish church constructed by the Church of England. When the British seized New York after George Washington’s retreat, it was used as a British base of operations.

The original church was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1776, a massive blaze that wiped out upwards of 25% of the city (the Americans blamed the British for starting the fire, while the British blamed the revolutionaries). The new building, facing Wall Street, was consecrated in 1790. George Washington and Alexander Hamilton regularly worshipped here. The church was expanded in 1839 into its current form.

The graveyard dates back to the 1700s and has many a famous American there, including Hamilton and his wife Elizabeth, Francis Lewis (signatory on the Declaration of Independence), John Alsop (Continental Congress delegate), Albert Gallatin (founder of NYU), Horatio Gates (Continental Army general), John Morin Scott (general and first secretary of state of New York), and Lord Stirling (Continental Army general).

75 Broadway, +1 212-602-0800, Tours of the cemetery are available on request. There is also a self-guided tour app you can download from the website.

5. Federal Hall National Memorial

The Federal Hall National Memorial in New York City, USA
This national memorial has served as New York’s city hall and the United States Custom House, as well as the site of the first Congress of the United States and George Washington’s presidential inauguration. It was also where the Continental Congress of 1765 met to discuss the Stamp Act, a tax imposed by the British crown.

The current structure, built in 1812, has a small museum that sheds light on the origins of America. Part of the balcony and railing where Washington was inaugurated are still on display as well. It’s one of my favorite spots in New York — and one way too often overlooked by visitors!

26 Wall St, +1 (212) 825-6990, Open daily 9am–5pm. Admission is free. Free guided tours are available several times per day (check the website for hours).

6. St. Paul’s Chapel

The exterior of St. Paul's Chapel in New York City, USA
Just up the street from Trinity Church (and officially part of its parish) is the oldest surviving church in Manhattan. Built in 1766, the Hearts of Oak (a student militia from Kings College) used the church’s grounds for drill practice during the Revolutionary War. Alexander Hamilton was an officer in the unit. After George Washington became the first president of the US in 1789, he attended services here, making the chapel his home church.

Today, it’s a National Historic Site, having survived the Great Fire of 1776, the Revolutionary War, and 9/11. The chapel is a simple hall decorated in pale colors. Glass chandeliers hang from the flat ceiling. It’s not particularly ornate, having a more modern and minimalist design (they use moveable chairs instead of pews to allow for more flexibility in what events can be held here).

209 Broadway, +1 212-602-0800, Tours are offered every Sunday at 11:15am after service. Admission is free. Dress respectfully, as this is a place of worship.

7. City Hall Park

Green grass at City Hall Park in New York City, USA
This park is where New Yorkers held rallies both before and during the Revolutionary War, including a rally against the Stamp Act in 1765. When the Act was repealed the following year, a new flagpole was built here — known as the Liberty Pole — which waved a flag that said “Liberty.” People also gathered here to hear Washington read the Declaration of Independence in 1776; the spot is marked by a plaque from 1892 (another marks the location of the Liberty Pole).

During the war, the British converted it into a prison to hold American prisoners of war, where over 250 Americans were executed. In 1783, when the war was won, Washington raised an American flag over the park.

Nowadays, it’s a pretty park with a fountain and benches to relax on. You’ll see a lot of people here during lunch. (Well, at least you did pre-COVID.)

8. African Burial Ground National Monument

The African Burial Ground National Monument in New York City, USA
During the War of Independence, approximately 25% of the population of New York City was enslaved Africans or people of African descent. Over 40% of the population owned slaves, and the success and development of the city relied heavily on the work of enslaved men and women.

Once known as the “Negroes Burial Ground,” this is the largest colonial-era cemetery for both free and enslaved Black Americans. Studies estimate that upwards of 15,000 people were buried here in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The site is a US National Monument as well as a National Historic Landmark. A monument and a visitor’s center were built in 2007 to ensure that this important piece of history is not forgotten. Inside the visitor’s center are several exhibitions, films, and dioramas highlighting the life of slaves in the city. Visitors can learn how slaves were brought over by the Dutch, what their funerals were like, how they survived the harsh conditions in the city, and what archeologists learned when they exhumed the bodies from the area before building the monument.

290 Broadway, +1 (212) 238-4367, Open Tuesday-Saturday 10am–4pm. Free tours are available from the visitor’s center. Check the website for dates and times.

9. Van Cortlandt House Museum

The exterior of the Van Cortlandt Museum in New York City, USA
This is the oldest building in the Bronx and one of the oldest surviving buildings in the entire country. Built in 1748 by African slaves, the property was used during the Revolutionary War by the Comte de Rochambeau, the Marquis de Lafayette, and George Washington (who had his headquarters here during the final years of the war).

It’s one of the oldest historic museum houses in the country (the fourth oldest to be precise), and much of the furniture and items on display are from the colonial era. Today, you can tour the house to see what life was like during the war.

6036 Broadway, Van Cortlandt Park, +1 (718) 543-3344, Open Tuesday-Friday 10am–4pm and weekends 11am–4pm. Admission is $5 USD.

Bonus Sites!

On Staten Island, you’ll find The Conference House, where Ben Franklin led a peace delegation in 1776 (it failed). The house has been refurbished and does events throughout the year. It’s open now by private booking.

On the corner of Pearl and Broad, you’ll find the brick outline of Stadt Huys, the first city hall as well some glass portals that look down to remnants of the colonial city that were found in the 1970s.

You’ll also find bricks that show you where the old shoreline used to be during colonial days. (Everything from Broad down is landfill designed to expand the city as it became a bigger and bigger shipping hub.)

Guided Tours

While it’s really easy to walk around and see these sites for yourself, a walking tour can provide a lot more historical context (you know I love a good walking tour!). Here are some paid and self-guided options:

  • George Washington’s New York – Download the app “GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities” for this free self-guided tour. It’s a nice companion to the above itinerary.
  • New York Historical Tours – NY Historical Tours runs a private two-hour “Alexander Hamilton and the Founding Fathers” tour on the birth of America and the men who made it possible. At $249 USD, this is best split among a group.
  • Revolutionary Tours – This three-hour “Washington and Hamilton” tour is a deep dive into colonial history. It’s informative and entertaining and will give you a much deeper appreciation for these two giants of history. It’s $35 USD per person. (Currently not running any tours due to COVID.)
  • Patriot Tours – Patriot Tours offers both a Hamilton tour as well as one on the Revolutionary War as a whole. They’re led by author and historian Karen Q and cost $40 USD per person. Karen also runs virtual tours in case you want to travel from the comfort and safety of home during the pandemic.


New York City has a lot of history you shouldn’t miss. Whether you’re looking for a complete historical tour or just want to add some historical sights into your existing New York City itinerary, these suggestions will provide a glimpse beyond the standard tourist trail. Since most all these sites are close together (Van Cortlandt House is in the Bronx), you can visit them in a day.

P.S. – There’s also a number of parks around NYC that used to be the locations for forts (and the forts that are there date from the 1800s) but there’s nothing really there now to see so I’ve left them off this list.

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! 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, bars, and much more! Click here to 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 as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels. Some of my favorite places to stay in New York City are:

If you’re looking for more places to stay, here is my complete list of my favorite hostels the city. Additionally, if you’re wondering what part of town to stay in, here’s my neighborhood guide to NYC!

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 Information on Visiting NYC?
Check out my in-depth destination guide to NYC with tips on what to see and do, costs, ways to save, and much, much more!

Photo credit: 1 – henrys54, 3 – Arun De Joe, 4 – Wally Gobetz, 5 – Dmytro Kochetov, 6 – Federal Hall, 7 – Djnichols62 , 9 – Dmadeo, 10 – Dmadeo, 11 – Dmadeo

The post A Guide to Exploring Colonial New York City appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

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How to Travel Uganda on a Budget

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The view overlooking the lush forests and jungles of Uganda
Posted: 9/21/2020 | September 21st, 2020

Today’s guest post is from Alicia Erickson. She’s a travel writer who splits her time primarily between East and Southern Africa, India, and Seattle. She’s writing about how to save money in Uganda, a country I have longed to visit but still haven’t gotten around to doing. Enter Alicia, who will give us tips and tricks to save on our next visit.

The magnificent and diverse color, vegetation, and wildlife of Uganda so inspired Winston Churchill that he nicknamed this East African country “the pearl of Africa,” a name that has stuck ever since.

Since shedding its violent reputation after a volatile period during the 1980s, Uganda has changed a lot. In particular, it’s invested resources into developing its wealth of national parks, largely aimed toward the repopulation of wildlife and the conscious development of infrastructure to help make its vast wilderness accessible.

Although East Africa is known for its expensive high-end lodges and activities, Uganda is more affordable than some of its neighbors. It spoils adventure-seekers with its bounteous nature. In a relatively compact and easily navigable area, one can trek with mountain gorillas in dense jungle, visit coffee and tea plantations, relax by volcanic lakes, drive through savannah abundant in tree-climbing lions and other wildlife, hike snow-capped mountains, and raft down rapids in the Nile River!

Uganda has enthralled me since I first started visiting in 2010 and, over numerous visits, I’ve only developed a deeper appreciation for it. In this post, I want to share that love for the country and help you travel Uganda on a budget!

How to Save Money on Transportation

Two female travelers on safari in Uganda standing in a jeep
Transportation in Uganda comes in a wide range of public and private options that cater to a variety of budgets. Public buses and motorbikes are the cheapest and most direct ways to get to major destinations, though looking for deals on private transportation will improve your flexibility and ease of travel.

Boda Bodas (motorbikes) – Public motorbikes, known as boda bodas, are dirt cheap in areas such as Jinja and Kampala but are more difficult to find in rural areas and around national parks. While they are the most cost-effective form of transportation — between 2,000 and 4,000 Ugandan shillings (UGX) ($0.50–1.00 USD), though prices are always negotiable — exercise caution when using boda bodas, as they have a reputation for being quite dangerous: helmets aren’t provided, and drivers are known for being reckless.

However, Safe Boda and Uber, which connect passengers with drivers through their respective apps, have recently come to Kampala and provide much more reliable drivers and standardized pricing, with minimum fares starting at 1,500 UGX ($0.75 USD).

Matatus (local buses) – Local minibuses, known as matatus, are an inexpensive — though not altogether easy — way to get around Kampala. Matatus also run between different regions in Uganda, often without a set schedule, and leave once the bus has filled up.

Prices depend on route, though they are generally under 1,000 UGX ($0.25 USD). To catch one, just wave down one of these rundown white vans from the side of the road — but be warned that they are usually cramped and filled beyond capacity.

Taxis – Taxis are the most expensive way to get around cities, though also the safest. Prices are always negotiable, though expect to pay between 10,000 and 40,000 UGX ($2.75–11 USD) for a ride, depending on distance and time of day.

Coach Buses – Coach buses, run by a number of companies, are used to travel long distances within Uganda as well as to other East African destinations, such as Mombasa and Kigali. Costs are dependent on the route but generally run around 30,000 UGX ($8 USD) for a ten-hour journey.

Private Car
Renting a car is an ideal way to independently explore Uganda and go deeper into some of the parks where public transportation does not go. Cars can be hired with or without a driver, as well as with or without camping equipment.

Although not necessary, a driver can be handy not only in navigating potholed roads but also by providing a wealth of historical and cultural insights and in spotting wildlife on safari. A reliable company I have used is Lifetime Safaris, which offered a car with a driver starting at $80 USD/day.

How to Save Money on Accommodation

A small traditional hut in a village in Uganda
Uganda’s major attractions and national parks don’t only offer high-end accommodation but also camping and low-budget hostels and guesthouses for budget travelers.

Hostels – There are only a handful of hostels in Uganda, mostly in Kampala. Red Chilli offers dorms at its property in Kampala for $12 USD/night, and Om Bunyonyi on Lake Bunyonyi in southwestern Uganda provides dorms for $15 USD/night.

Guesthouses – Guesthouses can vary widely in cost. A decent-quality one with relatively reliable facilities in touristic areas, such as Om Bunyonyi, runs around $25 USD/night for a double private room, though expect prices to be much higher around national parks. If you don’t book in advance and are stopping through a small town for the night, you can easily find very simple guesthouses for far less, approximately $10 USD/night. Water and electricity will often be unreliable in this style of accommodation, however.

Camping – Camping is a great option in the regions surrounding the national parks, such as Murchison Falls and Queen Elizabeth, though prices will vary by location. At its site in Murchison Falls, Red Chilli offers camping for $8 USD/night. Other sites and lodges offer camping for $5–10 USD/night. Many places offer tents for rent, though bringing your own equipment will save you even more money.

Eco-lodges – Budget-consciousness is probably not what you have in mind when you think “eco-lodge,” given the trend toward fancy eco-friendly safari lodges in East Africa. However, lodges and safari camps are a prominent form of accommodation in the national parks, and not all of them have to break the bank! There are some reasonably priced ones that still can be a nice splurge on a budget holiday. They can cost around $100 USD per night and usually include three meals a day as well, reducing other daily costs.

How to Save Money on Food and Drinks
Eating at local restaurants and buying fresh produce and snacks from markets will save you a significant amount of money than eating at Western-style eateries, which are primarily concentrated in Kampala.

Restaurants – Kampala has an extensive international restaurant scene. They are expensive in comparison to local restaurants, though cheaper than eating out in Europe or North America and cheaper also than similar restaurants in other major East African cities. Costs range from 30,000 to 50,000 UGX ($8–15 USD) for an average meal.

Local cuisine, in contrast, is fairly simple — consisting largely of potatoes, rice, beans, cabbage, chapati (unleavened flatbread), and ugali (maize flour porridge) — and much more affordable. There are many Ethiopian restaurants as well, offering more mid-range meals.

Food-on-the-go – Uganda has a handful of street food items, the most famous being an egg and chapati wrap known as a “rolex,” which can also have different vegetables added and cost as little as 1,500–3,000 UGX ($0.40–0.80 USD). Stock up on fresh tropical fruit, which is abundant in markets and along the road; the price is always up for negotiation.

Inexpensive roadside food and snack stands selling corn, samosas, nuts, and grilled meat are also prevalent and convenient on long trips. Eating in these ways can save significant costs in Uganda.

Drinks – Foreign-import wine and spirits can be found in Kampala, though cocktails and wine are costly in the capital city’s posh bars, restaurants, and clubs. Your best bet is to stick with local beers such as Nile, which should cost 3,000–5,000 UGX ($0.80–1.35 USD), depending on the venue you buy it from. Or try out Uganda’s local gin, called Waragi, at around 1,000 UGX ($0.25 USD) a pour. This potent liquor becomes more tolerable when mixed with a good dose of tonic water and lime.


Adventure Activities Costs

A young baby gorilla in the jungles of Uganda
Despite all the money-saving suggestions above, your budget will be highly dependent on how many wildlife and adventure activities you want to partake in. Most likely you’ll want to do a couple of the higher-cost attractions, such as whitewater rafting down the Nile, searching for tree-climbing lions in Queen Elizabeth National Park, or trekking with mountain gorillas in Bwindi National Forest.

However, it is easy to intersperse those activities with low-cost days of relaxing by crater lakes, taking self-guided walks in the mountainous areas of southwestern Uganda, or volunteering. On those days, you can spend $30 USD/day or even less!

Here are some typical adventure-activity costs:

  • Queen Elizabeth National Park: $40 USD/day for admission
  • Murchison Falls: $40 USD/day for admission
  • Rafting: $140 USD/per person for 5-6 hours
  • Chimpanzee tracking in Kibale: $100 USD/permit
  • Gorilla trekking in Bwindi: $600 USD/permit (increasing to $700 USD in July 2020)


Other Tips for Saving Money in Uganda

Beside the above, here are some other general tips for cutting your costs on your visit:

  • Explore beyond the high-priced attractions – Regions outside of the major attractions are still abundant in nature and are often more captivating, as there are few to no tourists. Think volcanic lakes, little-known mountains, rarely visited waterfalls, almost-deserted islands, and dense forests and coffee and tea plantations.
  • Travel during the off-season – Don’t let the rainy season scare you off! Uganda is at its most lush during the rainy months (March to May and October to November), crowds are at a minimum, and permits and lodging are often discounted to encourage tourism.
  • Travel off the beaten path – Check out Lake Bunyonyi, the Ssese Islands in Lake Victoria, and Sipi Falls, for example. If you’re looking to do trekking in the region, the Rwenzoris are worth considering — while they aren’t “cheap,” they are a much more affordable option than Mt. Kilimanjaro and you can do shorter or longer treks depending on your time and budget.
  • Consider volunteering – Avoid volunteer programs that charge money, but consider looking into opportunities such as those on Workaway, which will help save money on accommodation and offer a more in-depth cultural experience. Grassroots Volunteering is another great resource.
  • Booking advice: Booking gorilla and trekking permits in advance is advisable to ensure a place, since permits are limited, but skip booking package safaris, as tour company costs are much higher than if one travels independently.
  • Stay for a longer time – This might initially sound counterintuitive, but a longer stay means you won’t necessarily only be concentrating on the major tourist attractions. You’ll also have a better idea of how to navigate local transportation and become better acquainted with some of the regional cultures and smaller, underrated rural areas.
  • Bring a reusable water bottle – To ensure your water is clean and safe (and to avoid spending money on single-use plastic) bring a reusable water bottle and a filter. LifeStraw makes a bottle with a built-in filter that ensures your water is safe and clean — no matter where in the world you are.



With the ever-increasing impact of globalization, once off-the-beaten-path locales are being put on the map. Much of Uganda still remains raw and less developed, though it’s increasingly improving infrastructure makes it the perfect destination for adventure travelers and outdoor enthusiasts. Development and prices are already on the rise so don’t hesitate to explore this wild and beautiful East African nation before the secret is out!

Alicia Erickson grew up as a third-culture kid, developing a love for travel at a young age. She has been a digital nomad for the past 5 years, working as a political analyst, social entrepreneur, writer, and yoga teacher while she explores the world. She splits her time primarily between East and Southern Africa, India, and Seattle, where she seeks off-the-beaten-path locales and is particularly drawn to mountains and the savannah, food, wine, and design culture.

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, as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and hotels.

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 — and they’ll save you time and money too!

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

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My 8 Favorite Hostels in San José, Costa Rica

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The Costa Rican flag waving in front of the historic theaer in San José, Costa Rica
Posted: 7/27/20 | July 27th, 2020

Costa Rica was the very first place I ever visited, kick-staring a journey that would eventually take me around the world and launch my career as a travel writer. Since that first trip, I’ve returned a few times, lured in by the friendly people, cloud forests, wildlife, and excellent beaches.

San José is the starting point for most visitors in the country, owing to the fact that it’s the nation’s capital and a major international hub. Chances are you’ll be here for a few days as you get situated before heading off to hike, lounge on the beach, and enjoy the lush and scenic landscapes.

I’ve been staying in hostels for over a decade during my several return visits to Costa Rica. There are a lot of things to consider when selecting a hostel in San José. The top four are:

  1. Location – San José is huge, and it can take some time to get around. Pick a place that is central to the sites and nightlife you want to see. All the hostels listed here are in good locations.
  2. Price – In San José, you really get what you pay for, so if you go with a really cheap one, you’re probably going to get a hostel that is small and cramped and doesn’t offer great service.
  3. Amenities – Every hostel in the city offers free Wi-Fi, and most have a free breakfast, but if you want more than that, be sure to do your research to find the hostel that best meets your needs!
  4. Staff – All the hostels listed here have amazing staff! They are super friendly and knowledgeable. Even if you don’t stay at one of the places listed below, be sure to look up reviews to ensure you end up somewhere where the staff is helpful and friendly. They can make or break a hostel!

Here is my list of the hostels in San José that I like the most. If you don’t want to read the longer list below, the following hostels are the best in each category:

Best Hostel for Budget Travelers: Costa Rica Backpackers
Best Hostel for Families: In the Wind Hostel
Best Hostel for Solo Female Travelers: Stray Cat Hostel
Best Hostel for Digital Nomads: Capital Hostel de Ciudad
Best Hostel for Partying: Hostel Pangea or Costa Rica Backpackers
Best Overall Hostel: Capital Hostel de Ciudad

Want the specifics of each hostel? Here’s my comprehensive list of the best hostels in San José:

Price Legend (per night)

  • $ = Under $10 USD
  • $$ = $10-20 USD
  • $$$ = Over $20 USD


1. Capital Hostel de Ciudad

The cozy bunk beds of the Capital Hostel in San José, Costa Rica
This is a chill hostel with cozy beds and lots of common space. It has a co-living space as well, making it a good choice for anyone working remotely. There’s a patio for BBQs and yoga, a game room with a pool table and projector for watching movies, and a fully equipped kitchen (breakfast is included). The mattresses are pretty thick and the beds have privacy curtains. Overall, it offers a nice balance of being a relaxed but social hostel.

Capital Hostel de Ciudad at a glance:

  • $$
  • Relaxed atmosphere
  • Game room & coworking space
  • Outdoor patio for hanging out

Beds from $15 USD a night, rooms from $42 USD.

—> Book your stay at Capital Hostel de Ciudad!

2. Stray Cat Hostel

The colorful interior of the Stray Cat hostel in San José, Costa Rica
This colorful backpacker hostel is covered in art and murals. It has a cozy, homey vibe while still being well maintained and clean. The mattresses are a little thin (and the bunks don’t have curtains), but the hostel is quiet and laid back, so it’s easy to get a decent night’s sleep. There are female-only dorms too. It’s close to the bus station as well, making it a convenient location if you’re just passing through or heading to/from the airport. And, if you’re an artist, you can trade your skills for free accommodation.

Stray Cat Hostel at a glance:

  • $$
  • Female-only dorms available
  • Quiet atmosphere
  • Free breakfast

Beds from $12 USD a night, rooms from $40 USD.

—> Book your stay at Stray Cat Hostel!

3. Costa Rica Backpackers

The fun pool area at Costa Rica Backpackers hostel in San José, Costa Rica
This is a lively, social hostel popular with the younger backpacker/party crowd. It has a pool and bar on-site, and there are organized tours and activities. Breakfast isn’t included, but there is free coffee all day. The beds aren’t the best (the mattresses are thin and the bunks squeak) and the bathrooms are small and could use an update, but it’s the cheapest hostel in the city. If you’re on a tight budget and want to party, it’s the place to be!

Costa Rica Backpackers at a glance:

  • $
  • Pool and bar
  • Easy to meet other travelers
  • Fun and social atmosphere

Beds from $7 USD a night, rooms from $25 USD.

—> Book your stay at Costa Rica Backpackers!

4. Fauna Luxury Hostel

The cozy pod beds at Launa Luxury Hostel in San José, Costa Rica
Fauna is a boutique hostel with really cool and cozy pod beds, tons of outdoor common space to lounge, a pool, and lots of really neat artwork in the rooms. The beds have thick mattresses and curtains (two things I really appreciate), breakfast is included, and there is air conditioning (a big plus in Costa Rica!). There are balconies you chill out on that overlook the pool, and the private rooms are super spacious and similar to hotel rooms. They also arrange cheap airport shuttles too. For $8 USD per night, you really get a lot of value here!

Fauna Luxury Hostel at a glance:

  • $
  • Great beds
  • Free breakfast
  • Laid-back, relaxed vibe

Beds from $8 USD a night, rooms from $39 USD.

—> Book your stay at Fauna Luxury Hostel!

5. Hostel del Paseo

Games in the common area of Hostel Del Paseo in San José, Costa Rica
This hostel doesn’t have a great social vibe, but the dorms are quiet and clean. There is a huge common area with lots of games and movies, and there’s a bus station nearby. The staff are super helpful, the free breakfast is pretty good, and the dorms are capped at eight beds, so you’re never crammed in with lots of other people. The beds don’t have curtains, but the mattresses are thick and comfy, so you’ll get a decent night’s sleep.

Hostel del Paseo at a glance:

  • $$
  • Quiet dorms make sleeping easy
  • Lots of common rooms & games
  • Free breakfast

Beds from $12 USD a night, rooms from $44 USD.

—> Book your stay at Hostel del Paseo!

6. TripOn Open House

The relaxing patio with hammocks at TripOn Hostel in San José, Costa Rica
This funky, social hostel is located near supermarkets and tons of restaurants. It has an awesome free breakfast every morning and organizes cheap shuttles to the airport too (which is just 30 minutes away). The beds are comfy and have curtains for privacy and there are lots of common areas for hanging out and socializing. It’s a really fun hostel, with lots of things to do. There are also hammocks outside for relaxing, video games, and a fully-equipped kitchen if you feel like cooking your own food.

TripOn Open House at a glance:

  • $$
  • Social atmosphere makes it easy to meet people
  • Great free breakfast
  • Good location

Beds from $10 USD a night, rooms from $43 USD.

—> Book your stay at TripOn Open House!

7. In the Wind Hostel & Guesthouse

The chill common room with colorful couches at In the Wind Hostel in San José, Costa Rica
Another laid-back hostel, In the Wind has a cool outdoor area for hanging out and having BBQs, offers free breakfast (with pancakes), and has awesome staff. It’s also super clean, which is always a plus in any hostel. The beds aren’t amazing (there are no privacy curtains and the mattresses are thin), but the hostel is super affordable and the vibe here more than makes up for it. If you’re looking for that “classic” backpacker hostel experience, you’ll find it here.

In the Wind Hostel & Guesthouse at a glance:

  • $$
  • Awesome staff
  • Free breakfast
  • Quiet and calm atmosphere

Beds from $10 USD a night, rooms from $17 USD.

—> Book your stay at In the Wind Hostel & Guesthouse!

8. Hostel Pangea

The pool and outdoor common area at Hostel Pangea in San José, Costa Rica
This is a party hostel. It has an on-site bar with super cheap drinks plus a heated pool and a restaurant. There are also daily activities organized by the staff. The dorms are a little small, and the beds are basic metal bunks with no curtains but people come here for the pool and partying. You’ll find lots of common areas here too so there’s always a spot to chill out. In short, if you’re looking to meet lots of people and party, this is where you want to stay.

Hostel Pangea at a glance:

  • $$
  • Bar & pool on-site
  • Lots of chill outdoor common areas
  • Really cheap drinks

Beds from $10 USD a night, rooms from $30 USD.

—> Book your stay at Hostel Pangea!


With dorms under $10 USD per night and private rooms for under $20 USD, San José is a steal for budget travelers.

While it’s not the most exciting destination in Costa Rica, chances are you’ll be here for a few days before heading off to the country’s better-known sights. By staying at one of these awesome (and cheap) hostels, you’ll not only save money but you’ll get to meet other travelers, pick up insider tips and advice, and really make the most of your visit.

Book Your Trip to Costa Rica: 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
To find the best budget accommodation, use as it consistently returns the cheapest rates for guesthouses and hotels. You can book your hostel with Hostelworld, as it has the most comprehensive inventory.

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 I think they will help you too!

Want more information on Costa Rica?
Be sure to visit our robust destination guide on Costa Rica for even more planning tips!

Photo credits: 2, 3 – Stray Cat Hostel, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

The post My 8 Favorite Hostels in San José, Costa Rica appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

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How to Road Trip Around Oahu

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A bright blue sky over the island of Oahu, Hawaii
Posted: 8/3/20 | August 3rd, 2020

I didn’t know much about Oahu before I visited. Everyone told me it was worth it for Pearl Harbor but to spend the rest of my time elsewhere in Hawaii. Maui and Kauai were where the action was, they said.

But Oahu was home to Honolulu’s international airport from which I was catching an onward flight to Taiwan. Since I had limited time, going to multiple islands wasn’t feasible.

Fortunately, after spending a full week on Oahu, I can say this: everyone was wrong.

Maybe they just let their preconceived notions get the better of them.

Or maybe they just didn’t give the place a chance.

But, whatever the reason, I’m here to tell you that Oahu has some magic to it. Sure, it’s quite developed, has terrible traffic, and huge crowds. And yeah, maybe it’s not as “raw” as the other islands (I assume that’s why people like them).

But there are plenty of spots in Oahu where you can live that Hawaiian dream

I spent a week round-tripping the island (which, given how small it is, turned out to be quite easy). My plan was simple: sit on a beach as long as I could, eat my body weight in poke (diced raw fish, pronounced “po-keh”), and hike.

Along the way, I also binged on shrimp, drank the best piña colada of my life, and took notes so you can do even better when you visit!

Driving Oahu: A Road-Trip Itinerary

Driving on the highway in Oahu, Hawaii surrounded by forests and jungle
First, a tip: if you’re driving around Oahu, go counterclockwise from Honolulu, since most of the food trucks you’ll want to stop at are on the ocean side of the highway as you go up the east coast. So going in that direction just makes it easier to pull off the road and try all the food trucks that line the highway (and there are a lot). There’s also more to do on the east side of Oahu, so it’s best to start there.

That said, I actually don’t think a traditional road trip is the best idea. Oahu is smaller than you think — you can drive end to end in under two hours — so everything listed below can really be done as a day trip from one base or another, which will save you packing and unpacking, as well moving from place to place too often (especially since the east and west coasts don’t have a lot of affordable accommodations).

Base yourself on the North Shore for a couple of days and then in Honolulu (in the south) for a couple of days (or vice versa).

Day 1: Honolulu to Kailua (28 miles)

The skyline of Honolulu, Hawaii surrounded by lush forests and jungles
Pick up your rental car, head out of Honolulu (you’ll be back later), and start off at Hunauma Bay in southeast Oahu. You can spend a few hours there snorkeling and relaxing on the beach before heading to the nearby Halona Blowhole Lookout for the view and Makapu‘u Point (Oahu’s easternmost point) for a short hike. There are also plenty of beaches, food trucks, short hikes, and viewpoints along the way to Kailua, where you’ll want to stay the night.

Where to Eat:

  • Teddy’s Bigger Burgers
  • Any of the food trucks on the way north
  • Buzz’s Steakhouse (for dinner)

Where to Stay:
Airbnb is the best option, since there aren’t many hotels or hostels in Kailua. Book early though, as there isn’t a lot to choose from.

Day 2: Kailua to Haleiwa (50 miles)

The beautiful coast of Kailua in Hawaii surrounded by water
Start your morning with the famous Lanikai Pillbox hike just south of Kailua, where you can get sweeping views of the ocean and the cities and beaches on this side of the island. The hike is short (it only takes about 20-30 minutes) but steep, so wear appropriate shoes.

If you have some time in the morning, Kailua and Lanikai beaches are both beautiful (they’re right next to each other and on the way from the pillbox hike). Not a lot of people, white sand, blue water. They’re heaven.

As you leave this area to head north, visit the Ho‘oamaluhia Botanical Garden (it’s free!), which is also home to a lake filled with tropical plants.

Afterward, drive up the east coast toward the North Shore. Along the way, you can stop at the Kualoa Ranch, where many movies have been filmed. If you do a tour, I suggest the 90-minute Hollywood Movie Sites Tour (which includes scenes from Jurassic Park!), as you don’t need much more time than that to see the ranch. (It’s expensive, though, so if you’re on a budget, I’d skip it.)

As you keep going north, you’ll find a ton of beaches and hikes (there are plenty of signs for everything). I really enjoyed the Hau’ula Loop Trail especially, which is about 10 miles north of Kualoa. It’s a really overgrown trail, so you’ll feel like you’re very much in the jungle (meaning you’ll also need to bring bug spray). And like most hikes here, there’s a scenic viewpoint!

Then drive around the northern tip of Oahu to Haleiwa, your base of operations while on the North Shore.

Where to Eat Along the Way:

  • Kalapawai Café and Deli
  • Fresh Catch Kaneohe
  • Shrimp Shack
  • Seven Brothers
  • Ken’s Fresh Fish
  • Fumi’s Shrimp

Where to Stay:
Airbnb is again the best option, as there aren’t many hotels or hostels in Hal‘eiwa. Book early here too.

Days 3 & 4: North Shore (Base: Haleiwa)

A beautiful soft sunset on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii
This was my favorite part of Oahu. It was Hawaii the way you imagine it should be: a lot quieter, less touristy, and less developed. And it had that whole “hippie vibe” going for it. Everyone up here was much more laid back than down south.

You can learn to surf here (two-hour lessons begin at just $80 USD) or hike the Ka‘ena Point Trail (west of Haleiwa) and/or the ’Ehukai Pillbox (east of Haleiwa). The latter is pretty muddy, so bring appropriate shoes.

Haleiwa itself is a sleepy little tourist town with a bunch of restaurants, shops, and parks. There’s not much to do in the town itself than eat and window shop.

If you do just one hike, though, I definitely recommend the Ka‘ena Point Trail, which was one of the best experiences I had. It’s a scenic two-hour coastal walk to the northwestern tip of Oahu, where you will find a protected biological area with seals and native birds. At the tip, you can see all the way down the west side of the island — a magical view. Bring sunscreen and water, as the whole trail is exposed to the sun.

Where to Eat:

  • Ted’s Bakery
  • Sunrise Shack
  • Hale‘iwa Joe’s
  • Matsumoto Shave Ice
  • Ray’s Kiawe
  • Kono’s
  • Jenny’s Shrimp Truck
  • Giovanni’s Shrimp


Day 5: Dole Plantation, Oahu’s West Side, Honolulu (60 miles)

The rugged coast of Waianae on the west coast of Oahu, Hawaii
Head south (inland) and stop at the Dole Plantation. While it is super cheesy and touristy (I mean, so many useless souvenirs!), it does have a cool maze, and there’s a train ride through the farm that, while whitewashing a lot of bad things, was an interesting look at the importance of the pineapple to Oahu. For a general overview geared to your average tourist, it was surprisingly informative.

Afterward, continue south toward Honolulu and then head west on the H1 road to the west coast for some deserted local beaches, such as Ma’ili, Ewa, Makua, or Yokohama. Stop at Countryside Café for some incredible diner food. The portions are pretty large, so you can share them.

Then head back into Honolulu, as there’s not a lot of accommodation along the west coast. If you do want to stay longer, you’ll find some listings on Airbnb and if you book far in advance. Otherwise, there are a few hotels in Kapolei if you don’t want to drive all the way to Honolulu.

Days 6 & 7: Honolulu

I actually liked Honolulu a lot (the main beach area of Waikiki is a tourist trap though.) While downtown is a bit bland, other neighborhoods are filled with awesome stores, breweries, bars, restaurants, and art galleries. Be sure to check out the “hip” Kaka‘ako part of town in particular.

Consider going on a hike on Diamond Head, a volcanic cone on the east side of town. It offers an incredible view of the city, though it’s one of the more popular trails in the area so if you aren’t there early enough to beat the crowds you’ll basically be walking in a slow-moving line up the mountain. If you are short on time, skip it.

Other Things to Do:

  • A free walking tour with Hawaii Free Tours (call ahead, since they only run when they have bookings).
  • Pearl Harbor – This is a must. It’s not even up for debate. You have to go.
  • Iolani Palace, the former royal residence of Hawaii’s monarchs.
  • Soak in the sun on Waikiki Beach or other nearby beaches, such as Ala Moana, which is popular with locals.

There’s also an Islamic art museum, which is supposed to be great, but I didn’t make it there.

Where to Eat:

  • The Pig and the Lady
  • Mei Sum Dim Sum
  • Shirokiya Japan Village Walk
  • Rainbow Drive-In
  • Leonard’s Bakey
  • Ono Seafood
  • Hula Dog

Where to Stay:

  • The Beach – This hostel is right on the beach, includes free breakfast, and has plenty of space to relax and meet other travelers.
  • Polynesian Hostel Beach Club Waikiki – The accommodation here is basic, but the staff are super friendly and helpful, and they organize lots of events.
  • Waikiki Beachside Hostel – A fun, social hostel that hosts live music. Breakfast is included too.

Additionally, head to the Royal Hawaiian Hotel for the best piña colada of your life. It’s not cheap ($15 USD a pop), but it is sooo good! Every one of my friends who didn’t order one got it as their second drink. (Fun fact: My grandfather was stationed in Oahu during WWII and went back to Oahu often. The Royal Hawaiian was his favorite hotel. It’s pretty cool that it’s still there!)

Average costs

How much do things cost on Oahu? Here are some typical prices (in USD):

  • Airbnb – $100+/night for a one-bedroom or studio
  • Hotel – $175–250/night for a mid-range boutique hotel
  • Hostel dorm – $27
  • Car rental – as low as $20/day, plus insurance
  • Gas – $3–3.50/gallon
  • Poke bowl – $12–15
  • Takeout meal – $10–14
  • Sit-down meal at a fancy restaurant (with drinks) – $50+
  • Local lunch – $15
  • McDonalds – $6 for a value meal
  • Groceries – $75 for one person for a week
  • Beer (at a restaurant) – $8–10 ($2–3 at the Japanese Walk!)
  • Piña colada – $10-15
  • Coffee – $5
  • Surfboard rental – $25/day
  • Snorkel gear rental – $15/day
  • Scuba dive prices – $125


Budget Tips

Oahu is pretty expensive. Most everything has to be imported, so if it can’t be grown nearby or caught in the ocean, expect to pay a lot. But it’s not impossible to save money. Here are a few ways to cut your expenses:

  • Hike and enjoy the beaches. Nature is free!
  • Buy your own food from supermarkets so you can cook your own meals or have picnics. Sure, there are plenty of world-class restaurants here, but if you want to keep your food costs down, you should cook some meals. The poke at supermarkets is delicious anyway!
  • If you do eat out, hit the food trucks. Most cost around $10 USD for a meal — much cheaper than sit-down restaurants.
  • If you’re going to buy alcohol, do so at Japanese markets, where you can find beer for only $2–3 USD (compared to $8 USD at bars).
  • Skip ride-sharing websites like Getaround or Turo (where you rent cars from private owners). They are usually cheaper than the big rental companies, but on Oahu, hosts charge you an added fee for dropping the car at the airport. I found the traditional car rental companies to be much cheaper, with rates as low as $20 USD a day.
  • Get your gas at Hele stations. They were consistently the cheapest on the island.


While Oahu is often crowded and overly commercial, there were a lot of wonderful things to do and see. To me, the best parts were the food and the hiking — with so many hikes, you could spend weeks here. My favorite part of Oahu was the North Shore, so I recommend you spend a few days there at least. I certainly look forward to returning!

Book Your Trip to Hawaii: 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 as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels. My favorite places to stay in Oahu are:

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!

Need an affordable RV for your road trip?
RVshare lets you rent RVs from private individuals all around the country, saving you tons of money in the process. It’s like Airbnb for RVs.

Want more information on Hawaii?
Be sure to visit our robust destination guide on Hawaii for even more planning tips!

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Philanthropy & Travel: How One Business Is Giving Back w/FLYTE

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Posted: 9/15/2020 | September 15th, 2020

This year, FLYTE, our nonprofit, celebrates its five-year anniversary! We launched it in the summer of 2015 with nothing more than a desire to help kids see the world, discover a love of travel, and learn the practical applications of their education.

In the past half-decade, we’ve sent 70 students to five countries all over the world!

Thinking about this milestone has made me reflect on why I started this nonprofit.

When we leave our comfort zone, we’re confronted with many of the world’s problems.

One of the most powerful and challenging lessons that travel teaches us is how unequal the world can be. Seeing an impoverished child begging on the street makes you reflect on colonization, war, and the systemic inequalities that cause poverty.

Likewise, venturing underwater only to see dead coral reefs or struggling to breathe in cities enveloped in smog makes climate change even more real.

Yet travel also brings us closer together. It reminds us of our shared humanity and provides a platform for our own personal growth and development.

Travel has shown me my privilege but also my power to do something to make the world a better place.

It’s for that reason that I created FLYTE.

Many kids don’t have access to opportunities that can help them see beyond their current situation.

Through these FLYTE trips, we’re working to give students the chance to see how incredible our world is — and to remind them they have the power to change it for the better. I want FLYTE to be a chance for them to see the world beyond the stereotypes, to put their education to use, and to see that the world is full of possibilities!

Today, I’m excited to share two announcements:

First, FLYTE has a new partnership with Crabtree & Evelyn, a company that’s combining travel, philanthropy, and beauty.

It’s making a huge donation of $35,000 and funding an entire group of students’ life-changing trip abroad! How amazing is that?

The founder of Crabtree & Evelyn, Cyrus Harvey, explored the world and returned home to Boston with various soaps and perfumes from his adventures. With those products, he founded Crabtree & Evelyn.

He wasn’t just selling soaps. He was selling stories. Cyrus loved connecting with people. He built a business around those connections so he could share his passion for travel and discovery with people back home.

As part of the company’s new initiatives and plans, it’s supporting students, giving them the opportunities Cyrus also had.

I had the chance to interview Ashley Souza, Crabtree & Evelyn’s chief brand officer, and she shared more about Cyrus’s story, the company’s evolution, and why FLYTE was chosen as its nonprofit partner.

Nomadic Matt: My earliest memory of Crabtree & Evelyn was a brick-and-mortar store that sold bath salts. How has the company evolved over the years, and what’s the story behind your recent rebranding?

Ashley: Our founder Cyrus was a culture junkie. Before we were Crabtree & Evelyn, he founded The Soap Box, where he showcased artisan soaps he picked up on his travels around Europe.

Crabtree & Evelyn was founded with a heavy British inspiration and with a diverse portfolio that included many lifestyle products in addition to personal care. We discovered through our deep consumer research, before the rebrand, that the traditional British qualities of C&E no longer resonated with a younger consumer. So we went back to the fundamental values that Cy originally built the business on: exploration, curation, and storytelling.

We kept our core ranges as a homage to the historical C&E: Evelyn Rose, Crabtree, and the Gardeners, but our real purpose is coming to life through our Exploration ranges, capsule lifestyle collections inspired by locations that our Exploration team authentically explores with locals. [NOTE: Nomadic Matt readers get 10% off their first order using the code FLYTE10 at checkout!]

How has Cyrus’s legacy and travel shaped the company’s mission and values?

Cy was a believer in connecting cultures, whether that was through the films he imported and showed at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge or through the products he sold. Our passion is the same: creating connections for our customers through stories and products from our travels. We want to provide an experience to our community that they might not otherwise have.

We’re so grateful that you’re funding an entire FLYTE trip! What moved you to choose FLYTE as your nonprofit partner? Why do you think it’s important for students to see the world?

The goal of this rebrand was not only to revive a heritage brand in a new and modern way but to use our platform for good. For each Exploration collection we launch, a portion of proceeds will be donated directly to a charitable organization in the location we have explored, for a specific need that the people we connect with on our travels have cited as important.

In addition to our collection-specific give-back program, we wanted to do more to encourage travel and understanding of other cultures. FLYTE was a perfect partner for us. Its mission, exposing youth in the United States that might not have had the means to travel to other ways of life, other ways of thinking, is how we break down barriers and become a more unified world.

Personally, I was blessed to have parents that taught me the importance of travel. They urged me to educate myself through cultural experiences at a young age. It taught me to be more understanding, more considerate, more tolerant, and it deeply impacted who I am today. Traveling has the ability to break a cycle, shift a way of thinking, and push you to trust yourself and others — invaluable life lessons that I am thrilled to be able to help kids experience through our partnership.

Your company’s slogan is “Born Curious, Grown Wild.” How has this translated into your products and outlook?

Our slogan pays tribute to Cy, who was born a very curious man with lofty goals and incredible business sense, and to the brand now, which has taken his original ethos and turned the volume up, creating a cultural experience for C&E customers.


The second big announcement is that of our new partner school:

Rosenwald Collegiate Academy (RCA), an amazing high school in New Orleans, Louisiana, whose students will be traveling to Puerto Rico!

With a majority BIPOC population, Rosenwald celebrates equity, inclusion, and diversity through rigorous classroom instruction, social innovation, and cultural authenticity. The goal for all students: college success and lives of limitless opportunity.

Many of Rosenwald’s students continue to face circumstances that present significant challenges for their personal and academic journeys. Despite all these obstacles, they persevere in so many exceptional ways.

“They are creative and authentic and work incredibly hard to get through high school. Their goal is college, and the choices they make every day push them closer to that goal.” This is how Erica Perez and Angela Filardo, the teachers who will be leading this trip, described these remarkable students in their FLYTE application.

Percy, a junior at RCA, shared that he “hasn’t traveled anywhere outside of New Orleans besides Little Rock, Arkansas. This trip will be opening my mind up to things other than just New Orleans. It will be a wonderful learning experience for me. I want to go to school to be an engineer and will probably have to go to different places to learn about this subject. This will be a good way for me to learn how to adapt to a new place and environment and learn from other cultures.”

Last March, when the students found out that they would have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel to Puerto Rico, this was their reaction.

This trip will focus on sustainability and climate change. The students have demonstrated interest in creating policy changes, and this trip will give them much practical information and context as they work with local-led organizations focused on coastal restoration and reforestation.

We’re so excited about this new partnership with Crabtree & Evelyn and can’t wait for the students from Rosenwald Collegiate Academy to get out into the world!

Our team has been pretty quiet about FLYTE these past couple of months because, for a nonprofit whose mission is to get students onto planes, this goal isn’t possible in our current COVID-19 world. But, since we forged this new connection with Crabtree & Evelyn and since Rosenwald starts school this month, we’re super excited about what is to come!

Right now, we hope for this trip to take place in the summer of 2021. We also wanted to stress that our students are at the core of what we do, and their safety is our highest priority. To ensure their safety as well as that of the communities they will visit in Puerto Rico, this trip will only happen when regulatory agencies, the school administration, and science-backed evidence tell us it’s safe to travel again.

In the meantime, we are working in partnership with the school to create virtual programming so the students can prepare for their journey from the safety of their homes (Rosenwald is starting the school year remotely).

During these truly trying times, I’m so thankful to everyone who continues to support FLYTE. I’m so glad to celebrate the work that Crabtree & Evelyn is doing to incorporate philanthropy. Because of all of them, FLYTE will be able to send even more students abroad in 2021 and beyond.

When we can all travel safely again, our FLYTE students will play a critical role in rebuilding our global community. We’re grateful for your help and support in making that possible! You can use the donation form below to donate or find out more about getting involved by clicking here.

Thank you everyone for your support over the last five years and we’re super excited about this new partnership with Crabtree & Evelyn! We can’t wait for the world to get back to normal so these students can go to Puerto Rico!

If you have any questions, leave them in the comments.


Nomadic Matt

P.S. – Don’t forget to use the code FLYTE10 for 10% off your first purchase. Just click here to check out their new products!

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How to Spend 48 Hours in Oslo

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The famous and historic royal palace is Oslo, Norway during the summer
Updated: 8/10/20 | August 10th, 2020

Most budget travelers skip Norway because it’s an expensive country to visit. The capital, Oslo, is consistently ranked as one of the most expensive cities in the world owing to its high taxes, strong currency, and high percentage of imported goods.

Understandably, traveling here on a budget here is tricky. Yet I still encourage you to visit, even though it’s not a budget-friendly destination. There are unique museums, beautiful parks, and stunning nature to be enjoyed. It’s small enough that a two-day or three-day visit is usually enough to get a feel for it.

To help you plan your trip and make the most of your time, here is my suggested 48-hour itinerary for Oslo.

Day 1

Wander Vigeland Sculpture Park
A small baby statue in Vigeland Park in Oslo, Norway
Start your day wondering this 80-acre park and see its 200 statues. Located in Frogner Park, it’s the world’s largest display of sculptures created by a single artist. Gustav Vigeland (1869–1943) created the collection of bronze, iron, and granite statues that now stand in this open-air “gallery” (you’ve probably seen the famous ‘crying baby’ statue on social media).

In the summer, the park is where you’ll find locals enjoying the long days of sunshine. There are often events and concerts held here as well.

From here, head down to Bygdøy island, where you’ll find many of Oslo’s museums.

See the Viking Museum
This museum is home to the best-preserved Viking ships in the world, some of which date back to the 9th century. It’s a sparse museum (the focus really is on the ships) but the burial ships (as well as the preserved tools and carts from the Middle Ages) are incredibly rare and worth seeing for yourself. The museum offers a short film and as well, though the free audio guide is the best way to make the most out of your visit.

Huk Aveny 35, +47 22 13 52 80, Open daily from 9am–6pm in the summer and 10am–4pm in the winter. Admission is 120 NOK for adults and free for kids under 18.

Explore the Norwegian Folk Museum
Not far from the Viking Museum is the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History. It has a collection of over 150 buildings from various periods throughout Norwegian history. It’s an open-air museum, so you can explore both the interior and exterior of many of the buildings, some of which date back to the 12th century.

The most impressive of its exhibitions is Gol Stave Church, an intricately carved wooden church constructed in 1157. The museum also has a large photographic archive as well as tons of historic artifacts, documents, tools, and more.

Museumsveien 10, +47 22 12 37 00, Open daily from 11am–4pm. Admission is 160 NOK.

Visit the Fram Museum
A wooden icebreaker The Fram in a museum in Oslo, Noray
As a northern country used to frigid temperatures and harsh winters, polar exploration is a field intricately woven into Norwegian history. This museum highlights that history, focusing on Norway’s contributions to polar exploration. The centerpiece of the museum is the Fram, the world’s first ice-breaking ship. The ship was used between 1893 and 1912 and is actually made of wood. The Fram made trips to both North and South Poles and sailed farther north and south than any other wooden ship in history.

The museum is incredibly detailed; there’s a lot of photographs, artifacts, tools, and tons of information. It’s a unique look into Norwegian culture through the lens of exploration.

Bygdøynesveien 39, +47 23 28 29 50, Open daily 10am–6pm. Admission is 120 NOK.

Visit the Holocaust Center
Established in 2001, this museum highlights the experiences of Norwegian Jews (as well as the persecution of other religious minorities). It’s located in the former residence of Vidkun Quisling, a Norwegian fascist who headed the Norwegian government under Nazi occupation between 1942-1945. It’s a somber and sobering place to visit but incredibly insightful with various exhibitions, photos, films, artifacts, and interviews from World War II and the German occupation of Norway.

Huk Aveny 56, +47 23 10 62 00, Open weekdays 9am–4pm. Admission is 70 NOK.

Learn About the Kon-Tiki Expedition
The famous Kon-Tiki balsa raft in Oslo, Norway
In 1947, Norweigian historian and explorer Thor Heyerdahl used a traditional balsa raft to cross the Pacific Ocean from South America to Polynesia. This journey set out to prove that the Polynesian islands were populated from the Americas — not Asia, as had been previously thought.

He and his small crew spent 101 days at sea. They filmed much of the experience, winning an Academy Award in 1951 for Best Documentary (he also wrote a book about the trip)

To get a sense of what his journey was like, watch the 2012 historical drama Kon-Tiki (it’s a great travel movie).

Bygdøynesveien 36, +47 23 08 67 67, Open daily from 9:30am–6pm (shorter hours in the autumn and winter). Admission is 120 NOK.

City Hall
End your day at City Hall, which is open to the public and free to enter. While it might not sound like an interesting sight, tours of the hall are will give you lots of insight into the city and its history. Most noteworthy are the hall’s twenty murals and works of art. They depict everything from traditional Norwegian life to the Nazi occupation. Also highlighted here is the history of the Nobel Peace Prize. It’s awarded here annually (the other Nobel Prizes are awarded in Stockholm, Sweden).

Rådhusplassen 1, +47 23 46 12 00, Open Sunday-Thursday from 9am-4pm. Admission is free.

Day 2

Wander Akershus Fortress
Originally built in 1290, Akershus Fortress is a medieval fortress that evolved into a Renaissance palace under Danish King Christian IV. Currently, it’s used as an office for the prime minister. It was built for protection and the fortress has never successfully been besieged (though it did surrender to the Nazis during World War II).

Inside the fort is a military museum as well as a museum dedicated to the Norwegian resistance during World War II. In the summer you can take a guided tour and there are also often events here as well (mostly concerts). Check the website to see if anything is occurring during your visit.

+47 23 09 39 17, Open daily in the summers 10am–4pm (winter hours vary). Admission is free.

Take a Harbor Cruise
The Oslo fjord is stunning. With its towering cliffs, calm waters, and rugged green shoreline, the Oslo fjord should not be missed. You can take a hop-on-and-off boat that shuttles people from the various attractions and museums or enjoy a proper two-hour cruise through the fjord. I recommend the two-hour cruise since it goes deeper into the harbor and you see a lot more. It’s a relaxing way to spend part of your day — especially if you’ve been on your feet all day.

Tickets for the two-hour cruise cost 339 NOK per person.

Explore the Royal Palace and Park
The Royal Palace is the official residence of the monarch (Yup! Norway still has a king!). Completed in the 1840s, it’s surrounded by a huge park and locals can usually be seen enjoying the long summer days here. During the summer, parts of the palace are open to visitors and tours. Tours last one hour and you’ll be able to see some of the lavish and ornately preserved rooms and learn about the country’s monarchs and how they ruled Norway.

Slottsplassen 1, +47 22 04 87 00, Summer hours vary. See the website for details. Admission is 140 NOK and includes a tour.

Visit the National Gallery
While small, Oslo’s National Gallery has a wide range of artists on display. Here you’ll find Impressionists, Dutch artists, works by Picasso and El Greco, and the highlight of the gallery, “The Scream” by Edvard Munch. Painted in 1893, The Scream has actually been stolen from the gallery twice over the years. Admittedly, the gallery doesn’t have the biggest collection I’ve seen but it’s nevertheless worth a visit. It’s a relaxing way to end your trip.

The National Gallery is temporarily closed and will reopen in 2021 but you can find some of its collection in the National Museum.

Other Things to See & Do

If you have extra time in Oslo, here are a few other suggestions to help you make the most of your visit:

  • Explore Nordmarka – The Nordmarka Wilderness Area offers everything from biking to swimming to skiing. It spans over 430 acres and is home to huts that are available for overnight stays. You can reach the area in just 30 minutes by car or 1 hour by bus. Avoid going on Sunday, as that’s when all the locals go so it will be busier (unless you want to meet more locals!).
  • Go Tobogganing – If you visit during the winter, do the Korketrekkeren Toboggan Run. The track is over 2,000 meters long and sleds are available for rent (including helmets) for 150 NOK per day (so you can take as many rides as you like). It’s only available when there is snow so the schedule will vary, however, it’s incredibly fun and popular with the locals too!
  • Wander the Botanical Garden – Home to over 1,800 different plants, this botanical garden/arboretum has two greenhouses full of exotic plants and a “Scent Garden” designed specifically for the blind so they could have a sensory experience (it’s a really neat experience so don’t miss it). There are lots of benches so you can sit down with a book and relax, as well as works of art throughout the garden. Admission is free.
  • Go Swimming – Oslo is surrounded by water and has lots of places to swim. The water is clean and safe and locals can be found swimming all year round. Tjuvholmen City Beach, Sørenga Seawater Pool, and Huk are three spots worth checking out if you’re looking to take a dip when the weather is nice.


Since there are a lot of attractions involved, it’s best to get the Oslo Pass. Like everything in Norway, attractions are expensive. If you plan on visiting lots of museums (and using public transportation) the pass will save you a good chunk of money. The 24-hour pass is 445 NOK while a 48-hour pass is 655 NOK (they also have a 72-hour pass for 820 NOK).

While Oslo has a lot more sights and activities, two days here is manageable enough to get a feel for the city and learn its history without entirely breaking the bank (though you’ll come close!).

Book Your Trip to Oslo: 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 most comprehensive inventory. If you want to stay somewhere else, use, as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and hotels. My favorite places to stay in Oslo are:

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 — and I think they will help you too!

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

Photo credits: 3 – Tore Storm Halvorsen, 4 – Daderot, 5 – Claudine Lamothe

Note: Visit Oslo provided me with free accommodation and a tourist card to get into attractions for free while I was there. I paid for my own meals and flights to/from Norway.

The post How to Spend 48 Hours in Oslo appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

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Why Don’t More Black American Women Travel Solo?

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Senitra, a solo black female traveler posing near a canal in Europe
Posted: 8/13/2020 | August 13th, 2020

Today, we have a guest post from Senitra Horbrook. She’s a frequent solo traveler who uses miles and points to experience champagne travel on a budget. She has been to six continents and is working on her next goal of visiting 100 countries. In this post, she’s going to talk about Black American women and solo travel.

Sometimes when I travel outside of the United States, I take a look around at the faces of other people. I don’t often see any else who looks like me, a Black American woman. On the occasions when I do see another Black person, they’re frequently not an American but someone from an African country, usually residing in that location for work or school.

Closer to home, like in the US, Mexico, or the Caribbean, I may be more likely to see other Black American travelers at resorts or tourist attractions, but rarely do I come across another Black woman traveling solo like me.

Why is that?

It’s something I’ve always thought about. Now, I don’t proclaim to speak for all Black American women, but, after talking to others and reflecting on my own experience, I think it has to do with the following reasons:

We Probably Don’t Have Passports

According to data from the US Department of State, fewer than half of Americans have a passport. It’s unknown exactly how many Black American women have a passport, as the statistics do not break down passport issuance by race or gender. But, in my experience, the importance of having a passport was not something that was communicated to me growing up.

In my youth and even into early adulthood, getting a passport wasn’t something that I or my parents viewed as being essential to everyday life. Why would we spend almost $150 USD on something that we had no plans of using? And getting a passport for the first time requires applying in person, which may mean taking time off work to do so.

I got a passport for the first time at age 28 to go on a family vacation to Mexico. After my first visit out of the country, I wanted to fill that passport up with stamps and see every country I could, even if that meant I had to go solo. Why was I just now discovering the allure of international travel, I wondered?

We Think Travel is Too Expensive

This line of thinking is not necessarily limited to Black American women. However, it is definitely something that can hold us back.

There’s the idea that traveling costs even more if you’re alone because you have no one to split accommodation costs with. Or there’s the fact that single travelers on cruises or group tours are charged more.

But in reality, if you plan ahead you can end up spending less because you can better control the costs as a solo traveler.

We See a Lack of Representation and Role Models to Emulate

Think of the travel magazines, guidebooks, or destination advertisements you’ve seen. How often are Black travelers featured? How often is a Black woman’s solo travel experience highlighted?

When we don’t see others who look like us traveling to fantastic destinations, we start to wonder if maybe it can’t be done or that maybe it’s not for us. You all need role models that look like us.

This has been a historic problem in the travel space.

Thankfully, it’s changing.

In “Tweeting the Black Travel Experience,” a 2018 study published in the Journal of Travel Research, researchers analyzed the hashtag “#TravelingWhileBlack” and concluded that the lack of representation of Black travelers in the tourism industry helped Black travelers create communities on social media to share their travel experiences. Moreover, groups like the Black Travel Alliance are fighting for more representation in the industry.

Thanks to those social media communities, I’ve been able to read about the experiences of other Black American women solo travelers. They have inspired me – and I am sure they have inspired others.
 Senitra, a solo black female traveler posing by a huge tree

We Think Black People Don’t Travel Internationally

A 2018 survey of African-American travelers found that more than half of the respondents said they traveled only between 100 and 500 miles from home on their most recent leisure trip. Top US destinations included Florida, New York City, and Atlanta.

When I think of my summers or family vacations while growing up, they didn’t involve leaving the country. Some years it was a trip to Disney or more local amusement parks. Other years a “vacation” was a road trip to visit family in other states. And I didn’t know anyone whose vacations encompassed a trip abroad. The only Black people I observed traveling to other countries — on television or in the news — were famous or in the military.

Our Families May Pressure Us Not to Travel Alone

Family pressure to avoid solo travel can be a common issue for all types of travelers. For Black American women, we may hear our families tell us the world is too scary for us to be out there alone. They warn us about all of the “what ifs?” They worry about us flying across oceans — despite the fact that car accidents are more common than plane crashes.

Historically, Black Americans have been more likely to travel in groups, say Gloria and Solomon Herbert, publishers of Black Meetings & Tourism magazine and one of the sponsors of the aforementioned 2018 travel study. Traveling in groups offers camaraderie and protection, they explain.

When I see Black travel — in Black-centric magazines, movies, or TV shows — it is most commonly girls’ getaways, family reunions, or cruise ship vacations with friends or family. So those of us who grab our passports and board that airplane alone seem to be trailblazers.

We’re Waiting on Friends

Movies like Girls Trip idealize fun times away with our girlfriends at big events. Unfortunately, flaky and noncommittal friends are a real impediment to having those types of travel experiences. I’ve been there!

Let’s say you’ve planned a wonderful getaway with a group of friends, but when it comes time to buy the flights, all of a sudden, they have umpteen excuses why they can’t go. Or they just keep putting you off, never saying they can’t go, but never committing to actually going.

Maybe they weren’t able to save up enough money. Maybe they’d just rather stay home. What helped me was the realization that if I was waiting for flaky friends to travel with me, I may be waiting for a long time.

While Black women aren’t the only types of people with flaky friends, this is something I’ve observed as keeping us from traveling solo. It’s time for us to embrace the unknown and travel solo, because, as the saying I’ve seen on social media goes: “They ain’t comin’, sis.”

We’re Concerned About Racism in the Destination

All travelers have some sort of safety concerns. For some, their biggest fears may be getting pickpocketed or walking down the wrong street in a bad neighborhood. Female solo travelers may fear sexual harassment or assault. For Black travelers, it goes even further: we’re often afraid of being physically targeted because of the color of our skin.

I typically do Google searches for trip reports, looking for experiences from Black women as tourists in countries I am thinking of visiting, since part of my decision-making process in determining where to travel is how the locals of that country view Black people and if that country has a history of racism. While some trip reports I find give me pause, more often than not, there’s no reason to be concerned because, in many countries, we’re just as warmly welcomed as our white counterparts.

We Want to Avoid Casual Racism

It’s not just racist-based physical assault we may fear, though. Casual racism and prolonged stares can be uncomfortable and unsettling, like being followed around in stores, being refused service in a restaurant, or being refused help from a stranger when you ask for directions.

People who stare may have never seen a Black person in real life before. A smile, nod, and “hello” can go a long way in showing friendliness and approachability. And generally, being an American with money to spend can positively influence a local’s perspective, even if their first instinct may have been to eye us suspiciously.

I’ve been approached by strangers wanting to take pictures of me because I’m “exotic.” Depending on how someone does this, I don’t necessarily view it as a bad thing. If I’m someone’s first or limited interaction with a Black American woman, I want it to be a positive experience.

Senitra, a solo black female traveler posing while on safari in Africa

We Don’t Want to Face the Stereotypes

Americans are often subject to the “ugly, loud, unruly” stereotype when traveling, especially young twentysomething travelers. But Black Americans can face additional stereotypes.

Some people’s only exposure to Black America is through television and other media, so they only know of the athletes, rappers, singers, or movie stars. So they may shout at us in passing, comparing us to people like Beyoncé, Serena Williams, or even Oprah. Annoying, yes. But no real hazard.

What’s worse are the people whose exposure to Blacks is through negative news and other media that portray us as criminals. Those people may display signs of overt or casual racism, like clutching their purse when you approach or crossing the street as you’re about to walk by.

Even when traveling in the United States, Black female travelers may be more likely to experience poor customer service due to stereotypes, one example being that Black people don’t tip. You could be a great tipper, but that stereotype can potentially set you up for defeat as soon as you enter an establishment.

We have to work to prove we’re different from the stereotypes others may have prejudged us by. My first instinct is to make eye contact and give someone a friendly smile and nod, even if they don’t smile back. It’s great to get a friendly smile in return, but if I feel I’m experiencing hostile behavior, I’ll leave and remove myself from that situation.

We Don’t Know How to Swim

Many of the best vacations involve water activities: going out on a boat, jet skiing, scuba diving, snorkeling, or a refreshing swim in a cool hotel pool on a hot day. But what if you don’t know how to swim?

According to a 2017 study from the USA Swimming Foundation, 64% of African-American children have no or low swimming ability. By comparison, 40% of Caucasian children are nonswimmers.

We may grow up in a city or neighborhood without access to a community pool. Our parents and family members don’t know how to swim, so they can’t teach us. Lessons are expensive. And there’s the not-so-distant history of racial discrimination and segregation at private pools and athletic clubs. Black people simply weren’t allowed in.

I grew up afraid of the water and did not know how to swim until I enrolled in lessons at age 26. Knowing how to swim has greatly enhanced the types of travel experiences I have.

We Worry About What to Do with Our Hair

For many Black women, our hair is not just “wash and go.” Styling our hair can be an extensive process. Sometimes we’ve paid a good sum of money to get our hair styled at the salon before a trip. We don’t want to get sweaty or get our hair wet (if straightened, wetting our hair can cause it to revert back to its natural texture). Or it can get tangled or matted.

And if trying to pack light and carry-on only, travel-size hair products just aren’t going to do the job, especially for more than a few days. We want to be cute when we’re “flexin’ for the ‘gram”, that is, posing for our Instagram pictures.

All of these can be reasons why Black women are hesitant to travel.

I have dealt with the “hair issue” in a variety of ways. Earlier in my travels, I’d get my hair weaved or have extensions added, so I could “wake up and go.” And since my real hair was protected underneath the weave, I could go swimming or get my hair wet without worrying about damaging my real hair.

More recently, I’ve worn my hair styled very simply, often in a bun or pulled back. And since I wear my natural texture instead of straightened, I don’t worry about getting it wet.


For Black American women who want to travel solo, there are obstacles and fears to overcome, but it can be done. Like many things worth doing, I find that the rewarding feeling of traveling solo outweighs the fears I may have.

Even though I may not often see other travelers, especially Americans, who look like me, I’m hopeful to see more ladies like myself having wonderful solo adventures as more Black travel experiences are highlighted.

Senitra Horbrook has spoken at numerous travel conferences in the US and enjoys sharing her tips on solo travel and strategies to earn many frequent flyer miles and hotel points through credit card rewards. A journalist, you can connect with her online on Instagram or Twitter.

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, as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and hotels.

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 — and they’ll save you time and money too!

The post Why Don’t More Black American Women Travel Solo? appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

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The 22 Best Things to See and Do in Bangkok

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One of the many beautiful temples in Bangkok, Thailand
Posted: 8/17/20 | August 17th, 2020

Bangkok. It’s one of my favorite cities in the world. It’s a vibrant, chaotic, international, funhouse. A city 600 square miles and with a population of over 8 million, you could spend months here and you’d still only scratch the surface.

I’ve visited the city more times than I can count. I even lived there for a couple of years . I’ve watched the city change and grow in so many ways since I first landed here in 2004.

While there’s not a lot of traditional touristy things to do in the city (those fill a day or two), there’s a lot of food and culture based activities here that can give you a sense of what life is really like in Bangkok beyond the tourists.

To help you, here are my top 22 things to see and do in Bangkok:

1. Take a Free Walking Tour

One of the first things I do when I arrive in a new destination is take a free walking tour. You’ll get to see the main sights, learn a little history, and start to get a sense of the culture. Best of all, you’ll have an expert local guide with you who can help answer any questions you have and give you suggestions and recommendations.

Bangkok Walking Tours has a few different tours available every day that provide a solid overview of the city. Just be sure to tip your guide!

2. See the Grand Palace

The stunning Grand Palace temple in Bangkok, Thailand
The Grand Palace was built over the course of three years between 1782-1785 by King Rama I when the capital moved from Thonburi to Bangkok. It’s the official residence of the king, though he doesn’t live there anymore (it’s just used for ceremonies).

The palace was originally constructed from wood as supplies were short. Eventually, after raiding other sights in the region, they were able to find the building materials they needed. Hidden behind high concrete walls, the palace isn’t one large building but rather a collection of wats (temples), chedis (mound-like structures containing Buddhist relics), carvings, statues, and the famous 15th century Emerald Buddha.

Na Phra Lan Road, +66 2 623 5500, Open daily from 8:30am-3:30pm. Admission is 500 THB. Be sure to wear clothes that cover your legs and shoulders. You can rent pants or shirts at the palace if you need them.

3. Visit Wat Pho and Wat Arun

Wat Pho, known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, is famous for its massive golden reclining Buddha statue. Built in 1832, the statue is 15 meters tall and 46 meters long. It’s one of the most popular sights in the city.

The temple is the size of a city block and there are tons of reliefs, statues, courtyards, temples, and spires to see. But there is more than just a photo opportunity here. The prestigious Thai Traditional Medical and Massage School is also located on the grounds. When you are done seeing the sights, get in line for a massage (it’s considered the best massage school in the country). Be sure to arrive early in the morning or late in the afternoon, otherwise you’ll have to wait at least 45 minutes for your massage.

Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn) is a gorgeous Buddhist temple on the edge of the Chao Phraya River (it’s just opposite the Grand Palace on the other side of the river). From the top of the main spire, you get sweeping views of the city. The intricately tiled facade reflects the light beautifully during sunrise and sunset. It’s my favorite temple in the city.

Wat Pho: 2 Sanamchai Road, Grand Palace Subdistrict, +66 2 662 3553, Open daily from 8am–6:30pm. Admission is 100 THB. Massages cost around 260 THB for 30 minutes.

Wat Arun: 158 Wang Doem Road, +66 2 891 218. Open daily from 8am–6pm. Admission is 50 THB. Be sure to dress appropriately for both temples.

4. Experience Khao San Road

The busy street of Khao San Road in Bangkok, Thailand
This is the backpacker capital of the world. Khao San Road (along with Soi Rambuttri) has been the hub of backpackers in Asia since the 80s. While it’s a full-on tourist trap now, with non-stop bars, hawkers, and street stalls, it’s still a fun place to spend some time — even if you’re not staying in the area. Grab a drink, order some banana pancakes, and spend some time meeting other travelers and watching the world go by.

5. Explore Chinatown

This is one of the biggest Chinatowns in the world. It’s home to some delicious restaurants and street food as well as places to shop. But the main draw here is the food. There are tons of vendors selling food you’ve likely never see anywhere else in the city.

If you’re a fan of seafood, be sure to spend some time wandering the narrow streets and sampling everything. If you’re not sure where to eat, just pick a stall that has lots of locals eating there.

6. Take a River Cruise

Cruising along the Chao Phraya River in  Bangkok, Thailand
To see the city from a different perspective, take a tour of the Chao Phraya River. The river stretches over 370km (229 miles) and river cruises offer a relaxing way to enjoy the view see the city in a new light. That said, avoid taking an overpriced river cruise. Instead, just ride a water taxi up and down the river for just a couple of dollars. You can start at the central pier, go to the end, and come back. You’ll save money and still get an enjoyable tour of the river as it weaves throughout the city.

7. Check out the Floating Market

The busy floating market in Bangkok, Thailand
While the floating markets are a little touristy, they are super fun and can’t be missed. The two main floating markets in the city are Khlong Lat Mayom and Thaling Chan (the latter being the most popular). Locals will paddle their small boats around the water and you can just shop as they pass you by. It’s definitely a unique experience!

The markets are chaotic and aromatic and can be a sensory overload. Arrive early (especially at Thaling Chan) so you can beat the crowds and tour groups. There’s lots of cheap food here too so it’s good to come hungry. I always like to wander the market first to see what I want to sample and then go about eating my way around.

8. Visit the Museum of Siam

Opened in 2007, this museum highlights the origins of Thailand and its culture. Housed in a 19th-century European-style building, the museum is fully interactive. There are galleries, movies, and multimedia displays that cover culture, history, Buddhism, war, and the making of modern Thailand. The museum does an excellent job of keeping things both fun and educational.

4 Maha Rat Rd, +66 2 225 2777. Open Tuesday-Sunday from 10am-6pm. Admission is 300 THB.

9. Visit the Bangkok Malls

Malls in Bangkok are not like malls in most other countries. Thanks to the AC, they are more like social hubs where locals can gather, eat, and hang out to escape the heat. The foodcourts here are actually delicious, there are coffee shops for relaxing or working, and there are even movie theatres and bowling alleys in the too. In short, they are fun places to hang out and to take in some of the less-conventional experiences of the city.

Some of the best malls to visit are Terminal 21 (my favorite mall), MBK Center (for electronics and knock-offs), Siam Paragon (upscale), and Pantip Plaza (electronics).

10. Tour More Temples

Temple in Bangkok
If you want to visit more temples, Bangkok has plenty more to offer. You can hire a tuk-tuk driver to take you around the city for a day to see them all (or at least the main ones). Some of my favorite temples are:

  • Wat Saket – This is one of my favorites in city because of its beautiful golden temple and wonderful views from its top. Admission is 10 THB.
  • Wat Benchamabophit – This temple is pictured on the back of the 5-baht coin and has 53 Buddha images in the courtyard representing different Buddhist mudras (ritual gestures). Admission is 20 THB.
  • Wat Ratchanatdaram – Built in the 1840s, this temple is one of the few temples in the entire world with a bronze roof. Admission is free.
  • Wat Traimit – Located in Chinatown, this temple is home to a massive solid-gold Buddha statue (it weighs 6 tons!). Admission is 40 THB.
  • Wat Mahahat – This royal temple is home to Thailand’s oldest institute for Buddhist monks. It also hosts a weekly amulet market where you can buy amulets to help you with luck, love, money, and more. Admission is 50 THB.


11. Visit Jim Thompson’s House

The historic Jim Thompson's house in  Bangkok, Thailand
Jim Thompson was an American spy during the Second World War and silk merchant in Thailand during the ’50s and ’60s. He mysteriously vanished in 1967 while in Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands. Some say he was lost or killed while hiking while others say he disappeared himself (he was a spy, after all).

When he returned to private industry after the war, he almost single-handedly revitalized Thailand’s sinking silk industry. While living in Bangkok, he lived in a traditional Thai home. It was decorated with beautiful teak wood and surrounded by a beautiful garden. Today, you can visit the house and learn about his life, the silk industry, and how and why Thais design their homes the way they do.

1 Khwaeng Wang Mai, +66 2 216 7368, Open daily from 9am-6pm. Admission is 200 THB.

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12. Shop (and Eat) at the Chatuchak Weekend Market

This massive, sprawling market is the size of a few football fields and is one of the largest open-air markets in the world. There are over 15,000 stalls and booths here and the market sees upwards of 400,000 visitors each weekend.

It’s is the best place in the city to buy gifts or souvenirs, find knockoffs, barter, and eat delicious food. There are maps around the market so you can navigate the various sections though it always gets crowded and hectic so come prepared.

Kamphaeng Phet 2 Rd, +66 2 272 4813. Open Wednesday-Thursday from 7am-6pm, Fridays from 6pm-12am, and Saturday-Sunday from 9am-6pm.

13. Watch a Muay Thai Fight

Muay Thai Fighting
Muay Thai (Thai boxing) is a martial art/combat sport involving striking and clinching. It’s one of the most popular sports in the country and is taken very seriously (much like football in Europe). Fighters train for years to master the art and you can catch bouts at Rajadamnern Stadium.

Matches typically last around 25 minutes unless there is a knockout and there are usually 7-9 fights per night. There are lots of food hawkers here as well so you can grab a bite while you watch the violent spectacle.

1 Ratchadamnoen Nok Rd, +66 2 281 4205, Main fights are on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays. Tickets range from 1,000-2,000 THB.

14. Relax in Lumpini Park

The calms waters of the lake in Lumpini Park,  Bangkok, Thailand
Spanning over 140 acres, this is one of Bangkok’s largest parks. It’s home to bicycle lanes, jogging paths, picnic and chess tables, tai chi classes, plenty of trees, and rowboats for rent on its pair of small lakes. There’s a lot to do here, and in a city that really, really, really lacks green space, it’s a blessing to have. Grab a book, pack a lunch, and come and lounge in the shade and watch the afternoon go by. It’s a nice change of pace from the hectic flow of the rest of the city (it’s a no-smoking area too).

192 Wireless Rd, +66 2 252 7006. Open daily from 4:30am-9pm.

15. See the National Museum

Established in 1874, this museum focuses on Thai culture, with highlights that include a large collection of musical instruments, recorded music, ornate royal funeral chariots, and impressive wooden carvings. It houses the largest collection of local art and artifacts and has been undergoing renovations over the past few years so it’s slowly becoming more interactive and English-friendly (though some sections still don’t have English signs). Nevertheless, it’s still incredibly interesting to see the artifacts and items in the collection. They offer English tours on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 9:30am.

Na Phra That Alley, +66 2 224 1333, Open Wednesday-Sunday from 9:30am-4pm. Admission is 200 THB.

16. Take a Cooking Class 

A delicious meal of khao soi in Bangkok, Thailand
Thai cuisine is one of the most delicious in the world. If you want to learn how to make some of the country’s mouth-watering dishes, take a cooking class. You’ll learn about Thai cuisine and cooking and be able to take your new knowledge and skills home with you. Here are some companies worth checking out to help you get started:


17. Hang Out at Soi Nana

There are two areas in Bangkok called Soi Nana. One is a sex tourism hub and not the one you should visit. The Soi Nana I’m referring to is known for its fun, hip nightlife. Located near the train station in Chinatown, this street is filled with bars and cocktail lounges making it a great place to have a few drinks and get a feel for the city’s wild nightlife.

Some of my favorite bars in the area are Pijiu (Chinese beer bar), Teens of Thailand (first gin bar in Thailand), Ba Hao (four-floor Chinese-inspired bar), El Chiringuito (Spanish tapas), 23 Bar & Gallery (bar in an art space).

18. Enjoy an Event at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center

The interior of the Bangkok Art and Culture Center in Bangkok, Thailand
If you’re a fan of live music, art, and performance, be sure to visit the city’s Culture Center to see if anything is happening while you’re in town. Opened in 2007, the BACC hosts art, music, theater, film, design, and cultural events in its exhibition and performance spaces. There is also an art library, cafe, gallery, craft shop, and book store here too.

939 Rama I Road, +66 2 214 6630-8, Open Tuesday-Sunday from 10am-9pm. Admission is free.

19. Wakeboard at Lake Taco 

If you want to get out of the city and have some adventure, head to the eastern outskirts of Bangkok for some wakeboarding (riding on a short board while being pulled along a set route). The lake is just 40 minutes away. This is a popular thing to do with expats and though I never did it (I’m not much of an adrenaline junkie) my friends always said it was a fun time. It costs around 500 THB but comes with everything you need to have fun and stay safe (board, helmet, life jacket).

20. Take a Day Trip to Ayutthaya

The famous and historic temples of Ayutthaya near Bangkok, Thailand
Ayutthaya (pronounced ah-you-tah-ya) was founded around 1350 and was the second capital of Thailand (it was the capital before moving to Bangkok). Unfortunately, the city was destroyed in 1767 by a Burmese attack and there are only ruins and a few temples and palaces still left standing.

In 1991, it became a UNESCO World Heritage site and is a popular day-trip destination from Bangkok as it’s just 90 minutes away. While lots of companies offer tours, I recommend you simply go on your own by train (it’s much cheaper that way). A typical day tour of the area will cost you about 500 THB.

21. See a Ladyboy Show

This glitzy spectacle is Bangkok’s version of Moulin Rouge. It’s a lively cabaret show with show tunes, dancing, K-pop, and elaborate costumes. It’s a glamorous, rambunctious night out that is guaranteed to entertain. Calypso Cabaret, founded in 1988, is the best place to see a show in the city. Playhouse Cabaret and Golden Dome Cabaret are two other reputable venues that host fun performances as well.

Tickets from 900 THB per person.

22. Take a Food Tour

The delicious food from a Vanguard food tour in Bangkok, Thailand
Bangkok is all about food. It is a foodie city. The sheer variety of options is staggering. You have food from all over the world. To develop a deeper appreciation of Thai food and learn more about the cuisine, consider a food tour.

My favorite food tour company is Bangkok Vanguards. Their tour was put together with the help of my friend Mark Wiens from Migrationology. Mark is the biggest foodie I know and he spent years crafting the perfect Bangkok foodie tour. It doesn’t disappoint!


Bangkok is a world-class city that is worth spending the time to explore. While I didn’t like it when I first visited, after spending more time there I got to understand and appreciate what the city has to offer. You need to look beneath the surface here to really get a sense of the city. Do that and you won’t be disappointed.


Get the In-Depth Budget Guide to Bangkok!

Nomadic Matt's Guide to BangkokMy detailed, 80-page guidebook is made for budget travelers like you! It cuts out the fluff found in other guidebooks and gets straight to the practical information you need to travel and save money while in Bangkok, a city I used to call home (so I know it really well!). You’ll find suggested itineraries and 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!

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Book Your Trip to Bangkok: 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 as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels. Some of my favorite places to stay in Bangkok are:

If you’re looking for more places to stay, here are my favorite hostels in Bangkok.

And, if you’re wondering what part of town to stay in, here’s my neighborhood breakdown of Bangkok!

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: 7 – Twang_Dunga, 9 – J. Maughn, 11 – m-louis, 14 – Bangkok Vanguards

The post The 22 Best Things to See and Do in Bangkok appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

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The Life of a Travel Writer with David Farley

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Author and Professor, David Farley
Updated: 8/24/20 | August 24th, 2020

When I started in the travel industry, one writer came up often in conversation: David Farley. He was a rock-star writer who taught at NYU and Columbia, wrote for AFAR, National Geographic, the New York Times, and many other publications. I always wondered who this guy was. He was almost mythical. He was never at any events.

But, one day, he turned up and, over the years, we became good friends. His writing tips and advice have helped me immensely, and his impressive résumé and keen sense of story are why I partnered with him on this website’s travel writing course.

Unlike me, David is a more traditional magazine/freelance/newspaper writer. He’s not a blogger. And. today I thought interview David about his life as a travel writer.

Nomadic Matt: Tell everyone about yourself!
David Farley: A few interesting facts about me: My weight at birth was 8 lbs., 6 oz. I grew up in the Los Angeles suburbs. I was in a rock band in high school; we played late-night gigs at Hollywood clubs, and we weren’t very good. I travel a lot, but I have no interest in counting the number of countries I’ve been to.

I’ve lived in San Francisco, Paris, Prague, Berlin, and Rome, but I currently live in New York City.

How did you get into travel writing?
The usual way: by accident. I was in graduate school and my girlfriend at the time, a writer, proofread one of my 40-page research papers — I think it was on the exciting topic of the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s — and afterward she said, “You know, don’t take this the wrong way, but your writing was better than I expected.”

She encouraged me to write stuff other than boring history papers. I heeded her call.

One of the first stories that got published was about a pig killing I attended in a village on the Czech-Austrian border. After that, enough of the stories got published, mostly in travel publications, that by default I became a “travel writer.”

I ended up breaking into Condé Nast Traveler, working my way all the way up to the features section, as well as the New York Times. Eventually, I wrote a book that Penguin published. Then I expanded my field of interest to food and now I often combine food and travel.

Having done this for about two decades, one thing I’ve learned is that the “expectations of success” is really just a myth in our minds. I always thought, for example, that once I write for the New York Times I’ll have “made it.” Then it happened and didn’t really feel like I had done so.

Maybe when I write a feature for a big travel magazine? Nope.

Maybe a book published by one of the biggest publishing houses in the world? Not really.

The point is: just keep striving in the direction of success and forget about various plateaus you want to get to. I think it’s a much healthier way to go.

Do you have any favorite experiences/destinations that you’ve been able to write about?
I’d long been wanting to go to Hanoi to investigate, report on, and write about the origins of pho. I finally convinced the New York Times to let me do it in February. It was amazing and delicious.

But then, as we all know, the pandemic decided to swirl its way around the world, and, as a result, most travel stories—including this one—are rotting away on editors’ hard drives for the time being.

I’ve been really lucky to convince editors to let me delve deep into some things that I’m fascinated with and/or love such as spending two weeks hanging out with the guys who cremate bodies on the banks of the Ganges River in Varanasi to see what I could learn about life and death.

I got to spend a month volunteering in a refugee camp in Greece and write a dispatch about it.

I went cycling across southern Bosnia with four great friends following a bike trail that was carved out of an erstwhile train track.

I got drunk on vodka with old Ukrainian ladies in their homes in the Exclusion Zone in Chernobyl.

And I hiked across a swath of Kenya with my uncle, sister, and brother and law for a good cause: we raised thousands of dollars for an AIDS orphanage there and also got to spend a few days with the children.

I could go on and on — which is precisely what makes this a rewarding profession.

What are some of the biggest illusions people have about travel writing?
That you can peel off a feature story for a travel magazine just like that [snaps fingers]. It takes so much work for each story to get to the type of experiences we end up writing about — a lot of phone calls and emails to set up interviews and to get your foot in the door some places.

When a magazine is paying you to go to a place so you can come back with an interesting story, you have to do a lot of behind-the-scenes work to ensure that you’re going to have a good story. It rarely just happens on its own.

Travel stories are essentially a fake or altered reality, filtered through the writer and based on how much reporting she or he did on the spot, as well as her or his past experiences and knowledge about life and the world.

How has the industry changed in recent years? Is it still possible for new writers to break into the industry?
Very much. In the last few years, we’ve seen an industry-wide push to be more inclusive of female and BIPOC writers, which is a great thing. The publishing industry – magazines, newspapers, books – is always ready to accept great, new writers.

The key is that you, as a writer, need to learn how the industry works first.

So, how do people even go about breaking into the industry?
In the decade or so I taught travel writing at NYU and Columbia University, the students of mine that went on to write for the New York Times, National Geographic, and other publications were not necessarily the most talented in the class; they were the most driven. They really wanted it.

And that made all the difference.

What that means is they put enough energy into this endeavor to learn how the game is played: how to write a pitch, how to find an editor’s email address, how to improve your writing, learning the nuts and bolts of writing, and expertly knowing the market that’s out there for travel articles (i.e. learning the types of stories that various publications publish).

It seems there are fewer paying publications these days and it’s harder to find work. How does that affect new writers? What can new writers do to stand out?
I realize this is a hard one, but living abroad is really helpful. You end up with so much material for personal essays and you gain a knowledge of the region that allows you to become something of an authority on the area. It gives you a leg up on other people who are pitching stories about that place.

That said, you don’t have to go far to write about travel. You can write about the place where you live.

After all, people travel there, right? You can write everything from magazine and newspaper travel section pieces to personal essays, all about where you’re currently residing.

How do you think COVID-19 will affect the industry?
There’s no doubt that the pandemic has put a hold on travel writing a bit. People are still writing about travel but it’s mostly been pandemic-related stories. That said, no one knows what the future holds. Which in a perverse way–not just about the travel writing industry but in the bigger picture as well–makes life and reality kind of interesting too.

And while many people are losing their jobs and magazines are folding, I have a feeling the industry will bounce back. It just might not be over night. Which is why it’s a perfect time to build up those writing chops. You can also shift your focus for the time being to writing about local places and about other niches (food, tech, lifestyle) based on your expertise and interest.

What can new writers do now to improve their writing?
Read. A lot. And don’t just read, but read like a writer.

Deconstruct the piece in your mind as you’re reading.

Pay attention to how the writer has structured her or his piece, how they opened it and concluded it and so on. Also, read books on good writing.

This really helped me a lot when I was first starting out.

For most of us, talking to strangers is not easy. Plus, our moms told us not to do so. But the best travel stories are those that are most reported. So the more we talk to people, the more likely other opportunities arise and the more material you have to work with. It makes the writing of the story so much easier.

Sometimes you’ll be right in the middle of a situation and think: this would make a great opening to my story. My good friend Spud Hilton, former travel editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, says that the dirty secret to good travel writing is that bad experiences make the best stories. This is true, but please don’t put yourself in a bad situation just for your writing. You can write a great piece without having to get your wallet stolen or losing your passport.

What books do you suggest new travel writers read?
There are a few books out there on how to be a travel writer, but they’re all embarrassingly abysmal. For me, I write William Zinsser’s “On Writing Well” and James B. Stewart’s “Follow the Story” when I was first starting out and they were very helpful.

For a memoir or personal essay, Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird” is excellent.

For great travel books, it depends on what your interests are. For history-laden travel, anything by Tony Perrottet and David Grann are incredible; for humor, David Sedaris, A.A. Gill, Bill Bryson, and J. Maarten Troost; for just straight-up great writing, Joan Didion, Susan Orlean, and Jan Morris.

I highly recommend reading your way through the series of annual Best American Travel Writing anthologies.

Where do you find inspiration for your articles? What motivates you?
I get my motivation and inspiration from unlikely sources. I think about the creative masters and wonder how I can tap into their genius.

What did Austrian painter Egon Schiele see when he looked at a subject and then the canvas?

How did Prince put out an album a year from 1981 to 1989, each one a masterpiece and each one cutting-edge and like nothing anyone else at the time was doing?

Is there a way to apply this creativity to travel writing?

I’m not saying I’m on par with these geniuses — far from it — but if I could somehow even slightly be inspired by their creativity, I’d be better off for it.

More specifically for the articles that I end up writing, a lot of it just falls into my lap. The key, though, is recognizing it’s a story. A friend will casually mention some weird facts about a place in the world and it’s our job to take that fact and ask yourself: is there a story there?

What’s the most difficult part about being a travel writer? 
The rejection. You really have to get used to it and just accept that it’s part of your life. It’s really easy to take it seriously and let it get you down. I know — I have done this.

You just have to brush it off and move on, get back on that literary bike, and keep trying until someone finally says yes. Be tenacious.

Writing is a craft. You don’t have to be born with a natural talent for it. You just need a strong desire to become better at it. And, by taking writing classes, reading books about it, talking to people about it, etc. you will become a better writer.

If you could go back in time and tell young David one thing about writing, what would it be? 
I would have taken more classes to both keep learning — one should never stop learning about writing — and to force myself to write when perhaps I didn’t want to.

I think we can all learn from each other, and so putting yourself in that kind of instructive environment is helpful. I took one writing class — a nonfiction writing course at UC Berkeley — and it was super helpful.


If you’re looking to improve your writing or just start as a travel writer, David and I teach a very detailed and robust travel writing course. Through video lectures, personalized feedback, and examples of edited and deconstructed stories, you’ll get the course David taught at NYU and Columbia – without the college price.

Additionally, David will be doing a FREE webinar this Thursday, August 27th on travel writing as part of our Nomadic Network series of free events.

For more from David, check out his book, An Irreverent Curiosity or visit his blog, Trip Out.

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, as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and hotels.

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 — and they’ll save you time and money too!

The post The Life of a Travel Writer with David Farley appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

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