May 2021

Why Cynics Will Always Be Haters and How to Prove Them Wrong

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a guy living his best life
Last Updated: 5/24/21 | May 24th, 2021 (Originally posted: 6/20/12)

Remember last month when I wrote about Jessica and how she’ll never get to Ireland?


That’s ok. Read about her here and then come back.

OK, now that you’re back, I’d like you to meet someone similar to her.

Let’s call him “Bob.”

They’re different people but they’re two sides of the same coin. Whereas Jessica won’t travel because she is held back by the travel industry’s marketing, Bob is our resident travel naysayer and held back by his own cynicism.

Bob (I’ve changed his name — both here and in his original comment) came to my attention when he responded to my blog post about how I make money and afford to travel. He wrote:

I love this – “Anyone can do it”… Then we find he was able to save $20,000 before his first trip. Most of us are paying off student loans whilst juggling rent. See, folks? There’s always more to it – former high-paying job or lived with his parents so could save, a monetary gift from parents, taught English abroad, fired or laid off, took a trip, in right place at right time & got hospitality job or teaching or gardening job. It’s all very individual. There is no formula that’s why no one comes out and says. They want you to buy something. This site doesn’t seem that big/popular enough to generate enough money to fly 25 times/year. My niece has a bigger blog than this. [Matt’s comment: OUCH!!!]

Like I said, everyone wants to seem lucky. There’s always more to it than anyone will let on. I’ve been to 20 countries, but that’s because I’ve had rich friends/lovers & affluent parents. I once had a job that took me places, too. See? I said it. That’s honest. No expensive books w/some secret. I’m not trying to sound lucky or like I know something because I’m not selling anything.

I don’t know Bob. He’s probably a nice guy and I’m not here to pick on him personally; I simply want to discuss his line of thinking because I think it is shared by far too many. People like Bob assume that someone must first have some sort of helping hand, that saving money in order to travel can’t be as simple as I make it seem — and that I, and others like me, are just here to make a quick buck by selling a pipe dream!

Why Bob is Completely Wrong

Happy as a group in New Zealand
Jessica will never go to Ireland because she will never break out of the mold the travel industry puts her in. On the other hand, folks like Bob might travel far and wide but will never believe it is possible to do so without a lot of money. I call this the Sarah Palin Syndrome, which I’ve defined as:

“The persistent belief that only those with means, helpful parents, or an upper-class upbringing can afford to launch a travel endeavor for any sustained period of time because normal people have too many bills, loans, debts, or obligations to travel.”

I’ve named it as such because while running for vice president of the United States, Sarah Palin stated:

“I’m not one of those who came from a background of, you know, kids who perhaps graduate college and their parents give them a passport and give them a backpack and go off and travel the world. No, I’ve worked all my life. In fact, I usually had two jobs all my life until I had kids. I was not a part of that culture.”

This is a pessimistic mentality. It is one that blames the outside world for your ills and then creates a “no” mindset so you never try to find ways to travel.

Bob assumed that I could only afford my original trip with the help of my parents. This goes to the heart of Sarah Palin Syndrome: the assumption that you need a lot of money (either through a good job or helpful parents) to get going and that if you don’t start out with a fair amount of savings, you can’t travel. In his follow up email, Bob told me:

I’ve lived in the South End. A $30,000 salary, in a city like Boston, particularly w/school loans, doesn’t bring forth $20,000 savings in three years. That math doesn’t exist, mate…unless you’re living w/your parents.

Yet, as I’ve pointed out before, the math can work on that kind of salary. I wrote a list months ago of 20 ways one can drastically cut expenses. These are the exact thing I did before I left for my first round the world trip to save money. It becomes pretty easy to save 33% of your salary when you are fully committed to your goal and, yes, also living with your family for a few months as well as ditching your car.

I think folks like Bob don’t think that it’s possible to save money in such a hyper-consumption world. But, when you stop buying crap, your bank account goes WAY up. When you cancel your subscription services, the bills they generate disappear. I lived like a pauper and made my salary work. And I have always said that I lived with my parents for the last six months before my first trip.

I’m not the only one. Here’s just a sampling of people I’ve interviewed on this website who have done the same:

You don’t need a high-paying job to save money to travel. You just need the right focus and money management skills. Your bank balance isn’t going to double overnight. It doesn’t have to. Slow and steady wins the race.

Second, Bob assumes that you can’t do this while carrying outstanding debt. I am simply going to show you my student loan balance, which I have been paying off ever since I left my MBA program. Take a look at how much I still owe:

student loan debt

Traveling with debt is possible if you are smart about your money. I made sure to cover my expenses before I went away and put money aside to cover my loans.

But Bob’s figured it out:

There’s no secret or book needed. All anyone has to say/do is exactly what I communicated very briefly. All you need is $2,000 for an initial trip and week stay to make connections. It will get cheaper from there. Once you take a trip, go for a teaching job or hospitality, hustle, network. The more you do, the more things unfold. That’s the secret to most things. Just start. Figure the rest out as you go.

Bob, I agree. There is no secret to travel. It’s exactly about what you just said. Save up some money. Just make the leap. That’s really all there is. The rest of the stuff is just window dressing. Here are all the times I’ve made that point myself:


How to Deal with the Cynics

thinking in bali
The world is full of cynics. The world is full of people who want to get you down. Anyone who has lived for more than five minutes knows that. Folks like Bob simply believe that it’s impossible to do what I do without some sort of helping hand. They sneer at the thought that travel could be easy or affordable to all. Pssh, they say, you must have a trust fund. You aren’t telling the whole truth.

Bob isn’t as far off as others because he knows what I have long said — there is no secret to travel. You just go do it! You need to make the leap. But he is wrong that in order to make that leap, you must be well off in advance. Hard work and dedication can get you where you need to go. I worked my butt off so I could go travel. I taught English to recharge my bank account.

But cynics only see and hear what they want. I told Bob that I had loans, that the math worked out, that I wasn’t selling him an unrealistic dream, linked to all the articles I’ve written to share my experiences, and talked more about my past.

But I never heard back from Bob.

Sarah Palin Syndrome doesn’t let you see the truth; it only seeks to reinforce your beliefs. Once Bob knew my story (a story I never hide but that he didn’t take the time to learn), he went away. Cynics like to be cynics.

Bob is right — there is no secret to travel. You just need to take the leap. I’m not selling any larger dream than that. All I am doing is pushing you out the door and then telling you how to save money when you get outside.

There is bound to be a “Bob” in your life. People will dismiss your goals, accomplishments, and dreams. They will try to give you a sense of reality and tell you “the whole story.”

I believe people like Bob can’t dream the impossible. Where Bob and people like him go wrong is that they believe that only those individuals who hustle or have outside help can go live their dream. But your average person? They can’t do it.

They are completely wrong.

Travel is possible, even with a job paying $30,000 USD per year in a major city like Boston. The Bobs of the world will never believe that, though, because if they did, then they would have to accept that anything would be possible.

And then they couldn’t be miserable and cynical.

But I like the Bobs of the world because I can go out and prove them wrong. And, hopefully, I can inspire many of you to do the same by crushing the myth that travel is expensive or unattainable.

And then we can all say to Bob: “I know you’re wrong. I won’t let you get me down. I’ll only let you inspire me to do better.”

How to Travel the World on $50 a Day

Nomadic Matt's How to Travel the World on $50 a DayMy New York Times best-selling paperback guide to world travel will teach you how to master the art of travel so that you’ll get off the beaten path, save money, and have a deeper travel experience. It’s your A to Z planning guide that the BBC called the “bible for budget travelers.”

Click here to learn more and start reading it today!

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 somewhere other than a hostel, 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:

Ready to Book Your Trip?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use when I travel. They are the best in class and you can’t go wrong using them on your trip.


The post Why Cynics Will Always Be Haters and How to Prove Them Wrong appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

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Take More Vacations: Advice from Scott Keyes

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Scott Keyes from Scott's Cheap Flights holding his new book
Posted: 5/17/21 | May 17th, 2021

Scott’s Cheap Flights is one of the biggest and best deal-finding websites on the internet. I check them regularly when I’m on the hunt for a new trip. They are just unmatched in the deals they find (at least for the US market). Its founder, Scott Keyes, recently wrote a book sharing all his insider tips and tricks called Take More Vacations: How to Search Better, Book Cheaper, and Travel the World. (Disclosure: I blurbed it. It’s really good.)

Over the years, Scott and I have become friends because of our mutual love of saving money when we travel. I sat down with him to talk about his book, the secrets to finding cheap flights, and what to expect in a post-COVID world. (While some of his tips are US centric, for those outside the states, there’s still some information here you’ll find useful.)

Nomadic Matt: Tell everyone about yourself. How did you get into this?
Scott: After I graduated college and began working as an underpaid journalist, I realized that my hopes of traveling overseas were entirely dependent on my ability to find cheap flights. I threw myself into the subject, researching and testing and figuring out why airfare behaves the way it does and all the things one can do to get the best possible price on flights.

It all culminated in 2013 when I stumbled upon the best deal I’ve ever personally gotten in my life: nonstop from NYC to Milan for $130 roundtrip. Though I’d had no plans to visit Milan, when I saw that fare it was, of course, a total no-brainer. There’s nowhere in the world I wouldn’t go for $130 roundtrip!

When I got back from that flight, word had spread to my friends and coworkers, and one-by-one they kept coming up to me with the same request: “Hey Scott, next time you find a deal like that, can you let me know so I can get it, too?” By the time the 8th person had asked me, I realized I wasn’t going to be able to remember everyone I needed to let know, so I turned to the simplest solution: start a simple little email list. I had no idea at the time, but in that moment, Scott’s Cheap Flights was born.

Why did you write this book?
There’s this weird conundrum in our lives: we all want to travel more than we actually do.

I figured there could be two possible causes: time and money. Not enough time is certainly the case for many, but I don’t think that’s the case for most people. Turns out more than half of Americans don’t use all their vacation time, and collectively we leave around a billion vacation days unused every year.

Instead, it’s the expense and hassle of booking flights that stymie so many of our travel dreams. And that’s because airfare is the most uniquely torturous thing we buy. The fact that this thing we need in order to travel is so volatile and incomprehensible leads us to overpay for flights or, worse, pass up would-be trips.

Think of it this way: if you had a promo code that made all your future flights just $200 roundtrip, would you travel more than you do today? For most of us, that answer is yes.

In other words, unless you happen to have a trust fund, cheap flights are the key that opens up the world.

Who do you think Take More Vacations will be helpful for?
Anyone who dreams of traveling more than they actually do, and anyone who gets anxious every time they buy tickets because they have no idea how to avoid overpaying.

One of the biggest misconceptions in my world is that cheap flights have to be inconvenient flights. Not true! The flight that led to me starting Scott’s Cheap Flights, for example, was a nonstop United flight I found from New York City to Milan for $130 roundtrip, including two checked bags.

Similarly, another major fallacy is that cheap flights are only for people with complete flexibility. I devoted an entire chapter of Take More Vacations to the subject of flexibility because so often I see travelers unwittingly sacrifice their ability to get cheap flights by telling themselves “I don’t have flexibility.”

Of course, someone with complete flexibility has better your chances of scoring a good deal than someone whose dates and destinations are locked in stone. But one of the costliest mistakes people regularly make is thinking about flexibility as an on/off switch rather than a dimmer switch. “I don’t have flexibility” is a self-imposed trap that will ensure your travel dreams never become more than that. The more flexibility you can find for yourself, the better your odds of getting a cheap flight.

This book isn’t just for 22-year-olds taking a post-graduation trip to Europe. It’s for anyone hoping to travel more and better.

Scott Keyes from Scott's Cheap Flights posing for a photo in Italy

If it’s true that we’ve been living in the Golden Age of Cheap Flights, why do people so many people still overpay for airfare?
First and foremost, it’s because airfare behaves like nothing else we buy. When you buy bagels, the price is essentially the same on any given day, and it mostly depends on how many you buy. But when you buy flights, the price is extraordinarily volatile. The same flight that costs $800 today may cost $300 tomorrow and $1,300 the next day. And the price of a flight bears little relation to how far you travel. It generally costs more to fly from New York to Des Moines than from New York to Barcelona, for instance.

Given the complexity and volatility of airfare, cognitive biases cause us to overpay for flights. For instance, most of us employ loss aversion when we’re booking flights; we fear a $300 increase more than we relish a $300 drop, so we pull the trigger on an expensive flight because we’re worried it’ll get even more expensive.

Recency bias is another one; if the fare stays put for a while, we may pull the trigger because we figure that’s just what the trip costs, without realizing that fare is likely to soon change. There’s also sunk cost fallacy—we get invested in the idea of a specific trip, and despite expensive flights, refuse to consider elsewhere.

And finally, good old procrastination! We put off buying tickets too long and wind up booking flights last minute when they are, invariably, expensive.

Why do you think so many false myths about cheap airfare (buy on Tuesday, clear your cookies, etc) persist when they are so clearly wrong? 

I think it’s because airfare is so confusing. Prices are constantly jumping around, seemingly at random, and sometimes fares seem to make no sense at all, like recently when flights from Pittsburgh to Tokyo were available for $316 roundtrip while a flight from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia cost $312 roundtrip.

That confusion leads people to see patterns that aren’t actually correct or helpful but seem to be a reasonable enough explanation. In the same way, a penny that comes up heads three times in a row isn’t actually “due” for tails on the fourth flip, people make inferences about airfare because it offers some solace for a difficult-to-understand purchase.

And, so even though, as I explain in Chapter 9, it’s not the case that clearing your cookies makes flights cheaper, and it’s not the case that flights are cheapest to book on Tuesday at 1pm, these myths persist because they explain what seems inexplicable. Fortunately, you and I are out here doing our best to mythbust!

Scott Keyes from Scott's Cheap Flights in a field of flowers

In Chapter 3, you discuss how the way we’ve been searching for flights is backward. Tell us more about that.

Almost every overseas vacation I’ve taken in the past decade has been a trip I didn’t plan to take.

Roundtrip to Milan for $130. Osaka for $169. Barcelona $222. Brussels $225, twice.

I hadn’t planned to visit Italy or Japan or Spain before buying flights to those very countries. It’s not that I wasn’t interested in seeing those places—come on, it’s Europe and Japan—but, like most people, I have thousands of places I’d love to visit if airfare was no concern.

What prompted my interest in those specific trips, in other words, was the fact that fares had dropped so precipitously.

The way most of us book our flights is a three-step process that probably sounds familiar:

  • Step 1: Pick your destination
  • Step 2: Pick your dates
  • Step 3: Check for flights

We say we want cheap flights, but by setting airfare as the least important priority, is it any surprise that so many of us end up overpaying for flights? Knowingly or not, the most expensive mistake we make when booking flights is choosing a trip rather than choosing a fare.

Fortunately, there’s a better way, and it’s elegantly simple: Take that same three-step process and flip it on its head.

  • Step 1: See where there are cheap flights departing your home airport
  • Step 2: Pick one of those cheap destinations
  • Step 3: Pick one of the cheap dates

You’re allowed to have preferences, of course. I’m just encouraging you to put airfare in context. Few of us would go to a restaurant, reject the waiter’s offer to look at the menu, and order the ribeye with zero consideration for price or other options.

But that’s exactly what many of us do with flights.

We set our heart on one specific vacation, price be damned. If Prague is at the top of your list, would you still pay $1,000 for flights if you knew there were $250 flights to Paris?

What are three things you want people to take away from this book? 
First, the way we traditionally search for flights is harming your ability to get a good deal. We all say we want cheap flights, but our normal way of searching for flights inadvertently undercuts our ability to get cheap flights.

Instead, in many cases, the secret to getting cheap fares—and thus getting three vacations for what you used to pay for one—simply boils down to making them the top priority. That doesn’t mean only traveling to nearby cities or taking inconvenient flights; on the contrary, with a better approach, you can fly almost anywhere with cheap (and good) flights.

Second, recognizing that airfare is exceptionally volatile. Destinations don’t have a single, stable price. Flights to Japan aren’t normally $202 roundtrip, except occasionally when they are (like they were just a few weeks ago). Today’s expensive flight may be tomorrow’s cheap one, and vice versa.

Finally, cheap flights don’t just save money; they lead to better trips by letting you experience more at your destination. They lead to more trips and boost your interim happiness because you know the next one isn’t far off. And they expand the types of places you visit and let you discover places that appeal to you personally, rather than the average tourist.

You’ve searched millions of flights. What are some of the crazy insights you’ve learned about airlines in that time? 
My favorite part about airfare is the funny anomalies. For instance, we all think of Thanksgiving as an exceedingly expensive time to travel. And it is—for domestic flights. But Thanksgiving is actually a hidden gem for cheap international flights. That’s because all those people flying home to visit family and eat turkey are, by definition, not flying overseas. With less competition for international destinations, the fares are often quite cheap.

Similarly, I love the anomaly of how when you’re traveling somewhere remote, it can be cheaper to split your trip into multiple itineraries rather than one. I call this the Greek Island Trick.

Say, for instance, you want to fly from NYC to Santorini. If you search that route on Google Flights, fares often come back upwards of $1,600. But if you search for flights from NYC to Athens, those regularly go on sale for as little as $350 roundtrip. And once you’re in Athens, you can hop a ferry or budget flight on to Santorini for as little as $50. So by splitting your itinerary, you can wind up saving 75% off normal prices, and even take a few days to visit Athens before heading over to Santorini!

Scott Keyes from Scott's Cheap Flights swimming

Where do you see airfare going in a post-COVID world? I see short-term deals but long-term increases. What are your thoughts? 
There’s a lot of concern that as travel demand rebounds, that’ll be the end of cheap flights. But here’s why, on the contrary, I think the future of cheap flights looks really bright.

First, while the pandemic certainly woke many people up to how far airfare had fallen, what many people missed was that since 2015, we have been living in the Golden Age of Cheap Flights. The pandemic didn’t cause cheap fares. The pandemic *illuminated* cheap fares. So if a resurgence of travel interest leads to pre-covid airfares, we should be so lucky!

The reason I’m so bullish on the continued long-term availability of cheap flights is that airline business models have been revamped over the past few decades. Go back 40 years ago and airlines made most of their money on economy fares. Today, airlines make most of their money from other revenue streams: selling credit cards and miles, premium tickets like business class, corporate contracts, cargo, and so on. In other words, airlines can afford to sell you $250 flights to Europe or Japan because those fares are far less consequential to their bottom line than they used to be.

I think it’s likely we’ll see headlines over the next few months about average fares going up. Indeed, Airlines for America’s analysis already shows that average fares have been steadily increasing since February.

And yet, during that time period, we’ve found roundtrip fares like $124 to Hawaii, $378 to Greece, and $202 to Japan. The key point to remember next time you see a headline about flight prices increasing is this: You can’t book average fares. You can only book available fares.

Last question: You’re a man who takes a lot of flights. Do you have a favorite experience?
This is going to be sappy so I apologize in advance, but my favorite flight experience is flying with my young daughter. I’ve taken thousands of flights in my life, and while I still love being in the air, the magic has faded just a bit. But not for her! Everything about flying, from the seats to windows to the noise to the turbulence to the liftoff to the majestic views from 30,000 feet, getting to be reminded by her how special it is, and getting to experience it through her eyes, is incredibly fun.


Scott Keyes, is the founder and Chief Flight Expert of Scott’s Cheap Flights, a website that finds and shares the best flight deals on the web. He’s also the author of Take More Vacations: How to Search Better, Book Cheaper, and Travel the World, which is available on Bookshop and Amazon. When he’s not on a plane, you can find him at home in Portland, Oregon.

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 somewhere other than a hostel, 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:

Ready to Book Your Trip?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use when I travel. They are the best in class and you can’t go wrong using them on your trip.

The post Take More Vacations: Advice from Scott Keyes appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

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The Ultimate Guide to Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

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The view of Kilimanjaro in Tanzania from a nearby National park
Posted: 5/13/21 | May 13th, 2021

Hiking Kilimanjaro is something atop the list of many travelers’ bucket lists. Each year, the iconic mountain attracts thousands who spend days attempting to reach her snowy summit.

Since I’ve never hiked the mountain, I’ve invited my community manager, Chris, to share his tips and advice to help you save money and boost your chances of reaching “the Roof of Africa.”

Standing on top of Kilimanjaro at sunrise was one of the most amazing feelings I’ve ever had. After a week of struggle — including hiking over 17 hours in a single day — I had made it to the frigid summit. For a few moments, I was the highest person on the entire continent. That was a truly magical feeling.

Kilimanjaro holds a special place in the travel world. It’s one of those activities — like Everest base camp, Machu Picchu, or the Camino — that attracts a certain kind of traveler. The kind who wants a challenge, who wants to push themselves, to test themselves.

While hiking Kilimanjaro has become more tourist-friendly over the years, it’s still a serious challenge. People still get hurt — and die — on the mountain every single year. Only 45–65% of people who start the hike make it to the top.

However, with a little planning and preparation, you can greatly increase your chances of reaching “the Roof of Africa.” Here’s everything you need to know to make the most of your trip:

The Routes

People hiking along one of the many routes up Mount Kilimanjaro
There are six routes on Kilimanjaro, each one a different length, with varying degrees of difficulty and differing success rates. The route you choose will depend on your budget, how long you have for the trip, and the company you book your expedition with.

Here’s an overview of the main routes:

Marangu: This is “the Coca-Cola route,” named after the fact that there are huts along the way where you can sleep and buy things — like a cold Coke. It actually has a low success rate, however, as people underestimate the challenge and opt to rush to the top in five days instead of taking more time to acclimatize.

Machame: This is the most popular route. When done in seven days, it has a success rate of over 60%, hence its popularity. It’s called “the whiskey” route,” hinting at the fact that it’s a more serious challenge than the Coca-Cola route.

Rongai: This is the easiest route on Kilimanjaro. It’s a bit less scenic and more expensive (there aren’t as many budget operators here), but it’s the only route that approaches from the north. It’s also much less busy.

Shira: This route jumps into some high-altitude gains early on before joining the Machame route. It’s challenging and more expensive, since you start in the west before linking up with the main route.

Lemosho: This is the most beautiful route up the mountain, which is why I chose it. It offers lots of variety and plenty of challenge. It’s one of the more expensive routes, however.

Umbwe: This route is really only for experienced climbers looking for an extreme challenge. It’s a lot of scrambling and climbing as opposed to regular hiking.

Regardless of what route you take, I would suggest nothing less than seven days. Don’t rush this trip. Although it will cost more money, the slower you go, the better your body adapts to the altitude, which is the #1 thing you can do to drastically increase your chances of success.


The snowy path near the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro
As with all travel, there is a wide range of price points available. There are luxury companies that will haul a full-size bed up the mountain so you don’t have to sleep on the ground, and there are super cheap companies that cut corners and likely don’t pay their porters fairly in order to keep costs low.

I suggest going for a more middle-of-the-road company for two reasons:

First, they will have more qualified guides, so you can learn more during your hike. These companies also usually pay their porters fairly, so you can be confident your team is taken care of.

Second, you’ll know that the company isn’t cutting corners. There is a lot of competition for Kilimanjaro treks, so you know if one company is just too cheap to be true that they are likely skimping on something. Since this is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, don’t be cheap.

Prices range from $1,000 to over $5,000 USD per person. I wouldn’t book with any company charging less than $2,000 USD (I paid around $2,200 for my trip, before tipping — see more on that below), as anything under that is going to be bare-bones.

Remember, people get seriously injured on this mountain every year, and around 10 are killed. Don’t cut corners! Pay for a reputable company with good reviews. Not only will you enjoy your trip more but you’ll feel more comfortable and be safer.

Finding a Tour Company

A tent on the ground near the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa
Since climbing without porters is prohibited, you’re going to need to hire a company to supply you with everything you need: gear, guides, porters, paperwork, and everything in between.

But there are tons of companies available. How do you decide which to go with?

Here are a few tips:

1. Read reviews – Once you’ve narrowed down your choices based on your budget, look for a company that has positive reviews. While online reviews should always be taken with a grain of salt, they will help you establish a first impression. Keep an eye out for details about the gear and food provided.

2. Ask about their client/porter ratio – How many other travelers will you be going with? And how many porters/guides/assistant guides will be included? You don’t want to be stuck in a huge group where you don’t get personalized attention if you have questions or concerns.

3. What is their success rate? – What is the company’s success rate for the route you’re looking at? While they can’t control the weather, they can do everything in their power to get their clients to the top.

4. Are they a responsible company? – The Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project has a list of tour operators that meet their standards for responsible and ethical travel. Book with a company on this list to ensure that your porters are fairly treated. I didn’t know about this list before I went, and it’s one of my biggest regrets about the trip.

5. Pick a company with included accommodation – Most companies include a free hotel stay for the night before your trek and for the night after (as well as pick-up and drop-off). Make sure you choose a company that offers this, so you can get a decent night’s sleep before your hike and enjoy a real bed after your strenuous time on the mountain.

Intrepid Travel and G Adventures are two companies I would recommend. They meet KPAP’s guidelines and offer a variety of treks with qualified local guides. Start your search with them.

A Note on Tipping Your Guides

A Kilimanjaro porter carrying a large sack on his head
In addition to paying the company you book with, you will also need to tip your team of porters. My sister and I had a team of 12 with us — just for the two of us! Porters to carry our gear, a cook, someone to carry (and clean) the toilet, a waiter/assistant cook, our main guide, and then our assistant guide. It takes a lot to get to the summit; you aren’t doing this alone after all!

At the end of your trip, usually while you’re still on the mountain, you’ll need to tip your team. This has to be done in the local currency — which means you’ll need to get all that cash before you hike and carry it with you on the trek.

You’ll be tipping a specific amount per day to each porter, a bit more to the cook, and then a bit more to the guides. Breakdowns usually look something like this:

  • Main guide – $20 USD per day
  • Assistant guide – $15 USD per day
  • Cook – $12 USD per day
  • Toilet engineer – $5-10 USD per day
  • Waiter – $5-10 USD per day
  • Porters – $5-10 USD per day (each)

What I read online beforehand stated that a 15% tip is customary. So, if you paid $2,500 USD for your trip than you’d tip at least $330 USD to the team. When I asked my guide about this, he said a normal tip was closer to $1,000 USD…which is almost a 50% tip.

As you can imagine, things can get awkward if someone is expecting $1,000 USD and you give them an envelope with just $400 USD — and most teams will open the envelope while you’re standing right there in front of them. It can get a little uncomfortable.

Obviously, your porters deserve to be paid fairly. They are doing incredibly challenging work. If you can afford a generous tip, they 100% deserve it. For minimum tipping guidelines, I encourage you to follow the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project’s guidelines.

13 Tips for Hiking Kilimanjaro

Sunset over Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa
1. Make sure your insurance will cover you
Most travel insurance policies have restrictions on how high you can hike. That means that if you get injured over a certain altitude, your policy won’t apply.

World Nomads, for example, covers up to 19,685 feet on its Standard Plan and their Explorer Plan (I booked my coverage through them for that reason). (Kilimanjaro is 5,895 m (19,340 ft) high.)

No matter who you book with, make sure you will be covered at all altitudes.

2. Train in advance
Every route on Kilimanjaro will offer its own challenges. In order to meet — and overcome — those challenges, you need to make sure you’re physically fit. While most days on the trail are relatively easy, you do a lot of elevation gains, and the last day can involve upwards of 17 hours of hiking in a 24-hour period. I’m not saying you need to be jacked, but you do want to make sure you can handle a week of walking uphill.

3. Prepare for a mental battle
Kilimanjaro is just as much of a mental battle as it is physical one. While the final day is incredibly physically challenging, it’s also a mental marathon. Hiking for up to 17 hours, in freezing temperatures, in the pitch black, while also battling the altitude and the weather? That’s a recipe for disaster unless you can keep your mental fortitude.

4. Bring altitude medication
The altitude really does impact everyone differently. I saw people less than an hour from the summit who turned back because of it. I highly recommend you bring and take altitude medication just in case. I found it super helpful. Your doctor can give you an overview of your options and their side effects, but I took Diamox and didn’t really suffer any altitude sickness at all. However, the side effect was that I had to pee constantly (which can be inconvenient for women).

5. Bring a water filter
Your porter team will make sure you have water during your hike. It’s collected from different areas on the mountain, boiled, and then served to you. Since the water is boiled, it’s perfectly safe. However, it never hurts to be extra safe. Bring a filter like LifeStraw or SteriPen to ensure that your water is free from bacteria. Better safe than sorry!

6. Book a company that includes gear
If you’re an avid hiker, chances are you have all the gear you need. However, bringing it with you to Tanzania is likely more hassle than it’s worth — especially when you consider that you need cold-weather gear for summit night, which takes up a lot of space. For that reason, make sure you book a company that has all the gear you need: hiking poles, winter hiking gear for the summit, sleeping bags, gaiters — the list goes on. Most companies include gear, but it’s always a good idea to double-check.

7. Bring snacks!
This one is super important for your mental well-being. While the cooks on the mountain are incredibly gifted, I encourage you to bring snacks, so you have a pick-me-up to look forward to. I brought several bags of cookies and candies, so I had a sugar boost during the day for, as well as something for camp. Just make sure you save a bunch for summit night because that’s when you’ll need it most.

8. Pay extra for a toilet
Most companies will charge extra for a portable toilet that will accompany you (it’s just a small travel toilet in a narrow tent so you have some privacy). It’s incredibly basic but absolutely worth every penny. The few toilets in the various camps are disgusting, so having your own private toilet tent is a worthwhile expense.

9. Stay hydrated
I drank 4-5 liters of water per day while hiking. I was literally drinking all day every day. You’ll need at least 3L on you during the day, and the rest you can drink in camp. That means you’ll need a 2-3L water bladder and then maybe an extra 1L bottle. Always make sure they are full before you set off for the day — and make sure they are empty by the time you get to camp. Staying hydrated is one of the most important things you can do to increase your chances of making it to the top.

10. Break in your footwear
If you’re buying new hiking boots for this trip, make sure you break them in. You’ll want at least one month of regular wear in the boots to make sure you don’t get blisters. Over the years, I’ve seen some nasty wounds among travelers who didn’t break in their boots for one hike or another. Don’t make the same mistake!

11. Go slow — and then go even slower
I’m a fast walker and a fast hiker, so this was tricky for me, but it’s super important that you take it slowly so you can acclimatize. Your guides will constantly remind you of this —listen to them! On summit night, my speed was half a foot per stride (compared to my usual stride of around three feet). The slower you go, the more likely it is that you will succeed.

12. Double-check your dietary concerns
If you have an allergy or special diet, make sure the company knows. And then remind them — multiple times. I informed our company three times that my sister is vegetarian and I am vegan — and we still got meat on day one. Fortunately, we got it all sorted out and had an amazing cook for our trip, but that could have gone sideways very easily. Kili is the last place you want to be lacking calories (or running to the toilet!).

13. Bring extra batteries for your camera
After 7+ days of hiking, chances are your phone and camera will be dead. Bring an external charger and/or extra batteries for your camera so that you can be sure to have juice for summit day. You don’t want to get to the top and not be able to snap some photos!

Hiking Kilimanjaro: Frequently Asked Questions

The view from the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro
How long is the hike?
Hikes range from 5 to 9 days usually, depending on the route. The longer you take, the easier your hike will be, since you’ll be able to go slow and adapt to the altitude.

Can you get altitude sickness on Kilimanjaro?
The altitude can cause headaches and fatigue, so take it slow and bring altitude medication just to be safe. I took altitude medication and never had any issues. However, I saw numerous people turn back — even someone who was just an hour from the top — because of the altitude. So take it slow, listen to your guide, and bring medication just in case.

How hard is the hike?
It’s challenging. Most days aren’t particularly hard, but there are some days that were exhausting. You’ll want to be physically fit.

Personally, I only found summit day challenging. It involved hiking all day, sleeping for a few hours, and then starting for the summit around midnight. You hike in the dark, and it’s incredibly cold (I had five layers on). After 20 minutes on the peak, you head back down, which means you hike upwards of 15-17 hours in a 24-hour period. It’s exhausting but worth it!

Do you need oxygen to hike Kilimanjaro?

What is the best month to climb?
The best times to climb Kilimanjaro are from December to March and from June and October. That’s when it is the driest.

How cold is it at the top?
At night, it can get as low as -20°C (-4°F) at the summit. It was frigid when I arrived at the top at sunrise (my water bottle and water bladder were frozen).

Why don’t people succeed in making it to the summit?
The main reasons people don’t make it are the weather, altitude sickness, and lack of physical fitness. Make sure you train in advance and bring altitude meds to boost your odds of reaching the summit!


Hiking Kilimanjaro is an amazing, challenging, and rewarding adventure. While it isn’t cheap and does takes some planning (and training), reaching the summit makes it all worthwhile.

By taking the above tips and advice to heart, you’ll not only save money and get more out of your trip, you’ll drastically increase your odds of succeeding on your trek, giving you the opportunity to stand on the roof of Africa and bask in the continents natural beauty.

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 somewhere other than a hostel, 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:

Ready to Book Your Trip?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use when I travel. They are the best in class and you can’t go wrong using them on your trip.

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A Hike Through The Grand Canyon

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Unique rock formations and towering cliffs at the Grand Canyon
Last Updated: 5/13/21 | May 13th, 2021

The American West is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen and within it lies one of the world’s greatest wonders: the Grand Canyon.

Stretching 277 miles and cutting a trench 6,000 feet deep, the Grand Canyon is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country (and one of the greatest natural wonders of the world). Taking millennia to form, the rocks at the base of the canyon have been dated to be over 2 billion years old.

While the canyon is popular, of the 6 million annual visitors, 99% go to the Grand Canyon for less than four hours. Of that time, the average visitor only spends 20 minutes at the actual canyon. Surprisingly, less than 1% of visitors actually walk down to the bottom.

Hiking the Grand Canyon is really hard. It’s a sweaty, steep hike that is incredibly exhausting. But it’s worth it. There is more to the canyon than just the views overlooking the rim, yet so few people actually venture down to see what else is there.

Nomadic Matt hiking in the Grand Canyon

I’ve been to the Grand Canyon twice. The first time, I hiked to the bottom. I’d seen the pictures and heard the stories, but nothing could have prepared me for just how huge it was. In front of me, stretching far and wide, were red and orange peaks and valleys, jutting and falling into the ground.

Hiking down, you see all the desert animals, the intricacies of the ridges, the mountains, the streams, and the cliffs that aren’t noticeable from above. You see the color changes in the rocks up close, touching them, and enjoy the peacefulness of this place away from the crowds.

If you ever visit the Grand Canyon, hike down, even if just for a few hours. Hiking the Grand Canyon, you’ll get to experience the canyon in detail, and it gives you way more perspective than just looking out over the rim and going “ooohh” and “ahhh.”

You’ll see the Colorado River up close as it cuts its way through the canyon, flowing fast and furiously as it sketches one of nature’s greatest paintings.

From the bottom, the landscape takes on a totally new shape. The vast canyon disappears and all you can see is this little valley the river has cut.

The stunning red rocks and cliffs of the Grand Canyon, USA

After spending the night at the bottom, I awoke, my legs already sore. Yet I was still in for another 9.6-mile hike back up the canyon through hot, steep terrain. Hiking up was a lot tougher than hiking down, even when taking the flatter Bright Angel trail. After six hours of hiking, I made it out.

Once over the top, all the pain, fatigue, and heat disappeared, giving way to sheer joy. I had mastered the canyon. I had done what few do. I felt like Rocky.

The stunning red rocks and cliffs of the Grand Canyon, USA

My second visit was a bit easier as I only did 6 miles to Skeleton Point. It was still a hard hike given the ascent involved but it’s a lot a good day hike, taking about 5.5 hours to complete.

Having done the Grand Canyon twice now, I can say that it’s something I think everyone needs to experience.

Below are some tips for hiking the Grand Canyon:

  • Bring lots of water – This should go without saying, but if you’re planning to hike to the bottom you’re going to get thirsty. I’d suggest a water bottle as well as something like a CamelBak to keep you hydrated.
  • Walk slowly – If you’re hiking down to the bottom, take your time. Set a slow, easy pace. Make sure you give yourself lots of time so you don’t have to rush. Rushing will see you get exhausted sooner and go through your water quicker.
  • Skip the bus tour – Tours from nearby cities like Las Vegas are a common way to see the canyon. They can even be cheap. What they aren’t is enjoyable because you’re rushed and don’t get to enjoy the trip. Rent a car or find a rideshare. You’ll have a much better experience.
  • Visit during the shoulder season – Summers at the canyon are busy. Even if you get there early you’ll still find a crowd, so consider visiting in the shoulder season. That way you won’t get the sweltering heat or the bustling crowds.
  • Pick the right hike – If you don’t have a lot of time but want to hike, choose the Kaibab Trail to Cedar Ridge (3 miles).
  • Get there early – The park gets busy around sunset, with many visitors wanting to get the perfect shot. Get there early so you can get the best view without having a mob of people in your way.
  • If you want to camp, book now! – The campgrounds are filling up fast. Phantom Ranch (the main lodge at the bottom) is under renovation and, due to COVID, very limited in the number of people they can have.
  • Get a National Park Pass – The Grand Canyon is $35 USD per vehicle so get the annual National Parks pass. It’s $80 USD and good for a year. You can come in and out of the park as much as you want and visit any other parks for free. It pays for itself very quickly!
  • Take Rt 64 to enter/exit the park – This takes you to the eastern part of the canyon where there are tons of lookouts and over a super scenic road. It’s way better than driving from Flagstaff via 180. 64 takes longer but the drive is way more scenic. There’s Sunset Crater and Wupatki National Monument on the way too (your annual pass gets you in both for free too).
  • Be prepared – It’s a lot harder to hike than you think. Don’t try to hike down and back up again in a day unless you’re a super pro at this.


Suggested Hiking Trails

The stunning red rocks and cliffs of the Grand Canyon, USA
If you’re looking to stretch your legs, here are a few hikes you can do:

  • South Kaibab Trail to Cedar Ridge (3 miles roundtrip)
  • South Kaibab Trail to Skeleton Point (6 miles roundtrip)
  • Grandview Trail to the first overlook (2.5 miles roundtrip, but more difficult)
  • Bright Angel Trail to Plateau Point (12.2 miles roundtrip)
  • Bright Angel to Indian Gardens (4.5 miles roundtrip)

For more trail suggestions, check out It’s the best website for finding hiking trails all around the world (including their difficulty level, elevation, and duration).

How to Visit the Grand Canyon

a map of the grand canyon
The South Rim is the most popular part of the canyon to visit and see the most tourists each year. It has an airport, train service, and is a 90-minute drive from nearby Flagstaff. If you’re coming on a day trip from Las Vegas it’s around a 4.5-hour drive to the South Rim.

The North Rim is located on the Utah side of the Grand Canyon and the entrance station is 30 miles south of Jacob Lake on Highway 67. The North Rim village may only be reached by road. There won’t be nearly as many tourists here, but it arguably doesn’t have as great of a view.

Admission to the Grand Canyon is $35 for a vehicle permit or $20 for an individual (say if you’re coming by bus or bicycle.) Permits last seven days and can be bought online or in person. Cash and credit card are accepted.

You can also go rafting in the Grand Canyon or take a scenic helicopter tour over it. Tours last around an hour and cost at least $299 per person.

If you’re looking to sleep in the canyon at the bottom, you’ll need to apply for lodging at Phantom Ranch, the only lodging in the actual canyon. The Ranch operates on a lottery system due to its high demand. You’ll need to make your booking 13-15 months in advance (you only pay if you are chosen). Names are drawn every month for the following year. For example, they draw lottery winners in June 2021 for visits in June 2022. So, you’ll need to apply early to get a chance at a spot. Here is the lottery schedule.

While there are usually both dorms and cabins available, currently the dorms are closed due to COVID-19. Capacity at the Ranch is also reduced to 50% until further notice.

A two-person cabin is $172 USD per night. A bed in the dorm (when it’s open) is $62 USD. Meals are extra and cost around $25-50 USD.

If you want to camp below the rim, you’ll need to apply for a backcountry permit. Permits are $10 USD plus $8 USD per person.

There are also campgrounds above the rim (which don’t require a permit). There are two on the South Rim and one on the North Rim. Only one campground is open all year, however; the rest close in the winter. Basic plots without electricity start at $18 USD per night. It’s best to make your reservation in advance (especially on the South Rim).

For more camping information (including how to make a reservation), visit the NPS website.

Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight
Use Skyscanner or Momondo to find a cheap flight. 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. Start with Skyscanner first though because they have the biggest reach!

Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld as they have the biggest inventory and best deals. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, 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. 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’m on the road. They will save you money when you travel too.

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

Photo Credit: 6 – U.S. National Park Service

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A 21-Day Road-Trip Itinerary Around the Deep South

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An old wooden building beside a river in the American South
Posted: 5/10/21 | May 10th, 2021

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned in all my travels around America, it’s that the US is more like a collection of small countries than one cohesive cultural unit. The lifestyle, language, and norms of each region differ vastly from one another. And even within states, there are vast differences.

The region that surprised me the most was “the South,” defined as the states that were part of the Confederacy, from the Mason-Dixon line to the Mississippi River and down to the Gulf of Mexico. (Texas was part of the Confederacy, too, but it’s generally not considered part of the “Old South,” because, well, it’s Texas and it’s its own beast!)

Growing up as a northerner, I always kind of looked down on the region as “backwards,” but, through a few trips around the area, I found that my perceptions about the region were wrong.

I grew to love my time exploring that part of the country. Sure, the South has its problems, but it has a lot more diversity, history, and natural beauty than my preconceived prejudices had allowed.

I don’t think it should be overlooked.

And, since domestic travel is our best option during these COVID times, I thought I’d share my suggestions for an amazing road trip around “the Deep South.”

The South is so big you can’t do it in just three weeks, but you can do what, for the intents of this post, I call the “Deep South”: Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and Tennessee (which isn’t actually part of the Deep South, but hey, it rounds out the route!).

This region has a ton of parks, lakes, rivers, historical sites, and places to see. You’d need more than three weeks to properly see it but the route below gives you a proper overview:

Note: There are many, many, many potential routes you can take through this region. This three-week version is just some highlights I like. Tailor any route to your needs as you please!

Days 1–3: New Orleans

A live band playing music outside in New Orleans
New Orleans is a unique blend of cultures (African, French, Caribbean, Latin, etc.), which has created one of the most eclectic American cities. It’s filled with tales of ghosts and vampires, amazing architecture, incredible food, and some of the best music in the world. Bourbon Street is always bursting with tourists, Frenchmen Street is full of jazz, and there are historic buildings to admire and entertaining tours to indulge in. You can easily spend an entire week here and not get bored.

But we only have a few days, so here are a few suggestions to help you get started:

  • Party on Bourbon Street – This probably goes without saying, but do check out Bourbon Street. Sure, it’s touristy, but it’s also exciting and home to lots of buskers, live music, and parades. It’s the beating heart of the city.
  • Wander the Garden District and French Quarter – These are two of the most popular and historic districts. Spend some time strolling around, taking in the mansions and old French buildings (either self-guided or with Take Walks, which organizes fun and insightful tours around town).
  • Visit the National World War II Museum – This is the largest museum dedicated to the war in the United States — and it’s one of the best museums in the world. Its use of audio, video, artifacts, and personal stories ties the history of the war together in incredible detail. Listening to firsthand accounts makes it all feel that much more intimate and impactful.
  • Go on a voodoo or ghost tour – NOLA has something of a creepy past, and the best way to learn about it is to take a voodoo or ghost tour. You’ll get to visit cemeteries, explore haunted buildings, and hear all sorts of unsettling anecdotes and ghostly tales.
  • Listen to live music on Frenchmen Street – Take in some live music (any night of the week) on this energetic street, the second most popular after Bourbon Street. It has lots of places to listen to blues and jazz; my favorite is the Spotted Cat.

For more things to see and do in NOLA, check out this detailed itinerary.

New Orleans is also an amazing foodie city. Some of my favorite places to indulge at are: Lily’s Café, Bearcat, Welt’s Deli, Killer PoBoys, Jewel of the South, Acme Oysters, and Willa Jean.


  • HI New Orleans – This is one of the best hostels in the world and my favorite in New Orleans.
  • Auberge NOLA – This hostel hosts nightly parties and events, so it’s super easy to meet people.
  • India House Backpackers Hostel – Another wild party hostel, with a swimming pool and live music venue.


Days 4–7: Mississippi & Alabama Gulf Coast

A massive aircraft carrier docked near Mobile, Alabama
Leave New Orleans, and head east to the Gulf shores of Mississippi and Alabama.

Start with a visit to Ocean Springs, Mississippi. It’s a small town with gorgeous white-sand beaches and lots of outdoor activities (such as fishing, stand-up paddleboarding, canoeing, and kayaking). The downtown has lots of little shops and galleries as well.

Next, head to Mobile, Alabama. Visit Fort Condé (built by the French in 1723) and take a tour of the USS Alabama (a World War II vessel docked in Battleship Memorial Park). Make sure to also visit the Carnival Museum (dedicated to Mardi Gras) to learn more about the parade and its cultural significance.

From here, cruise toward Gulf Shores, Alabama, where you’ll find miles of beaches and gorgeous subtropical weather as you soak in the views of the Gulf of Mexico. There are also lots of hotels, resorts, and casinos if you feel like splurging. It’s tacky but fun.

Nearby, you’ll also find Gulf State Park, which spans 6,500 acres and offers beaches, hiking trails, fishing, golf, zip-lining, and sand dunes you can climb (admission is $9 USD).

There aren’t any hostels in this region, so your best bet is Airbnb or using to find a cheap motel (or hotel if you feel like splurging!)

Days 8–9: Birmingham

The skyline of Birmingham, Alabama at sunset
Swing north and, on your way to Birmingham, stop in Montgomery to visit the Rosa Parks Library and Museum as well as the Legacy Museum, both of which shed light on the racial injustices of America’s past and present.

Then spend two nights in Birmingham. It grew to prominence as an industrial hub, relying mostly on nonunionized immigrant workers to undercut production in the northern US. In the 1950s and ’60s, it became a focus for the civil rights movement, and it was here, in 1962, where Dr. King wrote the famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

Here are few things to see and do while in Birmingham:

  • Visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute – Opened in 1992, this museum highlights the struggles of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and ’60s. It sheds important light on how the movement impacted the region and changed the direction of the entire country — and the world.
  • Explore the Pepper Place Saturday Market – This farmers’ market is a great place to pick up local foods and artisan souvenirs. There’s often live music, cooking demonstrations, and other activities here during the weekend.
  • Visit the Southern Museum of Flight – This aviation museum has over a hundred airplanes, as well models, engines, artwork, and photographs. The museum even has a Wright Flyer, one of the first planes developed by the Wright brothers, as well as some experimental prototypes that never took off (pun intended). It’s a great place to visit with kids especially.
  • Go hiking or biking – Spanning over a thousand acres, Ruffner Mountain Reserve (a mountain range once mined for iron ore) has all sorts of short hikes. Most are under two miles and range in difficulty from easy to hard. If you’d rather mountain-bike, check out Oak Mountain Park nearby, which has 50 miles of biking trails.
  • See the Birmingham Botanical Gardens – For a place to relax and go for a walk, head to the Botanical Gardens. It has over 12,000 plants, 25 different gardens, dozens of sculptures, and several miles of walking paths. Best of all, it’s free!

For a list of other important civil rights sites in the region, check out the Civil Rights Trail. It’s a comprehensive database of such sites around the entire country and has tons of helpful information and resources.

There aren’t any hostels in Birmingham, so use Airbnb or to find your cheapest options.

Days 10–12: Nashville

The bright lights of downtown Nashville, Tennessee at night
Continuing north, our next stop is Nashville. Located just three hours from Birmingham, it boasts a world-class music scene, plenty of incredible restaurants you can indulge at, numerous cocktail bars, lots of parks, and plenty of history.

Here are some things to see and do in Nashville:

  • Visit the Tennessee State Museum – Opened in 2018, this museum goes into in-depth (though often one-sided) detail about the state’s history. It has exhibitions on First Peoples, natural history, the American Revolution, and the Civil War.
  • Listen to music at the Grand Ole Opry – Opened in 1925, this is the most famous country music venue in the world. Regular live performances, TV broadcasts, and radio shows are held here. Tickets for live performances start at $45 USD per person.
  • Visit the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum – With over 2.5 million items (including records, instruments, photographs, etc.), the de facto home of this brand of American music is one of the biggest museums anywhere dedicated to the genre.
  • See the Parthenon – Built in 1897, this is a full-scale replica of the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. It was built to celebrate the city’s hundredth anniversary and was chosen because Nashville is called “the Athens of the South” (due to its focus on higher education).
  • Listen to music on Broadway – If you’re still craving live music, head to Broadway, the city’s main thoroughfare, where you’ll find all kinds of bars and live music venues. Best of all, there’s usually no cover, so you can bar-hop and really enjoy as much music as you want.


  • Music City Hostel – A social backpacker hostel with lots of relaxing outdoor common areas (including a patio and BBQ).
  • Downtown City Hostel – Comfy, clean, and with lots of common space. The social atmosphere makes it easy to meet other travelers.


Day 13: Franklin

The charming downtown of Franklin, TN at sunset
As it’s located just 25 minutes outside of Nashville, most people assume Franklin is just another suburb. It’s not — far from it, in fact! Franklin is bursting with small-town charm and delicious food and drink (it’s where I discovered my favorite Bourbon, HC Clark). The city is full of history (there was a major Civil War battle here), a historic main street, and some really delicious bars and restaurants.

To be fair, I didn’t expect much when I first visited, but Franklin really overdelivered. If you’re a foodie or a fan of live music, a stop here is a must!

Here are a few things to see and do while you’re here:

  • Attend the Pilgrimage Music Festival – This massive annual festival brings many world-class musicians to Franklin. It combines big-name bands with small-town charm. Don’t miss it!
  • Explore the Master & Makers Trail – This tourist trail takes you to the region’s breweries, wineries, and distilleries. You’ll get to sample the best Franklin has to offer while learning a bit about how each drink is made.
  • Learn about the Civil War – The Battle of Franklin was fought here in 1864. Visit the Civil War Museum to learn more (you can even still visit an old building with original Civil War bullet holes!).

Since Franklin is quite small, Airbnb is your best option here.

Days 14–16: Memphis

The large Memphis sign in Memphis, TN
Today, we head to Memphis, which is just three hours away. Memphis is another historic city. It was a major stop on the Mississippi cotton-trade route and is now the home of blues music, incredible BBQ, and lots of history. Leave early though, so along the way, you can stop at the Civil War memorial for the Battle of Shiloh, as well as cut through small-town Tennessee.

Here are a few things to see and do while you’re here:

  • Visit the National Civil Rights Museum – Housed in the former motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, this museum explores the civil rights movement from the 17th century to today, its struggles, and the impact it’s had on the country. It is powerful and poignant and one of the best museums in the country. Don’t miss it!
  • Tour Sun Studios – This is the studio where Elvis got his start. You can take a tour and learn about the King’s origins and how his humble roots eventually led to over a billion records sold. Many other famous musicians also recorded here, such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Carl Perkins.
  • Wander Beale Street – Known as “America’s Most Iconic Street,” Beale Street is where you’ll find Memphis’s best live music. There are numerous bars hosting live performances, as well as buskers on the street.
  • Visit the Rock ’n’ Soul Museum – Located on iconic Beale Street, this museum highlights the pioneers and contributions of blues, rock, and soul musicians from the 1930s to the 1970s. There are costumes and recordings from some of the most famous soul musicians, interactive media, and exhibitions on famous performers from Memphis.
  • See Graceland – Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley, is located a few hours south (on the way to Oxford, your next destination). Even if you’re not a diehard Elvis fan, it’s worth a visit to see just how impactful his life and music has been. You’ll see all kinds of look-alikes and fans while also learning about his life and contributions to the music industry.

Memphis is also another awesome foodie city (see a pattern here?). Some of my favorite places to eat are: Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken, Central BBQ, Loflin Yard, Bounty on Broad, and the Rendezvous (a delicious BBQ place).


  • Hostel Memphis – With free breakfast, a shared kitchen, and plenty of common space, this hostel has everything you’ll need!


Day 17: Oxford

The old university in Oxford, Mississippi with a statue in the foreground
Oxford, Mississippi, is located just over an hour from Memphis and makes for a pleasant place to spend a day enjoying small-town life. It boasts the University of Mississippi (one of the most beautiful campuses in the country) and was the home of Nobel laureate William Faulkner, one of the most important authors of the 20th century (he wrote The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying).

The town is really small, though, and there are only a couple of things to do here:

  • Visit the historic downtown – Downtown you’ll find a charming market square surrounded by lots of restaurants, art galleries, and local shops. It’s a nice place to stroll. For a bite to eat, head to City Grocery, a fine-dining Southern restaurant in a historic two-story brick building.
  • Tour Rowan Oak – This was the home of William Faulkner from 1930 to 1962. Built in 1844, today it’s owned by the university. Many of the trees on the property predate the Civil War. Inside there’s a small museum where you can learn about Faulkner and his contributions to American literature. Daily tours are available for $5 USD.
  • Explore Ole Miss – Built in 1848, Ole Miss (the University of Mississippi) is consistently ranked as one of the most beautiful university campuses in the country. Many of the buildings are built from red brick, and the main hall (the Lyceum, used as a hospital during the Civil War) boasts a set of Roman-style pillars.

Since Oxford is quite small, Airbnb is your best option here.

Day 18: Vicksburg

A Civil War memorial in Vicksburg, Mississippi
Vicksburg is located just over three hours from Oxford and makes for a relaxing day trip. During the Civil War, General Grant oversaw the siege of Vicksburg for 47 days. His victory gave Union forces control over the Mississippi River. It’s considered one of the most important battles of the Civil War.

Like Oxford, there’s not much to do in the town, and you really don’t need much time here.

  • Take a historic walking tour – There are 35 markers around town that highlight important events and buildings, illuminating Vicksburg’s turbulent legacy. You can download a free self-guided map from Visit Vicksburg with several routes to choose from, as well as information on all the sights.
  • Visit Vicksburg National Military Park – This park marks where the actual siege of Vicksburg took place between March 29 and July 4, 1863. The battle claimed over 3,000 lives and, along with Gettysburg, marked the turning point of the war in favor of the Union. In the park, you’ll find monuments (over 1,300), trenches, cannon batteries, antebellum homes, and an old gunboat. Admission is $10 USD per person or $20 USD per vehicle.
  • Tour antebellum homes – To get a glimpse at life before (and during) the war, visit some of Vicksburg’s historic antebellum homes (large, elegant mansions built before the Civil War), some of which date back to the 1790s. Some you can only view from the outside, while others offer tours. If you’re looking to splurge, some have even been converted to guesthouses where you can stay overnight (they aren’t cheap though). For an antebellum tour, check out Vicksburg Old Town Tours.

Vicksburg is also super small, so use Airbnb.

Days 19–20: Natchez

One of the many old plantation homes in Natchez, Mississippi
Follow the beautiful Natchez Trace Highway along the Mississippi River to Natchez itself. Established by French colonists in 1716, Natchez, Mississippi, was a defensible strategic location, which ensured its position as a pivotal center for trade. It later became a holiday destination for wealthy slaveholders.

This town features countless antebellum homes. Since the city surrendered quickly during the Civil War, they weren’t torched or ransacked, which has kept them intact for visitors to enjoy today. Seeing them was one of the highlights of my time in the South. There are over 20 homes open for visits and tours. Of the ones I visited, my favorites were these:

  • Longwood – This home had the most impressive architecture (it’s designed in an octagon).
  • Rosalie – I found this home to have the most beautiful interior.
  • Stanton Hall – This had the prettiest grounds.

Natchez is expensive, so you’ll want to compare your hotel options on with any suitable Airbnb options you find.

Day 21: Return to New Orleans

It’s time to drive back to NOLA. It’s a short drive (just under three hours) so be sure to stop along the way anytime you see something that piques your interest!

***While it can sometimes be challenging and sobering coming face to face with the legacy of America’s past, exploring the South is a must for anyone looking to learn more about our diverse country and the events that have shaped it.

From distinct food to unique music to rich history, a road trip around the Southern US has something to offer everyone. It’s one of the most underrated areas of the country.

Book Your Trip to the USA: 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. If you want to stay elsewhere, use as it consistently returns 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 the ones I use — and I think they 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, making roads trips fun and affordable!

Want More Information on Traveling the United States?
Be sure to visit our robust destination guide to the US for even more tips on how to plan your visit!

Photo credits: 7 – Adam Jones, 8 – Ken Lund, 9 – Pierre Metivier

The post A 21-Day Road-Trip Itinerary Around the Deep South appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

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Too Many Places: Overcoming the Paradox of Choice

Posted By : webmaster/ 61 0

A man staring out of an airport window looking at airplanes
Last Updated: 5/6/21 | May 6th, 2021

“Where should I go?” is a question I frequently ask myself.

A couple of years ago, wanting to escape the oppressive summer heat of Austin, I spent months staring at a map but unable to answer that question.

I toyed with the idea of heading to Madagascar, Hawaii, Malta, the Caribbean, the Maldives, Dubai, and Sri Lanka.

And because I couldn’t choose and was so afraid to commit to a single destination, I didn’t decide until two weeks before my trip where I wanted to go (which made planning a last-minute pain).

Years later, and after over a year spent in lockdown during COVID, this is a process that continues to play out over and over again

This is what psychologists call “choice overload” or “analysis paralysis.”

Humans only have a limited amount of decision-making power each day. It’s why people like routines. It makes life easier. Choice overload occurs when we have too many choices available to us. We get decision fatigue and go with the default option thus avoiding making a decision altogether. We are sometimes so paralyzed by the fear of making the wrong choice that they don’t make any choice.

Think of standing in the cereal aisle. We have all these options right in front of us, but we keep going back to our old favorite, Fruity Pebbles. (Or, Cinnamon Toast Crunch if we’re feeling adventurous!)

We may want to try something new, but we can’t figure out what we want the most — there are just too many options! How do we choose? How do we know we won’t make the wrong choice? So, paralyzed with indecision, we go back to what we know. And, if we don’t have a favorite, often we just choose what is popular and familiar.

Contemplating our options can become such a taxing mental burden that we don’t make a decision. That’s why our minds want shortcuts. It’s how we process all the information thrown at us each day. It’s too difficult to think about every simple decision all the time. Going with what you know and is familiar is how we shortcut our analysis paralysis.

(This is all explained in the 2004 book The Paradox of Choice, which I highly recommend reading.)

Think of the world as the proverbial cereal aisle. We’re looking forward to picking a cereal (a destination), but suddenly realize we have too many options. Faced with so many choices and without a strong opinion (e.g., I really want to go to Thailand this fall!), we stare blankly, wondering if picking a destination is the right choice, so we end up (a) fretting about it for months like I did, missing flight deals and precious planning time or (b) end up with what is big, popular, and familiar (let’s just visit Paris for the tenth time!).

Whether we have two weeks, two months, or two years, deciding where to go is the hardest part of travel. Once you have the time, picking the destination becomes a task of whittling down a long list of “must-see” destinations.

I often get so paralyzed by choice that I don’t book a trip until the last minute, and even then, I often suffer from buyer’s remorse. Did I really want to book that flight to Dubai? Or should I have gone to Madagascar instead? If I do this trip, will I have time to visit Peru later this year, or should I just go to Peru now?

Of course, when I get to where I’m going all of that second-guessing melts away and I have the time of my life.

If you’re a long-term traveler, you can go anywhere for as long as you want. But when you only have a limited amount of time — because you’re like me and slowing down, or because you just have a few weeks off from work and need to make the most of them — you have to be more selective.

So how do you narrow down your destinations, get on with your trip planning, and not suffer the anxiety that comes with choice overload?

This experience has given me a new philosophy on trip planning. I’ve changed how I decide on destinations:

First, embrace variety. You’re always going to be overwhelmed by choice. There will always be more destinations to visit than you have time to see. The list of places to visit will only get longer the more you travel, not shorter. Don’t fight it. Recognize it and don’t let it control you. This is just a fact of life.

Second, start with a list of the ten places you want to visit the most. Come up with the destinations that are at the top of your mind. Since I haven’t been able to travel for a year, I’m planning to visit some new destinations (like Oman and the Balkans) while also visiting some favorites like Greece.

Third, figure out when you can go and how long you have. Because some destinations will require more time. And, since it’s better to do less not more when you travel, how long you have will affect the destination you pick.

Fourth, think of the time of year. Which country has the weather you want to enjoy the most? I’m trying to escape the heat of Austin this summer, which is why I’m going on a road trip so I can beat the heat and not sweat to death in Texas. If you’re traveling in the winter, chances are you want to skip the cold and head somewhere sunny.

Fifth, make the length of your travels proportional to the size of the country. If I only have a couple of weeks, I’ll likely skip large countries like India, Brazil, or China and save them for when I’m planning a longer trip. If I just have a couple of weeks, I’ll focus on smaller destinations that I can explore more in-depth during a shorter period of time.

Finally, find the cheap flights. Out of your list of destinations, where are the cheapest flights? For example, on a trip a few years ago when I was going to Dubai, it was $1,700 USD add on Madagascar but only $400 to go to the Maldives. However, thanks to airline miles, it was $0 to get to and from Sri Lanka. That made the choice easy.


Once I stopped letting too much choice keep me from making a decision and after logically going through my checklist, I stopped hemming and hawing about where I wanted to go, found my destinations, booked my trip, and got on with getting excited about visiting new places.

Do the same. Start with your list and refine it using the above criteria until you narrow the selection down to the place(s) that makes the most sense to visit right now. The other destinations will be there for future trips!

Overcoming choice overload in travel is about first realizing that there will always be more places to visit than you have time, then figuring out what destinations fit what you can do right now. Once you start with your list of destinations, getting down to the perfect one becomes a process of elimination.

There will always be too many destinations to choose from and too little time to see them in.

But, at the very least, we can finally break our analysis paralysis.

How to Travel the World on $50 a Day

Nomadic Matt's How to Travel the World on $50 a DayMy New York Times best-selling paperback guide to world travel will teach you how to master the art of travel so that you’ll get off the beaten path, save money, and have a deeper travel experience. It’s your A to Z planning guide that the BBC called the “bible for budget travelers.”

Click here to learn more and start reading it today!

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 somewhere other than a hostel, 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:

Ready to Book Your Trip?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use when I travel. They are the best in class and you can’t go wrong using them on your trip.


The post Too Many Places: Overcoming the Paradox of Choice appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

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An Update on The Nomadic Network

Posted By : webmaster/ 61 0

A group of travelers meeting at a bar for The Nomadic Network
Posted: 5/5/21 | May 5th, 2021

In late 2019, we launched The Nomadic Network, a global initiative designed to connect travelers with like-minded people in their area in order to inspire, educate, and provide them with the tools they needed to travel cheaper, better, and longer.

We wanted it to be a global travel club with chapters around the world, something you could do in your own city but also on the road. (Want to make some local friends? Find a meetup in your destination! That kind of thing.)

Over 1,150 people attended our live events. In each city, we heard numerous stories about how happy members were to finally be able to exchange the travel stories they’d been dying to talk about with people who were just as excited to hear them.

But when the pandemic brought the world to a screeching halt in March 2020, it did the same to our in-person events.

Since then, we have been hosting virtual events. We’ve had over 120 events attended by thousands of people that included discussions, speakers, Q&As, and travel game sessions.

We’ve also hosted chapter-specific online happy hours for people to get to know others in their vicinity.

By doing these events, we’re continuing our mission to connect travelers with each other and resources that will help them travel cheaper, better, and longer when the world opens up again.

Since that seems to be happening soonish (we hope), we are planning on relaunching in-person events later this summer. Whenever it’s safe to do so, I’d like to create a giant event where we can all meet and hang out! (But one step at a time!)

Until then, we hope you join some of our free events. Today, I just wanted to share some of the cool events we have coming up!

We have more coming out constantly, so check out our full list of events here!

Moreover, we have some more regional happy hours coming up too, if you want to meet travel enthusiasts in your area:

Finally, we’ve relaunched our travel forums! For years, we had forums on the website, and now we’ve fully integrated them with our new community network so everything is under one roof. You’ll be able to ask questions, share your advice, and connect with other travelers!

And, with travel picking up in parts of the world, now’s a great time to start asking questions on the forums again!

All this is free. You have to do is create a profile and you’re good to go!

Even if the pandemic has quashed our in-person events, it’s pretty amazing hosting these virtual events and being able to connect with travelers from around the world. It’s kept us inspired! It’s something we wouldn’t have done if not for COVID and, even when we start hosting in-person events again, we still plan on doing virtual events since it’s a great way to get people around the world together!

After all, one of the things COVID-19 has taught us (or at least it has for me) is that we shouldn’t take community for granted.

– Nomadic Matt

P.S. – We also have an awesome Instagram where we highlight travelers, upcoming events, and TNN members. Check it out!

P.P.S. – While this program is free, a lot of work goes into making it happen! If you’d like to support our community, please check out Nomadic Matt Plus, where, as part of your monthly membership, you can get untold travel stories, photos, weekly Q&As, free guides, courses, and more.

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 somewhere other than a hostel, 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:

Ready to Book Your Trip?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use when I travel. They are the best in class and you can’t go wrong using them on your trip.

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