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5 LGBTQ Travel Tips for Asia

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Charlotte and Natalie at the Batu Caves
Posted: 11/7/2019 | November 7th, 2019

In this guest post, Charlotte Hockin offers some insight into gay travel in Asia. She and her girlfriend, Natalie, have been traveling around the continent for the past two years. Here’s what they’ve learned from traveling as a lesbian couple in Asia.

Asia is a vibrant, diverse, and exciting continent to visit. However, for LGBT travelers, it can sometimes seem like a daunting prospect. There are countries that criminalize homosexuality, deeply pious states and regions, and places that have negative social opinions of the LGBT community. It doesn’t exactly sound like all fun and rainbows, does it?

When my girlfriend and I set off on our Asian adventures two years ago, we had no idea what to expect but admittedly were rattled. Not only were we backpacking for the first time but we were traveling as a couple. Neither of us were really into social media at that point, so it almost felt like we were alone. The only lesbian couple to ever travel! Sounds silly, I know, but that’s how it felt.

Fast-forward two years, and we’ve spent the better part of that time traveling around Asia. And do you know what? Gay travel there has been one hell of a ride! I mean, we’ve experienced it all: we’ve visited gay-friendly destinations, attended illegal drag shows, stayed with local families, and on the rare occasion, been the victim of discrimination and hostility.

With this in mind, we have put together this comprehensive guide for LGBT travelers in Asia (excluding the Middle-East & Russia). We want to share our experiences as a same-sex couple in Asia, as well as lay out all the factors that you should consider when planning your trip.

We believe that travel should be for everyone, and with our guidance, you can look forward to an incredible and, most importantly, safe journey of a lifetime.

Tip 1: Research local laws

Charlotte and Natalie on a beach in Bali
When planning your trip, it’s important to be aware of local laws regarding the LGBT community in each country you want to visit. At the same time, I don’t want you to make the common mistake of obsessing about these laws. Or worse, letting the law prevent you from visiting certain places.

Often, the laws relating to acts of homosexuality are incredibly complex. Some only apply to gay men, others mean the LGBT community are not protected from discrimination, and some countries implement sharia law. Governments do not expect tourists to get their head around this for the sake of a two-week trip. As a result, these laws are usually only enforced for locals, not tourists.

Nevertheless, that’s not to say you shouldn’t exercise caution when in public places. We suggest avoiding any public display of affection (PDA) or anything you think may draw unnecessary attention. Not just for the purpose of the law, but for the sake of being respectful. (I will touch further on understanding local cultures and social opinions below.)

On the other hand, some LGBT travelers may not want to even visit countries where these laws exist. And that’s understandable. But Asia is a huge continent.

To put things into perspective, out of the 72 countries that still criminalize homosexuality, just 10 are in Asia (outside the Middle East and Russia). That means that even if you wanted to boycott the countries where anti-gay laws are in place, close to 80% of Asia is yours for the taking.

Personally, we don’t have an issue visiting countries where homosexuality is illegal. We’ve spent a lot of time in the past two years in Malaysia, for example, where Islamic law prevails, and we thoroughly enjoyed it. (Pristine beaches, delectable cuisine, vibrant culture — what’s not to love?)

In the larger cities, such as Kuala Lumpur and Penang, we found a buzzing LGBT community. And we even illegally attended a spectacular drag show!

So I guess what I’m trying to say is: you don’t need to dismiss traveling in Asia for the sake of a few old-fashioned laws. Gay travel there is way too much fun for that!

Here are a few resources to help you research local laws:

Tip 2: Understand the local culture

Charlotte and Natalie diving into a pool in front of a volcano in Bali
Understanding and respecting the local culture in each place you visit is just as — if not more — important than the first tip. Why? Well, think about it: you’re going to spend way more time in the company of residents than you are around law enforcement officers. Comprehending the social opinion of locals could save you a lot of awkwardness and funny looks in the long run.

You see, what we discovered is that even in some countries where homosexuality is legal, it remains taboo in the community. This could be due to religious beliefs, a lack of education around the subject, or, in some cases, plain bigotry.

However, isn’t that so in most places? Even in the most advanced countries, I think we can safely say there is room for improvement.

At the same time, understanding the local culture is also important for every traveler. PDA, for example, is frowned upon in most countries in Asia — even if you are a straight couple.

On the other hand, holding hands with somebody of the same sex is extremely common in India, whether it be your brother, sister, friend, or otherwise.

This is why it’s essential to educate yourself in advance, so you know what to expect.

The typical social situations we have found ourselves in have never been a cause for concern when traveling in Asia. Often people assume we are sisters or friends. And even on the rare occasion that we’ve tried to explain our relationship, some locals don’t understand. We once stayed with a family in Indonesia for over a week, and they never could get their head around the fact that we were a couple.

But that was OK with us. What’s important is that they treated us like family, and honestly, it’s one of our most memorable travel experiences.

On the other hand, there have been times where we were allocated a twin room despite booking a double, been catcalled for being lesbians, and had religious jargon thrown at us.

But again, doesn’t this happen everywhere?

We certainly didn’t allow these minor incidents to ruin our travel experience. On the grand scale of things, these are few and far between amid all the breathtaking experiences we had.

The United Nations Development Programme has a series of country reports about Being LGBT in Asia, including in-depth sections devoted to cultural and social attitudes.

Tip 3: Be prepared to adapt

Charlotte and Natalie at the Anapurna Basecamp
When you take into consideration everything we’ve talked about, being prepared to adapt is part and parcel of gay travel in Asia. Although, when you think about it, doesn’t this apply to all travelers?

What I’m trying to say is that any place you travel to is bound to require an element of adaptation, whether it be the food you eat, the clothes you wear, or the way in which you address the locals. It’s about recognizing what’s socially acceptable and behaving in a way that’s both respectful and appropriate.

That said, it’s a controversial subject whether LGBT couples should travel to destinations where they can’t be entirely themselves. We get challenged on this a lot, and our point is simply this: There are many elements to some religions, cultures, and the like, that I’m sure many of us don’t agree with. However, does that mean we should boycott those countries? I think it would leave a very limited pool to choose from if that were the case.

At the same time, we can empathize with those who may not feel comfortable traveling to places where they can’t be themselves. Or perhaps feel anxious as a solo LGBT traveler or an LGBT couple. If this is the case, there are plenty of gay-friendly travel destinations both in Asia and elsewhere in the world. Either way, so long as you do your research and take all the necessary precautions, you have no reason to be afraid.

Tip 4: Look up the local gay scene

Charlotte and Natalie sleeping in a jungle in Thailand
When traveling to a new place, one of the first things we do is look up if there’s a local gay scene. Let’s face it: everybody knows that gay bars are the most fun! But on a serious note, it’s comforting knowing there is a safe place you can go to — a space where you can be yourself without judgment and let your hair down.

Thankfully, most Asian countries boast an active gay scene of some kind. Particularly in the big cities, you can expect to find gay bars, nightclubs, saunas, gay-friendly hotels, and drag shows in abundance! We’ve had some of the wildest nights of our travels exploring the local gay scene. Whether it’s bar-hopping in Bangkok or attending illegal drag shows in Kuala Lumpur, you’re guaranteed a night to remember!

While a quick Google search will tell you where all the queer fun is at, Travel Gay Asia is an excellent website for finding LGBT-friendly spots in any city.

Tip 5: Connect with other LGBT travelers or locals

Charlotte and Natalie in front of a starry sky in Asia
Again, socializing with people who understand you and won’t judge you is a reassuring way to adapt to a new place or culture. Of course, locating the local gay scene is a great start; however, not everybody has the guts to walk into a bar or nightclub on their own and attempt to make friends.

Thankfully, there are easier ways of meeting people in this day and age. Yes, the good old web has inundated us with opportunities to connect with like-minded people.

We suggest using social media to locate other LGBT travelers or locals in your area. Facebook is a fantastic platform for this, where a simple search will yield results for any LGBT groups in your area. Similarly, navigating certain hashtags on Instagram such as #gaybangkok or #LGBTAsia can help you locate all things LGBT near you.

Some useful platforms for meeting people are:

You don’t need to use the above dating apps in any sort of romantic way either — they are just great resources for connecting with LGBT locals and travelers. If you’re lucky, you may find yourself connecting with a local who can show you all the best spots in their area.

***

While Gay Travel in Asia might seem daunting, it is far less scary than it sounds on paper. As a whole, we can honestly say we had nothing but a positive experience and made memories that will last us a lifetime. Asia is an extraordinary continent, oozing adventure, beauty, and culture. By following the advice in our article, and taking advantage of all the useful resources we’ve provided, we are confident Asia will steal your heart. Just as she has stolen ours.

Charlotte and Natalie are the explorers and adventurers behind Our Taste For Life. You will often find them wandering off the beaten path, immersed in nature, or enjoying authentic cultural experiences. The rest of the time, you will find them eating. Follow their journey on their blog or Instagram.

Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks

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

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

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

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

The post 5 LGBTQ Travel Tips for Asia appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.





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Is Georgia Safe to Visit?

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a view of Tbilisi from one side of the river bank, with homes and a church at the bank's edge
Posted: 11/3/19 | November 3rd, 2019

In recent years, there have been a handful of countries that have emerged as exciting up-and-coming travel destinations. These are destinations that are affordable, interesting, unique, and most importantly, free from the hordes of tourists that have clogged the cultural arteries of cities like Barcelona, Reykjavik, and Venice.

One of those countries is Georgia.

Formerly part of the Soviet Union, Georgia has become a popular destination in region for both backpackers and digital nomads alike. Tourist numbers are climbing fast, with nearly nine million foreigners visiting Georgia in 2018. While the majority of them come from neighboring countries, it’s also a destination that is quickly becoming popular with western tourists, too.

Tbilisi, the country’s capital, sees the most visitors — and for good reason. It’s a stunning city with a picturesque Old Town that has been colorfully restored in recent years. There is also lots to see and do in and around the city, like exploring the Narikala fort ruins, seeing the Jvari Monastery on the nearby mountain top, and visiting the many beautiful cathedrals and churches that dot the city.

Outside of Tbilisi, travelers can explore the mountains and caves of Georgia’s picturesque landscapes and if you like wine, you’ll be happy to learn that Georgia is actually one of the oldest wine regions in the world!

Best of all, Georgia is super cheap (a huge plus in my book)!

But is Georgia safe?

While there was some danger a decade back during the Russo-Georgian War, Georgia is now a safe country to visit. In fact, the International Crime Index rated Georgia as the seventh safest country in the world in 2017!

But because many people don’t know much about Georgia, I still get some messages from people asking about the safety concerns there.

So, what do you need to think about before you go to Georgia? Are there any places you shouldn’t go?

The eight safety tips below will tell you all about the risks in Georgia and how to deal with them so that you can enjoy your trip safely.

1. Avoid South Ossetia and Abkhazia – The regions of South Ossetia (on the Russian border, north of Tbilisi) and Abkhazia (bordering Russia and the Black Sea in the far west of Georgia) are not safe to visit. These are breakaway regions of Georgia which have experienced high conflict in recent years.

There are still car bombs and other terrorist attacks reported periodically in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and there are unexploded landmines too.

Just don’t visit the areas, and you’ll be fine.

Also, don’t try to travel through them into Georgia from Russia, as that’s illegal under Georgian law.

2. Stay alert – Like in any country where the locals see the tourists as being wealthier, petty theft can happen. It’s a lower risk than in many countries but it’s still important to take precautions.

Don’t wear flashy jewelry or watches or flaunt large amounts of cash. Keep an eye on your bags at all times too. The most common incidents occur in busy tourist areas or on crowded public transportation. If you can keep your guard up in these places, you’ll be fine.

3. Beware of the bar scam – There are been reports of tourists in Tbilisi being scammed by locals who invite them into a bar for food and drinks and then force them to pay a really high bill. It’s not common here but it’s something to be aware of.

4. Be wary of demonstrations or protests – It’s quite common for political demonstrations to take place in Tbilisi and sometimes other parts of Georgia, though they most commonly happen outside the parliament on Rustaveli Avenue in Tbilisi.

While the most likely problem is just an interruption to public transport you should always be aware that protests can turn violent and it’s probably safer to stay away.

5. Be careful when driving – Unfortunately the road conditions in much of Georgia aren’t great. When combined with reckless driving from the locals, traffic accidents are pretty common. Sometimes road markings are lacking and there is often confusion about which driver has right of way.

When in a car, always wear a seatbelt. Additionally, avoid driving after dark as well as the lack of good lighting makes it even more dangerous.

6. Learn a few words or have a translation app ready – Georgians are usually really friendly, but not many of them speak English. If something goes wrong they are always happy to help you out, but you might need a few words of the local language or a good translation app to help you explain what you need.

The Georgian language is pretty special – it’s one of the oldest in the world and it has a unique script. If you can learn a few words before you go. There are lots of free resources online and you can download Google Translate just in case you need to translate on the go.

7. Be cautious in the mountains – Georgia’s beautiful alps are making it a popular destination for skiing and mountaineering. But at the moment, it’s still hard to get up-to-date, accurate information about the weather conditions there, so you need to be cautious. If in doubt, skip the adventure for the day.

Also, although they’re improving, the safety standards for adventure sports in the mountains in Georgia are still lower than you might expect. If you’re having doubts about an activity, try using a specialist guide and check reviews for safety levels before you go.

8. Buy travel insurance – I never leave home without travel insurance. While most trips are uneventful, it’s important to be prepared just in case. Travel insurance can save you hundreds and thousands of dollars and provide critical assistance in an emergency. Remember, it’s always better to be safe than sorry!

We recommend World Nomads for travelers under 70, while Insure My Trip is the best choice for travelers over 70.

For more information on tarvel insurance, check out these posts:

FAQ’s on Safety in Georgia

To help you stay safe and make the most out of your visit, here are some answers to the most common questions I get about traveling to Georgia:

Is Georgia dangerous to visit?

Most parts of Georgia are extremely safe to visit. However, you should definitely avoid the South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions on the border with Russia. You should also be aware that the Pankisi Gorge area (north-east of Tbilisi) has been known for terrorist training and activity in the past, although recent reports seem to suggest that it is currently safe to visit.

Is Tbilisi a safe city?

The Georgian capital, Tbilisi, is generally a very safe place to visit. Be aware that the drivers can be a little erratic so you need to have your wits about you as a pedestrian. There are also some reports of petty crime against tourists like pickpocketing in the main tourist areas, so keep an eye on your belongings, but the risk is lower than in many other European cities.

Is the tap water safe in Georgia?

While it can be reasonably safe to drink the tap water in some parts of Georgia, and it’s sourced from freshwater sources in the mountains, there have been incidents of travelers picking up giardia during their travels. Unfortunately, this means it’s best to avoid the tap water while you’re here.

The best way to make sure your drinking water is safe is to bring a SteriPen or LifeStraw for your reusable water bottle. This way you’ll be able to purify the tap water so you don’t get sick — and avoid using single-use plastic bottles in the process.

Are the taxis safe in Georgia?

Taxis are a common way to get around in Georgia and are usually quite. Just make sure you wear your seatbelt as drivers here can be aggressive and the rules of the road are interpreted more as suggestions than law.

Be aware that taxis here don’t have meters, so you’ll need to agree on a price in advance. Ask your hostel or hotel staff for advice about how much you should expect to pay before you catch a ride. That way, you can avoid getting overcharged.

If you’re a solo female traveler, I’d avoid taking taxis alone at night (but that’s my advice for pretty much every city).

Is Georgia safe for solo female travelers?

Given how safe Georgia is in general, it’s probably no surprise to hear that yes, Georgia is safe for solo female travelers. The usual rules apply, though: don’t walk alone at night, beware of strangers offering your drinks or food (especially in bars in Tbilisi), and never leave your drink unattended. While it’s rare, there have been incidents of drink spiking in Georgia.

In short, as long as you use the common-sense practices you use at home you should have no problems here.

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

***

So, should you visit Georgia? You can consider yourself very safe in Georgia. It might be a relatively unknown destination to travelers but that doesn’t mean it’s dangerous. Be aware of lower driving and road standards and take the usual precautions with your belongings — especially when you’re in a more crowded tourist area.

Do that, and you’ll have a safe trip to Georgia!

Book Your Trip to Georgia: Logistical Tips and Tricks

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

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

  • Fabrika (Tblisi) – This hostel is also a bar and co-working space housed in an old Soviet warehouse. It’s got a cool vibe and the people here are wonderful. This is the best place to stay in the country if you ask me.
  • Temi Hostel (Kutaisi) – This hostel is small but the staff are great and it’s clean and cozy. It’s in a great location too.
  • Boutique Hotel and Medusa Hostel (Batumi) – This place is relatively new so the beds are comfy and have curtains and the place is well maintained. The staff are super helpful and will make sure you have an amazing visit to Batumi.

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

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

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

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





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Why Don’t More People Travel Long-Term?

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Nomadic Matt in Madagascar looking out at the sweeping view
Posted: 11/04/19 | November 4th, 2019

As travel blogging, remote work, and social media “influencing” have become more mainstream, more and more people have started to travel the world (and become semi-permanent nomads). There are far more people going off on long trips today than when I started traveling only a little over a decade ago. There’s less pushback today than in yesteryear when you say, “I’m going to travel for a while” instead of going right to college or an office job.

But for all the gains that have been made in terms of making long-term travel more acceptable, it’s still fairly uncommon.

Yes, more people are doing it, but it’s still not huge numbers. A 2017 study from Expedia shows that one-week or two-week trips are the average lengths of time that people spend overseas each year.

Why don’t more people travel long-term?

Not the “ten years a nomad” kind. (Few people are going to do that.) I’m referring to the “just for a few months on the road” kind.

Yes, lack of free time has something to do with it (especially for us Americans!).

So does money.

In the United States, our “vacation culture” also plays a big role in this. (See this post for more on that.)

But I think those are easy go-to excuses people use to hide the real, deeper reason they don’t travel.*

After all, there are plenty of ways to travel cheap if you know where to look for advice, and there are plenty of people who have the time to travel but don’t. Money and time can’t explain it all.

So what are the real reasons that keep people from traveling?

Fear and self-doubt.

Fear of running out of money, being alone, possible danger, getting off the career trek, sick, having no safety net — there’s an endless list of fears people have about travel. It’s scary jumping headfirst into the unknown and leaving your entire life behind, with nothing but a backpack and a dream.

Our comfort zones may make us unhappy or bored at times, but more often than not, they keep us just happy enough to resist change. We may hate our routine, we may complain, we may daydream — but we don’t often change. It’s the devil we know. It’s where we feel safe.

Plus, our DNA tells us to favor safety over risk. Why leave the cave to venture where the monsters live, when we can stay safe inside our shelter and live another day? To go out into the night is to court danger and death. Our primitive brain screams to us: Stay here! This is safety! This is life!

So, while people everywhere might dream of traveling the world, it is only those whose desire is strong enough who head out — and stay out — on the road.

But strong enough to do what?

Strong enough to overcome the instincts — and societal norms — that tell you not to leave your safe harbor.

Strong enough to overcome the fears of people who love you — like my parents, who still to this day email me travel warnings and news of terrorist attacks.

Strong enough to overcome the negativity of those who share your dream — but not your intestinal fortitude.

But most importantly, strong enough to overcome your self-doubt.

The questions people ask me (after “Is it safe?”) are always the same, whether by email or on my book tours:

“Do you meet travelers like myself out there?”

“Do you get lonely?”

“How do you deal with language issues?”

All of these questions share an underlying theme: “I’m worried I don’t have the skills to survive.”

I know this self-doubt all too well.

As I faced the daunting task of turning my travel dreams into a reality back in 2006, I too worried about this. While trudging through the seemingly endless preparations, I discovered a new daily mantra: “Fuck, what am I getting myself into?”

I didn’t so much care about shirking my responsibilities. Bills disappear when you cancel the services that generate them. Cars payments go away when you sell your car. And I knew my job at the hospital wasn’t going to be my career, so I had no worries about walking away from it.

What worried me were the personal skills I thought I needed to have to travel — the courage, the ability to go with the flow, the ability to talk to strangers, the confidence, the maturity — and whether or not I had enough of any of them after just two two-week trips over two years to two countries that were full of English-speaking travelers like me.

Yes, I knew that a lot of people travel the world. I had seen hundreds of them in Thailand after all. But unlike those people, I wasn’t “hardened” or “experienced.” Heck, I got scammed three times in one day in Thailand, and in Costa Rica I got lost in a jungle!

I was a sheltered child who had never ventured far beyond his safe harbor. Did I really have what it took?

Fear and self-doubt whispered constantly in my ear.

But, being stubborn and having already committed to doing this trip, I couldn’t turn back.

I daydreamed about the crazy things that would happen to me on the road. I’d make friends from around the world. I’d try adventure activities. I’d hike mountains and sail down exotic rivers. Locals would invite me out for drinks. I’d sip a latte, strike up a conversation with my beautiful waitress, and then the next thing I’d know, we’d be at a wine bar, staring into each other’s eyes.

It was going to be just like those travel articles I’d read, or movies I’d seen and romanticized.

Elsewhere was out there — and it was calling me.

And then, when I was finally out the road, I realized something:

I was not Magellan.

I wasn’t setting sail into the unknown horizon, wondering if I was going to fall off a flat earth.

No, I was walking on well-trod tourist trails. I had guidebooks. If all those backpackers in Thailand could do it, why couldn’t I? If 18-year-olds fresh out of high school could manage a year around the world, so could I. In fact, I had made it through Costa Rica and Thailand. I had made friends there. I had talked to strangers.

And that’s something I tell travelers now.

We aren’t Magellan. We aren’t setting off into the blankness of history to chart new worlds. The next Magellans will colonize the moon. We’re simply getting on an airplane and going where others have gone before.

That’s the difference between the early explorers and what we do: we’re trying to have new experiences and learn about ourselves — but we aren’t uncovering blanks spots on a map. We’re walking in others’ footsteps, and we can be grateful to them even as we blaze new personal trails.

That doesn’t make our journey less special. The world is full of new stories and adventures that are special to us. I didn’t need to discover Thailand to enjoy Thailand — the journey and experience were what mattered.

***

The hardest part of the journey is the mental preparation. Once you are out of safe harbor, you will feel the wind in your sails. Action begets action. As the shoreline drifts further away, the wind picks up and carries you like Gulliver to unknown lands. And once you’re out there, your fears fade away as excitement and a sense of adventure take over.

You are too busy having fun to worry about worrying anymore.

If you’re worried about having the skills to travel long-term, don’t. We’re all just figuring it out anyways. No one knows what to do when they step out the door the first time.

And remember: millions have come before you. They made it. They too were strangers in a strange land, without friends, family, or a support system.

There were people and systems out there that helped them along the way.

Those travelers made it.

I made it.

And, I promise, you will make it too.

*Note: I get that not everyone can travel (for other very legitimate reasons), and I don’t mean to imply that travel is for everyone. For more on that, see this post.

Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks

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

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

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

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

The post Why Don’t More People Travel Long-Term? appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.





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Is Costa Rica Safe to Visit?

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a volcano surrounded by mountains and jungle in Costa Rica
Posted: 11/3/2019 | November 3rd, 2019

Tropical jungles bursting with wildlife, mountainous landscapes extending into the horizon, picture-perfect beaches on both sides of the country, and a never-ending supply of fun activities no matter your budget.

Costa Rica is a nature-lover’s paradise — and it’s one of my favorite countries in the world too. It was the first country I ever traveled to and it was the country that sparked my wanderlust.

The beaches feel like paradise, there’s great surfing, diving, and plenty of places to get away from the hordes of retired Americans that live here. No matter what your interest, there are tons of things to see and do in Costa Rica without breaking the bank.

But is Costa Rica safe to visit?

The country was fortunate to escape the Cold War conflicts and brutal gang violence that impacted other countries in Central America. However, in recent years, Costa Rica has become more involved in drug trafficking and money laundering.

But the country is super safe for tourists. At worst, you’ll get scammed for a few bucks. I mean the country is so safe it doesn’t even have an army!

While Costa Rica is one of the safest countries for travel and backpacking in Central America, that doesn’t mean you should let your guard down. Here are some tips to guarantee a safe and stress-free experience:

1. Avoid isolated areas – If you’re somewhere isolated, you’ll be at a greater risk for getting robbed, especially at night and in big cities. Try to stay where the crowds are. That’s the best way to avoid being singled out by potential muggers.

2. Don’t wear flashy items – Petty theft is common here, so remove any jewelry or watches, and don’t wave your phone around. Do your best to blend in, so you don’t become a target for pickpockets. If you happen to find yourself a victim of a robbery, follow the instructions of the robber and give up your valuables; these material items can be replaced but your life cannot.

3. Don’t leave your items unattended – If you are spending the day on the beaches in Puerto ViejoSanta Theresa, or Manuel Antonio, do not leave your belongings unattended while swimming or walking along the sand; locals or tourists alike can easily take your valuables if you leave them around. Just take what you need with you and nothing more.

4. Be alert when using public transportation – Petty theft (including bag snatching) is the most common type of crime you’ll face in Costa Rica. Most of the theft in Costa Rica occurs while taking the bus. Keep your bag containing valuables and identification on your lap and stay vigilant.

5. Always take an authorized taxi – Crimes against cab riders are infrequent here but it’s best you use a licensed taxi. Also, pay close attention to the meter and make sure it’s running. Cab drivers can turn the meter off and claim it’s broken (a common scam, see below).

6. Buy travel insurance – This is especially important if you plan to join in on activities like ziplining, white water rafting, or surfing. 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.

We recommend World Nomads for travelers under 70, while Insure My Trip is the best choice for travelers over 70.

For more information on tarvel insurance, check out these posts:

How to Avoid Scams in Costa Rica

There are really only two common scams found in Costa Rica:

1. Taxi Scam
You hop into a taxi and realize the meter isn’t running. You mention this to the driver and their response is the meter is “broken,” and quotes you a price that is outrageously high. Or you might notice that the meter is working but the fare is increasing faster than a running cheetah.

Do your research and get an idea of how much a ride should cost from your hostel or hotel staff before hailing a taxi. In my experience, if the cabbie tries to negotiate the rate, I use the rate quoted to me and if they refuse, I get out and find someone who will turn the meter on. If the meter looks as though it’s rising unusually fast, ask the driver to pull over and get out immediately.

2. The “Cheap Tour” Scam
You’re exploring the sites and sounds of the city and a well-mannered, nicely dressed person approaches you and asks if you’re looking to go on a tour. They do a fantastic job describing the most unforgettable trip you’ll ever take in your life, and at a fraction of the cost of other tour companies. You’re sold and hand them a deposit. You wait the next day for them to pick you up, but no one shows up. You realize there was no amazing tour at 50% less; you’d been tricked.

To avoid this scam only use authorized companies when booking tours. Your hostel/hotel can always help you, and if you plan to book through a tour company check their online reviews ahead of time. Never trust someone trying to sell you a tour on the street who does not have an official office or storefront.

These scams are the most common ones you’ll face while in Costa Rica. If you’re worried about scams, read this post on travel scams to avoid. Avoiding travel scams requires a lot of common sense and a healthy dose of suspicion.

Zika Risk in Costa Rica

While there are no reports of a Zika outbreak in the country, Costa Rica has had reported cases of the Zika virus. While risks are low, travelers are advised to take the following precautions:

  • Use mosquito repellent on your body to prevent bites and sleep under a mosquito net to avoid getting bit while when you’re asleep
  • Wear breathable garments that cover your arms and legs (if you’re wondering what you should apply first, apply sunscreen first followed by repellent).
  • Keep doors and windows closed as much as possible to prevent mosquitos from entering your room
  • Pregnant women or couples considering pregnancy should consult a healthcare practitioner prior to travel

FAQ on Costa Rica Safety

Here are the most common questions I get asked about staying safe in Costa Rica (and my answers to them):

Is Street Food in Costa Rica Safe?

In Costa Rica, street food is safe to eat and not to be missed! I’ve had my fair share of empanadas, fresh fruits from open markets, and other local foods and have been perfectly fine.

That being said, if something doesn’t look cooked through (such as chicken) or has been out in the sun for too long, then trust your gut and don’t eat it. But I would encourage you to try the street food as it’s the best way to experience the cuisine and support local businesses (plus, it’s cheap!)

Is the Tap Water Safe to Drink in Costa Rica?

The tap water in Costa Rica is safe to drink, however, it’s recommended that you avoid drinking the tap water in most beach destinations. The best way to make sure your drinking water is safe is to bring a SteriPen or LifeStraw for your reusable water bottle. This way you’ll be able to purify the tap water so you don’t get sick — and avoid using single-use plastic bottles in the process.

Are Taxis in Costa Rica Safe?

The taxis in Costa Rica are safe and reliable, though you’ll always want to make sure you’re getting in an authorized taxi. During the day, you can hail a taxi from the street safely, but make sure you pay attention that the meter is turned on and running properly.

If you’re taking a taxi at night it’s best to have your accommodation call it for you. That will ensure you get a reputable company. Never hail a random taxi at night.

As mentioned earlier, taxi drivers will occasionally try to take advantage of travelers by overcharging them. Always remain alert and if anything feels suspicious ask the driver to stop the cab and get out. Don’t take any chances with your safety.

Is Costa Rica Safe for Solo Travelers?

Costa Rica is a safe country to visit for solo travelers. As long as you stay away from isolated areas, don’t wave your valuables around, and don’t travel alone at night you will be able to avoid the most common dangerous situations.

Additionally, be sure to download offline maps and an offline language app (like Google Translate) so you can look up directions if you get lost or communicate with the locals in an emergency. If you can, try to learn some Spanish before you go too. Even a few key phrases can go a long way!

Is Costa Rica Safe for Solo Female Travelers?

Costa Rica is one of the safest countries in Central America so if you’re new to solo female travel, Costa Rica is a great country to start with. However, you’ll still need to take some precautions of course. Always avoid isolated locations and don’t travel alone after dark. If you happen to experience cat calling or harassment from strangers on the street, be confident, avoid eye contact, and walk away.

Solo female travelers will want to remain extra vigilant at bus terminals, bars, and taxi stands where harassment is more common. When traveling around the city, ask your hotel what the safest route is and also which areas you should avoid. Also, avoid taking taxis at night — especially by yourself.

By taking some precautions and planning accordingly, solo female travelers will be able to have a memorable time in Costa Rica. Just make sure to follow the advice and tips above!

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

***
With any tourist destination, you’ll run into people trying to pull fast ones on visitors. By using caution, common sense, and following the tips above, you’ll be able to stay safe and healthy during your visit to Costa Rica.

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 left unturned.

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

  • Arenal Backpackers Resort – This is a luxurious, laid-back hsotel with a pool that’s great for hanging out and meeting people.
  • Rocking J’s (Puerto Viejo) – The coolest hostel in all the country. This hostel located on the beach is the prime spot to meet other backpackers.
  • Hostel Vista Serena (Manuel Antonio) – With great ammenities, staff, and a pime location, it’s the best place in the area.

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

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

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

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





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Introducing The Nomadic Network!

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friends connecting over a dinner table
Updated: 10/31/2019 | October 31st, 2019

How often have you told friends or family about a dream trip of yours, only to have them scoff and remind you to be “more realistic”?

How often do you wish you had a group of people who understood you? Or a place you could go to get your 10,000 questions answered before your next trip?

How often have you painstakingly researched a complete itinerary only meet some stranger at a hostel whose story had the power to make you change your plans entirely?

We all need a supportive community — and as much as I love the Internet (and I do love the Internet), the best connections are made offline and in real life.

When I first started planning my trip around the world in 2005, I didn’t know anyone who had done something similar. Heck, I only knew one person who ever even studied abroad. Travel wasn’t a big thing to the people in my world.

And, unlike today, I couldn’t just go online and ask a bunch of bloggers questions or find countless articles and websites to help me. In the early 2000s, there wasn’t much beyond a very limited number of hard-to-navigate forums, a few websites, and a stack of guidebooks on my desk.

I had a lot of questions but few answers.

What I needed was a community of people who could give me the first-hand advice and practical tips that would make my trip better, and help me get over my fears.

And, when I came back, there were very few people who could sympathize with the mix of emotions I was feeling. Again, I was alone. I wished for a community of people who could understand my post-travel blues.

After being a nomad for over ten years, I’ve been lucky enough to create my own community of travel enthusiasts through this website.

And today, I want to expand this community and take what we have online and bring it into the real world.

So I’m pleased to announce the launch of The Nomadic Network!

It’s this website’s in-person meetup initiative.

The Nomadic Network (TNN for short) will be a global community of travel lovers who support and inspire one another to travel better, cheaper, and longer. Whether it’s a short jaunt to a nearby city or an indefinite round-the-world trip, the community will be there to help anyone who wants to (and loves to) travel.

Years ago, we did a trial run of these events. I met so many awesome travelers at these meetups, and the one thing I kept hearing was how you wished these kinds of events happened more regularly.

Well, now we’re bringing them back!

Erica, whom you might have known as my right-hand woman over the last six years, will helm this new initiative. She’ll be working on it full-time!

How will The Nomadic Network work?

We’re building in-person chapters all around the world. Local chapters will meet consistently to share stories, trade advice, do activities together, and host events. We’re creating a space for people to meet travelers in their city (even if they or you are just passing through) and form friendships and bonds. Mixers, picnics, brunches, presentations, expert panels — anything that gets you inspired to travel more!

The first set of events will be community mixers where we’ll meet and get to know each other. If you’re based in these cities or will be there when we launch, join us:

(NOTE: These are just the first events! We’re going to be doing more events in the coming months. We’ll be on the West Coast, in the Midwest, other parts of Canada, the world, etc. This is just the first batch! If you don’t see destination, don’t worry! Our goal is to be everywhere! )

Events are $10 (to help cover costs) and come with a free drink! Plus, you can bring a friend for free (so if you split the costs it’s $5 per person!)

How Can You be a Part of TNN?

There are a few simple ways!

1. Attend one of our first events!
If you can come to one of our first events, please do. You can find the full list here.

2. Apply to lead your local chapter
We need help leading these TNN chapters. Erica (our Events Director) and I will help with the booking of venues, contacting guest speakers, renting microphones and equipment, managing attendee registration, and helping with and paying for anything we can.

But we need eyes, ears, and leaders on the ground. If you want to learn more about becoming one of our chapter leaders (including in the cities we are launching in the list above), click this link and submit your application. We’ll be in touch!

3. Volunteer at an event
If being a leader isn’t your thing but you’d like to volunteer your time during the events, awesome! We’ll need plenty of support to get these chapters up and running. Just fill this out and we’ll get back to you.

4. Help beta test our new community website
If you want to help create a user-friend website for this new community, all you need to do is visit The Nomadic Network’s website and create a quick traveler profile. It only takes two minutes to create your login and profile. Then you can join a chapter, find events near you, poke around the existing content, and sign up for in-person meetups. Then send us all of your feedback so we can get it working super smoothly.

(This is only the first draft of the website so there are lots of kinks to straighten out before we fully launch it and make it the center of The Nomadic Network world.)

***

Creating a chapter-based organization is a HUGE undertaking, but we’re very excited to get started. It’s been on our list of things to create for a long time now and we’re finally doing it! This is going to take our community to the next level! It will take some time to get all the events up and running but I think we’re off to a strong start.

So get ready to meet everyone IRL! ?

Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks

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

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

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

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

The post Introducing The Nomadic Network! appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.





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10 Offbeat Things to Do in Istanbul

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A sweeping view over Istanbul with a massive mosque in the background
Updated: 10/28/2019 | October 28th, 2019

Istanbul is home to some famous historical sites — the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Grand Bazaar, and Spice Market. They are stunning, important historical sites to see and experience. But the city also offers lots of fun things to do that have fewer crowds and are a bit off the beaten path.

As important as it is to visit culturally significant historical sites (after all, there’s nothing wrong with being a tourist) there is so much more to every destination than just the main tourist bullet points.

Of course, you shouldn’t miss Istanbul’s major sites. But once you’ve done them, there are plenty of offbeat things to see and do here. Here are my favorites to help you get started and make the most out of your trip:

1. Descend into the Basilica Cistern

A long hallway down the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul
Most travelers walk on top of this ancient cavern for days without realizing it. After entering an unassuming doorway you’ll climb down a gloomy set of stairs, ending up in an underground former water reservoir built in the sixth century. It’s filled with centuries-old columns and statues and the space is eerily lit in shades of orange. Koi fish swim in the standing water, and you have to walk on wooden planks to get around. You can hear drips echoing, and there are two mysterious statues with the head of Medusa. It kind of feels like you’re in a scary movie.

Alemdar, Yerebatan Cd. 1/3, +90 212-512-1570 yerebatansarnici.com. Open daily from 9am-5:30pm (except religious holidays). Admission is 20 TRY for foreigners.

2. Explore the Asian Side

Building on the Asian side of Istanbul
Istanbul is the only city in the world to straddle two continents; it spans from Europe to Asia. The Asian side (also called the Anatolian side) is separated from the European side by the Bosphorus Strait. You can take a bus over the famous Bosphorus Bridge, or you can ride over on a ferry. The city’s main tourist sites are on the European side, but if you’ve never been to Asia, it’s fun to cross over so you can say you’ve been there. If you’re interested in shopping, check out the popular markets in Kadiköy.

Other worthy activities include touring the Beylerbeyi Palace, riding up to the top of Çamlica Hill for incredible views of the city, and strolling along Bagdat Caddesi to explore the many restaurants, cafés, and shops.

The ferry will cost 3 TRY for a one-way ticket.

3. Visit a Real Hammam

(Picture not available—everyone was naked inside!)
Many of the swanky hotels in Istanbul have hammams, otherwise known as Turkish baths, but they usually aren’t the real deal. They’re made for Westerners looking for a cushy and modest experience. Real hammams have been a Turkish tradition for thousands of years, and they have served as both a place to cleanse and to socialize. Most hammams are separated by gender, and women generally go topless. You transition through several different rooms of different temperatures, one being a hot steam room much like a sauna. You can opt to pay an attendant to give you a thorough scrub-down — it’s rough but invigorating! Çemberlitai Hamami is a good option for visitors looking to give the experience a try; another popular one is Cagaloglu. Both are located in the Old Town.

Vezirhan Cad. No. 8, +90 552-381-1584, cemberlitashamami.com. Open daily from 6am-12am. Admission starts at 160 TRY per person and goes up from there depending on what treatments/services you want.

4. Go to the Prince Islands

An offbeat activity is a horse and carriage ride through the streets of Princes' Island
This chain of nine islands off the coast of Istanbul provides a unique getaway from the crowds. An easy day trip during the warm months, the islands are just a quick ferry ride from the city. Most travelers visit the four larger islands (Büyükada, the biggest and most popular, Burgazada, Heybeliada, and Kinaliada). You can explore historic buildings, eat at tasty cafés, and see beautiful homes as you wander about.

What makes these islands special is that no cars are allowed on the islands, making them quite peaceful and quiet and a nice break from the noise of the city. You can get around by walking, bicycle, or horse and carriage.

Try to take one of the early ferries in the day so you explore the islands before our visitors arrive.

The journey by ferry will take around 1 hour and 30 minutes depending on what island you are going to. Tickets are 5 TRY per person for a single journey ticket.

5. Take a Ferry

View of castles taken from the ferry around the Turkish islands
A great way to explore this massive city is by boat. You’ll see many boats that offer paid tours of the Bosphorus, but if you want to save money and have more flexibility, take a regular ferry ride instead. The fare will be cheaper, and you won’t be competing for space with other tourists trying to take photos.

You’ll pass by Topkapi Palace, the Bosphorus Bridge, gorgeous mansions, mosques with massive minarets, other castles and palaces, and more. You can hop off, eat some fresh seafood, and then head back. It’s a budget-friendly way to explore without bumping into other tourists.

Round-trip ferry tickets will cost 25 TRY per person.

6. Explore Jewish History

Jewish Istanbul
While Turkey is predominantly a Muslim country, it has a surprisingly long Jewish history. There are Jewish heritage tours you can take, or you can explore the stops on your own. Jews have lived in Turkey for thousands of years, but the population really grew during the Ottoman Empire in the 1400s. Growth increased in 1492 when Spain expelled its Jews and the Ottoman Empire welcomed them as they were stereotyped as having good business skills and wealth.

Istanbul’s Galata and Balat quarters are steeped in Jewish history and you can find historic synagogues in both areas of town. Istanbul also has a Jewish museum (The Museum of Turkish Jews) that does a good job of illustrating the contributions and struggles of Jews in Turkey.

Bereketzade Mahallesi, +90 212-292-6333, muze500.com. Open Sunday-Thursday from 10am-5pm and Fridays from 10am-1pm (closed Saturdays). Admission is free, though donations are encouraged. Passport (or other official ID) is required to enter.

7. Watch the Fishermen on Galata Bridge

Lots of fisherman on Galata Bridge in Turkey on a cold day
Every day, dozens, if not hundreds, of local men form a row along the top level of the Galata Bridge and fish over the edge. It’s an incredible sight. They spend hours hoping to catch fresh seafood, and some of them will sell it to you while they’re still out there fishing. Many of the men don’t even make a catch; they seem to enjoy just standing there hanging their pole over the water.

There’s also a fish market at the base of the bridge, and the many booths of fresh-caught fish are fun to look at (though it can also be a bit gross).

8. See the Obelisk of Theodosius

The Obelisk of Theodosius in Istanbul, Turkey
This Egyptian obelisk was carved around 1500 BCE near Luxor before it was pillaged by the Romans and moved to Alexandria. Not long after, it was moved to Constantinople (now Istanbul) where it has remained ever since. There are well-preserved hieroglyphs on all four sides which depict Tutmoses III’s victory during a battle on the Euphrates River.

The obelisk is usually surrounded by locals relaxing and chatting, and there are often buskers performing here as well. It’s a good place to sit back and people-watch while appreciating this incredible historical relic.

9. Snap a Photo with Tombili

The Tombili the cat statue in Istanbul, Turkey
Chances are you already know you Tombili is — you just don’t realize it. Tombili was a street cat from Istanbul who went viral in a meme that showed the cat lounging on the stairs like a person would sit on a bench (the meme was called “chill cat” if you want to look it up).

When Tombili died in 2016, the local mayor had a statue commissioned and it now sits where Tombili’s famous photo was taken. Thieves immediately stole the statue but, after a huge public outcry, it was returned.

10. Visit Miniaturk

Small statues and tourists at the Miniaturk park in Istanbul, Turkey
Miniaturk is a miniature park located in Istanbul — and it’s one of the largest miniature parks in the world. To be honest, I didn’t even know what miniature parks were before encountering this place. In short, the park is full of small replicas of famous sights and attractions, made to a 1/25 scale. There are over 100 models in the park including the Obelisk of Theodosius, the Mostar Bridge, and the Hagia Eirene Church. The park spans almost 15 acres and there are audio guides available around the park so you can listen and learn more about each individual attraction.

Örnektepe, +90 212-222-2882, miniaturk.com.tr. Open daily from 9am-6pm. Admission is 15 TRY.
***
Istanbul is a very large and crowded city and it can definitely be intimidating to visit. But it’s also home to some fascinating history and tons of unique sights and attractions — many of which don’t get the attention they deserve.

By adding some of these less-visited attractions into your itinerary you’ll be able to have a much more unique and authentic experience while still being able to see all the wonderful sights that make Istanbul the eclectic, beautiful city that it is.

Book Your Trip to Istanbul: Logistical Tips and Tricks

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

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

  • Cheers Hostel – This hostel is consistently rated as one of the best in the country. It’s safe, clean, and has free Wi-Fi and free breakfast.
  • Sultans Inn – This hostel is in a great location, it’s clean, and the staff are friendly and helpful.
  • Agora Hostel and Guesthouse – This laid back hostel has a great free breakfast, free Wi-Fi, and a relaxing tooftop terrace where you can take in the views of the city.

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: 4 – NKCPhoto, 8 – Erik Cleves Kristensen,9 – Nevit,

The post 10 Offbeat Things to Do in Istanbul appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.





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Win a Trip to Thailand for Two! (And I’ll Meet You There!)

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Omaze and Nomadic Matt
Posted: 10/24/19 | October 24th, 2019

A few years ago, I found this charity website called Omaze. They are an awesome online fundraising platform that connects incredible charities, once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and people who want to make a difference.

I can’t fully remember how I found them but I do remember the campaign was to have wine with Jennifer Lawrence and support a voting right’s organization.

So I donated in hopes of winning (I did not).

Then I got hooked on donating money to charities in hopes of meeting my favorite celebs. (I did not win that George Clooney one either!) Though I lost, I was happy to know my donation supported worthy organizations.

Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to meet the folks from Omaze and we decided to partner together to raise money for a charity near and dear to my heart: FLYTE.

The Foundation for Learning and Youth Travel Education (FLYTE) was founded in 2015 as our community charity. It raises money for underserved students so they can go on overseas educational trips. We partner with schools in low-income communities that lack the existing resources to provide a global education for their students and fund trips that best align with their curriculum. We want to make sure these trips have an educational and service component to them.

The goal is to show these students the world beyond their bubble. In a world that seems to want to build walls, I wanted to find a way to tear them down. I want students with limited opportunities to know that there is a big world out there and it is full of possibilities and that no dream is too big. I want to show them that the world they see on TV is not the world that exists and that people in foreign countries are just like them.

And I wanted to show them that their education is important!

Since we started, we’ve sent over 70 kids overseas to counties like Cuba, Guatemala, Mexico, Colombia, and Ecuador. That’s 70 people with new passports and a changed view of the world!

Now, I’ve partnered with Omaze to raise money for FLYTE by giving away a trip to Thailand. You’ll be able to win a 10 day trip to Thailand for you and a friend that will include things like:

  • 10 days exploring the captivating food and culture of Thailand with stops in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and one of the islands
  • A full itinerary of activities like temple visits, cooking classes, food tours, a visit to an elephant sanctuary, snorkeling trips, beach time, and more
  • Roundtrip flights, transportation between cities, and accommodation in 4-star hotels

And, to top it all off, you’ll have me as your guide for part of it!

I’ll be there to welcome you to the country, show you around Bangkok, the city I used to call home, and answer all your questions before you continue onward!

Here’s more:

 
Donations start at $10 USD and the contest goes until December 12th.

And, best of all, this trip is open to pretty much everyone in the world. This isn’t just for U.S. or Canada folks. There’s a bunch of legal stuff on Omaze’s website to read but if you are 18 and older and aren’t a residents of Belgium, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Italy, North Korea, Singapore, Sudan, Syria or Thailand, you’re eligible to win (see their site for all the legal stuff). (When they told me it was open to so many people, I was thrilled!)

So enter here for a chance to win a trip to Thailand, come hang out with me, and help support an organization that is working to send underserved kids on overseas trips that helps broaden their horizon and makes them better global citizens.

Sincerely,

Nomadic Matt

Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks

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

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

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

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

The post Win a Trip to Thailand for Two! (And I’ll Meet You There!) appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.





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Is Belize Safe to Visit?

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An empty beach in Belize with a leaning palm tree beside the ocean
Posted: 10/21/2019 | October 21st, 2019

Whether it’s relaxing on a picturesque beach, exploring Mayan ruins, or snorkeling the world’s second longest barrier reef, you’ll discover that Belize is full of amazing and adventurous things to do. The country is one of the most unique destinations in Central America and among my favorite countries in the region. It’s also where I did my first solo backpacking trip and, since that first trip, I’ve loved every minute I’ve spent there.

From the Latin culture of the interior to the Caribbean Rasta vibe of the coast to the old English feel of some of the islands, Belize is a mash-up of vibrant and historic cultures.

The country is popular with backpackers, vacationers, dive enthusiasts, and honeymooners alike, offering something for every travel style and interest.

And tourism is on the rise, too.

In 2018, Belize saw an all-time high of 1.5 million visitors — which is a lot for a country of just over 400,00 people! Tourism will no doubt continue to increase here as Belize is one of the safest countries in the area to visit.

But just because it’s safe doesn’t mean you can let your guard down fully. Here are some tips to help you stay safe during your visit:

9 Safety Tips for Belize

1. Avoid isolated areas – If you’re somewhere isolated, you’ll be at a greater risk for getting robbed, especially at night and in the cities. Try to stay where the crowds are — that’s the best way to avoid being singled out by potential muggers.

2. Be aware of your surroundings while in crowds – While sticking to where the crowds will help you avoid getting mugged, it will also make you a target for petty theft. Tourists are usually easy targets for pickpockets, so when you are in the popular tourist areas make sure your valuables are secure.

3. Don’t wear flashy items – Petty theft is the most common threat here, so remove any jewelry or watches, and don’t wave your phone around. Do your best to blend in, so you don’t become a target for pickpockets. If you happen to find yourself a victim of armed robbery, follow the instructions of the robber and give up your valuables; these material items can be replaced — but your life cannot.

(I learned this lesson the hard way in Colombia.)

4. Don’t leave your items unattended – If you are spending the day on the beaches of Placencia Peninsula, Hopkins Village, or Caye Caulker, do not leave your belongings unattended while swimming or walking along the sand, as locals and tourists alike can easily swipe your valuables. If you can, find friends at your hostel to hit the beach with so you can take turns watching over each other’s things while you swim and relax.

5. Avoid the bus at night – If you need to get somewhere at night, take a taxi. It will be safer than any public transportation. Have your accommodation call the taxi for you so you can be sure you’re getting a reputable driver. Make sure you get in a taxi with a green license plate, as those indicate authorized taxis. If you’re a solo female traveler, make sure you travel with other people at night (even in taxis).

6. Be careful on public transit – If you must take public transit, keep your valuables on you and well secured, especially on “chicken buses” (colorfully decorated school buses that have been converted to public transportation for goods and people). Theft is common on night buses, so avoid them if you can. (Buses also tend to not run on time, and sometimes they are extremely slow, packed, or both. Be prepared for the experience!)

7. Don’t do drugs – Cartels in Belize have made life very difficult for the local population. Don’t support them by buying their products. Drug penalties are also harsh in the region, and you don’t want to end up in jail!

8. Stick to the touristy parts of Belize City – Belize City (the largest city) has some sketchy neighborhoods that unfortunately have been taken over by local gangs. There are areas, however, that are relatively safe, such as the main tourist part of town. If you don’t wander too far from there, you should be fine.

9. Buy travel insurance – Travel insurance will protect you if you get injured or ill, are a victim of theft, or must deal with delayed or canceled flights. It’s a worthwhile investment and can save you thousands of dollars. Don’t risk traveling without it. I always buy travel insurance before I leave home — a lesson I’ve learned the hard way!

FAQ on Safety in Belize

Below are answers to common questions I get on safety in Belize so you can be better prepared for your trip!

Is there a risk of Zika in Belize?

Belize has a history of Zika virus transmission, but there is currently no evidence of an ongoing outbreak. While the risks are low, travelers are advised to take the following precautions:

  • Use mosquito repellent on your body (on top of any sunscreen) to prevent bites, and sleep under a mosquito net to avoid getting bit while when you’re asleep.
  • Wear breathable garments that cover your arms and legs.
  • Keep doors and windows closed as much as possible to prevent mosquitos from entering your room.
  • Pregnant women or couples considering pregnancy should consult a healthcare practitioner prior to travel.

Is hitchhiking safe there?

Hitchhiking in Belize is quite common, easy, and — most importantly — safe. My friends and I hitchhiked throughout the country and saw lots of locals doing it too. HitchWiki has a lot of information on hitchhiking in Belize to help you get started.

Is the street food safe?

It sure is safe to have street food in Belize! The best and most affordable way to experience the local cuisine is through their street food, which has Afro-Caribbean and Mexican cultural influences. Sample conch fritters, ceviche, or coconut curry and enjoy the variety of delicious flavors!

Is the tap water safe to drink?

Belize’s Ministry of Health has taken steps toward making tap water drinkable for locals. However, during the rainy season, some areas experience flooding, which may contaminate the tap water. The best way to make sure your drinking water is safe is to bring a SteriPen or Lifestraw for your reusable water bottle. This way you’ll be able to purify the tap water, so you don’t get sick — and avoid single-use plastic bottles in the process.

Are the taxis safe?

Taxis are safe — and preferred — when getting around at night. You can ask your hostel or hotel to call a taxi for you. Be sure to get take an authorized taxi (they have green license plates). Use your smartphone and track the route on your offline map, and if the driver seems to be going off said route, speak up and ask why they’ve decided to take this direction instead. At the end of the day, always trust your gut: if a taxi driver seems shady, stop the cab and get out.

If you’re a solo female traveler, I suggest traveling with a friend or another traveler at night, just to be safe.

Is Belize safe for solo travelers?

Solo traveling in Belize is safe, although petty theft is one of the most common types of crime in Belize. The people involved in some sort of incident tend to be drinking or doing drugs or taking part in illegal activity. If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it in Belize! Follow that rule and you’ll be fine.

Is Belize safe for solo female travelers?

Belize is a safe place for solo female travelers, especially if you’re new to solo travel. It is one of the safer countries in this region. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be careful. Always be aware of your surroundings and have a downloaded map so you can find your way home. Don’t flaunt any valuables, and avoid taking taxis alone at night.

If you’ve done your research and still have concerns, I’d suggest asking to join other groups at hostels when going out or sticking to group travel or tours, just to be safe.

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

***

I loved my time in Belize. The country may be small, but it had so much to offer, from dense jungles to massive caves and, of course, the famous Belize Barrier Reef, where the marine life is astonishing. (And in my opinion, the Blue Hole is one of the best places to go scuba diving.) The toughest challenge for you will be deciding what to do first!

While Belize is considered generally safe for traveling and backpacking, there’s no denying that some precautions should be taken. Read and follow this safety guide, and your experience in Belize will be a safe, fun, and memorable one.

Book Your Trip to Belize: Logistical Tips and Tricks

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

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

  • The Red Hut Inn (Belize City) – This is a chill social hostel with lots of areas to relax in — includng a pool. The staff are great too!
  • Dirty McNasty (Caye Caulker) – This is one of the biggest hostels in the country and known for its wild parties.
  • Anda Di Hows Hostel (Placencia) – A cozy hostel on the beach with great staff and free kayaks and snorkeling gear you can use for free.

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!

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

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





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Is Azerbaijan Safe to Visit?

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Azerbaijan is one of those emerging destinations that tourists are finally starting to discover.

Until 1991, it was part of the Soviet Union, and ever since it became independent, travelers have increasingly started to visit this lesser-known country. The number of foreign visitors has nearly tripled in the last decade, to almost three million in 2018.

While the sightseeing hot spots might not be well known, there are plenty of things to see and do in Azerbaijan. The capital, Baku, has unique architecture, including lots of Parisian-style buildings from the 19th century. It is also home to some very futuristic constructions funded by the country’s oil wealth, such as the three Flame Towers, which are covered in LED screens that display dancing flames.

Outside of Baku, you can see mud volcanoes, visit 40,000-year-old rock paintings at Gobustan, or head to the hills to hike in the Caucasus Mountains.

But is Azerbaijan safe?

On the whole, Azerbaijan is very safe. Since the country is ruled by a strongman who wants very much to increase tourism to the country, crimes against visitors are virtually unheard of.

Why?

Because, if someone is caught committing a crime against a tourist, the punishments will be quite severe. Most crimes are usually small and involve taking advantage of people in crowded places, where perpetrators are less likely to get caught.

With that said, there are a few things to remember and a couple of locations to avoid. The tips below will help make your experience in Azerbaijan safe and enjoyable.

8 Safety Tips for Azerbaijan

1. Stay aware of your belongings – Petty theft and pickpocketing are rare here as the government (which is a dictatorship) punishes thieves quite harshly. Nevertheless, petty theft does happen from time to time in busy outdoor markets in Azerbaijan, as well as on the Baku metro and other public transport. Be more aware of your belongings when you’re in crowded places and don’t flaunt anything expensive.

2. Look out for drink-related scams – There have been some reports of travelers being robbed after having their drinks spiked, particularly in Western-style nightclubs and bars in Baku. Don’t take food or drink from strangers or people you’ve just met, and always keep an eye on drinks you’ve ordered.

There are also reports of scams targeting men at bars when women ask a foreign man to buy her drinks. She ends up leaving him with a very high bar tab, and if he’s unable to pay, a group of men might use physical force to insist.

3. Don’t insult the ruling Aliyev family – The president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, who took over from his father Heydar in 2003, and his family, are not to be mocked or spoken about badly.

He has won five elections with around 80% of the vote, but there’s plenty of evidence that he and his New Azerbaijan Party are responsible for widespread corruption and a lack of democratic process, along with jailing people who have criticized the family or the government. Play it safe and avoid talking politics while you’re here.

4. Don’t go near or talk about Armenia – Avoid the border of Armenia and Azerbaijan, where sporadic armed clashes still take place. In particular, don’t go near the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which is a disputed area where armed conflict is common. There are land mines in these regions as well, another good reason to steer clear.

The safest thing is simply not to mention Armenia at all. There’s an ongoing, bitter conflict between the two nations, and Azerbaijanis can get angry if you try to talk about Armenia.

If you’re of Armenian descent — for example, if you have an Armenian surname — this might cause problems for you in Azerbaijan so be prepared.

5. Be careful on the roads – Many of the roads in Azerbaijan are in poor condition, and drivers often speed. You also need to watch out for people on foot and livestock in rural Azerbaijan.

If you can avoid it, don’t drive at night — there is usually little or no lighting on the roads and there are a lot of potholes and bumps that can cause a bad accident if you can’t see them coming.

On the plus side, the blood alcohol limit here is zero so there is no tolerance for drinking and driving (which means you’re less likely to encounter drunk drivers here). If driving, make sure you follow this law to the letter.

Road safety is likely going to be your biggest concern here, so always be extra careful when driving or near busy roads.

6. Refuse to pay bribes – There’s quite a culture of bribery and corruption in Azerbaijan, so you might find yourself in a situation where you’re asked to pay a bribe. Although it can feel difficult, it’s OK to refuse to pay, and usually, that will be the end of it.

Many Azerbaijanis are embarrassed by the extent of corruption and bribery and will do their best to hide it from foreign tourists. Unfortunately, there is a minority who will still demand bribes — sometimes even officials.

7. Look out for fake police – It’s quite a common scam to come across criminals dressed as police officers. In their disguise, they will target foreigners and try to issue you a fake traffic infringement or demand you pay a fine for photographing in the street.

If in doubt, ask them to take you to a police station. Hopefully, they will then agree to leave you alone.

8. Buy travel insurance – Every time you travel, you should make sure you have an appropriate level of travel insurance. You never know what might go wrong! Hopefully, nothing will happen to you while you’re exploring Azerbaijan, but you’ll be really grateful you have travel insurance if you are involved in a car accident, become the victim of theft, or get sick and find yourself in an emergency situation.

We recommend World Nomads for travelers under 70, while Insure My Trip is the best choice for travelers over 70.

For more information on tarvel insurance, check out these posts:

FAQ on Azerbaijan Safety

To help you plan your trip, here are answers to the most frequently asked questions we get about safety in Azerbaijan:

How safe is Baku for tourists?

Thanks to income from oil and gas, Baku is a modern capital city with decent public transport and is generally safe. There are some risks of petty theft in crowds or bars, and tourists can be a target of drink spiking and other scams (see above) in Western-style bars and nightclubs. Be extra vigilant on a night out.

Maybe the most dangerous part of being in Baku is the traffic. Many Azerbaijanis drive very fast and without much regard for the rules of the road. If you’re a pedestrian, be wary of vehicles when you’re near a road and especially when you’re crossing. When in doubt, follow the lead of the locals.

Is it safe to drive in Azerbaijan?

Driving in Baku can be challenging: quite a lot of traffic, fast drivers, and pedestrians who don’t pay much attention.

However, it’s probably more dangerous to drive in rural areas, both because of the poor driving standards and the low quality of the highways. The road conditions are particularly bad outside the cities, and driving at night is especially dangerous, as the roads are poorly lit, or not lit at all.

Is Azerbaijan safe for women traveling alone?

In general, Azerbaijan is safe for all people traveling solo, but some women have reported incidents of unwanted male attention while walking alone and taking taxis. If going out at night, make sure you have someone to accompany you just to be safe.

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

Is the drinking water safe in Azerbaijan?

The tap water in Azerbaijan should be boiled before drinking to make sure that it is free of contaminents. Boil the water for at least 1 minute to make sure it’s clean.

While you can also buy bottled water here, I’d just bringing a reusable water bottle and a Lifestraw or SteriPen. They can purify your water while also reducing your environmental impact.

***
From the contrasts of 19th-century architecture with the envelope-pushing modern buildings of Baku to the scenic vistas of the sparsely-populated towns and villages, you’ll find plenty of things to see and do in Azerbaijan.

Just be sure to use common sense by avoiding talking about sensitive topics (such as the war with Armenia) when you are talking to locals. Be aware of the potential for petty theft and scams; keep an eye out and your valuables out of sight. Do that, and you’ll be just fine.

On the whole, Azerbaijan is safe to visit and tourism numbers are growing for a good reason. Spend some time seeing Azerbaijan now, while it’s still not crowded with tourists — you won’t regret it!

Book Your Trip to Azerbaijan: Logistical Tips and Tricks

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

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

  • Sahil Hostel (Baku) – This hostel is clean, spacious, and well maintained. It won Hostelworld’s 2019 award for best hostel in the city.
  • Old Ganja Hostel (Ganja) – While thos hostel itself is rather no frills, the staff here are incredible and go above and beyond to ensure you have a great time in Ganja.
  • Lahij Guesthouse (Lahij) – With free Wi-Fi, great views, and a charming and rustic interior, this hoestl is a good choice for anyone looking for a more unique stay in Lahij.

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!gho

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

Photo credit: 1 – Emerson Liu

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





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The Best Tour Companies in Ireland

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an Irish castle tower on a still lake set against green hills
Posted: 8/17/19 | October 17th, 2019

Ireland. It’s a scenic country full of rolling green hills, photogenic cliffs, impressive castles, cozy Irish pub, friendly locals, and a lot of Irish charm.

I’ve loved every part of my experiences in Ireland.

My first trip was a quick 24-hour visit to Dublin, but, I loved it so much I’ve gone back about four times since. Ireland has a special magic to it that makes every visitor fall in love. (Ok, not everyone, but most people love it here!)

While the cities are incredible and have a lot to offer, Ireland is best seen by car so you can get off-road and visit the small little villages, castles, and parks that dot the country.

However, if you’re like me, and not a fan of driving (especially driving on the left!), the next best thing to driving or just city hopping on buses is going on a tour in Ireland. Given the country’s small size, you can see a lot of it in a little time and a tour can be a good way to pack it all in without the hassle of organizing all the details yourself.

There are lots of tour options here — from walking tours in Dublin to multi-day tours around all of Ireland. Here is a list of my favorite tour companies in Ireland, each of which have something unique to offer:

1. Historical Walking Tours of Dublin

The city of Dublin is such a fascinating place to explore, and it’s full of historical spots that you might just wander past if you’re not with a guide from Historical Walking Tours of Dublin. They’ve been operating tours since 1986 and one of the reasons they’re so good is their guides all have postgrad history qualifications – but also know how to lead a tour with a good Irish sense of humor.

Each walking tour is just over two hours long and they start from the front gate of Trinity College at 11am every day, with an extra tour at 3pm from May to September. They’ll take you to many of the highlights of Dublin like the House of Lords, Temple Bar, Christ Church Cathedral, and Dublin Castle and you’ll end up with a great overview of Irish history. Tickets are 14 EUR.

2. Paddywagon Tours

An Irish born-and-bred tour company that started in 1998, Paddywagon Tours offers both day tours for lots of popular tourist attractions in Ireland as well as multi-day tours ranging from two to nine days long, with accommodation choices ranging between B&Bs and hostels.

If you’re time-pressed and looking for some day trips from Dublin to quickly see a bit more of Ireland, Paddywagon has trips to places like the Cliffs of Moher, the Ring of Kerry, and even up to the Giant’s Causeway and other highlights of Northern Ireland. Costs range from 45 EUR to 65 EUR for these trips. They also run day trips out of other centers like Belfast, Limerick, and Cork.

Paddywagon’s multi-day tours range from 149 EUR for a two-day trip up to 689 EUR for their All Ireland nine-day tour, with backpacker accommodation (or 999 EUR if you want B&B stays). Even though you could easily spend a month in Ireland, given its relatively small size you can actually get a lot out of nine days. If you’re a student they also run some student special trips at even lower costs so keep an eye out for them.

3. Shamrocker Adventures

Shamrocker is a great option for budget travelers looking for multi-day tours of Ireland. Their approach is to try and combine the best of independent travel and group trips. That means they give you choices like different levels of accommodation and you can self-cater when it comes to food. They also have great guides who are passionate Irish storytellers — even their bus drivers have a great sense of humor!

Tours range between three and seven days, with the shorter trips focusing on just one part of Ireland — the south or the west — and costing around 300 EUR per person. Shamrocker’s seven-day trip covers all the main sights like the Giant’s Causeway, Cliffs of Moher, Galway, and Blarney Castle and is 609 EUR for adults and 589 EUR for students.

4. Wolfhound Adventure Tours

Wolfhound Adventure Tours is a boutique tour company run by Trinity College history-graduate Dave O’Connor. Tour groups have a maximum of 12 travelers and tours include some biking and hiking, which are optional but definitely a big part of the fun.

Tours range between five and ten days — the shorter tours give you an option of going to the north to the Giant’s Causeway or heading west to see the Cliffs of Moher and the Aran Islands, both of which are 985 EUR. Wolfhound trips can include kayaking, horseriding, whale watching, and even surfing lessons and are a great choice for anyone looking to get active!

5. Vagabond Tours

Vagabond Tours is an Irish company and offers two kinds of small group tours, Driftwood Tours if you want to take it easy, and Vagabond Tours which include activities like hiking, sea kayaking, and cycling.

Tours range in length from six to eleven days, and in price from 1,550 EUR to 2,900 EUR per person. They have some of the common itineraries such as a Northern Ireland tour taking in the Giant’s Causeway and Belfast and the Giant Irish tour which circumnavigates the country, but they also have a few specialty trips like a foodie tour, an adventure trip which includes a visit to the Skellig Islands, and a tour for history buffs focusing on castles and kingdoms.

Rob Rankin, co-founder of Vagabond Tours, is a huge advocate of responsible and sustainable tourism and the leader of Ecotourism Ireland, and Vagabond Tours has been eco-tourism gold-certified since 2017.

6. Extreme Ireland

Extreme Ireland offer adventure tours around Ireland, with several Wild Atlantic Way trips available, ranging from six to 12 days long. They take small groups (a maximum of 16 travelers) led by skilled guides who have all the skills necessary to help you have a safe and adventurous tour.

Their 12-day trip will take you all over Ireland — it doesn’t just show you the regular sightseeing highlights!. The tour also includes several bike rides, a stint of stand up paddleboarding, hikes along sea cliffs and wild coastlines, kayaking, and surfing. This one comes in at 2,200 EUR while their shorter tours start at 1,100 EUR.

7. Intrepid

An Intrepid trip is always a good option — they’re my go-to multi-day tour company no matter where in the world I’m heading. With small groups (a maximum of 12 travelers for Ireland), carefully-hired local guides, and a relaxed pace, Intrepid tours really can’t be beaten. They offer just one trip in Ireland but it covers all the major sights and attractions, an eight-day adventure that spans from Belfast in Northern Ireland to Killarney in the south-west.

Their Ireland tour will take you through Dublin and Galway and includes sightseeing hotspots like the Cliffs of Moher and the Giant’s Causeway, as well a chance to explore the Aran Islands. Accommodation is in a mix of hotels and hostels, with breakfast included. The tour costs 2,300 EUR per person.

***

From walking tours to help you understand the history and culture of the great city of Dublin to multi-day adventures circumnavigating the whole of the island, taking a tour in Ireland will make sure you get to know lots of interesting locals and learn more about what makes the Irish tick.

Whether it’s the crazy ritual of kissing the Blarney Stone, exploring the incredible landscapes in Northern Ireland Game of Thrones was filmed, or simply knowing which pub in Galway is the best spot for a Guinness, these Ireland tour companies will help make your Irish experience the best it can be!

Book Your Trip to Ireland: Logistical Tips and Tricks

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

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

  • Generator Hostel (Dublin) – Generator is one of the best hostel chains in Europe. Their places are always clean and comfortable, though a bit generic if you’re looking for something unique.
  • Barnacles Quay Street (Galway) – With free breakfast, a free walking tour, and lots of fun events, this is a great hsotel for budget travelers looking to be social.
  • Kinlay House (Cork) – This is another social hostel that has lots of common area space, including an outdoor patio. The staff are great and the bathrooms clean (always a plus in hostels!).
  • Neptunes Town Hostel (Killarney) – This hostel is in a great location and the staff are super friendly and helpful!

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

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

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

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





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