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The Complete Guide to Diving in Koh Tao

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<img src="https://media.nomadicmatt.com/2019/DivingonKohTao_13.jpg" alt="Alex in Wanderland diving in the waters near Koh Tao, Thailand"
Updated: 8/22/2019 | August 22nd, 2019

This is a guest post by Alexandra Baackes, the legend behind Alex in Wanderland. She’s also a PADI divemaster and a resident of Koh Tao, Thailand. Koh Tao is a popular destination for scuba divers and one the the biggiest places people learn in the world! In this guide, Alex gives you the insider scoop on diving schools, prices, and the best areas for viewing sea life when you visit Koh Tao.

Travelers in Thailand like to label their destinations neatly. Intricate island paradises are boiled down to one or two simple words or associations: Koh Phi Phi? The Beach. Koh Phangan? The Full Moon Party. Koh Tao? Diving.

Some of them are fairly well deserved.

After all, Koh Tao is one of the world’s top destinations when it comes to number of annual dive certifications issued — in fact, it’s second only to Cairns, Australia. Travelers flock from across Southeast Asia to take their first breaths underwater in the coral reefs fringing this paradise island. It’s simple to see why: the courses are among the most affordable in the world, the teaching standards are high, the conditions are easy, the dive sites are abundant, and it’s a dang fun place to decompress after a day underwater.

It’s easy to be overwhelmed when planning a trip to Koh Tao — there are more than 70 dive schools on the island! — so a bit of research goes a long way when it comes to such a large investment of your time and travel budget.

PADI or SSI?

A massive shark swimming above a diver in the waters near Koh Tao, Thailand
There are more than 50 scuba diving training systems around the world, but in Koh Tao, the choice generally comes down to two: the Professional Association of Dive Instructors (PADI) or Scuba Schools International (SSI). Each organization develops its own teaching materials; writes its own standards based on those set by the umbrella organization, the World Recreational Scuba Training Council (WRSTC); and awards its own certifications.

No matter what certification card you walk away with, you’ll use the same equipment, see the same fish, and be able to dive at the same destinations. Certifications are interchangeable and recognized worldwide. The most important factors in the quality of your course will be your dive school and your dive instructor. But there are minor differences between agencies.

PADI
PADI is the world’s leading scuba diving training organization. If you find comfort in numbers, then
this agency with nearly one million certifications per year might just be for you! The major benefit to diving with PADI comes at the professional level. For instructors and divemasters, PADI provides the most employment opportunities, and PADI instructors can work independently (while an SSI instructor must teach through an SSI-registered shop). So if you have dreams of staying in Thailand to teach the backpacker masses and you want to be loyal to one agency, PADI is a strong agency to hedge your bets on.

SSI
Once just a small subset of the diving industry here, SSI has exploded to control a full 50% of the market share on Koh Tao. The benefit of doing an SSI certification comes down to best bang for your baht, as an SSI course will typically cost you nearly 10% less than a PADI course. If you’re coming to Koh Tao specifically for its status as one of the world’s cheapest places to get certified, those extra baht can make a big difference. Plus, all coursework is done via the free app and/or online, making it a green choice.

What’s the Course Like?

Alex in Wanderland diving in the water with a groupd of friends near Koh Tao, Thailand
The Open Water course is the first certification you’ll complete as a diver. Many divers come to Koh Tao to complete their Open Water certification, and some get hooked and stay till they’re instructors themselves. But be wary of “zero to hero” packages that include the full array of courses from first underwater breath to master scuba diver trainer — take it one step at a time.

(While half-day experiences called “Discover Scuba Diving” or “Try Scuba Diving” are available, they don’t lead to any sort of certification and should really only be considered if you’re (a) super strapped for time or (b) extremely unsure if diving is for you. Otherwise, just dive in, literally, to the Open Water!)

The typical Open Water diving course is completed in three to four days. There are videos to watch, book chapters to read, tests to take, and, of course, dive sites to explore! It might sound intimidating, but the course is designed for students as young as 10 — the academics shouldn’t intimidate you.

Here’s a rough outline of what your course will look like:

  • Day 1: Orientation, paperwork, and videos.
  • Day 2: A morning in the classroom learning about basics skills, equipment, and the effects of diving on the body. An afternoon spent in the pool or at shallow dive sites working on skills such as regulator recovery and mask removal, among others.
  • Day 3: A morning in the classroom finishing knowledge reviews and taking some quizzes. In the afternoon, the fun really begins with open-water dives 1 and 2, which will stay shallow and low-key. Some skills will be practiced during the dives.
  • Day 4: You’ll go out on a morning boat and complete open-water dives 3 and 4, where you’ll get to go a bit deeper and explore. In the afternoon, you’ll take the final exam. Congratulations — you made it!

Upon completion, you’ll receive a certificate that allows you to dive anywhere in the world with another certified buddy, independent of a professional, to a depth of 18 meters.

And the Open Water course is just the beginning! Koh Tao is a true mecca for dive education: you can take courses in freediving and technical diving, and specialty scuba courses in everything from photography to conservation and beyond — plus the gamut of continuing and professional courses up to Instructor Trainer!

Which School Should I Choose?

A massive school of long fish in the waters of Koh Tao, Thailand
Koh Tao ain’t called a mecca for diving for nothing: there are nearly 70 dive schools on this 13-square-mile rock! This decision is the biggest when it comes to determining the quality of your diving course. For the most part, the schools fall into a few categories:

Big schools: Bans, Big Blue, Crystal
These schools are enormous scuba powerhouse resorts that can churn out hundreds of Open Water divers a week, with instructors for almost every language imaginable. They are ideal for someone who is confident about going under water (i.e., doesn’t need extra individual attention) and wants to make lots of friends and meet people in a big group setting. However, those groups can be a bit large for comfort.

Medium-sized schools: Master Divers, Sairee Cottage
Medium dive schools generally have the best of both worlds. They have a range of instructors and groups large enough to make friends in, but they aren’t as prone to overcrowding or rushing through the course.

Small schools: Hydronauts, Ocean Sound
These schools are great at accommodating special needs or focusing on a certain specialty. The extra attention with instructors is key for those who are feeling uncertain about heading underwater or who simply want to be spoiled with attention and learn in a more focused environment. However, these schools sometimes rent boat space and pool time from other dive schools rather than having their own facilities.

When picking a school and an instructor, consider these factors:

  • Does it have an instructor who speaks your language? There are many specialty language-focused dive schools on Koh Tao: for Spanish, head to Pura Vida or La Bambona; for French, French Kiss Divers; for Finnish, Koh Tao Divers.
  • Will the confined dives take place in the ocean or in a pool?
  • How many students will be in the group?
  • What time do they leave in the morning? Those eager beavers who want to be the first on the dive site might not mind being up in time for New Way’s 6am departure, while night owls might prefer Ban’s or Sairee Cottage’s more relaxed dive times.
  • Is the equipment up to date and in my size? Schools in Koh Tao have a good record for equipment range and maintenance, but it never hurts to ask.
  • Will you get to have my own dive computer throughout the course? Will there be an extra charge?
  • How qualified is the instructor? Some students may appreciate the enthusiasm and up-to-date training of a new instructor, while others may find comfort in a teacher with tons of qualifications and years of experience.
  • Do you like the instructor?

How Much Will It Cost?

Alex in Wanderland posing for a photo on Koh Tao, Thailand
Open Water courses on Koh Tao range from 9,200 to 10,800 baht ($300–350 USD) — without accommodation. (Once upon a time, almost every dive school on the island bundled accommodation in with their courses, but that’s becoming more and rarer outside the largest dive resorts. If accommodation is included, it’s a very basic fan room — or you can upgrade to a nicer one at a discount.)

Though it’s less common these days, many schools will have a videographer come along on dives 3 and 4 and make a 10-20-minute music video–style recording of your day. At night, the class will gather to watch it. Depending on the video company, they may charge you a flat rate for a copy or base it on how many copies are sold — so you can take one home for anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 baht ($32–97 USD). Some schools have switched to providing still photos instead, which you can purchase as part of a package — expect to pay around 300 baht ($10 USD) for one photo or 1,000 ($32 USD) for a set of several.

Though it’s not an agency standard, many schools have a policy that students can’t bring their own cameras out on Open Water Courses, so don’t freak if you aren’t allowed to bring your GoPro — they aren’t trying to bully you into buying a video or photo package; they are trying to keep you safe, keep you focused, and avoid damage to reefs and marine life until buoyancy is mastered.

For divers who have already completed their Open Water course, fun dives cost around 700–1,000 baht ($23–32 USD) each, depending on how many dives you’ll do and if you have your own equipment. Those with time and money constraints will want to make it a priority to visit at least one of Koh Tao’s premier dive sites.

What are the Can’t-Miss Dive Sites?

Alex in Wanderland leaping into the water to start a dive in Thailand
If you’re a brand new diver doing your Open Water course on Koh Tao, quite frankly, it doesn’t matter where you go — you’re going to love it! You’ll be so focused on your skills and the magic of breathing underwater for the first time, you won’t really notice the differences between different dive sites yet anyway.

Twins
Twins is a very common training dive site used for dives 1 or 2 of the Open Water course. Twins sits just off the coast of Koh Nang Yuan and is perfect for new divers, thanks to its shallow depth. A highlight here is the family of rare saddleback clownfish inside an anemone that you can’t miss — there’s a ring of rocks around it!

White Rock
White Rock is another one of the most commonly visited dive sites on Koh Tao, frequently for dive 4 of the Open Water course. It’s an enormous dive site, providing a wide sampling of Koh Tao’s marine life — including the odd sea turtle who lumbers through. Read more about diving White Rock here.

Southwest
Southwest is a collection of pinnacles carpeted in soft coral anemone and
the pink anemonefish that accompany them. This is a great site for spotting barracuda and giant groupers. It’s located 13km southwest of Koh Tao and is almost always visited on the morning boats. With pinnacle depths from 6m to 27m, it’s perfect for anyone from Open Water certified and up. (Feeling adventurous? There’s a secret pinnacle here as well.) Read more about diving Southwest here.

Shark Island
Shark Island is so named for its resemblance to a dorsal fin, rather than an abundance of certain toothy fish. The north side is best known for its diversity of coral, while the south side has unique soft corals you won’t see elsewhere on Koh Tao. The rocky outcrop is located southeast of Koh Tao and is a less commonly visited site due to both its location and its often challenging conditions — both current and visibility can be a struggle here. Read more about diving Shark Island here.

HTMS Sattakut
This former US Navy ship was sunk in June 2011 off the coast of Sairee Beach and has become home to Jenkins’ whiprays, great barracuda, and dozens of gobies playing hide-and-seek in rusty crevices. The wreck doesn’t start until about 18m and sits down at 30m, so you really need to be Advanced Open Water certified or do a Deep Adventure Dive to enjoy it fully. To penetrate, you must have or be training for a wreck specialty.

One of the HTMS Sattakut’s greatest assets is its location less than 15m from neighboring dive site Hin Pee Wee. So you can compliment a spin around
the wreck with a zip around the coral reef. Hin Pee Wee features several pinnacles, a resident turtle, and some impressive macro life. Read more about diving the HTMS Sattakut here.

Chumphon
Chumphon is a submerged granite pinnacle covered in colorful sea anemone and surrounded by large schools of trevally, batfish, and barracuda. Lucky divers will spot giant groupers, pompanos, and even whale sharks. Due to its depth, this is a dive site best enjoyed by Advanced Open Water students.

Chumphon is almost always visited on the morning boats. Due to the distance — it’s 11km from Koh Tao — and the size of this dive site, some schools schedule two dives in a row here. Read more about diving Chumphon here.

Sail Rock
Sail Rock is considered the premier dive site in the Gulf of Thailand. Don’t miss “the chimney,” a beloved, not-so-secret swim-through, and a deeper secondary pinnacle east of the main rock. This granite, deep-ocean pinnacle rises from 30m and breaches the surface, a welcome sight after the two-hour boat ride from Koh Tao.

Occasionally, you can get lucky and complete dives 3 and 4 of your open water here for an extra fee, though generally, this is a specialty trip costing anywhere from 2,500 to 3,500 baht ($81–113 USD) and including three dives, breakfast, lunch, and a beer on the way back. A handful of schools take trips to Sail Rock but most only go once a week, so plan accordingly. Read more about diving Sail Rock here.

When to Dive on Koh Tao

A colorful school f fish in the waters of Koh Tao, Thailand
Most island divemasters agree that April and May are the best months — they’re warm and clear, and the sea is flat. And in recent years, they’ve been chock full of whale shark sightings! Plus you could time your trip to spend Songkran (Thai New Year’s) on Koh Tao (mid-April).

That said, there isn’t really a bad time to dive on Koh Tao, outside of November and December, when winds and can be high and the weather can be dicey, causing boat rides to be unpleasant and visibility to be poor.

***

Learning to dive on Koh Tao should be approached with caution, as it can lead to a very serious addiction to the diving hobby and lifestyle! Many a dive virgin has arrived by ferry with plans to stay a few days and get certified, only to find themselves months later calling the island home and working toward becoming a scuba diving instructor.

Alexandra Baackes is the author of The Wanderland Guide to Koh Tao (which is an incredible guide to the island! and founder of Wander Women Retreats, which hosts an annual women’s dive and yoga retreat on Koh Tao. She overshares about travel, diving, and life as an entrepreneur on her blog Alex in Wanderland and on her Instagram @alexinwanderland.

 

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Thailand travel guideMy detailed, 350+ page guidebook is made for budget travelers like you! It cuts out the fluff found in other guidebooks and gets straight to the practical information you need to travel and save money while in Thailand, a country I used to call home (so I know it really well!). You’ll find suggested itineraries, budgets, ways to save money, on and off the beaten path things to see and do, non-touristy restaurants, markets, and bars, and much more!! Click here to learn more and get started.

Book Your Trip to Thailand: 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 places to stay are:

  • The Dearly Koh Tao Hostel – The eco-friendly hostel offers a bar, cafe, restaurant, pool, and rooftop terrace. It’s a great place to relax and connect with other travelers.
  • Gecko Republic Jungle Hostel – You’ll be hard pressed to find a cleaner hostel with staff as friendly as those that work at Gecko. It’s easy to meet people here and there is AC available too!

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

The post The Complete Guide to Diving in Koh Tao appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.





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12 Ways to Be Prepared for Anything While Traveling

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be prepared like a boy scout
Updated: 9/2/2019 | September 2nd, 2019

When I was a kid, I was a Boy Scout. I made it pretty far too, but then I became a teenager, decided it was “lame,” and quit. As a Boy Scout, I learned how to tie knots, camp outdoors, be a good citizen, play with knives, and got to have cool sleepovers.

One of the most important things you learn as a Boy Scout is their motto to always “be prepared,” and as I’ve grown up and traveled the world, I’ve found this to also be a travel truism.

You never know what might happen on the road.

Stepping out your door into the unknown is what makes travel so exciting. Each day brings endless possibility, but that possibility is for both good and bad. You may end up enjoying a day sightseeing in Paris — or getting robbed in Berlin. You may spend an amazing day on the beaches of Thailand — or suffer food poisoning in Costa Rica.

But if you’re prepared, you’ll be able to face whatever happens to you on the road:

1. Take Multipurpose Gear

Packing multiuse gear ensures you can easily adjust to changing conditions and helps reduce the amount of clothing you need to take. For example, I like pants that zip off into shorts, walking shoes that look nice enough for an evening out, and using my swim trunks as a pair of shorts. This saves room in my bag while money since I don’t need to buy as much stuff. This always ensures you are dressed for any occasion (after all, who knows when you’ll suddenly find yourself invited to party?!).

Here are some posts on gear that can help you:

2. Carry a Small First Aid Kit

While we live in 2019, not 1919, and you can find modern medicine anywhere in the world, I always carry a small first aid kit with me with a few essential items to be safe. I take Tylenol, stomach illness medicine, eyedrops, Band-Aids, scissors, hydrocortisone cream, antibacterial ointment, and a small supply of doctor-approved antibiotics. I’m usually able to find a pharmacy when I need one, but in case of an emergency, it’s good to have these items handy.

Here’s a detailed guide on putting together a first aid kit.

(And, on a similar note, here are 10 ways to avoid getting sick on the road.)

3. Pack a Small Flashlight

You’d be surprised how many travelers don’t carry one, but a flashlight will prove to be invaluable when you suddenly decide to go caving in Panama, when your hike lasts longer than expected and nightfall sets in, or when the electricity goes out unexpectedly, which is not uncommon in a lot of places. I carry a small, waterproof pen flashlight when I travel.

4. Carry a Reusable Water Bottle (with a Filter)

Water is life, and while it’s unlikely you’re going to be lost out in a desert or the jungle, it always pays to be prepared. Carrying a reusable water bottle and filter will not only save you money as a traveler, but it will also prevent tons of single-use plastic from ending up in landfills or the ocean. And yes, should an emergency arise you’ll be prepared. Most people can survive for 3 weeks without food — but you’ll only make it 3 days without water. Never leave home without a reusable bottle and filter, such as a SteriPen or LifeStraw.

5. Learn Basic Phrases

Locals don’t expect you to be an expert in their language, but knowing how to say “hello,” “goodbye,” and “thank you” go a long way in endearing yourself to locals. After all, wouldn’t you be annoyed if someone came to your home and expected you to know their language?

Knowing a few key phrases will not only make interactions easier, but it will also help you when you bargain for goods, order food, get lost, or need help.

Lonely Planet makes excellent pocket language guides for just about every language spoken, and Benny Lewis wrote this excellent guide on learning languages.

6. Study Nonverbal Communication

Most people interact using both verbal and nonverbal communication, so paying attention to facial expressions can help you appropriately read a situation, even if you don’t understand the verbal part. When you don’t know the language or might take words out of context, keep calm and take a moment to read the feelings of the person. This has helped me defuse tense situations with taxi drivers, vendors, and hotel owners. Understanding nonverbal communication doesn’t happen overnight. It takes practice, but these websites offer:

7. Keep Emergency Cash with You

While there is almost always an ATM around these days, you never know when emergency cash might come in handy. You could end up in an airport (like I recently did) and find that none of your ATM cards work and you are stuck without any money. I recommend having a stash of $200 USD for emergency situations. I don’t carry this money around but leave it in my hotel room safe in case something happens. It will be useful if you get robbed or lose your wallet.

8. Have Backup Credit and Bank Cards

I always keep one backup credit card and bank card with me in case of emergencies. You never know when one bank might decide to lock your account for suspicious activity without telling you (yes, that has also happened to me) or when you might get robbed. I recently had my bank account information stolen while I was traveling in Europe. My bank had to deactivate my card, and if I hadn’t had a second one with me, I wouldn’t have had access to any money.

Here are some helpful blog posts on credit cards and banking for you:

9. Make Copies of Your Passport and Important Documents

Keeping copies of your documents can come in handy during an emergency, especially if you lose your originals. If you get robbed or lose your passport, having copies ready for officials can make filing police reports and obtaining new documents much easier. When I lost my passport, my backup copies helped with my police report and served as my proof of identity at the American embassy. Copy your passport, your health/travel insurance paperwork, and your credit cards.

10. Carry a List of Emergency Contacts

If something happens to you, having a list of emergency numbers on you will help medical professionals know who to contact. I also keep a list of my allergies with me so if I need treatment and can’t answer questions, doctors know what I’m allergic to.

I keep two copies: one with me and one in my bag in my hotel room. Because having backups are important!

11. Have Travel Insurance

The ultimate form of preparedness, having travel insurance will be a blessing when you have to go to the hospital because you popped an eardrum scuba diving, get sick on the road, or break a leg. Chances are nothing is going to happen to you while traveling, but for when it does, you are going to want to have insurance. Only a fool travels without it.

Here’s a list of suggested articles on how to pick the best travel insurance:

12. Read Before You Go

There’s nothing more important than knowing about the place you’re visiting. Head to a library or bookstore and get a few books on what life is like where you’re going. If someone came into your home and ignored all your rules, you would get upset — the same guidelines are applicable when you travel overseas. Knowing basic rules and etiquette can help you avoid any misunderstandings and leave a favorable impression in your host’s minds. Otherwise, you could end up like this British couple who were jailed for kissing in public in Dubai. (That’s a big no-no in Middle Eastern countries.)

***

You never know when you might face the unexpected, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my years of traveling, it’s that even the best-laid plans can go awry. You may not use these items all the time, and, hopefully, you won’t ever need some of them, but the point is to be ready when you do. After all, a scout is always prepared.

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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 12 Ways to Be Prepared for Anything While Traveling appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.





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17 Things to See and Do in Taiwan

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The skyline of Taipei in Taiwan with nature in the foreground
Posted: 9/3/2019 | September 3rd, 2019

I used to live in Taiwan for a few months as an English teacher. I loved the time there and have always felt the country was really under appreciated. So, in this is a guest post by Carrie Kellenberger from My Several Worlds and an expat living in Taiwan for ten years, she lists out all the amazing things you should see and do there.

Every country in Asia is beautiful, but Taiwan is special for many reasons. The people are warm and hospitable. In March 2019, Taiwan was listed as the happiest place in East Asia.

While it might be a small island, you would be amazed at the never-ending variety of sights and fun things to do here. With over a hundred mountain peaks above 3,000 meters, over a hundred hot springs scattered around the island, both golden and black-sand beaches, nine national parks, world-class museums, glittering skyscrapers, stunning temples, and a huge number of night markets that are second to none, Taiwan has something that everyone can enjoy.

To this day, nearly 14 years after I moved here, I still think Taiwan is one of Asia’s best-kept travel destination.

Here are some of the best ways to spend your time in Taiwan:

1. Eat, Eat Eat!

A busy market at night in Taiwan
The national pastime in Taiwan is eating. Taiwanese, both adults and children, are very work and study oriented, so their lifestyles demand healthy food that is available on the go. Moreover, there is always an abundance of fruits and vegetables, so visiting a local market can be a delight when you find out how cheap it is to eat fresh food.

As a result, Taiwan has become an epicurean’s playground. The food scene is an international smorgasbord of culinary delights, for every budget and almost every diet.

Night Markets
While there are five-star international restaurants of every variety throughout the country, the night markets are where the real gastronomes go. They promise to keep your belly full while your wallet remains relatively unscathed.

There are over 30 night markets in Taipei, New Taipei, and Keelung (and over 70 night markets across Taiwan). If you’re not sure which one to choose, visit this list of night markets in Taiwan and take your pick. My personal favorites are Shilin, Keelung, and Roahe Street in Taipei.

Here are a few things you should try:

  • Xiao long bao, also known as soup dumplings, a favorite staple food here. They are made out of a thin pastry folded into a type of bag that is then stuffed full with a meat-and-vegetable mixture and a tiny amount of soup, then garnished with raw ginger and soy sauce. Biting into one of these is a flavor explosion in your mouth. Plenty of street vendors at night markets offer fresh xiao long bao for around $2 USD for a basket of 10-12. There is really no reason not to try them. I’ve yet to meet a visitor to Taiwan who hasn’t loved their xiao long bao experience. I promise you will not be disappointed.
  • Oyster vermicelli
  • Oyster omelets
  • Beef noodle soup
  • Deep-fried chicken
  • Tian bu la (a type of fish cake fried with coriander with a dash of pepper and spice)
  • Sweet Taiwanese sausage or BBQ on a stick
  • Stinky tofu
  • “Coffin bread” (a tasty bread bowl shaped like a coffin)
  • Pig’s blood cake (It’s made from pig’s blood, sticky rice and soy broth and tastes much better than it sounds, I promise!)
  • Shaved ice
  • Zhen zhu nai cha (Taiwanese bubble tea)
  • Taiwan Beer (it’s the most popular local beer)

No matter what you decide on, you’re sure to have a great meal at a low cost while experiencing Taiwanese culture at its very best. You’ll be amazed at what you can buy for dinner for just $5 USD! You’ll definitely find some things that you hate, but you’ll also find things that you’ll love. It’s all part of the experience, right?

2. Visit a Taiwanese Teahouse

a tea house in Taiwan with a teapot ready to pour into cups

Tea culture in Taiwan is wonderful, and there are many options for tea lovers.

  • Maokong Gondola – This gondola will whisk you four kilometers to a mountain peak in a glass-bottomed cable car, from which you can view the tea plantations built into the side of the mountain as you zoom up. You can catch it at the Taipei Zoo MRT station; a ride costs 120 NT ($4 USD) each way. Once you’re at the top, there are several winding paths for a pleasant mountaintop stroll and a great selection of teahouses to choose from when you’re ready to enjoy a cup of fresh mountain tea.
  • Jiufen – If you’re heading out of Taipei, Jiufen is one of Taiwan’s most popular tourist destinations, owing to its appearance in the Studio Ghibli film Spirited Away. This seaside mountain village offers some terrific shopping opportunities, as well as all the different kinds of foods you see in the movie. It’s one of my favorite places, because it is also home to some beautiful teahouses in the most glorious setting. Imagine sitting at the top of a mountain, looking out over the ocean in the comfort of a traditional tea house. It is truly a magical experience, especially if you can get there for sunset. Go on a weekday to avoid the large weekend crowds.
  • Jwu Jiu Teahouse – If you make it as far south as Chiayi, be sure to find Jwu Jiu Teahouse, a hidden gem that is like taking a step back into the past. Jwu Jiu is a traditional wooden teahouse set above enormous stone ponds filled with hundreds of giant, brightly colored koi. Feed the fish while sipping on your tea, and enjoy some traditional dim sum in the loveliest setting you’ve ever seen. The grounds belong to a local family, and the teahouse uses a well that is over a century old, in which the water still runs deep and pure. The owner has kept most of the original structures and bricks, plus a hundred-year-old Osmanthus tree, which is associated with many traditions in China and Taiwan. If you’re a history buff, you’ll enjoy the teahouse’s long history, displayed with pride and obvious care.

3. Check out the Northern Coastline

the lunar-like landscape of Yehliu Geopark, Taiwan
Head to the coast for some incredible lunar-like landscapes at Yehliu Geopark. There are some unique, otherworldly rock formations, including one that looks like Queen Elizabeth (though it took over 4,000 years to form) that are a popular tourist attraction. Try to get there early to beat the crowds.

4. Hit the Beaches

beautiful Taiwan coastline in the north
The beaches of Kenting on the southern tip of the island offer fun in the sun. White Sand Bay is the most popular and a great place to soak up the sun, swim, snorkel, or even go diving (just keep an eye out for jellyfish!). Other great beaches are South Bay and Little Bali Bay.

5. Soak in the Hot Springs

the Beitou Hot Springs just outside Taipei, Taiwan
Taipei has its very own active volcano in its backyard, and because of the volcanic activity in the area, Beitou Hot Springs enjoys a steady stream of visitors and locals who love to bathe in its healthy waters. Prices start around 40 NT ($1.30 USD) per person for a soak in the hot springs, making it a very affordable choice for anyone looking for some R&R.

6. Go Island Hopping

a beautiful sandy beach on Penghu Island, Taiwan
The beautiful islands of Penghu just off Taiwan’s western coastline will delight your sense of wanderlust and are especially well known for their golden beaches. This island archipelago has islands that are all distinct.

Boats will drop you off at one island for a few hours and then take you to the next one, so you can literally go from snorkeling to observing sea turtles to wandering through traditional aboriginal villages made out of coral in a single day.

7. See Old Taiwan

a lighthouse on Matsu Island, Taiwan
Two groups of islands that make up the Kinmen Archipelago off the west coast of Taiwan, just a couple miles from mainland China — and they are old Taiwan at its best. Here you’ll be able to see some traditional architecture, and there are also insightful museums that highlight the ongoing tensions between the People’s Republic and Taiwan.

8. Get Off the Beaten Track on Orchid Island and Green Island

getting off the beaten path on the rugged Orchid Island, Taiwan
Located just off the southeastern coast, these lush islands are a treat to visit. Here you’ll find hiking, swimming, diving, and amazing hot springs. You can also get further off the beaten path and have an adventure by renting a scooter to traveling around the islands yourself!

9. Explore the Green Mountains

the view from Jade Mountain, Taiwan
Grab a scooter and head up into the green mountains, which extend over five ranges the length of the island. If you want to stretch your legs, climb to the summit of beautiful Jade Mountain and watch the sunrise; this beautiful peak is almost 4,000 meters above sea level, making Taiwan the world’s fourth-highest island.

10. Visit Wuling Peak on Hehuan Mountain

hiking on Hehuan Mountain, Taiwan
If you’re still craving some climbing and hiking, head to Wuling Peak on Hehuan Mountain, around 3,275 meters above sea level, making it another good hike for anyone looking to spend more time outdoors. But what really makes this place special is that the peak is so high, you can look down into a sea of clouds below!

11. Go Hiking in Taroko National Park

Taroko Gorge, Taiwan
Ready for another city break? This national park offers visitors a chance to hike through mountainous terrain and gorges, and you can even stop to dip your feet in swiftly flowing mountain rivers. Covering just under 100,000 hectares, it’s one of only nine national parks in Taiwan. Admission is free.

12. Head East

some of Taiwan's beautiful eastern coastline with tall cliffs
To really enjoy Taiwan’s majestic beauty, don’t forget Taiwan’s eastern coastline. The east coast highway has some of the most dramatic coastal scenery in the world, from plunging sea cliffs and splashing surf to beaches, nature reserves, and rural towns a world away from the big city.

13. Witness Some Chaos

the busy food markets of Taiwan
Check out the feeding frenzy of the markets in Taipei, or enjoy a stroll around cool Ximending, the gay district and Taipei’s answer to Tokyo’s Shibuya. Ximending boasts a massive outdoor plaza behind the Red House (a well-known cultural landmark) and a pedestrian shopping zone filled with the latest fashion trends, coffee shops, restaurants, and local artisans.

Give yourself bonus points for checking out all the super cool graffiti; you won’t find it on the main thoroughfares, but if you venture onto some of the smaller side streets, you’ll soon find yourself in world of brightly decorated alleys and lanes.

14. See Tianhou Temple

Tianhou Temple, Taiwan; photo by Wayne Hsieh (@whsieh78)
While you’re in Ximending, it’s worth stopping by one of the oldest temples in the city, Tianhou (also known as the Ximending Mazu Temple, after the in-house deity Mazu, goddess of the sea). Around since 1746, it’s one of three major temples in Taiwan from the Qing period. It’s located on a main thoroughfare — but it’s very easy to miss the entrance.

Stepping through the entrance to this beautiful Taoist temple filled with mythological creatures, smoky incense, lucky goldfish, and people paying respect to the gods is truly a surreal experience. You’d never know this quiet oasis is in one of the busiest areas of Taipei!

15. Explore Fo Guang Shan Monastery

Fo Guang Shan Monastery, Taiwan
If you have your own ride in Kaohsiung, I strongly encourage you to stop by Fo Guang Shan Monastery and pay homage to the monks that live there. An ultra-Zen monastery open to the public, the complex is massive and stunning, leading to the Great Path of Buddhahood, a broad pathway flanked by eight identical pagodas.

You can explore each as you walk your way up to the Big Buddha, the highest seated bronze Buddha in the world. I’ve been to many temples and monasteries in my lifetime, but this one takes the cake.

16. Visit a Taiwanese Aboriginal Village

locals making food at a Taiwanese Aboriginal village
There are many knowledgeable local guides that can introduce you to the aboriginal way of life in Taiwan. The Formosa Aboriginal Culture Village near Sun Moon Lake is the most popular destination to learn more, but it’s certainly not the only one — there are lots of villages to choose from.

17. Take Part in the Pingxi Lantern Festival

red overhanging lanterns at the Taiwan Pingxi Lantern Festival
One of the coolest events in Taiwan, the Pingxi Lantern Festival involves releasing hundreds of paper lanterns into the sky. (Many newlyweds also include this meaningful tradition as a part of their wedding celebration.) If you don’t want to brave the crowds, you can easily purchase a lantern and light one on any of Taiwan’s beaches.

Taiwan is very environmentally friendly, so make sure you go with the eco-friendly paper lantern options that disintegrate, leaving no residue, and don’t cause fires. The company My Taiwan Tour also currently offers biodegradable paper lantern tours in Shifen.

***

There are many things about Taiwan that make it an incredible place to live; it’s easy to take some of those things for granted once you’ve been here for a while. I frequently hear that people think Taiwan is very Westernized, and while I agree that it is to some extent, there are still plenty of authentic Taiwanese experiences to be had!

Taiwan is and continues to be an unexpected travel destination that continues to delight visitors to this day. There is no place like it!

Canadian expat Carrie Kellenberger has been living in Asia since 2003. She moved to Taiwan in 2006 and became a permanent resident in 2012. She loves entertaining guests and travelers to Taiwan. You can read about her adventures and life there at her blog, My Several Worlds.

Book Your Trip to Taiwan: 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 Taipei are:

  • Formosa 101 – This hostel is located right near the Taipei Tower and the Tonghua Night Market. They offer free breakfast and have a laid back lounge for relaxing.
  • Meander Taipei – The staff here is really helpful and the beds are comfy. They have free breakfast as well as other daily activities available.

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 credits: 9 – David Hsu, 15 – Yi Chen, 16 – Huicheng1967

The post 17 Things to See and Do in Taiwan appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.





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27 Golden Rules For Becoming a Master Traveler

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nomadic matt's golden rules of travel
Updated: 9/2/2019 | September 2nd, 2019

Every industry has its own “best practices” — proven rules and standards that guide the industry and the people in it. Travel is no different. There are many “rules to live by” that can help us navigate the unknown world with fewer mistakes.

I have my own golden travel rules.

Over the past ten years, I’ve learned a lot of tips and tricks that have helped me thrive when I travel. When I first set out in 2006, I made a lot of mistakes. (Ok, I still make some mistakes.)

And that’s not a bad thing. If you don’t make mistakes, you aren’t trying new things and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.

Mistakes are going to happen.

But, over the years, I’ve developed a list of 27 golden rules for travel. These guidelines help me save money, make friends, stay safe, and fit into the local culture.

If you follow them, you’ll become a master traveler, able to travel the world with swashbuckling zeal and expert ninja-like knowledge… all without breaking the bank so you can keep cutting a path forward through the world for longer:

1. Be adventurous – You only live once. You’re going to get chances to do wild things you’ve never dreamed of doing when you travel. Don’t hold back. Count to three, say “screw it,” and take the leap. You didn’t come this far for nothing. Say yes when someone asks you to go rock climbing, salsa dancing, spelunking, or try the world’s hottest pepper despite not liking spicy food.

There’s no one around to judge you. No one cares what you do. No rumors will be spread. Push yourself to do something new and daring at least one.

2. Get a no-fee ATM card – Why give your money to the banks? Get an ATM card that doesn’t charge any fees and use that extra money for more traveling. Over the long term those $2-5 charges really add up. I use Charles Schwab as my bank, but you can also find many others that offer no-fee accounts — or use a one that is part of the Global ATM Alliance, and pay no fees within that network.

This article can show you how to avoid bank fees when you travel (and will give you a list of suggested cards too).

3. Get a rewards credit card – Why pay for travel when you can get it for free? Use a travel rewards credit card to earn points and miles that can be redeemed for free travel.

You’re already spending the money anyway so why not get rewarded for it?

Travel credit cards come with tons of perks and huge bonuses that can be redeemed for free flights right away. Plus, they get you the best exchange rate on your purchases.

Having one is an absolute must.

Want to know how I get hundreds of thousands of points per year and fly for free? Sign up for my free primer on the art of travel hacking and I’ll show you.

4. Always carry backups – Always carry a backup bank and credit card in case one is lost, stolen, or hacked. That way while you are fixing the issue, you still have access to your money. Instead of the problem crippling your trip, it merely is an annoyance. This has happened to me before and, I can ensure you, you’ll be thankful you followed this advice!

5. Only carry what you need – When you leave to go out for the day, only care the cash you need and one credit card. You don’t want to get robbed and lose everything. Leave the backups and extra locked back at your hostel!

6. Join a frequent flier program – Get rewarded for all of those flights you’ll be taking by joining a frequent flier program. That way you’ll earn miles, perks for flying, and free flights. Miles are like money — and you wouldn’t waste money, would you? No! So, sign up for a loyalty program, and collect points. Even if it takes you years to get a free flight, at least you are not being wasteful!

7. Travel alone at least once – Few things are as liberating as solo travel. As a solo traveler, you’re free to do whatever you want. When you travel solo, the world is your oyster. You’re free to do whatever you want, whenever you want. To me, it’s the purest sense of freedom there is.

But beyond that sense of freedom, solo travel actually teaches you a lot about yourself. Travel is an amazing personal development tool after all, and solo travel is one of the best ways to learn and grow and challenge yourself.

Without anyone around you, you have to solve the problems you face on the road. You have to figure out how to get from point A to B, deal with people who speak a different language, get comfortable eating alone, find things to do, and work out problems that arise. It’s you and your wits. That forces you to grow in ways you won’t in the comfort of your home or with a group.

While it won’t be for everyone, I still encourage everyone to try solo travel at least once. Even if you don’t love it, you’ll learn a ton about yourself in the process.

8. Learn basic phrases – Locals don’t expect you to be an expert in the local language, but learning a few basic phrases will go a long way to endearing you and making them go the extra mile for you. It will bring a smile to their face that you tried! “Hello,” “how are you?” and “thank you” go a long, long way no matter where you go.

9. Stay in hostels – Get to know other travelers and experience the communal spirit of traveling by staying in hostels a few times. They aren’t all the dirty party places you see in movies. Most hostels are very clean, offer breakfast, have comfy beds and Wi-Fi, organize events, and know the local area very well. They also aren’t just for young backpackers; you’ll find people of all ages (and even some families) staying there. Try them out. You may like it.

Here is a list of the best hostels in the world to get you started!

10. Use tourist boards – Local tourist offices are a wealth of knowledge. When you get to a new destination, visit the tourist office and ask the staff an insane number of questions about the place. They exist solely to help you get the most of your visit and it’s their job to know everything and everything about a place. Plus, they often have tons of discounts not found anywhere else.

Visiting one is often one of the first things I do in a new city.

11. Try new foods – Culture is often best experienced through food. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Get out of your comfort zone and experiment. You might actually like it (those fried caterpillars in Zambia were delicious!).

12. Be flexible with your plans – Travel is a series of happy accidents with way leading to way. Don’t skip going to that random city with the friends you just met because your itinerary says something different. You’ll regret it.

Go with the flow and be open to new things.

This will make your travels a lot more stress-free.

12. Pack light – Take it from a former over-packer: you never need half the stuff you take. Put everything you think you need in a pile and then remove half of it. The lighter you travel, the easier you travel.

Here’s our suggested packing lists:

14. Take extra money – Something always happens that you never planned for that will cost you extra money. I never thought I would fly last-minute to Fiji, need to replace my camera in Italy, or buy an extra iPhone cable in Australia. Always take extra money just in case. You may not need it, but you don’t want to be without a little extra when something bad happens.

When you start planning for your trip, set aside a $300-500 emergency slush fund in for accidents.

15. Get lost – Meander through a new city without a map. Get lost — because in the end, you aren’t really getting lost, you’re just discovering new experiences. So put down the map and wander. Eventually, you’ll find your way.

16. Call home – Your parents miss you. Don’t forget to call and say hello.

17. Get a phone — It will be easier to stay in touch with friends (and call home), meet up with other travelers, and contact hostels with a phone. SIM cards and prepaid phones are cheap, so there’s no excuse not to stay connected.

But don’t be glued to your phone. I see too many people hooked on their phone these days. But it is still a good idea to carry one for emergencies, especially when they are so accessible and affordable now.

18. Travel slow – This isn’t a race or a competition. I know you want to get a lot in with your limited time, but you see a lot more when you see a lot less. Travel slow and experience each place. Don’t race from train station to station; that will set you up for a stressful, unenjoyable time. With travel, less is more.

19. Live somewhere once – Stop at least once. Get to know a place. Learn the language. Make local friends. Explore. Become the local. Living in a foreign place gives you a different perspective on life and a real sense of what it’s like to be an outsider.

Plus, living a foreign place and surviving will help you gain a lot of confidence.

20. Avoid taxis – They just cost a lot. Don’t use them unless you don’t have any other option.

21. Bring a reusable water bottle – Not only are all those disposable plastic water bottles bad for the environment but the cost adds up over time. A water bottle here, a water bottle there, and you’ve spent $50 on water alone. Get a reusable bottle and drink the tap water in conjunction with a SteriPen or LifeStraw water purifier.

22. Buy travel insurance – You never know what could happen on the road — but something always does. I’ve had to deal with lost baggage, broken gear, delayed flights, and even some pretty serious injuries. Without travel insurance, I would have not only had to pay out of pocket for these expenses but I would have been left to navigate them alone.

Buy travel insurance so that if you’re injured or you break your camera, you’re covered. Plus, you’re friends and family will be able to relax knowing that, should something happen, you’re covered. It’s only a few dollars a day. It’s worth the peace of mind.

Here’s the link to our resource page with all our articles on the subject!

23. Bring basic first-aid – Cuts and scrapes happen, and you can get what you need most anywhere in the world, but it’s still good to carry bandages, antibacterial cream, and some hydrocortisone cream in your first aid kit just in case. Also, carry duct tape — you’ll never know when it’ll come in handy.

Here are some tips on how to pack a suggested first add kit.

24. Get off the beaten path London, Paris, and the temples of Kyoto are all amazing for a reason, but get off the beaten path, go away from the crowds, and explore on your own. Find something new, stick out, meet the locals, and discover. The road less traveled is usually a good one.

25. Take photos of your friends – Years from now, you’ll want to look back at your younger self and see all the people who changed your life. Nostalgia can be a wonderful thing. Make sure you take photos of your friends. You’ll want them later.

26. Use the sharing economy – The rise of the sharing economy has made backpacking so much easier and cheaper. From ridesharing, house sharing, and meetup websites, there are so many ways you can get off the tourist trail and experience day-to-day life with locals! Here are some suggested websites:

  • Couchsurfing (free shared accommodation with locals)
  • Airbnb (paid accommodation with locals)
  • BlaBlaCar (rideshare app)
  • EatWith (share a meal with local cooks)
  • Vayable (for finding local tours and activities)

And finally, the most important tip of them all….

27. Ignore all my tips and do whatever you want – It’s your trip. Go where you want, when you want, and for how long you want. Don’t worry about this or that. Make mistakes. Learn. Make more mistakes. Have fun and become a better traveler. At the end of the day, you won’t look back and think “if only I had more miles” but instead “damn, that was a lot of fun.”

So get out there and have some fun!

You deserve it.

How to Travel the World on $50 a Day

how to travel the world on $50 a dayMy New York Times best-selling paperback guide to world travel will teach you how to master the art of travel save money, get off the beaten path, and have a more local, richer travel experiences. It will teach you everything you need to know about travel!

Click here to learn more about the book and how you can start reading it today!
 
 
 

Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks

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

Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld 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 27 Golden Rules For Becoming a Master Traveler appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.





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FLYTE Update: Here’s What Happened to the Students We Sent to Colombia

Posted By : webmaster/ 268 0


the FLYTE students on a field trip in Colombia standing in front of a yellow church
Posted: 8/26/2019 | August 26th, 2019

When I started my nonprofit Foundation for Learning and Youth Travel Education (FLYTE), my goal was to make international travel accessible to low-income youth across the country, who are incredibly passionate and smart but would never have the opportunity to travel abroad otherwise.

Earlier this year, we raised $15,000 to send a group of kids from Envision Academy to Colombia.

Located in Oakland California, Envision Academy uses an innovative project-based learning model to ensure that its students — the majority of whom live below the poverty line — are ready for post-secondary education and beyond. (Most are first-generation immigrants and will be the first in their family to go to college.)

Last month, they returned from their exciting trip to the country so I wanted to share some of what they did and learned, so you can see what your support accomplished. For most of the students, it was their first time in another country and, needless to say, it had a big impact on them.

Our group started in Bogotá, where they climbed to the top of Cerro de Monserrate and explored Plaza Bolívar, where Jeremy, the teacher leading the trip, gave a cross-curricular lecture about Simon Bolívar, Colombia’s history during the drug cartel years, and the architecture around them. They also went on a street art tour led by two local artists, on which they learned all about art techniques and the political climate that prompted many of the pieces that they saw.

the FLYTE students enjoying a street art tour in Colombia

The students immediately started seeing commonalities between Oakland and Colombia. Darrilyn, a fifteen year old sophomore, remarked that this trip, her first time out of the country, “changed my perceptions and preconceived notions of Colombia a lot, and I saw that it’s more like home than I previously thought.” She also “really enjoyed this walking tour because I like art and I like graffiti because it’s unconventional art and it tells the story of a person.”

Afterward, the group headed to Cartagena. They got a perfect intro to the city on a walking tour through our partner, Context Travel, during which they learned a lot about Cartagena’s history as a port for enslaved people. This resonated with the students, who stressed how important it was for more people to have this knowledge. Kai, whose new passport got its first stamp on this trip, had the realization that “when people think about Latin America, they often don’t think about people of African descent.”

the FLYTE students on a tour around Cartagena with Context Tours

Myani, who’s 17 and just graduated from Envision Academy, was equally moved: “It’s inspiring in a way because even though our ancestors were enslaved, they made the city what it is. You can see their value to the community. Even though there’s an oppressive connotation, because they were enslaved, flip it and make it a powerful lesson. Make it your own: My ancestors built this city.”

On top of all this, the students immersed themselves in Colombian cuisine by taking a street food tour with Cartagena Connections. They tried everything from ajiaco and arepas to bandeja paisa, mango biche, and a bubble gum soda.

One of the highlights of the trip was visiting Cartagena’s Barrio San Francisco with Alex Rocha from Experience Real Cartagena, whose tours are designed to make deeper connections with the marginalized communities of Colombia. (Alex’s company also operates as a social enterprise, and so the proceeds fund an after-school program for the local community.) Our students had an opportunity to connect with some of these youth through activities like drawing, dancing, and soccer, as well as through honest conversations about their shared experiences.

the FLYTE students in Colombia

Aliza, a sophomore and president of the student council who had never left the US before, felt that this was the highlight of her trip because she was able to “see the kids and understand their environment and how they live every day.” Jany, who is seventeen and served as the de-facto translator for our Spanish-speaking parents, reflected on how the kids she met “make the best out of what they have. They’re grateful and humble and always try to find something positive.”

Tayvion, a 14-year-old who also was traveling abroad for the first time, had a deep conversation with one of the Colombian kids about police brutality. When Tayvion asked if they had guns, his new friend replied, “Yes, but they never shoot.” Having drawn parallels and distinctions with his own community, Tayvion shared his devastating realization: “It made me think about how, for officers in the U.S., their first instinct is just to shoot.” (To me, that’s a sad statement coming from a kid and just shows you up much police violence is an everyday fact for many people in this country.)

the FLYTE students on a walking tour in Colombia

Throughout this entire journey, the group took part in daily reflections. They shared their experiences, learned from one another, and bonded over how they’d changed throughout the trip.

Joshua, a sophomore who had never even left California before this trip, said that the biggest lessons he’d learned were: “Do not take the things you have for granted. Do not be afraid to try new things. Finally, don’t be scared to learn about new people.”

Waldo, who is a junior, shared that, “we should be open-minded about other cultures and people ’cause we might find some similarities between us and them. We shouldn’t judge a people or culture based on their past alone.”

the FLYTE students on a walking tour in Colombia

These new experiences not only shifted their mindset, but they also made the students think about their future and goals. Yasmeen told us, “I have a lot of dreams. There are so many benefits in the US, and I’m not going to waste my time. I should travel more and learn about different cultures.”

In addition to the knowledge that she gained, Veronica shared that her “goals are to help my community with any of the work that I do. I think this trip is going to help me achieve that because I’ve realized how similar my community is with the community of Cartagena. We can use other cities from different countries to help each other with the issues we are going through.”

Similarly, Ronald, a student who was excited to relay his experiences with his stepmom (who’s from Colombia), shared that “this trip made me open-minded to different cultures and makes me propose solidarity within communities in Oakland.”

And, in a quote I especially love, Darrilyn said of her time in Colombia: “My hopes and dreams are to be a political analyst and to travel the world. This trip showed me there is no fear to travel.”

This is why FLYTE exists: to create moments and lessons like this for students so they can see the world outside their borders and dream big.

the FLYTE students at the airport leaving for Colombia

The experiences these students had in Colombia left an indelible mark on them. Most of them had never been on a plane before their trip to Colombia. Not only did they learn about the culture and history of another country but they also discovered how a community can rise up in times of adversity.

On the last days of their trip, the students started planning how they’re going to take action back home. One of their ideas was to create a mural, much like the ones they saw in Colombia, to educate others about how Oakland continues to overcome its struggles.

Because of this trip, these youth now have a bigger understanding of the world and the power they each have to change it for the better.

***

And, so, our mission continues!

I want to thank you for helping make this happen! It takes an entire network of passionate individuals and businesses to run one of these trips, and we wanted to celebrate some of our partners who made this trip such an unforgettable experience for our students:

  • World Nomads, which donated all of our travel insurance. Knowing that they had us covered for any unforeseen circumstances, like lost luggage, gave us such peace of mind.
  • Selian Hostel in Cartegena for providing tours and breakfast for the students free of charge.
  • Javier from MYGHT travel, who made the daunting process of booking flights for a group of 20+ a seamless and stress-free experience.
  • Context Travel, which worked with us to craft unique, immersive experiences (at a discount!) for our students.
  • Alex Rocha from Experience Real Cartagena for opening up his community to us and providing us with a deep connection to the amazing people of Barrio San Francisco.
  • Bluffworks, one of our newest corporate partners, which covered the costs of three students to take this journey of a lifetime.
  • Allyson and the team from wikiHow, who highlighted us on their platform and sponsored one student on this trip.
  • The International TEFL Academy, for donating 50% of the proceeds from its Teach Abroad Film Festival to FLYTE.
  • Lo & Sons, for matching donations during our wildly successful #GivingTuesday campaign and sharing our story with their audience.
  • Lia from Practical Wanderlust, who paid her own way to join the trip and captured so many incredible photos and videos. She was also the mastermind behind FLYTE’s IG stories during the trip! We love how she was able to document the students’ experience in such an authentic, powerful, and unintrusive way.

Last, but certainly not least, many thanks to the thousands of you that donated to FLYTE. Your generosity over the years has sent 70 students on life-changing journeys abroad. The impact of these trips extends beyond just these youth. Because of you, the wave of positive change will ripple through their communities and the world at large. With them taking the lead, I know without a doubt that our future is bright. Thank you all for making such an immeasurable impact!

As the world builds walls, we’re helping tear them down and showing a new generation that there is more that brings us together than tears us apart.

If you want to learn more about FLYTE and how you can help send more students abroad, click here for more information.

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!

Photo Credit: All photos belong to Lia from Practical Wanderlust who was there helping document the trip!

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Do You Need Medical Evacuation Insurance?

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A commercial airplane flying in a dark sky
Posted: 8/29/19 | August 29th, 2019

While most budget travelers are content with a standard travel insurance package, today I wanted to talk about one specific aspect that I get asked about a lot: buying extra medical evacuation insurance.

When I first started roaming the world, I assumed that standard travel insurance would cover the cost of getting back home should I get injured abroad. Isn’t that what their “medical evacuation” coverage does?

I was shocked to discover that, more often than not, that isn’t the case.

Turns out, just because you get injured and require medical transportation doesn’t mean you get sent home.

If you read the fine print, most travel insurance companies only cover your medical transport to the “best” medical facility near where you are. This is what they call the “nearest acceptable facility.”

They decide where you go, not you.

They decide what the best facility is.

They decide what is suitable.

And once your travel insurance company sends you to a hospital, they have fulfilled their evacuation obligation to you. That means that if you’re not sent home, you could be liable to then cover the cost of getting home — which can be a lot of money.

Now, this is not to say that “regular” travel insurance is bad. It just means that people think it covers a lot more than it does and are often upset when they find out otherwise. I mean, I love travel insurance (I never leave home without it), but it’s important to know its limitations. Always read the fine print!

This is where comprehensive medical evacuation coverage can come in handy in addition to your existing travel insurance plan.

What is Medical Evacuation Insurance?

First, let’s get one thing clear: Medical evacuation insurance is not the exact same thing as travel insurance (and vice versa).

Of course, travel insurance generally includes medical evacuation insurance, but travel insurance is specifically designed to protect travelers from financial loss in the event of trip interruptions and cancelations, as well as injuries while abroad.

Cut yourself on a rock while hiking? Travel insurance will help.

Baggage lost or delayed after a flight? Travel insurance will help.

Someone pickpocket your phone? Travel insurance will help.

For most travel and medical emergencies, travel insurance will suffice.

But where it often falls short is when you need to be repatriated.

Most travel insurance plans do include decent coverage for medical evacuation — but they only take you to the nearest facility that can handle your emergency. This means:

  • No guarantee of going home
  • No guarantee of going to the absolute best medical facility to assist you
  • No guarantee of someone on the ground to walk you through the process — you’re usually left to handle all of that on your own.

And for some people, that’s not good enough.

Why is Medical Evacuation Insurance So Important?

When I was stabbed in Colombia, I went to a local hospital. I was on my own, left to navigate the process with what little broken Spanish I knew. While I received basic medical care, it was not exactly the best in the world. I flew back to the US shortly after that to get the care I needed.

I was lucky that I didn’t require surgery and that I was able to handle the situation on my own. I didn’t necessarily need medical evacuation insurance for that incident.

But not everyone will be that lucky. Earthquakes, monsoons, hurricanes, floods, and fires do happen — and the list goes on.

Each and every year, 10 million travelers are hospitalized abroad — with over two million requiring medical transportation!
And should you need to be evacuated due to an injury, weather event, or political crisis, you definitely don’t want to be stuck with a pricey repatriation bill. After all, evacuation and transportation aren’t cheap. Costs for a medical evacuation or medical transfer can range from $30,000 to upwards of $200,000.

Yes, you read that right: $200,000!

Unless you have that kind of money lying around, you’ll want to make sure the insurance that you buy covers you for medical evacuation, transportation, transfers, and repatriation. You don’t want to be stranded at a foreign medical facility — especially if that facility doesn’t provide the degree of care that you need.

While these sorts of emergencies are rare, it’s much better to pay a small fee now than to risk going bankrupt because of an unexpected injury. Because $200,000 is a LOT of money!

Just as important as the financial argument for medical evacuation insurance is the fact that having comprehensive coverage gives you peace of mind. You and your loved ones can relax, knowing that, should the worst happen, you have a company there that is ready and able to help you get through it. The last thing you want on your vacation is to be fretting about the fine print on your insurance policy.

Over the past 10 years, I’ve had to deal with all sorts of hiccups on the road, from minor inconveniences, like a broken camera and lost baggage, to more serious situations, like when I burst my eardrum.

Take it from me: peace of mind is worth the price.

That’s why it’s important to be prepared.

That’s why more and more travelers are ensuring they have medical evacuation insurance AND joining medical transport membership programs to ensure they can get all the way to a hospital at home.

Our Recommended Company

Medjet is a membership program that offers comprehensive medical transportation services all around the globe. They have access to hundreds of air ambulances, expert medical transport escorts and staff, 24/7 located all over the world, and if you also have their security coverage, you have 24/7 access to a global network of security and crisis experts for in-country response and evacuation if you need it!

Medjet has the best reputation for medical transport services. They were the first medical transport program in the US and have been doing it for almost 30 years. They specialize in hospital-to-hospital transport, making it the go-to company for travelers concerned about medical evacuation and repatriation. All the travel pros I know use it.

Where most insurance companies will just take you to the nearest medical facility, Medjet will make sure you get to a hospital at home.

Additionally, Medjet:

  • Allows you to choose what home hospital/medical facility you want to go to.
  • Arranges medical transfer regardless of medical necessity (this is where most travel insurance evacuation coverage falls short).
  • Provides service both within the US as well as abroad (any time you’re 150 miles or more from home it works).
  • Does not have any “adventure travel” exclusions like most insurance medical does.
  • Can initiate security response and evacuation even if there is no government warning to do so.

However, it is also extremely affordable — I’m still a budget traveler after all! Medjet offers both short-term and annual plans. An annual membership can cost as little as $295 USD per year, which is amazing value if you’re an avid traveler.

If you’re looking for coverage that goes above and beyond what most companies offer, you’ll want to consider Medjet — especially if you’re concerned about the cost of a medical evacuation.

It’s also the perfect choice for anyone looking to do adventurous activities or travelers who are heading into a region where extreme weather events (such as hurricanes or floods), fires, or earthquakes are common.

***

Nobody likes to imagine something going wrong on their trip. But accidents and emergencies do happen. Make sure you have the evacuation insurance coverage you need on your next trip. You won’t regret it!

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 Do You Need Medical Evacuation Insurance? appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.





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ICYMI: Here’s Some New Articles and Interviews!

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10 Years a Nomad by Matt Kepnes
Posted: 8/12/2019 | August 12th, 2019

As you know, after eighteen months of writing and editing, my new book, Ten Years a Nomad: A Traveler’s Journey Home, came out last month.

Unlike my previous books, this is not a “how to guide” but a collection of tips, advice, and stories from the road. It a memoir of my ten years backpacking the world and the lessons I learned along the way.

This book gets to the heart of wanderlust and what extended travel around the world can teach us about life, ourselves, and our place in the world. (Or at least tries to.)

It’s meant to show people that if I, a sheltered nerdy kid from a small town, could muster the courage to do this and survive, you can too!

Cheryl Strayed called it inspiring. The Los Angeles Times said, “This book isn’t just for travelers; it’s for anyone who has wanted more and has taken off to find it.” Tony Wheeler, the founder of Lonely Planet, loved it. So did Rolf Potts.

And, more importantly, thousands of readers who keep sending me messages that they couldn’t put it down and it renewed their wanderlust. (For a writer, that’s the best thing we can hear.)

Over the last month, I’ve done a lot of interviews, videos, podcasts, and guest posts talking not only about my book but how you can travel more often – and be a better traveler when you do.

So I wanted to share some of what I’ve been up to so you can learn more about the book and get some travel tips at the same time:
 

Recent Interviews

Here are some interviews that I’ve done on the book, my travels, and my thoughts on being a better traveler:

Go BackpackingTravel Q&A with Matthew Kepnes, Author of Ten Years a Nomad

Expert Vagabond10 Years A Nomad: An Interview With Nomadic Matt

The Broke BackpackerAn Interview With Nomadic Matt

The Daily StoicTen Years A Nomad: An Interview With Matt Kepnes on travel and philosophy

Indie Traveller10 Years A Nomad: A Q&A With Nomadic Matt

NBC NewsHow “Deep Travel” Can Help You Get More Out of Your Next Trip

 

Podcasts

Love podcasts? I did a lot! Here are some you can download and enjoy on your next plane, commute, or walk:

LandlopersETW #24 Interview with Legendary Traveler Nomadic Matt

The Offbeat LifeHow to travel smarter and create a blogging empire with Matthew Kepnes

Afford AnythingSlow Travel is Cheap Travel With Nomadic Matt

Not a Ballerina Ten Years a Nomad with Nomadic Matt Kepnes – Episode 147 of The Thoughtful Travel Podcast

Zero to TravelTen Years A Nomad With “Nomadic” Matt Kepnes

 

YouTube Videos

I did two videos with two of my favorite Youtubers:

Hey Nadine10 Lessons learned from 10 Years a Nomad

Kristen and SiyaLife Changing Travel Experiences ft. Nomadic Matt

 

Book Reviews

On the fence about if you should buy the book? Well, why? It’s great! I poured my heart into it. Come support me! But, more seriously, here’s a bunch of reviews on what people thought:

View from the WingOut Today: Nomadic Matt’s Ten Years on the Road

Women on the Road What Can I Learn From A Travel Blogger Young Enough To Be My Son?

Travel CodexBook Review: “Ten Years a Nomad” by Nomadic Matt

Travel Writers ExchangeBook Review: Ten Years a Nomad

Go Girl GuidesBook Review: 10 Years a Nomad by Matthew Kepnes

Travel LemmingWant a Long Term Relationship With Travel? Read This First

National Geographic12 Travel Books You Won’t Be Able to Put Down This Summer

BooktribOffice Worker Turned Travel Junkie in “Ten Years a Nomad”

Publishers WeeklyTen Years a Nomad: A Traveler’s Journey Home

 

New Guest Posts

And, finally, I wrote a bunch of articles about how to be a better traveler – and do it for less money! Check them out here:

One Mile at a Time5 Ways to Get the Most Out of a Destination

Free CandieYou can only “run away” for so long

Helen in Wonderlust12 Travel Tips from Ten Years of Traveling the World

Medium9 Reasons Why Travel Is the Quickest Way to Become a Better Person

Thought Catalog Why ‘Influencers’ Are Bullshit

Newsweek9 Life Lessons I Learned From Being a Nomad For Ten Years

Traveling CanucksMy 10 Favorite Countries from 10 Years as a Nomad

The Travel Women10 Honest Lessons from 10 Years of Solo Travel

TravelFreakWhat I Learned From 10 Years of Travel

Entrepreneur.comHow to Start (and Run) a 7-Figure Business While Traveling the World

The Daily BeastWhy Backpackers are Good at Saying Goodbye

Medium.comThe Challenges of Writing A Memoir

 

The “Ten Years a Nomad” Book Tour

I’m finishing up my book tour and there are still a few more destinations left. Come join me, talk travel, get a signed book, and hang out!

August 14 Portland, OR: Powell’s Books at Cedar Hills Crossing @ 7:00pm EVENT DETAILS
August 15 San Francisco, CA: Book Passage at Corte Madera @ 7pm EVENT DETAILS
August 16 Seattle, WA: Third Place Books @ 6pm EVENT DETAILS
August 19 Vancouver, BC: Indigo (Robson) @ 7:00pm EVENT DETAILS
August 26 Toronto, ON: Indigo (Bay-Bloor)@ 7:00pm EVENT DETAILS
August 31 Montreal, QC: Indigo (Place Montreal) @ 1:00pm EVENT DETAILS

****

Thank you so much for your support and love over the years. I really hope you love this book. I wanted to write something that would appeal to a wider range of readers. Please help spread the word, get a copy, and I hope to see you on the book tour.

– Nomadic Matt

Here are links to buy the new book:

An amazon blue purchase button A blue Barnes and Noble purchase button 

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 ICYMI: Here’s Some New Articles and Interviews! appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.





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What Does Travel Mean to You?

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A solo hiker in a yellow jacket sitting in the mountains looking at the scenery around him
Updated: 8/5/2019 | August 5th, 2019

A few years ago, I went around the world and asked people what travel meant to them. As I travel the country on my current book tour and hear everyone’s reasons for travel, I’m reminded of that experience.

Travel means something different to every single person in the world.

There are a million and one reasons to travel. Many people travel the world to get the bug out of their system, or to check things off a list to say they’ve been there and done that. Some run to escape their problems. Some people travel simply to get drunk around the world.

For me, travel means many things. Travel is freedom. It’s about being able to do what I want and fill my day with excitement. Travel was an escape. Travel was “elsewhere”. That place where exciting things and people resided. It was escaping the Matrix to learn about the world, why people do what they do, and how they act. It’s about pushing myself to the limit and getting more comfortable in my own skin.

But I wondered what motivates other people to do the same.

I have my theories of course.

But I wanted to hear it from people directly.

So, during an extended trip, I asked people I met on the road one question:

“What does travel mean to you?”

And here is what they said:

***

I loved hearing everyone’s answers because it so accurately describes all the various reasons that push us to travel the world, learn about the people in it, and ourselves.

Now, tell me in the comments below:

What does travel mean to you?

Share what drives you.

 
P.S. – I just released a new book! It’s called “Ten Years a Nomad” and it’s about my ten years backpacking the world and the lessons I learned from it. It features tons of stories I’ve never told on this blog and is a book that delves into the why of travel! Click here to learn more, grab your copy today, and meet me on my book tour! This week I’ll be in Austin, Houston, Denver, and San Diego

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 What Does Travel Mean to You? appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.





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My 12 Favorite Cities in the World

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A long-exposure shot of the hectic streets of Bangkok, Thailand at night
Updated: 8/4/2019 | August 4th, 2019 (Orignally posted in 2011)

When you travel for a living, you get asked a lot of questions as you bounce from one hostel to another. The top one: what’s your favorite country?

The second most asked question: what’s your favorite city?

I’ve spent a long time traveling the world and have been to hundreds upon hundreds of cities in the world. There are so many that I love for many different reasons – some for art, some for history, some for the food, most for the people.

But, to me, the ones that stand out the most are the ones where I feel most at home. They are places I visit and feel connected too. Their energy and my energy match. I move around them with ease, I feel at one with the culture, and tempo of the city.

I think to myself “Yeah, I could live here.” Not just visit but live.

And, when I think that, then I know I’ve found a special place.

So what are my favorite cities in the world? Where are the places I feel that way? They are here:

 

1. Amsterdam

The historic buildings of Amsterdam that line the narrow canal
I can’t say exactly how many times I’ve been to Amsterdam, but it’s in the double digits. And, for a brief time at the end of 2006, I lived there as a professional poker player (Seriously. It’s one of the more interesting random facts about me!).

The fast-paced life, friendly locals, easy access to the rest of Europe, picturesque canals, and great architecture keep me coming back. Plus, it being Amsterdam and all, there are tons of weird and quirky things to see and do there too!

In some ways, Amsterdam reminds me of my hometown of Boston, which might be why I love it so much. The brick buildings, fast-moving people, austere vibe. It feels like home.

Favorite activity: Boating through the canals with friends.

Visiting Amsterdam? Check out my complete budget travel guide to Amsterdam! It’s hundreds of pages long and will help you plan the best trip there!
 

2. Paris

A Eiffel Tower on a bright, sunny day in Paris, France
Ever since I stepped out on the Champs Elysées, I knew Paris was it. It was everything I dreamed it would be I was in love from the first moment. Sure, Paris is large and expensive and bursting with tourists. But what big city isn’t like that?

Paris is beautiful, vibrant, and filled with great food and history. Being here is like being in a real-life romantic comedy. I love the city so much I even moved there for a good chunk of 2019. It really does live up to all the hype, especially when you move away from the tourist areas and into the local places more.

Favorite activity: Picking up some good food at the market and having a picnic.

Get my complete budget travel guide to Paris and plan the perfect trip! It’s hundreds of pages long and will help you plan the best trip there!
 

3. Bangkok

An up-close shot of the tuk-tuks in Bangkok, surrounded by bright neon lights at night
I hated Bangkok the first few times I traveled there. It was simply a dirty, polluted city with no redeeming qualities. It wasn’t until I moved there that I fell in love with it.

Bangkok, it turns out, is an easy city to live in — there’s lots to do, plenty of events, great bars, wonderful food (nothing beats Thai street food), and even more wonderful people. It’s just a bad tourist city. There’s just not a lot to do there for a tourist. It’s a city you live in.

Living in Bangkok showed me that looks can be deceiving and that there is more to a city than what you see on the surface. You just need to be willing to look a little deeper.

And, when you do, you always find something special.

Favorite activity: Live music at Brick Bar or eating noodles at a street stall.

If you’re visiting Bangkok, check out my complete budget travel guide to Bangkok! It has everything I know about the city in one easy place.
 

4. Stockholm

A beautiful picture of the Stockholm skyline and waters at sunset in Sweden
I have a strong affinity for all things Scandinavian, and Stockholm is no exception. I’ve been there a handful of times over the years, and I even tried to move there years ago (it didn’t work out).

I think this city is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. The reds and greens of the buildings have an Old World charm that rivals cities like Prague, and during the fall, the changing leaves only highlight that beauty.

Stockholm is also very historic, with a high quality of life, and the Swedes in the city are super friendly and welcoming. It’s not a cheap city to visit, but it’s worth every penny!

Favorite activity: Getting lost in the maze of historic streets in Gamla Stan.

Check out my budget travel guidebook to Stockholm and plan your trip today!
 

5. New York City

The busy skyline of New York City on a sunny summer day
New York City is a place where dreams are made into reality and there is always something to do, something to see, or a new place to eat. The city is so multicultural that when I feel like I need to travel but I can’t, there’s an ethnic area of the city that will give me my fix.

I love NYC. It is the heart of the world to me. It is a non-stop place where you come to make it in the world. You can always find something to do, world-class food, people from all walks of life, and just a hustler vibe.

I spent close to five years living there and visit at least once a month (when I can).

It is the city you see in the movies.

Favorite activity: Walking the High Line and cooling off with drinks at the Grey Mare. (Tell Marcos I say hi!)

Since I spent so much time there, I wrote a budget travel guidebook to New York City! Pick it up for all the insider info you need!
 

6. Chicago

Tourists and locals looking at the famous art and architecture of Chicago, USA
After NYC, Chicago is probably my favorite US city, especially in the summer time.

While the winter months here can be brutal, this lakeside city seems to come to life after it emerges from its long and cold winter. Along with its lively atmosphere, the food here is delicious and the architecture is second to none. There’s a vibrant energy during the summertime as everyone is out in the parks, cafes, rooftop bars, on the lake, and watching the Cubs.

Chicago is just awesome.

Favorite activity: Going to a Cubs game!

For more, read our destination guide to Chicago and start planning your trip today.
 

7. Vancouver

The stunning skyline of Vancouver, Canada and its reflection in the water
I think this must be one of the most livable cities in the world. I’d certainly live in it, which is my benchmark for whether or not I really like a place. In Vancouver, you can go from the city into the mountains in minutes. I think that is really the highlight of the city for me — the fact that I don’t have to go far to be with nature.

Not only is there incredible nature nearby but there’s a park so big in the middle of the city, I often feel like I am in the center of a forest. Add in a vibrant food and art scene, and Vancouver is definitely a world-class city. It’s not a cheap city to live in, but that’s the price for all the amazing things Vancouver has to offer!

Favorite activity: Hanging out on Granville Island or walking around Stanley Park.

Read our desintation guide to Vancouver and start planning your trip today.
 

8. Queenstown

The rolling and rugged mountains of Queenstown, New Zealand
Perched on a lake in the stunning South Island mountains of New Zealand, Queenstown is a high-energy resort town for adventurers. This isn’t your typical city, as travelers come here because they want to be outside. There’s bungy jumping, hiking, rafting, zip-lining, boating, and tons more. It’s a paradise for the outdoorsy type and the perfect city for people who don’t like big, crowded cities.

The city and surrounding area are postcard-perfect (much like the rest of the country! I would jump on a plane and head back there right now if I could.

Favorite activity: Hiking the surrounding mountains.

Read our guide to Queenstown to plan your next adventure there.
 

9. Perth

The skyline of Perth, Australia lit up at night
Perth, Australia, is more like a big town than a city — and I think that’s what I like about it. It’s big enough to have a lot to do but small enough to feel cozy. I love Perth because of that small-town, big-city feel and for the fact that it’s on the water and has a great nightlife.

Not only that, but Perth is a great jumping-off spot to see the western Australian parks and natural sites, and it’s also close to hip Freemantle, which is home to my favorite Australian brewery: Little Creatures. I find it much more personal than other towns in Australia.

Favorite activity: Relaxing at the beach

Read our budget travel guide to Perth for more information!
 

10. Hong Kong

The skyline of the busy and bustling city of Hong Kong
Hong Kong is one of the best cities in the world for foodies. I always stop in when I’m in Asia and stuff my face with some of the best dumplings in the world. The city is busy and dense (it’s one of the most densely populated places on the planet) but it has a fun nightlife and tons of activities to keep you entertained, from markets to temples to nearby hikes outside the city.

While the city offers an interesting mix between eastern and western cultures, what really sets Hong Kong apart from other massive, dense cities is just how clean and well-organized it is. Getting around is a breeze, making it an easy and fun place to explore for a few days — or more!

Favorite activity: Eating dumplings!

Get my comprhensive budget travel guide to Hong Kong and know all the best local spots to visit!
 

11. Reykjavik

A birds-eye view of the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik as seen from the city's large church
Iceland is one of the most expensive countries in the world. As a budget traveler, you’d think that would keep me away but let me tell you something: it’s absolutely worth the price.

Reykjavik has tons of cozy cafes, wild clubs, cute architecture, and friendly pubs. It’s tiny, yet you can easily spend a few days here and not get bored (especially if you’re a night owl. Icelanders love to party).

Fortunately, as the tourism industry grows, there are more and more free (or cheap) things to do in the city. And with Icelandair offering free stopovers on flights between North America and Europe, it’s never been easier to visit this charming Scandinavia capital.

Favorite activity: Cozying up in a cafe to read and people watch.

Get my comprehensive budget travel guide to Iceland here!
 

12. London

The view overlooking the city of London and the river, including many of its famous attractions
As a history nerd, I’ve always loved visiting London. Some of the best museums in the world are there — and they are all free (there are tons of other free things to see and do as well).

But it wasn’t until last year when I spent a month in the city that I really “got” it. I understood why people loved it. There was a charming sophistication to the place.

Strolling the streets of the city, enjoying the markets, taking in the history of the place, laying in the park, and having a pint outside a pub? Heaven.

Paris will always have my heart but London comes close.

Favorite activity: Visiting as many museums as I can and then drinking at a pub.

Check out our travel guide to London to plan your trip.

***

There are you have it! My favorite cities in the world. Leave a comment on this post and let me know what your favorites are – and why!

 
 
P.S. – I just released a new book! It’s called “Ten Years a Nomad” and it’s about my ten years backpacking the world and the lessons I learned from it. It features tons of stories I’ve never told on this blog and is a book that delves into the why of travel! Click here to learn more, grab your copy today, and meet me on my book tour!

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 My 12 Favorite Cities in the World appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.





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How to Visit the Seychelles on a Budget

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a tropical beach scene in the Seychelles
Posted: 8/1/2019 | August 1st, 2019

In this guest post, Ellie Hopgood from Endlessly Restless offers some handy tips on how you can visit the Seychelles on a budget! This is a destination I’ve always dreamed of visiting so I was excited to have her write some tips for the country! It’s always viewed as one of the most expensive in the world but, as this post shows, it’s possible to visit on a budget!

The Seychelles, an archipelago of 115 islands off the east coast of Africa, are known for being extremely beautiful — and extremely expensive. The pristine turquoise water and white-sand beaches come with a hefty price tag.

If you want to drop serious money on a holiday, the Seychelles definitely have plenty of places perfect for an eye-wateringly expensive trip, with high-end rooms at the Madame Zabre Spa Resort on Desroches Island going for almost $15,000 USD per night, as well as a plethora of rooms available in the $500-$1,000-per-night range. There are even whole islands commandeered by one resort, such as Cerf Island, which consists solely of the 24 villas that make up the aptly named Cerf Island Resort.

But even though fancy resorts like that were way out of my budget, I was determined to visit these islands — and do so frugally, with a backpacker’s budget in mind.

After spotting an obscenely cheap and convenient flight deal — and desperate to get out there and explore these beautiful islands — I booked round-trip flights from London without much research (though I don’t necessarily recommend this approach to travel planning).

I typically travel in Europe (often in Eastern Europe), so my idea of what constitutes a cheap trip might be distorted. Paying over $15 for my share of a night’s accommodation pains me. So my eyes widened when I saw the average cost in the Seychelles. But the flights were booked, so I had no choice but to figure out how to see the islands on a budget. I set to work, reading blogs and forums furiously, but there was very limited information available.

After securing some affordable accommodation, I braced myself for a painfully expensive trip — but in the end, to my surprise, it was so much easier to be budget-conscious than I imagined.

Were the Seychelles the cheapest destination? No.

But, I learned, they don’t have to be prohibitively expensive either.

So, how do you save money in the Seychelles?

Here’s how you can take an affordable trip to paradise:

1. Find cheap flights (they do exist!)

We found round-trip flights from London with British Airways for just over $600, a deal so good that it sparked the whole trip. I always use Skyscanner, as that’s where I reliably find the best flight deals. As always, you’ll typically find cheaper flights if you travel in shoulder season; are flexible with exact dates, times, and layovers; and avoid school vacation periods. Some tips on how to save on your flight:

  1. Look at deal websites – Deal websites like Holiday Pirates, Scott’s Cheap Flights, and The Flight Deal often have great last minute fares and package deals to the islands.
  2. Search the main cheap flight websitesSkyscanner and Momondo let you compare prices and see if there are any budget carriers flying the route.
  3. Be flexible with your dates – Airline ticket prices vary depending on the day of the week, time of year, and upcoming holidays. Moreover, it’s always cheaper to fly during the middle of the week than on a weekend, because most people travel on the weekends and airlines hike their prices then. If you zig when others zag, you are going to find better deals.
  4. Travel hack – This is the best way to get cheap flights..because it gives you free flights. Airline rewards programs are a great way to get free flights, free upgrades, and free companion tickets. Points = free flights. Through credit card sign up bonuses, everyday spending, contests, online promotions, bonus points, and so much more, you can easily gain hundreds of thousands of points per year without ever spending extra money! To learn how to do this, check out this post!

For more tips on how to find a cheap flight, check out this post!

2. Stick to cheap guesthouses (that serve breakfast)

people walking down the street in the Seychelles

The Seychelles don’t yet have a lot of budget accommodations, but I was able to find affordable rooms using Airbnb, though similar rooms are also available through Booking.com. There are also a number of small guesthouses and hotels that offer rooms for $60–100 USD per night. While some of these places have their own websites, like our La Digue guesthouse Liane de Mai, others can only be booked through platforms like Airbnb and Booking.com, like our self-catered accommodation on Mahé via CAMEC apartments.

The best thing to do is to go onto your favorite budget accommodation site and put in the island you plan to stay on. That should show you a selection of accommodations so you can choose something in your price range.

To keep costs even lower, try to stay somewhere that offers self-catering facilities or that serves breakfast. Self-catering allows you to save by preparing your own meals, while an included breakfast takes care of a third of your meals and lets you fill up on delicious fruit, toast, yogurt, and eggs that will keep you going for hours. You can also take a few snacks from breakfast, like rolls or bananas, for later in the day when you need a boost of energy. All the places we stayed made clear in their Airbnb profile whether a kitchen was available or if breakfast was included, though you could also email and ask.

There is also a small Couchsurfing community in the Seychelles, with most of the hosts based on Mahé. Nothing is cheaper than free — so if you are fond of couch surfing and happy to stay on the main island, this might be a good option.

Check out our comprehensive resource section for more tips on finding cheap accommodation!

3. Eat take-out

Eating out in restaurants in the Seychelles is painfully pricey for fairly average food. A simple bowl of tomato pasta can easily run you $20 USD, while a three-course meal with alcohol will set you back $70–80 USD per person.

However, the Seychelles is also full of places to get take-out, small establishments, and mobile food vans all over the islands, directly alongside main roads or signposted clearly, serving up local dishes for incredibly low prices. These are where many of the locals eat dinner, along with visitors who are looking for delicious and cheap eats.

For only $3–5 USD, you can buy two main courses with a generous serving of rice and salad. These meals tend to be fresh, Seychellois dishes that change every day, typically curries made with fish, chicken, beef, or vegetables, served with rice and salad. There are also often Chinese-takeout-type dishes like fried noodles and rice.

My favorite find was Mi Mum’s on La Digue, which served the most delicious chicken “zye zye” curry with rice and salad for the unbeatable price of $4 USD.

4. Take the bus

Seychelles scenery

Taxis are insanely expensive — think $20 USD for a trip of only a couple of kilometers — and are not a viable option for anyone trying to travel on a budget. You can rent a car for around $40 USD per day, which may be manageable if you are traveling in a group or splitting the cost with someone, but still expensive compared to the cheapest option: the bus. (As a bonus, the bus is as much an activity as it is a convenient transport option, as the bus bounces up and down hills on a road bordering the ocean!)

On both Praslin and Mahé, you buy a flat-rate ticket as you get on and travel as far as you need to, whether that is one stop or ten. On Praslin, a bus ticket costs 7 SCR (50 US cents) while tickets are 6 SCR (45 US cents) on Mahé. The buses come infrequently, so it is worth consulting the timetable. I was given a Praslin timetable at my accommodation (though you can also find it online), and you can download Mahé’s extensive schedule here.

La Digue has very few cars and no buses, so walking and biking are the best options, which is also true for all of the smaller islands.

5. Stick to beach-hopping

a small pristine beach in Seychelles

While a small minority of beaches are only accessible if you are a guest of a specific resort, for the most part, the most glorious part of visiting the Seychelles (going to the beach) is completely free.

You can enjoy the pristine white sand and blue water; watch the birds, bats, and tortoises move around the island; and explore the amazing undersea wildlife straight from the beach — and it won’t cost you a dime.

My favorite free beaches are Anse Coco on La Digue, Anse Lazio on Praslin, and Beau Vallon on Mahé.

One big exception to the free beaches rule is that Anse Source d’Argent on La Digue, which is one of the world’s most beautiful beaches, charges you for entry. The cost is 100 SCR ($7 USD) for a single entry, so go when you have time to spend the whole afternoon (or day!) enjoying the beach and its unusual rock formations. If you want to avoid the charge, then you can swim or walk through the ocean from just outside the entrance to the park and enter the beach that way. However, you’ll have to swim back out, as park rangers often check your ticket as you leave!

6. Bring enough sunscreen!

An easy way to save a few bucks is to bring more sunscreen than you think you’ll need. Sunscreen is very expensive ($15 USD for a small bottle) but also very necessary, given the blazing equatorial sun that can burn skin in minutes. I was woefully underprepared for the amount of sunscreen I would need, so much so that within two days I had to shell out a small fortune for a big enough bottle to get me through the rest of the trip. If you can avoid buying this necessary item on the islands, then do.

7. Move slowly

To get between the islands, you can fly or take a ferry. Neither way is particularly cheap. A return flight from Mahé to Praslin (which only takes about 15 minutes!) will likely cost $150–200 USD. Ferries are marginally cheaper: about $60 USD each way between Mahé and Praslin and around $20 USD each way between Praslin and La Digue.

There is only one ferry provider serving each of the main routes between the three major islands, making you a captive audience for their high prices. So unless you’re Michael Phelps, you’re stuck paying whatever Cat Cocos (between Mahé and Praslin) and Cat Rose (between Praslin and La Digue) charge for the tickets. The less you travel between the islands, the cheaper your total transport bill will stay.

8. Minimize cash withdrawals (and use the right ATMs)

sunset in the Seychelles

As in many other places, there are heavy charges levied on withdrawals at cash machines, to the tune of 100 SCR ($7 USD) per withdrawal. These withdrawal fees are fixed by the ATM and are different than foreign exchange fees. Charles Schwab and Fidelity offer cards that refund these ATM fees, though Fidelity does charge a 1% foreign exchange fee.

However, a simpler solution than opening a new checking account is to be vigilant about which ATM you use. Barclays ATMs levy the withdrawal charge, while MCB ATMs tend to have no fee. A full list of MCB ATMs can be found by clicking here.

ATMs will only give you rupees, though most prices are quoted in euros. You can bring euros with you or change them at the airport and banks for no charge. The Seychelles are largely cash-only, so figuring out how to get cash without incurring charges is important.

For more tips on avoiding ATM fees, check out our comprehensive article on how to avoid fees when traveling!

9. Drink the tap water (or at least bring a bottle with a filter)

While most online information says that the water in the Seychelles is not safe to drink, I quickly started drinking the tap water and was completely fine. Given the extreme heat and humidity, you will need to drink a lot of water, which adds up fast if you have to keep buying plastic bottles (not to mention the environmental impact of that much disposable plastic).

If you don’t feel comfortable drinking the tap water, then I’d recommend bringing a bottle with a built-in filter or buying a SteriPEN or Lifestraw. Not constantly buying bottled water will help keep both your costs low and the environment clean.

10. Bring your own mask and snorkel

a beach in the Seychelles
Unlike many beach paradises, you don’t need to go out on a boat to get to prime snorkeling territory. You can swim straight off the beach onto a reef and see rays, sharks, eels, fish, and more. I swam out from Anse Source d’Argent and was greeted by a friendly ray who let me follow him for half an hour in perfect peace. It was magical. However, renting a snorkel and mask often can get expensive. Snorkel rentals go for $10 USD a day or more. Bring your own to save money!

***

By following the above advice, it should be possible to take a trip to the Seychelles that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg (maybe just a hand). If you stay in small guesthouses that serve breakfast, eat takeout for most of your meals, spend most of your time exploring the beaches, and hunt for a good flight deal, you’ll spend between $120–140 USD per day (less if you are traveling with someone and can split accommodation costs), though it’s also good to leave some wiggle room for putting money in the hands of any Seychellois guides or vendors who really make a difference to your trip.

If you are willing to shell out more, then the sky’s the limit, but if splurging, I would recommend a guided tour through the jungle (it’s typically not safe to venture out alone) or diving, as the Seychelles are home to some world-famous dive sites. A whole day’s guided hike, including lunch and entrance to world-famous beach Anse Source d’Argent, costs about $70 USD, and each dive with Octopus Dive Centre was around $60 USD (less if you have your own equipment). I did both of these activities and they were completely worth it.

I firmly believe that the Seychelles is one of the world’s most beautiful places and should be on the bucket list of any avid traveler. And, hopefully, these budget tips will allow you to visit the Seychelles without breaking the bank!

Ellie Hopgood is an investment writer in London, covering topics in economics, politics and global finance. She writes about travel, politics and photography on her blog Endlessly Restless. She spends a borderline unhealthy amount of time editing photos and checking the cost of flights to places she has no immediate intention to visit. You can find her on Twitter (@elliemhopgood).
 
 
P.S. – Did you know I wrote a new book? It’s called “Ten Years a Nomad” and it’s all about the lessons I’ve learned from a life of travel. It features tons of stories and misadventures I’ve never told on this blog as well! Click here to learn more and grab your copy today! (I’m doing a book tour too! I’ll be in Austin, Houston, Denver, and San Diego next week!)

Book Your Trip to the Seychelles: Logistical Tips and Tricks

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

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

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

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

Looking for more information on visiting the Seychelles?
Check out my in-depth destination guide to the Seychelles with more tips on what to see, do, costs, ways to save, and much, much more!

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





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