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A Love Letter to Maine

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A picturesque lighthouse on the coast of Maine
Posted: 9/8/2020 | September 8th, 2020

Tucked away up in the northeast corner of the United States, Maine evokes images of endless shorelines, wild forests, Stephen King, iconic lighthouses, and lots and lots of lobster dinners.

Despite growing up only 90 minutes from the state, I only visited once in my life. I was in college and my friend George was from there, so one weekend, we drove up to his hometown of Gorham.

Maine was always one of those places that I felt I could visit anytime so was never a rush to do so. There was always a flight to some distant land to get on instead. Maine could wait.

People tend to put off traveling their “backyard” until the end and I was no different.

But then COVID struck and there were no more flights to distant lands.

A busy harbour on the coast of Maine, USA

There was just my backyard to see.

So, while I was back in Boston longing for nature, I decided to finally visit Maine. My original plan was to spend a roughly ten days there before heading to Vermont then Upstate New York and then back to Boston.

But as the days ticked by, 10 turned to 12, which turned to 14, which turned to 21.

I just couldn’t quit Maine.

I loved the quiet, slow pace of the state.

I loved the small-town feel to the cities, and the fact you were never far from nature. Every city had access to it, and there was always someplace to go hike. Even tiny Bangor had parks and greenways galore.

Nomadic Matt posing for a photo in Acadia National Park, Maine

I loved the food. Besides traditional lobsters and oysters and other seafood we all know about, there was excellent Thai food, upscale American, and creative gastronomy. There was a lot of good food in Maine and, as someone who plans their travels mostly around food, Maine was perfect.

I loved all the microbreweries. Maine is one of the best states for beer and I found myself bouncing from microbrew to microbrew in search of the best IPA. (The winner was Rising Tide in Portland.)

And, of course, there were the people. There’s something about the state that makes everyone smiley, talkative, and welcoming. They’d ask you where you were from, shoot the shit with you, and always have suggestions on where to go next. From the diner owner in Bangor to the staff at the hotel I ended up extending to my stay at to the attendant at the park — who, when I asked directions, decided that was his chance to go into a long soliloquy on his state — to countless others, people in Maine were really nice.

Stephen King's house in Maine, USA

My time there took me to Portland, Bangor, Camden, Acadia National Park, Moosehead Lake, and tiny coastal towns for lunch stops. I learned to shuck oysters. I went on a hike every day. I read lots of books. I ate a lot of delicious food. Since COVID-19 closed most museums and indoor attractions, there was no much else to do. (But, really, who needs more than that?)

In small-town Maine, the rest of the country and its troubles seemed far away. A friend described it as the place for those who want to get away from society but feel like Alaska is too far. In a state where the population density is 41 per square mile (38th in the country), it seems like a perfect analogy.

A peaceful river surrounded by trees in Maine, USA

Maine seems to enchant people, casting a magical spell that lasts forever. It’s no wonder so many people I know from Boston go to Maine every summer. And it’s no wonder why I suddenly found myself calculating how much a summer home there would really cost and, if I too, want to spend the rest of summers here.

In a word, Maine is magical.

If you’re looking for a place to get away from it all with beautiful forests to hike, long coastlines to explore, delicious food to eat, and friendly people to chat with, you need to visit Maine.

Thank me later.

And send me a postcard.

Logistical Information
Eat: Duckfat (Portland), Eventide (Portland), Bite into Maine (Portland), Gidden Point Oyster Farm (Damariscotta), Long Grain (Camden), The Traveling Lobster (Bar Harbor), Havana (Bar Harbor), Rosalie’s (Bar Harbor), Beal’s Lobster (Southwest Harbor), The Fiddlehead (Bangor), Judy’s (Bangor), Stress Free Moose Pub (Greenville)
Drink: Rising Tide (Portland), Stress Free Moose Pub (Greenville), Atlantic Brewing Company (Bar Harbor), Bissell Brothers (Portland), Urban Farm (Portland), Mason’s Brewing (Bangor)
Stay: Black Elephant Hostel (Portland), Leisure Life (Moosehead Lake), Bar Harbor Manor (Bar Harbor)

Book Your Trip to the United State: 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.

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

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

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

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

The post A Love Letter to Maine appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.





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12 Things I’d Tell Any New Traveler

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A solo traveler standing on a mountain looking out into the distance
Updated: 7/10/20 | July 10th, 2020 (Originally published 3/30/15)

Hope. Fear. Excitement. Traveling for the first time produced a wave of emotions.

When I left to travel the world on my first round-the-world trip, I didn’t know what to expect.

Now, with fifteen years of travel experience under my belt, I know better. Traveling is second nature to me now. I land in an airport and I just go on autopilot.

But, back then, I was as green as they come.

To compensate for my lack of experience, I followed my guidebooks and wet my feet by going on organized tours. I was young and inexperienced and I made a lot of rookie travel mistakes.

I know what’s like to just be starting out and have a mind filled with questions, anxieties, and concerns.

So, if you’re new to travel and looking for advice to help you prepare, here are 12 tips that I’d tell a new traveler to help them avoid some of my early mistakes:
 

1. Don’t Be Scared

Fear is a powerful deterrent. Taking the leap into the unknown is scary, but remember: you aren’t the first person to travel the world. You aren’t discovering new continents or exploring uncharted territories.

There is a well-worn travel trail out there and people to help guide you along the way. If millions of people can make their way around the world each year, you can too.

You’re just as capable as anyone else. After all, you did the hardest part: deciding to go. Having the courage to make that decision is the hardest part.

You’ll make mistakes. Everyone does. But that’s part of the experience.

There will be lots of people out there to help you. You’ll be shocked at just how helpful and kind people are. You’ll make friends, you’ll survive, and you’ll be better for it.
 

2. Don’t Live by Your Guidebook

Guidebooks are useful for a general overview of a destination. They’re a great way to learn the basics and get introduced to the cities and countries you plan to visit. But you’ll never find the latest off-the-beaten-path attractions, bars, or restaurants in them.

For the latest info (as well as insider tips), connect with locals. Use websites like Meetup.com or Couchsurfing to connect directly with local and expats so you can get suggesitons, advice, and tips to make the most of your trip.

Additionally, ask other travelers you meet or the staff at your hotel/hostel. Visit the local tourist board as well. It’s a wealth of information that often gets overlooked.

In short, use a guidebook for the foundation of your plans but fill in the details with up-to-date info from locals.

You can also use travel blogs for planning tips since they are updated more often than guidebooks.
 

3. Travel Slow

This is something most new long-term travelers learn the hard way (myself included).

I know it can be tempting to pack in as many cities and activities as possible. (This is especially true if you only have a few weeks of vacation.)

But rushing from city to city every other day is just going to leave you exhausted and stressed out. You’ll experience a whirlwind of activity, most of which will remain a blur when you look back on it. Sure, you’ll have some great pictures for Instagram but is that really why you’re traveling?

Travel is about quality, not quantity. Don’t worry about how much you see. Don’t worry about trying to impress people with the number of countries you’ve visited. Slow down and soak up your destinations. You’ll learn more, enjoy it more, and have a much more memorable experience.

When it comes to travel, less is more. (Plus, traveling slow helps reduce your transportation costs. It’s cheaper to go slow!)

 

4. Pack Light

When I went to Costa Rica in 2003, I brought a bag filled with tons of stuff: hiking boots and pants, a fleece jacket, too much clothing, and my bodyweight in toiletries. And it all sat in my bag, mostly unused.

I was packing for “just in case” and “what if” instead of the reality of my trip.

While it can be tempting to bring more than you need “just in case,” remember this: you can buy things on the road. Socks, shampoo, jackets, new shoes — you can find it all aborad. There’s no need to bring everything and the kitchen sink.

So, pack light. You’ll have less to carry, saving you the hassle and stress of lugging a huge backpack around for weeks (or months) on end.

Unless you are going somewhere cold, a bag around 40 liters will suffice. Bags around this size are easier to carry, don’t get too unwieldy, and can fit on your flight as carry-on only if need be (a huge perk if you want to save yourself some headaches).

Here’s everything you need to know to help you find the perfect bag for your budget and your trip.
 

5. Get Travel Insurance

Whether you’re a travel veteran or a brand new backpacker, don’t leave home without making sure you’re protected in case something goes wrong. As we learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, sudden emergencies can come out of nowhere.

I’ve had my luggage lost. I popped an eardrum in Thailand. I was knifed in Colombia.

I’ve had a friend break bones, need to be helicoptered out of the Amazon, or fly back due to a sudden death.

Stuff happens.

To ensure you’re protected, buy travel insurance.

I never leave home without it because I know just how quickly things can go sideways.

You never know what might happen. The road is filled with uncertainty. Make sure you’re protected. It will also give you peace of mind and help you travel with confidence.

Here are a few posts worth reading. I know it’s not a fun or sexy topic, but it’s an important one!

 

6. Bring a Phone (and Get Local SIM Cards)

Having a phone with data means you can look up directions on the fly, make reservations, and contact emergency services if something happens.

Sure, there is free wifi pretty much everywhere these days so buying a local SIM card for data might seem like a waste of money (especially if you’re on a really, really tight budget) but having that immediate access to roaming data can be a lifesaver.

If you’re from the US and traveling for less than 3 months, T-Mobile has reliable data plans. Google Fi is another great option too.

Additionally, having a phone makes it easier to connect and stay in touch with travelers you meet.

Simply put: having a phone is really helpful in this day and age.

Just don’t stay glued to it all the time.
 

7. Go with the Flow

When every day is planned out and there are timetables to follow, you’ll get stressed. Very stressed. You’ll rush around and be unhappy if there are any glitches in your well-curated schedule.

And there will be hiccups. And glitches. And all kinds of inconveniences, both major and minor. Life on the road doesn’t always go as planned — which is both fun and frustrating.

When you plan too much, there’s no room to experience the happy accidents of travel. There’s no room for spontaneous choice, for incorporating new information and advice that you learn.

When making your plan, make sure that it’s flexible. Learn to go with the flow. Plan one or two activities and let the rest of the day happen.

It’ll be a more enjoyable and less stressful experience. You’ll be surprised by what happens.

Be flexible. Let life unfold the way it should.
 

8. Bring Some Extra Money

Travel isn’t as expensive as many people think but you still need to create a budget that means your needs. The secret to long term travel is smart money management.

However, always overestimate the amount you need. You never know what might come up on the road. After all, you didn’t spend all that time saving every penny and staying home to skip those once in a lifetime activities?

Maybe you want to try bungee jumping or you discover an amazing restaurant you can’t pass up. Or maybe you meet some cool people and decide to scrap your plan altogether.

No matter how well you plan, something can always come up that will throw your budget out of synch.

That’s fine.

Just leave home with a little extra. If you’re planning says you’ll need $2,000, bring $2,500. It will give you a buffer for emergencies and spontaneity.
 

9. Remember Everyone is in the Same Boat

It takes courage to talk to strangers when you’re new to travel, especially if you’re an introvert like me. What do you say? Can you just invite people to join you? What if you end up alone?

These are all questions I had when I first started traveling. The good news? Everyone is in the same boat. All around you are other solo travelers looking for friends. They want to meet new people too.

While there are a few tricks to learn to help you meet people, it mostly just comes down to saying “hello” and taking that first step. Everything else will fall into place after that. You have nothing to lose and, in the process — this is how you’ll get over your shyness, make new friends, and get better at conversation.

 

10. Be Adventurous

The only time we grow is when we’re outside of our comfort zones. And travel is about growth. That doesn’t mean you need to do dangerous things, but it does mean you need to push yourself beyond what you’re used to.

Hiking, sky diving, eating new foods, camping, rock climbing, hitchhiking — whatever taking a risk looks like to you is 100% ok. Everyone has different interests and tolerance levels. Push yours. It may be scary and uncomfortable at the time, but you’ll be glad you did it later.

Challenge yourself. Try new things. You’ll walk away more self-confident.
 

11. It’s Ok to Change Your Mind

If you hate a city, leave and go to another one. If you don’t enjoy the tour your on, cancel it early. And if you really love the place you’re visiting, change your plans and stay longer.

It’s perfectly normal to change your mind on the road.

Maybe that means extending your trip. Maybe that means going home early. There’s nothing wrong with either choice.

Always remember you can go home if you aren’t having fun. You aren’t stuck with your decision to travel or your decision to be in a specific place. You’re the captain on your own ship. Never forget that!
 

12. Remember, You’re Not Alone

Wherever you go, there is a network of travelers who will be your friends, give you advice or tips, and help you out. They will guide you, point you in the right direction, and be your mentors.

You aren’t out there on your own.

And you will be OK.

***

I know you’re nervous about heading out into the unknown. It’s human nature to worry. But, if you remember these words of wisdom, you’ll go into this the right mindset and able to avoid rookie mistakes.

So take a deep breath, relax, and enjoy your trip!

Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks

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

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

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

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

The post 12 Things I’d Tell Any New Traveler appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.





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How to See Alberta: A 10-Day Suggested Driving Itinerary

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The peaceful scenery of Banff, Alberta
Posted: 7/6/20 | July 6th, 2020

Dalene and Pete Heck, the duo behind Hecktic Travels is also the team at Road Trip Alberta! Dalene and Pete are Alberta raised and currently living in the province’s third-biggest city, Lethbridge. Alberta is one of the most scenic provinces in Canada and, today, Dalene shares a driving itinerary hitting many of her favorite Alberta sights.

Arguably Canada’s most beautiful province, Alberta is known primarily for the mountain hub of Banff National Park. Millions descend annually on Calgary airport and then high-tail it west for an hour and a half to visit this gem of the Rockies. The draw of Banff is entirely warranted but many of these visitors often miss out on everything else that Alberta has to offer.

Its cities are dynamic, other mountain towns are just as gorgeous and with fewer tourists, the southeastern side of the province is home to a trove of dinosaur bones, and the north is covered in lush forests and teeming with wildlife and outdoor adventures eager to be had.

As a born-and-raised Albertan, I left in my early thirties to see more of the world, craving exploration. When I returned almost a decade later, I did so with fresh eyes and an appreciation for the land that shaped me.

This article outlines a ten-day road trip itinerary shares some of my favorite spots in the province that will help you see more than crowds of tourists in Banff!
 

Day 1: Calgary

The towering skyline of Calgary, Alberta, Canada in the autumn

Dubbed “Cowtown” due to its roots in the cattle industry, Calgary is Alberta’s largest city (1.37 million people). Balancing modern urban architecture with friendly, small-town vibes, Calgary is a curious melting pot of folks from many backgrounds. It’s also home to an array of activities and a trendy food scene that will ensure that your days and tummies are full.

Start Downtown
Explore the Bow River’s network of walking and biking trails. See the prime photo spot of the Peace Bridge. For another prime photo op and to gaze upon an architectural wonder, don’t miss the Calgary Public Library, which was named one of the 100 Greatest Places of 2019 by Time magazine.

Not far from the library is Prince’s Island Park, which is a hub for cultural events. It’s home to the Calgary Folk Music Festival (in late July) and the esteemed River Café (a pricey restaurant but well worth it), and near to Eau Claire Market, which has some mouth-watering eats and specialty merchandise.

Fuel Up on Good Eats
Don’t miss out on Tubby Dog for a cheap, delicious, and fun meal? Play some classic arcade games while you try the Sumo (a dog with pickled ginger, Japanese mayo, wasabi, and seaweed salad) or the A-bomb (a dog with all the classic trimmings, plus a healthy dump of potato chips right on top). Another one of my faves is Native Tongues, which offers upscale Mexican food in the city center.

Consider Planning Your Visit Around These Festivals
The Calgary Stampede — also known as “the greatest outdoor show on earth” — takes over the city for ten days in early July. The world-class rodeo is just one facet of the event. There’s also a spectacular grandstand show plus all the rides and deep-fried festival foods you would expect. It’s also a giant, messy party too.

Beakerhead, held annually in mid-September, brings together the worlds of art, science, and engineering. Imagine a massive party filled with fire-shooting robots, an interactive science lesson on how to make the best chocolate chip cookie, and playing a giant life-sized version of Snakes & Ladders. It’s the best nerd party of the year.

Where to stay in Calgary

  • Canada’s Best Value Inn Chinook Station – Located near the Chinook LRT Station, this hotel features a continental breakfast, with rooms available starting as low as $49 CAD/night.
  • HI Calgary City Centre – If you happen to be a member of HI Canada, consider this hostel, located in the downtown core, just a two-minute walk to the C-train (local transit) station.
  • Hotel Arts – For more upscale and eclectic lodging near downtown, this hotel has top-rated amenities for a reasonable price.

 

Day 2: Banff

The picturesque city of Banff, Alberta, Canada with mountains in the distance
Next, head from Calgary to Banff, which takes about an hour and a half by car.

Note: You’ll need to purchase a park pass upon arrival at the gates just outside of town, or you can buy one online. The current daily rate for an adult is $9.80 CAD, and it will expire at 4:00 pm the following day.

If you’re planning on visiting multiple parks, you might consider a Parks Canada “Discovery Pass” for $67.70 CAD, which can be used for multiple days and will grant you entry to all Canadian national parks for one full year.

There are too many amazing hikes to list, but start with the iconic Johnston Canyon. Keep it short with a 30-minute walk to the Lower Falls, or plan for a full four-hour trek all the way to the Ink Pots. (For more info, read this guide to hiking in Banff.)

To really get the adrenaline pumping, head to Mt. Norquay for the Via Ferrata hike. Cross suspension bridges and climb ladders on the edge of a mountain, all while safely harnessed and led by an experienced guide.

There are also plenty of options for canoeing, kayaking, and stand-up paddleboarding on a number of nearby lakes. Visit the Banff Canoe Club in town for rentals.

Winter is a prime time to visit if you’re a ski bunny. Three mountains in the area known collectively as Ski Big 3 (Banff Sunshine, the Lake Louise Ski Resort, and Mt. Norquay) are all world-class.

Be sure to take the Banff Gondola up Sulphur Mountain for some epic views. It’s open year-round, and it has an impressive interpretive center and scenic boardwalk at the top, and even two restaurants.

Nearby is also the stunning Banff Upper Hot Springs.

Where to Eat
Wild Flour Bakery, known for its nourishing baked goods and good coffee, is an excellent stop to fill your tank at any time of day.

Eager to try some Canadian wild meats? Head to the Grizzly House to cook up your own bison, elk, or a number of other options using a hot stone at your table. The decor is severely outdated, but the experience is a must-do. Not a meat-eater? Head to Nourish Bistro for the best plant-based food in Banff.

Where to Stay in Banff

  • Banff International Hostel – Just a few blocks from the heart of downtown, this hostel is a comfortable place to rest your head after a long day of exploring!
  • YWCA Banff Hotel – The perfect hideaway in the mountains for those looking for a comfortable and budget-friendly accommodation.
  • HI Banff Alpine Centre – If you’re a member of the HI community, you may want to stay at this location, the largest hostel in Alberta.

 

Day 3: Banff and Lake Louise

Lake Louise and Banff at night under a starry sky
If you’re an early riser, head 15 minutes north to Two Jack Lake to catch a gorgeous sunrise. If it’s a clearer morning, bright red, orange, and purple will stain the sky and lake, silhouetting the mountain and creating a truly epic sight.

If there was anything left on your to-do list from the day before, finish that up now, but plan for almost a whole day around Lake Louise.

While in Lake Louise….
The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is the major draw in the area, and walking its halls is a must before you venture on any number of outdoor activities.

If you are there in summer, consider the Lake Agnes Tea House hike for its views and the unique experience of taking tea on top of the world (remember to bring cash, as they don’t have other payment options on-site). It is a short 2.2mile (3.5 km) hike, but you can also continue on to Lake Agnes itself.

Feeling adventurous? Then take “the Tea House Challenge” and visit the other one, too, The Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House, for a 9 mile (14.5 km) total hike on the Highline Trail.

If you are there in winter, skating, snowshoeing, dog-sledding, sleigh rides, and more are all available from the hotel. You will have no problem filling your day in one of the most beautiful spots in all of Canada.

Dining options are fewer in the very small town of Lake Louise, but find the Trailhead Café for a budget-friendly and supremely delicious meal. There are also several options inside the Chateau itself, but I recommend Alpine Social for its laid-back atmosphere and hearty food.
 

Day 4: Driving from Banff to Jasper

The beautiful landscape of Alberta, Canada between Banff and Jasper
Drive from Banff to Jasper via the Icefields Parkway. The drive itself is about 3.5 hours, but I suggest that you plan for a whole day as there are lots of stops to make along the way.

The Icefields Parkway is breathtaking. Take it slow and stop often to really absorb the beauty of this day. (Do, however, consult the weather forecast and road conditions, as it can often be closed in winter.)

Making the Drive
Fill up the car with gas and pack a picnic lunch before leaving Banff, as there is only one place to stop for snacks en route (Saskatchewan River Crossing) but it is closed in winter. But once you are safely on your way, here are just a few of the stops you can make:

  • Leave early to catch sunrise over Vermillion Lakes, just outside of Banff as you begin your journey north.
  • Peyto Lake is a must-see. You have undoubtedly seen its image before; now it’s time to see it for yourself! From your car it’s just a short walk up a hill to get to the viewpoint and take in that stark aquamarine water from above.
  • The Columbia Icefield, just an hour before Jasper, is the largest in the Canadian Rockies. You can take a tour to walk right on the glacier and/or take a stroll on the glass-floored Icefield Skywalk lookout to see everything from above.

There is much more to see! This Banff-to-Jasper article maps it all out for you.

Where to Stay in Jasper

  • Jasper Downtown Hostel – Conveniently situated in the heart of downtown Jasper, this modern hostel won’t break the bank; its private rooms start as low as $63 CAD/night.
  • HI Jasper – Just a short walk to downtown, the HI Hostel Jasper was opened in June 2019. Choose between private rooms, shared rooms for four, and family rooms.
  • Maligne Lodge – Conveniently tucked at the edge of Jasper’s main street, where the mountains end and the town begins, this is a great budget-friendly hotel.

 

Days 5 & 6: Jasper

The huge elk standing near a small lake in Alberta, Canada near Jasper
Jasper is the largest park in the Canadian Rockies and one of fifteen UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the country. Rougher around the edges than its southern brother Banff, it’s the spot to hit if you’re craving fewer crowds and small-town charm.

Spirit Island is one of the most photographed spots in Canada. You can canoe out there and reach this spot on Maligne Lake in half a day. If you don’t feel like doing that, boat cruises are available too!

Moreover, take advantage of your remote location and book a tour to see some iconic Canadian wildlife (bears, elk, mountain goats, moose, and more). While such encounters may occur by chance on your visit, a guided tour will increase your chances and is a great way to gain local knowledge.

Additionally, in October, the Jasper Dark Sky Festival takes place.The park has ideal conditions for this given that there is so little light pollution. If you can’t make it there, the Jasper Planetarium is open year-round for star viewing.

There are so many hiking options. Start with a short jaunt to Athabasca Falls (less than an hour round-trip), and then ramp up according to your fitness level. (See this article about best Jasper hikes to decide what comes next.)

Just north of town is Maligne Canyon, and in winter, you can walk on and explore the frozen river (be sure you have ice cleats on). In the summer, you can hike in the canyon, and the winding trail has six suspension bridges spanning the gorge.

Take a load off and ride up the Jasper Skytram to experience the best mountain views. On a clear day, you can even see peaks in neighboring British Columbia. Enjoy the seven-minute ride up and have a bite at the Summit Restaurant at the top.

Must-Eats
Stop at the Bright Spot Family Restaurant for the big country breakfast, which will stick to your bones and give you energy for your day. Whistle Stop Pub is also good for a pint and snack. Canada’s very first national park brewery, Jasper Brewing Company, is also here. Along with six signature brews that are made on-site, the large restaurant offers elevated pub fare.
 

Day 7: Driving from Jasper to Edmonton

The stunning vista between Jasper and Edmonton in Alberta, Canada
The four-hour drive from Jasper to Edmonton is not the most exciting (the scenic views drop off quickly outside of the national park), but there are a couple of stops you can make along the way to spice it up.

If you don’t hit up Miette Hot Springs during your stay in Jasper, then it’s an easy stop on the way out of town. It is home to the hottest spring water in the Canadian Rockies! It requires a little detour off of the main highway, but the drive through the Fiddle Valley alone makes it worth the trip.

An hour into your journey, you can make a stop in Hinton to see the most iconic of local wildlife: the humble beaver. Stretch your legs along the nearly 2 mile (3 km) Beaver Boardwalk, and hopefully, you’ll spot Canada’s national animal.

This is also a great place to plan to have lunch: The Old Grind has an extensive menu that includes vegetarian and vegan options.

Arriving in Edmonton
Depending on what time you left Jasper, the driving conditions you encountered (add more time in winter!), and how many stops you made along the way, you may arrive with extra time to explore Alberta’s capital city. And my guess is that those car-bound legs are going to need a stretch.

As you drive into the west side of Edmonton, this would be the perfect occasion to take a long walk in the largest mall in North America. West Edmonton Mall is home to over 800 stories and services, and it contains theme parks, multiple movie theaters, a ridiculously fun indoor water park, and even a large skating rink.

Enjoying the mall can easily take up the rest of your day (and the next one, if you are a shopper).
 

Days 8 & 9: Edmonton

The skyline of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada during autumn
Teeming with history and culture rich as hot chocolate, Alberta’s capital city is the perfect way to finish off your tour of the province. Edmonton has been dubbed “the festival city” on account of its year-round cultural festivals, so you’ll never be short on things to do here.

The Fringe Festival is the biggest and oldest of its kind in North America and offers a dynamic theater experience. Running annually for ten days in the middle of August, it often attracts more than 1,500 local, national, and international artists, who give well over a thousand performances across the city.

The Silver Skate Festival is becoming one of the premier events in Alberta to celebrate and embrace winter. One highlight is the opening of the ice castles in Hawrelak Park, typically several weeks before the February festival. During the ten days of the festival itself, expect snow sculpting, skate races, helicopter tours, and more.

If you aren’t in Edmonton during a festival, take time and stroll through the grounds of the Alberta Legislature. Not only is “the Ledge” an architectural journey into the past (construction was started in 1907) but you can also learn about the Canadian government, Alberta’s political history, and the art and architecture of the building by taking a free tour.

Edmonton’s river valley is the largest urban park in North America, with 100 miles (160 kms) of maintained paths. So you don’t even have to leave the city itself to explore nature! Walk and cycle as far as you like, taking in any (or all) of the 20 city parks along the river.

Head for the Neon Sign Museum one night. This collection of 20 functional historic signs tells the story of Edmonton’s neon past al fresco. This exhibit is completely free and open 24/7.

If you didn’t get your wildlife fill in the Rockies, then head a short distance outside of the city to Elk Island National Park. Elk Island is the only fenced national park in Canada, a conservation effort to help bring the bison population back.

And you didn’t think I’d go this entire post without mentioning a hockey game, did you? The Edmonton Oilers play in one of the newest arenas in the NHL, so catch a game if you can, especially if they are playing their provincial rivals, the Calgary Flames.

If you are visiting in summer, you can also watch a heated Canadian football (not soccer) battle between the Edmonton Eskimos and the Calgary Stampeders.

Can’t-Miss Food and Drink
Stop at Duchess Bake Shop. This Parisian-inspired café blends some of Alberta’s favorite flavors with French pastries, all made from scratch daily. It’s regularly mentioned as one of the best cafés in the city.

Hathaway’s Diner has quality food at reasonable prices. And who doesn’t love old-school-diner kitsch?

A few years ago, Alberta’s tax system changed up the way it categorized breweries, which resulted in an explosion of craft beer across the province. Don’t miss a stop at Craft Beer Market as it offers up Canada’s largest selection of craft brews.

Where to Stay in Edmonton

  • HI Edmonton – Located just off of Whyte Avenue in Edmonton’s historic Old Strathcona neighborhood, this hostel is right near the river valley park system (also many bus stops to get to other destinations).
  • Days Inn Downtown – Conveniently located in the downtown core and only minutes away from local attractions, this hotel is an excellent option for those not wanting to give up comfort while staying on budget.

 

Day 10: Driving to Calgary

One of the funny displays in the Gopher Hole Museum in Alberta, Canada
It only takes three hours to drive from Edmonton to Calgary on a busy highway. Use your last day to visit more of Calgary.

If you have time, visit the Heritage Ranch near Red Deer (about halfway through the drive). A rancher will drop you off in the middle of the wilderness with a map and a compass (or a GPS). Your goal is to remain at large and capture four designated flags within an hour. All the while, you are being hunted by a man on a horse. It is terrifying and exhilarating and everything in between!

A little closer to Calgary, you can turn off the main highway into Torrington and find the Gopher Hole Museum. Gopher overpopulation is a problem in the area, and so the residents wanted to create something quirky to bring in tourists. The museum is one small room of taxidermied rodents staged in a variety of scenes that highlight local life (think curling gophers, beautician gophers, etc.). It will take no more than a half-hour to visit, but it is well worth the detour for all the WTF moments to be had.

***

Alberta is a very big province. By comparison, Texas is only 2% bigger. If it is the mountains that call you here, then that is rightly so, but I hope you will also take the time to explore other parts of this land rich in attractions. They will keep anyone and everyone entertained for ten days and beyond!

Dalene Heck and her husband Pete are behind the blog Hecktic Travels, which chronicles their journey since selling all their belongings in 2009. They’ve recently started the website Road Trip Alberta to encourage people to visit their home provence.

Book Your Trip to Canada: 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.

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

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

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

The post How to See Alberta: A 10-Day Suggested Driving Itinerary appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.





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My 6 Favorite Hostels in Panama City

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The towering skyline of Panama City surrounded by its lush green parks
Posted:

Panama City is known as the shipping and financial hub of Central America — but there’s much more to the city than that.

Panama City is a bustling, lively city with a vibrant nightlife, tons of history, and delicious food. It’s a good hub to base yourself for a few days while you plan your next steps.

Since it’s not as cheap as other cities in the region, you’ll want to save money by booking yourself a hostel while you’re here. They’re the most cost-effective (and fun) way to enjoy the city.

However, there are a lot of things to consider when selecting a hostel. The top four when picking the best hostel in Panama City are:

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

To help you plan your trip, here is my list of the hostels in Panama City that I like the most. If you don’t want to read the longer list below, the following hostels are the best in each category:

Best Hostel for Budget Travelers: Hostal Casa Areka
Best Hostel for Families: Magnolia Inn Casa Viejo
Best Hostel for Solo Female Travelers: El Machio
Best Hostel for Digital Nomads: Selina Casco Viejo
Best Hostel for Partying: Hostal Casa Areka
Best Overall Hostel: Luna’s Castle Hostel

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

Price Legend (per night)

  • $ = Under $15 USD
  • $$ = $15-20 USD
  • $$$ = Over $20 USD

 

1. Magnolia Inn Casa Viejo

The posh interior of the Magnolia Inn Casa Viejo hostel in Panama City
This boutique hostel is located in Casa Viejo, the city’s beautiful Old Town. It’s clean and quiet, making it a good choice for families or travelers looking for some down time. The hostel is an old French colonial mansion and balances historic charm with modern amenities (like AC and Wi-Fi). The beds are basic and don’t have curtains but the mattresses are thick and comfy. There are also a few common areas where you can relax and hang out or watch TV. Since it’s quiet here, I’d suggest staying here if you want to get a good sleep. There are several social hostels nearby where you can grab a drink and hang out, letting you enjoy being social before returning to your quiet hostel.

Magnolia Inn Casa Viejo at a glance:

  • $$
  • Central location in the Old Town
  • Clean and quiet
  • Beautiful interior

Beds from $16 USD a night, rooms from $116 USD.

—> Book your stay at Magnolia Inn Casa Viejo!
 

2. Hostal Casa Areka

The outdoor swimming pool and hang out area at Hostal Casa Areka in Panama City
This energetic hostel has a pool, outdoor Wi-Fi, space to barbeque, and a spacious kitchen for cooking your own meals. It’s also surrounded by bars and restaurants, making it a good choice for those who want to party. The beds are pretty basic (no curtains for privacy) but are comfortable enough to sleep on. The dorms also only have 8 beds (or less) so you’re never crammed in with other people. There are lots of common areas to relax in and they have female-only dorms too. It’s the cheapest hostel in the city.

Hostal Casa Areka at a glance:

  • $
  • Swimming pool
  • Super affordable
  • Free breakfast

Beds from $9 USD a night, rooms from $35 USD.

—> Book your stay at Hostal Casa Areka!
 

3. El Machio

The colorful dorm rooms of El Machio Hostel in Panama City
This is a social hostel makes it really easy to meet people here since they have a pool, a small bar, play movies outside in their outdoor cinema, and organize tons of tours (they have affordable trips to the San Blas Islands). The beds aren’t the best. Nothing to write home about but the dorms have lockers to keep your items safe and you’re really staying here for the atmosphere. Brekafast is included, there’s a spacious kitchen for cooking, and the surrounding neighborhood is quite safe too.

El Machio at a glance:

  • $
  • Social atmosphere makes it easy to meet people
  • Free brekafast
  • Female-only dorms for added privacy and security

Beds from $13 USD a night, rooms from $50 USD

—> Book your stay at El Machio!
 

4. Luna’s Castle Hostel

The cool interior design of Luna's Castle Hostel in Panama City
This is my favorite hostel in the city. Housed in an old colonial mansion overlooking the ocean, it’s a cool backpacker hostel with a laid back vibe. Free breakfast is included, there’s a bar on-site for having fun, and the staff go above and beyond. They organize walking tours and other fun activities to ensure you have an amazing visit and meet cool people during your stay. They only have large dorms (10 or 12 beds) but the beds have curtains and the mattresses are comfy. It’s lively, social, and an institution on the Gringo Trail around Central America.

Luna’s Castle Hostel at a glance:

  • $$
  • Free breakfast
  • Easy to meet people
  • Beautiful location by the ocean

Beds from $16 USD a night

—> Book your stay at Luna’s Castle Hostel!
 

5. Zebulo Hostel

The spacious and empty dorm rooms of Zebulo Hostel in Panama City
Zebulo has lots of free perks, including free breakfast, free coffee and tea, and a jaccuzzi on-site. While the dorm beds are basic (squeaky metal bunks with no curtains), they’re comfortable enough and not crowded (they cap the rooms at 9 beds). They also organize tons of tours, such as trips to Colombia and the San Blas Islands. They also host lots of weekly events (like BBQ nights). It’s a laid-back hostel that makes it easy to meet people and enjoy all the city has to offer. They also have the cheapest private rooms in the city.

Zebulo Hostel at a glance:

  • $
  • Affordable private rooms
  • Lots of free perks
  • Organizes tons of tours and activities

Beds from $10 USD a night, rooms from $22 USD

—> Book your stay at Zebulo Hostel!
 

6. Selina Casco Viejo

A classy and spacious dorm room in Selina Casco Viejo hostel in Panama City
Located in the picturesque Old Town (in yet another historic colonial building), Selina is new hostel. It’s a chic, upscale hostel that’s popular with solo travelers and digital nomads. They’ve got a spacious outdoor patio for hanging out and there are lots of bars nearby. The beds are comfy and the showers have hot water (which is a nice perk since many hostels in the city don’t have hot water). There’s AC to keep you cool, a co-working space, a pool table, and lots of common areas for chilling out.

Selina Casco Viejo at a glance:

  • $
  • Lots of common areas to hangout in
  • Social atmosphere
  • Central location in the Old Town

Beds from $14 USD a night, $36 USD

—> Book your stay at Selina Casco Viejo!

***

Whether you’re looking to party or just want to relax and enjoy your trip alone, you’ll be able to find an affordable hostel in Panama City that won’t disappoint you!

Book Your Trip to Panama: 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 Panama?
Check out my in-depth destination guide to Panama with more tips on what to see, do, costs, ways to save, and much, much more!

Photo Credit: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

The post My 6 Favorite Hostels in Panama City appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.





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California Road Trip: A 21-Day Suggested Itinerary

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An open road in Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA
Posted: 7/2/2020 | July 2nd, 2020

California. It’s the third-largest state in the country and home to over 40 million people and a range of environments and landscapes: dense forests in the north, rugged mountains in the east, majestic deserts in the south, world-class beaches on the coast, and the fabulous wine regions on the coast and central valley.

And it’s perfect for road trips.

I’ve already outlined an awesome seven-day itinerary for Southern California, but today I wanted to share a longer, more comprehensive route for anyone who has a few weeks to explore more of the state’s cities and landscapes.

Even with three weeks, you’ll still miss a lot of great spots in this state (I mean you could spend months traveling California) but this suggested itinerary hits some of my favorite major — and not so major — places.
 

Days 1–3: San Francisco

The famous Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California
San Francisco is one of the most recognizable cities in the US. Home to hippies, yuppies, techies, students, and a sizeable immigrant community, it’s a vibrant and diverse city. It is an eclectic destination to visit. Here’s a list of a few of my favorite things to see and do:

  • Walk the Golden Gate Bridge – When it opened, it was the world’s longest and tallest suspension bridge, stretching some 4,200 feet. It offers incredible views of the bay and the ships coming and going. You can walk across it too.
  • Tour Alcatraz – Alcatraz is one of the most infamous former prisons in the country. It housed some of the nation’s worst criminals, such as Al Capone. Today, it’s a national landmark where you can take tours of the prison, step foot in the cells, and learn about its history.
  • Visit the Beat Museum – Dedicated to the 1950s Beat Generation, this unique museum houses original manuscripts, rare books, letters, and more from authors like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. It also holds regular events, so check the website to see if anything is happening during your visit.
  • Take a food tour – San Francisco is known for its foodie culture. If you want to cast a wide culinary net and try a lot of different cuisines and dishes, consider taking a food tour. Some companies to check out are Wild SF Tours, Secret Food Tours, and TasteBud Tours.
  • Explore Chinatown – When immigrants from China first came to America, many set up shop in San Francisco. Today, in the biggest Chinatown in the U.S., you’ll find some of the best Chinese food in the country, as well as wonderful teahouses, bars, souvenir stalls, and fortune cookie makers.
  • Relax at Golden Gate Park – This gigantic park a great place to walk or relax. It features a Japanese garden, museums, an arboretum, a carousel, and many hiking and walking trails. It’s 20% bigger than New York’s Central Park so you easily could spend an entire day here!

For more suggestions, here’s a detailed list of things to see and do in San Francisco.

Where to Stay

  • HI San Francisco – Downtown – HI Downtown has some standard perks, like free breakfast and free towels, but the staff also organize a lot of events, including pub crawls, trips to Muir Woods and Yosemite, and bike tours across the Golden Gate Bridge.
  • Green Tortoise Hostel – This lively hostel is my favorite in the city. It offers free breakfast, free dinners multiple times per week, and even a free sauna! It’s a party hostel, so be sure to stay here only if you’re looking to meet people and get rowdy.

For more suggestions, here’s a full list of my favorite hostels in San Francisco!
 

Day 4: Big Sur

The rugged coasts and blue waters of Big Sur, California
On the coast just over two hours south of San Francisco is a 90-mile expanse of stunning views and massive redwoods known as Big Sur. There are plenty of beautiful beaches, hiking trails, viewpoints, and campgrounds in case you want to stay overnight (which I recommend). It’s one of the most beautiful stretches of craggy, unspoiled coastline in the state, so take your time exploring as you head south.

Where to Stay
I suggest staying at least one night around Big Sur (or just south of the region) to split up the drive to LA. If you don’t have camping gear, Airbnb has a lot of places around the area. You can also just pop into any of numerous cheap motels in the area too.
 

Days 5–7: Los Angeles

The picuresque Santa Monica beach and ferris wheel
Though I hated it when I first visited, I’ve come to love Los Angeles. It’s not a “tourist” city: everything is spread out and there are not many attractions as you’d expect. But, if you come to LA and go with the flow like a local, you’ll see why people love it so much. This is a city where you eat, drink, hike the many trails in the area, and linger in a coffeeshop.

Here are some suggestions on how to fill your days:

  • Hit the beach – Venice Beach is an iconic LA hotspot where you’ll encounter all kinds of street performers, surfers, rollerskaters, and both locals and tourists alike soaking up the sun. Other beaches worth checking out are Carbon Beach, Santa Monica State Beach, Huntington City Beach, and El Matador.
  • See the Le Brea Tar Pits – Located in Hancock Park, these natural asphalt pits have existed for over 50,000 years. Tons of fossils preserved for centuries have been found in the pits, and there’s a museum nearby that has lots of interesting information about them and how they came to be.
  • See the Hollywood Sign – You can snap pictures of the sign from pretty much anywhere in Hollywood. However, it’s also possible to hike up to the sign itself to take in the view. The three trails that you can take (from easiest to hardest) are the Mt. Hollywood Trail, the Brush Canyon Trail, and the Cahuenga Peak Trail. Bring water, because the hike will take a few hours.
  • Visit LACMA – Home to some 150,000 works, the LA County Museum of Art is the largest art museum in the western USA. They have collections from pretty much every era throughout history and every region of the world. Admission is $25 USD.
  • Visit The Last Bookstore – This is one of my favorite bookstores in the world. It also sells records, has art displays, and features a cool upstairs area with cheap used books. Browse the shelves, grab a coffee, and buy a book for your journey.
  • Stroll down Hollywood Boulevard – Don’t miss the Walk of Fame (where celebrities have their names engraved in the sidewalk) and Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (featuring celebrities’ handprints and footprints).
  • Visit the Getty Museum – This art museum opened in 1997 and boasts a diverse collection paintings, manuscripts, drawings, and other artwork. The collection runs from the eighth century to the present day, so there is something for everyone. Admission is free.
  • Go hiking – Get out and stretch your legs on the city’s hiking trails. Some worth checking out are the Charlie Turner Trail (90 minutes), Baldwin Hills (30 minutes), Runyon Canyon (45 minutes), Portuguese Bend Reserve (3 hours), and Echo Mountain (3-3.5 hours).
  • Visit The Broad – This contemporary art museum is one of the city’s newest. Opened in 2015, it has over 2,000 pieces of art. It also has a rotating series of temporary exhibitions too (check the website to see what’s on during your visit). Admission is free.

For a much longer list on what to see and do in LA, check out my Los Angeles travel guide.

Moreover, the city also has innumerable world-class food options. Some places I really like are Musso & Frank Grill, Dan Tana’s, Meals by Genet, The Butcher’s Daughter, Sugarfish, and Thai Pepper.

Where to Stay

  • Banana Bungalow Hollywood – A laid-back but social hostel that organizes lots of activities and makes it easy to meet people. If you want to party and have fun, this is the place for you!
  • Freehand Los Angeles – This hostel/hotel features designer rooms with comfortable beds, a rooftop pool and bar with amazing views of the city, a lobby bar, a restaurant, and even a fitness center.

For more suggestions, here’s a list of my favorite hostels in Los Angeles.
 

Days 8–9: San Diego

The wide, white-sand Pacific Beach near San Diego, California
San Diego, just two hours down the coast, has just as much to offer. It’s easier to navigate (it’s smaller), the weather is always perfect, the beaches are better, and it’s cheaper too. After LA, it’s my favorite city in the state. Spend a day or two soaking up the city.

Here are some suggestions for things to see and do during your visit:

  • Visit the USS Midway Museum – This aircraft carrier, commissioned right after World War II, was the largest ship in the world until 1955 and saw action in numerous conflicts, including Vietnam. It was decommissioned in 1992 and became a museum. You can explore the flight deck as well as many of the rooms below.
  • Hike Point Loma – This is the peninsula where Europeans first arrived in California. Walk out to the tip and enjoy the serene views, visit the lighthouse (built in 1855), and watch locals climb the rocks and cliffs of Osprey Point.
  • Visit the San Diego Zoo – This is one of the best zoos in the country. Located in Balboa Park (see below), it has over 3,500 animals and 700,000 plant species. It’s a massive, 1,800-acre park where you could easily spend an entire day. If you’re traveling with kids, don’t miss it.
  • Explore Balboa Park – In addition to the zoo, Balboa Park also offers dozens of museums as well as walking paths, sports fields, gardens, greenhouses, stadiums, theatres, and much more. It’s one of the oldest recreational parks in the country.
  • Enjoy Pacific Beach – If you want to soak up the sun, swim, or surf, head to Pacific Beach. If you’re a night owl, the area also has lots of bars, clubs, and restaurants too.
  • Go whale watching – California gray whales, which can grow up to 49 feet and live for over 70 years, migrate from Alaska to Mexico each year between December and April. They are incredible to see up close, and tours are quite affordable (usually around $35 USD).
  • Relax in Belmont Park – This is a kitschy amusement park right next to the ocean. It has a few classic rides, as well as games and lots of greasy (and delicious) snacks. It’s cheesy but fun!
  • Go surfing – Whether you’re a veteran or a newbie, grab a board and hit the waves. There’s some awesome surfing here. You can usually rent a board for around $30 USD a day. Lessons cost around $70 USD and last 90-minutes.

Where to Stay

  • HI San Diego – HI San Diego organizes lots of events and tours that make it easy to meet other travelers. They include free breakfast and also have a big kitchen so you can cook your own food to save money.
  • ITH Adventure Hostel – This is an eco-friendly hostel with a vegetable garden (guests get free veggies), a recycling and compost program, and even backyard chickens. There is lots of outdoor common space to relax in too.

If you’re on a budget, here’s a list of the best hostels in San Diego for you.
 

Days 10–12: Joshua Tree National Park

The beautiful and unique Joshua trees in Joshua Tree National Park, California
Located just under three hours from San Diego and sandwiched between the Mojave and Colorado Deserts, this is where you’ll find the iconic Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia), twisted multibranched trees. Towering boulders dot the arid landscape and swaths of cacti poke up from the hard dirt. It’s an otherworldly place perfect for hiking, camping, and escaping the busy cities along California’s coast.

The park was declared a national monument in 1936 and designated a national park in 1994. There are a lot of trails here, so consult the trail map when you visit. Some of my favorites are:

  • Barker Dam Trail – A quick 1.1-mile loop on which you can see wildlife such as rabbits, bighorn sheep, and all kinds of birds.
  • Wall Street Mill – An easy 2.8-mile hike that leads to an old mill used to refine ore from nearby gold mines.
  • Ryan Mountain – A steep 3-mile hike offering some incredible views.
  • Split Rock Loop – A quiet 2-mile hike with lots of neat rock formations.

A seven-day vehicle pass for the park is $30 USD (it allows multiple entries in case you stay in one of the nearby towns).

Where to Stay
Airbnb is the best option if you don’t have your own camping gear, although there are also glamping and more rustic options.
 

Days 13–15: Sequoia National Park & Kings Canyon National Park

The massive redwoods and sequoias in Sequoia National Park, California
Sequoia National Park, established in 1890, is where you’ll find the largest single-stem tree in the entire world. Named “General Sherman,” this giant sequoia tree stands a whopping 275 feet tall and has a diameter of 25 feet (that’s a 103-foot circumference). It’s so big that one of its branches is bigger than almost every single tree east of the Mississippi.

Start your visit at the Giant Forest Museum to learn about the history, geography, and importance of the park and its flora and fauna. Afterward, walk the Big Trees Trail, a short loop that will get you in and amongst the trees so you can see them up close.

For a sweeping view of the forest and surrounding landscape, hike up Moro Rock, a massive 250-foot granite dome that juts out of the surrounding hills and forest. Stairs and a concrete viewpoint were built into the rock itself, so you can safely climb to the top and enjoy the magnificent vista.

And for more hiking options and beautiful scenery, visit nearby Kings Canyon National Park. Here you’ll find “General Grant” (the third largest tree in the world). For a scenic drive, cruise along the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway.

Both parks are around 4-6 hours from Joshua Tree.

Where to Stay
There are tons of places to camp here (both inside and outside of the parks). However, there are also lots of lodges and hotels if camping is not for you. Booking.com has the best list of them all.
 

Days 16–18: Yosemite National Park

The beautiful scenery of Yosemite National Park, California
Located in the Sierra Nevada mountain range two hours from Sequoia National Park and encompassing nearly 750,000 acres, Yosemite is one of the most iconic national parks in the country. It’s where you’ll find El Capitán, the towering granite cliff you’ve likely seen on social media (it was also featured in the movie, Free Solo). It is one of the most popular parks in the US, seeing over four million visitors each year who enjoy hiking, biking, climbing, camping, rafting, canoeing, and kayaking here.

Here are a few hiking suggestions to help you get started:

  • Mirror Lake – An easy 2-mile hike to Mirror Lake. Takes 1-2 hours.
  • Nevada Fall Trail – A challenging 5.8-mile hike to the top of the Nevada Falls waterfall. Takes 5–6 hours.
  • Tuolumne Grove Nature Trail – An easy 2.5-mile hike around a grove filled with massive giant sequoia trees. Takes 1–2 hours.
  • Elizabeth Lake Trail – A moderate 4.8-mile hike that leads to Elizabeth Lake, a glacier-carved lake at the base of Unicorn Peak. Takes 4–5 hours.
  • Eagle Peak Trail – A difficult 6.9-mile hike to the top of Eagle Peak and back. Takes 8 hours.

Be sure to visit the visitor’s center on arrival to get information on activities, prices, and information on the latest weather.

Where to Stay
If you aren’t planning to camp, there are actually many other options here. Lodges, resorts, and hotels can be found both inside the park and all around it. Use Airbnb or Booking.com to find a place to stay.
 

Days 19–20: Napa Valley

A hot air balloon floating over vineyards in Napa Valley, California
Finally, head northwest to Napa Valley, one of the world’s premier wine regions, and end your trip relaxing at a vineyard. Napa is just over three hours from Yosemite and offers a plethora of world-class wine and food to indulge in.

While it’s a particularly expensive region of the state, it is possible to visit Napa Valley on a budget if you plan ahead and share costs with other people.

If you’re on a budget, stick to the markets and sandwich shops. Gott’s Roadside has locations in both Napa and St. Helena and serves delicious burgers for under $10 USD, while Ad Hoc runs a delicious food truck offering fried chicken made by a Michelin-star chef for $15 USD with sides.

Whereto Stay
While some vineyards offer accommodation, they are usually super expensive. Unless you’re looking to splurge, use Airbnb. I find the best value accommodation in the area on that site.
 

Day 21: Back to San Francisco

It’s time to head back to San Francisco. The drive is around 90 minutes, so you’ll have plenty of time to make stops along the way if you see anything that piques your interest.

***

This three-week itinerary will help you cover a lot of ground without being too rushed. Adjust the route as you go (or based on the amount of time you have). But, no matter the route you pick, the diversity and beauty of California will ensure you’ll have a wonderful road trip.

Book Your Trip to the USA: Logistical Tips and Tricks

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

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

The post California Road Trip: A 21-Day Suggested Itinerary appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.





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A 7-Day Southern California Road Trip Itinerary

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An iconic Joshua Tree from Joshua Tree National Park in California, USA
Posted: 6/29/20 | June 29th, 2020

I’ve been on many road trips around the US over the years. It’s by far my favorite way to explore the country.

One state in particular is perfect for road-tripping: California.

Occupying much of the West Coast, California is home to almost 40 million people. Here you find high mountains, giant trees, deserts, valleys, stunning beaches, and vibrant cities. It’s its own little country in some ways.

Since California is so big, I’m going to do a series of posts that cover road trips in the state as it’s better to focus on smaller areas so you can really soak up and enjoy each destination. In travel, less is more.

To kick off the series, here is a one-week itinerary for Southern California:
 

Days 1–2: Los Angeles

Looking out over Los Angeles from behind the Hollywood sign
Start in Los Angeles, a city I’ve come to love. It’s not a city for tourists. Everything is spread out, you need a car, and the traffic makes getting around a pain. But, if you can enjoy its slow pace, diverse food and drink scene, and hikes, you’ll get a taste of what it’s like to live there. You visit LA like how you would spend your Saturday.

The city has a lot to do. Here are some of my personal favorite activities:

  • Stroll down Hollywood Boulevard – Don’t miss the Walk of Fame (where celebrities have their names engraved in the sidewalk) and Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (featuring celebrities’ handprints and footprints).
  • Visit LACMA – With over 150,000 works, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is the largest art museum in the western USA. They have collections from pretty much every era throughout history and every region of the world. Admission is $25 USD.
  • Hike to the Hollywood Sign – While you can snap pictures of the sign from pretty much anywhere in the city, it’s also possible to hike up to the sign itself to take in the view. The three trails (from easiest to hardest) are the Mt. Hollywood Trail, the Brush Canyon Trail, and the Cahuenga Peak Trail.
  • Browse The Last Bookstore – This is one of my favorite bookstores in the world. It sells books and records, has art displays, and features a cool upstairs area too with cheap books. Browse the shelves, grab a coffee, and buy a book!
  • Hit the beach – There are a lot of awesome beaches in and around Los Angeles. Some of the best are: Venice Beach, Carbon Beach, Santa Monica State Beach, Huntington City Beach, and El Matador.
  • Visit the Getty Museum – Opened in 1997 as part of the massive Getty Center, this museum has a diverse collection of paintings, manuscripts, drawings, and other artwork from the eighth century to present day. Admission is free.
  • Go hiking – LA has a lot of hiking trails so it’s easy to connect with nature. Some worth checking out are the Charlie Turner Trail (90 minutes), Baldwin Hills (30 minutes), Runyon Canyon (45 minutes), Portuguese Bend Reserve (3 hours), and Echo Mountain (3–3.5 hours).
  • See the Le Brea Tar Pits – These natural asphalt pits are located in Hancock Park and have existed for upwards of 50,000 years. Tons of fossils, preserved for centuries, have been found in them. The museum has lots of interesting information about the pits and how they came to be.

For more things to see and do, here’s my complete guide to Los Angeles.

Los Angeles also has countless food options. Some places I love are Musso & Frank Grill, Dan Tana’s, Meals by Genet, The Butcher’s Daughter, Sugarfish, and Thai Pepper.

Where to Stay

  • Banana Bungalow Hollywood – A chill, laid-back hostel that’s super social and organizes lots of activities.
  • Freehand Los Angeles – This hostel/hotel features designer rooms with comfortable beds, a rooftop pool and bar with amazing views of the city, a lobby bar, a restaurant, and even a fitness center.

For more suggestions, here’s my complete list of favorite hostels in Los Angeles!
 

Days 2–3: San Diego

The skyline of San Diego as seen from over the bay
Two hours down the coast is San Diego. It’s a popular city for sure but not as popular as the others. Personally, after LA, it’s my second favorite spot in the state! It’s easier to navigate, cheaper, has amazing weather, awesome beaches, and plenty of great bars and restaurants. Spend two nights here.

Here are some things to do during your visit:

  • Visit the USS Midway Museum – This aircraft carrier was the largest ship in the world until 1955. It saw action in numerous conflicts before being decommissioned in 1992 and turned into a museum. You can explore the flight deck as well as many of the rooms below.
  • Have fun at Belmont Park – This kitschy amusement park is right next to the ocean and perfect for some cheesy fun. It has a few classic rides as well as games and lots of greasy (and delicious) food and snacks.
  • Go surfing – Whether you’re a veteran or a newbie, grab a board and hit the waves. There’s some awesome surfing here. You can usually rent a board for around $30 USD a day. 90-minute lessons cost around $70 USD.
  • Visit the San Diego Zoo – Located in Balboa Park and with over 3,500 animals and 700,000 plant species, the San Diego Zoo is a massive, 1,800-acre park where you could easily spend an entire day. It’s one of the best zoos in the country and a great choice for anyone traveling with kids.
  • Explore Balboa Park – This is one of the oldest recreational parks in the US. In addition to the zoo, there are dozens of museums, as well as gardens, walking paths, sports fields, stadiums, theatres, and more. It’s a massive cultural center and green space with a ton to see and do.
  • Enjoy Pacific Beach – Head to Pacific Beach if you want to soak up the sun, surf, or go for a swim. The area is also known for its nightlife and offers lots of bars, clubs, and restaurants too.
  • Go whale watching – Between December and April, California gray whales migrate from Alaska to Mexico. They can grow up to 49 feet long and are incredible to see up close. Tours usually cost around $35 USD.
  • Hike Point Loma – This peninsula is where Europeans first arrived in California. You can walk out to the tip and enjoy the sweeping views of the ocean, visit the old lighthouse (built in 1855), and watch locals climb the cliffs of Osprey Point.

Where to Stay

  • HI San Diego – This hostel organizes tons of events and tours, includes free breakfast, and has a big kitchen so you can cook your own food to save money.
  • ITH Adventure Hostel – This eco-hostel has a vegetable garden (and gives free veggies to guests), a recycling and compost program, and even backyard chickens. There is lots of outdoor common space to relax in too.

For more suggestions, here’s a list of my favorite hostels in San Diego!
 

Days 3–5: Joshua Tree National Park

The iconic Joshua trees growing in the aria California desert
Sandwiched between the Mojave Desert and the Colorado Desert, Joshua Tree National Park offers some of the most incredible landscapes in the country. Swaths of cacti and towering boulders dot the arid panorama, all peppered by the famous Joshua trees and their distinct twisting trunks and branches.

It’s an otherworldly place, a Martian landscape perfect for hiking, camping, and escaping the busy cities along California’s coast. There are countless trails to enjoy, ranging from short and easy to multiday challenges. Some suggestions:

  • Ryan Mountain – A steep 3-mile hike offering some incredible views.
  • Wall Street Mill – An easy 2.8-mile hike that leads to an old mill used to refine ore during from gold mining.
  • Split Rock Loop – A quiet 2-mile hike with lots of neat rock formations.
  • Barker Dam Trail – A 1.1-mile loop offering a chance to see rabbits, bighorn sheep, and all kinds of birds.

The visitor center has more information and trail maps. It’s only $30 USD for a seven-day vehicle pass, which is good for multiple entries in case you stay outside the park itself. The park is three hours from San Diego.

Where to Stay
Airbnb is the best option here if you don’t have your own camping gear, although there are also glamping and more rustic options around the area too.
 

Days 5–7: Sequoia National Park & Kings Canyon National Park

Massive redwood and sequoia trees in Sequoia National park in California, USA
Start early and head to Sequoia National Park. It’s a long drive from Joshua Tree (it takes about 4-6 hours to get there).

The park itself is comprised of towering redwood and Sequoia trees, some of the biggest trees in the world. I’m talking trees so thick you can drive a car though them and so tall that you can’t see their crown!

Start things off by visiting the Giant Forest Museum to learn about the geography, history, and importance of the park. Afterward, walk the Big Trees Trail, a short loop that will get you in and amongst the trees. It also has the largest single-stem tree in the world, General Sherman!

For a sweeping view of the forest, hike up Moro Rock. Standing 250 feet tall, it’s a massive granite dome that juts out of the surrounding hills and forest. Stairs and a viewpoint were built into the rock itself so you can climb to the top safely and enjoy the magnificent vista.

While you’re here, visit nearby Kings Canyon National Park, a mountainous park with beautiful lakes, valleys to hike, and spectacular views. It’s also where you can see “General Grant” (the third largest tree in the world). For a scenic drive, cruise the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway, a narrow road along the side of a mountain that offers more picturesque views of the rugged landscape.

Where to Stay
There are lots of places to camp here, both inside and outside of the parks. However, if camping isn’t your thing (it’s not really mine), there are plenty of lodges and hotels in the area. You can find them via Booking.com.
 

Day 7: Head back to Los Angeles

After that, it’s back to LA. It’s only a 3.5-hour drive, so if you’re not in a hurry, enjoy the desert views and stop along the way if you see anything that piques your interest.

***

California is a huge state with unlimited road-tripping potential. And, while there are a million different routes you could take for a seven-day trip, I think this itinerary covers some of the best of SoCal.

Book Your Trip to the USA: Logistical Tips and Tricks

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

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

The post A 7-Day Southern California Road Trip Itinerary appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.





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The 18 Best Things to See and Do in Oslo

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Downtown Oslo, Norway in the summer near the water
Posted: 6/26/2020 | June 26th, 2020

Balancing natural beauty, historic architecture, and a modern flair, Oslo, Norway’s beautiful capital, is a city that punches well above its weight. It’s small but bursting with things to do: there are countless museums, spacious parks, and delicious restaurants to keep you busy. It’s close to numerous forests with hiking and biking trails, and there are lots of places to swim in the summer too.

However, since it’s expensive, a lot of travelers pass Oslo by.

While a visit will certainly eat into your budget, Oslo is definitely worth a couple of days. To help show precisely why you should add it to your itinerary, here are my favorite things to see and do in Oslo:
 

1. Take a Free Walking Tour

I always start my trips off with a free walking tour. They’re a budget-friendly way to see the main sights, learn a little history, meet other travelers, and get access to an expert local guide who can answer all my questions.

Free Tour Oslo organizes daily tours that last 90 minutes and is a solid introduction to the city. Make sure to tip them when the tour ends!
 

2. Explore the Vigeland Sculpture Park

A small baby statue in Vigeland Park in Oslo, Norway
This unique collection of sculptures is located in Frogner Park. It’s the world’s largest display of sculptures created by a single artist. Gustav Vigeland (1869–1943) created over 200 bronze, iron, and granite statues that now stand in the open-air “gallery” (which covers a whopping 80 acres). The crying baby statue is the most famous! In the summer, there are often events held here as well.
 

3. Enjoy the View at the Opera House

The famous Oslo Opera House in Norway overlooking the city at sunset
This massive contemporary theatre sits on the water and is home to the national opera and ballet. Opened in 2007, the building itself is composed of multiple flat levels that essentially act as small plazas, allowing visitors to walk on the roof and enjoy the view of the harbor and city. It’s a popular spot to watch the sunset when the weather is nice. Check the website to see what performances are happening during your visit.

Kirsten Flagstads Plass 1, +47 21 42 21 21, operaen.no. Open weekdays 10am–7pm, Saturdays 11am–6pm, and Sundays 12pm–6pm. Admission to performances varies.

4. See the Viking Museum

Viking Museum, Oslo
Located on Bygdøy Island, this museum is home to some of the best-preserved Viking longships in the world. The ships, some of which date back to the 9th century, were found around Norway. There are Viking burial ships here, as well as carts and tools from the Middle Ages. The museum is relatively sparse (the highlight really is the ships), but there is also a short film and some interesting tidbits of information. Download the free audio guide to make the most of your visit.

Huk Aveny 35, +47 22 13 52 80, khm.uio.no/besok-oss/vikingskipshuset. Open daily 9am–6pm in the summer and 10am–4pm in the winter. Admission is 120 NOK ($12.40 USD) for adults and free for kids under 18.
 

5. Visit the Historical Museum

This museum has lots of artifacts and information about Norway’s past, including lots of Viking content. There are also exhibitions on Ancient Egypt (including mummies), Africa, and the country’s arctic expeditions. You can also use your ticket to get free entry to the Viking Museum (and vice versa) if done within 48 hours. It’s free on the last Saturday of each month as well.

Frederiks gate 2, +47 22 85 19 00, khm.uio.no/besok-oss/historisk-museum. Open Tuesday-Sunday 10am–4pm. Admission is 120 NOK ($12.40 USD) for adults and free for kids under 18.
 

6. Wander Holmenkollen

A wintery view of Oslo, Norway and the old Olympic ski jump in Holmenkollen
The Holmenkollen Ski Jump can be seen from every corner of the city. If you want to see it up close, hop on the subway and get off at the Holmenkollen stop. You can walk up to the jump and visit the Ski Jump Museum (the oldest ski museum in the world) if you want to learn more about this seemingly insane sport. The jump at Holmenkollen is 60 meters high, and there’s room for some 70,000 spectators (Norwegians love their winter sports!).

From here you can also wander into Nordmarka for a hike. It’s a forested area north of the city with hiking, walking, and cycling trails.
 

7. Relax at Aker Brygge

Located near the pier, you’ll also find the largest concentration of restaurants in Oslo here, ranging from French cuisine to traditional Nordic dishes. There’s lots of window-shopping and architecture to admire as well. The wharf has something for everyone and is a great place to spend a couple of hours soaking up life in the city.
 

8. See the Royal Palace

The historic Royal Palace in Oslo, Norway in the summer
Completed in the 1840s, today it’s the official residence of the monarch. It’s surrounded by a huge park, and locals can usually be seen enjoying what little sun they get throughout the year. During the summer, parts of the palace are open to visitors. Tours last one hour and you’ll be able to see some of the lavish historical rooms and learn about the monarchs who ruled Norway over the centuries.

Slottsplassen 1, +47 22 04 87 00, kongehuset.no/seksjon.html. Summer hours vary. See the website for details. Admission is 140 NOK ($14.50 USD) and includes a tour.
 

9. Visit the Norwegian Folk Museum

The Norsk Folkemuseum (Norwegian Museum of Cultural History) is an open-air museum home to relocated traditional Norwegian buildings. It’s near the Viking Ship Museum (and several other museums) and showcases over 150 buildings from various periods throughout Norwegian history. The most stunning of its exhibitions is Gol Stave Church, an intricately carved wooden church that dates back to the 13th century. In the summer, you can also feed animals and take carriage rides around the area.

Museumsveien 10, +47 22 12 37 00, norskfolkemuseum.no. Open daily 11am–4pm. Admission is 160 NOK ($16.50 USD).
 

10. Go Swimming

Oslo is a city surrounded by water and nature. It’s a green capital, with many outdoor areas that are ideal for swimming in the summer. The water here is clean and safe too. Tjuvholmen City Beach, Sørenga Seawater Pool, and Huk are three places worth checking out if you’re looking to take a dip when the weather is nice.
 

11. Visit the Fram Museum

This unique museum focuses on polar exploration, a prevalent topic in Norwegian history and culture. The centerpiece is the Fram, the world’s first ice-breaking ship (and the last one made out of wood). In use between 1893 and 1912, the Fram made many trips to the North and South Poles and is said to have sailed farther north and farther south than any other wooden ship in history. The museum is very detailed and offers a lot of history, as well as photographs, tools, and artifacts.

Bygdøynesveien 39, +47 23 28 29 50, frammuseum.no. Open daily 10am–6pm. Admission is 120 NOK ($12.40 USD).
 

12. Learn about the Kon-Tiki Expedition

The famous Kon-Tiki balsa raft in Oslo, Norway
The Kon-Tiki Museum focuses on the works and expeditions of historian and explorer Thor Heyerdahl. Using a traditional balsa raft, Heyerdahl crossed the Pacific Ocean from South America to Polynesia, proving that the islands were populated from the Americas and not Asia, as had been previously thought. The journey took 101 days and was filmed, winning an Academy Award in 1951.

The original raft can be found in the museum, along with information on Heyerdahl’s other expeditions and archeological discoveries. The journey inspired the 2012 historical drama film Kon-Tiki (which is an excellent travel film).

Bygdøynesveien 36, +47 23 08 67 67, kon-tiki.no. Open daily 9:30am–6pm (shorter hours in the autumn and winter). Admission is 120 NOK ($12.40 USD).
 

13. Visit the Holocaust Center

The Holocaust Center focuses on the Norwegian experience of the Holocaust, highlighting the tragic fate of Norwegian Jews as well as the persecution of religious minorities around the world. Established in 2001, it moved from the university to the former residence of Vidkun Quisling, a fascist who headed the Norwegian government under Nazi occupation from 1942 to 1945 (he was executed for war crimes after the war ended). The center has all sorts of exhibitions, photos, films, artifacts, and interviews. It’s somber and sobering but worth a visit.

Huk Aveny 56, +47 23 10 62 00, hlsenteret.no. Open weekdays 9am–4pm. Admission is 70 NOK ($7.25 USD).
 

14. See City Hall

Oslo’s City Hall is open to the public and free to enter. While it might not sound like an interesting sight, tours of the hall are actually quite informative. There are about 20 murals and works of art inside the building, covering everything from traditional Norwegian life to the Nazi occupation. You’ll also learn about the history of the Nobel Peace Prize, which is awarded here annually (the other Nobel Prizes are awarded in Stockholm).

15. Explore Akershus Castle

The exterior of Akershus Castle in Oslo, Norway in the summer
Originally built in 1290, Akershus Castle is a medieval fortress that later evolved into a Renaissance palace under Danish King Christian IV. It was built both for protection and as a royal residence (currently, it’s used as an office for the prime minister). The fortress has never successfully been besieged, though it did surrender to the Nazis during World War II.

Inside, you’ll find a military museum as well as a museum dedicated to the resistance during WWII. Guided tours are available in the summer and there are often concerts and events held here so check the website to see if anything is occurring during your visit.

+47 23 09 39 17, forsvarsbygg.no/no/festningene/finn-din-festning/akershus-festning. Open daily in the summers 10am–4pm (winter hours vary). Admission is free.
 

16. Go Tobogganing at Korketrekkeren

Tobogganing is a traditional Norwegian winter activity and one you shouldn’t miss if you’re here during the winter. Stretching over 2,000 meters long, the Korketrekkeren track is fun for adults and kids alike. Sleds and helmets are available for rent for 150 NOK ($15.50 USD) and you rent them by the day so you can enjoy as many rides as you like.
 

17. Explore the National Gallery

The National Gallery contains Edvard Munch’s famous painting “The Scream” (which was painted in 1893 and has been stolen twice). The gallery is small, but there are a lot of artists on display. You’ll find some Impressionist and Dutch works, as well as those by Picasso and El Greco. It’s not the most expansive collection, but it is still worth a visit, especially if you’re a fan of more classical art styles, like me.

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

18. Get Off the Beaten Path

The She Lies sculpture in Oslo, Norway
If you’re looking for something more quirky, here are some of the more off-the-beaten path sights and museums the city has to offer:

  • Norwegian Museum of Magic – A small museum open only on Sundays, with lots of magic memorabilia and props. There’s also a small magic performance as well.
  • The Devil of Oslo – This statue is over 900 years old and depicts a man being attacked by a lion and a dragon. It’s a part of the Oslo Cathedral (though it’s much older than the cathedral itself).
  • The Mini Bottle Gallery – Home to over 50,000 bottles, this quirky museum is the only mini bottle museum in the world. The bottles are filled with everything from food to bones to worms (and much, much more!).
  • Edvard Munch’s grave – Munch painted the famous “The Scream.”
  • She Lies – This glass and stainless steel sculpture sits out in the harbor and evokes the power and beauty of an iceberg.

 

***

No matter what you’re interested in, Oslo will be able to keep you entertained. With its diverse collection of museums, an abundance of parks and hiking trails, and beautiful vistas and scenery, you’ll have a hard time getting bored here. And, while it is an expensive destination, I promise a trip to Oslo is worth every krone!

Book Your Trip to Oslo: Logistical Tips and Tricks

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

Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld as they have the most comprehensive inventory. If you want to stay somewhere else, use Booking.com, as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and hotels. My favorite places to stay in Oslo are:

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

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

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

Photo credits: 7 – Daderot, 8 – Claudine Lamothe, 9 – Nine LaMaitre

The post The 18 Best Things to See and Do in Oslo appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.





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The 17 Best Things to See and Do in Madrid

Posted By : webmaster/ 102 0


The historic skyline of Madrid, Spain at sunset
Posted: 6/25/2020 | June 25th, 2020

Madrid is an energetic city known for its late nights, historic sites, and delicious cuisine. It’s a massive city bursting with beautiful architecture.

I’ve been to the city numerous times. It’s an incredible city where little alleys reveal hidden restaurants and bars and locals who like to start their nights late and go early into the morning. (It’s definitely a night owl city.)

As the capital of Spain, there’s a lot of history and art here. You could spend weeks here. There’s an endless amount of things to see and do in Madrid.

To help you make the most of your trip, here are my favorite things to do in Madrid, from museums to food tours to cultural experiences and more:
 

1. Take a Free Walking Tour

Travelers exploring a historic plaza in Madrid, Spain
I love taking free walking tours. They’re a budget-friendly way to see the main sights, learn some history, and get a feel for the city. You get access to a local guide who can answer all your questions and give you insider tips on where to go and what to do. Free Walking Tours Madrid and New Europe both offer comprehensive tours. Just make sure to tip your guide at the end!

For a more in-depth tour, Take Walks offers the best paid tours in the city. It’s my go-to walking tour company because its tours are super detailed and insightful.
 

2. Visit the Royal Palace

Construction began in 1735, and the palace was home to Spain’s monarchs until the 1930s. The palace is only used for official state functions now. You can visit and explore the historic buildings and grounds via both guided and self-guided tours. The palace has over 3,400 rooms and encompasses a massive 1.4 million square feet. The interior is lavishly decorated with massive vaulted ceilings, paintings, murals, and intricate wood carvings.

Oriente Square, +34 914 548 700, patrimonionacional.es. Open daily 10am–6pm (8pm in the summer). Admission is 14 EUR ($15.75 USD).
 

3. See the Cathedral of Madrid

The exterior of the Catedral de la Almudena in Madrid, Spain
The Catedral de la Almudena, which took over 100 years to complete, is the main cathedral in Madrid. It opened in 1993. Built in the Gothic Revival style, it offers some beautiful views overlooking the city.

Almudena Square, +34 915 422 200, catedraldelaalmudena.es. Admission is free, but donations are accepted. Please dress respectfully, as this is a place of worship.
 

4. Relax in Plaza Mayor

Dating back to the 15th century, this square is the heart of Madrid. It’s a popular place for locals and tourists to gather, eat, and shop. It’s a bit overpriced these days but it offers some nice people-watching, and there are also usually events and concerts during the summer.
 

5. Take a Food Tour

Madrid is a foodie’s dream. If you aren’t sure where to start, I suggest taking a food tour. I took the Devour Madrid Food Tour run by fellow bloggers and ex-pats Lauren and James. It was informative, delicious, and absolutely filling. You can learn more in this video here:

For more on their tour, visit their website Devour Madrid.
 

6. Wander the Mercado de San Miguel

This covered market used to be a massive central market. Opened in 1916, it eventually fell into disrepair but was recently revitalized with amazing restaurants and food stalls. There are a lot of restaurants and stalls to find affordable tapas and drinks. It’s very popular with the after-work crowd.

Plaza de San Miguel, +34 915 424 936, mercadodesanmiguel.es. Open daily 10am–midnight.
 

7. See the Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales

Built in the 16th century, the Convent of Las Descalzas Reales (which means “Monastery of the Royal Barefooted”) was the former palace of Emperor Charles V and Empress Isabel of Portugal. Single noblewomen were invited to reside here as nuns, bringing with them any wealth they had accumulated prior. Today, it is home to just a few nuns who look after the grounds and its relics, which include (alleged) pieces of Jesus’s cross as well as the bones of St. Sebastian.

Plaza de las Descalzas, +34 914 54 88 00, patrimonionacional.es/real-sitio/monasterio-de-las-descalzas-reales. Open Monday-Saturday 10am–2pm and 4pm–6:30pm as well as Sundays 10am–3pm. Admission is 8 EUR ($9 USD).

8. Visit the Naval Museum

The Museo Naval de Madrid highlights the history of Spain’s historic naval capabilities and accomplishments. It covers the 15th century to the present, with information on ships, wars, and colonies and how those all related to Spain as a world power. The museum has all kinds of maps and drawings as well as weapons and navigation equipment. It also houses the oldest map of the Americas, which was made in the year 1500. There’s a detailed section on the (failed) Spanish Armada that I found pretty insightful too.

Paseo Prado 5, +34 915 238 516. Open Tuesday-Sunday 10am–7pm (3pm in August). Admission is 3 EUR ($3.40 USD).
 

9. Stroll Around the Royal Botanical Garden

The Royal Botanical Gardens in Madrid, Spain
Founded in 1755, this park is home to lakes, labyrinths, squares, fountains, and lots of flowers. There are some 90,000 plants here and over 1,500 trees, as well as greenhouses, sculptures, and some immaculae gardens. It’s incredibly beautiful and serene.

Plaza de Murillo, +34 914 203 017, rjb.csic.es/jardinbotanico. Open daily at 10am; closes between 6pm and 9pm depending on the season. Admission is 4 EUR ($4.50 USD).
 

10. Explore the Reina Sofía Museum

The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía is home to the country’s national collection of art from the 20th century. It has many of Pablo Picasso’s works (including “Guérnica”), as well as art by Miró, Kandinsky, Dalí, and Bacon. Named after Queen Sofía, it is the ninth most-visited art museum in the entire world!!

Calle de Santa Isabel 52, +34 917 741 000, museoreinasofia.es. Open daily 10am–6pm (hours vary in the summer and winter). Admission is 10 EUR ($11.25 USD) but free from 7pm to 9pm on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays.
 

11. Relax in El Retiro Park

People in rowboats on the lake in El Retiro Park in Madrid, Spain
Covering over 350 acres, this is Madrid’s main park. It’s the perfect place to relax and lounge on a beautiful day. There’s even a small lake where you can rent a rowboat. There’s tons of green space for picnics, walking paths, and a monument to the victims of the Madrid terrorist bombings in 2004. The famous Crystal Palace (it’s made completely out of glass) features a rotating collection of art too.
 

12. Visit the Prado Museum

The Museo Nacional del Prado is the third most visited museum in the world. Opened in 1819, it has around 20,000 works by Spanish artists such as El Greco, Velázquez, and Goya; Flemish and Dutch artists, including Rubens, van Dyck, and Brueghel; Italian masters such as Botticelli, Tintoretto, Titian, Caravaggio, and Veronese; and German artists such as Dürer, Cranach, and Baldung Grien. You have to visit when you’re here.

Ruiz de Alarcon street, +34 913 302 800, museodelprado.es. Open Monday-Saturday 10am–8pm and Sundays 10am–7pm. Admission is 15 EUR ($16.90 USD); however, free entry is available Monday-Saturday 5pm–8pm and Sundays 5pm–7pm.
 

13. Learn Flamenco

Flamenco is a traditional style of dance that originated in Spain. It’s a lively, expressive style known for its intricate footwork and hand movements. If you’re looking to take a lesson, Madrid has a few affordable classes where you can learn the basics:

If you’d rather just take in a performance, some venues worth checking out are:

Tickets for performances usually start around 20 EUR ($22.50 USD), while classes will cost 15-30 EUR ($16.90 to $33.75 USD) per hour.
 

14. Watch a Soccer Match

Spaniards are crazy about soccer. Real Madrid, the capital’s home team, is one of the most famous soccer teams in the world. They play at Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, which has a capacity of over 81,000 people. Games here are super popular, and fans take them quite seriously. If they’re playing during your visit, be sure to watch a game. It’s an amazing experience!

15. Explore the Museo de la Historia de Madrid

The Museum of History of Madrid covers the city’s evolution from the 16th century (when it became the capital) to World War I. Opened in 1929, it highlights daily life throughout the ages. There are lots of artifacts, maps, paintings, and sculptures to give you a much more nuanced understanding of Madrid.

Fuencarral street, +34 917 011 863, madrid.es/museodehistoria. Open Tuesday-Sunday 10am–8pm. Admission is free.
 

16. Get Off the Beaten Path

The ancient Muslim Walls in Madrid, Spain
Madrid has tons of quirky and off-the-beaten-path sights to see. If you’re looking for some more unique experiences, here are a few worth checking out:

  • Reverte Coma Forensic Museum – A macabre museum full of deformed skeletons, torture devices, dissected fetuses, and much more. Insightful but unsettling!
  • The Muslim Walls – These walls date back to the ninth century when Madrid was under Moorish rule. They’re one of the oldest structures left in the city.
  • Rocker Grandma – Located in the Vallecas neighborhood, this statue commemorates Ángeles Rodríguez Hidalgo, who became a local heavy metal fan when she was 70.
  • Guanche Mummy of Madrid – This mummy is located in the National Archaeological Museum and was embalmed by the indigenous people of the Canary Islands between the 11th and 13th centuries.

 

17. Visit the Temple of Debod

The Temple of Debod is an Egyptian temple that dates back to the second century BCE. Originally located near Aswan in Upper Egypt, it was dismantled and given as a gift to Spain by the Egyptian government in 1968 as thanks for helping to relocate monuments from the Aswan Dam site. The temple can now be found in Madrid’s Cuartel de la Montaña Park. Although the inside of the temple is off-limits, you can still walk along the outside.

***

Whether you’re a foodie (like me), a history buff (also like me), someone looking for fun nightlife, or a traveler just hoping to soak in some incredible culture, Madrid is a city that won’t disappoint you. Madrid has energy and excitement and this list of things to do here can help you tap into that!

 

Get Your In-Depth Budget Guide to Europe!

Nomadic Matt's Guide to EuropeMy detailed, 200+-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 Europe. 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 get a copy!
 

Book Your Trip to Spain: Logistical Tips and Tricks

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

Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld, as it has the largest inventory. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hotel, use Booking.com, as it consistently returns the cheapest rates for guesthouses and hotels. I use them both all the time. My favorite hostels in Madrid are:

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

Looking for the Best Companies to Save Money With?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! I list all the ones I use — and I think they will help you too!

Want a Guide?
Madrid has some really interesting tours. My favorite company is Take Walks, which has expert guides and can get you behind the scenes of the city’s best attractions. It’s my go-to walking tour company!

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

Photo Credits: 4- Richard Mortel, 6 – Jose Luiz

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





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Travel is Never Going to Be the Same Again

Posted By : webmaster/ 105 0


A solo female traveler walking alone on a beach
Posted: 6/22/2020 | June 22nd, 2020

If you’re like me, you might be wondering what the future of travel holds now that more countries are easing lockdowns and opening borders. I wrote about the future of travel back in March but, like everything COVID related, a lot has changed since then.

Lately, days feel like years and months feel like decades.

Given how much has changed — and how fast things are still changing — I want to revisit this topic.

There have been a plethora of articles lately about how destinations and companies will change and what travel will look like once we head out on the road again.

I agree with many of the points my colleagues make.

Yes, local/domestic travel will be big over the next few months as people forgo international/cross-border travel for travel within their own country. Yes, many countries will require a COVID test at the border or, at the very least, proof of a recent negative COVID test to enter. Yes, most companies will tout their cleaning policies more as a way to attract customers.

And, yes, the travel industry’s recovery will be slow as people cautiously head out into the world again.

But I think too many have blinders and are underestimating just how bad it’s going to be for the industry. They simply don’t want to see the ugly truth:

The sky is falling – and this industry is about to see a massive shakeup.

Because people make travel happen.

Without people, travel doesn’t exist.

And the more I talk to readers, friends, and other travelers, the more I realize people will not travel again in large numbers until there’s either a vaccine, treatment, or a decline in cases after reopening.

Humans are hardwired to minimize risk and uncertainty. We didn’t leave the cave after dark because of the danger out there. The night brought terrors and risks. That risk-reduction psychology has stayed with us through the millennia. It’s why we always go with the devil we know and stay in jobs we don’t love but are stable.

Humans always reduce risk.

So, even as countries open their borders, most people are taking a wait-and-see approach.

And I can see that not just through my interactions with friends and readers but through Google too. Even as parts of the world have started to reopen, this website has seen no increase in our search traffic. We rank for such a wide variety of keywords and often in the top 1-3 results that I can use my site’s traffic as a good barometer for consumer sentiment. (But TripAdvisor and Kayak have shown similar research though.)

People walk before they run and they search for travel and begin to plan months in advance before actually booking it.

That means if people aren’t searching for travel now, they are unlikely to take a trip in the next few months.

That is not good news.

If companies talked to end consumers more, they would know this. Maybe they do. But their press statements suggest there is just a huge pent-up demand waiting for travel that will save the industry anytime now.

Yeah, people all want to travel. Just not anytime soon.

Twenty percent of people will go traveling the second they can and another twenty are so risk-averse they are probably going to wait for some vaccine.

Everyone else? They want to see what happens to the first 20%.

There are just so many unknowns.

Will you be quarantined? Will you pick COVID up and bring it home? What happens if you think you’re fine but end up sick, aren’t able to get home, and you’re now stuck somewhere for two weeks?

And what about the destination itself? will attractions be closed or restricted? Will some activities be canceled? Will transportation be limited? Will distancing regulations interfere with meals, transportation, tours, and other activities? Will you have to spend your vacation wearing a mask? What if others aren’t wearing a mask?

There are too many variables and people don’t want to spend their one big trip worrying all the time. Travel is supposed to be a relaxing escape.

It doesn’t matter what hygiene or social distancing measures countries, tour operators, or airlines take. In a recent poll, only 28% said open borders would make them feel safe. That’s the crowd that will travel. The rest are staying home.

Right now, most of the travel industry is relying on meager savings, government loans, and a lot of hope. The industry is in a severe depression right now with 60% of jobs lost. Things are bad. We’re all just hoping for some semblance of a summer travel season to get through the rest of the year and keep our businesses afloat.

But I think hope is going to smack into reality really soon when this travel season is a lot shorter than we imagined — and with a lot fewer people. While local travel will grow, there simply aren’t enough local tourists to make up for the missing international ones.

Plus, let’s not forget capacity restrictions.

How many hostels, hotels, or airlines can operate at 50% capacity? How big can Airbnb remain if no one wants to stay in other people’s homes? How many walking tour companies can be sustained by vastly fewer tourists?

I think this fall we’re going to see many tour operators, hostels, independent hotels, magazines, creators, and other businesses in this space go under. A bloodbath is coming. (And this site is not immune. We’re barely treading water. At our current spend, we’ll be bankrupt by Feb 2021 if something doesn’t change.)

But, while the job loss will be terrible, travel was in need of serious reform. It had simply grown too big. We were in a Gold Rush. From VC-backed startups to hostels to influencers to tour companies, there was just too much of everything. Overtourism was a huge problem. Destinations just weren’t built to handle so many people and the environmental impact from all this travel was staggering.

In my opinion, we were due for a realignment.

I want people to go explore the world but, if so many of us are going to do that, then we need to do so in a more sustainable and managed way.

We need to take a step back and say “Ok, how do we make this work for everyone involved?”

Many destinations will use this downtime to change their policies to ensure more sustainable numbers of visitors in the future. You can already see this happening in Venice, Amsterdam, Prague, and Barcelona.

Everyone can literally start from zero to create a more sustainable travel sector.

Will this mean it will be as easy to travel in the future as it was in the past? Maybe. Maybe not.

We should spread out our tourism more. Iceland is more than Reykjavik and the Blue Lagoon. Spain is more than Madrid and Barcelona. Venice isn’t big enough to handle all our numbers. Indonesia has over seventeen thousand islands not just Bali.

That might raise prices for some destinations but long before this boom in travel, there was budget travel. There have always been ways to save money on the road. There will still be ways to save money on the road when this is all over.

I’m not worried about travel becoming too expensive. Even if some places become less accessible (and, honestly, to protect places like the Galapagos, Everest, or the Machu Picchu, we should greatly reduce the numbers who go there), there’s still plenty of places in the world on a budget!

But that is a problem for later because, as the crowds grow slower than destinations and companies hope, by the time we have a conversation about what “the future” looks like, most travel companies will be out of business anyway.

What is coming is a seismic shift as large as when the Internet transformed how we book travel and get information.

And I don’t think we’re prepared for that.

Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks

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

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

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

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

The post Travel is Never Going to Be the Same Again appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.





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Coronavirus and Travel: What You Need to Know (Plus Resources)

Posted By : webmaster/ 140 0


A solo traveler standing on a log in Alberta, Canada
Posted: 6/18/20 | June 18th, 2020

Over the last six months, Coronavirus has devastated the world. Millions have gotten sick, hundreds of thousands have lost their lives, and entire economies have been shut down. In just a matter of weeks, entire countries completely locked themselves down and closed their borders to visitors.

For the first time since probably World War II, travel — an industry that relies on human movement and employs 10% of the global workforce — completely stopped.

Now, as COVID-19 recedes in some places, many countries are slowly starting to reopen to tourists.

While I personally think it’s still best to wait a little longer before taking an international trip, that doesn’t mean we can’t start looking at the current situation to get a sense of how we can best plan our future trips.

There are a lot of variables and everything is still changing.

And that creates a lot of questions.

How do you know which countries are open? How do we find out new visitation rules? Will travel insurance apply during the pandemic? What is flying going to be like? Are hotels and hostels safe? What attractions are open?

To help you figure out what to do and where to find information, I created this post to get the ball rolling. (Note: This post will be updated as more information becomes available.)
 

What Destinations are Open?

The list of countries that are opening in the coming weeks and months grows every day. Some are opening for all international visitors, while others are opening only for neighboring countries. Some countries, like the US and Indonesia and Australia, have bans on visitors from certain countries. Tahiti is making people show a negative test result within 72 hours of their flight. Same for Austria (or you can do a test on arrival). On the other hand, Cambodia wants a $3,000 deposit to cover any potential COVID expenses.

In short, there’s a lot of varying rules to sort through.

That means you’ll need to do specific research based on where you want to go if you want to travel this summer or fall. Luckily, there are a few websites that will make that research straightforward.

First, here is a helpful (but not user-friendly) map from the International Air Transport Association showing you which countries are allowing flights.

Second, The Points Guy and Travel Off Path have breakdowns on the current travel rules for virtually every country in the world.

Additionally, if you’re heading to Europe, this official map from the European Union will let you know which countries are open.

Third, check the official government’s Foreign Office or tourism board as they will have the most up-to-date information.

If you’re not sure how to find those websites, simply Google “(country name) foreign office” or “(country name) official tourism board.” Additionally, “(country name) COVID travel update” will get you a good list of official websites too. They’ll have the best information on potential quarantine rules, test requirements, and other restrictions.

 

Where Can I Find the Most Current Case Count Information?

If you want to see the current status of a destination’s number of active cases, this interactive map from Johns Hopkins University is kept up-to-date. However, I prefer Worldometers because it’s a bit more user friendly and you can parse down the data a bit more.
 

What are Airlines Doing?

Flying for the foreseeable future is going to be a lot different. Currently, most airlines are requiring passengers to wear masks, though enforcement is inconsistent. The boarding process has also changed to reduce interactions and support physical distancing.

Some airlines (such as Southwest) are not booking any middle seats to maintain a safer distance between passengers. Not every airline is doing that, though, and while most flights are still under-booked, I’ve seen images of some rather full flights.

Here’s a post with more information from The Points Guy if you want to read more.

As for cleaning, many airlines are majorly disinfecting planes in between every flight. For current policies, here’s a list of the major airlines and their current procedures:

If you are flying or otherwise traveling alongside other people, here’s some important hygiene advise:

  • Wash your hands frequently (or consider wearing latex gloves).
  • Wear a mask.
  • Refrain from touching your face.
  • Wipe down your seat or seating area with disinfectant wipes (because people are gross and so are planes).

On the plus side, many airlines have changed their cancelation policies, which means you can often change your flights without penalty now as well (check your specific airline to see if that’s an option before you book). I doubt that will last a long time but, as airlines try to get people in seats, they will make changing your flight easier as a way to do so!
 

What are Hotels, Hostels, and Airbnb Doing?

Accommodations in many cities have been closed or forced to operate at reduced capacity. Most of the major chains that are open (or reopening) have committed to enhanced cleaning routines. Some of the key changes hotels are embracing are:

  • Temperature/health checks of guests on arrival.
  • Enhanced disinfection and cleaning of the check-in counter and common areas (pools, fitness centers, etc.).
  • Adjustments to common areas to maintain social distancing.
  • Extra disinfection for the most-used items in hotel rooms (door handles, remotes, light switches, etc.).

Most hotels have also changed their cancelation policy to make bookings more flexible since the situation is so fluid. Here are statements and policies from the major hotel chains so you can review their changes and commitments for yourself:

And if you’re looking to learn more about Airbnb and how it is responding to the current situation, here is their Coronavirus policy and update page.

As for hostels, there’s so many that it’s hard to say what all the hostels in the world are doing. There’s no hostel association where members have to adhere to certain guidelines like in other industries. But here are a few policies from some of the larger hostel chains to give you a sense of the industry right now:

Be sure to reach out to the hostels directly as they will be best positioned to answer your questions.
 

What About Tour Companies?

Many tour companies are not even selling tours right now so you’ll need to check ahead to see what companies are still offering tours during your travel dates. Here are some travel updates and policy changes from my favorite tour companies:

Be sure to double-check the company’s cancelation and refund policies in case they start selling tours again but have to quickly shut down in case of another update. You don’t want to be stuck without money.

For everyday activities in a city, simply check the local tourism office. They will have up-to-date information on what attractions are doing as well as information on changes to public transportation.
 

Will Travel Insurance Cover Me?

Most travel insurance does not apply during a pandemic. This is especially true if your government has issued warnings not to visit specific regions or countries. In fact, some travel insurance companies are not even selling insurance right now in light of the situation. Eventually, as travel restarts, that will change. If you want to make sure you’re covered, here’s what I suggest:

  • Purchase “cancel for any reason” insurance policies or plans that include comprehensive trip interruption and cancelation coverage.
  • Make every purchase on a travel credit card that also has insurance as a backup.
  • Visit only destinations that do not have any government warnings.
  • Contact the insurance company before you book and speak to someone directly about their COVID exclusions.

 

What If I Can’t Quarantine for Two Weeks?

Many destinations are requiring visitors to quarantine on arrival. Contact the foreign office for more information to ensure you aren’t going to spend your entire vacation in lockdown (travelers are already finding out about quarantine rules too late).

The situation is changing and, if you end up on a flight with someone who tests positive, the country could force you to quarantine. It’s a real risk. I would say that if you are unable to quarantine for two weeks during or after your trip, don’t go international. Stay local.

***

It’s nice the world is starting to open up again but, personally, I think it’s best to focus on travel within your own borders right now until the international situation becomes a bit better organized, guidelines are clearer, and we see the clearer effects of reopening on destinations. I’m traveling domestically but internationally? I’m very much in the “wait and see” camp.

But, with guidelines coming out relating to COVID and travel, you can at least start to understand rules and what to expect for when you do start to travel!

Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks

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

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

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

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

The post Coronavirus and Travel: What You Need to Know (Plus Resources) appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.





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