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WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU DON'T HAVE THE TIME TO TRAVEL

If you take a little time to research, you can get a really affordable and quaint vacation within your budget and timeframe. And I mean, any timeframe. Let's say you only have a weekend to spare. Why not travel to upstate NY and go hiking through the Catskills? For less than $50, you can get a roundtrip bus ticket from Penn Station to upstate New York for a hiking weekend. You'll find yourself standing 18,000 feet in the air, on top of a mountain asking yourself why you never did this earlier. Places like Breakneck Ridge or Devil's Path are places to consider. Traveling doesn't have to take you all the way across the world, sometimes you don't even realize how wonderful the getaways are right by your own hometown. 

Let's say you're looking for beautiful, sandy beaches, clear blue water and yummy coconut drinks. While Aruba or Bora Bora sound nice, I'm sure the cost would instantly disintegrate your wallet. You'd be surprised how far you can get for 3-4 days in Central or South America. Simply by keeping your options open, you can use any amount of travel hacking to make a trip work for you. Take a look at theflightdeal.com or Hopper.com or thepointsguy.com. I love to see deals from Hopper.com by hitting the EXPLORE section. You can type in your city and see what types of deals are flying out from your city. Also sign up for email newsletters from different airlines to get the fastest access to deals. From here, you can take a look at any of my handy guides - they will offer you the best way to see a city from both the local and tourists perspective! 

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WHAT TO DO WHEN YOUR FRIENDS CAN'T COME ALONG TO TRAVEL

I came solo and made all these new friends!

MAKE NEW FRIENDS

Strangers are just friends you haven't met yet.

Let's be real. People are flaky, and no amount of Head and Shoulders in the world can cure your friends from reneging on their promises. If you want to travel, and your friends can't make it with you - consider going solo.

STAY IN A HOSTEL

 It's common to be friendly amongst travelers, because people are generally happier when their not hunched inside their cubicle crying into their keyboard. Hostels are the perfect socializing place to make new friends. Though it may be nerve racking at first, you'd be surprised how far a smile and a "Hello" can get you. Other travelers are also a wealth of knowledge, and some of the best advice I've gotten has come from asking other travelers where to visit. If you're nervous about staying in a dormitory room, many hostels have private rooms so you can get the social benefits of a hostel with your own privacy.

JOIN A TOUR GROUP

Free walking tours, bike tours or any sort of tour will force friendship with others due to the close vicinity.  When you think about it, it's almost like being at the first day of school again and meeting new friends. 

JOIN TINDER

You can use TINDER to meet people. I used TINDER abroad to ask locals for suggestions on places to go. Obviously, if you are going to meet with a stranger in a foreign country you should be careful, so if you do meet with someone use your judgement and meet in a public place. Girls who are traveling solo can join a charter of GirlCrew to meet other girls to go out with.

UTILIZE YOUR NETWORK

Asking your friends to link you up with people you already know is a good one, maybe even a Facebook post asking friends if anyone has suggestions or friends. I've had friends who met up with locals on couchsurfing.com. 

TALKING TO STRANGERS IN PUBLIC

Stay off your phone, it makes you look busy. If you're in a hostel and there are a group of people chatting, my go to ice breaker is, "Sorry to interrupt. Does anyone know the wifi password?" From there, you can turn the conversation any way you'd like. "Thanks! I'm just trying to look up some fun places to eat around here. Do you know of any good spots?" This way, you're engaging and not being rude or creepy. You could just as easily say, "Hi. I'm _. Where are you from?"

People tend to be very social in hostels. In a tour group, I just say, "Hi" or comment on something about the tour like, "What did he just say?". In bars, just standing by the bar is an open invitation to talk to the person next to you. "Is the bartender ignoring you too?" These are just examples of things you could use if you are a shy person, but ultimately - traveling is all about getting to be you with no inhibitions. So, enjoy traveling solo and getting to be exactly the person you want to be.

HAVE AN OPEN MIND

You'll meet people from all walks of life, and you shouldn't judge someone because they look like a nerd or any other reason. At the same time, don't worry about trying to make friends the whole time. Enjoy being on your trip and the friends and conversation will come naturally. In Rome I was so nervous about being alone that I didn't get to enjoy it as much as I should have. Traveling solo has been one of my favorite experiences and it's taught me that I am capable of doing a lot more than I ever thought possible. Enjoy it. 

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GOING BEYOND ORBITZ: HOW TO SEARCH FOR C H E A P F L I G H T S

When I first started planning my two month journey throughout South America and Europe, I spent two entire weeks hunched over the dining room table with little sheets of paper scrawled with prices all over researching the cheapest flights for my entire trip. Here's the kicker, I didn't even book all my flights! I only booked TWO flights; my departure and return. I had to explore a handful of different websites to find the proper prices, but here's a rundown for you.

LOOSE TRAVELS

If you've got loose plans, and have a slight idea of where or when you want to go, then I suggest using Hopper or Adioso to scan for flight deals and flight trends. With these sights, you'll be able to explore flight costs from your airport to anywhere. You can even use a randomizer in Adioso. With Hopper you can look to see when are the cheapest times to go to a specific location. (I prefer to go directly before or after peak season) You'll be able to find flights through both these websites, but I like to use these prices as a starting point. 

From here you can use the classic search engines like: Travelocity, Orbitz or Expedia to compare prices.  I try to use a mix of Skyscanner and Momoondo as well. The truth is that search engines do not include all airlines, sometimes budget airlines like Airberlin, Spirit, Vueling and Ryanair are left off.  Look up what budget airlines fly into the city you want to go to. Depending on which airline has the best price, MAKE SURE YOU VISIT THE AIRLINE'S ACTUAL SITE TO CHECK PRICES. With search engines you get charged a fee, and once in a while they end up more expensive than the actual airline prices. 

 

SPECIFIC DATES

I try all the search engines described above including the ITA MATRIX website. This is a site used generally by professionals like travel agents and even other websites that you use to track flights. It's a little difficult to maneuver in the beginning, but try it out a few times and you'll get the hang of it. This is a good way of checking for affordable flights if you know exactly when and where you are going. The only downfall is that you have to actually visit the airline's website or reach out to an agent to book these flights. If this sounds like too much work,  just use Google Flights. It's basically the same software but a little easier on the eye. 

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FINDING THE RIGHT TIME TO TRAVEL FOR CHEAP

The three cardinal rules of real estate usually go by location, location, location. When it comes to traveling, my cardinal rules go: TIMING, TIMING, TIMING. Flights to anywhere around the world can cost a portion of it's usual cost if you buy at the right time. This is all dependent on 

A. Height of the season - Off peak vs Peak

  • Off Peak will save you loads of money if you fly off, as well as less tourists, less lines, less money for hotels/airfare.
  • Peak is probably during Summer, national holidays and general breaks. Clearly Thanksgiving will be expensive.

B. Day of the Week you are flying out/in

  • Flying out on weekends / returns early week tend to be more expensive. Mid week flights are cheaper.

C. Random Reason

  • Do you watch the news? Do you read newspapers or have an app to keep you updated about world affairs? There are so many factors that can go into why plane tickets could drop at any given time. Flash Deals can occur due to weather, political dissent, legalization of certain products, changes in law etc. If you keep your eyes peeled with the world around you, you might be able to scout out some good deals.  Prices dropped for flights to Greece earlier this Summer after the economy fell into ruins, though the tourist areas were left mainly unaffected. 

D. Day you buy your flights - In advance or close to the flying date

  • Generally as a rule of thumb flights get more expensive as you get closer to the date. I try to buy at least two weeks ahead of time, though I have often bought my tickets on flash deals from websites. 

I generally use HOPPER to mark when I am going on my flight and keep a watchlist to see when flights will drop.

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ABSOLUTE ESSENTIALS

Backpacking Gear

SERVICES

T MOBILEFree text messages and data in over 140+ countries with their Simple Choice Plan. 

TECHNOLOGY

IPhone 6, GO PRO Hero 4, Ipad Mini

From Left to Right:

1. KEEN WATERPROOF HIKING BOOTS - These kept my feet dry throughout rain, mudslides and the rainforest. Unfortunately, they also doubled as a man repellant when I walked through cities wearing them. 

2. UNIQLO DOWN JACKET - Condensed it would roll into a little tube that I could use as a pillow for long flights or bus rides. When hiking, I would clip this on with a carabiner to dangle off my bag to save space. 

3. NORTHFACE RAIN JACKET -  I would wear this over my UNIQLO down jacket during hikes or rainy, cold temperature, also convenient due to it's small size.

4. UNDER ARMOUR BLACK ZIP UP - black, chic and warm. I was able to wear this as a layer for warmth when hiking, or as a basic jacket outside in Europe.

5. LOCK - This will come in handy for your luggage.

7. CLIP ON HAND SANITIZER - Sometimes you don't know what you're touching. 

8. SEA TO SUMMIT MICROFIBER TOWEL - small, compact and dries quickly. It's 1/3rd the size of a regular towel and dries in that amount of time too. (with no wet dog smell either) Doubled as a blanket for long bus rides and as a beach towel. 

9. WOOL HIKING SOCKS - best investment I made for my hike to Macchu Picchu. These kept my feet blister free, dry and warm, and if they get wet, your feet still stay warm.

10.SHACKE PACKES - These kept all my clothes organized and easy to access. I was able to fit three of these in my backpack.

11. OSPREY BACKPACK FARPOINT 55 with removable Daypack - I loved the removable daypack that came along with this. I was able to still use this bag as a carry on for most flights, though it is a tiny bit larger than carry on. I had no trouble getting it on board flights though, even budget airlines. I do think that I could have gone with a smaller one as there were a lot of clothes I barely wore. 

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BANKING WHILE ABROAD

Look in my eyes. Look - look in my eyes. You know me. Do you see anything in these eyes that would let someone take advantage of you? You know that'll never happen.  So listen to me when I say...

DON'T EVER EXCHANGE YOUR MONEY AT A CURRENCY EXCHANGE. 

Just don't do it. These companies survive by making money off tourists. There's literally nothing worse, except maybe that one friend who likes to move in slow motion when it comes time to split the bill. I had a friend who worked for a currency exchange in NYC that was so conflicted with guilt that she quit her job after a few months. They are taking your hard earned money. 

HOW THESE CURRENCY EXCHANGES WORK

A. charge you a service fee that is a percentage of how much you are exchanging 

B. Increase the exchange rate to their favor so that they're charging you more on top of the service fee

So you're getting charged twice. That's why they're always in tourist spots + airports. Once you're in a new country,  it will be hard to distinguish counterfeit bills. 

WHAT YOU SHOULD DO

Rely on your OWN bank. You are their customer + they will treat you best.  If you have some time before you leave, go to your bank and get your money exchanged. Often, your bank can have the currency delivered to the location within a few days. I know Chase does this for free. 

Personally, for me, since I was backpacking, I never felt comfortable carrying a boatload of cash with me so I relied on my ATM card a lot. You get the best exchange rate abroad when you use the ATM card because you'll actually be getting the market rate that day from your bank.  There are often fees so here's the rundown of how I was able to spend without getting charged. 

First off, make sure you have 2 debit cards from 2 different banks.

This way, if your bank for some reason declines you - you'll be able to get money from the other account. Also- never ever keep both cards in the same wallet or place. I would always keep my cards separate from one another, one with me and the other locked in my luggage at the hostel/hotel. Also hide $100 USD emergency cash throughout various places in your luggage. 

I used Chase and it charged me $5.00 each time I used the ATM abroad. In Colombia it was also difficult to use the ATM because my card didn't have a chip, which most other countries use. I rarely ran into problems in both SA or Europe despite not having a chip in my debit card. Afterwards, I learned of the Charles Schwab Online Banking Account that has no minimum, works worldwide, and has no foreign transaction fees but also REFUNDS YOUR ATM FEES at the end of every month. I don't want to tell you how much my ATM fees came out to- but it was a lot. So, for my next trip, I would definitely recommend getting one.

Also, Chase is now offering the chip with the ATM cards now, so go look into it!

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HOW TO SAVE MONEY ABROAD

 If you've saved up a hefty amount for your travels, surely you could still take a few of these tips to save a few dollars to add to your next travel budget. 

 

VISIT THE SUPERMARKET

One of the first things I like to do is visit the supermarket. I like to explore the aisles and see what the food is like, and to sample the local fruits and vegetables there. In Colombia, I became addicted to the GRANADILLA, which is similar to a passionfruit. You crack it's orange like skin to unveil thousands of tiny globs of delicious, sweet balls. Buy bottles of water from the supermarket. In Puerto Rico it was 69 cents for 2 liters compared to the $2.49USD for 1 liter. in the Walgreens. After a few bottles a day, the price adds up. Be sure to grab snacks, fresh fruits and waters for your adventures as opposed to any of the nearby corner stores or hotel/hostel. In Puerto Rico we bought enough healthy, filling snacks of local sesame treats, fruits, granola bars and Puerto Rican candies to cover lunch and we'd save our money to splurge for dinner.

USE GOOGLE

Search online for deals, you might be able to find short term discounts or package deals with a quick search. 

TOURIST CARD

If you happen to stop at the tourist information area at the airport, you might be able to get yourself a tourist pass. These usually include a card for public transportation or a card and card that offers discounts for many activities and restaurants in the new town. In Berlin, I bought a pass at the airport for 25euros and ended up getting 20 percent off many activities like the Fat Tire bike tour. 

EAT OUT, NOT IN

Never eat at the hotel or hostel. (Unless it's Jose Andres) The meals you get there are typically overpriced and a sterilized version of the native cuisine.  Go outside and look for some local spots or street food. Generally, I avoid asking the concierge or front desk for suggestions because they tend to give you tourist recommendations that they have a deal with, the food is usually..average in my experience. I much prefer to ASK A FELLOW TOURIST at the hostel. (Also a good way to meet people)  With Google, Tripadvisor and Yelp, you'll still get a lot of the touristy spots but at least you'll find places you may not have heard of. My personal favorite is to go into a shop and ask the person inside where do they eat or do enough wandering around, I'm sure you'll find a great spot. Usually signs of a good spot are when locals are lined up inside. 

USE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION

One of the biggest cut downs you can make is to forego the cab to/from the airport once you land. Generally speaking, in South America the cost was not that much, but in Europe the price from the airport could cost anywhere from $50-$90USD. I decided to start saving money by taking public transportation from the airport instead of taking a cab. I would much rather spend that money on a meal than on a cab, especially if you are traveling alone.  It may take a little longer, but taking public transportation is fun because you get to see a little bit more of the city as well as the locals. The funny thing I've learnt from my travels abroad was that the amount of crazies that I've run into are far LESS crazy than anyone I've run into in NY! Already, you've saved $100USD by cutting down on airport fare. You can also use public transportation to get around the city if you are exploring. 

FREE WALKING TOURS AND BIKE TOURS

Excited to learn about a new town? My favorite thing to do is to sign up for a free walking tour (you can learn about these in your hostel or hotel) or sign up for a bike tour. Not all cities have free ones, but I am sure they have affordable ones. These allow you to explore the town and learn about the sights from a trained local. Bike tours are my personal favorite and allow you to go further distances than you would by foot. Afterwards, you can always go back and explore the places you enjoyed most and/or didn't even know about till the tour. The tour guides can give you great tips on where to go, or shortcuts. Avoid bus tickets - I can't imagine being stuck in city traffic in a bus the whole time, can you? 

BARTER

Don't be afraid to barter. In most central and south american countries, bartering is the norm. In fact, they rely on tourists to take the bait and not barter, but my father taught me better than that. One time he talked our phone bill down and got a free phone just by staying in the store and talking to the guy for two hours. Bartering will become your best friend. 

When I first landed in Nicaragua, I had been warned that the cabbies at the airport would mark up the price tenfold to wherever you were going. I wasn't surprised to find a barrage of middle aged cabbies at the landing gate desperately shouting  "Taxi, Taxi, Taxi!" over one another. My spanish, elementary at best, wasn't strong enough to allow me to barter for prices, so I did what any other heartless person would have done. I turned two cabbies against each other.

I talked to one cabbie, and he gave me a price. I said, "uno momento" and asked the cabbie directly next to him, "Cuanto cuesta?" Pretty soon, the two cabbies started underpricing one another, allowing me to stand back and pat myself on my back as the plan worked itself out. Pretty soon I was in a cab haggled down from $75USD to $45USD. 

AVOID TOURISTY RESTAURANTS

If there's pictures of food in the menu avoid it.  If there's english on the menu, avoid it. If there's french fries or hamburgers, avoid it. If there is someone who's sole job is to pull people in, avoid it. If there's a man wearing Birkenstocks with sandals, avoid it! That is not to say, that these are absolutes, but if you can, I would suggest skipping them and searching for something a bit further away from the touristy streets. These places tend to have sub par overpriced food that caters to tourists.  I guarantee the food will be worth the walk if you try and explore. Try to have local food or aim to get off the beaten path.

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SAFETY ABROAD: WHAT YOU CAN DO TO PROTECT YOURSELF AND YOUR BELONGINGS

 As a tourist, we stand out like a sore thumb, no matter how hard we try not to. (You can read my post here about the time I was almost robbed by a pack of thieves in Lima, Peru.) The dangers are everywhere, and the only way to rise above it is to constantly be aware of your surroundings. In my experience, you will find that there are more GOOD people than bad, so please don't turn into some Emo misanthrope writing eerie poetry in a cafe. Here are some tips that you can use to deter thieves and also to protect yourself. 

MAKE FRIENDS & BE RECOGNIZABLE

 If you've ever watched Law & Order, you'll recall there's always the bartender or security cop who recognizes the person from the picture who is missing. You need to be recognized by these people. If anything ever happens to you, god forbid, they will be your allies if you are able to come to them, or at least they will be able to be a puzzle piece in the mystery. Given that, befriend the front door staff of whereever you are staying. Wave or offer a greeting to the subway operator at your stop. Or restaurant operator. I always wave at the subway booth at my stop whenever I am coming and going. Besides being polite, the truth is, if I ever come back late, they would recognize me. 

I've taken pictures of the taxi driver's license and sent it to my friends. I don't care if anyone thinks it's weird, I'm being cautious. I never leave anything down, I'd rather have it on my body then lose it. 

 

GET INSURANCE

Cardinal Rule #1: Get Travel Insurance. Though you may think you don't need it because you're a seasoned NYer like myself, you thought wrong. I lost my brand spanking new IPHONE 6 within my second month of traveling, and I didn't have any insurance on it.  That's $700 down the drain and now I'm back to my old iPhone 4S. Travel insurance can also protect you if you need to go to the doctor, miss or have a flight cancelled or have your luggage lost, so I highly, highly recommend getting this. If you do lose or get something stolen, then immediately file a police report within 24 hours or else the insurance company won't accept the claim. Be wary also that some credit cards provide reimbursement for stolen items if purchased on the card within 4 months. Read the guidelines for your credit card to learn more.

GET BACKUP MEMORY

Obviously, you've heard of the Cloud. It's a mystical sounding platform but basically, it's an automated storage locker for all of your photos, messages, contacts and notes.  If you have an iPhone or use Apple, you automatically get 5gb worth of space for your belongings, but this will quickly run out.  It's only 99cents per month for an additional 50gb of storage and it automatically loads your photos onto the cloud every time you are connected to wifi. Uploading all my pictures saved all my pictures from my trip when I lost my phone. For Android Users you can use the G Cloud App that comes for free on your phone too. Amazon Prime users also get unlimited storage space now. 

MEDICINE ABROAD

I prefer to bring my own medicine since I know what I'm used to and can take, plus it can get pretty hairy trying to describe "Benadryl" to a pharmacist in a country where there is no such thing. Before I left, I made sure to get a checkup from the doctor and get a prescription for antibiotics (a Z pack) and some altitude pills. (Diamox). I brought along Pepto Bismol, Benadryl, Pepcid AC and Tylenol. If you need medicine though, pharmacies are fine abroad to pick up medicine.

GET A WINE KEY

Not just to party with, but get a wine key for protection! People often say to stick your house keys in between your fingers facing outwards but I'm from Brooklyn and I know a worthless weapon if it comes to an attack. If you were to punch someone with the keys, they would eventually slide back into your palm. Instead, use a wine key. The hold is more natural and the pointy tip at the end of the spiral is more than enough to do some damage. Additionally, this wine key will allow you to be the hero at many a party where there is wine to be opened. 

ANNOUNCE WHEN YOU ARE PAYING

Announce the bills you are using when you pay a cab or make a purchase. I was once pilfered by a cabbie when I looked away for a second and he switched the bill on me.  There was nothing I could do in the end, it was his word versus mine. As you are paying, just count aloud, "Ok, I'm giving you 300 pesos". 

SLEEP WITH YOUR VALUABLES

This is only applicable when it comes to hosteling or hiking with strangers. More often than not you will come upon good people, but I have heard one or two horror stories. You could have your phone charging on the bed next to you and it could still get stolen from someone, so be careful of leaving your phone to charge unattended. If you are in a hotel room, you're most likely fine. 

USE A LOCK

Always lock your valuables and passport in the hotel/hostel locker.  If you are using a daypack or bag, see if you can use a little lock to close the zippers together. If that's too much effort, than use a bag or shirt with an inside pocket to avoid pickpocketing. 

THIEVERY

 Unless you're a snazzy business person or a rude date, never place your phone on the table at a restaurant. Thieves can easily walk by and snatch your phone or distract you with a song and dance. (No, really) They'll then put a basket or tray on the table and pull your phone out from underneath. If you are traveling on a long ride by bus or boat, loop your bag around your foot and lock your zippers. I've heard of people having their bags stolen from underneath their seats during lengthy rides. Beware of paying with large bills, sometimes they will take the large bill and tell you it is a counterfeit and pull out a "real one" to show you. They'll then switch the bills and give you a fake counterfeit bill, taking your real one. 

TAKING CABS

Always get a cab from the airport taxi stand kiosk. This may be a little more expensive but should anything happen to you or should you lose something, you can always call the taxi stand and get the taxi's number. Also, always, always ask for a receipt. When I left my phone in a cab, I had no way of getting in touch with the cabbie because I had no plate or reference number. If you have the receipt you can get their number and the dispatcher can reach out to them.  When I did have to catch a cab off the street, I would always ask to see the driver's ID and take a picture of it, just in case! 

PHRASES TO REMEMBER

Get to know the staff at your hotel/hostel by name. Smile and ask them about their day. Say Thank you. They are humans too. They will be your biggest ally should you need a late checkout, need to cancel an already booked reservation, lose your passport etc..

Beware of people trying to sell you things, you probably don't need it.

Be wary of strangers who are too friendly in the streetsSometimes people will be nice to you to ask for money.  

Keep a photocopy of your ID and cards in a separate location. 

Not everything is worth fighting for. Remember, a wallet is replaceable. 

Trust your instincts. If something doesn't feel right then don't do it.

If you get robbed, throw your wallet in the opposite direction and run.

Don't Walk Alone at Night, Stay with large groups of people.

And if all else fails.. you can always do what this boy did. 

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