What about the In-Betweeners?

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5 Star hotels in Rome … World Class chefs in Paris … Exclusive shopping sprees in London…

Beach Boardwalk

There is alot to be said about “Luxury Travel” .. Of course there is. 10,000 articles in magazines, blogs, and internet posts a month tell you where to find the most luxurious hotel, the most decadent spa, or that exclusive island get-away filled with pampering and a fulfillment of all your desires.. All inclusive resorts that include a relaxing massage at the end of the day.. romantic dinners on your private balcony .. or maybe, even, a private driver to show you the sights..  Luxury .. It is possible, especially if you bring an extra suitcase full of money..

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Then there is the other side of the coin.. the far end of the spectrum.. “Budget Travel” .. A vision of hostels, 1 star (or less) accommodations, eating out includes a restaurant on wheels and a, quite possibly, some kind of “food on a stick”. No frills here.. just a place to sleep, a shared bathroom and trying to vacation on 15 bucks a day.. It can be done..and if you follow all the online advice, use some common sense, and are prepared, it can be done quite easily and with a reasonable degree of comfort, if not privacy.

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But what about the people like me?  The “In-Betweeners … The people who love to travel and want to be comfortable. Affordably comfortable.. We aren’t afraid or unable to pay for the extra couple stars.. an occasional taxi ride or eat out at a nice restaurant.

In my mind, there are basically three types of In-Betweener:

1. The Budgeter –  This guy has EVERYTHING planned and paid for before he
leaves on trip. The plane tickets, the hotel, the transfers, the tours and,
quite possibly, meals.. He has travelers checks in the exact amount
he is allowed to spend.. Restaurants, tourist attractions, taxi rides,even,
souvenirs have all been included in the budget. Nothing is left to chance. This is
both good and bad..
good because it alleviates a lot of petty worries but bad,
because we all know, that the unexpected has been known to enter the vacation world.. 

2. The No Planner  With this type of traveler we reach the other end of the scale. Other than transportation, nothing is planned.. All out, fly by the seat of your pants adventure. You have seen them.. they are the ones asking the taxi driver to take them to a reasonable hotel.. They don’t have a reservation but hope for the best.. They are at the front desk asking “So..what’s there to do in this town?”  They experiment ..they follow whatever path takes them. They are there for the experience..and that works until the credit cards are maxed ..or they run out of cash.. But they will cross that bridge when they get to it.

3. The True Betweener – This is where I am.. the true In-Betweener..Hotel reservations at a 3 or 4 star hotel.. breakfast included, of course. Airport transfers taken care of in advance … and maybe a pre-booked Hop-on/Hop-off bus tour to visit the “must see” sights.  No real plan after that.. we know what we want to do..we know how much we want to spend..  but if we do a little more or less…or spend a little more or less, that’s ok.. It’s a vacation, not boot camp. We want our comfort. We want our privacy. We want time to enjoy and relax without breaking the bank. We are looking to experience the local life and indulge ourselves in local fare and celebrations. But while we may eat at a pizza slice off a food truck, we are also not adverse to a Michelin fine dining experience. We do a little research, we make a few plans.. but we also just explore and enjoy.

Which type are you?

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5 Things to Consider before you Go Anywhere

 

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5 Things to Consider Before You Go

#1 – Pack for the location and activities..
Nothing says “Hi, I am a tourist ”  like a Hawaiian flowery shirt on Nordic Ice Climbing trip. Sure, it may be an awesome shirt..but is it appropriate?

#2 – Check everything .. then check it again. and again...
Camera batteries? Memory cards? Power adapters? Sunscreen? Passports? Money?  Few things can spoil a perfect 1st day more than discovering an essential item has been left behind.. With that being said, unless you are being dropped by parachute into the Amazonian rainforest, the Congo, the Austrailian outback, or other somewhat secluded locale, don’t worry if you forget the shampoo..or a toothbrush. Most cities around the world have what is called “markets” where you can actually buy such things

#3 – Don’t try to pack EVERYTHING
And while you are packing, don’t pack everything..  If you are taking a trip for a week..pack for a week.. 4days..pack for 4 days.. a weekend..pack for the weekend …you get the idea? While carrying an I-Pad or laptop can ease some of the flight or commuting time, it can be a waste of time as well… do you really need an I-Phone, I-Pad, laptop, GPS?  C’mon..take one.. leave the rest.  And while you are at it..leave the worries, frustrations and cares behind too.

#4 – Plan / Prepare for Airport Security
Remember when going to the airport was fun? Yeah, neither do I… Even before the complex security rules, it was never the awesome experience that we wanted it to be.. Remember the rules..play by them. You can wait until your destination to become the lone wolf party animal you were always meant to be. Some of the simplest things make airport security faster. Wear slip on shoes, easier off and on.. don’t wear a belt … don’t pack liquids … no knives, guns, explosives or the like (and yes, a wooden souvenir mace counts) … laptop /I-pad go in a seperate tub for x-ray have them out and ready.. and believe it or not, a little courtesy goes a long way.

#5 – ​ Learn at Least Some of the Local Language
It doesn’t matter if you are crossing the globe..or crossing the street, you are a visitor.. a tourist.  You can eat with the locals, party with the locals, shop with the locals..but you are not a local.  Before you go, learn a few words of the local language.  The phrases – Hello, Thank you, Please – at the very least.  A a friend of mine from the US visiting me in Kyiv, Ukraine, actually complained that “they didn’t even have the common courtesy to speak English” .  All I could think, with my mouth hanging open, was  “Huh? Are you insane?”  Be considerate, learn a few phrases .. Local people mostly tolerate  mispronunciation and they always appreciate the effort.

This should probably be another point..BUT.. while you are learning some phrases in the local language, try and understand the local customs too.. Show respect and be considerate with traditions and a ways of life that you might not understand.. Remember, you are a guest..a visitor..

Here’s a helpful link for language … Busuu for I-Phone/I-Pad.   I am learning Russian but there are alot of languages available.

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Packing – Priorities

Anytime I decide to take a trip.. day trip or longer to a new city, my first thought is “Hmmm..what cameras do I want to take?” The basic bag, sure, but what extras do I need?

Of course that depends on what I plan to shoot.. and when..

Candles along Polish Walk

Cloudy? Bright sunny mid-day? Low light?

U41

 

Prague West 2

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Will I be shooting architecture, weird stuff (always have time for door shots) or people on the street?

Coil

 

A Place to Rest

Framed Church-Barcelona

Okay.. probably all of the above.. so let’s just pack the standard gear.

1st in the bag, as always, my go to camera..Nikon D3200 w/16-85mm attached..

D3200 w/ 16-85mm

D3200 w/ 16-85mm

 

Since I hate to change lenses, next in is the D40 with a 35mm prime..

 

D40x w/ 35mm Prime

D40x w/ 35mm Prime

And because change is sometimes necessary, extra lenses – 10-20mm macro wide angle and a 55-300 mm zoom..

 

Extra Lenses

Extra Lenses

Filter kits – UV, Polarizers, and Variable ND filter..check

 

Filters

Filters

Cleaning cloths and dust blower , extra batteries, memory cards… check

Batteries, Memory, etc

Extension tubes (for macro) … check

Extension Tubes

Point and click back-up camera (my fav right now is the Samsung NX1100)..check

Samsung NX1100

 

Throw in the I-Pad…and a small flashlight, remote trigger and a couple of gallon size ziploc bags.. and I am packed..All this goes in the backpack… a Lowepro 150…

Now that the equipment is packed… time to get myself ready..

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Exploring the City – Getting Started

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You’ve seen them.. the urban explorers.. Huge packpacks..2 cameras hanging around their neck.. walking stick, hiking boots, a battered map in their hand.. The epitome of the modern day adventurer. You’re just waiting to hear them say –

“Livingston, I presume?”

But what are they doing? They are taking the same old picture of the Eiffel Tower …following the same herd to and across the Charles Bridge .. joining the masses in front of the Parliment Building..

Parliment Building in Budapest, Hungary from the south side of the river.

Parliment Building in Budapest, Hungary from the south side of the river.

If you are going to see iconic landmarks in a city, a map is hardly neccesary. Just look for the biggest conglomeration of people with cameras and tag a long.. and make sure it is, at least midday because adventure may wait for no man, but it can,by God, wait until after breakfast..

Arles, France

Arles, France at Sunset

Don’t get me wrong.. seeing the landmarks is one of the reasons we travel to different cities.. Can you imagine going to Paris and NOT seeing the Eiffel Tower..or the Arc de Triomphe .. or the Louvre?  Of course not..  But exploring a city is so much more…

It’s side streets and back alleys.. it’s small hidden cafes and a neighborhood bakery. It’s an open air market with vendors yelling unintelligible things in very loud voices.. It’s watching the sunrise over a new place.. and sunsets with new friends..

Ok..with that being said, there is no “wrong” way to explore during your vacation..some ways are just more right. Let’s go over a few of the different ways you can see what you “must see” and still have a relaxing vacation..

Budapest - Bridge at Twilight

Budapest – Bridge at Twilight

1. Walk.. walk..and walk some more…  Walking, by far, is the most common way to get out and about.. Map or no map, walking allows you to enjoy more of the sights, sounds and even, the smell of your surroundings.. walking gives you total immersion in your enviroment..but it takes the most time and energy..  Granted, you can add the subway or buses to save time, but that’s not really walking ..is it?

2. Hop On/Hop Off Bus Tours …  My opinion, the next best thing to walking… You “hop off” at your destination..take photos..explore the surrounding area (I have been know to walk to the next stop) … and “hop on” the next bus to the next spot.. There is no tour, the bus is just a ride between landmarks.  Most cities have some version and most are fairly inexpensive. Whenever I visit a new city, at least one 24 hour period is devoted to seeing the landmarks..and I usually choose this way to do it.

3. Bicycle … This is another good choice but it takes common sense, a degree of caution and, in most cities, nerves of steel.  It is a fairly quick way to travel that still allows you to enjoy your surroundings, even more so going uphill..which usually morphs from cycling back to just walking.. only this time, walking AND pushing..  My biggest complaint about this is taking care of the bicycle..if you want to go inside a museum or gallery, you have to lock it up.. carry your helmet ..

4. Guided Tours … My least favorite of all ways … They have their place,of course, but just not my cup of tea.  I took a mountain wine tour outside of Batumi, Georgia that was very enjoyable..even though the tour guide spoke only Russian and I understood only one word in 10.. Still, the tour was fun, the other “tourists” were pleasant and a great meal was included.. Still, having to move when everyone else moved, stop when everyone else stopped and, even worse, was having to pass up on great photos because noone else wanted to stop..

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Eiffel Tower — Nightime from a Boat

Packing for a day trip can be as much an adventure as the actual trip .. we’ll talk about what to pack..and why.. next time..

Until then  HAPPY TRAVELS!

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Interesting Entrance to a playground in Kyiv, Ukraine

Interesting Entrance to a Playground

Hotels – Best Price Guarantee?

Best Price Guarantee?  Really?

Almost all websites claim to have the best price.. How is that possible?  Is the best price on Booking.com necessarily better than the best price on Agoda? Or Expedia? Or Hotels.com?

There is really no way to compare. This is due to a couple of factors.  First, to compare the rate, your stay  would have to be on the exact same dates, in the exact same room, with the exact same amenities. You would have to book the room at the exact same time on the exact same date.  Cancellation policies, arrival and check-in times all have to be taken into account..  and still, the prices will be different.

Why?

It’s simple..websites get different rates depending on how many visitors they drive and how many bookings get made.

Still, there are ways to get good pricing on hotel stays.. My preferred website is Booking.com.. I always start there and check my prices.  Then off to Hotels.com and Agoda.. Next, I will check Expedia, Kayak, and Orbitz.

​I use those sites to pick 3 possibilities…and finally, I will go to the hotel’s website and check again.Sometimes, you will find that a hotel will offer a special deal not found on one of the travel sites..

A little patience and a little research will go a long way to helping you find the best price for your stay..

​I have added a few links to get you started…If you need help planning or want me to do a little research for you.. send me a message..  I will be happy to help

Now ..get out and explore!

Happy Travels!

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Let’s Plan a Trip..

So you want to take a trip?

Even people that just “go with the flow” do some planning before an adventure. It’s always nice to have the hotel, transportation and basic tour plan in place before arriving. I am going to take you through the steps I use whenever I look at visiting a new city..  It doesn’t matter much whether you are traveling across the state or around the world.. except for transportation, the steps remain the same..

1. THE HOTEL
This is actually the easiest to do but it takes the most work to get the best
the rate..  I usually start with two hotel sites – Booking.com and Hotels.com . These
2 sites will generate some awesome deals and I use Booking.com almost exclusively. Still
there are 2 more steps I take, just to insure the best price.. I next check travel sites..
Orbitz and Expedia (for example) because they both have the lowest price guarantee.
I am not sure how they can BOTH have the lowest price but between these 4 sites, you  will be able to find a hotel with the best price…or at least, you would think so.  But
there is still ONE more step.. Once you pick a hotel or two, head over to the hotel’s
actual website and check the price again. You will often find that the hotel is offering
some promotion or deal that they haven’t passed on to the Search Engine sites.. When
searching for the hotel, look for acess to public transportation (or parking if you are driving), location to what you want to see and do, and breakfast… I always include breakfast. It is the most important meal of the day.

2. SIGHT SEEING
 WHAT do you want to see and HOW  are you going to get there? I had a friend of mine book me a hotel in Lviv for me.. This was before I decided to planmy own travel and one of the reasons I actually decided to start planning my owntravel. The hotel was awesome.. decent price .. yummy, if limited, breakfast. The problem was that I wanted to explore LVIV which was almost 40 km away.. so an hour there..and hour back.. by taxi. Not good.  You need to have some basic plan of what you want to visit and dowhile on vacation.. Location doesn’t matter if you are going to lounge around the pool all day drinking MaiTais.. But If you want to explore a city, visit iconic landmarks, or check out thelocal flavor, you need to have a plan.Are you renting a car and driving?  Are you taking public transportation (Metro, Buses)?Do you need a taxi? Are you going to walk (My favorite mode of exploration)?What are the 5 most important things you want to see and do? Landmarks? Museums?In the larger cities in Europe that I have visited, I have found that Hop On/Hop Off bus tours are an excellent and economical way to see the landmarks.. While they are not all the same, typically they stop at (or close) to the major attractions and come and go about every 10 minutes..  I use them for transportation purposes because it easier to read and decipher the schedules than local buses..and over a 3 or 4 day trip..less expensive. Of course, you can just get a city map and walk.. ultimately that is the least expensive and walking allows you to see things you might have otherwise missed.

3. THE FLIGHT
This is the next to last thing, I plan.. The reason for the last will be apparent momentarily. The flight is also the fastest to book.. Check Kayak and follow the recommendations.. or use Orbitz or Expedia to book hotel and flight together. If you do a bit of homework with the hotel search, it makes this stage much easier..
A couple of points about flying and flight searches.. Prices change constantly, but in my experience, it is best to buy the flight 14 – 21 days in advance and after midnight on Tuesday.  I always find the best prices then.. And make sure that after you search on Kayak or Vayama or anywhere, always check the airline’s website. Just like hotels, airlines often have deals that they don’t share with the search engines.

4. AIRPORT TRANSFERS
The last thing I plan (and pay for in advance) is the transfer from the airport to the hotel.. I absolutely hate trying to get a decent price from a taxi at the airport. The reason that this is the last thing is because to pre-book a transfer you will need flight times and numbers.  I have found a couple of sites that provide transfers for a reasonable price –  City Discovery  and Sun Transfers. Either one of these companies will have your driver waiting at the arrival gate with a nice placard with your name. He will take your luggage to the car, load it, and drop you off at the front door of the hotel.  I have also found that the price is less than or equal to the same price as a taxi, and you don’t have to wait or haggle a price.
Don’t get me wrong, there are always options in every city.  Stockholm, Vienna and Zurich all have direct trains from the airport to the center of the city that take 15 – 30 minutes.. Paris has some of the most amazing public transportation anywhere and their train system will take you either to CDG or ORLY or both.. Trains are a reasonbly priced, fast and comfortable (although sometimes crowded) option in alot the major cities. The biggest downside is rarely do they stop at your hotel.
Most airports have buses to the center of town and that is usually the cheapest option. frequently though, the buses are packed to capacity and slow in traffic. And, like the trains, they rarely stop at your hotel. If you don’t mind dragging, rolling, pulling, or carrying you luggage from the stop to the hotel, buses can save you a small fortune..

Questions?

Happy and Safe Travels!

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