Catalinaisland
Catalina Island

The Best Dining and Things to Do on Catalina Island

Catalina Island is a secluded piece of paradise just off the southern coast of lovely California. From the mainland, you can get there from four ports – Dana Point, Long Beach, Newport Beach, and San Pedro – all of which provide ferry service to the island about an hour away.

Catalina Island only has one main city, Avalon, which may be short on real estate but is perfect for a day trip or short getaway, offering a few compact blocks full of hotels, water sports activities and, notably, quality dining options, which is what we’ll look at here.

Luau Larry’s

This buzzing, rambunctious tiki bar, conveniently located just a few steps from the beach, can be a nice way to start off your trip in Avalon.

The bar is famous for its tropical mixed drinks, notably the Wiki Wacker (brandy, light rum, orange/pineapple juice, and grenadine). Food options include coconut shrimp, oysters, sloppy joes, and Mexican cócteles.

509 Crescent Ave.; 310-510-1919

Descanso Beach Club

Pass the island’s famous Casino (which actually isn’t a casino) and keep walking to find yourself at the Descanso Beach Club.

Descanso is not only a restaurant, but also a public beach and bar rolled into one. It’s the only public beach in the area where you’re allowed to drink, so you won’t even have to leave your lounging area of choice to be served.

Crowds are packed during the usual beach time, but most people make their way back to their hotels around 5 PM for dinner, so a late afternoon arrival can be the ideal visiting window.

Did we mention that half-price happy hour drinks are also served at that time?

1 St. Catherine Way; 310-510-7410

Lunch at the Mt. Ada

Mt. Ada was named after the wife of William Wrigley, Jr., an investor who developed the island in the 1920s. His mansion, now a luxury inn, overlooks Avalon Bay from the top of the hill. The nearby wrap-around terrace offers a restaurant, also open to those not staying at the inn.

For $48, you’ll get a three-course meal where the choices include dishes like crab salad or Waldorf, lamb or beef burgers, pasta or grilled branzino, and, for dessert, sticky toffee pudding.

A couple things to keep in mind: you’ll need to make a reservation beforehand, so be sure to call the inn, and you’ll need to arrange your own transportation to get there.

398 Wrigley Rd.; 310-510-2030

Avalon Grille

Avalon Grille aims to modernize the otherwise 80s vibe of Catalina island with its décor and function: light brown wood tabletops, wicker furniture, a central bar, and large bay windows that reveal views of Crescent Avenue.

Like many other restaurants on the island, Avalon Grille offers dining options for all three meals of the day. Menu options include salmon with fennel marinated in miso, grass-fed ribeye, sea urchin butter drizzled on grilled halibut, and plenty of sides to complement the main course.

The restaurant also hosts DJ events on weekend nights.

423 Crescent Ave.; 310-510-7494

Maggie’s Blue Rose / Steve’s Steakhouse

Craving Mexican cuisine?

The colorful Maggie’s Blue Rose has you covered for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, with a happy hour every day to boot. Large portions are guaranteed to fill you up every time, with dishes like breakfast burritos filled with cheese, eggs, and chorizo; unique lobster or duck enchiladas, combo meals for two, and bottomless chips and dip.

The restaurant also has an outdoor patio area for scenic al fresco dining.

The owners of Maggie’s Blue Rose offer a second dining option; head upstairs in the same building for longtime favorite Steve’s Steakhouse, a restaurant that serves up cold drinks, fresh local seafood, and steaks cooked to order.

Local favorites include the key lime pie and the Buffalo Milk, a cocktail made with Kahlua, half-and-half, crème de banana and cacao, and vodka. Grab a window seat for nice scenic views of the beach and pier.

Maggie’s Blue Rose: 417B Crescent Ave.; 310-510-3300

Steve’s Steakhouse: 417 Crescent Ave.; 310-510-0333

Bluewater Avalon

With only two other California locations in Newport Beach and Redondo Beach, Bluewater Avalon made it to Catalina island only a few years back, but it’s a prime dining choice for all things seafood.

Selections include fish cooked a variety of ways (blackened, grilled, fried, and more), fresh oysters, and favorites like jumbo prawns, mahi mahi sliders and cedar plank salmon.

306 Crescent Ave.; 310-510-3474

Original Jack’s Country Kitchen

Like down-home cooking?

Original Jack’s Country Kitchen offers delicious classic breakfast dining fare like customizable omelets, fried chicken and waffles, eggs and pork chops (or ham), and Portuguese French toast.

Or if you come after 3 pm, you can grab a cup of Kona coffee and take your pick from delicious baked goods, including pie.

If you’d like to eat here for breakfast, bring a big appetite and a lot of patience, as the line to get a delicious meal here goes out the door and doesn’t get any shorter until mid-afternoon.

118 Catalina Ave.; 310-510-1308

The Marlin Club

The oldest bar on Catalina Island turns a regular old dive bar into a hangout that’s cool and aesthetic, with the décor built to reflect that of a Merchant Marines WW2 boat.

The bar’s colorful characters, reasonably-priced drinks, pool tables, and music in the form of jukebox hits or live shows means that patrons will have a fun time here.

108 Catalina Ave.; 310-510-0044

These are just a few of the varied dining options you can find on Avalon. There are cuisine options available to satisfy every palate – from seafood, to Mexican, to country-style cooking – whether it’s fine dining, casual, or something in between.

This makes Catalina Island a neat little culinary destination that foodies shouldn’t miss.

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Bora Bora

How to Make a Bora Bora Vacation More Affordable

The price of a luxurious getaway to Bora Bora can make most people’s heads spin. The revered French Polynesian pristine island jewel, where an overwater private bungalow can set you back over a thousand dollars a night, is notorious for supposedly being out of most travelers’ financial reach. Bora Bora and French Polynesia will never be cheap on a $20-a-day level. But there are still several ways to dramatically cut expenses and still enjoy life on one of the world’s most beautiful islands.

Getting To Bora Bora

Bora Bora Airport

Unfortunately, there are no cheap or quick ways to get to Bora Bora; with no direct flights, the only gateway is through Papeete’s Faa’a International Airport, on the main island of Tahiti. Your best bet would be to fly out of New Zealand or Australia’s east coast, where one-way flights start at $300. Air New Zealand, Air Tahiti Nui, Air France, LAN and Hawaiian Airlines all fly into Tahiti. If you’re not in Oceania, the next best thing would be to look at where else these airlines fly to/from.

From Papeete, flights to Bora Bora from local carrier Air Tahiti (not the same as Air Tahiti Nui) cost around $200. Air Tahiti does offer an island hopping pass that you should look into picking up, as it will give you a significant discount especially if you plan to explore other islands. Finally, if you have credit card miles or points saved up, use them!

Accommodation in Bora Bora

The eye-watering price tags for luxury accommodation options in Bora Bora can be some of the highest in the world, with prices often noted as being anywhere from “expensive” to “indescribably expensive”. Although most people associate Bora Bora with images of those secluded, pricy resorts that sit atop clear blue Pacific water, you simply don’t have to break the bank to stay in Bora Bora. What else should you consider?

St Regis Bora Bora

 

Budget options

Not every hotel or resort on Bora Bora charges an exorbitant price. A quick Google search will lead you to smaller, no-frills guesthouses or lodges that can be found in the $50 to $100-a-night range. Airbnb is another option, with plenty of short-term rentals under $100 available.

Couchsurfing

Who says you have to stay at a hotel or resort while you’re there? There are over 50 local hosts available on the popular hospitality exchange website Couchsurfing. While staying with a local isn’t as fancy, not only will you not be spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on accommodation, you’ll also get a more local, authentic experience that you would miss out on if you stayed in some secluded resort. Win-win.

Camping

Don’t be afraid to explore some unconventional options as well. For the adventurous types, Bora Bora also has a campsite available where you can pitch a tent for about $15 a night, but reservations must be made over the phone.

Getting Around

Bora Bora Biking

Bora Bora’s airport is situated on a reef island, so you must take Air Tahiti’s complimentary catamaran shuttle service to get to the main island. On the main island, steer clear of taxis and car rentals, as both are quite expensive.

The cheapest option is renting a bicycle, with costs running about $10 to $15 a day in most cases. It’s totally feasible to get around by bike as the island is only about 18 miles in circumference, and bicycles have the added bonuses of giving you a good workout and more scenic views!

Food

Food prices on Bora Bora are a bit higher than surrounding areas, but there are several options for cheap eats. The island is dotted with small stores that sell cheap snacks, and you can pick up reasonably-priced fresh bread and fruit from the local Tiare Market.

Matira also has its own version of food trucks, called “roulettes”, where you can find burgers, fries, beer, chicken, and fish sandwiches all for around $10 a meal. Finally, a good rule of thumb (which really applies anywhere) is to look at what – and where – the locals are eating.

Activities

Girl In Hammock Bora Bora Tahiti

Some of the best things in life are free, and it costs nothing at all to enjoy the sights on the island or take a dip in the beach. If you want to make the most of your South Pacific adventure, activities like lagoon cruises, diving, ocean wildlife tours, and even hiking are available.

However, bear in mind that excursions on Bora Bora are similar to what other islands in the area offer, but will be more expensive compared to them. So if you’re hopping around the Society Islands, many people recommend doing your excursions of choice on one of these other islands to save money, as your experience will be pretty much the same.

All in all, Bora Bora is no different from any other travel destination. There are always ways to cut costs dramatically just by being proactive, researching the options available to you, and sacrificing a bit of comfort and convenience. It’s no secret anymore: it’s entirely possible to enjoy the natural splendor of Bora Bora for a fraction of the cost and make what was once known as an unreachable dream vacation closer to reality for more people.

Chicago Skyline
Chicago

How to Make the Most of a Day In Chicago

Welcome to Chicago, The Windy City!

The major Illinois city, founded in 1833, boasts some unique accomplishments like being the first city to debut an all-color TV station, as well as being the home of the Twinkie.

In more modern times, unfortunately, Chicago has garnered a less-than-stellar reputation as it faces issues such as homelessness, a poor education system, and a high homicide rate. Yes, visiting Chicago may require a bit of discretion and vigilance, but let’s turn the discussion around to the positive.

Despite its problems, Chicago remains a highly-touristed city for its culture, arts, and food, reaching a staggering 54.1 million visitors in 2016.

Whether you find yourself in Chicago on a long layover, or Chicago is one of your bona fide main stops and you want to do as much as you can in a 24-hour period, read on to find out some great things you can do in Chicago in a day.

Start things off with a tour

If you’re unsure where to start, guided tours can be a great way to hit several major sightseeing stops and points of interest in one quick fell swoop. A great way to do this is on a bus tour.

The city offers several options for these, including the Chicago Crime & Mob Bus Tour and the Chicago City Hop-on Hop-off Tour, both of which are highly rated on TripAdvisor.

Helicopter tours are a great way to get a bird’s-eye view of the whole city. Or you can opt for one of Chicago’s boat tours, including perennial favorite Architecture River Cruise, a 75-minute cruise that shares relevant and fascinating tidbits on Chicago’s most prominent architecture.

Choose a landmark to visit

Chicago has well over 350 landmarks, many of which are included with tours like the aforementioned Hop-on Hop-off Tour. You can’t expect to see every single landmark in the city within a day or even a week, but here are some of the can’t-miss major ones to check out:

Millennium Park

Perhaps the most iconic centerpiece of modern Chicago, this 24.5-acre park is admission-free, conveniently located near The Loop (the city’s bustling downtown district), and popular for its live music events, public art displays, and Cloud Gate, the famous bean-shaped mirror.

Concerts and festivals are held at the centrally-located Jay Pritzker Pavilion, and other attractions include the peaceful Lurie Garden, an ice rink, and outdoor dining venue Park Grill. Millennium Park also has walkways that conveniently connect to other attractions like Maggie Daley Park and the Art Institute of Chicago.

The Sky Deck

The Sky Deck of Sears Tower, one of the tallest buildings in North America, is unsurprisingly also one of Chicago’s most visited attractions, attracting one million tourists every year.

The Sky Deck’s rather disconcerting all-glass viewing box means that fearless visitors can quite literally get a top-down, panoramic view of the Chicago skyline. And if the weather permits, visitors can see three additional states from way up there: Michigan, Indiana, and Wisconsin.

Navy Pier

The city’s historic pier will likely be a hit with the kids, who may be drawn to the pier’s Centennial Ferris Wheel, mini golf course, and other attractions.

The pier also boasts picturesque views, museums, an IMAX theater, and various eateries and performing arts venues.

Lincoln Park Zoo

The Lincoln Park Zoo is known for being one of the few admission-free major zoos in the USA. The 35-acre park houses around 1,200 animals from around the world, and the zoo keeps things fresh with special seasonal events and programs.

Get cultured at one of the city’s many museums

Chicago has no shortage of museums dedicated to art, science, and history. The most popular of these, the Art Institute of Chicago, has the distinction of being the second-largest in the country. The museum features famous pieces like Grant Woods’ American Gothic and works from other well-known artists like Picasso, Dali, Van Gogh, and Monet.

Other notable museums include the aesthetic Chicago Cultural Center; The Field Museum, a natural history museum with artifacts ranging from dinosaur skeletons to gemstones to Egyptian mummies; the National Museum of Mexican Art; and the Museum of Science and Industry, where interactive, thoughtfully-designed exhibits bring history and science together to make learning about both subjects a blast.

Fill up on delicious Chicago-style cuisine

Chicago is famous for its “Chicago-style” interpretations of classic American dishes such as burgers, hot dogs, sausage, sandwiches, seafood, and especially pizza, with famous uniquely-Chicago renditions like deep dish pizza and pizza puffs.

Die-hard foodies might also know that Chicago hosts one of the biggest outdoor food festivals, The Taste Of Chicago, which offers a sampling of the city’s very best dishes. Upwards of one million people visit the event annually.

And, let’s not forget the sports bars which help reinforce Chicago’s reputation as a great sports town!

This is just a small sampling of what’s available to do for a day trip in Chicago. If you’re not into the touristy stuff and want to go off the beaten path, there are still endless activities to do, foods to try, and places to see in the expansive city of Chicago.

Solobackpacker
Uncategorized

Items That Should Be on Every Traveler’s Packing List

There are a few staple items that you will probably find in every traveler’s bag until the end of time. A passport. Toiletries. An assortment of clothing. Maybe a journal, laptop, or money belt. But there are a few other items that, while they might not be as ubiquitous as the usual packing list items, can be extremely useful. These often-forgotten packing list items are invaluable for saving you in a pinch or for simply taking your traveling to the next level:

Paracord

Paracord is standard string/twine on steroids. Even the survival prepping community unanimously recommends carrying paracord with you because of how versatile it is; when it comes to possible uses, you’re really only limited by your imagination.

Use it to tie items together, or secure them to the outside of your bag. A long piece of paracord, or even short pieces tied together, makes for a great clothesline to hang your laundry. Some more uses for paracord include, but are definitely not limited to:

  • compressing items like clothing
  • reinforcing a tent or other shelter
  • replacing missing shoelaces or bag straps
  • using as a self-defense tool
  • fashion small items like lanyards or slings
  • using as a clothing accessory, like a belt or bracelet

There are also many uses for the strands within the paracord casing:

  • temporarily sew up holes
  • use it as fishing line
  • stitch up wounds in an emergency
  • make an emergency snare or tripwire
  • even improvise dental floss, if you’re so inclined

Sarong (or similar piece of fabric)

Most seasoned travelers know that clothing takes up the most space in one’s bag. It’s no secret that sarongs are great in that department, being versatile enough to serve as a scarf, shawl, or (if you’re a woman) a skirt or dress.

But what makes sarongs great isn’t just their flexibility as a clothing piece; a sarong can also serve several other useful purposes, such as:

  • a towel for general traveling or a day at the beach
  • a blanket for a picnic
  • an airplane blanket if you’re cold on the flight
  • an emergency bed sheet or blanket for a sketchy hostel bed
  • a privacy screen or curtain
  • a swimsuit wrap
  • a rudimentary bag/daypack
  • in an emergency, an impromptu tourniquet/sling/bandage

So this one’s not only for the ladies; men who travel could find many uses for a sarong as well!

Multi-tool

It’s vital to carefully examine every single item on your packing list since space is at such a premium when you pack your entire life into a bag or backpack for a trip.

What’s one of the best items to pick up to maximize functionality while taking up very little space?

Enter the multi-tool.

These nifty gadgets often sport a small knife, a pair of scissors, pliers, a screwdriver, a bottle opener, and more all rolled up into a compact device that easily fits into your pocket. The combination of versatility and portability with these is practically a godsend for travelers and backpackers, who often find themselves in a host of different situations where multi-tools can prove extremely useful.

Keep in mind that traveling by air with a multi-tool in your carry-on luggage can be an issue, as most airline regulations will treat it as a weapon. There are particular “TSA-approved” or “travel-safe” multi-tools available on the market, but if you’re traveling with one, your best bet would be to put it in a checked bag, just to be sure.

Portable Charger

In the age of electronics, a portable charger that can charge your phone, tablet, or other electronic gear on the go can be another handy item to include in your packing list.

It can give you peace of mind to have a backup power source at the ready if you’re miles from the nearest plug-in. And if you like venturing deep into the great outdoors but still don’t want to go completely off the grid, a solar charger might be something to consider as well.

Small Packing List Extras

Additionally, there are several small, versatile items that may not be absolutely necessary but would be great to bring along regardless, as they can be useful in a variety of situations.

Duct tape can be a great all-around quick-fix. Use it to seal holes in shoes, backpacks, clothing items, or seal up leaky containers. Mark your belongings, use it as a bandage, or use it to prevent your feet from getting blisters. Others have gotten even more creative with duct tape, using it as a rope, clothesline, or even flypaper in buggy dorm rooms.

Carabiner clips can be used as a theft deterrent, holding zippers closed. They’re also great for latching items to the outside of your bag, like a water bottle, shoes, a stuff bag, sleeping bag, or yoga mat.

Rubber bands are ideal for keeping your bag organized, from compressing clothes so they take up less space to wrapping up cords and cables. They’re also useful for keeping containers or bags of food or other items closed up.

Safety pins are great for closing things up and keeping them closed in a pinch, like unexpected holes in your bag or clothing. Clip two zippers together to keep your bag more secure and deter thieves, or use a pin as a zipper pull if it’s fallen off.

Plastic bags are also nice to have. You can use them to store food for later consumption, and larger plastic bags can be used to compress clothing, keep wet or dirty things separate from the rest of your bag’s contents, or keep items dry when you’re around water.

A packing list isn’t just about what to wear or how to maintain your personal hygiene on the road. Including versatile items such as these not only saves space and unnecessary expenses, but it’s also wise in helping ensure that you’re prepared for the variety of situations you’ll face on the road.

Charlestonhouse
Charleston

The Charm of Charleston, South Carolina

Founded in 1670, over 100 years before the Revolutionary War, the quaint South Carolina city of Charleston is, needless to say, a rich footnote in American and pre-American colonial history.

Thanks in no small part to the city’s colorful past, as well as its traditional heritage and locals as warm as the weather, the city was rated #1 in the entire world by Travel + Leisure Magazine in 2015, cementing its status as one of the USA’s most popular tourist destinations and putting it in the spotlight with the other perennially-popular East Coast tourist hotspots like New York City and Miami.

But why all the buzz about the Holy City? What is it about Charleston that makes it one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations?

It’s Aesthetically and Historically Fascinating

Charleston Bike Ride

First of all, perhaps a bit superficially, Charleston is a very visually appealing city. However, in this case, it’s a wonderful thing! Cobblestone-lined streets and the architecture of original 18th-century colonial mansions can make visitors feel like they’re walking through a living museum or have somehow stepped back in time.

Charleston’s Role in American History

Charleston is one of the oldest cities in the United States, having been founded only 63 years after Jamestown, the original colony. But the city’s extensive history goes deeper than buildings that have merely sat pretty for 200+ years. Any history buff knows the pivotal role Charleston played in 1861, when the first shot of the Civil War was fired from Fort Sumter. Other historical points of interest, like Drayton Hall, one of the last remaining plantations in the South, stand as a sobering reminder of slavery and other hardships in an era otherwise long gone.

Yes, Charleston proudly boasts captivating historical, cultural, and natural landmarks at every turn, each with its own story to tell. The best part is that it’s all accessible by simply walking! Enjoy a stroll through the town solo, or take a more active interest in the town’s rich history by joining one of Charleston’s many walking tours.

One of the cannons used at Fort Sumter.

It Makes You Forget the Word “Boring”

Charleston’s main draw is its historical and cultural significance, but that’s certainly not the only draw. The city elevates the often fragile contemporary vs. traditional balance into an art form, tastefully mixing in some history but preserving the old while building the new.

Visitors have the freedom to look to the past by appreciating historical landmarks, stay in the 21st century and enjoy modern amenities and activities, or switch back and forth between the two within the same day.

Some of Charleston’s contemporary attractions include sightseeing boat tours from the harbor (with the chance to see some dolphins) or getting your shopping fix at the Charleston City Market.

And while they’re not the main attraction, Charleston also offers a few water sports activities like kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, and surfboard rentals for those craving some Vitamin Sea.

It Takes “Good Eats” Very, Very Seriously

Charleston Fried Chicken

The variety and high quality of available dining options in Charleston have also given the city a reputation for being a top foodie destination. Charleston’s food scene can be summed up as country flair meets coastal charm, which means two things:

1) Seafood! Don’t leave town without hitting up 167 Raw, where the oyster selection and lobster rolls are a hit with the locals. The popular favorite Hyman’s Seafood attracts locals and tourists alike with its delicious fare at budget-friendly prices, but you’ll need a fair bit of patience to endure the perpetually long lines that often go out the door.

2) Southern food lovers rejoice! Two of Charleston’s hottest restaurants, Husk and Magnolia’s, serve up scrumptious Southern dishes that’ll make you nostalgic for Mama’s cookin’. If you like entertainment with your meal, country restaurant High Cotton hosts a Sunday brunch with live music from local jazz musicians.

The food options don’t stop there. Culinary tours are popular, and with good timing and a little luck, you may end up in town during one of the city’s many culinary events. Environmentally-conscious foodies will feel right at home perusing the vendors set up at Marion Square’s weekly farmers’ market, a tradition going back over 200 years.

Curb your hunger pangs at one of the many food stalls, and feel free to enjoy your al fresco dining the traditional way – on picnic-perfect grass.

It Exemplifies Natural Beauty

The figurative icing on Charleston’s cake also gives nature lovers a reason to pay the city a visit.

Visitors universally recommend making a stop at The Battery, a picturesque synergy of neighborhood and harbor lined with Southern-style mansions and no shortage of opportunities to snap a gorgeous sunset panorama.

Finally, if you have extra time in your itinerary, consider including a visit to one of Charleston’s charming beaches. Weary visitors who want a respite from city life and to-do lists can make their way south to Folly Beach to kick back, relax, and soak up some rays.

Or travel 10 miles east to find yourself on the unassuming Sullivan’s Island, where its secluded yet inviting beach town vibe and unique Revolutionary War history more than make up for its tiny 3.3 square-mile size.

These are only a few great reasons why Charleston, North Carolina ranks so highly as a tourist destination. The city is a warm, beautiful mosaic of history and modernism, culture and cuisine, and man and nature. This balance gives Charleston a universal appeal; the city truly has something to offer for everybody, and its charm is sure to leave a lasting impression on those who pay a visit.

Japandolls
Japan

The Best Authentically Japanese Things to Do in Tokyo

Without a doubt, Tokyo is one of the world’s most iconic cities; many a work of art or literature alludes to the dynamic, sprawling Japanese capital. Tokyo boasts a fascinating fusion of traditional and modern, authentic and foreign, and charm and whim.

The city manages to keep its over 13 million residents entertained with an array of sights, tastes, and experiences for every personality. What are some of the best ways to get a true taste of Japan while you’re in Tokyo?

Explore the city’s districts

Tokyo is divided into 23 major wards, each of which is further broken down into districts. There’s no need (and certainly no possible way) to visit all of them in one go, though.

The most popular areas to visit include Chiyoda, the heart of Tokyo and home to the Imperial Palace and Akihabara, the city’s home for electronic goods; the luxurious Ginza district, filled with high-end shops; Shibuya, home to the world’s biggest crosswalk and full of restaurants and nightlife; and the historical “traditional Japan” districts of Ueno and Asakusa, home of the famous Buddhist temple Senso-ji. You can visit accordingly based on your personal preferences.

Watch a sumo training session

Dating back over 1,500 years, this unique sport is Japan’s version of wrestling. It may look comical on TV or in the arena, but a trip to one of Tokyo’s over 40 sumo training rooms, known as stables or beya, will show you it’s actually serious business.

The city’s Ryogoku district is the best place to find sumo stables in Tokyo.

Before you go, however, call ahead of time to make sure that it’s OK to visit and that there will actually be a training session on the desired date of visit. Finally, do your research before stepping foot in one – there are important etiquette points to keep in mind regarding traditions and practices at sumo stables.

Indulge in the local cuisine

It’s downright impossible to write about the awesomeness of Tokyo without a tidbit on Japanese food. Japanese cuisine is quite popular internationally, making it on many a list of the world’s top cuisines.

Japan Wagu Beef

Tokyo offers the intrepid foodie endless dining options to choose from, including the popular conveyor belt restaurants that serve small plates of maki (traditional sushi) as well as nigiri and sashimi, shabu-shabu (hot pot) restaurants, and teppanyaki restaurants that are famous for their chefs that cook food in front of guests.

Outside of these, there are a plethora of restaurants that serve other favorites: ramen, gyoza (dumplings), teriyaki, tempura, tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet), and so many others.

Strip down for an onsen

For a foreigner, this may take some getting used to! It’s common in Japanese culture to rejuvenate oneself with a hot bath, known as an onsen. While the hot spring concept isn’t unique to Japan, the Japanese have their unique way of doing things; in this case, it means that visitors cannot enter the bath with any clothing – yep, only birthday suits are allowed – which can put some people off.

However, if you can get past the initial awkwardness, it’s a therapeutic and enjoyable experience. An onsen, however, is not for cleaning oneself – it’s designed for detoxing, healing, and relaxing.

As such, visitors must shower before they bathe as well as follow a few other guidelines for an authentic onsen experience that won’t inadvertently offend.

Go to an animal cafe

You don’t have to settle for a run-of-the-mill cafe in Tokyo. The city is famous for being among the first to sport animal-themed cafes in which patrons can interact with cute, furry, and otherwise strange animals while they enjoy a drink. Japan’s original (and most popular) animal cafes to visit are cat cafes, but Tokyo also has cafes that feature other animals like rabbits, dogs, birds, hedgehogs, and more.

Perhaps you’d fancy a coffee with a snake?

Get into the nightlife

If there’s one thing Tokyo is known for, it’s its glitzy party scene. Japan is home to karaoke, and there’s no shortage of bars (karaoke or otherwise) and clubs to cater to both locals’ and foreigners’ whims.

Be a beer connoisseur at a craft beer bar, or party until sunrise at one of Tokyo’s dynamic live music or DJ venues. Some of Tokyo’s wards and districts are more conducive to the party scene, with the aforementioned Shibuya district being a good candidate.

Other prime nightlife spots include Shinjuku, Roppongi, Ebisu, and many more.

Play at a pachinko parlor

Japan has their unique version of gambling too, known as pachinko. Pachinko is like a vertical pinball game, and the objective is to shoot steel balls through a maze and land them in a hole. Although playing pachinko for money is illegal in Japan, you will still earn winnings in the form of tokens that can be changed out for actual currency.

Even if you don’t win the big prize, you can still often trade your winnings for snacks or small trinkets. Yes, pachinko can become an addiction.

Explore the weird and wonderful

When you visit Tokyo, there’s something new at every turn. From vending machines that dispense burgers, to cafes and performances that use robots, to geishas, to an island full of rabbits, Japan’s quirks often delight or downright confuse foreigners. But it’s all part of the adventure.

Yes, certain aspects of Japanese culture may take some getting used to, but if you’re willing to get out of your comfort zone, you’ll have an unforgettable time in Tokyo and may discover something totally unexpected.

Tokyo may be an international city, but despite its constant influx of visitors, it flaunts its authenticity with an appealing charm. The city is so expansive and diverse that there’s no way to see it all on a short trip.

But on the flip side of the coin, that also means that Tokyo offers something for everybody, and the city offers enough phenomenal attractions and unique Japanese quirks to keep you spellbound the whole time.

Relaxing
Travel Health

How to Take Care of Yourself on the Road and Traveling

Travel can be an exhilarating adventure, a cathartic soul journey. But when you take away the fluff and reduce it to its simplest terms, it’s ultimately a lifestyle. Any lifestyle you choose has its own demands, and the travel lifestyle in particular can be demanding. I’d even go so far as to say that traveling can be one of the most physically and mentally challenging things you can do.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that no matter where you go, your #1 priority must be your own self. Some tough times on the road will always be inevitable, but taking some vital steps to ensure you’re sound in body and mind will go a long way in overcoming these challenges as well as maximizing the positive moments you’ll appreciate on your travels.

What do these steps include?

Fuel and hydrate yourself.

Even in grade school, we were all taught that food is fuel for your body. Yes, food sustains you and gives you the energy needed to keep traveling, so it’s important that you keep yourself nourished at regular intervals, with the right kinds of foods. Go for vegetables, proteins, and dishes cooked in a healthy style instead of fried or fast food. Picking up fresh ingredients at the supermarket and whipping up your own meal in the AirBnb or hostel kitchen is a great way to eat healthy while saving money.

Secondly, adequate hydration is extremely important. The effects of mild dehydration are minor and can initially seem like symptoms of unrelated problems, but can gradually worsen. Skip the sugary drinks and instead keep your system running optimally with water (perhaps infused with lemon or fresh fruit), the only liquid your body truly needs.

Bring along a water bottle that you can take anywhere and refill wherever you go.

Exercise regularly.

Traveling the world doesn’t automatically make you a physically active person. If much of your trip consists of prolonged periods of sitting on public transportation, vegging out at the hostel, or lazy days at the beach, you might find those hostel bar beers showing up on your midsection.

Keep yourself fit with one of the best natural antidepressants, regular exercise. Walking can be both an effective, scenic way to explore the town and effortlessly sneak a workout in. Gyms are ubiquitous, and there are numerous stretches and exercises you can do with just your body and sufficient space. Your mind and body will thank you for keeping your flexibility, strength, and endurance up, I guarantee it.

But give yourself adequate time to unwind.

At the other end of the spectrum, moving from place to place, exploring cities, visiting attractions, and meeting new people day after day will wear you down. Your spirit may be in nonstop adventure mode, but your mind and body need TLC; travel burnout is a very real thing.

Set aside 1-2 days per week to do whatever helps you unwind, whether that means a trip to the spa or massage parlor or shutting yourself away from the world to eat Chinese takeout and binge-watch Netflix for a day.

Don’t be swayed by FOMO.

The all-too-common belief that there are certain landmarks you must see or activities you have to do in a particular city in order to have a fulfilling trip is simply ludicrous. You don’t have to see the Eiffel Tower if you’re in Paris, or the Coliseum in Rome, or the Great Wall of China.

When you travel, you can play by your own rules and see what you wish to see, so don’t feel bad for not including a particular popular sight/activity in your itinerary (or don’t burn yourself out trying to add these things to your list).

If you’re on a budget, give yourself some wiggle room.

Look, I get it: those of us who are less fortunate want to maximize our time on the road by spending less. But would you really settle for a crappy dorm bed in the city’s sketchiest hostel just to shave a few dollars off your daily expenses?

Cheap is great, but poor judgment like this can come back to haunt you; the phrase you get what you pay for is fitting for this situation. Penny wise, pound foolish also comes to mind…

Not ideal. Spending that occasional extra for some comfort or convenience, on the other hand, can lift your spirits and refresh you. Sure, there may be cheaper, lower-quality options, but splurging a little can be worth it.

Worry less about the number of dollars you might spend and instead focus on finding the best value with the money you have.

Ground yourself with routines and a sense of home.

The hectic, highly unpredictable nature of traveling can leave one feeling lost, confused, or overwhelmed.

It’s therefore crucial to establish something constant that you can call your own amidst the mayhem. Whether it’s meditation, journaling, or adult coloring books, implementing consistent habits or hobbies that you can do anywhere can help keep you grounded by establishing some familiarity in ever-changing places and situations.

Or sometimes visiting a new, foreign culture can be a shock to the system. A great way to ease into it is to look for things that remind you of your life back home, past or present, and go from there.

Travel doesn’t have to mean seeing only new things all the time – sometimes you yearn for the good old days, the familiar, and that’s an important part of it too.

The underlying theme behind all of this advice is maintaining good physical and mental health. To make your traveling as successful and fulfilling as it can be, you have to be in touch with how you feel and take the necessary measures to keep yourself firing on all cylinders.

It’s not always easy to do, especially if it means occasionally putting adventure on hold, but you’re guaranteed to make it much further traveling when you take care of yourself.

Twobedsbedroom
Budget Travel

How to Save Money on Hotel Accommodation While Traveling

While not impossible, traveling for free can be an extremely difficult proposition – you sacrifice convenience and comfort. For the vast majority of us, money is a necessary ingredient if you want to travel. You need money to eat, purchase plane tickets, and get visas or enjoy certain excursions.

Often, the biggest expenses while you travel come from accommodation – finding places to stay can add up! The first choice for many people is often a hotel stay, which can quickly become expensive.

Fortunately, accommodation is also one of the easiest travel categories to save money in, with several cheaper (or even free) alternatives available! What do some of these include?

Affordable Hotel Accommodations

Short-term Rentals

We’ll start with a trend that’s picked up steam a lot in the past few years: short-term or vacation rentals. While prices on short-term rentals are usually on par with or only slightly cheaper than your typical hotel stay, short-term rentals can be a great alternative because they usually are more personalized and comfortable than a hotel room.

Airbnb is leading this charge with properties available worldwide, but other sites like VRBO, TripAdvisor, Tripping, or HomeAway also offer many short-term rental options.

Hostels

Our second item highlights the most well-known budget traveler lodging choice – the humble hostel. Hostels are often the choice of backpackers and vagabonds the world over, and for good reason. The communal nature of the dorm rooms is ideal for meeting fellow travelers and making friends from all over the world, and beds can be found in many developing countries for just a couple dollars a night.

Sites like Hostelworld list exclusively hostels, and other places like Booking.com have a wide selection of budget hostel options.

You can make a hostel stay even cheaper if you’re willing and able to work in exchange for a free bed, which we’ll look at more in the next point:

Work Exchange/Volunteer Work

Whether it’s at a hostel, on a farm, or at a resort halfway across the world, exchanging your labor for free room and board (and occasionally, meals and a small stipend) is a great way to lower your accommodation costs.

Arrangements like these are often requested and worked out in person; however, useful websites like HelpX and WorkAway offer a database of hosts looking for work that you can connect with for a low annual membership fee. Make sure you’re OK with the host’s stipulations, and always look at reviews and references to make sure you’re getting a reasonable (and legitimate) deal.

Volunteering, while similar to work exchanges in that it often includes a few hours a day of unpaid work for a place to stay in return, focuses more on the social and community benefits of said work.

A well-known example is WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), a program in which volunteers provide 4-6 hours of work per day in exchange for food and accommodation from the host. Or if you’re more into helping conservation efforts, you could even join teams that help endangered turtles.

Camping

Camping is the best option for nature lovers on a budget. It’s usually free, but there are a few instances where you may have to shell out a few dollars to rent a campsite.

Camping is a wonderful way to both save money and have the great outdoors at your doorstep, and it’s easier than ever to do nowadays with all the ultralight tents on the market that you can carry with your baggage without adding too much weight or bulk.

Couchsurfing

Since the dawn of the Internet, people across the globe are now ore connected than ever – and many use the Web as a tool to find unique accommodation opportunities. One prime example of this is Couchsurfing, one of many “hospitality exchange” websites in which locals open up their couches (or rooms, apartments, or homes) to foreign travelers.

Other examples are WarmShowers for traveling cyclists; Trustroots, which targets hitchhikers and nomads; or alternatives like BeWelcome or Staydu, which work similarly to Couchsurfing.

Not only can hospitality exchanges like these be a great way to have a free place to stay, it’s an invaluable resource for connecting to the local life and getting to know a place more authentically.

Just remember to find a way to give back or pay it forward! Free is great, but nobody likes a mooch.

House Sitting

House sitting is considered by many seasoned travelers to be the pinnacle of free accommodations while on the road. Maybe not everybody makes a life out of travel, but the vast majority of people take vacations and have to leave behind a house and perhaps some pets when they go.

That’s where you come in.

It’s common for homeowners to request a house sitter for them while they’re away, which can involve basic cleaning and maintenance work or pet care while you hold down the fort. You can find listings from hosts around the world on websites like HouseCarers, Nomador, and Mind My House, and you can apply to these listings once you’ve paid the low annual membership fee.

Anything else?

There are a few unconventional accommodation options that you may not have thought off right off the bat.

Monasteries and convents often offer shelter and basic meals for transient travelers.

If you’re a homeowner, there are home exchange programs in which you stay in someone else’s home and open up your home for them to stay in in return, all for free.

Yes, it’s possible for anybody to save a few dollars on the road and quite possibly have a more unique travel experience along with it if they’re simply willing to do a little research and perhaps some work.

What’s been the most interesting way you’ve found accommodation on the road?

Jamaica Boat
Jamaica

Natural Attractions and Other Highlights Near Montego Bay, Jamaica

Jamaica’s Montego Bay is a fairly well-known Caribbean tourist destination, being especially popular for its island lifestyle as well as a port-of-call for cruise ships. Montego Bay itself has a few sights and attractions to check out, but the area also serves as a launch point for lots of other great landmarks and attractions around the rest of the island.

One area where Jamaica excels is natural beauty; Jamaica can be ideal for nature lovers, as the island has a lot of beautiful natural scenery. What are some of the best natural attractions and things to do while in and around Montego Bay?

Be a Beach Bum

Rainbow Sandles

One of Jamaica’s most popular beaches is Seven Mile Beach, located in nearby Negril. As its name implies, this beach in the country’s northwest area is big enough for everybody to get a spot. The beach has picnic tables and public facilities like showers and restrooms conveniently nearby, and you’re free to soak up the sun’s rays whenever you’d like – the beach is open to visitors at all hours.

Water sports rentals like sailboats or kayaks are also available. And at night, the beach becomes a buzzing after-dark hotspot, with clubs in full party mode and beach bars endlessly pouring drinks.

Children and families are allowed, of course, but please do a bit of research before bringing the kids along. There are a few adults-only resorts all along the stretch of the beach as well as nude sunbathers. Sunday would be the most family-friendly day to visit the beach.

As is common on Jamaica’s beaches, Seven Mile Beach can have a few determined vendors selling items like drinks, crafts, and fresh lobster. Usually, a polite yet firm “no thank you” is enough, but it’s common for vendors to be very persistent.

If you would rather not be bothered by vendors, head to Doctor’s Cave Beach, located right on Montego Bay, where vendors are not allowed to sell. However, admission isn’t free – it’s $6 per adult and $3 for children – which can put some people off, but many find it worth it. Sports and beach equipment rentals are also readily available. However, the beach’s popularity can mean higher prices for food and more crowds, especially when cruise ships are in port.

Explore Dunn’s River Falls & Park in Ocho Rios

Whether you’re staying in Ocho Rios or merely taking a day trip here, many visitors recommend carving out at least a few hours to explore the Dunn’s River Falls & Park. You can choose to simply relax on the beach at the base of the climb or take a guided tour to go up to the waterfall.

The hike isn’t too bad, but rocks can be slippery, and after you’re done checking out the falls, head back down for refreshments served at the nearby cafeteria.

The falls & park are open daily from 8:30am (7am when cruise ships are docked) to 4pm, and there is an admission fee: $20 for adults and $12 for children.

Visit Blue Mountain National Park

Another box to check if you’re into nature.

The Blue Mountains, located on the eastern part of Jamaica, boast stunning panoramic views; from the summit, you can see both the northern and the southern coasts of the island. Coffee lovers may also recognize the Blue Mountains as being, unsurprisingly, where the famous Blue Mountain coffee is grown. Camping and hiking in the area is strenuous and as such is recommended for more advanced hikers.

You can go it alone, but there are also several options available for hiking tours or cycling tours within Blue Mountains National Park.

For $8, there is also the option to take an hour-long tour of the Mavis Bank Coffee Factory, which is where the famous Blue Mountain Coffee is processed.

Join a Tour on Montego Bay

Montego Bay offers an array of tours catered to every interest. Nature lovers can choose among snorkeling tours, river rafting tours, scenic catamaran cruises, a jeep “safari” adventure tour, ziplining over the forest as part of a canopy tour, or a scenic tour of Jamaica’s capital Kingston. The vast majority of these tours depart conveniently from Negril or Montego Bay.

Those who wish to better acquaint themselves with Jamaican culture will enjoy the Rastafari Indigenous Village Tour. Intrepid foodies curious about the island’s cuisine can join an Appleton Rum and jerk chicken tasting. And don’t forget about the Jamaica’s Spirit of Reggae tour, where you can get a more intimate glimpse into the life and music of reggae icon Bob Marley.

As you can see, Montego Bay (and the rest of Jamaica) can be an ideal place for nature lovers, but there are also plenty of other attractions and activities that all can enjoy here, whether you’re a backpacker looking for some adventure or a passenger on a Caribbean cruise looking for a pleasant day trip outside the ship.

Backpack and Clothes
Uncategorized

Choosing the Right Travel Backpack

More than just a vessel, the travel backpack is the quintessential piece of gear for seasoned long-term vagabonds, digital nomads, and solo adventurers the world over. Because it’ll be your constant companion as you explore lands unknown, it really pays to do some in-depth research to see what options are available on the market today and what will best suit your needs.

What features should you look at when you’re trying to choose a travel backpack?

Size and Fit

Just how much do you want/need to carry with you?

Obviously, since you’ll have your backpack on your shoulders a large part of the time, a pack that is too big and heavy will wear you out. Most backpackers are somewhere between the minimalist “ultralight” travelers that pare down their essentials into a single 20L bag or those that are OK with carrying extra items like camping gear in a 75L-80L pack half their size. The vast majority go with a bag between 35 to 45 liters – right around maximum carry-on size for most airlines.

A second point is the backpack’s fit – like trying on a new suit or pair of shoes, you want to make sure the backpack’s shape and weight distribution is comfortable on your back for a decent period of time. This is especially important if you’re not looking at hiking packs that are specifically ergonomically designed for long treks.

If at all possible, see if you can try out the backpack before you buy it. Trying to lug around an uncomfortable backpack for possibly months on end will make your trip seem never-ending, and not in a good way.

Purpose/Functionality

Aside from work backpacks and more student-oriented school book bags, there are a few other broad categories of backpack available on the market, including:

Hiking packs

Choosing a Day Packs

  • These are designed for holding larger outdoor gear and withstanding rugged outdoor adventures

  • Since users are expected to carry hiking packs on their backs for long periods of time, their components (straps, frame, etc.) are usually more ergonomically designed and so are more comfortable

  • Most are over the maximum carry-on size – 55L and up – so you’ll need to check it in if you’re flying

Below are our favorite backpacking packs for the 2017 season, from ultralight bags for minimalists and thru-hikers to comfort-oriented options for weekend warriors and extended trips.


Daypacks

Choosing a Day Pack

  • Smaller bags/backpacks frequently used for streamlined urban transit or brief wilderness outings. Holds just enough for a few core essentials of your choice plus some goodies.

  • Lightweight and low-capacity, so they’re ideal for a day of activities around the town or short outings (hence the label “daypack”)

  • Usually under 25L in size

  • Not likely to be your only bag unless you’re an ultralight backpacker or on a short trip

Bottom line, never underestimate the value of a good travel day pack on a trip. While there are many brands and price points to choose from, these versatile day packs are perfect for any active vacation or urban travel if a backpack is more your style.


Travel Backpacks

Travel Pack

  • In recent years, many backpacking brands have begun producing backpacks that are great for traveling and also function well as luggage

  • A travel backpack is optimized for air travel and maxes out at the carry-on size limit; usually 25-45L in size

  • Easier to pack/unpack because they open up like a suitcase, compared to hiking packs in which everything is loaded/unloaded from the top

Voted, the best carry-on travel backpack by Wirecutter, the Tortuga Travel Backpack is also our top choice when choosing a travel pack.

Features

There is no perfect catch-all backpack that’s perfectly suited for everybody. Therefore, the best backpack for you depends on exactly what you want out of said backpack.

For example, do you take your work on the road? Perhaps you’d like a bag with a dedicated, secure laptop compartment. Do you like camping while you travel? Having a backpack with enough space for a tent you can pitch anywhere will likely be worth the extra cost in check-in fees for you.

What all should you look at?

Security

Walking through the streets of a new city, sharing a hostel dorm with twenty strangers, or finding yourself possibly thousands of miles away from anybody you know: the inherent risks involved in traveling call for taking certain measures to keep you – and your stuff – safe and secure.

Nearly every travel backpack nowadays is designed with strong double zippers, allowing you to deter potential thieves with a locking mechanism.

Travel Backpack Ergonomics

Proper Backpack Fit Tips

Anybody who’s carried something uncomfortable for more than five minutes knows how much a well-designed backpack can enhance a trip – and how much an uncomfortable backpack can ruin one.

Make sure you’re 100% committed to and head-over-heels passionate about the backpack you choose, as it’ll become your trusty traveling companion that you carry through each new city.

Check for features like padded straps, a chest strap, or a hip belt. These may seem trivial, but they go a long way in helping distribute the weight across more of your body and lighten the stress on your back.

Like I mentioned earlier, the surefire way to know whether a backpack fits you well is by going to a store where you can physically try them out before purchasing them, something you obviously can’t do shopping online.

Compartments

There’s a happy medium when it comes to compartments.

You might swear profusely trying to easily locate your stuff in a pack full of nooks and crannies. But it is good to have a few dedicated spaces for things like laptops and other valuables, or important documents like passports that you may need to take out quickly. Water bottle holders are also nice.

Extras

After figuring out the big stuff, whittle your way down to the minutiae – any seemingly minor design and logistics considerations that significantly affect the backpack’s performance.

One thing you should check is the material of your bag.

A great backpack doesn’t need to be waterproof, but it should at least be water resistant in case you find yourself caught in the rain. Another thing to consider is the style – this boils down to preference, but a more inconspicuous-type backpack may help make you look less like a foreign backpacker who could be an easy target.

A great travel backpack constitutes not only features that suit your needs and travel style, but also one that is durable and intelligently designed – equipped with comfort and security features that hold up to a variety of situations, whatever corner of the world you may be in.