10 Easy Ways to Stay In Shape While Traveling

creative commons license by aarmono
creative commons license by aarmono

I’ve already touched on ways to stay healthy and combat sickness while traveling, but how about if you want to keep in shape?

For those who keep up on eating healthy, working out, and generally staying in shape, taking a week or longer off can really put a damper on your physical goals.  Here are a few ideas to help keep up your fitness while traveling.

1. Go for a run

Why not start your day off with a nice run?  Head out in the morning for a run down the beach or wherever you may be.  Scenic outdoor destinations will probably be more encouraging than others.

2. Find a local gym

If you have a gym pass at home check and see if your gym has locations where you’ll be traveling.  Some cities will have local gyms that will allow you to work out for a small fee.  I found a tiny gym in Quepos, Costa Rica that only charged $2 per workout.  Many larger hotels also have their own gym facilities.

3. Walk

If you’re considering hopping on the subway for a few stops, driving or even taking a taxi, why not just walk?  Some cities are best experienced by foot anyway.

4. Outdoor Activities

Are there any hiking trails where you’ll be going?  What about other activities like rock climbing or rafting? If you’re staying at a beach, go for a swim or rent a surfboard. Do anything you can to enjoy the outdoors and be physically active at the same time.

5. Eat healthy

I’m not one to pass up the local cuisine, but you might want to do so in moderation.  Skip candy bars and chips for snacks and look for fresh fruit stands when you’re between meals.

6. Drink plenty of water

Most people don’t drink enough water during the day when at home, let alone while traveling.  This is especially important if you’re doing a lot of physical activity and sweating.  If you are somewhere warm and not used to warmer climates, realize that you’ll need a lot more water than you are used to.  Carry a bottle or two with you all the time.

7. Exercise in your room

Can’t make it to the gym?  If your workout usually consists of weight lifting, do some push ups and sit ups in your room.  You can also use your bed or a chair for dips and other body weight exercises.

8. Carry your own luggage

Carry your own backpack or luggage if possible.  Don’t bother paying porters at the airport or your hotel when you could be doing it yourself and getting a quick and easy workout at the same time.

9. Try a martial art

Whether you are already into martial arts or not, consider trying a local gym.  Many will give you a free guest pass just to check them out while others will charge a small fee for your participation in their program.  Boxing and Brazilian jiu jitsu are two things I train in and it’s common for students to travel to other gyms and take classes with various well-known teachers.  You can even schedule a private lesson with some coaches to get a taste of their training.  You’ll almost always learn something new and different than your current regimen.

10. Rent a bike

Whether you want to go on a nice long bike ride or just use one as an alternative means of transportation, bicycles are typically pretty cheap and readily available in most places.  Cities like Paris even have bike rental kiosks around the city that are available 24 hours a day with your credit card AND you don’t have to return it to the same place.  It’s a great system.

If you have any other tips on staying, or getting in shape while traveling please feel free to share them in the comments below.

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Internet Roundup – Travel Articles and Tweeters for April 23rd

Here’s a round up of some of the more interesting articles about travel on the web and travel twitter folks for the week.

Recommended reading

Twitter recommendations

  • @EverywhereTrip – Gary Arndt is traveling around the world and tweeting all about it. Very entertaining person to follow.
  • @soultravelers3 – Family of three, including a 5-year old daughter, on an open-ended world trip. Great updates from their travels, videos, photos, etc. Recently won a Lonely Planet award for their tweeting!
  • @travelinggreen – Provides great information on green travel.  Also in honor of Earth day.

Have any suggestions?  Feel free to post them in the comments section below.

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Top Travel Resources on the Web

We have a little bit of a theme going this week which all about travel and the internet.  Today I’ve outlined a few of my favorite travel resources online.

Kayak

To me, Kayak is simply the best airline search engine out there.  Plug in where you want to go and they’ll automatically show you a list of recently found fares for many specific dates.  You can easily browse the calender and get an idea of what dates have the lowest fares.  In addition, they do a great job of piecing together flights on multiple carriers if your destination requires several legs (although expedia.com might do a slightly better job at that).  Best of all, Kayak will direct you to the carrier’s booking page so you can book it with them, rather than through Kayak with an additional fee.

Lonely Planet

Most travelers know and love Lonely Planet guidebooks. Sure, you can criticize some of their books, but no matter how you look at it, their website is a great resource for initial travel planning.  They offer great overviews of nearly every country in the world, weather statistics, basic transportation information, and recommendations on the top areas to visit.

U.S. State Department

Going somewhere with questionable political stability and possible danger? The U.S. State Department does a good job of providing information on these topics with recommendations on whether or not it’s safe to travel.  They err on the side of caution though and just because they say it might not be a good idea, doesn’t mean it’s a bad place to go.  Check it out, but don’t use them as a final say.

One Bag

OneBag.com is a great resource to teach you to lighten your load whether you are heading out for adventure travel or simply business.  They have great packing lists, tips on how to pack, and even luggage recommendations.  The amount you can learn about packing from OneBag is truly unbelievable.

TripAdvisor

Over the past few years I’ve had small hotels and tour companies ask me to give them a review on TripAdvisor which, unfortunately, has actually made me use the site less.  But when I am interested in a hotel or hostel but can’t find much information on it elsewhere, I’ll check it out on TripAdvisor and see what kind of reviews they are receiving.  One of the nice things is that they allow users to upload photos so you can get an idea of what the hotel looks like.  I’m not too picky usually but it doesn’t hurt to check out.

Hostel World

Hostel World is a huge directory of hostels all over the world.  You can even book right on the website.  There are reviews and photos which, like Trip Advisor, I like very much when trying to decide on a hostel if there are many to choose from.

CouchSurfing

If you’re using CouchSurfing you’re a different kind of traveler and I’ve written about that in the past.  There are people all over the world who are willing to share their living space with you.  Sure, it’s a way to get free accommodation, but that’s not the point.  Meet people, make friends, and experience the area’s culture from a different perspective.

I hope these links help you in your travel planning.  If you have any to add please feel free to list them in the comments below.

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Teaching English Abroad

This is the third in a series of posts about how to spend your time during extended travels.  Be sure to check out Taking a Year Off After School to Travel and Volunteering Abroad During Your Travels.

Traveling is wonderful but unless you have a big bank account before you set out, you probably won’t manage to travel forever.

A great way to make ends meet abroad is by teaching English.  It doesn’t matter where you are going, chances are there are schools teaching English to people who want to learn it.  You don’t even need a college degree.  What you will need is a TEFL or TESOL certificate.

Let me warn you first: there are an abundance of online TEFL programs that may or may not be recognized by many institutions.  The general consensus is that the best way to get your TEFL certificate is to enroll in a program where you will receive hands-on teaching experience.  Many of these programs are arranged in foreign countries so you have classes for you to begin working with immediately.

Also, these schools can often help with job placement but be careful of any guaranteeing you a job after you finish.  Not many reputable programs will guarantee you job placement and if they do, they’re probably getting a kickback of some sort or even charging you for the service.

The money isn’t great but is typically enough to get by on and put a little bit away for furthering your travels if that is your plan.

The places you can teach are endless, but chances are employment will be difficult to find in most areas of Europe.  Asia, Latin America, and many Middle Eastern countries are probably your best bets.  The classes you can teach can range from adults learning English for business to children who might not even have their own native language skills down yet.  The great thing about this style of teaching English is that you don’t need to know the local language to teach it.  It’s all done with signs, gestures, and other techniques that mean you could teach in China one semester, and Peru the next.  I was pretty impressed the first time I was given a demonstration by a teacher working in Costa Rica.

If you are interested in more information about choosing a TEFL program, I recommend checking out BootsnAll‘s article, How to Choose Your TEFL Certification Program (if at all).

Have you taught English abroad or are you looking into it? We’d appreciate hearing about it in the comments below!

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creative commons photo by rudenoon on Flickr

Volunteering Abroad During Your Travels

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Creative Commons License - by Common Threadz

Lately I’ve been asked by several people about things they can do while traveling for an extended surprise.  Much to my surprise, some people they will get bored or sick of traveling and want to have something to fall back on.

While I can’t imagine ever getting bored with traveling non-stop I do understand the desire to change it up while out on the road.

Why not look at volunteering?  There are opportunities all over the world and you can easily manage to help for a while during your travels.

One problem with searching for volunteer opportunities from abroad is that “volunteerism” has become quite popular and many people are exploiting volunteer’s desires to help by charging high prices for volunteer trips.  Some of them might be legitimate, but I don’t understand paying a couple of thousand dollars to go somewhere for a week and work hard.

Luckily, Serve Your World has built a good list of free volunteer opportunities.  But keep in mind that your costs are typically not covered so you’ll have to pay for your airfare and travel arrangements but often the organization has some sort of housing for you and sometimes provides meals as well.  You might also want to check out Volunteerism.

Looking to make a little more of a dent in the world?  Why not check out the Peace Corps?  You’ll have to be more dedicated, as the minimum commitment is 2 years.

Becoming quite popular recently is WWOOF’ing.  And it’s not just fun to say either.  WWOOF stands for WorldWide Opportunities on Organic Farms.  When volunteering on a WWOOF farm you’ll work and live on an organic farm, helping do any number of tasks and receive free meals and a place to stay.  There are an abundance of farms in the organization so you should definitely check out the website to see all of the opportunities to help sustainable agriculture. Note: some of the organizations charge a small fee to gain access to the website and this fee goes to supporting the network.

These aren’t the only opportunities around, but three of the more popular options.  If you are interested in learning more please check out the appropriate links above.  It’d also be worth your time to look into various NGO’s (non governmental organizations) in the area you’ll be in.

Have you volunteered abroad or are you looking into it? We’d appreciate hearing about it in the comments below!

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Taking a Year Off After School to Travel

Graduation joy
Creative Commons by Robert Crum

Spring break is wrapping up and the home stretch for many students is now in full force. Soon, students will be graduating from high school or college and ready to move on to the next chapter in life.

Going on to college? Starting their career? These are just the two most likely choices students are facing, but some will contemplate taking a year off. Some will be lazy and do nothing worthwhile, some will get meaningless jobs to make enough money to move out and live off of, and others will venture out into the world. It’s the later that we’ll be looking at today.

Deciding to Travel

Are you considering taking time off from your normal routine to travel for a while? Let’s look at the pros and cons.

Pros:

  • Experience other cultures
  • Learn about world history
  • Make new friends
  • Learn real-life skills

Cons:

  • Potentially expensive
  • Putting off job or school acceptance

For High School Grads

If you are about to graduate high school, I’ll assume you are planning on attending college. I’m not saying you should or shouldn’t, but that is the typical route students take here in America. Often, the school application process begins in the beginning of the student’s senior year and it might be damaging to put off going directly to college if you have already been accepted. Many times though, admission can be delayed by simply contacting the school in question. If it is a typical public university, this likely is not a problem. If it is Ivy League or a private institution, you might run into problems and if that is the case, you should heavily weigh your options before making a decision.

For those who do decide to take some time off before starting their higher education, they’ll learn valuable real life skills. Spending time traveling around the world can truly help expose you to so many different cultures and experiences that you will certainly not only learn, but possibly be steered to a path that you will eventually want to follow in school.

For College Grads

If you are about to graduate college you’re likely looking at potential employers, brushing up your resume, and determining what type of job you are qualified for.

There’s only one problem: the economy.

The economy is absolutely terrible right now and while I hate to add to the hype surrounding it, the simple truth is that there are very few jobs out there, and definitely even less for new grads. The job pool is huge thanks to all of the layoffs we have experienced across the country and chances are that there is somebody more qualified than you and willing to work for less than they would normally. What does this mean for grads? Get ready for a tough time.

But what if you have the financial means to do some traveling for awhile? Go for it. I can’t guarantee that the economy will recover by the time you get back, but it can’t get that much worse… can it? Maybe I shouldn’t ask that.

So why not hit the road? Find a way to make your travels appeal to employers in the future. Consider volunteering somewhere or doing some writing. It might be difficult to make a living by traveling but you can certainly use your experiences to your advantage. Give this article on making your travels look good on your resume over at Matador Network a read and see if you can come up with some good ideas of your own.

Be sure to check back this week for two more articles about ways to spend a year abroad.

Did you, or are you currently on a gap year? Tell us about it!

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Five Wonderful Travel Books You Should Read

Here’s a list of five great travel-related books (in no particular order) that I recommend any and all to give a read.  They’re all quite different from each other and each author provides his own unique outlook on the world.  They should be on every travelers bookshelf.

Babylon by Bus: Or, the true story of two friends who gave up their valuable franchise selling YANKEES SUCK T-shirts at Fenway to find meaning and adventure in Iraq,

Two young Americans ditch their Yankees Suck t-shirt business and make their way to Iraq during the first year of the American Invasion.  That was all I needed to read before I purchased this book!  Babylon by Bus chronicles their experience in and out of the green zone from their drug use to mask the sounds of bombs exploding to their interactions with coalition forces which result in NGO work aiming to help Iraqis.

It’s an easy read, fun, and also allows you to step inside Baghdad from an outsider’s point of view.

Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?: A Swashbuckling Tale of High Adventures, Questionable Ethics, and Professional Hedonism

Drugs, debauchery, and writing for Lonely Planet.  That’s Do Travel Writers Go to Hell? in a nutshell.  Thomas Kohnstamm chronicles his experience in giving up everything he had in life to go to Brazil and write for Lonely Planet.  This results is more trouble than you could ever one person getting into, an impossible writing workload and the author’s conflicted feelings about guidebooks and the gringo trail.

The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World

Part travel narrative, part scientific study, NPR’s Eric Weiner aims to find the happiest countries on earth and figure out what makes the people so happy.  Wealth, social equality, and beautiful weather are popular explanations yet Weiner realized they have little to do with the places that are happiest.

Marco Polo Didn’t Go There: Stories and Revelations from One Decade as a Postmodern Travel Writer

I previously reviewed Marco Polo Didn’t Go There but decided it needed to be included in this list as well.

This collection of Rollf Potts’ travel stories include a commentary about why and how he wrote each and every one.

A great resource for the aspiring travel writer, but also a great read for anybody who will enjoy Potts unique outlook on his experiences and encounters around the world.

The Great Railway Bazaar

Paul Theroux’s classic travel narrative of his journey along the Trans-Siberian Express is over 30 years old but still holds up remarkably well.  Theroux has become one of the most respected and read authors in the world and this is the book that started it all.

Sometimes brash and unapologetic about the characters he meets, some people find him off putting but it’s his brutal honesty that gains respect from everybody else.  His vivid descriptions of the people he meets and places he sees is colorful, but not overly adjectve-laiden like many lesser authors.  You will definitely feel as if you are on the railway car over 30 years ago while reading this classic.

Marco Polo Didn’t Go There – Book Review

marco_polo_rolf_coverAttending the LA Travel and Adventure show last month I stopped by to see some of the books they were selling.  My eyes were drawn to the half price Lonely Planet books but unfortunately for me, I had just purchased my guidebook for Costa Rica and didn’t have any other trips on the agenda at the moment.

Then I noticed and picked up Rolf Potts’ Marco Polo Didn’t Go There: Stories and Revelations from One Decade as a Postmodern Travel Writer. I am ashamed to admit I had never heard of Potts before nor had I read any of his stories.  The stories in the book sounded good though so I went ahead and purchased a copy.

Essentially a collection of Potts’ stories for various websites and glossy print magazines, Marco Polo Didn’t Go There turned out to be one of my best impulse book purchases ever.  You probably could skip buying the book and find them all archived online, but then you would miss out on the great commentary Potts adds at the end of each story.  These commentaries give more information about the characters, events or even about his state of mind when experiencing or writing the story.  With no need to please a magazine editor or make sure a story captures the reader, they also act as a place where Potts can be more honest than in the original story.

Who this book will really interest ,though, is the aspiring travel writer, such as myself.  Potts shares not just the details of the experience, but why he included certain elements, excluded specific characters or exaggerated various details.  He shares his opinion on what made the story work, and will be honest about what didnt’ work.  Potts also talks about the many styles and forms of travel writing and points out why he chose to use various techniques.

Whether you are a writer or not, you will be engaged in his stories, feeling as if you know the characters. Not because of vivid, adjective heavy descriptions, but because most of stories revolve around personal interactions that you’ve certainly experienced in one form or another.

This is the first book I have read with the author’s commentary after each chapter and it was a welcomed change.  I truly enjoyed getting in to his head and understanding the why and how of his stories.

Marco Polo Didn’t Go There: Stories and Revelations from One Decade as a Postmodern Travel Writer is available on Amazon.com at a discounted price.

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10 Travel Photography Tips to Help Take Great Photos

I’m an avid traveler and a semi-professional photographer (that means yes, I’ve been paid, but no, not very much) and obviously those two loves combine with travel photography.  I have photos from all over the world and they truly mean everything to me.  I’ve learned a lot of lessons the hard way and I’ve picked up tips along the way.  Here are the 10 most important ones I know and share with others all the time.

Keep in mind that it really doesn’t matter what camera you have.  You are the one in control and your camera is just a tool.  Learn how to use it, and learn how to take great photos.

Now, onto the good stuff:

1) Make sure horizon lines are straight

Straight Horizon
Straight Horizon - Fez, Morocco
Crooked Horizon
Crooked Horizon - Slight, but noticeable - Budapest, Hungary

One of the most common mistakes people make, especially when shooting landscapes, is not paying attention to the horizon lines.  It’s easy to hold your camera slightly crooked, so be sure pay attention and try to look for an obvious line to use as a guide if the actual horizon isn’t visible.

2) Use your flash when there is back lighting

No flash, strong back lighting
No flash, strong back lighting. Faces are in a shadow - Costa Rica
Flash used, subjects are lit nicely
Flash used, subjects are lit nicely - Costa Rica

Another common mistake and this easy fix can be used in many different situations.  Flash can be used when the sun is behind the subjects.  In this case, you see that we’re in the shade.  The beautiful rain forest is a major part of the photo, but we still need to be lit well.  Flash to the rescue!

You can also use this technique when posing in front of sunsets, at night if posing in front of a lit building, etc.

3) Offer to take photos of other travelers

Thanks Stranger!
Thanks Stranger! - Rome, Italy

Traveling alone but want a photo of yourself? No, you don’t have to hold the camera out as far as you can and snap a goofy photo of half of your face.  Chances are there are other tourists nearby who are thinking the same thing as you.  You’ll often see couples taking pictures of each other individually. Be friendly and offer to take a photo of them together with their camera.  Then run away with their fancy camera! Wait, that’s not what I was going to say.  Oh yeah, then ask if they’ll mind snapping one of you.  That’s how I managed to get this photo of myself in front of the Trevi Fountain in Rome.

4) Look for unusual perspectives

Thinking outside the frame, er... box?
Thinking outside the frame, er... box? - Fez, Morocco

You can only pose so many times in front of random things or places before all your photos start to get redundant.  Browsing this artisan’s shop in Fez, Morocco we noticed our reflections in these beautiful crafted mirrors and decided to make a unique portrait.  It’s not an amazing picture by any means, but we had a good laugh about it and it’s better than us posing in front of the mirrors or a photo of the mirrors alone.  Those would have been pretty boring, right?

5) Find a way to stabilize your camera at night

Blury hand held photo at night
Blurry hand held photo at night - Budapest, Hungary
Stability means sharpness
Stability means sharpness - Budapest, Hungary

If it’s night time and you want to shoot something that your flash can’t light up, chances are your photo will come out blurry.  The solution? Set the timer on your camera and find somewhere you can set it down.  You probably aren’t walking around with a tripod, so look for a post, fire hydrant, bench, wall, etc.  Line up your shot, click the shutter and take your hands off! Don’t be alarmed if your camera takes a few seconds to get the exposure.  It’ll open the lens for as long as it needs to get a decent exposure.


6) Get high

Birds have the best views - Cinque Terre, Italy
Birds have the best views - Cinque Terre, Italy

No, I don’t mean use drugs to help your travel photography.  Use your feet and start walking up, and up, and up.  Some of the best views are from above such as this photograph from the hills above Cinque Terre.  It was quite a hike, but well worth the effort.

7) Don’t use your camera’s digital zoom

Digital Zoom - Venice, Italy
Digital Zoom Reenactment, don't try this at home - Venice, Italy
No Digital Zoom. Nice and crisp! - Venice, Italy
No Digital Zoom. Nice and sharp! - Venice, Italy

There are very few reasons why you should ever use the digital zoom function on your digital camera.  So few reasons that I can’t even think of one.  Even if it does help you reach somewhere you couldn’t have without it, the pictures are so pixelated and blurry that you will probably never use it.  It’s truly a worthless feature built into cameras simply so they can advertise a bloated zoom number on the box for uninformed buyers.

If you really need to get closer for a shot, use your feet.  If that’s not possible, try a different perspective.  Get creative and you’ll enjoy your photo much more than by zooming in to 100x.

8) Keep an eye out for candid moments

Beggar candid - Florence, Italy
Beggar candid - Florence, Italy
Kids fighting over a tire - Fez, Morocco
Kids fighting over a tire - Fez, Morocco

Candid moments are usually my favorite type of photographs.  Sometimes you can capture someone’s expression when it is entirely genuine.  These kids fighting over a tire really stood out to me and I was really glad I managed to capture it.

This is the time to be incognito – think James Bond!  Haven’t you always wanted to be a spy?

9) Keep an eye out for something unusual

Unusual paint job - Budapest, Hungary
Unusual paint job - Budapest, Hungary

So long as it is safe, you should always carry your camera with you.  Even if it’s pouring rain outside, bring it along since you never know when you might see a SmartCar with the Death Star painted on it.

10) Take a lot of photos and don’t delete them

Memory cards are cheap.  Buy the biggest one that your camera will work with or, better yet, buy several.  It might seem like over kill but it can be a good idea to change cards a couple times throughout your trip.  This way, if one fails or your camera gets stolen, you still have photos on another card and you didn’t lose everything. If you’re feeling nice you can always donate it to a traveler in need.  I met two during my last trip and unfortunately I could only help one of them out of their bind.

I hope these tips help!  If you have any travel photography questions or have a tip you’d like to share, please use the comments below.

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