Hey you. Yeah you! Fancy traveler flying across the world only to sit in a swanky downtown hotel. Why are you wasting your time?
OK, let me cool off for a second. I’m not actually mad at anybody, but I constantly am running into people who do nothing by fly to a great country and waste their time in a large city near the airport. It disappoints me.
Also referred to as canopy tours, zip lining entails putting on a harness and attaching to a series of cables strung throughout the trees. These tours are everywhere throughout Costa Rica and run between $50-100 depending on the location and amount of runs you get. Between 8-12 runs seems to be average. High in both adrenaline and excitement! As scary as it sounds, it’s actually very safe and the most difficult part is usually walking between the cables.
2. Hike a volcano
Costa Rica is littered with volcanoes. Some are active, like the popular Arenal which offers visitors views of red falling lava at night and constant rumbles throughout the day. Most volcanoes are located on federally reserved national park land and offer great hikes with amazing views. The Poás Volcano is a popular day trip from the San Jose area and a big tourist draw.
3. River rafting
With the amount of rainfall Costa Rica receives it’s no surprise that white water rafting is a popular activity. Most rafters set out for Turrialba, about two hours from San Jose where they can ride the Pacuare or the Reventazon for anywhere from four hours to three days.
It’s no secret that Costa Rica is one of the top surf destinations in the world. Surfing legends like Robert August now make their homes in Costa Rica for it’s legendary surf. Breaks like Jaco and Playa Hermosa provide surfers with consistent waves on the Pacific side while Puerto Viejo de Talmanca and many others are great in the Caribbean.
5. Play with monkeys
Who doesn’t love monkeys? They are everywhere in Costa Rica swinging from trees or digging through restaurant’s trash cans (please don’t feed the monkeys). National parks like Manuel Antonio provide great opportunities for hikers to see capuchin monkeys swinging overhead or even sharing the trail with them. Other areas like the Arenal Volcano are filled with Howler monkeys who can nearly deafen nearby visitors with their calls.
6. Watch turtles lay eggs
Turtle lover? Head up to Tortuguero where conservationists are working hard to preserve the endangered turtles who make the beaches their nesting grounds. Only reachable by boat or plane, Tortuguero is a prime example of eco-tourism.
There are lots of opportunities to volunteer in Costa Rica, especially if you are interested in animal conservation. Tortuguero, mentioned above, is a wildlife conservationist’s dream.
8. Drink coffee
What better way to start your day than enjoying some Costa Rican coffee. Stop by a grocery store and pick up a bag to take back home. Not only does it taste better than anything you can find back home–it’s a lot cheaper!
9. Climb a waterfall
Climbing and rappelling a waterfall is an extremely fun and exciting activity in Costa Rica. There are tour operators all over the country that offer waterfall rappels, but if you find yourself in the Quepos/Manuel Antonio area, give Quepo Canyoning a call as they are the only one (currently) allowing you to climb a waterfall. Believe it or not, going up is actually more exciting than going down!
10. Kayak through mangroves
If you’re looking for something a little slower paced but still plenty of fun, rent a kayak and explore the mangroves. You’ll see wildlife you never imagined.
I have a little secret for finding great deals on hotels that I’ve used over the years, and the good news is that in this economy, it’s only getting better.
Many people will probably be angry with this post, including a large number of our followers on Twitter. Why? Because they’re constantly advertising deals for their own benefit through affiliate travel programs or their own business. I have nothing against them doing so, but I have to warn that just because somebody says it is a deal, doesn’t always make it a deal. I receive hundreds of messages daily about amazing prices on hotels in Hawaii or New York. Since I recently visited Maui, I looked into a few of them. I never found any of these advertisements to be less than $250 per night. I would hardly call that a deal. Maybe that hotel used to charge $1,000 per night. Even so, why am I going to pay that much for a place to sleep when I’m there to see the island, not sit around in a beautiful hotel?
So if that’s your business, I apologize in advance but let’s be honest, Have Pack, Will Travel is all about saving money and making the most of your trip, so we never really saw eye-to-eye anyway.
How to find deals on hotels
Some of the best deals are to be found at the last minute. But how last minute should you look? If you’re adventurous, the very last minute. I rarely book accommodations for my entire trip unless I know it’ll be extremely difficult to secure a bed in a hostel or a cheap room in a hotel. I like to book the first night if I am arriving in the afternoon or evening just to be sure I have somewhere to sleep, but beyond that, I play it by ear. Sure, this has backfired and created a headache or two, but I’ve never slept out in the cold and I’ve never had to pay anything unreasonable for a place to sleep.
More times than naught, I’ve landed some incredible deals on hotel rooms by walking up late in the afternoon and simply inquiring about a price. Yes, you run the risk of not finding someplace, but use your judgment on the time of year and the popularity of the city you are in.
The first time this worked out for me was in Florence, Italy back in 2004. I was traveling with three Americans I met and our train arrived late in the afternoon. We walked to a couple of hostels that ended up being completely booked. This was pretty stressful and we weren’t sure where we were going to find somewhere to sleep. Before we knew it, day became night and there were no more hostels to check. On a small budget we weren’t looking forward to finding out how much a hotel room would cost.
By 8pm we entered a small two-star hotel to inquire about the price. Right there on the wall was a sign that said without a bathroom was €50, or €60 with a bathroom. We asked anyway and didn’t act desperate for a place to stay. The desk clerk (probably the owner) knew it was late and the chances of them filling any of the open rooms was unlikely. They offered us two rooms for €25 each. That worked out to about €12 per person for a very clean and authentic Italian hotel. Not bad since in Paris & Venice each hostel dorm bed cost €25 each.
I’ve had a few experiences like this over the years, but what I have been noticing lately is that, given the economy, there are even better deals to be had. Back in February I went to Costa Rica (for the second time in one year) with two friends. It was the high season and all common sense given the area were in said that booking a room was a wise idea. We reserved a private room at a hostel in Quepos as it was considerably cheaper than the hostel and hotels in Manuel Antonio (the national park area that everybody travels to the area to visit). In the guidebook and on their individual websites, all the small hotels on the road between Quepos and Manuel Antonio advertised rates of $99 or higher. You can imagine our surprise when we were driving down the beautiful road taking in beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean when we noticed signs in front of several of the same hotels we looked at online advertising $25-50 rooms! Not only could we have saved money, but we would have had beautiful ocean views and seclusion.
Sure, playing everything by ear can be stressful if you’re limited on time or easily stressed, but the upside is pretty nice.
Have you fallen into any great hotel deals? Talk about it in the comments if you have any experience or tips on the matter!
Budget travelers are constantly looking for the best possible places they can visit on the cheap. Here are five exotic places around the world that are still affordable for the budget traveler. Read on!
Everybody knows it for the Panama Canal, a must see engineering marvel, but Panama offers much more for budget travelers seeking an exotic trip. Plenty of great beaches in places like Bocas del Torro or for the more adventurous, explore the Darién Gap (with a guide of course, this is one extremely dangerous place). It’s easy to spend several weeks in this exotic country without ever staying in one place for too long.
Panama is served by many North American carriers at reasonable prices. The roads are much easier than Costa Rica but the main means of transport over large distances is by small plane. You can fly to most places in the country on Air Panama or AeroPerlas for $50-100.
Thought by many to be an expensive tourist trap five hours off the coast of California, Hawaii is actually a great trip for budget travelers who enjoy doing their own thing. Amazing beaches with the best surf in North America, scuba and snorkeling opportunities everywhere and plenty of diversity with rain forest and volcanoes for nature lovers.
The most visitor friendly island in Indonesia, Bali may be small in size but not in stature, despite not being the cheapest place in the world to fly to. Flights can cost up to around $1,000 but amenities once you are there can be had at very reasonable prices. Don’t worry, big hotels are available for those who need pampering, but for travelers that require less your dollar can go a long way in Bali.
Apparently in order to be considered “exotic” you need ocean and rain forest so close to each other in the same country that you can literally feel as if you are in another world in the same day. Not only does Costa Rica allow you to do that, you can literally walk from a gorgeous beach where you might not see another person all day, to forest where you will be surrounded by monkeys and sloths. Costa Rica has to be the ecotourism capital of the world and luckily for budget travelers, prices are still reasonable. A bus ride across the country costs less than $5 and there are many hostels for around $10 per night. Tourism is huge though and there are plenty of resorts and tourists traps but you can still easily get by spending $3 for dinner eating with the locals at a small soda.
Morocco stands out on this list because it’s not known for its nature although it does have plenty of that to go around. Fancy a camel ride across the Sahara? No problem. The majority of travelers are here for Morocco’s immense culture though. It’s a taste of the middle east in North Africa. Imperial cities like Fez are home to life in the medinas and souks that has been relatively unchanged for a thousand years. Food lovers will be in heaven enjoying chicken or lamb tagines meticulously steamed for several hours.
Inspired by the roaring #1 New York Times bestseller with more than 1 million copies in print, 1,000 Places to See Before You Die Traveler’s Journal is perfect for giving–it’s specially designed for people who love to travel and want an elegant place to record their experiences. Scattered throughout the journal are traveler’s lists (“Unforgettable Destinations for the ‘Been There, Done That’ Crowd”and “10 Experiences Guaranteed to Give You the Shivers”) and quotes that will spark insight and provide writerly inspiration. At the back of the diary is helpful nuts-and-bolts info: time zones, conversion charts, telephone codes, mini-translation guides, and more.
I asked some fellow travel writers what their favorite budget travel destination was and received some great responses. Here are my two favorite, followed by one of my own. I’d like to continue this theme in the future so if you are interested in contributing please contact me.
Krakow is quickly becoming one of the top European hotspots for travelers. It has filled the void for people that were looking to go elsewhere once trendy, and overly tourist saturated Prague became too expensive. Krakow offers so much to do for travelers on a budget. Since the exchange rate is so good to Americans and food and beer are already cheap, it is a win-win! Check out Rynek Glowny, which is the world’s largest Medieval town square. This beautiful piece of architecture is the meeting spot for most Poles and tourists alike. It is filled with popular bars, top restaurants, cute cafes and chic shopping. After stuffing your face with local fare like pierogies and Zywiec beer, head on over to Wawal Castle. This popular tourist attraction was built in the 14th century and like most of Krakow’s architecture, it has been extremely well preserved. The castle offers a low admission, and in for certain individuals reduced and free admission is available. Check their website for more information. Krakow is a very accessible city as well. Whether you want to trek by foot or take the train, this city has got you covered. I prefer to rent a bike, which cost about 20 zloty per day ($6 US), and ride along the many beautiful streets of this bustling former capital of Poland. But since my last trip to Krakow, they have debuted a new bike program, similar to the one in Amsterdam, which provides locals and tourists with bike rental stations throughout the city. There are about 15 of these “BikeOne” stations throughout the city and more will be introduced this year. Best part about the bike rentals is that you do not have to return it to the same station. Just drop it off at whatever locale you like. This is just a little taste of what Poland’s hippest and lively city has to offer. Four and five star hotels are priced at what most Americans would pay for a two star locale. There are plenty of cheap eats…and drinks. Plus Krakow is one of the best cities to offer most of their attractions at little or no cost you tourists. Flights, which have been notoriously high in the past, have dropped due to the weak economy. While I suggest spring and summer as the ideal time to visit, this city truly is a year round great and affordable European destination.
Andrew Hickey writes TheBrooklynNomad and obsessed with travel. He is constantly on the look out for a great deal to…well anywhere. He has visited numerous destinations around this planet and never gets sick of talking travel. Andrew has written articles and appeared in the travel sections of such media outlets as USA Today, New York Times, MSNBC , AOL, Travel Muse, and Yahoo! You can also follow him on Twitter.
Thailand is one of those places that once visited, will leave you with a special memory etched in your heart. Like a Lucy loves Aaron proclamation on a tree in the botanical garden. Well, it would if you were Lucy or Aaron. For some people it’s the smiles beaming from every local you meet. For others it’s the knock-off shoes and ‘iPood’ t-shirts found in all the shops on Khao San road. For a select few it’s the “entertainment” found in areas like Pattaya, but that’s best left for another blog post. For me it’s the incredible food, made with fresh local ingredients, which you can find in pretty much every market in the country (and on quite a few street corners too). From seafood Laksa’s to Green Curry veggies on Rice, all the staples are covered – and at a price which easily falls within even the thriftiest traveler’s budget. It’s not just Asian fare which can be found on the cheap. The best Spaghetti marinara I’ve ever tasted was from the restaurant attached to a guesthouse on Koh Lanta, in Thailand’s Krabi region (easily reached via a very cheap overnight train from Bangkok). Prepared with fresh seafood brought in by the fishermen that day, it was rich in flavour, pasta cooked to a perfect al dente, and at about a tenth of the price I was used to paying back home. Which of course left me with a few baht to spend on some Singha beers, a couple of cheap DVD’s, and well, you can never have enough ‘iPood’ t-shirts.
I’ve heard just about everything about Costa Rica from many different people. From “it’s too touristy,” to “it’s unsafe,” and I’ve found none of the negative things I’ve heard to be true. Once you visit Costa Rica you’ll realize that whoever said those things has never been there to experience the pure beauty that Costa Rica has to offer. I’ve been twice over the past year and an always thinking about returning. While Costa Rica is maximizing on their tourism industry, nearly everything is still extremely affordable. The majority of hostels are around $10, and some of the nicest I’ve ever seen, traditional meals can be purchased at “soda’s” for $3-4, and it doesn’t cost much to take in the beauty and nature found all across the country. I say much, because a lot of land in Costa Rica has been declared part of various national parks and often charge small fees to enter. The advantage is that the land is protected and will be up kept and remain undeveloped. Whether you want to surf some of the best waves in the world, hike up active volcanos, or walk through the rain forest with monkeys at your feet, Costa Rica will delight you. Just remember to bring some insect repellent.
Jeffery Patch writes Have Pack, Will Travel and does everything possible to see the world while taking vacation from his 9-5 life in California. You can also follow him on Twitter.
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!
There were an unbelievable amount of monkeys swinging all around us last month in Manuel Antonio. They came right up to us but luckily didn’t attack. I was afraid they could smell our snacks in my backpack!
We all know that the economy sucks right now. Our financial system is in shambles and many of us are losing our jobs and can’t pay mortgages.
The times are tough.
Unless you are a traveler. If you aren’t being affected too much by the current economic situation, you might want to check out some travel deals that are being offered.
I’ve never been one to book a package deal with air and hotel bundled together, but if you’re traveling with somebody there have been quite a few good deals but they require a two-person minimum purchase. Often that makes it not such a good deal when you factor in the hotel cost so be sure to pay attention to that.
But for the traveler who is just looking for great airfare deals, there are plenty at the moment. Here are a few I’ve found recently (all prices include taxes and fees):
Los Angeles to Honolulu – $335 round trip on Hawaiian Air. American Airlines, United and Delta are just slightly higher.
Los Angeles to Maui – $415 round trip on American Airlines.
Los Angeles to Sydney or Brisbane, Australia – $680 round trip all the way through October on United.
Los Angeles to Paris – $590 round trip on United or Air France (I really like Air France!) through May.
Los Angeles to San Jose, Costa Rica – $350-$450 round trip all summer long.
I’m sure there are plenty of similar fares from most major airports. I highly recommend Kayak to search for flights.
Find any good deals out there? Where are you off to next? Share in the comments!
Taxi drivers. You’ve got to love them. It doesn’t matter what country you are in. They always have a unique trinket dangling from their mirror and are happy to provide you with lots of advice on wherever it is you are traveling. Especially so if they pick you up at the airport and you have a big backpack or you’re dragging some luggage behind you.
Unfortunately the first person you usually meet in a new country isn’t always the most trustworthy.
You hop in the car and tell the driver where you’d like to go. Often times they respond by telling you that hotel is booked, it’s dirty, or unsafe. If you don’t know any better, you might believe him and let him take you to a place he recommends.
Of course what he doesn’t tell you is that he is getting a commission for taking you to that place.
This is the oldest trick in the book and happens more often than you might believe. Just last week I had it happen to me. Twice.
So how do you avoid this? First of all, stick to your plans and know what you are getting in to. If you are arriving somewhere late at night, it’s probably a good idea to book accommodation for your first night.
Another trick is charging you a flat rate versus using the meter. This hardly works out in your favor. Some places I have been (Morocco for instance) generally don’t use the meter and offer you a flat rate before you get in. My experiences were fair and the prices were very cheap. Recently in Costa Rica though, we agreed to pay 4,000 colones (about $8) for the three of us to be driven across town to a restaurant late at night. We had a tough time finding a cab so we just agreed and off we went. After dinner we flagged down another cab and headed back to our hotel room. He turned on the meter and it came to 1,000 colones. We realized we were ripped off the first time and always insisted on using the meter from then on.
All this negative talk about taxi drivers probably makes me look like a pessimist. In reality, I’ve had some great conversations with taxi drivers and they are often very nice and enjoy meeting foreigners. Especially if they want to practice your language. I’ve had full conversations about American politics, tourism and the economy–all in various, and probably butchered, languages. Often they can be insightful and entertaining, looking for somebody to chat with just like you are.
On the other hand, I’ve been ripped off (usually for such an insignifigant amount it’s laughable) and attempted to be taken advantage of. So be careful and have a plan. Don’t let a taxi driver boss you around. They usually will take “no” for an answer very easily so insist on going where you want to go.
Have any funny (or horror) stories about taking taxis around the world? Share them in the comments below!
The other day a friend of mine wrote to me and said he has been reading the site but was curious as to where I would recommend he and his wife go for their first adventure.
That question inspired me to write this post. Here are five destinations that I would highly recommend to first-time travelers:
Probably the first thing that comes to mind when people think of visiting Italy is the food. And it should be, because eating out in Italy is a treat and worth the trip even if it’s all you manage to do.
Of course Italy has a lot more to offer. You can spend weeks enjoying the wonderful ocean villages of Cinque Terre, the canals and neighboring islands of Venice, the great art in Florence, or the amazing history of Rome. Italy has so much going on that you’ll quickly realize there is not enough time to enjoy it all.
Italy is certainly well visited by tourists and Italians are very welcoming. When I went in 2004 I was prepared to use my poor Italian that I had learned but everybody I met was happy to speak English and would chat me up for hours on end if time allowed. The train system goes everywhere you’ll need to go and is easy to use. And best of all, the major cities are all wonderful walking towns. Rome has a metro system, but you’re better off walking to where you need to go and seeing the great sights around town.
You’ll also be able to find hostels and budget hotels everywhere you go. I rarely recommend booking in advance, but Italy has a lot of visitors and it’s not cheap either. It’s best to book things in advance if possible.
Who hasn’t dreamt of the city of lights? Whether you’re a hopeless romantic, wine connoisseur, or art buff, Paris is a place that everybody can enjoy.
Spend a day (a week is easily doable) in the Louvre and see the Mona Lisa. Check out the Van Gogh paintings in Musee D’Orsay. Walk around the Latin Quarter and practice your French by chatting up a Parisian student. Head up the steep cobblestone walkways of Montmartre and enjoy the views of the city from the Sacre Coeur. Buy some bread, cheese, and a cheap bottle of wine and enjoy a picnic lunch on the banks of the Seine. Don’t forget the obligatory trip up the Eiffel tower!
If you are there for a few days, take the train to Versailles. Enjoying dinner there is expensive, but viewing a castle like that is certainly an awe-inspiring sight.
Costa Rica is a little more challenging for first time travelers but there is a lot of upside. Many hardcore travelers would consider Costa Rica “touristy” but it is far less visited than any of the other countries listed so far.
On the negative side, Costa Rica’s capital city of San Jose can be dangerous and offers very little other than a large airport. If you do some research though, you’ll find you only need to go into the city for specific buses and staying in neighboring Alajuela is a much better option for overnight stops. Stay away from the Coca-Cola bus terminal at night and you’ll be safe.
On the positive side, Costa Rica offers some of the most beautiful nature in the world. While the bus system may not be the smoothest in the world, it does exist and can take you around the entire country. It’s also very cheap!
The influx of tourism to Costa Rica over the past few years has increased prices, but it still will only cost a fraction of what a trip to nearly any city in Europe will cost. Hostel beds for less than $10 are common and eating a good meal at the local sodas (cafes) can cost as little as $2-3.
Whether you want to enjoy surfing on the Pacific or Caribbean, explore a rain forest with monkeys swinging overhead, go white water rafting, kayak mangroves, or peer into a Volcano, you can can do it all in Costa Rica. Spend as little as a week or as long as a year, and you can still manage to not go to the same place twice. This tiny country is a real gem in Central America.
Many people dream of visiting ancient Inca and Mayan ruins in Central America and Peru offers one of the most amazing opportunities to do so.
Machu Picchu is one of the most impressive sights in the world to visit ancient ruins despite it being 8,000 ft above sea level. While this elevation might make it a little more difficult to get to than other places, it still manages to be an extremely popular destination for travelers.
The common practice is to stay in nearby Cuzco for a couple of days to acclimate to the elevation. From there, you can book a multi-day hike and camping trek and enjoy the Inca Trail.
There are many providers for this tour and most provide the supplies you need. You should be aware that the number of visitors to the trail is limited so you should book in advance. I’ve heard as few as three weeks is required, and as long as nine months. Your experience may vary, but definitely plan ahead of time!
Canada is one of my favorite countries in the world. I have been all over the country and enjoy every little bit of it. It may not be as cheap for Americans as it once was, but there are still budget places to stay.
Vancouver is a wonderful city surrounded by the beautiful nature that is British Columbia. Enjoy the city for a couple of days, be sure to check out Stanley Park (Think Central Park but better!), then head up route 99, the Sea to Sky Highway, and stop in Squamish. The self described “Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada,” Squamish offers a great place for backpackers to call home for a while. Enjoy the outdoor activities like kayaking, mountain biking and hiking, or use it as an affordable base for Whistler. Located about one hour up the highway, Whistler is one of the best ski resorts in the world and its village provides great shopping and eating choices year round. Hitchiking is safe and popular from Squamish and you won’t be waiting for long before a fellow snowboarder or mountain biker picks you up and gives you a free ride to the mountain. Canadians are so darn friendly!
If you fancy the eastern side of Canada, Quebec is a wonderful place to visit as well. Although a bit pricier, there are several hostels in the Montreal area and English is spoke everywhere. In fact, I dare you to use your high school French and see what happens. They’ll automatically respond in English and you’ll feel a little stupid, but hey, that’s Montreal!
Hop on the train for a lovely three-hour ride to Quebec city and enjoy the more traditional French-Canadian culture. Quebec is a lovely city to simply walk around and go sightseeing. From statues to architecture, Quebec city will easily fill a couple of days and put a few miles on your feet.
There you have it. In no particular order, five great destinations of varying costs and level of adventure.
Do you have a recommendation for a good place beginner travelers should check out? Please share them, or your experiences in the comments below!