Five Exotic Places in the World (that you can still afford to visit)

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!

Panama

2235524340_aa8034b4d9_oEverybody 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.

Hawaii

DSCN1302Thought 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.

Read more about Hawaii becoming a budget traveler’s dream.

Bali

124680557_1549fb2b10_oThe 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.

Costa Rica

3491606318_38338e7ff4_bApparently 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

2389557556_2b8698f6dd_oMorocco 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.

1,000 Places to See Before You Die

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.

What to Pack For Morocco

This is the first in a series of posts about what to pack for specific destinations.  I noticed an unbelievable amount of Google traffic searching for information on what to pack for Morocco, one of my favorite previous trips.  Since I never touched  on what I packed for Morocco, I decided to write a post about it.  Occasionally I’ll revisit this topic for other destinations that require certain types of clothing or gear.

Morocco is a very unique destination.  Located in North Africa but still carrying the vibe of the Middle East.  Morocco is full of culture, languages, sights, great food, amazing landscapes, and best of all, relatively safe.  This makes it a popular destination for independent travelers and backpackers flock to the various areas around the country.

Morocco is not your every day tourist destination though.  Being a conservative Islamic republic, you should be mindful of Moroccan’s customs and be respectful in your dress.  This means that, despite the often warm temperatures, you should not plan on walking around in shorts and short-sleeved t-shirts.  This goes for both men and women.

For men, jeans, khaki’s and cargo pants are acceptable and long sleeved t-shirts, thin jackets, or lightweight casual button-down shirts are recommended.

Women can generally follow the above recommendations but just be mindful to not wear tops that expose cleavage or have short sleeves.  It may not be considered risque in western culture, but these items are generally unacceptable in Moroccan culture.

Recommended Packing List:

  • 4-5 shirts (or blouses) – preferably long sleeved
  • 1 jacket or sweater
  • 2 pairs of comfortable pants
  • swim suit – if you’re visiting the beach
  • hat – especially if you’re visiting the desert
  • enough socks and underwear
  • comfortable sneakers or hiking shoes
  • toiletries – don’t go overboard, but shopping for your typical toiletries in Morocco might be difficult
  • digital camera – smaller is better

Morocco isn’t particularly dangerous, but places like Tangiers do suffer from slightly more than normal amounts of petty theft.  If you are spending time in any medina areas and want to take photographs, a small camera is a better idea.  Remember, this is where Moroccan’s live and work and aren’t necessarily tourist areas, despite the popularity of them.

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Off the Beaten Path Destinations – How to find the highlight of your trip

Ask anybody who has backpacked for any amount of time what the highlight of their trip was and they’ll likely tell you about a place that you’ve never even heard of.

That’s right, I’ve never met anybody who said the Eiffel Tower was their favorite part of their trip to Europe.  Nothing against the Eiffel tower, it’s wonderful, but often the small, out of the way places that you never planned on visiting are what really make your trip.

For me, it was Cinque Terre, Italy in 2004.  It was my first backpacking trip and I was all by myself.  Made my way from Paris to Venice and met three Americans who were studying in England.  They were in my hostel and we decided to go out for dinner.  We ended up spending the next day together exploring the neighboring islands before heading to Florence which so happened to be both of our plans.

After a couple of days in Florence they invited me to Cinque Terre.   “Where?” I asked.

I looked it up in my Lonely Planet.  At the time, there was just one paragraph that said that the olive farming villages of Cinque Terre had no hotels and you had to find a local to rent you a room.

It sounded interesting, but the last thing I wanted to do was be stuck in some place I didn’t know with nowhere to sleep.  I was also convinced I needed five days to explore Rome.

Somehow they talked me into it, and after a brief obligatory stop in Pisa, we ended up in Vernazza, one of the villages of Cinque Terre.  It was there that an old lady met us at the train station and offered us a room.  Thanks to my Pimsleur Italian level I audio tracks and a lot of body language, we secured a room for the night.

The village was beautiful, located right on the water and offered the most beautiful sunset I had ever seen (keep in mind I live at the beach in Southern California and it’s hard to beat our sunsets).  We had an amazing and affordable dinner at a restaurant up on a cliff that overlooked the ocean.  The sky was lit with nothing but bright stars.  No lights from any nearby metropolis polluted the sky.

View from above of Vernazza, Cineque Terre, Italy
View from above of Vernazza, Cineque Terre, Italy

The following day we hiked between the villages along a path that had previously been used by the olive and grape farmers.  Some of the hillside had been carved specifically for the harvesting and that way of life hadn’t changed for many of the residents of Cinque Terre.

These days many Cinque Terre has become quite the hot spot.  Located on the Italian Riveria, it’s surprising that it took this long for it to become such a great spot for tourism.  Now, nearly every body I speak to who has backpacked Italy has told me they stopped in Cinque Terre.  I haven’t looked at the latest Lonely Planet guidebook for Italy but I would bet that there is MUCH more than the same short paragraph that I took a leap on five years ago.

I had a similar experience in Morocco when I visited Chefchaouen.  While I had read a bit about it in the guidebook, it certainly wasn’t the destination that bigger cities like Casablanca, Fez, and Tangiers were made out to be, but it ended up being the highlight of my trip for both its beauty, and the wonderful locals who invited me into their home for a great meal.

My point is that you never know what is out there when you are traveling.  Your guidebook is a necessity but you can never expect that the author visited every square mile of the country.

There are still many of places that have yet to be bombarded with tourists and in the case of Cinque Terre, they soon might be, so go see them while you have the chance!

Chefchaouen, Morocco
Chefchaouen, Morocco

Talk to other backpackers at hostels or ask a local their opinion on places you can visit to get a real feel for the culture.  You’ll be surprised with what you may find.  Just because a guidebook doesn’t listen a place, or doesn’t provide you with a lot of information, doesn’t mean it won’t be the highlight of your trip!

Have you found a great off the beaten path destination in your travels?  If so, post a comment and let us know where and how you came across it!

Morocco, not your typical spring break destination

Here is a short article I wrote for Dig Magazine, CSULB’s monthly publication. My day-by-day travelogue is posted here on Have Pack, Will Travel.

“Where is all the sand?” I thought to myself when I landed at Mohammed V Airport in Casablanca, Morocco. It turns out that much of Morocco is actually very dense with forests and vegetation. The Mediterranean climate is much more comfortable than one would imagine when contemplating a visit to North Africa.

“Bienvenue en Maroc! Welcome in Maroc!” I frequently heard while walking down busy streets. Not knowing whether I was French, English, or American, they were sure to cover their bases and make sure I understood that I was welcome in their country.

Continue reading “Morocco, not your typical spring break destination”

From Casablanca to Tangiers – Morocco trip report

    Enjoy my travelogue about my week-long journey through Morocco.  Such an amazing place full of life, language, and culture.  Morocco ranks very high on my list of places I would recommend backpackers visit.

    Exploring Fes – Morocco, Day 3

    3/31/08

    With some new travel partners I was excited to get on with my first real day of enjoying Morocco.

    The hostel put on a small breakfast consisting of pastries and cafe au lait. The pastries were very tasty but it’s always difficult for me to transition from the typical hearty American breakfast I eat at home.

    Dominique, Rob, Lauren and Lizzie and I decided to explore Fes el Jedid, the new medina of Fes. While it is called the “new” medina, it is anything from new. Built about 900 years ago, the medina is a walled medieval area where most people live, shop, and eat.

    It wasn’t a very far walk so we passed on taking a cab. Before arriving at the entrance to the medina, we passed the king’s palace with it’s beautiful tiled walls and towering carved doors.

    2388724797_a56f511c68_oEntering the medina is like stepping into another world. The walkways are thin and often difficult to navigate with the crowds. You had better be prepared to hug a wall when a donkey cart comes rolling through!

    You’re presented with an abundance of sights, sounds and smells. Fresh foods are being cooked in a stall next to a shop specializing in rugs or finely woven silk. The goods are amazingly beautiful with the exception of freshly butchered legs of lamb and the occasional head as well. That was certainly a surprise.

    The new medina was less threatening than expected. The guide books warn of unofficial guides looking to hustle you or rude shop keepers whistling at passing girls. We had a few people try very hard to get us into their shops, but we didn’t have any problems.

    2388719553_7a85dfcb2e_oAfter exploring the winding streets of the new medina we headed to the Jewish cemetery and paid 10dh to enter. Fes once had a very large Jewish population and nearly every one of them who died there were buried at this cemetery. Bleached white headstones mark the above ground graves and a few small mausoleums have lit candles that look like they had been burning for weeks. At the far end was a wall which offered us a great view of kids playing football down below.

    Kids playing football in Fes, Morocco from Jeffery Patch on Vimeo.

    After the cemetery we headed back to the hostel and had Abdullah help book us an official guide to tour the old medina in the afternoon.

    The girls decided to buy some snacks for lunch at a small shop but Rob and I opted for a bigger meal. We found a street front cafe and took a seat on the patio. For about $4 or $5 I had a salad with a plate of chicken kabobs, fries and hummus. It was quite tasty and the price was certainly fair.

    Back at the hostel we met up with three people from Scotland who had also hitch hiked all the way to Morocco. They asked about joining in with us on the tour. Dominique decided to go at it alone so we had a group of seven. The tour guide didn’t seem to mind. It was much cheaper being split seven ways so at the end we gave him a pretty decent tip.

    Fes el Bali, the old medina, was fascinating. It was much larger than the new medina yet the walkways were much thinner. It is built on a hill and there is no method to the layout of the hundreds of streets. I would have been extremely lost without a guide.

    2388722707_0536401d5a_oHe took is to a mosque/madressa which I was surprised to be able to enter. It was small, but so unbelievably detailed that I was in awe.

    There were so many sights to stop and look at but eventually we made our way up to where the leather tanneries are located. We visited a shop where we were shown some leather goods (the story of any tour in Morocco will likely involve being taken to a shop). After a short sales pitch we were walked to the back of the shop where there was a wonderful view of the tanneries below. Unfortunately the work had already ceased for the day but the smells coming out of the pits was powerful and unique.

    Through out the tour we taken to several shops. While none of us young back packers were planning on purchasing anything we enjoyed the short demonstrations we were shown. It was interesting to see their techniques up close and in person. The mint tea at the rug shop was quite tasty as well.

    2389558930_2a64795801_oDespite not planning on purchasing anything, several of us bought some scarves from a silk shop. Not only did they show us how they wove them, but they then proceeded to dress me up in one and show how a desert crossing Berber man would cover his face from a sand storm. I didn’t think the look was very fashionable for me, but I found a couple that my sisters would like so I bought them each a nice silk scarf.

    One thing I was looking forward to was picking up some spices for my tagine recipes back home.  We visited a big spice shop and I picked up a bunch of Ras al-Hanout to smuggle back in.  The girls all got some henna done on their hands as well.

    Lauren gets Henna in Fes el Bali, Morocco from Jeffery Patch on Vimeo.

    Before the tour came to an end we samples some fresh almond filled pastries. They were amazing!

    When we finally returned to the hostel for the evening we were all starving. We found a restaurant that was recommended to us not only by our guidebook, but a random stranger on our way. I’m pretty sure he wanted a tip but I don’t think any of us gave him one for reaffirming our choice in dining.

    As every other meal I had so far, the food was wonderful. Chicken, golden raisins and some vegetables cooked in a tagine, served over fresh couscous. So juicy and full of flavor.

    The food took a little longer than expected though so I went back with two of the other guys to make sure the hostel would keep the doors open past the 10pm curfew to allow the rest of our group to pay the bill.

    Unfortunately they got lost on the way back and the security guard went to sleep. We had to wake them up when they arrived around 11pm and he wasn’t very happy!

    Several of us stayed up and hung out on the patio again and met some other people who were also staying there. Long night of chatting with people from all over the world. It’s always interesting who you can meet halfway across the world.