The Secret to Great Hotel Deals

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!

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3 Travelers Share Their Favorite Budget Destinations

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, Poland

photo by Kirstysplodge
photo by Kirstysplodge

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

Photo by Shane Brown
Photo by Shane Brown

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.

Shane Brown considers himself a professional Lion Wrangler.  You can follow his blog on TravelPod. You can also follow him on Twitter.

Costa Rica

Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica
Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

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.

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Volunteering Abroad During Your Travels

jfjf
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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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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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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When Traveling with a Friend Becomes a Problem

Fighting wolves

Most of my friends do not travel often but the handful that do always share stories about the nightmares they experienced with their travel partners.

Just the other day a friend was telling me how the two people she was traveling through Asia expected to be able to use their credit cards everywhere and refused to get any cash. That backfired when they were unable to buy anything to eat for a couple of days unless it was in a hotel or a tourist trap.

Another friend told me about how they are no longer friends with the people they traveled through Europe for a few weeks with. By the end of the trip they were at each other’s throats for various reasons, but mostly because they just spent too much time together and didn’t get enough space.

A recent trip of mine didn’t go a smoothly as planned with my travel partner and I realized we had quite different tastes and plans for our trip. We were able to solve these issues fairly easily though and I will give you some tips on how we did it.

Plan ahead of time

You don’t need to set dates or times, but discuss what you would like to see, activities you would like to do, and what you would like to eat. Don’t forget to take budget into consideration. Make sure that you understand each other’s desires and what they are financially capable of doing.

Notice when an issue arises

Do not ignore problems. When you see that something is beginning to become an issue, address it immediately. Talk about it. Explain your feelings, listen to their concerns and wishes, and try to find a compromise. Never force somebody into doing or going somewhere they don’t want to. They will inevitably have a terrible time because they had a poor attitude about it to begin with.

Split up

Sometimes there is no easy resolve and the best thing to do is simply go your own way. Maybe you just need to explore the area on your own or hang out with some people from your hostel. There is nothing wrong with this. Just be an adult and explain that it has become obvious you guys need some time apart.

This doesn’t mean you have to sever all ties from this person foe your entire trip. Maybe a day or two apart is all you need.

This is what we did in my situation that I mentioned earlier. I don’t think either of us minded. We were both mature enough to realize the issue and we enjoyed some activities together, and also had fun meeting other people to spend time with.

If you haven’t realized by now, the key is communication, understanding, and respect. Your travel partner has spent just as much money and sacrificed just as much time to be there. You both deserve to have fun and with these tips hopefully you can.

[tip]Have any tips or horror stories? Please share in the comments below![/tip]

Maximizing Your Money While Traveling – When to splurge, and when to save

Local breakfast in La Fortuna, Costa Rica
Local breakfast in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

One of the first things people assume when they find out I travel frequently is that it must cost a fortune.  This certainly isn’t the case and over the years I have learned many ways to stay frugal but still enjoy myself while traveling.

More importantly than little tips that can save money here and there, you should learn how to decide when to spend and when to save.  This way, you aren’t constantly looking for the cheapest option, but you also aren’t spending too much money.

Sleeping

Where you sleep is important, but when you look at all the various options in most areas, there are a lot of amenities that you may not need, but can greatly increase the price of your hotel or hostel.

This is where doing research can really help.  If you know where you’ll be staying for a couple of days, check HostelWorld for hostels in the area.  You may be surprised how many smaller independently run hostels there are compared to what your guidebook lists.  The reviews on HostelWorld can be very informative as well.

As a general rule, I attempt to spend $20 US or less per night depending on the destination.  Some places, like Paris, are more expensive, and others such as Costa Rica, hover around $10 per night. I need a bed, a bathroom (somewhere, I don’t mind if it’s outside of the room and shared), and a shower.  A common area where travelers can converge is also a bonus.

Eating

Food is one of the things you might consider spending more money on.  Many times I’ll be hanging out with other travelers and they insist on stopping by a market to buy some cheese and bread for lunch.

For lunch?!?!

I prefer to enjoy a good meal at a local eatery.  If there is one thing I can really take home with me it’s the experience of good, local cuisine.  A good meal out is a nice treat when you’ve been traveling around all day with a heavy pack.

This doesn’t mean you have to spend a ton of money on every meal, sometimes a picnic lunch or a few snacks is all you need and easy on the wallet, but don’t be afraid to splurge a bit to enjoy some authentic cuisine.

Activities

While many independent travelers pride themselves in going off the beaten path and doing things that other tourists don’t do, let’s face it–you’re a still a tourist and sometimes you want to do those touristy things.

Strap on your walking shoes and get out and experience the highlights of your area.  There are often free alternatives to the typical tours and entrance fees associated with popular tourist sites (aka tourist traps).  Check your guidebook and see what they recommend.

While I can’t offer any advice on how to get up the Eiffel Tower for free, you might be able to enjoy it just as much from the ground or from a good lookout from the Siene river.  Extra bonus if you’re afraid of heights!

What do you splurge or save money on? Share in the comments!

How to Get Into the Independent Travel Mindset

Have you traveled independently/solo before?

If not, it probably sounds a little scary doesn’t it?

It doesn’t have to be.  In fact, now that I have been traveling independently for the better part of my adult life, I’ve really come to love it.  When I’m not traveling, I’m thinking about traveling.  All but one of my backpacking trips have been completely solo.

So what does it take to get into the mindset?

All it took for me was a little push.  My first trip to Europe was to be with one of my good friends.  Two days before, he canceled for reasons I still don’t know.  There I was, about to leave for Europe.  No accommodations booked, no real schedule or plan.  Top it all off, there was a bomb found underneath one of the French railways and terrorist threats of more that had not been found.

Yeah, I was a little nervous.  I stayed up all night before my early morning flight stressing over whether or not to go.

Obviously, I’m glad I went.  I had the time of my life, met some great people, and visited places I didn’t even plan on going to (or had even heard about).

You will not be alone

Costa Rica Dinner Party
17 of us from the hostel in La Fortuna, Costa Rica enjoying dinner together

Stay at almost any hostel and you are almost guaranteed to meet other travelers.  You may not the best at meeting and talking to random strangers, but when you travel all that will change.  Regardless of what language you speak or where you are from, you share at least one common thing with everybody else there.  You are travelers in a strange place and you’d probably enjoy some company.

I truly can’t think of a time when I had nobody to hang out with, share a meal, or just talk to in a hostel.  They are unbelievably social places and by staying in one, you will meet others and before you know it, be going out sightseeing, grabbing a bite to eat, or partying it up at a club or bar (ask the person in charge of the hostel for that information!).

Your guidebook is your friend

Unless you venturing off into uncharted territory, somebody has probably been there already and written an entire book about it.  Pack your guidebook and read as much of it as you can.  Need a hostel recommendation?  What about a good place to eat? How about information on safety and tips to avoid trouble.

Your guidebook has all of that already!  Read it and follow it–but don’t be afraid to stray a little.

Be willing to explore

Some of the best days you will have are when you simply venture out on your own (or with others).  Many cities are great to simply walk around all day and explore.  See the sights, but walk down those streets that look interesting.  Visit shops, eat some food from street vendors, look at the architecture, talk to people! There are many things you can do without an itinerary.

Please feel free to share your experiences of traveling alone (or with a small group) and the encounters you’ve had! Tips are always welcome as well.

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!