Avoiding the “Gringo Trail” (and Paving a New One)

I‘ve loved traveling for a handful of years now but it wasn’t until I found myself venturing off the beaten path in Morocco last year when I started to realize the difference between the beaten path, and off the beaten path.

If you read this site semi-regularly you’ll know I talk a lot and recommend having a good guidebook for your travels.  Many dedicated travelers frown on it as they want to see a place on their own terms and not how some underpaid guidebook writer tells them to.  I see this point, don’t get me wrong, but most of my trips are condensed into two weeks or less and require some assistance with planning.  My vacation time is valuable and that’s why I always use a guidebook.

Continue reading “Avoiding the “Gringo Trail” (and Paving a New One)”

Where Would You Travel with $1,000 and a Free Flight?

Here’s a hypothetical question that I hope you’ll have fun with:

You walk into work today and were told you are getting a free 2 week vacation as a thank you to your performance and loyalty.  You’ll be given two weeks off, a $1,000 bonus, and get to cash in airline miles from the company for your flight.

Where would you travel to if you were given a $1,000 budget, and a free flight to anywhere in the world?

Where would you stay?  What would you want to see and what kind of activities would you do?  If you are a no-frills traveler, would you upgrade your level of accommodations, or if you are used to luxury, would you use some of your own money or travel cheaply and stay within budget?

Post your hypothetical travel plans in the comments and be sure to read others’ as well.  Let’s have fun with this! :)

Thanks to Darren for the post idea.

New Hotel & Hostel Booking Site Looks to Change Search Habits

Flight and hotel booking sites are a dime a dozen. Let’s face it. There are many affiliate programs out there that allow these companies to start a website and search various prices for their visitors. Typically their prices aren’t better than any of the major travel booking sites (Kayak, Expedia, Travelocity, etc) and often actually charge a small fee which makes me wonder why anybody would bother with these no-name sites.

So while there are no shortage of websites to find flights or hotels, searching for hostels has been more time consuming for me than I would prefer. Most times I’ve used HostelWorld to search for hostels based on location, price, availability, and most importantly, customer reviews. Most, but not all hostels are listed on HostelWorld. Others are listed on smaller sites like Hostelz or aren’t listed at all. Sometimes these small establishments find it too expensive to pay commissions to booking sites.

Looking for something a little more mid-range like a bed & breakfast or small guesthouse/inn can also be difficult. You usually don’t find small, independently run businesses on the larger booking sites and Hostel sites aren’t the same niche. I’ve found TripAdvisor to include many B&B’s but I’ve questioned their reviews since several hotels and tour companies have specifically asked me to post positive reviews on several occasions.

For flights, I’ve been a huge fan of Kayak for a while. They search most major airline’s websites and all of the major booking companies as well. It’s a simple, clean interface and does a great job of finding the best prices.
It wasn’t until last week that I found something that piqued my interest as much for searching for hotels though. Somebody recommended I check out HotelsCombined. I wasn’t expecting much, but I was pleasantly surprised after running my first search for Budapest. Over 300 results were presented in a clean and easy to use interface. By default the results are sorted by popularity based upon user reviews but can be sorted by price, quality (stars), distance or even the neighborhood.

What I really like about HotelsCombined is that they don’t simply list hotels, but also B&B’s, guesthouses, and even hostels. I can’t say that there aren’t any other sites that like it, but from what I’ve been able to find, it’s very unique.

One reason I continue to check multiple sites for hostels (or whatever else I am booking) is to see the various reviews that customers leave. Sometimes you don’t have much of a selection, but in places like Budapest there are an unbelievable amount of hostels and reading reviews helps you decide on which one(s) stand out. That’s what, to me, is the best part about HotelsCombined as they also aggregate the various reviews from all the sites they search. It saves quite a bit of time if you’re like me and really like to check out reviews.

If you use HotelsCombined and decide to book a room with their service you’ll be forwarded directly to the hotel or booking agent’s website to book without any additional fees. I’ve never understood why some of the major sites felt the need to charge booking fees when they also received commissions.

Give them a look and let me know what you think. It looks to be a good service and I’ll definitely be checking out accommodations through them. It may still take a while for me to break my habit of checking five or six different sites though.

The 10 Best Things to do in Costa Rica

1. Zip lining

Imagen 151Also 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

DSCN0333Costa 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

195582978_b59430d427_b
photo by BallGame68

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.

4. Surfing

photo by DLH Creative
photo by DLH Creative

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

DSCN0785Who 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

photo by Arthur Chapman
photo by Arthur Chapman

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.

7. Volunteer

photo by theburied.life
photo by theburied.life

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

IMG_0256What 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

DSCN0749Climbing 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

photo by bawish
photo by bawish

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.

Top 10 Sights in Europe – a photo essay

1. Acropolis / Parthenon

photo by Kyri Sarantakos
photo by Kyri Sarantakos

2. Colosseum of Rome

photo by wenzday01
photo by wenzday01

3. Fjords of Norway

photo by padraic woods
photo by padraic woods

4. St. Peter’s Basilica

photo by Christopher Chan
photo by Christopher Chan

5. Sistine Chapel

photo by vgm8383
photo by vgm8383

6. Alhambra

photo by Ela2007
photo by Ela2007

7. Louvre Museum

photo by Djof
photo by Djof

8. Canals of Venice

photo by martino.pizzol
photo by martino.pizzol

9. Versailles

photo by Danielo_Bolo
photo by Danielo_Bolo

10. Pompeii

photo by Edgley Cesar
photo by Edgley Cesar

List courtesy of Howard Hillman

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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New and Innovative Cameras for Adventurous Travelers

If you’re anything like me you love gadgets, especially cameras.  I’ve done a lot with digital cameras and video cameras over the years and the innovations that are constantly being released never cease to amaze me.  If you’re an independent traveler, you better have a camera with you.  And, chances are, you find yourself in some interesting places and environments so let’s take a look at some of the coolest cameras for these various uses.

Note: How to Choose the Best Digital Camera for Traveling has been discussed here before.  The truth is, just about any camera will work for most jobs.  But if you’re picky, a gadget freak, or find yourself in some adventurous and unique shooting environments, you might want to consider these innovative cameras.

Olympus Stylus Waterproof Cameras

olympus-stylus-1050sw-rugged-cameraOlympus really is the leader in consumer waterproof digital cameras.  They come out with more models than anybody else and really, they’re all pretty good.  Definitely do your research and find the one that fits your needs the best, but I personally like the slightly outdated Olympus Stylus 1050SW since it is considerably cheaper than some of the newer models and still a very capable camera.  They’re pocketable and work just as well in standard weather as they do underwater

Olympus PEN E-P1

olympus10e-p1I have nothing against Olympus, but I never thought I would write about their cameras twice in the same post.  Then again, it wasn’t until earlier today that I learned about the Olympus PEN E-P1.  This camera looks SLICK.  Every camera aficionado loves classic rangefinders and the PEN is certainly stylish.

But it’s not impressive just because of its looks.  The small size packed body is equipped with a micro four-thirds sensor that offers both the quality and features of a standard DSLR.  It is nothing to ignore, especially for travelers.  I’ve found it too difficult to travel with a DSLR camera lately and usually opt to leave it home.  The Olympus PEN E-P1 just might be what photography enthusiasts need for traveling.

The PEN E-P1 starts at $749 and is available for pre-order.  It’s set to ship in July.

Nikon D5000

d5000view_01Sure, I just finished telling you how I don’t like to travel with a DSLR anymore but that’s just me.  Many still do and let’s face it, they are the ultimate in quality.  If you are serious about photography, you’re either currently using, or planning to start using, a Digital SLR camera.

There are higher end cameras available, but the Nikon D5000 is a great mid-range model.  Lots of features, great quality, and best of all, the first articulating LCD screen on a DSLR.  This can come in very handy in many awkward shooting angles.

The Nikon D5000 is available with an 18-55mm kit lens for $799 or less (sale prices have been common lately)

VholdR ContourHD Helmet Video Camera

contourhd-wearable-camcorderThe ContourHD helmetcam is part of the new wave of affordable helmet cameras available for extreme sports.  Of course these can be used for plenty activities like hiking or rock climbing.  I’m considering one for a motorcycle trip to Peru this fall.

What sets the ContourHD apart from the rest of the pack is, if you couldn’t tell by its name, the ability to shoot in HD.  It records about 8 hours of 720p H.264 encoded video to a microSD in a very compact unit.  The best part? They list for only $299.

The VholdR ContourHD is currently on sale for $279 at Amazon and if you purchase before June 27th, you’ll receive a $50 gift card, bringing the price down to only $229 with free shipping.  Hard to beat that!

Canon VIXIA High Definition Camcorders

VIXIA_HF200_1_LCanon keeps updating their VIXIA line of HD camcorders faster than I can memorize them.  They’re sold to consumers, but don’t let the sub-$600 prices and soccer mom followings fool you.  These are very capable devices!  If you’re pretty serious about producing travel video, these are a great start.

A standard camcorder will rarely make professional quality video right out of the box, but the VIXIA line of camcorders are darn close.  Add on a decent microphone and wide-angle lens, then learn how to shoot, and you can be making 1080p HD footage that rivals most Travel Channel shows.

Canon VIXIA camcorders come in several different models with built in hard drives, flash memory, or HDV tape recording and start at $599.

Flip MinoHD Pocket HD Camcorder

flip-minohdThe 3.3oz Flip MinoHD pocket camcorder is the ultimate in portability.  If you are shooting memories, you’d be hard pressed not to justify owning one of these to slip in your pocket or bag and be able to shoot decent quality HD video wherever you are.

They are extremely easy and convenient to use, but the video quality is nowhere near as good as the above mentioned Canon camcorders.  Nor should you expect it to be for less than $200.  But if you want to capture memories and share them online, you can’t beat it.

The Flip MinoHD costs less than $200 and also comes in various flashy colorings as well.

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All You Need to Know About Hostels

“You stay in hostels?” people often ask when I talk to them about the way I travel.  “Aren’t you afraid of getting robbed or murdered?”

Thanks a lot Eli Roth for scaring the bejeezus out of inexperienced travelers and causing them to think they’re going to get murdered if they stay in a hostel.  I personally haven’t bothered watching his films Hostel and Hostel II, but I can assure you that there are very few similarities.  In fact, if you want to consider your personal safety, aren’t you safer in the small confines of a hostel with other travelers in the same room or nearby than you would be in a hotel?  Just saying.

The truth is that hostels actually provide a great option for budget travelers and with their affordable prices, allow many people to see the world they otherwise couldn’t afford.

What is a hostel?

OK, let’s start from the beginning in case you aren’t very familiar with hostels. A hostel is typically much smaller than a hotel and has fewer rooms.  The majority of rooms are dorm-style accommodations and have multiple (usually bunk) beds.  These rooms can house anywhere from 6 to 12 people usually and may or may not have an attached bathroom.

Doesn’t sound all that glamorous, and it’s not, but they’re cheap.  Depending on where the hostel is located, they can cost between $5-$25 on average.  Obviously, big European cities are going to be more expensive than smaller towns in South America, but no matter where you are, hostels are going to be considerably cheaper than a hotel room.

Need more privacy?

Nobody wants to share a room with strangers, but some people may flat out refuse to do so.  If that’s the case, many hostels also offer private rooms.  These typically have a couple of beds and can be a good option if you are traveling with a friend or small group.  The prices are higher obviously, but usually still cheaper than a hotel room.  It is worth your while to check around though because sometimes you might find a better deal on a hotel room.  I’ve seen some overly priced private rooms before and it doesn’t always  make sense.

What else does a hostel offer?

Not all hostels are the same but the trend over the past couple of years is for hostels to offer more and more amenities for their guests.  Many hostels provide maps and information on the area and some even arrange their own tours.  Sometimes these are complimentary or cheap, but often they will help book tours with local tour companies.  You should be aware that the hostel usually gets a commission for setting you up with a tour company, but most hostels have already done the work to figure out which companies are trustworthy and a good deal.  With the word-of-mouth nature of hostel guests, it’s in their best interest to be honest and helpful as word will get around quickly if they are not.

Most hostels also provide a kitchen where you can store and cook your own food.  While I always recommend enjoying the local cuisine and dining out, many travelers choose to cook in order to keep their costs down.  Some hostels also include continental style breakfast and a few I’ve seen sell their own food and drinks.  In fact, the second-best restaurant I found in Costa Rica was conveniently in the Arenal Backpackers Hostel in La Fortuna.

Another thing that is becoming popular in hostels is free computer use and/or free WiFi.  For travelers with their own computer or wireless-enabled phone this can be a godsend for sending emails or planning many aspects of their trip.

A great form of social interaction

Just like a hotel, you probably want to spend most of your time away from the hostel enjoying wherever you may be traveling, but for lazy days or early nights, hostels can be a great way to socialize.  Whether you are by yourself or with friends, you’ll quickly meet people in a hostel.

Many hostels provide a common room or area with a TV, music, a pool, or just a place to sit and eat and this is usually where most people congregate.  Sooner or later you’ll be enjoying a drink with a handful of people speaking several different languages.  This is one of my favorite things about staying at hostels and I have made some good friends like this.

What you should bring

Nearly all hostels now provide bedding but I’m sure there are still a few out there that don’t, or still charge a small fee for it.  Some people travel with a sleeping bag or bed sheet but this is very rare these days.  You will want to bring your own toiletries as things like soap and shampoo aren’t provided.  Also, my favorite thing to bring is a pair of ear plugs.  Inevitably you’ll have at least one night with somebody who snores so these can really save your night.

The safety of your belongings should also be a concern and while I have been less than smart about keeping my things secure in the past without any negative results, you shouldn’t try your luck.  Many hostels provide lockers but you’ll probably need your own lock.  It’s safe enough to leave your clothes and stuff lying out on your bed, but keep your passport, money, and any valuables like a camera with you just to be safe.  While theft in hostels isn’t prevalent, it does happen.

Another thing you should bring is a towel.  I recommend a thin, quick drying towel made for traveling or camping.  These take up very little space in your backpack and dry fast so they don’t start to stink when packed.  Many hostels do provide towels but not all of them.  Some do, but charge a dollar or two.  Having your own certainly makes life easier.

How to find a hostel

The best website out there for booking and researching hostels is HostelWorld which is why I have a convenient form on the right of this web page to search for them.  There are plenty of reviews for most hostels along with pictures that can help you visualize the place.  It’s easy to reserve a bed or room in a hostel through HostelWorld but I also recommend playing things by ear a little bit.  If you know that your destination isn’t incredibly busy, try only booking for a night or two and then seeing how the rest of your time goes.  Maybe you won’t like the hostel and want to move to a different one.  Perhaps you’ll decide to move on to another city.  Not booking too many nights in advance will allow you a bit of freedom.  Just make sure you discuss the situation about extending your stay when you arrive because many hostels fill up quickly during peak times.  Having at least one night booked to begin with will certainly make things easier when you arrive though so it’s nice to have something arranged ahead of time.

If you are yet to experience a hostel I hope this shed some light on them for you.  I highly recommend them not only for the cost savings, but the experience as well.  If you have any comments or questions about sleeping at hostels feel free to post them in the comments section.

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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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