4 Kick-Ass Exercises to do While You’re on a Tropical Vacation

It’s common to use the Oh-I’m-on-Vacation excuse as a reason to not workout when you go on vacation to a tropical destination. Don’t sabotage all of your hard work during your vacation getaway! You can get a great workout while away and not feel so guilty when you return. Here are four ways to workout while you’re away and off your regular schedule:

Go to the Beach

There are plenty of beach activities you can do to burn some calories and do the body good! Catch some sun while you run on the beach. The soft, sandy surface creates a low impact surface for you to run on while strengthening the smaller muscles in your feet & ankles you use by running on an unstable surface. Yes, this is a bit more effort but as a result, you burn MORE calories than on a level, stable surface. Consider it a bonus to have a beautiful view and change of scenery that will keep things interesting. If you are looking for an upper body and core workout, consider renting a kayak or paddle board. Water sports on the ocean challenge your core to stabilize so you don’t fall in!3632609471_94005ce184_b

Explore the city streets by running

Perhaps you are more interested in getting to know the area you are visiting. What better way to familiarize yourself than by running on the streets? You’ll get so enthralled with exploring the beach town, you’ll be finished your workout in no time!

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Bodyweight exercises in your hotel room

If you’re short on time but still want an effective workout, there is a variety of movements you can do in your hotel room to raise your heart rate and torch calories. Create a 10 minute circuit consisting of as many rounds as possible of squats, burpees, planks, push ups and lunges. These types of exercises fall into a category of exercising called Metabolic Conditioning. Elevating your heart rate the way these exercises do will burn more calories, even AFTER your workout if complete, than a typical cardio workout.

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Photo credit: Fitness Body Pro

Hit the Pool

When you go down to the pool, don’t just lay in the chairs next to the pool – take advantage of the weather and cool off by swimming laps. Swimming is a low impact, total body workout that will improve your cardiovascular health. Ease your way into it by starting with just a 20 minute swim and add five minutes each day.

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Most Common Travel Scams and How To Avoid Them Like A Pro

Taxi drivers, hotel clerks, busboys, money exchangers; is there no one we can trust?! Travel scams can hit you anytime, anywhere and it can be the people you least expect. Shady people all over the world have honed their eagle eye to spot a tourist a mile away and have fine-tuned their craft so that even the most well-researched and savvy of us can fall victim to their schemes. From the little old lady who is offering a sprig of rosemary as a sign of friendship to the good old broken taxi meter trick there’s a scam around every corner. If you travel there’s no doubt that you will encounter one eventually but if you keep your wits and sobriety about you, you can minimize the risk.

The Broken Taxi Meter:

Common all over, but particularly in Thailand and South America, drivers will wait until you’re inside the taxi and inform you that the meter is broken and proceed to charge you an exorbitant amount upon arrival at your destination.21724206589_bdd464594e_z

How to avoid

Ensure that as soon as you get into a taxi, the meter is running and if the driver insists it’s broken either get out and find another cab or negotiate a fee before you set off. When I was in Thailand, Taxi drivers everywhere claimed that their meter was not running but the price they offered was just as cheap. Very rarely this may be true but just know that it’s illegal for a taxi to operate without a working meter in Bangkok and for every taxi that tries to scam you there are many more honest ones that will happily earn your business.

The Phantom, Closed or Crappy Hotel Room:

Common EVERYWHERE! You get to your hotel, feeling super organized and excited about your online booking only to discover that your ‘beach view room’ overlooks a brick wall and your ‘spacious room’ could be mistaken for the closet. Sometimes the hotel might not even exist. Misleading photos on websites, fake TripAdvisor reviews and even a fake front desk can all be to blame for this. Some hotels even work with taxi drivers to convince tourists that the hotel they booked is closed and there’s a much better deal to be had at this place they just happen to know about.

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How to avoid

Hotel scams abound so when you’re booking a hotel, double-check the actual website to ensure all the details line up. If someone tries to tell you it is closed, walk away and ignore. Always check multiple sources to check reviews of the hotel.

A related scam see thieves call your hotel room in the middle of the night and inform you they are from the desk and your credit card details need to be confirmed over the phone. How likely are you to actually go down to the front desk and give it to them?

bracelet_scam‘Free’ Friendship Gifts:

Common in South America, Europe, Asia. I have never come across this personally but have heard from many people just how easy it is to be sucked in. We westerners are accustomed to be as polite as we can when someone talks to us, asks for directions or offers us something. We will automatically take something offered to us but it can often be a distraction or a scam. An old lady will offer you a spring of rosemary (a sign of friendship) or a friendship bracelet. Once it is in your possession, she will demand payment and cause a scene if you refuse. In some cases a vendor will physically tie a bracelet onto your wrist while you are distracted and when you refuse to pay they will make a scene, embarrassing you into coughing up the cash. Some even have accomplices who will go through your pockets while you are distracted and take your valuables.

How to avoid

Don’t take anything offered to you by someone you don’t know. If someone forces something on you, drop it and walk away. Quickly.

Fake Police:

Common in popular tourist destinations in Europe and Asia. Ever seen those ever-helpful ‘tourist-police’ who wander around offering help and dishing out fines? Yeah well, be wary. A common scam sees people dress as tourist police and try to fine people on the spot for illegal behaviour. But don’t worry, if you pay him personally in cash, he’ll make it all go away. A common scam in Indonesia and Thailand, an ‘officer’ will pull over motorbikes and tell you that you were speeding but all you need to do is pay a cash fine. They may also pat you down and lift your valuables.

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How to avoid

be aware of what the typical police uniform looks like when you travel and if someone does try to demand a fine from you, tell them you will go back to the station to sort it out. If they refuse, walk away. Don’t ever hand over your passport or wallet on the street. If you need to, ask to see the officer’s badge and threaten to call the police station and check.

Drug Offers:

Common in Indonesia, Thailand, countries with tough drug enforcement laws. It goes without saying that if someone you don’t know offers you drugs in a foreign country, JUST SAY NO, KIDS! In Thailand we had a tuk tuk driver offer us marijuana which if we had taken, would have been immediately found by a police officer who just happened to be passing, ready to threaten us with jail time if we didn’t pay him. The cop and the driver then spilt the bribe and the weed. Also be careful at Full Moon parties and actually listen to the announcements all over the airports that tell you to always keep your bags in sight. The last thing you need is drugs planted in your bag.

GTY_molly_mdma_tk_130902_16x9_992Photo Credit: ABC News

How to avoid

If someone offers you drugs, ask yourself what your mother or your high school principal would tell you to do. Walk away.

A related but much less common scams sees tourists drugged and robbed of their possessions or bodily organs. Be safe and watchful when you are out drinking and stick to higher-class establishments if you’re drinking alone.

Money Scams:

Common all over, particularly in South East Asia, Eastern Europe and South America.

So, you’ve safely arrived at your destination. You’re jetlagged and tired but you need some cash for a beer and an aspirin so you head to the closest money exchange where there are several ways you can be ripped off. In some countries, there are two or more types of currency and the old money is worth less than the new notes. In Cuba there are two types of currency, the Cuban peso and the convertible peso (worth 25 Cuban pesos). Money exchangers will give you the rate you can get for your western money but instead of giving the convertible pesos, they give you the almost worthless Cuban pesos.

In other places, once all the money is counted out, the cashier may ‘accidentally’ drop the money and swap the cash for some similar looking notes or coins that aren’t worth nearly as much. Money exchangers have also been known to count out the agreed upon amount of cash and then skim a few notes off the bottom as they hand it to you. Sneaky, sneaky!

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How to avoid

Try to check the exchange rate so you know approximately how much you should be getting for your cash. A good idea is to take along a pre-loaded cash card if you are going to have easy access to ATMs or a debit card with low fees. Getting cash out of an ATM or buying it before you leave is so much easier. If you do need to use a cash exchange, watch them closely and count it yourself at the stand before you walk away.

Also, scammers will actually create a complete facade of an ATM. They will literally build a mask with a card scanner that will steal your information. You stand there, insert your card, and nothing will happen, “Darn, it’s broken” you’ll think. Nope you’re broke now. Avoid this by avoiding sketchy looking ATMs. Only go to banks that are legit, not one inside the back of a bodega in the boonies.

Poopy Shirt:

Common worldwide. This is one I have watched happen, but luckily my clothes and wallet have so far survived intact. Bird crap, coffee, mustard or some other mysterious stain finds its way onto your shirt. And that helpful local that rushed to clean it off for you? Yeah, he just took off with your wallet.

How to avoid

personal space is always a good thing; if anyone gets too close to you for any reason, be extra aware of where your valuables are.

A related wallet-stealing tactic can involve someone announcing they have found a wallet. Your hand automatically reaches to check that your own wallet it safe and BAM! They now know exactly where your wallet is kept.

BIG WINNER!!

Someone comes up to you and offer you a scratch ticket, completely free. You scratch it and lo and behold, you’re a big winner! All you have to do is go for a ride to pick up your prize. And just to make sure you feel super guilty if you say no, he tells you he will get a huge bonus from his employer or he is competing for a promotion that you can help him win. When you get to the destination, what’s waiting for you? A time share presentation. And if you’re lucky a free t-shirt. This scams tends not to cost you much other than time but it can be super annoying and it’s always dangerous to go somewhere with a stranger. We encountered (and unfortunately fell for) this on our second day in Bali and in the following days we saw many other couples being targeted. Always the same script, a shaking of the hand and they will even go take you over to the police stand and the officers will inform you that it is not a scam, and it’s safe to go with them.

The awesome Nicholas Cage movie, Matchstick Men shows a variation of this lottery ticket. See it below.

 

How to avoid

IGNORE, IGNORE, IGNORE! If ever the mystery prize you ‘win’ on the street isn’t a scam and I just cost you a free 100 inch TV or a free trip to Europe, I apologise. But trust me, even that loss better than sitting through a timeshare presentation.

The world is becoming an increasingly creative place when it comes to travel scams, and the best defence is preparation. Even within the USA there are a vast array of travel scams and just because you’re American doesn’t mean you’re exempt! Travel scammers often hit big tourists cities like New York, Boston, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. Even Disneyland has its troubles! When you’re travelling, it’s a good idea to always be vigilant and wary of strangers. Most of the time, locals will pose no harm to you, but being cautious is always a good idea. If something seems too good to be true, it usually is and if someone is offering you something for free…likewise. You’ll never be completely safe, but some good travel insurance and some common sense goes a long way!

5 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Moved to NYC

New York City: the millennial Mecca. Where there is no dearth of shady landlords, $1 late night pizza, and boundless opportunity for professional development. Countless are the television shows based in the Big Apple depicting the lives of various twenty and thirty-somethings navigating their personal and professional lives, all from the comfort of their cozy West Village apartments. The draw to New York is strong – I felt it and ran with it, uprooting my temperate, collegiate lifestyle on the west coast to brave the real world in Manhattan. Needless to say, my life is nothing like Blair Waldorf’s. While the appeal of the city that never sleeps is both romantic and tantalizing, the reality, I’m afraid to say, is much harsher.

Nevertheless, just as easy as it is to fall out of love with New York due to skewed expectations, it is possible to renew your vows with the city and learn to appreciate it even if you are broke, often-stressed, and itching for excitement amidst a 9-5 routine with a few easy mindset tweaks:

1. No one cares about you

While this may sound negative, embrace it. There are nearly 9 million people in New York City – chances are, at any given moment, you’re pretty insignificant. If you’re feeling like strolling down 5th singing T-Swift in your sweatpants, go for it. Not everyone dresses to the nines, not everyone is all there mentally, and no one is paying attention to what you do.

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2. Manhattan isn’t everything

While Manhattan is undoubtedly the most popular borough in terms of nightlife, disposable incomes, and tourist attractions, it is not the be-all-end-off of New York City. The other four boroughs have their own perks and flares that make them as equally unique and attractive, especially to millennials ballin’ on a budget. With a public transportation system running 24/7, there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t live in Queens (which was the most visited tourist destination in the United States in 2015) and go out every night in Soho. If you forego the idea that Manhattan is the only borough worth exploring, you’ll not only expand your social radius, but also gain a more comprehensive understanding of the history of New York City on the whole.

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3. Be patient; things take longer here

Despite the fast-paced lifestyle that brands New York, the dense population makes seemingly-easy, mundane tasks, such as grocery shopping, take an eternity. You aren’t the only person with your same agenda on any given day. It’s a big city. Most places are crowded. Don’t get hot-headed – there’s no need for those under-your-breath remarks like “fucking MOVE” on the subway during rush hour. Abandon the frustration as much as you can and you will be happier.

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4. Indulge even when you’re broke

I’m not suggesting you spend $500 on new shoes, but no need to feel constantly limited by your bank account. Yes, New York is notoriously expensive. But luckily there are $3 happy hours and $1.25 Chinese dumpling restaurants to save your wallet. So if you’re very diligent about not going overboard with your spending, don’t beat yourself up about ordering that $14 cocktail or that $3.75 slice of pizza that one time. Treat yo self!

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5. Go out! Meet people

In an age dominated by Smartphone usage and minimal face-to-face interaction, don’t be deterred from striking up a casual conversation with a stranger on the subway, in line at Chipotle, or at a bar. New York City has some of the most interesting people whose professions and interests vary so drastically, but many of them go unnoticed. I met a guy in a bar who I’m pretty positive is an active member of the mob, but because we talked to him, he bought us beer. The city has so much to offer; don’t miss it by scrolling through Instagram

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10 Lessons I Learned from Traveling The World Alone

Before I began my one-year master’s program I decided to embark on a solo trip. Maybe because at 20, we still aren’t fully formed individuals yet – we still have so much to see, do, and discover about ourselves. However travelling alone – no matter your age or gender – can sometimes be a scary thing. Here are a few tips and tricks to ensure your trip is the mind blowing, soul searching adventure its meant to be.

1. Pick a good destination

This might not be the best time to hit up Ibiza or Mykonos. I am all for gender equality, but this especially applies if you are female. Pick a place with plenty of activities or scenery that is easy to do in the day as well as a place that is generally experiencing peace and have low crime rates.

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2. Know your way back to where you are staying

Don’t carry a map at any time of day or night because it attracts pickpockets.   If you don’t have data or an offline version of Google Maps, take pictures of the route on your phone and then pretend to text. Always look confident even when you have no idea where you are going.

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3. Blend

What I mean by this is don’t wear your baseball hat, your North Face, or your Ugg boots. Research your destination a little bit and see what is in style there. Even if you don’t look like a local, it still shows you know your shit and you are there to be respectful and embrace their culture.

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4. Plan activities

Book activities with groups early on in your trip. When I went to the Azores, I booked all my activities with one adventure company. As a result, I got to know my guide very well and because I was on my own we spent a lot more time conversing. I learned more about the history and politics of the islands than if I had tried to explore on my own.

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5. But not too many…

Leave yourself at least one day completely free. Chances are you’ll learn a lot about the place early on or get recommendations from locals on the “must see” spots. If you leave a little spare time, you can easily fit them in.

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6. Stay in a hostel

This may seem counter intuitive and when traveling solo, you might think hotels are safer, but hostels are an easy way to make new friends who have like interests. I stayed in a smaller “boutique” style hostel and the owner purposefully put me in a room with two other female travelers who were on their own. We compared our itineraries and made recommendations based on what we had seen.

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7. Try new things

You are already doing something that pushes you mentally and physically by going somewhere completely alone. Might as well keep with the theme. When I booked a full day excursion, the second half of the day including scaling a cliff made of volcanic rock. I am pretty scared of heights and wanted to opt out, but my guide pushed me to do it. It was an incredible (very frightening), rewarding (absolutely terrifying), and totally amazing experience that gave me the push of confidence I needed at that point in my life.

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8. Traveling alone doesn’t mean you are alone

A major misconception of traveling alone is that its lonely. It is only lonely if you don’t put yourself out there and talk to people. Converse with the people where you are staying, talk to your waiter in the restaurants, and make friends with people on your tours. They don’t have to be your best friend forever. More like four hours.

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9. Eating alone is the hardest part

I personally hate eating alone and I think it is the worst part of travelling by yourself, but you cannot be afraid to eat. It is a huge part of experiencing the culture. When I was alone in Dublin I walked into a very empty restaurant. The owner sat down with me and told me all about where he was from, why he lives in Dublin, and even gave me recommendations for where to explore.

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10. Do exactly what you want to do

The best part about travelling alone is you are totally in control. I know that my style of traveling can be pretty different from my peers. My ideal trip included surfing, kayaking, hiking, and rock climbing and I was able to do all of that. Tailor your trip to your exact tastes and you will have an excellent time no matter what.

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Book Cheap flights to and from JFK on http://jfk.flights/

 

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Become an Au Pair and Travel the World

As my college graduation loomed nearer, the idea of working 9-5 at a desk after spending the last 17 years of my life at a school desk made me feel increasingly claustrophobic. Instead, I wanted to travel for at least a few months, but also knew that I shouldn’t blow all of my savings on one trip. I found a great solution when I heard about Au Pairing:

  • You move abroad to almost any country in the world, work 30 hours per week to receive a small stipend and free room and board in a (probably dope) house. Furthermore, your visa, travel expenses, and a language course could be paid for (depending on the country).
  • The work includes childcare and housework. Tasks usually consist of taking children to school and activities, laundry, tidying, and preparing meals.
  • You receive weekends off as well as 2 weeks of paid vacation to travel and explore as much as your heart desires!

After deciding that I wanted to move to Europe, I became interested in the Netherlands due to the country’s proximity to many places I wanted to travel to and because I wanted to trade in my car for a bike. I also wanted to experience the liberal, open-minded spirit that Amsterdam is famous for and the non-translateable feeling of gezelligheid. I also knew that most Dutch people can speak English fluently, which would make my life abroad easier both logistically and socially. I am now halfway through my year here and am thrilled with my choice to be an au pair in Holland 1. During my adventures I have seen massive waterfalls in Iceland, toured London, gone on a solo trip to Belgiumpopped over to Paris, fell in love with the colors of Lisbon, and swam in the Italian Mediterranean.

When I’m not traveling, I am home with my wonderful host family. Through learning to prepare typical Dutch dinners, hearing about my kids’ days at school, joining in for birthday and holiday traditions, and accompanying them on excursions, I learn something new about the culture or language every day. If I ever have any question or need help translating something, I have someone to ask to right away, and they are always giving me European travel tips or pointers about Dutch adventures. They make me feel included in their family but also give me all the freedom and space a 22 year old would want.

IMG_313420141111_194049‘Boerenkool met Worst,’ a typical Dutch meal I make about once a week. 

Although I am thrilled to be here, I feel I have to point out that it’s not always easy to be an au pair. Here’s a few reasons why.

There’s that language barrier thing

You are constantly facing a language barrier while communicating with the children. In one common scenario, the kids squabble with each other (obviously) in Dutch. This makes it really difficult as the person in charge because when they come to me crying, I have no idea what happened or which child is at fault. I have become a much more patient person through handling the children who are frustrated at moments when they can’t communicate what they want to me in English. Although it can be a challenge, In my experience, the language barrier becomes much less of an issue over time as I get to know the children better and both of our language skills improve.

What part of the world do you want to see?

Choose where you want to au pair wisely: Does your host family live in a location from which it will it be easy to travel around and make friends? I am really lucky that there is an au pair community in my suburban village and a sizable expat community in the Netherlands. My adjustment to living abroad was assuaged because I so quickly made friends with other au pairs from places like the US, South America, South Africa, Spain, Poland, and South Korea. They  had all gone through the same steps of adjusting to au pair life abroad and are also such an interesting international crew. I am also happy with my location because there is a train station in my village which is easily reachable by bike. Don’t be that au pair that lives in that tiny secluded village who has a very difficult time getting around on weekends!

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It’s like your family, but this time you can choose. So choose wisely.

Although there are many au pair agencies which match you with a host family after completing an application, I highly recommend creating a profile on this website  and going through the host family selection process on your own. An agency match is like your freshman college roommate match: It can look great on paper but turn out to be a disaster. Skype your potential host family a few times, discuss your goals for the year, and make sure they are people that you would enjoy spending time with and that you will be able to have open discussions with them. It can really be a trying experience to move in with a host family, especially when there are cultural differences and possibly different expectations of your role within the host family, and you need to be able to communicate honestly with them.

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Overall, the au pair life for me has been a wonderful experience of immersing myself in the Dutch culture, bonding with my host family, and traveling and exploring as much of Europe as I can. I have learned so much about myself while being here, and am thrilled with how much I am checking off my European bucket list. I highly recommend becoming an au pair if you also enjoy being around children and have goals of working and traveling abroad.

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  1. So far I have visited 6 countries and have also travelled throughout the Netherlands

6 Time & Space-Saving Packing Tips for the Busy Traveler

The act of traveling is stressful. We all hate waiting in the security line, haggling with the rental car sales associate, and we definitely hate being on the plane with a screaming baby who is very vocal about not wanting to be there.  And the packing beforehand can be atrocious. It’s all about the stress of what to bring, how much, and if all the nonsense will fit in a 22 inch carry-on bag. So before you deal with strangers and with screaming infants, you need some peace of mind that your suitcase is precisely packed.

Needless to say, the clothing you pack in your suitcase definitely depends on what trip you are going on, and that list is just too long for a short blog post. But here are some great little tips to save space and time while packing for travel.

Roll It, Layer It

Everyone should know that rolling your clothes, especially thinner fabrics, is the way to go. It saves space and time. To create even more space, you can wrap those rolled items with rubber bands. This makes your rolls tighter and firmer. Put these items side to side on the bottom of your suitcase to create a flat layer. Your folded clothes will go on top of your rolled ones. Clothes that should be folded are of tougher fabrics while rolled items are usually cotton.

Packin’ Pills, Not Poppin’

Pill bottles are slender and long, making them easier to store inside a suitcase than other toiletry containers. What would you put in these empty drug canisters you may ask? You can put hair gel/product or lotions to keep that skin glowing and/or that hairstyle fresh on the go. You can also store Q-Tips inside empty pill bottles to keep those ears squeaky clean. And for the ladies, you can store hair ties and bobby pins inside the empty containers as well.

Extra T-P

It’s 3am at Aunt Suzi’s house, you have to use the bathroom but it’s pitch black because you can’t find the light switch, only to find that there’s no toilet paper. This is what we call helplessness. Pack like half a roll of toilet paper for emergencies like this or a bloody nose on the airplane or when you’re in the sticks and there’s literally nothing around. This is being self-sufficient.

Safely Store The Bling

For the ladies, packing jewelry can be rough on a trip. You don’t want that bling you have had for years stolen or lost. So, to combat those perils, you can put a pair of earrings through the holes of a button. The button keeps the pair safe and secure through your travels. Also, you can feed your necklaces through a bendy straw. This sounds strange, but it prevents the necklaces from being tangled and keeps them straight. You can easily spot those bad boys in your suitcase since there won’t be too many straws among your traveling items.

If It Doesn’t Fit, Wear It

Chances are your cool boots and mink coat will take up a little too much space in your suitcase if you decide to pack it. Wear your jacket and boots on the plane and open up your suitcase for more room for your 12 scarfs.

Business Fresh

If you are traveling for business, you want to be extra careful on how you pack. Roll your belts inside the collar of your folded dress shirt(s). This will save space and time and you will know exactly where your belts are. You don’t want to get those fresh business shoes scoffed. To save those wingtips, wrap your shoes in a plastic shower cap and pack them in the compartment along the wheelbase.

You also don’t want your dirty underwear sharing the same space as your suit shirts…like ewww, have you seen your underwear? Pack trash bag in the side of your bag. Instead of stuffing your dirty laundry back into your main suitcase pocket, separate it for God sakes and put it in the trash bag. That way, if you need to do laundry at the hotel, you already have a laundry bag ready.

Pro tip: You can put those pill bottles and/or chargers inside your shoes. This way, in case they slip out of your kicks, the shower cap will hold the items and keep them secure.

You Are Ready

With these tips, you should have enough room in your suitcase and have a moment to bask in the glory of your timely packing. It is time for your adventure! So when that newcomer starts wailing down the aisle, just remember that you conquered every inch of that carry on. And never forget that you my fellow travelers, are rockstars.

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How to Hostel 101

“Ew, ew, ew, ew,” a stranger in my hostel room squealed, “Wake up! There’s something moving on your bed!” I sat straight up right away, freaked out by my roommate’s tone of panic and disgust. After both a headlamp and a Google search, we had confirmed that there were actual bedbugs in both of our beds. These little guys are a nightmare – they suck your blood, are easily spread by travelers, and are extremely difficult to get rid of.

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We were grossed out and grumpy, with our skins crawling and annoyed to be missing out on a night of sleep. However, we migrated to the hostel common room and actually ended up having a really great time staying up all night, chatting and swapping travel stories, and forming a group of instant new friends from all over the world: the bed bug buddies. Our night concluded as we watched a gorgeous sunrise over the Venice canals, a magical memory for all of us.

After a successful trip to the laundromat the next morning, I actually left this infestation scare and hostel laughing, and a few months later, I’m happy to have another adventure under my belt. Even in the rare worst case hostel scenario like this bed bug story, hostels are the best. They’re affordable, fun, and I always leave a hostel with a few more friends than when I got there- they provide a unique environment for you to easily meet and mingle other travelers.

However, definitely best to stay away from hostels with bed bug or other problems…. Read on for a guide on how to survive the process of finding and staying in a hostel.

Go to www.HostelWorld.com

This is definitely the best place to start when picking your hostel. They only show the most recent reviews, and I have found that their reviews are much more accurate and updated than those from other similar websites.

Read the reviews!

Once you find the reviews, read the reviews! So, so, important, and I learned the hard way! For this bed bug instance, I didn’t use HostelWorld, and instead focused on the cheap price and the awesome view from the bedroom windows. Bad idea! On HostelWorld, you can sort the reviews by how recently they were created, or by the age, nationality, or gender of the reviewer so that you’re reading thoughts from like-minded travelers.

Location, location, location

When choosing between a few, make sure to research the location. It’s almost always worth the extra money to be in the heart of the city that you are traveling to. Sometimes it’s tempting to save a few extra bucks a night on a hostel that is farther from the main touristic attractions, but you can end up either spending more money, time, and effort trying to get to the center, or just being in a sketchier location.

Make sure they got sick vibes, yo

But really, read about the hostel vibes. Especially if you are traveling alone or want to make friends, it’s very important that your hostel has high ‘atmosphere’ ratings! Hostels that have bars in the common area tend to be really fun, and it’s also smart to check out the photos of the hostel common room to see if it looks like somewhere you’d want to hang out.

Perks?

AC? Discount at the hostel bar for guests? Outlet by your bed? Breakfast included? Towels available? Usually these details don’t make or break your experience in a hostel but are all really nice to have. As for hostel breakfast, don’t expect a giant buffet; It typically is just some sort of bread product and coffee, but it still can hold you over until lunch which is great for travelers on a budget.

Wifi

All hostels should have WiFi, but there are a few that don’t offer it in the bedrooms, or the connection is really spotty or difficult to access. It’s always pretty necessary to have good internet at your home base to be able to research activities, catch up with people back home or plan your next travel step, so make sure people in the reviews were pleased with the Wifi.

Tentative schedule?

When booking, it’s a good idea to choose flexible booking and look at their cancellation policy. When traveling for an extended period of time, often times I wish I had more freedom to reroute my trip, as so many of your new friends will tell you about their trips and give you awesome travel suggestions that you never considered. For a big backpacking trip, it’s usually worth it to pay the few extra dollars for ‘flexible booking’ if you have any doubt about the solidity of your plans.

Bed count

Just know that the more beds in your hostel room, the less likely you are to get a good night’s sleep, especially if you’re in a party hostel. If I’m on a long backpacking trip, I’ll make sure to book a room with fewer beds every once in awhile to allow myself to catch up on sleep.

Must Pack List

Pack a headlamp, a mobile USB charger, shower shoes, earplugs, and a lock for a hostel-heavy vacation!

Make sure you know where you are

Research the directions to get to your hostel. Even though hostels should email you directions to get there in your reservation email, often times they are badly translated and unclear, so I always find it helpful to look it up on GoogleMaps as well and have both printed for my journey to a hostel.

Now you’re all set up to have an adventure in a dope hostel!

 

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10 Awesome Activites To Do in Paris When You’re Young

I strongly believe that everyone who goes on a trip through Europe should be required to make a stop in Paris. It’s really hard not to fall in love with the City of Love: the charming architecture with wrought iron balconies and storybook-style shutters, grand churches, impressive museums, and pleasant outdoor cafés all come together to create one of the most iconic cities in the world, and one of the most enjoyable cities for tourists to visit. Go wander, eat amazing food, sip on wine, and enjoy!

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There are more than enough to keep a tourist busy in Paris but these are my favorite activities and sights to see:

Sandeman Walking Tour

This 3 hour tour is a great way to familiarize yourself early on in your trip with the geographical and historical contexts of beautiful Paris. The tour guides point out the main tourist attractions with tips about how to best visit them, and she also helped me appreciate details of the city that I would have otherwise skimmed over. Tours start at Place St. Michel, line 4.

Stroll Through Montmartre

Hop off the metro at Anvers, line 2, and follow the foot traffic uphill. Soon, La Basilique du Sacré Coeur de Montmartre will come into view. Continue uphill until you can both visit the basilica and see the panoramic view of Paris below you. After visiting the church, make sure you wander through the enchanting winding streets of Montmartre on your way down the backside of the hill.

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Sainte-Chapelle

I think this church actually amazed me more than Notre Dame, but luckily they are near to each other so you can easily visit both! (Cité, line 4). Prepared to be blown away by the most colorful, detailed stained glass you’ve ever seen in your life. After visiting the churches, make sure you walk across the Seine on the Pont des Arts locks of love bridge before all the locks are taken away!

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Eiffel Tower

(Trocadero, line 9) I’ve heard that going up to the top of the tower can be a crowded, chaotic experience, and I felt that walking around and under it was enough to take the grandeur of this Parisian icon. Make sure to catch the light show on the hour!

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Château de Versailles

If you’re tight on money or the weather is too nice to spend a day inside, skip the line for the palace and just explore the famous palace gardens of Versailles instead. If you are going inside the palace, though, buy a ticket beforehand and still arrive as early as possible! (RER C train, Versailles)

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Musée d’Orsay

I think even ‘not-museum-people’ would enjoy an hour or two checking out the art in this museum. There is a wonderful collection of impressionist and post-impressionist arts, including work by Van Gough, Monet, and Gaugin.

Stroll up the Champs-Élysées towards L’Arc de Triomphe

Lots of shopping, people watching, and in the winter, huge Christmas markets! (Champs-Élysées – Clemenceau, line 1 or 13)

Musee de Louvre

(Palais-Royal, line 1) The most visited museum in Paris, and one of the largest museums in the world. Mostly only an enjoyable experience if you buy your ticket beforehand and have energy or caffeine to spend a few hours walking around, i.e. don’t go after at the end of a long day of sight seeing.

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Saint Germain des Prés

Lively street full of fun pubs! (Mabillon, line 10).

Cafés

Make sure you enjoy a cheese platter and a good glass of wine while people watching from an outdoor patio of a typical Parisian café.

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Crepes

I don’t think you can go wrong with any crepes in Paris, from either restaurants or street stands, but you will absolutely not regret going to the restaurant ‘Mamie Tevennec‘ (Charonne, line 9).

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Flying with Spirit

I flew Spirit Airlines recently for a trip home to visit my family. From door to door, the trip from my apartment in LA to my sister’s house in north Dallas is about 5.5 hours. So discounting the trip times to and from the airport, Spirit Airlines was in charge of my hospitality for about 4.5 hours. 4.5 hours is not a long time, yet, somehow, Spirit Airlines makes this small chunk of your day feel like a constant internal scream-fest. Even when things are going well—you’re on time, lines aren’t long, etc.—you feel like you’ve made a horrible mistake and your internal self will not shut up about it.the office animated GIF

Spirit Airlines is the public bus of air travel. Not that all public transportation is miserable, but when you’re paying one hundred dollars or more and it feels like you’re taking the local bus-route, if you bothered to fill out an online survey or comment card, it would not say nice things about the experience. It might say thinks like, “what a rip-off it is that your airline charges for carry on bags and tries to pass it off as a ‘time-saver’ during boarding” or “how come the option of a free drink isn’t built into my fare? They must cost less than 30 cents when you buy in bulk.”

When the plane pulled away from the skybridge, the attendants presented the most unenthusiastic safety briefing mankind has ever witnessed. “Use a seatbelt, or don’t, we don’t give a fuck to be honest. Either way, live or die, you’ve already paid to be here. Suck our balls. Or don’t. Again, we don’t care.” That’s the Spirit Airlines way.

The seats are very tight, even if you’re not big. They aren’t well-padded at all, so be prepared for a numb ass. Oh and your elbows are gonna hurt too, because the stainless-steel, stubby arm rests (which you will have to rock-paper-scissors for anyway) feel like the type of accommodation someone threw together and said, “yeah, that’ll do fine.” They do not do fine. Not even a little bit.

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The plane is set up in an obvious attempt to jam as many customers on to one plane at a time. You will be charged extra to carry on a bag, not that there’s much overhead storage anyway. The staff won’t care about you either though it’s not their fault. Everyone is so seemingly miserable from the moment the step on the plane, that the staff is merely trying to survive the day. They probably catch a lot of harsh attitude from pissed of first time Spirit customers.

There’s no denying I flew round trip to Dallas for $130. That’s a great price. If I had it to do over though, I would spend the extra money on another airline that values customers more. Spirit is the fastest growing airline in America. People love the price points they push, but once you fly Spirit, your mind will probably change about “what’s really worth the money.”

Plus, the sheer amount of promo emails that flood your inbox to become a member of their frequent flyer program after you handover your email during ticket purchasing will make you regret everything just a little bit more. No—I don’t want to ever fly with you again, let alone with frequency. What would be my loyalty reward? A free soda, probably.

No thank you, Spirit. You had your chance. Discount airline or not, you make me want to hitchhike.

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How to Not Get Totally Robbed in Europe (And How I Did)

I woke up to the train conductor’s voice crackling over the loudspeaker, announcing that it was 6:30 am and that we had concluded our overnight journey from Zurich to Vienna. I squinted through the window for my first glimpse of Austria while groggily reaching under my seat for my glasses. A minute passed before panic snapped me out of my sleepiness. My glasses were not under my seat, and neither was my purse the glasses were in, which meant my passport, driver’s license, cash, and credit cards were also gone.

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I blindly made my way to the police station after de-boarding the train with two other groups of travelers – the thief had made their rounds through the train. When I got WiFi and logged into my online banking, I discovered that all the money from my cash card had been withdrawn at 4 am in an Austrian train station that I have never even heard of.

Although most trips turn out to be amazing experiences, as a traveler you are a prime target for many scams and pickpockets that are just waiting to take advantage of a nice tourist like you!

Unfortunately, my story is not really unique. Tourists are vulnerable: you’re pumped for your epic vacation, sleep deprived because you procrastinated and packed all night, jittery from all of the Starbucks you drank at the airport to consequently survive the sleep deprivation, and now jet lagged and confused from zooming through so many time zones. Although most trips turn out to be amazing experiences, as a traveler you are a prime target for many scams and pickpockets that are just waiting to take advantage of a nice tourist like you!

After I realized my purse was totally gone I started freaking out, imagining the DMV lines I would have to wait in to get a new license, the thief using my brand new wallet, and the worst, imagining the price of altering my trip itinerary due to lack of passport. I needed the passport in two days to leave from Austria to Budapest, and then most importantly to board my plane from Amsterdam to America in six days after four months abroad. Cue stress.

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Here’s what I learned:

Don’t keep everything together

Looking back, I think it was my saving grace that I didn’t keep all my eggs in one basket; Although my money and passport had been robbed, I still had my iPhone which had been in another bag.

Know how to communicate without a phone

Even though I had purchased Skype Credit so that I could make international calls to cancel my credit cards, cry to my parents and call the Austrian US embassy to replace my stolen passport, it’s important to know other ways to communicate if I did get my phone stolen. Make an emergency card with phone numbers or even give important phone numbers to your fellow travelers, that way, if something happens (because something always happens when you travel), you’ll be really happy you have your mom’s number (because who remembers numbers anymore?). Also know how to get your hands on a phone and a calling card. General stores across Europe have carry them for when this happens.

Have multiple forms of money

Credit cards are great to have but cash will get you out of any bind. Keep a small wad of cash on your person at all times.

Remember to make copies of everything

Once I got to the embassy, I was very thankful that I had copies of my passport and driver’s license to show them that I was a real person. I wish that I also carried copies of my passport photo because it’s really unfortunate to have to take a new one with puffy eyes from traveling overnight and sporting an unfortunate (but cozy) green turtle neck with polar bears on it. Make copies of everything, store them in another location and even take pictures of them so you have them on your phone. It’ll make the process that much easier.

Guard your stuff when sleeping

Yes, we learned that the hard way. Let your bag be your pillow or drape yourself over your suitcases so if there’s any foul play, you will be alerted.

Always be on alert

In the end, it all worked out and I had a beautiful, Austrian Christmas with a replacement passport that I never let leave my side. I think it’s important to note, though, that while this article is entitled ‘How to Not Get Robbed in Europe,’ the lesson that I learned in Austria is one that can be widely applied to where I travel or live. In fact, crime rates in Europe are actually much lower than they are in many American cities. Like I earlier wrote, the reason that tourists are so susceptible to crime is because of the vulnerability that comes along with being tired, overwhelmed, or just inattentive to the situation. I now realize the importance of being extra smart and cautious wherever I am, because I don’t want to spend any more holidays in an American embassy!

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