Category Archives: Advice

A week off from the grind

If you’re one of those people who works 9 to 5 everyday you’ll know that the routine can really start to wear you down – doing the same commute everyday and staring at the same computer screen can easily get tiring. Everyone needs a break every now and then to recharge the batteries and get away from it all.

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It true that sometimes the stresses of work or family life mean the thought of going on holiday for even just a week feels like more hassle than it’s worth. If this is the case it’s probably a sign that you really do need a holiday! if you can make the effort of getting yourself to an airport with just a carry-on bag and your sunnies, the benefit you’ll feel when you touch down on the runway in another country – with some sunshine to greet you – will make it all worthwhile.

Nowadays, with so many websites dedicated to travel, it’s really easy to pick up a bargain trip at short notice. Whether you feel like a cheap holiday to Greece to spend your time lazing on the beach or by the pool, or if you feel like taking a break in one of Europe’s most iconic cities, drinking up some culture, the effects of getting away from it all will be just the same. With price less of an obstacle, there’s really no excuse to get that well-deserved break.

Of course, this kind of last minute deal is much easier to organise if you’re footloose and fancy-free, without having to think about your kids or your partner, fitting in around other people’s work schedules or school holidays, but if that’s your situation, don’t be put off, it’s still possible to be spontaneous if you really want to. You may have to wait for the next school holidays, but you can still get the bargains if you don’t mind leaving the arrangements to the last minute.

Just getting out of the daily routine can be so uplifting and you’ll often come back feeling like you’ve been away for much longer. You’ll go back to work with a new spring in your step for a few weeks at least! You never know, maybe you’ll enjoy it so much that you’ll realise 9 to 5 isn’t for you, and decide to make your travelling a little more permanent!

 

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Top 5 Biggest Cruise Ships in the World

When you hear the term “luxury cruise liner,” images of great ships like the Titanic, Queen Mary or Queen Elizabeth 2 probably come to mind. Each vessel was a legendary name in the annals of the world’s largest and greatest cruise ships.

Oasis of the Seas

Oasis of the Seas

Now, in the 21st Century, a whole new generation of massive ships is sailing the seas. Like floating cities, the new generation stretches the boundaries of size and luxury as each one ferries passengers from port to port. Here are the five largest ships currently on the water.

5. (Tie) Freedom of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas & Independence of the Seas

All three “Freedom” class cruise ships are owned and operated by Royal Caribbean International, which owns seven of the ten biggest cruise ships in the world. The Freedom, Liberty and Independence each are 154,407 gross tons (GT) in weight, 1,112 feet long and 184 feet wide. By comparison, the ships are as long as the height of a 90-story skyscraper building and wider than a football field.

Making these ships even more impressive is their 209-foot above-water height. A wide hull makes it possible for each massive vessel to not only stay afloat but remain relatively smooth in rough seas and right itself quickly if a wave ever attempted to knock it over.

2. Norwegian Epic

At 155,873 GT in weight, the Norwegian Epic by Norwegian Cruise Line is the second largest passenger ship in the world today. At 1,081 feet by 133 feet, the Epic is shorter and thinner than the Freedom Class ships of Royal Caribbean. But what it lacks in depth it makes up for in capacity, holding up to 5,183 people.

The cruise ship was built in France and delivered to Norwegian Cruise Line in 2010 by STX Europe shipbuilders. It has 19 decks and operates in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea.

The Epic’s luxury includes balconies for all outside cabins and a water park with the only tube and bowl slide at sea. Going over-the-top, the Epic also features an ice bar, where the temperature is kept at 17 degrees Fahrenheit, where drinks are served in ice glasses, and where patrons have to wear thick coats even in the tropics.

1. (Tie) Oasis of the Seas & Allure of the Seas

Royal Carribean is the owner of the world’s two largest passenger ships, each one staggering in size at more than 75,000 GT larger than second place. In fact, both the Oasis and the Allure, commissioned in 2009 and 2010, respectively, are more than twice the size of the largest ship afloat in 1998, the Grand Princess.

Both vessels are 1,187 feet long, longer than an aircraft carrier, and 213 feet wide. They rise more than 20 stories above the waterline (236 feet) and each carry up to 6,296 people. The first ship, Oasis, was also the most expensive commercial ship ever built, reportedly costing $1.24 billion (US). That price bought luxury, and the newest ship, Allure, has an ice skating rink, two-deck dance hall, and a 1,380-seat theater.

 

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5 Tips for Dealing with Culture Shock

Culture shock 1Dealing with culture shock can be a surprisingly difficult challenge for some people that are either traveling abroad for the first time, or delving into a much more foreign culture than what they’ve experienced in the past. It’s tough to prepare for the first steps out of the modern, air-conditioned Delhi airport, when the noise and smell and sights hit you, the autowallahs surround you, and the beggars surround you. When you arrive at a homestay in a Masaai village in Tanzania, you can’t do much to get in the mindset of little girls being stronger than you, sharing a bed with a goat, or giving up on identifying what it is that you’re eating. Culture shock can be overwhelming, and make travel that much more difficult. Here are some tips for combating it:

 

Culture shock 21. Know what you’re going into

If you take some time researching the place that you’re going, understanding a little bit of the local customs, and knowing at least a little bit what to expect, your transition will be infinitely easier. Get information from guidebooks, travel blogs, national websites, novels about the country, or whatever else you find easiest to acclimate with. You will find many moments where you instantly recognize a custom that would otherwise be totally baffling to you had you not read about it beforehand.

 

2. Learn a few words

You’re always going to feel like a little bit of an idiot saying the same three Thai phrases over and over again, but they really do help. Being able to say simple pleasantries, ask how much something costs and understand the answer, and a few emergency phrases will help a lot. As you become more comfortable with the culture, you can expand your vocabulary, but it’s good to have at least a tiny bit before you arrive.

 

3. Find patterns

Diving into a place that is totally foreign from everything you’ve ever experienced is great, but don’t overstretch yourself. Many backpackers arrive in a city, see the top recommended sites, and move on within two days. This isn’t recommended, especially when you’re first starting out. Find a comfortable guesthouse, get to know the owners, ask them lots of questions. Learn your way around the neighborhood, go to the same noodle lady on the corner every day until she knows what you want better than you do, and otherwise ease into things. Then you can move on with a much better basis.

 

Culture shock 34. Band together

Other foreigners will be going through the same experience as you, and can be an excellent resource in information and retaining sanity (not to mention talking you out of making bad choices). This is especially true if you’re traveling alone. Find comfort and familiarity in people with similar backgrounds to your own, and use their advice and company to get a better foothold wherever you are. That’s not to say that you should be dependent, or only have an “expat experience.” The more you adapt over time, the less you’ll need other foreigners to help you out.

 

5. Reminders from home

Sure, traveling with your stuffed bear you’ve had for 20 years might like funny to the locals, but who cares? If it gives you a sense of security, it’s worth it. Skype home. Have your parents send you something special that you can’t find where you are (cheddar cheese, maple syrup, good coffee, tampons, whatever). You will be a happy person.

 

Immersing yourself in a new culture doesn’t have to be intimidating. While some degree of shock is inevitable, it’s easy to manage by following a few simple tips. Above all, don’t be scared of trying new things!

 

 

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Staying Sane on the Road

Long term travel can be one of the most liberating, refreshing, and consciousness-expanding experiences that you choose to undergo in your lifetime. But while it has so much positive potential, it can often take a toll on your mental health. Feelings of homesickness and culture shock can be overwhelming, especially when combined with the stress of always being on the move.

 

staying sane 1If homesickness is a big issue for you, you should take the time to recognize why that is. Do you miss specific people? Routines from home? Utilize Skype to keep up to date with loved ones. Bring a keepsake from home to travel with, or engage in activities that remind you of the life that’s on hold there. Write your thoughts down continuously, and then take some time to appreciate where you are. There was probably a good reason you decided to do this solo cross-Europe backpacking trip. What was it? Make it happen.

 

Excessive anger and frustration often arise in places far-removed from your normal comfort zone. The train is five hours late, the immigration office is inexplicably closed, the tuk tuk driver scams you, the street food made you sick, and the directions that every single person gives you are wrong. Most western cultures appreciate timeliness and demand logical explanations for policies. We welcome directness over saving face, and expect honesty over cheating. The same values are not necessarily held in all parts of the world, and you may find your temper rising when things just don’t run the way that they should.

 

staying sane 2To combat this, perspective is essential. Sure, the enterprising Turkish shopkeeper ripped you off for as much as he could—probably less than a Starbucks’ coffee worth. The bus to Dar es-Salaam isn’t running today for no apparent reason? Fine, walk around the village instead and appreciate that this is only a one-time inconvenience for you instead of a daily reality. My personal philosophy is to budget for these annoyances, as unfortunate as they are, and not let them bring me down. If it ever becomes too much, spend the little bit extra to treat yourself—a hotel with AC and a pool, a well-earned meal at a modern restaurant, or a spa day. You’ll feel much better for having done so.

 

staying sane 3But psychological stresses like these are often heightened by backpackers’ tendency to always be on the move. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, by all means, slow down. Drop some stops from your itinerary in order to appreciate the places that you most want to see and not feel like you need to leave on the same day. Take the time to explore each town that you like and try to get a feeling for local life as much as big tourist sites. Being flexible will allow you to adjust to the pace of each place, learn more of the language, find restaurants and people that you like, and feel much less stressed than if you are constantly running to catch the next sleeper bus.

 

If at any point traveling ceases to be fun, it’s time to take a moment to seriously evaluate what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Long-term backpacking is a release from the frustrations and cycles of life at home. It gives us a chance to explore totally new things, but by the same token requires that we be open to them.

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5 Tips for Traveling with a Partner

Traveling with a partner 1Solo long-term travel can be a very lonely business. While some people may find this to be a preferable, it is generally more common on the backpacker trail to see groups of friends and couples. Traveling with someone with whom you are in a relationship can be an endlessly rewarding experience, but it also carries with it some potential pitfalls. Here are five tips for making the most out of your trip and your relationship:

1. Get some time apart
Living together, eating together, seeing sites together, taking the bus together…you may easily find yourself doing absolutely nothing without your partner. For a short trip, there’s generally nothing wrong with this. But after a certain point, you need to allow at least a little bit of distance. Constant contact with a person drives both people crazy, especially in situations that are at times stressful (like navigating the logistical, financial, and emotional pitfalls of extended time on the road). It’s also good to establish your own impressions and relationships with a place. In other words, every memory that you have of this trip afterwards should not be dominated by your partner’s presence in it.

2. Make collective decisions
Many partnerships are dominated on some level by a personality that is more assertive. While this person may not rule every aspect of the relationship, the extensive planning and logistical work inherent in long-term travel may all fall to them even if neither of you realize it. Make sure that you are making decisions together, so that both of you get to do what you want and no one feels overworked or under-appreciated.

Traveling with a partner 23. Meet other people
It’s easy to get wrapped up in your comfort zone. This prevents many couples from expanding their social experience by meeting other travelers or locals. If you are traveling with a partner, it is important to make an extra effort to be social with other people. If a group of people is going from your hostel to get dinner, join them. If there are other foreigners on the local bus, talk with them. It’s especially easy to link up with other couples and find good travel partnerships in that way.

4. Keep a blog or email list
Between the two of you, there are likely a million people back home that are interested in what you’re up to. Coordinate together to send an email update to everyone at once, or better yet, keep a travel blog. Review the best hosting accounts available so you can host your own blog to track your journey. This will allow you to keep everyone at home abreast, but also act as a journal and place that you can put photos to words for your own future memory-keeping. It’s much easier to keep up a travel blog if you alternate posts rather than one person writing everything.

Traveling with a partner 35. Communicate your feelings
This is relationship advice that applies under any circumstances, but it can be especially important when traveling because of the extra stress, proximity at all times, and distractions. Make sure that you are on the same page, and if you aren’t, make sure your partner knows. Be honest, even if it leads to conflict, and then focus on solving any disturbances.

Traveling with a romantic partner can be an immensely strengthening experience, but it has risks. Follow these tips, and hopefully you can avoid any potential pitfalls along your path.

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5 Common Health Problems for Backpackers

If you’re on the road for any amount of time, you’re likely to run into a myriad of minor health issues. None of these are generally worth ending your trip for, but it does pay to know what your poor body and mind are likely to undergo as you traipse around the globe. Here are five of the most common:

 

5 common health problems 11. Traveler’s Diarrhea

Nothing is guaranteed in this life but death and the inevitability of contracting Delhi Belly/Mummy’s Tummy/Montezuma’s Revenge. Yup, you’re going to get the runs. You can put it off by drinking bottled water and avoiding ice and uncooked fruits and veggies, but sooner or later your luck will run out. Fortunately, this affliction generally hurts nothing but your pride (so long as you lay off the spicy food), and passes within a few days. Stay hydrated, eat plain rice and toast, take OTC medications, and antibiotics only if it becomes too severe. If you venture out of your room, bring lots of TP—the next bathroom you rush into may not be equipped.

 

2. Dehydration

It’s hot, you’re carrying 20 kilos of stuff you were sure you would need when you were packing two months ago, and this damn restaurant charges too much for bottled water. Without your mom reminding you to drink lots of water, you’ve forgotten to do so, and now you’re in for it. Extreme dehydration can be quite dangerous and result in an unpleasant trip to the local clinic for IV fluids and possibly overnight monitoring. Drink your fluids. Booze doesn’t count.

5 common health problems 23. Motorbike accidents

Sure, renting a scooter for a few dollars and riding around with your lady on the back can be the best part of a trip to a rural area in a foreign country. It seems easy enough, and there isn’t much traffic to worry about, until you hit that speedbump. There’s always a speedbump that has no purpose other than to maim foreigners. Wear a helmet, drive slowly, don’t listen to music, and be as vigilant as humanly possible. It sucks to carry your pack while wearing a cast.

 

4. Stress and headaches

Adapting to the insanity of life in developing countries can be overwhelming. Noise, heat, pollution, and annoyance with these %$&#&@%$ tuk tuk drivers can get to your head easily and cause psychological and physical pain. Add to that the strain of being constantly on the move, and you have a recipe for a pretty bad day. Take time to relax, get a massage, and check into a hotel that costs more than $5 once in a while just to keep hold of your sanity.

 

5 common health problems 3

5. Alcohol and drug overdose

Sure, you’re not that kind of person, but we know about that happy shake you had on Koh Phanang, and that wild night in Goa. Add cheap liquor and good times to the mix, and there’s potential for some serious damage. Moderate your intake of any mind-altering substances that you choose to imbibe, be as sure as possible that what you’re taking is safe, and stick with your friends. Don’t mix substances, and have relevant emergency contact numbers readily available. Every year, young people die very tragically while having the time of their lives. Don’t be one of them.

 

With a few basic precautions, you can avoid having your trip affected or even ruined by these common problems. Take care of yourself, and keep adventuring.

 

 

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