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Driving Dartmoor National Park With The Vauxhall Mokka X

Dartmoor National Park

Exploring Dartmoor in the Vauxhall Mokka X

United Kingdom

Petting a wild pony in Dartmoor National Park probably wasn’t the best idea. It lunged for my hand, attempting to bite. There’s a reason these furry ponies are called “wild!”

Dartmoor has sometimes been described as the ‘last wilderness’ of the United Kingdom. Its vast open landscape is home to a variety of unique features — wet peaty bogs, stunted oak forests, rocky outcroppings called “tors”, and icy mountain waterfalls.

If you’re looking to escape London for a while, Dartmoor National Park is an excellent place to relax and enjoy the serenity of nature. The park is only a 4-5 hour drive away from the hustle & bustle of the city.

My friends at Vauxhall loaned me their new Mokka X SUV for the trip, a fun city-friendly turbo diesel with 4×4 capability that can handle off-the-beaten-path adventures.

Dartmoor Ponies at Haytor

Wild Dartmoor Ponies

Sunset at Saddle Tor

Lone Hawthorne Tree at Sunset

Exploring Dartmoor In Autumn

Autumn in Dartmoor is a beautiful time to visit. Sure, it’s a bit colder then normal, but the ground and trees are rich in color. A mix of burnt reds, yellows, and greens. There are less people on the roads too.

The narrow lanes in Dartmoor are a lot of fun to drive, if not a bit scary.

Winding asphalt hugs the hills & valleys, passing through small villages from time to time. Some of the smaller roads are single lane, causing trouble when two people approach from opposite directions.

The area is covered with small stone bridges too. Some of them, called “clapper” bridges, date back to the 1300’s. You can’t drive on the clappers, but they’re a wonderful piece of British history.

Emsworthy Farm

Emsworthy Farm

Waterfalls in Dartmoor

Beautiful Venford Falls

Legends Of Dartmoor

Humans have been living on Dartmoor for at least 12,000 years, so there is a ton of history here. Which means there are plenty of legends and myths too. Here are some of my favorite…

Spectral Hounds: Roaming the misty mires and barren hills of Dartmoor at night, abnormally large and ghostly black dogs patrol the region, and you don’t want to be around to meet them…

Pixies: Small mythical creatures with pointed ears who live in caves, around stone circles, and cause mischief. Similar to fairies and sprites, but a different race.

Headless Horseman: Multiple tales of a headless horseman riding fast over narrow lanes after dark, sometimes accompanied by a pack of spectral hounds.

The Devil’s Visit: Back in 1638, the Devil visited St. Pancras Church in the village of Widecombe-in-the-Moor. Lightning struck its tower, killing 4 people inside during Sunday mass.

Vauxhall Apple Car Play

Apple Car Play is Great for Road Trips!

Vauxhall Destination Download

Destination Download with OnStar

The Vauxhall Mokka X

Traveling from London out to the wilds of Dartmoor, the Vauxhall Mokka X was a perfect road trip companion during my drive. It’s full of features that make long road trips through unfamiliar territory an absolute pleasure.

Apple Car Play

The ability to connect the car’s touchscreen to my phone, and control my apps is super handy. I listened to my Spotify playlists, loaded previously saved navigation routes, and could make calls with ease. You can even access the power of Siri by pressing a button on your steering wheel!

Destination Download

With OnStar activated in the Mokka X, you can press the OnStar button to call an operator and ask for directions, which will then be uploaded into your car’s navigation system automatically. So nice! It’s like having a personal assistant for your drive.

4×4 All Wheel Drive

The compact size of the Mokka X makes it great for city driving, but with good clearance and 4×4 electronic all wheel drive capability, you can easily navigate winter roads, steep rocky inclines, or muddy off-road tracks in the countryside when you need more traction.

Remote Unlock

Vauxhall has it’s own smartphone app, called My Vauxhall, which gives you all kinds of power over your Mokka X. For example, you can lock or unlock the vehicle from further away then your key fob allows, check tire pressure or fuel level, plus much more.

Haytor Rocks in Dartmoor

Haytor Rocks

Climbing in Dartmoor

Climbing the Granite at Haytor

Hiking Around Haytor

Dartmoor National Park is covered in “tors”, exposed granite rock outcrops sitting on the summit of hills in the region. There are hundreds of these, some of them are pretty impressive.

Many can be climbed, either by scrambling, or rock proper climbing with ropes. One of the most famous is called Haytor.

Hill walking through the moors is a popular activity in Dartmoor, and you can find short or long-distance trails all over the place.

Many take you from tor to tor, passing by old farms, ancient stone circles, or ruined Bronze-age villages along the way.

Mokka X Off Road

Exploring Off-Road with the Mokka X

Sheep in Dartmoor

So Many Sheep!

Dartmoor Ponies

Dartmoor has its own special breed of horses, called the Dartmoor Pony. These hardy ponies have been living on the moor for millennia — there’s evidence of them from 3,500 years ago.

They reminded me a lot of Icelandic ponies, with thick fur, long manes, and short powerful bodies. The harsh winter weather on Dartmoor can be similar to Iceland too.

While the Dartmoor ponies are collectively owned by locals, they roam free throughout the national park, and are not handled by humans. So be careful if you approach, there’s the possibility of getting bitten or kicked.

Yes these ponies are super cute, but they are still wild!

Dartmoor Pony Group

Herd of Dartmoor Ponies

Driving Dartmoor National Park

Driving Dartmoor National Park

Tips For Visiting Dartmoor

There are a handful of villages within the park with decent accommodation like Postbridge and Two Bridges. I spent 3 nights at the Two Bridges Hotel, a wonderful old building on the side of a river. They have an excellent restaurant too.

Some people decide to stay outside the park in the towns of Tavistock or Bovey Tracey. Summer is the most popular time to visit, but I had a great time enjoying the fall colors of early November.

You can embark on all kinds of different outdoor activities in Dartmoor — hiking tors, horseback riding, cycling, rock climbing, even whitewater kayaking is popular here. Wild camping is allowed in certain areas of the park, you can find a map here.

Driving to Dartmoor from London was a fun little weekend road trip. It was nice to see slice of rural life in the United Kingdom that I hadn’t experienced before. ★

Tips for traveling to Dartmoor National Park
Tips for traveling to Dartmoor National Park

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More Information

Location: Dartmoor National Park, United Kingdom
Official Website: Dartmoor National Park
Accommodation: Two Bridges Hotel
Car Details: Vauxhall Mokka X
Useful Notes: I spent 4 days and 3 nights in Dartmoor, basing myself in the town of Two Bridges. In the fall, there aren’t many shops or restaurants open in the park. So pack some extra supplies.
Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Great Britain
Suggested Reading: Hound Of The Baskervilles

READ NEXT: Should You Go To School Or Travel?

Have any questions about Dartmoor? Do you think the ponies are cute? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Vauxhall

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Expert Vagabond

Best Travel Gift Ideas For Men & Women In 2016

Best Travel Gifts for Travelers

Best Travel Gifts in 2016

Travel Tips

Looking for the perfect gift for that traveler in your life? It’s not always easy! Here are my top recommendations for the best travel gifts for those with a case of wanderlust.

Skip the moneybelt this year, and buy something that your favorite intrepid globe-trotter will actually love to use.

These travel gifts can help make any journey more comfortable and convenient. As a professional traveler for the past 6 years, I’ve become especially careful about what I pack on my trips around the world.

After all, there’s only so much room in your bag! I only pack travel gadgets that have multiple uses, don’t take up to much space, and improve my international travel experience.

So here are some of my best gift ideas for travelers that are guaranteed to put a smile on the recipient’s face!

Best Travel Gifts For Everyone

Filtered Water Bottle

LifeStraw Filtered Bottle

A must-have for international travel to keep yourself safe from sickness. The LifeStraw Filtered Water Bottle cleans up 99.9% of waterborne parasites & bacteria from water sources in countries where water quality can be an issue.

The 2nd stage activated carbon filter reduces odor, chlorine and leaves zero aftertaste too. I also use mine for hiking and camping in the wilderness! They have a minimalist version, for people who want to use their own container. Filters 1000 liters of water for long life.

Buy Filtered Water Bottle Here

Travel Duffel Bag

Foldable Duffel Bag

Have you ever found yourself in a situation when your bag was too heavy to check on a plane? I have. That’s why these days I carry a packable duffel bag as a backup. But that’s not its only use!

You can use it as a beach bag, a laundry bag, and a grocery bag too. I also use it when I’m hiking & camping abroad, to store extra gear/clothing at a hotel or hostel until I return from the journey.

Buy Travel Duffel Here

Travel Headphones

SoundMagic E10 Headphones

I listen to a lot of music, and recently discovered incredible headphones that sound like they should cost 3x more. Whether you’re watching movies on flights, listing to podcasts, or relaxing with tropical tunes at the beach, SoundMagic’s E10 Headphones are truly “magic”.

The bass is excellent but not over-the-top, while the mids and highs make it feel like you’re listening to a live show! Plus the cord isn’t too long (I hate long cords) and it comes with a great little carrying case.

Buy Travel Headphones Here

Portable Travel Charger

Anker Powercore

We all use our smartphones, cameras, and other portable gadgets a lot. There’s nothing worse then running low on power when you need it the most. For travelers, this can be an extra headache if your ticket confirmations, directions, or translation app lives on your phone.

The Anker PowerCore 10,000 is about the size of a credit card (just thicker) and can fully charge your smartphone up to 3 times! It has smart quick-charge technology, and is the smallest & most powerful power bank in its class. I also use mine to recharge cameras, my Kindle, and more.

Buy Portable Travel Battery

Portable Travel Neck Pillow

Trtl Travel Pillow

Neck pillows are one of the most popular items to pack for long-haul flights. But not everyone likes the standard, bulky U-shaped travel pillow. The Trtl Travel Pillow is super small, easy to pack, and holds your neck in a comfortable ergonomic position for sleeping.

I never fly without mine! It works like a soft, comfortable neck-brace. However if you’re looking for something more fun & quirky, check out this hilarious giant shrimp neck pillow. Yes, it looks like a giant shrimp. LOL!

Buy Travel Pillow Here

Bluetooth Speaker

Sony Bluetooth Speaker

I love this thing! The Sony Bluetooth Speaker makes it easy to watch movies with other people on your laptop when traveling, throw an impromptu hostel party, or play your favorite songs on the beach.

There are a lot of bluetooth speakers on the market, and I’ve tried many of them. The Sony simply has the best sound quality for its size, and the battery lasts up to 12 hours! The only downside is it isn’t waterproof, but I don’t physically sit in the ocean when I’m listening to it either…

Buy Bluetooth Speaker Here

LifeProof Case for Travel

LifeProof Smartphone Case

I’m sure we’ve all dropped our phone before, or had to replace one. Those expensive smartphones aren’t invincible – they can break if you’re not careful. This is when a protective case comes in handy.

I’ve been using a LifeProof FRE for over 2 years now. These cases are waterproof, dirt-proof, and drop-proof — so your iPhone or Android is protected from anything a wild life of travel might throw at you.

Buy LifeProof Case Here

Travel Hammock

ENO Travel Hammock

A hammock is a great gift for travelers and backpackers. String it up in the woods or on the beach to relax and enjoy the view. I’ve even used my hammock on boats, between palm trees for beach naps, or as a comfortable swinging seat after a long hike.

The ENO DoubleNest Hammock is extremely strong, lightweight, and easy to pack, perfect for people who don’t want to waste space in their travel bag. Designed to hold up to 400 lbs, you’ll always have a place to sleep.

Buy ENO Hammock Here

Amazon Kindle

Amazon Kindle

The Amazon Kindle probably doesn’t need an introduction. It’s the ideal gift for a bookworm, or even those who like to read occasionally. Travelers like me love it due to its small size and long battery life.

The “paperwhite” version allows you to easily read in the dark, plus there’s no glare from the sun when reading on a beach (unlike trying to read on your phone). You can fit thousands of books on it — a library in your hands. Excellent for flights and long bus rides.

Buy Amazon Kindle Here

Desk Globe Travel Gift

Antique Ocean Desk Globe

Maybe not be something you actually bring with you traveling, a fun desk globe is the perfect accessory to show off inside the home of a travel addict. The Antique Ocean Desk Globe is a quirky conversation piece and wanderlust-inspiring planning tool for your next travel adventure.

Your favorite traveler can day-dream about exploring Africa, South America, Central Asia, or any other destination from the comfort of their desk at work or at home. I’m planning new adventures looking at this thing right now!

Buy Desk Globe Here

Looking for more travel gift ideas? Make sure to check out my Ultimate Travel Gear Guide to peek inside my travel bag.

Best Travel Gifts For Women

Ok, I admit I don’t personally own these travel gifts for women. However after consulting my traveling girlfriend Anna Everywhere, she assures me these are some of the most popular products for women who travel!

Travel Jewelry Box Gift

Portable Jewelry Box

Storing a few jewelry items when you travel can be a pain. Especially when it comes to earrings, many women complain about them breaking in their luggage. This pretty little Travel Jewelry Box from Vlando is perfect for your next journey.

Keep delicate and expensive jewelry items safe and secure in one place. It has room for earrings, rings, necklaces, and even bracelets. A super simple and compact design.

Buy Portable Jewelry Box Here

Diva Cup Travel Gift

The Diva Cup

The Diva Cup is a reusable, bell-shaped menstrual cup that is worn internally to collect menstrual flow, rather than absorb it. Apparently women love this thing for travel.

It’s leak-free, comfortable, and convenient for travelers on their periods. Women don’t have to worry about running out of pads or tampons, or remembering to pack enough on vacation.

Buy The Diva Cup Here

Travel Garment Organizer

TUO Origami Unicorn

TUO stands for Travel Undergarment Organizer. It’s purpose is to store anything travel-related, like socks and panties, electronics and jewelry, or other loose items that women find necessary when they travel.

Staying organized when you’re off galavanting around the world is so much easier using this fun little bag. You can hang it from towel racks or doors and unfold for full access to your stuff in hotels or bathrooms.

Buy Travel Organizer Here

Travel Fabric Steamer

Travel Garment Steamer

Clothes can get mushed & wrinkled in a suitcase. A backpack is even worse! If you want perfectly ironed clothes, without a necessity of carrying a huge iron, a portable travel steamer is a great solution.

The URPOWER Garment Steamer removes unwanted wrinkles from your whole travel wardrobe if necessary. It’s compact and lightweight for easy packing in luggage when you travel.

Buy Travel Fabric Steamer Here

Travel Door Stop

Security Door Stop Alarm

If you travel alone and worry about safety, get a security door stop. The GE Security Door Stop Alarm requires no wires or complicated installation, powered by a single nine-volt battery.

Place the door-stop under your door before going to bed, and if someone tries to enter your hotel or guesthouse room during the night, this device blocks the door from opening. It also wakes you (and everyone else) up, scaring off the intruder with a crazy loud 120db alarm!

Buy Security Door Stop Here

Best Travel Gifts For Men

Some of my favorite travel gifts that are frequently bought by men. But please don’t assume that these gifts are ONLY for men. I’m sure women would love them too!

Travel Cologne

O’Douds Solid Cologne

O’Douds Solid Cologne is an excellent product for men who want to smell nice while they’re traveling. Because it’s not a liquid, you can easily pack it carry-on too. Liquid cologne is packaged in large glass bottles, not exactly travel-friendly. Not this one!

The scent is crisp, musky, and masculine. Very strong stuff, a little dab will go a long way. Easily lasts all day. Smells better on you than in the tin — you need to give it a try.

Buy Solid Cologne Here

Travel Dominoes Gift

Travel Dominoes Set

Playing cards might be the most popular game for travel, but why not change it up a bit to dominoes? Walnut Studiolo Travel Dominoes are perfect for those travelers who get easily bored or want to make some new friends while abroad.

Dominoes is a popular game around the world, and they’re easy to learn too. Play while waiting at the airport, in a backpacker hostel, or head to a public park and challenge a local. This set is especially small & packable, but made of high-quality wood.

Buy Travel Dominoes Here

2am Principle

2am Principle: Discover The Science Of Adventure

The 2am Principle: Discover The Science Of Adventure is a an excellent read about how to seize the day, using science to create fun adventures without ending up in the hospital.

Learn how to find deeper experiences as you travel, connect with people, and mitigate risk to produce life-long memories at home or abroad. A handbook for pushing through your comfort zone, backed by behavioral science.

Buy The Science Of Adventure Here

Leatherman Multi-Tool Travel Gift

Leatherman Wave

A good set of tools is always useful when you travel, but it’s not realistic to pack a whole tool box. The Leatherman Wave is the next best thing. Perfect for any job, adventure, or everyday task.

It includes 17 common tools, crammed into simple compact package that can be opened and operated easily. Never be without a sharp knife, pliers, bottle opener, screwdriver, or scissors again! There’s also a smaller version called the Leatherman Squirt.

Buy Leatherman Multi-Tool Here

Toiletry Bag for Men

Leather Toiletry Kit

Every man needs a good toiletry bag for their adventures around the world. This Veneto Leather Toiletry Kit is made with rich antique bridle leather. It’s durable and waterproof, so you don’t have to worry about wet surfaces in hostel/hotel bathrooms.

The leather bag gives you plenty of room to pack everything the traveling man would need, plus gives you a little style bonus over a cheaper plastic toiletry kit. This is how I pack enough shaving cream to keep my head so shiny and clean!

Buy Men’s Toiletry Bag Here

Best Travel Photography Gifts

Do you know a traveling photographer? Check out some of these great travel photography gifts that will help them craft the perfect postcard photo during their next trip.

Joby Travel Tripod

Camera Travel Tripod

Whether you want to take photos of yourself when traveling solo, or capture the magic of the northern lights, a tripod is a necessary tool. The Joby GorillaPod Focus is small enough to take anywhere and strong enough to hold larger cameras too.

It’s easily attached to different objects, so you can shoot photos from the side of a balcony or hanging off a tree. I’ll sometimes sneak it into “tripod restricted” areas like some cathedrals, monuments, or other attractions. It fits into a daypack easily.

Buy Joby Travel Tripod Here

Small Camera Bag

Domke Camera Bag

What I love most about Domke Camera Bags is the minimal padding they have. Most companies go overboard with heavy padding, but not Domke. The tough waxed canvas is super durable, protects against light rain, and still has a classic “travel reporter” look.

It’s the perfect size for holding a mirrorless camera, 2nd lens, and a few accessories. There’s a thick belt-loop too, for carrying it fanny-pack style, or even attaching it to a larger backpack’s waist belt when hiking outdoors.

Buy Travel Camera Bag Here

GoPro Session Travel Camera

GoPro Hero 5 Session

Adventure travelers love GoPro action cameras for good reasons. They’re small, bomb-proof, and easy to use. The new GoPro Hero 5 Session has a voice controller so you don’t have to mess around with buttons to shoot footage or take selfies.

Just tell it what you want it to do from a distance! Waterproof up to 30 feet, the Hero 5 also includes digital stabilization for smooth shots. Great little camera for biking, hiking, swimming, snorkeling, surfing, snowboarding, and more.

Buy Hero 5 Session Here

Camera Clip

Peak Design Camera Clip

One of my favorite pieces of camera gear, the Peak Design Camera Clip allows you to wear your camera on your belt, keeping your hands free for other tasks when not shooting photos. Fits into most tripod heads too! No need to remove it.

Clipping in and out of the device is incredibly quick and easy. You can even run with your camera strapped to your belt wearing this thing. Never miss another shot due to messing around with a camera bag. It’s a fantastic accessory for those who often go hiking with their camera.

Buy Peak Design Camera Clip Here

Camera Lens Pen

Camera Lens Pen

Nothing is more annoying than a dirty lens when you’re trying to capture beautiful photos. A Camera Lens Pen is a dedicated cleaning solution for your camera lens, keeping travel shots crisp and in focus.

Smudges on a lens can distort light sources, create glare, and ruin shots. This is one of those products you can never have enough of. Small and easy to carry, it’s always good to have a few lying around.

Buy Camera Lens Pen Here

Happy Holidays!

Well, that’s it for the best travel gifts of 2016. I hope you found some unique gift ideas for the traveler in your life.

I actually use most of this stuff regularly on my travels around the world! Well, maybe not the Diva Cup… haha. Happy Christmas shopping, and happy travels!

Looking for more travel gift ideas? Make sure to check out my Ultimate Travel Gear Guide to peek inside my travel bag.

READ NEXT: My Favorite GoPro Accessories

Have any questions about these travel gifts? What about other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Expert Vagabond

Practical Advice For Students Who Dream Of Traveling

Student Travel Tips

Travel Advice for Students

Travel Tips

World travel is possible at any age. However the best time to travel is when you’re young. Here are some tips for students who want to start traveling as soon as possible.

The other day I received an email from a young reader. Like many high-school and college students who reach out to me, she was asking for advice about how and when to start traveling.

Here’s her message (shared with permission):

“My name is Almaries, I’m 19 years old from Puerto Rico. I have a dream but I don’t know where to start. I want to explore every corner of the Earth. I want to travel, live adventurously, be nomadic. I know there are ways to save money, but how much is enough? When is the perfect time? Do I need to get my university degree or could I just start tomorrow?”

She’s not alone. I receive a few of these messages each week, which tells me that many of you have similar questions. Hence this article.

It’s not something I’ve been able to answer well in a simple email.

For high-school and college students, thinking about the future can be confusing. I remember what it was like. Society is telling you to get a degree, get a career, get married, pump out some kids, then retire.

Some of us just aren’t ready for those milestones right now.

So today I wanted to share some travel advice for students who would like to travel more, but don’t know where to begin.

Student Travel Advice

Me at 19 years old — with hair!

My Personal Experience

I didn’t start traveling around the world until I was 29 years old. It wasn’t until I was well out of college and working in the real world that I became interested in the budget backpacking lifestyle.

However 11 years earlier, when I graduated high-school, I packed up and drove across the country from New Hampshire to Montana and became a ski-bum for a year.

I told my parents it was to claim residence and take advantage of cheap in-state tuition before starting college… but really, I just wanted some time off after the previous 13 years of school!

It was one of the best decisions I ever made.

My “year off” was both difficult and rewarding. Working multiple jobs (cooking, roofing, landscaping), playing in my free time (snowboarding, hiking, parties) and learning how to be a responsible adult.

When it was over, I enrolled in college the next year with in-state tuition feeling focused and ready to learn.

Travel During School

You Can Go To School & Travel Too!

Should You Go To School?

I’m not comfortable answering this question. I don’t know you. I don’t know your background. These kinds of decisions are extremely personal. What works for one person might not work for someone else.

However I can share my personal experience and a few suggestions.

If someone else is paying for your education, then yes I think you should go to school. Don’t waste that opportunity. You can always travel after school like I did. Or even during, which I’ll explain more a bit later.

If you don’t know what you want to do with your life, and must finance your own education, I don’t think paying for school just because “that’s what you’re supposed to do” will help. You’ll probably end up in debt with a degree in something you don’t enjoy.

Maybe take a year off. Figure some shit out. Travel. You can always enroll in school next year. Or look into other forms of education, there are plenty of free options available.

In my opinion, going to college with no direction is a waste of money. The US education system is far too expensive and screwed up these days. A university degree no longer guarantees a good job.

Travel While You’re Young

I’m glad I went to college. I had fun, learned a lot about business, and I firmly believe it’s one of the reasons my travel blog has become so successful over the years. Business & marketing skills I learned in school.

But I’m also happy I took a year off before starting college. While I didn’t use my year-off to travel around the world, looking back I wish I had.

All of us dream of traveling extensively one day, but sadly many people can’t drum up the courage or drive to attempt it. We procrastinate and make excuses because it’s easier. For me, I thought international travel was too expensive. Of course now I know that’s not the case.

The best time to travel the world is now, not later. Even if you are currently a student. Travel now, while you’re young, fit, healthy, and comfortable with a lower standard of living — willing to backpack on a budget.

Because it only gets MORE complicated in the future, not less.

OK, you may also be broke, unemployed, and secretly reluctant to give up the security of familiar surroundings, but don’t let these fears ruin your dreams. Think of them as challenges to overcome.

Follow these guidelines if you want to start traveling sooner.

Traveling in Hostels

Hostel Life

Start Saving Money

As a student, it’s a lot easier to travel on a budget than when you’re older. Young people are generally more comfortable traveling cheaply and open to things like sleeping in hostels, eating street food, etc.

However you can’t count on winning the lottery to pay for your trip, so that means you need to tighten your belt. Take an extra evening job. Work over the weekends. Move into a cheaper apartment, or even back home.

Cook your own meals instead of eating out. Stop spending money on alcohol/cigarettes/coffee/video games/iPhones. Sell your car. Use public transportation.

Saving money isn’t rocket-science, but it’s going to take sacrifice!

How much should you save? That depends on your travel plans. In cheaper destinations like Asia, it’s possible to get by on $ 30 per day. I recommend aiming to save $ 1000-$ 2000 per month of planned travel.

So if you want to travel for 6 months in countries that cost an average of $ 50 per day, you’ll need to save $ 9000. Plus enough for a plane ticket home, travel insurance, and other miscellaneous expenses.

Enroll In Classes

Are you in school right now? One of the benefits of being a student is that you have access to professionals that can help on your path towards a life of travel. So if you aren’t quite ready to take off around the world, you can start preparing for the future.

For example, learn a new language. It’s not necessary to learn the languages of every country you visit, but your travel experiences are far more rewarding when you’re able to speak the native tongue.

How about signing up for courses on photography, videography, writing, graphic design, computer programming, social media, online business, or tourism marketing? You can enroll through the school, or learn using online courses, podcasts, and video tutorials.

You never know, you could stumble upon your dream career this way. Start learning skills that can help you make your travel dreams come true.

Read Books

Education by other means is a viable step you can take right now if you would like to travel more in the future. Even if you’re busy with high-school or college, everyone can still find time to read!

Read books about budget travel. Read books about online entrepreneurship. Read books about marketing. Read books about writing. Read books about saving money.

Here are some of my top recommendations:

Working Holidays

Are you currently in school but want to travel over the summer? Did you just graduate but are low on funds? Why not consider a working holiday visa, which lets you visit a foreign country and work for a few months.

There are plenty of opportunities for students to work abroad doing things like sheering sheep, picking grapes, teaching kids to ski, working as a bartender, teaching English, or starting a corporate internship.

Popular destinations for working holidays include Australia, Canada, New Zealand, France, Ireland, and Singapore. The travel & international work experience from a working holiday can help boost the power of your resume to future employers too!

Working Holiday Application Information:

Study Abroad

Most universities offer an option to work or study abroad and gain valuable experience as part of your degree. It’s a wonderful way to start traveling, arranged and approved by your school.

Study Abroad programs offer the chance to study in a new country, often in English, although you’ll certainly pick up some of the local language just by living in a new culture and surroundings too.

These programs provide a crash-course in self-confidence and self-reliance within a structured study environment, and you may even be eligible for scholarships or grants.

This is probably one of the easiest ways to convince your parents to let you travel. Yes you’re traveling, but it’s for school! How can they say no to furthering your education with international experience?

Traveling with Friends

Road Trip in South Africa

Take A GAP Year

If you’ve finished college and want to explore the world, you could plan a GAP year and make the most of the time between college and a career. Or, take a year off after high-school before starting college.

The GAP year (or Bridge year) is very popular in countries like the United Kingdom, Australia, and Germany. It’s practically a right of passage. Students save money and travel before starting college or a career.

While not so popular in the United States, it’s definitely an option, and growing in recognition. In fact, even Malia Obama is taking a GAP year! I hope more students follow her lead.

Many colleges will postpone admission for a year allowing you to travel without losing your hard-earned place. Higher education experts agree that students who take GAP years do better than those who don’t.

Teaching English

In addition to a working holiday visa, one popular option is to work abroad as an English teacher. At one time I was looking into this myself, planning to teach English in Japan for a year.

It never happened, but many travel addicts have decided to make money this way. Basically you move overseas and teach children or company employees how to speak better English.

The job is in high demand, and can often pay well.

Most positions require a college degree first, and there’s a certification process too. But once you have all that sorted, it’s a wonderful way to see the world and make some income.

For more employment options that let you travel, read my post highlighting some of the best travel jobs.
Student Travel Volunteering

Volunteering is an Option

Volunteering Abroad

Many students dream of volunteering abroad and helping solve problems in the developing world. I understand. I did some volunteering when I first started traveling. It makes you feel like you’re making a difference.

This can be a good thing. But I’ve also learned over the years that not all volunteer organizations are doing good work. Some are downright scams to steal your money. Many others are doing more harm than good.

While international volunteering is certainly an option for students, I suggest you tread carefully. Please read this article before you start any kind of international volunteer project.

One organization that I think is making a difference is the United States Peace Corp. But again, it is important to know what you’re getting yourself into. You probably won’t change the world.

Convincing Your Parents

So, you’ve decided you want to travel more. But your parents don’t like the idea, or your friends think you’re crazy. How do you convince them? With scientific facts and testimonials of course!

If you want to take a GAP year, you can share this study showing that students who take GAP years end up doing better than students who don’t. Plus, if it’s good for Malia Obama, it’s good for you too.

If you want to study abroad, explain how foreign schools provide better value than those in the Untied States. Tell them that the US State Department provides resources for students to study abroad.

If you want to volunteer in other countries, let your parents read this long list of famous Peace Corp Alumni. Remind them that volunteer experience is highly regarded by top universities & companies.

If you want to spend some time working abroad, explain to your parents how the best companies in the world prefer to hire employees with international work experience.

Do you know any adults who took time off from school to travel? Relatives? Friends? Teachers? Ask them to have a chat with your parents and help calm their fears.

Travel As Education

You know why the US State Department is actively trying to get more students to study abroad? Because it actually makes America stronger.

International travel experience is helping students get ahead in life. It’s good for business, good for government, and produces an intelligent, empathetic, and well-rounded society.

No, travel by itself is not better than a formal education.

But travel is a type of education. You learn about cultural differences, discover universal truths, gain personal independence, and figure out what’s going on beyond the curtain of media propaganda.

Combined with a formal education, students who travel are going to do better than those who don’t.

So yes, make it a point to travel more while you’re young, even if it’s just for a few months. It might not be easy, and it might take some planning, but I’m confident you won’t regret the experience.

Student Travel Resources

Here’s a list of resources for students who would like to find a way to travel more while they’re young.

READ NEXT: 9 Reasons To Study Abroad

Have any questions about how to travel as a student? What about other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Expert Vagabond

The Unbelievable Pink Lakes Of Las Coloradas In Mexico

Las Coloradas Mexico

Pink Lakes of Las Coloradas

Las Coloradas, Mexico

Hidden away on the tip of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is a magical place full of color. These stunning cotton-candy pink lakes filled with salt are called Las Coloradas.

Las Coloradas means “the red” in Spanish. It’s the name of a tiny Mexican fishing village with a population of 1000. Nearby, a series of brightly colored pink lakes cover the landscape on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico.

The region is part of the Ría Lagartos Biosphere Reserve, a protected wetlands area home to animals like flamingos, crocodiles, sea turtles, jaguars, and all kinds of sea birds. The reserve covers some 150,000 acres.

I rented a car and drove up from Playa del Carmen with my girlfriend Anna (AnnaEverywhere.com) to check out the biosphere reserve, but it’s these strange pink lakes that really steal the show!

Las Coloradas Water

Enjoying the Hot & Salty Water

Las Coloradas Drone Shot

Pink Lakes from the Sky

Mayan Salt Production

Fishing isn’t the only industry here, salt is big business in Las Coloradas. It has been for thousands of years, when the ancient Maya used this area to produce highly valuable salt. How do they do it?

Salty ocean water from the mangroves nearby floods onto hard flat salt plains, creating shallow lagoons. The sun then slowly evaporates this water, leaving fresh sea salt behind.

Salt was extremely important to the Maya for both nutritional needs as well as food preservation. It was mined here in the northern Yucatan then shipped by canoe to other parts of the Mayan empire.

Las Coloradas Salt Production

Traditional Salt Production

Why Are The Lakes Pink?

While this “solar salt” production process is a natural one, the large pink lakes of Las Coloradas we see today were constructed by a company who produces salt on a much larger scale (500,000 tons per year).

The vibrant pink color of these lakes is due to red-colored algae, plankton, and brine shrimp that thrive in the salty environment. As the water evaporates, these organisms become more concentrated, glimmering pink in the bright Mexican sunlight.

Want to hear a cool fact? The reason flamingos are pink is because they eat these pink creatures. Normally their feathers are white, however they change color after eating this stuff!

You can often find pink flamingos hanging out in the pink lakes.

Las Coloradas Pink Lakes

Real Flamingos Live here Too

Las Coloradas Mexico

Floating in the Salty Water

Visiting Las Coloradas

The amazing pink lakes of Las Coloradas are located off the beaten track a bit. Getting here requires a 3 hour drive from Cancun or Playa del Carmen — 2 hours from Valladolid. So you can do it as a very long day trip, or even better, spend 2 days in the area as there’s plenty to do.

A local bus leaves from Cancun to Rio Lagartos, but it requires a few bus changes and takes 7 hours. Renting a car is much easier.

Las Coloradas (the village) has no real accommodation options, but they do have a restaurant. Most travelers stay in the nearby town of Rio Lagartos 30 minutes away. Popular mangrove and flamingo boat tours are based in Rio Lagartos, which usually stop at the pink lakes too.

Or you can just visit on your own with a rental car like we did.

The pink water is incredibly salty, so while safe to get in, it can sting a bit — especially if you have cuts. However it’s more for the photo op than anything else, because the lakes are only about a foot deep!

Las Coloradas Mexico

Brilliant Pink Colors in the Sun

Mexico's Pink Lake

Swimming in the Pink Lake

Beautiful Mexican Beaches

The road to Las Coloradas stretches along the coastline, with a few places to turn off and explore the white-sand beaches, dunes, and brilliant turquoise water.

The beach is a favorite stop for sea turtles, so be careful where you step! The turtles bury their eggs on the beach at night.

Road tripping up to Las Coloradas is a wonderful way to spend a sunny day in Mexico. The pink lakes show off their best colors in the sunshine. Remember to pack plenty of water & sunscreen too.

Some of the roads are very narrow, so watch out for the large trucks making deliveries from the salt factory. They can hog the whole road. ★

Watch Video: Swimming In Pink Lakes

(Click to watch Las Coloradas Pink Lakes – Mexico on YouTube)

More Information

Location: Las Coloradas, Mexico
Accommodation: Hotel Tabasco Rio (Rio Lagartos)
Useful Notes: You can take a mangrove boat tour from the town of Rio Lagartos to visit the pink lakes, or just head over on your own with a rental car. Make sure to stop at the beach on the way!
Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Yucatan
Suggested Reading: The Maya: Ancient Peoples & Places

READ NEXT: Driving The Scottish Highlands

Have you ever seen pink lakes like this before?

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Expert Vagabond

17 Useful Travel Photography Tips For Improving Your Photos

Travel Photography Tips

Useful Travel Photography Tips

Photography

Looking to improve your travel photography? I’ve spent the last 5 years shooting photos in exotic locations around the world, and these are my favorite travel photography tips.

Some people collect souvenirs when they travel, I prefer to collect beautiful images with my camera. Travel photography is like a time machine, freezing memories from a journey that you can look back on and enjoy for years.

Every travel destination has its own look, culture, history, people, feelings, landscapes, and stories. Learning how to capture these subjects through photos helps convey the spirit of a place to others, giving them a glimpse of what it might be like to venture there.

I never went to school for photography. And yet here I am now, making my living as a professional travel blogger & photographer who regularly licenses images to tourism boards, brands, and occasionally glossy magazines.

I’ve slowly learned the techniques of travel photography over years of reading books, watching online tutorials, and regular practice to improve my craft. You can learn this way too — if you put in the effort!

Here are my favorite travel photography tips to improve your images.

Travel Photography Tips

Early Morning Blue Hour in Norway

Wake Up Early, Stay Out Late

The early bird gets the worm. I’m sure you’ve heard that phrase. Well it’s also very true for travel photography. Light is the most important ingredient for great photography — and soft, warm, morning light creates amazing images.

Waking up early also means you’ll have to deal with fewer tourists and other photographers. Want an epic postcard shot of a famous landmark like the ruins of Chichen Itza or the Taj Mahal? Just get there early right when it opens and you’ll pretty much have the place to yourself!

Sunrise isn’t the only time to catch good light. Sunsets are also great. The hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset are nicknamed “golden hours” because of their soft, warm tones and eye-pleasing shadows. “Blue hour”, is the hour after sunset (or before sunrise) when the sky is still blue, but city lights are turned on.

In comparison, shooting photos at noon on a bright sunny day is probably the absolute worst time for travel photography! In fact sometimes I’ll just take a nap during the middle of the day so I have more energy for early morning and evening photography missions, when the light is best.

Travel Photography Tips

Famous Postcard Location in Scotland

Pre-Trip Location Scouting

Read travel guidebooks about your destination. Scour the internet for articles and blog posts to help give you ideas for photos. Talk to friends who have been there. Reach out to other photographers. Become more knowledgeable about which images will capture the essence of a place.

Some of my favorite tools for travel photography research are Instagram and Google Image Search. I use them to learn where iconic locations are. Actual postcard racks are also a great tool for helping to create a “shot list”.

Once I know the names of potential photo locations, I’ll do more research. Which time of day has the best light? How difficult is it to reach certain vantage points? What time does an attraction open, and when will tourist traffic be low? What will the weather be like?

Wandering around with no plans has its place, but being well prepared with research beforehand saves time so you can fully commit to producing amazing travel photography once you’re there, and maximize your time.

Travel Photography Tips

Shooting Portraits in Afghanistan

Talk To People

Photographing local people in a foreign country is tough for many photographers. What if they don’t understand you? What if they say no? Will they get offended? It took me a couple years to get comfortable shooting portraits of locals, and even now I still get a bit nervous.

But I’ve learned the key is to talk to people first. Say hello. Ask for directions. Buy a souvenir. Compliment them on something. Chat for a few minutes BEFORE asking for a photo. It’s far less invasive this way.

Always ask permission for close-ups too. Spend 15 minutes learning how to say “can I make a photograph” or “can I take your portrait” in the local language before you arrive. People really appreciate the effort, and it’s a great way to make a new friend.

Some people will say no. Some will ask for money (I sometimes pay, but that’s up to you). It’s not the end of the world. Thank them for their time, smile, and move on to someone else and try again. Actually the more you get rejected, the easier it gets to ask!

Travel Photography Tips

Composition with Rule of Thirds

Rule Of Thirds

One of the most basic and classic of photography tips, understanding the Rule of Thirds will help you create more balanced compositions. Imagine breaking an image down into thirds horizontally and vertically, so it’s split into different sections.

The goal is to place important parts of the photo into those sections, and help frame the overall image in a way that’s pleasing to the eye.

For example, placing a person along the left grid line rather than directly in the center. Or keeping your horizon on the bottom third, rather than splitting the image in half. Remember to keep that horizon straight too!

Composing using the Rule of Thirds is easily done by turning on your camera’s “grid” feature, which displays a rule of thirds grid directly on your LCD screen specifically for this purpose.

Now, before you compose a travel photo, you should be asking yourself: What are the key points of interest in this shot? Where should I intentionally place them on the grid? Paying attention to these details will improve the look of your images.

Travel Photography Tips

Setting Up my Tripod in Mexico

Use A Tripod

I think more people should be using lightweight travel tripods. A tripod allows you to set your camera position and keep it there. With the camera fixed, you can then take your time arranging the perfect composition.

You can also adjust exposure settings, focus points, and really spend time paying attention to the image you want to create. Or use advanced techniques like HDR, focus stacking, and panoramas.

Tripods give you the ability to shoot much slower shutter speeds (waterfalls, low-light, stars, etc) without worrying about hand-held camera shake. You can keep your ISO low (for less sensor noise) and use smaller apertures, so more of the image is in focus.

You’ll have greater creative control over your camera’s manual settings when using a tripod. This doesn’t mean you have to lug a tripod around with you absolutely everywhere. I don’t.

But for tack sharp landscapes, low-light photography, self-portraits, flowing water shots, and sunsets/sunrises, a travel tripod makes a huge difference.

Travel Photography Tips

Get Low For A Different Angle

Experiment With Composition

You can almost always come up with a better photo composition after some experimentation. Sure, take that first shot standing up straight. But then try laying on the ground for a low angle. Maybe climb up something nearby and shoot from a higher angle.

Along with different angles, try shooting from different distances too. Start with a wide shot, then a mid-range version, and finally, get up-close and personal. Never be satisfied with your first idea for an image!

Try to include powerful foreground, midground, and background elements too. If your subject is a mountain range — find a flower, river, animal, or interesting rock to include in the foreground. This gives images a 3-dimensional feel and helps convey scale, drawing a viewer’s eye into the rest of the photo.

Focal compression is another great compositional tactic in travel photography. Compression is when a photographer uses a zoom lens to trick the eye into thinking objects are closer than they really are.

Travel Photography Tips

Shooting as a Storm Approaches

Make Photography A Priority

Attempting to take quick snapshots as you rush from one location to another will leave you with the same boring photos everyone else has. Make sure you plan “photography time” into your travel schedule. Good travel photography requires a solid time commitment on your part.

If you’re traveling with friends who aren’t into photography, it can be difficult to find the time necessary to create amazing images. You need to break off on your own for a few hours to make photography your priority. I often prefer to travel alone or with other dedicated photographers for this reason.

Good luck trying to explain to a non-photographer that you’d like to wait around for an extra 30 minutes until the clouds look better. It doesn’t go over well. For organized tours, try waking up early to wander alone for a few hours, getting photos before the tour starts.

Even better, splurge on a rental car for a travel photography road trip. This allows you to control when and where you stop for photos. There’s nothing worse than being stuck on a bus while passing an epic photo opportunity, powerless to stop and capture it!

Travel Photography Tips

Contemplating and Complimenting the View

The Human Element

People like to live vicariously through human subjects in photos. Especially if the viewer can pretend the person in the photo is them. It adds more emotion to an image, you feel like you’re experiencing the location yourself.

How do you accomplish this? By posing the subject in such a way that they become anonymous. Not showing the subject’s face. This is why Murad Osmann’s “follow me to” Instagram photos went viral. Viewers felt like they were the ones being led around the world by a beautiful woman.

The human element also gives a better sense of scale. By placing your subject in the distance, you can get a better sense of just how big those mountains really are. It’s why photographing “tiny” people in large landscapes does well.

Adding a human element to photos helps tell a story too. Images seem to be more powerful when people are included in them. You can completely change the storyline of a particular photo depending on what type of human element you decide to incorporate.

Travel Photography Tips

Waiting For the Aurora in Iceland

Patience Is Everything

Photography is about really seeing what’s in front of you. Not just with your eyes, but with your heart & mind too. This requires dedicated time and attention. Slow down and make a conscious effort at becoming aware of your surroundings before pressing the shutter.

Pay attention to details. Are the clouds in an eye pleasing spot? If not, will they look better in 15 minutes? Sit at a photogenic street corner and wait for a photogenic subject to pass by. Then wait some more, because you might get an even better shot. Or not. But if you don’t have the patience to try, you might miss a fantastic photo opportunity!

When shooting the Northern Lights in Iceland, I spent all night camping in the cold at a perfect location, simply waiting for the magical aurora borealis to appear. When it finally did, I waited a few hours more to capture the brightest possible colors.

Good photography takes time. Are you willing to spend a few hours waiting for the perfect shot? Because that’s what professionals do. The more patience you have, the better your travel photography will turn out in the long run.

Protect Against Theft

Ok, this one is slightly off topic, but I think it’s important too. Cameras are small expensive products. As such, they’re a prime target for theft while traveling. I’ve heard many sad theft stories from other travelers. Luckily I’ve never had my camera stolen, but I also take precautions against it.

First of all, buy camera insurance. This is the best way to minimize losses if your camera gear does wind up in the hands of a criminal. Homeowner or rental insurance might already cover you. If not, organizations like the Professional Photographers of America offer insurance to members.

Keep your gear secured when not shooting, like in a hotel safe or hostel locker. Never check expensive photography gear under a plane, always take it carry-on. Try not to flash your camera around in sketchy or poverty stricken areas, keep it hidden in a nondescript bag until ready for use.

Register new gear with the manufacturer. Copy down serial numbers and save purchase receipts to help speed up insurance claims. Include your name & camera serial number on image EXIF data, so if your camera is stolen, you can track it down online using StolenCameraFinder.com.

Travel Photography Tips

Long Exposure Waterfall Shot

Shoot In Manual Mode

You’d think that modern cameras are smart enough to take incredible pictures on their own, in AUTO mode. Well that’s just not the case. While they do a pretty good job, if you want truly stunning images, you need to learn how to manually control your camera’s settings yourself.

If you’re new to photography, you may not realize all the camera settings that need to be adjusted. These include ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. If you want the best images possible, you need to know the relationship between them, and how to adjust these settings on your own.

To do this, switch your camera’s dial into Manual Mode. This camera mode gives you much more control of the look of your images in different situations. By manually adjusting aperture you’ll have more control over the depth of field in your image.

By manually controlling shutter speed, you’ll be able to capture motion in more creative ways. By manually controlling ISO, you’ll be able to reduce the noise of your images and deal with tricky lighting situations. Here’s a good free online tutorial about Manual Mode.

Travel Photography Tips

Prepared for Wildlife in Greenland

Always Bring A Camera

There is a saying in photography that “the best camera is the one you have with you”. Be ready for anything, and always carry a camera around, because luck plays a pretty key role in travel photography.

The difference between an amateur photographer and a pro is that the pro is planning in advance for this luck, ready to take advantage of these special serendipitous moments that will happen from time to time.

You never know what kind of incredible photo opportunity might present itself while you’re traveling. Maybe while out walking you happen to stumble upon a brilliant pink sunset, a rare animal, or some random street performance.

While hiking in Greenland I kept my camera ready and within easy reach with a 70-200mm lens attached. This helped me capture great shots of reindeer, rabbits, an arctic fox, and musk oxen. If the camera had been packed away in my bag, I would’ve missed these wildlife opportunities.

Keep your camera on you, charged up, and ready for action at all times.

Travel Photography Tips

Lost in the Streets of Granada

Get Lost On Purpose

Ok. You’ve visited all the popular photography sites, and captured your own version of a destination’s postcard photos. Now what? It’s time to go exploring, and get off the beaten tourist path. It’s time to get lost on purpose.

If you want to get images no one else has, you need to wander more. The best way to do this is on foot — without knowing exactly where you’re going. Grab a business card from your hotel so you can catch a taxi back if needed, then just pick a direction and start walking.

Bring your camera, and head out into the unknown. Check with locals to make sure you’re not heading somewhere dangerous, but make a point get lost. Wander down alleys, to the top of a mountain, and around the next bend.

In many places, locals tend to avoid tourist spots. So if you want to capture the true nature of a destination and its people, you’ll need to get away from the crowd and go exploring on your own.

Travel Photography Tips

Some of my Hard Drives…

Backup Your Photos

Along with camera insurance, I can’t stress enough the importance of both physical and online backups of your travel photos. When my laptop computer was stolen once in Panama, backups of my photography saved the day.

My travel photography backup workflow includes an external hard drive backup of RAW camera files, as well as online backup of select images and another online backup of final edited images.

Sometimes, for important projects, I’ll even mail a small hard drive loaded with images back to the United States if the internet is just too slow for online backup of large RAW files or video. I use Western Digital hard drives for physical backup and Google Drive for online cloud storage.

Travel Photography Tips

Improve Your Photography with Processing

Post Processing

There is a ridiculous myth out there that editing your photos using software is “cheating”. Let’s clear that up right now. All professional photographers edit their digital images using software like Lightroom, Photoshop, or GIMP.

Some do it more than others, but basically everyone does it.

Post processing is an integral part of any travel photographer’s workflow. Just like darkroom adjustments are a part of a film photographer’s workflow. Learning how to process your images after they’re taken is FAR more important than what camera you use.

Learn how to improve contrast, sharpen image elements, soften color tones, reduce highlights, boost shadows, minimize sensor noise, and adjust exposure levels (without going overboard) using software.

If you are going to invest money somewhere, I’d recommend spending it on professional post-processing tutorials before you invest in the latest camera gear. Post processing knowledge can really improve your travel photography.

Travel Photography Tips

No Shirt, No Shoes, No Problem

Don’t Obsess Over Equipment

Want to know what photography gear I use? Well, here you go. But if you went out right now and bought all that stuff, not only would it be super expensive, I guarantee it won’t improve your photography skills.

Why? Because the gear you use is not what makes a great photographer. Just like the type of brush a painter uses doesn’t make them a great painter. It’s knowledge, experience, and creativity that makes a great photographer.

Camera companies are much better at marketing than paintbrush companies. That’s why you think you need that $ 3000 camera. Trust me. You don’t.

Professionals use expensive gear because it allows them to produce a greater range of images. For example, extremely low light star photography. Or fast-action wildlife photography. Or because they want to sell large fine-art prints.

Instead of buying new equipment, spend time learning how to use your current camera’s settings. It’s a far better investment, and cheaper too!

Travel Photography Tips

Getting my Fortune Read in South Africa

Never Stop Learning

Enroll in some online photography tutorials. Invest in a travel photography workshop. Go out and practice on a regular basis. This is how you get better – not because you have the latest gear or use popular Instagram filters.

Even though I’ve been earning money with my photography for the last 5 years, there’s always something new to learn. I regularly invest in online courses and books about photography to improve my craft. You should too.

Think you know everything about landscapes? Then go out and challenge yourself shooting portraits of strangers. Stalk animals like a hunter for a taste of how difficult wildlife photography is. Stay up late experimenting with long-exposures of the Milky Way.

You’ll become a more skilled and resourceful travel photographer when you take the time to learn new techniques and skills from other genres of photography.

Travel Photography Resources

To go along with my top travel photography tips, here are some of the tools I’ve used to improve my photography over the years. I hope you find them as useful as I did! Remember, never stop learning.

Post Processing

  • Adobe Creative Cloud – Powerful suite of editing programs (Lightroom & Photoshop) used by most professional travel photographers.
  • JPEG Mini – Reduces the size of images by up to 80% without loss in quality. Amazing plugin for faster upload speeds and faster websites.
  • Google Nik Collection – Free photography plugins for polishing your final images. Noise reduction, sharpening, color filters, etc.

Photography Tutorials

READ NEXT: Isle Of Skye Road Trip

What are some of your favorite travel photography tips?

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Expert Vagabond

TEP Wireless Hotspot: Mobile WiFi For Travelers!

Tep Wireless

Tep Wireless Hotspot for Travel

Gear Review

Living as a traveling digital nomad, internet access is extremely important to me. With a Tep Wireless hotspot I’m able to stay connected pretty much anywhere.

One of the biggest challenges to traveling for a living is reliable internet access. While you’ll find internet of some kind in many countries these days, it’s not always fast, and it’s not always easy to connect.

Like many people, I rely on internet access for general travel tasks like booking hotels, buying plane tickets, finding bus routes, looking up driving directions, and researching local activities/things to do.

But I also need a strong connection for my work as a professional travel blogger & photographer.

This includes stuff like uploading high-resolution photos, replying to important emails, researching articles, and of course regular daily updates to Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat.

Moving around from one random Wi-Fi network to another can be frustrating.

Hotel connections often cost extra, and they’re frequently overloaded & slow. Shopping around for local SIM cards in each new country I visit can be a pain too, especially if it’s only a short trip.

This is where my Tep Wireless Hotspot comes in to save the day.

Tep Wireless Device

Mobile wireless internet devices (also called pocket wifi, mobile hotspots, or MiFi) have been around for a few years now.

If you’re not familiar with them, they let you connect your phone, computer, Kindle, or anything else to local cellular networks for internet access.

What this means is you can have your own personal WiFi connection anywhere there is cell service. The Tep device connects to a local 3G/4G mobile network and creates a private Wi-Fi connection that can be shared with 5 different devices.

Basically it gives you wireless Internet access wherever you travel!

Tep Wireless

Renting a Tep Device

How It Works

To avoid crazy internet roaming fees from your cell service provider and still have access to mobile data, you can rent a Tep Wireless hotspot during your trip with unlimited internet that works in the country you’re visiting.

The device is shipped to your home a few days before you leave on your journey. When you arrive in your destination country, simply power on the device and connect your smartphone or laptop to the wifi signal. It’s that easy!

You can connect up to 5 devices, so it’s perfect for groups or families.

In fact when I work on big projects with tourism boards, they often keep everyone connected using a Tep Wireless hotspot too.

Once your trip is complete, simply use the included pre-paid shipping label to mail your device back. Or, if you’re a frequent user, you can buy the device outright and just pay for service when you need it.

Battery Life

This magic little black box delivers up to 8-hours of use from one charge. So you can spend a full day exploring a new city and have internet access the whole time.

Wifi Speed

Download speeds vary greatly depending on the local networks being accessed by the device and signal strength. A solid 3G signal can reach up to 7.2Mbps and on HSDPA networks (4G) it can be even faster.

Where Does It Work?

It works in tons of different countries. You can check out all the countries that Tep covers here. This month I’ve used mine in both Tajikistan and Poland!

Useful Examples

As a travel blogger, part of my job is to share my travel experiences with readers using social media. So having access to wifi everywhere I go is pretty important.

Here are some of the ways I use my Tep Wireless device:

  • Navigating a new city using Google Maps
  • Feeding my Snapchat addiction
  • Attempting to communicate using Google Translate
  • Searching for tips on food, activities, or accommodation
  • Posting travel photos & updates to my social media accounts
  • Calling friends and family on Skype
  • Working on my laptop from a train, bus, or in a park
  • Backup wifi when the hostel or hotel connection goes down
  • Sharing my personal wifi connection with friends

In fact I’m writing this article outside in a beautiful park right now.

Sure, I could use a hotel wifi connection, or find a coffee shop. But neither of those are as convenient as having wifi everywhere I go. Hotel internet sometimes costs (a lot) extra. Coffee shops are not always nearby.

Sometimes you even need a special code sent via text message to use free wifi. But without cell service in the country, you can’t receive that text message! A horrible system for travelers. Not a problem if you’re using Tep Wireless.

Internet For Professionals

The only downside to this excellent service is that it’s not cheap. While you get unlimited data, it costs $ 9.95 per day.

So unless you’re a business traveler (or digital nomad) who’s income is dependent on always having internet access, a personal mobile wifi device might be a bit overkill.

However if you’re traveling in a group, you can easily split the cost between everyone which makes it much more affordable. Remember, up to 5 devices can be connected at the same time.

Overall, the Tep Wireless mobile hotspot is a wonderful travel gadget to help business travelers, digital nomads, and internet addicts (like me) stay connected as they travel through foreign countries. ★

COUPON CODE! For a special 10% off your rental of a Tep Wireless device, make sure to use the coupon code ExpertVagabond at checkout.

More Information

Product Link: Tep Wireless Device
Cost: $ 9.95 USD per day (unlimited data)
Useful Notes: Internet speeds depend on available mobile networks in the country you’re visiting. Simply ship the device back with included label once your trip is complete.

READ NEXT: Isle Of Skye Road Trip

Is mobile internet access important when you travel?

Tep Wireless

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Expert Vagabond

Isle Of Skye Road Trip: Scotland’s Land Of Fairies

Isle of Skye Scotland

Isle of Skye Road Trip

Isle of Skye, Scotland

The Isle of Skye’s dramatic landscapes are some of the most scenic in Scotland. The best way to experience its epic mountains, waterfalls, and sea cliffs is on a road trip.

When most people think of visiting Scotland, Edinburgh and Loch Ness are the first spots that come to mind. While both are nice, I think a road trip up through the Highlands to the Isle of Skye is far better.

The scenery on Skye is rugged, breathtaking, and raw.

Free to explore at your own pace, you’ll be stopping around each bend of Skye’s notoriously narrow and winding country roads for one incredible photo opportunity after another!

I recently road-tripped around the Isle of Skye in Scotland to experience one of the United Kingdom’s most adventurous and scenic travel destinations for myself. It didn’t disappoint.

In this travel guide I’ll help you get the most from an Isle of Skye adventure.

Need a place to stay in Scotland? Click here for accommodation deals.

Exploring The Isle Of Skye

If photography and exploring mountain landscapes is your thing, then you’ll love road tripping around the Isle of Skye. The area is steeped in myth and legend — a place where giants and fairies roam. Bloody clan battles were fought here, and ancient castles still stand.

You’ll feel like you’ve been transported into an epic fantasy novel.

The island is split up into a series of peninsulas. For the purposes of this guide, I’ll cover the Trotternish Peninsula in the East, the Waternish Peninsula to the West, and the Black Cuillin Hills region of the South.

Shimmering lochs (lakes) dominate the Waternish Peninsula, while jagged volcanic formations left over from landslides form the Trotternish Ridge. Wind-swept Red & Black Cuillin mountains rise to meet the clouds in the South.

Landscapes on Skye are some of the most impressive in all of Britain.

Isle of Skye Scotland

Sligachan Bridge

Planning Your Road Trip

How Long Does It Take?

You can drive around the island in half a day without stopping. But because there’s so much to see, I recommend spending at least 2 full days on the Isle of Skye. Plus you should schedule an additional half day to drive up from Fort William, and another half day to get back.

Combine your Skye road trip with a few days in the Highlands near Fort William, plus a full day in Edinburgh or Glasgow, and you’ve got yourself a wonderful week-long vacation in Scotland.

This is if you don’t plan on any really big hikes or other longer excursions.

When Should You Go?

You’re bound to get some rain whenever you go, but the best season for traveling to the Isle of Skye is summer. There’s a slightly better chance for dry weather between April and mid-June.

However summer is also high-season. The roads will be more crowded, and accommodation is more difficult to find.

Gas/Petrol

The island is small. You should be able to fit a 2 day road trip in on a single tank of gas starting from Fort William. However there are 4 different gas stations on the Isle of Skye just in case you need to fill up.

Food/Groceries

In the main towns you’ll find plenty of cozy pubs and cafes, with a few dedicated restaurants too. However most of the towns are spread out from each other. So make sure to stock up on sandwiches and snacks at a local grocery store each morning. Sausage rolls are a big deal in Scotland, and while not exactly healthy, they are perfect for road trips.

There is a wonderful pub & traditional Scottish restaurant at the Sligachan Hotel called Seumas Bar if you’re craving some neeps & tatties. Or my personal favorite, haggis! Mmmmm. Sheep guts…

Internet/Mobile Phone

Mobile internet on the Isle of Skye is pretty bad. In Broadford and Portree you’ll have 3G, but outside the major towns there’s a good chance you won’t have a signal at all. Vodafone and O2 seem to have the best coverage.

Isle of Skye Scotland

Eilean Donan Castle

Getting To Skye

The most common way to get to the Isle of Skye is to fly into Glasgow, rent a car, and drive up through the highlands from there. It takes 5-6 hours. I flew into Edinburgh, took a train to Glasgow, and then started driving. Fort William is a great place to stop for a night in the highlands to help break up the drive.

Mallaig Ferry

From Fort William, drive 1 hour West on route A830 to the small fishing town of Mallaig and catch the 30 minute long Skye Ferry to Armadale.

Skye Bridge

From Fort William, head North on routes A82 and A87 to the Skye Bridge, a trip that takes about 1.75 hours non-stop. But you will certainly want to stop with so much to see on the route. Like the incredible Eilean Donan Castle.

To mix it up a bit, I recommend trying them both. I started my road trip riding the Mallaig ferry over and finished it driving back on the Skye Bridge.

Car Rental

Cars are super reasonable, starting around $ 26 USD per day for an economy rental out of Glasgow Airport. The car we used for our Isle of Skye road trip was from Arnold Clark Rental.

Renting a car on the Isle of Skye itself is a bit more expensive with fewer choices, but possible through Skye Car Hire or HM Hire.

The big benefit to waiting to rent your car on Skye is that it allows you to take the famous Jacobite Steam Train (aka the Harry Potter train) from Fort William to Mallaig, voted the most scenic train ride in the world.

Isle of Skye Scotland

The Fairy Pools

Isle of Skye Scotland

Black Cuillin Moutnains

Southern Skye Highlights

Sligachan Bridge

Sligachan is a small village located at the base of the Black Cuillin mountains. It’s been a hub for climbers and travelers to Skye since 1830, forming a major crossroads to other parts of the island.

The old stone bridge at Sligachan is probably the most photographed spot on Skye. Legend has it the cold waters beneath the bridge grant eternal beauty to whoever dips their face in for 7 seconds…

Fairy Pools

The Fairy Pools are a long series of small waterfalls and beautiful crystal blue pools cascading down from the Black Cuillin range. Hiking from the car park takes 30-40 minutes depending on high up you decide to venture.

If you want to go for a swim, feel free to jump in! The icy cold water might just take your breath away — but so will the views.

Black Cuillins

A series of 36 imposing peaks huddled together at the southern end of Skye, the Black Cuillins have been a hiking and climbing mecca for 150 years. Dark rocky formations that seemingly rise straight out of the sea. A narrow 12km ridgeline scramble called the Black Cuillin Traverse can be tackled in 2 days with equipment.

We decided to take the Bella Jane Ferry from Elgol to the base of the mountains and spent a morning hiking around Loch Coruisk. When the weather is clear, you can hike to the summit of Sgurr na Stri for the best view in the United Kingdom.

Isle of Skye Scotland

The Quiraing

Isle of Skye Scotland

Old Man of Storr

Trotternish Highlights

Old Man Of Storr

You can’t visit the Isle of Skye without hiking up to the Old Man of Storr. Large pinnacles of rock that rise from the ground, this location has been used as a backdrop for many movies, including the sci-fi thriller Prometheus. Legends say the rocks are fingers of a dead giant.

A muddy trail leads up to the rocks and takes about 45 minutes (one way) from the parking area below. The Old Man is often covered in clouds, but it’s not too far from Portree, so you can always come back later in the day and try again when it’s clear.

The Quiraing

Definitely my favorite location on the Isle of Skye, the Quiraing is an other-worldly landscape where huge landslides have created a series of strange cliffs, jagged pinnacles, and plateaus. Trails criss-cross the area, and it’s a great spot for hiking.

A steep winding road leads up to the top of the plateau, with excellent views of the coast below. On a clear day, you’ll see the Islands of Raasay and Rona too. Take a stroll along the steep cliffs, but be careful, it’s a long way down!

Kilt Rock & Mealt Falls

Located off the A855 coastal road, there is a viewpoint on the edge of the cliffs here called Kilt Rock. The massive Kilt Rock Cliffs sort of resemble a Scottish kilt, hence the name. Mealt Falls is a long waterfall that cascades off the cliffs into the ocean below. You need to lean your head out to get a good photo (or bring a drone!).

Isle of Skye Scotland

Dunvegan Castle

Isle of Skye Scotland

Neist Point Lighthouse

Waternish Highlights

The Fairy Glen

A strange and magical place, the Fairy Glen is hidden away off the main road near the village of Uig. It’s a miniature green valley with odd, perfectly conical hills, gnarled dwarf forests and packs of grazing sheep. Whoever named this place couldn’t have picked a better one.

Hiking the maze of trails, you’ll find a new wonder around every bend. Like white stones arranged in concentric circles on the valley floor. A lone rock tower rises above it all, with excellent views of the enchanted landscape below. If fairies do exist, this is their kingdom for sure!

Neist Point Lighthouse

Located on the most Westerly point of Skye, Neist Point is a finger of land stretching out into the sea with a powerful 480,000 candlepower lighthouse on the tip. Massive cliffs ring the coast here, and it’s a wonderful photography spot, especially around sunset.

A walking path takes you all the way to the lighthouse if you want some exercise. It gets very windy on these cliffs, and there have been cases of tourists falling to their deaths. So be very careful near the edges.

Dunvegan Castle

A magnificent castle perched on the edge of a lock, Dunvegan has been the ancestral home to the Chiefs of Clan MacLeod for over 800 years. Still owned by the MacLeods, it’s pretty cool that you can walk through their home, and it’s full of old heirlooms and paintings.

One of the treasures on display is the mystical Fairy Flag, a sacred banner with miraculous powers. Supposedly given to the clan by the queen of fairies, legend says when unfurled during battle, the MacLeods would always defeat their enemies.

Talisker Distillery

The Talisker Distillery has been on the island since 1831. Scotland is famous for its whisky around the world. The flavor of a whisky changes depending on where in Scotland it was distilled, and whiskies like Talisker brewed on the islands have a strong, peaty taste.

This is my personal favorite type of whisky, and it seems writer Robert Louis Stevenson agreed. In one of his poems, he says “The king o’ drinks, as I conceive it, Talisker, Islay, or Glenlivet.”

Isle of Skye Scotland

Camping on the Isle of Skye

Accommodation

The Isle of Skye is a small island, so it doesn’t have a ton of accommodation options. During the summer high season, hotels and B&B’s can all be sold out. Skye is one travel destination where it’s very important to book your accommodation months in advance!

Hotels

Portree is the capital of Skye, and a perfect place to base yourself in the middle of the island. I stayed at a wonderful place called the Royal Hotel.

Bed & Breakfasts

If you prefer staying in B&B’s, there’s plenty of those too. here’s a list of great Bed & Breakfasts located around the Isle of Skye.

Backpacker Hostels

Portree SYHA
Broadford SYHA

Camping

Here is a good list of official campsites on the Isle of Skye. Wild camping is allowed, as long as you follow Scotland’s Outdoor Access Code. There are a few “bothys” too — wilderness cabins free for hikers to use.

We spent one night camping on the coast at Camas Malag, and another night at the Rubha Hunish bothy on the edge of a massive coastal cliff.

Isle of Skye Scotland

The Fairy Glen

Hiking & Cycling

Accompanying me on my road trip around the Isle of Skye was Scott from Wilderness Scotland. Working as a guide in the Highlands for years, he showed some of his favorite spots. If you’re looking for a bit of adventure during your trip, check out their Isle of Skye tours.

Hiking

Whether you’re into short walks or long-distance hikes, Skye has it all. The Skye Trail is a 128km route that covers incredible mountain & coastal scenery. It takes about 7 days to complete.

Cycling

Road cycling tours are very popular on Skye due to the island’s paved winding roads and amazing scenery. A support vehicle can take your gear to the next town where it’s waiting when you arrive to spend the night.

Waterfall Scotland

Kilt Rock & Mealt Falls

Isle Of Skye Driving Tips

Google driving times are not what they seem, due to all the scenic stops, it can take 2-3 times as long as you think. Remember to park frequently and explore areas on foot, you never know what you’ll find!

The weather changes quickly on the Isle of Skye. So just because the famous “Old Man Of Storr” happens to be covered in clouds at 9am doesn’t mean that will be the case an hour or two later.

For the same reason, it’s wise to keep some waterproof gear (jacket, pants) in a backpack with you at all times when you’re outside of the car.

The roads here are narrow, often without shoulders, and most backroads are single lane. If you’re not used to driving these, it can be nerve-wracking. We saw at least 2 rental cars off the road in a ditch.

The single lane tracks have special passing areas every 400 meters or so. Proper etiquette is the car closest to the turnoff pulls over and lets the oncoming vehicle(s) pass. ★

Watch Video: Scotland’s Isle Of Skye

(Click to watch The Land Of Fairies – Isle Of Skye on YouTube)

More Information

Location: Isle of Skye, Scotland
Accommodation: Royal Hotel, Portree
Adventure Tours: Wilderness Scotland
Useful Notes: The Isle of Skye is a small island, so accommodation must be booked well in advance. It can rain a lot too, so bring waterproof gear.
Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Highlands & Islands
Suggested Reading: Scottish Fairy & Folk Tales

READ NEXT: Hanging From A Helicopter Over NYC

Are you planning a road trip to the Isle of Skye soon?

Visit Britain

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Expert Vagabond

I’m Going To Afghanistan

Hiking in Afghanistan

I’m Going Trekking in Afghanistan

Afghanistan

After a year of extensive planning, I’m heading into the mountains of Afghanistan. And you can follow along.

No, this isn’t a joke. And no, I haven’t lost my mind.

Do you have a travel bucket list? Yeah, so do I. A big one. And for the past 2 years, there’s been one country peering down at me from the very top.

Afghanistan.

Well I’m finally off to explore some incredibly remote & mountainous tribal areas of Afghanistan for the next few weeks. Hiking and camping through one of the most isolated locations on Earth.

Completely off the grid. No cell phone. No wifi.

Sounds scary, doesn’t it?

That’s because all most of us ever hear about Afghanistan is doom & gloom from the evening news. But there’s another side to the country, one that doesn’t get shared enough. A beautiful, hospitable, and adventurous side.

This is the Afghanistan I’m off to find, and report back on.

The other Afghanistan…

Are You Crazy?!

I’ve never been more excited to visit a new country then I am right now… but honestly I’m a bit nervous too. Even though I think I’m immune to sensational news coverage, and know that the area I’ll be traveling in is relatively safe — Afghanistan is still considered a war zone.

What you may not realize is that Afghanistan does get some tourism. Not very much, but people do travel there. And they come back with amazing stories about both the people and the landscapes.

I’ve hired a trustworthy local guide to help me navigate through the wilderness and communicate with the people I meet on this journey. I want to learn about their lives, their customs, their hardships, their joys.

And then share what I’ve learned with you.

Where In Afghanistan?

I’ve decided to keep my exact location in Afghanistan semi-private from the online world for safety sake. Not that I think I’m in any real danger where I’ll be, but it’s good to play it safe anyways — just in case.

There are no Taliban or ISIS in the immediate region I’m traveling in. However the Taliban has been moving closer, which is one of the reasons I decided to embark on this trip sooner rather than later. It very well might not be possible next year. I didn’t want to take that chance.

When I return in September, I promise to share everything with you.

Follow Along!

I’m carrying a Delorme InReach Explorer Satellite Communicator as I trek through the mountains of Afghanistan for the next few weeks.

This amazing technology helps keep me safe in case of an emergency, while also giving me the ability to share my adventure with you from one of the most remote locations on Earth!

I will be attempting to send text-message style satellite updates/stories to my Expert Vagabond Facebook Page on a regular basis.

So go check it out if want to see what I’m up to in Afghanistan.

There is a small chance the military will take away my GPS device, so don’t freak out if you don’t see any messages. I’ll just have to report back once I return from the trip.

Watch Video: I’m Going To Afghanistan…

(Click to watch I’m Going To Afghanistan on YouTube)

Blog comments are closed — but feel free to join the discussion on my Facebook Page!

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Expert Vagabond

Exploring Viñales: Farm Life In Rural Cuba

Vinales Cuba

Exploring Viñales, Cuba

Viñales, Cuba

Riding through endless fields of green tobacco and fertile red soil in Viñales, we passed local farmers harvesting the leaves that would become Cuba’s world famous cigars.

Viñales is a small town located on the Western tip of Cuba. Set in a beautiful lush valley with funky looking hills and limestone caves, people have been growing tobacco in the area for over 200 years.

In Havana we hired Jose and his sweet red 1957 Ford Victoria to drive the four of us 3 hours out to Viñales, passing only a handful of other classic cars and a bunch of horse-drawn carriages on Cuba’s poorly maintained highways.

Vinales National Park

Lush Green Viñales Valley

Vinales Cars

Plenty of Classic Cars

Welcome To Viñales

Viñales feels stuck in time. The main street is lined with small single story wooden homes with faded paint. Locals pass by riding old bicycles, horses, or driving colorful vintage American cars.

While there are some hotels in town, most travelers stay with locals in casas particulares, which are like guest bedrooms in other people’s homes.

Our host was Lay, a welcoming lady who turned her home into a guesthouse with two double rooms. This is how many Cubans make extra income beyond their communist government regulated salary of about $ 30 USD per month.

The town has plenty of small restaurants and bars with live music, but it doesn’t feel overcrowded. In fact, Viñales is rumored to be Fidel Castro’s favorite part of Cuba!

Horseback Riding Vinales Cuba

Horseback Riding Through Tobacco Farms

Vinales Cigars

Best Cigars in the World?

Viñales National Park

Viñales Valley was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999 due to its dramatic landscape of karst limestone domes called mogotes, traditional agricultural methods of farming, and rich cultural history.

The valley was formed underwater, rising from the sea millions of years ago. Ancient ocean fossils can still be found in the caves that dot the landscape.

The New York Times called Viñales one of the top places to visit in 2016.

But aside from being a beautiful travel destination, Viñales is known for the quality of its tobacco. I’m not a “smoker” per se, but I do enjoy the occasional cigar at the end of a big trek or for special occasions.

So I was excited to learn how Cuba’s world-famous cigars are actually made.

Tobacco Farm Cuba

Harvesting Tobacco Leaves

Vinales Livestock

Friendly Livestock!

Home Of Cuban Cigars

Why are Cuban cigars so special? Well, many people believe Cuba is the birthplace of cigars. Christopher Columbus encountered native Cubans smoking cylindrical bundles of twisted tobacco leaves in 1492.

The practice was eventually exported to Europe, and by the 19th century, smoking cigars became a popular pastime for wealthy men — who formed special cigar clubs called divans.

Cuba’s time-honored tobacco growing and production techniques were exported to places like the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. Then came the United States trade embargo, making Cuban cigars illegal — and increasing their value even more.

The fertile land and favorable climate of Viñales make for perfect cigar tobacco growing conditions. Most residents here are in the tobacco farming business.

Farmhouse in Vinales

Pastel Colored Farmhouse

Vinales Tobacco Farm Tour

Our Horse Guide “Papito”

Tobacco Farm Experience

We hired a guide and some horses to take a tour of Viñales National Park, learning about the traditional techniques used here for hundreds of years. No machines are used, which means crops are picked by hand and fields are plowed with oxen.

Passing through farms with pigs, chickens, and turkeys, we rode along green tobacco fields where local workers were harvesting the last of the season’s prized leaves. Tobacco grows fast, ready for harvest after 2-3 months.

The leaves are then hung in special curing barns, where they dry for about a month, turning a toasty brown color. The Cuban government buys 90% of the tobacco, while locals are allowed to keep 10% for themselves.

To prepare Cuban cigars, the center vein of the leaf is removed, where 98% of the nicotine resides. Next, leaves are sprayed with a special mixture of ingredients like pineapple, lemon, honey, cinnamon, vanilla, and rum for the fermentation process.

Three different types of leaves are used to roll the final cigar — filler (inside), binder (holding it together), and the wrapper (visually appealing outer layer).

Tobacco Barn Cuba

Tobacco Drying Barn

Vinales Cuba Cowboys

Cuban Cowboys

Adventures In Viñales

Visiting tobacco farms isn’t the only thing to do in Viñales though. As part of the farm tour, we also explored one of the many limestone caves in the area. Rock climbing these unique limestone formations is a popular activity too.

Aside from guided horseback riding, you can also rent a bicycle, ATV, or motorcycle and explore the valley on your own. There’s a popular cave called Cueva del Indio where you can ride a boat on the underground river that flows through the cave.

We heard stories about a nice little beach about an hour North of Viñales called Cayo Jutías, but didn’t have time to visit.

Vinales Ox Cart

Ox Cart Animal Power

Tips For Visiting

Viñales is located about 3-4 hours West of Havana. There are regular Viazul Busses that run twice a day for about $ 15 USD per person. But you often need to buy your ticket a day in advance.

Or you can do what we did, and rent a vintage taxi with room for 4 people for about $ 60-$ 70 depending on your bargaining skills.

While walking the outskirts of Viñales, you might be waved over to learn about the cigar making process at some random farm. It’s a fun experience, just understand that at the end your host will ask you to buy a bundle of 15-20 cigars for about $ 1 each.

Cuban cigars can cost $ 10-$ 20 each in the USA… so it’s a pretty good deal!

“If I cannot smoke in heaven, then I shall not go.” ~ Mark Twain

Watch Video: Viñales Farm Adventure

(Click to watch Viñales Farm Adventure – Cuba on YouTube)

More Information

Location: Viñales, Cuba [Map]
Accommodation: Casa Lay (email: layvinales@nauta.cu)
Horseback Farm Tour: 35 CUC ($ 35 USD)
Useful Notes: Our tobacco farm tour was done on horseback, but they also have ox carts or bikes available. It lasts about 4 hours, with an option for a short cave excursion for a few CUC more. In addition to cigars, you can also purchase cuban coffee at the end.
Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Cuba
Suggested Reading: The Other Side Of Paradise

READ NEXT: How To Visit Cuba For Americans

Are you planning to visit Cuba? Have you ever smoked a cigar?

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Expert Vagabond

5 Different Ways Travel Opens Our World

Open Your World

5 Ways Travel Opens Our World

Travel Tips

People travel the world for different reasons. Adventure. Curiosity. Escapism. Or maybe just to chase those epic Instagram shots. But something else happens too.

No matter what your reason for traveling is, there’s no denying that travel can change a person. I’m certainly not the same person I was when I started traveling more than five years ago.

In fact, I’m not even the same person I was just one year ago. The more of the world you see, the more you learn about that world and about yourself — plus where you fit into the mix.

“Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Mary Ritter Beard

They say that travel is one of the best educations. But it’s not just facts and historical dates you learn as a traveler. Travel also opens your eyes – and in turn opens the world to you.

This month I’ve partnered up with the flight search experts at Momondo to share some of the different ways travel has opened my world after 5 years of travel adventures.

Be Open

Eating Scorpions in Thailand

1. Be Open

Mark Twain once said that “travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” When you travel to countries very different than your own, you’re given a chance to set aside your conceptions (or misconceptions) and observe how things really are.

When you set aside your prejudices and open yourself to new cultures and experiences, you’re not just opening your mind to new languages or food or music – you’re also opening your mind to new ways of thinking, living, and understanding.

Even though you may feel like you have nothing in common with the person sitting across from you on the bus 10,000 miles from home, the reality is that, as humans, our similarities far outnumber our differences. Once you are open to this concept, you quickly start noticing the things that all strangers – regardless of race or religion or way of life – have in common.

And suddenly the world becomes a lot less intimidating.

Talk To Strangers

Making New Friends In South Africa

2. Talk To Strangers

Growing up, your parents probably taught you all about “stranger danger.” But forget about that when you’re traveling. When you’re open and open-minded on your travels, you’ll want to talk to that stranger on the bus or that tuk-tuk driver or that surfer who just caught that awesome wave. It’s the locals in a destination who know the best places to eat or the best spot to catch a sunset.

When you talk to strangers, you also help break down barriers. When you can share a joke with someone who doesn’t speak your language or make an effort to communicate with a shy kid on the street, you make a connection. And connections are what help strangers become friends.

Be Open

Moto Taxi Ride

3. Just Say Yes

You don’t have to be an adrenaline junkie to enjoy traveling. In fact, you don’t even have to be all that outgoing at all (I know plenty of people who identify as introverts who still love to travel). The trait you do need is the ability to just say YES.

Travel is sometimes just about the destination – the beaches and colorful towns and snowy landscapes. But often it’s just as much about what happens along the way. Say yes to a ride on the back of a motorbike. Say yes to that scorpion on a stick. Say yes to a polar plunge in frigid Arctic waters. To steal Nike’s slogan: “Just do it!” You’ll be surprised at how much you’re capable of doing if you allow yourself to be spontaneous once in a while.

Stay Curious

Trekking in Greenland

4. Stay Curious

We’ve already talked about being open and open-minded on your travels. And one of the best ways to facilitate this to stay curious and continue pushing yourself.

Talk to that stranger on the bus even if you’re a bit shy. Hike a little further to see what’s over that next ridge even if you’re tired. Find out what will happen if you face your fear of heights or spiders or deep water. I think all travelers are inherently curious people, but cultivating and expanding that curiosity on the road is important, too.

Inspire Others

Playing with Northern Lights in Iceland

5. Inspire Others

When you talk to strangers and say yes to adventure and open your mind to things that are “different,” you often become kind of different yourself. As a travel blogger, I’m always aiming to inspire people to get out of their comfort zones and open themselves up to the world.

I want to convince people that traveling doesn’t have to be scary, and I do this by showing people the world through my eyes.

You don’t have to be a travel blogger to inspire others though. Simply telling your friends and family about the great new dish you had in Mexico or the interesting history you learned about mosques in Turkey can go a long way in inspiring others to travel and open their minds, too.

And, the more people who travel, the more the world opens up.

Let’s Open Our World!

My friends at Momondo believe that “the world is open to those with an open mind,” and want to know how traveling has affected YOUR view of the world around you.

They’re even running an Instagram competition where you can win a 360fly camera by showing them how you’re playing your part in breaking down barriers and opening your mind.

Visit LetsOpenOurWorld.com to learn more & enter for a chance to win. ★

READ NEXT: 33 Cool Travel Jobs For Travel Addicts

How has travel opened your world? Let me know in the comments!

Momondo Flight Search

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Expert Vagabond