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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Fairy Pools
Black Cuillin Moutnains
Southern Skye Highlights
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…
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.
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.
Old Man of Storr
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.
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!).
Neist Point Lighthouse
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.
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.
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.”
Camping on the Isle of Skye
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. ★
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.
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.
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.
Lush Green Viñales Valley
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 Through Tobacco Farms
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.
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.
Harvesting Tobacco Leaves
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.
Pastel Colored Farmhouse
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 Drying Barn
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.
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 ★
Location: Viñales, Cuba [Map] Accommodation: Casa Lay (email: email@example.com) 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Last week I tested their new fabric in Mexico’s high-humidity summer heat, and now I don’t want to wear anything else!
Cotton vs. Synthetic vs. Merino
We all know there are many benefits to wearing modern synthetic performance fabrics for international travel and outdoor activities. Synthetic blends are somewhat breathable, lightweight, and wick away moisture. They air dry quickly after a wash.
The problem is they aren’t as comfortable as cotton. Synthetics also get stinky quickly. Because they’re petroleum based, they aren’t environmentally friendly. Cotton is a plant. It can be grown organically. It’s sustainable, renewable, and biodegradable.
What about merino wool? While it’s organic, it’s much more expensive than cotton. Merino is not as comfortable as cotton in warmer weather either.
Regular cotton is renewable, comfy, and breathable, but it absorbs sweat & moisture leaving dark wet spots. It doesn’t dry fast, and can leave you feeling cold in cooler weather during active sports like hiking or skiing.
Well, at least until Ably Apparel came along with their version.
Repels Water Easily
The Perfect Travel Shirt?
Ably’s unbelievably odor and stain repellent natural shirts look and feel like regular cotton shirts. But that’s where the similarities end.
They use a special new technology called Filium™ that makes these incredible shirts stain resistant. Water resistant. Sweat resistant. And quick drying too!
I had to experience it for myself to believe it. It feels as if you’re wearing thin, lightweight, and comfortable body armor against the elements.
Go ahead. Spill wine all over it. Take it to the gym. Wear it for a few days straight. Ably Apparel keeps looking great, smells good, repels stains, sheds liquid, and feels like a regular cotton shirt.
A travel shirt with extraordinary super powers…
Stain Resistant Too!
I just returned from a four day trip to Isla Holbox, a small tropical island on the tip of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Temperatures were in the high 80’s with 90% humidity. I wore the Ably shirt for 4 days without washing it.
Walking on the beach in the sun, spending hours on a boat searching for whale sharks, and going out to eat in town. While I sweated plenty due to the Mexican heat, there were no embarrassing sweat stains. No smell.
I experimented by splashing water, wine, even salsa on the shirt. All three liquids rolled off like it was waterproof.
It’s not waterproof though, more like water resistant. If you jump in the ocean, it will get wet. But it air dries 40% faster than a regular cotton shirt.
You get the best of both worlds. Comfortable, breathable, odorless, lightweight, fast drying, and stain resistant to boot. Not to mention environmentally friendly.
I’ve never seen anything like it before, and can’t wait until they are in full production so I can re-stock my entire travel wardrobe with Ably shirts!
Where do you think you come from? I’ve always been curious about my ancestry, so I decided to take one of those home DNA tests. The results were fascinating.
Like me, I’m sure your family has told you stories passed down from generation to generation. Stories about your heritage, culture, and ancestry. The more we know about ourselves and our family’s past – the more our personal identity evolves.
For me, the stories included family members immigrating from Ireland and Poland looking for a better life in the United States. But these tales are sometimes vague and incomplete after being passed down from person to person, like a childhood game of telephone.
How much is true? How much is being left out? This is where genealogy research and modern DNA technology can give you a more accurate picture of where you really come from. Sometimes, there are surprises…
I partnered up with the flight search experts at Momondo to answer those questions for myself, and hopefully inspire you to do the same.
Momondo DNA Journey
Testing Your DNA
Home DNA testing is becoming easier and more affordable than ever before. Companies like AncestryDNA can give you results in a matter of weeks, while also comparing your DNA with 1.5 million members, possibly introducing you to relatives you didn’t know you had.
It’s fascinating technology. For under $ 100, this home DNA test looks at a person’s entire genome from more than 700,000 locations via a sample of saliva to predict your genetic ethnicity.
I received my DNA testing kit in the mail and followed the simple instructions. Basically, you spit into a plastic vial until your saliva reaches a black mark.
Next, you twist on a cap that releases a special DNA stabilizing liquid into the sample. Write down your tracking number, put your vial into a pre-paid box and mail it off to the lab. Easy and fast.
Test results normally take about 6-8 weeks to process. When they’re ready, you receive an email notification with a link to your password protected account, where you can view your ethnicity map and see where your ancestors came from.
My Ethnicity Map
What Were My Results?
After listening to family stories for years, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what the test would say. But actually seeing my DNA results for the first time was still thrilling…
36% Eastern Europe
8% European Trace Regions
2% West Asia
I knew my family’s strongest roots were based in Ireland and Poland. My Grandmother was born in Ireland and sailed to the United States when she was only 17. My Great Grandfather fled Poland when he was 16 after both his parents were murdered.
However there was a surprise too. Like the 2% West Asian DNA. I also thought I’d have more West European roots, due to my German last name Karsten. But it seems I’m actually more Scandinavian than German!
Interesting, as I’ve been traveling to Sweden and Norway lately and enjoying it very much. Maybe it’s viking blood coursing through my veins that keeps me returning to photograph the landscapes of Scandinavia?
The information has broadened the way I think about my identity. It’s opened my world a little more. Even though I knew about my Polish heritage, the test results have reinforced my desire to visit Poland later this year.
One of the best ways to see New York City is by air, and this scenic helicopter flight company lets you dangle your feet over famous Manhattan landmarks for amazing photos!
I’m a complete helicopter fanatic. Sometimes I think if I hadn’t become a travel blogger, I’d have become a professional helicopter pilot by now.
Soaring free above the clouds, hovering only hundreds of feet over mountains or buildings, able to take off and land almost anywhere.
Helicopters are incredible machines. While expensive, I try to hitch a ride in one whenever I can for a truly unique photography experience.
Plus, helicopters are just so much damn fun!
Eurocopter TwinStar AS355 “Angry Bird”
Scenic NYC Helicopter Flight
After all the times I’ve visited New York City over the years, I’ve never taken a scenic helicopter flight over Manhattan. It was Instagram that finally convinced me to take the plunge and splurge on an aerial photography helicopter adventure.
I started seeing these crazy “shoe selfies” showing up in my feed on popular accounts. Photographers were taking photos of their shoes floating over the Brooklyn Bridge, the Empire State Building, and Central Park.
A company called FlyNYON are the ones who make these epic Instagram shots possible with their crazy open-door scenic helicopter flights over some of Manhattan’s most famous landmarks.
What a Crazy Ride!
New York City Shoe Selfie
Open-Door Photography Flight
Here’s the thing about aerial photography. For the best possible shots, you don’t want a window in front of your lens. So flying in a helicopter without doors is the perfect way to capture incredibly clear, crisp images from the air.
Anna and I began our adventure from Blade Lounge Heliport in midtown Manhattan, where the FlyNYON team briefed us on safety and asked where we wanted to go.
There were 4 of us going up, and we discussed which landmarks we should visit during our 15 minute helicopter flight. They also fitted us with full-body harnesses.
Flying a helicopter over New York without doors means you need to be strapped into a harness for safety. Your camera gear is also attached so it doesn’t fall on people below or get sucked up into the rotor.
You literally have your feet dangling outside the door on the skids!
Christi Rocking the Controls
Empire State Building from the Sky
FlyNYON Helicopter Experience
Our badass pilot Christi brought us out to her sleek black Eurocopter TwinStar AS355 “Angry Bird” to be strapped in. Engines were powered up and off we flew into the sky!
We then soared past some of New York’s most iconic landmarks like Governor’s Island, the Brooklyn Bridge, Battery Park, One World Trade Center, the Empire State Building, and Central Park.
Earlier, Christi was yanking on my photography gear, making sure nothing would come apart once we were flying. I thought she’d been a bit rough…
Until I actually felt the force of those blades whipping around directly over my head 1000 feet in the air. It was like a mini-tornado!
Difficult Tail Rotor Shot
Flying Over Central Park
Incredible Aerial Adventure
At first it’s a bit unnerving to be sitting on the edge of a chopper thousands of feet in the air. But you slowly get more comfortable as the flight goes on.
Eventually I trusted the harness enough to lean out and feel the power of the wind as adrenaline coursed through my veins, shooting photos of the helicopter’s tail rotter.
When the helicopter banks sideways in a turn, you’re looking straight down at the tops of New York City’s massive skyscrapers, the only thing keeping you from plummeting to your death is those straps!
If you find yourself in New York, and want to have the experience of a lifetime, make sure to book an epic open-door ariel photography helicopter flight with FlyNYON. You won’t regret it. ★
Would you fly in a helicopter without doors like this?
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.
I’ve traveled to South Africa twice now. It’s one of my favorite countries and an adventure lover’s playground. Here are some great ideas for things to do there.
The Republic of South Africa is a huge & diverse country teeming with wildlife & culture. It has a little bit of everything — dry deserts, high mountains, subtropical woodlands, modern cities, friendly people and TONS of cool animals.
After spending close to 2 months exploring the country, I’ve put together a list of my favorite experiences to help you plan your own visit one day.
Win A Free Trip To Africa!
It’s easy for US citizens to fly to South Africa these days with KLM Airlines on their routes to Cape Town & Johannesburg via connections in Amsterdam.
If you’re looking to visit other countries in Africa, they also fly to the cities of Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, and Kilimanjaro.
I really hope one of you guys wins it! More details about the contest below.
Things To Do In South Africa
Meeting Lions on Safari
South African Safari
I’ll never forget when a huge lion passed just a few feet from our open Land Rover, suddenly stopping to look up. Everyone froze. Make a wrong move now, and we’d be his afternoon snack.
We were on safari at Phinda, a 56,000 acre protected wilderness area in the KwaZulu-Natal provence of South Africa. The lion was only one of the many incredible animal experiences we encountered, there were also families of elephants, cheetahs on the hunt, playful zebras, and so much more.
Big Rush Rope Swing
Bungee Jumping Bloukrans
Bungee Jumps & Rope Swings
Three, two, one, jump. I stepped off the catwalk and into the void, falling 288 feet with my stomach in my throat. The world’s tallest rope swing at a soccer stadium in Durban is definitely a big rush!
So is stoping along the Garden Route to leap from the 709 foot high Bloukrans Bridge and bouncing around dangling from your ankles by a glorified rubber band. If you’re looking to cure your fear of heights by going to extreme measures, South Africa is the place.
Cage Diving with Great Whites
Scuba Diving with Sharks
Swimming With Sharks
Arguably the most feared animal under the sea, sharks have a notorious reputation. Great whites grow up to 7 meters long and can weigh over 3,000 kg. But you can get an up-close and personal experience with them under water cage diving off the coast of Cape Town.
For the more adventurous, how about diving with sharks minus the cage? It’s totally possible (and pretty safe) to dive with tiger & bull sharks in South Africa this way. Such a cool experience!
Hanging Out in Soweto
Making New Friends
Meeting The People
One of the cool things about South Africa is its diversity. The massive city of Johannesburg is a great place to experience this and meet the different types of people that call this country home. I loved visiting the township of Soweto and learning about the vibrant & important history here.
Meeting local residents and admiring an area’s unique art and culture. Or gathering for a traditional Brai dinner in the rural coastal town of St. Lucia with new friends. Learning about a way of life that’s different from my own.
Hiking Above the Table Cloth
Cape Town Far Below
Climbing Table Mountain
Table Mountain is Cape Town’s most prominent landmark. A huge flat block of sandstone that rises 3500 feet into the air. Table mountain is a national park and a wonderful place to go hiking with over 350 paths to the summit.
Most people take the cable car up but hiking is far more rewarding. The weather changes constantly though, so hiking is difficult sometimes. You could luck out with clear skies and great views or maybe climb into the infamous “table cloth”, a blanket of clouds that often covers the mountain.
Best Feeling in the World
Surfing at Jeffreys Bay
Surfing The Coast
South Africa has some of the best surf conditions in the world. A popular adventure is renting a car and driving up the coast from Cape Town to Durban stopping at different surf spots along the way.
I spent a month honing my surfing skills in places like Muizenberg & Jeffreys Bay. The water can be cold, but the waves & lack of crowds are worth it. Yes, I realize I just told you how awesome the sharks are, but don’t worry, they prefer eating seals.
Kayaking with Crocodiles
Hippos are FAST!
Kayaking With Hippos & Crocs
The St. Lucia estuary is filled with some of Africa’s most dangerous animals. Paddling kayaks past them on a wetlands safari was super fun. The iSimangaliso Wetland Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, renowned for its diverse wildlife and swamp forests.
The area is home to giant crocodiles, hippos, and even bull sharks. Did you know that hippos are the most dangerous animal in Africa? You’d never suspect it at first glance. They seem fat & slow, but are surprisingly fast & aggressive.
Rafting the Orange River
Floating Through the Desert
Rafting In The Desert
Home to the indigenous Nama people, the rocky dry landscape surrounding the Orange River is a mix of red, brown, and orange hues — except for the banks, where patches of green vegetation are able to thrive.
The Northern Cape is a huge area with a lot to see and do — and it’s one of the least visited parts of South Africa. Rafting down this winding river in the middle of a desert and finishing the night with a Brai BBQ has been one of my highlights.
Traditional Sangoma Healer
Talking To Spirits
While visiting Khula township in South Africa, I was invited to chat with my dead ancestors with a local Sangoma medicine woman. She communicates with people’s ancestral spirits to share advice and cure ailments.
Sitting down in her sacred healing hut, she gave me details about my future based on what they told her. It’s an ancient profession that’s been practiced for hundreds of years here. The verdict? I’m a very lucky guy. Oh, and my ancestors want me to throw a BBQ for them!
Hot Air Balloon Safari
Fire in the Hole!
Hot Air Balloon Rides
The beautiful Magalies River Valley fully revealed itself as we rose into the sky with the sunrise in a hot air balloon. It’s only an hour North West of Johannesburg, the capital of South Africa.
Once you realize you’re in the air, profound silence is the first thing you notice. Between occasional blasts of fire from the burner, there is no sound. No propeller, no engine, just the birds. Yet soon we are hovering half a mile above the ground, traveling slowly with the wind.
Win A Trip To Africa!
Pack Your Bags!
South Africa is just one of the cool African countries covered by KLM Airlines.
Another is Tanzania — and they are giving one lucky winner two flights from one of KLM’s American gateway cities to Kilimanjaro, Tanzania!
The winner also receives a six-day, five-night luxury safari for two from Aselia Africa! Talk about a sweet prize. I really hope you win it!
There are glory muscles and there are real muscles. Biceps? Glory muscles. Quads? Real muscles. Pecs? Glory muscles. Your entire core? Real muscles. Glory muscles get the attention, but real muscles do all the work. So, what happens when you sit in a chair at work all day, then go to gym and work on your glory muscles while ignoring anything that doesn’t immediately show up once you throw on a tank top or go shirtless at the beach? You overdevelop some muscles (and a lot of the time, very useless ones), create imbalances in your body, and become the man who can bicep curl 50s but can’t do 10 lunges without tipping over or hurting yourself. Well, we’re here to make sure you don’t become that guy by giving you five exercises to strengthen the weakest muscle in your body, your glutes, courtesy of Paisley Meekin (BA in Nutrition, CPT), owner, lead trainer, and cycling instructor at Honest Training.
1. Straight Leg Single Leg Deadlift
Stand on one leg with the opposite leg raised off the ground. Using your hip as a hinge, bring your trunk parallel to the floor to make a 90 degree angle. Make sure your spine stays straight, avoiding the hunchback, and that your standing leg is straight with a very slight bend in the knee. As you do the move, think about driving your hips back as you bend over, then forward as you return to the starting position. Also, remember to squeeze your glutes. This exercise is effective because it isolates the posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings, lower back), an area where most people are quite weak, Meekin says. To add intensity to the move and incorporate core and balance components, hold the weight in the hand opposite the leg on the ground.
2. Cross Over Lunge/Speed Skater Lunge
Start with your feet hip distance apart. Next, lunge back and behind, crossing the midline of your body with the back leg and lower down by bending your front knee. Then, drive up through your heel to the starting position. Alternate legs or do 10-20 reps on one leg, then 10-20 reps on the other. This move is great because while it focuses on the gluteus medius (the side of your butt), it also uses your core, balance, hamstrings, quads, etc. Again, remember to move from your hips, not your knees.
3. Barbell Back Squats
Getting into this position can be tricky for the first few times, so watch the video above before trying this one. Also, you do not need to go as low as the man in the video when you are first starting out. Once you have the barbell on your shoulder/back, place your feet at about shoulder width apart, with your toes pointing straight out, or if it’s more comfortable, a bit outwards like in the video above. Next, squat down while keeping your spine straight, your core and glutes engaged, and your chest up. Avoid the hunchback! As you get stronger and the motion becomes more fluid, start squatting lower than 90 degrees to really target the glutes, says Meekin.
4. Forward Lunge and Reach
“This is one of those movements that happens in real life so it’s important to learn,” explains Meekin. “It’s taking a big step up a hill on a hike, it’s lunging for a ball playing softball.” Start with your feet hip distance apart and lunge forward with one leg. The back leg can bend so the knee just kisses the ground, or it can stay off the ground like in the video above. Tap the floor with one or, preferably, both hands, then drive through the heel of the front foot to push yourself back up into the starting position. Alternate legs or do 10-20 reps on one leg, then switch to the other. To intensify, add weights but still perform the forward tap.
5. Hip Extensions
Lying on your back, bend your knees so that your fingertips can reach your heels. Next, push your lower back off the floor while driving through your heels to lift your hips as well. Hold for a three second count, then lower back down but do not let your butt hit the ground until you have done as many reps as possible. To intensify, try the same move with one leg lifted off the ground. This move is great for people rehabbing from injury, as it is low-impact but still isolates and works your glutes effectively. Remember to drive through your heels and squeeze your butt as you go up and hold the pose, before slowly lowering yourself back down.