Latest

25 Important Travel Safety Tips Everyone Should Know

Learn to How to Travel Safer

Travel Safety Tips to Keep You Safe

Travel Tips

After traveling the world for the past 7 years, I’ve learned a lot about staying safe – sometimes the hard way. Here are my best travel safety tips for avoiding trouble on your next trip.

Nothing ruins an adventure quicker than getting scammed or robbed!

In Panama, some women distracted me while my laptop was stolen from my backpack. I figured it was gone forever, until incredibly, this happened 3 months later. I got lucky.

In Mexico, a pickpocket grabbed my iPhone as I was walking. I managed to get that back too, chasing the thief down the road screaming like a maniac and brandishing a bottle of tequila!

You don’t even need to travel internationally to have bad stuff happen. In Miami, my camera was stolen from the beach when I wasn’t paying attention.

After seven years of almost constant travel around the world, I’ve grown accustomed to deceitful taxi drivers, two-faced tour guides, insincere offers of help, and the occasional robbery or scam.

For the most part, the world is a pretty safe place for travelers. I don’t want to scare you too much! However it’s wise to be prepared for the worst.

With that in mind, here are my best travel safety tips to help minimize your chances of something bad happening to you or your belongings during your travels.

Useful Travel Safety Tips

Avoid Common Scams to Be Safe

Research Local Scams

1. Learn Common Travel Scams

Wherever you go in the world, you’ll always find people ready to trick you out of your hard-earned cash. If you’re lucky, they’ll be kinda obvious – but there are plenty of craftier, professional con-artists out there too.

Everyone thinks they’re too smart to be scammed — but it happens.

Here are some of the most common travel scams I’ve come across. I recommend you learn them all – then fire up the Google and do even more in-depth research into the worst scams happening at your specific destination.

For example, the milk scam in Cuba. Broken taxi meters in Costa Rica. Or the ring scam in Paris. Every country has its own special ones to watch out for!

Forewarned is forearmed, and this research can help defend you from being tricked out of hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars (while suffering the kind of frustration and misery that ruins a dream trip).

2. Write Down Emergency Info

If disaster strikes, you might not have time to search for numbers for local police or ambulance services, or directions to the nearest embassy for your country. You may also be too stressed and panicky to think straight.

Don’t put yourself in that position. Instead, record that information in advance, and create an “Emergency Plan” for you to follow if things go badly. Save it on your phone somewhere (I use the Evernote App).

I also recommend you write it down on a small card or sheet of paper, get it laminated (easily done at your local office supply store) to protect it from moisture, and keep it in your wallet/purse.

That way, if something goes wrong out there, you’ll always know exactly who to call and where to go for help.

3. Check The State Department Website

The U.S. Department of State has a page for every country in the world, where it lists all known difficulties and current threats to the safety of visitors. You can find it here.

However, a big caveat for this one: it’s the State Department’s job to warn you about everything that could go wrong, which is sometimes different to what is likely to go wrong.

This means their advice is generally on the hyper-cautious side. Factor that in, while you dig up more on-the-ground information.

But researching travel warnings will give you a general idea of what’s going on in the country you’re visiting, and specific problem areas you may want to avoid.

For example, just because certain parts of Thailand or Mexico have problems, doesn’t mean you should completely avoid those countries.

Lock Up Your Travel Gear

Lock Up Expensive Stuff

4: Lock Up Your Valuables

Putting aside the fact that traveling with anything super valuable is usually a bad idea, there will always be something you absolutely cannot afford to have stolen. I travel with a lot of expensive camera gear for example.

Your job is to minimize the easy opportunities for theft.

Firstly, know that most bags aren’t very secure. It’s easy to feel that a zipped, even locked bag is a sufficient deterrent to any thief, and doze off next to it. Waking up to find someone’s slashed a hole in the side!

Unless it’s a slash-proof backpack, the material can be cut or torn by anyone determined enough. Many zippers can be forced open with sharp objects like a writing pen.

Always be aware of your valuables, and try to keep an eye on them in such a way that it would be impossible for someone to steal without you knowing. I’ll use my backpack as a pillow on train/bus routes that have a reputation for theft, and will sometimes lock it to a seat using a thin cable like this.

Secondly, call your accommodation to ask about secure storage options like a room safe, lockers, or a locked storage area. Carry your own locker padlock when staying at backpacking hostels.

5: Get Travel Insurance

You never think you need it, until you do. If you’re really worried about the safety of yourself and your gear while you travel, you can almost completely relax if you have some good insurance.

People ask me all the time if I’m worried about traveling with an expensive computer and camera. I was, when I didn’t have insurance for them. Now that I do, I’m not worried. If stuff gets stolen, it will get replaced.

Everyone should carry some kind of health and property insurance when traveling. Why? Because shit happens. Whether you think it will or not. It doesn’t matter how careful you think you are.

My recommendation is World Nomads for short-term travel insurance (less than 6 months). They make it super easy to buy online. Just be aware that they have “per item” limits on coverage of $ 500. So it’s not going to cover a whole $ 3000 camera.

If you’re going to be traveling for a long time, there are good long-term options like a mixture of expat health insurance from IMG Global and photography/computer insurance from TCP Photography Insurance.

READ MORE: Is Travel Insurance Worth It?

Travel Safety Tips Asking Locals

Hanging Out in Palestine

6: Ask Locals For Advice

If you really want to know which neighborhoods are safe and which might be sketchy, ask a local resident of the area.

Most locals are friendly, and will warn you about straying into dangerous areas. On the other hand, if a stranger offers up advice, it’s also wise to get a second opinion – just in case they don’t really know what they’re talking about but simply wanted to help (or worse, are trying to scam you).

Taxi drivers can be hit or miss in this regard. Some can be excellent sources for good information, others are miserable assholes who might actually lead you into trouble.

I’ve found that hostel or hotel front desk workers are generally pretty good sources for local advice.

Don’t be afraid to ask them which parts of the city to avoid, how much taxi fares should cost, and where to find a great place to eat!

7: Register With Your Embassy

The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, from the U.S. Department of State, is designed to make a destination’s local embassy aware of your arrival and keep you constantly updated with the latest safety information.

It’s free, it’s available for all U.S. citizens and nationals living abroad, and it’s a great way to get reliable, up to date safety information as you travel, along with an extra level of security in case of emergencies.

Canada has it’s own version, called Registration Of Canadians Abroad.

That way if an emergency happens, like a natural disaster or terrorist attack, the local embassy can get a hold of you quickly to share important information or help with evacuation.

Share Plans with Family

Mom, I’m Camping on a Volcano…

8: Email Your Itinerary To Friends/Family

Once you’ve worked out where you’re going and when, make sure someone else knows too.

The best way is to email the full itinerary to a few family members (and double-check with them that they received it – don’t just assume it landed in their Inbox, make sure it did). Then, if you can, check in from time to time.

Before I travel anywhere, I make sure my parents know where I’m going, what my general plans are, and when I should be back.

That way, if they don’t hear from me for a few days after I’m supposed to return, they can help notify the proper local authorities, the embassy, etc.

9: Don’t Share Too Much With Strangers

If you’re ever tempted to make your itinerary more public, say in a Facebook post, just remember it can be a roadmap of your movements – just the sort of thing someone with ill-intentions would love to know.

I also don’t recommend sharing too many details about your travel plans or accommodation details with people you’ve just met. For example, don’t tell a local shop owner or street tout where you’re staying when asked.

If someone does ask, rather than be rude, you can be vague about an area of town rather than the name of your hotel. Or lie and name a hotel you’re not actually staying at.

Sometimes people will ask if it’s your first time visiting their country or city. If you don’t trust them yet, you can pretend it isn’t your first trip. Because sharing that you’re new might also signal you’re a good target for scams.

When feeling vulnerable in a strange place, little white lies won’t hurt.

Conservative Clothing for Travel

Anna Trying the Traditional Omani Abaya

10: Be Aware Of Your Clothing

When it comes to travel, the wrong clothes scream “TOURIST” and make you a target for scammers, thieves and worse. The less obviously a visitor you look, the less attention you’ll get from the wrong kind of people.

Wearing the right clothes is a sign of respect. Many Islamic countries have specific dress code guidelines that are often strictly enforced – and other destinations have laws that may catch you out (for example, walking topless through the streets of Barcelona is illegal for both sexes).

However, it’s possible to stay within the law and still offend locals with what you’re wearing – generating a lot of hostility towards you in the process. Ignoring local customs can come across as both arrogant and ignorant.

In conservative countries, it’s just safer to dress more conservatively yourself. Obviously as a foreigner you’re still going to stand out a bit, but much less than those who ignore the local customs.

Start by checking out Wikipedia’s general advice on clothing laws by country – and then narrow down your research until you find someone giving advice you can trust, ideally a resident or expat turned local.

11: Splurge On Extra Safety

If you’re traveling as a budget backpacker, like I was, it can be tempting to save as much money as possible with the cheapest accommodation, the cheapest flights, the cheapest activities.

But it’s important to know that this isn’t always the safest way to travel.

Ultra cheap backpacker hostels aren’t always the safest places. I’ve stayed in some without locks on the doors, that felt like make-shift homeless shelters for drug addicts and other seedy people.

Budget flights can often arrive in the middle of the night — usually not the best time to be hailing down a cab in a dangerous city and hoping the driver doesn’t abduct you.

Sometimes it’s worth the extra few bucks to splurge on a slightly better hostel, a more convenient flight, a taxi home from the bar, or a tour operator with a strong safety record.

12: Stay “Tethered” To Your Bag

Most quick snatch-and-run type robberies happen because the thief can do it easily, and has time to get away. Therefore, anything that slows them down will help prevent it in the first place.

If you can keep your bag tethered to something immovable at all times, and do so in a really obvious way, thieves will consider it way too risky a job – and leave you alone.

A simple and effective method is to use a carabiner clip. Even a regular strap around your leg or chair.

It doesn’t need to be secured with a steel cable and padlock all the time, just attached to something that will make a snatch-and-run attempt too difficult.

Travel Safety Self Defense

Learning to Box in Johannesburg

13: Learn Basic Self-Defense

You don’t need black-belt skills, but joining a few self defense classes is a worthwhile investment in your personal safety. Some good street-effective styles to consider are Krav Maga or Muay Thai.

Next, learn WHEN to apply it. Just because you can kick someone’s ass, doesn’t mean you should in all situations. In the words of author Sam Harris:

“Do whatever you can to avoid a physical confrontation, but the moment avoidance fails, attack explosively for the purposes of escape.”

A great way to neutralize a threat is to get yourself as far away as physically possible. If someone with a gun or knife just wants your phone, give it to them, run away, and live another day.

Use force only when your life is threatened & there are absolutely no other options available.

If you want an extra level of personal security, pick up a tactical pen (and learn how to use it). I often carry one, and it doesn’t set off any alarms when going through customs.

14: Project Situational Awareness

Did you know that a majority of human communication is based on non-verbal body language? This projection of confidence can prevent you from becoming a target.

Keep your head up, stay alert, and aware of you’re surroundings. When you’re confident, potential attackers can sense it through your body language and eye contact.

Most will choose to move on and find an easier victim to attack.

In many places, making direct eye contact with potential threats can help ward off an attack, ensuring they notice you see them and what they may be planning. Yet in other parts of the world, too much eye contact might invite trouble…

Generally you should stay aware of who is around you, walk with a purpose, and don’t look worried, lost, or scared (even if you feel that way) — but I’d also avoid staring contests with sketchy looking strangers.

Travel Safety with Your Money

Protecting Your Money

15: Tell Your Bank Where You’re Going

Imagine the agony of doing absolutely everything right and keeping yourself perfectly safe and secure – only to have your trip ruined because your bank thinks you’re the thief, and locks down all your cards.

If this happens and you’re lucky, you’ll be asked security questions to determine your identity. The rest of the time, you’ll get a notification from the bank’s fraud detection team that irregular activity has been recorded on your card, and they’ve put a hold on all transactions until the situation is resolved – which might take days.

The solution is simple. Most online banking services have a facility for letting the bank or credit card provider know about your upcoming travels. Make sure you use it, shortly before leaving – and keep them in the loop if your travel plans change.

I also recommend using your debit card at the airport ATM machine as soon as you arrive in a new country, as this also helps let the bank know you’re traveling.

READ MORE: Travel Banking Tips & Advice

16: Hide Emergency Cash

While it’s good to do everything you can to prevent worst case scenarios – it’s equally smart to assume it’ll happen and plan ahead for it. This is the thinking behind having an emergency stash of funds, stored in a safe place.

Some of my favorite hiding places include:

  • Secret pocket sewn into your pants
  • Behind a patch on your backpack
  • Rolled into an empty chapstick container
  • Inside a hidden compartment (like this hair-brush or belt pouch)

How much emergency cash? This will be personal preference, but I usually prefer $ 200 spread out in 2 different places. Some hidden on me, some hidden in my bag. A hidden backup credit card is wise too.

Now if things got really dire, and everything’s gone, what then? You call up a friend or family member, and ask them to send you the emergency money you left with them before you went traveling, via a Western Union or Moneygram transfer.

Hopefully it will never come to that. But these things do happen occasionally, and it’s better to practice safe travel techniques than to remain ignorant about the possibility.

Food Travel Safety Tips

Staying Safe While You Eat

17: Food & Water Safety

After traveling extensively the last 7 years, to over 50 countries, eating all kinds of weird stuff, I’ve only had food poisoning a couple of times.

Don’t be scared of the food when you travel! In fact, eating strange new foods can be a highlight for many people on their adventures around the world.

My food-obsessed friend Jodi recommends the following tips:

  • Eat at popular places with long lines
  • Try to watch how your food is prepared
  • Pack translation cards to express your allergies
  • Fully cooked food is always the safest
  • Only eat peel-able fruit to avoid bacteria

I also recommend getting a filtered water bottle. In many modern cities around the world the water is safe to drink, but outside of those places it often isn’t.

Sure, you could keep buying bottled water everywhere you go, but that plastic waste is a huge environmental problem. Why not get one sturdy filtered bottle, and re-use it for years?

It pays for itself and saves the environment at the same time!

18: Use ATMs Wisely

You may have been told to cover your hand when keying in your PIN number at an ATM. That’s good advice worth following, both for others looking over your shoulder, as well as hidden cameras trying to record your pin.

Always take a close look at ATM machines before you use them. Pull on the card reader a bit. Does it have any questionable signs of tampering? If so, go into the bank and get someone to come out and check it (and then use another machine, regardless of what happens).

If an ATM machine appears to have eaten your card, run a finger along the card slot to see if you feel anything protruding. The “Lebanese Loop” is a trick where a thin plastic sleeve captures your card (preventing the machine from reading it) – then as soon as you walk away, a thief yanks it out and runs off with your card.

Another overlooked factor is where other people are when you’re at the machine. Can someone peer over your shoulder? Are they close enough they could grab the cash and run off?

If so, use another ATM elsewhere. Better safe than sorry! Never let anyone “help” you with your transaction either.

19: Stop Using Your Back Pocket

It’s the first place any pickpocket will check – and short of putting a loaded mousetrap in there (not recommended if you forget and sit down), the best way to deal with the dangers of having a back pocket is to never use it…

And if putting money in the back pocket of your pants is a habit you can’t seem to break, grab some needle and thread and sew it shut!

Your front pockets are a lot harder to steal from without being noticed.

If you’re REALLY worried, or plan to travel to a city where pickpockets run rampant, you can wear a money belt. I’m not a fan, but I know many who use them for peace of mind.

Travel Safety Tips & Advice

Travel with Friends

20: Travel In Numbers

The more people around you, the more eyeballs are on your valuables – and the more legs are available for running after thieves.

A group is also a much more intimidating physical presence, which helps ward off predators of all kinds. It will help to keep you safer than trying to go it alone in a foreign country.

If you’re traveling solo, consider making some new friends and go exploring together.

Staying at backpacker hostels is an excellent way to make some new friends. Often you’ll find other solo travelers there, who may want to do some of the same activities you want to.

However, I’d also like to highlight the importance of not trusting new people TOO quickly. There are some professional scammers who use the backpacker trail to take advantage of other travelers looking for a friend.

Don’t leave your expensive or important stuff with someone you just met. No matter how friendly they seem.

21: Pack A First Aid Kit

Injuries can happen when you travel abroad, not matter how careful you are. That’s why traveling with a basic first aid kit is always a good idea.

You don’t need to go crazy and bring your own needles and scalpels, but stocking the basics to treat cuts, sprains, stomach issues, and burns can help if you or people around you may need them.

I prefer a basic waterproof adventure first aid kit with a few additions of my own:

  • Small tube of sunscreen
  • Re-hydration salts
  • Anti-histamine tablets
  • Small pair of scissors
  • Extra pain pills (Ibuprofen)
  • Emergency space blanket
  • Small tube of petroleum jelly (helps prevent blisters)
Stay Sober for Travel Safety

Enjoying Happy Hour in Madrid!

22: Stay (Relatively) Sober

Getting too drunk or high when you travel is almost always unacceptably risky. If you’re wasted, you’re not present, and anything could be happening around you (or to you).

I’m not saying don’t enjoy yourself. Hell I have plenty over the years! Just do it responsibly, stay hyper-aware of how much you’re consuming, keep hydrated & fed, and make sure you don’t lose control of the situation.

Harder drugs are especially risky — it’s a good way to get in trouble with the police, who may not be as forgiving (or even law-abiding) as authorities back home. Not to mention having to deal with potentially nefarious people who are providing those drugs — and their own alternative motives.

On a similar note, if you’re partial to late nights out partying until pre-dawn hours, be careful assuming that unfamiliar destinations will be as forgiving as back home.

Many generally safe destinations (especially ones filled with tourists) become far less secure late at night – and if you’re stumbling around intoxicated, you’re far less aware of your surroundings – and a VERY easy target for all kinds of bad stuff.

23: Trust Your Instincts!

This one is easily overlooked – and incredibly important.

You are a walking surveillance network. Your body sees and hears more things than you could ever process into coherent thought. Let’s call it your “spidey sense” — the ability to sense danger.

Your body might be sensing signs of danger, before your brain is fully aware of it.

This is why gut feelings are always worth examining! If you’re feeling uneasy and you don’t know why, try not to write it off as irrational fear. Stop and pay closer attention to the situation. Can you figure out what the problem is?

It’s easy to dismiss your instincts as “silly”. Never treat them as such. Those gut feelings and intuition have kept humans safe for millions of years.

24: Travel Safety For Women vs. Men

All the travel safety tips above are equally important for both men and women. I don’t think the ability to travel safely should be focused on gender.

Unfortunately women are victims of violence everywhere, including here in the United States & Canada. Traveling doesn’t necessarily increase that threat, it simply changes the location.

Women worried about being assaulted or harassed might prefer to visit a local street bazaar or nightclub in a group rather than alone. Especially if it’s a common problem for the area.

I know some women who feel safer carrying a safety whistle and rubber door stop when they travel solo too.

However men also have specific safety concerns they need to watch out for, related to their egos. Like getting goaded into a physical fight that isn’t necessary. Or being scammed by a beautiful woman.

Travel safety is really about staying street smart, prepared for the unexpected, and minimizing your exposure to risky situations in a new and unfamiliar country.

Risk and Travel Safety

Trekking in Greenland

25: A Few Words About Risk…

If you want to travel, you cannot avoid risk. There is no way to be 100% safe from any threat, in any part of life. Risk is an integral part of adventure too.

This means when you hit the road, you’re bound to get scammed sooner or later, or find yourself in unexpectedly challenging circumstances. It happens to all of us.

Risk is unavoidable – but it can be managed, so you can stay safer.

How do most people hear about events in other countries? It’s usually through the news. This is a big problem, because the media is biased – but not the way politicians would like you to believe.

The media reports on unusual events (most often negative ones). Things get featured in the news because they rarely happen. That’s the definition of “newsworthy”.

If the news was truly representative of what’s happening in the world, 99.9% of each report would sound like: “Today in Namib-istan, absolutely nothing dangerous happened, and everyone had a perfectly normal day – yet again.”

The news media makes other countries feel a lot less safe than they really are. In fact, the world seems to be getting safer every decade, according to data collected by economist Max Roser and psychologist Steven Pinker.

This isn’t saying that bad things don’t happen. It’s saying they’re usually a misleading representation of what normally happens.

Don’t believe the hype. Generally speaking, it’s never been a safer time to travel! So get out there and go enjoy your trip. ★

Pin This!

25 Travel Safety Tips You Need To Know. More at ExpertVagabond.com

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

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Expert Vagabond

15 Photos That Will Make You Want To Visit Tanzania!

Tanzania Photography Guide

Travel Photography from Tanzania

Tanzania

Here’s a collection of my favorite photos from our safari trip in Tanzania. We managed to see all big five safari animals, hiked to a beautiful waterfall, and met with local tribes.

Last December Anna and I visited Tanzania for our honeymoon, heading out on safari with Soul Of Tanzania. We began our adventure from the town of Arusha, flying into the Serengeti in a small plane.

We then spent a week bumping around on red dusty roads in a Land Rover exploring Africa’s Serengeti National Park, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Lake Manyara, and Lake Eyasi.

During the course of the trip we managed to locate all “Big Five” safari animals, journey through the savannah, into green forests, an extinct volcanic crater, and along massive shallow lakes.

Tanzania’s wildlife and geography is as diverse as its people, and finally getting to visit the Serengeti itself was quite a treat, as it’s the world’s most famous National Park.

If you’ve ever dreamed about going on safari in Tanzania, these images should give you a glimpse of what the experience is like!

1: Lake Manyara Flamingos

Tanzania Safari Photos

Flamingos Take Flight Over Lake Manyara

Lake Manyara National Park lies on the edge of the Rift Valley, attracting thousands of pink flamingoes to its brackish waters. Surrounding the lake is a large grassy floodplain, and groundwater forests beyond that.

We stopped for lunch along some algae-streaked hot springs, with a boardwalk leading out over the lake. From there you could watch the huge flocks of flamingos stoop and graze in the water.

Occasionally, they’d all leap into the air and take flight together as a moving wall of pink and black feathers. It was quite a sight!

Did you know that flamingos are actually grey, and get their pink color from a diet of brine shrimp and blue-green algae? The alpha and beta carotenoids in the food they eat is what turns them pink.

2: Visiting The Maasai Mara

Tanzania Lake Manyara

Sokoine Shows Us Around His Village

There are about 800,000 Maasai Mara living in Tanzania, many around the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. I’d always wanted to visit the Maasai, so we stopped by the village of Endyoi Nasiyi as we left the Serengeti.

Maintaining a traditional pastoral lifestyle has become increasingly difficult for the Maasai. With their cattle grazing lands diminishing, they’ve become dependent on purchasing food like sorghum, rice, potatoes and cabbage.

Tourist visits help provide the tribe with money to make these purchases. Each village (boma) has a few college-educated & English speaking members like Sokoine, who taught us about his culture.

These village trips can feel a little awkward, like everyone is putting on a show. And they are a bit. However it’s one of the only ways the Maasai can earn money while maintaining their traditional lifestyle.

3: Materuni Waterfall

Tanzania Waterfall Photo

Hiking to Materuni Waterfall

Outside the town of Moshi, along the slopes of Kilimanjaro, there’s a beautiful and imposing 150 meter high waterfall called Materuni located deep in the lush jungle.

Locals lead hikes to this magical place, usually in combination with a coffee tour. The waterfall hike takes about an hour. On the way we saw brightly colored chameleons and butterflies.

You can swim under these powerful falls — however be warned, the water is very cold! I jumped right in though, never one to turn down a refreshing wild-swim. It makes you feel alive!

After returning from Materuni waterfall, we learned how to make coffee from scratch with a group of Chagga boys, one of Tanzania’s largest ethnic groups.

We helped separate the husk from dried beans, roasted them on an open fire, and finally grinding into powder for brewing — all while singing to keep up a good rhythm. Probably the freshest cup of coffee I’ve ever tasted!

4: Kings Of Ngorongoro

Lions in Tanzania

Lions in Ngorongoro

One of the best places to see wildlife in Tanzania, aside from the Serengeti, is the Ngorongoro Crater. The crater is the result of a large volcano that exploded and collapsed into itself about two million years ago.

High crater walls protect a large variety of wildlife at the bottom, including a population of 70+ lions. Tanzania is actually home to about one third of the world’s remaining lions.

We got lucky stumbling onto a pride of 8 East African lions hanging out beside the road! We watched them from the top of our Land Rover — lounging in the sun, playing in the grass like big house cats.

Surprisingly a group of antelope was only 200 feet away, but it seemed these lions weren’t hungry. These were only a few of the lions we saw while visiting Tanzania, but were the closest.

5: Elephant Pool Party!

Four Seasons Pool Elephants

Elephants at the Four Seasons Pool

Because Anna and I were celebrating our honeymoon in Tanzania, we decided to stay in some nicer hotels. The one we were most looking forward to was The Four Seasons Serengeti. Why?

Well, apart from being a luxury safari lodge in the middle of the world’s most famous national park, the complex itself is almost always surrounded by animals!

You’ll see all kinds of wildlife during their game drives, but you might also spot waterbuck, monkeys, antelope, elephants, and even the occasional leopard while walking the property’s elevated walkways.

There’s a popular watering hole right beside the pool, which often attracts large groups of elephants passing by for a drink. Definitely one of the most unique hotel experiences we’ve ever had!

6: Africa’s Miniature Deer

Serengeti Tanzania Dik Dik

A Cute Pair of Dik Diks

Standing just over a foot tall, the Dik Dik might just be the cutest safari animal you’ll find in Africa — and probably has the funniest name too. These tiny antelope have long noses and big doe-eyes.

They travel in pairs instead of herds, and dik-diks mate for life. The males may have horns, but the females are larger and the ones in control of the relationship.

These guys are super fast! It was fun watching them dart off as our safari vehicle drove by. Dik-diks are generally shy, hiding from others most of the time.

When startled, they take off in a series of zigzag leaps calling “zik-zik”, hence their funny name. They also mark territory using “tears” that come from that black spot in the corner of their eyes.

7: Lake Eyasi Sunset

Ngorongoro Crater Tanzania

Sunset over Tanzania’s Lake Eyasi

We spent a night along the shores of Lake Eyasi, a large salt lake in the fertile Great Rift Valley. Staying at Kisima Ngeda Tent Camp, it was possible to hike up to the cliffs overlooking the lake for a nice view of the region.

The landscape around Lake Eyasi feels very different than the hot, dry grasslands we’ve been traveling through up until that point. It’s wet and tropical, with large palm trees full of squawking birds.

Animal life isn’t as dense here, other than birds, but the reason most people visit is to meet with the local Hadza and Datoga tribes, curious to see their ancient hunting and blacksmithing abilities in person.

I climbed up to a high viewpoint in order to watch the sunset over the mostly-dry lake. During the wet season, it can actually get pretty deep and attracts groups of wading hippos cooling off in the salty water.

8: Hunting With The Hadzabe

Tanzania Hadzabe Tribe

Hadzabe Village near Lake Eyasi

The Hadza bushmen are one of the last true hunter-gatherer tribes left in the world. About 800 of them live semi-nomadically in the dry woodlands of remote Lake Eyasi — surviving on wild game, berries, and root vegetables.

We got up early one morning to visit a Hadza encampment, learn a little about their culture, and tagged along as they went hunting for small birds and antelope using hand-made bows and poison-tipped arrows.

The story of the Hadza is fascinating but sad. Basically their land has slowly been stripped away from them by commercial agriculture, the government, and wealthy Arab wildlife trophy hunters.

Their traditional way of life, which hadn’t changed much in thousands of years, is under threat. Like the Maasai, some have turned to tourism to support their families with limited other options available. Efforts to settle them in more modern farming communities have largely failed.

9: Dirty, Dirty Hippopotami

Hippos Fighting Tanzania

Africa’s Most Dangerous Animal

Anna’s favorite African animal is the hippo, so there was no way we were going to miss them on this trip! Luckily she got her fill of these massive dirty water pigs in the Serengeti and at Lake Manyara.

Ok, maybe they aren’t technically pigs. But they do have a habit of belching, snorting, and loudly shooting explosive diarrhea out their backsides… not MY favorite animal.

The hippopotamus is also Africa’s most dangerous animal, if you can believe that. They kill an estimated 500 people every year. They are extremely territorial, and much faster than they look!

I went kayaking with them in South Africa once, and it was a little unnerving to be so close. While it’s fun to watch them play in the water and splatter poo everywhere, you should always stay aware of your surroundings.

10: Leopards Of Tanzania

Tanzania Leopard Manyara

Baby Leopard Making Faces

The one animal I was most looking forward to seeing in Tanzania on safari was the leopard. Locating them can be a bit tricky sometimes, which is why it’s known as Africa’s most elusive big cat.

Luckily we were traveling through the Serengeti’s Seronera River Valley, one of the best places to find them in the wild. We eventually witnessed four different individuals perched in yellow-barked acacia trees.

However my favorite sighting was at Lake Manyara National Park while driving down one of the bumpy dirt roads. A baby leopard suddenly appeared just on the edge of the brush, about 50 feet away.

The cat briefly hesitated as we approached, then disappeared back into the trees. But not before I snapped the photo above. We continued searching for his mom, but never found her.

11: The Datoga Tribe

Tanzania Datoga People

Narajah’s Beautiful Jewelry & Tattoos

Also living within the Rift Valley is the Datoga people. Originating from the Ethiopian highlands 3000 years ago, this ancient tribe moved South into what’s now Kenya and Tanzania.

The Datoga are expert blacksmiths — forging arrowheads, bracelets, and knives out of aluminum and brass over open fires. They trade these products with their Hadza neighbors in exchange for meat, honey, and animal hides.

We stopped in to visit with Narajah (pictured above) and learn a little bit more about her family and culture. Narajah is just one of her husband’s 7 wives. Each has her own house for raising their children.

Apparently Narajah’s husband gave her 10 cows as a marriage gift. When she asked Anna how many cows I offered, she wasn’t very impressed to learn all she got was a cat! Apparently I’m cheap…

A common body modification among women in the tribe is the tatooing of circular patterns around the eyes. It helps identify who’s part of a certain family and, to the Datoga ethnic group in general.

12: Magic Baobab Trees

Tanzania Datoga People

Massive Baobab Tree

Finally! My first Baobab tree. I’d heard of these ancient giants for years, and didn’t even realize any grew in Tanzania. I thought the only place you could find them was Madagascar…

There are actually 8 species of baobab around the world. The largest is Adansonia digitata, which grows up to 30m tall in Tanzania. I think baobabs have to be the most iconic trees in Africa.

The trees vary in size depending on the season, as they can hold up to 100,000 liters of water within their trunks.

Hollowed out trunks of the baobab trees are often used as shelter by Hadza Bushmen, especially when it rains. Some trees can accommodate up to 30 people inside!

13: Angry Blue Monkeys

Blue Monkey Lake Manyara

Blue Monkey Screaming in the Trees

Blue monkeys are not really blue, more of an olive or grey color. They live largely in the forest canopy, eating fruits, figs, insects, leaves, twigs, and flowers.

We came across a group in the trees on the edges of Lake Manyara National Park, calling out to each other. Some families can be composed of up to 40 individuals, mostly female, with one male leader of the group.

Other monkeys we saw on safari in Tanzania include vervet monkeys, baboons, and the black-and-white colobus. Look at those teeth! I wouldn’t want to get too close — even if they do prefer eating fruit.

14: Buffalo VS. Land Rover

Cape Buffalo Tanzania Photos

Buffalo Encounter at Lake Manyara

I love this shot at Lake Manyara. An old Cape Buffalo stands off against a Land Rover, each waiting for the other to make a move.

Buffalo are very successful in Africa because they aren’t picky eaters. We saw hundreds of them during a week of safari drives through Tanzania. Munching away at the grasses, or rolling around in the mud.

However they can become aggressive towards vehicles, charging them if they feel threatened. They have also been known to gore hunters after being wounded.

Buffalo herds stick together, and when attacked by predators, will sometimes return to save one of their own. They’re not afraid of fighting lions either, or killing lion cubs as a preventative measure!

15: Endangered Black Rhino

Black Rhino Tanzania

Lone Black Rhino in the Distance

The last of the big five animals we wanted to see in Tanzania was found in Ngorongoro Crater. The black rhinoceros is critically endangered, with only about 5500 left in the world.

Ngorongoro is home to about 26 of them, and because they are on top of everyone’s list to see, safari guides coordinate with each other over radio for news of recent sightings.

While we weren’t able to get very close (vehicles in the crater aren’t allowed to drive off-road), we did manage to spot a single rhino walking in the distance.

The poaching these animals for their horns is still a problem, however it’s been reduced over the past few years due to improved conservation efforts & security.

Tanzania Safari Travel Tips

The safari tour we booked was through Soul Of Tanzania. We had an amazing time! The jeeps are very comfortable with big windows, wifi, and plugs to charge your electronics.

Our guide Huruma was very friendly, knowledgeable, stopped frequently for photos, and was plenty cautious with the animals.

WHEN TO GO – Tanzania’s primary rainy season is during March, April and May. The famous Great Migration happens during the dry season, between July and early October. We were there in December, during the “mini” wet season. No matter when you go, you’ll see tons of animals.

COSTS – Going on safari in Tanzania isn’t cheap, however there are options for different budgets. National Park fees alone can cost $ 70 a day. While self-driving is technically possible, it’s incredibly complex to arrange, and often just expensive as a tour.

BUGS – Beware the Tsetse flies, they suck! Literally. These painful and annoying flies are attracted to dark colors – especially blue and black. This is the reason everyone on safari wears white or tan clothing!

PHOTOGRAPHY – If there’s one place where you’ll want to splurge on a zoom camera lens, it’s on safari in Africa. I’d recommend something at least 200mm, but 400mm is even better. I rented a huge 400mm lens from LensRentals.com (and highly recommend them). ★

Pin This!

15 Photos That Will Make You Want To Visit Tanzania. More at ExpertVagabond.com

Any questions about going on safari in Tanzania? Are you planning a trip? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Soul Of Tanzania

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Expert Vagabond

How To Survive Cold Weather Like A Polar Explorer

Winter Survival Tips

Polar Training on Lake Winnipeg

Manitoba, Canada

It’s -16 degrees fahrenheit outside, and we’re pitching tents on a thick layer of hardened ice, preparing for a night of extreme cold weather conditions. Welcome to polar expedition training!

Twelve strangers from around the world traveled to Manitoba, Canada to spend a week camping and skiing across Lake Winnipeg, simulating the cold weather conditions of an expedition to the North Pole.

Leading our group is professional polar explorer and arctic guide Eric Larsen. Eric is no stranger to traveling in extreme winter conditions. He’s spent the past 20 years visiting some of the coldest places on earth.

In fact, he’s the only person to have trekked overland to the North Pole, the South Pole, and summited Mount Everest, unsupported, all in a single year!

Eric runs a Level 1 Polar Training Course in Canada to help prepare other adventurers for the unique challenges of camping and trekking in cold weather situations.

This year, Citizen Watches invited me to tag along and document the training, while also sharing some winter camping survival tips with you.

Polar Cold Weather Training

Ready to Tackle the Cold!

Eric Larsen Class

Eric Larsen’s Polar Training Class

Cold Weather Survival Tips

Who in their right mind would want to go hiking and camping in the ice and snow? Not many. However winter travel gives hardcore wilderness-lovers the challenge they crave, and a completely different outdoor experience.

Staying safe in these freezing conditions requires a bit more planning, and a unique set of survival skills.

If you do it right, like Eric does, you shouldn’t actually feel cold — the thing preventing most of us from enjoying winter adventures in the first place.

Being prepared for cold weather is the difference between a great trip, and a miserable one.

While I love a good winter hiking trip, I don’t have tons of winter camping expereince. So I was eager to learn how Eric stays warm on his epic long-distance polar adventures in the middle of nowhere.

Winter Survival Tips

Trekking Across the Ice

Layering Is Critical

What does layering mean? Basically, regulating your body’s temperature by adding or removing different layers of clothing.

Because while you don’t want to get cold, you also want to prevent getting so hot that you start sweating. Sweat sucks heat away from the body, eventually making you colder.

So staying warm requires a fine balancing act. This is why wearing multiple layers helps, as you can add or remove layers depending on your level of activity.

Eric recommends a 3-4 layer system, starting with a synthetic moisture-wicking base layer to draw sweat away from your body.

Next up is a warm insulating layer, preferably fleece. Now if it’s REALLY cold, you may want to add a 2nd, thicker base layer under the fleece.

Finally, a windproof, waterproof, and breathable shell jacket (like GoreTex) to protect against the outdoor elements.

On his extreme North & South Pole trips, he also brings an oversized expedition down jacket to throw on during breaks, because your body heat quickly drops once you stop moving.

Winter Footwear Tips

Example of Cold Weather Footwear

Keep Your Feet Warm

If you’re trudging through ice and snow, you need to take care of your feet. The frozen ground will quickly suck heat away from them without proper insulation, risking frostbite on your toes.

It’s wise to wear a proper winter-rated boot. Something that includes a removable insulation layer if possible, which helps you dry them out later.

Don’t pick boots that fit too tight, as you’ll need room for at least 2 layers of socks. And tight fitting boots means less blood-flow to your toes.

Eric recommends wearing thin liner socks, followed by a thicker pair of wool ones. Plus a 2nd set for sleeping in while the others dry out.

In extreme temperatures, you can also wrap plastic bags on your bare feet, wearing socks over them. This “vapor barrier” traps in heat while also preventing your socks from getting soaked with sweat.

Night Stars Manitoba

Clear Cold Night on Lake Winnipeg

Remember To Hydrate

It’s sometimes easy to forget drinking water is important in the cold, because we’re so used to feeling thirsty in hot weather. But staying well hydrated is an important part of any outdoor winter adventure.

Eric recommends taking a break every hour from your activity (hiking, skiing, etc.) for a drink. Make it a regular routine. Proper hydration maintains good blood flow and other bodily functions — helping you stay warm.

Filling a bottle up with hot water helps prevent it freezing, as does using an insulated container or cover of some kind. Drinking warm water keeps your body warm from the inside.

There are different types of cold too. For example, at the North Pole, the air is wet & humid (feels much colder). But Antarctica is basically a dry desert — so staying hydrated in that environment is more difficult.

Citizen Promaster Altichron Watch

Time for Adventure!

Stay On Schedule

In cold winter camping situations, setting up and taking down your campsite takes longer than it does in the summer. It’s important to stay aware of what time it is.

For example, stopping early enough to prepare camp before the sun goes down. Timing regular snack and soup breaks to keep you warm during the day. But not too long — or you’ll quickly get cold standing around.

Using a weather-proof watch like the Promaster Altichron from Citizen, the same watch Eric uses on his expeditions, really makes this easy.

Not only does the watch hold up to the extreme -40 F temperatures found at the North Pole, it’s also powered by the sun, which means you never have to worry about dead batteries.

The Altichron features an integrated compass and altimeter too. Having backups of these adventure tools on your wrist, in something that won’t run out of battery power in cold weather, is handy for peace of mind.

Layering for Cold Weather

Fur Ruff, Goggles, and a Nose Break

Head & Neck Protection

There are many blood vessels near the skin’s surface on your head and neck. Exposing them to cold weather cools your blood down quickly, which then flows into the rest of your body lowering overall temperature.

Obviously a good winter hat that covers your ears is required. Fur lined hats or jacket hoods with a fur ruff work especially well, which is why they’re common in places like Siberia and Alaska.

Another piece of gear Eric recommended is a simple balaclava ski mask that only exposes part of the face.

Stretching a buff over everything holds your head warmth system together, in addition to providing yet another layer of protection. Remember, layers!

If it’s going to be windy, winter goggles and a face mask or homemade “nose break” will protect the last of your exposed skin while still allowing you to breathe freely.

Winter Camping Survival

Camping in the Snow

Winter Shelter Systems

You wouldn’t think the thin nylon walls of a tent would protect you much outside in the winter, but it can. In fact, even a shelter made of snow can keep you alive!

When choosing a shelter for survival in cold temperatures, pick a 4 seasons rated tent. A tent that’s specifically made for camping in the Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter.

Four season tents have less mesh netting than 3 season tents, meaning they hold heat in better. Winter tents also come with larger vestibule areas where you can keep snow-covered boots and outerwear, outside.

Tramp down the snow to create a firm & level base for setting up your tent. Place the tent door perpendicular to the wind. Pile snow onto the bottom outside edges as an additional wind barrier.

Snow is a great insulator! So if you ever find yourself stuck in the wilderness without a tent, building an emergency snow-cave shelter may help you survive the night.

Winter Camping Food

Re-Fueling With a Hot Meal

Fuel Your Body

On Eric’s two month long ski expeditions to the Earth’s poles, the weight of his sled full of supplies can top 300 pounds. So maximizing food calories while also minimizing weight is essential.

To be as efficient as possible, he prefers to remove meals from their original fancy packaging, using thin plastic bags instead. He also packs each day’s meals together for easy & quick access.

Choose foods that can be eaten cold or require very little prep time. Granola. Salami. Cheese. Trail mix.

Eating food is like putting fuel on a fire. Your metabolism kicks into action to digest it, heating up your core body temperature and radiating outwards through the bloodstream.

Instant soup is also a regular staple of Eric’s arctic diet. He prepares it in the morning, storing in an insulated flask for later. Eating hot soup is wonderful for emotional support, hydration, and warmth.

Cold Weather Camping Trip

My Polar Training Tent Crew

Sleeping In The Cold

You are not going to have a great time on your cold weather adventure if you can’t recharge with a good night’s sleep! That’s why it’s so important to pack a warm & comfortable sleep system.

You lose way more heat from the ground through conduction than you do from the air. So during our training we used two sleeping pads — at least one made of closed-cell foam, the other can be an insulated inflatable type.

To stay warm in -16 degree F temperatures, I used a 0F/-18C down sleeping bag that cinched up close to my face keeping the heat inside, as well as a 20F bag over that. This way if any frost builds up inside the tent, it doesn’t penetrate into your main bag.

Before going to bed, we also filled a Nalgene bottle with boiling water and placed it inside our sleeping bags. This makeshift hot-water bottle will radiate heat for about 5 hours of bliss.

Cooking in the Tent

Winter Stove Training

Frostbite & Hypothermia

The dangers of cold weather travel are real, and include frostbite and hypothermia. So I wanted to talk a bit about how to identify and treat these conditions.

Frostbite is when yo­ur skin falls below the freezing point, causing ice crystals to form in your cells, killing them. Your skin will change color to red, then white, and if it’s really bad, black.

It’s very important to warm your skin gradually. Sticking your fingers or toes into hot water can make it worse! Instead, try your armpits. Or soaking in luke-warm water.

Hypothermia is when your body loses more heat than it produces, and your core body temperature drops. Symptoms include slurred speech, loss of coordination, uncontrollable shivering, and mental confusion.

To treat hypothermia, it’s important to remove wet clothing and put on dry stuff, get into a sleeping bag, break out the emergency space blanket, start a fire, etc. Warm up as soon as possible.

Eric believes in the importance of being “selfish” during cold-weather adventures. In order for the whole team to function, each member needs to pay attention to their own health & comfort.

So if you’re feeling a bit cold, it’s ok to stop the group and put on another layer — before it turns into more serious problems that will affect everyone later (like caring for frostbite or hypothermia).

Tips For Cold Weather

Skiing Over the Ice

Emergency Cold Weather Gear

Maybe you aren’t planning a trek to the North Pole. Or even spending one night winter camping. But on regular winter day hikes or car trips, you should still have some basic cold weather emergency gear with you:

  • Fire-starting kit with waterproof matches & lighter
  • 3/4 piece of closed-cell foam pad insulation
  • Emergency bivy bag and space blanket
  • Spare hat & gloves
  • Extra fleece mid-layer
  • Chemical hand-warmers/heat packs

Your chances of surviving the night outside in the cold without these essentials drops significantly, so it’s wise to pack them with you just in case.

Maybe you get injured. Maybe the weather changes. Maybe you get lost. Maybe your car breaks down.

No one ever plans on getting into trouble. It just happens!

North Pole: The Last Degree

Trekking around Manitoba’s frozen Lake Winnipeg and learning polar expedition skills from Eric stoked my enthusiasm for future cold-weather adventures. His advice has really helped me become better prepared.

Many of my fellow students are planning expeditions of their own to the North Pole, South Pole, or crossing Greenland’s ice cap! Hanging out with them was pretty inspiring.

Right now Eric is leading his next Arctic expedition, a North Pole Last Degree trip.

This means participants fly up to the 89th parallel and then proceed to ski the last 60 nautical miles to the Geographic North Pole. It takes about 12 days.

You can follow along on his latest polar journeys through his blog and Instagram feed. ★

Bonus Video! Interview With Eric Larsen

Pin This!

How To Survive Cold Weather Like A Polar Explorer. More at ExpertVagabond.com

Any questions about Eric’s winter survival tips? Do you have any other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Citizen Watches

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Expert Vagabond

Why You Need To Visit The Big Island Of Hawaii!

Big Island of Hawaii

Things To Do On The Big Island

Travel Tips

I’ve wanted to visit the Big Island of Hawaii for years, mainly because of the Kilauea volcano. But there’s so many other cool things to do on Hawai’i! Here are some of my favorites.

Did you know I once lived in Hawaii? On the island of Oahu, for a year back in college. Oahu is the most popular and busiest Hawaiian island, but The Big Island of Hawai’i is the largest, and incredibly it’s still growing!

When I lived on Oahu, I was a broke college student who couldn’t afford to visit the other Hawaiian islands…

However after my recent trip to the Big Island, I can’t believe how much I was missing!

With so many adventure activities, a laid-back attitude, and far fewer people, it really demonstrated how different the Hawaiian islands can be.

Planning a trip to the Big Island? Here are some of the best things to do!

Kona Hawaii View

View Overlooking Kona from Holualoa Inn

Best Of The Big Island!

Because the Big Island is, well, so big (4,028 square miles, a bit smaller than Connecticut) — driving around it takes a long time. You won’t be able to do everything unless you stay a while.

I’d recommend visiting for at least 4-5 days, however a full week should let you experience the best of what this beautiful Hawaiian island has to offer.

While the Big Island has some nice beaches, it’s really not a typical “beach” destination like Oahu is. Most people travel to the Big Island for the many volcanoes — both active and dormant.

You can find stunning beaches all over the world, but visiting an actual erupting volcano is much more unique!

I think another highlight of the Big Island is fewer tourists, and a laid-back country vibe — making it a great place to relax if that’s what you’re after.

Halemaumau Crater Big Island Hawaii

Kilauea’s Halemaumau Crater

Visit Hawaii's Volcano

Exploring the Lava Fields

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

In the Hawaiian religion, Pele is the goddess of fire, who lives in the active Halemaʻumaʻu crater of Kilauea Volcano at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

The Hawaiian Islands are essentially a chain of massive volcanoes, and the Big Island is over the hotspot right now, so the island is still being formed by these active lava flows & eruptions.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is pretty big, with tons of different things to do. It’s open to the public 24 hours a day, year round.

National Park Highlights:

Crater Rim Drive – Driving your car along this route is the easiest way to see the park, it’s an 11 mile route full of scenic overlooks and interesting stops.

Jaggar Museum – A museum on volcanology with displays of equipment used by scientists to study the volcano. Also one of the best views of Halemaumau Crater!

Thurston Lava Tubes – A cool lava tube/tunnel you can explore after a 20 minute walk through a tree fern forest.

Kīlauea Iki Trail – This 4 mile (6.4km) loop trail takes you into a former lava lake that erupted with 1900 foot tall fountains of lava back in 1959.

Lava Viewing on Big Island

Red Hot Magma!

Where To See Lava Flows?

If you drive up to Jagger Museum at Halemaʻumaʻu Crater, you might catch a glimpse of lava bubbling in the distance. But nighttime is the best time to visit, as the whole crater glows with red light.

To see lava up close, you’ll need to visit the Kalapana Lava Viewing Area, an hour long drive away from the National Park entrance (and closer to the town of Hilo). After the road ends, it’s another 3 miles by foot or rented bicycle.

To find the lava flow at Kalapana, you can either join a tour, or you can explore on your own like we did. The bike rental places will give you a basic map with instructions on how to find the lava.

The National Park Service also posts daily lava updates here.

Sea Turtles Big Island Hawaii

Sea Turtles on Punalu’u Beach

Punalu’u Black Sand Beach

The dark black sands of Punalu’u Beach is the result of the Big Island’s long history of volcanic eruptions. It formed over time as hot lava flowed into the ocean, exploding into tiny fragments and washing ashore.

The beach is home to endangered Hawksbill turtles and Hawaiian Green sea turtles that like to sunbathe on the warm black sand.

While it’s a wonderful spot to see these incredible creatures in person, just remember not to get too close.

There are rules in place to protect the turtles from human harassment.

Aside from checking out the turtles, Punalu’u is also good for swimming, snorkeling, walking, or even camping (with a permit).

Big Island Kealakekua Bay

Historic Kealakekua Bay

Big Island Kealakekua Bay

Anna Snorkeling the Bay

Kayak Kealakekua Bay

The water of Kealakekua Bay is crystal clear, and full of colorful fish and coral reefs. It’s also where Captain James Cook, the first Westerner to visit Hawaii, was killed in a skirmish with Native Hawaiians.

The bay is one of the best places to go snorkeling on the Big Island. Most people book snorkeling tours by boat, but for the more adventurous, you can also rent a kayak and explore on your own.

Anna & I rented a two-person kayak from Kona Boys and spent the morning swimming with tropical fish. Occasionally you can even find spinner dolphins and sea turtles!

Unfortunately we didn’t see any dolphins that day… but we heard they were spotted further down the coast.

On the East side of the bay you’ll find the ruins of a Hikiau heiau (sacred temple) dedicated to the Hawaiian fertility and music god Lono.

Mauna Kea Volcano Big Island

Watch the Sunset from Mauna Kea

Sunset On Mauna Kea Volcano

Did you know that it snows in Hawaii? And that Hawaii is actually home to the tallest mountain in the world? Well now you do!

Mauna Kea Volcano is Hawaii’s tallest mountain, at 13,796 feet (4205 meters). But most of the volcano is actually underwater. If measured from the sea floor, Mauna Kea towers 33,476 feet (10,204 meters).

That’s taller than Mount Everest!

At the summit of this long dormant volcano lies the Mauna Kea Observatory, a collection of 13 high-powered space telescopes.

Driving up to the observatory for sunset is a popular activity, and so is late-night stargazing. There are also a few short hikes around the top of the volcano. In the winter, the summit can be covered with snow.

Big Island Holualoa Inn

Our Fun Cottage in Holualoa

Holualoa Inn Hawaii

Breakfast At Holualoa Inn

Unwind In Holualoa Town

Sitting along the fertile slopes of the Hualalai Volcano above Kailua-Kona lies the artist-friendly town of Holualoa, where we based ourselves on the western side of the Big Island.

Holualoa has tons of small-town charm, with a winding two-lane road lined with art galleries, coffee shops, and friendly locals. It was the perfect place to relax after our different adventures.

We stayed at the Holualoa Inn, in the heart of Kona Coffee Country. In fact, the inn grows its own coffee, fruits, vegetables, and collects eggs from a chicken coop out back.

When not off exploring the rest of the island, we were strolling through Holualoa Inn’s zen gardens, sunbathing by the pool, or getting a massage on our cottage’s lanai.

Papakolea Beach Big Island

Hawaii’s Green Sand Beach

Papakolea Green Sand Beach

The Hawaiian islands are full of beautiful beaches, but one of the most peculiar is the green sand beach of Papakolea located on the South West coast of the Big Island.

This 49,000 year old cinder cone belonging to the Mauna Loa volcano contains billions of green crystals called olivines that give the beach its name.

Papakolea is a bit off the beaten track, and not easy to reach. The hike out is 5-miles (about two hours) round trip, so be prepared with plenty of water. There’s nowhere to hide from the sun either.

However this also means only the most adventurous souls make the trek — limiting the number of people out there.

Manta Rays Hawaii

Snorkeling with Manta Rays in Kona

Manta Rays Kona

Manta Rays Feeding at Night

Snorkel/Dive With Manta Rays

Just off the coast of Kona, groups of huge 20 foot (6 meter) wide manta rays soar through the water hunting for plankton to eat. It’s possible to jump in the water at night and watch them feed.

Our manta ray adventure began by chasing a stunning pink & orange sunset along the coastline on a sailing catamaran with Kona Style.

After the sun went down, we jumped into the ocean and grabbed onto a custom floating SUP board with hand holds. The board also has an ultraviolet light shinning down onto the ocean floor.

The light attracts millions of microscopic plankton, and the graceful manta rays swim under you to scoop them up in their massive mouths. It’s a magical experience! Scuba diving with the mantas is also possible.

Kona Coffee Shops

Drinking Some Kona de Pele Coffee

Kona Coffee Farms

Coffee Trees Growing in Kona

Coffee Tasting In Kona

You can’t leave the Big Island of Hawaii without getting your caffeine fix at one of the world’s most famous coffee towns. Kona’s rich volcanic soil helps produce smooth coffee with low acidity.

There are roughly 600 coffee farms in the Kona area, and many offer tours to the public, some are free! The most famous one is probably Greenwell Farms.

Or, if you just want to visit some great local cafes, make sure to check out some of our favorites including Holuakoa Gardens Cafe and Kona Haven.

As a hardcore coffee lover, I was in heaven trying all the different types of Kona coffee around town. Make sure to bring some home too!

Big Island Waterfalls

Akaka Falls State Park

Visit Akaka Waterfall

At a towering 442 feet tall, Akaka Falls is Hawaii’s largest waterfall. It’s located in Akaka Falls State Park, about 11 miles north from Hilo. Entry into the park costs only $ 5 per car.

The easy 0.4-mile loop hike takes you through a lush jungle filled with orchids, bamboo trees, and a stream-eroded gorge. You can complete the whole thing in about 30 minutes.

Along with the famous Akaka Waterfall, there’s a second “smaller” 100 foot waterfall called Kahuna Falls.

Akaka Waterfall can be viewed from several points along the trail through the park, but the best spot is from high above on the edge of the gorge. Late morning is a good time to visit so the sun will be shining on the falls.

Hawaii Puuhonua o Honaunau National Park

Ki’i Statues at Puuhonua

Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Park

In ancient Hawaii, long before it became a state, local sacred laws or kapu governed every aspect of Hawaiian society. The penalty for breaking these laws was death…

But if the criminals managed to get themselves to a pu’uhonua, or place of refuge, they were absolved of their crimes and could return to normal life.

Today you can visit Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park to experience the history of this place, still considered a sacred site.

The Hale o Keawe temple located here contains the bones of chiefs that infuse the area with their mana (power). Dramatic looking wooden statues called Ki’i act as guardians to the bay and nearby temple.

Getting To The Big Island

There are two main airports on the Big Island of Hawaii. Kona International Airport (KOA) to the west, or Hilo International Airport (ITO) in the east.

You can try flying directly to these airports, or hop on a short 40 minute flight connecting from Honolulu.

We choose to visit the Big Island after our trip to Oahu, booking a one-way flight to Hilo, renting a car to drive around the island, ending in Kona, where we flew out from.

Generally Kona is the more popular destination/airport for travelers.

Holualoa Inn

Our Holualoa Inn Cottage

Where To Stay

For most of our trip, we stayed at the beautiful Holualoa Inn outside Kona in the small village of Holualoa. It was the perfect place to relax after exploring the island all day.

Its position perched on the slope of the volcano gave us awesome views of the ocean and Kailua-Kona area down below, plus the gardens were full of birds and colorful green geckos.

They provided yoga classes, snorkeling equipment, as well as excellent food and coffee sourced from their own farm. The breakfasts were amazing!

More To See In Hawaii!

While we spent 5 days exploring different things to do on the Big Island, I really wish we’d stayed longer — at least 7. There was a lot more we didn’t get a chance to see!

For example, the Hawaiian cowboy countryside of the Kohala Coast and the thick tropical jungle and waterfalls of Waimea Canyon.

However I know we’ll be back one day, because the amazing Hawaiian Islands are one of my favorite travel destinations in the United States. ★

Pin This!

Things To Do On The Big Island. More at ExpertVagabond.com

Have any questions about the Big Island of Hawaii? What about other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Expert Vagabond

This Is Why You Need To Visit The Big Island Of Hawaii!

Big Island of Hawaii

Things To Do On The Big Island

Travel Tips

I’ve wanted to visit the Big Island of Hawaii for years, mainly because of the Kilauea volcano. But there’s so many other cool things to do there too! Here are some of my favorites.

Did you know I once lived in Hawaii? On the island of Oahu, for a year back in college. Oahu is the most popular and busiest Hawaiian island, but The Big Island of Hawai’i is the largest, and incredibly it’s still growing!

When I lived on Oahu, I was a broke college student who couldn’t afford to visit the other Hawaiian islands…

However after my recent trip to the Big Island, I can’t believe how much I was missing!

With so many adventure activities, a laid-back attitude, and far fewer people, it really demonstrated how different the Hawaiian islands can be.

Planning a trip to the Big Island? Here are some of the best things to do!

Kona Hawaii View

View Overlooking Kona from Holualoa Inn

Best Of The Big Island!

Because the Big Island is, well, so big (4,028 square miles, a bit smaller than Connecticut) — driving around it takes a long time. You won’t be able to do everything unless you stay a while.

I’d recommend visiting for at least 4-5 days, however a full week should let you experience the best of what this beautiful Hawaiian island has to offer.

While the Big Island has some nice beaches, it’s really not a typical “beach” destination like Oahu is. Most people travel to the Big Island for the many volcanoes — both active and dormant.

You can find stunning beaches all over the world, but visiting an actual erupting volcano is much more unique!

I think another highlight of the Big Island is fewer tourists, and a laid-back country vibe — making it a great place to relax if that’s what you’re after.

Halemaumau Crater Big Island Hawaii

Kilauea’s Halemaumau Crater

Visit Hawaii's Volcano

Exploring the Lava Fields

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

In the Hawaiian religion, Pele is the goddess of fire, who lives in the active Halemaʻumaʻu crater of Kilauea Volcano at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

The Hawaiian Islands are essentially a chain of massive volcanoes, and the Big Island is over the hotspot right now, so the island is still being formed by these active lava flows & eruptions.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is pretty big, with tons of different things to do. It’s open to the public 24 hours a day, year round.

National Park Highlights:

Crater Rim Drive – Driving your car along this route is the easiest way to see the park, it’s an 11 mile route full of scenic overlooks and interesting stops.

Jaggar Museum – A museum on volcanology with displays of equipment used by scientists to study the volcano. Also one of the best views of Halemaumau Crater!

Thurston Lava Tubes – A cool lava tube/tunnel you can explore after a 20 minute walk through a tree fern forest.

Kīlauea Iki Trail – This 4 mile (6.4km) loop trail takes you into a former lava lake that erupted with 1900 foot tall fountains of lava back in 1959.

Lava Viewing on Big Island

Red Hot Magma!

Where To See Lava Flows?

If you drive up to Jagger Museum at Halemaʻumaʻu Crater, you might catch a glimpse of lava bubbling in the distance. But nighttime is the best time to visit, as the whole crater glows with red light.

To see lava up close, you’ll need to visit the Kalapana Lava Viewing Area, an hour long drive away from the National Park entrance (and closer to the town of Hilo). After the road ends, it’s another 3 miles by foot or rented bicycle.

To find the lava flow at Kalapana, you can either join a tour, or you can explore on your own like we did. The bike rental places will give you a basic map with instructions on how to find the lava.

The National Park Service also posts daily lava updates here.

Sea Turtles Big Island Hawaii

Sea Turtles on Punalu’u Beach

Punalu’u Black Sand Beach

The dark black sands of Punalu’u Beach is the result of the Big Island’s long history of volcanic eruptions. It formed over time as hot lava flowed into the ocean, exploding into tiny fragments and washing ashore.

The beach is home to endangered Hawksbill turtles and Hawaiian Green sea turtles that like to sunbathe on the warm black sand.

While it’s a wonderful spot to see these incredible creatures in person, just remember not to get too close.

There are rules in place to protect the turtles from human harassment.

Aside from checking out the turtles, Punalu’u is also good for swimming, snorkeling, walking, or even camping (with a permit).

Big Island Kealakekua Bay

Historic Kealakekua Bay

Big Island Kealakekua Bay

Anna Snorkeling the Bay

Kayak Kealakekua Bay

The water of Kealakekua Bay is crystal clear, and full of colorful fish and coral reefs. It’s also where Captain James Cook, the first Westerner to visit Hawaii, was killed in a skirmish with Native Hawaiians.

The bay is one of the best places to go snorkeling on the Big Island. Most people book snorkeling tours by boat, but for the more adventurous, you can also rent a kayak and explore on your own.

Anna & I rented a two-person kayak from Kona Boys and spent the morning swimming with tropical fish. Occasionally you can even find spinner dolphins and sea turtles!

Unfortunately we didn’t see any dolphins that day… but we heard they were spotted further down the coast.

On the East side of the bay you’ll find the ruins of a Hikiau heiau (sacred temple) dedicated to the Hawaiian fertility and music god Lono.

Mauna Kea Volcano Big Island

Watch the Sunset from Mauna Kea

Sunset On Mauna Kea Volcano

Did you know that it snows in Hawaii? And that Hawaii is actually home to the tallest mountain in the world? Well now you do!

Mauna Kea Volcano is Hawaii’s tallest mountain, at 13,796 feet (4205 meters). But most of the volcano is actually underwater. If measured from the sea floor, Mauna Kea towers 33,476 feet (10,204 meters).

That’s taller than Mount Everest!

At the summit of this long dormant volcano lies the Mauna Kea Observatory, a collection of 13 high-powered space telescopes.

Driving up to the observatory for sunset is a popular activity, and so is late-night stargazing. There are also a few short hikes around the top of the volcano. In the winter, the summit can be covered with snow.

Big Island Holualoa Inn

Our Fun Cottage in Holualoa

Holualoa Inn Hawaii

Breakfast At Holualoa Inn

Unwind In Holualoa Town

Sitting along the fertile slopes of the Hualalai Volcano above Kailua-Kona lies the artist-friendly town of Holualoa, where we based ourselves on the western side of the Big Island.

Holualoa has tons of small-town charm, with a winding two-lane road lined with art galleries, coffee shops, and friendly locals. It was the perfect place to relax after our different adventures.

We stayed at the Holualoa Inn, in the heart of Kona Coffee Country. In fact, the inn grows its own coffee, fruits, vegetables, and collects eggs from a chicken coop out back.

When not off exploring the rest of the island, we were strolling through Holualoa Inn’s zen gardens, sunbathing by the pool, or getting a massage on our cottage’s lanai.

Papakolea Beach Big Island

Hawaii’s Green Sand Beach

Papakolea Green Sand Beach

The Hawaiian islands are full of beautiful beaches, but one of the most peculiar is the green sand beach of Papakolea located on the South West coast of the Big Island.

This 49,000 year old cinder cone belonging to the Mauna Loa volcano contains billions of green crystals called olivines that give the beach its name.

Papakolea is a bit off the beaten track, and not easy to reach. The hike out is 5-miles (about two hours) round trip, so be prepared with plenty of water. There’s nowhere to hide from the sun either.

However this also means only the most adventurous souls make the trek — limiting the number of people out there.

Manta Rays Hawaii

Snorkeling with Manta Rays in Kona

Manta Rays Kona

Manta Rays Feeding at Night

Snorkel/Dive With Manta Rays

Just off the coast of Kona, groups of huge 20 foot (6 meter) wide manta rays soar through the water hunting for plankton to eat. It’s possible to jump in the water at night and watch them feed.

Our manta ray adventure began by chasing a stunning pink & orange sunset along the coastline on a sailing catamaran with Kona Style.

After the sun went down, we jumped into the ocean and grabbed onto a custom floating SUP board with hand holds. The board also has an ultraviolet light shinning down onto the ocean floor.

The light attracts millions of microscopic plankton, and the graceful manta rays swim under you to scoop them up in their massive mouths. It’s a magical experience! Scuba diving with the mantas is also possible.

Kona Coffee Shops

Drinking Some Kona de Pele Coffee

Kona Coffee Farms

Coffee Trees Growing in Kona

Coffee Tasting In Kona

You can’t leave the Big Island of Hawaii without getting your caffeine fix at one of the world’s most famous coffee towns. Kona’s rich volcanic soil helps produce smooth coffee with low acidity.

There are roughly 600 coffee farms in the Kona area, and many offer tours to the public, some are free! The most famous one is probably Greenwell Farms.

Or, if you just want to visit some great local cafes, make sure to check out some of our favorites including Holuakoa Gardens Cafe and Kona Haven.

As a hardcore coffee lover, I was in heaven trying all the different types of Kona coffee around town. Make sure to bring some home too!

Big Island Waterfalls

Akaka Falls State Park

Visit Akaka Waterfall

At a towering 442 feet tall, Akaka Falls is Hawaii’s largest waterfall. It’s located in Akaka Falls State Park, about 11 miles north from Hilo. Entry into the park costs only $ 5 per car.

The easy 0.4-mile loop hike takes you through a lush jungle filled with orchids, bamboo trees, and a stream-eroded gorge. You can complete the whole thing in about 30 minutes.

Along with the famous Akaka Waterfall, there’s a second “smaller” 100 foot waterfall called Kahuna Falls.

Akaka Waterfall can be viewed from several points along the trail through the park, but the best spot is from high above on the edge of the gorge. Late morning is a good time to visit so the sun will be shining on the falls.

Hawaii Puuhonua o Honaunau National Park

Ki’i Statues at Puuhonua

Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Park

In ancient Hawaii, long before it became a state, local sacred laws or kapu governed every aspect of Hawaiian society. The penalty for breaking these laws was death…

But if the criminals managed to get themselves to a pu’uhonua, or place of refuge, they were absolved of their crimes and could return to normal life.

Today you can visit Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park to experience the history of this place, still considered a sacred site.

The Hale o Keawe temple located here contains the bones of chiefs that infuse the area with their mana (power). Dramatic looking wooden statues called Ki’i act as guardians to the bay and nearby temple.

Getting To The Big Island

There are two main airports on the Big Island of Hawaii. Kona International Airport (KOA) to the west, or Hilo International Airport (ITO) in the east.

You can try flying directly to these airports, or hop on a short 40 minute flight connecting from Honolulu.

We choose to visit the Big Island after our trip to Oahu, booking a one-way flight to Hilo, renting a car to drive around the island, ending in Kona, where we flew out from.

Generally Kona is the more popular destination/airport for travelers.

Holualoa Inn

Our Holualoa Inn Cottage

Where To Stay

For most of our trip, we stayed at the beautiful Holualoa Inn outside Kona in the small village of Holualoa. It was the perfect place to relax after exploring the island all day.

Its position perched on the slope of the volcano gave us awesome views of the ocean and Kailua-Kona area down below, plus the gardens were full of birds and colorful green geckos.

They provided yoga classes, snorkeling equipment, as well as excellent food and coffee sourced from their own farm. The breakfasts were amazing!

More To See In Hawaii!

While we spent 5 days exploring different things to do on the Big Island, I really wish we’d stayed longer — at least 7. There was a lot more we didn’t get a chance to see!

For example, the Hawaiian cowboy countryside of the Kohala Coast and the thick tropical jungle and waterfalls of Waimea Canyon.

However I know we’ll be back one day, because the amazing Hawaiian Islands are one of my favorite travel destinations in the United States. ★

Pin This!

Things To Do On The Big Island. More at ExpertVagabond.com

Have any questions about the Big Island of Hawaii? What about other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Expert Vagabond

Boundary Waters Canoe Area: Paddling Into The Wild

Minnesota Boundary Waters

Canoeing the Boundary Waters in Minnesota

Ely, Minnesota

If you’re looking to get away, unwind, and reconnect with nature, you really can’t beat a backcountry canoe trip into Minnesota’s pristine Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

With the wind at my back, I glided effortlessly over the cool lake water with every thrust of my paddle. The calming silence broken only by the lonely wail of a loon swimming close by…

My father & sister were slightly ahead of me, scouting for our first campsite. Our lightweight kevlar canoes loaded with enough food & gear to support us for 10 days in the wilderness.

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) is an outdoor lover’s paradise — encompassing over one million acres of North Woods backcountry and 1000+ scenic lakes.

Part of Superior National Forest, it hugs the border of Minnesota in the United States and Ontario in Canada. This is a summary of our first adventure canoeing the lakes of the BWCA, fishing for dinner, and camping in the forest.

I hope it inspires you to embark on your own journey into Minnesota’s Boundary Waters one day!

Minnesota Boundary Waters

Me, my Sister, and Father

Minnesota Boundary Waters

Canoeing the Lakes of BWCA

Boundary Waters History

Canoeing, camping, fishing, and hunting have been practiced in the Boundary Waters area for hundreds of years. The Ojibwe and Sioux indigenous tribes called these woods home, traveling the numerous lakes in birch-bark canoes.

Next came French fur trappers and the English-owned Hudson Bay Company, who made fortunes selling beaver pelts caught in the region. Eventually, in the 1900’s, the area became a popular recreation destination.

Finally in 1978, after many legal battles, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act was passed to protect the region from development.

It’s one of America’s greatest land conservation success stories, and is enjoyed by over 200,000 visitors a year. However because it’s so large, the BWCA doesn’t feel as crowded as more popular National Parks.

Canoeing the BWCA

Paddling a Northstar Magic Solo Canoe

Canoeing Lakes in Minnesota

Navigation Stop to Check the Map

Boundary Waters Map

Boundary Waters Map: Entry #23

Canoeing The BWCA

In July of 2017, I drove up to Ely, Minnesota along with my father and sister to begin our first “epic” Boundary Waters adventure into the North Woods.

We’d been looking forward to it for months! A way to bring back childhood memories of canoeing & camping together in New England… some family bonding time.

It’s also healthy to simply take a break, immerse yourself in nature, and disconnect from the outside world. One of the best ways I’ve found to recharge your senses, de-stress, and gain some perspective on life!

After packing up our gear the night before at a rented cottage in Ely, we awoke before sunrise, strapped two canoes onto the car’s roof-rack, and drove towards Entry Point #23 at Mudro Lake to start our 10 day journey.

Our Boundary Waters Route:

  • Mudro Lake
  • Fourtown Lake
  • Boot Lake
  • Fairy Lake
  • Gun Lake
  • Gull Lake
  • Thunder Lake
  • Beartrap Lake
  • (then back to Mudro the way we came)
Boundary Waters Portaging

Portage Trails in the Boundary Waters

Carrying a Canoe

Carrying the Canoes from Lake to Lake

Portaging Through The Forest

If you think a long-distance canoe trip is easy, I’ve got some news for you. While many of the lakes are next to each other, you still have to cross portions of land to get from one lake to another. This is called a “portage”.

Basically, you get out of your canoe, unload it, then take turns hiking the canoe and your gear through the woods to the next lake. Depending on how many people are in your group, and how much gear you have, it could take a couple trips back and forth to get everything over.

Some Boundary Waters portage trails are only 50 yards long. Others can be up to a mile long. And portage trails aren’t measured in meters or feet, but in “rods”. A rod is about 16.5 feet long, or the approximate length of a canoe.

Portaging can be a nice way to break up the trip — a chance to stretch your legs and give your arms a rest.

However if the trails are overgrown, steep, or muddy — or if you hit a series of small lakes with multiple portages over a short time, it gets tiring too.

Hammock Camping Minnesota

Camping in my Hennessy Hammock

Boundary Waters Lake Sunset

Sunset Over the Boundary Waters

Wilderness Toilet BWCA

The “Biffy”, or Campsite Toilet

Camping In The Wilderness

Each lake has a handful of designated campsites that are snatched up on a first-come, first-serve basis. They’re equipped with a fire-pit, metal cooking grill, and a biffy (open-air camp toilet).

If all the campsites are taken, you must continue on to the next lake and check there. True wild camping is not allowed in the Boundary Waters, unlike on the Canadian side (called Quetico Provincial Park).

Usually we’d pick a good campsite in the early afternoon, set up our tents and tarp, then go fishing nearby. Sometimes we’d stay in the same spot for 2 nights in a row — in order to relax between travel days.

Gathering firewood was a regular task, requiring us to jump into a canoe and seek out dead trees (white pine, cedar, jack pine) along the shoreline. We’d saw some limbs off, load the canoe, return to camp, and cut the wood into smaller pieces.

Walleye Fishing Boundary Waters

Lindsay Catching an 18″ Walleye

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Fishing

Frying Fresh Fish for Dinner

Fresh Water Fishing

Many people take canoe trips into the Boundary Waters for the amazing fishing found there. The fish are plentiful, and large! The most common types are walleye, smallmouth bass, northern pike, lake trout, brook trout, and crappie.

The pristine lakes offer plenty of opportunities for catching fish.

A Minnesota fishing license is required for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Licenses may be purchased online here or in person at many local businesses or canoe outfitters.

We caught a mixture of walleye and smallmouth bass using leeches as bait. My sister hooked a northern pike one afternoon, but unfortunately it snapped the line with its sharp teeth as she attempted to reel it in!

When fishing the BWCA, it’s important to only keep what you can reasonably eat. That said, we ate plenty of fresh fish for dinner during our journey. Often breaded & fried up with onion, lemon, beans and rice! Yum.

Boundary Waters Wildlife

Early Morning Moose Sighting

Boundary Waters Snakes

Swimming Garter Snake!

Wildlife Spotting!

One morning, on Gull Lake, we watched from camp as a large female moose came crashing out of the forest and swam across the bay to disappear on the opposite side.

After days of tranquil silence, it was a bit startling! I imagine that’s what Big Foot would sound like if he was coming to get you…

Other animals we came across included partridges thumping the ground to attract a mate, garter snakes, rabbits, loons, bald eagles, and angry beavers slapping the water with their tails as we approached.

Timber wolves, black bears, and bobcats also call the Boundary Waters home — but are a bit more difficult to spot.

Boundary Waters Campsites

Camping on Gull Lake

Boundary Waters Canoe Gear

Loaded Up For our Adventure!

Boundary Waters Tips

Most BWCA visitors “base camp” for a night or two near the entry points. So if you want to find less crowded lakes, you simply need to travel further out into the backcountry.

Even though we were there during the busy mid-July high season, we rarely saw anyone beyond Fourtown Lake.

Beware the mosquitos! After the sun sets, they’re the worst I’ve ever seen. You definitely want to pack, at a minimum, strong bug spray and a mosquito head net. However a full bug shirt works wonders.

Boundary Waters Weather

Rainy Day in the BWCA

BWCA Camping

One of Our Campsites

BWCA Permits

To visit the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, you need to buy a permit online. The BWCA is made up of different “entry points” near roads. You buy your permit based on which entry point you want to begin from.

Each entry point only allows a certain number of permits per day, so you’ll want to try and book a BWCA permit at least a few months before your trip — because they can sell out fast.

We began our adventure from Entry Point #23, Mudro Lake. It’s a popular one, so we booked our July permit in March. You pick up the permit in person from the closest ranger station to your entry point.

Boundary Waters Outfitters

Voyager North Outfitters in Ely, MN

Boundary Waters Outfitters

If you don’t have all the gear necessary to canoe the Boundary Waters, it’s possible to rent gear from local canoe outfitters. Or even hire a guide to help you with navigation, camp setup, cooking, etc.

While we had most of our own gear, we chose to rent two Northstar kevlar canoes with paddles from Voyager North Outfitters. Highly recommend them!

Kevlar canoes are incredibly lightweight, which makes carrying them on your shoulders during a portage MUCH easier than aluminum ones.

Packing For The Boundary Waters?

I’ll be publishing a packing guide for the BWCA shortly! Make sure to join my mailing list if you want to get notified when it’s complete. ★

Bonus Video! Boundary Waters Canoe Trip


Subscribe to my YouTube Channel for new Adventure Travel Videos!

(Click to watch Boundary Waters Canoe Trip – BWCA on YouTube)

Have any questions about my Boundary Waters trip? What about other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Expert Vagabond

25 Important Travel Safety Tips Everyone Should Know

Learn to How to Travel Safer

Travel Safety Tips to Keep You Safe

Travel Tips

After traveling the world for the past 7 years, I’ve learned a lot about staying safe – sometimes the hard way. Here are my best travel safety tips for avoiding trouble on your next trip.

Nothing ruins an adventure quicker than getting scammed or robbed!

In Panama, some women distracted me while my laptop was stolen from my backpack. I figured it was gone forever, until incredibly, this happened 3 months later. I got lucky.

In Mexico, a pickpocket grabbed my iPhone as I was walking. I managed to get that back too, chasing the thief down the road screaming like a maniac and brandishing a bottle of tequila!

You don’t even need to travel internationally to have bad stuff happen. In Miami, my camera was stolen from the beach when I wasn’t paying attention.

After seven years of almost constant travel around the world, I’ve grown accustomed to deceitful taxi drivers, two-faced tour guides, insincere offers of help, and the occasional robbery or scam.

For the most part, the world is a pretty safe place for travelers. I don’t want to scare you too much! However it’s wise to be prepared for the worst.

With that in mind, here are my best travel safety tips to help minimize your chances of something bad happening to you or your belongings during your travels.

Useful Travel Safety Tips

Avoid Common Scams to Be Safe

Research Local Scams

1. Learn Common Travel Scams

Wherever you go in the world, you’ll always find people ready to trick you out of your hard-earned cash. If you’re lucky, they’ll be kinda obvious – but there are plenty of craftier, professional con-artists out there too.

Everyone thinks they’re too smart to be scammed — but it happens.

Here are some of the most common travel scams I’ve come across. I recommend you learn them all – then fire up the Google and do even more in-depth research into the worst scams happening at your specific destination.

For example, the milk scam in Cuba. Broken taxi meters in Costa Rica. Or the ring scam in Paris. Every country has its own special ones to watch out for!

Forewarned is forearmed, and this research can help defend you from being tricked out of hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars (while suffering the kind of frustration and misery that ruins a dream trip).

2. Write Down Emergency Info

If disaster strikes, you might not have time to search for numbers for local police or ambulance services, or directions to the nearest embassy for your country. You may also be too stressed and panicky to think straight.

Don’t put yourself in that position. Instead, record that information in advance, and create an “Emergency Plan” for you to follow if things go badly. Save it on your phone somewhere (I use the Evernote App).

I also recommend you write it down on a small card or sheet of paper, get it laminated (easily done at your local office supply store) to protect it from moisture, and keep it in your wallet/purse.

That way, if something goes wrong out there, you’ll always know exactly who to call and where to go for help.

3. Check The State Department Website

The U.S. Department of State has a page for every country in the world, where it lists all known difficulties and current threats to the safety of visitors. You can find it here.

However, a big caveat for this one: it’s the State Department’s job to warn you about everything that could go wrong, which is sometimes different to what is likely to go wrong.

This means their advice is generally on the hyper-cautious side. Factor that in, while you dig up more on-the-ground information.

But researching travel warnings will give you a general idea of what’s going on in the country you’re visiting, and specific problem areas you may want to avoid.

For example, just because certain parts of Thailand or Mexico have problems, doesn’t mean you should completely avoid those countries.

Lock Up Your Travel Gear

Lock Up Expensive Stuff

4: Lock Up Your Valuables

Putting aside the fact that traveling with anything super valuable is usually a bad idea, there will always be something you absolutely cannot afford to have stolen. I travel with a lot of expensive camera gear for example.

Your job is to minimize the easy opportunities for theft.

Firstly, know that most bags aren’t very secure. It’s easy to feel that a zipped, even locked bag is a sufficient deterrent to any thief, and doze off next to it. Waking up to find someone’s slashed a hole in the side!

Unless it’s a slash-proof backpack, the material can be cut or torn by anyone determined enough. Many zippers can be forced open with sharp objects like a writing pen.

Always be aware of your valuables, and try to keep an eye on them in such a way that it would be impossible for someone to steal without you knowing. I’ll use my backpack as a pillow on train/bus routes that have a reputation for theft, and will sometimes lock it to a seat using a thin cable like this.

Secondly, call your accommodation to ask about secure storage options like a room safe, lockers, or a locked storage area. Carry your own locker padlock when staying at backpacking hostels.

5: Get Travel Insurance

You never think you need it, until you do. If you’re really worried about the safety of yourself and your gear while you travel, you can almost completely relax if you have some good insurance.

People ask me all the time if I’m worried about traveling with an expensive computer and camera. I was, when I didn’t have insurance for them. Now that I do, I’m not worried. If stuff gets stolen, it will get replaced.

Everyone should carry some kind of health and property insurance when traveling. Why? Because shit happens. Whether you think it will or not. It doesn’t matter how careful you think you are.

My recommendation is World Nomads for short-term travel insurance (less than 6 months). They make it super easy to buy online. Just be aware that they have “per item” limits on coverage of $ 500. So it’s not going to cover a whole $ 3000 camera.

If you’re going to be traveling for a long time, there are good long-term options like a mixture of expat health insurance from IMG Global and photography/computer insurance from TCP Photography Insurance.

READ MORE: Is Travel Insurance Worth It?

Travel Safety Tips Asking Locals

Hanging Out in Palestine

6: Ask Locals For Advice

If you really want to know which neighborhoods are safe and which might be sketchy, ask a local resident of the area.

Most locals are friendly, and will warn you about straying into dangerous areas. On the other hand, if a stranger offers up advice, it’s also wise to get a second opinion – just in case they don’t really know what they’re talking about but simply wanted to help (or worse, are trying to scam you).

Taxi drivers can be hit or miss in this regard. Some can be excellent sources for good information, others are miserable assholes who might actually lead you into trouble.

I’ve found that hostel or hotel front desk workers are generally pretty good sources for local advice.

Don’t be afraid to ask them which parts of the city to avoid, how much taxi fares should cost, and where to find a great place to eat!

7: Register With Your Embassy

The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, from the U.S. Department of State, is designed to make a destination’s local embassy aware of your arrival and keep you constantly updated with the latest safety information.

It’s free, it’s available for all U.S. citizens and nationals living abroad, and it’s a great way to get reliable, up to date safety information as you travel, along with an extra level of security in case of emergencies.

Canada has it’s own version, called Registration Of Canadians Abroad.

That way if an emergency happens, like a natural disaster or terrorist attack, the local embassy can get a hold of you quickly to share important information or help with evacuation.

Share Plans with Family

Mom, I’m Camping on a Volcano…

8: Email Your Itinerary To Friends/Family

Once you’ve worked out where you’re going and when, make sure someone else knows too.

The best way is to email the full itinerary to a few family members (and double-check with them that they received it – don’t just assume it landed in their Inbox, make sure it did). Then, if you can, check in from time to time.

Before I travel anywhere, I make sure my parents know where I’m going, what my general plans are, and when I should be back.

That way, if they don’t hear from me for a few days after I’m supposed to return, they can help notify the proper local authorities, the embassy, etc.

9: Don’t Share Too Much With Strangers

If you’re ever tempted to make your itinerary more public, say in a Facebook post, just remember it can be a roadmap of your movements – just the sort of thing someone with ill-intentions would love to know.

I also don’t recommend sharing too many details about your travel plans or accommodation details with people you’ve just met. For example, don’t tell a local shop owner or street tout where you’re staying when asked.

If someone does ask, rather than be rude, you can be vague about an area of town rather than the name of your hotel. Or lie and name a hotel you’re not actually staying at.

Sometimes people will ask if it’s your first time visiting their country or city. If you don’t trust them yet, you can pretend it isn’t your first trip. Because sharing that you’re new might also signal you’re a good target for scams.

When feeling vulnerable in a strange place, little white lies won’t hurt.

Conservative Clothing for Travel

Anna Trying the Traditional Omani Abaya

10: Be Aware Of Your Clothing

When it comes to travel, the wrong clothes scream “TOURIST” and make you a target for scammers, thieves and worse. The less obviously a visitor you look, the less attention you’ll get from the wrong kind of people.

Wearing the right clothes is a sign of respect. Many Islamic countries have specific dress code guidelines that are often strictly enforced – and other destinations have laws that may catch you out (for example, walking topless through the streets of Barcelona is illegal for both sexes).

However, it’s possible to stay within the law and still offend locals with what you’re wearing – generating a lot of hostility towards you in the process. Ignoring local customs can come across as both arrogant and ignorant.

In conservative countries, it’s just safer to dress more conservatively yourself. Obviously as a foreigner you’re still going to stand out a bit, but much less than those who ignore the local customs.

Start by checking out Wikipedia’s general advice on clothing laws by country – and then narrow down your research until you find someone giving advice you can trust, ideally a resident or expat turned local.

11: Splurge On Extra Safety

If you’re traveling as a budget backpacker, like I was, it can be tempting to save as much money as possible with the cheapest accommodation, the cheapest flights, the cheapest activities.

But it’s important to know that this isn’t always the safest way to travel.

Ultra cheap backpacker hostels aren’t always the safest places. I’ve stayed in some without locks on the doors, that felt like make-shift homeless shelters for drug addicts and other seedy people.

Budget flights can often arrive in the middle of the night — usually not the best time to be hailing down a cab in a dangerous city and hoping the driver doesn’t abduct you.

Sometimes it’s worth the extra few bucks to splurge on a slightly better hostel, a more convenient flight, a taxi home from the bar, or a tour operator with a strong safety record.

12: Stay “Tethered” To Your Bag

Most quick snatch-and-run type robberies happen because the thief can do it easily, and has time to get away. Therefore, anything that slows them down will help prevent it in the first place.

If you can keep your bag tethered to something immovable at all times, and do so in a really obvious way, thieves will consider it way too risky a job – and leave you alone.

A simple and effective method is to use a carabiner clip. Even a regular strap around your leg or chair.

It doesn’t need to be secured with a steel cable and padlock all the time, just attached to something that will make a snatch-and-run attempt too difficult.

Travel Safety Self Defense

Learning to Box in Johannesburg

13: Learn Basic Self-Defense

You don’t need black-belt skills, but joining a few self defense classes is a worthwhile investment in your personal safety. Some good street-effective styles to consider are Krav Maga or Muay Thai.

Next, learn WHEN to apply it. Just because you can kick someone’s ass, doesn’t mean you should in all situations. In the words of author Sam Harris:

“Do whatever you can to avoid a physical confrontation, but the moment avoidance fails, attack explosively for the purposes of escape.”

A great way to neutralize a threat is to get yourself as far away as physically possible. If someone with a gun or knife just wants your phone, give it to them, run away, and live another day.

Use force only when your life is threatened & there are absolutely no other options available.

If you want an extra level of personal security, pick up a tactical pen (and learn how to use it). I often carry one, and it doesn’t set off any alarms when going through customs.

14: Project Situational Awareness

Did you know that a majority of human communication is based on non-verbal body language? This projection of confidence can prevent you from becoming a target.

Keep your head up, stay alert, and aware of you’re surroundings. When you’re confident, potential attackers can sense it through your body language and eye contact.

Most will choose to move on and find an easier victim to attack.

In many places, making direct eye contact with potential threats can help ward off an attack, ensuring they notice you see them and what they may be planning. Yet in other parts of the world, too much eye contact might invite trouble…

Generally you should stay aware of who is around you, walk with a purpose, and don’t look worried, lost, or scared (even if you feel that way) — but I’d also avoid staring contests with sketchy looking strangers.

Travel Safety with Your Money

Protecting Your Money

15: Tell Your Bank Where You’re Going

Imagine the agony of doing absolutely everything right and keeping yourself perfectly safe and secure – only to have your trip ruined because your bank thinks you’re the thief, and locks down all your cards.

If this happens and you’re lucky, you’ll be asked security questions to determine your identity. The rest of the time, you’ll get a notification from the bank’s fraud detection team that irregular activity has been recorded on your card, and they’ve put a hold on all transactions until the situation is resolved – which might take days.

The solution is simple. Most online banking services have a facility for letting the bank or credit card provider know about your upcoming travels. Make sure you use it, shortly before leaving – and keep them in the loop if your travel plans change.

I also recommend using your debit card at the airport ATM machine as soon as you arrive in a new country, as this also helps let the bank know you’re traveling.

READ MORE: Travel Banking Tips & Advice

16: Hide Emergency Cash

While it’s good to do everything you can to prevent worst case scenarios – it’s equally smart to assume it’ll happen and plan ahead for it. This is the thinking behind having an emergency stash of funds, stored in a safe place.

Some of my favorite hiding places include:

  • Secret pocket sewn into your pants
  • Behind a patch on your backpack
  • Rolled into an empty chapstick container
  • Inside a hidden compartment (like this hair-brush or belt pouch)

How much emergency cash? This will be personal preference, but I usually prefer $ 200 spread out in 2 different places. Some hidden on me, some hidden in my bag. A hidden backup credit card is wise too.

Now if things got really dire, and everything’s gone, what then? You call up a friend or family member, and ask them to send you the emergency money you left with them before you went traveling, via a Western Union or Moneygram transfer.

Hopefully it will never come to that. But these things do happen occasionally, and it’s better to practice safe travel techniques than to remain ignorant about the possibility.

Food Travel Safety Tips

Staying Safe While You Eat

17: Food & Water Safety

After traveling extensively the last 7 years, to over 50 countries, eating all kinds of weird stuff, I’ve only had food poisoning a couple of times.

Don’t be scared of the food when you travel! In fact, eating strange new foods can be a highlight for many people on their adventures around the world.

My food-obsessed friend Jodi recommends the following tips:

  • Eat at popular places with long lines
  • Try to watch how your food is prepared
  • Pack translation cards to express your allergies
  • Fully cooked food is always the safest
  • Only eat peel-able fruit to avoid bacteria

I also recommend getting a filtered water bottle. In many modern cities around the world the water is safe to drink, but outside of those places it often isn’t.

Sure, you could keep buying bottled water everywhere you go, but that plastic waste is a huge environmental problem. Why not get one sturdy filtered bottle, and then re-use it?

It pays for itself and saves the environment at the same time!

18: Use ATMs Wisely

You may have been told to cover your hand when keying in your PIN number at an ATM. That’s good advice worth following, both for others looking over your shoulder, as well as hidden cameras trying to record your pin.

Always take a close look at ATM machines before you use them. Pull on the card reader a bit. Does it have any questionable signs of tampering? If so, go into the bank and get someone to come out and check it (and then use another machine, regardless of what happens).

If an ATM machine appears to have eaten your card, run a finger along the card slot to see if you feel anything protruding. The “Lebanese Loop” is a trick where a thin plastic sleeve captures your card (preventing the machine from reading it) – then as soon as you walk away, a thief yanks it out and runs off with your card.

Another overlooked factor is where other people are when you’re at the machine. Can someone peer over your shoulder? Are they close enough they could grab the cash and run off?

If so, use another ATM elsewhere. Better safe than sorry! Never let anyone “help” you with your transaction either.

19: Stop Using Your Back Pocket

It’s the first place any pickpocket will check – and short of putting a loaded mousetrap in there (not recommended if you forget and sit down), the best way to deal with the dangers of having a back pocket is to never use it…

And if putting money in the back pocket of your pants is a habit you can’t seem to break, grab some needle and thread and sew it shut!

Your front pockets are a lot harder to steal from without being noticed.

If you’re REALLY worried, or plan to travel to a city where pickpockets run rampant, you can wear a money belt. I’m not a fan, but I know many who use them for peace of mind.

Travel Safety Tips & Advice

Travel with Friends

20: Travel In Numbers

The more people around you, the more eyeballs are on your valuables – and the more legs are available for running after thieves.

A group is also a much more intimidating physical presence, which helps ward off predators of all kinds. It will help to keep you safer than trying to go it alone in a foreign country.

If you’re traveling solo, consider making some new friends and go exploring together.

Staying at backpacker hostels is an excellent way to make some new friends. Often you’ll find other solo travelers there, who may want to do some of the same activities you want to.

However, I’d also like to highlight the importance of not trusting new people TOO quickly. There are some professional scammers who use the backpacker trail to take advantage of other travelers looking for a friend.

Don’t leave your expensive or important stuff with someone you just met. No matter how friendly they seem.

21: Pack A First Aid Kit

Injuries can happen when you travel abroad, not matter how careful you are. That’s why traveling with a basic first aid kit is always a good idea.

You don’t need to go crazy and bring your own needles and scalpels, but stocking the basics to treat cuts, sprains, stomach issues, and burns can help if you or people around you may need them.

I prefer a basic waterproof adventure first aid kit with a few additions of my own:

  • Small tube of sunscreen
  • Re-hydration salts
  • Anti-histamine tablets
  • Small pair of scissors
  • Extra pain pills (Ibuprofen)
  • Emergency space blanket
  • Small tube of petroleum jelly (helps prevent blisters)
Stay Sober for Travel Safety

Enjoying Happy Hour in Madrid!

22: Stay (Relatively) Sober

Getting too drunk or high when you travel is almost always unacceptably risky. If you’re wasted, you’re not present, and anything could be happening around you (or to you).

I’m not saying don’t enjoy yourself. Hell I have plenty over the years! Just do it responsibly, stay hyper-aware of how much you’re consuming, keep hydrated & fed, and make sure you don’t lose control of the situation.

Harder drugs are especially risky — it’s a good way to get in trouble with the police, who may not be as forgiving (or even law-abiding) as authorities back home. Not to mention having to deal with potentially nefarious people who are providing those drugs — and their own alternative motives.

On a similar note, if you’re partial to late nights out partying until pre-dawn hours, be careful assuming that unfamiliar destinations will be as forgiving as back home.

Many generally safe destinations (especially ones filled with tourists) become far less secure late at night – and if you’re stumbling around intoxicated, you’re far less aware of your surroundings – and a VERY easy target for all kinds of bad stuff.

23: Trust Your Instincts!

This one is easily overlooked – and incredibly important.

You are a walking surveillance network. Your body sees and hears more things than you could ever process into coherent thought. Let’s call it your “spidey sense” — the ability to sense danger.

Your body might be sensing signs of danger, before your brain is fully aware of it.

This is why gut feelings are always worth examining! If you’re feeling uneasy and you don’t know why, try not to write it off as irrational fear. Stop and pay closer attention to the situation. Can you figure out what the problem is?

It’s easy to dismiss your instincts as “silly”. Never treat them as such. Those gut feelings and intuition have kept humans safe for millions of years.

24: Travel Safety For Women vs. Men

All the travel safety tips above are equally important for both men and women. I don’t think the ability to travel safely should be focused on gender.

Unfortunately women are victims of violence everywhere, including here in the United States & Canada. Traveling doesn’t necessarily increase that threat, it simply changes the location.

Women worried about being assaulted or harassed might prefer to visit a local street bazaar or nightclub in a group rather than alone. Especially if it’s a common problem for the area.

I know some women who feel safer carrying a safety whistle and rubber door stop when they travel solo too.

However men also have specific safety concerns they need to watch out for, related to their egos. Like getting goaded into a physical fight that isn’t necessary. Or being scammed by a beautiful woman.

Travel safety is really about staying street smart, prepared for the unexpected, and minimizing your exposure to risky situations in a new and unfamiliar country.

Risk and Travel Safety

Trekking in Greenland

25: A Few Words About Risk…

If you want to travel, you cannot avoid risk. There is no way to be 100% safe from any threat, in any part of life, but this is especially true for adventure travel.

Risk is an integral part of adventure. One cannot exist without the other. This means that when you hit the road, you are bound to get scammed sooner or later, or find yourself in unexpectedly challenging circumstances. It happens to all of us, without exception.

Risk is unavoidable – but it can be managed, so you can stay safe and secure. That’s why I wrote this post.

How do most people hear about events in other countries? It’s usually through the news. This is a big problem, because the media is biased – but not the way politicians would like you to believe. It reports on unusual events (most often negative ones). Things get featured in the news because they rarely happen. That’s the definition of “newsworthy”.

If the news was truly representative of what’s happening in the world, 99.9% of each report would sound like: “Today in Namib-istan, absolutely nothing dangerous happened, and everyone had a perfectly normal day – yet again.”

The news media makes other countries feel a lot less safe than they really are. In fact, the world seems to be getting safer every decade, according to data collected by economist Max Roser and psychologist Steven Pinker.

This isn’t saying that bad things don’t happen. It’s saying they’re usually a misleading representation of what normally happens.

Don’t believe the hype. Generally speaking, it’s never been a safer time to travel! So get out there and go enjoy your trip. ★

Pin This!

25 Travel Safety Tips You Need To Know. More at ExpertVagabond.com

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

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Expert Vagabond

Flying Over The Grand Canyon In A Helicopter From Vegas

Grand Canyon Helicopter Tour

Helicopter Flight Over the Grand Canyon

Las Vegas, Nevada

The helicopter’s rotor fired up, whirring above our heads. Our pilot took the controls and we suddenly began to hover off the ground, rising into the sky above Las Vegas.

It was early in the morning, about 7am, just after sunrise at Henderson Executive Airport in Las Vegas.

Anna and I were flying out to the Grand Canyon with Maverick Helicopters after they’d picked us up from the Venetian Hotel.

I love helicopters. When I was a kid, I wanted to become a pilot (ok, I still do).

Scenic helicopter flights like this are one of the things I sometimes splurge on when I travel. Not only is it a super cool experience just flying in them, but the aerial photography opportunities are excellent too!

I was especially looking forward to flying over the Grand Canyon in a helicopter. After traveling the world for years, this was actually going to be my very first trip to the Grand Canyon!

Las Vegas Helicopter Tour

The Las Vegas Strip

Helicopter Tour

We’re Not Excited at All…

Hoover Dam

Impressive View of the Hoover Dam

Leaving Las Vegas

The journey started as we flew above the Las Vegas strip in Maverick’s 8 person ECO Star EC-130 helicopter. It was fun looking down on the casinos and landmarks of Vegas from the aircraft’s large windows.

Iconic hotels like the the Venetian, the MGM Grand, and even the golden (and gaudy) Trump Tower.

Flying away from Vegas, we entered the desolate and beautiful Nevada desert. A vast dry mountain landscape stretching on for miles. We passed over Fortification Hill, an extinct volcano that was formed about 13 million years ago as the crust around Lake Mead stretched thin.

Next it was on to the impressive Hoover Dam, where we circled a few times to admire this marvel of engineering and labor built during the Great Depression that employed 21,000 workers.

A massive 60-story wall of concrete and steel, the Hoover Dam provides electricity to cities nearby using the power of the Colorado River. When it was built, it was the largest concrete structure in the world.

Nevada Desert via Helicopter

The Vast Nevada Desert

Flying by Lake Mead

Lake Mead in the Distance

Valley of Fire Nevada

The Valley Of Fire

Lake Mead & The Valley Of Fire

The Hoover Dam holds back the bright blue waters of Lake Mead, the largest fresh-water reservoir in the United States. It’s difficult to get a sense of just how large this lake is until you fly over it.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area provides many opportunities for boating, hiking, cycling, and camping within its boundaries.

Another landmark we passed on our helicopter journey to the Grand Canyon is the Valley Of Fire, a stunning & colorful valley in the Mojave Desert full of strange Aztec sandstone outcrops.

This magnificent red sandstone landscape was formed by great shifting sand dunes during the age of the dinosaurs more than 150 million years ago.

While flying over it was awesome, driving through the Valley Of Fire is a wonderful day trip or weekend getaway from Las Vegas if you want to get away from the city!

Grand Canyon Flight

Flying Through the Grand Canyon!

Landing in the Grand Canyon

Landing for Snacks & Photos

Grand Canyon Helicopter Tour from Vegas

West Rim of the Grand Canyon

Landing In The Grand Canyon!

Finally, the West Rim of the Grand Canyon itself came into view. I knew it was going to be epic, and wasn’t disappointed.

The canyon was formed by the Colorado River cutting channels through layers of rock over millions of years, exposing colorful bands of rock that reveal a rich geological history of the Earth.

But we didn’t just fly over the Grand Canyon, oh no. We descended and flew THROUGH it, cruising past steep canyon walls on each side of the helicopter. So much fun!

Then, as if that wasn’t enough excitement, we landed inside the Grand Canyon itself. A special remote area of Hualapai Indian Territory, perched on a cliff 300 feet above the Colorado River.

Here we watched the morning sun crest over the walls of the canyon with champagne and snacks. Hiking around to admire the natural scenery and taking photos before taking off again for Las Vegas.

Maverick Helicopter Tour Vegas

Maverick Helicopter Flights

Grand Canyon Helicopter Tour

This was the Wind Dancer Grand Canyon Tour from Las Vegas. It includes a Grand Canyon landing with champagne and snacks.

While there are many different time-slots, we choose the early morning one to avoid crowds and for the pleasant morning light, which is usually better for photography.

The Grand Canyon helicopter flights are popular, and the landing zone can accommodate multiple helicopters. Because we chose the first flight of the morning, we had the whole place to ourselves!

Maverick offers other types of helicopter flights too, like a shorter Las Vegas Strip Tour (available both during the day or at night) plus a HeliYoga Tour. ★

Pin This!

Grand Canyon Helicopter Tour from Vegas. More at ExpertVagabond.com
Grand Canyon Helicopter Tour from Vegas. More at ExpertVagabond.com

Have any questions about my helicopter flight over the Grand Canyon? Have you ever been before? Drop me a message in the comments below!

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Expert Vagabond

Merry Christmas! Here’s $30 Off Your Next Hotel On Booking.com

Free Booking.com Coupon Code

$ 30 Booking.com Coupon

Travel Tips

Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Happy Kwanzaa! As 2017 winds down, I wanted to give everyone a gift this holiday season. Enjoy $ 30 off your next hotel stay on Booking.com!

This post is sponsored by Booking.com.

Happy holidays from the White Mountains of New Hampshire!

I’m celebrating Christmas with my family here, and the snow is falling, so it’s going to be a white one too!

Anna & I just returned from a trip to Africa, where we had breakfast with giraffes, danced with Maasai warriors, and watched leopards lounge in trees.

While we were over there, my friends at Booking.com reached out with a special holiday surprise…

We are giving ALL OF YOU $ 30 off your next hotel stay! Woohoo!

COUPON CODE! For a special $ 30 off your next Booking.com hotel stay over $ 60, make sure to use my special link.

My Favorite Hotel Search Engine

If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll know that Booking.com is my favorite hotel search engine website.

I use it for booking 90% of my hotel, guesthouse, and hostel stays around the world.

One of the best ways to save money on travel is to find cheap accommodation. In fact I wrote a whole guide about that here.

Booking.com really helps you save money (and time!) when booking your travel accommodation. It’s super easy to compare different properties based on price, location, or ratings.

Their smartphone app is also slick. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to book a last-minute hotel on the app from a bus or rental car when my travel plans suddenly changed!

Trying to visit individual hotel websites (that often suck) or, even worse, actually stopping by each hotel or guesthouse in person until you find something good is a nightmare.

With Booking.com, I can scan reviews for the important qualities I’m looking for in a place to stay. Is the wifi fast? Is there a free airport shuttle? Is the neighborhood nice? Which place has the lowest price & best reviews?

Free Booking.com Coupon Code

Happy Holidays!

Get $ 30 Off Your Next Hotel Stay!

Planning a ski vacation this winter? Or maybe you want to escape the snow and hit the beach? What about an African safari? American road trip?

Click here to use my special link to book your next hotel, guesthouse, or hostel stay over $ 60 on Booking.com, and you’ll receive a $ 30 credit applied to your credit card after you complete your trip.

It’s that easy!

You’ll need to sign into your Booking.com account (or create one) and link it to a credit card so they can send you your $ 30 credit.

Feel free to forward & share this with family and friends too!

Who doesn’t want to save some money on their next hotel stay? This is something everyone can use to help make travel a little cheaper next year.

I hope you enjoy this discount, and wishing you happy travels in 2018! ★

Where do you want to travel in 2018? How will you use your $ 30 credit? 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 an item, I will receive an affiliate commission, at no extra cost to you. 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

Travel Vaccination Guide: Which Shots Do You Need?

Travel Shots

What Travel Vaccinations Do You Need?

Travel Tips

Planning to travel overseas in the next few months? You may want to think about travel vaccinations. Learn which shots you may need for which countries, and how to save money on them.

When I first began traveling on a regular basis 7 years ago, the topic of travel vaccinations and immunizations came up. Like many people, I was confused about which shots I needed. Where do I get them? How much do they cost?

Honestly, it doesn’t matter whether you’re staying at a fancy resort or a backpacker hostel – if you’re in a foreign country, you’re putting yourself at risk for the diseases and infections that reside there.

Why do we wear seat belts? Because they save more lives than they take.

The same is true with vaccinations. The diseases they prevent kill millions around the world (or used to before vaccinations).

Once you’ve taken the proper precautions, you’ll feel much better about being adventurous and saying yes to any opportunities that present themselves while traveling. It’s preventative insurance for your health.

Travel Vaccinations & Shots

I know, I know – no one likes getting shots or even going to the doctor. But a twenty-minute appointment could prevent you from contracting really bad diseases, and maybe even save your life.

A number of factors go into determining whether or not you need a vaccination – some of them personal (depending on your health, or where you are from) many of them are more general.

As a result, necessary vaccinations can vary depending on your planned destinations. Let’s take a look at these factors and which vaccinations are recommended (or required) for your next trip.

Things To Consider

There are a few things to consider regarding your own health and situation. First, how is your immune system? If you have a disease or condition that weakens the immune system, speak with a doctor before getting a vaccine.

It’s important to make sure you’ve got your body up to par for the trip!

Next, if you are pregnant or traveling with children, be sure that both you and they have any medical procedures and/or vaccines needed, and that the vaccines are safe for their age.

Check your personal vaccine history by talking to your doctor or health insurance provider (you may have had some of them when you were younger, like Hepatitis A). Just to avoid any confusion, this is often referred to in official medical circles as your Immunization Records.

Finally, I’ve shared some general guidelines below, but for more detailed information, please visit the official CDC Traveler’s Health Site to learn exactly which travel vaccinations are recommended for each country.

Bathrooms around the World

Bathroom in Afghanistan

Basic Routine Vaccinations

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a liver disease spread through food and water contaminated by the feces of an infected person. Some sources include fruits & vegetables that were improperly handled, bad ice, and shellfish pulled from contaminated water. It can also be spread through sex. Symptoms are similar to the flu. There is no cure.

TYPE: 2 injections over 6 months
PROTECTION: Lifetime
COST: $ 75 – $ 100 (often covered by health insurance)
RECOMMENDED FOR: All Countries

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a liver disease spread through blood and bodily fluids of an infected person. Sources include unprotected sex, using contaminated needles, and sharing a razor/toothbrush with an infected person. Symptoms are often mild, so you may not realize you have it. Left untreated it can damage your liver.

TYPE: Multiple injections over a few months.
PROTECTION: Lifetime
COST: $ 60 – $ 90 (often covered by health insurance)
RECOMMENDED FOR: All Countries

TDaP (Tetanus, Diptheria, and Pertussis)

Tetanus is bacteria found in the soil and animal excrement. If it enters a wound, it creates a deadly toxin called tetanospasmin. Symptoms include nerve spasms and contractions that spread from the face to the arms and legs, and can affect the ability to breathe. Untreated, tetanus is often fatal. The vaccine is sometimes mixed with vaccines for Diptheria & Pertussis, two more bacterial diseases.

TYPE: Single injection
PROTECTION: 10 years
COST: $ 60 – $ 85 (often covered by health insurance)
RECOMMENDED FOR: All Countries

Flu Vaccine

The Influenza virus, aka “the flu” spreads from infected persons to the nose or throat of others. It often only lasts a few days, but can still ruin a trip. Symptoms include high fever, sore throat, chills, fatigue, headache, and coughing.

TYPE: Single injection
PROTECTION: 1 year
COST: $ 30 – $ 50 (often covered by health insurance)
RECOMMENDED FOR: All Countries

Recommended For Many Countries

Typhoid Fever

Typhoid fever, or typhoid, is a bacterial infection that spreads through feces contaminated food or water. It affects 21.5 million people worldwide, with a 10% fatality rate. Most common symptoms include fever, anorexia, abdominal discomfort and headaches.

TYPE: Single injection or Pills
PROTECTION: 2 years (injection), 5 years (pills)
COST: $ 85 – $ 300
RECOMMENDED FOR: South America, Central America, Asia, Africa, Pacific Islands

Protecting Against Tropical Disease

Jungle Trekking in Panama

Recommended For Some Countries

Malaria

There are four different strains of Malaria. All are transmitted by the bite of an infected female mosquito. Malaria is characterized by fever and flu-like symptoms, including chills, headache, body aches and fatigue. Malaria can cause kidney failure, coma and death.

TYPE: Multiple types of medication: Atovone/Proguanil (Malarone), Mefloqine (Lariam), Chloroquine (Aralen), or Doxycycline.
PROTECTION: For as long as you’re on the medication
COST: $ 25 – $ 200 for 2 weeks of prevention depending on drug
RECOMMENDED FOR: Africa, South America, parts of Asia (see full map here)

Rabies

Rabies is a viral disease contracted by the bite of an animal, usually raccoons, bats, dogs, skunks, or foxes. It affects the central nervous system and brain, leading to death if untreated. It starts with flu-like symptoms, progressing to insomnia, confusion, partial paralysis, and hallucinations. The vaccine does not prevent contracting rabies, it just makes treating it far easier.

TYPE: 3 injections over 2 months
PROTECTION: 5-8 years (does not prevent, only helps with treatment)
COST: $ 500 – $ 1000
RECOMMENDED FOR: South America, Middle East, Africa

Cholera

Cholera is a diarrheal illness caused by infection of the intestine with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. It kills over 100,000 people every year. Cholera is spread by consuming water or food contaminated by the feces of an infected person. Symptoms can be mild, but severe cases include watery diarrhea, vomiting, and leg cramps.

TYPE: Single injection
PROTECTION: 1-2 years
COST: $ 30 – $ 50
RECOMMENDED FOR: Some African countries like D.R. Congo, Egypt, and Morocco (see full map here)

Polio

Polio is a viral disease transmitted by fecal matter or saliva from an infected person. It can cause paralysis, respiratory failure, and death. Before a vaccine was available, infection was common worldwide. In the United States, most people receive the initial vaccine as children. However an additional booster shot is recommended for adult travelers going to certain countries.

TYPE: Single injection (booster)
PROTECTION: Lifetime
COST: $ 50
RECOMMENDED FOR: Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East (more details here)

Meningitis

There are a few different forms of Meningitis. Basically, it’s a bacterial infection that affects the brain and spinal cord. It spreads from person to person via coughing, kissing, or eating contaminated food. Symptoms include sudden fever, headache, and stiff neck. Some countries in Africa & the Middle East have regular outbreaks.

TYPE: Single injection
PROTECTION: 3-5 years
COST: $ 80 – $ 200
RECOMMENDED FOR: Africa & the Middle East

Japanese Encephalitis

Japanese Encephalitis disease is spread through the bite of an infected mosquito. It is most common in rural farming areas of Asia. Risk is generally low for most travelers, unless you are spending a lot of time in rural areas during the monsoon season. Some cases can lead to inflammation of the brain and other symptoms which can be fatal.

TYPE: 2 injections over one month
PROTECTION: 1-2 years
COST: $ 150 – $ 800
RECOMMENDED FOR: Asia & Southeast Asia

Required For Some Countries

Yellow Fever

Yellow fever is a mosquito-borne viral disease with a high mortality rate, which is why some countries require vaccination if you recently traveled to parts of South American or Africa. Symptoms of yellow fever include: fever, nausea, vomiting, headache, and abdominal pain. Severe cases include hepatitis, hemorrhagic fever, and possible death.

TYPE: Single injection
PROTECTION: Lifetime
COST: $ 150 – $ 300
RECOMMENDED FOR: South America & Africa (see full map here)

When Should You Get Vaccinated?

Obviously you need any shots that are REQUIRED for entry taken care of before you leave. That said, the earlier the better, especially if follow-up rounds may be needed.

Because some vaccines require a few shots spread out over a few months.

Some travel shots can take about a week to fully protect your system, so generally it’s recommended to have your travel vaccines completed a few weeks before your trip. Ask your doctor if you have any concerns on timing.

Your Yellow Immunization Card

Once you receive your travel vaccinations, ask the doctor for a yellow immunization card, which lists all your vaccination details.

Keep this with your passport, and update it with any new shots you get, because immigration officials in some countries will want to see it. Especially as proof of Yellow Fever vaccination.

Travel Shots and Vaccinations

Walgreens Provides Travel Vaccinations

Where To Get Travel Vaccinations

Before Leaving Home

The first step in figuring out where to go to get your vaccines is to contact your health insurance provider or doctor. They should be able to tell you exactly where you need to go, and maybe even help you make the appointment.

Many county health departments, hospitals, and private health clinics offer vaccines on site. In some cases, an appointment will be required, at others a walk-in will be fine too.

If you live in the United States, Walgreens Pharmacy also offers many travel vaccinations.

It’s best to call ahead to learn which travel shots they offer, and what you need as far as identification or additional paperwork.

If there isn’t one available, or if you are already on the road, check the International Society for Travel Medicine. There you’ll find a directory of travel vaccination providers, doctors, and other travel health resources based on location.

Save Money Overseas!

If you’re like me, the prices for some of these vaccines can be a bit intimidating. Of course depending on your insurance, or national health care system, some vaccinations might be covered.

In other cases, if an expensive travel shot is just recommended, it might be possible to have it performed in a foreign country after you arrive to save some money.

Here are some recommendations though:

  • Do your own research back home first.
  • Find a clean, preferably large hospital in a major urban area.
  • Double check that the doctors are certified.
  • Find out if you need an appointment.
  • Read up on what other travelers are saying.
  • Be prepared to pay with local currency.

The following foreign medical centers are frequented by travelers looking for cheap travel vaccinations:

Southeast Asia

Thailand: Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute
Malaysia: Twin Towers Medical Center
Vietnam: Family Medical Practice

South America

Argentina: Hospital Aleman
Brazil: Hospital das Clinicas

Africa

South Africa: Netcare Travel Clinic

Dengue Fever Blood Test

Getting a Blood Test for Dengue

What About Zika & Dengue Fever?

In addition to the diseases and infections above, there are a whole lot more that don’t get as much coverage called Neglected Tropical Diseases.

I want to talk briefly about two of the more common ones that people should be aware of when they travel overseas, Zika and Dengue Fever.

Both are caused by mosquitos, and neither has a vaccine, so you have to protect yourself in other ways.

Dengue Fever

Dengue Fever is a disease caused by any one of four closely related viruses. They are transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected mosquito. According to the CDC, Dengue is a risk in many South & Central American countries. Symptoms are similar to severe flu, and can include a red rash on the hands and feet. Dengue can sometimes cause long-term health problems, and even result in death. I actually contracted Dengue Fever in Mexico a few years ago — it isn’t pleasant.

Zika Virus

Zika Virus is transmitted to humans by infected mosquitos. Many people won’t have symptoms or will only have mild symptoms. However Zika can cause horrible damage to unborn babies through a birth defect of the brain called microcephaly. According to the CDC, there is risk of the virus in all South and Central American countries except for Chile and Uruguay.

Use Mosquito Netting

Hammock Camping in Costa Rica

Mosquito Protection Tips

Try to avoid mosquito bites, particularly in remote, jungle, and rural areas. If you have one and begin to feel ill, see a doctor immediately. Protect yourself against mosquitos by taking the following precautions:

  • Cover up arms and legs – wear long loose fitting clothing.
  • Apply insect repellents containing DEET to exposed skins and re-apply frequently – always apply over sunscreen
  • Treat your clothing with permethrin – it will kill any mosquitoes that land on your clothes.
  • Use air conditioning, seal windows and mosquito coils to kill any mosquitoes that might get into your room.
  • Sleep under mosquito nets in basic accommodation or when requiring extra protection

More Travel Vaccination Tips

Ok, real-talk here. Despite all the diseases mentioned above, I don’t want to scare you into never traveling! The chance of you catching something is low.

It’s probably not the end of the world if you don’t have ALL the recommended travel vaccinations for EVERY country you visit.

I’ve been traveling for the last 7 years, visiting over 50 countries. In addition to the basic routine vaccinations recommended for all countries, I also have my Yellow Fever and Typhoid shots.

Personally I’m not too worried about Rabies, Cholera, or the others. Except maybe for Malaria in some very specific countries that I haven’t visited yet, because it can be pretty common.

I’m not a doctor, and can’t tell you which travel vaccinations you’ll need.

Check the CDC Travel Site, gather as much information as you can based on where you’re going, what you plan to be doing there, and then weigh the risks yourself.

For example, I know others who have come down with Malaria, Cholera, and who needed Rabies shots. Yet I still don’t have the Cholera vaccine, Rabies vaccine, and have never used Malaria medication. It’s a personal choice, and a risk you have to live with.

Many private travel clinics in the United States like to use “scare tactics” to convince you to get a shot for absolutely everything, while padding their profits with your ignorance and fear of the unknown.

Please do your own research, talk to your regular doctor, and then decide how much risk you’re willing to take. ★

Traveling Internationally Soon?

Don’t forget travel insurance! I’m a big fan of World Nomads for short-term trips. Protect yourself from possible injury & theft abroad. Read more about why you should always carry travel insurance here.

Bonus Video! Getting My Travel Shots


Subscribe to my YouTube Channel for new Adventure Travel Videos!

(Click to watch Getting My Travel Vaccinations on YouTube)

Pin This!

Ultimate Travel Vaccination Guide. More at ExpertVagabond.com

Have any questions about travel vaccinations? What’s your experience with them? Drop me a message in the comments below!

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Expert Vagabond