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17 Best Travel Books To Fuel Your Wanderlust (Plus A Kindle Giveaway!)

Best Travel Books of All Time

What are the Best Travel Books?

Travel Inspiration

These are some of the best travel books ever (in my opinion). If you’re looking for travel inspiration, you can’t go wrong with this wonderful collection of travel stories & helpful guides.

I’ve been traveling the world for 7 years now, and it all started after I was inspired by reading some incredible travel books.

Some of my favorite travel books are based on other people’s travel adventures, while travel how-to guides taught me that international travel is accessible to everyone, not just wealthy & retired people.

So here is my personal list of the best travel books of all time.

I’ve split the list up into two sections. My favorite travel stories/novels, and the most useful books about how to travel the world.

Once I’ve finished reading any of these books, I feel the instant urge to pack my bag and head out to explore the world somewhere new!

Well written travel books like these have helped inspire my own personal travel goals over the years — and will continue to do so.

So if you’re looking for some motivation to head out on a travel adventure of your own, make yourself comfortable and read a couple of my favorites listed here. They are sure to inspire wanderlust in everyone who reads them…

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” ~ Saint Augustine

My Favorite Travel Books (2017)

Best Travel Stories & Novels

Best Travel Books: Travels With A Donkey

Travels With A Donkey In The Cévennes

By Robert Louis Stevenson

Travels With A Donkey In The Cévennes is one of the first travel books I ever read. It takes you on a walking journey with Robert and his donkey Mosestine across a mountainous region of France.

You get to feel what traveling through 1870’s Europe was like, including the landscape, religion, and the people. Robert & his donkey don’t get along at first, but through trial and error they learn to become travel companions.

Buy The Book Here

Best Travel Books: Shantaram

Shantaram

By Gregory David Roberts

Shantaram is set in the underworld of contemporary India, where an escaped convict from Australia named Lin is hiding out. He searches for love while running a clinic in one of the city’s poorest slums and simultaneously working for the Bombay mafia.

It’s one of the best written novels I’ve read, and sucks you right into an amazing story full of love, beauty, betrayal, brutality, and compassion. The book has been criticized for being more fiction than fact, however I still highly recommend it as a great travel book. It’s incredibly entertaining and thought-provoking either way.

Buy The Book Here

Best Travel Books: World Walk

World Walk

By Steven Newman

World Walk is the story of newspaper writer Steven Newman who at the age of 28 packed his bag to start a 4 year long journey around the world on foot. He walked his way across 22 countries in 5 continents.

He shares heartfelt stories of the people he meets along the way, as well as wild adventures including arrests, wars, blizzards, wild animal attacks, wildfires, and more. A lesson of hope and love told through the exciting adventures of independent budget backpacking.

Buy The Book Here

Best Travel Books: On The Road

On The Road

By Jack Kerouac

On The Road is a classic American travel book. It’s the semi-autobiographical story of Sal Paradise (based on Kerouac himself) & Dean Moriarty’s cross-country hitchhiking and train-hopping journey across rural America in the 1940’s.

Written in a rambling diary style, and a bit hard to follow at times, Kerouac takes to the road looking for adventure, sex, drugs, and mischief. A great read for those who would like to escape the real world for a while and just go where the wind blows them.

Buy The Book Here

Best Travel Books: The Alchemist

The Alchemist

By Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist is an international best-seller that tells the mystical story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who yearns to travel in search of treasure. However on his adventurous quest, he finds himself instead.

This is a powerful book that inspires courage & chasing your dreams. It teaches important life lessons using entertaining stories. It helped me overcome my own fears about what to do with my life, as well as millions of other readers around the world.

Buy The Book Here

Best Travel Books: In A Sunburned Country

In A Sunburned Country

By Bill Bryson

In A Sunburned Country follows Bill’s hilarious journey through the sunbaked deserts and endless coastlines of Australia, trying not to get killed by the deadly wildlife. It’s full of fun & interesting facts about the country.

It’s not your typical guidebook to Australia, but a must-read if you plan on traveling there. He really gives you a sense of the place, its quirks, and the people using some very entertaining storytelling and history.

Buy The Book Here

Best Travel Books: Marching Powder

Marching Powder

By Rusty Young

Marching Powder is the true story of a British drug dealer’s five years inside a very strange Bolivian prison, where whole families live with inmates in luxury apartments and cocaine is manufactured.

When you spend time backpacking around the world, you sometimes find yourself in ridiculous situations no one back home would believe. This is one of those crazy stories — and one of my favorite reasons to travel.

Buy The Book Here

Best Travel Books: The Cat Who Went To Paris

The Cat Who Went To Paris

By Peter Gethers

For the wary soul who needs a bit of extra convincing of the life-changing wonders that await abroad, there’s perhaps no better resource than The Cat Who Went To Paris. Peter Gethers’ global journeys with a cat named Norton puts a dose of adorable humor into many common travel situations.

Norton accompanies Gethers on filmmaking trips and helps convince the love of his life that he is the one. After years of adventuring the three settle in New York, Norton being one of the city’s most well-traveled felines.

Buy The Book Here

Love With A Chance Of Drowning is the travel memoir of Torre, who reluctantly leaves her corporate lifestyle for to live on a sailboat with a man she just met, and their adventure across the South Pacific together.

Along with all the challenges and wonder they experience on the trip, the book takes you on a beautiful, romantic and deeply personal journey of self discovery. It’s very entertaining and funny, I couldn’t put it down. Chasing dreams is always scary, but usually worth it.

Buy The Book Here

Best Travel Books: Dark Star Safari

Dark Star Safari

By Paul Theroux

Theroux earned his reputation as one of the all-time great travelogue writers because he lives every word that he writes. Dark Star Safari takes readers through his voyage from the top of Africa to the bottom.

He often finds himself at the bottom of his own barrel and unsure of what will happen next. It’s an honest account by a writer that is as ‘working class’ as travel writers come. Overall, an honest if not always refreshing take on overland travel in Africa.

Buy The Book Here

Best Travel How-To Guides

Ok now that we’ve got some of my favorite travel novels out of the way, I also wanted to include some more useful travel books in the list too. Books to help you travel cheaper, better, or show you how to travel more!

Best Travel Books: Vagabonding

Vagabonding

By Rolf Potts

Vagabonding is what encouraged me to put my real life on hold to backpack around the world for a bit. This book is essentially about the process behind taking time off from your regular life to discover and experience the world on your own terms.

It won’t tell you exactly how to do it, but gives you ideas and confidence to figure it out for yourself. Many long-term travelers have been inspired by what Rolf talks about, including Tim Ferriss. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to travel more, but thinks they don’t have enough money or time.

Buy The Book Here

Coming from a fellow travel blogger, I’ve got to give Kepnes (also known as Nomadic Matt) props for his New York Times bestselling book How To Travel The World On $ 50 A Day. Matt knows what he’s talking about, and it shows as much in this book as it does on his blog.

He goes into detail on how he’s stayed on the move for so long on a shoestring budget, with tips and tricks coming to life through relatable stories. Also seeping through the pages is a heavy dose of modesty, a necessity when venturing off the beaten path abroad.

Buy The Book Here

Best Travel Books: Travel As Transportation

Travel As Transformation

By Gregory V. Diehl

Travel As Transformation takes you on Diehl’s journey from living in a van in San Diego, growing chocolate with indigenous tribes in Central America, teaching in the Middle East and volunteering in Africa.

Through these stories, it shows you how profoundly travel can influence your perception of yourself. Diehl has spent the best part of 10 years exploring the world in countries many Westerners couldn’t even place on a map. The journey helps him find who he really is and what freedom means.

Buy The Book Here

Best Travel Books: Microadventures

Microadventures

By Alastair Humphreys

Microadventures is an uplifting and original concept evolved out of the travel blogosphere and into a catchy book. Instead of pushing his readers to drop everything and hit the road full-time, Humphreys champions the weekend warrior and after-work types with this one.

Among other things, Humphrey’s excursions in his native UK are featured prominently along with tricks of the trade for quick adventure travel. After all, some of the best explorations can happen on your own side of the planet. No need to travel far!

Buy The Book Here

Best Travel Books: How NOT To Travel The World

How NOT To Travel The World

By Lauren Juliff

In How NOT To Travel The World Lauren expertly conveys the fears of a first-time solo traveler who, prior to hitting the road, as she lived a rather sheltered life. The overarching theme is conquering fear and living your dream.

She does a solid job of discussing the emotional steps involved in her process too. I don’t know how Lauren gets into so many crazy situations on her travels, but they make for a very entertaining read!

Buy The Book Here

Best Travel Books: Food Traveler's Handbook

Food Traveler’s Handbook

By Jodi Ettenberg

The Food Traveler’s Handbook is an extension of Jodi Ettenberg’s excellent travel blog Legal Nomads, a go-to for all things street food (and eating while traveling in general). So it’s no wonder she’s got a top book on the subject.

Any who are gluten sensitive or have other dietary restrictions can finally rest easy as she breaks down where to go and what to avoid if you want to eat well while traveling.

Other volumes of The Traveler’s Handbook series are equally as helpful:

Buy The Book Here

The thought that exotic travel has to break the bank is an assumption as sad as it is untrue, and Leffel proves it in The World’s Cheapest Destinations. Active storytelling and honest facts on not only where to go but how to travel once you get there are the driving factor here.

The key takeaway from this book is that proper research and planning, along with a willingness to see a culture for what it really is, can save you a fortune. Oh, and don’t hesitate to bargain – just be respectful when you do so.

Buy The Book Here

Free Kindle Giveaway!

If you don’t have an Amazon Kindle yet, but want one, here’s your chance to win a free Kindle to use on your next travel adventure!

I’m giving one lucky reader their very own Kindle Paperwhite.

I love my Kindle, and travel with it everywhere. My whole reading library fits on something that weighs less than a single book! It’s really pretty amazing technology.

I didn’t think I’d ever get used to reading on a digital device either.

But with incredibly long battery life, ease of use, one-click book buying, and the ability to read in bright sunlight, it’s become one of my favorite pieces of travel gear. Sooo handy on long airplane or bus rides!

OFFICIAL RULES

ELIGIBILITY: Ages 18+
Promotion is open and offered to residents of any country. However the winner will be responsible for their own country’s customs fees.

CHOOSING A WINNER:
A winner will be selected at random from the list of entries, and notified by email. If the winner does not respond within one week, an alternate winner will be chosen at random.

PRIZE:
The winner will receive (1) Amazon Kindle Paperwhite e-reader shipped to their chosen address. Local customs fees are not included in the prize.

How To Enter Contest

Log into the Gleam widget below with Facebook or your email address and follow the instructions. The first 2 steps are mandatory, but the others will give you extra contest entries (and more chances to win!).

Win A Free Amazon Kindle!

Good luck, and I look forward to congratulating the winner! ★

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Best Travel Books. More at ExpertVagabond.com

What are some of your favorite travel books? Did I miss any good ones? 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

2018 Tour Announcement: Travel With Me To Kamchatka, Russia!

Kamchatka Tour

Kamchatka Adventure Travel & Photography Tour

Adventure Travel Tours

You guys have been asking to travel with me for years, now I’m finally going to make it happen! Join me this spring for my first adventure travel & photography tour to Kamchatka.

Have you ever heard of Kamchatka, Russia? Not many people have. It’s cold. It’s isolated. It’s not your typical travel destination.

Which is exactly why it’s the perfect place for us to go!

My wife Anna & I will be co-leading our first adventure travel & photography tour, an extraordinary expedition to the remote Russian peninsula of Kamchatka near Siberia.

Kamchatka is home to unspoiled nature, thick boreal forests, huge volcanos, hardly any people, and very few roads. This is a truly off-the-beaten path travel destination.

We’ll be venturing into rugged Russian wilderness, traveling hundreds of miles by snowmobile, to live with indigenous Even reindeer herders while learning about their way of life.

Kamchatka Tour

Reindeer Herding in Russia

Campfire Cooking

Living Off the Land

Nomadic Reindeer Herding

For the Even people, life revolves around the nomadic herding of domesticated reindeer for meat, supplemented with hunting, fishing and animal-trapping.

Along with their Eastern Orthodox faith, they also practice Shamanism.

Nomadic reindeer herding is a tradition that goes back centuries, but it’s also a dying profession. Younger generations are no longer interested in following the footsteps of their parents.

If older generations can’t pass their knowledge on, the practice could die along with them.

Which is why our trip to live with and learn from the Even people in Kamchatka will be an especially unique travel experience.

Kamchatka Tour

Eat Traditional Food

Kamchatka Tour

Traveling by Snowmobile

A Difficult Journey

This isn’t your typical group tour. Conditions will difficult. It will be cold. Life in North Eastern Russia is harsh. We’ll be deep in the wilderness, staying in yurts, and traveling by snowmobile for days.

There are no supermarkets out here. No Starbucks. No luxury hotels. Reindeer are an important source of food for these people, not pets…

Just a little warning that this trip probably isn’t for everyone (but vegetarians are welcome!).

This is the real deal though — true off-the-grid adventure travel. However if you’re the type of traveler who’s always up for a challenge (like me!), I promise it will be one hell of a journey!

A rugged travel expedition unlike anything else you’ve probably done before, one you’ll be sharing stories about with family & friends for years to come.

Kamchatka Tour

Live with Local People

Kamchatka Tour

One of Kamchatka’s Volcanoes

Trip Highlights

Traveling by 4×4 bus and snowmobile to reach the Even reindeer herders. Local homestay experience in a mixture of backcountry cabins and yurts. Bartering dry goods from the city for reindeer meat.

Watching, participating, and photographing daily life of the Even people. Getting to know a foreign culture & its people.

Visiting natural hot-springs. Photographing active volcanoes from a distance. For those who want to, we may charter a helicopter for a scenic flight over a volcano.

Kamchatka Tour

Adventure On the Edge of Siberia

Kamchatka Tour

Practice Your Travel Photography

Travel Photography Tips

While you don’t need to be interested in travel photography to join us, I will certainly be sharing all my favorite travel photography tips & tricks during our adventure together.

Learn how I prepare my gear, which settings I use, how to tell a story with your photography, and special post-processing techniques to make your images really stand out.

Whether you’re packing a DSLR or a point & shoot camera, I’ll try to teach you something new and help you improve your travel photography to get the best images possible from our adventure!

When Is It?

March 18th – 31st, 2018

How Much Does It Cost?

$ 2,900 USD

What’s Included: Food, accommodation, a support team, local transportation, snowmobiles, and most activities during the tour.

What’s Not Included: International flights to and from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Russia. Visa fees. Cold weather clothing. A possible scenic helicopter flight. You’ll also be required to have your own travel insurance (I recommend World Nomads).

Join Us In Kamchatka!

If you really want to get into the heart of a destination, meet local people, experience traditional culture, and explore a remote wilderness destination that doesn’t see much tourism, than this is the trip for you.

I’d love to have you join us on this wild adventure travel expedition into the Russian wilderness! Click below for more details about the itinerary and sign up before all the spots are filled…

Click Here To Sign Up!

Bonus Video! Kamchatka Experience

Have any questions about the Kamchatka tour? Would you be interested in more trips like this? Drop me a message in the comments below!

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Expert Vagabond

Cuba Travel Guide: Things To Do, Costs, & Travel Tips

Travel Tips for Cuba

Cuba Travel Guide & Budget Travel Tips

Cuba Travel Tips

Is it possible to travel Cuba on a budget? Learn how much it cost me to backpack through Cuba — along with my favorite travel tips, things to do, and more.

Budget Travel Guide: Cuba (2017)

The island of Cuba was “discovered” and claimed for Spain by Christopher Columbus during his first voyage to the New World in 1492.

While it’s been a popular travel destination for years, due to an economic embargo, Americans haven’t been able to visit easily until now.

However what draws people to the tropical Caribbean island of Cuba is much more than beaches and antique 1950’s cars, although there are plenty of those.

In Cuba you can wander bustling city streets, go hiking in the mountains, learn about the history of tobacco, or simply soak up the country’s 1950’s time-warp appeal. Get a taste of what it’s like to live in a socialist country.

While Cuba can sometimes be a confusing and challenging place for many travelers, I invite you to give it a try anyway, and experience some Cuban magic for yourself.

There are many wonderful reasons to visit Cuba for your next vacation.

Trinidad Streets in Cuba

Cobblestoned Streets in Trinidad

Cuban Cigar Lady

Cigar Lady in Havana

Budget Travel In Cuba

Cuba is generally pretty affordable, especially compared to other Caribbean Islands, yet is more expensive than other parts of Latin America like Mexico or Central American nations. With a special 2nd currency just for tourists, you’ll be forced to pay tourist prices most of the time.

Budget travelers can survive on around $ 50 USD per day.

Cuba’s local currency is the Cuban Peso (CUP- ₱) and it translates to ₱24 CUP for $ 1 USD. However as a tourist, you’ll be using Cuba’s secondary currency just for tourists, the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC – $ ) which is pegged to the US Dollar. So $ 1 CUC = $ 1 USD.

You will need to exchange US dollars for CUC, but there is a special 10% penalty fee for this service. So it’s often cheaper to exchange Euros, Canadian Dollars, British Pounds, or Mexican Pesos for CUC instead.

If you’re an American, you still can’t use your credit cards or ATM cards in Cuba. They won’t work because of the economic sanctions in place.

So you MUST exchange cash to fund your whole trip unless you’re on a pre-paid tour. The other option is buying a foreign pre-paid debit card from banks in Canada or Mexico.

There’s an official currency exchange booth outside the airport in Havana. You can exchange your leftover CUC back to US dollars (or whatever) when you leave the country too.

Travel Budget for Cuba

How Much Did I Spend In Cuba?

My Cuba Travel Budget

TOTAL DAYS = 10

TOTAL SPENT = $ 900 USD

DAILY AVERAGE = $ 90 USD

Please use these numbers as general guidelines only. Remember, everyone travels differently. Your personal travel budget in Cuba may vary.

When I traveled through Cuba for 10 days in 2016, I spent a total of $ 900 for an average of $ 90 USD per day.

Some of the things I splurged on included renting a car for more freedom to explore the island on our own. Rental cars in Cuba aren’t cheap — ours was $ 83 CUC per day (which we then split 4 ways with friends).

Scuba diving, tickets to Havana’s famous Tropicana Show, cigars, and a classic car city tour were some other activities I chose to include in my own trip. Your own choices will affect your travel budget in Cuba.

READ MORE: Travel Banking Tips

Where to stay in Cuba

Casa Particular Sign

Casa Particular in Cuba

Our Casa in Trinidad

Where To Stay In Cuba

While you can find fancy hotels in Havana and all-inclusive resorts in Varadero, the best accommodation options in Cuba are called casas particulares.

Casas particulares are like local guesthouses. The Cuban government allows some residents to rent the spare rooms in their homes for extra income, and as a traveler you get a more local experience.

To find a casa, you simply walk around a neighborhood, pop in and ask to see a room, and decide if you want to stay there. Most are easy to find because they’re marked with special sign that looks a bit like an anchor.

Prices will vary depending on the region. A double room costs between $ 25 – 40 CUC with breakfast included. If staying with locals isn’t your thing, there are other options too. Just a lot more expensive.

  • Casas Particulares: $ 25 – $ 40 per night
  • Mid-Range Hotels: $ 90 – $ 150 per night
  • Resorts & Fancy Hotels: $ 200 – $ 400 per night

I always use Booking.com and AirBnB to find great deals on accommodation when I travel. You can use both in Cuba too!

READ MORE: How To Find Cheap Hotels

What to eat in Cuba

Cost of Food & Places to Eat

Cuban Pizza in Havana

Cuban Pizza is Very Cheap!

Eating Cuban Food

While many travelers complain about Cuban food and its availability, I found food in Cuba pretty cheap and tasty. Not to mention those famous Cuban mojitos for only $ 1 or $ 2!

The lowest-cost options are Cuban sandwiches or Cuban pizzas at street-side stores called “paladares”. These meals can cost as little as $ 1, but are super basic too. Cuban pizzas reminded me of frozen microwave pizzas. Nothing to write home about…

If you’re a dedicated foodie, and need more choices, you can find large plates of lobster, shrimp, crab and fish for about $ 7 at restaurants near the coast. There’s also traditional Cuban cuisine called ropa vieja (old clothes) which is basically pulled pork with gravy, served with rice and beans for about $ 5.

Larger restaurants are generally set up for tourists, with high tourist prices around $ 15-$ 20 for a meal. Most Cubans can’t afford to eat at these places. They cook at home, using government rations called Libreta de Abastecimiento to pay for basics like rice, sugar, and cooking oil.

Transportation in Cuba

Classic Car Rides in Havana

Taxis in Cuba

Horse Cart Taxi

Transportation In Cuba

Flights

The major airports in Cuba are in Havana (HAV) and Santiago de Cuba (SCU). For years, many Americans traveled to Cuba through foreign gateway cities like Cancun, Mexico City, or Toronto. However in 2016 the US government started allowing commercial flights to Cuba from the United States. New York, Miami, and Los Angeles all offer flights.

Buses In Cuba

Bus travel in Cuba is comfortable, but frustrating because you can’t book tickets online. There’s one main bus line called Viazul. Cuban buses are cheap, but the routes fill up quickly, so you usually need to get your tickets the day before. This means paying for a few taxi rides back and forth to the bus station too.

Cuban Taxis

Taxis are available in the more developed cities of Cuba like Havana, Varadero, and Trinidad. Official taxis, in modern cars, will be marked and some even have meters. Old classic car taxis are more expensive, often with set rates of $ 8-$ 10 per ride. Try to negotiate a price before you get in.

Almendrons are local shared taxis that run in some cities. It’s the cheapest option at 0.50 CUC per ride, however they aren’t easy to figure out if you don’t speak Spanish. They run on set routes, simply flag one down and jump in with everyone else. Usually old 50’s vans or Toyota Landcruisers.

Bicycle Taxis are another option. Officially they aren’t allowed to pick up tourists, but they still do. A ride costs about $ 1 CUC. You could get kicked off early if the driver notices police nearby.

Renting A Car

Renting a car in Cuba is possible, but it’s not easy. The online car rental systems there generally don’t work for foreigners. The best option is to inquire by email or phone about a rental a few weeks or more before your trip. Don’t expect to just show up at the airport and book a rental car, they simply don’t have enough for the demand.

READ MORE: How To Find Cheap Flights

Beaches in Cuba

Playa Jibacoa Beach

Visa Requirements

For years it was possible for Americans to visit Cuba through foreign gateway countries like Mexico or Canada first. Then, President Obama opened a loophole for American tourism to Cuba, even though Congress hadn’t actually changed the law yet.

It was a kind of “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” situation. No one was enforcing the law. You signed a piece of paper when you got on the plane saying you fit one of 12 special categories (that don’t include tourism), and no one checked.

Regular flights to Cuba from the United States started up, and things were looking good!

However it seems President Trump is clamping down on that loophole and will be making it tougher again by banning People To People trips, the category most people were using.

Americans can still travel to Cuba independently, but you’ll need to choose an approved travel category other than People To People tours, which Trump plans to ban. Declare a category like Support For The Cuban People when booking flights, lodging and when you return to the US.

You can build an itinerary containing activities that meet the criteria for the category you chose, or get help from local experts to plan a legal trip (5% discount for Expert Vagabond readers!).

Another option is to fly into Cuba from a Foreign Gateway City like Cancun, Mexico or Toronto, Canada. This is what I did, and I share more details about that here.

Every traveler needs to purchase a Tourist Card for $ 20 ($ 50+ if traveling from the United States) regardless of nationality. This is most commonly done at the departure airport itself, or online/through the mail with your airline.

Trinidad Streets in Cuba

Old Buildings in Havana

Scuba Diving Cuba

Wreck Diving the Bay of Pigs

Things To Do In Cuba

Havana

It’s impossible to skip the capital of Havana on a trip to Cuba. Havana Viejo (Old Havana) is the historic city center, and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982. The city is full of beautiful old architecture, interesting people, and of course – all those incredible classic cars.

  • Rent a classic car for a tour through the city, $ 30 CUC for one hour.
  • Visit some of Hemingway’s old hangouts, like La Floridita and La Bodeguita del Medio.
  • Smoke a Cuban cigar overlooking the ocean at Hotel Nacional
  • Walk the Malecon at night with a box of cheap corner-store rum.
  • Attend the world famous Tropicana nightclub for a colorful show.

Varadero

Located on the Hicacos Peninsula about 140 km from Havana, Varadero is a popular resort town for tourists. The ivory-white sand beaches are gorgeous! While many beaches in Varadero are part of private resorts, there’s a large free public beach section too, which is just as beautiful.

  • Grab a beach chair, buy a few Cuba Libres, and work on your tan.
  • Rent a kayak or sailboat and cruise along the coast.
  • Eat at one of Varadero’s amazing seafood restaurants.

Viñales

Viñales is a lush green valley surrounded by mountains located west of Havana. It’s a fun small town to visit if you’re into nature, caving, rock climbing, or learning about the art of cigar making. Viñales is Cuba’s tobacco capital, home of the best cigars in the world.

  • Visit a tobacco farm and learn how to make Cuban cigars.
  • Rock climbing on the karst limestone cliffs.
  • Rent an ATV for an off-road trip through the valley.
  • Go horseback riding, or join a cave tour.

Want more travel tips for Viñales? Make sure to read about my experience here: Horses & Tobacco Farms In Viñales

Trinidad

Trinidad is a picturesque colonial town lined with cobblestone streets and pastel-colored houses. It was the epicenter of the Spanish sugar trade in the 18th century, where sugar barons become extremely wealthy off the back of African slave labor. Many of the old buildings have been restored.

  • Hang out on the steps of Plaza Mayor with a mojito to watch the sunset.
  • Visit some art & history museums, like Museo de Arquitectura or Museo Romantico.
  • Climb the bell tower at Iglesia de San Francisco for great city views.
  • Ride a bike to Playa Ancon, a beautiful white sand beach.
  • Go swimming under waterfalls at Topes De Collantes National Park

Want more travel tips for Trinidad? Make sure to read about my experience here: Discovering The Magic Of Trinidad
Malecon Havana Cuba

Havana’s Seaside “Malecon”

Budget Travel Tips

While Cuba can be affordable, it’s not an easy place to travel on an extreme budget. It takes some work. Try eating at locally run paladares whenever you can. Use the somewhat confusing but cheap local shared taxis, or split a 1950’s tourist taxi with other travelers.

Bring a filtered water bottle, as bottled water can sometimes be difficult to find outside of major cities. Stay with locals in casas particulares whenever possible to keep accommodation costs down.

READ MORE: Best Travel Tips After 7 Years Traveling

Off The Beaten Path

There is a cool national park called Topes de Collantes located about an hours drive from Trinidad. It has many hiking trails that lead to different waterfalls, and not many people visit them.

Some of the best waterfalls are El Nicho and Vegas Grandes, both are over 100m high, and its a great way to experience some of Cuba’s mountains. You can book a tour from Trinidad, or go on your own like we did if you have a car. Beware, the roads are pretty bad up there!

Varadero Beach Cuba

White Sand Beaches of Varadero

Farm in Vinales Cuba

Cuban Tobacco Farms

Best Time To Visit Cuba

When is the best time to visit Cuba? Regardless of the time of year, average temperatures in Cuba are very pleasant ranging from 70s F to 80s F.

However the best time to visit is arguably from December to May, as the climate tends to be mild and skies are often sunny.

Wet season is between June and October, with the heaviest rain & hottest temperatures in July & August. It’s generally a less-desirable time to visit Cuba, and hurricanes are also a threat.

The tourist high season in Cuba runs from December through March, due to great weather and large numbers of Canadians escaping the winter snow in their own country.

If you want decent weather, and fewer tourists, April, May, and November are good choices.

Cathedral in Cuba

Church Tower in Trinidad

Cubans on Cellphones

Cuban Cowboys in Vinales

Internet & Cell Phone Service

Internet in Cuba isn’t available everywhere, but it’s possible to find wifi spots in most major hotels, large public parks, and even some casas particulares. For a list of all the known wifi hotspots in Cuba, click here.

To get online you need to buy an internet scratch-card from ETECSA (Cuba’s national telecommunications company). They cost between $ 2-6 for an hour of service. You can buy the cards in front of the airport in Havana, at major hotels, at ETECSA kiosks, or from Cubans themselves.

To use services like Skype or Snapchat, you’ll need to install a good travel VPN before you arrive. The internet isn’t super fast, but it’s fast enough to upload travel photos to Facebook & Instagram if you’re patient.

READ MORE: International Cell Phone Service

Tropicana Show Cuba

Havana’s Tropicana Nightclub

Challenges In Cuba

The lack of internet can be challenging at times, as we’ve all become comfortable finding our way around with help from Google Maps, or searching online for answers to travel questions.

Galileo Maps ( IOS | Android ) has offline maps of Cuba, so you can find your way around using a smartphone even without internet.

If you don’t speak Spanish you might often find yourself at loss in Cuba, as the majority of people don’t speak any English. Without Spanish it’s difficult to arrange things, but not impossible.

While Cuba is a very safe place to travel, there are many scammers too. Especially around Havana. Some popular scams in Cuba include:

  • Being invited to a bar/club from someone off the street, then getting stuck with a huge mysterious bar tab.
  • Women asking you to buy milk for their babies, at inflated prices from shops that are in on the scam.

Everyone isn’t trying to scam you — but you still need to stay cautious and use common sense.

READ MORE: 15 Common Travel Scams

Cuba Photo Gallery

Cuba Travel Photography

Click Here For More Photos From Cuba


Travel Adventures In Cuba

Planning to travel to Cuba soon? Browse all my blog posts from Cuba to get ideas & recommendations for your own travel adventures there.


Suggested Books & Movies

The Other Side of Paradise – A sobering portrait of post-Fidel Cuba. Change looms in Havana, a city of uncertainty cloaked in cliché. (Book)

The Old Man and the Sea – Hemingway’s story of an old Cuban fisherman, down on his luck, and his sea battle with a giant marlin. (Book)

Our Man in Havana – A vacuum cleaner salesman is recruited by the British secret service to act as a spy in Havana. (Movie)

Una Noche – Trapped in the desperate slums of Havana, young Raul dreams of escaping Cuba to Miami. (Movie)

Lonely Planet Cuba – A travel guide to Cuba that includes history, advice, things to do, and places to stay. (Guidebook)

Enjoy Your Trip!

Cuba is one of the most unique travel destinations I’ve ever visited, as the whole island feels trapped in time. Things are changing fast though as more and more tourists add it to their bucket-list.

I hope the Cuban people are prospering from the recent increase of tourism there, and relations between Cuba and the United States improve in the future. ★

Traveling To Cuba 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 Travel Video! 10 Days In Cuba


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(Click to watch 10 Days In Cuba – Havana, Trinidad, Vinales, and More on YouTube)

More Information

Cuba Blog Posts: Read My Stories From Cuba
Accommodation: Click Here For Deals In Cuba
Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Cuba

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Budget Travel Guide & Tips For Cuba. More at ExpertVagabond.com
Budget Travel Guide & Tips For Cuba. More at ExpertVagabond.com

Have any travel questions or tips about Cuba? Other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase 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

Surfing & Hot Springs In Tofino On Vancouver Island [PART 2]

Vancouver Island Coastline

Exploring Vancouver Island’s West Coast

Vancouver Island, Canada

The second half of my Vancouver Island road trip took me to the island’s West coast, and the fun little hipster surf town of Tofino. It’s a lush wilderness outpost on the edge of the sea.

I was on a self-drive road trip with Canada By Design — their Coastal Cultural Explorer Tour of Vancouver Island.

Which means I was following a basic itinerary, while my accommodation, a rental car, and some activities were included in the price.

This 8-day journey across Canada’s Vancouver Island was mixed with adventure, a taste of First Nation’s culture, and dramatic Pacific Northwest scenery.

Yet I was on my own, taking my time to enjoy this road trip at my own pace.

Driving To Tofino

For the first half of the journey, I’d explored parts of Vancouver Island’s East coast. Today’s drive was a long one (about 6 hours) which took me across the island from Telegraph Cove to Tofino over the stunning Pacific Rim Highway.

I managed to drop into some native art galleries, hiked an ancient old-growth rainforest, and enjoyed beautiful mountain scenery and lakes along the way.

First Nations Longhouse

K’ómoks Longhouse Mural

iHos Gallery Vancouver Island

iHos Gallery in Courtenay

First Nations Art Galleries

During this road trip around Vancouver Island, I’m constantly reminded of the deep history of the landscape, first populated by the peoples of the First Nations around 7,000 years ago.

Driving into Courtenay, I stumble upon a K’ómoks native longhouse, decorated with a colorful mural featuring an eagle & whale. These cedar buildings were often shared by extended First Nations families, everyone participating in daily tasks like preparing food, building canoes, etc.

At I-Hos Gallery, local people express their identity through art. This gallery, with its masks, wood carvings, intricate prints and textiles, is designed to tell stories as much as please the senses.

Stories of origins, about their technological and spiritual relationship with the natural world, about how they lived, how they died, and how they endured to become modern descendants of First Nations cultures.

Vancouver Island Goats on a Roof

Goats?! On a Roof?

Coombs Vancouver Island Goats

Coombs Old Country Market

Goats On A Roof!

My eyes started to play tricks as I entered the town of Coombs. What first looked like a green hill with goats appeared to become the roof of a long, wood-pannelled building.

I found them. Vancouver Island’s famous “Goats On The Roof!”

In the 1950s, Kristian Graaten and his wife, Solveig, left Norway and emigrated to British Columbia.

When they decided to build a market in the mid-70s, Kris used the Norwegian tradition of lining roofs with grass/sod. It may sound eccentric, but this roof traps the warmth of the building, reducing heating bills up to 25%.

It’s also soundproof, easy to maintain, and the perfect place to keep your pet goats! Which has turned into a huge tourist attraction for his roadside Coombs Old Country Market, a fun location to stop for lunch.

Cathedral Grove Vancouver Island

Yes, I’m a Tree Hugger

Vancouver Island MacMillan Park

MacMillan Provincial Park

Hiking Cathedral Grove

A twenty-minute drive west, and things got even more vertical. If you’ve never seen a majestic Douglas Fir, your first sight can be overwhelming.

Imagine the average fir tree, the kind you’d hang your Christmas ornaments on. Now double it in size. Now double it again. Maybe a third time. Now you’re getting close – but maybe not close enough, since a fully-grown Douglas fir can reach 225 ft / 75 m into the sky!

At the heart of MacMillan Provincial Park stands Cathedral Grove, home of the densest collection of these trees. It’s an opportunity to stretch your arms around their trunks, failing to make it even halfway (the widest has a circumference of 27 ft / 9 m).

When you stand there in the quiet, gazing up towards the distant canopy where the treetops meet the sunlight, it feels unchanging, like time itself has stopped to listen. Some of these trees are 800 years old.

Tofino on Vancouver Island

Ice House Oyster Bar in Tofino

Tofino Town Vancouver Island

Beware of Grandma… She Bites!

Welcome To Tofino

Making it across the width of Vancouver Island, I finally arrive to the quirky Pacific coastal town of Tofino. A place I’ve heard so much about.

Tofino is the gateway to Vancouver Island’s wildest and most spectacular scenery, and in the summer, it’s an enormously popular destination for visitors, greatly multiplying its small local population of 2,000.

Pacific Rim National Park is right next door, a 500-kilometer expanse of rainforest trails, rugged wave-battered coastlines and pristine beaches.

However it’s best to visit in the summer months, as winter conditions can get a little fierce (it’s a haven for storm-watchers in the winter).

Tofino is ideal for hiking, surfing, hanging out at the beach, wildlife viewing, or just strolling down boardwalk paths through pacific northwest temperate rainforests.

Vancouver Island Whale Watching

Pod of Orca Whales

Black Bear Tofino

Black Bear Feeding On Crabs

Hot Springs Vancouver Island

Hot Springs Cove

Whale Watching & Hot Springs

You can’t visit Tofino and not go whale watching! But I’ll give you a tip, rather than take a dedicated whale watching trip, join the Hot Springs Cove Tour with Remote Passages.

Because there’s a very good chance you’ll see whales (and other wildlife) on your way to the hot springs. Like I did. It’s like two tours in one.

As part of the Maquinna Marine Provincial Park, Hot Springs Cove gets its name from the nearby Ramsay hot springs (it hits up to 50 C / 110 F in places), which are only accessible by boat or float-plane.

The trip had us speeding through the waves in an inflatable zodiac, stopping to watch playful Orcas (don’t call them killer whales!), large sea lions, sea otters, and even a black bear fishing for crabs on the coastline.

After the boat ride, it was time to relax by soaking in these steaming-hot natural pools & waterfalls while enjoying an epic view.

Surfing in Tofino

Long Beach Surf Shop

Vancouver Island Surfing

Surfing Chesterman Beach

Surfing Around Tofino

If you surf, or want to learn, Tofino is a good place to hit some waves. In fact they call themselves the Surf Capital of Canada. Although keep in mind this is the Pacific Northwest, and chilly 50 – 60 F water means you’ll want a wetsuit.

There are a few surf-shops in town that can outfit you with a board, wetsuit, and even a surfboard car rack. I stopped into Long Beach Surf Shop and rented a longboard for a morning surf session at Chesterman Beach.

Tofino is a surfer’s paradise – so if you’ve been following my surfing adventures, you can imagine my reaction to these miles and miles of surfable coastline, reliable beach breaks, and uncrowded waves.

There are a few good surf-spots in the area, and waves for all abilities. Long Beach is a popular spot, a 15-km stretch of undeveloped coastline that’s regarded as the park’s most photogenic.

Chesterman Beach and Cox Bay are two more. Winter usually has the better swells, and fewer tourists — but crazier weather and colder water too.

Coastal Sunset in Tofino

Colorful Tofino Sunsets

Tofino Sea Plane Trips

Take a Scenic Flight with Tofino Air

Places To Stay & Eat

As part of my Coastal Cultural Explorer Self-Drive Tour, accommodation in Tofino was included at the stunning cliffside Middle Beach Lodge.

For good food, I recommend checking out Wolf In The Fog for dinner, and Tacofino for a delicious food truck experience at lunch.

Tofino has a super fun farmer’s market every Saturday, where you can sample all kinds of good food, or pick up some locally-made artwork/crafts.

If you’re looking for a great place to watch the sunset with a beer and some fresh oysters, check out Tofino’s Ice House Oyster Bar. Thank me later. ★

Bonus Video! Vancouver Island Road Trip


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(Click to watch Vancouver Island BC – Road Trip on YouTube)

More Information

Location: Vancouver Island, Canada
Self-Drive Tour: Canada By Design
Useful Notes: With a self-drive tour your accommodation, rental car, ferry trips, and some key activities are included. You present pre-paid vouchers for these things on arrival. The rest of the trip is yours to create as you go.
Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Pacific Northwest
Suggested Reading: Island Of Dreams

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Vancouver Island Road Trip. More at ExpertVagabond.com
Vancouver Island Road Trip. More at ExpertVagabond.com

Have any questions about visiting Vancouver Island? Are you planning a trip? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Canada By Design

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Expert Vagabond

Why Is Asheville North Carolina So Cool?

Asheville North Carolina

Fun Things To Do In Asheville

Asheville, North Carolina

Asheville has to be one of the coolest small cities on the East Coast, with a relaxed bohemian vibe and adventurous spirit. Here are some fun things to do there!

Located in North Carolina’s scenic Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville has a unique mix of hipster coffee shops, award-winning restaurants, outdoor activities, and more breweries per capita than anywhere else in the United States.

After hearing about Asheville for years, whether from friends, or the Obama’s visiting on vacation — it was time to learn what all the fuss was about.

Why was Asheville rated the #1 US travel destination for 2017? Why does everyone think Asheville is so cool?

Pack Square Park Asheville

Pack Square Park

Jack of the Wood in Asheville

Travel Tips for Asheville, North Carolina

Things To Do In Asheville

Anna and I spent 4 days visiting Asheville in partnership with Explore Asheville Tourism, and had a wonderful time eating, drinking, shooting photos, and enjoying nature.

Asheville’s creative (and slightly eccentric) locals contribute to a lively downtown unlike any other. You can experience an intoxicating drum circle, shop at vintage boutiques, sit down to an amazing locally-grown meal, and admire cool street art all in one day.

One of the best ways to experience the city fully is by exploring on foot. With about 87,000 residents, Asheville isn’t huge. But it’s not too small either.

It feels like a large town, and just the right size. Asheville’s downtown in particular is easily walkable, with a charm all its own.

Writer for hire

Asheville Street Performers

Asheville Street Art

“Chicken Alley” Mural

Tons Of Art & Music

Asheville is known for its art scene, and you’ll quickly understand why. There’s fun street art all over the place, like colorful murals painted on the side of buildings & under bridges depicting the city’s history.

My favorite was probably “Chicken Alley” by Molly Must, which you can find on Carolina Lane & Woodfin Street. Two giant chickens watch over the alley, a place that used to be full of real chickens in the past.

In the 1980s artists began transforming a bunch of old industrial buildings along the French Broad River into studio space. Now the public can visit these studios as part of the Rivers Arts District and browse the work of over 200 local artists.

The town is full of small lounges, clubs, and breweries featuring live rock, jazz, and bluegrass. Many don’t charge a cover either.

Or you can check out some fun (possibly strange) street performances in the center of town. Don’t forget to tip if you enjoy the show! Asheville wouldn’t be the same without them.

Beer in Asheville

Lexington Avenue Brewery

Pack's Tavern Asheville

Pack’s Tavern

Beer City USA!

Asheville is known as “Beer City USA”. Because with 26 different craft breweries in the city, and another 60 nearby, beer lovers won’t want to leave.

Some of the most popular in town are Green Man, Catawba, Wicked Weed, and Lexington Avenue Brewery.

About 100 local beers can be enjoyed in Asheville, and each brewery has its own unique character. From strong hoppy IPAs to dark stouts, to fruity raspberry ales, you’re bound to find something you’ll love.

On top of the incredible beer scene, the city is also “steeped” in tea culture.

Check out Dobra Tea, afternoon tea at Biltmore, and The Herbiary.

Asheville River SUP

Whitewater Stand-Up Paddleboarding

French Broad River Asheville

The French Broad River

French Broad River

The French Broad River winds its way past Asheville, providing a natural space for all kinds of outdoor activities & adventures.

You have your obvious river sports like whitewater kayaking and inner-tube floating, but there are some lesser-known activities here too, like “bellyaking” and whitewater SUP.

Bellyaking was actually invented in Asheville — it’s a face first kayak-type ride using special “paddle gloves” to maneuver through the rapids.

I decided to try some whitewater SUP (Stand Up Paddleboarding) for the first time with Wai Mauna SUP Tours.

Stand-up paddle-boarding through class I & II river rapids on the French Broad River requires a lot of balance, it was more difficult then the lake or ocean SUP I was used to. I fell a few times, but it was still fun!

The Marketplace Restaurant Asheville

Eating Our Foraged Food at The Marketplace

Restaurants in Asheville North Carolina

Salsa’s Restaurant in Asheville

Farm To Table Dining

Asheville is home to over 250 restaurants, many serving locally produced meats and veggies while supporting North Carolina’s farmers. They’ve been doing “farm to table” long before it became a cliche.

We obviously couldn’t try every restaurant in town with just four days, but my favorite places to eat in Asheville were The Marketplace and Salsas.

French Broad Chocolates is an ice-cream lover’s dream too. The line outside is long, but there’s a reason for that.

The chocolate ice-cream floats are sooooo good! It was worth the wait.

Biltmore Estate in Asheville

The Famous Biltmore Estate

Vanderbilt Library

George Vanderbilt’s Extensive Library

Biltmore Estate View

View Off the Back Deck

The Biltmore Estate

The historic Biltmore Estate is one of the most frequently suggested places to visit in Asheville. George Vanderbilt’s gigantic, hundred-year-old property is indeed quite busy all year long.

George, an heir to the Vanderbilt railroad fortune, fell in love with North Carolina and began building his property by late 1889. He decided to create a dream home surrounded by natural forests and productive farms.

This 178,926 square foot mansion sits on 8000 acres, with over 250 rooms, and is America’s largest home. The Biltmore holds regular exhibitions — they were displaying movie costumes used in films set during the XVIIIth century when we were there.

George Vanderbilt was one of the most-read men in America, and amassed a library of more than 22,000 books — including over 3,000 he read himself. Gazing at the walls of books in his preserved library was fascinating.

Foraging Tour in Asheville North Carolina

Wild Foraging with No Taste Like Home

Mushroom Hunting in North Carolina

Picking Chanterelle Mushrooms

Wild Foraging Tours

I’ve never been wild mushroom picking before, so we signed up for a foraging tour with a company called No Taste Like Home.

The morning began with instruction from owner Alan Muskat about types of edibles we’d be searching for, and which poisonous plants to avoid.

After being equipped with baskets, harvesting knives, and paper bags, we headed into the enchanting North Carolina forest. I was completely surprised at how many things you could eat, and how good they tasted!

We collected Day Lily flowers, Chanterelle mushrooms, Stinging Nettle, Sassafras leaves, and strange mushrooms called Hairy Rubber Cups. While not popular in the US, they are apparently a delicacy in Malaysia.

After, you can bring your “catch” to local restaurants in Asheville like The Marketplace, where chefs prepare your dinner using the wild ingredients.

Asheville Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway

Hiking around Asheville

Many Fun Hikes in the Mountains

The Blue Ridge Parkway

Nestled between the Great Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville offers year-round access to hiking trails and exhilarating views along the famous Blue Ridge Parkway.

The complete route stretches 469 miles from North Carolina to Virginia, and is home to a wide range of diverse plants and animals. It’s technically part of the National Park System.

Along with hundreds of hiking trails, the parkway includes sections of the Appalachian Trail — one of America’s classic long distance hikes that stretches from Georgia to Maine.

Asheville was a perfect base for exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway, and we spent a full day cruising its winding pavement. Stopping occasionally at mountain lookouts and for short hikes to admire the area’s nature.

Waterfalls near Asheville

Looking Glass Falls

Sliding Rock Falls Pisgah Forest

Sliding Rock Falls

Asheville Sliding Rock

Natural Waterslide!

Pisgah National Forest

Pisgah National Forest is located South West of Asheville, only 30-45 minutes away. It’s considered the birthplace of modern forestry in America, and home to the country’s first forestry school.

Driving through Pisgah on Route 276 is a fun little road trip complete with waterfalls, white water rapids, hiking trails, and camping opportunities.

We stopped by two different waterfalls. The first is called Looking Glass Falls. Located right off the side of the road, it’s super easy to reach, and a nice place to cool off in the summer heat.

The second is Sliding Rock — basically a huge natural waterslide made of smooth stone. A quick ride down the 60-foot flat, sloping boulder will definitely wake you up due to the chilly 50 degree water!

The Davidson River is a popular area for fly-fishing too.

Asheville Grove Park Inn

Grove Park Inn

Abbington Green Asheville B&B

Abbington Green B&B

Places To Stay In Asheville

If you’re wondering where to stay in Asheville, here are my recommendations:

Grove Park Inn – Asheville’s most famous hotel is one of a kind. Built out of stone on the top of a hill, it features various restaurants, a beautiful spa, and scenic views of the city.

Abbington Green B&B – This has to be one of the best bed & breakfasts I’ve ever stayed at. Beautifully designed with a peaceful garden, tasty breakfast, and friendly southern hospitality.

Downtown Asheville North Carolina

Downtown Asheville

Asheville Travel Tips & Advice

  • There’s a fun public drum circle every Friday night between 6pm – 10pm in Pritchard Park, where people of all ages join in to dance to the music.
  • Asheville has a beautiful array of wildflowers that bloom between April and June. Keep your eye out for trillium, lady slippers, wild ginger, evening primrose, mountain laurel, rhododendron, and many more.
  • The best time to visit Asheville is during the fall foliage season (October), as trees & mountains are incredibly colorful. Summers are usually pretty busy too, and get the best weather.
  • Parts of the Appalachian Trail pass through this region. For a taste of this famous 2,180 mile trek, try hiking the Max Patch Mountain trail for great views.
  • The Biltmore Estate is Asheville’s most popular attraction, so it can get quite crowded. Go super early for awesome photos and less people.

Asheville has a little something for everyone. You can enjoy scenic mountain vistas, fun live music, locally produced food and beer, a vibrant arts scene, hiking and other outdoor adventure activities too.

I have to say it has become one of my new favorite mountain towns in the United States, and an excellent weekend vacation destination. Who knows, you may never want to leave! ★

Bonus Video! Things To Do In Asheville


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(Click to watch Things To Do In Asheville – North Carolina on YouTube)

More Information

Location: Asheville, North Carolina
Plan Your Trip: Explore Asheville
Useful Notes: Asheville has it’s own regional airport that’s large enough for regular commercial flights. Some airlines that fly there include Continental, Delta, United and US Airways.
Recommended Guidebook: Asheville & Great Smokey Mountains
Suggested Reading: Only In Asheville: An Eclectic History

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Things To Do In Asheville. More at ExpertVagabond.com
Things To Do In Asheville. More at ExpertVagabond.com

Any questions about traveling to Asheville, NC? Do you have any other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Explore Asheville

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Expert Vagabond

Iceland’s Amazing Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon in Iceland

How to Visit Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

Jokulsarlon, Iceland

The landscape is full of broken icebergs, streaked blue and black, floating with the tide, occasionally breaking apart in a mighty crash. This is Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon in Iceland.

Jokulsarlon iceberg lagoon is Iceland’s deepest and most spectacular glacial lake, beloved by tourists, photographers, adventurers – even world-famous Hollywood super-spies.

If you visited this frozen landscape a hundred years ago, all you would have seen was ice. But then, the world started to heat up… thanks global warming!

Because of this increase in the world’s climate starting around 1920, the icebound edge of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier started to melt. The Icelandic word Jökulsárlón actually means “glacier’s river lagoon”.

Jokulsarlon lagoon forms part of Vatnajökull National Park, and has become one of Iceland’s most popular attractions.

Jokulsarlon Lagoon Selfie

King of the Ice!

Icebergs At Jokulsarlon

In less than a century, this vast frozen landscape collapsed into a mess of shattered ice & liquid that we see now — Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon.

A river soon formed, and found its way to the sea, pulling broken icebergs into the North Atlantic and sculpting unearthly shapes along its black-sand banks.

Every year, this fledgling glacier lagoon is made larger as icebergs break off Vatnajökull glacier, float around in the lagoon, and eventually drift out to sea in the summer months.

Jokulsarlon doubled in size between 1975 and 1998. It now covers 7 square miles – and is growing every year.

Jokulsarlon Lagoon Sunrise

Colorful Sunrise at Jokulsarlon

Iceland At Its Most Beautiful

Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon is a photographer’s paradise. I was in heaven during my visit in November. First and most obviously, the ice is jaw-droppingly beautiful.

Compressed glacial ice often turns glassy and a deep, luminous blue, and that’s best seen when the icebergs break and flip over.

You’ll see plenty of broken blue icebergs at Jökulsárlón – and the contrast against the white backdrop of the distant glacier and the black sand of the lagoon’s beach is truly other-worldly.

You may even see seals too. Thanks to that small river leading to the ocean, the lagoon is filled with fish, and seals regularly gather at the river mouth to feed, along with huge numbers of seabirds.

Jokulsarlon Lagoon Bridge

Bridge Over the Glacial River

Jokulsarlon Iceland boat tours

Boat Tours on the Lagoon

Glacier Lagoon Boat Tours

A tour company called Glacier Lagoon has been running boat rides at Jokulsarlon for nearly 30 years, ever since the world’s most famous super-spy James Bond himself made an appearance.

In the opening scenes of Roger Moore’s A View To A Kill (1985), the iceberg lagoon was used as a stand-in for Northern Siberia – and when news got out, tourists started arriving, as did boat tour services.

(In 2001, Jökulsárlón again doubled as Siberia for scenes in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – and in the same year, the James Bond crew returned to film parts of Pierce Brosnan’s Die Another Day.)

There are two types of tours to choose from. There is an amphibious boat ride (ISK 5500 / $ 55 USD) for a relaxing tour round the biggest icebergs, accompanied by guided commentary.

For the more adventurous, get fitted with a flotation suit and lifejacket and take a Zodiac (ISK 9500 / $ 95 USD) for much closer views of the ice, including right under the glacier’s edge if conditions permit.

Jokulsarlon Glacier Black Sand Beach

Ice Scattered over the Black Sand

When To Visit The Lagoon

Jokulsarlon’s boat tours only run between May and October, and outside of those months, Icelandic weather can get fierce – although bad weather can hit at any time, so it’s wise to always be prepared for white-out conditions.

The best months for good weather (and clear-sky photography) at the lagoon are July and August – but September/October can be a better time to visit Iceland because the tourist season has ended, prices are lower and there will be be less people around.

You’ll also have a better chance of seeing Iceland’s incredible northern lights!

Getting To Jokulsarlon

The Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon is hard to miss off the side of Iceland’s famous ring road (Route 1) – but it requires some planning to get out here. Rather than try to cram it into a single day, you should really plan for two days.

Rental Car

I visited while driving around Iceland’s Ring Road in a campervan from Happy Campers – it helps to have your own transportation because Jökulsárlón is pretty far away from major towns.

The trip takes about 5 hours from Reykjavík, provided you don’t stop along the way (which is almost impossible in Iceland, there’s so much to see!). Another service I’ve used in the past is called Sad Cars.

By Bus

Strætó Bus: Route 51 from Mjódd bus terminal (Reykjavík) to Jökulsárlón. It’s a 6 hour trip that starts at 1pm – and the next bus back is usually at 12:55pm the next day.

If you visit Jokulsarlon by bus, you won’t be returning the same day – and since accommodation at the lagoon is non-existent (see later), you’d have to be pretty adventurous to pick this option.

Hitchhiking

Another adventurous option, but hitchhiking in Iceland is pretty common and safe. How long it will take you to hitchhike here from Reykjavík just depends on your hitchhiking skills, luck, and how many stops you make.

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon Camping

Overnight at Jökulsárlón in my Camper Van

Best Places To Stay

I spent the night camped out at the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon parking lot in my Happy Campers van. There are no hotels, hostels or guesthouses at the lagoon itself. Höfn is the closest large town, about an hour away.

If you’re wondering where to stay in Iceland near Jokulsarlon, here are my recommendations:

Budget Accommodation

Vagnsstaðir Hostel – This is the closest hostel to Jokulsarlon, about 13 miles to the northeast.

Höfn Hostel – An environmentally friendly hostel with sea views, located an hour away in the village of Höfn.

Mid-Range Accommodation

Hali Country Hotel – This small hotel is a 15-minute drive from the lagoon, offering double & triple rooms and apartments plus a restaurant.

Hotel Höfn – Located in Höfn about an hour away, this hotel offers modern rooms with glacier & sea views.

I also enjoy using AirBnB from time to time. Make sure to read my article about how to find cheap hotels too.
Ice at Jokulsarlon Lagoon

Shiny Diamonds of Ice on the Beach

Jökulsárlón Travel Tips & Advice

  • Iceland in the summer can be surprisingly warm, but icebergs at Jokulsarlon lagoon give off waves of cold air you can feel on your face. Take a hat and a warm gloves, even if it looks sunny.
  • Watch out for the fiercely territorial skua seabirds that live in the area – if you get close to their nests, they’ll dive at you noisily until you back off!
  • Sunrise is the best time to photograph the glacier lagoon icebergs, not only because of great lighting conditions, but also because there are less tourists. Sunset is also good, but more crowded than sunrise.
  • During the tourist season, there’s a small café that serves a limited amount of snacks. But that’s about it.
  • Iceland’s incredible crystal ice caves are not far away from Jokulsarlon, so if you happen to be visiting in the winter, I highly recommend exploring them with a guide!

No trip to Iceland is complete without a stop at Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon, as you can see, there’s a good reason why it’s one of Iceland’s most popular natural attractions! ★

Traveling To Iceland 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.

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More Information

Location: Jökulsárlón, Iceland
Useful Notes: While Jokulsarlon is open year-round, the lagoon is often frozen over in the winter. Due to the summer heat, you’ll see the most icebergs in the summer months as ice calves into the lagoon from the glacier and floats out to sea.
Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Iceland
Suggested Reading: The Little Book Of Hidden People

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Tips for visiting Jokulsarlon lagoon Iceland. More at ExpertVagabond.com
Tips for visiting Jokulsarlon lagoon Iceland. More at ExpertVagabond.com

Have any questions about Jokulsarlon Lagoon in Iceland? What about other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase 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

How I Saved Money For Travel (You Don’t Need To Be Rich)

Save Money For A Trip

How to Save Money for Travel

Travel Tips

Want to travel the world for a while? Or just take an epic vacation? You don’t need to be rich, but you’ll need to get creative about saving money for travel. Here’s how I did it.

There’s a popular myth floating around that travel is an expensive hobby. Certainly people who travel a lot must have rich parents, lucrative lottery winnings, or work high paying jobs… right?

Normal people can’t afford to travel. It’s far too expensive for the rest of us…

Don’t worry, I understand where you’re coming from. I used to think that way too. As an American who didn’t even know what a hostel or GAP year was, I thought international travel was only for the rich and privileged.

But after traveling the world extensively for the past 6 years, I’m here to tell you world travel is possible for the rest of us too.

How To Save Money For Travel

After countless emails from readers asking about how I’m able to travel the world constantly, I wanted to share some useful tips about how I learned to save money for traveling.

Because in the beginning, before I was earning a living as a blogger, I had to save up on my own. It didn’t come naturally either. In fact I used to be horrible at saving money.

When I quit my job in 2010 to embark on a year long adventure in Central America, I wasn’t rich. I was living in South Florida earning $ 28,000 a year working as a photographer for used car dealerships and nightclubs in Miami.

Incredibly glamorous, I know…

Even with my very average (American) income, and living in a pretty expensive area of the country, I managed to save $ 7000 in 12 months by transforming my lifestyle and living below my means.

I learned how to spend less, save more, and earn extra cash on the side.

It wasn’t easy, and required plenty of hard work and sacrifice, but if I could do it, I’m confident you could too. It doesn’t matter if you want to travel for two weeks or two years, the process is the same.

Here’s my simple formula that will help you save money for your next trip.

Saving Money Advice

We All Want More Of This…

1: Become Financially Responsible

This isn’t intended to sound judgmental. We all start here. What did school really teach you about financial planning? For many of us, not much.

Money management is a learned skill – but most of us don’t master the basics until we’re adults — if ever. I was clueless for a long time.

If you want to save money for travel, now is a good time to revisit those basics, and maybe iron out a few of those bad financial habits we all acquire along the way.

Remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint.

You are making a significant long-term commitment that’s sometimes going to be really hard to stick to. Saving up enough money for travel, or anything for that matter, is tough on the soul and demands sacrifice, which is why so few people succeed. The right mindset is everything!

How much do you want this? Because nobody else will do it for you. It’s your responsibility the whole way.

Equally importantly, how many times are you willing to try and fail until you’ve successfully learned all the habits and strategies that will put the required amount in the bank to get you traveling?

Good. I think you’re ready for this then! (Just don’t expect it to be easy.)

2: Track Your Spending

Money itself isn’t stressful. Neither is effective money management. Not knowing what your money is doing? Being afraid to check your bank balance? That’s where all the stress happens.

The solution to this is simple.

Put aside a day this weekend, buy your favorite bottle of wine (you’ll need it), and go through all your accounts to find out EXACTLY what your finances look like, down to the dollar.

Tracking expenses is an important part of learning where you can cut back, or even eliminate your spending.

I know, you’ve probably heard this before. But have you actually done it? On a regular basis? It’s a powerful way to identify how much money you piss away every month on random crap you don’t need.

Write it ALL down. How much do you spend on food each week? Don’t forget to include groceries, eating out, bottled water, and snacks. How much do you spend on entertainment? Movies, books, music, sports tickets, dates, etc.

What about vices like alcohol, cigarettes, and coffee?

What are your monthly bills? Rent, mortgage, utilities, car payment, insurance, credit card interest, cell phone service, gym membership, student loans, etc. Don’t forget miscellaneous shopping either. Video games, clothes, pet toys, etc.

Now, grit your teeth and look it all in the face. You may be surprised at how much you’re spending. Little things tend to add up. This isn’t an easy thing to do, I know. That’s why you might need that wine.

But it becomes a lot easier if you approach saving with the right attitude. You’re not here to judge yourself or wallow in regret. Take your feelings out of the equation because they’re not needed.

This is simply about awareness. You’re looking your financial situation right in the eye and saying, “OK – this is where I am. This is where I need to be.”

If you’re like me, building this kind of awareness, and tracking everything, takes time. That’s the nature of habits – you don’t suddenly change your behavior overnight.

Track your spending like a pro with this free expense tracking app from Mint.
Budgeting For Travel

Stick To Your Budget

3: Budget Ruthlessly

There are two types of budgeting you need to do here. The first is budgeting your trip. The second is budgeting your life.

First, you need to work out how much your trip is going to cost you. If you know what you’re doing, your travel budget can be as low as $ 50 a day.

The amount is going to vary wildly depending on where you want to travel, and how thrifty you are. But for long-term budget travel, I usually recommend planning to spend at least $ 1500 per month.

So that means to backpack around the world for 6 months, you should have at least $ 9000 in your bank account before you leave.

If you choose wisely, your accommodation can cost next to nothing. Cheap flights can be easy to find if you follow these simple tips – and so on.

If you want all my best advice for ways to save money on travel, start here.

You’ve got 16 months before you leave? Great! Your monthly savings goal is 1/16th of that total – and you need to budget successfully to put that amount aside every month, more or less, until you hit your target.

Now the big question becomes – how are you going to hit that target?

First step: create a running budget, assigning strict numbers to recurring expenses – and stick to it religiously. Some expenses are fixed, for example, your rent (although, keep reading below for one way to lower it).

Other expenses are flexible, like the money you spend on food every month, or socializing. The trick with these is to make sure you always know how much of your budget is left, so you’re not a victim of “phantom expenses” that nibble away your hard-earned savings without you being aware of them.

Going shopping? Decide in advance how much you can afford to spend, and use the calculator on your phone to total everything up as you walk round the aisles. Going out with friends? Withdraw cash, and leave your cards at home so you can’t blow your budget.

Budgeting effectively isn’t scary. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. When you have complete control of your money (and not the other way round), your confidence will soar – and you’ll work even harder towards your goal.

Check out this terrific set of free online budgeting classes to master the basics.

4: Reduce Unnecessary Spending

Grab a piece of paper and draw a vertical line down the middle of it. At the top left, write “NEEDS” – and at the top right, write “WANTS”.

Now place everything you spend money on into one of these two columns.

Be as brutally honest as possible. Do you need Netflix right now? Do you need that cappuccino you always have on your lunch break? What about those beers on Friday night? How about new clothes?

Consult your spending diary that you’ve hopefully been using. How many of those daily entries were things you actually needed? Will your life end without them?

Once you’re finished, look at the “WANTS” column – and write down how much they cost, next to each item. Now total them up. That’s how much you can instantly start saving every month if you cut all these out.

The final step here is simply to stop buying those things you don’t need. I know, it’s harder than it sounds.

Our extremely effective and profitable marketing industry will try its best to convince you to buy that Starbucks Unicorn Frappuccino. Don’t let them win. It’s time to take control of your finances right now.

Cook Your Own Meals

I Cook A Mean Risotto…

5: Develop Habits That Save You Money

How about getting up a little earlier, skipping the bus and walking/riding a bike to work instead? Ever heard of ride-sharing? What other daily expenses can you replace with money-saving habits?

What skills can you learn that will cut your daily costs?

I’ll give an example. By cooking your meals instead of buying them prepared, you can save thousands of dollars every year. Which is exactly what I did when I was saving money for my own travel adventures.

You don’t have to give up excellent coffee and tasty avocado toast — just make them yourself and save money.

Cooking for yourself, especially lunch & dinner, can save somewhere between $ 6 and $ 11 per meal – so if you previously spent all your time eating out, you’d save between $ 125 and $ 230 every week just by cooking.

It’s a skill that puts decent money in your pocket. Plus, it’s fun too!

6: Cut Accommodation Costs

This is extreme – but also extremely effective. If the place you are renting (or own) costs a lot of money, how about taking on a roommate to share the rent and bills? What about two roommates?

If that’s not an option, and you’ve got a year or more before you hit the road – why not move into a smaller apartment, or a cheaper neighborhood? This is one way I was able to save money for my trip.

By moving into a cheaper neighborhood on the outskirts of Fort Lauderdale in Florida, sharing a small house with 2 other roommates, I was able to save hundreds of dollars on accommodation every month rather than living in the much more expensive city of Miami.

Other travelers I know moved in with their parents for a few months to save money. Or they rent out their homes and move somewhere cheaper. Obviously these aren’t ideal situations, and may not even be options for everyone, but I just want to open your eyes to the possibilities.

Sometimes you need to think outside the box to make your dreams come true. And drastic measures can be uncomfortable, but effective.

How to Save Money for Travel

Who Needs A Car?

7: Sell Your Crap

If it’s worth good money and you can’t travel with it, then is it really worth hanging onto? In my case, I took a long, hard look at my car one day, decided to sell it, and bought a used folding bicycle to replace it.

Instant injection of much-needed cash! Not only from the sale, but also from canceling my auto insurance and no longer needing to buy gas.

Instead, I purchased a public bus pass. Sure, my commute was longer. Riding my bike to the bus stop in the rain kinda sucked. But you know what? I was dedicated. I was determined. Wearing a poncho and riding in the rain isn’t the end of the world. Other people do it, why can’t I?

In addition to my car, I also sold my DJ turntables, sports equipment, and some furniture I really didn’t need. Everyone’s “crap” will be different. But we all collect it in one form or another.

Sites like Ebay & Craigslist can help you sell your stuff for extra cash to build up your travel fund.

8: Other Ways To Save

No, simply quitting avocado toast and frappuccinos isn’t going to pay for 6 months of travel. But, when combined with other money saving lifestyle changes, it all adds up to make a big difference.

Stop Going Out

Instead of spending too much money at a club or movie theater, invite friends over to your place for a movie night. Get outside and go on a hike.

Cook More

Now is a good time to learn the art of cooking. It’s entirely possible to buy low-cost, healthy ingredients, and cook your own tasty meals at home.

Shop Around

Did you compare prices while grocery shopping last week? Did you buy the cheapest toilet paper? Are you shopping at places like Costco & Amazon?

Cut Your Landline

I can’t remember the last time I used a landline. Cellphones work just fine. Switch to the cheapest provider, with the cheapest plan possible.

Ditch Your Cable

TV is a waste of time. Stop paying to live vicariously through shows, and make your own life more exciting. The internet is full of free entertainment!

Quit The Gym

No need for a gym membership when you can go running, hiking, or practice bodyweight exercise routines outside while enjoying nature!

Slash Your Shopping

No, you don’t need the latest smartphone. No, you don’t need new clothes every month. No, you don’t need 5 different shades of lipstick.

Reduce Utilities

Turn down your air conditioning and use a fan or wear a sweater. Unplug electronics when not in use. Take shorter showers.

Earn More Money

Do You Have Any Talents You Can Sell?

9: Make More Money

Everyone wants to earn more money, right? Well it doesn’t grow on trees, but there are opportunities, even if you already have a full-time job.

Find part time work on the side. Maybe as a waiter, bartender, supermarket cashier, etc. I worked as a nightclub photographer 4 nights a week, putting up with drunk entitled assholes…

It doesn’t need to be an amazing job! Just something to boost your income. Do some research, and figure out what kinds of part-time positions match your skillset & talents.

Selling arts & crafts on Etsy. Stalking garage sales & re-selling on eBay. Walking dogs. Tutoring students. Babysitting. Audio transcription. Playing music.

The only limit is your imagination!

Check out Reddit’s Side Income Wiki for examples of how other people earn extra money.

10: Review Your Employment

Not earning enough money from your current job? Maybe it’s time to ask for a raise (as long as you can prove you actually deserve it). What makes you an important asset to the company?

Alternately, why not attempt to re-negotiate? Ask if there’s any way you can cut back your hours, or work from home a few days a week, so you can use that time you would normally spend commuting… on your side job.

If those aren’t options, you can start looking for another employer who pays more. Train in your spare time for something that pays better.

You’re not a slave to your job — if you don’t make enough, shop around and find a better place to work.

I know I’m making it sound easier than it is… but I never promised this would be easy. It’s not.

11: Earn As You Travel

This is a nice short-cut. If you can earn money as you travel, you won’t have to save quite as much. This is what I did. Before I began traveling, I’d built a small online business selling eBooks about topics I was knowledgeable on.

I managed to squeeze a money-making opportunity from my limited free time – which reduced the amount I needed to save for travel, as I could earn income on the road.

Because I was earning about $ 1500 per month from my online business, I left to backpack around Central America with only $ 7000 in the bank — confident I could continue working from my laptop.

Selling ebooks is no longer how I earn income. These days I make a good living from my travel blog. But that took a few years to accomplish.

How can you earn money online? Well there are all kinds of ways.

Affiliate marketing. Freelance writing. Graphic design. Computer programming. Becoming a virtual assistant. Language translation. I don’t know what skills & experience you have. But there are options.

For more details and ideas about how to earn money while traveling, make sure to check out my travel job guide.

Saving Money Won’t Be Easy!

Saving money doesn’t come naturally to most people. Nearly half of Americans don’t even have a $ 400 emergency fund.

The formula is simple. Live below your means, and save the rest.

Yet implementing this formula is not always easy. There are social pressures. We’re bombarded by marketing. Our willpower is lacking. We make excuses and lie to ourselves.

Others may have additional roadblocks — like obligations to support loved ones, student loans, debilitating injury, chronic disease, or a lack of job opportunities where they live.

If that’s the case, it may just take longer to reach your savings goal.

Following through is the difficult part. I know, I’ve been there. If this was easy, everyone would be doing it.

Resources To Get You There

To help you start saving money for travel, I’ve included some of my favorite resources below. These are useful tools for learning how to track your spending, budget your life, save money fast, or earn extra income.

YNAB – Excellent budgeting software & system to help you get out of debt and save money.

Mint – Popular free app for tracking your finances and managing your money.

I Will Teach You To Be Rich – My favorite book about becoming financially responsible & independent.

Remote Job Directory – Wonderful resource that lists websites for finding a location independent job.

The $ 100 Startup – Inspiring book that highlights 50 people who built their own businesses with minimum investment.

The 4-Hour Workweek – The book that convinced me to enter the world of online business and entrepreneurship.

One Last Piece Of Advice

As you’ll discover when you’re traveling, things rarely go exactly to plan.

The ability to think on your feet and adjust your trajectory on the fly is an important skill for travel, and life.

Expect many course corrections. Don’t be surprised when obstacles get in your way. Life is messy and the best-laid plans have a habit of fraying at the edges, or falling apart completely.

That shouldn’t matter though – you’re committed to this, right? You’ll find another way to get there. The specific plan you choose isn’t important… the destination is everything.

Best of luck – and I hope to see you out there! ★

Have any questions about saving money for travel? 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

30 Photos From Afghanistan That You Won’t See In The News

Photos from Afghanistan Trip

Traveling in Afghanistan

Afghanistan

Last summer I traveled into the mountains of Afghanistan for a two week backpacking adventure. Not your typical summer vacation destination. Here’s what I witnessed on my journey.

What comes to mind when you think about Afghanistan? War? Terrorism? Osama Bin Laden? The Mother Of All Bombs?

Sure, much of Afghanistan is still dangerous — but there’s also incredible beauty, hospitality and kindness in the country that doesn’t get reported on.

It’s far too easy to vilify or write-off an entire nation when you don’t have to look those people in the eyes. People with the same hopes and dreams as you — to survive, find happiness, and provide for their families.

I was able to experience the positive side of Afghanistan and its wonderful people, up close and personal, during my trip there last summer. It’s since become my most memorable travel adventure to date.

Here are some of my favorite photos of people & landscapes from my 100 mile trek into Afghanistan’s remote and mountainous Wakhan Corridor.

This is the “other” side of Afghanistan that you don’t see in the news.

Afghanistan Hindu Kush

The Hindu Kush Mountains

Afghanistan's Wakhan Corridor

Traveling in the Wakhan

Wakhan Corridor

The Wakhan is a rugged and wild region of Northeast Afghanistan, part of Badakhshan Province. It’s a narrow piece of land, about 400 km long, surrounded on three sides by Tajikistan, China, and Pakistan.

Two large mountain ranges dominate the area, the Pamir in the North, and the Hindu Kush in the South. The Wakhan Corridor was created by politicians in the 1800’s during the “Great Game” in an attempt to leave a buffer zone between British India and the Russian empire.

Traveling by yak in Afghanistan

Riding Yaks in the Wakhan

Hitchhiking By Yak

Taking a break from walking, I managed to hitch a ride on a yak for a portion of the route. We ran into a group of Wakhi men leading their yaks through the mountains. While they stopped for tea, they let us borrow their yaks, which we led further into the valley until their owners caught up with us later.

Yaks are the ultimate eco-friendly 4×4 in Afghanistan, able to climb steep rocky terrain and power through icy cold rivers. There are no trees above 10,000 feet, so locals are forced to trek for 3 days to lower elevations with their animals in order to gather firewood for cooking and warmth.

Wakhan Silk Road

Ruined Stone Shelter on a Vast Landscape

Photos from Afghanistan

Trekking in the Wakhan

Ancient Silk Road

The Wakhan was once part of the ancient silk road, an important trading route connecting China to Europe. Along with silk, horses, and other goods, it was a highway for armies and explorers too. Explorers like Marco Polo who is believed to have passed through here during the 13th century.

Crossing steep mountain passes and high desolate plateaus, passing caravans of yaks and donkeys loaded with goods, spending the night in stone shelters with traveling merchants — I felt like I was getting a glimpse of what the silk road must have been like all those years ago.

Local Muslim men

Muslim Shopkeepers in Afghanistan

Wakhan Corridor Guides

My Compatriots in the Wakhan

The Many Faces Of Islam

Just like the many different branches of Christianity, there are many different branches of Islam, all with their own beliefs and values. Many people living in Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor are Ismaili Muslims, who practice a moderate form of Islam. They number 25 million worldwide, and despise the Taliban.

Their spiritual leader is the Aga Khan, a successful British businessman and Imam who runs the Aga Khan Development Network, a super important charity organization that improves living conditions and opportunities for the poor in Africa and Central Asia.

Footbridge in Wakhan Corridor

Footbridge Over the Wakhan River

Untamed Blue Rivers

The Wakhan River runs through the Wakhan Corridor, fed by the high altitude mountains of the Hindu Kush on the border with Pakistan. It snakes its way through the mountains, and is a major lifeline for the people living in this harsh and unforgiving landscape.

The bright blue color of this water is due to reddish hues of the rock formations around it, as well as the crystal clear source (a glacier). Water molecules absorb other colors, like red, more efficiently than blue.

Afghanistan Mountain Pass

Enjoying the Wild Landscape

Yaks in the Snow

Snowy Mountains in August

Epic Mountain Views

When the weather was clear, I was rewarded with incredible views of the mountains like this! The trail was well worn, as it’s used daily by small groups of locals who travel in caravans of yaks or donkeys from settlement to settlement.

The 10 day trek ranged in altitude from 10,000 to 16,000 feet, and we averaged about 10 miles per day of hiking. I began to feel the effects of altitude on my body around 12,000 feet with shortness of breath. At 16,000 feet hiking became even more tiring and difficult.

Khash Goz Wakhan Afghanistan

Snow Covered Yurts

Kyrgyz Homes Afghanistan

Kyrgyz Settlement in the Wakhan

Portable Yurts

The Kyrgyz people of Afghanistan are semi-nomadic, moving from valley to valley herding their animals to different grazing pastures depending on the season. They live in cozy yurts made of sheep felt, which can be broken down and transported long distances.

Each settlement consists of 2-3 families living and working together. Originally from the area around Kyrgyzstan, their ancestors were kind of trapped in the Wakhan after the Soviets took over Central Asia, forcibly settled nomadic tribes, and sealed off the silk road route.

Afghan Milk Tea

Sheer Chai Milk Tea

Salty Milk Tea

Both the Wakhi and Kyrgyz people drink large amounts of salty milk tea, called Sheer Chai. It’s served for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Basically, it’s a mix of yak and goat milk, boiled down for hours and dried into a portable block. It’s prepared by adding boiling water, loose-leaf tea, and rock salt.

The salt is great for rehydration at high & dry altitudes — I called it my Afghan Gatorade. It took a while to get used to (salty hot milk anyone?), but by the end of the adventure my body was craving sheer chai for every meal. You can also dissolve raw butter into the tea at breakfast for extra calories.

Wakhan Corridor Petroglyphs

Petroglyphs in Afghanistan

Afghan Petroglyphs

Near the end of my 2nd day on the trail, we hiked past a set of ancient petroglyphs scrawled into a dark colored boulder overlooking the valley. My local guide, Yar, couldn’t tell me much about them, other than they think these markings are a few thousand years old.

They depict hunting scenes, men armed with what appear to be bows, as well as large game like ibex and the rare Marco Polo sheep. This was just one of many petroglyphs that dot the landscape in these mountains. They are thought to mark ancient hunting grounds claimed by different tribes.

Bozai Gumbaz CAI School

Central Asia Institute School

Kyrgyz School in Wakhan

Kyrgyz Boys Ready for Class

CAI Schools

This simple 3 room school in the remote Afghan village of Bozai Gumbaz was built by Greg Mortenson and his Central Asia Institute. You may have heard of Greg before, he’s the author of the best selling novel Three Cups Of Tea, about building schools for girls in Pakistan.

The school at Bozai Gumbaz, where I spent the night playing cards with Afghan army soldiers, was prominent in his 2nd book, Stones To Schools. The next morning a group of boys showed up on donkeys for class. I saw many CAI schools along the road from Eshkashim to Sarhad-e Broghil.

Afghanistan Camping Adventure

Camping in Afghanistan

Camping In Afghanistan

As a big fan of the outdoors, one of the highlights on this trip was the opportunity to wild camp in the mountains of Afghanistan. Most nights we were able to stay at small Wakhi or Kyrgyz settlements in basic guest huts, but we also camped out in tents a few nights too.

Normally I’m a camping hammock kind of guy, but because I knew there weren’t going to be any trees for most of this trek, I packed my super lightweight Nemo Hornet 2P Tent. It snowed a few times during the journey — in August!

Greetings in Afghanistan

Greetings From the Heart

Local Kid in Afghanistan

Friendly Shopkeeper in Eshkashim

As-Salāmu ʿAlaykum

I was constantly greeted with As-salāmu ʿalaykum which means “peace be upon you”. A shorter version of this is just salām. Shaking hands is common, and so is placing your hand on your heart, which simply means your greeting comes from the heart.

Another important term I used during my journey is taschakor, meaning thank you. I always recommend trying to learn 10 of the most used words in a local language before traveling there. In the Afghan Wakhan, most people speak some Dari (Farsi) along with local dialects.

Burqa in Afghanistan

Afghan Woman Wearing Blue Burka

Wakhan Afghan Girl

Wakhi Girl in Sarhad-e Broghil

Women In Afghanistan

Many people were asking if I saw women in Afghanistan. Yes I saw women during my trip, but most were extremely shy, especially if I had my camera out. Plus in their culture, talking with strange men is taboo. But shooting portraits of men or kids was not a problem.

Near the border town of Sultan Eshkashim, with a large Sunni population, many women wear a full-length blue burqa that covers their face. In more rural areas of the Wakhan, it’s less strict. Women wear long colorful dresses with a simple headscarf. I was able to say hello and see their faces.

Beehive Tombs Wakhan

Kyrgyz Tombs at Bozai Gumbaz

Afghanistan Burial Shrine

Khajahbigali Family Tomb

Shrines & Tombs

I encountered a few ancient burial tombs during my time exploring the Wakhan Corridor. Near the Afghan military outpost of Bozai Gumbaz, there’s a collection of strangely shaped Kyrgyz beehive tombs, along with evidence of Soviet bombing (craters, bomb fragments) from the 1980’s occupation.

At the settlement of Langar, we found a pile of ibex horns marking the burial place of a powerful big man. In Afghanistan, wealthy & powerful men are often called “big men”. It’s a bit like calling someone “boss.” The more animals, land, and wives you have, the “bigger” & more influential you are.

Driving in Afghanistan

Driving in Afghanistan

Rough Roads

Before I began the 10 day, 100 mile trek through the mountains, I had to hire a 4×4 van to drive me to the last village at the end of the road. We passed a few military checkpoints along the way, stopping for tea & candy with officials before continuing on.

The drive took 2 days, and the roads were some of the worst I’ve ever seen. Dust seeped into the vehicle, covering us in dirt. We forded rivers, drove along the edge of sheer cliffs, and were frequently stopped by huge herds of goats blocking the road. The van suffered 6 flat tires during the journey.

Afghanistan Mountain Shelter

Cooking Lunch in a Stone Shelter

Afghanistan Stone Hut

Wakhi Settlement

Wakhi Settlements

While I entered Afghanistan alone, I decided to hire a local translator/guide and horseman to accompany me on the trek into the mountains. It would have been extremely difficult to communicate with others without their help. We spent a few nights at Wakhi settlements during the hike.

Wakhi homes are basically stone huts with dirt floors, constructed using manure for cement. The roof is made of logs, grass, and more manure to keep it waterproof. Some shelters had stoves inside, others just had a fire pit. Either way it was pretty smokey inside with a fire…

Afghanistan Girl

Young Afghan Girl in Sarhad

Afghan Family in Wakhan

Wakhi Family Living in the Mountains

Children Of The Wakhan

Life in the Wakhan is rough, especially for kids. About 60% of children here die before the age of five, the highest infant mortality rate in the world. If they do survive, they are put to work helping out with the family business — animal herding.

There are a few schools out here, thanks to the Central Asia Institute, but it’s up to the parents if they go. In some communities, only the boys are sent to school. The morning commute can take a few hours by donkey due to the lack of roads and distance between settlements.

Camels in Afghanistan

Central Asian Bactrian Camel

Wildlife In Afghanistan

I was really hoping to see a snow leopard or Marco Polo sheep while I was traveling through the mountains of Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor. You know, Walter Mitty style! Unfortunately both of these endangered animals are extremely difficult to spot — but I did find camels!

Luckily the Wildlife Conservation Society has staff in the area, often spending weeks in the field gathering data to protect wildlife in the Wakhan. They estimate there are about 100-200 snow leopards living in these mountains. Wolves and bears also call this wilderness home.

Afghanistan Photography

The Country You Thought You Knew…

The Other Afghanistan

So there you go. A peek at the other side of Afghanistan that we never see on the nightly news. After traveling the world extensively for the past 6 years, I’ve noticed this is a common theme.

Don’t let our media, which is primarily focused on negative & sensational topics, be your only window into the dynamics of a foreign country you’ve never been to.

I’m not going to tell you that Afghanistan is safe. It’s not. Our troops who’ve served there can tell you. Afghans themselves are well aware of the dangers that plague their country too.

But I think there’s another side to Afghanistan that deserves some attention. The rugged, scenic mountain landscapes. The friendly, hospitable local people.

I’m hopeful for the day when Afghanistan’s problems fade away, and more travelers can safely enjoy the beauty this incredible country has to offer. ★

Bonus Video! Backpacking Afghanistan


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Photos from Afghanistan. More at ExpertVagabond.com

READ MORE FROM AFGHANISTAN

How To Visit The Wakhan Corridor

Have any questions about Afghanistan? What do you think? Drop me a message in the comments below!

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Expert Vagabond

Win A Free Trip To Explore Your Family Heritage!

Travel To Learn About Your Ancestors

Travel To Learn About Your Ancestors

Travel Giveaway

Are you ready to shake the family tree and find out who you really are? This is your chance to trace your family’s heritage, and experience the culture of your ancestors.

My friends at World Nomads have partnered up with Ancestry.com to give one lucky winner (plus a guest) the adventure of a lifetime.

Basically, they want to send you on a genealogy mission to trace your roots, traveling to the country of your ancestors while researching your family’s heritage, wherever that may be.

Let me tell you from personal experience, a trip like this is super fascinating and definitely memorable!

A few years ago I traveled to Ireland with my own family to follow in the footsteps of my grandmother who immigrated from a small Irish town across the ocean to the United States when she was only 17.

It was a magical experience, seeing where she grew up, and learning about a side of the family we didn’t know much about. The kind of trip I think everyone should attempt once in their lifetime.

Genealogy in Ireland

My Family Genealogy Trip in Ireland

Distance Is Only Relative

Whether you want to track down the rural village in Spain where your great uncle started his booming butter business, delve deeper into family legend of royal ties in 19th century Thailand, or find out more about the Irish clan behind the dusty family crest on your grandmother’s desk, they want to help you connect to your story.

Click Here To Enter The Contest

What Does The Winner Receive?

Applications close May 29th, and the winner is chosen on June 20th.

World Nomads Travel Giveaway

What’s Your Family’s History?

What Are You Waiting For!

Like me, I’m sure your family has told you stories passed down from generation to generation. Stories about your heritage, culture, and ancestry.

The more we know about ourselves and our family’s past – the more our personal identity evolves.

This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit the country of your ancestors, and dive deep into the history of how you became you.

You’ll learn things you never knew before, and will get a better feel for where you and your family came from.

The information can broaden the way you think about your identity, and will open your eyes to a whole new part of your personal story.

Click Here To Enter The Contest

I hope you learn something new about your ancestry like I did. Good luck! ★

Where are your ancestors from? If you win this, who would you invite as a guest? Drop me a message in the comments below!

World Nomads

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Expert Vagabond

5 Easy Ways To Save Money On Travel

How I Use Credit Cards to Save on Travel

How I Use Credit Cards to Save on Travel

Travel Tips

Not being smart with your money can have a big impact on your ability to travel. Below I lay out five easy ways to stay on top of your finances so that money can empower, not limit you.

Disclosure: Thank you Capital One® for sponsoring this post! All opinions are my own, and were not directed by Capital One. To learn more about CreditWise® from Capital One®, visit: https://creditwise.capitalone.com.

Traveling doesn’t have to be expensive, especially when you find creative ways to save money on trips. Having a good travel rewards credit card doesn’t hurt either (granted, those can be hard to get, so making sure your credit is in order is key).

Now, I’m not talking about using your credit card to pay for an expensive trip you can’t actually afford – that’s a horrible idea! Always live within your means and pay off your balance every month.

Instead, take advantage of the great travel benefits that having good credit can afford.

For example, for many years I was completely oblivious to the power of traveling smart, such as collecting points and rewards that are redeemable for travel.

I’ve only started getting into this hobby in the past year, and have already collected enough miles to book a free round-trip flight to New Zealand! Now I’m hooked. Who doesn’t want to save money on travel?

Here are my top five ways to use credit wisely and save money on travel.

Ways To Save Money On Travel

Money Saving Tips

Get Smart About Your Credit

To get approved for a credit card with travel rewards, you need to make sure your credit health is in good shape.

CreditWise by Capital One is a free and easy to use tool that allows you to track your TransUnion® VantageScore 3.0 credit score, learn more about the factors that impact that score, and find helpful ways to take action to improve and protect it.

My favorite feature is the credit simulator, which allows you to choose from any combination of 17 different credit-influencing actions to see how each scenario might affect your score, positively or negatively.

For example, you could see what might happen to your score if you canceled your oldest credit card (hint – that’s usually not suggested by credit experts). You could also see what might happen if your balance increases by $ 400 – perhaps after buying a plane ticket, or if you are thinking about opening another line of credit.

I’ve learned a lot about what kinds of actions will affect my credit score by playing with the simulator. It’s a great tool for travelers who are looking to build their credit in order to get approved for a card with travel benefits and features.

Give it a shot, and see what your score looks like here. The app is 100% free, and available to everyone, even if you don’t have a Capital One card!

Ways To Save Money On Travel

Travel More with a Rewards Card

Get A Travel Rewards Card

One of the best reasons to get a travel rewards credit card is to earn and redeem points/miles for free travel. What does this mean? With travel rewards cards, each purchase you make earns you points that are redeemable for airline tickets, hotels, or upgrades.

Remember, you can’t get a good travel rewards card without strong credit; that’s important to keep in mind as you look at your credit card options.

These special travel benefits can save you a LOT of money, as long as you pay off your balance each month to avoid incurring interest charges, and you use the card enough to offset the annual fee.

Flights are expensive. Paying for your next plane ticket or hotel stay with reward points you’ve earned using credit cards can save you hundreds of dollars.

Avoid Currency Exchange Fees

Having your credit score in a good place gives you a better chance to get approved for travel reward cards that can give you perks like travel accident insurance and no foreign transaction fees.

When traveling, exchanging currency at airport kiosks (like many tourists do) usually means you are going to get overcharged. Currency exchange businesses love to promote “Commission free!” exchanges, but what they really do is charge you a horrible exchange rate and often a “service charge” on top of that.

It’s usually cheaper to use your bank’s debit card at an airport ATM for cash, in combination with a good travel credit card for larger purchases like hotels, tours and car rentals (while collecting points for free travel).

Always know the exchange rate for the country you are traveling to. Check online before you go at travel resource sites like http://xe.com.

Car rental insurance tip

Get Some Free Car Rental Insurance

Make Sure You Have Travel Insurance

Another wonderful benefit of some travel rewards credit cards is the travel insurance that many of them provide for their customers, free of charge.

While it varies depending on the card, many companies offer free car rental insurance, flight delay insurance, lost luggage insurance, and more.

Make sure to read your credit card agreement for exact details on what is covered, what isn’t, and for how much.

Forget Foreign Transaction Fees

Foreign transaction fees are charged by credit card companies for using your card at a non-U.S. retailer. Some credit cards charge up to 3% for each purchase overseas.

Certain travel-friendly credit cards, like the Capital One Venture® Card that I use, have unlimited rewards no matter where I jet off to. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been traveling around the world as a Capital One customer for the past 6 years.

If you’re planning to spend time traveling in the future, download CreditWise now to get ahead of managing your credit health. It’s 100% free.

Now go save some money, and happy travels! ★

Learn More: CreditWise By Capital One

Disclosure: Thank you Capital One® for sponsoring this post! All opinions are my own, and were not directed by Capital One. To learn more about CreditWise® from Capital One®, visit: https://creditwise.capitalone.com.

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Expert Vagabond