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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

Surfing Costa Rica: Nicoya Peninsula 4×4 Road Trip

Surfing Costa Rica Nicoya

Costa Rica Surfing Road Trip

Nicoya Penninsula, Costa Rica

Surfing is unpredictable, and forces you out of your comfort zone. You only have a few seconds to decide if you’re going to commit to that wave quickly barreling down behind you.

If you guess wrong, or hesitate, the results might not be pleasant. But if you guess right… the natural high of riding the power of the ocean is pure bliss. An addiction that makes surfers take a beating & come back for more.

Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula reaches out from the northwest region of the country, separated from the mainland by the Gulf of Nicoya.

With a long coastline and many remote uncrowded beaches, it’s an excellent surfing destination. Especially because it’s a meteorological sweet spot for generating Pacific ocean swells.

Renting a sweet 4X4 expedition truck from Nomad America that included a rooftop tent for camping, I explored the peninsula driving through jungle rivers and over rough backcountry roads.

Best beaches in Costa Rica

Playa Guiones Beach

Surf shop in Nosara costa rica.

Juan Surfo’s Surf Shop

Nosara Costa Rica

My first stop in Nicoya was the small town of Nosara, where I spent a few days just getting back into the groove of surfing, as I hadn’t ridden waves in a while. Surfing is one of my favorite sports, but it’s a lot harder than it looks!

The town of Nosara has become a popular place for expats from the United States and Canada to settle down, claiming a small piece of paradise for themselves.

The surf is decent year round, and a large beach called Playa Guiones boasts plenty of waves for people of all skill levels. I spent 3 days surfing around Nosara, and seriously didn’t want to leave.

I can see why so many expats decide to move here. It’s exactly what you’d expect a lazy jungle surf town to be like. Monkeys in the trees, yoga classes, dirt roads, and a healthy-living vibe.

There are a few different surf schools and shops nearby, like Coconut Harry’s and Juan Surfo’s. They provide both board rentals & surf lessons.

Surfing in Costa Rica

Surfing Playa Guiones

Playa Guiones Beach

Not Very Crowded in December…

Surfing Playa Guiones

Playa Guiones is particularly special because it’s such a large beach. At 4 miles long, you can walk along endlessly and take your pick from different surf spots, so it never feels super overcrowded.

The area is also a national refuge, which means developers can’t build on the beach itself. So from the water, looking back to shore, it just looks like a wall of jungle in front of you.

You can hang out in little homemade “surf-shacks” with roofs made of palm fronds, hiding from the sun to re-hydrate before heading back into the waves for more surfing.

Waves are pretty gentle at Guiones, so it’s a wonderful location for beginners who are learning to surf. It’s a nice wide sandy beach break… no rocks or coral reef to worry about crashing into.

River crossing in Costa Rica

Crossing Rivers in the Jungle

Costa Rica’s 4X4 Coastal Road

After a few days of surfing around Nosara, I loaded up the truck and started driving South along the coast on Route 160. Pulling off down rough and muddy backroads to check out different beaches.

My mission was to drive a particularly rugged off-road track that hugs the coastline from Nosara to Santa Teressa. It can only be accomplished in a proper 4X4 truck, and it’s only possible during the dry season.

This is because there are 3 big rivers you must drive through on this route (Ora, Bongo, and Ario). Fjording rivers in a 4×4 truck is a lot of fun! But it can also be a little hazardous if you don’t know what you’re doing.

How To Drive Across A River

  • Know where your vehicle’s “water line” is (maximum depth)
  • Walk across the river first, to ensure it isn’t too deep
  • Pay attention to the entry & exit points
  • Shift the truck into 4×4 Low
  • Drive slow and steady through the water, under 10 mph

If the water is too deep, it can flood into the cab, or even drown the engine (a snorkel helps prevent this). Strong currents can completely lift the vehicle off the ground, floating downriver until it reaches shallows again.

The route might not be as straightforward as you think either. The safest path could require driving upriver a bit before crossing, so it’s wise to watch someone else go first if possible.

Camping in Costa Rica

Truck Camping in Guanacaste

Camping Along The Way

I love campervan road trips. The ability to stop on the side of a road, a parking area, or at a campground while you travel really gives you a lot of freedom as a photographer. Great for surfing remote breaks too!

The Toyota FJ Cruiser I rented from Nomad America comes equipped with a rooftop tent, off-road suspension & tires, cooking gear, hammocks, folding table & chairs, solar shower, retractable awning, and more.

Renting an expedition truck in Costa Rica isn’t super expensive, especially the smaller 4x4s which start at $ 55 a day. Plus, no need to spend money on hotels/hostels when you have a tent on your roof!

Split between a group of 2-4 people it’s a great deal, and a true off-the-beaten-path adventure in Costa Rica.

Surfing Santa Teresa

Smaller Days Can be Fun Too!

Santa Teresa Costa Rica

Welcome to Santa Teresa

Surfing Santa Teresa

Santa Teresa is another expat surf town on the Coast Rican Pacific coast. It’s a bit more crowded than Nosara/Guiones, but still a great place to ride some waves.

While not nearly as big as the surf town mecca of Tamarindo in the North, Santa Teresa has been growing and is popular with backpackers. Proper hotels and B&Bs have sprung up too.

If you’re a surfer, or want to learn, it’s a fun place to hang out for a few days.

There are two main beaches in Santa Teresa, Playa Carmen and Playa Santa Teresa. Popular surf breaks in the area include Suck Rock and La Lora.

Costa Rica beach sunset.

Costa Rican Sunset at Playa Barco Quebrado

Costa Rica’s Surf Season

The rainy season on the Nicoya Peninsula is August – November, when many surf schools are closed. Early December is a great time to visit, as it’s not so crowded with tourists yet. After Christmas tourism starts to pick up, and clean consistent surf can be had from December – April.

How To Get There

Car

If you’re coming from San Jose, there are two main routes for visiting the Nicoya Peninsula. You can drive around the Gulf Of Nicoya on Route 18, which takes about 5 hours.

Or you can take the Punta Arenas Ferry across the water to Nicoya, and then drive North along the coast. The 4×4 coastal road from Nosara to Santa Teresa takes about 3 hours, provided you don’t get lost (which is easy to do).

Bus

There’s a daily bus to Nosara from San Jose at 5:30am departing from the intersection of Avenida 5 and Calles 14/16 (Alfaro Terminal). Another option is to take one of the more frequent buses to the Nicoya Peninsula, then change to another for Nosara. More details here.

Where To Stay In Nicoya

Renting a truck from Nomad America allowed me to camp for most of the trip, occasionally stopping at a guest house for a hot shower. However if camping isn’t for you, here are some places I found that looked pretty cool:

Accommodation In Nosara

Mamma Rosa – I spent one night here to take advantage of AC, wifi, and a hot shower. It’s location is perfect, with a trail directly to the beach.

Check prices on: Booking.com

Accommodation In Santa Teresa

Salina Santa Teresa – Sweet looking hostel right next to the beach, quirky design. Surfboard rentals, surf lessons, yoga, and more.

Check prices on: Booking.com

Costa Rican Surfing Paradise

Basically road tripping down the coast of Nicoya Peninsula is an awesome surfing adventure, and won’t break the bank either. Especially if you team up with others to rent an expedition truck with a roof-top tent.

I honestly felt like I was was driving around Jurassic Park in that thing, waiting for a T-Rex to burst out of the jungle and chase me. Bouncing around on rough Costa Rican back roads, powering through mud holes, and exploring every hidden beach I could find!

Watch Video: Costa Rica Road Trip


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(Click to watch Pura Vida Road Trip – Costa Rica on YouTube)

More Information

Location: Nicoya Peninsula
Truck Rental: Nomad America
Useful Notes: You could easily spend a whole week road tripping down the Nicoya Peninsula, surfing different beaches and visiting small towns along the way. I spent 5 days there, and wish I stayed longer!
Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Costa Rica
Suggested Reading: Monkeys Are Made Of Chocolate

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Surfing road trip in Costa Rica. More at ExpertVagabond.com
Surfing road trip in Costa Rica. More at ExpertVagabond.com

Have any questions about surfing in Costa Rica? Are you planning a trip? 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

Discovering The Magic Of Trinidad: Cuba’s Colorful Colonial City

Trinidad Cuba

Exploring Trinidad, Cuba

Trinidad, Cuba

Trinidad is Cuba’s best preserved colonial city, a unique mix of 1850’s architecture & 1950’s cars that feels frozen in time. Check out some of my favorite things to do in Trinidad.

Trinidad was one of the first Cuban towns founded by the Spanish, and it quickly grew wealthy from the production of sugar cane, cattle, and tobacco due to the importation of African slaves.

The town’s wealth funded extravagant palaces, large plazas, and colorful colonial homes for rich plantation owners.

Much of this colonial architecture remains, making it one of the best preserved historic towns in North America, and it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Trinidad has become one of the most popular Cuban cities for travelers to visit.

You can walk cobblestoned streets, listen to live music in the plaza, cool off with fresh sugar cane juice, hop into a horse-drawn carriage, chat with locals, or visit fascinating colonial museums spread about town.

Streets of Trinidad

Vintage Taxi in Trinidad

Things To Do In Trinidad

Anna and I spent two days exploring Trinidad with our friends Hannah & Adam from Getting Stamped. Honestly it didn’t feel like we were in town long enough, there’s a lot to see, and Trinidad is bigger than I thought.

It’s certainly a tourist town though — but even with other travelers around, Trinidad doesn’t lose its charm.

Trinidad is a place where new mixes with old to create a jumble of sights, sounds, and smells.

The city has a great laid-back Cuban vibe — I highly recommend getting away from the main square to explore, losing yourself on the fascinating back streets & alleys.

Plaza Mayor, Trinidad Cuba

Church of the Holy Trinity

Hang Out In Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor is the heart of Trinidad, a large plaza comprised of raised gardens, walkways, and cobblestoned streets. Historic buildings from the 18th & 19th centuries still surround the plaza.

Many are painted in pastel colors, topped with red terracotta roofs.

The plaza was built back when the region was rich from sugar plantation wealth. Yet you’ll still find the same churches and mansions previously owned by sugar barons — restored and transformed into museums.

Grab a seat on one of the cast-iron benches, enjoy the gardens, and listen to salsa music emanating from the buildings nearby. However because it’s the main tourist area, be wary of local touts trying to sell you stuff.

Trinidad Church Tower Cuba

Convento de San Francisco de Asis

Trinidad Bell Tower

View From the Bell Tower

Climb The Bell Tower

You’ll notice Convento de San Francisco right away, as you can see the bright yellow bell tower from most parts of town. It’s the most prominent landmark, and a popular postcard photo.

A former convent, it’s now a museum with artifacts from the revolution.

The climb up to the top of the tower is worth the view, and the museum is interesting too. They have some armored vehicles and stuff from the United States invasion.

Trinidad Municipal Museum

Palacio Cantero (Municipal Museum)

Visit Historical Museums

The Museo de Arquitectura is located in a 18th century mansion formerly owned by Sanchez Iznaga. Inside you’ll get a glimpse of what these large homes looked like, as well as a 19th-century style bathroom.

Palacio Cantero is another former mansion, now the Municipal Museum. The main attraction is magnificent views of the city offered by its tower.

Palacio Brunet was once the home of the wealthy sugar baron Conde de Brunet, today it houses Museo Romantico, showcasing luxurious items belonging to the family. Like a 1.5 ton marble bathtub!

Sugar cane juice in Trinidad

Fresh Guarapo Frio (sugar cane juice)

Trinidad Cuba Restaurants

Local Cuban Food

Sample The Cuban Food

Cuban food often gets a bad rap. While I didn’t mind it so much, it’s definitely not as spicy & flavorful as Mexican cuisine. Lots of rice, beans, yuca, and meat on the bland side.

You can buy basic meals at restaurants in Trinidad for between $ 5-10.

While you might not write home about the food, Cuba excels in coffee, rum drinks, and sugar cane juice. Make sure to visit the La Canchánchara mansion for their special cocktail made of rum, honey, lemon, and water.

Ancon Beach near Trinidad

Relaxing on Cuban Beaches

Playa Ancon Beach

Playa Ancon is a beautiful white-sand beach only 6 miles away from Trinidad. For only $ 5-10 CUC you can catch a vintage taxi and spend the afternoon there.

For the more adventurous, rent a bicycle pedal over on your own, which takes about an hour. Cuba’s beaches aren’t very crowded, and the turquoise water is crystal clear.

Grab an icy cocktail and get some sun, or if you’re a scuba diver, there’s a dive shop at Playa Ancon from Marina Blanca, directly across the road from Hotel Ancon.

Meeting locals in Trinidad Cuba

Making New Friends

Trinidad Local Neighborhood

Exploring Trinidad’s Neighborhoods

Wander The Streets

Trinidad has an older “city center” area around Plaza Mayor where most of the historic buildings and attractions are located. It’s a pedestrian walking area, no cars are allowed. Most tourists tend to stick around Plaza Mayor.

But taking a long walk down some of Trinidad’s side streets until you get completely lost is one of my favorite things to do. You’ll get a glimpse of what life in Trinidad truly looks like.

Locals often gather on doorsteps and street curbs, hiding from the relentless sun. You may see games of dominoes, deep conversations, bird cages hanging from porches. Don’t be afraid to say hello — and ask some questions too. Most people will be happy to chat!

Casa de Musica Trinidad

Sunset From Casa de Musica

Dance To Traditional Music

Every night around 7pm locals and tourists alike will dance salsa at the open-air Casa de Musica. Order a cocktail and sit down to watch from the wide stone staircase as the sun sets, soaking up the atmosphere.

The steps are one of Trinidad’s few public wifi hotspots, so you’ll see plenty of people on their smartphones for a quick Facebook or Instagram fix.

Music is a big part of Cuban life, especially in Trinidad. Musicians set up on street corners, public parks, or inside restaurants. There’s even a cool nightclub called Disco Ayala that set inside a natural cave!

Trinidad Cuba Horseback Riding

Riding Horses in Trinidad

Go Horseback Riding

When Anna and I wanted to go horseback riding, we just asked the first guy we came across. “No problem!” he said. His friend owns horses and can take us into the mountains for a few hours.

Cuban cowboys were frequently riding their horses down Trinidad’s streets, so we knew it wouldn’t be difficult.

Jesus, our guide, led us out of town past Cuban tobacco farms and up into the dry hills behind Trinidad. We made our way through a forest, eventually arriving at a swimming hole to cool off from the day’s heat.

Topes de Collantes Nature Park

Hiking to Vegas Grandes Waterfall

Topes De Collantes National Park

The Sierra del Escambray mountains are Cuba’s 2nd largest mountain range. It was here some CIA sponsored anti-Castro “bandits” hid in the mountains and fought to try and take back the new socialist government.

The Escambrays are home to Topes De Collantes National Park, a beautiful nature reserve where you can go hiking, horseback riding, visit numerous waterfalls, or relax with a scenic picnic.

The drive into the mountains is pretty steep, but we still managed with our rental car. After stopping at the visitor’s center, we hiked to a stunning blue waterfall & swimming hole called Vegas Grandes. The hike took 2 hours round trip.

Valle De Los Ingenios Trinidad

Rural Cuban Farm Home

Valle De Los Ingenios

Trinidad was one of the most prosperous cities in Cuba due to enormous sugar production in the nearby Valle de los Ingenios (Valley of the Sugar Mills) which still has some working sugar mills/fields.

The region once housed 50 sugar mills and 30,000 slaves to work the fields. During the 18th and 19th centuries this valley was the sugar producing capital of the world.

Don’t miss the Manaca Iznaga Plantation if you visit the valley, where you can see the remains of the plantation’s main house, a huge tower, and the old slave quarters. You can even ride a classic steam train into the valley from Trinidad.

Trinidad taxi by horse

Horse-Cart Taxi in Trinidad

How To Get There

Trinidad is located in South Central Cuba, a 5 hour drive from Havana by car. With our rental car we took a longer route through Playa Giron, a nice way to break up the trip and go scuba diving at the famous Bay Of Pigs.

By bus it’s a 7 hour trip from Havana, and costs $ 25 USD/CUC. The Viazul Bus terminal in Havana is located at the corner of Avenida 26 and Avenida Zoologico. You often have to buy tickets at the station one day in advance.

You can rent your own vintage 1950’s taxi (with driver) for about $ 100-$ 120 per day, or share a taxi with other travelers and split the cost. Just keep in mind these old cars break down from time to time.

Streets of Trinidad

Cobblestoned Streets & Old Cars

Trinidad Donkey Man

Trinidad’s Famous Donkey Man…

Tips For Visiting Trinidad

Because Trinidad is part of Cuba’s tourist trail, you won’t be able to escape the Jineteros, or hustlers. While they aren’t nearly as bad as they are in Havana, they’re around.

Everyone and their grandmother is trying to sell you something. Taxi rides, cigars, casa particulares, bicycles for rent, or they want to show you a great restaurant their cousin owns.

Don’t lose your cool. Be nice, but firm, and say no thanks. You really can’t blame them for trying — Cubans don’t have many options for earning extra money — their government salary is about $ 30 per MONTH.

Independent travel in Cuba is raw, challenging, and refreshing, but the hustlers can be annoying sometimes too.

Casa Particular Trinidad Cuba

Hostal Vidal (Casa Particular)

Where To Stay In Trinidad

We based ourselves in Trinidad Cuba for 2 nights, and had a wonderful trip. If you’re wondering where to stay in Trinidad here’s my advice:

Budget Accommodation

Hostal Vidal – Excellent casa particular (homestay) run by a very nice Cuban family. Comfortable beds, good breakfast, and AC.

$ 35 CUC per night, located in front of the bus station.

Fancy Accommodation

Iberostar Grand Hotel – If you’re not quite ready for a local homestay, Trinidad also has a really nice hotel called the Iberostar.

Check prices on: HotelsCombined.com

Cuba’s Colonial City

Trinidad is one city you shouldn’t miss traveling in Cuba. While the island gets 2-3 million tourists per year, most don’t leave Havana, and there’s so much more to see in this fascinating country.

The mix of colonial architecture, historical significance, laid-back local vibes, vintage cars, horse-drawn carts, and scenic mountains nearby made Trinidad one of my favorite places to visit in Cuba. ★

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.

More Information

Location: Trinidad, Cuba
Useful Notes: Trinidad is full of casas particulares, there are over 350 of them. It seems everyone in the whole town has a room to rent. Remember to ask to see the room first, and try to negotiate on price a bit. Breakfast is often extra.
Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Cuba
Suggested Reading: The Other Side Of Paradise

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Things to do in Trinidad, Cuba. More at ExpertVagabond.com
Things to do in Trinidad, Cuba. More at ExpertVagabond.com

Have any questions about visiting Trinidad? Are you interested in traveling to Cuba? Drop me a message in the comments below!

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Expert Vagabond

Driving The Scottish Highlands: Mountains, Lochs, and Glens

Scotland Highlands

Highlands, Scotland

The Scottish Highlands are just as beautiful as you’ve imagined. An incredible road trip destination that features rocky peaks and sweeping glens shrouded in mist.

The Scottish Highlands have been on my bucket list for years. After recently returning from a wonderful 4 day journey through the region of Lochaber and the West Highlands, I wanted to share my favorite highlights and tips to help you plan your own adventure.

Why should you visit the Highlands of Scotland?

Well, if you’re a fan of hiking majestic mountain ranges, floating mist-covered lochs, or exploring ancient forests, then you’ll love the Highlands.

They provide intrepid travelers with fantastic travel photography opportunities and a hearty dose of Scottish charm.

The Scottish Highlands are a playground for hikers, bikers, kayakers, and anyone who loves outdoor adventures. The area of Lochaber around Fort William is considered the outdoor adventure capital of the United Kingdom!

Need A Place To Stay In Scotland?
Click here for great accommodation deals…

Highland Cow Scotland

Scottish Highlands Mountain

Exploring The Scottish Highlands

My Scottish Highlands road trip began in Glasgow after taking the train from Edinburgh. Driving up to Fort William from Glasgow along route A82 on my way to the Isle of Skye in early July.

The landscape was exceptionally green after weeks of rain.

Weather in Scotland is often cold, windy, and rainy — however don’t let that dissuade you, these conditions also produce some very dramatic scenery.

There’s tumultuous history here too… dark tales of epic clan battles and murderous plots. Mythical legends of lake monsters, fairies, and goblins.

In the Highlands, you never know what hidden treasures you’ll uncover while venturing off into the Scottish countryside. I certainly found plenty! The landscape can be harsh and unforgiving, but totally worth a trip.

Route A82 Scotland

Drover's Inn Scotland

Loch Lomond

My first stop on the drive from Glasgow into the Highlands was the town of Balloch on the banks of Loch Lomond. The area is part of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park.

It was raining pretty heavily, so we didn’t stick around too long, but I did walk aboard the Maid Of The Loch, a fantastic 60 year old paddle steamship currently undergoing renovation.

Further up the road, make sure to pop into the 300 year old (and some say haunted) Drovers Inn for traditional Scottish food or a dram of whisky (unless you’re driving of course).

This quirky historic stone lodge sits directly in front of a steep mountain waterfall. Stepping inside the building feels like stepping back in time…

Glen Etive Scotland

Foxglove Flowers Highlands

Driving Glen Etive

A winding single track lane passing into the narrow valley of Glen Etive will have any driving enthusiast grinning from ear to ear. It’s a wonderful little side trip off the beaten track when driving through the Scottish Highlands.

You’ve probably already seen Glen Etive before, but didn’t know it. The landscape was a filming location for the popular James Bond movie “Skyfall”, where James takes his iconic Aston Martin DB5 out for a drive.

The icy cold Etive River passes beside the road, and for the more adventurous, it’s a great place to go cliff jumping. Hiking or kayaking (with your own gear) around Loch Etive at the end of the road is another option.

Wild camping is popular in the glen, but PLEASE remember to leave no trace. It would be a shame to ruin such a beautiful landscape with trash from disrespectful campers…

Hiking in the Highlands

Wire Bridge Highlands

Hiking The Highlands

If you’re a hiker, the Scottish Highlands have trails for all levels. Lochaber is home to Ben Nevis, the United Kingdom’s highest mountain at 4,416 feet (1,346 meters). Munro bagging is a popular activity — summiting mountains over 3,000 feet.

For those who enjoy long distance treks, the West Highland Way stretches some 96 miles through the best of the Highlands and takes most hikers 5-7 days. You can carry everything with you, or hire a company to transport the bulk of your gear to guesthouses ahead of your arrival.

Countless shorter day hikes can be found in the area too.

One of my favorites was Steall Falls and Nevis Gorge, where the trail follows a mountain river funneling into a narrow rocky gorge. It ends in a huge meadow, with Scotland’s 2nd highest waterfall dropping over 300 feet from the high mountains beyond.

Glencoe Mountains Scotland

Scottish Highlands House

Glen Coe

Widely considered one of the most beautiful areas of the United Kingdom, the spectacular valley of Glen Coe has a haunted past as the site of a 17th-century massacre which saw 38 members of the MacDonald Clan hunted to death in the snow.

Another 40 women & children died of exposure when their homes were burned to the ground.

Yet the landscape is equally as haunting as its past. Driving around the towering peaks of the “Three Sisters” under foreboding clouds & drizzling rain, you can feel the weight of sadness on this place.

Pull off on the side of the road for photos, or spend an afternoon hiking a few of the trails. Further on is the village of Glencoe, where you can find lodges, cafes, or restaurants to help break up the drive.

Train in Scottish Highlands

Hogwart's Express Scotland

Jacobite Steam Train

Remember the Hogwarts Express from Harry Potter? Well, that train really exists! The Jacobite Steam Train has been called the most scenic train journey in the world, and for good reason.

Starting in Fort William, this 84 mile journey takes passengers deep into the Highlands, ending at the small fishing village of Mallaig. Along the way it travels across old stone bridges, through misty mountain passes, and past deep freshwater lochs.

Tickets sell out fast, but if you’re driving nearby, you should stop at the lookout over Glenfinnan Viaduct, where the train passes around 11am and 3pm for wonderful photo opportunities!

Loch Ness Scotland

Urquhart Castle Highlands

Monster Spotting At Loch Ness

Loch Ness is a deep, cold, and very murky lake in the heart of the Scottish Highlands near the town of Inverness. For years locals and tourists have reported witnessing a large unidentified creature with a long neck swimming through the water.

A popular activity is sailing across Loch Ness to the ancient ruins of Urquart Castle, searching for the Loch Ness Monster (aka Nessie) along the way. I hit up Loch Ness while driving back from Skye to catch a train to Glasgow at the end of my journey.

Some people believe Nessie is a plesiosaur, a dinosaur who’s survived to modern times by living isolated from the sea within the loch.

What do you think? Is the Loch Ness Monster real?

Mountain Biking Highlands

Mountain Biking Nevis Range

Under the shadow of Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest mountain, lies the Nevis Range mountain bike trails. They have trails for all levels, from relaxing forrest routes to white-knuckle World Cup downhill tracks.

You can rent all sorts of different bikes and protective gear from £25 – £60 per day, and either cycle uphill through the cross country trails on your own, or ride the gondola lift up to the world-class downhill trails.

I spent the morning riding the “Witches Trails”, a fun mix of single track and wider trails that wind through the trees, with the occasional wooden boardwalk or ramp. A low mist had the forrest looking particularly eerie.

Scotland is home to quite a few professional mountain bikers, including Danny Macaskill, the star of an epic short YouTube film called “The Ridge” shot on the Isle of Skye. It will make your heart race!

Eilean Donan Castle Scotland

Episcopal Church Highlands

Ancient Castles & Cathedrals

It goes without saying that Scotland is overflowing with its share of magnificent castles. There are literally hundreds of them, both ruined and active residences.

Scotland’s castles were built as military fortifications, and there are plenty of epic battle stories or sensational legends to learn about once you visit them.

I had the chance to visit a few, like the incredibly picturesque Eilean Donan, the MacLeod family stronghold of Dunvegan in Skye, and the ruins of Urquhart Castle along Loch Ness.

If you’re a fan of old stone churches too, make sure to stop by Glenfinnan Church, St. Andrews, and St. Johns of Ballachulish as you drive through the Highlands.

Hotels in Scotland Highlands

The Old Pines Hotel

Best Places To Stay

The unofficial capital of the Highlands is the town of Fort William. During the summer high season, hotels and B&B’s can sell out fast so it’s very important to book your accommodation in advance!

We stayed at the beautiful Old Pines Hotel outside of Fort William in the village of Spean Bridge. But I’m a big fan of AirBnB too. If you haven’t yet, make sure to read my article about how to find cheap hotels.

Camping

Wild camping is allowed all over the Scottish Highlands, as long as you follow Scotland’s Outdoor Access Code. Remember to leave no trace! There are a few “bothys” too — wilderness cabins free for hikers to use.

Scottish Highlands Tips & Advice

Once you visit the Scottish Highlands, the area will remain etched in your memory long after you’ve returned home. Here are a few tips to consider before you arrive, to ensure you have a great trip.

Everyone thinks of Scotland and the UK as expensive places to visit. While that may have been the case a few years ago, right now the exchange rate is excellent if you’re American (thanks Brexit!).

Scotland is often wet. April – June are usually the driest and most sunny months of the year. But make sure to pack waterproof gear because weather can, and does, change very quickly year-round.

While the drive from Glasgow to Fort William only takes about 2.5 hours, you’ll want to set aside more time to explore the many hidden glens and fun hikes nearby! I’d recommend at least 3 days in the Highlands, if not more.

Don’t be afraid of the food! Yes it’s greasy, heavy, and often made of animal guts, but consider what they had to work with. I recommend trying some Haggis, Blood Sausage, and of course a Full Scottish Breakfast. ★

Watch Video: Scottish Highland Adventures


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More Information

Location: Highlands, Scotland
Accommodation: Old Pines Hotel
Adventure Tours: Wilderness Scotland
Useful Notes: Many people just drive through the Highlands on their way to the Isle of Skye, however I think it deserves much more time & attention. There are a ton of fun things to do in the area.
Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Highlands & Islands
Suggested Reading: Scottish Fairy & Folk Tales

READ NEXT: Isle Of Skye Road Trip

Have any questions about traveling in the Scottish Highlands? What about other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!

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

Visit Britain

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Expert Vagabond

How To Provide Proof Of Onward Travel (So You Don’t Get Kicked Off Your Flight!)

Proof Of Onward Travel Tips

How To Provide Proof Of Onward Travel

Travel Tips

Planning to travel internationally on a one-way ticket? You might have a problem. Some airlines and countries require proof of onward travel. Here’s how you can get it.

“Before you can board this flight, I need to see your proof of onward travel.” What?! But I’m traveling on a one-way ticket!

I remember the first time it happened to me. I was checking in at Boston’s Logan Airport for an international flight to Bangkok, Thailand.

Excited to visit Southeast Asia for the first time, and planning to spend a few months living in Chiang Mai as a digital nomad. I was flying one-way because, you know, I wasn’t sure how long I’d stay.

One month? Three? Would I even go back to the United States? Maybe I’ll travel to a different country after Thailand… overland. I simply hadn’t planned that far ahead yet.

However due to my American privilege, and my inexperience with international travel, it never once crossed my mind that this would be a problem.

Can’t I just buy another ticket when I’m ready to leave? Nope.

Proof Of Onward Travel Tips

How To Provide Proof Of Onward Travel

What Is Proof Of Onward Travel?

Basically, some countries want to make sure you aren’t attempting to move there on a tourist visa and never leave. It happens all the time here in the United States, and other countries too.

They are trying to prevent illegal immigration.

Government officials need to see proof that you plan on flying out, respecting the rules of their tourist visa. They want proof of onward travel to another destination.

So while you can technically travel on a one-way ticket, they also need some kind of official return ticket confirmation showing that you are leaving the country eventually.

They won’t necessarily care where that ticket goes, just as long as it’s out of their country.

Ticket Confirmation

Example Ticket Confirmation from FlyOnward.com

Airline Requirements

Many countries actually pass this responsibility on to airlines, meaning that it’s the airline check-in desk who will ask to see proof of your onward travel before they let you board the flight.

Because if they don’t check, and allow you on the flight with a one-way ticket, but immigration officials refuse to let you in, the airline will be responsible for the costs of flying (deporting?) you back to your home country, along with possible fines.

Some airlines are very strict about the proof of onward travel rule.

If you can’t provide proof, you won’t be allowed to board your flight. Or they’ll ask you to buy a return ticket from them right then and there — which can often cost hundreds of dollars more than you want to spend.

Onward Travel Rules Suck!

I feel your pain. Why can’t they just make it easy and allow me travel on a one-way ticket, trusting me when I tell them I plan to leave in two months?

Some of us prefer to travel spontaneously, without plans!

Most long-term travelers are on a tight budget, trying to make their money last as long as possible. Or they aren’t exactly sure which country they want to visit next. Or they want to travel overland by bus.

Buying round trip tickets just isn’t in the cards for everyone.

Don’t take it personally though. These are their rules, and we have to respect them. We have the same laws for foreigners attempting to visit our country.

Luckily there are a few easy (and legal) ways to get around this proof-of-onward-travel requirement, so you can travel on a one-way ticket, and not be forced to pre-plan your entire trip down to the last detail.

Proof Of Onward Travel

Rent A Ticket Confirmation!

How To Get Proof Of Onward Travel

If you think you may need proof of onward travel during your adventure, there are a few legal ways to get around the rules without having to buy round trip tickets everywhere you go.

Rent A Return Ticket

My favorite option these days is to use the online service FlyOnward.com. For about $ 10, this company will go ahead and purchase a refundable airline ticket in your name, on their dime.

The ticket will then be automatically canceled after 24 or 48 hours.

While it’s active, you’ll be able to view a REAL flight reservation under your name, and show it to the airline check-in agent or immigration officer, “proving” your onward travel. Simple, fast, and cheap.

You can see an example of what the confirmation looks like here.

Buy A Super Cheap Ticket

Extreme budget airlines around the world can have some amazing flight deals. While the airline itself might not be the best, if you don’t plan on actually using the ticket, who cares!

Find the cheapest one-way ticket to a major city in the country next door, and eat the cost. Maybe $ 50 or $ 100.

This works best in cheaper areas of the world, like Asia or Latin America. Some examples of budget airlines include EasyJet, AirAsia, Volaris, etc. Click here for a full list.

What about bus or train tickets out of the country? In my experience, sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. I think it depends on the mood of the check-in agent.

Buy A Refundable Ticket

If you don’t mind waiting (sometimes months) to receive your refund, then buying a fully refundable, second one-way ticket is possible too.

To make it work, you’ll need to buy that second ticket before you leave for your destination.

Once you’ve entered the country, cancel your exit ticket, and wait for the refund. Just make sure to read the fine print — because some airlines charge cancelation fees, or only refund tickets using flight vouchers instead of cash.

Use Your Airline Miles

If you are a travel-hacking whiz and have accumulated a ton of points or miles on your travel rewards credit cards, you can use those points to book a one-way return flight and cancel it later.

Most of the time you’ll find that your points or miles are refunded right away, making it a no-brainer.

Forge A Ticket Confirmation

First of all, I do not recommend this method. If you get caught, it could end up badly. Especially if you try to show a fake piece of paper to actual immigration officials rather than airline employees.

Lying to immigration officials is illegal, and could land you in jail.

But if you’re too cheap to rent a real ticket for $ 10, you can use ReturnFlights.net to create a fake onward travel confirmation. Remember, use this option at your own risk!

Which Countries Require Proof?

Many countries technically require proof of onward travel, however they don’t always enforce the rule. To reduce your chances of them asking, it’s wise to avoid dressing like a bum/hippie with no money.

Business casual works best at airports if you want to avoid questions.

A few countries definitely require documented proof of onward travel. They include New Zealand, the United Kingdom, United States, Brazil, Indonesia, Costa Rica, Peru, and the Philippines.

However depending on the airline you use, you might also get asked for proof before visiting countries like Thailand, Mexico, and Panama. Do some research on your destination country to be sure.

Don’t Get Caught Off Guard!

Even though this rule might seem ridiculous, if you are a long-term traveler who prefers to travel on one-way tickets, you will eventually get asked for proof of onward travel.

I’ve probably been asked at least 10 times over the past few years.

Luckily there are legal loopholes around it. You just need to remember to get everything sorted in advance, before you find yourself stuck arguing with the airline check-in agent, about to miss your flight. ★

Tips for how to provide proof of onward travel when flying on a one-way ticket. More at ExpertVagabond.com
Tips for how to provide proof of onward travel when flying on a one-way ticket. More at ExpertVagabond.com

READ NEXT: How To Find Cheap Flights

Have any questions about proof of onward travel? Have you ever been asked? Drop me a message in the comments below!

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Expert Vagabond

DJI Mavic Pro: Best Drone For Travel? (Plus Tips & Tricks)

DJI Mavic Drone

DJI Mavic Pro Drone Review

Gear Review

Drones are incredible tools for capturing images & video in a totally different perspective. With the new DJI Mavic Pro, we finally have a drone that’s easy to travel with too!

The other day I was kayaking at a stunning blue lagoon in Mexico. To capture its beauty, I brought along a daypack filled with camera gear — my Sony A7Rii, GoPro Hero5, and the new DJI Mavic Pro.

All of this gear, including accessories, fit neatly inside a single camera backpack that I use as my airline carry-on!

The ability to pack a drone, along with the rest of my camera gear, into a single bag has been a dream of mine ever since I first started flying drones in my travel photography and video workflow.

But it just wasn’t possible until now.

DJI Mavic Pro Size

Small & Lightweight Design

DJI Mavic Pro Drone Review

Sure, there are small drones out there. And more powerful ones too. Unfortunately you couldn’t have the best of both worlds — until the new DJI Mavic Pro came along.

The Mavic has all the features of the original DJI Phantom 4, but is half the size and weight.

Folded up, the Mavic is about the same size as a Nalgene water bottle!

To make this possible, DJI really put a lot of thought into the Mavic’s design. It has four “wings” that neatly fold up when not in use. You no longer need to remove the drone’s propellers either, they fold up too.

Even the Mavic’s remote controller is about half the size as previous models. Yet DJI’s new drone still boasts about 21 minutes of flight time, speeds up to 40mph, and a super impressive 4 mile range.

With the ability to shoot 4k video and capture RAW photos, the Mavic is just as powerful as its predecessor (DJI Phantom 4). It also has front-facing optical sensors that help you avoid obstacles and prevents the drone from crashing into things.

DJI Mavic Unfolded

Powerful Portable Drone for Travel

DJI Mavic Pro Specs

Video Recording: 4K in 24/30p or 1080 in 60/30/24p
Pixels: 12 Megapixels
Max Resolution: 4000 x 3000
Lens: 28mm
Memory Card: Micro SD
ISO Sensitivity: 100 – 3200
Max Speed: 40 mph
Average Flight Time: 21 minutes
Max Distance: 4 miles
Weight: 1.62 lbs (734 g)

DJI Mavic Review

Flying the DJI Mavic

Flying The Mavic

The DJI Mavic is surprisingly easy to fly. It feels a lot like a video game. If you let go of the controls, the drone simply hovers in one place.

But drones are complicated machines too — you need to be aware of your surroundings in multiple dimensions, something most of us aren’t used to.

Before you do anything, make sure to watch all of the Mavic tutorial videos here. Then, practice flying the drone simulator on the DJI GO app.

When you finally think you’re ready, I recommend practicing with the Mavic in a wide open field until you get the hang of how it handles. Then practice some more.

The Mavic has a beginner mode that forces the drone to fly a bit slower, and limits height and distance. Use this mode while you’re learning.

Lowe Pro Camera Backpack

All My Camera Gear in One Bag

Launching & Landing

Unfolding and preparing the Mavic for flight takes less than 2 minutes. First I start the DJI GO App on my phone, connect the phone to the remote controller, turn on the remote controller, then power on the drone.

The Mavic will attempt to lock on to GPS satellites, which keeps it stable during flight.

Before you fly in a new location, remember to calibrate the compass (aka do the “drone dance”). It’s an easy process that takes less than 20 seconds

One of the drawbacks to the DJI Mavic’s compact design is that it has much less ground clearance than the Phantom 4, meaning the belly of the drone is closer to the ground.

This can be a problem if you want to launch or land in tall grass. So try to find a wide, flat base to launch it from. I actually launch it from the back of my LowePro Whistler Camera Backpack most of the time.

If you run low on battery power or lose your connection, the Mavic will automatically “return to home” using GPS.

Cameras on the bottom of the Mavic take a photo of the launch site, helping it land in the same exact spot once you’re finished. Pretty impressive technology!

DJI Mavic Drone Photos

Shooting From a Different Perspective

Image Quality

When the Mavic was first released, there were a bunch of videos saying the image was fuzzy. This is because the camera wasn’t in focus — users didn’t realize they needed to touch the screen and focus the camera first.

However this issue has been resolved, as the latest software update gives the Mavic an autofocus mode, which you can turn on or off depending on your preference.

Both video footage & still photos from the Mavic are crisp and clean, sharp enough for most video applications, especially on the web.

If you want to make high-end movies, drones like the new DJI Phantom 4 Pro and DJI Inspire 2 boast larger camera sensors which can pick up more detail in lower light. The caveat is these drones aren’t nearly as portable as the Mavic.

Battery Life

Battery life for the DJI Mavic is solid, averaging 21 minutes on a typical flight (that’s with 15% battery remaining). I travel with 3 batteries to maximize my flight time in each location.

It takes about 60 minutes to re-charge a battery, about 2 hours to re-charge the controller.

DJI recommends deep-discharging (cycling) your intelligent flight battery after every 20 re-charges, to maximize battery life. You can view how many cycles a battery has gone through in the DJI GO App.

DJI Mavic Settings

4K or 1080?

Actually, neither. After doing a lot of research on this subject, it appears that the best footage on the DJI Mavic Pro comes from recording in 2.7k at 30p.

It’s complicated, but basically true 4k video footage needs a bitrate of 100mps. The Mavic can only handle a 65mps bitrate, meaning the footage gets compressed, and doesn’t look as good.

The sweet-spot seems to be recording at 2.7k, which you can then downsample to 1080 for web, and it will still look better than shooting at 1080 directly from the drone.

Also, while the Mavic can technically shoot video at 60 frames per second, it doesn’t look very good in practice. So make sure to keep it at 24p or 30p for the best looking footage.

DJI Mavic Profile

Setting Your Camera Profile

Camera Profiles

If you aren’t planning to color-grade your video footage the default color profile settings work fine. However if you use color grading techniques or LUTs with software like Color Finale, you’ll want to adjust the color profile.

These are the settings I’ve found work best for me.

  • Profile: CINELIKE
  • Sharpness: -1
  • Contrast: -1
  • Saturation: 0

If you don’t know what I’m talking about when I say color grading or LUTS, here’s more information explaining the process.

DJI Mavic Gimbal Speed

Reducing Gimbal Speed

Gimbal Tilt Speed

The default gimbal tilt/pitch speed (aiming the camera up or down) was moving too fast for me, so I slowed it down to 20 in the remote control settings. This helps you get smoother, more cinematic camera movements for your videos.

YAW Speed

The drone’s YAW is what controls its rotation left or right. I prefer to slow this down a bit, again for smoother footage. You can do this in advanced settings under “rudder control”. I changed mine from 0.25 to 0.20.

DJI Mavic Flight Modes

Intelligent Flight Modes

Intelligent Flight Modes

The DJI Mavic drone has 11 cool intelligent flight modes, software that helps fly the drone for you, to get different kinds of unique shots that are difficult when flying with full manual control.

To activate them, you need to go into the flight mode settings. You can then pause or stop the program when necessary and go back to manual control. Here are some of my favorites.

Active Track

Active Track visually locks onto a person or object, and tracks their movement while keeping them in frame. It automatically follows the subject, or you can even fly circles around a moving subject. It’s great for following bikers, kayakers, people walking, and even cars (as long as they aren’t driving faster than 20 mph).

Gesture

This is the Mavic’s “selfie” setting. Send the drone up into the air, put down your remote control (or hide it out of frame), wave your hands to get the Mavic’s attention, then gesture with your hands in a frame around your head, and the drone will lock on and snap a photo after 3 seconds. You need to switch from video into photo mode to make this work.

Cinematic

Cinematic Mode is available with the new DJI Go V4.0 App. Basically it slows down certain drone movements, smoothing out the flying for more cinematic looking shots. But it’s important to note that this function slows down braking speed too, so the drone no longer stops on a dime if you let go of the control sticks. It “drifts” to a stop — so you need to be careful near objects like walls & trees.

Tripod

Tripod Mode is very cool. It drastically slows down the speed of the drone, to about 3-4mph maximum. It too is wonderful for slow, smooth, cinematic shots. It holds as steady as possible, but still stops quickly unlike cinematic mode. It’s great for maneuvering in tight spaces like narrow pathways or around trees. I use it when I’m afraid of running into something.

Course Lock

Another favorite mode of mine is Course Lock, where the drone will fly in one direction no matter which way the camera is facing. So if you wanted to fly parallel with a moving car, but change the direction of the camera angle as you fly alongside, you can do that without altering the course of the drone’s path.

Point Of Interest

Say you wanted to fly around a particular building or monument. With Point Of Interest, you hover over a stationary object, lock on, then adjust the diameter and speed you want to fly at, and the drone will then circle your chosen subject keeping it in frame. Manually flying perfect circles around something is very difficult, this mode does the hard work for you, so you can focus on filming.

Terrain

Terrain Mode is great for flying low over a rough landscape, or up the side of a hill. The Mavic’s bottom sensors track the changing ground features, and keep the drone at a certain height over it. So you don’t have to worry about adjusting it’s altitude to avoid running into the side of a hill, it takes care of that for you.

DJI Mavic RAW Photos

Photos From the Sky

Shooting Photos

The Mavic’s 12mp camera can capture great still photos too, in DNG RAW format for those who like to post-process their images, or normal JPG. You can also shoot in manual mode for adjusting ISO, exposure compensation, and shutter speed.

There are options for bracketing images, a self-timer, and rapid fire shots.

The image sensor is the same size as the original Phantom 4, however DJI’s newer Phantom 4 Pro has a much larger sensor, about 4 times the size as the Mavic’s. This means images from the Phantom 4 Pro will come out better in low-light situations, with less sensor noise.

DJI Mavic Tips & Tricks

Press Record!

As stupid as this sounds, when I first started flying drones, I’d forget to start recording video. Maybe it was because I was so excited to fly the thing, or because I was mesmerized by the beautiful scenes it was showing me. Remember to hit record and capture that beauty!

Full Screen View

The tiny DJI Mavic controller is pretty slick, displaying flight details like speed, altitude, distance, and battery level. This allows you to switch your phone into full-screen mode (swipe up for IOS), removing the information overlay so you can concentrate on framing your shots.

Slow & Steady Movements

Racing around at 40mph in sport mode is fun as hell, but doesn’t make for great video footage. The best drone videos are smooth and steady. Small input changes can have a big effect — you don’t need to jam down on the control sticks full throttle. Plus, you can always speed things up later with editing software too.

Return To Home

It took me a while to realize the benefits of this feature. Why engage return to home when I can fly back myself? Well, the software is much more efficient than humans are. It takes the shortest path back, flying at optimal speed, saving you precious battery power. If you really want to land yourself, you can cancel it at the last minute and take control.

Catch Landing

If I’m attempting to fly from uneven ground (rocks, tall grass, sand) I’ll generally launch the Mavic from my camera backpack, and catch-land it in my hand. However I do not recommend catch-landing a drone until you have a LOT of experience flying in all kinds of situations/weather. It can be dangerous if it goes wrong.

Recovering After A Crash

Everyone crashes their drone eventually. Everyone. I’ve crashed 2 times now, once in water! If you do crash your drone, the best way to get it back is using the GPS information stored on the DJI GO App. Click on the map, zoom into where the last signal was sent from, then head over and start searching. It’s crazy how accurate it is.

Facebook Live

Did you know you can broadcast live video from your DJI Mavic to Facebook & YouTube? The video feed comes from the drone, while the audio comes from your phone. This lets you tell a story, or describe what you’re seeing, as you fly the drone live. It’s possible with a strong 3G signal, but wifi and 4G connections work best.

DJI Mavic Drone Accessories

Controller Sun Hood

DJI Mavic Accessories

Sun Shade Hood

The DJI Mavic Sun Hood helps you see your phone’s screen in full-on sunlight, cutting out the glare. Especially if your eyes are sensitive to the sun like mine are. It makes flying in sunlight much more enjoyable, so you can actually see what you’re recording.

Car Charger

The DJI Mavic Car Charger can plug into a vehicle’s cigarette lighter and charge your battery while driving. It’s super helpful during travel photography road trips, so you always have fresh batteries for flying.

ND Filters

These Polar Pro Mavic ND Filters are a bit like sunglasses for your drone’s camera. It gives professional videographers the ability to shoot video at slower shutter speeds in bright sunlight, creating a more cinematic look.

DJI Care Refresh

Like I said earlier, everyone crashes their drone eventually. It’s best to be prepared and purchase the DJI Care Refresh insurance, so when you do crash one day, you can get back to flying as soon as possible at minimal cost. Drones are expensive machines! It would suck to lose one.

Summary

With the DJI Mavic Pro, I can now fit all my camera gear into a single airplane carry-on bag. It’s also far easier to bring my drone hiking in the mountains, snowboarding, on a boat, or on other kinds of adventures.

Not only is it much smaller and lighter than earlier drones, it’s still just as fast, stable, and easy to fly too.

The convenience of the Mavic’s super portable design means I’m more likely to take my drone with me — giving my travel photography and adventure videos a big-budget WOW factor that was previously only possible from an actual helicopter.

While traveling with a drone is probably overkill for most people, if you make your living with photography or video (or want to eventually), nothing can compete with the DJI Mavic Pro for its combination of power & portability. ★

Watch Video: DJI Mavic Pro Review


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(Click to watch DJI Mavic Pro – Best Drone For Travel? on YouTube)

More Information

Product: DJI Mavic Pro (click here for price)
Useful Notes: Even with a few downsides like less ground clearance and crappy 60p footage, the DJI Mavic Pro blows away the competition with its powerful features and extreme portability. It’s definitely the best drone for traveling photographers at the moment.
Suggested Reading: Remote Drone Pilot Test Prep Handbook

DJI Mavic Pro review for travel photographers. More at ExpertVagabond.com
DJI Mavic Pro review for travel photographers. More at ExpertVagabond.com

READ NEXT: Swimming With Whale Sharks

Have any questions about the DJI Mavic Pro drone? Are you thinking of getting one? 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

Swimming With Whale Sharks In Mexico (They’re HUGE!)

Whale Sharks in Mexico

Swimming with Whale Sharks in Mexico

Isla Holbox, Mexico

Swimming with whale sharks is an underwater adventure I’ve wanted to try for years. I finally took the plunge, and swam alongside these gentle giants in Mexico!

I’ve swam with regular sharks before — the kind that occasionally dine on humans. But swimming with whale sharks is a totally different experience.

Whale sharks are the largest fish in the ocean, growing up to 40 feet long and weighing up to 20,000 pounds. However you don’t have to worry about them eating you with their very tiny teeth.

Which is why you should try swimming with them in Mexico!

Isla Holbox Boat Trip

Sailing Around Isla Holbox

Whale Shark Snorkeling

Anna Snorkeling with a Whale Shark

Whale Sharks Won’t Eat You

Whale sharks are filter-feeders, sucking up microscopic plankton and baby fish with their giant mouths. This makes them similar to whales, although technically they are from the shark family.

They can’t eat humans — which is why swimming with them has become so popular in places like Mexico, the Philippines, and South Africa.

Whale sharks can live up to 70 years old. They move slow enough that we can keep up with them underwater, but barely. You have to swim really fast with fins to stay beside one.

The only real danger is swimming under one. After feeding they sometimes descend without warning… imagine being trapped under a sinking dump truck!

Whale Shark Boats

Tour Boats Waiting for Snorkeling

Sailing The Gulf Of Mexico

My girlfriend Anna (AnnaEverywhere.com) and I booked our whale shark tour with Willy’s Tours in Isla Holbox.

Setting off from the dock at 8am, we sped over the Gulf of Mexico for the next 2 hours. Stopping briefly for photos of a pod of playful dolphins!

The boat was covered, which was nice, because that tropical Mexican sun is hot! Eventually we saw other boats gathering in the distance… this was a good sign.

Whale Shark Tours

Swimming with Whale Sharks

Waiting Our Turn

Unfortunately there was only one whale shark that day. But that’s still better than none, which sometimes happens early or late in the season. So a group of 6 boats took turns sending customers into the water.

We sat on the edge with our snorkel gear on, waiting for the signal to jump in. Once you’re in the water, the goal is to kick hard and fast to keep up with the shark. Because if you hesitate, you might miss it.

They swim effortlessly, but are much faster than they look.

You aren’t allowed to touch the whale sharks because it stresses them out, and may cause them to dive deep, ending the experience for everyone. Only 2 people go into the water at a time, along with your guide.

Whale Sharks Underwater

Huge 30 Foot Whale Shark

Swimming With Whale Sharks

Swimming next to a 30 foot long sea creature, the size of a small bus, was a wild experience. It’s a bit intimidating to be honest… they’re huge! It looks like they could swallow you whole…

But the world’s largest fish won’t try to eat you.

It’s just slurping up tasty plankton and expelling excess seawater through its gills. The white-spotted shark kept her eye on us, but didn’t seem to mind our presence.

Normally whale sharks live much deeper in the ocean — only coming up to eat about 46 pounds of those microscopic organisms each day.

How an animal this big can live on something so small is a mystery to me…

Flamingos at Isla Holbox

A Flamboyance of Flamingos!

Sea Turtle Swimming

Snorkeling with Sea Turtles

Flamingos & Sea Turtles Too!

After swimming with the whale shark 3 times, for a few minutes each, it was time to leave it alone and motor off to the next part of the trip.

Our guide prepared fresh ceviche as we sped back to Holbox, on our way to a reef. There we snorkeled for about 30 minutes with sea turtles, manta rays, and a bunch of fish. Including a few barracudas!

We then sailed into a protected bird sanctuary to watch flamingos and other sea birds hanging out in the shallow water, before heading back to the dock.

Snorkeling with Whale Sharks

Great Day on the Water!

Sustainable Tourism

Is swimming with whale sharks ethical? Personally, I believe responsible and sustainable tourism can help these animals survive.

Sharks of all kinds are being wiped out by overfishing. But conservation & awareness projects to save them are often funded by tour permit fees. Without tours, these programs don’t get much funding.

Yet we also need to be careful, and not wreck the animal’s habitat due to unchecked tourism either. There’s no easy answer.

When To Visit

Whale Shark season on the Yucatan Peninsula is from June to September. This is when the sharks migrate to waters around Cancun, Isla Mujeres, Isla Contoy, and Isla Holbox to feed.

But the best months are July & August, when populations are highest.

Sunny days are better than cloudy days too, but not just because you’ll get better photos. The plankton whale sharks feed on only comes up to the surface when the sun is out, so if it’s cloudy, they stay below.

Holbox Dock

Boat Dock in Isla Holbox

Holbox Beach

White Sand Beaches in Holbox

Getting To Holbox

Most tourists base themselves in Cancun. However, if you have the time, I recommend visiting the beautiful sleepy island of Isla Holbox. Voted a top travel destination by the New York Times.

To get to Holbox, you take a ferry from the fishing town of Chiquila, which is a 2 hour drive from Cancun (3 hours from Playa del Carmen). A bus is also possible, but takes a lot longer with all the stops. Hiring a taxi/shuttle can cost $ 60 – $ 100+ USD.

Best Places To Stay

We based ourselves from Isla Holbox at hotel Cielito Lindo, 2 blocks from the beach. I enjoy using AirBnB, but there are great hotels and hostels on Holbox too. If you haven’t yet, make sure to read my article about how to find cheap hotels.

Budget

Los Arcos

Mid-Range

Cielito Lindo

Swimming with whale sharks in Mexico was a pretty unique experience, there are only a few places in the world where you can do this.

Witnessing these gentle giants up close really helps you appreciate how small humans are, and how diverse the ocean is. ★

Traveling To Mexico 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.

Watch Video: Swimming With Whale Sharks


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(Click to watch Swimming With Whale Sharks – Mexico on YouTube)

More Information

Location: Isla Holbox, Mexico
Total Cost: $ 1100 Pesos ($ 70 USD)
Official Website: Willy’s Tours Holbox
Useful Notes: The whale shark tour lasts from 8am – 3pm. Normal sunscreen isn’t allowed (to protect the sharks), so make sure to pack some natural stuff if you don’t want to get burned. The sea can be choppy, resulting in seasickness for some people.
Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Yucatan
Suggested Reading: The Maya: Ancient Peoples & Places

Swimming with Whale Sharks in Mexico
Whale Shark Snorkeling

READ NEXT: Exploring Mexico’s Secret River

Have any questions about swimming with whale sharks in Mexico? Would you do it? 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

Rio Secreto: Exploring Mexico’s Underground Rivers & Caves

Rio Secreto Mexico

Rio Secreto Underground River

Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Hiking in waist-deep water through dark caves at Rio Secreto, we turned a corner to discover a massive cavern decorated with incredible stalactites all over the ceiling.

Spelunking, or exploring caves, is one of my favorite adventure travel activities. I’ve hiked and crawled through natural underground passageways in South Africa, Guatemala, Iceland, and more.

But Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is teeming with incredible caves too.

There is something exciting about wandering through the darkness, deep into the Earth, not sure what you’ll discover around the next bend.

Visiting Rio Secreto gives you a taste of this rarely-seen and magical world.

We walked through the jungle to one of the cave entrances led by our guide “Ro”, who told us camera traps nearby had recently captured images of wild jaguars that call the area home.

Rio Secreto Mayan Blessing

Traditional Mayan Blessing

The Maya Underworld

Our adventure begins with a sacred Maya cleansing ritual using smoke. A local shaman asks Mayan death gods for permission for us to enter their domain.

The Maya consider these caves scared, a portal to Xibalba (aka “the place of fear”) — the Mayan underworld.

Ancient skeletons, artifacts, and petroglyphs have been discovered in the cenotes and caves that cover the Yucatan Peninsula. Some date back 13,000 years!

Caves like this were often used for human & animal sacrifice, and even today many local Maya keep clear of them.

In 2007 Rio Secreto’s owner decided to allow eco-tours through 10% of the natural reserve, in order to fund conservation for the rest of it.

Cave Entrance

Entrance to the Underworld

Stalactites in a Cave

Amazing Cathedral of Stalactites

Exploring Rio Secreto’s Caves

There are a few different entrances to the caves, covered in vines. Black holes ready to swallow us into the earth. We switch on our headlamps and head into the darkness, not sure what lies ahead.

Rio Secreto is a maze of passageways and dramatic mineral formations. Water drips lightly from the ends of stalactites on the ceiling into the pristine blue pools at our feet. This water has slowly filtered through the porous rock, which is why it’s so clean.

We’re witnessing millions of years of geological history as we hike and swim through different chambers.

The water is cold, but the air is warm with humidity too. We squeeze through narrow cave passages, sometimes with water up to our chests. But there are also massive chambers, large enough to fit a small house inside.

Secret Caves in Mexico

Swimming through Narrow Passages

Underground River Systems

Limestone cave environments like this are very fragile. Rio Secreto has taken great pains to keep the area pristine, without installing concrete paths or tons of cheesy artificial lighting. It’s just you and your headlamp in the darkness.

You have to watch your footing though, as the cave floor constantly changes from wet and slippery to sharp and jagged. It feels like a proper caving adventure!

Our guide occasionally placed a couple of powerful waterproof flashlights into the water, turning it into a giant glowing river of blue light.

This water is part of an intricate network of rivers that flows beneath the Yucatan Peninsula’s hollow limestone shell. It’s actually the 2nd largest underground river system in the world.

Professional cave divers love the area’s many underwater caves. But at Rio Secreto, the water level is shallow — allowing anyone to explore these caves on foot. No need for specialized scuba gear or expensive training.

Yucatan Caves width=

Pristine Underground Rivers

Getting There

Rio Secreto is located a few miles south of Playa del Carmen, off Highway 307 along the Riviera Maya. It’s about an hour south of Cancun, or 40 minutes north of Tulum.

If you have a rental car you can drive there yourself, jump in a local taxi/collectivo van, or arrange for them to pick you up at your hotel.

Rio Secreto Tips & Advice

If you don’t get too claustrophobic and love exploring caves like me, then Mexico’s Rio Secreto is a pretty awesome experience. You are going to get wet. But don’t worry, that’s part of the fun!

Make sure to bring a swimsuit and towel. Rio Secreto provides a wetsuit, water shoes, lifejacket, helmet, and light.

Cameras are not allowed because of the wet & hazardous cave environment. However trained staff can take photos with special equipment, which you can buy at the end of the tour.

Best Places To Stay

The closest town to stay nearby is Playa del Carmen — but Cozumel, Cancun, and Tulum are not too far away either. I’m a big fan of AirBnB, but there are also great hotels and hostels in Playa too. If you haven’t yet, make sure to read my article about how to find cheap hotels.

Budget

Hostel Playa

Mid-Range

La Galeria

Fancy

El Faro

The limestone cenotes and caves of the Yucatan Peninsula are very unique to this area, you won’t find anything quite like them anywhere else around the world. They’re one of my favorite tourist attractions in Mexico! ★

More Information

Location: Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Total Cost: $ 79 USD adults, $ 39 USD children
Official Website: RioSecreto.com
Useful Notes: Rio Secreto provides lockers to store your valuables & clothes. At the end of the tour there is a complimentary lunch. Not recommended for people afraid of water or tight spaces.
Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Yucatan
Suggested Reading: The Maya: Ancient Peoples & Places

Amazing Rio Secreto in Mexico
Amazing Rio Secreto in Mexico

READ NEXT: Things To Do In Playa Del Carmen

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

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

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Expert Vagabond

How To Visit Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor (Safety, Visas, Cost)

Travel in Afghanistan

How to Travel Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor

Afghanistan

In August 2016 I traveled through Afghanistan for two weeks, an American backpacking across the beautiful Pamir mountains in the Wakhan Corridor. This is how I did it.

DISCLAIMER: Both the US and British governments warn against travel to Afghanistan. Just because I went, does not mean I recommend everyone should go. The safety situation changes on a weekly basis, and requires a good deal of research/planning beforehand.

When I told family & friends I was planning a trip to Afghanistan, they thought I’d lost my mind. Afghanistan, that war-torn middle eastern country full of terrorists, soldiers, car bombs, predator drones, and IEDs.

Why the hell would I want to go there?

Afghanistan has been on my bucket-list for a few years after I met fellow traveler and public speaker Shane Dallas who happened to share his experience with me at a travel industry conference.

I learned that the version of the country most of us see each night on the evening news is simply not the full story…

Parts of Afghanistan can be dangerous, sure, but it’s also full of beauty, hospitality, and history too.

This is the Afghanistan I was on a mission to seek out and share.

Wakhan Corridor

Exploring the Wakhan on Foot

Wakhan Map

Map of Wakhan (Courtesy of Wildlife Conservation Society)

The Wakhan Corridor

Afghanistan’s remote and desolate Wakhan Corridor is called the “roof of the world” by the local people who live there. It’s located in the far North East corner of the country, surrounded on three sides by Tajikistan, Pakistan and China.

The Wakhan is incredibly cut-off from the rest of Afghanistan.

There are no government services, large parts of the region have no roads, and people are basically living on their own in the mountains.

The area is inhabited by two main ethnic groups, the Wakhi and the Kyrgyz. The Wakhi often have two homes, one for winter and one for summer months, made of stone.

The Kyrgyz are more nomadic, living in semi-portable yurt tents made of felt. They move their homes and animals to different valleys depending on the season.

A majority of the population raises livestock for a living. They trade sheep, goats and yaks to merchants from Pakistan or other parts of Afghanistan for clothing, food, and necessities they can’t produce themselves at these remote high-altitude locations they call home.

The Wakhan used to be part of the ancient Silk Road, and explorers Marco Polo and Alexander the Great both passed through this part of Afghanistan on their travels around the world.

Afghanistan Safety

Friendly Faces in Afghanistan

Woman in Blue Burka

Afghan Woman Wearing a Burka

Safety In Afghanistan

Travelers don’t have to worry about the Taliban or Al-Qaeda in the Wakhan. It’s one of the few places in Afghanistan that has remained relatively conflict-free over the years.

The Wakhan is part of Afghanistan’s Badakhshan Province. While the Taliban does have a presence in parts of Badakhshan, the Wakhan region itself is terrorist-free (for now). The main road leading in is currently controlled by the Afghan Military, who keeps the Taliban out.

Most locals living in Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor are Ismaili Muslims, who practice a moderate form of Islam. They despise the Taliban, and generally welcome foreign travelers. It’s become an important part of their economy.

But that doesn’t mean the Wakhan is a tourist hot-spot.

The area sees a total of about 100 tourists every year. This is partly due to the taboo of traveling in a war-torn country, lack of reliable travel information, and remoteness of the region.

How To Get A Visa

There is a very specific process for obtaining a visa to enter Afghanistan’s Wakhan corridor, and it involves a trip to the neighboring country of Tajikistan and a town called Khorog near the border.

But first, you’ll need a double entry visa for Tajikistan. You cannot get a double entry visa on arrival at the airport, so you must apply for one in advance at an official embassy or consulate.

Why? After you travel into Afghanistan through Tajikistan, you’ll need to leave through Tajikistan too. Which counts as a 2nd entry into Tajikistan. But typical visas for Tajikistan are only single entry.

Then, once you’re in the town of Khorog, you can apply for an Afghanistan visa at the local consulate there. Keep reading to learn more about the full process.

Dushanbe Monument

Dushanbe, Tajikistan

Arriving In Dushanbe

Flying into the city of Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, is going to be your first adventure. Tajikistan has a reputation as one of the most corrupt countries in the world — and you’ll soon know why.

Dushanbe airport officials asked me for bribes on 2 separate occasions. If you refuse, they send you to the back of the line, or move you to another line, over and over again until you give up and pay them.

Dushanbe Accommodation:

Twins Hotel | Rohat Hotel | Green House Hostel

I recommend spending at least one night in Dushanbe, but probably more. You’ll need to exchange cash, buy last-minute supplies, and get a local sim card for your phone.

The best cell phone company to use is TCell for cell service in the Pamir Mountains. You’ll even have some service on the Afghanistan side for a while.

There’s a basic outdoor shop in Dushanbe called “BAP3ИШ” where you can buy a knife, stove gas, and other camping supplies you might need in the Wakhan. Nothing high-end, just cheap Chinese made stuff.

Khorog Tajikistan

Khorog from Above

Traveling To Khorog

Khorog is a mountain town in the heart of Tajikistan’s remote GBAO region. To travel in Tajikistan’s GBAO region, you need a GBAO permit.

This can be obtained either when applying for your double entry Tajikistan visa, or in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe at the OVIR office.

Now you must travel to Khorog and apply for the Afghan visa in person.

This requires a rough, dusty, 20 hour long 4×4 taxi journey over the Pamir Highway from Dushanbe.

While there’s also a short flight from Dushanbe to Khorog, it’s not easy to get a ticket and is often canceled due to weather.

Khorog Accommodation:

Mountain River Guest House | Delhi Darbar Hotel | Pamir Lodge

Khorog is a major stop for trekkers/cyclists/motorcyclists who are exploring the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan. It’s also the last place you’ll find an ATM, there are 2 or 3 in town. Plan on spending a least a night or two here before heading to Afghanistan.

Khorog Downtown

Downtown Khorog, Tajikistan

Visiting The Afghan Consulate

Khorog is home to a small Afghan consulate that has a reputation for giving out Afghan visas in as little as an hour. As an American, this same-day visa service cost me $ 200 USD.

Why so much? Because the United States makes it difficult for Afghans to get a visa. So they return the favor with a high visa fee for Americans.

The woman at the consulate was trying her best to persuade me not to visit. Saying the visa is too expensive for Americans, that it won’t be easy to travel there, etc. I assured her I was prepared, and had been planning this trip for years.

At the consulate I had to explain why I wanted to visit Afghanistan (hiking in the Wakhan), and write/sign a letter acknowledging I alone was responsible for myself and my actions in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan Border

Afghanistan Border Crossing

Afghanistan Checkpoint

Hanging with Soldiers at a Military Checkpoint

Crossing The Border

With my shiny new Afghan visa in hand, I traveled to the Tajik border town of Ishkashim. It’s a 3 hour drive South of Khorog. One or two shared taxis head to Ishkashim from Khorog each morning.

The desolate Afghanistan border post sits on the right side of the road before you actually reach the town of Ishkashim. Tajikistan border guards have a reputation for requesting bribes, so just be aware.

On the Afghan side of the border, they searched my bags and scanned my passport through the INTERPOL database to ensure I wasn’t a fugitive. After that, I was in! Welcome to Afghanistan.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling nervous standing on Afghan soil.

The border post is a few kilometers away from the nearest Afghan town of Sultan Eshkashim, so unless you want to walk there, an overpriced taxi ride costs $ 20 for a 10 minute drive.

Ishkashim vs. Sultan Eshkashim: These are two different towns, and it can be confusing. Ishkashim is the border town on the Tajikistan side, Sultan Eshkashim is the border town on the Afghanistan side.
Wakhan Guesthouse

Marco Polo Guesthouse in Sultan Eshkashim

Wakhan Corridor Permission

Hand-Written Wakhan Permit

Eshkashim & Wakhan Permits

Sultan Eshkashim is the entrance to the Wakhan Corridor. Many travelers are happy to just hang out there for a few days to experience a taste of Afghanistan before heading back to Tajikistan.

But if you want to go hiking in the Wakhan, you need to acquire additional permits.

Sultan Eshkashim Accommodation:

Marco Polo Guest House (no website)

While getting these permits on your own is possible, it’s a huge pain in the ass if you don’t speak Persian/Farsi. Instead, I hired an English speaking local to help for about $ 50.

The permit process involves multiple passport photos, paperwork, plenty of tea, and stops at a few different government, police, and military offices. You’ll have to explain yourself to local officials questioning why you are there, what you do, etc.

The whole ordeal takes 3-4 hours, provided all the offices are even open. They sometimes close down on certain days (Friday/Saturday). I got lucky, but if something is closed you may have to return the next day.

Local officials eventually gave me a hand-written letter granting permission to travel to the next village, where I’d have to request permission again to move on further.

Driving in Afghanistan

Driving in the Wakhan Corridor

Khandud Afghanistan

Ruined Mosque in Khandud

Driving To Sarhad-e Broghil

Now that I had my permits for the Wakhan, it was time to make my way 200 km up the valley in an expensive 4X4 taxi to the village of Sarhad-e Broghil, where the road ends and the true wilderness begins.

I hired a local translator/guide to join me on the trek.

For the next 2 days, Yar Mohammad Attahi helped me navigate additional checkpoints and permit stops as we drove into the mountains, while giving me the opportunity to actually communicate with locals.

The 4X4 journey to Sarhad navigates some of the roughest roads I’ve ever seen. Over boulder fields, into rivers, along the edge of cliffs, and through deep desert sand.

Our beat-up Toyota van was equipped with crappy shocks, broken windows, and was repeatedly crippled by flat tires (5 times). It was one wild ride!

But because so few cars travel out here, and the route is unforgiving to vehicles, the price of this “taxi” journey is high — $ 350 one way.

Once we made it to Sarhad-e Broghil, Yar and I spent the night at a guesthouse. The next day we began our 100 mile trek across the towering, snow-capped Pamir Mountains.

Tent in the Pamir Mountains

Camping in Afghanistan

Crossing a River in the Pamirs

Hiking in the Wakhan

Hiking In The Wakhan

While I’ll go into more detail about the trek itself in future articles, I just wanted to share some logistics here. I found my guide/translator Yar in the Afghan border town of Sultan Eshkashim.

At the end of the road in Sarhad, we hired a pack horse accompanied by its owner Panshambe to help carry our food & gear for the next 10 days of hiking.

The three of us were completely on our own in the wilderness after Sarhad. Only passing through tiny Wakhi or Kyrgyz communities made up of a few stone huts and yurts. No markets, no doctors, no roads.

I’d brought a camping stove and enough freeze-dried meals for 12 days, along with energy bars and trail mix for snacks. My companions packed rice, tea, and bread for themselves. Over the course of the trip we mixed and shared our supplies with each other.

Unless you bring your own trekking food, your options are going to be limited. Canned fish, beans, rice, and sugar are available to buy in Sultan Eshkashim. But that’s about it. You can sometimes buy flatbread from locals in the mountains.

The 10 day trek maintained altitudes between 12,000 and 16,000 feet. The trails themselves weren’t terribly difficult, as they are used by locals on a daily basis, but it’s the altitude and the dramatic weather that can mess you up.

Some of the trails were perched on the edge of 300 foot drops, and when it snowed, these became much more dangerous. There were many river crossings, but nothing deeper than your knee (at least in August).

We hiked a loop from Sarhad to Chaqmaqtin Lake, starting on the “high” route through the 16,000 ft. Garumdee Pass, returning on the “low” river route back to Sarhad. You can read more about these trekking routes here.

How Much Did It Cost?

I spent 2 weeks in Afghanistan, with 10 days of those trekking. It cost me about $ 1800 USD. That doesn’t include 1 week spent in neighboring Tajikistan before and after the trip. Because just getting to the border of Afghanistan is a separate adventure that takes 2-3 days!

To keep things simple, prices are in US Dollars.

Tajikistan Costs

Double Entry Tajikistan Visa: $ 55 USD
GBAO Permit: $ 4-$ 20 USD
Dushanbe Hotel: $ 10-$ 80 USD per night (x 2)
4X4 Taxi to Khorog: $ 38 USD (x 2)
Khorog Hotel: $ 20-$ 50 USD per night (x 2)
Taxi to Ishkashim: $ 9 USD (x 2)

Afghanistan Costs

Afghanistan Visa: $ 200 USD (cheaper if you’re not American)
Taxi to Eshkashim: $ 20 (x 2)
Guest House: $ 10-$ 25 USD per night (x 8)
Wakhan Permits: $ 50 USD
4×4 Taxi: $ 350 USD one way (x 2)
Pack Animal: $ 20 USD per day (x 10)
Guide/Translator: $ 30 USD per day (x 14)
Camping: Free

I’d say you want to budget at least $ 2500 USD and 3 weeks for a similar trip, not including flights. Stuff goes wrong, delays happen, prices change, and credit/ATM cards are useless once you’re in Afghanistan.

It’s a tough place to travel in that respect. You need to plan at least a few buffer days, and bring plenty of extra cash for unexpected situations.

Wakhan Hiking Guides

My Horseman (Panshambe) and Guide (Yar Attahi)

Warnings

Afghanistan is still a very volatile country. While the Wakhan Corridor itself is pretty safe, a foreigner did disappear there a few years ago, and other parts of the province have seen kidnappings and Taliban attacks.

Just because it felt safe when I was there does not mean it will always be.

Also, it’s important for me to point out that the Afghanistan/Tajikistan border sometimes closes without warning. Usually because of Cholera outbreaks, sometimes just because of bureaucratic arguments.

If it closes when you’re on the Afghan side, you’ll be stuck there until it opens again. Which could be a few days, or a few weeks. You need to be prepared for that possibility.

Traveling overland to Kabul from the Wakhan is not a safe option at the moment.

Helpfull Websites

Wakhan Corridor Guide

If you’re planning a trip to the Wakhan, I highly recommend Yar Mohammad Attahi as a guide and translator. Tell him I sent you!

More From Afghanistan

This was just a brief overview of the logistics for traveling in Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor. I’ll be sharing much more about the incredible trek itself in future articles. If you’d like a notification when I publish something new about Afghanistan, make sure to sign up for my newsletter here. ★

READ NEXT: Should You Go To School Or Travel?

Have any questions about Afghanistan? Would you ever consider traveling there? Drop me a message in the comments below!

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Expert Vagabond

Driving Dartmoor National Park With The Vauxhall Mokka X

Dartmoor National Park

Exploring Dartmoor in the Vauxhall Mokka X

United Kingdom

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

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

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

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

Dartmoor Ponies at Haytor

Wild Dartmoor Ponies

Sunset at Saddle Tor

Lone Hawthorne Tree at Sunset

Exploring Dartmoor In Autumn

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

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

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

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

Emsworthy Farm

Emsworthy Farm

Waterfalls in Dartmoor

Beautiful Venford Falls

Legends Of Dartmoor

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

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

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

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

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

Vauxhall Apple Car Play

Apple Car Play is Great for Road Trips!

Vauxhall Destination Download

Destination Download with OnStar

The Vauxhall Mokka X

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

Apple Car Play

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

Destination Download

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

4×4 All Wheel Drive

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

Remote Unlock

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

Haytor Rocks in Dartmoor

Haytor Rocks

Climbing in Dartmoor

Climbing the Granite at Haytor

Hiking Around Haytor

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

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

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

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

Mokka X Off Road

Exploring Off-Road with the Mokka X

Sheep in Dartmoor

So Many Sheep!

Dartmoor Ponies

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

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

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

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

Dartmoor Pony Group

Herd of Dartmoor Ponies

Driving Dartmoor National Park

Driving Dartmoor National Park

Tips For Visiting Dartmoor

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

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

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

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

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

Watch Video: Dartmoor National Park


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More Information

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

READ NEXT: Should You Go To School Or Travel?

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

Vauxhall

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Expert Vagabond