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Why Is Asheville North Carolina So Cool?

Asheville North Carolina

Fun Things To Do In Asheville

Asheville, North Carolina

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

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

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

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

Pack Square Park Asheville

Pack Square Park

Jack of the Wood in Asheville

Travel Tips for Asheville, North Carolina

Things To Do In Asheville

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

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

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

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

Writer for hire

Asheville Street Performers

Asheville Street Art

“Chicken Alley” Mural

Tons Of Art & Music

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

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

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

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

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

Beer in Asheville

Lexington Avenue Brewery

Pack's Tavern Asheville

Pack’s Tavern

Beer City USA!

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

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

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

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

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

Asheville River SUP

Whitewater Stand-Up Paddleboarding

French Broad River Asheville

The French Broad River

French Broad River

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

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

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

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

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

The Marketplace Restaurant Asheville

Eating Our Foraged Food at The Marketplace

Restaurants in Asheville North Carolina

Salsa’s Restaurant in Asheville

Farm To Table Dining

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

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

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

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

Biltmore Estate in Asheville

The Famous Biltmore Estate

Vanderbilt Library

George Vanderbilt’s Extensive Library

Biltmore Estate View

View Off the Back Deck

The Biltmore Estate

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

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

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

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

Foraging Tour in Asheville North Carolina

Wild Foraging with No Taste Like Home

Mushroom Hunting in North Carolina

Picking Chanterelle Mushrooms

Wild Foraging Tours

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

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

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

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

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

Asheville Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway

Hiking around Asheville

Many Fun Hikes in the Mountains

The Blue Ridge Parkway

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

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

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

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

Waterfalls near Asheville

Looking Glass Falls

Sliding Rock Falls Pisgah Forest

Sliding Rock Falls

Asheville Sliding Rock

Natural Waterslide!

Pisgah National Forest

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

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

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

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

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

Asheville Grove Park Inn

Grove Park Inn

Abbington Green Asheville B&B

Abbington Green B&B

Places To Stay In Asheville

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

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

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

Downtown Asheville North Carolina

Downtown Asheville

Asheville Travel Tips & Advice

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

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

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

Bonus Video! Things To Do In Asheville


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More Information

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

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

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

Explore Asheville

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Expert Vagabond

Iceland’s Amazing Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon in Iceland

How to Visit Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

Jokulsarlon, Iceland

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

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

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

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

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

Jokulsarlon Lagoon Selfie

King of the Ice!

Icebergs At Jokulsarlon

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

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

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

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

Jokulsarlon Lagoon Sunrise

Colorful Sunrise at Jokulsarlon

Iceland At Its Most Beautiful

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

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

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

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

Jokulsarlon Lagoon Bridge

Bridge Over the Glacial River

Jokulsarlon Iceland boat tours

Boat Tours on the Lagoon

Glacier Lagoon Boat Tours

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

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

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

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

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

Jokulsarlon Glacier Black Sand Beach

Ice Scattered over the Black Sand

When To Visit The Lagoon

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

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

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

Getting To Jokulsarlon

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

Rental Car

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

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

By Bus

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

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

Hitchhiking

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

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon Camping

Overnight at Jökulsárlón in my Camper Van

Best Places To Stay

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

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

Budget Accommodation

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

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

Mid-Range Accommodation

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

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

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

Shiny Diamonds of Ice on the Beach

Jökulsárlón Travel Tips & Advice

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

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

Traveling To Iceland Soon?

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

Watch Video: Adventures In Iceland


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More Information

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

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

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

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase an item, I will receive an affiliate commission, at no extra cost to you. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Expert Vagabond

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

Save Money For A Trip

How to Save Money for Travel

Travel Tips

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

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

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

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

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

How To Save Money For Travel

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

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

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

Incredibly glamorous, I know…

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

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

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

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

Saving Money Advice

We All Want More Of This…

1: Become Financially Responsible

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

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

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

Remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint.

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

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

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

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

2: Track Your Spending

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

The solution to this is simple.

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

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

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

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

What about vices like alcohol, cigarettes, and coffee?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stick To Your Budget

3: Budget Ruthlessly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4: Reduce Unnecessary Spending

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cook Your Own Meals

I Cook A Mean Risotto…

5: Develop Habits That Save You Money

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

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

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

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

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

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

6: Cut Accommodation Costs

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

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

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

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

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

How to Save Money for Travel

Who Needs A Car?

7: Sell Your Crap

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

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

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

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

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

8: Other Ways To Save

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

Stop Going Out

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

Cook More

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

Shop Around

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

Cut Your Landline

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

Ditch Your Cable

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

Quit The Gym

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

Slash Your Shopping

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

Reduce Utilities

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

Earn More Money

Do You Have Any Talents You Can Sell?

9: Make More Money

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

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

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

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

The only limit is your imagination!

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

10: Review Your Employment

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

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

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

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

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

11: Earn As You Travel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saving Money Won’t Be Easy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resources To Get You There

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Last Piece Of Advice

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

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

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

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

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

Have any questions about saving money for travel? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase an item, I will receive an affiliate commission, at no extra cost to you. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Expert Vagabond

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

Photos from Afghanistan Trip

Traveling in Afghanistan

Afghanistan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Afghanistan Hindu Kush

The Hindu Kush Mountains

Afghanistan's Wakhan Corridor

Traveling in the Wakhan

Wakhan Corridor

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

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

Traveling by yak in Afghanistan

Riding Yaks in the Wakhan

Hitchhiking By Yak

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

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

Wakhan Silk Road

Ruined Stone Shelter on a Vast Landscape

Photos from Afghanistan

Trekking in the Wakhan

Ancient Silk Road

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

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

Local Muslim men

Muslim Shopkeepers in Afghanistan

Wakhan Corridor Guides

My Compatriots in the Wakhan

The Many Faces Of Islam

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

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

Footbridge in Wakhan Corridor

Footbridge Over the Wakhan River

Untamed Blue Rivers

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

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

Afghanistan Mountain Pass

Enjoying the Wild Landscape

Yaks in the Snow

Snowy Mountains in August

Epic Mountain Views

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

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

Khash Goz Wakhan Afghanistan

Snow Covered Yurts

Kyrgyz Homes Afghanistan

Kyrgyz Settlement in the Wakhan

Portable Yurts

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

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

Afghan Milk Tea

Sheer Chai Milk Tea

Salty Milk Tea

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

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

Wakhan Corridor Petroglyphs

Petroglyphs in Afghanistan

Afghan Petroglyphs

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

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

Bozai Gumbaz CAI School

Central Asia Institute School

Kyrgyz School in Wakhan

Kyrgyz Boys Ready for Class

CAI Schools

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

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

Afghanistan Camping Adventure

Camping in Afghanistan

Camping In Afghanistan

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

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

Greetings in Afghanistan

Greetings From the Heart

Local Kid in Afghanistan

Friendly Shopkeeper in Eshkashim

As-Salāmu ʿAlaykum

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

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

Burqa in Afghanistan

Afghan Woman Wearing Blue Burka

Wakhan Afghan Girl

Wakhi Girl in Sarhad-e Broghil

Women In Afghanistan

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

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

Beehive Tombs Wakhan

Kyrgyz Tombs at Bozai Gumbaz

Afghanistan Burial Shrine

Khajahbigali Family Tomb

Shrines & Tombs

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

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

Driving in Afghanistan

Driving in Afghanistan

Rough Roads

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

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

Afghanistan Mountain Shelter

Cooking Lunch in a Stone Shelter

Afghanistan Stone Hut

Wakhi Settlement

Wakhi Settlements

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

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

Afghanistan Girl

Young Afghan Girl in Sarhad

Afghan Family in Wakhan

Wakhi Family Living in the Mountains

Children Of The Wakhan

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

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

Camels in Afghanistan

Central Asian Bactrian Camel

Wildlife In Afghanistan

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

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

Afghanistan Photography

The Country You Thought You Knew…

The Other Afghanistan

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

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

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

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

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

Bonus Video! Backpacking Afghanistan


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(Click to watch Backpacking Afghanistan – Wakhan Corridor on YouTube)

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Photos from Afghanistan. More at ExpertVagabond.com

READ MORE FROM AFGHANISTAN

How To Visit The Wakhan Corridor

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

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Expert Vagabond

Win A Free Trip To Explore Your Family Heritage!

Travel To Learn About Your Ancestors

Travel To Learn About Your Ancestors

Travel Giveaway

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

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

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

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

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

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

Genealogy in Ireland

My Family Genealogy Trip in Ireland

Distance Is Only Relative

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

Click Here To Enter The Contest

What Does The Winner Receive?

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

World Nomads Travel Giveaway

What’s Your Family’s History?

What Are You Waiting For!

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

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

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

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

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

Click Here To Enter The Contest

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

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

World Nomads

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Expert Vagabond

5 Easy Ways To Save Money On Travel

How I Use Credit Cards to Save on Travel

How I Use Credit Cards to Save on Travel

Travel Tips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ways To Save Money On Travel

Money Saving Tips

Get Smart About Your Credit

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ways To Save Money On Travel

Travel More with a Rewards Card

Get A Travel Rewards Card

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

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

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

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

Avoid Currency Exchange Fees

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

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

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

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

Car rental insurance tip

Get Some Free Car Rental Insurance

Make Sure You Have Travel Insurance

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

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

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

Forget Foreign Transaction Fees

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

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

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

Now go save some money, and happy travels! ★

Learn More: CreditWise By Capital One

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

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Expert Vagabond

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!

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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!

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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.

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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