8 Things You Probably Are Not Packing For Your Trip

While you can hopefully remember to pack your basics like clothing and toiletries, here are some additional items you may not think of as well as some you may think you wouldn’t need.

1. Pillowcase:  I have stayed in a lot of hotels, many of which I did not want to touch the bed covers let alone rest my head on their pillow.  Packing a pillowcase lets you keep your peace of mind while you sleep in a strange place whether you’re staying in a sketchy hostel or the Four Seasons.

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2. Food you can’t get where you are going.  One of my travel companions dips everything in ranch dressing before she eats it.  She freaked when she realized ranch is almost impossible to find in Europe and what you can get is nothing like what she was used to.  If you don’t go a week without it at home, assume you won’t be able to find it in your destination and take some.

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3. Adaptors. If you are going to a country where the outlets are different, do not forget to pack an adaptor.  While hotels provide most appliances (such as blow dryers) you are still likely to need an adaptor for something.  It is almost impossible to find adaptors once you reach your destination since all those sold in local stores are to adapt the local plug to a foreign one instead of the other way around.

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4. Space bags.  In a previous post, I mentioned that I could not stand travel Space Bags, and that I do not believe they work.  While this opinion stands, there is one excellent alternative use for them that everyone should consider.  Space Bags are a great option to store smelly, wet, or dirty clothes in when traveling, because they are created to seal in everything and store larger amounts of clothing than a Ziploc bag.  Whether your clothing smells like cigarette smoke or is covered in mud from a hike, storing them in a Space Bag keeps them from rubbing off on your other clothing.

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5. GPS Tracker. For less than $100, you can buy a GPS tracking unit to store in your checked bag.  If your bag gets stolen or never makes it on the plane, you can check where the GPS system is and find your bag once again. For example, the Mini Real Time Tracker, shown below, uses a SIM card to send its current coordinates to your phone.

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6. Spare credit card, medicine, and ID. Often travelers are told to keep these items safely in their carry-ons during trips.  While this is sound advice, you should keep a spare of everything you can’t live without in your suitcase. This way if your wallet, purse, or bag get stolen on your trip you can have a backup.

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7.  Spare outfit for the opposite climate you are traveling to.  If you are traveling to Sweden, it is safe to bet you will not be needing shorts and a tank top.  However, the place you are staying may over-compensate for the cold by turning the heat much higher than comfortable.  The same can be said for very warm climates.  Pack just one outfit in-case you are stuck in the opposite temperatures you prepared for.

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8. Pharmaceutical needs. On a trip to Europe, I had a cold and did not take any medicie with me.  I tried to find some Sudafed but could not find anything similar to this common medicine even with the pharmacist’s help.  Drug products vary greatly from country to country and even region to region, so bring anything you may need with you.

Though rarely mentioned in travel blogs (probably due to the taboo nature of the topic) the same can be said about products such as tampons and condoms.  The U.S. has very different health standards than many other countries, so stick with what you know to be safe and pack safe and reliable drugstore products from home.

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Top Ten: London (Top Ten Things to See and Do in London, England)

Top Ten: London (Top Ten Things to See and Do in London, England)

Top Ten London

Copyrights: (Fish and Chips) http://www.flickr.com/photos/basykes/2299362200/ (Kensington Gardens) http://www.flickr.com/photos/charliedave/3660292339/ (Churchill’s War Rooms) http://www.flickr.com/photos/jaybergesen/2835567879/

 

1. London Eye – Never turn down a tourist attraction with a great view. The London Eye turns slowly enough that you can appreciate the surroundings and the pods provide protection from the cold and rainy weather no matter what time of year you visit.  Try to hit the Eye early in the day for shorter lines, and consider pre-purchasing your tickets.

2. British Tea – Afternoon tea is one of the most quintessential British activities.  Enjoy tea, scones, and other tasty petit fours at one of London’s many tea parlors.  There is often a champagne option for those who are not tea enthusiasts.

3. Fish and Chips – London is not typically known for its fine cuisine like many other European destinations. There is definitely one dish worth trying though, the classic pub food of fish and chips. Check out the Golden Hind for some great fish and chips, though you will likely find it at most London restaurants.

4. Portabello Road (Notting Hill) – Shop the markets on Portabello Road for anything from new fashions to second hand goods, fruits and vegetables, and less kitschy souvenirs.  An interesting place to wander around and people watch, the market is open Monday – Saturday.

5. Harrods – Incredibly large and always busy, Harrods department store sells just about every upscale good you can imagine.  Definitely worth checking out the lavish displays of goods and clothing around the store. The best part of Harrod’s however, is the food hall.  The hall hosts over 30 different restaurant stands with everything from pub food to upscale cuisine to packaged treats to take home.  I highly recommend the milkshakes from the ice cream shop.

6. Hangout in the Parks – London boasts many beautiful parks throughout the city with walking trails and gardens to explore within each.  For a relaxing break from visiting the tourist sites, hang out in one of the city’s parks.  Grab a snack from a to-go store like Pret A Manger or grab something from one of the park vendors and enjoy a beautiful day.

7. Kensington Roof Gardens – Once the largest rooftop gardens in Europe, Kensington Roof Gardens cover 1.5 acres on the roof of a former department store.  The Gardens include a restaurant and a club and are home to wildlife such as flamingos which wander around the gardens.

8. Pub Crawl – You can’t go wrong with a good old-fashioned pub crawl. Grab some friends or make some new ones and visit pubs throughout the city. There are multiple guided pub crawl tours in London, or you can make your own.

9. Watch a Show in the Globe Theatre – Home to Shakespeare, the Globe Theatre plays host to many of his works throughout the year as well as newly written plays.  Choose one of Shakespeare’s classics or watch a new show in the theatre for an experience from back in time.

10. Churchill’s War Rooms – Visit the underground chambers where Winston Churchill and the British Command developed strategies for WW2.  Filled with history and preserved from their time in use, you can see how the commanders lived in the time of war.

 

11 Unique Bars That Will Make You Want to Start Drinking

1. Alux Lounge (Playa del Carmen, Mexico)

Grab a drink inside a cavern in the cave where Alux Lounge is located.  They offer a full restaurant and lounge.

www.AlexRestaurant.com

 

2. Sunset Bar and Grill (Maho Beach, St. Maarten)

If you love the thrill of danger, grab a drink on this bar on Maho Beach on St. Maarten.  It is directly behind the airport, meaning when planes come in to land, they get incredibly close to those on the beach.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Sunset-Bar-Grill-St-Maarten/133410813339992

 

3. Sugarloaf Kiosk (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)

If you love heights then check out the Sugarloaf Kiosk in Rio.  You can take a gondola ride to get to the bar on top, or you can rock climb up the mountain if you really want to work for your drinks.

Copyright: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sugarloaf_mountain_in_Rio_de_Janeiro.jpg

 

4. Sunland Baobab Bar (Limpopo, South Africa)

The world’s only bar in a tree is located in South Africa. The Baobab tree is thought to be older than the Pyramids at Giza, and can fit up to 50 people inside (though likely not comfortably).

http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g312611-d2630904-Reviews-Sunland_Baobab-Limpopo_Province.html

 

5. Kayabukiya Tavern (Utsunomiya, Japan)

If you love adorable dressed up monkeys who will serve you drinks and bring you hot towels (who doesn’t?), stop for some Sake at the Kayabukiya Tavern.  The tavern has two resident monkey waiters to serve guests, though the monkeys only work 2 hours a day so make sure to check when they will be working.

Monkey Bartenders

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=CcPDEtSRYXA

 

6. Lounge in the Sky (Multiple locations, including Las Vegas)

For the lover of heights, grab a drink suspended in air over multiple cities across the globe. You can also have dinner or even get married in the sky.

www.dinnerinthesky.com

 

7. HR Giger Museum Bar (Gruyeres, Switzerland)

A bar that looks like it was previously a setting for a sci-fi movie, the HR Giger Museum Bar was created to feel like you are inside the belly of a whale and is decorated with decor reminiscent of the supernatural.

http://www.hrgiger.com/barmuseum.htm

 

8. Antarctica Bar (Vernadsky Research Base, Antarctica)

The southernmost public bar is situated in the Ukrainian Antarctic research base.  Housemade vodka is served for free to ladies willing to exchange their underwear to be hung in the bar.

http://www.qsl.net/em1u/

 

9. The Red Sea Bar (Eilat, Israel)

This bar is located 16 feet below the Red Sea, designed with windows for patrons to gaze at the underwater activity while they enjoy a beverage.

www.redseastar.com

 

10. Miniscule of Sound (London, England)

Not for the claustrophobic, the smallest nightclub in the world can only fit 14, including the DJ. The Miniscule of Sound is also portable and makes appearances at music festivals and other events around the world.

Copyright: http://www.flickr.com/photos/martinrp/820117642/

 

11. Ice Bar (Stockholm, Sweden)

From the creators of the Ice Hotel, comes the Ice Bar. Recreated each year by difference artists from around the world, the ice bar hosts a dance floor of snow and the glasses and furniture are all carved from ice.

www.icehotel.com/restaurant-icebar/icebar/

Spicy Beef with Bamboo Shoots – International Recipes CHINA

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Ask anyone who’s  traveled anywhere what their favorite part of the trip was and it’s unlikely you’ll find someone who doesn’t mention “local food” somewhere in that list.  Like most people it’s hard to find the time and money to venture off to every delectable destination just for the food, so we’ve decided to bring a bit of these worldly recipes to you.

Spicy Beef Pork with Bamboo Shoots, or YÜ-HSIANG-NIV-JOU, is a fiery Chinese delicacy that definitely packs a punch!  If you like your food with a little kick, I definitely recommend this recipe.

Enjoy!

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1. Round the troops!  You can cook this in either a wok or a large skillet.

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2. Heat vegetable over medium heat for about 2 minutes.

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3. Chop up your green onions and sauté until transparent.

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4. Add 1/3 of your beef to the pan and stir-fry over high heat until browned, 1 to 2 minutes.  Afterwards, remove beef from pan and repeat with remaining beef strips in 1/3 increments.  Once all beef is removed, heat remaining oil.

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5. Cut up your peppers as thinly as possible!

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6. Bamboo!  Drain and chop like your life depends on it.

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7. In they go; stir-fry peppers and bamboo shoots for 2 to 3 minutes.

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8. Throw in the remaining garlic, ketchup, soy sauce, salt and red pepper; cook for 2 minutes.  Afterwards, add the beff and stock/broth and heat through.

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9. Plate it and sprinkle on cilantro or parsley. Serve with transparent Chinese noodles and a bean-sprout salad.  Yum!

Ingredients:
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 green onions, finely chopped
2 green or red bell peppers, cut into thin strips
1 lb. beef top round, cut into thin strips
1 8-oz. can of bamboo shoots, drained & chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tablespoon ketchup
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon red cayenne pepper
1/3 cup chicken stock or broth
2 teaspoons chopped fresh cilantro or parsley

Best with: transparent Chinese Noodles and bean-sprout salad
Servings: 4.

6 Travel Accessories We Can’t Go Without

Here are a few travel accessories we couldn’t get by without on trips.

1) Packing Cubes

I can’t remember how I packed before I found these packing bags.  Instead of trying to cram your bag full and then having to re-stuff all your items in every time you open it, just stuff these packing cubes.  Great way to stay organized and find items you need much faster.

See on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/eBags-Packing-Cubes-3pc-Set/dp/B004C0XZM4/ref=zg_bs_15743971_1

2) Neck Money Holder

When traveling (especially internationally), it is wise to keep valuables such as your ID, credit cards, and passport tucked away instead of in a purse or wallet.  Valuables holders that can be worn over the neck instead of around your waist tend to be more comfortable and provide easier access.

http://www.amazon.com/Lewis-N-Clark-Deluxe-Stash/dp/B00004SR8Z

 

3) Blanket/Pillow Combo

Definitely one of my better travel investments, this pillow becomes a case for the blanket so it hardly takes up any space in your carry-on.  They are easy to make as well, so if you know a crafty person let them know this would be a great gift.

http://www.safeskieslocks.com/store/luggage-straps-c-13.html

 

4) Luggage Locks

I love luggage strap locks because not only can you safely lock you luggage through the airport, but you can extend the strap and lock your luggage to something if you are staying in a hostel or leaving your luggage temporarily in a shared space.

http://www.luggagepros.com/lug-nap-sac-blanket-plus-pillow.shtml

 

5) Sleep Phones

Perfect for long-haul flights, you can listen to music to drown out the engines but still be comfortable enough to sleep.

http://www.sleepphones.com/store/sleepphones-store/sleepphones-4

 

6) Solar Charger

There have been multiple times when my phone has died while I was using the GPS function and needed it desperately.  Pack a solar charger so you can give your phone some extra power when needed.

http://www.amazon.com/Lewis-N-Clark-Deluxe-Stash/dp/B00004SR8Z

 

BONUS: Jaktogo

For the especially courageous traveler, the Jaktogo is an unconventional travel tool.  Avoid overweight baggage fees or the intense size restrictions of European budget airlines by wearing your luggage. Jaktogo offers the wearable bag in a jacket, dress, or poncho.  As a bonus, it conveniently folds into a tote bag after you pass through security.

Probably not for the fashionista

http://www.jaktogo.com/shop.php

8 Travel Quotes That Will Make You Want to Pack Your Bags Immediately

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Photo from San Juan, Puerto Rico. Click on the photo to see more pictures from Puerto Rico.

 

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Photo from the Sahara Desert. Click on the picture to see photos from Morocco.

 

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Photo from Bruges, Belgium. Click the photo to see more pictures from Bruges.

 

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Photo from Lagos, Portugal. Click the photo to see more pictures from Portugal.

 

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Photo from San Juan, Puerto Rico. Click on the photo to view more pictures from San Juan.

 

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Photo from New York, New York. Click picture to see more photos from New York City.

 

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Photo from Thailand. Click on the picture to view more scenic photos.

 

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Photo from Manarola (Cinque Terre), Italy. Click on the photo to view more pictures from Italy.

 

Top Ten: Paris (Top things to do and see in Paris, France)

Top Ten: Paris (Top things to do and see in Paris, France)

Top Ten Paris BIG copy

Photo credits: macarons- Copyright http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:More_macarons.JPG Montmartre- Copyright Carles Tomas Marti http://www.flickr.com/photos/carles_tomas/2671023608

 

 

1. Champs Elysees and the Arc de Triomphe. Walk down the famous Champs Elysees and browse the high end stores. Make sure you stop at the Arc de Triomphe. You can take the stairs to the top for an alternative view of Paris, just note that there is an underground tunnel to get to the Arc de Triomphe. Trying to cross the traffic circle that surrounds it is a terrible idea if you want to make it through the rest of this list.

2. The Eiffel Tower. Need it even be said? Of course you should visit the Eiffel Tower. I love a good sky view, and the Eiffel Tower has a great one. Buy tickets online, ahead of time and arrive when it opens to avoid standing in line for half your day.

3. Macarons. One of the most underrated treats, macarons are a great Parisian treat. They also make great gifts to bring home to friends since they are quite travel friendly. Check out Pierre Hermé for the quintessential macaron.

4. Eat Baguettes (daily). If you travel to France and don’t eat baguettes at every possible occasion, you are missing the greatest part of french Life. Nothing hits the spot quite like a fresh French baguette and some French butter.  Perfect for a snack or light meal and very budget friendly.

5. Stroll through Montmartre. Montmartre is a quaint little neighborhood of France. When you picture walking the streets of Paris, these are the streets you are looking for. Vendors like the lanes and there are cute little places to grab a drink or bite to eat around every corner.

6. Take a boat ride down the Seine River. Give your feet a break and view Paris from a boat on the Seine river. Book a cruise in the evening for a great night view of Paris. They also offer dinner cruises regularly. Check out The Bateaux Mouches website.

7. Day trip to Versailles. Though not technically in Paris, we think the Palace of Versailles is good enough to make the list. Gorgeous grounds and tons of history make this a great day trip opportunity.

8. Eat crepes. If it isn’t clear, French food is famous for a reason. So many delectable things to try. You can find crepes just about anywhere and often the best ones are from street vendors or mom-and-pop shops. You can’t go wrong with a nutella crepe.

9. Picnic in the Luxembourg Gardens. The French love to hang out and relax here. Grab your baguette and wander through the scenic gardens.

10. Have some wine and cheese at a French wine bar. Nothing says French quite like wine, add some cheese with it and you will instantly feel like you are a Parisian. Paris has tons of wine bars to offer in all price ranges, make sure you stop at one before you leave.

Think we missed something? Let us know if there is anything you would add to the list!

Pie From Around the World

Pie From Around the World

It’s National Pie Day, and what better way to celebrate than with pictures of different takes on pie from around the world! Check out these delicious offerings and see where to get them. Happy Pie Day! Now dig in!

pie stitch

1) Apple Strudel – Vienna, Austria. Check out Cafe Residenz, you can watch the Apple Strudel being made and even learn to make it yourself.

2) Baklava – Turkey. Iman Cagdas is rumored to have “the best bakalava in the world!”

3) Melktert – South Africa. Can be found all over, including Australia. Even available at farm stalls like Die Kloof Padstal in Montagu, South Africa.

4) Maine Lobster Pot Pie – Maine, United States. Featured on “Best Thing I Ever Ate”, check out the lobster pot pie from Kennebunk Inn in Maine.

5) Key Lime Pie – Florida Keys, United States. While the well-known Key West has some excellent key lime pie options, this piece of pie from The Conch House, in Key Largo, definitely takes home the victory. So delicious.

Pie

 

Hostels vs. Hotels

So you are considering a hostel instead of staying in a hotel, but why choose a hostel? Are there any benefits over staying in a hotel? There are a few differences that can help you decide whether it is a better choice to book a hostel or a hotel. What is a hostel? When you book a hotel, you book a room. When you choose to stay in a hostel, you book a bed.  You are literally reserving the spot in which you will stay instead of the room.  This typically means that there will be other people in your room that reserved the other available beds. What are the benefits of  staying in a hostel?

  1. Cost. The number one selling point of hostels is the price. I have stayed in multiple hostels for under $15 a night, which is significantly cheaper than many hotels.  There is often the misconception that hostels are dirty and much trashier than hotels.  This is not necessarily true.  Hostels are rated like hotels on sites such as hostelworld.com.  I have stayed in 4 and 5 start hostels that are as nice as some of the best hotels.  Since hostels are aimed toward the budget conscious traveler, they often include things such as guest kitchens where you can cook and discounted tours or attractions, especially for students.
  2. Social scene. If you stay in a hotel, you are isolated in your room.  Hostels are social settings and you are bound to meet other travelers that are sharing your room.  Additionally, almost every hostel has a common room or some type of lounge to encourage social interaction between residents; many even have bars attached.  I have met some amazing people in hostels who are usually like minded travelers ready to share stories.
  3. Hostel Staff.  The majority of the staff members I have talked with in hostels are younger people who love to travel.  They almost always have great advice, both on the local area and other destinations.  Particularly perfect for people who want to experience local culture, their suggestions are usually more off the beaten path than a concierge who often names the top tourist spots.
  4. Location.  Since hostels typically house a fewer number of residents than hotels, their location options are greater.  There are many hostels situated in restored historical buildings, big houses, old prisons, campsites, castles, etc.  

What are the cons of hostels?

  1. Bad roommates.  There have been a couple times when I have had to share a room with a particularly stinky guest, someone who snores, etc.  I will say these times are outweighed by the times I have met awesome people, but keep in mind you have no say in who is in your room, it is just the luck of the draw.  One night my friends and I returned to our hostel and found a guy that had crawled into my friend’s bed instead of his own. Awkward.  These usually make for good war stories though.
  2. Amenities.  It is common for a hostel not to provide towels for guests without an additional fee. Likewise, they may give you sheets when you check in to make your own bed.  If you are looking for added amenities and special treatment, hostels are probably not your best choice.
  3. Privacy.  Hostels are created to form a community.  The atmosphere is often much more relaxed and less formal than a hotel.  With this in mind, guests may stay up late talking loudly, you will be sharing a community bathroom, and you better get used to changing clothes in front of strangers.

Hostels can be an excellent option especially if you are looking for location character and travel buddies.  Just be cautious to do your research first. Below are some pictures from hostels I have stayed in, both costing a little more than $20 USD a night.

Equity Point Hostel in Marrakech

4 Easy Ways to Save Money While Traveling

Prices for flights and hotels can be daunting in themselves, but that doesn’t mean you have to break the bank on every other expense.  Here are four ways to help you save money on your next vacation abroad!

-Budget airlines and travel websites

When I most recently traveled from Oklahoma City to Paris (France, not Texas), I didn’t want to pay $1000 so I found a website called studentuniverse.com – a website that caters to ANYONE (student, teacher, employee, etc) with a college e-mail.  I ended up paying $624 for a round-trip airfare.  Pretty amazing, right? Generally speaking, the longer you go, the cheaper it is, so keep that in mind. But if you want to take a short trip within your trip, check out budget airlines such as Ryanair and EasyJet.  Some flights can cost as little as TEN AMERICAN DOLLARS, such as the one I took from Nice, France to Marrakesh, Morocco.  Not even their asinine baggage policies can put a damper on that price.

-Unconventional lodging

There are so many different ways around pricey conventional hotels.  For the daring traveler, try couchsurfing.com , a website that pairs you up with a local who hosts people from different parts of the world (normally these people are also globetrotters who love to meet people from different cultures . The idea is that this is a reciprocal exchange, meaning you need to host some people too and tell them the best spots in your hometown, so keep that in mind beforehand.  Also, if you’re traveling in a large group, look into renting out someone’s apartment.  In Amsterdam, seven of us rented a chic little apartment in a great location with more than enough space that ended up costing everyone less that $30 Euros a night.  We had free reign to do what we wanted, when we wanted, and in style.

-Internet booking

This might sound like a given, but when you add up the amount of attractions paid for during a trip, each dollar makes a difference.  Almost all attractions have discounts for booking online, such as the London Eye.  If you do this enough, you will definitely see a difference in your bank account.  Also, look for deals online such as Livingsocial- most people don’t think about it, but these deals are offered abroad too!

-Free Tours

Finally, the culmination of the of free – free tours!  Most people have the misconceived notion that these are not of the same quality as paid tours, but that’s entirely not true.  These guides make their living off tips and it shows in their presentation.  With the best historical anecdotes, the funniest personal accounts, and lots of information, free tours are among the favorite for most travelers. Plus, you can tip based on how you think they did.  It’s  a win-win situation for all.

Travel smart my friends.