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SEEKING ENLIGHTENMENT – THE ADVANTAGES OF TRAVELING LIGHT

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When I took my first-round-the-world trip back in the eighties, my backpack was ridiculous. And by that, I mean enormous. Looking back, I am not sure what it contained, but whatever it was, not only was it huge, but it had too much in it. I recall waiting for a boat to take me from a Malaysian island back to the mainland when my pack split open at the seams, pouring the contents onto the dock.

On reflection, I can’t believe I hauled so much stuff around. Surely the object of travel is to free ourselves of the material objects that we surround ourselves with at home. Nowadays, whether I am traveling for a weekend or six months, I only carry a thirty-five-litre backpack and I never check luggage.

The (very minimal) disadvantages….

I admit that there are one or two disadvantages to traveling light, but the advantages outweigh them by far.

First the cons. Having a daypack means that you are limited to buying only very small souvenirs. This could either be a good thing or not, depending on your viewpoint. If you are a hard-core backpacker, you won’t be purchasing too many souvenirs anyway.

If camping forms a substantial part of your trip, it’s going to be difficult to get away with carrying a daypack. I have got around this by borrowing camping gear from local friends or hiring it. In many of the popular trekking areas of the world, there are plenty of companies from whom you can hire tents and sleeping bags. Likewise, I love to snorkel and it is generally easy to hire snorkelling equipment.

And the many advantages….

The pros – where do I begin? Physically, schlepping around an oversize pack is hard work. When you arrive in town and you are looking for somewhere to stay, hauling a large pack is cumbersome, especially in a hot climate. A heavy pack also puts a strain on your back and joints. Not having to handle a heavy/bulky pack generally makes life easier and gives you a sense of freedom and enlightenment.

Whilst traveling on buses and trains, handling a small pack is so much easier. Usually, it can be stored under your seat or in the overhead luggage rack. You can keep it within your sights, eliminating the security risks. I recall taking local buses in Sri Lanka, none of which had luggage compartments. I spotted more than one backpacker who had a major problem attempting to balance an over-sized pack on their lap on the crowded buses. I must admit to a small degree of smugness, as I sat with my comparatively tiny backpack stored neatly at my feet.

Imagine the scenario…..you have just got off a bus in India after a long and arduous journey and you are waiting for the luggage to be unpacked from the hold. As you wait, you are besieged by touts and beggars all trying to get your attention. If you were just carrying a small pack, you could have walked straight through them all and be checking in at your guest house by now!

At airports, there is no need to wait for checked bags, saving time and potential lost luggage. Anyone who has ever had a bag go missing will surely appreciate the wisdom in taking only carry-on.

Top Tips for traveling light

After many years of tweaking my packing list, here are a few tips:

Wash what you wear daily. If that sounds like a chore, don’t worry – it will soon become part of your routine. If you are traveling somewhere hot, you can wash it before bed and it’s usually dry by the morning. Some countries, especially in Asia, sell tiny packets of washing powder which are perfect for life on the road.

Technology has made life easier. Back in the day, I would carry a Walkman along with a case of tapes. Now all my music is on my phone. Instead of books, I have a Kindle.

Instead of taking a full-size towel, take a compact travel towel which will barely take up any space.

A lightweight foldaway backpack is a necessity when only taking a small pack. This can be used for daily excursions and your main pack can be left at your accommodation.

Take a mini size in everything you possibly can – hairbrush, hairdryer, mini sewing kit and pack of cards.

If you are traveling with a friend or partner, share anything that you both use.

No turning back

My first light-weight excursion was a month-long trip to Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. I was apprehensive to start with. How would I possibly cope without all those unnecessary items?!  Now, I couldn’t travel any other way.

Originally posted 2017-06-15 02:07:26.

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48 Hours In...

48 Hours in Bangkok

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Why Go?

Bangkok is one of the most dynamic cities in the world and offers a wealth of culture, fantastic shopping opportunities, exciting nightlife and some of the best cuisine on the planet. The Thai baht goes a long way, making the city excellent value for western tourists. For LGBTQ visitors, Thailand is the most tolerant country In South-East Asia. The Thai Tourist Board are promoting Thailand as a destination for LGBTQ travelers with their ‘Go Thai. Be Free’ campaign.

Getting There

Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang international airports both serve Bangkok. Suvarnabhumi is sixteen miles from the city, while Don Mueang fifteen miles away.

From Suvarnabhumi, there are lots of transport options into Bangkok including an excellent airport rail link, taxi, airport limo, express airport buses and public buses. From Don Mueang, you can take a taxi or a cheap, but slow train to Hua Lamphong Station.

Checking In

Bangkok is a sprawling metropolis and choosing where to stay can be overwhelming. Accommodation options range from hostels and cheap hotels at only a few dollars a night to glitzy five-star hotels. Here are a few of the areas which are popular to stay in:

Khao San Road – The backpacker’s Mecca, packed with budget accommodation, bars and restaurants.

Sukhumvit – A modern area of the city in central Bangkok with lots of good neighbourhood shopping and restaurants. The transport links are good.

Silom – Close to Lumpini Park and Patpong, the red light district.

Chinatown – Hualamphong Railway Station is nearby, which can be handy and Chinatown itself is a vibrant and fascinating area.

Day One

If you happen to be visiting at the weekend, don’t miss Chatuchak market which comprises of thirty-five acres of around fifteen thousand stalls http://www.chatuchakmarket.org. It’s an opportunity to try some delicious street food (check out the mango sticky rice or Thai grilled chicken) and there are bargains galore to be had. It would be easy to spend a day at the market, but with only two days in town, time is of the essence.

Chatuchak Market – an ideal place to try some tasty street food

Jim Thompson’s House http://www.jimthompsonhouse.com/visitor/index.asp is constructed in traditional Thai style and is also a museum and art gallery. Set in a beautiful tropical garden, it was the home of silk merchant Jim Thompson and is now a popular tourist attraction. It’s a peaceful oasis in the center of the city and also has a lovely café looking out over the garden.

Flag down a tuk-tuk and head to the Chao Phraya River, where you can take a boat across the water to Wat Arun. Otherwise known as the Temple of Dawn, it’s an ornate Khmer-style structure. Climb the steep steps for panoramic views across the city.

Wat Arun – one of the many temples to explore in Bangkok

To round off your first day in Bangkok, head to Silom Soi 4 in the Sukhumvit area of the city. Here you will discover an abundance of LGBTQ friendly pubs, bars, and restaurants to choose from. For those who want to dance into the early hours, mosey along to nearby Silom Soi 2, where there are some excellent clubs including D.J. Station, Freeman, and Expresso.                                                

Day Two

After breakfast, arrive at the Grand Palace early to beat the crowds (or at least some of them). This complex of extraordinary Thai-style temples and palaces was built in 1782. Gold painted buildings and intricate mirror and glass mosaics dazzle under the sun. The star of the show is the stunning Wat Phra Kaew, otherwise known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Thailand’s most revered temple.

The Grand Palace – a spectacular riot of gold and mosaics

Take the Chao Phraya Express Boat along the river – it’s cheap and a great way to see the old city. The boat stops off at various locations and it’s possible to hop on and off wherever you want to. Check out Khao San Road, the backpackers’ mecca and a lively area at any time of the day and night. Guest houses, restaurants, bars, market stalls, tattoo parlours and travel agents all vie for trade and it’s an absorbing road to wander along.

After re-boarding the boat, carry on down the river and alight at Ratchawong Pier, the stop for bustling Chinatown. Explore the labyrinth of streets lined with shops selling everything from durian fruit to nodding lucky cats. The sights and smells of Chinatown are an assault on the senses. Dip into temples to light some incense and check out the Thieves market.

Chinatown

If you haven’t satisfied your appetite with all the wonderful street food that Bangkok has to offer, make a beeline for Tealicious Bangkok (492 Trok To, Soi Charoen Krung 49, Bangrak, Bangkok 10500). It’s a lovely little restaurant serving up delicious authentic Thai food using fresh ingredients. Tom, the friendly owner is usually on hand to answer any questions relating to the cuisine. The menu is extensive and there are plenty of veggie options.

To finish off your Bangkok sojourn in style, there’s no better venue than Sirocco Sky Bar. The elegant 63rd floor bar sits on a  precipice over the city, 820 feet in air. It’s one of the highest rooftop bars in world. (The Dome at Lebua, 1055 Silom Road, Bangkok 10500). Cocktails are creatively concocted and expensive, but who cares – it’s your last night in Bangkok and the view of the city is phenomenal.

 

Originally posted 2017-09-11 09:30:55.

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Travel On A Budget

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It seems to me like people are taking shorter vacations or opting for trips closer to home, for a variety of reasons. Maybe you work a job that doesn’t pay as well as you’d hope, or maybe you’re a millennial (like me) who’s allegedly spent way too much on avocados and can’t afford a vacation (or a house).

Whatever the reason, this new trend of “I want to travel cheaply so I can buy groceries when I get back” is more popular than ever. But how does one manage this? Vacations seem to be expensive no matter what we do or where we go. And it’s true. Vacations always cost money, but there are ways to drastically reduce your expenses while away.

Off season for the win

Why get sucked into the tourist trap every single year when you can hit up the same spots a week before their tourist season begins? This can be tough depending on the area since some tourist seasons are dependent on weather. But you know what places don’t change much from week to week, whether it’s April or August? You guessed it: the beach. Most vacation spots will have dates for their busy season listed online. Once you have the dates, go a week (or two) early. Prices will be lower and hotels will be less packed.

Hostels and B&B’s

Speaking of hotels, don’t go near them. I’m serious. Go anywhere else. They’re expensive and boring, and bed-n-breakfasts are the hip new thing (unlike someone who still says “hip”). Not only are they cozier, they often have decent prices and are more laid back than hotels.

If you’re in Europe, hostels aren’t what the horror movies make them out to be. They’re actually quite comfortable, right in the middle of the city, and way more affordable than a hotel. If you’re in your late teens or early twenties, youth hostels are an even better choice. They’re more youth-friendly and you’ll be surrounded by people closer to your own age. Make friends while you make great financial choices!

ATM vs. traveler’s check

Traveler’s checks were great when ATMs weren’t a thing, and they can still be useful if there’s no ATM in sight and you happen to know where the closest bank is. But more and more, ATMs are the best option on vacation. You don’t want to carry all of your spending money all at once at the start of the trip, so when you get low on cash, find an ATM. Because there might be fees, take out larger amounts at a time, to limit the number of withdrawals while away. To save money, set yourself a spending/withdrawal limit. It’s tempting to treat yo’self while vacationing, but remember that once you get home, bills and food are still a necessity.

Guidebooks!

You are a strong, independent woman/person/man who don’t need no help. If you’re traveling somewhere unfamiliar, skip the travel agency/service. They’re a rip-off. A good guidebook sells for about $20 and will have all the same information you’d get from a travel agent, without the hassle.

Blend in, eat local

If you ignored my hotel advice, then at least listen to this. If the front desk or concierge recommend a great restaurant right down the street, go anywhere else! Chances are they tell literally every guest to go to that one restaurant, and it will be packed (and not that great). You might end up having to go a little farther from your hotel for a bite, but finding local places are a far more interesting experience than the chain places. And are often cheaper, as they’re not targeting visitors and tourists.

Shop big

A couple of months ago I went to Hawaii with my sister and parents. Before leaving, we’d all promised various friends and family that we would return with souvenirs for everyone. A local in Kailua-Kona was kind enough to warn us away from the touristy “ABC Stores” that seem to be taking over the islands. He said that if we wanted good, cheap souvenirs, we should go to Walmart (I know, I was surprised too).

Local shops are nice, too, of course, and it’s good to support small businesses (and not evil Walmart) but for large quantities of souvenirs, going the cheaper route goes a long way in not breaking the bank.

Free activities will free you

This one is easy. Go to the beach and find free parking. Sit in the sand and catch some sun. Splash in the surf to your heart’s content. Go hiking and find hidden waterfalls and creeks to play in. Anything free is your best bet (and gets you some fresh air).

Vacations mean spending some money, but it doesn’t have to empty your wallet. If you follow these tips and stay aware of what you’re spending, you’ll still have money left over for when you get home (and can buy all the avocados you want, maybe).

Originally posted 2017-09-06 11:10:28.


Also published on Medium.

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Love It, Leave It: The Boston Edition

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This little firecracker of a city is one that gives me the warm and fuzzies. It’s known as the quintessential college town, with 35 packed into a city that clocks in with less than 675,000 residents. More specifically though, it’s my college town. This is where my exorbitant student loan checks go every month…heartwarming. Alas, it’s a city where I came into my own — I read a few books, made some friends, stumbled into love and played a little rugby (what a lesbian). Oh, and I ticked off tons of restaurants in the process; I strived for the sophomore, junior and senior 15.

With several visits on my calendar each year, I make a point to pop into long-standing favorites while leaving time to sample some new joints. P.S. I’ll confess something now that I’ll most likely deny later; even though I’m a diehard New York Yankees fan, catching a Red Sox game at Fenway Park is a must-do…just don’t wear a jersey of the aforementioned team unless you enjoy some expletive-laden Bahston heckling.

Love It: The North End

Fuhgeddaboudit. I think there’s an actual official way people phonetically spell this out, but I went with my gut. If you’re a fan of Little Italy in New York City, you’re going to figuratively (not literally) lose your marbles — unless you have a shaky hand and typically travel with loose marbles — over the North End.

This was the OG neighborhood of Boston, settled by English Puritans in the 1600s. I don’t mean to be rude, but you’re gettin’ up there, North End. You can practically feel the rich history seeping through your Frye boots as you saunter down the intimate cobblestone streets; feel free to pause and give a quick shout out to that famous guy Paul Revere who once lived here. After you’ve eyed up some of that Freedom Trail everyone’s always going on about, it’s time for the main event. Head to one of the North End Italian institutions, kiss a large man named Tony (there will be a Tony, trust me) on both cheeks, tuck your napkin in your shirt, and start twirling some spaghetti. There are plenty of cozy, casual, and cash-only joints like Giacomo’s on Hanover Street (aka the main drag), where the menu is written on the wall, portions are anything but small, and you feel like you’re sitting in a Nonna’s dining room. Elevated dining experiences at high-end restaurants can also be found with little effort; spots like Mamma Maria exude elegance and romance with dimly lit, cozy nooks and plate riffs on typical Italian staples–rabbit pappardelle anyone?

Dessert is another hotly debated topic in the North End. You’re either a Mike’s Pastry or a Modern Pastry person (gasp, I’m into both). Grab a cannoli at either spot and maybe some napkins to wipe the powder off of your goofy, satisfied smile.

Leave It: Faneuil Hall’

Historically speaking, this is also a place you should swipe right to. Quincy Market has been in existence since 1826, slowly creeping up on its 200 year anniversary. The Mayor of Boston — Josiah, you guessed it, Quincy — thought the overflowing marketplace, full of wooden stalls hawking seafood and vegetables, in Faneuil Hall had become what we today would calleth a “hot mess.” Thus, the market was born. Today, the Faneuil Hall area is jam-packed with parents donning cheesy souvenir store t-shirts, with family in tow, heading to the kitschiest of chain restaurants; yes, including the likes of Cheers and Dick’s Last Resort. Plenty of smaller vendors like the Boston Chowda Co. line the market’s walls, but this is more for the 9-5 downtown work crowd that needs to pick up something for a fast bite. It’s not the place to head for memorable Boston grub. Pro tip: if you are looking for some quick eats, head to the Boston Public Market just a few minutes down the way; it showcases tons of local purveyors and has stands that sell everything from ramen to doughnuts.

Originally posted 2017-09-05 17:00:46.

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