I was lucky enough to experience a New Mexico weekend getaway and I highly recommend you plan one yourself. I feel New Mexico is a gem and one of our most underrated states. So I suggest you visit before the secret gets out. You do …
Month: August 2016
We may not travel full time, but we sure spend a good chunk of our free time planning our next trip. For every week of actual travel, there are months and months of planning. I can scarcely remember a time when the internet did not play a big role in that planning process. Below are some of my preferred websites for planning a trip.
Websites for planning a trip
I have been referencing and using the sites listed below for many years. R too has sites she prefers to use for travel (although I am sure we have some overlap) but we always appreciate a good recommendation. So if you have any good suggestions for travel planning sites, we would love to hear about them.
Now onto the list.
For general research…
I rarely visit a destination (even cities within the U.S.) without first reading about it on Wikitravel. The sections I find most useful are the “Get around” and “Stay safe” sections. Like everything else “wiki,” you need to take the things you read with a grain of salt. But I have gotten a lot of good information from this site over the years.
You would pretty much have to be living under a rock not to have heard of Travelzoo. (If you have not heard of them, I apologize. But geez, get out from under that rock already!) Their Top 20 is something I look forward to every week. And they have great deals on shows, spa treatments, activities, etc. A word of warning though: it is real easy to get excited about a particular deal and feel the need to purchase it right away! Although I see nothing wrong with that kind of enthusiasm and spontaneity, I tend to use the site more as a go-by; it gives me a good understanding of what a trip to a particular destination could cost me.
When I first started backpacking, I found Travel Independent and instantly fell in love with it. The information was very pertinent to the way I was traveling at that time. And even today, I still use a lot of the tricks I learned from them. This site, more than any other, taught me how to pack light. As I have gotten older and my style of travel has changed a bit, I find I do not visit the site as often. But it is still a great resource, especially if you are into backpacking or want to learn how to pack a little lighter.
Because plane ticket prices have such a profound effect on where and when I travel, I tend to do a lot of research on flights and use several sites to do so. My two preferred sites are Airfarewatchdog and Google Flights.
With Airfarewatchdog, I can view deals either from a particular airport (e.g. Boise) or to a particular airport (e.g. Sydney). I also receive alerts from this site.
I like Google Flights because they make it easy to see a snapshot of flight prices every day of the month for as many months as you would like to look ahead. Other sites offer flexible search options, but none are as easy to use as Google Flights. Granted, Google Flights does not include every airline (e.g. Southwest). But once my plans are a bit more definite, I make sure to check airline-specific sites and even crosscheck with sites like Expedia. I also really like Google Flight’s “Explore Destinations” that highlights flight prices in a map view. If you know your dates but have not settled on a destination yet, this is a great comparison tool.
Hopper and Fly.com
A couple of other sites I like to check periodically are Hopper and fly.com. I check Hopper for ballpark pricing and predictions—although I am not yet convinced their predictions are remotely close to accurate. But I like seeing what other people have recently paid for a flight. I use fly.com for searching international flights. I also really like their “Today’s Best Fares” section.
It is generally a good idea to have at least some idea of how much a trip is going to set you back. I confess: I am not always very good at this although I have improved since planning and saving for a trip to Australia. I track plane costs very carefully and I always look for the best deal on lodging. But I can be a bit remiss on researching the cost-per-day of my chosen destination. When I do remember, there are two sites I use for my research.
Price of Travel
My personal favorite is the Price of Travel. It is geared towards backpackers so it’s a bit on the low side for me. But I feel it is accurate and I love the comparison it offers among different cities.
Option two is Lonely Planet. It always feels a little on the high side to me. But by comparing the numbers offered on both sites, I feel like I can get a rough idea of how much I will spend. And that rough idea is better than going in blind.
For navigation and directions…
I really, really like Rome2rio. When it comes to getting from point A to point B (whether those two points are between countries or within the same country), this site gives you a nice overview of your options. The types of transportation available (e.g. bus, flight, car), costs and amount of time it takes are just rough estimates. But for planning purposes, those rough estimates are great. Once your itinerary is more set, then you can nail down the details.
My other go-to is Google Maps. This site works great if you want to map out a route with multiple stops and I feel like it was made for planning road trips. It can also help you find restaurants, museums, etc. that are nearby. And who doesn’t love the street view or Google Earth? Both are helpful in addition to being fun to play with.
Ah, the weather. All too often, it can make or break a vacation. And while you cannot control it, you can certainly prepare for it. There are plenty of sites (and apps) that provide you with weather conditions/predictions. When it comes to a general overview, my personal favorite is Weather2travel. Not only does it have a clever name, but in addition to discussing the weather, it also provides information on things like the amount of daylight you can expect during a particular time of year—which I find very helpful.
Time and Date
Finding out you’ve arrived in Venice during Carnival can either be a delightful surprise, or a royal pain in the ass (I will save that story for another time). It is best to do a little research ahead of time to see if you will be in a location during some sort of holiday/celebration/festival. That way you can be prepared for things like closed stores, longer lines and inflated prices. I recommend Time and Date’s holiday calendar for a nice overview. If something pops up on there, then you can do more research to see if it may affect your travel plans.
Is the water safe to drink
Knowing if it is safe to drink the water is kind of a big deal. The appropriately named, Is the water safe to drink, is the best website I have found for a quick reference on this topic. I like its simple layout and ease of use. I do have to note that it does not necessarily cover every location you may be researching. In that case, I rely on old Google for assistance.
When it comes to travel, research and the internet, there are a lot of options available. It may be a challenge to weed through it all, but the benefits of having such a surplus of information far outweigh the hassle. Plus, you can save yourself a lot of that hassle by using suggestions from someone else’s list. 🙂
Panama has more than just hats, people. For one blissful month after finishing grad school and before the student-loan repayment plan kicked in, I was able to join my family in this cool Central American country. Here are ten interesting Panama facts. Locks Panama was …
It is nearing the second weekend in August, which means one thing in the R and B household: Braun Brothers Reunion. BBR is a music festival/camping extravaganza with great music and not so great food. I mean, there’s only so many hamburgers you can eat from the 4-H girls before you start seeing red. So, instead, we pack some snicky-snacks to help tide us over so we can minimize the burger consumption. As I was preparing for this year’s BBR, I realized that most of my choices make my travel survival food packing list as well. Below is a list of food options that can make all the difference when you just can’t eat another burger in Idaho, another bowl of nasi goreng in Indonesia, or another slice of pizza in Italy. Actually, scratch that last one. There is never a point where I get tired of pizza in Italy. Anyway….
Travel Survival Food: Protein
This is an easy way to get some solid protein. It’s easy to pack and you don’t have to worry about it spoiling. I just found these little gems at Costco; they are nice and little so I can finish the bag in a sitting.
This one might sound a little weird, but these little packets are compact and you just have to tear the corner to open it–no can opener required. I’ll eat this right out of the pack on some crackers.
Nuts are a tasty way to add a little protein to your day. And if they also happen to have M&M’s mixed in, then that’s just a bonus. There was one really low point in Yogyakarta, Java, when we had had a long day of temple visiting and were waiting for a city bus that felt like it would never come. B rifled through her pack and pulled out a little baggy of salted peanuts that saved us from wasting away to nothing. We were sweaty, dirty and tired, and a bag of peanuts have never tasted so good.
I’ll be honest, I really don’t like protein/energy bars. The first bite tastes okay, the second one starts to taste like metal and by the fourth or fifth bite, I’m over it and can’t finish. But there are a few I can make it through; I think CLIF bars and LUNA bars are decent. You just have to make sure if you get one with chocolate it doesn’t melt in your pack in the Moroccan heat. During a trip to Europe, one of our group packed an entire case of energy bars with her. One of the recurring sounds of that trip was crinkle of the plastic bag being torn open.
Travel Survival Food: Fruits/Veggies
It can be difficult to pack fruits and veggies with you that will last you through an entire trip, but you can pack the little fruit packets shown below. Sure, they won’t have the same nutritional value as real fruit, but it’s better than nothing, right? B will probably brings some cans of V8 with her this weekend because ketchup and pickles don’t really count as your daily vegetable intake. I will not, because I think V8 is gross.
Another good option is dried fruit or even fruit leather. We prefer to make our own but you can easily find options in any grocery store. B has also tried drying vegetables with moderate success.
Travel Survival Food: Treats
You always need a little sweetness on your trips, no matter how short the trip is. My go to are Sour Patch Kids and I’ve yet to be on a trip with B when she didn’t have Swedish Fish. In Bali we found some chocolate covered peanuts in a hard plastic container called Cha-Chas. The candy is long gone, but we both like to refill them with M&Ms when we head out now. There was a funny night in Iceland when B groggily woke up at three in the morning to me rattling my Cha-Cha container as I munched away while trying to adjust to the new time zone.
Travel Survival Food: Local delicacies
We talked before about how much we enjoy visiting grocery stores while we travel and we usually make those one of our first stops. You can pick up all sorts of tasty treats and carry them with you throughout the rest of the trip. If it turns out to be gross, no worries, you can just grab something new. I saw some Oreos once that were green and thought they would be deliciousy minty. Instead they were a really unpleasant green tea flavor. More successfully, S and B sampled Seaweed and Shrimp flavored Pringles that they both very much enjoyed. One of the things I look most forward to when I visit tropical countries is the delicious selection of fruit. I remember as a Panamanian women laughed as I attempted to cut open a mango. Out of pity she took it and the knife from me and showed me how to do it, and boy howdy did that thing taste great!
Nobody likes to be hangry, much less be around someone who is. Since travel and trips can be unpredictable and you never really know when your next meal is going to come, it is always wise to carry some food with you. Bon appetit!
Do you know how to plan and save for a trip? Travel funds and budgets are not something I am terribly good at. However, I have recently been working on them in an effort to prepare myself for a trip to Australia. As a child, …
Estonia is a lovely little country located on the Baltic Sea. I cannot think of a single negative thing to say about this country. It is beautiful and easy to travel. Things are really, really, really old. There is a history here that is hard for us in the U.S. to understand. But there is also a beauty that is not at all hard to comprehend. We were lucky enough to experience Estonia and all that it has to offer. Should you find yourself in the same lucky boat, below are 10 recommendations from us Janes.
1. Explore Tallinn, Estonia
Set out on foot and get as lost as you can (it won’t be hard). Old Town is basically car-free, giving pedestrians room to roam…and gawk. Tallinn was founded in 1248, but it first appeared on a map in 1154. Can you believe that? Old Town is an authentic, intact medieval city, and apparently one of the best preserved in Europe. There is so much history here. I am sure there are plenty of tours you can sign up for. We opted for a self-guided tour from our handy travel guide. We still managed to get lost but we learned a lot in the process. And the views! There is no describing them other than “postcard perfect.”
Note: although Tallinn is old, it has all of the modern conveniences and is sometimes called the Silicon Valley of Europe. Wifi is everywhere and it is the birthplace of Skype. It really might be the perfect city.
2. Stay here while in Tallinn
Trust me on this. The converted chapel is old (like 1400s old), the location is amazing and the experience is unforgettable. There is also a sauna in the basement, which is a nice perk, and we very much enjoyed a mid-vacation respite here. Our time in Tallinn would not have been quite the same if we had stayed anywhere else.
3. Eat some chocolate
Kalev chocolates have been made in Estonia since 1806. You can find it almost anywhere. I picked up a bunch of bars at the grocery store to take home as gifts. The white chocolate with blueberries is particularly good—and I am not even a fan of white chocolate.
4. Buy local
Estonia has talented artisans that specialize in all sorts of crafts including woodworking and amber. You will have to search out the shops that feature locally-made products and not mass-produced souvenirs, but it will be worth it. I brought home a lovely handmade wool hat from a shop called Eesti Esinduse. The Visit Estonia website is a good resource for finding such shops.
5. Ride a traditional swing or kiik
It is much harder than you might think but it is a novel experience. You’ll probably have to get out of the city and into a nice little country town to find one.
6. Eat at Kompressor
This well-known pancake house (serving what we would call crepes) does not cater to tourists and is actually kind of hard to find. But don’t give up. I am not a huge fan of savory crepes, but the bacon and smoked cheddar pancake I ordered was delicious. And we all loved the cherry and coconut pancake we split for dessert. Prices were good and the portions were huge.
7. Ride a bike
Bicycling around the Estonian countryside is an experience I will never forget. I cannot recommend Thoomas and his City Bike enough. They really went above and beyond to make sure we had a good experience. Thoomas himself was our driver and as he drove us to and from the route we biked, he educated us on his country. We learned so much from him about Estonia, in addition to having a great time. And at the end of our ride, he gave us chocolates shaped like gold medals…because he is adorable like that.
8. Get a cup of hot cocoa
Maiasmokk Café is the oldest operational café in Tallinn. And it has been in the same location, with basically the same décor, since 1864. We visited on a rainy day, which was actually kind of perfect. It kept us warm and cozy. You might be a little overwhelmed with fresh pastry options. So I will just go ahead and recommend the poppy roll.
9. Visit the countryside
We did this via bike and it was wonderful. But renting a car would work as well. We rode through the Lahemaa National Park, toured Sagadi Manor, observed the largest natural waterfall in Estonia (Jägala Waterfall) and took in the varied landscapes. Forests cover over one half of Estonia and about one fifth of the country is covered with marshes and bogs. But we also saw plenty of farmland, adorable villages and of course, the seashore.
10. See the sea
If you are going to visit a Baltic country, then you have to check out the Baltic Sea. There are plenty of adorable coastal villages just waiting for you to show up and take that perfect picture. Another fun option is to take the ferry. Helsinki, Finland, is just a couple of hours away and assuming the weather cooperates, the ferry makes a nice option for traveling across the sea.
Estonia is lovely and a true gem. I highly, highly recommend it for your next vacation.