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Travel, Travel Tips

Summer Travel Tips

April 17, 2017

Summer Travel TipsSummer is fast approaching, and many people are planning their summer trips. Here are some tips to help you make the best of your summer trip!

Beating the Heat

Summer usually means it’s hot unless you are going far north or far south and keeping cool is on everyone’s minds.

  • Stay hydrated – This may be obvious, but even I forget to drink enough water sometimes. The heat makes us loose water even faster. Staying hydrated will help keep you cool too!
  • Wear light colored clothing Dark clothes absorb light and heat. Light colors reflect them.
  • Place a cold cloth around your neck –  Usually, this means wetting the cloth, so this is best used at bedtime and will help you fall asleep even if it is roasting. This helped me a lot when I spent a few days in Italy during a summer heat wave and had no air conditioning.
  • Wear a hat – Another obvious one, but not something I see a lot while traveling. It will also help protect you from the sun.

Picking a Hotel

Since lots of people are on vacation during the summer, choosing a hotel can be difficult. You have to find a room and find one at the right price for you.

  • Near public transportation – This might help you save money. You should weigh the benefits of being far away from the sites and the cost of the hotel. It also depends on how long you have to visit. If you are staying longer than being a bit further might be okay.
  • Close to the sites – If you have limited time or prefer to spend a bit more to be closer, then pick a hotel closer to the sites.
  • Choose a hotel with air conditioning – Many hotels in Europe don’t have air conditioning. Which for some is fine, but other prefer to be cool when they arrive back from the heat. Most booking sites will have this as a filter option. Airbnb places might not have it, particularly in Europe and the ones that do might be more expensive.
  • Check the meal options – If breakfast being offered at the hotel is important, check to make sure your rate includes it. It may be better to pay for it when you book the room as the cost on the day can be outrageous.

Avoiding Crowds

I am not a fan of crowds, but in the summer they may be hard to avoid. This is how I keep my crowd exposure to a minimum.

  • Go early – Going to the popular sites early in the morning will help you avoid crowds. Most people don’t want to get up early on their vacations and will sleep in a bit. I try to be at those sites when they open to avoid the crowds. It will also mean the lines will be shorter.
  • Book in advance – Many popular sites will have advance ticketing options. Buy them in advance to avoid waiting in line. Just remember to print them out before you arrive.
  • Go to lesser known sites in the afternoon – While everyone is hitting the big sites during the day, you can go to less popular locations in the afternoon.
  • Find out when the cruise ships arrive – I was warned that the cruise ship passengers arrive at the Acropolis in Athens around 10 AM, so I made sure I was at the top by 10 AM so that I could avoid the big crowds going in. I also managed to get many pictures will no people in them this way! Your hotel might be able to tell you the schedule.
  • Don’t enter from the main entrance – Some places have multiple entrances and will have longer lines and more crowds. At the Acropolis, you can enter from the south side, and only about ten people were waiting to buy tickets, and I had most of the walk up to myself.
  • Walk I love public transport, but walking is the best way to avoid large overcrowded subways in the summer. You can also pick a less popular route if you walk and it will be less crowded. This may not always be true in cities, like Florence, that are walking cities and have little public transport.

What are your summer travel tips? Tell us in the comments.

Europe, Georgia, Travel

10 Fun Things to do in Tbilisi, Georgia

April 3, 2017

Tbilisi, Georgia

Going to a city where you have done very little research in advance is sometimes an advantage. This was the case for me in Tbilisi, Georgia because I was going on a student field trip and we had a tour guide. Most of the itinerary was planned by the students and the tour guide.  However, I found joy in learning about everything in the moment. Here are my ten things you should do in Tbilisi, Georgia.

1. Eat a Churchkhela!

Tbilisi, Georgia

This is the traditional Georgian sweet you will see hanging outside of many shops in Tbilisi. It is made of nuts, usually walnuts; then it is dipped in a mixture of grape juice and cornmeal. It sounds a bit strange, but it tastes good. It isn’t too sweet, and it keeps for a long time. I ate mine over three days!

2. Take the cable car

Tbilisi, Georgia

The cable car is meant to take you to the Narikala Fortress, but the view of Tbilisi from the cable car is not to be missed. And this is coming from someone who is afraid of heights! Best of all it is 1 Lari.

3. Climb the Narikala Fortress

Tbilisi, Georgia

For an even better view of Tbilisi, climb the fortress once you are up there. On one side is Tbilisi and the other is the botanical gardens.

4. Visit the Mother of Georgia

Tbilisi, Georgia

You will see this metal statute from just about everywhere in Tbilisi, and while you are up visiting the fortress, you can walk down the path to see her up close. She was once made of wood.

5. Visit the Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi

Tbilisi, Georgia

This ancient looking cathedral was actually finished in 2004! The architecture is amazing, and the inside is still being finished. However, I found the inside fascinating as you can see what is planned and if you stay for awhile, you might be able to see how much progress happens.

6. Try the local wine

Tbilisi, Georgia

Georgia is known for having a huge wine culture. It was everywhere. Since I was on student field trip, I could not partake, but I hear it’s great.

7. Walk across the Bridge of Peace

Tbilisi, Georgia

This pedestrian bridge links old Tbilisi to the new district of Tbilisi. It offers great views of the Kura River.

8. Eat a traditional Georgian meal

Tbilisi, Georgia

The food in Georgia was so fresh and most of it homemade. Try the bread they eat for breakfast; I can’t seem to find the name of it. It is a long strip of bread and is baked over a fire. Eat the lobio, which is a bean soup and will probably be called that in English. The Georgians are also whizzes at dishes with nuts and potatoes, get the roasted ones. My favorite thing was the eggplant slices with a walnut filling! If you have a nut allergy, be careful in Georgia as even salads had nuts on them.

9. Explore old Tbilisi

Tbilisi, Georgia

The architecture in old Tbilisi is so odd and interesting. Some building looked like they would fall down at any moment and some, especially the churches, looked like they would last another 500 years. The bricks are also very different from what I am used to seeing and I loved them.

10. Visit Metekhi Church

Tbilisi, Georgia

Sitting across the river from old Tbilisi, it overlooks the whole old city. The view is great, and you can get up close to the statue of King Vakhtang Gorgasali.

I am sure there is tons more to see in Tbilisi, but these are the things I really enjoyed. Most of these things were inexpensive or free as well making Georgia a great place to spend an extended amount of time in.

Have you been to Tbilisi? What was your favorite part?

Blog, Prep, Travel

I Have a Secret to Tell You

March 27, 2017

Travel SecretI have been keeping a secret from you all! It is something I mentioned to my Mom the other day, and she says she tells her friends all the time about it, so it is about time I share it with you.

For the first three and a half years of my life, I was an only child, and for most of my childhood, my Mother worked from home. It meant I could depend on Mom to be there whenever I needed her. If I got ill at school, she would come. If I forgot my homework, she would come. I knew that many kids didn’t have this great mom benefit as both their parents worked! Dad played a part in this dependency too! One time I had to have minor surgery on an ingrown toenail and I wouldn’t let the doctor do it until my Dad arrived. Although this was mainly because my Mom can’t stand the sight of blood and I didn’t want her to pass out on me!

The Impact

At this point, I am sure you are thinking, what does this have to do with travel? Well, all the dependency led to me having anxiety about sleeping away from home and homesickness. It probably wasn’t the only cause, but it certainly contributed. I remember being at a sleepover in elementary school and making my parents get me in the middle of the night. I don’t remember sleeping over at friend’s houses much after that. The event that really made it an issue though was I was at church camp one summer a few hours away from my house, and I had so much anxiety I made myself sick. This also resulted in my parents driving several hours in the middle of the night to come get me (after much begging on my part!)

Fast forward a few years and I decide to go to college that was a six-hour drive away from my parents. Now that I am older, I can handle being away from my parents, but the phone bills in college were epic. This is pre-cell phone days, so I easily had a $100 or more phone bill a month. While I remember it differently, my parents said the first semester was really hard on me. I think I am blocking it out of my mind.

A few years later, I moved to New York City. The phone calls continued, but now I had a cell phone and nights and weekends were free! But by then I only saw my parents twice a year at most, and I seemed to be fine.

More years pass, and I moved to a small Caribbean island for three months. I didn’t have a cell phone, and the internet was spotty. I didn’t talk to my parents every day, and occasionally I would get emails asking me to check in with them.

Do you see a pattern here?

And Now

Obviously now this doesn’t bother me much at all as I live over 8000 miles away from my parents. The phone calls continue and thank goodness for the internet! I talk to one parent or both almost every day, though.

I travel all over the world without any issues, and I am rarely homesick. I have no plans to move back to the United States anytime soon, and I love living abroad. Of course, I still have the moments of wishing I could be home, but that is mainly because I feel like I am missing out on things back home.

Some would say my parents did me a disservice by coming and getting me when I want to come home. However, I would disagree. My parents and I are extremely close as a result. The phone calls home are not quick 5-minute talks but can be an hour or more. It also means my parents never have to worry about where I am and if I am okay. I call when I get to an airport or when I arrive at my hotel. Even while sailing Greece last year, I managed to call them every other day or so. It also gives me peace of mind as my parents, like all of us, are only getting older. It is reassuring to me to hear their voices and know they are doing okay.

Why

Why am I telling you this story, it’s embarrassing, right? I am telling you to encourage you to travel. Fears can be overcome even if they take time. I now manage to live far away from family and travel everywhere I want to go. It has been a lifelong process, but here I sit in my apartment in Qatar telling you this story and planning my next vacation. My advice is always to start with a small trip and gain your confidence, then go on a bigger trip. Not only will you feel better about travel, but you will also learn your limits. There is nothing wrong with having personal limits, but you never know what you can overcome till you try!

Asia, Sri Lanka, Travel

Royal Botanic Gardens in Kandy: Photo Essay

March 20, 2017

Royal Botanic Gardens Kandy

The Royal Botanic Gardens in Kandy is one of the largest botanical gardens I have visited. It is so large; you can rent a golf cart to take you around. I opted to walk so that I could take photos. Most of it is like a large park instead of a garden. Given the size and the heat, I only stayed for about an hour and made a plan based on the map. The highlight for me is the orchid house! It also has the largest bamboo I have ever seen.

Royal Botanic Gardens Kandy

Royal Botanic Gardens Kandy

Royal Botanic Gardens Kandy

Royal Botanic Gardens Kandy

Royal Botanic Gardens Kandy

Royal Botanic Gardens Kandy

Royal Botanic Gardens Kandy

Royal Botanic Gardens Kandy

Royal Botanic Gardens Kandy

Royal Botanic Gardens Kandy

Royal Botanic Gardens Kandy

Royal Botanic Gardens Kandy

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