For years I’ve dreamed of a vacation out west, but I had no idea how to choose a dude ranch.  I’ve always loved the beauty and romance of the wide open spaces. As a kid I avidly watched John Wayne movies; my secret fantasy was that I’d be the only girl ropin’ and ridin’ in the movie The Cowboys.

The reality is I grew up in the suburbs back east. Ropin’ and ridin’ weren’t everyday activities—shucks, ma’am, they weren’t activities at all. My experience with horses was limited to a few tame pony rides and a 30-minute lesson in a cramped paddock. I wanted a place where I could get some good riding experience while satisfying my “old west” craving.

how to choose a dude ranch clydesdale horse (640x534)

I didn’t know how to choose a dude ranch that fit the bill. Plenty of hotels and resorts out west call themselves “ranches,” offering horseback riding as one of the amenities. But the idea of a few horses stabled out behind the golf course and tennis courts didn’t provide that “authentic” experience I was seeking.

Fortunately I discovered the Dude Ranchers’ Association (DRA), a non-profit organization  dedicated to promoting dude ranch vacations while preserving western heritage. The association was formed in 1926 and has over 100 member ranches in the western US and Canada. All ranches must go through a rigorous 2-year qualification process to ensure they meet the criteria of the association, including horsemanship and hospitality.

how to choose a dude ranch-white stallion cookout (640x522)

The association’s website is a treasure trove of information to assist with planning the perfect dude ranch vacation for you. There are so many options; the site has checklists to help you narrow down your choices. Although all offer excellent riding programs for every level of rider (including ultra-beginners such as Michael and me), there are plenty of other options. Some points to consider:

  • Time of year: Most ranches are open during their mildest weather season; ranches up north are active in the summer months, southern ranches are open during the winter and spring.
  • Families vs. couples or adults-only: Many guest ranches cater to both, with extra family programs during school holiday periods.
  • Non-riding activities: If you don’t want to spend all your time in a saddle, ranches offer all sorts of alternatives, from cooking classes to skeet shooting, photography seminars, pools and even spas for tired muscles. Each ranch is different; the DRA site will help you select based on your preference.
  • Scenery and riding environment: Depending on location, ranches will offer riding on mountain trails, open meadows, southwestern desert or combinations of all three.
  • Number of guests: Some ranches cater to only 10-12 guests, while others accommodate 80-100. Choose a size that will provide you the social life (or solitude) you crave.
  • Distance from the nearest town or airport: Some guest ranches offer shuttle services, eliminating the need for a rental car. In other cases you might want the freedom to go exploring.

The DRA website has detailed descriptions of each of its member ranches, helpful maps, pricing guidelines and photos along with links to each ranch’s direct website. Once Michael and I decided to visit a ranch in the southwestern US, we spent many happy hours perusing the DRA’s website to make our selection.

We promise we’ll report soon on our ropin’ and ridin’ experience, think “Sun and Saddles.” 🙂

The photo of us on horseback at the top of this page was taken at Circle Z Ranch in Patagonia, Arizona and the remainder (including those delicious steaks) were taken at White Stallion Ranch in Tucson, Arizona.

How to choose a dude ranch-White Stallion ranch stables (640x469)

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Recently I had the privilege of giving a TEDx Talk in Philadelphia at Drexel University. The theme for the day was “The Next X.” Since TED Talks are designed to be “ideas worth sharing,” my message was about “The Next . . . Phase of Your Life.”

When Michael and I started out a few years ago on the journey that would become Changes in Longitude, we had no idea we were entering a new phase in our life.  We thought it would just be a break from our normal routine. (Well, okay, there was that little bit about a trip around the world with our buddy Little Rocky mixed in there.)  But the concept that our life would change so radically, and indeed even be a topic for a TED Talk, never crossed our minds.

Little Rocky TEDx DrexelU

Little Rocky was a big part of the TEDx Talk

There was a fascinating array of speakers that day, including an astronaut who had flown on the space shuttle and a mathematical genius who developed the world’s largest game of “Pong,” played on the side of a skyscraper.  Our round the world journey never took us to outer space, but it still managed to transform our lives into the nomadic lifestyle we lead today.

Ultimately, my message was that it’s okay to disrupt your own life. Please take a look and tell me what you think.

Special thanks to my friend Donna Higgins for introducing me to TED!

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RTW plane tickets are an option for anyone considering a trip around the globe. These “round the world” (RTW) tickets are usually purchased before you leave on your trip and typically provide a series of flights in one continuous direction, eventually getting you back to where you started.

There are different versions of RTW plane tickets, each having advantages and drawbacks. The key is to evaluate your own personal travel style, objectives and budget to choose an RTW plane ticket that’s right for you.

First, familiarize yourself with the different RTW plane ticket options:

Booking an RTW ticket through an airline alliance gives you electronic tickets, mileage benefits, a single point of contact and a certain degree of flexibility.

Customized RTW tickets, booked through a specialty travel agent, are essentially a series of one-way tickets based on your itinerary. They can be much cheaper than alliance RTWs, but are usually paper tickets with no change options, often involving indirect flights.

Booking plane tickets as you go means you have to do all the work, and may not always get the cheapest fares. The flip side is you have maximum flexibility. Technically this isn’t an RTW plane ticket, but you will have traveled around the world by the time you are done.

rtw plane ticket australia

Once you understand your choices, check them based on your own travel needs. Here are some points to consider:

Trip Duration

How long will you be gone? RTW plane tickets through an airline alliance are good for one year. Although this may be plenty of time for most people, if you’re planning to travel longer than that an air alliance RTW won’t work for you.

If you are customizing your own RTW itinerary, you’ll have to return within one year (since airlines won’t book more than one year in advance)—or pay change fees to have the dates extended.

Set vs. Open Travel Dates

Are your dates fixed? RTW plane tickets require you to plan out your ticket segments in advance.  For example, this can be a great option if you know that you want to spend a month each in Thailand, Australia and Germany. You select your travel dates, and plan activities in each destination around those dates.

However, if you’d like the flexibility to extend a stay somewhere or leave a bit earlier, make sure you know the terms of your ticket. An airline alliance will usually let you change dates within the itinerary, but customized RTW ticket might not allow for changes of dates without significant fees.

Direction of Journey

Will you continuously be traveling in the same direction? While every flight doesn’t have to head due east or due west, airline alliance RTWs allow for a single overall visit within any given continent or region. This means you can fly to Europe and bounce around within that continent, but once you touch down in the Middle East or Africa or any other region you cannot go back to Europe on that RTW plane ticket. Be sure you know what makes up a “region” for an airline alliance so you don’t accidently plan a flight “out of bounds.”

airplane in clouds edit

Flights vs. Overland Travel

Are you flying from point to point?  Airline alliance RTWs work on a “segment” system, where each segment is the travel from one destination to another.  The fine print will tell you going overland from point to point counts as a segment as well—yikes!

If you don’t want to waste a segment, make sure you always leave from the same airport where you arrived, or at the very least, don’t plan a lot of overland journeys between stops. This is a case where either a customized RTW or simply booking as you go may work better.

Fixed vs. Flexible Destinations

Do you want flexibility? If you decide along the way you must go Budapest or Hanoi but it’s not on your RTW ticket you’ll have to think again. Airline alliance RTWs require you to fix your destinations when you buy your ticket.  Dates can be changed, but altering destinations is not so easy—and can get expensive.

Customized RTWs are usually booked on non-refundable fares, meaning a change in itinerary would mean eating the cost of the ticket. If you’re a more spontaneous sort, booking as you go may be the best option.

For our recent RTW we wanted maximum flexibility so we booked tickets as we went.  For our analysis of RTW plane tickets for our own trip, check out our RTW update.

This is one of many decisions you’ll make when planning your trip, but remember: you’re going to travel around the world!  Pick the best RTW plane ticket option for you. . . and start packing 🙂

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Whenever you take a road trip it’s important to set up some rules of the road.  A simple road trip tip (or seven) can keep a dream drive from turning into a nightmare.  You want wide-open spaces and adventure, not wrong turns and flat tires.

Outback Driving cropped flipped (575x423)

Michael and I have taken road trips on five continents, and we’ve made our share of mistakes. But we’ve learned a few things along the way; following a few of these simple road trip tips can make sure your ride goes smoothly:

Road trip tip #1:  Delegate Responsibilities

Will you share driving duties?  Will one of you drive while the other navigates?  Who is responsible for tracking expenses or booking lodging? There is no right or wrong way, but unless you have a mutual understanding of whom does what your road trip will hit a pothole pretty quickly.

Road trip tip #2:  Map it out

Nothing ruins a trip faster than getting hopelessly lost.  Make sure you have a good old-fashioned paper copy map, and you know your route options. GPS and phone apps are great when seeking a specific destination, but they won’t give you an overall sense of the area, and those tiny screens can become tedious. In remote areas it’s also possible that mobile phone coverage will either be unavailable or limited to voice-only calling.

generic motel

Road trip tip #3:  Sleep on it 

Regardless of whether you’re staying in a hotel, an RV or a tent it’s a good idea to know where you’ll be laying your head that night. Enjoying a relaxing evening ensures you’ll be refreshed for the next day’s drive.  Putting on an extra miles looking for a place to stop when you’re tired at the end of a long day is draining. Camping by the side of a busy road or getting the last motel room (next to the dumpster) doesn’t exactly promote sweet dreams.

Road trip tip #4:  Let yourself wander

When on a road trip the journey is the destination, which means you should indulge your curiosity along the way. Be realistic about the distance you plan to cover in a day and remember:  it’s the little detours and unscheduled stops that make the trip fun.

Dudes Steakhouse WYoming (575x443)

Road trip tip #5:  Food for thought

Depending on where you’re headed, dining options on the road will vary greatly and grumbling stomachs can cause grumpy conversations.  Consider packing a picnic lunch, and keep a few nibbles on hand to stave off hunger and make sure those freewheeling spirits stay high. Be sure to have plenty of water as well.

Road trip tip #6:  Off and running

When you’re 100 miles from anywhere it is not a good time to discover you’re about to run out of gas or you don’t know how to use the jack to change your flat tire. You don’t have to be a master mechanic, but it’s common sense to know a few basics about the vehicle that is a major part of your holiday.

Road trip tip #7:  Music to your ears

There’s something fundamental that links music to a trip on the open road.  Whether it’s “Born to be Wild” by Steppenwolf, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony or anything in between, be sure to bring music you love. It will enhance the experience while you’re driving, and the soundtrack of your trip will trigger fond memories every time you hear it.

What are some of your favorite road trip tips?

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The turquoise Princess phone in the corner was the first clue that the Plains Historic Inn in Plains, Georgia was going to be different from any other place we’d ever stayed. The second was the note from former President Jimmy Carter welcoming guests to the inn.

The Plains Historic Inn is located right on Main Street, the quaint block-long avenue that became famous to millions of Americans in 1976 when Jimmy Carter ran for president.  The town is the anchor for the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site which is run by the National Park Service. Despite traveling all over the world, Mr. Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn still live in town, just a few blocks away.

Plains Georgia Main Street

The Inn’s seven rooms are decorated in the style of different decades of Jimmy Carter’s life; from his birth in the 1920s to his return to Plains in 1980. Rosalynn Carter helped select and find the antiques for each room while her part-time carpenter husband built out walls and refinished the wooden stairs.

We stayed in the 1950s room in all its retro glory. Besides the Princess phone there was an old-fashioned TV, the type with a 7″ black-and-white monitor nestled in a large piece of wood furniture. (For those who want to watch current shows, a modern flat-screen TV sits above it.)

plains historic inn

Each room is also decorated with magazines of the period which are fun to flip through to see the old ads. Speaking of advertising, the 1960s room feels very Mad Men, making it a perfect spot to watch the show on Sunday evenings.

Guests can soak in a claw foot tub in the 1920s room while those feeling particularly presidential should book the 1980s room; with its formal décor it appears as if it just popped out of the White House.

jimmy carter preaching plains georgia

Most of the weekend guests at the Plains Historic Inn are there to watch Mr. Carter teach Sunday School at the Marantha Baptist Church, where he teaches two or three days a month. Innkeeper Miss Jan is able to get front row seats for her guests to witness history in action.

Even without the Jimmy Carter connection, the Inn is one of the coolest places we’ve stayed anywhere. If you can visit when Mr. Carter is preaching, so much the better.

jimmy carter plains georgia marantha church rocky

The Carters were incredibly gracious to pose with us and Little Rocky afterwards.

Further information

For information on the Inn go to: Plains Historic Inn

For President Carter’s Sunday School teaching schedule go to: Marantha Baptist Church

Click here for the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site.

 

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I believe a garment should last at least a decade, sometimes even longer. It’s a trait I inherited from my father who held onto his 1970s-era wide ties forever, predicting they’d make a comeback someday along with sideburns and powder-blue leisure suits.

favorite shirtAnyone who is a regular reader of this blog may have noticed that I’m wearing the same shirt in practically every picture. It’s a fairly nondescript Columbia shirt, tan plaid on a black background. At first it wasn’t particularly one of my favorites, in fact it doesn’t even fit properly. I bought it when I weighed about 20 pounds more than I do now so I am swimming in it. But it was easy to maintain and went with just about everything I own.

After a few years I grew attached to it. By the time it reached the magic ten-year mark we were practically common-law spouses; but I always knew the day would come when I’d have to say good-bye. A prospect I didn’t relish.

favorite shirtIt was one of the four shirts I brought along on this trip (two long-sleeve and two short-sleeve). But after a year around the world it was finally fading and breaking down. By the time we reached Africa, near the end of our journey, I reached a sad conclusion. This shirt wasn’t coming home with me.

But how do you get rid of a favorite garment? Is there some sort of ceremony that covers this situation? Larissa suggested burning it (along with a few pairs of socks that could practically walk on their own). Along the way I’d seen a few interesting trees that were covered with discarded clothing. In the Australian Outback we spotted what was literally a shoe tree, that is, a tree covered with shoes. Further into the Outback we passed by a bra tree; draw your own conclusions what that one was covered with.

favorite shirt

Now we were staying deep into the Erongo Plain in Namibia, a long way from anywhere. I took the tree outside and hung it up for a few photos and a teary-eyed farewell. Then I left it there. I hope someone comes along who’ll treasure it like I did. Or perhaps in a few years that tree will be covered with other travelers’ shirts. Either way it will be a fitting memorial to a shirt that never let me down.

What items of clothing have you held onto forever and why?

Ahh what a simpler time. When a recently minted ex-President could hop in the car with his wife and take a road trip, unescorted by any security, halfway across the country to visit his daughter and some friends.

Even though Harry Truman was the target of an assassination attempt while President, back then once you left the White House you truly were a private citizen and could move about unencumbered by security details and an entourage of personal assistants.

Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure: The True Story of a Great American Road Trip by Mathew Algeo perfectly captures the 1950s, which was a time before ex-Presidents became money printing machines from speaking fees and board memberships.

In fact, Truman was rather poor. He hadn’t been in the Army long enough to claim a military pension and his Senate career was cut short to become Roosevelt’s Vice President so he missed out on that pension too. What a far cry from today when even a single term as a United States Senator guarantees a lobbying income for life.

harry truman driving car

The author retraced the trip himself, staying at some of the same hotels and eating at the same restaurants. He even met a few people who interacted with the Trumans along the way, including a police officer who stopped the couple for driving too slowly. Harry, who was a car buff and notorious speeder, had to agree to Bess’ rule that they obey the posted speed limit.

Although Truman left office with a 22% approval rating, people were eager to meet him and give him well wishes. He made a triumphant return to Washington where the press asked him for his impressions of the Eisenhower administration. Normally never one to mince words, Truman didn’t feel it was his place to judge the new president. Again, it was a simpler time.

28581550060_131210d7e7_mLarissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive monthly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

Do you ever feel burdened by having too much “stuff?” Wondering what you are going to do with it all? One of the biggest tasks in preparing for our year-long journey was deciding what to do with all our stuff, the things we had spent a lifetime in acquiring. Getting rid of the house was an easy choice. But what about furniture, kitchen gadgets, clothing and more? We were traveling light so we’d have to leave everything behind but surely we’d need it all when we returned, right? It turns out the answer to that is “wrong.”

While we sold or gave away almost everything we owned before we left, we still had enough possessions we “couldn’t live without” to fill a 10’ x 10’ storage unit. It seemed kind of small compared to having a whole house full of belongings. But when we returned we slid open the overhead door to the unit, took one look at all the things piled up and thought, “Why the heck did we keep all this?” (Along with, “Why do we have so many lamps?”)

We were going to keep traveling and writing so we couldn’t imagine settling down any time soon. By contrast, that stuff in the storage unit seemed quite settled in.

So we did what any rational person would do, we slid the door back down and walked away, not thinking about it for six months. Six months that we continued to pay monthly storage rent because we just couldn’t face going through it all again.

how to simplify your life storage unit

During that time we gave a lecture at the Penn State Arts & Culture Series about our adventure and mentioned how we now live out of our suitcases, possessions no longer meaning anything to us. But a little voice in the back of our heads kept saying, “You hypocrites, what about all that crap in your storage unit?”

The voice kept getting louder and no amount of justifying–but it’s a pain to get rid of all that stuff, what if we need it again?, we just don’t have the time!—could make the voice go away. We were just coming up with pitiful excuses to avoid reality.

So we decided to clean out the shed and finally make the hard choices to get rid of our remaining possessions. Did we really need our college yearbooks anymore or CDs or any of the detritus of everyday life? We packed a few sentimental objects like family photos (after severely culling them) into boxes to store in a cousin’s basement. We sold or gave away the rest.

Since we are living a nomadic lifestyle, the material possessions we now own have to fit into the trunk of our car. (Without even spilling over into the back seat, Michael is very proud of his packing capabilities.)

One of the most common questions we get from people we meet along the way is “What about all your stuff?” We’re now pleased to answer, “What stuff?” This is the lightest and most free we have ever felt. No weight bearing us down, no material goods to worry about.

Believe it or not, it’s a lot of work to simplify your life, more so than we anticipated. But in the end, it’s been worth it and we encourage you to try it. If you could snap your fingers and cut some items from YOUR life, what would they be? (Please, no spouses.)

Changes in Longitude Larissa & Michael Milne at Arctic Circle

We’re Larissa and Michael, your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive updates and valuable travel tips subscribe to our travel newsletter here.

With a little planning it’s easy to drive on the left side of the road. On our around-the-world journey we spent more time driving on the left side of the road than we did on the right; doing so in Ireland, the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Africa. Many North Americans call it driving on the “wrong” side of the road but we’ve never embraced this terminology. That just makes it harder to get used to.  Here are a few tips we learned in the UK for driving on the left:

1)  Go left, young man

Think left. And then think left again. Some car companies put a sticker on the dashboard that says, “Left alive. Dead right.” That’s it in a nutshell. When you’re not sure where to go, just go left.

2)  Avoid a sticky situation

Most rental vehicles in the UK and Europe are manual transmission. For the first time you drive on the left, consider paying extra for an automatic transmission. If you don’t drive a manual transmission at home, this is not the time to learn. However, if you are used to a stick at home, you will find, as we did, that the adjustment to shifting with the left hand is relatively easy.

3)  Remote possibilities

Pick up your rental car in a more remote location. For our road trip in Scotland we started out in Edinburgh. However, instead of picking up our car in that crowded city, we took the train to a suburban location and picked up our car there. With fewer cars on the road it was an easier adjustment to make.

how to drive on the left

With the freedom of a car hire, me met some new friends in the English countryside.

4)  Curb your enthusiasm

Practice driving around the parking lot where you pick up the car and get used to the bulk of the car being on your left rather than the right. Also try parallel parking it against a curb a few times.

5)  Making adjustments

The adjustment to driving on the left is a bit easier to make since the driver sits on the right, opposite to where they are used to. Right away the driver is aware something is different, which makes it easier to adapt. Also, in the UK many country roads where you will go exploring are single-lane, so driving is a breeze.

6)  Do you get my drift?

If you are traveling with a companion, enlist their help to make sure you are not drifting over the center line of the road. That can happen a bit at first. Driving on the left is harder for the front seat passenger as they continually press the phantom brake pedal that they don’t have. At least Larissa does.

7)  Going around in circles

The UK and Ireland are chock full of traffic circles, something Americans are not used to. Visualize ahead of time what you will do in a circle. What’s that? Correct, go left.

Follow these tips and driving on the left will be a breeze. You will also get to see more of the countryside, wandering around at your own pace. And don’t forget, in North America we call it car rental, but it’s called a car hire in the UK.

Just remember when you return home to get back on the right. We drove on the left so much on our journey that it became second-nature. When we got into a taxi after our arrival in New York, I wondered why the driver was sitting on the “wrong” side of the car.

Pin it!

Seven tips for driving on the left

Larissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive monthly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

This week we tackle travel myths and misconceptions related to destinations. In our many years of travel to 70 countries, we’ve learned to take what we read in guidebooks with a grain of salt and form our own opinions. Some places were pleasant surprises, others not so nice. Read on to see if you’ve encountered the same, or have others to add to the list:

Travel Myth #8: The French are rude. (They are NOT!)

rocky statue paris

Oh bullmerde! Do these people look rude? The French are nice people, and very proud of their country and its traditions. We have been to France many times and have never had to deal with rude Frenchmen.  The French are not very tolerant of rude travelers—they will simply be standoffish in return. And who can blame them? I’ve seen plenty of tourists march up to a random Frenchman and ask in English, “Where is the Eiffel Tower?” Learning a few simple words like sil vous plait and merci  will go miles in engendering good will. A good practice wherever you travel. (Thanks to the very nice Barbara and Didier for posing with Little Rocky in Paris.)

Travel blogger Barbara Weibel of The Hole in the Donut writes more about smashing the myth of French rudeness.

Travel Myth #9: You have to take a group tour or safari to visit Africa

Soussevlei sand dunes Namibia

Nope—try Namibia. The 22-year-old nation on the southwest coast of Africa is a safe spot for self-drive road trips. It offers an abundance of wild animals, a sterling national park system, and spectacular scenery. Many of the countries popular for safaris—Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa—warn against moving about the country on your own due to safety concerns, so a group tour is your only option.  In Namibia we drove around the country alone for 3 weeks, and there were days we were the sole humans viewing a waterhole filled with 30 elephants taking a bath. Just be sure not to wake a sleeping lion.

Travel Myth #10:  Bali is a paradise

Bali Kuta Beach trash

Sadly, we found this not to be true.  Rampant overbuilding and way too many tourists have made the southern part of the island overcrowded. Traffic is a nightmare, the streets full of litter and the beaches are some of the filthiest we have ever seen. They even have a time of year known as the “trash season”—yuck. The Balinese people are wonderful, and beauty still exists on the island, but you have to head pretty far inland to find it. Here’s more on our experience with Bali’s trashy beaches.

Travel Myth #11:  Middle Easterners don’t like Americans

Rocky Mohammad Lebanon Abu Dhabi

Total hummus. We spent 2 months traveling independently throughout the Middle East. Wherever we went, people asked where we were from. When we replied “the US” their first response was universally “welcome”.  This was true of Emirati in Dubai, Bedouin workers in Qatar and Jordan and even a few Lebanese and Saudi guys we met in Abu Dhabi. Their Arab and Muslim customs may be different to that of the west (and as a woman I’m not really crazy about the whole burka thing), but that does not mean the people are hostile. The reports we see on TV are of the sensational zealots, and like zealots everywhere they are a small (but noisy) minority.

Travel Myth #12: You’ll have trouble with the language

travel myths debunked language

We’ve been to almost 70 countries, and we certainly don’t speak 70 languages fluently, or even 2 for that matter. English has become the universal language of business while English language movies and TV programs are available all over the world. (Heck, you can buy knockoffs of the latest western releases in China and Vietnam for 75¢.) As a result, in most major cities and tourist areas you’ll be able to at least muddle through with English. And the world over, when someone doesn’t speak the local language, English is what they use to communicate. In Vietnam we saw an Italian man conversing with a Vietnamese woman in English, similarly a Turkish woman speaking English to a German. This does not mean you shouldn’t learn at least a few words of the native tongue (see number 8 above). And in rural locations all bets are off. But do NOT let unfamiliarity with the language be a hindrance to your travels!

Travel Myth #13:  North Korea is off-limits to visitors

choson ot what women wear in north korea

Not true. Although visitors must take a group tour via one of the few approved tour operators (we used Koryo Tours), and all tours originate out of Beijing. Visas are not granted to anyone with a public profile, so this is not the time to brag about how popular your blog is, or even mention that uncle who works at the Pentagon.  The tours are pretty structured, with visits to the “great and glorious” sights that the North Korean government has deemed worthy. Despite this, there are still glimpses beneath the veneer, and opportunities to interact with the North Korean people, who are sheltered, but still friendly  and curious. We wrestled with the question “Is it morally right to visit North Korea?” and in the end were glad we decided to go.

Travel Myth #14: Get up early to avoid the crowds

Angkor Wat crowded entrance

Ah, the “travel secret” of every guidebook! Know what happens when you do this?  You end up stuck with the crowds of people who got up early to avoid the crowds, missing breakfast in the process. We aren’t early risers, so our philosophy is to go late to miss the crowds. We do other activities in the morning (which usually includes sleeping in and having a leisurely breakfast) while the crowds are at the nearby sights. Then we head over after lunch, just as the busloads are returning. From the temples of Angkor Wat to safaris in Africa to the ruins at Pompeii this strategy has worked well for us. We often have the place almost to ourselves, along with great late afternoon light for photos.

What travel myths about destinations have you debunked?

For more see our list of Travel Myths #1-#7

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28581550060_131210d7e7_mLarissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive our free quarterly newsletter with updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

There are many misconceptions out there about travel, so it’s time to set the record straight. This week we debunk seven common travel myths. Next week we’ll tackle seven travel myths about select destinations.

Travel Myth #1: International travel is unsafe

Etosha national park Namibia lions

This one always blows us away—in our travels to 70+ countries, including road trips in remote areas of Africa and the Middle East and a jaunt to North Korea, we have never felt unwelcome or unsafe. Travel may take you into unfamiliar territory, where you might not know the  language and jet lag can leave you a little less aware of your surroundings. But unless you’re planning to visit the middle of a war zone, just using a little common sense like you would at home should keep you out of harm’s way. But take a tip we learned the hard way, don’t wake a sleeping lion. For more specific tips on safety while traveling, see this excellent post about travel safety by Cole Burmester of Four Jandals.

Travel Myth #2: Long-term travel requires a backpack

travel myths luggage

Backpacks aren’t bad; they’re just not the only option. We traveled around the world for 14 months using 22”-wheeled suitcases and a shoulder bag. Since we weren’t camping and most of our transit was through airports or on streets, the suitcases worked well. And it was nice to simply pull them along behind us.

Travel Myth #3: You must carry your valuables in a money belt or similar device

cleavage caddy

Unless you’re into wearing a “bra stash” (and who are we to judge?) we don’t use money belts or similar devices and have never had a problem. We pretty much exercise the same common sense precautions as we would at home. We do make sure to split up our cash and credit cards so everything isn’t in the same place. Money belts may be a good idea if you’re camping or staying in shared rooms in hostels, but for most types of travel it’s not necessary. Larissa does use anti-theft bags made by Pacsafe when on the road.

Travel Myth #4: Duty Free is a Bargain

Petrol coke bottles

Nah. The prices might not have the import tax added on, but they are still priced at full retail. Unless it’s something you absolutely can’t get anywhere else, or you’re trying to use up your last few euros/pounds/yuan, skip the shopping and buy your booze and chocolate at home.  (Note: my one exception is makeup, although not because of pricing; you can often find neat travel kit versions of the major brands that are not available outside passport control.)

Travel Myth #5: It’s difficult to drive on the opposite side of the road

Travel myths

It’s a little strange at first, but after a while it seems pretty natural. Our tip is to arrange rentals so you’re not driving in or near major cities: in Scotland, England and Australia we took the train to secondary towns and picked up our rentals at suburban locations, bringing us closer to those remote country roads. You may also want to spend a few extra dollars for an automatic shift to reduce the “oddness” factor, although driving a standard on the “wrong” side becomes second nature quickly as well. Here are our tips to drive on the left side of the road.

Travel Myth #6: Hostels are the cheapest lodging option

It depends on your criteria, and how many of you are traveling together. We travel as a couple, and like our own room with an en-suite bath. These are available at hostels, but are often priced comparably to midrange hotels. For two people we’ve found the cheapest lodging choice is short-term rentals. We can usually get a small flat, including a kitchen and wifi for the same price, or less, than a room in a small hotel or hostel. If you’re traveling alone and don’t mind sharing your room or a bath, a hostel might be your best bet.

Travel Myth #7: Tuesday at 3:17 am is the cheapest time to buy a plane ticket

Who knows when the best time is? Some weeks it’s reported the cheapest tickets are available on Tuesdays and then the next week sunrise during the vernal equinox is the best time. Airline ticket pricing is a more closely guarded secret than the formula for Coca Cola. No one wants to pay more than the guy in the next seat, but trying to find the cheapest price can become a full-time job. Check out sites such as Kayak and SkyScanner, always comparing your selected flight to the airline’s web site which may be cheaper, and if the price looks good then go ahead and buy it. Then stop agonizing and start looking forward to the trip. For great tips on finding low-cost airfare check out Nomadic Matt’s post on finding cheap flights.

For more see 14 Travel Myths Debunked (Part 2)

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There's a lot of misleading info out there. Based on our experience, we set out to de-bunk several popular travel myths.
Changes in Longitude Larissa & Michael Milne at Arctic Circle

We’re Larissa and Michael, your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive updates and valuable travel tips subscribe to our travel newsletter here.

We were at the other end of the globe: literally. The opposite spot on the planet from Philadelphia (known by map geeks as the antipodal point) is Perth, Australia. We were 12,000 miles from home, as far away as we could possibly be. Going a mile in any direction would actually bring us closer to Philly. As we relaxed on the beach watching the sun melt into the Indian Ocean we pondered that great distance.

It was easy to leave the comforts of home because we no longer had a home. We sold our house and gave away most of our possessions to travel around the world for a year. Life back home had gotten off track. Our relationship with our adult daughter, whom we adopted from Russia at age nine, was broken. The traditional parameters of home and family no longer felt relevant to us. We needed distance: thousands of miles, hundreds of days and totally new worlds to help us shake up our lives. We had become reluctant empty nesters.

Batu caves

We flew out of Philadelphia in August, 2011 and returned in October, 2012. During the course of our adventure across six continents we learned to live more simply. As the world became our home, our need for personal space shrunk. Instead of acquiring possessions we found more happiness in acquiring a wealth of experiences.

Along the way we wrote almost 20 articles for the Philadelphia Inquirer about our journey. They seem to have struck a chord with readers; many of whom have reached out to us for travel advice or, in one case, to meet up with their daughter who was spending a semester abroad in Sydney. In an ironic twist, by leaving Philadelphia we ended up getting to know more people from our home city. We found Philadelphians everywhere in the world.

Rocky Philly Jessica Aidan Tom London

At Victoria Peak overlooking Hong Kong’s harbor we asked a man if he could take our picture. After the usual exchange of pleasantries we discovered that Ed Campbell is a Philly native and major Eagles and Phillies fan. Nine months later we were strolling by Buckingham Palace when we spied a family with two teenagers. Jessica was wearing a 70s-era maroon and sky-blue Phillies t-shirt while her son Aidan was clad in a jersey paying tribute to Chooch.

A world of contrasts

We experienced highs and lows, both natural and man-made: one moment soaring over New Zealand’s glaciers in an open-cockpit biplane, while several months later we got down and dirty with a mud-caked float in the Dead Sea, the world’s lowest point on land. (Well, Larissa did, Michael was content to take photos).

Dead Sea Israel mud

The view from the top of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the world’s tallest building and a man-made wonder at 160 stories (twice as tall as the Empire State Building), provided views of the relentless development encroaching on the Arabian Desert. Not quite so leading-edge was a ride on the world’s deepest subway in what may be the world’s edgiest city—Pyongyang, North Korea—where tinny loudspeakers emitting patriotic slogans harangued passengers in dimly-lit 1970s-era train carriages, hand-me-downs from the former East Germany.

The skyline of Shanghai rises ever higher by the day, as the rapidly growing city of 22 million people (at least for now) has scooped up a quarter of the world’s construction cranes. In contrast, the skyline of the ancient city of Petra, painstakingly carved into the sandstone cliffs, remains unchanged after 2,000 years; and is likely to still be standing long after the skyscrapers of Shanghai are just a memory.

You gotta have faith

We witnessed profound displays of faith. At the end of a dark alley in Ho Chi Minh City, petite Buddhist nuns invited us into the Châu Lâm pagoda to pray with their worshippers on the Tet holiday. At Batu Caves, a Hindu shrine in Kuala Lumpur, we were impromptu guests at mundan; a head-shaving ceremony preparing a baby for his future life. The three-hour Good Friday procession in a Mediterranean village in Malta was both joyous and solemn, the music from Gladiator thumping through giant speakers as Roman legions marched by.

Malta Good Friday procession

The Western Wall in Jerusalem is an awe inspiring sight, as much for its size and stark simplicity as the display of devout Jews praying, crying and dancing with joy. A few weeks later Larissa donned the traditional black abaya worn by Muslim women to visit the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Religions may be different all over the world but the underlying spirituality remains the same.

Animal kingdom

During a pre-breakfast hike in Namibia we searched for 500-year-old rock paintings of giraffes, and then turned to see a pack of live giraffes ambling by, oblivious to their portraits set in stone. On our road trip to the Australian Outback we never tired of spotting kangaroos bouncing alongside us; as long as they weren’t threatening to veer into the highway and become hood ornaments. We raced from Beijing to Shanghai at 300 kph aboard the world’s newest high-speed train but then had to crawl along single-lane roads in New Zealand and Scotland where sheep have the right-of-way.

Namibia Etosha giraffe sunset

Our most menacing moment came courtesy of a herd of sharp-horned cattle while we were trekking on a foggy moor in England. We were ankle-deep in mud (and whatever other mud-like substance might be deposited in a cow pasture) when we realized we were on the wrong side of the fence. The bulls seemed none too happy about it and, like something out of a Bugs Bunny cartoon, they started pawing the ground and glaring at us. Suitably motivated we hightailed it through the mud and managed to scramble to safety over the fence.

A global feast

Larissa noodled around cooking classes in seven countries, stir-frying pad thai in Bangkok and hand-rolling fresh tortellini in Bologna. She prepared homemade kiwi jam in New Zealand with Beth Keoghan, the mother of Amazing Race host, Phil Keoghan, while staying at her B&B. The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul was a frenetic assault on the senses: a whirling dervish of a place that led us to the most delicious sandwich of our entire journey. Only later did we learn that the sandwich, kokorec, was made from sheep intestine. (Sometimes ignorance truly is bliss.)

Kokorec stand istanbul turkey

Little Rocky goes the distance

We also took a piece of Philadelphia with us; a mini-statue of boxer Rocky Balboa. He served as our trip mascot and encouraged us to “go the distance” when times got tough. His story is universal and people everywhere wanted their photo taken with him. Perhaps It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, but it was drizzling in London when we bumped into Danny DeVito on the street after a West End theater performance. He eagerly posed with Little Rocky and discussed the upcoming season of the show.

Rocky Danny Devito

The end of the road?

The journey revealed to us that we won’t be going back to our former lives. We’ll continue traveling and writing to inspire others who are considering taking a break. Tolkien said that, “Not all those who wander are lost.” There is solace in that thought as we return home and continue our wandering ways.

Nude beach PerthAnd those sand dunes in Perth where we were pondering our future? As more folks flocked to our isolated spot to witness the setting sun we found out, rather graphically, that we were smack in the middle of a nude beach. In an unusual twist, to remain clothed would have made us the odd man and woman out. So we shed our clothes as easily as we were shedding the vestiges of our former life. But one of the nice things about travel is that no one knows who you are. You can be anyone you want, and even reinvent yourself along the way.

Note: This article originally appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Jan. 20, 2013

PS: Sorry about using the pic of Michael rather than Larissa but that’s what we had.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy I headed to Long Island to check on damage to my mom’s house. She lives in a waterfront community that was in a mandatory evacuation zone but was out of town for the storm. Fortunately her neighborhood was not affected by the floods caused by the storm surge and only lost power for a few days.

Hurricane Sandy Long Beach

Idyllic Long Beach, Long Island as the storm approached. Famous as Billy Crystal’s hometown, the area suffered serious damage.

My aunt and uncle were not so lucky. An old tree across the street lifted up the entire sidewalk and made a beeline for their front door, knocking down power lines in the process. They shivered their way through two weeks without electricity. (Yet somehow managed to keep up with Dancing With The Stars.)

Two days before the storm hit we watched preparations at Long Beach. The boardwalk we were standing on was destroyed.

Down near the water I visited parents of high school friends, all of whom suffered substantial damage including the loss of their cars to the rising waters. It was an incongruous sort of high school reunion, chatting with people I hadn’t seen in 30 years outside of their waterlogged homes.

On TV we watched residents of Staten Island who had been hit the worst and lost almost everything. Their houses were filling with a foul-smelling mold that they were worried was harming their health. When asked if they would leave their homes they said no, because they were afraid of looters.

Their dilemma made me reflect on being so worried about stuff that they wouldn’t leave their unhealthy home for fear of losing things. After jettisoning just about everything we owned for this trip, I no longer value “stuff” so much anymore. Living out of a suitcase will do that to you.

Hurricane Sandy damage tree on sidewalk

This tree yanked up the sidewalk, which is sticking up in the air behind me, before tumbling toward my aunt and uncle’s house.

We’ve met people around the world who from the outside appeared to have nothing. Our neighbors in Indonesia lived in a ramshackle strip of small houses with no running water, yet they were happy. They had so much less to burden them. We met Bedouin in Jordan who live in yurt-like structures constructed of corrugated metal and other reclaimed salvage. Worrying about the loss of a widescreen TV would be an alien thought to them.

As Sandy bore down on the East Coast we hunkered down in my brother’s house. We didn’t really have any personal concerns. We have no house to get damaged, no cars to get flooded, no stuff to get ruined. As we rode out the storm, listening to the howling winds outside, I felt relieved that I really had nothing to worry about.

Long Beach boardwalk damage Hurricane Sandy

The Long Beach boardwalk after Hurricane Sandy. It’s being ripped out and hopefully a new one will be built by summer. 

We live a nomadic lifestyle now. If there’s a problem in one region, we’ll just pick up and move someplace else. There are no roots to reach up and entangle us, or to lose their tenuous grip on the ground and send us crashing to earth. Perhaps the Bedouin have had it right all along.

To contribute to relief efforts go to the Robin Hood Fund.

The second most popular question we get about how to travel for a year has been: How do you decide where to go? (We’ll tell you the most common question later.) Trip planning is different for everybody but here’s how we did it.

We knew there were certain sites that were “must sees.” Our top five were: the Great Wall of China, Angkor Wat, Sydney Harbour, Petra and wild game in Africa. On top of that there were a few destinations that we definitely wanted to include in an around-the-world itinerary: Paris, Buenos Aires, Dubai, Hong Kong and Jerusalem.

travel for a year Sydney Harbour

We originally hoped to go to Tokyo, but when we were planning the trip in early 2011 Japan was feeling the aftershocks of their earthquake. Things were still a bit unsettled there, so we decided to postpone Japan for another time.

We also had a few other criteria:

1)      Weather – We didn’t want to be anyplace during their winter. Packing for a temperate climate is easier, plus we just didn’t want to be cold.

2)      Geography – We wanted to hit 6 continents. Antarctica would be left out for this go around. It’s too expensive, plus see the previous comment about cold.

3)      We were going to North Korea for the Mass Games which only occur in August/September so we had to work around that.

Our planning bible was National Geographic’s 100 Countries, 5,000 Ideas: Where to Go, When to Go, What to See, What to Do . It provides an overview and photos of each country along with information on the best time to visit for weather, etc.

travel for a year Bayon Temple Angkor Wat

Along the way we came across an issue which severely impacted our planning: the Schengen Agreement. The what agreement? This obscure little treaty limits how long travelers can visit most of continental Europe to 90 days within a 180-day period. We didn’t know about this when the trip started, but later on it severely limited our options when we were in Europe.

Combining the must-see sites, destinations and criteria gave us a sort of framework to wrap the trip around. When we left America we had the first two months planned. September would be spent in China and North Korea, followed by a month-long flat rental in Sydney. Beyond that we had no idea where we were going.

travel for a year Dubai harbor

Initially we thought we would always have the next two months planned out, but that notion quickly fell by the wayside. As we got deeper into the trip we became more adept at planning and more used to being flexible. We often didn’t know two days ahead of time what country we would be in next. But that unknowing became part of the fun.

We had decided against buying a round-the-world airline ticket, so we had more flexibility. However, airfare was part of our planning equation since we were always buying one-way tickets. In Australia we couldn’t explore as much of the country as we wanted since flights were ridiculously expensive. In Southeast Asia it was the opposite, there we found low-cost carriers that allowed us to hop around quite cheaply.

Vietnam Airlines duct tape

Okay, so maybe some of the planes were held together by duct tape but we were assured they were safe. 

A major source of destinations that popped up during the trip was recommendations from other travelers we met along the way. Namibia and Turkey were not on the radar for us when we started out. But so many people gushed about them that we added them to our list. We’re glad we did, as they became two of our most enjoyable places.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Abu Dhabi

Yes, that’s Larissa as we toured the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Michael was petrified of breaking the PDA rule, hence his “no hands” pose.  

Our favorite trip planning tools

We brought with us an inflatable globe and a fold-out map of the world. They became two of our essential trip-planning tools. We’d sit for hours poring over them to pick our next destination. It’s incredibly fun to plan without any time constraints. That only became an issue towards the end of the trip when we had set up a date by which we had to return.

map round the world trip planning

The trusty map displays the end result of all our planning.

At some point we realized it’s not like this is the last trip of our lives, so we don’t have to see everything on this go around. That realization made planning easier. Overall it worked out pretty well. While we didn’t enjoy every place that we went, we had a pretty good batting average. It’s helpful to start out with some idea of where you want to go, but make sure to be flexible along the way.

Oh, and the most popular question we get? “What was your favorite place?” There were so many so we still haven’t figured out an answer for that one.

What would be some of your “must sees” on an around the world trip?

October, 2012: We’re back in the USA. After 400+ days, 6 continents, 31 countries and 100,000 miles we’re home . . . sort of.

Our goal was to get away from a destructive family situation, using time and miles to help us heal. Our plan: travel for a year around the world. As our mascot Little Rocky would say, “to go the distance.” We’re happy to report that we have indeed been there and done that.

Now what? In the short time since our return we’ve begun to reconnect with friends and family. After more than a year of totally new and different people, places, sights and sounds we’re enjoying the comfort of familiarity, the ability to put our senses on auto-pilot and just hang out for a bit.

Larissa Michael Rocky statue

Little Rocky is finally reunited with the Rocky statue.

It’s great to be back, but we’re not really home. Technically we don’t have a home, since we sold our house and gave away most of our stuff before we left. Renting a house or apartment and resuming our lives as before could remedy that easily enough.

But that’s not going to happen. The place we once called home may be more or less the same, and very comfortable, but we’ve changed. As the world became our home our need for personal space shrunk, and we no longer have a need for all the stuff we used to have. We learned to adapt to new environments and situations quickly and to revel in soaking up new experiences.

We’re not going back to our former careers. Instead we’ll keep traveling, keep learning, keep writing, and keep providing tools for others to “Just Go Already.” There are still many stories and travel tips to share and we’ll be writing here, for the Philadelphia Inquirer and other media outlets. We’re also writing a book about our experience. (Anyone know a book agent or publisher?)

So stay along for the ride. The trip may be over, but the journey has just begun.

And you hunger for the time
Time to heal, desire, time
And your earth moves beneath
Your own dream landscape.

—A Sort of Homecoming by U2

PS. Long-time readers may recall that we started our journey 14 months ago from the base of the Rocky Steps in Philadelphia and would run up the steps when we returned. Well we did:

Many thanks to our friend Paula for taking the photos and video. She had a remarkably steady hand!

Earlier this year we attended the Travel Bloggers Unite conference where we met many people who were going to travel for a year. Most of them were lugging huge backpacks, while we had wheeled suitcases. One girl looked longingly at our bags and said “I wish I had done that instead of a backpack.”

We’re not packing geniuses, we’re just not backpackers. So when it came time to plan this trip backpacks never entered the equation. Each of us had plenty of business travel experience, where a wheeled suitcase is the luggage of choice. Our motto was “go with what you know.”

How to travel for a year Paris vacation apartment rental

This apartment was our home in Paris for two weeks. 

The same goes for our lodging options. A married couple in their 50s is not really interested in a hostel dorm room. Many hostels do offer double rooms with private baths, but we were surprised to discover that the prices for two people were often similar to a decent hotel, guesthouse, or even a small apartment. Again, we’ve chosen to go with what we know and have found lodging that is comfortable and within our budget.

For more of our luggage and lodging advice read the article we wrote, Career Breaks: They’re not just for backpackers, for Meet, Plan, GO!, the organization that helps people with career break planning (their online editor was one of the envious backpackers at the conference.) Take a look and you’ll also find many other helpful posts on the site about planning your own grand adventure.

From a kitschy throwback hotel in North Korea to a nudist B&B in Portugal, we found a few unique places to stay in the world. Here are some of our favorites:

1) Little Petra Bedouin Camp, Jordan

 

Little Petra Bedouin camp Jordan

The Little Petra Bedouin Camp is so named because of its proximity to Little Petra, a smaller cousin of the world-renowned site of Petra. Just like the name implies, it’s little, but worth visiting as it gets less than 1% of the visitors of Petra. When we visited there were only three other people there. The Bedouin camp offers accommodations in tents. However, we were a little concerned at check-in when the owner cheerfully told us, “I’ve upgraded you to a cave.” So we spent a rather cold night in the cave but it was filled with blankets and pillows and ended up being quite cozy.

Website: Little Petra Bedouin Camp

2) Shichachai Shadow Art Hotel, Beijing, China

 

Unique places to stay Shichachai Shadow Art Hotel

Keen observers will notice that while Larissa is waiting for the next performance she is engrossed in a game of Solitaire.

Hutongs are traditional neighborhoods of small alleys and courtyard homes in Beijing that are rapidly being bulldozed over for new developments. While the hutongs are becoming a shadow of their former selves, will an art based on shadows help revive them? The Shichachai Shadow Art Hotel is in an old hutong neighborhood and showcases the ancient art of shadow puppetry. Banned by Chairman Mao during the Cultural Revolution, shadow puppetry is being revived by another Mao, this one an artist.

Unique Places to stay Shichachai Hotel Beijing

The man behind the curtain is puppet artist Mao.

Mao makes his own hand painted shadow puppets as he revives the lost art. A theater was built into the hotel lobby to showcase regular performances for guests.. Staying here provides the visitor a unique opportunity to experience life in an old hutong while watching an ancient art.

Book a room at the: Shichachai Shadow Art Hotel

3) Belar Homestead, Dubbo, Australia

 

Unique places to stay Belars Australia

The Belar Homestead sits in Australia’s bush country on a 3,000 acre ranch owned by 4th-generation cattle farmer Rob Wright and his wife Deb. In fact, the house was built by Rob’s great-grandfather. The setting off a mile-long driveway is perfect for someone seeking solitude with the only neighbors being a few cows, some chickens and the occasional kangaroo. The remote location provides a spectacular night sky for stargazing. It’s so clear that the Parkes Radio Telescope, which received the video of the first Apollo moon landing, is nearby.

4) Ai Aiba, The Rock Painting Lodge, Namibia

 

Ai Aiba rock painting lodge Namibia

Namibia has become a popular destination in Africa for independent self-drive safaris. Aside from the big game viewing, there are many areas with prehistoric cave art paintings. Ai Aiba sits within a 12,000 acre reserve boasting over 150 of these paintings. On a pre-breakfast hike we spotted some ancient artwork of giraffes while looking over our shoulder at real giraffes munching on the acacia trees. It was a sublime experience.

Ai Aiba rock painting lodge Namibia

Website: Ai Aiba, The Rock Painting Lodge

5) Yanggakdo Hotel, Pyongyang, North Korea

 

Yanggakdo Hotel Pyongyang North Korea

Okay this may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it certainly wasn’t Larissa’s choice, but the Yanggakdo is the place to go when visiting the monolithic country of North Korea and experience some retro-70s style. There’s even a highlight of that era, a revolving restaurant on top. The rooms were nicer than we expected, although coated somewhat with several decades worth of tar and nicotine. The only way to visit North Korea is via an authorized tour operator. We recommend Koryo Tours. Extra bonus: There’s a two-lane bowling alley in the basement that comes with your own cheerleader.

Website: Koryo Tours

6) Casa Amarela, Algarve Coast, Portugal

 

Casa Amarela Naturist resort Portugal

If you’re seeking a vacation where you can pack light, really light, the Casa Amarela may be what you’re looking for. The guest house run by Brits Jane and Stewart is clothing optional. The feeling of diving into the pool and then drying off au natural in the warm Portuguese sun is so … well, you’ll just have to experience it for yourself. And while you’re relaxing just think of all the money you saved on baggage fees.

Web site: Casa Amarela

7) Munduk Moding Plantation, Bali

 

Unique places to stay Munduk Moding Bali

If you’ve dreamed of waking up to a view of a coffee plantation on the island of Bali then this is the place. True coffee addicts can hike the plantation then retire to the lodge for a fresh cup of Kopi Luwak. Made famous as the java of choice for Jack Nicholson in The Bucket List,  it’s brewed from beans that have first been eaten and shat out by the civet cat. Despite that history, Larissa tried it. Fortunately for Michael he’s not a coffee drinker. As an added bonus you can visit the civets in cages and watch them prepare the beans for roasting.

Munduk Moding Plantation Bali

Website: Munduk Moding Plantation

What unique places to stay can you recommend?

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Berlin’s transit system is easy to navigate with the Berlin WelcomeCard. Because it is valid on all forms of transportation, the Berlin WelcomeCard is very convenient. Use it on the U-Bahn (underground trains), S-Bahn (surface trains), Bus and Tram. No worrying about the correct change or the right type of ticket, Read more