Stop and Stare: When I First Realized the Footprint We Leave on Earth

It’s often said that one of the side effects of traveling is the fact that you get to see other cultures and understand how they live, maybe appreciate a little bit more what you take for granted or see a world very different from your own. My story will be about the effects that I’ve seen on the beautiful destinations affected by heavy tourism and what I try to do to make a difference.

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Probably the trip that opened my eyes, also the first (and only) exotic one was to Thailand. Flying across the globe to a country that I’ve only seen in pictures and also DIY, was a bit scary, but it was also the best way to see things below the surface.

As a kid, I’ve always loved animals, were part of my everyday life, from pets (3 fishes, 1 hamster, 3 cats, 3 dogs) to my hobby of horseback riding, I respected and loved every each and one of them, cannot imagine my life without them. Therefore, I was extremely happy that I would get to pet a tiger and even play with it. I have seen photos on Instagram and Facebook and I thought WOW! I am really going to have this amazing experience. Yet, when I started looking into the Tiger sanctuary stories and I’ve seen what really happens to those animals in order to tame them, I started crying. It is beyond anything that I have ever imagined, the cubs are taken from the moms very early, they are beaten and drugged in order for them to be unable to hurt the “public”. Even more, once the cubs are no longer cute and small, they are killed and their skin is sold for people to use it as rugs. Perhaps it is disturbing for everyone to read this, but it is the truth.

What is even worst, is that it all made sense when I got to think about it, the fact that tigers are actually hunting and killing people makes it clear that they are not pets, there is no chance in hell this can be natural. So, there is no such thing as the real sanctuaries, just a tourist trap where people give money to torture the poor animals. Clearly, I didn’t go to any of those temples, yet I saw that it was among the most desired trips and that even people who I know would not agree to what is happening behind the curtains are paying for it.

Since we are also on the topic, another popular trip is the one to the elephant sanctuary. I will not discuss the trekking since that is just cruel and can be seen right away, the cages are causing severe wounds and bleeding and the stick used to “make” the elephants walk is more like a hammer that is hurting the animal. Anyone who would go on trekking should be fined with 100k $ just because of their ignorance and stupidity.  If you did that and I offend you, GOOD! You deserve it!

Getting back to the sanctuaries where you can wash elephants, the story is a toughing one, all the animals were saved or inherited and now they are just pampering them (blah blah blah). Well, let’s get back to what I’ve said in the first part, is it natural for humans to go into the wild and wash elephants? If not, then you can imagine that animal has little to no interest in having a bunch of people around them, touching, petting and washing them. Another thing that needs to be keep in mind, is that the same story as with the tigers is present with the elephants, even if the Asian one is not as aggressive as the African one, it’s still a huge animal that can easily kill a human, therefore most of them are once again tamed and drugged.

The fact that those two trips are the most requested by tourists created a big industry that is feed with the pain of the animals. If the authorities are ignorant of the issue or they just like the cash that is coming from them it’s uncertain, the sure thing is that as long as the request is out there, the offer will be also present, so what I’ve learned is that every time I found myself attracted to any experience that envolves animals I do my homework.

Even if this was not part of my trip to Thai, it was another experience that I wanted badly, swim with the dolphins. Again with a little bit of research, the sad truth will emerge and that is the fact that dolphins are captured from the wild and trained to play nice with people, pose and so on. Luckily, this type of experience can be had in the wild, this year I had the pleasure to swim with a wild dolphin that came out to play, I was not able to touch it, yet it was amazing to see it up close.

The golden rule when it comes to experiences that involve animals is to ask ourselves if this is natural for them, if it can be harmful or if it deprives the animal of its freedom.  If the answer is no, then it’s ok, if you have any doubts look it up and try to avoid feeding those despicable industries.

Leaving the animals aside, another thing that shocked me was the amount of plastic that is thrown in the water, forest or streets by heavy tourism. If you think that you are not the cause of the issues, have a look at the amount of plastic that you use. When I was there I got a plastic bag for EVERYTHING, if I bought a dring, they will give me a bag for it, a banana would also get a bag, if you had multiple items from the supermarket then you would get more and more. Everything was single-use, and they were always giving them to you even when you told them that you didn’t want them. If I were to be honest, even if we gave our best, after the 14 days we spend there, there was a pile of plastic that we created, even if we put it in the trash, most likely it ended up in the forest or water.

I live in Romania and we can see signs of plastic thrown in the forest, water and so on also, but its nothing compared to what I’ve seen in Thailand. Probably the only place where I’ve seen worst is in the Sahara desert, where mountains of trash can be spotted everywhere, yet to see that much plastic in the forest, where everything is part of an ecosystem hurts. After my trip there I made it my religion to make sure I use as less plastic as possible, reuse what I have and avoid single-use items. If I am successful every single time? No, but I do try. Also, ever since I retured I also tried to post my experience on travel groups so that more and more people are aware of the impact they are having on our planet, related to animals or the waste that they are creating.

Making a difference is possible only by using your own example. Awareness can help other travelers avoid traps and misleading information, so I try to use my own story to show people what we are doing only by being ignorant. The experiences that I had in Thailand were amazing and the fact that I managed to avoid those places is just a first step, I highly encourage everyone to visit this amazing place (plane tickets can be searched through Momondo) and make a difference.

This is an article for Open World Travelers Ambassador Program @momondo. #owtravelers #admomondo

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Traveling: Unlocking Hurghada, Egypt – Tips and Tricks

The most anticipated travel experience from this year and most likely from my entire life was getting to see the pyramids from Egypt. I was always fascinated by their history and have been on my bucket list ever since I knew there is a plane that can take me there. Unfortunately, due to the conflict area and the politic instability, I keep on postponing this trip up until this year. For more details about the trip, costs, and experience, read along!

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I am a big fan of DIY vacations but in this particular case, after I did some homework on the matter, it’s better to go for a safe way. Even if the situation is not as bad as in the past, it is still not a very nice one either. There are still check-points where there are military men with automated guns, the population is very poor and there is still a conflict area in the north of the country. Not trying to convince anyone that this is the best way, but given the circumstances for me, it was.

It all started in February when we decided to go to the tourism fair and talk to the local agency about the offers that they have for this area. The recommended for our first visit to Egypt, Hurghada since it’s closest to Cairo and Luxor, the other popular destination Sharm El Sheikh has the best reef and corals and is more focused on scuba diving and snorkeling. The price for 2 persons was 1200euros and it included the plane tickets, 7 nights in an all-inclusive hotel named Desert Rose, and the period was in the last week in September.

Before we left, we were told to buy our own snorkeling equipment and swimming shoes. For the first, I recommend the tube with a valve that prevents the water from getting into your mouth, trust me it makes a huge difference. Also, it will be really helpful if you want to dive and see the reef up close, the price for it was under 20 euros. As for the shoes, you need them when you get into the water, the area is pretty rocky and there are sea urchins.

They don’t make a difference between dollars and euros, so it’s best to have $ on you. Also, the smaller the bills the better, the fact that they ask for tips everywhere, usually the tip is 1$ so you will need a lot of those. Another fun fact is the 2$ bill, I have never seen it before, even if I traveled to the US 4 times. Now I got one and I am holding onto it.

Another thing that needs to be kept in mind, while packing is that you will need clothes from natural fibers, the temperatures are high and you will need your skin to breath. If you are curious about what I packed, you can find all the details here.

The visa cost is 25$, but if you will be traveling with an agency they will call you to go their way and make you pay more, 32$ to be precise. If I were to do it again, I would go to the regular office and I would get my visa stamp from there.

A couple of information for the smokers out there, after landing near the baggage claim area, there is a shop where you can buy cigarettes, the price per pack is less than 2$, but as our friend noticed those have a different taste ( cannot give more details since I am not a smoker). Also, if you plan on taking some packs for your return home, you should buy them now, the price at the departure is bigger. If you are traveling from the EU, you will be allowed to bring only 2 packs per person, this is the law at least in Romania, the fact that there are many who said that they brought a lot more and nobody noticed is not the rule.

Before leaving the airport, on the left side, there is an Orange shop, from where you can buy sim cards. We chose the 9$ option with 16GB of the internet, and only got one for 2 persons since we didn’t need more for the 7 days we spend there.

Our hotel, Desert Rose, was pretty close to the airport, around 15 minutes’ drive and I highly recommend it for the food, pools and the amazing reef. This was also the best place for snorkeling, the corals were healthy and colorful and you get to see so many beautiful fishes, even compared to the place we went for scuba and the Orange Bay area. The rooms aren’t that great, definitely not 5 stars, more like 3, but it was clean, we had AC and a beautiful balcony, but if you put your hope up, you will get disappointed.

Some things to keep in mind while here, the water is not drinkable and you shouldn’t use it at washing your teeth either, every day they will bring bottled water and you should only use that. Also, we were told to request all of our drinks without ice, since it might happen for this to be made out of tap water. Again, some say they didn’t have any issues, but in our case we did had some stomach problems, that were solved with some of our own medicine, but in case it gets serious you should talk to the hotel guide since you will need some of their pills if yours don’t work.

In the case of this hotel, we also had four A La Carte restaurants, but to get to those you would need a prior reservation. We only got to go to 2 of them, because the others were fully booked. Also, the reservation can only be made 48hours before, so keep that in mind. The best experience was in Fattoush Restaurant, the tradition Arabian food tasted amazing, highly recommend it.

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Most likely you will want to go on some big trips, the full-day ones are Cairo and Luxor. The day before leaving go to the reception and request breakfast to go, the ones organizing the trips will also give you food, but in our case, it wasn’t that great so having the sandwiches from the hotel was a good decision.

We decided to go on 6 trips, I will document them in full in a feature article, but just to mention them: Sindbad submarine, Cairo by bus, Scuba diving in the reef, Orange bay island, Luxor and Valley of the Kings, Sahara Safari.  We didn’t go with the hotel guide, but with one that we researched online, they sent us the prices that were less than half of what the others were offering and we didn’t need to bargain, for me this was a huge relief. To be honest, 6 trips in 7 days is a lot, so I would suggest you go only on 5 and enjoy a day at the resort. We were so sad when we saw that the best reef was there and we only had a few hours to enjoy it. Furthermore, you will see that in the resort there are many activities that you can do, from yoga to water sports, disco, etc.

Egypt was definitely one of a kind type of experience, the reef is still pretty beautiful in this area, but the signs of heavy tourism are showing. In many areas the corals and the reef is dead, most of the people are touching and even taking pieces of it with them back home, what is even more disturbing is that the local guides are encouraging this. The amount of plastic and waste that can be seen in the desert and in the water is a huge one, imagine mountains of trash. The two major cities that we saw, Cairo and Luxor were filthy, filled with trash, people on horses and donkeys, kids without shoes and people fighting in the middle of the street. The street vendors are all over the place, they are annoying and somehow aggressive when trying to force you to buy. The poverty level is the highest that I’ve ever seen in my life and even if I would like to sympathize with them, it is very hard given the fact that they have 0 respect for their history, monuments, animals or water.

The car insurance isn’t mandatory, therefore many cars look awful, if there are 4 lanes but you can fit 7 rows of cars, that is how it would be. Honking means you get to go first, and among the cars there are carets, people riding horses, people crossing the streets. Another thing here is that they don’t have to take driving lessons, they just have to pass the exam. I would never recommend driving there.

If you would ask me if it is worth it, I would definitely say yes, one of a kind and once in a lifetime experience. Don’t think I will ever go back, perhaps in a few years and in Sharm El Sheikh, would only go on the trips by boat and would stay away from the major cities. All in all, the experience was a good one, you will get to see the last ancient wonder and some of the best places in the world for scuba and snorkeling, the Red Sea. Compared to the trip made in Thailand, I would say it is far less beautiful, if I would have to chosee I would definitely return to Thai, yet in the case of Egypt, it will happen only if I run out of places to see.

 

 

Bridget Jones Diary – A Funny Yet True Love Story

Yes, I know I am almost 18 years late to the party and everyone already saw the movie, but being the late bloomer that I am, I recently decided that it will be a good idea to finally press play. Long story short, I was alone at home and I thought what better movie to look at than Bridget Jones. So here is what made me love it this much.

First of all, it was NOT a teenage love story. Nowadays all movies are aimed at teenagers, although that is nice and all that, romance is different in the ’30s and I feel like I haven’t seen that many movies for this particular category lately, or the ones that I did see, were unrelated to the subject of love after a certain age.

Bridget’s struggle with weight. Another subject that is now treated very differently is one of the women’s weight. I am not going to enter the debate of loving your body as it is, but I will say that many if not most of us keep a constant battle with the kilograms/pounds and yes, most of us love to add it to the New Year’s Eve resolution list. Another yes, is that we forget about the list as soon as January is over.

Parent’s obsessive questions related to personal love life. When you are single and no longer in your ’20s parents do try to find out why you are single and if you are trying to hide anyone from them. If there is none then they will try to set you up with a friend of a friend because they just have to try.

Men are rude. Just as the two male subjects of the movie, men are sometimes rude and say all sorts of mean things. Just as Darcy offended Bridget with his comments on the Turkey party and Daniel on the smirky comments from the work messages. Even if she tries not to get offended, the behavior is not ok. (Please note that the reverse scenarios is also true when women do it)

Getting cold feet is a true story. After agreeing to go to the party where her parents will be, Daniel gets scared and runs away to meet with the other woman, because why not. In the real world of dating, having someone get the cold feet is pretty common and also the part with running away to someone else.

Sometimes there is no love at first sight. Darcy doesn’t fall in love with Bridget in the first moment that they met, but after getting to know her, another real-life scenario. That whole love, at first sight, is sometimes only present in Hollywood movies, in the real-life, it might happen over time and once you get to really know the other person for more than 5 seconds.

Your friends are not perfect, yet you love them. Just as Bridget’s friends, our real ones are not perfect, they have flaws yet we love them just the way they are. Same goes the other way around, perfection and #squadgoals are not what you should value in a friend, but the ability to be there for you when you need them to.

Not knowing whom to chose. There is a moment when Bridgit didn’t know what to chose and who is right between the two men fighting in front of her building, well chances are in your lifetime there will be a time when you need to choose and you will never have the guarantee that you will take the correct decision. In the end, Bridget does, but chances are you will not and it will be ok.

Have to admit it’s been years since I’ve seen a movie so good, perhaps it is better that I got to see it now when the ’30s are knocking on my door and not back then since it’s possible that I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much. It’s a recommendation that I make to all my single girls out there who think they are alone in this, they are not BTW.

 

Last Month’s Favorites: August 2019

Fall is here, the hot and rainy summer made us all feel the changes that happen worldwide and hopefully made us more aware of our footprint on mother Earth. Leaving aside the world disaster, there are so many good things that happen in the past month, so let me dig in.

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Books

Perhaps it was the month of sad books, but I do have to say that Five Feet Apart, Under the Midnight Sun, An Apartment in Paris and City of Girls were some the best books I’ve set my eyes on this year. The first two have a similar storyline, but I consider them different and both will let you heartbroken for the characters, yet will make you understand how important it for you to live in the present and be glad that you’ve won the life lottery and your life is so easy.

The City of Girls will have an entire post dedicated to it, so you can already imagine how much I loved it. As a pre-spoiler, I have to say that if you are unsure wheater you should purchase of the copies, I am telling you should definitely since it’s a story placed in the New York of the ’40s when the girls ruled the city.

As for An Apartment in Paris by Guillaume Musso, I have to admit I loved the break from the love novels so a thriller was exactly what I aimed for. With funny lines, the story was fresh air for my eyes.

The other 2 books PS I like You by Kasie West and Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney, I don’t have much to say other than you can do better. If the first one is just another teen romance book, the second one didn’t appeal much to me and I struggled reading it until the end.

TV Shows

Even if I actually started to watch them in July, those got upgraded to favorites in the last month, both can be found on Netflix: Lucifer and Riverdale. Let’s start with the first one, the devil decides to take a vacation and goes to LA to live his own life, away from hell. Apart from an amazing soundtrack that I highly recommend you listen to, the plot, the actors’ British humor (that will remind you of Dr. House show) made me want to watch multiple episodes in a row. Furthermore, what if Lucifer is not the bad guy after all, what if he is just as human as we are?

Riverdale is a different story, dark with lots of drama, I recommend watching it with breaks so that it doesn’t bring you down (it can do that). More or less a combination of Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars, the action takes place in a small town where evil makes its presence known with the death of Jason Blossom, the son of one most influential family in Riverdale. Have to admit that I really dig the combination of drama, crime, and teenage love.

Horseback riding

As I kid I practiced this for 8 years until I left for college, nowadays every now and then I go to my home town and get back on the saddle for old times sake. Unfortunately, in the last two years, I never made time for this and started to really miss the feeling I get when galloping. It was until this August when I went twice to my home town and I had the chance to remember how much I loved horseback riding. If you are on the lookout for a new (or old) sport that you want to try, you should definitely consider this, for me, it’s the best way to exercise while having the best time.

Hiking on the paths of Ceahlau mountain 

Another thing that I used to do a lot as a kid was the hike on a nearby mountain called Ceahlau (1,907 m) the cold air during the summer heat, the amazing view and the feeling of accomplishment you get when you reach to the top of it, are one of a kind. Even if I am out of shape and was extremely hard to get to the top, even on the easiest path, it was still an amazing experience. Even if I don’t get to do this as often, I still enjoy it when I get the chance.

The Fairy Castle near Sibiu  

If you find yourself wandering through the streets of Romania, you should think about adding a pit stop to a place taken straight from fairytales. Although small, the place has its charm and I consider it worth it 100%. The photos can speak for themselves.

While in this region, we also made a stop for lunch in my favorite city, Sibiu. Old and picturesque streets with buildings that have seen many decades, to me this place will always have a special place in my heart. Furthermore, the food here is beyond amazing and at every street, you will see gelato carts, what more to ask for?

Shopping at sale 

If it’s the end of August then it’s sales time, so you can imagine that I was unable to resist the temptation to get some of the essentials that I need in my trip to Egipt (YEY!) and some of the items that I planned on wearing in the fall as well. The items that I got were: a denim skirt and a pair of mom’s jeans, 2 cotton overalls, a top that I can pair with about anything, 3 pairs of shorts, two pairs of summer long pants, a pair of roman sandals. A pair of Converse shoes, a bathing suit, and coverup for it.

Since we are entering the fall season I also added to my shopping list a pair of classic black boots and a pair of brown flats. I am officially ready for both the vacation that I have planned and the season that has just started.

I do have to admit that I got a little too many items this month, but in my defense, they were really cheap and most of them I got from one of the outlets from my home town (yes, I know it’s a lame excuse). Maybe it is because of the upcoming trip that I have planned, but I am really happy that it’s officially September. Time for that Pumpkin spice latte, don’t you guys agree?

 

Beach Vacation Outfits

While for some of you the summer vacations are done and you guys are already daydreaming about the following ones, for others (including myself) the trip to the salty waters hasn’t yet happened and we are already stressing about what to put in the suitcase and what to leave for next time.

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Up until 3 years ago when I met my partner in crime, I used to carry one suitcase and a backpack (at least) when going to the beach. Loved to bring all my swimsuits, even if I would only get to wear two, loved to pack most of my summer dresses since I had plenty of seethrough ones that can only be used at the beach, 4 pairs of shoes, because what if? That all changed when we left for Thailand and my boyfriend removed more than half of the items that I wanted to bring and made me stick with the basics.

There are a million articles on the topic of the capsule vacation outfits and most likely you have already read a few,  but I do want to share some of the items that I love to have when I go to the sea. Some of them are practical, but some of them are just my idea of traveling in style.

Simple canvas bag

Perhaps this is something that I picked up from my mom, but for me, the perfect beach bag is a simple canvas one, where I can put the essentials (water bottle,  sunscreen, towel,  book or magazines) along with a smaller bag where I can keep the money, credit cards, phone, and keys.  As a piece of advice, never throw the keys & phone along with the towel, chances are when you will be removing the last, you will accidentally let the keys or phone slip ( this is how I manage to lose the keys once, and it was no fun since it was an Airbnb apartment).

Extra summer bag

Even if I can easily save some space by leaving the extra bag at home, I just can’t resist. Love to have the bag that screams vacation with me. For years I had a bag with wood totes that I only used when I went to the beach or to the pool. This year I brought one of the Bali round bags and I love to wear it while on vacation.

Flip-flops 

Although those shoes should only be allowed at the beach, those are one of the essentials that you should buy when you get there or bring with you from home. There are various flavors to them and clearly, there is a style that fits yours, the only thing you need to keep in mind is the material, never bring the leather ones (yes there are people that do this) since the water and sand will do wanders to them and also don’t choose the thin plastic ones that can get heated or give you lots of blisters when your feet will sweat (resist the temptation even if those look so cute).

Swimwear

I usually bring 3 swimsuits with me while on vacation if I know I will be spending most of the time sunbathing. Why 3? Well, I always have a one-piece that I love to wear when going on trips or if I spend some time at the pool, and the two pieces ones I usually use one in the morning and one in the afternoon ( my skin type doesn’t allow me to stay in the sun at noon). Why don’t I wear the same one twice? It often happens for the one that I used in the morning to still be wet when I want to use it once more.

A big shawl

As I mentioned earlier I cannot spend a lot of time in the sun if I don’t want to ruin my vacation and get severe burns, therefore I make sure I cover my skin after 12am. To do this I use a big shawl that I love to carry around. I can also convert it in a dress or a skirt while I am on the beach. I am careful when I chose it to have a natural material and I also make sure to always have it in my bag.

Clothing 

This area is subjective to the style you prefer, personally, I only wear dresses after the sun goes down and the temperatures drop because I hate when my tights get sweaty, therefore I will prefer to use shorts or jumpsuits. Same as with the flip-flops the area where I pay the most attention is to the material, I strictly avoid any nylon or polyester pieces since I don’t want to sweat like a dog, I prefer the light natural ones like viscose and linen, but I also include a pair of denim shorts. Usually, I go with one dress, a pair of denim and one of viscose shorts, 2 white lose t-shirts, one linen shirt, and a jumpsuit, to those I add a denim jacket and a pair of long pants.

While most of the time I only spend one week on a beach vacation, it happened for me to reuse those pieces in the two weeks that I spent in Thailand.

White espadrilles 

Hard to keep them white, but totally worth the struggle, for me those are my favorite type of shoes, light, comfy and very versatile I can wear them with shorts, dresses, jeans, and jumpsuits. Another very good option would be a pair of white Converse that can also be adjusted. Since I will mostly be walking and visiting the cities during noon, I have to rely on a pair of comfortable shoes.

Time for my hair to be up

Everyone who knows me can tell you that I wear my hair down 99% of the time, if my hair is up then I didn’t have the time to wash it. During vacation especially when I will get to swim in the sea and walk in 30 degrees Celsius, I love to put my hair up and use a cute scarf to adjust it, this is my one and only hair accessory that I use. Also since I am not a big fan of hats is my way of elevating the look.

Accessories

Since I do have a tendency to sweat a lot, I don’t like to bring many accessories with me, therefore I go for my minimalistic silver necklace and pendant that I always wear and a pair of colorful earrings ( that I only get to wear once or twice since the ones made from anything but silver or gold will hurt my ears) . I don’t bring fancy or expensive jewelry with me, after one year when I lost my gold necklace when playing in the water. Not to mention those will get heated while you sit in the sun and can burn your skin.

I left the one accessory that I cannot live without and that I always have with me no matter the season is sunglasses. Always with UV protection, I cannot leave my house without them, if I forget them, I will go and buy a new pair since I don’t want to cry my eyes out (literally, I am sensitive to sunlight).

Visualize what you would like to wear

Many years I felt jealous when I saw other girls options for vacation outfits and I realized that I had more or less the same items but I didn’t bring them with me. It happens to lose inspiration or for me to completely forget about items that I have, that is why I learned to shop my own closet and to use Pinterest boards to help me visualize how I would like to dress. Periodically I do a check and I adjust the board with items that I think will work with my personal preferences while avoiding the trap of buying items that I know I will not be comfortable wearing.

While I don’t believe in a perfect list that gets checked when leaving for vacation, I do feel like there are steps that you cand take to make your life easier. Most of the time I stick to the items from above and only do small alterations. Every destination have each charm and while in the Muslim countries I will avoid short pants and seethrough items, in others I like to adjust the colors to complement the place, love to wear the royal blue with while in Greece (don’t know why but for me the white houses with the blue roofs are representative for it) and orange and red pastels while in Spain.

What are your beach vacation favorite outfits? How do you get past the panic of having to pack your bags?

DIY Traveling: Planning, Pleasure or Burden?

When I was a kid, my parents kept on telling me that I was laking organizing skills, that I was all over the place and that I will never be a good planner. It looks like time really made a difference and I have changed my habits around. As you probably have guessed for me planning a trip is one of my favorite parts, so how can you go from seeing it as a burden to having fun while organizing your trip? Read along and you shall see!

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Find the place that you want to travel to! 

Clearly, the first step would be to know where you want to travel to, and if you don’t know specifics (like I want to go to Greece because I love the food and the sea), at least think of what you would like to get out of it ( see a new place, go to the beach, hike, surf, go with the kids, see a fancy place, hot weather in the winter, ski, etc.).

If you have no idea what so ever, you can also ask this on a group that is dedicated to traveling, people can wight in and give ideas. Since I have plenty of ideas on the subject, I don’t really have a problem with choosing where I wanna go, but I do suggest you create a list of dream destinations, will make your life easier. Mine can be seen here.

Visualize the place!

Let’s say that you have five places that I would really like to visit and you would like to get more information about them, you can create a Pinterest board and you can do your research there. Here I suggest you focus more on the experience that you would have there, rather than just scratching it off your list (For example, I want to go to Bali to see the rice fields and the temples, rather than I want to go to Bali because is cheap and I can take great selfies) .

The board that I am using is this one, Future Plans and I add and remove destinations from it. Before I really start thinking about a trip, I want to know what are the specifics, prices, dress code, religious celebration dates, rainy season, vaccination and so on. I do this even before I look at budget since I want to know if it’s doable in the upcoming period or maybe I need to postpone it for next time.

Budget!

Yeap, the big and scary one is here and we need to talk about it. If you don’t have a budget great, you can pass to the next point, but most of us do, so plan it wisely. As much as we would like to think we can go anywhere in the world with a small budget, it might not be smart. Personally, I prefer to save some of the trips that I have in mind for later, if I know I wouldn’t have the money to do what I would love to. One example would be the Maldives, yes I can go on a budget and stay on the island, not on the sea bungalows, but that is not what I want, therefore I wait until I will be able to have the kind of experience that I desire. I don’t usually return to the same destinations, so I want to make sure I don’t go home with the regret of not being able to check everything I wanted to do.

Getting back to the budget you need to split the costs between transport, accommodation, food, tickets or trips, impulsive shopping and safety net.  

Transport -> Depending on the location you can choose to go by plane or by car, personally I prefer the plane since it’s a lot faster and I am doing a few too many road trips in the country. Most of the time I use Momondo to search for the best deals, what it does, it compiles a list of all travel companies and you can easily compare prices.

A while back I have written a full post on tips and tricks with how you can find the perfect deals for plane tickets, you can find it here.

Another transport cost that you need to think of in advance, is car rental. If you plan on getting one, do your research from home, there are things that you need to know beforehand, such as if the company accepts debit cards, if its best for you to get a full insurance, the type of car that you should get, the amount of money they will block from your card until you get it back, if they are a serious company. Luckily there are websites that offer you aggregations just as those for the planes, Momondo once again come to the rescue. You can compare prices and companies so that you can make the best purchase.

Accommodation -> Pretty much the same as plane tickets and car rentals, the best way to find what is suited for you is by finding what you need and comparing the prices. Once again you can search using Momondo. There are other aspects you need to take into consideration that you can find in the full post I dedicated to this, link here.

If for the transport and accommodation there will be plenty of options and websites that you can use, for the rest of the topics, it’s best to ask yourself how much should be budgeted. For example, food, if you are the type of person that wants to go safe, then you should think about all-inclusive plans. If you like to experiment then you need to do research on the meal costs and multiply that with the number of meals and number of days.

As an example Prague, we didn’t have the breakfast included so we needed 3 meals, in the morning we wanted a light snack and coffee most of the times to go, so around 10 euros per person, lunch would be the main meal, so we budgeted this to 20 euros including drinks per person, for dinner we went for the street food option 10 euros per person, to this we added around 20 euros per person for sweets, additional coffee or beer. The total was: 60 euros per day per person.

Another expense that can be calculated in advance is related to tickets or day trips. You can easily look it up online and see what are the best prices, most of the time I try to book them in advance so that I don’t get there and find out that they are all sold out. Also, it often happens for the prices to be better and you can skip the line, so make sure you check them up. It can happen for those not to be available online and you need to negotiate the prices at the location, so what I do, is look for blogs that have the prices listed so that I can make an idea about how much those can cost.

The example of the topics above would be Spain and Thailand. In Barcelona the best prices you get online, also you don’t have to sit in line to buy the tickets, this is the case in many European countries. In the opposite direction is Thailand, where you will see some huge prices that you have to negotiate on site.

Impulsive shopping is one of the things that I learned to add to the list. It can take the form of souvenirs, sweets, experiences or maybe something specific to that place, I want to have this included so that I don’t find myself crying for something that I wanted badly and I was unable to get.

The last item that should always be included, is the safety net or money for urgent situations. Although I suggest you have this money regularly, if you are traveling you should know that unexpected situations can happen. The best example I have is when the bus in Dusseldorf had more than 1h delay and we had to take a cab to the airport for 200km that cost us 200 euros. The vacation was intended as a low cost one, yet on the last day, we had to pay the price of our own mistake for not making sure we have multiple options for getting to the airport. Other situations might include injuries or medication, so make sure you always have access to extra money.

Vaccines and mosquito sprays! 

Not needed in all types of vacations, but mandatory in the exotic ones, the vaccines are a topic that many decide to research online, but I beg of you DON’T! Ask a doctor what are the types of risks you are exposing yourself and let the internet alone in this specific case. The fact that many decide to brag that they went on with no vaccine and are still alive is no proof since the confession can not be taken from the dead ones. You want to plan for a risk-free vacation!

If the vaccine can be skipped in many countries, the mosquito spray should always be with you when traveling in warm places ( I doubt you need one in Greenland). Even in countries without the risk of malaria, you still don’t want to get bitten by those little bastards, so make sure you grab one before you leave. Also, there are specific sprays for specific areas, the “regular” one will not work on exotic places for example.

Preparing and packing for the trip!

One of my favorite parts is to prepare and pack for the upcoming trip, I usually make a list with the necessities so I don’t forget anything important at home. Another step that I like to take is to plan every outfit so that I can bring only one carry on luggage with me. A full article on the steps I take and how I have fun while getting ready can be found here.

While this might look like a huge list to go through I learned that in time you can optimize this and enjoy every second of it. Have to say that I look forward to every new year when I get the chance to do the research for the upcoming travel experiences, it takes time, I have to admit, and it can be overwhelming at first, but I promise you that it will become part of the experience.

This is an article for Open World Travelers Ambassador Program @momondo. #owtravelers #admomondo

Traveling: How I Raise Money for My Passion?

As I have previously mentioned I am in love with traveling while having a 9to5 job ( more like an 8:30 to 6:30 job if I include the commute) and raising money for my passion is one of the struggles that I am facing, therefore I would like to give you a few hints on how you can save some $$ while still living a full life.

Money

Even if it’s tempting to put all your money for traveling, not long after you go through this harsh diet you will realize that you are only spending around 10-15% of your time on vacations and the rest of your time is at home, where life is happening. So don’t fall in the trap of only saving and counting every penny, that will not last long. The first rule of spending would be to find a balance between what is doable for you and what you would like to achieve. For that, you would first need to know how much you spent and on what.

1. Know your limits

I have been keeping a book of my spendings on and off ever since I got a job and I advise you to do the same. Knowledge is power, so you first need to know what are your spending habits, how much do you spend monthly and see what can be improved. Another thing you need to know is how much you save and whether you can increase that amount.

For this, you can use excel sheets, mobile applications, pen, and paper, whatever makes you be consistent with writing down what you brought. An application can help you visualize the areas of spending, like food, clothes, entertainment, etc. There are cards that also give you that report such as Revolut.

2. Spending habits 

Now that you have a list of expenses you can tackle them and see what needs to be adjusted. In my case, the major expenses are food and shopping, therefore I try to be sure that I need specific items before I buy them and that I will be using them. When it comes to food, sometimes I find myself buying more than I will be able to cook and that throwing food is not something that I want to be throwing, therefore I try to only buy what I will cook in the next days and when I am out of ingredients I try to get creative so I don’t have to waste any.

As for shopping, this is still a work in progress area, where I try to only buy what I absolutely need or if I do indulge in something I will try to cut from a different area to keep myself withing the budget ( have to admit that I am not successful in this 100% of the time).

3. Divide and conquer 

Let’s say that you know your limits and you know your habits, on average you spent around 1200$ per month and you want to decrease to 1000$. The easiest way of doing this is by dividing your finances into a weekly budget. If there are 5 weeks in a month you would get 200$ per week and you need to stick to it. For me, it’s easier to work with cash since it’s real if I just swipe the card I don’t get to see the money and if those do not exist I will spend them like crazy. Other people feel the exact opposite of this, if they have the money in the wallet they will just spend it right away, so you need to find your way.

While of the topic of division, one thing that can be done is to add the money left at the end of the week to the savings account. If you do this or not is optional, what is important is not to spend the next week’s money.

4. Roundup your transactions 

One of the options that I love about Revolut card is the fact that you can use Vaults to add some extra savings just by rounding the amount spent per transaction. Here you can also choose to increase the amount by putting the x2, x3 or x4 options.

Since I already said that I am a big fan of cash, I also add in a different type of savings anything under 1$, you will be surprised the amount of money you will get at the end of a month or year. Those types of savings are the easier ones since you don’t get to feel the amount that is leaving your account.

5. The deposit money is locked and cannot be tampered with 

When I get my monthly income I first add the money that I want to save in a deposit or a different account than the one that I am using and I do not use that money unless is absolutely necessary (car breaks down or medical issue pops). I have to admit that is tempting to buy something just because you have the money and you can do it, but you need to fight this urge and walk away. If you use deposits than you already know that you will lose the interest rate, so don’t do that.

Usually, I use this money for either the big vacations that I have planned or for paying in advance for my loans. Read along to see why I do the second.

6. Stay away from borrowed money 

If you have a job, you know how easy you can borrow money from the bank. Whether that comes in the form of a credit card or a loan, that money is calling for you and can access it in a few hours. But nothing comes at a small price and the banks are well known for the rates they will add especially for those types of loans.

Let me give you my example when I bought my home I needed a cash advance and since I didn’t have enough money I took that from the bank as well. For the 10 000 euro that I borrowed, I had to give back 13 000 – 14 000 euro in 5 years (more or less). Therefore I did the math and I understood that I need to pay that money as fast as I can so that I don’t throw away 3000 euros that I could use to travel somewhere fancy.

Getting back to good practices try to stay away from the money the bank is so kindly offering you since there will be a big price to pay. Try to stay within the budget and outsmart them, you do not need stuff you need your freedom.

7. Be realistic when it comes to saving

Making a very strict plan with unrealistic expectations made me spend a lot more than if I kept a “kind” budget. After a month of watching every penny, I went crazy and spent 200$ on shoes or on a bag I didn’t need. I got anxious and felt as if I didn’t have a life outside guarding the money and it didn’t do any good. I learned my lesson and now I try to be as realistic as I can with the amount of money I can save.

If I were to follow the advice from those two books that I reviewed a while back The Richest Man in Babylon and Rich Dad, Poor Dad you should only save 10 to 20% of your income since more will lower your living standard and make your life miserable (as it did mine).

8. Spoil yourself while saving

There are special things that you should do to spoil yourself, small things that can bring a lot of joy to your life. For example, instead of eating at the food court a few times a week, go to a fancy restaurant once a month and enjoy a special dinner and treat yourself with a glass of good wine. Dress well and make an event from it, instead of ordering take out or getting fast food.

Go to the spa, instead of buying lost of cosmetics that will rot in a shelf, go get pampered once a few weeks. Those would seem like ways to spend money and not save them but trust me in the long run, they will make your life better.  Learn how to change your habits and include pampering instead of spending on cheap things.

9. Find cheap travel alternatives

I don’t get to travel every month, but it’s important for me to replace this with something just as good. Either a road trip to some nearby town, a visit to my hometown or just a simple day at the pool, anything to make me get out of the city and do something new. It might not be a bucket-list destination but at least is something.

10. Balance expensive hobbies with low-cost ones

Somedays I am so excited about the upcoming traveling that I forget that I still need to live through the present day, that is when I try to get a reality check. 80% of my time is spent in my current home town and at work, so it’s important to find something that makes me happy right here. Therefore I will tell you a couple of my low-cost hobbies: reading, watching my favorite shows on Netflix,  going for a jog, grabbing my hammock and going on a picnic in the park, cooking and eating on the terrace of my flat, grabbing my laptop or a pen and paper and going out to write on a coffee shop, yoga classes, grabbing my camera and shooting some photos.

Nobody said adulthood would be easy, but it’s up to us to set how hard can it be. We can enter a battle with ourselves and create our own personal hell, or we can find a way to deal with what we have and find smart ways to balance it. There are 8 years since I started to be financially independent and I am constantly trying to find new ways to either increase my earning or decrease my excessive spendings while living my best life. Clearly, each and every one of us has his own definition of the best life, so we need to find the custom solution for our needs. What are your ways of balancing expenses and saving?