A Backpacker’s Guide for Your Next Adventure

A Backpacker’s Guide for Your Next Adventure

Whether you’re setting out for a backpacking trip to Asia or Europe, preparing and packing your backpack can be tricky and it will require some thought and planning. Here’s a complete backpacker’s guide to the do’s and don’ts of packing.

Packing light is key but is easier said than done, when it comes time for you to actually sit down and pack. Our first instinct, especially for those more cautious packers, is usually to pack everything that comes to mind, just on the slight chance that you may have to use it once or twice.

Your backpack is going to be your life for the duration of your travels. Whether you plan to be gone for a couple weeks, or a couple months, you’re going to be wearing your backpack on your back the entire time. It’s important to remember this and only pack the essentials. A smaller, and lighter backpack will be less cumbersome for you. It’ll make you a happier traveller and make for a better backpacking experience.

Clothing

When packing your clothes, fight the urge to throw your entire closet in your bag. You’re not going to need everything, that extra fleece sweater is only going to take up space. Pack only a couple pairs of bottoms, shirts, a swimsuit and about six pairs of underwear. You can easily wash your clothes wherever you’re staying.

Sunblock

Be prepared for the weather. Research ahead of time so that you’re aware of your travel destination’s current climate beforehand. For those hotter destinations, you’ll want sunblock to wear while you’re out and about. Purchase a travel size, so that it doesn’t take up much room in your pack. You can easily invest in another sunblock if you run out on the trip.

Day Pack

Bring along a small day pack, so that when you are going out on day trips to tour the different cities and towns, you won’t have to carry your large backpack around all day. Keep your backpack back at the hostel, in a security locked room that they provide. This will make for much more enjoyable day outs.

Phrase / Language Book

Invest in a travel size phrase or language book for the trip. It doesn’t take up much room and it will come in handy when you’re trying to communicate and socialize with the locals.

International Adapter

Another great investment for the trip is an international adapter. Your phone is a great tool for booking accommodations, checking bus schedules and getting directions, you’ll want to keep it charged so that you’re prepared for anything.

10 Tips for the Beginner Traveler

10 Tips for the Beginner Traveler

For the past two years I’ve lived and worked in over a dozen countries, spending most of the year as a digital nomad living out of a backpack. It’s awesome. I talk to a lot of people back home that have never traveled, and have lots of questions about the basics. I compiled these into 10 tips to make that first international adventure go as smoothly as possible.

1) Start somewhere easy

Some places are easier to travel to than others. If this is your first time out of the country, it might be worth considering one of the easier destinations over, say 6 weeks on Bouvet Island or a quick jaunt up K2. But hey, if that’s what you want, go for it.

2) Get your phone sorted out

There are few things more freeing than an unlocked smartphone. If your phone is unlocked you can get, probably, a local SIM card for cheap high-speed data, wherever you go. Forget overpriced travel data plans like those from Sprint and Verizon. Local SIM cards are the way to go.

Unless you have T-Mobile. Their Simple Choice plans get you unlimited international data in nearly every country. It’s pretty slow, however. I wrote about them in The Best Cellular Plan for Travelers.

10 Tips for the Beginner Traveler

3) The right luggage

Buy a smaller bag than you think you might need (more on this in #5). Personally, I prefer a good travel backpack. Some people like the hybrid backpack/rolly-bags, but I find them cumbersome. Avoid regular rolly bags, they’re more trouble than their worth. Big suitcases should be avoided at all costs (unless you’re going skiing or something and need to bring a lot of bulky gear).

4) The right gear

I love a good, cheap, travel laptop. A USB battery pack is invaluable. I love noise cancelling headphones, but they’re probably a luxury for most people.

5) Pack light

This will be the hardest thing about travel. There are few harder urges to overcome than overpacking. “But I might need this!!!” is so common there are industries built around needless junk and charging you for heavy bags. Aim for 30 pounds, tops, for everything. If you don’t bring a lot of electronics, aim for under 25. You don’t need more than a week’s worth of clothes. You can do laundry everywhere. Seriously, travelling light will change everything about how you travel.

10 Tips for the Beginner Traveler

6) Cloud data backup

I had one friend drop her camera in a taxi and lose 3 weeks’ worth of photos, nearly her entire multi-country trip through Asia. Cloud backups are cheap and easy to use. I like Google Photos, but there are a ton of other options.

7) Apps for you and your family

Google Translate is the greatest app for any traveler, by FAR (download languages when you’re on WiFi, and it will work without a data connection). Google Maps is a close second (download an area on WiFi, and it too will work without a data connection).

What I also recommend is hooking your family with apps too, specifically WhatsApp and Instagram (or Skype or Messenger, etc). Keeping in touch while on the road is key for your mental health, and theirs. I mention Instagram because it’s easy to use for those who aren’t too tech savvy, and it allows cross posting to Facebook, Twitter and the like if you don’t usually use Instagram. Tumblr is another easy way to share photos and info, and I’ve met several travelers that use that as an easy way to blog goings on to share with the folks back home.

8) Don’t be afraid of hostels

Hostels aren’t things that Americans consider. There’s a mistaken perception that they’re dirty, rowdy, dangerous places. I guess some are, but most of the ones I’ve stayed at in the two years I’ve been travelling full time are nicer than most hotels.

Review websites like Hostelworld.com and Hostelz.com give you an idea about a place before you ever set foot in it. Best of all, they’re a great way to meet new people.

9) Lock your phone

Your phone, and what’s on it, is probably the most valuable thing you have on you. Phones are easily replaced. Personal data theft is way worse. Pictures, addresses… how many banking apps and websites do you have that automatically log you in?

Lock your phone. The swipey geometry designs may seem great, but after you use them a few times, the screen will be smudged in the exact shape of your passcode. Numbers and biometrics are safer.

10) Don’t make it easy for thieves

I met a first-time traveler from a tiny mid-west town. She walked around London with her iPhone 6 sticking half out of her back pocket. Theft is rare, but don’t make it easy. Don’t leave your bag on a table at a sidewalk café. Don’t leave your backback on your back on a crowded train. You’d be surprised how often I see people not doing these things. There’s nothing wrong with being a little cautious.

You don’t need to lash your belongings to your chest with steel cables every time you leave the hostel. Just, you know, be aware of your surroundings. If someone could casually pick up something, or pull it out of your hands without any effort, maybe that’s not the best place for it.

Welcome to Ulaanbaatar (Ulan Bator) in Mongolia

Welcome to Ulaanbaatar (Ulan Bator) in Mongolia

Ulaanbaatar or Ulan Bator is the capital and the largest city of Mongolia. A federal municipality, the city is not part of any aimag (province), and its population as of 2014 was over 1.3 million.

Located in north central Mongolia, the municipality lies at an elevation of about 1,310 metres (4,300 ft) in a valley on the Tuul River. It is the cultural, industrial and financial heart of the country, the centre of Mongolia’s road network and connected by rail to both the Trans-Siberian Railway in Russia and the Chinese railway system.

The city was founded in 1639 as a nomadic Buddhist monastic centre. In 1778, it settled permanently at its present location, the junction of the Tuul and Selbe rivers. Before that, it changed location twenty-eight times, with each location being chosen ceremonially. In the twentieth century, Ulaanbaatar grew into a major manufacturing centre.

Mainstream tourist guide books usually recommend the Gandantegchinlen Monastery with the large Janraisig statue, the socialist monument complex at Zaisan Memorial with its great view over the city, the Winter Palace of the Bogd Khan, Chinggis Square and the nearby Choijin Lama Temple. Additionally, Ulaanbaatar houses numerous museums, two of the prominent ones being the National Museum of Mongolia and the Zanabazar Fine Arts Museum. Popular destinations for day trips are the Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, the Manzushir monastery ruins on the southern flank of Bogd Khan Uul and Genghis Khan Equestrian Statue.

Welcome to Ulaanbaatar (Ulan Bator) in Mongolia

Important shopping districts include the 3rd Microdistrict Boulevard (simply called Khoroolol or “the District”), Peace Avenue around the State Department Store (simply called Ikh Delguur or “Great Store”) and the Narantuul “Black Market” area (simply called Zakh or “the Market”). Ulaanbaatar presently has three large cinemas, one modern ski resort, two large indoor stadiums, several large department stores and one large amusement park. Food, entertainment and recreation venues are steadily increasing in variety. KFC, Round Table Pizza, Cinnabon, Louis Vuitton, Ramada and Kempinski have opened up branches in key locations.

A 309m tall tower called the Morin Khuur Tower (Horsehead Fiddle Tower) is planned to be built next to the Central Stadium. It is scheduled to finish in 2018. Other future skyscrapers are the 34-floor Shangri-La Phase 2 luxury hotel project (construction ongoing and scheduled to finish in 2015) and the 41-floor Mak Tower being built by South Korean “Lotte Construction and Engineering”.

Discover the best things to do in Tel Aviv, Israel

Discover the best things to do in Tel Aviv, Israel

Spend some time in ‘The Bubble’ and discover the best things to do in Tel Aviv, including restaurants, bars, hotels and attractions.

With an influx of 2.5 million international visitors every year, Tel Aviv is one of the most visited cities in the Middle East. A lively 24-hour carousel of activity, Israel’s second city – though many locals consider it the country’s first – has things to do for everyone.

With inbound Jewish influences from the East Coast of the United States to Ashkenazi Eastern Europe and the Mizrachi Yemen – and in recent decades, a large number from Russia – Tel Aviv is a cacophonous mixtape of heritage. As such it offers an exciting melting pot of cuisines, cultural traits, accents and worldviews. Palestinian and Arab influences are most evidently assimilated in what was once the sleepy port of Jaffa – the Arab town from which a Jewish suburb first relocated in 1909, before expanding into one of the most exciting metropolises on the Mediterranean.

In contrast to Israel’s capital, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv is avowedly a secular city. It is known for its 24-hour nightlife and is seen as licentious by many Israelis who live outside of ‘The Bubble’, as proud hedonist Tel Avivim refer to their town.

Discover the best things to do in Tel Aviv, Israel

Perched on the Mediterranean coast, and blessed with a strip of perfect white-sand beach that runs almost the length of the city itself, there are plenty of things to do by way of wild party nights and lazy, sunny afternoons. You’ll find an array of modern restaurants, clubs, cafés and bars dominating the blocks by the beach and the centre of town.

Taxis are relatively cheap but traffic periodically chokes the city and the best way to explore is usually on foot. This will give you more opportunities to mix with the Tel Aviv locals who are arguably one of the city’s greatest selling points.

Museums and Attractions

When travelling through Israel’s cultural capital, the journey can be as invigorating as the destination. One place to make sure to explore is White City, home to 4,000 Bauhaus buildings built in the 1930s. The largest collection of such architecture in the world, the area is so unique that it has been placed under UN preservation – sign up for a guided tour from the local Bauhaus Center.

Another area to visit is the port town area of Jaffa, which is home to many Israeli artists and dozens of contemporary art galleries. Keep your eyes peeled for converted warehouses, which host performances and installations that rival any on the international stage.

It is impossible to miss the city’s abundance of incredible street art. Make sure to stroll down Allenby Street or Rothschild Boulevard to take in the stunning graffiti. For a different kind of wall art head to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art where you will be greeted by two giant Roy Lichtenstein panels in the entrance foyer. The museum’s permanent collection includes everything from Old Masters to Israeli art and ranges in specialism from architecture and sculpture to photography.

Finally, be sure to wander around the Suzanne Dellal Center, a must see for any culture junkie. The dance complex was established in 1989 and continues to be host many of Israel’s greatest social and cultural voices.

Museums and Attractions Details

Bauhaus Center 99 Dizengoff Street. +972 3 522 02 49.
Tel Aviv Musuem of Art 27 Shaul Hamelech Boulevard. +972 3 607 70 20.
Suzanne Dellal Center 6 Yechieli Street. +972 3 510 56 56.

Welcome to St Petersburg, former Leningrad in Russia

Welcome to St Petersburg, former Leningrad in Russia

Discover local recommendations for the best things to do in St Petersburg – for the perfect break in Russia’s second city.

Russia’s northernmost city has existed under several names – it became Petrograd in 1914 (to appear less German) and Leningrad in 1924 to honour the Soviet leader and once more became St Petersburg in 1991. Most of the five million locals, however, lovingly refer to it simply as Peter.

Russia’s second city proudly wears the remnants of its turbulent history on its sleeve; the Aurora battleship that signalled the start of the 1917 October Revolution floats poignantly on the Neva River, and Soviet emblems stand proudly from the pediments of grand 19thcentury palaces that now host vibrant and hedonistic fashion shows. Recently, local activists scuppered plans to erect a 400-meter tall Okhota Center skyscraper in place of an old Swedish-Russian fortress. However, while its inhabitants are keen to preserve Saint Petersburg’s heritage, the city continues to evolve.

Throughout the 1990s, St Petersburg was a truly European city, home to raucous parties in its historical buildings and abandoned prisons. And since the 2000s, the city has rapidly become a place of affluence and prosperity. Siberian oil, rising taxes and an influx of five million tourists per year has funded fresh waves of restoration, a new port on an artificial island and a 20-mile long dam across the Finland Gulf.

Welcome to St Petersburg, former Leningrad in Russia

In recent years a creative scene has blossomed around the city’s historical centre, bringing the pop-up galleries, art hubs and boutiques that are defining a new metropolitan style. The city’s nightlife has also flourished – Dumskaya Street is a bar hopper’s dream, with a small club on every doorstep, while Konushennaya square is home to clusters of trendy restaurants. Visitors to St Petersburg might expect its wealth of history, but are likely to be surprised to find a city in bloom where there many, many unforgettable things to do.

Museums and attractions

St Petersburg is home to an incredible number of museums – 182 in total. Some are enormous (like the Russian Museum), others are tiny (like the cosy Russian Vodka Museum), but regardless of scale it’s the State Hermitage that always has the longest queues.

The largest art museum in Russia, and one of the oldest museums in the world, the State Hermitage was founded in 1764 by Catherine The Great and now occupies six buildings and houses 350 exhibition halls. It is home to an astonishing three million pieces of art – ranging from the prehistoric and ancient Egyptian to Renaissance and Russian collections – and includes famous works by Degas, Renoir and Van Gogh.

Not far away stands the Russian Museum,which holds the largest collection of Russian art in the world and is home to the renowned Summer and Mikhajlovsky gardens. Tucked just behind the Russian Museum is the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, the eccentric architectural monument erected on the spot where Alexander II (the tsar who emancipated the serfs in Russia) was killed.

Welcome to St Petersburg, former Leningrad in Russia

For an insight into contemporary Russian art, check out the Loft Project ETAGI (once a five-storey bakery and one of the city’s original squats), which is a vast gallery space as well as a design attraction in its own right.

There is also the Erarta Museum, which opened in 2010 and now homes 2,300 works of contemporary art from more than 150 Russian artists, making it the largest private museum of its kind in Russia.

Ballet and dance

The spirit of the Soviet ballet lives on in the city of St Petersburg, and during the winter holidays you can watch a dozen different adaptations of Swan Lake. But until recently, the Mariinsky Theatre and the Alexandrinsky Theatre were the only companies to continuously breathe new life into their productions – even those (such as the Dyagilev plays or historical ballets) more hundred years old.

The Mikhajlovsky Theatre recently gained new management and has undergone an overhaul in attitude. An injection of funds has also meant that the theatre has gained Spanish contemporary ballet legend Juan Ignacio Duato Bárcia – aka Nacho Duato – as artistic director, which can only mean good things. The company has also already booked in a guest run from Chicago troupe, Hubbard Street Dance (known for their athletic mix of modern, jazz and ballet), which sets a high bar for the rest of the line-up.

Ballet and dance venue details

Alexandrinsky Theatre 6 Ostrovskogo Street. +7 812 380 8050.
Mariinsky Theatre 1 Teatralnaya Square. +7 812 326 4141.
Mikhajlovsky Theatre 1 Italjanskaya Street. +7 812 595 4305.

Black Box or History of Cold War in Berlin Wall

Black Box or History of Cold War in Berlin Wall

Information pavilion on the history of Checkpoint Charlie.

The 200 m² (2,150 ft²) of the Black Box at Checkpoint Charlie informs the public on the history of this most famous border crossing point. With the use of large-format photos and numerous media stations, not only the impact of the Berlin Wall on the history of Germany is illustrated, but also the entire international dimension of the division of both Germany and Europe will be made tangible.

The external design of the pavilion refers to the two Great Powers of those days, the Soviet Union and the USA. The black colour of the external façade stands for the Black Box – the recorder of events for posterity. The red colour of the column signifies the Soviet Union and the blue window the USA.

In 2015, it is intended to establish the Cold War Museum on this site.

A nice day in front of the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

A nice day in front of the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

While the only remaining city gate of Berlin formerly used to represent the separation of the city between East and West Berlin, since the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 the Brandenburg Gate has now come to symbolise German unity. In addition, this gate made of sandstone is one of the finest examples of German classicism.

Built according to the plans of Carl Gotthard Langhans from 1788 to 1791, the Brandenburg Gate is modelled on the Propylaeum of Athens’ Acropolis. On both sides, there are six Doric columns supporting the 11 meter-deep transverse beam, which divide the gate into five passages. In 1793, a quadriga designed by Johann Gottfried Schadow was placed on the gate, which points to the east in the direction of the city centre.

In light of a decision made by the Berlin Senate, since October 2002 the Brandenburg Gate has been closed for traffic, including buses and taxis.

Pariser Platz

The Pariser Platz in Berlin is considered as the city’s “best room” and indeed is also one of the most beautiful places in the capital. Around Pariser Platz, elegant town houses, embassies and the luxurious Adlon Hotel were built.

The Liebermann house and the Sommer house, recently constructed at the left and right side of the Brandenburg Gate, are meant to be conceived as twins, whose architecture is based on the historical models of the Prussian architect Friedrich August Stüler. The building of the Dresdner Bank follows the conventions of the architectural design of Pariser Platz, without degenerating into historicism.. The French Embassy and the Embassy of the United States are two additional prominent establishments to be found at this historical place.

Things to do in Asunción, Paraguay

Things to do in Asunción, Paraguay

Your insider’s guide to the best food, accommodation, sightseeing and nightlife in Paraguay’s beguiling capital.

Asunción is one of South America’s oldest cities, its poorest, yet also its safest. Having lost roughly 60% of its population in the Triple Alliance War of 1864-70 and suffered several oppressive dictatorships, landlocked Paraguay was left out of the tourist boom that took hold of neighbouring Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia towards the end of the last century. But the past decade has seen a stirring in the capital; world-class restaurants, contemporary bars and fashionable boutiques are popping up all over the city, alongside a vibrant cultural scene. In turn, this has brought new business and tourism, leading to further rejuvenation and a wealth of exciting things to do in Asunción – the ‘mother of cities’, according to its nickname.

The capital remains a city of crumbling colonial buildings and precarious public transport, and its basic infrastructure is still leagues behind that of Rio de Janeiro or Buenos Aires. English is spoken by few and traces of globalization are scarce (incidentally, Paraguay is one of the only South American countries to have kept a native tongue in current usage: Guarani). But this makes it the perfect place for those wishing to experience the antiquated charm of a little-known South American city. Give Asunción half a chance and it will reveal itself as a hidden gem of the sort that adventurous travellers yearn for. Although for how much longer remains to be seen…

Things to do in Asunción, Paraguay

Sights and attractions in Asunción

The best way to get to grips with Asunción’s historic downtown area, dotted with dilapidated pastel-coloured edifices, is by foot. Start your walk at the aptly named Plaza de la Democracia, a rallying spot for the younger generations in times of celebration and discontent.

It’s also home to the city’s most iconic building, the Panteón Nacional de los Héroes, whichhouses the remains of several former presidents and is dedicated to the war heroes of the country’s chequered past. The neighbouring Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción (Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption) attests to the city’s equally resilient Catholic foundation (you’ll notice many religious street and place names – not least the city’s itself).

A short walk away is the Palacio de los López (Presidential Palace), an arrestingly beautiful construction that serves as a reminder of the strong governmental presence in the country, while managing to look like an illustration from the pages of a fairy tale. For those interested in Paraguay’s political history, the nearby Casa de la Independencia Museum charts the country’s journey from colony to freedom and is a monument in its own right.

Things to do in Asunción, Paraguay

Around the corner, the rosy-hued El Cabildo (Cultural Center of the Republic) hosts exhibits on the country’s turbulent past; like the palace, it looks spectacular when lit up at night. Another must-visit is the Museo del Barro: founded to showcase Paraguay’s cultural diversity, it displays a huge array of art and artefacts, from indigenous craftware to contemporary paintings and political caricatures.

Asunción boasts jewels beyond conventional sightseeing. At the beating heart of the city is the Mercado 4, a market selling everything from homeware and clothes to animal hearts and medicinal herbs. Recently rejuvenated Loma San Jerónimo is the city’s oldest district, its brightly painted houses and artisan stalls reminiscent of La Boca in Buenos Aires. This quaint barrio comes alive on Sundays when street performers, market stalls and food stands conjure up a festival vibe.

It’s not all buildings and bustling squares. Asunción is well known for its green spaces: those after some respite from the midday heat should head to the Parque de la Salud or the Jardín Botánico y Zoológico, and settle in the shade of the mango trees and pink-blossomed lapachos (the national tree). Elsewhere, the Costanera has undergone huge redevelopment of late. This strip of beach by the Paraguay River was once heavily polluted and pretty seedy, but it’s now the perfect place for an early evening stroll. In the day, catch a short boat ride across the river to picturesque Chaco-í, a traditional Paraguayan village.

5 Common travel fears and how to overcome them

5 Common travel fears and how to overcome them

One of the most surprising reasons that people don’t travel isn’t a lack of money or time, it’s the fear and anxiety about all of the what-ifs? Even people who claim to have a strong desire to see the world have often never traveled more than a few states away from their homes because they just can’t seem to get over the idea that something bad will happen that will ruin their trip, or worse, put them in danger.

There are surely horror stories about terrible events happening to people traveling abroad in unfamiliar countries, but these are actually very rare events. You are statistically in more danger just driving to the grocery store in your home town. Read more to find out some of the most common travel anxieties, and how to overcome the fear of the unknown.

Going abroad is dangerous

Well, it can be, but so is getting in your car every day and fighting your way through rush hour traffic on the way to your mundane office job. You’re no more likely to encounter a dangerous situation abroad than you are staying right where you are, although how you deal with a crisis may need to be handled a bit differently.

Do a bit of research and educate yourself about the particular dangers at your destination, and take steps to avoid any known issues, like people that try to scam tourists. Get in touch with the local embassy when you arrive, and make sure you know who to call if you find yourself in need of assistance. Make sure you’ve researched the monetary system, so you know whether or not you’re getting a good deal when making a purchase. If you use common sense and plan ahead, there’s no more danger in traveling than there is in staying put.

I don’t speak the language

While it’s always intimidating to go to unfamiliar territory, going to a new place where you think you can’t communicate with the locals can be a terrifying prospect. English is becoming more and more common throughout the world, and most people in populated places will have a working knowledge of basic conversational phrases. People working specifically in tourism-related industries, such as hotels, airlines and tour guides will almost certainly have a higher level of English fluency.

Spend a few weeks prior to traveling learning some essential phrases, especially “please” and “thank you”. There are very few places in the world where you can travel that you will simply be unable to communicate, and as a novice traveler you should probably avoid venturing that far from populated cities. Begin your travel career in countries that are similar to your own. Enjoy European destinations or the UK. There is plenty to do without the inherent risks of culture shock or inadvertently offending the locals.

What if I get sick or hurt?

Most of the governments keep a travel advisory list for countries around the world. There you can find information about recommended vaccines, and what types of food and drink to avoid while traveling. Odds are if you do become ill, it will be a minor issue. For the record, diarrhea is the number one complaint of travelers. Make sure you bring some over the counter medications for common ailments and a small first aid kit, and you should be fine.

Prepare ahead of time and contact your insurance company about coverage for emergencies when you are abroad, as well as researching the hospital facilities available so that you can give some direction if you do wind up needing emergency medical care. In truth, most doctors and professional medical staff will likely be well versed in English no matter where you go, and there are good facilities that can be found even in the poorest of countries, as long as you know where to find them.

What if disaster strikes?

Disaster can mean many things to many people. Loss of identity papers, thieves, scam artists, terrorism, natural disasters, and the list goes on and on. This is where it’s important to remember that disaster can strike anywhere, even at home. You’re much more likely to have your credit card information stolen while sitting at your office than you are having your passport stolen while traveling.

If you’re truly concerned about violence or other political unrest, do your homework before you travel and avoid places with a higher risk. Stay in touch with family and friends, and have someone you trust back home keep some emergency funds for you – ready to wire to you instantly in the case of a theft or loss of critical documents. Again, remember that you can contact your embassy to assist you at any time when you are traveling abroad, but that incidents like these are truly very rare.

What if I get homesick?

It’s not really a “what-if?” It’s a what do I do when I get homesick?. It’s nearly impossible to make it through any journey without a longing to sleep in your own bed, or to curl up with your dog who is boarding at the vet’s office. Remember that it’s temporary and you’ll be home soon enough. Try to remember the reasons that you decided to take this journey, and consider the memories you’ve already made. Make appointments to regularly Skype with friends and family and stay in touch via social media. By the time you do return home, you’ll probably feel like it was over too soon, and wish you could have stayed longer.

If in the end you’re really unhappy, you can always cut your trip short and head home sooner, but you’ll probably find yourself wishing you hadn’t sometime in the future. Traveling is a wonderful way to bring excitement to your life, and once you get started you’ll most likely spend all of your free time looking forward to the next great adventure.

Feeling tropical in Costa Rica with beachs, adventure, hotels and food

Feeling tropical in Costa Rica with beachs, adventure, hotels and food

This small country is perhaps the best in Latin America for a tropical adventure, thanks to its misty jungles, incredible wildlife, active volcanoes and glorious deserted beaches.

The essential itinerary for Costa Rica was defined long ago: Manuel Antonio for the beach, Monteverde for cloud forest, Tortuguero for turtles, and Arenal volcano for outdoor adventure. Add in the area of sandy beachfront in Guanacaste that has also been set aside for large hotels and you have all the elements of most package tours to the country.

But the true beauty of Costa Rica lies in its smaller, emptier spaces. And though there is plenty of adventure on offer (when they say you can zipline from one end of the country to the other, they’re only half joking), it’s the V-formation of pelicans flying over your hammock, lightning over a silver sea, pink orchids against turquoise houses, a passing cowboy with silver stirrups, the white sand and deep blue sea that stay in the memory – along with the state of the roads.

Costa Rica has a mountainous spine, so crossing from Pacific to Caribbean coast takes forever. Resign yourself to loops in all directions out of the capital San José, which sits in the Central Valley, and remember that internal flights will save time and stress. What looks like a quick journey on a map will not be: the 65-mile drive from Arenal to Monteverde, say, can take six hours.

All prices are for the current high season (December-April) and include tax of 13%. In the low season, from May-November (less crowds, rainy mornings), there are substantial discounts if occupancy is low.

Feeling tropical in Costa Rica with beachs, adventure, hotels and food

San José, The Capital City

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the old capital has been left to rot while a replacement, made of condos and strip malls, is built around it. The gridlocked downtown blocks aren’t pretty, with their cracked pavements, stinking drains, seedy bars, pickpockets, rusting tin roofs and ocarina sellers. But old San José has its sights, from Museo de Jade (Plaza de la Democracía) and Museo del Oro (beneath Plaza de la Cultura), both with unrivalled but unsung pre-Colombian treasures, to the warren of the Mercado Central, and the pay-to-view grandeur of the Teatro Nacional.

Start at the city’s western edge with a visit to Museo de Arte Costarricense in the old air traffic control building of what used to be the airport, then head down Paseo Colon.

Where to stay

For San José’s airports and exits for Pacific highways, hotels in the western suburbs are best. For a quick stopover, white, clean, super-value Hotel Luisiana in Santa Ana (doubles from $62 room-only) is a good option, but for a treat try Xandari (doubles from $299), just 20 minutes from the international airport. This colourful gem, with thatched spa and pools in tranquil tropical gardens on the northern flanks of the Central Valley, offers spectacular views of the city. In San José itself, the boutique Hotel Grano de Oro (doubles from $186) is a luxurious, charming oasis filled with art and plants just off Paseo Colon.

Wealthy coffee barons built their homes in Barrio Amón, five blocks north of the Teatro Nacional. Hipster entrepreneurs have turned several of them into bars and restaurants. Try hole-in-the-wall Café Miel (Avenida 9, Calle 11 & 13) for great cake and coffee; atmospheric and arty Alma de Amón (Calle 5, Avenida 9 & 11) for cocktails, empanadas and ceviche; and coolly scruffy Stiefel Pub (near the INS building on Avenida 7) for lively crowds and craft beer. Near the top of Paseo Colon, stylish Aquí Es (Avenida 2 & Calle 38) has live jazz and big steaks.

Tiquicia (+506 2289 5839), above San Antonio de Escazú, offers city views and folk dancing. It’s cheesy and sentimental, but this is where Ticos go for a night of chicharrones (pork rinds), a casado of rice, steak and plantain, and loads of Nicaraguan Flor de Caña rum with Coke, limes and a bucket of ice.