Tag Archives: travel

Hostelling for Adults

It is rare to hear hostels referred to as youth hostels anymore as they’ve evolved and most tend to cater to a wide age range of budget travellers.  There are days I think I am too old to stay in a hostel and then I find one filled with community, good food, and good people and am reminded that they’re more than just a cheap place to crash.

Most hostels focus on bringing travellers together and have a variety of activities, events or amenities to accomplish this. They can have everything from karaoke to food tours to community meals. For the solo traveller, hostels are a fantastic way to meet other people and to get suggestions and tips on the area you’re travelling in, and in some cases to make lifelong friends from around the world. They’re typically in some of the best locations, central to many tourist activities where some of the most expensive hotels are located. For the person travelling for a longer period of time, hostels also typically include kitchen facilities which allow you to cook and store your own food, and their bars often offer amazing drink specials saving you even more money.

Tips:

– Do not book the cheapest hostel you see available. Read the reviews before deciding on a place to place to stay!

– I do not suggest anything larger than a 6 bed dorm, but preferably 4. Pay the extra money for the quiet and cleanliness. Trust me on this. I’d say 12 bed dorms should be reserved for prisons, but I think even prisoners deserve more quiet and privacy than these overcrowded dorms allow.

– Consider a private room in the hostel if your budget permits. You can take advantage of the facilities while maintaining your privacy, quiet, and cleanliness.

– If travelling with friends, a hostel may not be your cheapest option. In Amsterdam I was able to get a beautiful 4 star central hotel on Hotwire for less than the cost of 2 dorm beds. Barcelona had similar results. Don’t assume hostels are always cheap, especially in Europe.

– Make sure to inquire on things that are important to you before booking (hot showers, drinking water, wifi, clean washrooms absence of bed bugs are a few that I prefer)

– If any review reports bed bugs, no matter how outdated, avoid that hostel! The management may respond to the review stating the bed bugs have been eradicated but when you wake up covered in bites with a full bed bug waddling across your chest as occurred in Bocas Del Toro, Panama, you’ll wish you’d have trusted the reviews.

– Participate in the activities, beyond the drinking at the bar (but that is fun too). We had a lot more fun in the free salsa class than the trio of girls watching us with judgmental faces sitting st the bar in Holbox, Mexico.

free yoga at Poc-Na hostel in Isla Mujere

– Many hostels offer free accommodation in exchange for volunteering around the hostel. There is nothing that could have me clean hostel bathrooms on my holiday, but especially not for a $15/night dorm bed. Do the math on the value of this arrangement before signing up. As mentioned, hostels are great for community, but you may be better off meeting friends at the bar than cleaning their post bar vomit off the hostel toilet seats.

– And on that note… hostel bathrooms are the one main reason I don’t exclusively stay in hostels. I’m all for community, great locations, and saving money but shared bathrooms can get pretty disgusting, pretty fast which is why following my earlier tips (read reviews, as few beds as possible) will minimize the likelihood of contracting a new strain of Hepatitis or whatever else these places grow.

– Some hostels offer an ensuite option. Sharing a washroom with the 3 people in your dorm is a lot nicer than every person in the hallway. Take this option if it is available.

Hostel etiquette:

– Sex in the hostel dorm is a no no. This is why most offer a private room option.

– If you need to get up early, you get one chance with the alarm, no snoozing. Setting an alarm for 4:30 am and snoozing until 6 am is absolutely inappropriate

– If you are waking up early, have everything laid out and ready to go for a quiet and quick exit from the room. Do not turn on the lights while others are sleeping.

– Likewise if you are planning to come back from a late night. Have everything ready to go to bed and do not turn on the lights while others are sleeping.

– Clean up after yourself and be kind to the volunteers and staff who run the hostel. They do not get paid enough to be treated like service staff.

– Don’t steal food from others’ in the kitchen. Unless your phone gets wet and you need some rice for a quick dry out or if it is left in the free bin.

Holbox, Mexico

(Prices listed are in Mexican pesos as of February 2018)

Holbox is a small, car free, island that I suspect at one point used to be a pretty cool off the grid spot, but now is quite a tourist destination. This is for good reason. The long uncrowded white sand beaches into clear, calm, water are what you dream of when you think of Mexico. The laid back, barefoot, sandy road vibe suits anyone wanting a peaceful getaway. Despite the influx of tourists, Holbox has still maintained its small island charm, and you won’t find a McDonalds or Starbucks, Coco Bongos, or Senor Frogs on this island. There are also no all inclusive resorts and any nicer hotels with pools and oceanfront are still rather small and quaint.

Bus and ferry to Holbox:

Holbox is a little island just off the coast of Chiquila.

You do not need to book a private transfer service unless you want to spend the extra money. You will see signs everywhere promising direct shuttle services for $350/person. They might be a bit faster, but the long distances buses from the ADO stations in Cancun or Playa Del Carmen bring you directly to the ferry in Chiquila without transfers. It couldn’t be easier. Bus prices do vary depending on the time you catch your bus so have a look online for the most recent schedule and prices. We paid $270 on the 9:25 am, 2 hour & 15 minute bus from Playa Del Carmen ADO station to Chiquila (ouch! This was expensive!) and $130 from Chiquila to Cancun on the 7:45 am, 3 hour Oriente bus.

A couple tips: when catching the bus to Chiquila from the Playa Del Carmen station, we sat in the waiting area in front of a bus with a sign labelled “Chiquila” and about 4 minutes before departure we inquired why it wasn’t boarding and found out another bus (unlabelled) further down the terminal had already boarded for Chiquila.

On our way back from Holbox, our bus left about 7 or 8 minutes ahead of its scheduled 7:45 am departure so make sure you board early if possible.

The ferries leave every half hour alternating from two different companies – make sure you buy your ticket from the right company or you may end up waiting an extra half hour!

If there are 2 or more people in your group you can catch a private boat across instead of the ferry for the same price or less. I’m not sure how safe it is but people offered when we bought our ferry tickets and this might be a money saver for a group.

Budget accommodation in Holbox:

Accommodations are significantly more expensive than the mainland, especially when looking to book online in advance. There are some accommodations with minimal online presence or who show up as fully booked. We had booked our first night before we arrived but had no problem booking our second night somewhere else upon arrival for cheaper and nicer (hot showers!) than what was showing online as available. A few things considered extras you may want to inquire about when booking accommodation are: hot showers, air conditioning or fans, drinking water and wifi. Not all places offer these extras.

Transportation around Holbox:

There are no cars on the island. Most people get around by bicycle, obnoxiously loud scooter, or golf cart. There are golf cart taxis willing to take you anywhere but we opted to get around on foot.

Food and drinking in Holbox:

Eating is expensive in the main tourist area of town (relative to other parts of Mexico) but if you want local, cheap food ($15/taco) there is a row of food stands near the baseball diamond at Av Damero & Calle Tintorera. Before we discovered this, for our first meal on the island we went to the number one rated cheap eats place on Tripadvisor which was neither cheap, nor anywhere close to the best place we ate. We paid $150 for 3 mediocre tacos.

After dinner all the churro ($35) and crepe ($35-$50) carts come out. Holbox has a type of crepe that is hardened, rolled up, and filled with Nutella, cheese or jam. Definitely worth a try but I preferred the churros.

Grocery store selections are sparse, especially if you want fresh food. There are no major grocery stores on the island but quite a few smaller ones resembling a little more than a convenience store. We went to about 4 little grocery stores hunting for fruit before we found one selling two lonely bananas. Your best bet is the fruit stand near the baseball diamond. The fruit stand and most of the food stands near the baseball diamond are only open during the day so you’ll want to get there early and not count on them for dinner. One stand remained open for dinner and we found out why all the others were closed as we were eaten alive by sand flies while trying to enjoy our tacos and sopes.

Drinks at island bars are a bit pricey ($60-100/drink) but there are some happy hour spots. We went for a drink on the rooftop of Alma and although our $100 mojitos were pricey, the use of the rooftop pool with hammocks, and views of the beach made it worthwhile. We went on a Saturday afternoon when they had a party with a DJ. We didn’t stay until sunset but I imagine the views would have been on point from this spot!

Island Life in Holbox:

– The main attraction of Holbox is the beautiful beaches. There’s no shortage of hammocks or swings to relax on both on the beach and throughout town/in different accommodations. If you’ve come here to relax and do nothing, you’ve come to the right place. There are many other things to do if you’re looking for something more than working on your tan.

– Catch the sunrise on the south side of the island near the ferry terminal (easy to do if you’re catching an early ferry)

– The sunsets from the north side of the island are incredible. There are several beach or rooftop options to enjoy them from.

– For those perfect Instagram photos you can head east on the beach for the two sets of hammocks spelling Holbox (one is in front of the Alma rooftop bar) or for the swings and hammocks spelling Paradise, you can head west from town on the beach in front of Ensueno Holbox.

– The main square always has nightly entertainment showing. While we were there we saw movies playing, children dancing, and a puppet show.

– Live music. There are so many choices of small bars offering live music. You’ll hear it as you walk through the streets or you can stop and enjoy a local band over a drink.

– Although we didn’t participate in the tours, the main tour to do is the 3 islands tour ($350-$400) or kayaking tour ($650-700) which can be done at night to see the bioluminescence. Apparently these tours offer a chance to see flamingos, crocodiles and dolphins. For more adventurous people, kite surfing is also an option.

– Swimming with whale sharks is seasonal (May to September) so although you’ll see many signs for this, don’t get your hopes up if you go in the winter.

– You can volunteer to walk dogs with the Refugio Holbox every day from 9-11 am or 5-7 pm next to the softball stadium. We stopped by to do this but seemed to have missed them when we arrived at 10:30.

– This island has SO much yoga! There are multiple classes a day and you can find the up to date schedules for most of them at the.holboxeno.com. We did the rooftop sunset yoga at Tribu hostel which was fantastic as the sun was setting, but also because it was free with our accommodation. If you’re looking to do yoga, consider staying somewhere that offers free classes to guests rather than paying the $100-200/class.

– Tribu hostel also offered a free salsa class which we took part in. This is something that was open to the public in their bar. Keep an eye on the billboard out front to see options of other fun activities they host.

– To our disappointment, beach massages were quite a bit more expensive than in Playa Del Carmen or Puerto Morelos ($500+/hour) but you may enjoy the lack of beach vendors offering their goods or services in Holbox making it a lot more peaceful.

Considerations:

– Bring bug spray!

– Don’t litter. This beautiful island is covered with plastic and garbage which no doubt has an impact on the beautiful surrounding ocean. Bring a reusable water bottle, cut up the plastic rings if you do buy a 6 pack, and avoid straws and bags whenever possible.

– Don’t rely on wifi. Although most hotels and some restaurants offer wifi, it is slow and unreliable.

– Keep an eye on your stuff! The long distance buses are known to be targets for thieves. Keep your valuables on your lap, not in the overhead compartments or under your seat.

Backpacking Packing List – Essential Items for Your Travels

You can literally get away with travelling with just a passport and some cash in most cases, however if you’re looking to get off the beaten path, you may want to be a little more prepared in your packing.

A few other essential items:

  1. Bring 2 credit cards and 2 debit cards from different banks, keeping them in separate places. When your bank automatically freezes your account because of suspicious activity in Honduras, you’ll be glad you have another card and can pay the dive shop for your Open Water Course. This is also in case you are robbed – a sad reality of many backpacking adventures.
  2. Have a photo of your passport and flight information saved in your phone and backed up on Google Photos or the iCloud. It is also helpful to have a printed copy so you aren’t held up at the Panama/Costa Rica border when your phone dies and you don’t have proof of onward travel in order to enter Costa Rica because you were relying on keeping all your flight information in your phone.
  3. Local currency and a little bit of your own currency from home. Having a small amount of your own currency allows you to do a small exchange on that final day if you run out of money without paying the withdrawal fees on a bank withdrawal (the last thing you want to do is pay $5 in bank fees for a $5 final meal) but doesn’t require you to change money back and forth multiple times. There are a few (very few) places where travelling with US cash is helpful. If you are on the tourist trail, there should be plenty of currency exchange places happy to exchange your Canadian dollars for local currency in any amount.
  4. Drivers license. I like to empty my wallet and only bring the essential cards. Your drivers license should be considered an essential card to bring with you. Keep this separate from your passport (with your back up debit and credit card) as a back up form of ID should your passport end up travelling without you.
  5. Clean ziplock bags. You don’t know what you will need them for until you need them and are happy you brought them.
  6. A pen. It seems so simple! This is probably the number one thing I forget every single trip and am left bothering my neighbour on the plane to borrow theirs to complete my customs forms.
  7. Hand sanitizer, wipes, toilet paper. Not every country has a fully equipped bathroom like at home. You may find yourself squatting behind a Guatemalan bus station and grateful you brought your necessary items for this from home. Likewise, not every country sells the tampons you might be used to at home.
  8. Extra pair of shoes. I have learned this
    Walking back to Akbol Yoga Retreat in San Pedro, Belize

    lesson too many times while travelling and have left behind many broken soles. Thankfully a kind woman at a yoga retreat gave me her shoes (how yoga of her!) so I no longer had to walk around with a rope tying my flip flop together after a 2 mile walk back to the retreat centre. True story.

  9. Pills. pills. pills. I don’t recommend playing pharmacist when you travel, except when you have to. Due to some of the situations mentioned below, I literally travel with every single one of these pills, every single trip. I have only been hassled once for having them all in one massive pill bottle (Lithuania of all places) but if you have space, you should probably keep them in their labelled containers, especially any prescription medication.
      1. Melatonin. To help with sleep and jet lag
      2. An anti-histamine such as Benadryl. I didn’t know I had any food allergies and I didn’t know Benadryl isn’t an over the counter medication in every country until my throat was swelling up in Thailand and I wasn’t able to get Benadryl at any of the 3 pharmacies we tried. You also never know when you will wake up in a bush of poison ivy in the Amazon, 5 hours travel from the nearest pharmacy or doctor. True story.
      3. Antibiotics. This one is dicey, not all physicians will give you a prescription of antibiotics just in case but when you get a case of Bali belly, you’ll be happy you have them. Make sure to understand proper dosing for the specific conditions or ailments before just randomly popping pills.
      4. Probiotics. After not having a bowel
        If you are going to eat like this, pack probiotics. Carb loading before a night of drinking for New Years eve in Costa Rica.

        movement for over a week while sailing from Panama to Colombia, these are now essential. Because of the change in diet when travelling, you should just take these preventatively rather than waiting until you actually have an issue.

      5. Pain killers (Naproxen, Acetaminophen, Advil, whatever you like) – whatever you use at home, bring it with you for headaches and minor ailments.
      6. Pepto-Bismol Pills. Because the liquid would be messy to backpack around and when you’re lying on the floor of your AirBnB in Hollywood, the last thing you want to do is run out to the nearest CVS to buy some.
      7. Gravol or another anti-nausea pill. I learned why the boat from La Ceiba to Roatan is nicknamed “the vomit comet” and wish I had taken the Gravol at least 30 minutes prior to departure (there is no point taking it after you start barfing as I did).
      8. Anti diarrhea medicine. No explanation needed. We have all been there.
      9. Cold & Flu medicine – day time and night time. Because when you are kayaking with seals in New Zealand, it confuses the other kayakers when you sound like a barking seal due to the bronchitis you are fighting.
      10. Vitamins. Because there isn’t a lot of nutrition in beer and the other things we tend to consume on vacation.

If you are going to be travelling or backpacking around, it is important to keep things compact. I’ve seen people with oversize suitcases trying to navigate cobblestone pedestrian only s   treets or water taxis while I walk by with ease with my organized pack. It is painful to watch, and with some simple packing tips, you can avoid being that person.

Do this… a well packed bag in Nusa Lembongan, Bali

 

The key to packing is to ensure everything you bring will be used, and is an essential item. When you’re travelling around for a month or two on trains, planes and automobiles, you are going to regret bringing those 12 different travel books stuffed between your damp, oversize, cotton, Costco beach towel when you could have just uploaded them onto your ereader nestled in your dry, compact travel towel.

Ciudad Perdida hike
Don’t do this… a stupidly packed plastic bag for a 4 day trek through the jungle to the lost city of Ciudad Perdida, Columbia

You can head out to Mountain Equipment Co-op and purchase the top of the line everything, but for the casual backpacker, Amazon is usually your best friend as it has great products (with reviews) for great prices.

    1. Battery pack. Since our phones are now also our cameras, music players, note pads, etc. a dying battery can cause stress. This is the battery pack I use. It is a bit bulky and heavy compared to some others, however the amount of charges I get out of it makes it worth it.

2. A compact quick dry towel. This can be used for showering if you stay places that don’t provide towels (hostels, campgrounds, etc) but can also be used as a beach towel, yoga mat, pillow, etc. Do not bring your fluffy large cotton towel from home. It will not dry when you pack up and will end up smelling moldy in your first day or two of travel. My favourite ones are from Amazon or Lululemon.

3. Tide Sink Laundry Packets. The inevitable will happen and before you are ready to do a full load of laundry, you will run out of clean socks or underwear. Or perhaps you will fall off a horse into a mud puddle in Ecuador on your first few days of a 3 week trip and will want to quickly wash the clothes you were wearing. These don’t take up much space and have saved me many times.

4. Dr. Bronner’s 18 in 1 pure castille soap. This can replace the tide sink packets and several other things as it has 18 uses. I can’t imagine travelling without this as I use it for a body wash, laundry soap and dish soap (I haven’t discovered the other 15 uses yet but I imagine they’re just as great!)

 

5. Ereader. I prefer reading books over an ereader however I do not prefer carrying books around so this is a compromise I make. I opted for the Kobo brand of ereader as it syncs with my local library. It is slow, has very few bells and whistles, but it allows me to store hundreds of books for those long plane and bus rides between destinations.

6. Earbuds. Not just for listening to music, but also for killing time on the plane as some airlines no longer provide headphones for the entertainment.

7. Lifeproof phone case. Drop proof, water proof, Dawn proof. I tried taking it snorkelling once without great results (difficult to  press button to take a photo when underwater) but I do feel safer about my phone getting tossed around in my bag when wrapped up in this case.

8. Travel Adapter. Not every country runs on the same voltage as we do and if you want to fry your brand new travel flat iron, you can try plugging it into a socket without an adapter, if the prongs seem to line up, but you’re better off using an adapter when you go somewhere outside of your home voltage.

I do get a super tiny (tiny) kickback from Amazon if you purchase these items through the links on this page but these are all products that I seriously recommend purchasing, and I have purchased myself through Amazon for my own travels. 

Yoga Abroad… To Retreat, or Not to Retreat?

Now that you’ve read my tips on booking flights and accommodations, you don’t need to feel restricted to the all inclusive yoga retreat packages you see advertised at your yoga studio because you’ll be able to find the best deals to book it all yourself in a more a la carte fashion.

A week retreat in Bali sounds amazing, but spending thousands of dollars to have someone organize your trip does not, nor does flying half way around the world to stick to someone else’s itinerary. I’ve been able to incorporate yoga into several of my trips for a fraction of the cost while maintaining the flexibility to tour around and enjoy other parts of the region.  That being said, if you like the idea of having someone else plan everything for you, stop reading now and go book that retreat you saw advertised at your yoga studio. For the rest of you, continue on…

If you’re like me, you enjoy a good early evening yoga class after your daytime activities followed by a night out at the bar so finding a class a day is plenty without having post meditation kale smoothies shoved down your throat all day (do people actually eat kale on vacation???)

Some of the most amazing yoga classes have been while on vacation. Don’t use travel as an excuse to take a vacation from your yoga practice.

Some of the places I’ve visited that I can personally recommend if you’re looking for a holiday with some yoga in it are:

Estudio Casa Del Sol, Montanita, Ecuador. If you’re keen to do a retreat, this would be my top recommendation. I opted to stay at the facility, taking advantage of the comfortable and simple accommodations, healthy breakfasts, beach access, and a couple yoga classes without fully committing to a retreat. I brokered my own surf lessons, meals in town, horseback riding to the jungle, etc. as I was looking to do things on my own schedule but if you want to explore this area, their retreats are a great value and include so much more than just yoga for the area. There is no better yogic teacher for living in the moment than Jackson the dog who stole my heart while I was there.

Ak’bol, San Pedro, Belize .  When you imagine what a yoga retreat should be, you likely picture  Ak’bol. Serene, simple, and nice accommodations on beautiful grounds, including a yoga platform under a thatched roof extending out on a dock into the ocean. Again, I didn’t sign up for a retreat but stayed in their accommodations and did a couple classes. If I’m being honest, I was more interested eating deep fried pickles while watching crocodiles swim around at the Lazy Croc BBQ restaurant (which is sadly no longer open) which is the joy of not signing up for the full retreat experience but just wanting to add a little Namaste to your day on vacation.
If you’re looking for a yoga retreat centre in Belize, definitely check out Ak;bol. However if you’re just wanting to do some classes and spend more time doing island activities, I would recommend the island of Caye Caulker over the busier, louder and larger San Pedro.

 RandOM yoga, Caye Caulker, Belize remains one of my top choices for a yoga class while on vacation. This entire island has that live in the moment, laid back yoga vibe going on, and there is no better way to end a perfect island day with a sunset class on a rooftop. 

Yoga Utila  in Honduras gave me one of the best yoga classes of all time. The classes here alternated between a top deck overlooking the bay, or a lower dock a bit further down the street. On one amazing day after going out diving all day and having the fortunate luck to snorkel with a whale shark, and then a pod of dolphins, I opted to end my day with a sunset yoga class. While watching the sunset from my triangle pose, I was able to watch a pod of dolphins playing in the bay. That moment right there sums up all the feelings of why I love travel.

OM Cashew Hill Puerto Viejo Costa Rica: I actually visited this before it moved to the new location. I imagine the passion of the owners carried over into its new space so will recommend it here. And I hope they brought the chocolate shop with the incredible drinking chocolate that used to be located below their studio with them to the new location!

Bocas Yoga in Bocas del Toro, Panama is an indoor studio which isn’t typically my preference when visiting a tropical country. However the quality of instructor is superior and they helped me finally master wheel pose (which I actually can no longer do… perhaps time for a return visit?)

The Yoga Barn, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia had a beautiful, green setting. I was only able to make it to one class which was a bit crowded. They utilized tennis balls and partners which I found to be interesting and a little fun. The entire town of Ubud is the type of place you go to connect, and this yoga studio is no different. I would have liked to explore some of the other options but I can definitely recommend the Yoga Barn as a good spot to start if you find yourself in Ubud.

I’ve done so many other yoga classes while travelling, these are just my top recommendations. To find others, I suggest doing a quick Google search with the name of the place you’re going + yoga.  Often these types of places have budget accommodations on site you can book into as with some of the above. There are also quite a few outdoor yoga classes listed on www.meetup.com. If you find yourself in a big city, the local Lululemon store will always have a free class each week with info on their website.  Through these simple online searches, I have found myself in downward dog outdoors in Balboa Park in San Diego, watching the sunset from a beach in Hawaii, and many other random spots around the globe.

When Fernweh hits… choosing a destination.

You’ve probably stumbled on this site because you have a slight case of the travel bug, wanderlust, fernweh or simply the desire to explore and see somewhere new.

Hopefully this site gives you some ideas of cool places to go but this particular article may give you some specific thoughts on choosing a destination.

Some of my trips have been a result of impulsive booking when a seat sale drops on www.yvrdeals.com. Turkey had never been near the top of my list to visit until there was an awesome seat sale and next thing you know I was hiking around the caves of Cappadocia and dancing in a hookah bar with locals in Istanbul.

Because I tend to focus on budget travel, I like to remain fairly open to where I’ll end up. For example, some friends and I knew we wanted to head to a beach destination for spring break 2018 but were pretty open minded. We checked who had decent weather and beaches this time of year, then checked flight prices for Central America, South East Asia and the Carribean, and landed on booking the Philippines as it fit our criteria for price, beaches, weather, and somewhere we had never been before.

Since not all destinations are created equally, and sitting on a beach in New Zealand can cost you significantly more money than a beach in the Philippines, you may also want to factor in cost once you arrive. The flight is just the beginning.

Once you’ve determined if budget, the weather, and activities align with what you’re looking for, you may want to do a Google Images search or Instagram #hashtag search to get an idea of what to expect before booking.  By looking up #philippines we were able to get an idea of which islands we wanted to visit based on user photos.

I wish I had more interesting tips to share or an algorithm to help you figure out the perfect destination and when, but for me, scrolling through Instagram has been inspiration for a large number of my trips.

If you are looking for more guidance on how to choose a destination, and even an algorithm to follow, I recommend Lonely Planet’s Where To Go When book.