Posts Tagged With: travel tips

Why Mexico Rocks!

 

We all know that Mexico doesn’t exactly have the best P.R. reputation at the present. Homicides, kidnappings, drug cartels, etc. And then, of course, we have the situation with Trump. It seems like Mexico is the last place anyone wants to visit. Over the Christmas holidays, I traveled through this amazing country, and I’m here to share with you why Mexico rocks and why you should consider a trip there.
Most of my countrymen – and other foreign nationals – prefer to stay at resorts on the coast, such as the Mayan Riviera, Puerto Vallarta, and Cabo San Lucas. Prior to my trip, I had only gone to Tijuana on a day trip from San Diego. I didn’t have the best impression from, and many Mexicans that I had met over the years told me Tijuana is not exactly authentic Mexico. So over two weeks, I traveled through southern Mexico, starting in Mexico City and finishing in Playa del Carmen. I hit hotspots such as Puebla, Oaxaca, Chiapas, and Campeche. It was fantastic! Even Mexico City etched a special place in my travel memories! I also felt as if I had experienced things that resort-goers rarely experience. Furthermore, I didn’t feel unsafe during my entire trip.

So, what makes Mexico so special?

1. A foodie’s paradise – tacos, tlayudas, mole, enchiladas, the freshest peppers and spices, the list goes on! Note: Mexican food here is not like those typical Tex-Mex restaurants; it’s a whole new ball game, and the food is much spicier. Still, you will not be disappointed with Mexican gastronomy. And if you are looking to up your cooking skills, this is the place to learn. When I was in Oaxaca, I came across a renowned chef, named Gerardo, and his cooking school La Cocina Oaxqueña. Not only did I learn some new skills, Gerardo was an amazing teacher and hospitable. He first takes you to a local market to buy the ingredients, and then brings you to his house to do all the cooking. Totally worth a day out of your time in Oaxaca!

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Typical tlayuda.

2. Civilizations past – you know them! The Aztecs, Olmecs, Mayans, etc. A visit to Mexico is a chance to step back and time and trace these Pre-Hispanic civilizations. When you’re in Mexico City, you will be in the old Tenochtitlan. This was what Mexico City was called prior to the Spaniards’ arrival. It was also the center of the Aztec Empire! It’s mind-blowing to know that you are in the land of some of the most interesting ancient civilizations!

3. Natural wonders – this is a piggyback to point number two. Chichen Itzá, Teotihuacan, Monte Albán, Palenque, etc. Some of these are considered to be the great wonders of the world. Another natural wonder is a cenote. Cenotes, which are scattered in the Yucatan Peninsula, are natural sinkholes in caves. They offer a natural dip in an underground lagoon, where the visitor is soon congregated by minnows and other small fish. I visited one near Merida, and it was definitely a trip highlight!

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Cenote

4. It won’t break your bank – Mexico is cheap compared to other places out there. You can easily have a plateful of tacos and a beer in a taqueria for six U.S. dollars. And Mexico is a great place to practice your bargaining skills when you visit the local markets. They are also optimal for authentic souvenirs. In short, a trip to Mexico will definitely be easy on your wallet!

5. Friendly locals – despite what you may have heard, Mexicans are really friendly, and they really want tourists to visit their country. They are fully aware of the negative narrative going around. I struck up interesting conversations with a few locals (it helped that I’m fluent in Spanish), and I found them to be helpful.

A few helpful tips to Mexican travel:
1. Brush up on your Spanish – this will make your trip more enjoyable, and it is a must if you visit Mexico City, or CDMX as it is colloquially referred to.
2. Include Mexico City – it’s not as bad as P.R. makes it look out to be. With great restaurants, and a chance to discover Aztec history, this city should not be excluded. It was my favorite place, and IMHO, no visit to the country would be complete without CDMX.

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Mexico City

3. Download Uber – taxi drivers have a negative reputation in CDMX, and Uber is a safer, more reliable way of getting around this colossal city. I used it to get to the city from the airport. Just know some basic Spanish, as most Uber drivers don’t speak English.
4. Invest in a money pouch/belt – do not carry your wallet in your back pocket for obvious reasons. It’s better to have your money and passport inconspicuously stored.
5. Buy a SIM card – don’t expect reliable WIFI here. A SIM card means you will always have reliable WIFI. They are inexpensive and the data included will last you your entire trip (just don’t stream videos).
6. Travel in an organized tour – not comfortable traveling alone? No problem. I advocate investing in an organized tour, such as G Adventures. This way, you will be traveling in numbers with someone who knows the country inside and out.

So, I hope you are now more convinced about Mexico. If you’re still not, that’s okay too. Happy traveling!

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How to Save Money While Traveling in Europe

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(Canal district, Amsterdam)

 

 

 

It’s that time of year when many European cities are teeming with tourists. Savoring the countless sights is rewarding, but the costs involved, not so. The plane ticket and hotels can pack a punch on your wallet alone. As well, the exchange rate with the euro is enough to make your head spin. How do you spend two weeks or more in this lovely continent without breaking the bank? It’s possible, believe me. I manage to save quite a bit every time I go there. Even the little things can save you big bucks.

Here are some tips to help you save money while traveling around Europe:

  1. Buy a tourist card. These cards, which can be purchased at European airports or official tourist offices, allow you to visit all the main attractions for free. When you buy them, they can be used for one, two or even three days. These cards start at 30 euro for one day and run up to 60 euro for three days (more or less). If you plan on visiting four major attractions, say London or Paris, it’s worth it to buy the card because you’ll pay one price for the card and be able to visit all the major attractions for free. I recently went to Dublin for three days and purchased a tourist card for one day’s use. As a result, I visited the Guinness Brewery, Dublin Writer’s Museum and the Jameson Distillery for one price. I would’ve spent more if I had paid separate admission to these places! Additionally, these cards entitle you to discounts at restaurants, bars/pubs and even free public transportation.
  2. Avoid eating lunches in restaurants. An alternative is buying food in local supermarkets. I usually eat a light meal at lunch, so a few rolls, an apple and a can of juice is all I need. And I usually never pay more than six euro. Many European supermarkets have hot counters, so you can buy a sausage roll or hot sandwich for half the price you would pay in a restaurant. However, if you happen to be going to Madrid, I would recommend a restaurant called, Museo del Jamón. You can get what is called a ‘Picnic Para Llevar’, which includes a sandwich, an apple/banana and a can of soda or beer all for 2 euro – you won’t do better than that for lunch in Madrid!
  3. Use public transport from the airport to the city center. Let’s take Madrid for example. A cab ride to the city center from the airport can cost up to 30 euro (cabs charge supplements for airport rides and luggage). If you took the metro or train, you would only pay up to 6 euro for that same journey. If you don’t have a lot of luggage, this is a better option and will save you a lot of money.
  4. Avoid restaurants and cafes in the touristy zones. You’ve heard about them from friends/family and read about them in tour books and websites. They are great for sightseeing, but best avoided for eating/drinking. Not only are they expensive, but they are catered to the tourists, which means you don’t get the authentic cuisine of the city you are in. Furthermore, you are more likely to get robbed because these zones are full of pickpockets and other thieves. The lesser known zones often have cheaper, and more authentic restaurants. Ask someone at your hotel or drop by the local tourist office for suggestions.

 

Hopefully this helps you better plan your trip, so you can enjoy Europe while saving money at the same time. Take it from someone who has spent more than a year living there.

Categories: My Travels | Tags: , , , ,

Tips for a great trip to Europe

 

Lisboa

 

Heading to Europe this summer? Ah the endless sites: Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, the Leaning Tower. And let’s not forget the countless art museums and gothic cathedrals. Then there’s riding on the gondolas in Venice, while being serenaded by that young man in the brim hat. The list goes on. Having lived in England and Spain myself, I’ve travelled around this wonderful continent. From Munich to Moscow; Barcelona to Belgrade. I could go on, but then you would likely get bored and skip reading. Europe is a grand place to see, but I’ve learned a thing or to about travelling there. Some the easy way and some…not so easy.

With all the excitement of looking forward to seeing new places and meeting new people, we often forget that we’re heading to a foreign land, where things are different from back home. There are many safety concerns there, which we don’t normally encounter at home. We also have to keep a few things in mind.

So whether it’s your first time in Europe, or a Euro veteran, try following these little tips:

  • learn some of the language (unless you’re only going to Britain and Ireland). Bring along a phrasebook, so that you’ll know the basics of the tongue of the place or places you’ll visit. I’ve found that the locals really appreciate it when you attempt to speak their language, even if it’s not great. Don’t assume that everyone speaks English in Europe, especially if you’re going to a small town.
  • Never pack everything in one back. Bring a money pouch, so you can store your passport, money and credit cards in. You can wear them around your neck or waist and are especially great when you’re travelling to Europe from home. My friend and I went to a restaurant in Barcelona, and while we were there her bag had been snatched. She had her passport, money and even her plane ticket in it. It was very difficult trying to get a new passport for her.
  • Make photocopies of your travel documents: passport, driver’s license etc. If you happen to have your passport stolen, having a photocopy makes replacing it at the embassy much easier.
  • Don’t stand out as a tourist. Many thieves can spot foreigners by the clothes they were. Most Europeans don’t wear baseball caps or flip-flops; they often dress as if they were going to a club. If you look more like a local, you’re less likely to not attract the attention of a thief
  • Remain alert in public places. Many thieves hang out in crowded markets, squares, subways, so be aware of your surroundings. Carry your backpack in front of you and never carry your wallet in your back pocket. Like I mentioned with my friend, if you eat a restaurant, keep your bags in between your legs. Better still, stick one leg through the strap. That way your stuff can’t be snatched without you seeing it.
  • Instead of eating all your meals at a restaurant, shop at a local grocery store or market. They are relatively cheap and you can experience some of the local food also.
  • Planning to visit the popular sites? Get out early, I’m talking between 8 and 9am. This is especially important if you’re going to London, Paris, Rome or Barcelona. I remember visiting Barcelona one weekend, and by 10am there was a mile-long lineup for everything!
  • Don’t pigeonhole things that are different. Yes, we live in a great country, and things are not quite the same in Europe. But just accept that. Many Europeans hate it when tourists criticize their lifestyle or economy. They also hate being reminded that they are in financial crisis. Remember, you’re a guest in their country.
  • Bring comfortable walking shoes; Europe is abound with cobblestone streets.
  • Take lots of pictures and enjoy every moment you’re there.

Wondering where to go in Europe? Here’s a list of my favorite cities:

  1. Madrid
  2. Dublin
  3. Lisbon
  4. Seville
  5. Munich

 

So I wish you happy travels. And one more thing: can you name the landmark in the above image and where it is?

 

 

 

 

 

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