Matthew Karsten has been traveling the world non-stop for the past four years, getting into as much adventure as he possibly can find. He likes to bring his readers along for the ride by sharing his photos, stories and tips.
Here’s a collection of my favorite photos from our safari trip in Tanzania. We managed to see all big five safari animals, hiked to a beautiful waterfall, and met with local tribes.
Last December Anna and I visited Tanzania for our honeymoon, heading out on safari with Soul Of Tanzania. We began our adventure from the town of Arusha, flying into the Serengeti in a small plane.
We spent a week bumping around on dusty read roads in a Land Rover exploring Africa’s Serengeti National Park, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Lake Manyara, and Lake Eyasi.
During the course of the trip we managed to locate all “Big Five” safari animals, journey through the savannah, into green forests, and past massive shallow lakes.
Tanzania’s wildlife and geography is as diverse as its people, and finally getting to visit the Serengeti itself was quite a treat, as it’s the world’s most famous National Park.
If you’ve ever dreamed about going on safari in Tanzania, these images should give you a glimpse of what the experience is like!
1: Lake Manyara Flamingos
Flamingos Take Flight Over Lake Manyara
Lake Manyara National Park lies on the edge of the Rift Valley, attracting thousands of pink flamingoes to its brackish waters. Surrounding the lake is a large grassy floodplain, and groundwater forests beyond that.
We stopped for lunch along some algae-streaked hot springs, with a boardwalk leading out over the lake. From there you could watch the huge flocks of flamingos stoop and graze in the water.
Occasionally, they’d all leap into the air and take flight together as a moving wall of pink and black feathers. It was quite a sight!
Did you know that flamingos are actually grey, and get their pink color from a diet of brine shrimp and blue-green algae? The alpha and beta carotenoids in the food they eat is what turns them pink.
2: Visiting The Maasai Mara
Sokoine Shows Us Around His Village
There are about 800,000 Maasai Mara living in Tanzania, many around the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. I’d always wanted to visit the Maasai, so we stopped by the village of Endyoi Nasiyi as we left the Serengeti.
Maintaining a traditional pastoral lifestyle has become increasingly difficult for the Maasai. With their cattle grazing lands diminishing, they’ve become dependent on purchasing food like sorghum, rice, potatoes and cabbage.
Tourist visits help provide the tribe with money to make these purchases. Each village (boma) has a few college-educated & English speaking members like Sokoine, who taught us about his culture.
These village trips can feel a little awkward, like everyone is putting on a show. And they are a bit. However it’s one of the only ways the Maasai can earn money while maintaining their traditional lifestyle.
3: Materuni Waterfall
Hiking to Materuni Waterfall
Outside the town of Moshi, along the slopes of Kilimanjaro, there’s a beautiful and imposing 150 meter high waterfall called Materuni located deep in the lush jungle.
Locals lead hikes to this magical place, usually in combination with a coffee tour. The waterfall hike takes about an hour. On the way we saw brightly colored chameleons and butterflies.
You can swim under these powerful falls — however be warned, the water is very cold! I jumped right in though, never one to turn down a refreshing wild-swim. It makes you feel alive!
After returning from Materuni waterfall, we learned how to make coffee from scratch with a group of Chagga boys, one of Tanzania’s largest ethnic groups.
We helped separate the husk from dried beans, roasted them on an open fire, and finally grinding into powder for brewing — all while singing to keep up a good rhythm. Probably the freshest cup of coffee I’ve ever tasted!
4: Kings Of Ngorongoro
Lions in Ngorongoro
One of the best places to see wildlife in Tanzania, aside from the Serengeti, is the Ngorongoro Crater. The crater is the result of a large volcano that exploded and collapsed into itself about two million years ago.
High crater walls protect a large variety of wildlife at the bottom, including a population of 70+ lions. Tanzania is actually home to about one third of the world’s remaining lions.
We got lucky stumbling onto a pride of 8 East African lions hanging out beside the road! We watched them from the top of our Land Rover — lounging in the sun, playing in the grass like big house cats.
Surprisingly a group of antelope was only 200 feet away, but it seemed these lions weren’t hungry. These were only a few of the lions we saw while visiting Tanzania, but were the closest.
5: Elephant Pool Party!
Elephants at the Four Seasons Pool
Because Anna and I were celebrating our honeymoon in Tanzania, we decided to stay in some nicer hotels. The one we were most looking forward to was The Four Seasons Serengeti. Why?
Well, apart from being a luxury safari lodge in the middle of the world’s most famous national park, the complex itself is almost always surrounded by animals!
You’ll see all kinds of wildlife during their game drives, but you might also spot waterbuck, monkeys, antelope, elephants, and even the occasional leopard while walking the property’s elevated walkways.
There’s a popular watering hole right beside the pool, which often attracts large groups of elephants passing by for a drink. Definitely one of the most unique hotel experiences we’ve ever had!
6: Africa’s Miniature Deer
A Cute Pair of Dik Diks
Standing just over a foot tall, the Dik Dik might just be the cutest safari animal you’ll find in Africa — and probably has the funniest name too. These tiny antelope have long noses and big doe-eyes too.
They travel in pairs instead of herds, and dik-diks mate for life. The males may have horns, but the females are larger and the ones in control of the relationship.
These guys are super fast! It was fun watching them dart off as our safari vehicle drove by. Dik-diks are gernally shy, hiding from others most of the time.
When startled, they take off in a series of zigzag leaps calling “zik-zik”, hence their funny name. They also mark territory using “tears” that come from that black spot in the corner of their eyes.
7: Lake Eyasi Sunset
Sunset over Tanzania’s Lake Eyasi
We spent a night along the shores of Lake Eyasi, a large salt lake in the fertile Great Rift Valley. Staying at Kisima Ngeda Tent Camp, it was possible to hike up to the cliffs overlooking the lake for a nice view of the region.
The landscape around Lake Eyasi feels very different than the hot, dry grasslands we’ve been traveling through up until that point. It’s wet and tropical, with large palm trees full of squawking birds.
Animal life isn’t as dense here, other than birds, but the reason most people visit is to meet with the local Hadza and Datoga tribes, curious to see their ancient hunting and blacksmithing abilities in person.
I climbed up to a high viewpoint in order to watch the sunset over the mostly-dry lake. During the wet season, it can actually get pretty deep and attracts groups of wading hippos cooling off in the salty water.
8: Hunting With The Hadzabe
Hadzabe Village near Lake Eyasi
The Hadza bushmen are one of the last true hunter-gatherer tribes left in the world. About 800 of them live semi-nomadically in the dry woodlands of remote Lake Eyasi — surviving on wild game, berries, and root vegetables.
We got up early one morning to visit a Hadza encampment, learn a little about their culture, and tagged along as they went hunting for small birds and antelope using hand-made bows and poison-tipped arrows.
The story of the Hadza is fascinating but sad. Basically their land has slowly been stripped away from them by commercial agriculture, the government, and wealthy Arab animal trophy hunters.
Their traditional way of life, which hadn’t changed much in thousands of years, is under threat. Like the Maasai, some have turned to tourism to support their families with limited other options available. Efforts to settle them in more modern farming communities have largely failed.
9: Dirty, Dirty Hippopotami
Africa’s Most Dangerous Animal
Anna’s favorite African animal is the hippo, so there was no way we were going to miss them on this trip! Luckily she got her fill of these massive dirty water pigs in the Serengeti and at Lake Manyara.
Ok, maybe they aren’t technically pigs. But they do have a habit of belching, snorting, and loudly shooting explosive diarrhea out their backsides… not MY favorite animal.
The hippopotamus is also Africa’s most dangerous animal, if you can believe that. They kill an estimated 500 people every year. They are extremely territorial, and much faster than they look!
I went kayaking with them in South Africa once, and it was a little unnerving to be so close. While it’s fun to watch them play in the water and splatter poo everywhere, you should always stay aware of your surroundings.
10: Leopards Of Tanzania
Baby Leopard Making Faces
The one animal I was most looking forward to seeing in Tanzania on safari was the leopard. Locating them can be a bit tricky sometimes, which is why it’s known as Africa’s most elusive big cat.
Luckily we were traveling through the Serengeti’s Seronera River Valley, one of the best places to find them in the wild. We eventually witnessed four different individuals perched in yellow-barked acacia trees.
However my favorite sighting was at Lake Manyara National Park while driving down one of the bumpy dirt roads. A baby leopard suddenly appeared just on the edge of the brush, about 50 feet away.
The cat briefly hesitated as we approached, then disappeared back into the trees. But not before I snapped the photo above. We continued searching for his mom, but never found her.
11: The Datoga Tribe
Narajah’s Beautiful Jewelry & Tattoos
Also living within the Rift Valley is the Datoga people. Originating from the Ethiopian highlands 3000 years ago, this ancient tribe moved South into what’s now Kenya and Tanzania.
The Datoga are expert blacksmiths — forging arrowheads, bracelets, and knives out of aluminum and brass over open fires. They trade these products with their Hadza neighbors in exchange for meat, honey, and animal hides.
We stopped in to visit with Narajah (pictured above) and learn a little bit more about her family and culture. Narajah is just one of her husband’s 7 wives. Each has her own house for raising their children.
Apparently Narajah’s husband gave her 10 cows as a marriage gift. When she asked Anna how many cows I offered, she wasn’t very impressed to learn all she got was a cat! Apparently I’m cheap…
A common body modification among women in the tribe is the tatooing of circular patterns around the eyes. It helps identify who belongs to a certain family and, to the Datoga ethnic group.
12: Magic Baobab Trees
Massive Baobab Tree
Finally! My first Baobab tree. I’d heard of these ancient giants for years, and didn’t even realize any grew in Tanzania. I thought the only place you could find them was Madagascar…
There are actually 8 species of baobab around the world. The largest is Adansonia digitata, which grows up to 30m tall in Tanzania. I think baobabs have to be the most iconic trees in Africa.
The trees vary in size depending on the season, as they can hold up to 100,000 liters of water within their trunks.
Hollowed out trunks of the baobab trees are often used as shelter by Hadza Bushmen, especially when it rains. Some trees can accommodate up to 30 people inside!
13: Angry Blue Monkeys
Blue Monkey Screaming in the Trees
Blue monkeys are not really blue, more of an olive or grey color. They live largely in the forest canopy, eating fruits, figs, insects, leaves, twigs, and flowers.
We came across a group in the trees on the edges of Lake Manyara National Park, calling out to each other. Some families can be composed of up to 40 individuals, mostly female, with one male leader of the group.
Other monkeys was saw on safari in Tanzania include vervet monkeys, baboons, and the black-and-white colobus.
Look at those teeth! I wouldn’t want to get too close — even if they do prefer eating fruit.
14: Buffalo VS. Land Rover
Buffalo Encounter at Lake Manyara
I love this shot at Lake Manyara. An old Cape Buffalo stands off against a Land Rover, each waiting for the other to make a move.
Buffalo are very successful in Africa because they aren’t picky eaters. We saw hundreds of them during a week of safari drives through Tanzania. Munching away at the grasses, or rolling around in the mud.
However they can become aggressive towards vehicles, charging them if they feel threatened. They have also been known to gore hunters (good for them!) after being wounded.
Buffalo herds stick together, and when attacked by predators, will sometimes return to save one of their own. They’re not afraid of fighting lions either, or killing lion cubs as a preventative measure!
15: Endangered Black Rhino
Lone Black Rhino in the Distance
The last of the big five animals we wanted to see in Tanzania was found in Ngorongoro Crater. The black rhinoceros is critically endangered, with only about 5500 left in the world.
Ngorongoro is home to about 26 of them, and because they are on top of everyone’s list to see, safari guides coordinate with each other over radio for news of recent sightings.
While we weren’t able to get very close (vehicles in the crater aren’t allowed to drive off-road), we did manage to spot a single rhino walking in the distance.
The poaching these animals for their horns is still a problem, however it’s been reduced over the past few years due to improved conservation efforts & security.
Tanzania Safari Travel Tips
The safari tour we booked was through Soul Of Tanzania. We had an amazing time! The jeeps are very comfortable with big windows, wifi, and plugs to charge your electronics.
Our guide Huruma was very friendly, knowledgeable, stopped frequently for photos, and was plenty cautious with the animals.
WHEN TO GO – Tanzania’s primary rainy season is during March, April and May. The famous Great Migration happens during the dry season, between July and early October. We were there in December, during the “mini” wet season. No matter when you go, you’ll see tons of animals.
COSTS – Going on safari in Tanzania isn’t cheap, however there are options for different budgets. National Park fees alone can cost $70 a day. While self-driving is technically possible, it’s incredibly complex to arrange, and often just expensive as a tour.
BUGS – Beware the Tsetse flies, they suck! Literally. These painful and annoying flies are attracted to dark colors – especially blue and black. This is the reason everyone on safari wears white or tan clothing!
PHOTOGRAPHY – If there’s one place where you’ll want to splurge on a zoom camera lens, it’s on safari in Africa. I’d recommend something at least 200mm, but 400mm is even better. I rented a huge 400mm lens from LensRentals.com (and highly recommend them). ★
Any questions about going on safari in Tanzania? Are you planning a trip? Drop me a message in the comments below!
It’s -16 degrees fahrenheit outside, and we’re pitching tents on a thick layer of hardened ice, preparing for a night of extreme cold weather conditions. Welcome to polar expedition training!
Twelve strangers from around the world traveled to Manitoba, Canada to spend a week camping and skiing across Lake Winnipeg, simulating the cold weather conditions of an expedition to the North Pole.
Leading our group is professional polar explorer and arctic guide Eric Larsen. Eric is no stranger to traveling in extreme winter conditions. He’s spent the past 20 years visiting some of the coldest places on earth.
In fact, he’s the only person to have trekked overland to the North Pole, the South Pole, and summited Mount Everest, unsupported, all in a single year!
Eric runs a Level 1 Polar Training Course in Canada to help prepare other adventurers for the unique challenges of camping and trekking in cold weather situations.
This year, Citizen Watches invited me to tag along and document the training, while also sharing some winter camping survival tips with you.
Ready to Tackle the Cold!
Eric Larsen’s Polar Training Class
Cold Weather Survival Tips
Who in their right mind would want to go hiking and camping in the ice and snow? Not many. However winter travel gives hardcore wilderness-lovers the challenge they crave, and a completely different outdoor experience.
Staying safe in these freezing conditions requires a bit more planning, and a unique set of survival skills.
If you do it right, like Eric does, you shouldn’t actually feel cold — the thing preventing most of us from enjoying winter adventures in the first place.
Being prepared for cold weather is the difference between a great trip, and a miserable one.
While I love a good winter hiking trip, I don’t have tons of winter camping expereince. So I was eager to learn how Eric stays warm on his epic long-distance polar adventures in the middle of nowhere.
Trekking Across the Ice
Layering Is Critical
What does layering mean? Basically, regulating your body’s temperature by adding or removing different layers of clothing.
Because while you don’t want to get cold, you also want to prevent getting so hot that you start sweating. Sweat sucks heat away from the body, eventually making you colder.
So staying warm requires a fine balancing act. This is why wearing multiple layers helps, as you can add or remove layers depending on your level of activity.
Eric recommends a 3-4 layer system, starting with a synthetic moisture-wicking base layer to draw sweat away from your body.
Next up is a warm insulating layer, preferably fleece. Now if it’s REALLY cold, you may want to add a 2nd, thicker base layer under the fleece.
Finally, a windproof, waterproof, and breathable shell jacket (like GoreTex) to protect against the outdoor elements.
On his extreme North & South Pole trips, he also brings an oversized expedition down jacket to throw on during breaks, because your body heat quickly drops once you stop moving.
Example of Cold Weather Footwear
Keep Your Feet Warm
If you’re trudging through ice and snow, you need to take care of your feet. The frozen ground will quickly suck heat away from them without proper insulation, risking frostbite on your toes.
It’s wise to wear a proper winter-rated boot. Something that includes a removable insulation layer if possible, which helps you dry them out later.
Don’t pick boots that fit too tight, as you’ll need room for at least 2 layers of socks. And tight fitting boots means less blood-flow to your toes.
Eric recommends wearing thin liner socks, followed by a thicker pair of wool ones. Plus a 2nd set for sleeping in while the others dry out.
In extreme temperatures, you can also wrap plastic bags on your bare feet, wearing socks over them. This “vapor barrier” traps in heat while also preventing your socks from getting soaked with sweat.
Clear Cold Night on Lake Winnipeg
Remember To Hydrate
It’s sometimes easy to forget drinking water is important in the cold, because we’re so used to feeling thirsty in hot weather. But staying well hydrated is an important part of any outdoor winter adventure.
Eric recommends taking a break every hour from your activity (hiking, skiing, etc.) for a drink. Make it a regular routine. Proper hydration maintains good blood flow and other bodily functions — helping you stay warm.
Filling a bottle up with hot water helps prevent it freezing, as does using an insulated container or cover of some kind. Drinking warm water keeps your body warm from the inside.
There are different types of cold too. For example, at the North Pole, the air is wet & humid (feels much colder). But Antarctica is basically a dry desert — so staying hydrated in that environment is more difficult.
Time for Adventure!
Stay On Schedule
In cold winter camping situations, setting up and taking down your campsite takes longer than it does in the summer. It’s important to stay aware of what time it is.
For example, stopping early enough to prepare camp before the sun goes down. Timing regular snack and soup breaks to keep you warm during the day. But not too long — or you’ll quickly get cold standing around.
Not only does the watch hold up to the extreme -40 F temperatures found at the North Pole, it’s also powered by the sun, which means you never have to worry about dead batteries.
The Altichron features an integrated compass and altimeter too. Having backups of these adventure tools on your wrist, in something that won’t run out of battery power in cold weather, is handy for peace of mind.
Fur Ruff, Goggles, and a Nose Break
Head & Neck Protection
There are many blood vessels near the skin’s surface on your head and neck. Exposing them to cold weather cools your blood down quickly, which then flows into the rest of your body lowering overall temperature.
Obviously a good winter hat that covers your ears is required. Fur lined hats or jacket hoods with a fur ruff work especially well, which is why they’re common in places like Siberia and Alaska.
Another piece of gear Eric recommended is a simple balaclava ski mask that only exposes part of the face. He also hand-sews his own
Stretching a buff over everything holds your head warmth system together, in addition to providing yet another layer of protection. Remember, layers!
If it’s going to be windy, winter goggles and a face mask or homemade “nose break” will protect the last of your exposed skin while still allowing you to breathe freely.
Camping in the Snow
Winter Shelter Systems
You wouldn’t think the thin nylon walls of a tent would protect you much outside in the winter, but it can. In fact, even a shelter made of snow can keep you alive!
When choosing a shelter for survival in cold temperatures, pick a 4 seasons rated tent. A tent that’s specifically made for camping in the Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter.
Four season tents have less mesh netting than 3 season tents, meaning they hold heat in better. Winter tents also come with larger vestibule areas where you can keep snow-covered boots and outerwear, outside.
Tramp down the snow to create a firm & level base for setting up your tent. Place the tent door perpendicular to the wind. Pile snow onto the bottom outside edges as an additional wind barrier.
Snow is a great insulator! So if you ever find yourself stuck in the wilderness without a tent, building an emergency snow-cave shelter may help you survive the night.
Re-Fueling With a Hot Meal
Fuel Your Body
On Eric’s two month long ski expeditions to the Earth’s poles, the weight of his sled full of supplies can top 300 pounds. So maximizing food calories while also minimizing weight is essential.
To be as efficient as possible, he prefers to remove meals from their original fancy packaging, using thin plastic bags instead. He also packs each day’s meals together for easy & quick access.
Choose foods that can be eaten cold or require very little prep time. Granola. Salami. Cheese. Trail mix.
Eating food is like putting fuel on a fire. Your metabolism kicks into action to digest it, heating up your core body temperature and radiating outwards through the bloodstream.
Instant soup is also a regular staple of Eric’s arctic diet. He prepares it in the morning, storing in an insulated flask for later. Eating hot soup is wonderful for emotional support, hydration, and warmth.
My Polar Training Tent Crew
Sleeping In The Cold
You are not going to have a great time on your cold weather adventure if you can’t recharge with a good night’s sleep! That’s why it’s so important to pack a warm & comfortable sleep system.
You lose way more heat from the ground through conduction than you do from the air. So during our training we used two sleeping pads — at least one made of closed-cell foam, the other can be an insulated inflatable type.
To stay warm in -16 degree F temperatures, I used a 0F/-18C down sleeping bag that cinched up close to my face keeping the heat inside, as well as a 20F bag over that. This way if any frost builds up inside the tent, it doesn’t penetrate into your main bag.
Before going to bed, we also filled a Nalgene bottle with boiling water and placed it inside our sleeping bags. This makeshift hot-water bottle will radiate heat for about 5 hours of bliss.
Winter Stove Training
Frostbite & Hypothermia
The dangers of cold weather travel are real, and include frostbite and hypothermia. So I wanted talk a bit about how to identify and treat these conditions.
Frostbite is when your skin falls below the freezing point, causing ice crystals to form in your cells, killing them. Your skin will change color to red, then white, and if it’s really bad, black.
It’s very important to warm your skin gradually. Sticking your fingers or toes into hot water can make it worse! Instead, try your armpits. Or soaking in luke-warm water.
Hypothermia is when your body loses more heat than it produces, and your core body temperature drops. Symptoms include slurred speech, loss of coordination, uncontrollable shivering, and mental confusion.
To treat hypothermia, it’s important to remove wet clothing and put on dry stuff, get into a sleeping bag, break out the emergency space blanket, start a fire, etc. Warm up as soon as possible.
Eric believes in the importance of being “selfish” during cold-weather adventures. In order for the whole team to function, each member needs to pay attention to their own health & comfort.
So if you’re feeling a bit cold, it’s ok to stop the group and put on another layer — before it turns into more serious problems that will affect everyone later (like caring for frostbite or hypothermia).
Skiing Over the Ice
Emergency Cold Weather Gear
Maybe you aren’t planning a trek to the North Pole. Or even spending one night winter camping. But on regular winter day hikes or car trips, you should still have some basic cold weather emergency gear with you:
Fire-starting kit with waterproof matches & lighter
3/4 piece of closed-cell foam pad insulation
Emergency bivy bag and space blanket
Spare hat & gloves
Extra fleece mid-layer
Chemical hand-warmers/heat packs
Your chances of surviving the night outside in the cold without these essentials drops significantly, so it’s wise to pack them with you just in case.
Maybe you get injured. Maybe the weather changes. Maybe you get lost. Maybe your car breaks down.
No one ever plans on getting into trouble. It just happens!
North Pole: The Last Degree
Trekking around Manitoba’s frozen Lake Winnipeg and learning polar expedition skills from Eric stoked my enthusiasm for future cold-weather adventures. His advice has really helped me become better prepared.
Many of my fellow students are planning expeditions of their own to the North Pole, South Pole, or crossing Greenland’s ice cap! Hanging out with them was pretty inspiring.
Right now Eric is leading his next Arctic expedition, a North Pole Last Degree trip.
This means participants fly up to the 89th parallel and then proceed to ski the last 60 nautical miles to the Geographic North Pole. It takes about 12 days.
I’ve wanted to visit the Big Island of Hawaii for years, mainly because of the Kilauea volcano. But there’s so many other cool things to do on Hawai’i! Here are some of my favorites.
Did you know I once lived in Hawaii? On the island of Oahu, for a year back in college. Oahu is the most popular and busiest Hawaiian island, but The Big Island of Hawai’i is the largest, and incredibly it’s still growing!
When I lived on Oahu, I was a broke college student who couldn’t afford to visit the other Hawaiian islands…
However after my recent trip to the Big Island, I can’t believe how much I was missing!
With so many adventure activities, a laid-back attitude, and far fewer people, it really demonstrated how different the Hawaiian islands can be.
Planning a trip to the Big Island? Here are some of the best things to do!
View Overlooking Kona from Holualoa Inn
Best Of The Big Island!
Because the Big Island is, well, so big (4,028 square miles, a bit smaller than Connecticut) — driving around it takes a long time. You won’t be able to do everything unless you stay a while.
I’d recommend visiting for at least 4-5 days, however a full week should let you experience the best of what this beautiful Hawaiian island has to offer.
While the Big Island has some nice beaches, it’s really not a typical “beach” destination like Oahu is. Most people travel to the Big Island for the many volcanoes — both active and dormant.
You can find stunning beaches all over the world, but visiting an actual erupting volcano is much more unique!
I think another highlight of the Big Island is fewer tourists, and a laid-back country vibe — making it a great place to relax if that’s what you’re after.
Crater Rim Drive – Driving your car along this route is the easiest way to see the park, it’s an 11 mile route full of scenic overlooks and interesting stops.
Jaggar Museum – A museum on volcanology with displays of equipment used by scientists to study the volcano. Also one of the best views of Halemaumau Crater!
Thurston Lava Tubes – A cool lava tube/tunnel you can explore after a 20 minute walk through a tree fern forest.
Kīlauea Iki Trail – This 4 mile (6.4km) loop trail takes you into a former lava lake that erupted with 1900 foot tall fountains of lava back in 1959.
Red Hot Magma!
Where To See Lava Flows?
If you drive up to Jagger Museum at Halemaʻumaʻu Crater, you might catch a glimpse of lava bubbling in the distance. But nighttime is the best time to visit, as the whole crater glows with red light.
To see lava up close, you’ll need to visit the Kalapana Lava Viewing Area, an hour long drive away from the National Park entrance (and closer to the town of Hilo). After the road ends, it’s another 3 miles by foot or rented bicycle.
To find the lava flow at Kalapana, you can either join a tour, or you can explore on your own like we did. The bike rental places will give you a basic map with instructions on how to find the lava.
The dark black sands of Punalu’u Beach is the result of the Big Island’s long history of volcanic eruptions. It formed over time as hot lava flowed into the ocean, exploding into tiny fragments and washing ashore.
The beach is home to endangered Hawksbill turtles and Hawaiian Green sea turtles that like to sunbathe on the warm black sand.
While it’s a wonderful spot to see these incredible creatures in person, just remember not to get too close.
There are rules in place to protect the turtles from human harassment.
Aside from checking out the turtles, Punalu’u is also good for swimming, snorkeling, walking, or even camping (with a permit).
Historic Kealakekua Bay
Anna Snorkeling the Bay
Kayak Kealakekua Bay
The water of Kealakekua Bay is crystal clear, and full of colorful fish and coral reefs. It’s also where Captain James Cook, the first Westerner to visit Hawaii, was killed in a skirmish with Native Hawaiians.
The bay is one of the best places to go snorkeling on the Big Island. Most people book snorkeling tours by boat, but for the more adventurous, you can also rent a kayak and explore on your own.
Anna & I rented a two-person kayak from Kona Boys and spent the morning swimming with tropical fish. Occasionally you can even find spinner dolphins and sea turtles!
Unfortunately we didn’t see any dolphins that day… but we heard they were spotted further down the coast.
On the East side of the bay you’ll find the ruins of a Hikiau heiau (sacred temple) dedicated to the Hawaiian fertility and music god Lono.
Watch the Sunset from Mauna Kea
Sunset On Mauna Kea Volcano
Did you know that it snows in Hawaii? And that Hawaii is actually home to the tallest mountain in the world? Well now you do!
Mauna Kea Volcano is Hawaii’s tallest mountain, at 13,796 feet (4205 meters). But most of the volcano is actually underwater. If measured from the sea floor, Mauna Kea towers 33,476 feet (10,204 meters).
That’s taller than Mount Everest!
At the summit of this long dormant volcano lies the Mauna Kea Observatory, a collection of 13 high-powered space telescopes.
Driving up to the observatory for sunset is a popular activity, and so is late-night stargazing. There are also a few short hikes around the top of the volcano. In the winter, the summit can be covered with snow.
Our Fun Cottage in Holualoa
Breakfast At Holualoa Inn
Unwind In Holualoa Town
Sitting along the fertile slopes of the Hualalai Volcano above Kailua-Kona lies the artist-friendly town of Holualoa, where we based ourselves on the western side of the Big Island.
Holualoa has tons of small-town charm, with a winding two-lane road lined with art galleries, coffee shops, and friendly locals. It was the perfect place to relax after our different adventures.
We stayed at the Holualoa Inn, in the heart of Kona Coffee Country. In fact, the inn grows its own coffee, fruits, vegetables, and collects eggs from a chicken coop out back.
When not off exploring the rest of the island, we were strolling through Holualoa Inn’s zen gardens, sunbathing by the pool, or getting a massage on our cottage’s lanai.
Hawaii’s Green Sand Beach
Papakolea Green Sand Beach
The Hawaiian islands are full of beautiful beaches, but one of the most peculiar is the green sand beach of Papakolea located on the South West coast of the Big Island.
This 49,000 year old cinder cone belonging to the Mauna Loa volcano contains billions of green crystals called olivines that give the beach its name.
Papakolea is a bit off the beaten track, and not easy to reach. The hike out is 5-miles (about two hours) round trip, so be prepared with plenty of water. There’s nowhere to hide from the sun either.
However this also means only the most adventurous souls make the trek — limiting the number of people out there.
Snorkeling with Manta Rays in Kona
Manta Rays Feeding at Night
Snorkel/Dive With Manta Rays
Just off the coast of Kona, groups of huge 20 foot (6 meter) wide manta rays soar through the water hunting for plankton to eat. It’s possible to jump in the water at night and watch them feed.
Our manta ray adventure began by chasing a stunning pink & orange sunset along the coastline on a sailing catamaran with Kona Style.
After the sun went down, we jumped into the ocean and grabbed onto a custom floating SUP board with hand holds. The board also has an ultraviolet light shinning down onto the ocean floor.
The light attracts millions of microscopic plankton, and the graceful manta rays swim under you to scoop them up in their massive mouths. It’s a magical experience! Scuba diving with the mantas is also possible.
Drinking Some Kona de Pele Coffee
Coffee Trees Growing in Kona
Coffee Tasting In Kona
You can’t leave the Big Island of Hawaii without getting your caffeine fix at one of the world’s most famous coffee towns. Kona’s rich volcanic soil helps produce smooth coffee with low acidity.
There are roughly 600 coffee farms in the Kona area, and many offer tours to the public, some are free! The most famous one is probably Greenwell Farms.
As a hardcore coffee lover, I was in heaven trying all the different types of Kona coffee around town. Make sure to bring some home too!
Akaka Falls State Park
Visit Akaka Waterfall
At a towering 442 feet tall, Akaka Falls is Hawaii’s largest waterfall. It’s located in Akaka Falls State Park, about 11 miles north from Hilo. Entry into the park costs only $5 per car.
The easy 0.4-mile loop hike takes you through a lush jungle filled with orchids, bamboo trees, and a stream-eroded gorge. You can complete the whole thing in about 30 minutes.
Along with the famous Akaka Waterfall, there’s a second “smaller” 100 foot waterfall called Kahuna Falls.
Akaka Waterfall can be viewed from several points along the trail through the park, but the best spot is from high above on the edge of the gorge. Late morning is a good time to visit so the sun will be shining on the falls.
Ki’i Statues at Puuhonua
Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Park
In ancient Hawaii, long before it became a state, local sacred laws or kapu governed every aspect of Hawaiian society. The penalty for breaking these laws was death…
But if the criminals managed to get themselves to a pu’uhonua, or place of refuge, they were absolved of their crimes and could return to normal life.
The Hale o Keawe temple located here contains the bones of chiefs that infuse the area with their mana (power). Dramatic looking wooden statues called Ki’i act as guardians to the bay and nearby temple.
Getting To The Big Island
There are two main airports on the Big Island of Hawaii. Kona International Airport (KOA) to the west, or Hilo International Airport (ITO) in the east.
You can try flying directly to these airports, or hop on a short 40 minute flight connecting from Honolulu.
We choose to visit the Big Island after our trip to Oahu, booking a one-way flight to Hilo, renting a car to drive around the island, ending in Kona, where we flew out from.
Generally Kona is the more popular destination/airport for travelers.
Our Holualoa Inn Cottage
Where To Stay
For most of our trip, we stayed at the beautiful Holualoa Inn outside Kona in the small village of Holualoa. It was the perfect place to relax after exploring the island all day.
Its position perched on the slope of the volcano gave us awesome views of the ocean and Kailua-Kona area down below, plus the gardens were full of birds and colorful green geckos.
They provided yoga classes, snorkeling equipment, as well as excellent food and coffee sourced from their own farm. The breakfasts were amazing!
More To See In Hawaii!
While we spent 5 days exploring different things to do on the Big Island, I really wish we’d stayed longer — at least 7. There was a lot more we didn’t get a chance to see!
For example, the Hawaiian cowboy countryside of the Kohala Coast and the thick tropical jungle and waterfalls of Waimea Canyon.
However I know we’ll be back one day, because the amazing Hawaiian Islands are one of my favorite travel destinations in the United States. ★
After traveling the world for the past 7 years, I’ve learned a lot about staying safe – sometimes the hard way. Here are my best travel safety tips for avoiding trouble on your next trip.
Nothing ruins an adventure quicker than getting scammed or robbed!
In Panama, some women distracted me while my laptop was stolen from my backpack. I figured it was gone forever, until incredibly, this happened 3 months later. I got lucky.
In Mexico, a pickpocket grabbed my iPhone as I was walking. I managed to get that back too, chasing the thief down the road screaming like a maniac and brandishing a bottle of tequila!
You don’t even need to travel internationally to have bad stuff happen. In Miami, my camera was stolen from the beach when I wasn’t paying attention.
After seven years of almost constant travel around the world, I’ve grown accustomed to deceitful taxi drivers, two-faced tour guides, insincere offers of help, and the occasional robbery or scam.
For the most part, the world is a pretty safe place for travelers. I don’t want to scare you too much! However it’s wise to be prepared for the worst.
With that in mind, here are my best travel safety tips to help minimize your chances of something bad happening to you or your belongings during your travels.
Useful Travel Safety Tips
Research Local Scams
1. Learn Common Travel Scams
Wherever you go in the world, you’ll always find people ready to trick you out of your hard-earned cash. If you’re lucky, they’ll be kinda obvious – but there are plenty of craftier, professional con-artists out there too.
Everyone thinks they’re too smart to be scammed — but it happens.
Here are some of the most common travel scams I’ve come across. I recommend you learn them all – then fire up the Google and do even more in-depth research into the worst scams happening at your specific destination.
For example, the milk scam in Cuba. Broken taxi meters in Costa Rica. Or the ring scam in Paris. Every country has its own special ones to watch out for!
Forewarned is forearmed, and this research can help defend you from being tricked out of hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars (while suffering the kind of frustration and misery that ruins a dream trip).
2. Write Down Emergency Info
If disaster strikes, you might not have time to search for numbers for local police or ambulance services, or directions to the nearest embassy for your country. You may also be too stressed and panicky to think straight.
Don’t put yourself in that position. Instead, record that information in advance, and create an “Emergency Plan” for you to follow if things go badly. Save it on your phone somewhere (I use the Evernote App).
I also recommend you write it down on a small card or sheet of paper, get it laminated (easily done at your local office supply store) to protect it from moisture, and keep it in your wallet/purse.
That way, if something goes wrong out there, you’ll always know exactly who to call and where to go for help.
3. Check The State Department Website
The U.S. Department of State has a page for every country in the world, where it lists all known difficulties and current threats to the safety of visitors. You can find it here.
However, a big caveat for this one: it’s the State Department’s job to warn you about everything that could go wrong, which is sometimes different to what is likely to go wrong.
This means their advice is generally on the hyper-cautious side. Factor that in, while you dig up more on-the-ground information.
But researching travel warnings will give you a general idea of what’s going on in the country you’re visiting, and specific problem areas you may want to avoid.
For example, just because certain parts of Thailand or Mexico have problems, doesn’t mean you should completely avoid those countries.
Lock Up Expensive Stuff
4: Lock Up Your Valuables
Putting aside the fact that traveling with anything super valuable is usually a bad idea, there will always be something you absolutely cannot afford to have stolen. I travel with a lot of expensive camera gear for example.
Your job is to minimize the easy opportunities for theft.
Firstly, know that most bags aren’t very secure. It’s easy to feel that a zipped, even locked bag is a sufficient deterrent to any thief, and doze off next to it. Waking up to find someone’s slashed a hole in the side!
Unless it’s a slash-proof backpack, the material can be cut or torn by anyone determined enough. Many zippers can be forced open with sharp objects like a writing pen.
Always be aware of your valuables, and try to keep an eye on them in such a way that it would be impossible for someone to steal without you knowing. I’ll use my backpack as a pillow on train/bus routes that have a reputation for theft, and will sometimes lock it to a seat using a thin cable like this.
Secondly, call your accommodation to ask about secure storage options like a room safe, lockers, or a locked storage area. Carry your own locker padlock when staying at backpacking hostels.
5: Get Travel Insurance
You never think you need it, until you do. If you’re really worried about the safety of yourself and your gear while you travel, you can almost completely relax if you have some good insurance.
People ask me all the time if I’m worried about traveling with an expensive computer and camera. I was, when I didn’t have insurance for them. Now that I do, I’m not worried. If stuff gets stolen, it will get replaced.
Everyone should carry some kind of health and property insurance when traveling. Why? Because shit happens. Whether you think it will or not. It doesn’t matter how careful you think you are.
My recommendation is World Nomads for short-term travel insurance (less than 6 months). They make it super easy to buy online. Just be aware that they have “per item” limits on coverage of $500. So it’s not going to cover a whole $3000 camera.
If you’re going to be traveling for a long time, there are good long-term options like a mixture of expat health insurance from IMG Global and photography/computer insurance from TCP Photography Insurance.
If you really want to know which neighborhoods are safe and which might be sketchy, ask a local resident of the area.
Most locals are friendly, and will warn you about straying into dangerous areas. On the other hand, if a stranger offers up advice, it’s also wise to get a second opinion – just in case they don’t really know what they’re talking about but simply wanted to help (or worse, are trying to scam you).
Taxi drivers can be hit or miss in this regard. Some can be excellent sources for good information, others are miserable assholes who might actually lead you into trouble.
I’ve found that hostel or hotel front desk workers are generally pretty good sources for local advice.
Don’t be afraid to ask them which parts of the city to avoid, how much taxi fares should cost, and where to find a great place to eat!
7: Register With Your Embassy
The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, from the U.S. Department of State, is designed to make a destination’s local embassy aware of your arrival and keep you constantly updated with the latest safety information.
It’s free, it’s available for all U.S. citizens and nationals living abroad, and it’s a great way to get reliable, up to date safety information as you travel, along with an extra level of security in case of emergencies.
That way if an emergency happens, like a natural disaster or terrorist attack, the local embassy can get a hold of you quickly to share important information or help with evacuation.
Mom, I’m Camping on a Volcano…
8: Email Your Itinerary To Friends/Family
Once you’ve worked out where you’re going and when, make sure someone else knows too.
The best way is to email the full itinerary to a few family members (and double-check with them that they received it – don’t just assume it landed in their Inbox, make sure it did). Then, if you can, check in from time to time.
Before I travel anywhere, I make sure my parents know where I’m going, what my general plans are, and when I should be back.
That way, if they don’t hear from me for a few days after I’m supposed to return, they can help notify the proper local authorities, the embassy, etc.
9: Don’t Share Too Much With Strangers
If you’re ever tempted to make your itinerary more public, say in a Facebook post, just remember it can be a roadmap of your movements – just the sort of thing someone with ill-intentions would love to know.
I also don’t recommend sharing too many details about your travel plans or accommodation details with people you’ve just met. For example, don’t tell a local shop owner or street tout where you’re staying when asked.
If someone does ask, rather than be rude, you can be vague about an area of town rather than the name of your hotel. Or lie and name a hotel you’re not actually staying at.
Sometimes people will ask if it’s your first time visiting their country or city. If you don’t trust them yet, you can pretend it isn’t your first trip. Because sharing that you’re new might also signal you’re a good target for scams.
When feeling vulnerable in a strange place, little white lies won’t hurt.
Anna Trying the Traditional Omani Abaya
10: Be Aware Of Your Clothing
When it comes to travel, the wrong clothes scream “TOURIST” and make you a target for scammers, thieves and worse. The less obviously a visitor you look, the less attention you’ll get from the wrong kind of people.
Wearing the right clothes is a sign of respect. Many Islamic countries have specific dress code guidelines that are often strictly enforced – and other destinations have laws that may catch you out (for example, walking topless through the streets of Barcelona is illegal for both sexes).
However, it’s possible to stay within the law and still offend locals with what you’re wearing – generating a lot of hostility towards you in the process. Ignoring local customs can come across as both arrogant and ignorant.
In conservative countries, it’s just safer to dress more conservatively yourself. Obviously as a foreigner you’re still going to stand out a bit, but much less than those who ignore the local customs.
Start by checking out Wikipedia’s general advice on clothing laws by country – and then narrow down your research until you find someone giving advice you can trust, ideally a resident or expat turned local.
11: Splurge On Extra Safety
If you’re traveling as a budget backpacker, like I was, it can be tempting to save as much money as possible with the cheapest accommodation, the cheapest flights, the cheapest activities.
But it’s important to know that this isn’t always the safest way to travel.
Ultra cheap backpacker hostels aren’t always the safest places. I’ve stayed in some without locks on the doors, that felt like make-shift homeless shelters for drug addicts and other seedy people.
Budget flights can often arrive in the middle of the night — usually not the best time to be hailing down a cab in a dangerous city and hoping the driver doesn’t abduct you.
Sometimes it’s worth the extra few bucks to splurge on a slightly better hostel, a more convenient flight, a taxi home from the bar, or a tour operator with a strong safety record.
12: Stay “Tethered” To Your Bag
Most quick snatch-and-run type robberies happen because the thief can do it easily, and has time to get away. Therefore, anything that slows them down will help prevent it in the first place.
If you can keep your bag tethered to something immovable at all times, and do so in a really obvious way, thieves will consider it way too risky a job – and leave you alone.
A simple and effective method is to use a carabiner clip. Even a regular strap around your leg or chair.
It doesn’t need to be secured with a steel cable and padlock all the time, just attached to something that will make a snatch-and-run attempt too difficult.
Learning to Box in Johannesburg
13: Learn Basic Self-Defense
You don’t need black-belt skills, but joining a few self defense classes is a worthwhile investment in your personal safety. Some good street-effective styles to consider are Krav Maga or Muay Thai.
Next, learn WHEN to apply it. Just because you can kick someone’s ass, doesn’t mean you should in all situations. In the words of author Sam Harris:
“Do whatever you can to avoid a physical confrontation, but the moment avoidance fails, attack explosively for the purposes of escape.”
A great way to neutralize a threat is to get yourself as far away as physically possible. If someone with a gun or knife just wants your phone, give it to them, run away, and live another day.
Use force only when your life is threatened & there are absolutely no other options available.
Keep your head up, stay alert, and aware of you’re surroundings. When you’re confident, potential attackers can sense it through your body language and eye contact.
Most will choose to move on and find an easier victim to attack.
In many places, making direct eye contact with potential threats can help ward off an attack, ensuring they notice you see them and what they may be planning. Yet in other parts of the world, too much eye contact might invite trouble…
Generally you should stay aware of who is around you, walk with a purpose, and don’t look worried, lost, or scared (even if you feel that way) — but I’d also avoid staring contests with sketchy looking strangers.
Protecting Your Money
15: Tell Your Bank Where You’re Going
Imagine the agony of doing absolutely everything right and keeping yourself perfectly safe and secure – only to have your trip ruined because your bank thinks you’re the thief, and locks down all your cards.
If this happens and you’re lucky, you’ll be asked security questions to determine your identity. The rest of the time, you’ll get a notification from the bank’s fraud detection team that irregular activity has been recorded on your card, and they’ve put a hold on all transactions until the situation is resolved – which might take days.
The solution is simple. Most online banking services have a facility for letting the bank or credit card provider know about your upcoming travels. Make sure you use it, shortly before leaving – and keep them in the loop if your travel plans change.
I also recommend using your debit card at the airport ATM machine as soon as you arrive in a new country, as this also helps let the bank know you’re traveling.
While it’s good to do everything you can to prevent worst case scenarios – it’s equally smart to assume it’ll happen and plan ahead for it. This is the thinking behind having an emergency stash of funds, stored in a safe place.
How much emergency cash? This will be personal preference, but I usually prefer $200 spread out in 2 different places. Some hidden on me, some hidden in my bag. A hidden backup credit card is wise too.
Now if things got really dire, and everything’s gone, what then? You call up a friend or family member, and ask them to send you the emergency money you left with them before you went traveling, via a Western Union or Moneygram transfer.
Hopefully it will never come to that. But these things do happen occasionally, and it’s better to practice safe travel techniques than to remain ignorant about the possibility.
Staying Safe While You Eat
17: Food & Water Safety
After traveling extensively the last 7 years, to over 50 countries, eating all kinds of weird stuff, I’ve only had food poisoning a couple of times.
Don’t be scared of the food when you travel! In fact, eating strange new foods can be a highlight for many people on their adventures around the world.
I also recommend getting a filtered water bottle. In many modern cities around the world the water is safe to drink, but outside of those places it often isn’t.
Sure, you could keep buying bottled water everywhere you go, but that plastic waste is a huge environmental problem. Why not get one sturdy filtered bottle, and re-use it for years?
It pays for itself and saves the environment at the same time!
18: Use ATMs Wisely
You may have been told to cover your hand when keying in your PIN number at an ATM. That’s good advice worth following, both for others looking over your shoulder, as well as hidden cameras trying to record your pin.
Always take a close look at ATM machines before you use them. Pull on the card reader a bit. Does it have any questionable signs of tampering? If so, go into the bank and get someone to come out and check it (and then use another machine, regardless of what happens).
If an ATM machine appears to have eaten your card, run a finger along the card slot to see if you feel anything protruding. The “Lebanese Loop” is a trick where a thin plastic sleeve captures your card (preventing the machine from reading it) – then as soon as you walk away, a thief yanks it out and runs off with your card.
Another overlooked factor is where other people are when you’re at the machine. Can someone peer over your shoulder? Are they close enough they could grab the cash and run off?
If so, use another ATM elsewhere. Better safe than sorry! Never let anyone “help” you with your transaction either.
19: Stop Using Your Back Pocket
It’s the first place any pickpocket will check – and short of putting a loaded mousetrap in there (not recommended if you forget and sit down), the best way to deal with the dangers of having a back pocket is to never use it…
And if putting money in the back pocket of your pants is a habit you can’t seem to break, grab some needle and thread and sew it shut!
Your front pockets are a lot harder to steal from without being noticed.
If you’re REALLY worried, or plan to travel to a city where pickpockets run rampant, you can wear a money belt. I’m not a fan, but I know many who use them for peace of mind.
Travel with Friends
20: Travel In Numbers
The more people around you, the more eyeballs are on your valuables – and the more legs are available for running after thieves.
A group is also a much more intimidating physical presence, which helps ward off predators of all kinds. It will help to keep you safer than trying to go it alone in a foreign country.
If you’re traveling solo, consider making some new friends and go exploring together.
Staying at backpacker hostels is an excellent way to make some new friends. Often you’ll find other solo travelers there, who may want to do some of the same activities you want to.
If you’re looking to get away, unwind, and reconnect with nature, you really can’t beat a backcountry canoe trip into Minnesota’s pristine Boundary Waters Canoe Area.
With the wind at my back, I glided effortlessly over the cool lake water with every thrust of my paddle. The calming silence broken only by the lonely wail of a loon swimming close by…
My father & sister were slightly ahead of me, scouting for our first campsite. Our lightweight kevlar canoes loaded with enough food & gear to support us for 10 days in the wilderness.
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) is an outdoor lover’s paradise — encompassing over one million acres of North Woods backcountry and 1000+ scenic lakes.
Part of Superior National Forest, it hugs the border of Minnesota in the United States and Ontario in Canada. This is a summary of our first adventure canoeing the lakes of the BWCA, fishing for dinner, and camping in the forest.
I hope it inspires you to embark on your own journey into Minnesota’s Boundary Waters one day!
Me, my Sister, and Father
Canoeing the Lakes of BWCA
Boundary Waters History
Canoeing, camping, fishing, and hunting have been practiced in the Boundary Waters area for hundreds of years. The Ojibwe and Sioux indigenous tribes called these woods home, traveling the numerous lakes in birch-bark canoes.
Next came French fur trappers and the English-owned Hudson Bay Company, who made fortunes selling beaver pelts caught in the region. Eventually, in the 1900’s, the area became a popular recreation destination.
It’s one of America’s greatest land conservation success stories, and is enjoyed by over 200,000 visitors a year. However because it’s so large, the BWCA doesn’t feel as crowded as more popular National Parks.
In July of 2017, I drove up to Ely, Minnesota along with my father and sister to begin our first “epic” Boundary Waters adventure into the North Woods.
We’d been looking forward to it for months! A way to bring back childhood memories of canoeing & camping together in New England… some family bonding time.
It’s also healthy to simply take a break, immerse yourself in nature, and disconnect from the outside world. One of the best ways I’ve found to recharge your senses, de-stress, and gain some perspective on life!
After packing up our gear the night before at a rented cottage in Ely, we awoke before sunrise, strapped two canoes onto the car’s roof-rack, and drove towards Entry Point #23 at Mudro Lake to start our 10 day journey.
Our Boundary Waters Route:
(then back to Mudro the way we came)
Portage Trails in the Boundary Waters
Carrying the Canoes from Lake to Lake
Portaging Through The Forest
If you think a long-distance canoe trip is easy, I’ve got some news for you. While many of the lakes are next to each other, you still have to cross portions of land to get from one lake to another. This is called a “portage”.
Basically, you get out of your canoe, unload it, then take turns hiking the canoe and your gear through the woods to the next lake. Depending on how many people are in your group, and how much gear you have, it could take a couple trips back and forth to get everything over.
Some Boundary Waters portage trails are only 50 yards long. Others can be up to a mile long. And portage trails aren’t measured in meters or feet, but in “rods”. A rod is about 16.5 feet long, or the approximate length of a canoe.
Portaging can be a nice way to break up the trip — a chance to stretch your legs and give your arms a rest.
However if the trails are overgrown, steep, or muddy — or if you hit a series of small lakes with multiple portages over a short time, it gets tiring too.
Camping in my Hennessy Hammock
Sunset Over the Boundary Waters
The “Biffy”, or Campsite Toilet
Camping In The Wilderness
Each lake has a handful of designated campsites that are snatched up on a first-come, first-serve basis. They’re equipped with a fire-pit, metal cooking grill, and a biffy (open-air camp toilet).
If all the campsites are taken, you must continue on to the next lake and check there. True wild camping is not allowed in the Boundary Waters, unlike on the Canadian side (called Quetico Provincial Park).
Usually we’d pick a good campsite in the early afternoon, set up our tents and tarp, then go fishing nearby. Sometimes we’d stay in the same spot for 2 nights in a row — in order to relax between travel days.
Gathering firewood was a regular task, requiring us to jump into a canoe and seek out dead trees (white pine, cedar, jack pine) along the shoreline. We’d saw some limbs off, load the canoe, return to camp, and cut the wood into smaller pieces.
Lindsay Catching an 18″ Walleye
Frying Fresh Fish for Dinner
Fresh Water Fishing
Many people take canoe trips into the Boundary Waters for the amazing fishing found there. The fish are plentiful, and large! The most common types are walleye, smallmouth bass, northern pike, lake trout, brook trout, and crappie.
The pristine lakes offer plenty of opportunities for catching fish.
A Minnesota fishing license is required for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Licenses may be purchased online here or in person at many local businesses or canoe outfitters.
We caught a mixture of walleye and smallmouth bass using leeches as bait. My sister hooked a northern pike one afternoon, but unfortunately it snapped the line with its sharp teeth as she attempted to reel it in!
When fishing the BWCA, it’s important to only keep what you can reasonably eat. That said, we ate plenty of fresh fish for dinner during our journey. Often breaded & fried up with onion, lemon, beans and rice! Yum.
Early Morning Moose Sighting
Swimming Garter Snake!
One morning, on Gull Lake, we watched from camp as a large female moose came crashing out of the forest and swam across the bay to disappear on the opposite side.
After days of tranquil silence, it was a bit startling! I imagine that’s what Big Foot would sound like if he was coming to get you…
Other animals we came across included partridges thumping the ground to attract a mate, garter snakes, rabbits, loons, bald eagles, and angry beavers slapping the water with their tails as we approached.
Timber wolves, black bears, and bobcats also call the Boundary Waters home — but are a bit more difficult to spot.
Camping on Gull Lake
Loaded Up For our Adventure!
Boundary Waters Tips
Most BWCA visitors “base camp” for a night or two near the entry points. So if you want to find less crowded lakes, you simply need to travel further out into the backcountry.
Even though we were there during the busy mid-July high season, we rarely saw anyone beyond Fourtown Lake.
Beware the mosquitos! After the sun sets, they’re the worst I’ve ever seen. You definitely want to pack, at a minimum, strong bug spray and a mosquito head net. However a full bug shirt works wonders.
Rainy Day in the BWCA
One of Our Campsites
To visit the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, you need to buy a permit online. The BWCA is made up of different “entry points” near roads. You buy your permit based on which entry point you want to begin from.
Each entry point only allows a certain number of permits per day, so you’ll want to try and book a BWCA permit at least a few months before your trip — because they can sell out fast.
We began our adventure from Entry Point #23, Mudro Lake. It’s a popular one, so we booked our July permit in March. You pick up the permit in person from the closest ranger station to your entry point.
Voyager North Outfitters in Ely, MN
Boundary Waters Outfitters
If you don’t have all the gear necessary to canoe the Boundary Waters, it’s possible to rent gear from local canoe outfitters. Or even hire a guide to help you with navigation, camp setup, cooking, etc.
While we had most of our own gear, we chose to rent two Northstar kevlar canoes with paddles from Voyager North Outfitters. Highly recommend them!
Kevlar canoes are incredibly lightweight, which makes carrying them on your shoulders during a portage MUCH easier than aluminum ones.
Packing For The Boundary Waters?
I’ll be publishing a packing guide for the BWCA shortly! Make sure to join my mailing list if you want to get notified when it’s complete. ★
Booking.com really helps you save money (and time!) when booking your travel accommodation. It’s super easy to compare different properties based on price, location, or ratings.
Their smartphone app is also slick. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to book a last-minute hotel on the app from a bus or rental car when my travel plans suddenly changed!
Trying to visit individual hotel websites (that often suck) or, even worse, actually stopping by each hotel or guesthouse in person until you find something good is a nightmare.
With Booking.com, I can scan reviews for the important qualities I’m looking for in a place to stay. Is the wifi fast? Is there a free airport shuttle? Is the neighborhood nice? Which place has the lowest price & best reviews?
Get $30 Off Your Next Hotel Stay!
Planning a ski vacation this winter? Or maybe you want to escape the snow and hit the beach? What about an African safari? American road trip?
Click here to use my special link to book your next hotel, guesthouse, or hostel stay over $60 on Booking.com, and you’ll receive a $30 credit applied to your credit card after you complete your trip.
It’s that easy!
You’ll need to sign into your Booking.com account (or create one) and link it to a credit card so they can send you your $30 credit.
Feel free to forward & share this with family and friends too!
Who doesn’t want to save some money on their next hotel stay? This is something everyone can use to help make travel a little cheaper next year.
I hope you enjoy this discount, and wishing you happy travels in 2018! ★
As professional travel photographer, everyone keeps asking my opinion on the best travel cameras for 2018. There are so many to choose from! Here’s what I would pick, and why.
If you’re into photography, traveling the world with a good camera can help you bring back images that will stand the test of time — memories to share with family and friends for years to come.
Amazing travel photos are some of my most treasured souvenirs!
But what’s the best travel camera for capturing these special moments on your journey? There’s no easy answer to this question. Different people will have different requirements and budgets.
My goal with this digital camera buyers guide is to help you narrow down the overwhelming choices that are out there — and pick the perfect travel camera for your next trip.
Norway’s Lofoten Islands
Travel Camera Features
Size & Weight: Gone are the days when a bigger camera means a better camera. If you want to travel with your camera, you’ll want something small & lightweight.
Manual Settings: Photography professionals want the ability to fully control the settings of their camera so they can dial in the perfect shot in all kinds of different situations.
Megapixels: Many people assume that more megapixels is better. This isn’t always true if the pixels themselves are small. However more megapixels on a large sensor will give you higher detail, and allow you to “crop” your image without reducing quality.
Fast Lens: Lens aperture is measured in f/numbers, like f/1.4, f/2.8, f/4, etc. The lower the number, the better it will perform in low-light situations.
Zoom Range: A zoom lens lets you get closer to the action, especially for wildlife or people. But the bigger the zoom the bulkier a camera gets. How much zoom you want is a personal preference.
HD/4K Video: Most quality travel cameras will shoot video in HD 1080p. Some even have 4K capabilities — which honestly most people won’t need unless you’re doing professional work.
WiFi/Bluetooth Enabled: Some cameras have their own wifi network, allowing you to upload your photos instantly to your computer or smartphone.
Interchangeable Lenses: High-end mirrorless and DSLR cameras have interchangeable lenses, allowing you to pick the perfect lens for different situations.
Weatherproofing: Will your travel camera hold up against the elements? Some cameras are better protected from moisture and dust than others.
Understanding Camera Sensors
Camera Sensor Size
When choosing the perfect camera for traveling, you need to understand different camera sensors, and how they affect image quality and camera size.
In general, a camera with a large sensor is going to perform better in low light because that large sensor can capture more of it.
With a large sensor you’ll also get more detail, allowing you to print your images large, or crop them smaller, and not loose any quality.
However a large camera sensor means the camera itself will be larger as well.
Ridge Hiking in Hawaii
What Do You Want To Capture?
When choosing the best travel camera for your needs, you must define what those needs are. Different cameras have strengths and weaknesses depending on what you’re using them for.
Are you looking for portability? Weatherproofing & ruggedness? Professional high-end image quality? Something reasonably priced? Are you going to be shooting more landscapes, wildlife, adventure activities, or people?
You often can’t have it all when it comes to travel cameras.
Keep reading below to learn the pros & cons for each type of camera, and which types of travel photography they work best for.
Point & Shoot Cameras
Point & shoot cameras have come a long way. As technology has improved, companies have managed to pack these pocket-sized cameras with tons of features. Some shoot 4k video and have manual settings, just like the more expensive ones in this list.
The big difference is the camera sensor is a bit smaller, and they don’t have interchangeable lenses.
In my opinion, a mid-range to high-end point & shoot is the best option for 75% of amature travel photographers. They combine the perfect mix of portability, power, and budget-friendliness.
Sony RX100 Series ($700 – $1000)
Sony RX100 V
The Sony RX100 V is my favorite point & shoot travel camera. It’s what I’d call a “professional” point & shoot. While it fits in my pocket, it has many of the same features as my larger primary mirrorless camera.
The Canon G7 X is another fantastic point & shoot that’s great for travel photography. A bit less expensive than the Sony, it has fewer high-end features, but shoots great video with better on-board audio than the Sony. It’s a favorite for many YouTubers and Vloggers.
Action cameras have really transformed the travel photography & video world over the years. These tiny, waterproof, indestructible cameras can go anywhere & record anything!
If you plan on hiking, mountain biking, surfing, kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving, or even swimming under waterfalls during your travels, an action camera can create epic video & photos of the experience.
GoPro Hero 6 ($400)
GoPro Hero 6
The GoPro Hero 6 is GoPro’s best camera yet, with improved video stabilization, color, and 60p slow-motion 4k footage. It’s waterproof case and touch-screen will handle any adventures you dream up. A must-have for adventure addicts like me!
The GoPro Session is GoPro’s smaller & cheaper model. Without a screen, this tiny cube can fit just about anywhere — you’ll barely notice it. If you aren’t an action sports junkie, this will do for most people. Connect to the GoPro App on your smartphone to frame your shots.
Larger than a point & shoot, but smaller than a DSLR, mirrorless digital cameras are all the rage right now. Even professional photographers are starting to switch over due to their small size and ability to produce high-quality images.
I use a mirrorless camera as my main travel camera. They offer more features than a point & shoot, like the ability to use interchangeable lenses, and a larger sensor with better low-light capability and detail.
Sony A7 Series ($1300 – $3200)
The Sony A7 II is one of the best travel cameras money can buy. Sony is on the cutting edge of camera technology lately, and other brands are having trouble keeping up. There are a few different models available.
The Sony A7S II is geared towards videographers, with extremely good low-light capabilities and 4k video. The Sony A7R III is geared for professional photographers who want super-fast focusing and a giant full-frame sensor.
The Fuji X-T2 is a popular competitor to the Sony A7 mirrorless camera. I’ve used it before, and the Fuji is very well-made! My favorite part about it is the rugged all-metal dials that control this camera’s settings. However it has a smaller APS-C crop sensor rather than being Full Frame.
The Sony A6500 is an even smaller version of Sony’s awesome A7 mirrorless camera. The big difference is a slightly smaller APS-C cropped sensor, and less weatherproofing to protect against rain.
The A6500 also shoots 4k video, shoots faster photos than the A7, and has a touch-screen. For a more budget friendly version, the older Sony A6000 is almost just as capable, for almost $700 hundred dollars less!
Digital SLR Cameras (DSLR) wouldn’t be my first choice for a travel camera. Because these cameras use a physical mirror instead of an electronic viewfinder, the body is larger than on a mirrorless camera.
Personally I think most people would be better off with a mirrorless camera system these days. Especially if you’re trying to minimize the weight and size of your travel gear.
Can you use your smartphone as a travel camera? Of course you can! You’ll sacrifice a bit of quality due to the super small camera sensor in phones, but if you’re only publishing to the web, most people won’t notice.
Another downside is lack of a physical zoom feature (digital zooming doesn’t produce great results).
Some smartphones can even shoot in RAW format these days though. I travel with an iPhone 7+, but the Galaxy S8 and Google Pixel 2 also take amazing photos & video. Smartphones are also great backup cameras too.
What About Camera Lenses?
You honestly don’t need a million different camera lenses. When I first started, I only used a single general-purpose lens while I was learning.
If you have money to burn, then get two: a wide angle zoom and a telephoto zoom.
These two lenses will allow you to capture a mix of landscapes, portraits, and wildlife from a distance. However lugging around multiple lenses and changing them back & forth can be annoying if you’re new to photography.
To keep things easy, I’d recommend only one lens at first. Something with a decent focal range, around 18mm – 55mm or 28mm – 70mm.
When looking at a lens aperture, the lower the number, the better it will be in low light. F2.8 or F4 should cover you for most situations. If you want to shoot star photography, go with F2.8 or lower.
Flying my DJI Mavic Over Hawaii
Drones For Travel Photography
Drones are incredible tools for capturing images & video in a totally different perspective. But this probably isn’t the most important travel camera for the average person.
Many places have restrictions on flying personal drones, for example US National Parks, and even entire countries. So you need to do your research to avoid heavy fines or confiscation.
If you REALLY want a drone, I’d recommend the DJI Spark for beginners. It’s tiny, pretty affordable, and very easy to use.
If you eventually want to make money from your drone photography, and have a larger budget, than you’ll completely fall in love with the more professional DJI Mavic Pro. You can see my review video here.
All My Travel Camera Gear
What Travel Cameras Do I Use?
I actually travel with 4-5 different cameras on my adventures around the world. This is a bit overkill for most people.
The camera backpack I use is called a LowePro Whistler 350. It’s got room for a 15″ laptop, jacket, and incredibly fits all 5 travel cameras, lenses & some accessories if I need it to — great as an airplane carry-on.
Travel Photography Tips
I want to let you in on a little travel photography secret. Even if you have a top-of-the-line $10,000 camera, your photos aren’t going to be spectacular if you don’t know how to use it.
And I don’t mean pressing the shutter — I mean:
Learning how to shoot in manual mode
How to expose images properly
Adjusting your white balance
Framing shots for maximum impact
Paying attention to light
Post-processing your images with software
You don’t become a good photographer because you have a nice camera, your photography improves over time through practice, patience, and skills you learn from others.
So sure, invest in a new travel camera if you think you need it, but remember to invest money & time into learning new photography skills if you really want to create those jealousy-inducing images for your Instagram feed!
If you don’t have a GoPro action camera yet, but want one, here’s your chance to win a GoPro to use on your next travel adventure!
I’m giving one lucky reader their very own GoPro Hero Session 5 (along with some accessories).
I love my GoPro, and travel with it everywhere. It’s great for capturing water sports, hiking trips, epic selfies, and hands-free video from my travel adventures around the world.
I’ve been traveling with a GoPro of some kind for the last 7 years!
Here’s an article I wrote about my favorite GoPro accessories for travel, along with examples of how you can use it to capture amazing footage.
ELIGIBILITY: Ages 18+
Promotion is open and offered to residents of any country. However the winner will be responsible for their own country’s customs fees.
CHOOSING A WINNER:
A winner will be selected at random from the list of entries, and notified by email on December 3rd. If the winner does not respond within one week, an alternate winner will be chosen at random.
The winner will receive (1) GoPro Hero Session, (1) GoPro Backpack, and (1) GoPro Selfie Stick. Prize value worth $450. Prizes are shipped to winner’s chosen address. Local customs fees are not included in the prize.
Planning to travel overseas in the next few months? You may want to think about travel vaccinations. Learn which shots you may need for which countries, and how to save money on them.
When I first began traveling on a regular basis 7 years ago, the topic of travel vaccinations and immunizations came up. Like many people, I was confused about which shots I needed. Where do I get them? How much do they cost?
Honestly, it doesn’t matter whether you’re staying at a fancy resort or a backpacker hostel – if you’re in a foreign country, you’re putting yourself at risk for the diseases and infections that reside there.
Why do we wear seat belts? Because they save more lives than they take.
The same is true with vaccinations. The diseases they prevent kill millions around the world (or used to before vaccinations).
Once you’ve taken the proper precautions, you’ll feel much better about being adventurous and saying yes to any opportunities that present themselves while traveling. It’s preventative insurance for your health.
Travel Vaccinations & Shots
I know, I know – no one likes getting shots or even going to the doctor. But a twenty-minute appointment could prevent you from contracting really bad diseases, and maybe even save your life.
A number of factors go into determining whether or not you need a vaccination – some of them personal (depending on your health, or where you are from) many of them are more general.
As a result, necessary vaccinations can vary depending on your planned destinations. Let’s take a look at these factors and which vaccinations are recommended (or required) for your next trip.
Things To Consider
There are a few things to consider regarding your own health and situation. First, how is your immune system? If you have a disease or condition that weakens the immune system, speak with a doctor before getting a vaccine.
It’s important to make sure you’ve got your body up to par for the trip!
Next, if you are pregnant or traveling with children, be sure that both you and they have any medical procedures and/or vaccines needed, and that the vaccines are safe for their age.
Check your personal vaccine history by talking to your doctor or health insurance provider (you may have had some of them when you were younger, like Hepatitis A). Just to avoid any confusion, this is often referred to in official medical circles as your Immunization Records.
Finally, I’ve shared some general guidelines below, but for more detailed information, please visit the official CDC Traveler’s Health Site to learn exactly which travel vaccinations are recommended for each country.
Bathroom in Afghanistan
Basic Routine Vaccinations
Hepatitis A is a liver disease spread through food and water contaminated by the feces of an infected person. Some sources include fruits & vegetables that were improperly handled, bad ice, and shellfish pulled from contaminated water. It can also be spread through sex. Symptoms are similar to the flu. There is no cure.
TYPE: 2 injections over 6 months PROTECTION: Lifetime COST: $75 – $100 (often covered by health insurance) RECOMMENDED FOR: All Countries
Hepatitis B is a liver disease spread through blood and bodily fluids of an infected person. Sources include unprotected sex, using contaminated needles, and sharing a razor/toothbrush with an infected person. Symptoms are often mild, so you may not realize you have it. Left untreated it can damage your liver.
TYPE: Multiple injections over a few months. PROTECTION: Lifetime COST: $60 – $90 (often covered by health insurance) RECOMMENDED FOR: All Countries
TDaP (Tetanus, Diptheria, and Pertussis)
Tetanus is bacteria found in the soil and animal excrement. If it enters a wound, it creates a deadly toxin called tetanospasmin. Symptoms include nerve spasms and contractions that spread from the face to the arms and legs, and can affect the ability to breathe. Untreated, tetanus is often fatal. The vaccine is sometimes mixed with vaccines for Diptheria & Pertussis, two more bacterial diseases.
TYPE: Single injection PROTECTION: 10 years COST: $60 – $85 (often covered by health insurance) RECOMMENDED FOR: All Countries
The Influenza virus, aka “the flu” spreads from infected persons to the nose or throat of others. It often only lasts a few days, but can still ruin a trip. Symptoms include high fever, sore throat, chills, fatigue, headache, and coughing.
TYPE: Single injection PROTECTION: 1 year COST: $30 – $50 (often covered by health insurance) RECOMMENDED FOR: All Countries
Recommended For Many Countries
Typhoid fever, or typhoid, is a bacterial infection that spreads through feces contaminated food or water. It affects 21.5 million people worldwide, with a 10% fatality rate. Most common symptoms include fever, anorexia, abdominal discomfort and headaches.
TYPE: Single injection or Pills PROTECTION: 2 years (injection), 5 years (pills) COST: $85 – $300 RECOMMENDED FOR: South America, Central America, Asia, Africa, Pacific Islands
Jungle Trekking in Panama
Recommended For Some Countries
There are four different strains of Malaria. All are transmitted by the bite of an infected female mosquito. Malaria is characterized by fever and flu-like symptoms, including chills, headache, body aches and fatigue. Malaria can cause kidney failure, coma and death.
Rabies is a viral disease contracted by the bite of an animal, usually raccoons, bats, dogs, skunks, or foxes. It affects the central nervous system and brain, leading to death if untreated. It starts with flu-like symptoms, progressing to insomnia, confusion, partial paralysis, and hallucinations. The vaccine does not prevent contracting rabies, it just makes treating it far easier.
TYPE: 3 injections over 2 months PROTECTION: 5-8 years (does not prevent, only helps with treatment) COST: $500 – $1000 RECOMMENDED FOR: South America, Middle East, Africa
Cholera is a diarrheal illness caused by infection of the intestine with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. It kills over 100,000 people every year. Cholera is spread by consuming water or food contaminated by the feces of an infected person. Symptoms can be mild, but severe cases include watery diarrhea, vomiting, and leg cramps.
TYPE: Single injection PROTECTION: 1-2 years COST: $30 – $50 RECOMMENDED FOR: Some African countries like D.R. Congo, Egypt, and Morocco (see full map here)
Polio is a viral disease transmitted by fecal matter or saliva from an infected person. It can cause paralysis, respiratory failure, and death. Before a vaccine was available, infection was common worldwide. In the United States, most people receive the initial vaccine as children. However an additional booster shot is recommended for adult travelers going to certain countries.
TYPE: Single injection (booster) PROTECTION: Lifetime COST: $50 RECOMMENDED FOR: Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East (more details here)
There are a few different forms of Meningitis. Basically, it’s a bacterial infection that affects the brain and spinal cord. It spreads from person to person via coughing, kissing, or eating contaminated food. Symptoms include sudden fever, headache, and stiff neck. Some countries in Africa & the Middle East have regular outbreaks.
TYPE: Single injection PROTECTION: 3-5 years COST: $80 – $200 RECOMMENDED FOR: Africa & the Middle East
Japanese Encephalitis disease is spread through the bite of an infected mosquito. It is most common in rural farming areas of Asia. Risk is generally low for most travelers, unless you are spending a lot of time in rural areas during the monsoon season. Some cases can lead to inflammation of the brain and other symptoms which can be fatal.
TYPE: 2 injections over one month PROTECTION: 1-2 years COST: $150 – $800 RECOMMENDED FOR: Asia & Southeast Asia
Required For Some Countries
Yellow fever is a mosquito-borne viral disease with a high mortality rate, which is why some countries require vaccination if you recently traveled to parts of South American or Africa. Symptoms of yellow fever include: fever, nausea, vomiting, headache, and abdominal pain. Severe cases include hepatitis, hemorrhagic fever, and possible death.
TYPE: Single injection PROTECTION: Lifetime COST: $150 – $300 RECOMMENDED FOR: South America & Africa (see full map here)
When Should You Get Vaccinated?
Obviously you need any shots that are REQUIRED for entry taken care of before you leave. That said, the earlier the better, especially if follow-up rounds may be needed.
Because some vaccines require a few shots spread out over a few months.
Some travel shots can take about a week to fully protect your system, so generally it’s recommended to have your travel vaccines completed a few weeks before your trip. Ask your doctor if you have any concerns on timing.
Your Yellow Immunization Card
Once you receive your travel vaccinations, ask the doctor for a yellow immunization card, which lists all your vaccination details.
Keep this with your passport, and update it with any new shots you get, because immigration officials in some countries will want to see it. Especially as proof of Yellow Fever vaccination.
Walgreens Provides Travel Vaccinations
Where To Get Travel Vaccinations
Before Leaving Home
The first step in figuring out where to go to get your vaccines is to contact your health insurance provider or doctor. They should be able to tell you exactly where you need to go, and maybe even help you make the appointment.
Many county health departments, hospitals, and private health clinics offer vaccines on site. In some cases, an appointment will be required, at others a walk-in will be fine too.
If you live in the United States, Walgreens Pharmacy also offers many travel vaccinations.
It’s best to call ahead to learn which travel shots they offer, and what you need as far as identification or additional paperwork.
If there isn’t one available, or if you are already on the road, check the International Society for Travel Medicine. There you’ll find a directory of travel vaccination providers, doctors, and other travel health resources based on location.
Save Money Overseas!
If you’re like me, the prices for some of these vaccines can be a bit intimidating. Of course depending on your insurance, or national health care system, some vaccinations might be covered.
In other cases, if an expensive travel shot is just recommended, it might be possible to have it performed in a foreign country after you arrive to save some money.
Here are some recommendations though:
Do your own research back home first.
Find a clean, preferably large hospital in a major urban area.
Double check that the doctors are certified.
Find out if you need an appointment.
Read up on what other travelers are saying.
Be prepared to pay with local currency.
The following foreign medical centers are frequented by travelers looking for cheap travel vaccinations:
In addition to the diseases and infections above, there are a whole lot more that don’t get as much coverage called Neglected Tropical Diseases.
I want to talk briefly about two of the more common ones that people should be aware of when they travel overseas, Zika and Dengue Fever.
Both are caused by mosquitos, and neither has a vaccine, so you have to protect yourself in other ways.
Dengue Fever is a disease caused by any one of four closely related viruses. They are transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected mosquito. According to the CDC, Dengue is a risk in many South & Central American countries. Symptoms are similar to severe flu, and can include a red rash on the hands and feet. Dengue can sometimes cause long-term health problems, and even result in death. I actually contracted Dengue Fever in Mexico a few years ago — it isn’t pleasant.
Zika Virus is transmitted to humans by infected mosquitos. Many people won’t have symptoms or will only have mild symptoms. However Zika can cause horrible damage to unborn babies through a birth defect of the brain called microcephaly. According to the CDC, there is risk of the virus in all South and Central American countries except for Chile and Uruguay.
Hammock Camping in Costa Rica
Mosquito Protection Tips
Try to avoid mosquito bites, particularly in remote, jungle, and rural areas. If you have one and begin to feel ill, see a doctor immediately. Protect yourself against mosquitos by taking the following precautions:
Cover up arms and legs – wear long loose fitting clothing.
Treat your clothing with permethrin – it will kill any mosquitoes that land on your clothes.
Use air conditioning, seal windows and mosquito coils to kill any mosquitoes that might get into your room.
Sleep under mosquito nets in basic accommodation or when requiring extra protection
More Travel Vaccination Tips
Ok, real-talk here. Despite all the diseases mentioned above, I don’t want to scare you into never traveling! The chance of you catching something is low.
It’s probably not the end of the world if you don’t have ALL the recommended travel vaccinations for EVERY country you visit.
I’ve been traveling for the last 7 years, visiting over 50 countries. In addition to the basic routine vaccinations recommended for all countries, I also have my Yellow Fever and Typhoid shots.
Personally I’m not too worried about Rabies, Cholera, or the others. Except maybe for Malaria in some very specific countries that I haven’t visited yet, because it can be pretty common.
I’m not a doctor, and can’t tell you which travel vaccinations you’ll need.
Check the CDC Travel Site, gather as much information as you can based on where you’re going, what you plan to be doing there, and then weigh the risks yourself.
For example, I know others who have come down with Malaria, Cholera, and who needed Rabies shots. Yet I still don’t have the Cholera vaccine, Rabies vaccine, and have never used Malaria medication. It’s a personal choice, and a risk you have to live with.
Many private travel clinics in the United States like to use “scare tactics” to convince you to get a shot for absolutely everything, while padding their profits with your ignorance and fear of the unknown.
Please do your own research, talk to your regular doctor, and then decide how much risk you’re willing to take. ★
Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is a vast coastal region brimming with tropical beaches, spectacular wildlife, ancient Mayan ruins, small colonial towns, and plenty of outdoor adventures.
The Yucatan Peninsula is a place of emerald waters turning to turquoise waves crashing on perfectly white coral-sand beaches.
It’s a place of lush green forests dotted with Mayan ruins, cool shades of colonial-era architecture, and sea-life ablaze with color – all under Caribbean blue skies.
Many people shorten “Yucatan Peninsula” to “Yucatan”. That’s actually misleading, since the peninsula itself is made up of four different states: Yucatan, Campeche, Quintana Roo, and Tabasco.
The peninsula separates the Caribbean Sea from the Gulf of Mexico, and everything tropical you associate with the word “Caribbean” is on full display along its shorelines. It’s one of my favorite parts of Mexico!
Understandably, the Yucatan is an increasingly popular place to take a vacation, with cheap & easy flights from many major cities to Mexico’s notorious party town of Cancun.
But there is sooooo much more to the Yucatan Peninsula than Cancun!
This UNESCO world heritage site is a centerpiece of the Mayan archaeological scene in Mexico, and gets around 1.4 million visitors a year — the region’s most popular ruins.
For over a thousand years this was one of the great cities of Central America – located here because of proximity to deep cenotes that gave access to fresh water. The modern site covers 5 square kilometers of exposed archaeology and impressive above-ground stone buildings, surrounded by dense forest.
You’ve probably seen pictures of the temple of Kukulcan – also known as El Castillo – because it’s breathtakingly photogenic. However, a century’s worth of excavations means the rest of Chichen Itza is equally cool.
Amazing Pink Lakes of Las Coloradas
2: Visit Las Coloradas
In a corner of the Ría Lagartos Biosphere Reserve, about 3 hours from Cancun, you’ll find a magical place where sea water turns bright pink on an epic scale.
It’s all down to salt production. The Las Coloradas pink lakes are used for industrial-scale sea-salt production. As the water evaporates, salinity causes an explosion in the growth of red algae, plankton and brine shrimp, tinting the water reddish-pink.
You can visit the lakes (and small town by the same name) if you have a car, and walk along their shores taking surreal photos of the pink water. It’s a really weird sight – and, curiously, the reason why flamingos are pink!
You may even spot some flamingos hanging out in the area too. Las Coloradas has become Instagram famous recently, and it’s no longer possible to get into the water, but you can still take photos.
Snorkeling with Turtles at Akumal
3: Snorkel With Sea Turtles
Who doesn’t want to swim with sea turtles? Well you can at Akumal beach, just 30 minutes South of Playa del Carmen. This shallow blue-green water is home to 3 different kinds of sea turtles that you can swim with.
For years you could simply swim with the turtles at Akumal on your own, bringing your own snorkeling gear. However to help preserve the area, they’ve implemented some new rules in 2017.
A lifejacket is required (which you can rent along with snorkel gear), and lifeguards patrol the water on paddle boards. Organized sea turtle snorkeling tours are also offered by locals.
Traditional Mexican Hammocks
4: Buy A Hammock In Merida
The capital city of Yucatan state has colonial history is written into the architecture of most of the buildings in the beautiful, pedestrian-friendly city centre, and liberal use of white limestone has given Merida the nickname “the white city”.
It’s a cosmopolitan place, meaning there are plenty of tourists – but broad streets and high rooftops never make it feel crowded or heavily populated. It’s a great place to base yourself for exploring the rest of the peninsula.
There are some great Maya ruins located nearby, like the site at Uxmal. Along with huge flocks of pink flamingos just 2 hours away at Celestun Biosphere.
Merida is also a perfect place to pick up a locally made Mexican hammock. Hammock weaving in the Yucatan Peninsula is a 700 year old tradition, producing some of the most beautiful hammocks in the world.
Swimming with Whale Sharks
5: Whale Sharks At Isla Holbox
Whale sharks are the largest fish in the ocean, growing up to 40 feet long and weighing up to 20,000 pounds. And, you can swim with them! However you don’t have to worry about them eating you, as they prefer plankton.
Swimming next to a 30 foot long sea creature, the size of a bus, was a wild experience. It’s a bit intimidating to be honest… they’re huge!
Whale shark snorkeling trips can be organized from Cancun, but if you want a real adventure, I recommend doing it from Isla Holbox, a small sleepy island paradise off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula.
Yellow Buildings in Izamal
6: Izamal The Yellow Town
Welcome to another city obsessed with a primary color! Almost every major expanse of wall and building facade was painted a deep golden yellow for a special visit from Pope John Paul II in 1993, and they just never changed it.
Izamal is built on a series of hills that once housed Mayan pyramids (and much of the town still speaks the Mayan language). There is still one big pyramid overlooking the town that you can actually climb.
Like Merida, the town of Izamal is designed to be walkable (be sure to check out the enormous yellow-painted Franciscan monastery in the historic center) – but you can also get around by hiring horse-drawn carriages.
Dzitnup Cenote Outside Valladolid
7: Swimming In Cenotes
What’s a cenote you ask? It’s an underground cave filled with fresh water. The Yucatan Peninsula has tons of them — sinkholes that open up into underground rivers with the clearest water you’ve ever seen.
Cenotes are the perfect way to cool off on a hot day, Mexico’s natural swimming holes created when the limestone bedrock caved in to reveal underground rivers below.
There are around 2000 different cenotes across the Yucatan. I’ve visited many of them, but some of my favorites are Dzitnip, Azul, Dos Ojos, and La Noria.
Not to be confused with its Spanish counterpart, this sleepy colonial city is also built on top of an ancient Mayan settlement. The centra plaza is full of classic Spanish-looking buildings, museums, and many wonderfully tasty traditional Maya restaurants and food stalls!
Valladolid is another good base for exploring the Yucatan Peninsula with affordable accommodation, close proximity to Chichen Itza (only 45 minutes away), and a bunch of different freshwater cenotes nearby.
The Yucatecan food here is awesome, and I highly recommend you try some traditional favorites like Cochinita Pibil (pulled pork) and Relleno Negro De Pavo (black turkey soup).
Crazy Cancun Nightlife
9: Party In Cancún!
A rough translation of the word Cancun in Mayan is “pot of snakes” – and this accurately describes how you might feel about this riotous city of hotels, bars and every kind of party you can dream up.
Cancun does have a lot going for it though. You can swim with whale sharks, rent jet skis, relax on the beach, take a scuba diving course, race Lamborghinis, or sail around at sunset with a drink in your hand.
Plus, of course, the awesome nightlife you’ll find there.
Most people visit Cancun for the all-inclusive resorts and late night debauchery, but if you skip the rest of the Yucatan Peninsula, you’re totally missing the best stuff in my opinion!
5th Ave in Playa del Carmen
10: Walk La Quinta Avenida
When it comes to Playa del Carmen, aka “Playa”, I’m a little biased – I spent over a year living and working here. It’s one of the major tourist spots along the Riviera Maya, an impressive stretch of coastline from Cancun to Tulum.
Despite its popularity, the town is a lot less party-oriented than its neighbors, and the nightlife isn’t as crazy. It’s also pedestrian-friendly and laid out in a grid, making exploring on foot an absolute breeze.
Playa del Carmen’s highlight is a walking-street called La Quinta Avenida, lined with all manner of shops, beach bars, and restaurants. For more details on what you can do in Playa del Carmen, check out my dedicated blog post.
Scuba Diving in Cozumel
11: Scuba Diving Around Cozumel
A short ferry ride away from Playa del Carmen, the island of Cozumel runs at a completely different pace of life. This low limestone island is lined with scenic rocky beaches and jungle.
It’s also on the cruise ship route, as clearly seen from the amount of gift shops near the docks at San Miguel, home to most of the island’s population – but get away from town and the island’s rich emptiness reveals itself.
Unsurprisingly, Cozumel is a premier destination for scuba diving & snorkeling, catering to all skill levels.
One of my favorite things to do is just rent a car or moped and drive around the island, stopping at pretty beaches and fun bars along the way (careful not to drink too much!).
Tulum’s Beautiful Beaches
12: Sunbathing & Yoga In Tulum
Tulum has the best beaches in the Yucatan Peninsula. The area originally served as a major port for the nearby Mayan jungle city of Cobá – but these days it’s full of hippies, backpackers, and celebrities looking to unwind.
Strictly speaking, there are three “Tulums.” There’s the pueblo (local town) where you can find affordable places to eat and sleep. The Tulum Archaeological Site features Mayan ruins perched on the edge of a sea cliff.
Lastly, Tulum’s playa is the stretch of coastline where you’ll find fancy resorts, vegan restaurants, health spas, and yoga studios. Rent a beach cruiser bicycle and check out all of Tulum’s great beaches!
Tulum has ample scuba diving, snorkeling, kite surfing, yoga, and cenote opportunities. You can also head a little out of town into the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve for awesome mangrove & wildlife tours.
13: Kayaking Bacalar Lagoon
It’s hard to imagine this sedate lakeside town being overrun by pirates – but that’s the history in these parts. A lack of defensive power in the 17th Century saw the arrival of Caribbean pirates, using natural waterways from the sea to aid their plundering.
Today it’s a quiet, relaxing place of 12,000 souls, well-preserved fishermen’s houses – and lots of boats. If you come to Bacalar and don’t rent a kayak for the day, you’re missing all the fun!
Paddling across the glowing blue waters of the Lagoon of Seven Colors, you’ll notice how it gets its name from the effect of different depths and contrasting ground soils upon sunlight, giving the lagoon a multi-hued appearance.
Exploring Caves at Rio Secreto
14: Mexico’s Adventure Theme Parks
Throughout the Yucatan Peninsula, especially along the Riviera Maya, you’ll find a series of outdoor adventure theme parks built to take advantage of the natural landscape.
Some of the most popular ones are Xcaret, Xel Ha, Xplor and Rio Secreto. They’re like organized adventures that will take you zip-lining through the trees, swimming in caves, driving ATVs, or snorkeling with colorful fish.
A great way for families to spend a day in Mexico, but adults will have a good time at these theme parks too. I think my favorite was Rio Secreto, because it feels a little more authentic and less touristy.
Maya Ruins of Calakmul
15: Calakmul Mayan Ruins
Calakmul is an ancient Mayan city located deep within the jungle in Campeche state near the border with Guatemala. Not many people make it out this way due to it’s remote location.
Surrounded by the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, it’s extremely remote, and a true adventure for those looking to get off the beaten tourist trail in the Yucatan Peninsula. You’re likely to see only a handful of other visitors.
Among the many interesting structures found at this archeological site are two gigantic pyramids — with the largest one reaching 55 meters high (165 feet). It’s the 2nd highest pyramid in Mexico, and you can still climb it!
Is The Yucatan Safe?
Despite Mexico’s troubled history with cartel violence, local governments in the Yucatan Peninsula have worked hard to keep their major tourist attractions crime-free.
It’s significantly safer for visitors than other parts of Mexico, making it a popular vacation destination for Mexicans as well as foreigners.
Petty crime and common travel scams can be an issue in more touristy towns like Cancun & Playa del Carmen, but the more serious drug cartel type violence usually doesn’t target tourists.
Renting a Buggy on Cozumel
Transport Around The Yucatan
If your budget can stretch it, I usually recommend renting a car – it’ll give you the freedom you want, and allow you to get to attractions early in the morning, before the crowds turn up and midday heat sets in.
Otherwise, you’ll be pretty well served by the ADO bus network – apart from when you’re in the more out-the-way places. Note that you can’t buy bus tickets online – the only way is to purchase them at local bus terminals.
You can also hunt down local colectivos, shared transportation, where you’ll be squeezing into cars with locals (this isn’t a great option if you have a lot of luggage).
Best Time To Visit
If you’re from a relatively chilly part of the United States or Europe, plan to visit Yucatan between the end of October and the beginning of April. It’s when the skies are clearest and the temperature is most bearable.
Busy season in the Yucatan Peninsula starts in December and goes on through March. Basically when all the snow-birds from the US and Canada fly down to escape the winter snow. ★
Some of my favorite travel books are based on other people’s travel adventures, while travel how-to guides taught me that international travel is accessible to everyone, not just wealthy & retired people.
So here is my personal list of the best travel books of all time.
I’ve split the list up into two sections. My favorite travel stories/novels, and the most useful books about how to travel the world.
Once I’ve finished reading any of these books, I feel the instant urge to pack my bag and head out to explore the world somewhere new!
Well written travel books like these have helped inspire my own personal travel goals over the years — and will continue to do so.
So if you’re looking for some motivation to head out on a travel adventure of your own, make yourself comfortable and read a couple of my favorites listed here. They are sure to inspire wanderlust in everyone who reads them…
“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” ~ Saint Augustine
My Favorite Travel Books (2017)
Best Travel Stories & Novels
Travels With A Donkey In The Cévennes is one of the first travel books I ever read. It takes you on a walking journey with Robert and his donkey Mosestine across a mountainous region of France.
You get to feel what traveling through 1870’s Europe was like, including the landscape, religion, and the people. Robert & his donkey don’t get along at first, but through trial and error they learn to become travel companions.
Shantaram is set in the underworld of contemporary India, where an escaped convict from Australia named Lin is hiding out. He searches for love while running a clinic in one of the city’s poorest slums and simultaneously working for the Bombay mafia.
It’s one of the best written novels I’ve read, and sucks you right into an amazing story full of love, beauty, betrayal, brutality, and compassion. The book has been criticized for being more fiction than fact, however I still highly recommend it as a great travel book. It’s incredibly entertaining and thought-provoking either way.
World Walk is the story of newspaper writer Steven Newman who at the age of 28 packed his bag to start a 4 year long journey around the world on foot. He walked his way across 22 countries in 5 continents.
He shares heartfelt stories of the people he meets along the way, as well as wild adventures including arrests, wars, blizzards, wild animal attacks, wildfires, and more. A lesson of hope and love told through the exciting adventures of independent budget backpacking.
On The Road is a classic American travel book. It’s the semi-autobiographical story of Sal Paradise (based on Kerouac himself) & Dean Moriarty’s cross-country hitchhiking and train-hopping journey across rural America in the 1940’s.
Written in a rambling diary style, and a bit hard to follow at times, Kerouac takes to the road looking for adventure, sex, drugs, and mischief. A great read for those who would like to escape the real world for a while and just go where the wind blows them.
The Alchemist is an international best-seller that tells the mystical story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who yearns to travel in search of treasure. However on his adventurous quest, he finds himself instead.
This is a powerful book that inspires courage & chasing your dreams. It teaches important life lessons using entertaining stories. It helped me overcome my own fears about what to do with my life, as well as millions of other readers around the world.
In A Sunburned Country follows Bill’s hilarious journey through the sunbaked deserts and endless coastlines of Australia, trying not to get killed by the deadly wildlife. It’s full of fun & interesting facts about the country.
It’s not your typical guidebook to Australia, but a must-read if you plan on traveling there. He really gives you a sense of the place, its quirks, and the people using some very entertaining storytelling and history.
Marching Powder is the true story of a British drug dealer’s five years inside a very strange Bolivian prison, where whole families live with inmates in luxury apartments and cocaine is manufactured.
When you spend time backpacking around the world, you sometimes find yourself in ridiculous situations no one back home would believe. This is one of those crazy stories — and one of my favorite reasons to travel.
For the wary soul who needs a bit of extra convincing of the life-changing wonders that await abroad, there’s perhaps no better resource than The Cat Who Went To Paris. Peter Gethers’ global journeys with a cat named Norton puts a dose of adorable humor into many common travel situations.
Norton accompanies Gethers on filmmaking trips and helps convince the love of his life that he is the one. After years of adventuring the three settle in New York, Norton being one of the city’s most well-traveled felines.
Love With A Chance Of Drowning is the travel memoir of Torre, who reluctantly leaves her corporate lifestyle to live on a sailboat with a man she just met, and their adventure across the South Pacific together.
Along with all the challenges and wonder they experience on the trip, the book takes you on a beautiful, romantic and deeply personal journey of self discovery. It’s very entertaining and funny, I couldn’t put it down. Chasing dreams is always scary, but usually worth it.
Theroux earned his reputation as one of the all-time great travelogue writers because he lives every word that he writes. Dark Star Safari takes readers through his voyage from the top of Africa to the bottom.
He often finds himself at the bottom of his own barrel and unsure of what will happen next. It’s an honest account by a writer that is as ‘working class’ as travel writers come. Overall, an honest if not always refreshing take on overland travel in Africa.
Ok now that we’ve got some of my favorite travel novels out of the way, I also wanted to include some more useful travel books in the list too. Books to help you travel cheaper, better, or show you how to travel more!
Vagabonding is what encouraged me to put my real life on hold to backpack around the world for a bit. This book is essentially about the process behind taking time off from your regular life to discover and experience the world on your own terms.
It won’t tell you exactly how to do it, but gives you ideas and confidence to figure it out for yourself. Many long-term travelers have been inspired by what Rolf talks about, including Tim Ferriss. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to travel more, but thinks they don’t have enough money or time.
Coming from a fellow travel blogger, I’ve got to give Kepnes (also known as Nomadic Matt) props for his New York Times bestselling book How To Travel The World On $50 A Day. Matt knows what he’s talking about, and it shows as much in this book as it does on his blog.
He goes into detail on how he’s stayed on the move for so long on a shoestring budget, with tips and tricks coming to life through relatable stories. Also seeping through the pages is a heavy dose of modesty, a necessity when venturing off the beaten path abroad.
Travel As Transformation takes you on Diehl’s journey from living in a van in San Diego, growing chocolate with indigenous tribes in Central America, teaching in the Middle East and volunteering in Africa.
Through these stories, it shows you how profoundly travel can influence your perception of yourself. Diehl has spent the best part of 10 years exploring the world in countries many Westerners couldn’t even place on a map. The journey helps him find who he really is and what freedom means.
Microadventures is an uplifting and original concept evolved out of the travel blogosphere and into a catchy book. Instead of pushing his readers to drop everything and hit the road full-time, Humphreys champions the weekend warrior and after-work types with this one.
Among other things, Humphrey’s excursions in his native UK are featured prominently along with tricks of the trade for quick adventure travel. After all, some of the best explorations can happen on your own side of the planet. No need to travel far!
In How NOT To Travel The World Lauren expertly conveys the fears of a first-time solo traveler who, prior to hitting the road, as she lived a rather sheltered life. The overarching theme is conquering fear and living your dream.
She does a solid job of discussing the emotional steps involved in her process too. I don’t know how Lauren gets into so many crazy situations on her travels, but they make for a very entertaining read!
The Food Traveler’s Handbook is an extension of Jodi Ettenberg’s excellent travel blog Legal Nomads, a go-to for all things street food (and eating while traveling in general). So it’s no wonder she’s got a top book on the subject.
Any who are gluten sensitive or have other dietary restrictions can finally rest easy as she breaks down where to go and what to avoid if you want to eat well while traveling.
Other volumes of The Traveler’s Handbook series are equally as helpful:
The thought that exotic travel has to break the bank is an assumption as sad as it is untrue, and Leffel proves it in The World’s Cheapest Destinations. Active storytelling and honest facts on not only where to go but how to travel once you get there are the driving factor here.
The key takeaway from this book is that proper research and planning, along with a willingness to see a culture for what it really is, can save you a fortune. Oh, and don’t hesitate to bargain – just be respectful when you do so.
UPDATE: We Have A Winner!
Carla Alessandro has won a free Amazon Kindle.
If you don’t have an Amazon Kindle yet, but want one, here’s your chance to win a free Kindle to use on your next travel adventure!
I’m giving one lucky reader their very own Kindle Paperwhite.
I love my Kindle, and travel with it everywhere. My whole reading library fits on something that weighs less than a single book! It’s really pretty amazing technology.
I didn’t think I’d ever get used to reading on a digital device either.
But with incredibly long battery life, ease of use, one-click book buying, and the ability to read in bright sunlight, it’s become one of my favorite pieces of travel gear. Sooo handy on long airplane or bus rides!
ELIGIBILITY: Ages 18+
Promotion is open and offered to residents of any country. However the winner will be responsible for their own country’s customs fees.
CHOOSING A WINNER:
A winner will be selected at random from the list of entries, and notified by email. If the winner does not respond within one week, an alternate winner will be chosen at random.
The winner will receive (1) Amazon Kindle Paperwhite e-reader shipped to their chosen address. Local customs fees are not included in the prize.
How To Enter Contest
Log into the Gleam widget below with Facebook or your email address and follow the instructions. The first 2 steps are mandatory, but the others will give you extra contest entries (and more chances to win!).