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REVIEW: Paradera Park Aruba

On my recent visit to Aruba, I had the pleasure to stay at Paradera Park, an exclusive tropical escape set in the heart of Aruba offering tropic apartments for rent.

The owners of Paradera Park apartments, Debbie and Henk, have created a quiet oasis that's perfectly located in the middle of the island , perfect to explore the rest of the island.

My studio apartment, a one bedroom suite, was located on the ground floor and consisted of a bedroom with two separate beds, a living room/seating area with a coffee table and flat screen TV, open kitchen, bathroom and a porch.

The room was nothing too fancy, it was simple but very functional and extremely clean.

Paradera Park offers complimentary pool towels, beach chairs and a cooler which is available throughout your stay and snorkeling gear is available for rent at the Reception.

To make your stay even more relaxing and carefree, Paradera Park provides a daily housekeeping service like you would get in a hotel, which I really appreciated! They even provided me with fruit, sandwiches, and refreshing juices for breakfast!

You can watch the video below to get a better idea of the apartments:

Paradera Park - Your Tropical Oasis in Aruba! - YouTube

The bedroom

Both the Living room and the bedroom have an airconditioning unit and this is certainly useful with temperatures in Aruba being so high at times. While the airconditioning in the living room was quite loud, I'm glad that the one in the bedroom had a quiet setting and didn't bother me while I slept.

The living area

Bathroom

The bathroom is small but functional. Everything I needed, like towels and amenities, was provided.

All in all, a modern bathroom with a walk-in shower (no bath!)

Outdoor swimming pool

One of the highlights of the Paradera Park experience is the palm-edged freshwater pool, surrounded by a garden with small private corners where you can sit and enjoy a beer in the evening or relax in a hammock.

The swimming pool at night

Paradera Park has a lot of these little spaces to relax in privacy

WIFI

Paradera Park offers a complimentary WiFi hotspot in the pool area as well as free In-Room LAN or Wi-Fi.
Except on one evening (but that was more of an issue on the entire island) the WIFI speed was good and worked perfectly.

Location

Paradera Park Apartments is located in the center of the island of Aruba. And while this could be a negative if you like to go clubbing every evening at the big resorts in town, most people that stay at Paradera Park see being away from the hustle and bustle as an advantage.

It's recommended that you only stay here when you are renting a car for the duration of your stay (The owners can help you with renting one).

There is a grocery store nearby within walking distance, and everything else is a 15-30 minute drive from the apartments.

Final Conclusion

If you like to go for hikes in Aruba or want to do more then just stay on the beach, Paradera Park Aruba is an ideal base to start your exploration of the island from.

I highly recommend Paradera Park if you want to stay off the beaten path, it provides a tropical Carribean atmosphere in a quiet and private setting where you can unwind and relax. Quality apartments in Aruba for a quiet family vacation or relaxing getaway.

Check the  latest prices for Paradera Park via www.paraderapark-aruba.com.

The post Paradera Park Apartments, Aruba appeared first on InspiringTravellers.com.

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Hiking probably isn't the first thing you would think about if someone mentions Aruba, but hiking in Aruba is certainly one of the best ways to discover more of the hidden secrets of this beautiful island in the Carribean.

One of the best options to explore the beautiful island of Aruba is going for a hike or a jog along the rugged coastline or by visiting the Arikok National park. So let me take you along some of the hikes I did when I visited Aruba last October.

Hiking in Arikok National Park

The best and most beautiful area to go hiking in Aruba is inside the National Park Arikok. At Arikok National Park, a natural preserve that covers one-fifth of the island, there are 29 rugged miles of rocky trails for hiking in Aruba with three different hiking levels.

Maps with clearly marked hiking trails inside the park are available at the Visitor Center at the main entrance of the Arikok National Park in San Fuego (St Cruz).

Arikok National Park trail map

Hiking tours under guidance of a park ranger are highly recommended. You can go for a five-hour hike through jagged, rocky terrain, passing through desert brush and cacti, and unique and fascinating wildlife or opt for a one-hour educational loop.

For a unique island experience, a full moon hike with a naturalist can be arranged.

If you want to know more about the local flora and fauna you can check this fact sheet of Aruba, or do like I did and ask Stan, a local ranger, to take you on a tour around the park. This guy is a walking encyclopedia! You can see him at work in the video below:

TOURING ARUBA'S ARIKOK NATIONAL PARK Your Morning + Sunwing Vacations - YouTube

Dos Playa

One of the trails in Arikok National park ends in Dos Playa.

One of the highlights during my stay in Aruba was definitely the moment when I arrived at Dos Playa and I was the only one there. While most tourist probably gathered near the natural pool (see later), Dos playa was totally deserted and well worth the visit!

Dos Playa is the most important sea turtle nesting site on the island, but I guess nobody visits it when it's not the nesting season? Besides a nesting ground, it's also a beautiful cove where you can relax on the white-sandy beach and enjoy the natural beauty of the sea pounding against the rocks.

Hike to Conchi (The Natural Pool)

One of the more popular spots within the Arikok National park is the Natural Pool. Comprised of ancient lava stone, it's a natural swimming pool amidst rough seas.

Most people will probably visit the natural pool via an organized Aruba natural pool tour or ATV tour, but it's also possible to hike there.

For most parts of the national park you really need a 4x4 vehicle, but if you only want to hike to the natural pool you should be fine with a non-4x4 rental if you drive to the Shete entrance, a short drive north from the main Arikik National park visitor center on Route 7 (San Fuego entrance), where you need to buy your entrance passes (US$11,- per person.)

You can park your car at the Shete entrance and start the 30-40 minute hike to the pool from there.

Mount Jamanota hike

With 188 meters (617 Ft.), Jamanota hill is the highest point of the island of Aruba. It offers spectacular views of Aruba, and there is a drivable road to the sub-top The top is only accessible by foot and gives a panoramic view over the southern part of Aruba.

Depending on the adventure you prefer, be it a visit on a tour bus or via a jeep tour, a visit to the Arikok National park during your Aruba vacation is highly recommended!

Hiking up Hooiberg Mountain

The best know "hike" in Aruba is probably the walk up the iconic Hooiberg Mountain, located near the center of Aruba. The Hooiberg - which translates to Haystack - is the 3rd highest peak on the island at 168m and from the parking lot, it's 562 steps up a concrete staircase to the top of the mountain.

While it's certainly not the most scenic hike ever (some might actually call it ugly with a bunch of cell towers at the top) but you do get to see the entire island from north to south, including the Caribbean and Atlantic coasts at the same time.

Sunrise hike along the North Coast of Aruba

The best time of day for hiking in Aruba is early morning, at sunrise!

On the North side of Aruba, it's possible to walk for hours along the rugged coastline. It's the perfect location for a morning stroll and one of my favorite hiking locations besides Arikok National Park.

The easiest way to start your hike is to park your car at the Arashi parking at Arashi beach (or take a bus there).

Arashi beach at sunrise

If you follow the beach up North, you'll eventually end up on the trail that runs all the way to the most Northern point of Aruba between the rugged sea and the white California Sand Dunes just to the north of the well known California Lighthouse.

One last thing: Be Prepared!

Before you head off to go hiking in Aruba, make sure you get there, well prepared!

In Aruba, the climate is tropical, hot all year round and you can compare it with a savanna climate: daytime temperatures hover around 29/31 degrees Celsius (84/88 °F) throughout the year, the air is muggy, but the wind tempers the heat.

Given the sun and heat on the island, make sure to protect yourself during your hike. Wear sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses and bring plenty of water with you.

The best time of day for hiking in Aruba is early morning, at sunrise. Especially beach walks or hikes alongside the North Coast are also spectacular during sunset.

Hiking is an excellent way to explore Aruba's wonderful nature and rugged landscape and hopefully, these hikes have inspired you to discover more of the hidden gems of Aruba, and look beyond its beautiful beaches.

The post Hiking in Aruba appeared first on InspiringTravellers.com.

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From 25 November 2017 to 1 January 2018, Brussels City Centre is the place to be with the annual Brussels Christmas Market, a magical and unmissable event!

If a visit to the Brussels Christmas market doesn't get you in the Christmas spirit, nothing will!

Brussels Christmas Market

Every year, Brussels organises one of the biggest Christmas markets in Europe. It’s probably the event that draws the most visitors to Brussels.
The market gains in size every year and this year, winter villages will pop up in four areas of Brussels: Quartier des Squares, Haren, Neder-Over-Heembeek and Laeken.

For one weekend in turn, four locations will host WINTER POP, a small but mighty popup village capturing Winter Wonders’ light-hearted atmosphere. Trailers will get the party started with numerous activities for young and old: storytelling, music, circus acts, cultural exchanges with local groups, snacks…

The City of Brussels is aiming to bring seasonal cheer to these four areas and so share the magic of Christmas with as many people as possible.

From 24 November to 31 December, the heart of Brussels will beat to the pace of the Winter Wonders !

Winter Wonders, that's how the Christmas Market is officially called ( or "Winterpret" in Dutch), provides the perfect opportunity to discover Brussels from the angle of conviviality and magic. Let me take you for a magical tour around Brussels' Christmas market!

The Grand-Place

Starting point of my visit to the Brussels Christmas market was the Grand Place. Besides the impressive spruce tree in the middle of the market, the main attraction is the Seasons Sound & light show! The historical façades of the Grand-Place, which is included on the UNESCO heritage list, are lit up with LED spotlights, creating a magical light show triggered by a rhythmic soundtrack.

The Grande Place in Brussels

The historical façades of the Grand-Place

This definitely was one of the highlights of the Christmas Market which I tried to capture on video (I also streamed it live via Periscope) as best as I could and you can see the results in the video below.

The Bourse: Christmas Lights Video mapping Show

Most people visit the Brussels Christmas market for the great atmosphere, the lights, the chalets full of Christmas presents and, of course, the genever and gluhwein! Not a lot of people now there are also indoor shows, one of them located inside the Bourse Palace.

The Bourse: Christmas Lights

Positioned at the heart of the Winter Wonders, the Bourse is one of the main points of attraction. In collaboration with the Winter Wonders, the Tour des Site Organisation staged a magical video mapping in three languages (FR, NL, EN) evoking the history of the Bourse Palace at the heart of the
European capital. I included some fragments of the show in the video below!

While I enjoyed the 3D light show, the €10 price is perhaps a bit steep. I think a lot more people would enjoy this if they would make this part of the whole Winter Wonders experience and make it a free entrance.

The Magic Factory

Next in line was the light show on the renovated façade of the Sainte Catherine Church (the Periscope stream is included at the back of the video below). While I think this could have been a fantastic show with awesome graphics, I didn't enjoy it as mutch as the one at the Grand-Place, simply because the surrounding lights of the market square were too bright for the light show to really pop and the soundtrack was playing too soft and got overpowered by the belltower.

The Fish Market

Officially this market place is known as Place Sainte-Catherine, but most people refer to the area as it has always been used, simply as the fish market.

The Fish Market is the place to be to get an after work drink with the colleagues or shop around the hundreds of stalls for an original Christmas gift.

A drink with the colleagues

After some good food and and some drinks, it's time to go for a ride on the ferris wheel or if you have children they can take a ride on Andréa's merry-go-rounds, their famous hand-made characters will enchant children during a few magical moments in the atypical universe of Jules Verne.

The beautiful Carousels at the Brussels Christmas Market

The Christmas Parade

And on Saturday, there was the great Christmas Parade!

The Christmas Parade (photo credit: visitbrussels.be)

With this Christmas market, Brussels has put the recent Terror Threat on a back burner and brought back the real Christmas Spirit where people from around the world can enjoy each others company in a festive world of magic and tolerance.

Winter Wonders - Brussels Christmas Market + Periscope footage! - YouTube
Happy Christmas everyone!

I hope you enjoyed this post, please share it with your friends or leave a comment!

The post Brussels Christmas Market 2017 appeared first on InspiringTravellers.com.

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A short travel story

If you have traveled a lot, like me, I'm sure you can recognize yourself in the following situation:

After traveling for over 24 hours, you finally arrive at the airport of your destination, 2 hours late, after your plane was delayed for several hours. You are really tired and just want to get to your hotel room and go to sleep.  However you failed to write down the name and address of the hotel you were staying at and because of the delay it's now after 1 AM in the morning, all the shops in the airport are closed and you can't get that local SIM card you were planning on buying directly after you landed!

To make matters worse, the free WIFI in the airport is non-existing and so you're stuck trying to find someone with a data connection on their phone, willing to share their connection so you can access that email with the name and address of your hotel.

One hour later, you finally arrive at your hotel and crash on the bed!

In the morning you are back up, bright and early because you still haven't got any mobile internet, so you need to find a store somewhere to get that SIM card you so desperately need! So you find a local coffee shop, not to get a coffee but so you can use their WI-FI to find a store that can help you out with that SIM card.

Before you know it, you lost half a day chasing that data connection and tell yourself: Never Again!

This is exactly what happened to me last year when I visited Iceland for the first time.

I there and then decided to be more prepared next time and make sure I had my own private hotspot that would work anytime, anywhere!

And so my search began for the most portable WiFi in Europe!

Going the MiFi Route ...

At first, I was thinking of getting my own MiFi router so I would have my own portable WIFI hotspot, separate from my phone.

MiFi is a brand name used to describe a wireless router that acts as a mobile Wi-Fi connected to a cellular network via a local SIM card that you put in the device. I actually used a MiFi device before when I was on a blogger trip in Spain and I remembered how handy it was to be connected to WIFI all the time.

However, when I was looking at all the different brands of MiFi devices, it suddenly hit me! Keeping in mind my Iceland experience, a MiFi router wouldn't be a solution since I would still lose a lot of time chasing down a SIM card evertime I would arrive in a new country!

Also, while roaming rules in Europe have changed lately, making it easier and cheaper to use your local SIM card abroad, there are still the countries outside of the European Union (like Norway and Switzerland) that still charge you exorbitantly for roaming! (As my friend found out recently after he used roaming on the ferry ride to Norway and ended up paying €120 for that privilege  )

The whole process of using separate SIM cards for each country I visit just seems so ancient and above all A BIG HASSLE!

So I went looking for a better solution...

using WIFI connection in the forest, Awesome!

Teppy to the rescue!

This is where my new Teppy comes in!

Teppy is a pocket-sized personal WiFi hotspot from TEP Wireless, that keeps you connected while on the road.

However, unlike most MiFi routers and modems, who require a separate SIM-card everytime you get to a new country,  the Teppy uses patented virtual SIM technology to allow seamless connectivity all over the world without the need of a separate SIM!

When you power Teppy on, it will automatically figure out what country it’s in, and choose the best network operator for you, via a bank of SIM cards it can access in the cloud.

Even better, you can simply rent the device for a fixed period and then return it as soon as you arrive back home.

Or you can just get your own, like I did!

This means you can travel the world with your smartphone, laptop, tablet etc., knowing that you can securely and reliably connect all of your devices to the internet, whenever you want.

Using Teppy for Instagram Stories

Putting the Teppy to the test for the first time ...

Teppy Speedtest results

I must admit, I wasn't very impressed after my first hands-on experience with the Teppy!

After I charged the batteries I took it out with me on a walk around the provincial park "Het Vinne", close to where I live and while I could easily connect to the mobile hotspot, the connection I got was really awful! 

After that bad first impression, however, I rebooted the device and after doing that everything went way smoother!

I actually got a better data connection (12 Mbps) than via my 4G-connection on my iPhone!

However it still is "only" 4G, so don't expect broadband connection speeds!

The value of convenience The advantages of having a mobile WIFI hotspot in your pocket.

While at first, it might seem like a lot to pay for mobile data ( if you buy a Teppy it will cost you €95 for the device itself + 7€ for a day of data use) it's actually not that bad. If you need to buy a coffee at Starbucks just to use the internet for a couple of hours, you are better off with a Teppy you can use anytime, anywhere!

Also, one of the advantages of using a separate mobile hotspot is that you can share the data connection between multiple people and devices, lowering the cost per person!

But the BIG advantage of using a device like the Teppy is no more hassle of trying to find a local store that sells SIM cards! You just turn on the device ... Et voila! You're connected!

So while I'll still be using regular WIFI connections whenever possible ... with the Teppy by my side as a backup, I'm sure that I'll have an internet connection!

The post My search for the best mobile wifi hotspot appeared first on InspiringTravellers.com.

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For those on a tour of Europe, it’s easy to be drawn to explore the typical hotspots, particularly in the UK. The appeal of mega-metropolis London can detract from the glory of the English countryside and all that it has to offer, and whilst there’s plenty to do in the capital, there’s far more to the UK than London.

Take Norfolk for example; this picturesque county on England’s east coast boasts so much diversity in such a small space, and yet it can so often be overlooked by the intrepid traveller, and why?

There are many comparisons to be made between this stunning area and the ever-popular Netherlands, yet the latter remains a common destination for many a wanderlusting individual, whilst a gem in the UK’s tourist destination crown remains largely disregarded. There is much to be said of the similarities between the two – and in some respects, Norfolk even beats its canal cousin.

1.     Life’s better on the Broads

Both locations have magnificent canal systems, and that is an undeniable fact. There’s nothing more relaxing than laying back on a narrowboat with tranquillity and breath-taking scenery all around, and whether that’s in Holland or England is generally irrelevant as both countries have their own plus points. But is there really anything better than the British countryside?

Norfolk offers you the chance to see some of the best of Britain from the water, bearing witness to the glory of a sunset or sunrise across the awe-inspiring landscape. Forget using pedal power on your bike, or the hassle of sitting in traffic with broken air conditioning in the height of summer; instead, select your floating vessel, hop on board, and explore the beauty of the county with the blossoming flora of the season surrounding you. You can even find traditional country pubs scattered along the waterways – perfect for stopping off for a pint!

2.     Hunstanton vs The Hague

A traditional seaside resort is the staple of any UK summer holiday, and whilst Hunstanton may not be topping any glamorous destination lists, it’s packed with almost everything that could ever be classed as ‘quintessentially British’.

The incredible sands of The Hague are certainly awe-inspiring, whilst the innovative architecture both as the backdrop and the foreground of your beach trip, with its stunning pier stretching out to sea, are spectacular. Sometimes though, there’s nothing better than basking in tradition, which is exactly what Hunstanton offers.

Take a boat tour on ‘The Wash Monster’, enjoy an ice cream on the promenade after spending too much time in the arcades, or simply lay on the sand with the ever-familiar sounds of the fair echoing along the shores; however you choose to spend your time, you can rest assured that you’re living out a truly typical trip to the British seaside.

3.     When it’s spring again I’ll bring again tulips from… Norfolk

A carpet of colour adorns the fields across both Norfolk and the Netherlands from March to May every year, offering a spectrum of vibrancy to dazzle the eyes. In Holland, you can barely turn a corner without a torrent of tulips swaying in the breeze, and Amsterdam’s Tulip Festival is one of the largest flower displays in the world.

Amsterdam, Dam Square

With many travellers crowning the Netherlands as the home of the spring flower, Norfolk is the place to head for a more peaceful and soothing experience to see the blooming beauties. A floral rainbow envelops every inch of soil in the dedicated tulip fields to the east, with all the tones and tints of colour you could imagine embellishing the landscape as far as the eye can see. With less visitors than their Dutch relatives, these fields display one of the finest examples of blossoming British horticulture without having to battle the crowds.

4.     Idyllic towns and villages trump city living

Norfolk’s only city is Norwich; its breath-taking cathedral and picturesque streets offer a beautiful setting with lots of facilities within seconds of each other, but as metropolitan centres go, it’s certainly not a city as you would come to expect. On the other hand, Amsterdam and Rotterdam are spectacular examples of urban utopias that grow more culturally diverse and architecturally outstanding with each passing year, with a phenomenal combination of contemporary chic and preserved tradition that blend seamlessly.

While these cityscapes are undoubtedly beautiful, it’s tough to equate the sublime setting of an English village to that of a cosmopolitan capital. Although it will entirely depend on the style of stop-over you’re searching for, immersing yourself in the quirky cultures and customs of a Norfolk town or village will give you the chance to fully appreciate just how sublime the English county is.

Wroxham’s ‘Capital of the Broads’ title is well-deserved and entirely understandable once you’ve visited the blissful town, whilst Thetford not only offers a serene forest to explore, but also a charming plethora of history to discover. Don’t miss Cley-next-the-Sea, which has the striking addition of a historic windmill, and check out the thatched cottages of Mundesley for a truly enchanting taste of Britain.

Horsey - windmill

5.     British cuisine is king

Stroopwafel, cheese and liquorice are all staple foods of a Dutch diet, not to mention there being a shop selling patat (French fries doused in mayonnaise) on every corner. Herring and mini Dutch pancakes also feature highly, as well as the delicacy of hagelslag, a chocolate sprinkle-filled sandwich. The diet is nothing if not varied!

But if some of that sounds a little too eccentric for your taste buds, the British cuisine is here to serve. Fish is famed in these parts, with Norfolk’s coast supplying many a fine restaurant and seaside chip shop with an array of freshly-caught goods ranging from the Cromer crab to Brancaster mussels and Stiffkey cockles. If you’d rather something from the land, samphire is a delicious addition to any dish that thrives in Norfolk more than most other counties, whilst Norfolk turkey is revered around many tables come Christmas.

Besides all of that, you just can’t beat a traditional Sunday roast in a traditional English pub surrounded by traditional British countryside!

So, there are the options and the choice is yours – what will it be, Norfolk or the Netherlands?

Bio: Kirsty Fensome is a Devon-based food lover with a passion for discovering the diverse cultures of the world and how they differ from those in the UK.

The post 5 reasons why Norfolk is the new Netherlands appeared first on InspiringTravellers.com.

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The Ultimate travel backpack?

Finding the perfect travel bag can be a struggle.

Large backpacks are too big when you go for a shorter trip and a lot of the "carry-on" size backpacks are mostly made to carry on international flights but are never small enough to fit the carry-on regulations for European low-cost airlines like Ryanair for example.

I started using smaller wheeled bags, like the American Tourister bags but these aren't handy when you're visiting an old medieval town like Bruges that has a lot of cobblestones.

So when I  noticed the Kickstarter campaign for the ultimate travel backpack from Standard Luggage I asked if they could send me one to review.

And they did!

I decided to test it out on my trip to Berlin:

Me carrying the Standard Luggage Carry-on Backpack at the Berlin Tourist-Information

The backpack is a 3-in-1 travel backpack, suitcase, and shoulder bag. Designed with concealable backpack straps, compartment dividers, and easy-to-carry handles.

One of the first things I noticed was the nice quality of the outer shell. The ballistic nylon feels sturdy and looks luxurious. This is important since you don't want to feel like a hobo when you enter a nice hotel with only a backpack

The exterior fabric is also water resistant which helps since a rain shower is never far away when you travel through Europe.

Watch the video below for a full demo:

Standard's Carry-on Backpack | Flight Travel Backpack - How it Works - YouTube

Standard's Carry-on Travel Backpack v.2.0 Features

What makes a good travel pack? I guess everyone has a different opinion about this! And it's also the reason why there are so many different styles of travel backpacks out there. These are the features that I like (or don't like) about the Standard's Carry-on Travel Backpack that make it ideally suited for traveling around Europe:

  • Bag dimensions: 21.5 x 13.5 x 7.5 in (54,6 x 34 x 16 cm) when zipped and 21.5 x 13.5 x 9.5 when expanded
  • Volume/Capacity: 35L zipped and 45L when expanded
  • Weight: 3.7 pounds (1,6 Kg)
  • Carry-on size: When traveling thru Europe I want a bag that I can carry on smaller Airlines like Ryanair or Easyjet, and this bag is perfect for that. And an expandable zipper adds 10L capacity instantly whenever you need it.
  • Hideaway straps: If you do want to check the bag, you certainly can. The straps tuck away so they can’t get snagged or damaged, which is also useful for stuffing them into overhead bins or under a seat. I would have liked however that the backpack straps would also be removable! When I want to use the backpack as a messenger bag, for example, I would like to be able to take off the backpack straps to save on weight.
  • Multiple carrying options: You’ll notice the pack has two handles, one on the top, and one on the side. This allows you to carry it like a briefcase, or pull it out of an overhead bin. Plus, the aforementioned backpack straps and included messenger bag straps let you carry the bag however you feel like it.
  • Laptop compartment: I always take my Chromebook with me when I travel for more then a few days. So this is a must!Version 2.0 of the travel backpack has a sliding & removable laptop sleeve for easy access and while I love the idea to be able to slide out your computer at airport security, most of the airport security lines make use of baskets these days, and then it's not so convenient to slide that compartment out while keeping it attached, so I just remove it and use my own laptop cover.

  • Locking zippers: Locking zippers are easy and hugely helpful and while the zippers of the travel backpack can be locked, the hole to put your lock thru is too small! (for my cable lock anyway). This could easily be fixed by using zippers with larger locking holes.
  • Flat packing: The Standard Luggage Carryon has a large main compartment that zips open like a suitcase. This not only maximizes packing space, but it allows you to easily access the contents of your bag without having to pull everything out of it. I prefer this system to the traditional “top loading” bags that you find on traditional hiking backpacks because it is much more practical for urban travel.
  • Internal compression straps: You pack the bag while it’s flat, then turn it upright. The compression straps keep everything stuck the way you packed it.
    One thing that I would change is the length of built-in compression straps inside the bag! When I tried to strap down the clothes and packing cubes after I had packed everything, I found the straps to be a bit short to cover everything
Design & Comfort

The Standard's Carry-on Backpack is well made and has a luxury finish to it that I really like.

The design of this backpack actually allows you to pack much more efficiently than with traditional luggage because it does away with the weight of wheels and a hard shell while still being sturdy enough to use for urban travel.

A complete travel system

Next to the carry-on backpack, Standard Luggage also sells complementary items that make this a complete packing system

Standard’s Packing Cubes

One of the essential items for easy packing are packing cubes, and the packing cubes from standard luggage are designed so that they fit perfectly in their carry-on backpack, they are exactly half the size of the backpack.

Their design allows for coupling and attaching and together the cubes can form a hanging dresser that can be placed on a door hook or stashed on a closet hanger while the mesh windows allow you to see the contents inside:

Standard’s Packing Cubes - How it Works - YouTube

One thing I wish they would add is some kind of compression system like an extra zipper in the middle that would compress the packing cubes even tighter when you close the zipper. That way the packing cubes would help to save even more space!

Backpack Packing Cube

Another addon is Standard’s Backpack Packing Cube, a packable backpack:

Standard’s Backpack Packing Cube - How it Works - YouTube

I always travel with a small backpack that I can pack in my suitcase to use as a day pack when I arrive.

While I love the idea of using a packing cube as a backpack, I didn't fall in love with this backpack Packing Cube. While it's perfect to use as a small daypack when you're on a city trip, it's a bit small for me to really use as a daypack when you go for a hike in the country somewhere.

Perhaps it would be a great idea to actually make it twice as big and in a more lightweight fabric, that way you could actually fit 2 normal packing cubes inside it (like a shell around it) and it would still fit the complete system!

Conclusion

Overal I really liked version two of the Standard's Carry-on Travel Backpack! I think I have found my new urban travel backpack that I can use for shorter trips around Europe.

THE GOOD / I really like this type of travel backpack for shorter city trips. The Standard's Carry-on Travel Backpack is well designed and made with high quallity materials.

THE BAD / Except for the zippers (see remarks above) I don't have any real faults except perhaps the straps inside that need to be a bit longer to be useful.

THE BOTTOM LINE / Version 2 of the Standard's Carry-on Backpack is a versatile travel backpack, ideal for the urban explorer!

Check out Standards website for more information and prices!

The post REVIEW: Standard Luggage Co's Carry-on Backpack v2.0 appeared first on InspiringTravellers.com.

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A city defined by its dense forests and golden beaches, bustling with a complex urban life and influenced by the beat of samba, Rio de Janeiro is a travel destination unlike any other. Thanks to its abundance of iconic landmarks - the Christ the Redeemer, the Sugarloaf and Copacabana beach to name a few - there is plenty of amazing things to do in Rio. The issue is simply finding time to do it all! Here are some of the highlights of places to visit in Rio de Janeiro that will truly make your trip a memorable one.  

The Christ the Redeemer

As one of the Seven New Wonders of the World, the mighty Christ the Redeemer is an iconic symbol of Brazil and draws thousands of tourists each year. To avoid the crowds, the best time to go is during the week or first thing in the morning. While the statue itself is impressive, it’s the views there that will really take your breath away. There are three ways to the top:

  • Take the train. The train station is at Cosme Velho and follows a winding railway track through the forest up Corcovado mountain to the top where the Christ the Redeemer stands. You can either get tickets at any of the Riotur kiosks across the city or at the station itself. The tickets include the entrance to the Christ.
  • Take the van. The official van takes you straight to the top and the price of the ticket includes the entrance to the Christ.
  • Hike. This is one of the most interesting ways to get to the Christ as the forest trail goes up Corcovado, yielding to dense vegetation, skittish monkeys, and trickling waterfalls. You can pay for the entrance to the Christ at the top but be aware that you can only pay in cash!

By Artyominc (Template:Artyom Sharbatyan) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

The Sugarloaf Mountain

Rio’s most iconic natural landmarks, the Sugarloaf Mountain offers spellbinding panoramic views of the sparkling blue ocean, fluffy forests, and tall peaks of multi-floored buildings. The most rewarding time to go is in the evening to watch an unforgettable sunset.

To get there, you can take a cable car from the station next to Praia Vermelha in Urca to the top of Morro da Urca. From there, you take another cable car over the ocean to the summit of the Sugarloaf. Tickets can be bought at the station at the bottom.

Escadaria Selaron

One of the city’s most beloved places to visit in Rio de Janeiro, the Escadaria Selaron is a 125-metre staircase leading from Lapa to Santa Teresa. Its most defining feature is the thousands of vibrantly colored tiles that form a striking mosaic that neatly covers every inch of the stairway. The stairs take their name from the Chilean-born artist, Jorge Selaron, who dedicated his life to decorating the stairs in honor of his love for Brazil and its people. You may remember the Escadaria Selaron for featuring in the music video Beautiful by Snoop Dogg and Pharrell Williams.

By Marshallhenrie (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Pedra do Sal

There is no music that better defines Rio de Janeiro than samba. For a truly local experience, head to Pedra do Sal on a Monday evening, when the square in the city center fills up with local samba bands who come together for a spontaneous jamming session. Locals and visitors head there to sip on strong caipirinhas or chilled beers in Rio’s balmy evenings whilst mingling and enjoying the music. One of the reasons this one of the best places to visit in Rio de Janeiro is because the atmosphere is really laid back so feel comfortable to keep the dress code casual and breezy.

An interesting fact about Pedra do Sal is that the area was once the main point for slave trading in the 16th century and the region is now a Cultural Heritage area.

Travel Brazil - Pedra Do Sal - YouTube

Mirante Dona Marta

This incredible viewpoint lets you see several of Rio’s most famous landmarks all in one sweeping panoramic view, including Guanabara Bay, the Christ the Redeemer, and Sugarloaf Mountain. Mirante Dona Marta is next to Tijuca Forest and is abuzz with birds, large lizards, and curious monkeys. The best way to get there is to take a taxi to the top. Just make sure you arrange a taxi back down again as they don’t pass by spontaneously.

By Donatas Dabravolskas (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Ilha de Paqueta

A tiny island just off the bay of Rio’s city center is an idyllic spot for a city retreat whilst just being a 30-minute boat trip from the bustling metropolis. Ilha de Paqueta has several enchanting features such as its clean beaches, family-owned bars, and a strict no-motor zone which means getting around is dependent on bikes, walking, or horseback.

Interesting Tip: Ilha Paqueta is also known for having vibrant street parties during Carnival. The atmosphere is friendly, safe and a lot of fun.

By VinyNeto (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Beaches

The most popular places to visit in Rio de Janeiro are its famous beaches. Rio de Janeiro is known for its golden coastline combined with a hot, sunny climate. The most popular tourist beaches are Copacabana and Ipanema, each having its own charming and distinct characteristics. Copacabana is a whirlwind of activity with families basking in the sun, sport-lovers playing football or volleyball, and beach vendors relentlessly walking the beach selling a variety of products. Ipanema, on the other hand, is lined with tropical palm trees and is the local hangout for the young and beautiful of Rio who goes there to top up their tans.

To get an off-the-beaten track experience though, head to Prainha or Joatinga to the west of Rio de Janeiro. The two beaches offer a secluded retreat for those willing to travel a bit further from the tourist hotspots and offer great surfing opportunities, gorgeous beaches, and an exotic forest backdrop.

Photo credit: Christian Haugen

Vidigal

One of the most fascinating aspects of Rio de Janeiro is that it is one of the only places in Brazil where you can safely visit a favela. A great way of getting to know them is through a favela tour, which is actually a very eye-opening and insightful experience to see the reality of life there. Many people are surprised to see that favelas have a fully-functioning community there with supermarkets, banks, schools, and doctors, and are not the faces of poverty and miserable as sometimes they are made out to be. Rocinha and Vidigal are the two safest favelas to visit. Vidigal is known for great weekend parties at the top of the community that starts late and goes on until the early hours of the next morning - it's one of those unforgettable places to visit in Rio de Janeiro. 

By Chensiyuan (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Lapa

The nightlife center of Rio de Janeiro is in Lapa, an edgy part of town known for its bar and club-lined streets. The main street is Avenida Mem de Sá where all the lively bars and clubs are located, bringing samba-fuelled nights to the hundreds of people that flock there every weekend. If you want to have a more low-key night, then go to the Arcos de Lapa for the all-night street parties where drinks are sold at makeshift stands and music is provided by spontaneous bands.

By Leoaraujo3 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Institute For The Memorial And Research Of The New Blacks

This museum doesn’t make it to the traditional guidebook list of places to visit as often as Rio’s impressive art galleries and informative museums, yet The Institute For The Memorial And Research Of The New Blacks is both fascinating and heart-breaking at the same time and has great cultural significance. The museum takes visitors on a walk through the history of slavery in Rio and is located in at the port where more than 2 million slaves arrived between 1500 and 1856. It is also the final resting ground of about 30,000 enslaved Africans who didn’t make the journey over to Rio. It gives an informative and historical look into a past that deeply influences the culture of Rio today.

By Halley Pacheco de Oliveira (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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Bio: A Guest Post by Sarah Brown from Now in Rio. Now in Rio is a travel and culture website that provides comprehensive information about Rio de Janeiro for both tourists and anyone interested in travel and/or Brazil. It seeks to change perspectives, shatter stereotypes and introduce you to the real Rio de Janeiro - its vibrant communities, delicious local cuisine, thriving underground culture and unbelievable scenery. To follow their adventures, visit their websiteFacebook and/or Instagram page.

The post The Top Places to Visit in Rio de Janeiro appeared first on InspiringTravellers.com.

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This is a guest post by Jerry Nelson

Where did your parents go when they wanted to travel and see the world? If they were twenty-somethings in the 1980s or 90s, odds are they went to Europe.

Cheap, readily available flights and relatively safe countries, Europe was the destination of choice — then.

Now, it's somewhere else. College grads as well as those taking a ‘gap year' are looking — and finding — more adventurous places to go. Locations they haven't see a million times when their parents pulled out the photographs and reflected on the “time of their lives.”

That place is Tierra del Fuego. Hiking, camping, backpacking, boating, horseback riding. It's all there.

What is Tierra del Fuego

Tierra del Fuego sits just off the southernmost tip of South America. The main island, Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego and s splattering of smaller islands which include Cape Horn and Diego Ramirez Islands. Shared by Chile and Argentina, the archipelago's first human residents was around 8000 BC.

European descendants ‘discovered' the islands in 1520. A short, fat guy named Ferdinand Magellan saw the bonfires lit by the natives and named it Tierra del Fuego, Spanish for ‘land of fire.'

It wasn't until the last half of the 19th century that Europeans started arriving in force. Before long there was a boom in sheep farming and a local gold rush.

Today, oil drilling dominates economic activity in the northern sector and tourism, manufacturing and support for Antarctic logistics are vital to the southern economy.

What to Do There?

Most of the tourism is based on the multiple claims of "southernmost" things. Ushuaia and Puerto Williams each lay claim as being the ‘southernmost city in the world.'

Museo Maritimo

Situated in Ushuaia’s  old prison, Museo Maritimo is a self-sustaining museum and does not get state assistance. The museum earns its way from the tourist trade — roughly 50% of whom are foreigners. Lonely Planet calls the collection of vessels "perhaps the best accumulation of model ships in the world."

Estancia Haberton

Open just during the summer, Estancia Haberton is the oldest estancia, or farm, in the Argentine part of Tierra del Fuego. Established in the late 1800s, the farm is 60km east of downtown Ushuaia.

Glacier Martial

Wear comfortable shoes and have patience. The hike up Glacier Martial rewards the persevering with a lovely view of Ushuaia and the Beagle Channel. A solitary ski slope is open during the winter and can be reached by taxi from Ushuaia.

Catamaran Trips

Explore the Beagle channel for some lens-worthy views of the mountains, sea lions, penguins, and cormorants. HINT: Pay the 200 Piso and choose a small catamaran. In the off-season, you may be joined by only about seven people — making it your almost private tour.

Beagle Channel Kayaking

Rent a kayak near the airport in Ushuaia and spend the night roaming the Beagle Channel

Fin del Mundo Train

A 19 3/4 gauge steam railway making regular trips between the national park and Ushuaia. Initially built to serve the prison in Ushuaia, it is now a heritage railway into the Tierra del Fuego National Park. Both Chile and Argentina agree it is the southernmost functioning train on the planet.

Hiking

Several well-laid out trails around glacial Lakes Escondido and Fagnano, which is also called Lake Cami. Be sure to take warm and waterproof gear.

How to Get There

Arguably the most popular way to get there is to fly on Aerolineas Argentinas from Buenos Aires. AA lands in Ushuaia and Rio Rande, but flights can be found to major settlements such as Punta Arenas in Chile.

The double-decker, long distance buses, deliver thousands of travelers each year and arrive in Ushuaia from all over Argentina. Visitors going to Ushuaia from Rio Gallegos pass through Chile which means two border crossings.

Surface roads are rough and potholed in Tierra del Fuego and other than the tourist train, there aren't any railways. Tours and transportation can be booked through the Tourist Office on San Martin or through Say Hueque, the largest tour company serving the region.

Insider Tips

You'll have a full day to look around before a cruise, and travelers often wish they had more time in Ushuaia. The National Park hike and canoe tour are excellent, but the boat portion can seem more like whitewater rafting in spots.

The weather is freakish and often changes as much as three times in three-hours. Freezing rain morphs into the scorching sun which turns into freezing snow and a blustery wind. Make sure you dress for each of the conditions.

Bio: Jerry Nelson is an American freelance photojournalist who covers social justice issues globally. Busy on assignment in South America, Jerry is always interested in discussing future work opportunities. Contact him today at jandrewnelson2@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @journey_america.

The post Tierra del Fuego Could Be the New Europe appeared first on InspiringTravellers.com.

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Welcome to one of the most fascinating Asian countries that I have ever been to in my life, Vietnam!!  This country is rich in culture, filled to the brim with spectacular destinations and is full of sensational culinary delicacies!!   Just thinking about Vietnam, my mind wonders back; smile returns to my face and my stomach craves all the yummy Asian food that I enjoyed there. These are the top places to visit on your adventure through Vietnam!!   Is your notepad ready??  Then let’s go!

Hanoi Old Quarter

Hanoi Vietnam

To me, Hanoi is the heart of beautiful madness, narrow streets, million scooters, tiny plastic chairs, egg coffees and the place where my love for Vietnamese food started!   Ahh… I love Hanoi!!

When you arrive in Hanoi, I strongly recommend that you stay right in the middle of it all, in the Old Quarter.  There is a multitude of hotels around and the majority of them have a very affordable price tag.  (We stayed in a 3 Star Hotel for only $46 p/n, not bad!)   The streets of the Old Quarter are narrow and filled with an insane number of tourists, locals and passing scooters, and it’s awesome!!  Colourful trinkets and souvenirs dangle from displays of every window.  Local vendors sell their yummy fresh fruits, vegetables, handmade specialties and so much more!!  The streets of Hanoi beam with life!  Street food stalls and restaurants alike invite you with delicious smells to eat more and more!!   I said it before and will say it again…  I fell in love with Vietnam from the first bite!

How to get to Hanoi:  This city has an international airport, so you can choose to fly there directly.

Sapa Valley

Bac Ha Markets Sapa

Are you ready for an adventure of a lifetime?  Sapa valley is a magical place.  Hoang Lien Son Mountains tower on each side of the valley with its highest Phang Xi Pang peak reaching 3,142 meters tall.

If you are up for it, you can hire a local guide for an informative guided hike from the township of Sapa and down to the little town of Tavan.  It is a 4-hour walk and will cover about 12 km.  This way you can truly absorb the beauty of your surroundings and discover how the Hmong, Tay and Dao hill tribes still live.  Not only will you check out the most spectacular scenery of cascading-down-the-mountain terraces of rice fields, but so much more!  If you want you can even taste some rocket-fuel-like local rice or corn wine.  Yum!

How to get to Sapa:  You can take a bus (about 5 hours) or an overnight train from Hanoi to Lao Cai.  Bus option will be faster and usually bit more comfortable.

Halong Bay

Pearl Farm, Halong Bay

When you feel like snorkeling and kayaking near the caves or purely are in need of relaxation and bliss, then Halong Bay is your choice!  The best way to explore this beautiful part of Vietnam is on board one of the luxurious junk boats.  Air-conditioned cabins, 5-star food and cocktails on the top deck checking out the beautiful emerald waters of the bay.  Sounds good?  I know it does.

There are thousands of tower-like limestone islands scattered in the Halong Bay.   Although you might not be able to check out everything, the key places of interest for your list should include: Titov Island, Fishing Village, Pearl Farm and the Surprise Cave.  Apart from those, all you got to do is have a wonderful time and soaking up some sun!  Little tip: make sure to reserve yourself a top deck daybed for cocktail hour for spectacular sunsets!

How to get to Halong Bay:  Bus from Hanoi to Halong Bay port will take around 3.5 hours.

Mekong Delta

Welcome to the floating adventures on the mighty Mekong!  This majestic river is a thriving main artery of the Southern Vietnam!  It makes its way from the Capital of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh.  This is where all the main tours begin.

You can choose from a multitude of adventures here.  From a sunset cruise across the Mekong (admire the views of the capital) to the inland jungle-like cruises in the heart of this amazing river.

Here you can lose yourself in the maze of rivers scattering out like arteries from the giant Mekong.  Along the way, you can learn a lot about the area.  You will be able to check out the hustle and bustle of the floating markets, witness farming and water buffalo in the paddies, Khmer pagodas, Buddhist temples and much more!!  The mighty Mekong has it all and it is all about the real Vietnam!

Hoi An

The Ancient Town of Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An…  This place has a soft spot in my heart.  I know I can only speculate, but I believe that Hoi An and the surrounding areas will make a similar impact on you as well.

When you stay in Hoi An, I recommend you rent a villa or a room at one of the beachside resorts!  It is a perfect spot to soak up the sun, go snorkeling or simply relax by the pool resort style!

This is of course not all that you can do in Hoi An.  No, no!!  Make your way to the amazing ancient town of Hoi An!  Beautiful rustic coloured buildings surround you everywhere.  Markets beam with vendors selling some of the authentic delicacies, if you are game to try!  There are 18th-century Japanese style houses still intact and well preserved for the tourist to admire.  And what attracted us the most to this place was the night time.  This is when the streets light up with millions of lanterns, illuminating the ancient town in magical, fairy-tale-like glow.  It is best to book a table for dinner at one of many restaurants.  Our favourite was “Morning Glory” (table on the balcony, overlooking the pretty street).  Ps: Bakery across the road has amazing Crème Brule.

Tip: Best way to explore this area is by scooter.  You can rent one for a few dollars a day and usually can be organized by the place you are staying at.  That way you can zoom around as you please.

How to get to Hoi An:  Just under 1.5-hour flight from Hanoi to Danang Airport and about 30 minutes’ drive to Hoi An.

Vietnam, just saying this name makes me want to go back, again and again!  The country where I found tastes I had never experienced before.  The country filled with happy people, spectacular scenery, and extraordinary Asian culture magic!  I love Vietnam and I know that you will too!

Bio: Jolene and Andrzej are living their dream. The duo is behind Wanderlust Storytellers, their widely successful family travel blog. They love sharing their passion for travel with people all around the globe. The couple says that they have found their purpose in life: “the question and the never-ending search for what we are here for or what we are meant to do with our lives was answered when we created our family travel blog.” You can also follow their adventures on Instagram and Facebook.

The post Top 5 Places to See in Vietnam appeared first on InspiringTravellers.com.

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