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Mount Rinjani, Indonesia (photo: Trekking Rinjani)

It’s no secret that Australians like to travel. Study results from Wotif-Travel released in late 2016 show that they tend to travel internationally more often staying in-country.

So, when they travel abroad, they seek adventure, cultural experiences, and unique dining opportunities. Perhaps this describes your travel style, too.

Regardless of the thrill of choice, traveling Aussies budget for Australian travel insurance. This desire to have experiences outside of the norm leads to a plethora of possible variables that can inhibit a memorable experience.

Here are five tips to consider before undertaking the next quest.

1. Plan, Plan, Plan Ahead

Carefully research where you plan to travel and decide what you want to do. If you are heading to a winter destination, consider the typical regional weather and possible travel warnings or delays that may occur.

Weather variables are not limited to snowfall. Thunderstorms, tornadoes, and hurricanes may contribute to the potential for weather problems depending on where you decide to visit.

Other considerations are natural disasters such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, flooding, and mudslides.

The recent eruptions in Bali are a great example of how travel plans changed for thousands of people from all around the globe.

Many had to cancel their visit resulting in a loss of reservation fees or for those already there; they were stuck waiting for the next opportunity to leave.

Another example is in the United States, where the recent wildfires in Northern California and subsequent rain and mudslides have made a tremendous impact in obvious ways as well as subtle ways.

Subtly, the fires have changed the wine country terrain, production outflow, and availability, affecting the overall industry.

So, if you were planning to go to the Napa Valley wine country for a tasting affair, anticipate changes.

While these natural disasters may not prevent your travel in the region, it means that expectations about your experience may need to be adjusted.

2. Expect the Unexpected

So, now you’ve done your homework, booked transportation, arranged accommodations, and now it’s time to decide what to do when you arrive at your chosen destination.

As mentioned, Australians look for adventure, and it comes in all shapes and sizes from zip lining in Costa Rica to riding a mountain coaster in Switzerland, or perhaps, your thing is hiking Machu Picchu. Regardless of the thrill of choice, traveling Aussies budget for Australian travel insurance.

Adventures, by definition, have an intrinsic risk involved. While no one wants to have a calamity that brings an untimely end to a vacation, the wise traveler will understand and take responsibility for a potential fiasco.

Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro (photo: Francisco Anzola) 3. City Thrills

Exploring the offerings of cities in another country is always an excellent option for vacationers.

Some countries host charming or majestic castles and palaces, exotic and lush gardens, or meandering museums rich in history and artistic beauty.

Other cities revolve around casual and relaxing activities such as swimming in the ocean or a private pool, sunbathing on the beach with a frothy beverage, or haute couture shopping.

While these activities are not as adventurous as riding a camel in Arabia, it is necessary to be aware of the potential pitfalls of city exploration – pickpockets, careless drivers and con artists to name a few of the obvious.

Additionally, sunburns or heat stroke can sneak up on a beach-bound sun worshipper.

Having one adult beverage too many by the pool can end in heartbreak if you are not aware of the city’s regulations.

Trekking over uneven castle cobblestones can quickly turn an ankle, hobbling a visitor.

The key is to prepare in advance by:

  • Looking up reliable transportation to get you back to your hostel or hotel if you like to imbibe.
  • Shopping for and testing appropriate footwear before rambling over ancient ruins.
  • Checking the tide tables for the beach, you choose your vitamin D therapy location.
  • Alerting your credit card company of your travel plans so that Visa doesn’t decide for you that the fabulous new velvet hat with the flowers and feathers on the brim is outside of your typical spending habits.
4. Think Before You Eat

Seeking a cultural experience through another ethnicities food is a common aspiration with world travelers.

The rising popularity of food-related travel television programs is making it standard practice to travel with the intent of eating all manner of food once thought exotic.

Virtually nothing is off-limits or taboo; insects, extremely spicy fare, and a variety of raw foods are consumed with regularity.

These foodie aspirations are undoubtedly appealing, but also fraught with an element of potential hazard. Guaranteed, no foodie wants to spend their holiday in their hotel room, or worse, in the hospital with any manner of food-related illness.

Sampling unusual food close to home can help you learn your body’s limits and prepare your internal system for whatever cuisine shock you subject your body to while overseas, thus saving you from hotel or hospital room induced cabin fever.

So, there are many good reasons for buying travel insurance, but the main lesson is what Aussies have figured out – expect the unexpected. It’s how to be a savvy and happy traveler.

How do you prepare for travel around the globe? Share your tips in the comments below.

This story was brought to you in partnership with Fast Cover. 

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GoBackpacking by Christopher Mitchell - 4d ago
The Chubu Region of Japan may not be known for its cuisine, but it should be.

My love for food knows no bounds, and I'm comfortable admitting that Japanese food is my favorite cuisine on the planet. Truthfully, It's not even close. So, when I was searching for the best food in the Chubu region, you can be sure that my search was thorough.

When I visited the Chubu region of Japan not so long ago, I certainly had goals of visiting castles, appreciating the beauty of Japanese nature, and experiencing shrines, but it was the food that I really had my eye on.

I am, quite literally, banned from several all you can eat Japanese restaurants in my hometown of Toronto. Spending hours at Japanese restaurants and taking on the menu taught me many things.

For one, your metabolism in your late teens is a gift worth cherishing, but, more importantly, I learned that Japanese food is more than just sushi.

Whenever I mention to people that Japanese food is my favorite cuisine, people always look at me, eyebrow raised, and say something like, “Oh, you love sushi that much?”

The answer is an unquestionable yes, but that's only the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to Japanese cuisine.

This point was repeatedly proven when I was in Chubu. The local specialties are diverse, delicious, and, evidently, worth writing about.

Without further adieu, here are the dishes that I consider to be the best food in the Chubu region of Japan.

The Must-Try Dishes of Japan's Chubu Region

It was hard to narrow down what the absolute best dishes in the Chubu region would be, but here's what I'll say you need to try if you're visiting.

For those who don't know or aren't clear, the Chubu region of Japan is known roughly as the central region of the country and is often called “the heart of Japan.”

It consists of major cities such as Nagoya and Nagano, and a slew of smaller cities and towns like Toyota, Toyohashi, Asuke, Ueno, Toba and so on.

If you haven't been, you need to add it to your bucket list. There's no shortage of sights to see.

Unagi

Japanese Unagi, which is commonly known as eel, is heavenly when it's prepared correctly.

The Chubu region (and in particular the city of Hamamtsu) is widely considered to have the best eel in the country, and the best idea of how to prepare it.

When I had the opportunity to try some for myself, it was over a bed of rice.

The eel, or unagi, was basking in a semi-sweet teriyaki-style glaze that was just ideal. It went perfectly with the fluffy, steaming rice underneath it.

Beyond just its flavor properties, it's also very healthy for you. In the recently released list from the BBC, eel ranked 56 in the world's top 100 nutritious foods.

If you haven't tried eel or are weirded out about by the slithery motions of the oft-misunderstood creature, I'd tell you to look past all that.

All that to say, Unagi is scrumptious, and the Chubu region is the place to try it. It's some of the best food in the Chubu region, hands down.

Miso-katsu is all kinds of delicious, and a must try in the Chubu region Miso-katsu

So, what is miso-katsu? Well, it's a variation on a Japanese classic. It's this small variation that, in my opinion, adds miso-katsu onto the “best food in Chubu” list.

Tonkatsu is the dish on which this is based. Tonkatsu is simply a breaded pork cutlet, but it's one of the most popular dishes in Japan. It's downright ubiquitous and can be found in any city. Miso-katsu, not so much.

Miso-katsu is still breaded pork, but the sauce which is typically poured over the cutlet is a miso-based sauce which makes the dish flavorful.

In the picture above, you can see said sauce just to the left – it's a thick and robust sauce which is worth traveling to Japan's Chubu region for. I'm not exaggerating when I say that.

The dish is said to have been created in Nagoya, but you can find it all over the Chubu region these days.

Crab sashimi isn't necessarily common, but that doesn't mean it isn't delicious Crab Sashimi

There are many reasons that you should visit the Chubu region, and crab sashimi is one of them. As you may have gathered, my foray into Japanese food goes pretty deep, but I'd never seen crab sashimi on offer.

I'd tried pretty much all the Japanese fish and shellfish in their raw state, but not crab, so I was pleasantly surprised when I got the opportunity.

If you're a “texture person,” this dish may not be for you, but I'd urge you to fight through it. It's marvelous.

The Chubu region is one of the premier places in the country to get your seafood fix, but look beyond the traditional, and go for crab sashimi.

I'd say the best place to get your hands on some would be Nagoya and specifically a restaurant called Sappora Kani-Ya. They do things right from start to finish.

While there, I indulged in five different courses of crab delicacies, headlined by the crab sashimi.

So, what are you waiting for? It easily qualifies as some of the best food in the Chubu region.

Grilled rice cake skewers? Um, yes, please. Goheimochi

It isn't the sort of dish where if someone described it to you, your mouth would instantly water, but don't discount it.

We're talking about flattened rice cakes, glazed in a delicate coating of miso or soy sauce (which is nice and sweet), then grilled to perfection. Japanese street food comes in many forms, and some are hit or miss – but this is an absolute guarantee.

When talking about crab sashimi I noted that the texture might be a hindrance for some, well with this dish, I'd say it's the complete opposite.

The flavor of goheimochi is well and good, but it's also a pleasure to sink your teeth into. Alright, that might just be me, but the moral of the story is that goheimochi certainly ranks in as some of the best food in the Chubu region!

The Best Food in the Chubu Region (Honorable Mentions)

It's easy to get carried away when you're talking about mouthwatering Japanese dishes. I've mentioned four dishes that warmed my heart, but I'd be remiss to not at share a few more, if only briefly.

  1. Oyaki – A dumpling from Nagano often stuffed with vegetables and healthy amounts of soy and miso.
  2. Oysters – Especially as you get closer to Toba and Osatusu, the oysters are to die for.
  3. Red Miso Soup – It's basically white miso, but with more soybeans and fermented a little longer. It's unique, and well worth trying!
  4. Yakisabazuchi – Think mackerel sushi, but even fresher than you thought possible.
  5. Gifu – Also known as ayu, this fish is widely considered to be the sweetest fish around. It can only be found in the cleanest rivers, so the Chubu region takes great pride in them.
Final Thoughts on the Must Try Food in the Chubu Region

Let's be frank – you're not going to go wrong either way. That being said, doing my research on what was available food-wise before landing allowed me to seek out a more enriching experience.

I was asking for miso-katsu when the folks I was with were asking how we would even get from the airport.

I'm all about traveling with intention because you may as well make the most of every minute, and food, for me, is a big part of that.

So, let us hope this article serves you well in your endeavors. In this region of the world, every bite is a blessing.

My trip was hosted in partnership with Go Backpacking and the local government of Japan. All opinions are my own. 

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Online in Costa Brava, Spain (photo: David Lee)

The internet has made travel much easier on several fronts: it’s easy to compare lodging prices, book tickets, and navigate foreign cities. And yet even as we seek the allure of the foreign, it can be hard to give up the convenience of our familiar online environments.

Despite the web being world-wide, the digital landscape can vary significantly across countries.

There are blocked websites, pages in a foreign script, and the never-ending carousel of public networks in airports, cafes, and hotels—each one making vague claims of what it might do or not do with our user information.

If you’re looking to keep your online connections consistent while traveling, you should consider investing in a virtual private network (VPN) service.

A VPN establishes an encrypted connection between a user’s device and server or “endpoint” under the service’s control.

This provides many benefits to travelers regarding safety, convenience, and comfort.

Protect Your Data

Unless you get yourself a mobile hotspot before you go, you will probably rely on a public network for your online activities.

The flimsy security of public WiFi, coupled with travelers’ tendencies to keep important documents (e.g., itineraries, bookings, contact details) online can make for an information security nightmare.

The encryption provided by a VPN, however, makes up for the lapses in public network security.

With your VPN active, you don’t need to worry about other users on the network—in airports and hotels, there could be hundreds—snooping around your emails and transaction data.

Access Blocked Sites

The accessibility of web content can vary from country to country for many reasons, usually involving private licensing restrictions or government censorship laws.

Sometimes it’s no more than an annoyance, but other times it can get in the way of work or other essential tasks. Whichever it is, though, VPNs can help you get around it.

When you connect to one of a VPN’s endpoints, the server you’re using assigns you a new IP address based on where it’s located.

This effectively masks your IP address and tells any web service you’re accessing that you’re located in another region.

This will get you past the most common means of blocking web content, aptly called geoblocking.

With this, you can watch any shows you might be following on streaming services like Netflix, or you could keep up with news that might be censored in the country you’re in.

But if you’re circumventing policies and censors, are you going to get in trouble?

The answer is a bit of a gray area. Hardly any countries have established policies on VPN use.

That said, it’s a good idea to read up before traveling. The United Arab Emirates and China are both stricter than usual on them, for instance.

China’s hostility toward VPNs means that a VPN that works in China likely works anywhere in the world, though, making it an excellent litmus test for potential VPN services.

Savvy Shopping

Just as a VPN’s encryption protects your documents and correspondences, it can also safeguard transaction information, including payment details and receipts.

This is great for making online purchases abroad, especially if you’re limited to public or semi-public networks.

Moreover, because a VPN can make it seem as if you’re in another country, you can sometimes use it to get better deals on travel-related purchases.

Tourists often pay more than locals do for products, services, or access to places of interest. A VPN won’t eliminate this problem, but it can mitigate it in some cases.

Domestic flights, for example, are sometimes cheaper when booked locally—so you can have your VPN mark you as local when you book the flight.

You should note, however, that your transactions will be kept hidden from third parties, but not from anyone directly concerned with the purchase.

If you make online purchases from vastly different locales, your credit card company is bound to notice.

Choosing a VPN Service

All that being said, there’s still the question of which VPN service to use.

There are many reviews available online, but when it comes to VPNs specifically for use while traveling, here are a few things to consider:

  • Choose a VPN that lets you automatically connect to it. A VPN can’t protect you if it’s not active and in the rush of travel, you might forget to connect manually. (Unreliable WiFi signals can also cause disconnection from the VPN.)
  • Find one with endpoints where you need them. This might be endpoints in the country you’re visiting (for faster connections while staying secure), or one near your home region.
  • Make sure it can support as many devices as you’ll need. This is mainly for paid VPNs, which restrict the number of devices that can connect to them and often charge premiums for more devices. If you use several smart devices while traveling, make sure your VPN can cover them all.
  • Again, make sure it works in the country you’re going to. Run searches to see if it’s been working or not within the past few months; this will be a good gauge of reliability.
  • Finally, look up the VPN provider’s reputation. You might think you’re getting a good deal with a free service, but some providers have been known to sell user information to fund their operations.

This story was provided in partnership with Hotspot Shield.

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Thinking about applying for an ESL job in China? Already got an offer for a teaching contract? Don't forget to check the details.

While it's certainly an exciting time to be teaching overseas, it pays to check out all the aspects before heading to the airport. You should read your contract carefully before accepting.

An ESL contract is much like any other legal contract that you'll need to take seriously. It's signed by you and your employer and binds you to what's written.

In essence, it’s your responsibility to enter a contract that meets your expectations.

If this is your first time teaching abroad, you may not know what to be looking for, so we’ve provided a set of key criteria you should be on the lookout for before you accept any ESL teaching position in China.

Similarly, should you decide to enlist in some help, popular services such as Career China will guarantee placement in reputable schools and help guide you through your contract and expectations to help reduce your risk of entering a bad agreement.

Working Hours

The contract should specify the hours you need to work in both classroom and non-classroom setting.

Non-classroom hours include the hours you'll be spending on testing or evaluating students, grading homework or creating new lesson plans.

Make sure that the exact numbers are written on the contract; if there isn't one, confirm the details with the company before signing the contract.

You may be wondering what the minimum classroom hours should be in ESL teaching.

The standard is around 15 to 20 hours of classroom time and not more than 5 hours for non-classroom time. Any more than that and you should be paid for the extra hours appropriately.

Moreover, English training institutions should not ask you for more than 25 hours for classroom and 5 hours for non-classroom weekly.

If there's a need for extra hours, then you need to make sure that you are getting a higher rate for them.

Salary

Your salary should always be enough to meet your personal needs. It should also be competitive and in line with the current value of ESL teacher salaries on the market.

Asking a local expert or checking online job listings should give you an idea of how much you should be getting for teaching English in China.

You'll also have to consider the region – teaching in Tier 1 cities like Shenzhen, Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou should fetch you a higher salary as compared to the smaller cities because these cities have a higher demand for teachers and have a higher cost of living.

Salaries in public schools can fall in the range of 10,000 RMB up to 15,000 RMB while teaching in private or international schools could get you 16,000 to 24,000 RMB.

Treat this figure as a baseline – if you have more experience and training, then you can and should negotiate for higher pay.

Duration of Contract

Your ESL contract should state the start date and ending date as a teacher.

Standard lengths are 10 months for public school and 12 months for private schools.

When the contract ends, the residency and housing permit usually end as well.

During this time, it will be best to think about whether you wish to continue teaching ESL in China or leaving the country before your residency expires.

Medical Insurance

Your ESL contract should include the terms of your medical expenses.

Most public schools in China offer basic medical insurance for their teachers, i.e., reimbursement for basic hospital fees, etc.

Basic medical insurance changes if a private school decides to hire you. Some companies state a specific amount to pay for medical expenses.

Make sure to check this carefully, as it's a significant factor that shouldn't be taken lightly.

Airfare Reimbursement

Employers may or may not have airfare reimbursement as part of the contract. Travel costs include the airfare ticket from your country to China.

You can check and see if the costs of a travel ticket from China back to your country is included as well.

Generally, this is a set amount that you will be reimbursed regardless of where you are flying or how much it ends up costing you.

Visa and Permits

Spend some time going over the contract and check the part where visas and permits are stated.

As a standard, your employer should give a valid work visa for the duration of your time teaching.

If the contract does not state that you will receive a working Z Visa, then you need to confirm with the school whether they will offer this visa.

If they intend to, then you must get this written in the contract. If they do not give a working Z Visa, it is in your best interest to move on to an employer that will offer you working status.

Often, employers in China will try to get out of sponsoring your working Z Visa because it is both costly as well as requires lots of paperwork on their end.

What this means for you, if you are not provided a working Z Visa, is that you will be working illegally under a tourist visa.

You can face being sent home if you are caught working on a tourist visa and will need to “exit” the country every 90 days to reset your tourist visa.

If you are not living in a border city such as Guangdong or Shenzhen, this equates to a massive headache for you as the teacher and can be avoided simply if you confirm the Z working visa beforehand.

Holidays and Time Off

As a rule, public schools offer more holidays as compared to private schools.

The trade-off is that you're more likely to be paid less if employed as an ESL teacher in a public school.

Take a look and see if you'll be paid for time off as many Chinese holidays are quite lengthy (some up to 4-5 weeks during the Chinese New Year), especially if you're a public school teacher.

Some may pay you in full during these holidays, others at half a rate, while some won't pay at all.

The bottom line is that you should exercise due diligence and check out all these things before finally agreeing to the ESL contract's terms and conditions.

Being prepared and knowing what to expect is part of the ESL teaching experience!

This story was provided by and published in partnership with Career China. 

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GoBackpacking by Christopher Mitchell - 1M ago
Japan's Chubu Region is full of wonder

It sounds strange, but the most exciting part of my plane ride over to Japan in November was that I didn't know much about the area where I was headed.

Isn't it refreshing to occasionally head to destinations where we don't have a roadmap of how exactly it will be?

Don't you love that feeling when you mention to a friend where you're headed, and all they can respond with is a furrowed brow which suggests that they've never heard of it?

It's entirely possible you've just answered no to both of the above questions, but that's beside the point.

The point I'm trying to make is this – When I got to the Chubu Region in Japan, I was totally blown away by what I encountered. It wasn't just the Izakaya culture either, I promise.

I found a cacophony of reasons that I was happy to be in the Chubu Region (colloquially called Shoryudo), and I thought I ought to share them.

Just as aside, when I'm referring to the Chubu Region, I'm roughly referring to the central area that's sandwiched between East and West Japan and includes highlights like Mt. Fuji, the Olympic city of Nagano, as well as modern and fast-paced Nagoya!

You'll find views in the Chubu Region that you simply won't find anywhere else. 5 Reasons to Visit Japan's Chubu Region 1. Nature

The nature that I was to experience in Japan's Chubu Region was something to behold.

You've got the majesty of the coastline down in Toba where hot spring culture is in full bloom, and that's juxtaposed with the autumn leaves (also in full bloom, I might add) in nearby Asuke.

What struck me was the attitude towards preservation there. The streets were clean, the forests were well taken care of, and the beaches were all neat and tidy.

I'm far from a biologist, but I'll at least say that it was refreshing to see a region that was conscious of their environmental footprint or, at the very least, interested in preserving their natural surroundings.

Everywhere I went I got the sense that the Japanese people understood what they had with the Chubu Region in terms of nature, but it had been entirely overlooked by those of us abroad.

Hiking, long walks through the forest, pilgrimages, mountain climbing, scuba diving – you name it, they've got it.

Some of the colors were so deep and vibrant; they hardly seemed real. 2. It's Not Overrun by Tourists

It's simple, the fewer people have heard about a region, the fewer tourists are going to be there.

However, my feeling is that international tourists are going to learn that Japan is more than just Tokyo and Kyoto soon.

I distinctly recall being at the Toyokawa Inari Shrine, and the experience was just so much richer since I didn't have to wade through a pool of tourists.

There were a fair amount of people paying their respects, but I certainly didn't see a tour bus of international tourists pull up. In a sense, that made things a lot more special.

I'm not suggesting that you should drop everything and head to the Chubu Region, which would ironically fill it with international tourists (the very thing I'm saying makes the region special), but I am saying that it should at the very least be on your radar.

3. The Food

It takes a big person to admit their bias, so let me just go ahead and admit that Japanese food is my favorite food on the planet.

That being said, there was something special about the food in this region. They had a range of Japanese delicacies that had tickled my fancy before, but it was the seafood that blew my mind.

There was one meal in particular where I literally ate five different crab dishes, and that was the meal. How great is that?

I also had eel on rice which baffled my senses, and fresh oysters grilled over an open fire.

I had more fish than one should reasonably consume in a week, though being reasonable was never my strong suit.

The real beauty is that eating in Japan really doesn't have to be that expensive to be delicious.

What I wouldn't do to be able to go back in time and eat this crab and tuna sashimi from the Chubu Region once more… 4. The Craftsmanship

I often compare my dexterity to that of a kindergartener, and as such, I was certifiably impressed with the level of care and coordination I saw in the making of some astonishing handmade products.

There was a Japanese papermaking and dying factory I visited in Mie Prefecture that prepared handmade paper with astonishing detail and design. And, in many ways, that was just the tip of the iceberg.

The place where I went from being impressed to being in awe was the handmade candle shop on a small side street of an even smaller town in Aichi Prefecture.

He sat there all day, in front of boiling vats, creating sheer beauty.

The candle maker quietly goes about his craft in the Chubu Region of Japan 5. The Vibe

When you visit the most populous or famous cities in a nation, I've found that those places can sometimes emanate a self-important sort of vibe. Now, sometimes, it's well deserved – New York is important, London is important, and so on and so forth.

However, in light of that, I often like to check out cities that are outside of that spectrum. With Nagoya, you've got exactly that.

It's the fourth largest city in the country, and it's growing rapidly, both culturally and from a population perspective.

I met people who wanted to show me the time of my life, just because I came to check it out. I'm not sure you'd find that in Tokyo.

The skyline of Nagoya is one of the finest in the Chubu Region of Japan, in my humble opinion.

The moral of the story is that the places that are most popular are not necessarily the most worth going to.

There's no question that Toyko, Kyoto, and other popular cities are regions are well worth the money to visit, but don't forget about the Chubu Region along the way.

There's plenty to see, and plenty of paths that aren't over-trodden, yet are ready for your arrival.

My trip was hosted in partnership with Go Backpacking and the local government of Japan. All opinions are my own. 

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Ready for a caving and rappelling adventure in the state of Tabasco

In early December, I visited ATMEX, Mexico’s Adventure Travel conference.

Representatives included Mexican state tourism boards, adventure tour operators, travel agents, sustainability experts, and so much more.

What everyone shared in common, though, was excitement and passion for about travel in Mexico.

To be honest, the days preceding the conference were my first experiences with adventure travel in Mexico (though I’m quite familiar with foodie, cultural, and beach travel within the country), and I couldn’t have been more impressed.

In fact, I since declared 2018 my year of Mexico travel, and I’ll be devoting the coming months to further exploration in my adopted country: it’s my new goal to experience every state in the coming years.

Why was I so impressed with adventure travel in Mexico? Why should you choose Mexico as your next adventure destination?

There are a million reasons, for sure, but I’ve narrowed them down for you.

1. World-class adventure

Whether you want to go white-water rafting, caving, bouldering, rock climbing, rappelling, surfing, flying, or pretty much ANYTHING else: Mexico’s got it.

Because Mexico has such a diverse landscape and environment – including deserts, oceans, lakes, cenotes, caves, karsts, jungle, forest, and so much more — you can find pretty much any adventure activity within this one, single country.

Caving with Petra Vertical 2. Affordable prices

I’ll admit it: adventure hotspots in the Americas are pricey. For many travelers, adventure activities are prohibitively expensive.

Both the United States and Costa Rica (two of the most popular adventure destinations) tend to have budget-busting prices, limiting many travelers’ abilities to take part in all the cool adventures they’d love to try.

In Mexico, your ability to do adrenaline activities is determined only by the extent of your thirst for adventure, not your wallet.

For example, in Tuxtla Gutierrez, for less than $100 you can get a full day of caving with the top experts in the industry, a whole day of mountain biking through indigenous towns (stopping to experience the culture, of course), or a full day of rappelling into the Sinkhole of Parrots and exploring sinkhole-perimeter trails: all including American-standard safety equipment and training, transportation to and from your hotel, lunch, and English-speaking expert guides.

Enjoying a quick coffee pit stop in between landing at Tuxtla Gutierrez Airport and arriving to Tzimbac Adventure Park 3. Convenient logistics

Transportation doesn’t seem like a big deal in choosing an adventure destination… until you’ve come off a thrice-delayed flight with two connections and now need to take a chicken bus.

Trust me, convenience is critical when reaching your destination ready to take on an adventure, and making the most of potentially short vacation time.

To get to two of the biggest adventure hubs in Mexico (Tuxtla Gutierrez or Villahermosa), you likely just need two flights: an international flight into Mexico City, and then a domestic flight to your destination.

From the airport, you can take an Uber or registered taxi to your hotel or hostel, or arrange pickup with your accommodation. From there, have a meal or coffee, maybe a shower or quick nap, and then get started exploring!

There’s not much jet lag to get over (if any), and no long bus rides, no shuttles, and no complicated connections. Does it get easier than that?

Bats clustered on the Kolem Chen cave ceiling 4. Ecotourism opportunities

If you wanted to experience adventure without nature, you might as well go to a rock-climbing gym.

Mexico takes ecotourism adventures to the next level, with some of the most biologically diverse ecological communities in the world.

You’ve got an aptly named Parrot Sinkhole in Chiapas, an otherworldly firefly gathering in Tlaxcala, baby turtles on the beaches, the Monarch butterfly migration to Michoacan, all kinds of whales of the coast of Baja, the MesoAmerican reef (the second largest barrier reef in the world) off the Caribbean coast, bats in so many caves around the country, and endless other incredible animal and nature-encounter opportunities.

Representatives from a new Ecotourism Center under construction: El Gran Silencio del Jushalito 5. Sustainability focus

Mexican adventure tour companies are increasingly aware of environmental impact and involved in sustainable endeavors.

Exxi organizes trash collection on their routes to preserve the natural beauty and integrity of the trails and is committed to recycling, RED Travel Mexico supports a nonprofit providing sustainable employment opportunities while protecting species and habitats in priority conservation areas, while even ATMEX itself is carbon neutral, including a marked emphasis on fewer printed documents.

Many smaller communities that have been traditionally left off the tourism trail realize the importance of – and potential opportunities presented by – ecotourism, prompting better care to be taken of the environment along with the establishment of ecotourism centers and lodges.

A potter from Chiapas demonstrates the traditional technique of foot-powered, hand-thrown pottery 6. Cultural contact

An adventure trip to Mexico won’t be isolated from the incredible culture.

Whether you’re dining on exquisite Mexican cuisine, hanging out in a town’s plaza during your free time, or experiencing diverse styles of dancing: Mexico is a cultural hotspot, and you’ll be able to enjoy it all, without skimping on the adventure.

The current trend in Mexico tourism is a renewed focus on culture.

Most adventure trips and tour operators include cultural contact as an integrated aspect of any tour, from scheduling lunch in a “Pueblo Magico” to using guides who grew up in the area and can share their perspective.

“Pueblo Mágico” Tapijulapa 7. Storytelling

What the heck does adventure have to do with storytelling?

Aside from having a great story to tell afterward, of course?

One of unique trends in Mexico tourism now, in my opinion, is the emphasis on storytelling.

Rather than just doing something (taking a bike ride, charging down a zipline), guides share the story behind it: the history of the area, the details of the impact on the local community, and any meaning behind the activity.

When visiting the Parrot Sinkhole, I learned how the pit was created and how the community developed the ecotourism initiative as a symbiotic relationship between the land and the locals.

Before and after exploring Kolem Chen cave, we visited the nearby “Pueblo Mágico” (Magic Town) of Tapijulapa, to see local handicrafts, hang out in the town square, and enjoy a traditional meal, providing context and an understanding of the culture that the cave is housed in.

This storytelling aspect creates a more profound and more memorable experience and a connection between the visitor and the place (and its people) that extends far beyond a day trip activity.

My trip was hosted in partnership with Go Backpacking and ATMEX. All opinions are my own. 

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Entrance to Odell Brewing Co.

Fresh from my night alone in a wilderness yurt, I made the scenic two-hour drive east from State Forest State Park to Fort Collins, the craft beer capital of Colorado.

The second hour of the drive on Route 14 was fun as the highway swerved through the winding Poudre Canyon, along the Poudre River, where I would be going fly fishing the following day.

I checked into a private room at the charming and historical Fernweh Inn & Hostel; a former B&B turned hostel.

My room featured a queen size bed, bunk bed, bay window, and an antique tub in the en-suite bathroom. It felt wonderful to be in a warm, comfortable house after a night in the yurt.

Once I was settled, I met Kelsey, the vibrant hostel owner, Katy from Visit Fort Collins, and Bob, the owner of Beer and Bike Tours.

Together, we took off on an afternoon brew cruise to visit three of the city's 21 microbreweries.

Odell Brewing's beer garden Odell Brewing Co.

It was a leisurely ride from the hostel to our first brewery, Odell Brewing Co., which was the first craft brewery to open shop in Fort Collins back in 1989.

The original brewery was located in a nearby 100-year old grain elevator; however, when they outgrew it, they built their current facility which features a spacious indoor tasting room and a gorgeous outdoor beer garden.

Odell Brewing beer flight

I ordered the Classic beer flight, featuring the beers that helped build Odell Brewing Co. into the USA's 34th largest brewer.

From left to right in the photo above, I tasted their:

  • Easy Street Wheat
  • Levity Amber Ale
  • 5 Barrel Pale Ale
  • 90 Shilling Flagship Ale
  • Cutthroat Porter

I prefer medium to dark beers, so the Flagship Ale and Porter were my favorites.

As we were sipping beers, enjoying the beautiful weather, Katy mentioned that everyone in town enjoys spending time at Odell's beer garden. I could see why!

Horse & Dragon Brewing Company

Feeling a slight buzz from my first tasting of the day, we cruised over to the nearby Horse & Dragon Brewing Company.

Opened by husband and wife duo Tim and Carol Cochran in May 2014, it's one of the newer breweries. However, they've found an immediate following for their beers.

Carol was at the brewery when we arrived, and we immediately connected over both having lived in Colombia (her in Bogotá, me in Medellín).

The bar

In addition to immediately liking Carol, I loved the vibe of the tasting room, which felt warm and friendly.

I ordered a six-beer flight including:

  • Atta Boy Jon (Marzen)
  • Old Tom's Rye (dark rye ale)
  • Whistle Blast (honey brown ale)
  • Sad Panda (coffee stout)
  • H&D N2 (stout)
  • H&D carbonated (dark chocolate stout)

It was quite a lineup! My favorite was the H&D N2 stout as I preferred the nitrogenated stout vs. carbonated, which would explain why I became an immediate fan of Guinness when I first tried it.

Carol also took the time to give me a quick tour of the brewery. The room where the beer is made was adorned with flags, including those of Colorado, the USA, and Colombia.

Cooper Smith's Pub & Brewing

As the sun was setting on our boozy afternoon, we made our third and final stop of the beer and bicycle tour at Cooper Smith's Pub & Brewery.

Like Odell's, Cooper Smith's has been a staple of Fort Collins since 1989.

There I tasted a few more local beers before demolishing a much-needed Baja burger topped with goat cheese, poblano pico, guacamole, and chipotle sauce with sweet potato fries.

It was as delicious as it sounds, the perfect way to end my first afternoon in Fort Collins.

Bikes locked up outside Cooper Smith's Pub & Brewing Fort Collins Beer and Bicycle Tour

Overall, my Fort Collins brew cruise was precisely the experience I was looking for, a fun and leisurely introduction to the city and its craft beer scene.

The tour costs $50 per person on weekdays, and $65 per person on the weekends, and includes a Raleigh cruiser bike, helmet, lock, local guide, and brewery tours when available.

Participants pay for their beers, helping to ensure they only drink as much as they want.

In addition to Fort Collins, Beer & Bike Tours offer cycling tours across Colorado of varying durations, and internationally in Japan and Germany. Plus, they do custom group tours too!

My tour was courtesy of Beer & Bike Tours and organized as part of my trip hosted by the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association and Visit Fort Collins.

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Promenade (photo: Xiquinho Silva)

Most travelers don’t know what to expect from Tel Aviv – and many are taken by surprise with its vibrant energy and creativity.

Since it is a major technological and business hub in the region, there are many flights to Tel Aviv from anywhere in the world.

Travellers go to Tel Aviv because it lies at the heart of Israel’s start-up industry known as Silicon Wadi and it is also where the largest diamond trading center in the world, Tel Aviv Diamond Exchange, is located.

If you are planning to travel to Tel Aviv, you will find that there are a myriad of adventures and fun things to do in the city.

Israel’s cultural and commercial capital is known for its nightlife, cuisine, and culture.

Exploring Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv is not a big city, and all the major sites are very accessible. It is built for walking or biking.

With its city-wide bike rental system, Tel-O-Fun, which users can pay for through subscriptions, visitors can explore the three-mile-long beachside boardwalk.

The Taleyet, a pedestrian-only thoroughfare, runs from Old Tel Aviv Port to Jaffa, with magnificent views of the Mediterranean Sea. The promenade is open at all hours.

Trendy Neighborhood

Neve Zedek, a neighborhood filled with restored houses, quirky boutiques, cafes and art galleries, has been described as Tel Aviv’s version of Soho in New York.

Located in Neve Zedek are some of the city’s premier art venues such as the Rokach House and the Suzanne Dellal Center.

Beach (photo: Terrazzo) Beaches

Being a coastal city, Tel Aviv is dotted with beautiful beaches with lots of opportunities to frolic in the sun.

The Gordon-Frishman Beach is a prime spot for beach volleyball and is conveniently located within walking distance of the Tel Aviv Marina, and various outdoor bars offer fun after-hours.

Lying right in the center of the city is Bograshov Beach, where both tourists and locals lounge and enjoy the stretch of coastline just steps away from eateries serving scrumptious food.

Frishman Beach is ideal for families with children, as it has a shallow entry into the water. This beach also has a fitness trail and is near to restaurants and bars.

Museum of Art (photo: Bradley Howard) Interesting Museums

Interesting museums abound in Tel Aviv. More than boring displays, many of these museums offer interactive experiences for visitors.

The Tel Aviv Art Museum houses an impressive collection of old and contemporary masterpieces housed in a building that’s a work of art in itself.

The Eretz Israel Museum showcases a comprehensive display of the country’s cultural heritage spread across a beautiful campus. Marvel at their displays on ethnography, history, culture, arts, and many more.

Beit Hatfutsot is the museum of the Jewish People, a vast museum chronicling the history of the Jewish people, complete with a family history library, where Jews can trace their roots.

This story was published in partnership with EL AL Israel Airline.

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The fox plays a prominent role at the Toyokawa Inari Shrine

When I first stepped foot on the grounds of the Toyokawa Inari Shrine, the local tour guide smiled, looked me in the eye and proudly noted that “you could fit two Tokyo baseball stadiums” within its confines.

However, the actual size of the shrine area wasn't its most notable feature. What was most apparent, almost immediately, was the presence of stone foxes.

On the trip through Central Japan (known as Shoryudo or the Chubu Region) thus far, I'd witnessed striking examples of natural beauty, and visited breathtaking castles, but this was another beast entirely – quite literally.

I've visited Japan on three separate occasions, and visited more shrines and temples than I'm even comfortable estimating, but never had I seen a place like this.

I don't want to in any way generalize, but, historically speaking, the rules for what constituted true aesthetic beauty could be narrow in Japan.

I'd argue that this prevented much experimentation in the construction of Buddhist shrines and temples.

What makes the Toyokawa Inari Shrine unique is the way it evolved to truly become one of a kind, a jewel among Buddhist temples and shrines.

The Toyokawa Inari Shrine is widely considered to be one of the most important in the nation. The History of the Toyokawa Inari Shrine

Tokai Gieki is the name of the Buddhist priest who founded what would end of becoming one of the three most important Inari shrines in the nation.

The other two famed Inari shrines are the Yutoku Inari Shrine in Saga and the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto.

For context, a significant number of shrines in Japan are considered Inari shrines, which are, on the most basic level, shrines dedicated to the Shinto god Inari Okami.

This god's spirit form (or kami) is said to be that of the fox, which is how we came to see the thousands of foxes begin to take their place on the premises.

Like many significant places of worship in Japan, the boundaries between Buddhism and Shintoism are very blurred.

In fact, I've spoken personally to many Japanese people of many generations, and most that I've talked to don't see a reason for there to be a great distinction.

Their attitude is very much that Shintoism and Buddhism meld together harmoniously, and that both feed into a holistic approach that reaps the benefits of the rich, spiritual life.

Many of the buildings we see today have been rebuilt at one time or another, but there are still structures in the complex that are original, and dating back to the middle of the 16th century.

There's much to explore at the Toyokawa Inari Shrine Diving Deeper into the Tradition of the Toyokawa Inari Shrine

This shrine, in particular, is noted for its “success rate” in prayers answered.

There are tales going back to ancient times of Japanese warriors who came to Toyokawa Inari, prayed for victory, and were graced with decisive battles.

That being said, generally speaking, the god Inari is actually much more famous for being a god who listens closely to prayers on success, mainly for business. That makes this shrine one of the most popular around for the New Year.

If you're on a strict budget (or very strict budget) it may be worth popping by, just to see if you just might change your luck and be able to extend your trip!

Tourists aside, though, Japanese come by regularly to pray for fertility, a boost for their company or enterprise, or a particularly good harvest for their respective agricultural interests.

I'm not overstating how important this is either – some six million people visit each year.

The Hill of Foxes (Reiko-Zuka) is truly something to behold. The Hill of Foxes (Reiko-Zuka)  at the Toyokawa Inari Shrine

This area, to me, is by far the most intriguing, and really what makes it worth the visit from a photographer's perspective.

You must be thinking, as I was – where did all these foxes come from?

The answer that I got from the guide was one that I wasn't necessarily expecting, but one that allowed me to appreciate the Toyokawa Inari Shrine even more. It also explains why some are brand new, and some nearly have a layer of moss.

I mentioned before that this shrine is famous for people coming to pray here, largely for worldly success. Well, if someone comes here to pray, and their prayers are answered, it's customary to buy a fox and place it here.

When you look at this “Hill of Foxes” at Toyokawa Inari from that lens, this place becomes even more special. What you're looking at is the tangible evidence of dreams come true.

Right across from Toyokawa Inari, there's a great local neighborhood for food and shopping. What You Need to Know about Toyokawa Inari

This trip to Toyokawa Inari doesn't have to be expensive in the slightest, which is how any visit to a Buddhist or Shinto shrine should be.

The entrance is completely free (though you may want to have a few coins to serve as an offering).

To get to Toyokawa Inari, simply go to Meitetsu Toyokawa-Inari Station, and it's less than a five-minute walk.

This shrine is located in the city of Toyokawa, which is technically in the gorgeous Aichi Prefecture.

My number one recommendation would be to schedule time to go across the street to the local vendors. There you'll find stellar food, and some fox/Inari related souvenirs that are worth sticking in your luggage, and not too pricey.

The whole point of visiting the Chubu Region is to change things up a bit as far as your traditional trips to Japan which may just include cities like Tokyo and Kyoto.

So head to the Toyokawa Inari Shrine, but don't forget to have a particular request in mind when heading there. Who knows, you may just end up adding a fox or two to the shrine yourself.

My trip was hosted in partnership with Go Backpacking and the local government of Japan. All opinions are my own. 

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Entrance to Actun Tunichil Muknal cave (photo: Antti T. Nissinen)

“Oh! You’re going to Belize! You must be so excited to go diving.”

Anyone who has ever booked a trip to Belize has probably heard something like this. And it makes sense: Belize is one of the top diving destinations in the world. With clear waters, abundant coral reefs, and of course, the “Big Blue Hole,” it’s easy to see why.

Unfortunately, because the water gets so much attention, people who don’t dive, or just aren’t all that interested in being in the water, often don’t consider Belize travel because they are afraid there won’t be much for them to do.

The truth is, though, that even if you never set foot in the water, you can easily fill your time in Belize with unique and exciting experiences.

So, before you cross Belize off your list of potential vacation destinations, consider these alternatives to diving and snorkeling.

Explore Maya Ruins

Belize was a center of the Maya civilization, and multiple archaeological sites throughout the country offer a fascinating glimpse into this ancient culture.

In northern Belize, the Lamanai Archaeological Reserve is the largest and most famous of the Maya sites.

The site itself is in the jungle on the banks of the New River, and you’ll need to take an hour-long boat trip up the river to reach the site.

The trip is worthwhile, though, as there are still more than 900 structures standing, including several temples, as well as a museum. Climb to the top of High Temple for panoramic jungle views.

You can find Maya ruins in other areas of Belize as well. If you are staying closer to the touristy Cayo District, you aren’t far from San Ignacio, home to several ruins and archaeological sites.

Among them is El Pilar, one of the country’s largest sites that was only discovered in 1993 and is still being explored.

In San Ignacio, you can also explore caves featuring remnants of Maya civilization — including skeletal remains.

Cockscomb Jaguar Preserve (photo: Larnie & Bodil Fox) Wildlife Encounters

Sea life aren’t the only creatures you'll encounter in Belize. With its lush forests and diverse landscape, Belize is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna — and plenty of ways to see them.

If you are interested in birds, Belize is a birdwatcher’s paradise, with more than 300 species to spot.

While the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary near Belize City and the jungle areas in the north of the country offer the greatest diversity of avian life, with a pair of binoculars and some patients, you can spot exotic birds just about anywhere.

If you prefer your animal encounters on the ground, visit the Belize Zoo, just outside of Belize City.

Formerly a refuge for wildlife that had been used in documentaries, the zoo now features more than 150 species.

All of the animals have either been orphaned, were former pets, or were born at the zoo.

The zoo isn’t the only place to see Belize’s native wildlife.

Hiking in the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, also known as the Jaguar Preserve, offers plenty of chances to see wildlife in its usual habitat.

The Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve is another favorite hiking spot – and its higher elevation offers a nice refreshing respite from the tropical heat in the jungle.

This reserve is well-known for rivers, pools, and waterfalls, including Hidden Falls (also known as Thousand Foot Falls) a popular spot for hikers.

Soak Up Some Culture

The unique mix of cultures that comprise Belize makes it one of the most diverse countries in the world — and creates a unique culture that is well worth learning about and exploring.

Belize City offers insight into the history and culture of the country and its people.

Visit the Museum of Belize, housed in an old prison, to learn about Maya, colonial, and pirate histories, or check out the Old Belize Cultural and Historical Centre, which has its own private beach.

Just walking through the streets of Belize City, you’ll encounter architecture that hints at various stages of the nation’s history, as well as find shops, galleries, and restaurants.

Of course, even if you don’t dip your toes in the warm Caribbean waters of Belize, you can still relax on the white sandy beaches in the shade of palm trees. But if you want to see more of this country than what is underwater, try some of these activities instead.

This story was brought to you in partnership with Anywhere.com.

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