by Lola Akinmade on 18/09/14 at 1:17 pm
Like millions of others, I have been plotting my round-the-world journey and absolute cultural immersion for years.
Sometimes, a lengthy trip just isn’t possible. For various reasons (family commitments, financial priorities and other responsibilities), you may end up working a 9-to-5 gig. This means you are given a few fleeting vacation days off a year, often amounting to just two weeks. That’s 14 days out of 365 you can dedicate to venturing into the unknown.
Deciding how to use those days can be quite the challenge for those who equally love their careers and also love to travel. Having dealt with that situation numerous times myself, I’ve managed to figure out the best ways to stretch your vacation days into a full-blown adventure.
#1: First Decide How to Spend Those 14 days
Do you want to take two (2) longer stints or four (4) short city breaks? Do you want to travel halfway across the world, or just hop over the Atlantic?
Choosing how to allocate those days is based on your individual travel style and travel goals for the year. A reasonable travel goal could be this: You want to volunteer in Nicaragua, experience San Fermin (Running of the Bulls) in Pamplona, and take a city break to Krakow, Poland before the end of the year.
Remember: You may also want to save a few days for when you are summoned by family for Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
#2: Yes, Do Travel Around Holidays
By traveling around holidays twice or thrice a year, it allows you to make the most out of your allocated days.
Planning your trips around holidays means you can save vacation days.
For example, if you want to travel to Spain and spend 9-10 days, leaving on a Friday evening and returning the following weekend, with Monday being a holiday in-between means that you will travel for 10 days but only take four (4) work vacation days. This leaves you with a balance of eight (8) vacation days.
By traveling around holidays twice or thrice a year, it allows you to make the most out of your allocated days.
#3: Have Flexible Travel Plans
You can argue that airfare prices might be higher around holidays. By picking holidays that fall around or flank the international travel off-season (for example, Memorial Day weekend in May or Labor Day weekend in September), you will find reasonable prices.
For travelers intently seeking cheap vacations, this means watching for low fares and being able to travel on a whim. Airlines such as United and Delta send out regular emails with loads of international airfare sales.
#4: For Short City Breaks, Use Budget Airlines to Cut Costs
Four or five day city breaks mean leaving mid-week (for example, on a Wednesday evening) and returning on a Sunday (or Monday if it is a holiday). This means you take only two vacation days off (Thursday and Friday), but use up your weekend as well.
For example, if you want to travel to Dublin or Edinburgh for a short break, flying to a larger hub like London will be much cheaper than directly to your destination. From London, you can hop on one of the many budget airlines like Easy Jet and Ryan Air which run roundtrip fares as low as 20 pounds ($40). If you’ve already looked into cheap travel insurance then you’ll be making a huge saving.
These budget airlines also fly to many cities in Europe such as Sofia, Bulgaria and Poznan, Poland so your city break options are limitless.
#5: Traveling to Farther Destinations Like Asia or South America on Only 12 Days
A short break to Buenos Aires or Tokyo seems very unrealistic; however, don’t strike them off your list just yet. Try focusing on one activity, event or festival when traveling to farther destinations.
If your goal is to go hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, you can take a 10-day longer stint (weekends included of course!) and visit Peru for this specific purpose. You can also visit Cuzco or nearby cities as a daytrip.
#6: Use Time Differences to Your Advantage
If you travel eastwards to Europe from the US, you will move ahead a couple hours. If you travel westwards to Central and South America, you will fall behind a few hours. So returning from Europe on a holiday Monday means you arrive on the same day. This obviously does not count towards your vacation days.
When traveling to South America, you will arrive on the same day you depart, which means you will not lose any additional days.
#7: Volunteer Internationally
You can still get to off-beaten locations and paths by volunteering for 7-12 days (including weekends) with international organizations that operate in less touristy locations. You can work at an orphanage in a remote part of Central America or work with school children in Cambodia.
GlobeAware offers short-term (one week) volunteer opportunities that focus on cultural awareness and sustainability. This will focus your trip by allowing you to interact with the locals, and give you a real insight into their way of life and customs.
#8: Explore Your Own Backyard
Whether it is visiting Chinatown in San Francisco or learning more about Native American culture in the Southwest, you can still immerse yourself in culture without leaving the country. (Tim Patterson wrote an excellent article on the topic of local travel)
Overall, nothing beats extended travel and total immersion. As an avid traveler myself, I operate under that school of thought. Until you get to that point personally, you can still work with what you have.Full Story
It’s known for it’s stunning white beaches and azure blue waters but a trip to Cuba is not complete without visiting the island’s capital, Havana.
If you love salsa then you’ll love this city. Home of the Buena Vista Social Club, the most famous Cuban salsa of all, Havana has a thriving live music scene.
And it’s the place to practice your dance moves whether in one of the city’s bars or the more well-known venues such as Casa de la Musica situated in the new area of the city, with a cover charge of $10.
Cubans are so friendly so don’t be surprised if get asked to dance. As well as traditional music you’ll find flamenco shows at El Meson la Flota to entertain you as you dine.
Things to See
Havana is more of a city to relax, eat good Cuban cuisine and drink cuba libres whilst enjoying the music. The plazas are the places to just wile away the hours, people watch and have your picture taken with locals dressed in traditional costumes.
Just meandering around Old Havana with its faded pastel-colored houses and Art Deco style is an adventure in itself, losing yourself amongst the back streets and reappearing within one of the plazas.
A visit to the small Chocolate Museum is a must, even if it’s just to treat yourself to a chocolate shaped cigar.
For those wanting to learn more about the controversial history of this island, the Revolution Museum gives a good insight with many images but you will need to know Spanish to understand it.
There’s also an Afro-Cuban tour to learn more about Cuba’s customs and folklore, or you can take an Ernest Hemingway tour and follow the footsteps of this famous writer who once made Cuba his home (there’s even a hotel names after him).
From Havana you can take a trip to the tobacco fields to the west of the capital to watch how cuban cigars are made. There is a bus service or you can take a day tour if you don’t want to stay overnight.
The Best Views of Havana
Although the city is divided into more than one area, Old Havana definitely has more character.
One of the best ways to see this part of the city is from a hotel terrace and there are several to choose from.
Hotel Ambas Mundos has great views of the Christ of Havana across the water from the sixth floor or opt for Hotel Raquel for a more classical Italian style roof (but there is no bar or restaurant on this one).
The best way to get to the newer part of the city is by taking a big red tour bus. A day ticket is cheap at just $5 and will take you along the promenade past Revolution Square to the newer part of the city and the beach.
Cuba is also known for its 50s classic American cars which you can find in Havana operating as taxis. But if you’re feeling flashy, then hop into a convertible (with a choice of colors) and take a tour around the city in typical Havana style.
If you’ve got longer than a week in Cuba, consider a multi-center holiday by combining Havana with Trinidad before relaxing on a white Caribbean beach in the Holguin area to top up your tan before flying home.
This post was brought to you in partnership with Air Transat.
Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs, sound like something exclusive to the realm of technogeeks, hackers, and Chinese dissidents, but they are an interesting and useful service to those backpacking and traveling overseas.
A VPN is a group of computers networked together over the Internet that will allow you access to private data.
Think: employees accessing their company’s network and files while away from the office, universities and their students, etc, all while providing a secure and encrypted connection between the two.
You can use a VPN to securely protect your data and privacy while using public WiFi networks across the world, to block those cookies we all know the airline websites use to jack up the price for visitors who return at a later date, and other cool things like connecting to proxy servers in other countries.
The security and privacy aspects of a VPN are things that we all know are important, yet most of us neglect until something bad happens.
Instances of a breach in privacy data are rare and thus don’t prompt us into action until it is too late, but there are some compelling and practical reasons for using a VPN service on a more day-to-day basis.
After a period of nomadic travel and backpacking across Colombia, I decided to settle down into an apartment in Medellin.
It was around that period with my increased downtime and a steady connection to the Internet that I was reminded about all the awesome things I missed about the world wide web and couldn’t access properly while overseas.
Turns out there are quite a few websites and services that are restricted to international visitors.
I recently downloaded the TunnelBear VPN service which is a handy little program that allows you to cloak your IP address as if you were in another country.
TunnelBear is super easy to use and is totally accessible to non-techies–my mom could even use it. All you do is click the On/Off button in the program and select the country of your choice.
A funny little bear digs his way out of the country you’re in and pops up in the country where you want to appear to be.
Three Practical Reasons Why I Use a VPN
You can access Netflix in many countries across the globe, but the content selection is totally different and can be quite limited.
On one hand, it is really cool to be able to access more Spanish language movies and television series (as well as US shows dubbed into Spanish), but sometimes I grow tired of the limited selection here in Colombia.
With the click of a button I can be back in the United States and have full access to their instant library as well as some features that they restrict like adding movies to your watch list.
Having access to good instant streaming music was something I really missed down here during my downtime. My MP3 selection always gets a little tired with time, and streaming things from YouTube or other services is often less than ideal.
Pandora was always my favorite service back home, but it is simply not available outside of the US, Australia, and New Zealand due to their licensing restrictions.
But thankfully, again with the click of a button, I can be back in the US with all my channels and my full music selection so I can pop in the headphones and enjoy like normal.
3. The Onion
Here’s one I didn’t expect to run into upon traveling… The Onion, if you’re not familiar, is an amazing satirical newspaper. I used to read the Onion with some regularity while working in Washington DC politics, and I really missed reading their witty take on the news of the day.
I don’t know about your friends, but I was constantly seeing hilarious headlines from the Onion in my Facebook feed, so I’d click through to read and then check out a few more articles.
Inevitably I would hit the dreaded restriction for international readers which only allows five articles in 30 days. But again, using a VPN like TunnelBear to cloak your identity will allow you unfettered access to “America’s Finest News Source”, even while browsing from your smartphone.
There are all sorts of compelling reasons related to privacy and security to use a VPN, but yeah, those are my actual practical reasons for using a VPN–being able to access my favorite sources of diversionary entertainment.
There are tons of VPN programs and services out there and it can be hard to know what to look for. If you’re looking for simplicity, you can’t go wrong with TunnelBear.
It’s just a flick of the switch to turn it on or off. There are no complicated settings or other hurdles while setting it up or in order to keep it connect and working properly.
As you would expect, the program is available for Windows and Mac, of course, but what is also extremely cool is that you can get it for your Android, iPhone, or tablet as well.
This allows you to use your phone apps as if you were in the United States as well (again, practical for Pandora music, Netflix, and accessing certain websites).
Free users get 500mb of data per month, while the upgraded and unlimited account runs only $4.99 per month, or $49.99 per year–a very modest expense for the benefits it provides as well as the ease of use.
Check out TunnelBear today for your VPN needs.
What about you? Do you use a VPN service on a regular basis? Other favorite websites, programs, or services that you have found to be restricted while traveling?
This post was brought to you in partnership with TunnelBear.