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Monthly Archives: December 2016

7 Safe Destinations for Solo Female Travelers

Wales

This country in the west of the United Kingdom has an amazing landscape and an even more amazing cultural history. If you’re interested in the King Arthur mythology, you’ll find a number of important sites from those texts. If you’re into outdoor sports, try a solo hike on the Pembrokeshire coast. Cardiff, the capitol, also offers a number of theaters (including the famous Millennium Center), museums, sports arenas, and shopping centers.

Canada

Almost all of my trips to Canada have been solo journeys and I’ve always felt extremely safe. In Quebec, you’ll find a huge cinematic and television culture like the Festival of International Short Film, as well as the famous winter Carnavale in Quebec City. Ontario houses the country’s largest city, Toronto, whose theater, music, and comedy venues are comparable in both quality and number to those in New York City.

The number of national parks, from Niagara Falls to Mount Revelstoke’s 1,000-year old forest, will give you plenty opportunities to hike, camp, ski, surf, and star-gaze. Wildlife lovers, like myself, often find Canada to be one of the best places to head out into the wilderness.

From spending the day with wild grizzly bears and getting up-close and personal with puffins to kayaking and snorkeling with whales, I’ve had some of my most magical solo (and non-solo) wildlife experiences in Canada. There’s plenty of tour operators who provide amazing outdoor experiences in this country, so you don’t need to worry about being completely alone in the wild.

Costa Rica

This country is excellent for ecotourists and those looking to learn more about sustainability — also, those looking to enjoy some aquatic fun! Watch and help sea turtles at their nesting grounds in Tortugero National Park or surf amazing waves at Playa Bonita. Costa Rica is also quickly becoming known for its large number of thermal spas, hot springs, and yoga retreats. What’s better than a solo yoga retreat?

Bali

Though some of the other Indonesian islands can be more conservative, intercultural Bali is a great and accepting place to travel on one’s own. With amazing beaches and underwater exploration sites like the USS Liberty shipwreck, it makes a perfect place for snorkel and scuba adventures. There are many carved temple sites to explore, including the famous Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary.

Nepal

For the intrepid female explorer, Nepal’s wide range of adventure tourism opportunities are perfect. Since adventure and ecotourism make up a large portion of Nepal’s economy, there are lots of opportunities to meet with an adventure tourism agency or hire a local Sherpa to bring you hiking up the Himalayans or exploring the wilderness.

I spent two weeks with a local guide, visiting tiny remote villages such as Dhading and Sankhu, meeting locals who made a bigger impact on me than any stunning vista ever could. I won’t lie, my visit to Nepal was trying at times, but the people were always warm and welcoming.

Australia

The large backpacking culture here means hostels, bars, and restaurants are familiar with solo travelers — but if you’re looking for the opportunity to make other traveling friends, this is one of the best places to do so! Surfers will love the continent, but foodies too, especially on the wine trails. There are already several popular backpacking and campervan routes established, so go where the wind takes you!

Bonaire

Fresh fruit, bright sun, soft sand, and 60 to 100 foot underwater visibility: Bonaire is an amazing Caribbean destination. Along with its incredible beaches and dive sites, Bonaire is also known for its Karnival in February, a colorful, island-wide party that lasts almost two weeks!

How Tourism Works in a Changing Cuba

While the rest of the world has always had Cuba at its fingertips, Americans are still adjusting to the fact that this terra incognita is now within reach. What I found when I arrived was a place altogether strange and familiar, a place whose unique cityscapes frequently graced the silver screen, whose spirit we had seen in the homes our Cuban American friends, but a place we’d only ever really heard about in the context of prohibition. You can’t go there. It’s illegal.

Despite Americans’ newfound excitement, Cuba has long been on the tourist trail of those looking for a travel destination without all the conventional trappings of the western hemisphere. It’s a country valued for its isolation, even though said policy imposes a wide range of challenges for those living there. Now that Cuba’s biggest neighbor is gaining access to the island nation thanks to recently relaxed diplomatic relations, the inevitable question is this: will this new source of capital and traffic ‘ruin’ the country with consumerism? Since 2015, Cuba has seen a whopping 30.6% increase in visitors; in 2015 alone, American visits went up by an incredible 77%. When asked about the potential impact of American tourism, one of my tour guides summed it up rather succinctly: ‘more money will come into the country and it will adapt. But Cuban culture has a lot of personality.’ Cuba won’t be changed that easily.

But as tourism begins to really take hold in Cuba for the first time in decades, an internal shift has started to take place. The cities hum with activity like they always have, but with a distinctly more international flair, and new energy is being poured into homegrown initiatives: newpaladares (private restaurants), casas particulares (private homes), watering holes, art studios, venues and museums are all ready for business. As visitors continue to pour in, Cubans frustrated with low state wages (most make around US$30 per month) are turning to tourism to make up the difference. Many of these opportunities have been made possible by Raul Castro’s policy shifts permitting more private businesses and better internet access, but such advances are highly regulated.

Havana: the epicenter of change

Havana doesn’t ever seem to stop moving, locals and tourists pulsing through its arteries, a network of dusty streets walled with jaw-dropping buildings dressed with beautiful details: intricate ironwork, towering windows, open balconies, stained glass, worn paint. Don’t wonder at your surroundings too long, though – bicycle taxis whiz by and have little regard for careless pedestrians.

Wandering the streets you’ll find banks, historic plazas and impressive colonial churches, but also hip boutiques, kitschy-cool bars and stunning casas particulares. Edgy street art splashes across walls, tattoo shops host community building events and young designers create fashionable goods for both visitors and Cubans alike. This capital city has served as the nexus of creative change as Cuba marches headlong into an uncharted future where tourism just might be king.

Take a ride: the private taxi’s new starring role

Perhaps the single biggest symbol of Cuban-ness in the eyes of a foreign visitor is the antique car. Held together with ingenuity and sheer willpower, these vintage machines can be found on all the country’s roadways – a rainbow armada of Bel Airs, Oldsmobiles and Cadillacs that shuttle visitors and locals from neighborhood to neighborhood, and even city to city.

My first private taxi driver drove me around the dusty streets of Havana as part of a history tour – we stopped at a Café Arcangel in Centro Habana, took in the explosion of color known as Fusterlandia, and cruised out to what the locals call El Bosque, a park full of old trees covered in shrouds of dangling vines, a rare green spot in Havana’s urban sprawl. A soft spoken gentleman who formerly worked as an electrical engineer for the state, he drove a beautifully kept Chevrolet so old that the sound system design only featured a single large speaker in the middle of the dashboard. Today, he works closely with his wife and an unofficial coalition of drivers to organize local and cross-country tours.

These cars and the people who drive them are on the forefront of the state-to-private sector shift, and the Cuban government is searching for ways to manage this form of entrepreneurship as demand for better transport systems increases. The government has mandated price and route controls on private taxis, who in turn recently reduced their trips in protest. Whether a compromise will be reached remains to be seen – for now, growing pains are the name of the game.

Creative casas: finding Cuban culture in homestays

Casas particulares make up another industry on the forefront of Cuba’s changing tourism infrastructure, and as visitors continue to arrive in droves, casa owners are finding new ways to attract potential guests. Some have found unique niches by offering dance or art classes, while others offer city tours or excursions (often conducted by friends and family).

At colorful Casa El Ceramista (homestay.com) in Trinidad, Alexey, a professional ceramicist, offers pottery classes to his guests. Trinidad has a strong pottery tradition, and local ceramics can be found in shops all around town. Luckily, I had the opportunity to take this class during my time at the casa – Alexey gave careful directions as I tentatively applied pressure to the spinning mound of clay on the throwing wheel in efforts to create something resembling a bowl. While we worked, the smell of spiced shrimp and pumpkin soup wafted over from the kitchen and guests laughed on the upstairs terrace. Forget the Hotel Nacional – thiswas Cuba.

Despite the fact that new casas are popping up across the country, Cuba is still coping with a significant lack of accommodation for the booming number of visitors. State-run hotels in Havana are boasting sky-high prices, and booking ahead is imperative. Casas provide a good alternative to government options, but even they are filling up quickly; while visitors used to be able to sort casa accommodation once they hit the ground, the need for advance reservations continues to grow.

Casas particulares were an ingrained part of Cuban culture long before the recent tourism spike, and a smattering of booking agencies have invested in the existing market. For example, Homestay.com began operating in the country in 2013 (earlier than its US-based competitors), and their business model emphasizes the local connection between visitor and host. Homestay casa owners frequently help facilitate travel and often offer bookable services like bike tours, cooking lessons and shared dinners; such hands-on guidance is indispensable for visitors who just might be a bit overwhelmed by Cuba’s complexities.

7 Biggest Travel Mistakes & How to Avoid Them

1. Overpacking

It’s tempting to bring outfits for every possible occasion, but it makes it difficult to haul your luggage around, and you may get stuck with high baggage fees for accidentally exceeding the weight limit. Instead, pack your bag as usual, then take out half the clothes you originally planned. You won’t wear all of them, you don’t have to sacrifice style, and you can always do some laundry on the road.

2. Not Checking Your Cell Phone Plan

It’s important to know what your plan covers to avoid data roaming fees. Not covered? Turn off your data before you get on the plane and leave your phone in airplane mode (you’ll still be able to connect to wi-fi). If data is important to you, look into buying an international plan or buying a local SIM card once you arrive.

Alternatively, for Americans, consider T-Mobile as your carrier. We now get free data in 200 countries and it has literally changed the way we travel. (Note: We have no affiliation with T-Mobile and we pay for our own monthly plans.)

3. Not Booking Enough Time in Between Flights

Flight conditions can be unpredictable. If one gets delayed, you might be forced to rush through an unfamiliar airport to make your connecting flight, and you might not make it in time. It’s best to book them with a safe buffer in between. If you are traveling through Heathrow in London, plan for at least a two-hour layover here since you have to go through security just to get from one flight to another.

4. Not Grabbing Some Local Currency at the Airport

As soon as you leave the airport, you’ll need local currency to take public transportation or cab rides in many countries. Taking out money from the airport’s ATMs gives you better exchange rates, so get what you need there, and maybe a little extra for emergencies.

We use our credit card whenever possible, but we always keep cash on hand. Visiting local markets is a must when we travel — and many of these places don’t accept credit cards.

5. Not Informing Your Credit Card Company of Your Travel Plans

Credit card companies flag foreign transactions in case of credit card fraud and may freeze your account, so be sure you inform your company ahead of time. While you’re at it, find out if they charge a foreign transaction fee, so there are no surprises.

6. Not Buying Travel Insurance

Travel insurance covers cancellation fees, so if you unexpectedly can’t make your vacation or business trip, you won’t be out hundreds of dollars. Some plans also cover emergency medical expenses if your own health insurance plan doesn’t cover you outside your country. (We use World Nomads.)

7. Not Checking Visa Requirements

Being turned away at a foreign checkpoint will be expensive, time-consuming, and possibly put an end to your trip. There are several websites that list visa requirements for different countries, like this one, so find out ahead of time. For more tips for traveling abroad, visit our checklist for overseas travel.

Staying at The Royal Suites Yucatán

The Hotel

The adults-only, all inclusive resort is a smaller 130-suite exclusive area of the larger Grand Palladium Resort, but allows complete access to the full resort’s 5-star amenities.

The privacy and VIP treatment at The Royal Suites Yucatán by Palladium is all any peace-seeking adult could ask for on a vacation. With everything this resort includes — a private beach with Bali beds, first-class spa, exclusive bars and restaurants — it’s not hard to see why this is paradise on the Yucatán.

The Rooms

The rooms at The Royal Suites are quite literally “the height of luxury.” A private terrace with a jacuzzi soaking tub is standard in each room with the option to upgrade to the Mayan Suites, which are right on the water with lush, green terrace views. In these separate indoor/outdoor suites, the additional outdoor shower and hammock are an added bonus.

The Restaurants

There is no shortage of dining options here, with 14 restaurants and buffets and a whopping 27 bars scattered throughout the grounds. Two of the restaurants and bars are exclusive to Royal Suites guests, which I recommend taking advantage of for the sake of comfort and convenience.

The a la carte Japanese restaurant is wonderful, but the outdoor ocean-side cabana restaurant really embraces the luxury beach resort atmosphere. Helpful tip: be sure to make a reservation for the individual restaurants a day or two in advance.

Also, be sure not to miss the swim-up bar at the La Laguna pool; this is one treat you won’t be able to enjoy at home.

Activities

With the variety of activities available both on and off the resort, it’s likely you’ll want to spend more than a little of your time out and about. You’ll have the chance to get out on the water to snorkel, scuba dive, and windsurf, or you can hang back for a game of beach volleyball or — my personal favorite — yoga on the beach. Live music and entertainers every night, with the occasional karaoke contest, are sure to keep you entertained once the sun goes down.

Sport enthusiasts will appreciate a little competition at The Grand Palladium’s variety of soccer, archery, tennis, or you can completely unwind and get a couple’s massage on the beach after relaxing in the spa’s sauna.