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As I sit on a stone, gazing at the ruins spread out below me, I can feel myself slipping into one of my favorite fantasies.  What if I had been the first modern person to discover this? What if I was a kid and I found this place, and it could be my fort?  I allow myself to indulge in the fantasy for a few more minutes before I hop down from the rock and set off to explore.

Whether you’re being towered by Great Pyramids, beholding the beautifully sculptures in bas relief at Angkor or imagining the druids at Stonehenge, ruins are one of the pleasures of travel. If these “old rocks” turn you on, here are few tips to get the most out of your visit to an ancient ruin:

It’s all about the Environment

Culture is sometimes defined as the way in which people adapt to their environment.  So begin your visit to a historical site by surveying your surroundings.  If you can, perch yourself on a high place and look down on the site.  This will give you an overall idea of the lay of the land.  You can look down on the ancient buildings and see how their placement relates to one another.  Historic sites often reveal a surprising degree of urban planning.

Kangotraveler's photo of the Mayan ruins at Tikal

Ruins at Tikal. Photo by kangotraveler.

Check out the surroundings.  Are there low hills or mounds near by which may be other structures that have yet to be excavated? What landmarks punctuate the horizon? Are there mountains, rock formations, bodies of water that would have been incorporated into the world view of the people who once lived here? Would they have waited for the rising or setting sun to align with these landmarks to know that it was the start of a particular season? Reach into your pocket and pull out a compass.  Are the buildings aligned to one of the cardinal points (often they are)? If so, what does that mean?

Early societies tended to be agriculture based, so it’s worth taking note of the plant land animal life around you.  In many cases, the same staple crops that supported the people who built these ancient cities are still being grown locally today.  In other places, you will find elaborate ruins surrounded by barren land – a living (or rather “dying”) testament to the long human history of overtaxing the environment.

LE FOTO DI MAXI's photo of the ruins at Petra.

Do you call it a “ruin” when it still looks this good? Photo by LE FOTO DI MAXI.

Look Up, and Down

Ancient peoples did not enjoy the benefits of electricity.  So if you have the opportunity to visit a historical site in the evening, you will be looking up at the same stars that the residents of these ancient developments admired a thousand or more years before.  (Unless of course, there was a stellar event- such as the supernova which was visible in 1054 and may be recorded in some native American petroglyphs). Are there any features of the night sky that are particularly prominent? Would that have been incorporated into the spirituality or world view of the people who once lived here? Discovering archeo-astronomy is one of the coolest experiences I’ve had in my travels.

Looking down can be even better.  You see what was thrown away, or left behind.  I’ve found pottery shards, awls, stone scrapers.  It’s thrilling to find these things, to hold a stone tool in your hand and know that it sat in the maker’s hand in exactly they same way.  Pick them up, study them, enjoy them, but don’t take them with you.  In situ, they are fascinating and meaningful.  Back in your house they will only collect dust.

Connecting the Ruins to the Modern World

Goal! Long before there were stadiums full of football fans, the Maya had already covered the country with ball courts.Hanging out and absorbing a little bit of the modern culture is another way to increase your understanding of the ruins of an ancient culture. Buildings crumble, empires fall, but many of the places that are home to fabulous ruins have been continuously occupied for centuries.  Agricultural practices, home building (as opposed to monument building) techniques, clothing and cuisine may remain surprisingly similar.  So spend a day at the ruins, but also spend a day at the market.  And check out the facial features of the locals.  They may look an awful lot like the sculpted figures at the ruins.

Practical Matters

Planning ahead can help you make the most of your visit to the ruins.  Pleasant temperatures, good light for photos and visible (and audible) animal life will be best in the early morning and the late afternoon.  But that can make for an awfully long day.  Find out ahead of time if your ticket will allow you to leave and re-enter.  Is your lodging close enough to sneak home for a siesta and come back? Is food available at the site? If you arrive late in afternoon, can you use the same ticket the following day?

Sometimes it’s worth having a guide or booking a day tour (which will also take care of the transportation problem).  Talk to fellow travelers who have gone ahead of you and follow the tips for arranging a day tour.

Finally, take your time.  Ruins can also be great places to enjoy nature.  Some of the most beautiful birds I saw in Central America (not to mention giant iguanas and howler monkeys) were at Mayan ruins.

All four of us in the gigantic silk store were crabby.  The employees were obviously annoyed that we weren’t buying.  And my travel partner and I were not happy to be there.  We had not signed on for this.  At least not knowingly.  It was a little “extra” which had been slipped into our day tour.

Aviva West's photo of silks in Viet Nam.

The silks were beautiful, but I didn’t come here to go shopping. Photo by Aviva West

Combining transportation with the knowledge of a local guide, day tours can be a great way to see the sights.  But I’ve learned (though I don’t always remember) that it behooves me to clarify a few points before hand.

Of course, there’s also an issue of who and how you ask. I frequently sign up for third-party day tours that are advertised in a hostel.  This gives me a chance to check in with other travelers staying at the hostel who may have already taken the tour.  Do they recommend the experience? Also, since a tour is something you do once, but hostels enjoy repeat, or at least more than one night, customers, the staff usually gives pretty straight forward information.

  • Language: I’m always told that the tour guide speaks English, but that doesn’t mean it’s English that a native English speaker can actually understand.  If you get a chance to meet the tour guide before signing up, take the opportunity to ask some obscure questions (Tell me about your favorite kind of music? Does your grandfather still have teeth?).  Sometimes they’ve memorized the words in a script and can’t offer anything beyond that.  Also, try to find out if the majority of the other people taking the tour are foreign or domestic tourists.  If you’re the only foreigner you may get to hear detailed descriptions that last for ten minutes in a language you don’t understand, followed by a two-word explanation in English.
  • How much time at the actual site? It’s great that the tour can pick you up from your hostel, but that means that you’re also going to spend some time crammed in a van driving around to pick up other tourists from other hostels.  Ask how much time you will have at the actual site(s).  And if you have something important (a bus/train/boat/plane to catch) afterwards, ask the hostel staff what time folks usually get back.  It may be quite different than advertised. 
Joriz De Guzman's photo of the Terra Cotta Warriors.

I’d rather hang with these guys. Photo by Joriz De Guzman.

  • Shopping/Other Stops: The surprise visit to the silk store was not the first time that I’d found myself hi-jacked to go shopping. And in truth, it’s not always bad.  On a tour in Viet Nam, we made an unexpected (at least by me) stop at a ceramics and woodcarving workshop.  I didn’t buy anything, but it was interesting to see the process and the artisans were disabled, so I was happy that the tour company was supporting them.  I didn’t feel that way at the silk shop. The other members of the tour, all Chinese, were at a casino built to look like an Egyptian pyramid.  I didn’t want to be there either. I would rather have spent another hour seeing the Terra Cotta Warriors.  So now I’ve learned to try to scope out if the tour includes any unadvertised side trips. This is a good time to practice the art of asking a question in such a way that the listener has no idea which answer you’re hoping to hear.
  • What does “all inclusive” really mean? The price of a day tours may or may not include entry fees or meals.  Even if you’re told everything is included you’ll still want to have some cash on hand for incidentals (drinking water, snacks, etc.) and you will most certainly be asked to tip.  On a couple of occasions, I’ve signed up for something all inclusive and later have not been sure if some of the people I was asked to tip (the person who transported me for three minutes on the motorcycle) received part of my tour fee as I had expected.
  • Transportation: Which brings up the topic of transportation.  It’s going to be a long day so it’s nice to be comfortable.  Will you be riding in a 14- passenger van? And if so, how many people will be in it? Will you be bumping along in the back of truck (hat and sunscreen required)?  For me, pretty much anything is okay, as long as I’m prepared.

 

The best things we bring home from our travels aren’t things.  The treasures we acquire are greater understanding of ourselves and our world, the friends we meet along the way and the memories we bank up to enjoy in the future.  But what about the more tangible souvenirs? In my years of traveling, I’ve found some that there are some souvenirs I enjoyed for years, and others that don’t work out the way they’re supposed to.  So, what makes a good souvenir?

A Skill as a Souvenir

Knowing how to do something you didn’t before you left home rocks.  For the rest of your life you can think back on your trip and say that’s when I first learned how to ride a motorcycle, salsa dance, use chopsticks.  As far as I’m concerned the best thing you can learn is how to prepare all those delicious foods you’re eating. (Though I would put picking up a new languages as a close second.)  Many places now offer cooking classes.  Or you can just make a point of hanging out with local women, chatting up the cook in your favorite restaurants, and using the internet.  (I’m a veggie and was recently delighted to discover International Vegetarian Union Recipes Around the World.)

Clothes

In theory, clothes should make great souvenirs.  After all, you probably have to wear something.  So why not something that reminds you of your travel.  But it never quite works out for me.  Here’s what happens: I’m in some rural place admiring the beautiful clothes the indigenous women wear.  I give myself permission to splurge and buy one of these beautiful shirts/skirts/shawls.  And then, I don’t wear it because it’s too nice and I don’t want it to get ruined.

This is dumb, but I keep doing it.  I even know when I’m doing it.  I say to myself, “Now look.  Those women are wearing those skirts out here in the dust heading goats, washing their skirts in the dirty river and hanging them on a barbed wire fence to dry.  There’s no reason you can’t wear one of those to work.” But then when I’m home, the place where I bought the skirts seems so far away.  I know I could never replace it, so I don’t risk it.  I have a great looking closet.

Jewelry

While clothes haven’t really worked out for me, jewelry has. Small, cheap, easy to carry – everything I look for in a souvenir.  I have a collection of inexpensive and yet wonderful earrings I picked up in China, a jade  necklace I made myself in New Zealand and a “power bracelet” with the Mayan symbols for the date of my birth that I bought in Chiapas.  The only down side is that things that are small are also easy to lose.  (An excuse to go back…)

A souvenir you can eat out of!

House Stuff

I’ve purchased a lot of house wares on my travels (hand painted ceramics are a favorite for me here in Mexico), and if I’d had more money, I would have purchased a lot more.  The trouble is, if you keep traveling, you might not actually have a home to put these things in.  Or if you do, you may not spend much time there.

Little Things

My travel partner and I played a lot of cards in China.  Somehow, we found ourselves hanging out in Tsingtao Brewery tasting room without a deck.  So we bought one.  Small, inexpensive, useful, and the fact they are now beer stained just makes them a better souvenir.

There are things I haven’t tried.  I imagine that a tattoo could be an excellent reminder of a great adventure.  Unless things went badly at the ended and you decided that you didn’t want to remember…

And the worst possible thing you could bring home from your travels? A disease, social or otherwise.

What’s the best souvenir you have ever brought home from your travels?

It was a long-time dream of mine to travel outside of the country. And just last December, I had my dream come true; I got myself a round trip ticket to “Asia’s World City” – Hong Kong.

It all started with a spur of the moment invitation from one of my college friends. She saw a discounted ticket to Hong Kong for December and instantly sent us a group message, asking us if we wanted to go with her. Without any hesitation, I said “yes”. I didn’t even bother checking my calendar for any appointments or scheduled responsibilities for December. I would haved move mountains if I had to, just to get on this trip. Five more friends agreed to go and we got seven confirmed tickets to HK, baby!

So, tickets were all good, next thing we needed was reservations for any backpacker guest house near the city centre. After some deliberation and some help from our friends who had travelled to HK already, we reserved rooms from Golden Crown Guest House.

Hong Kong Research

Tickets: check. Rooms: check. But here comes the hardest part: the two-month long wait. So to make my time productive, I researched all about Hong Kong. I compiled all the helpful information I could get and printed it out as a reference. I also made a rough draft of our itineraries, I even included the places where we would eat, the train we would ride and all the other little FIYs. We were all first-timers so we badly need to be in the know.

Hong Kong Wardrobes

As early as October, I already bought myself two jackets, scarves, bonnet, beanies and a pair of boots to bring with me during my trip. December is winter time in HK so definitely it would be freezing cold.  Since, I’m a little bit of a “fashionista”, I had delicately prepared my set of wardrobes from day one to day three.

Planned attire for DAY 1

Planned attire for DAY 1

Planned attire for DAY 2

Planned attire for DAY 2

Planned attire for DAY 3

Planned attire for DAY 3

Hong Kong Currency

This was quite a hard one because I decided to change my money on the day of our trip, thinking I still had a lot of time to choose the foreign exchange converter that had the best selling rate. Unfortunately, that was a bad choice. Almost all the currency converter shops I know had decided to go on vacation for their company Christmas party. So I was left with just one converter and unfortunately it was the one I wanted to avoid because of their sky-high selling rate. I had no choice but to change my money to Hong Kong dollars there. Too bad, my budget for shopping was scratched – poor me!

Hong Kong Dollars

Hong Kong Dollars

So for all you first timers out there, may it be for Hong Kong or any other foreign country, don’t forget to research any data about that country; from their transportation, tourist attractions, language, weather, maps, to currency and all the other little things that you need to know before your trip. As much as possible, know the weather update during your travel dates so that you’ll know what clothing will be comfortable during your trip. You don’t want to wear a fur coat when it’s a sizzling hot day, right? Last but not the least; prepare your money ahead of time. Try to convert an ample amount of money, not just the big bills, but try to get some smaller ones or even coins, pennies or dimes because you’ll never know it might just save you from a missed bus ride. ;-)

I’ve sometimes heard travelers brag about not using a guide book.  Not me.  As a woman traveling alone, my guide book gives me a sense of confidence and security.  It allows me to revel in anticipation before the trip starts, leads me to other travelers who will tell me of places that are not in any book and gives me a heads-up about places that I personally will not enjoy. Getting the most out of your travel guide book means making it your comfortable and indispensable travel companion.

Belizean dreaming. Photo by Caitlin Regan.

Getting the Most Out of Your Travel Guide Book – Step 1: Choose the Right Book

Moon Guides, Rough Guides, Lonely Planets – there are a lot of good guide books out there.  Making the best choice for you depends on how you travel and how you’re going to use your book.  I enjoy the hardback feel and the beautiful photos in Eyewitness guides when I’m planning a trip, but it would never work for me on the road.  When selecting a guidebook make sure that it is appropriate to your brand of travel – your budget, your most likely mode of transportation etc.  Over the years, I’ve developed brand loyalty to my favorite line of travel guides.  They are not necessarily the best guidebooks out there, but the fact that I know their layout – know that there is a “Getting There and Away” section, and that “Sleeping” and “Eating” come after “Sights” saves me a lot of time.

Beloved LPs! Photo by Phil Whitehouse.

Getting the Most Out of Your Travel Guide Book – Step 2: Create an Itinerary

I have never followed any of the suggested itineraries in a guide book.  But I have partially followed all of them.  I use the itineraries, and the “best of” lists at the beginning of each section to find out what places I want to visit.  (Looking at tours online can also help you get an idea of a country’s not to be missed destinations.) This gives me a loose plan for my travels.

Most days, I may or may not stay in hotels/hostels recommended in the guide book.  But if I’m arriving in a new city late at night, I like to have plan.  In this case, I use my guide book to identify my lodging and call ahead of time.

Getting the Most Out of Your Travel Guide Book – Step 3: Prepare Your Book for the Road

“Hey- how come your Lonely Planet is smaller than everyone else’s?” a fellow traveler in Central America asked me.  It was due to a premeditated and benign act of butchery.  I’m a big believer in packing light.  So knowing that I was only going to travel in three countries, I carefully and precisely cut my book in half.  I then made a few post-surgical adjustments- reinforcing the binding with packaging tape and covering the back-page with clear contact paper.  Finally, since the part of the book I would be carrying did not include the index, I used to Post-it flags to mark the different countries, maps, and other pages I knew I would want to access frequently.

Getting the Most Out of Your Travel Guide Book – Step 4: Bring Accessories

Next, I pack a few small items (most of which are useful to have along anyway) as accessories to my guide book:

  • I take some extra Post-it flags and stick them in the inside cover.  Chances are good that there will be other pages I will want to flag.
  • Always carry a writing utensil.  My favorite is a two-sided pen – ball point on one end, highlighter on the other.
  • Pocket knife – you’ll use this in Step Five, and also to open your wine, cut pieces of fruit, spread cheese on bread, etc.
  •  Scotch tape – also for Step Five.  You don’t need the bulky plastic dispenser, just a small roll of tape.

Getting the Most Out of Your Travel Guide Book – Step 5: Use and Abuse

I’m sure many of the librarians out there probably sentenced me to hell after Step Three, but that was just the beginning.  After all, this is not a coffee table book.  It is meant to be used and abused.  Wanting to feel lightweight and unobtrusive as I explore a city, or a ruin or a museum means carrying as little as possible.  So the night before I open my book to the map page (and possibly a few other pages relating to my present local) and carefully score them with my trusty pocket knife.   Then I tear these pages out and carry them in my pocket as I explore the city.  No need to look like a tourist with my nose in guidebook, no need to obtain another, bulky, difficult-to-fold map.  I am ready to go.

When I leave this city I will tape the pages back into the book and cut out the pages for my next destination.

 Hope you’ll take a page from my book and make the most of yours!

I’ll admit it, I had no idea camel riding was so DIFFICULT! Everyone always talks about how awesome it is and how you shouldn’t miss out on trying it, but my goodness, no one ever mentions what to actually expect. It definitely takes some time getting used to. But the process of riding a camel is an adventure all by itself and lucky for me, I got to experience my first ‘real’ camel ride with my Mom while she was visiting me in Jordan. I say ‘real’ because I chickened out the last time I got on one and jumped off as it began to stand up. It’s a bit embarrassing so let’s try to keep that between the two of us ;) So now I don’t want anyone else to feel they have to jump off as I did the first time because riding a camel is truly one of the coolest riding experiences out there. So to help you on your first camel ride I’ve put together a few riding tips that will transform you from a camel riding dummy into a modern day Lawrence of Arabia!

Tip # 1 Wear Long Pants!

I say this from personal experience as I was wearing a dress during my first camel ride. I know, I know- stupid mistake but let me explain myself: We were actually at the Dead Sea earlier and since I’m a lazy traveler I want to carry as little as possible, convenience is key. This means slipping on a dress over my bathing suit was the perfect idea. Of course, it was the perfect idea until I went ahead and rode a camel later that day. And trust me when I tell you, camel hair is not in the least bit comfortable tickling your thighs.

First ‘Real’ Ride on a Camel!!

Tip # 2 Keep The Electronics Strapped On!

Obviously you’ll want to be taking as many pictures, videos and perhaps sing-a-long to the Indiana Jones soundtrack during your ride, but keep in mind camels are tall creatures so any fall will be a long one. Unfortunately this tip is also from personal experience but luckily my camera survived the fall and my Husband was able to pick it up for me before anything was trampled on.

Tip # 3 Hold On With a Purpose!

Haha I love my Mom ;)

Any of those other camel riders out there know exactly what I’m talking about; the absolute scariest part of riding a camel is going up. As you can see in the lovely picture of my Mom, she didn’t know what she was in for. While getting up and down, when the camel leans forward, you must lean backwards to balance yourself. And when it is leaning backwards, remember to lean forward. This will stop you from falling and losing your grip.  Not only will you embarrass yourself if you fall over one of its humps, but the camel may become frightened and may accidentally trample you.

Tip # 4 Enjoy Yourself But Don’t Overdo It!

This one goes out to my Mom who was growled at in Petra for trying to pet the camel’s head. Camels are extremely emotional animals and if they see you getting too close or making too loud of noises they’re going to get scared and defend themselves. Their defense could be anything from spitting at you to growling and even get as harsh as biting you. But as long as you follow the instructions of what you should be doing, there shouldn’t be any problems.

And remember keep steady on the camel hump, we wouldn’t want you to fall off ;)

Petra!!

Few corners of the world offer so much variety in so little space as Hawaii’s Big Island.  If you can get yourself to the middle of the Pacific, here are a few tips to make the most of your time:

Lava flow. Photo by Wm Leler.

Volcan-O

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is not only a must-see travel destination, it should be one of the first places you visit when you’re on the Big Island.  There are two reasons for doing this at the start of your trip:

1)    The visitor’s center shows a short film which provides an excellent orientation to the unique geology, flora and fauna, and culture of the Hawaiian islands.  This will provide context for your entire trip.

2)    Conditions at an active volcano can change quickly and drastically. Sometimes there are spectacular views of the caldera, or of glowing lava flowing into the sea.  At other times you can’t see half a meter in front of you.  Parts of the park may be closed for safety reasons when sulfur dioxide levels are too high.  However, your entrance fee of $10.00 per vehicle gives you access to the park for 7 days. Making Volcano one of your first stops means you’ll have time to go there again if Mother Nature foils your initial visit.

Telescopes on Mauna Kea. Photo by Kate Ure.

Overhead

We may all be looking at the same sky, but trust me, it looks better from Hawaii.  I’m not the only one who thinks so.  Mauna Kea, the tallest mountain in the world (9,750 meters from it’s base under the sea) is home to multiple world class telescopes. The air atop Mauna Kea is thin and clear, and there is little light pollution in the middle of the ocean.

Stargazing at Mauna Kea is an unforgettable experience. Constellations which you may be able to find easily from you home become difficult to spot, because of all of the “extra” stars around them.  You do not need to pay hundreds of dollars to go stargazing at Mauna Kea. The visitor center at (2,800 meters elevation) offers free viewing through their telescopes Friday through Sunday evenings. Dress warm- I’ve seen it snow up there, and if possible, schedule your visit for a night when there is little or no moon.

If you reach the summit (four wheel drive required), you may be able to tour the University of Hawaii telescope and the ingeniously designed (made of multiple hexagonal mirrors) Keck.  And of course, the view, looking down on the clouds, is spectacular.

 

Successful snorkeling! Photo by Wm Leler.

Ocean

Obviously, splashing around in the Pacific is one of Hawaii’s main attractions. Three of the west side’s best known snorkel spots are not to be missed:

–     Kahalu’u Beach (around mile post 5 on Alii Drive)
It’s convenient location, protected waters and all the amenities make this perfect spot for novice snorkelers, or experts snorkelers wanting a quick dip before setting out for other activities.  There are bathrooms, snacks for sale, gears for rent and shady trees.  The abundance of turtles and colorful fish make you feel like your in an aquarium.  The only downside is that everyone knows about it so you’ll see a lot of humans too.

–     Kealakekua Bay
Famous not only for it’s beautiful waters, but also as the place where legendary explorer James Cook met his death in 1779, Kealakekua Bay lies a little south of Kailua.  The waters are crystal clear and a natural drop off makes for a spectacular coral-covered wall.  Getting here can be tricky.  You have a choice between signing on with a snorkel cruise and coming by boat, hiking the 3.2kms down from Napoopoo Road (remember to save energy for hiking back up), or renting a kayak and paddling across the bay.  All are good options, but if you choose the latter, you may find yourself in the midst of playful spinner dolphins.

–     Honaunau 
Adjacent to Pu’uhonau o Honaunau (Place of Refuge) National Historic Park, which is definitely worth a visit, this is another undersea paradise.  Lovely coral, occasional dolphins and an underwater sign saying, “Aloha,” welcome snorkelers.  In spite of the “two steps” for which the site is known, I sometimes find getting out tricky.  If you’re having trouble, check for safety and use the boat ramp.

If you can’t pronounce the Hawaiian names, you can use the “haole” place names; Snorkel Beach, Captain Cook, Two Step (respectively).

Onomea Bay and Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden. Photo by RDPixelShop.

Onomea Bay and the Hamakua Coast

The big Island has several botanical gardens.  My favorite is the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden  just north of Hilo as you head up towards the Hamakua coast.  Access the garden by taking the Onomea Bay Scenic Route turn off.  (Do this anyway, even if you’re not interested in the Botanical Garden).  Literally thousands of tropical plants are displayed and labeled, and the scenery is spectacular.  After you leave Onomea Bay and continue north, stop at Akaka Falls.  The water cascades down some 400 feet and your experience at the Botanical Garden will allow you to recognize some of the jungle flora you’ll see while hiking to the viewpoint.

Outstanding Guidebook

The Big Island Revealed by Andrew Doughty is an indispensable resource. (There’s an iPhone app too.) It will give you access to hiking trails, pristine beaches, and many things you might not discover on your own. Don’t leave home without it.

A visit to Orlando would be incomplete without a visit to its world-class theme parks. Orlando’s adventure parks are consistently ranked as the best in the world. With over 51million visitors per year, the parks act as a magnet for families looking for fun-filled vacations. The huge theme parks offer exhilarating rides, unforgettable experiences, and memorable dining.

But there are a few classic traps that visitors can fall into that can be very easily avoided. Follow these five simple steps and you will have the time of your life!

Plan your trip

Being spontaneous is sometimes the most fun you can have, but planning ahead means that you can manage expectations (especially with small children), book anything that’s really popular, and also avoid missing something  amazing. For example, some of the bigger ‘kids’ don’t know that Disney has its own speedway that offers visitors the chance to race a NASCAR.

Knowing what’s available and where everything is will help you build a rough itinerary for your stay, avoid wandering around looking for particular things and give you a much greater experience of Orlando’s Theme Parks.

Plan ahead! The Walt Disney World Speedway. Photo by Curtis Palmer.

Watch what you eat!

Given the size of DisneyWorld, even if you’re making full use of the transportation system it’s possible to walk over 10 miles during the course of an average day. But how many people do you know who return from Florida looking slimmer? Eating fast food, chocolate Mickey bars, and drinking huge soft drinks might be fun, but why counteract the effects of all that walking?

Pack your own water and carry snacks for those hunger pangs during the day. Dried fruit, oats, and water in place of hamburgers, hot dogs, and soft drinks might mean that you can enjoy that post-dinner dessert without any guilt.

Pack for comfort

For both children and adults, comfortable shoes are a must. You’re going to be excitedly whizzing around the theme parks, and you’ll want to see everything. Definitely dress for comfort, and remember that while the Sunshine State does its best to please guests, packing for the eventuality of bad weather is always wise, too, so having a few thin layers will ensure you are comfortable throughout the day and evening. Packing for bad weather is a must for all cruise and stay holidays anyway!

Buy a Disney PhotoPass

Disney’s PhotoPass service is available at all of the main attractions within the theme park, and is the finishing touch to complete your Disney Florida holidays. Forget about trying to find someone to take a picture of you and leave it to the professionals to take your pictures with all of your favourite childhood characters, have it all collated centrally online, and then have the option to print all manner of merchandise afterwards, from fridge magnets to water bottles.

Have professionally taken photos of all the special moments with PhotoPass at Disney. (Erik Hersman.)

Have a meet-up point

This one really goes for any travel that you do, but especially so in theme parks where there are thousands of places to lose people. Be sure to pick somewhere unique that everyone can find, and consider setting boundaries as well.

And finally…

Most theme parks offer the option to check a bag in to avoid you having to carry it around all day. Remember to take regular breaks, and to drink a lot of water to keep you hydrated during the day.

If you follow these basic guidelines you’ll be safe and ready for perfect holidays in Orlando in 2013.

Author Bio
Charlotte actively blogs about Travel, Beauty, Food & Drink covering everything from the latest fashion trends to tasty food. On her spare time she loves shopping, discovering new products & enjoys getting lost in new places as she writes away.

I was a twenty-something American in Paris.  There were five of us, crossing the Seine on our way to the Louvre.  A bike race was happening on the street below us and everyone stopped to watch.  The minutes ticked away.  I felt agitated.  I don’t really care about sports, especially that one.  I don’t ride a bike.  I wouldn’t know Lance Armstrong if I ran into him on the street.  And I love art.  I didn’t know what to do- wait for my friends or go ahead to the museum.  It made me wonder if I’d be better off on my own.

Solo Travel

If you’re considering going it alone there are two important things you should know about solo travel:

1) You don’t have to be alone at all. 

None of the gang I was hanging out with in Paris had gotten on the plane and crossed the Atlantic with me.  I met them on the road.  Even for a socially-impaired, super-introvert this is remarkably easy to do.   If you get lonely, book a local tour.  By the end of the day you’ll be friends with everyone in the van.  Or buy a six pack of beers to share in the hostel kitchen.

2) Going solo has its pros and cons.

  •  The best thing about solo travel?  Guess who decides what you’re going to do that day? (Hint- it’s the same person who decides where you’re going to eat lunch, whether you want to hit the streets early or sleep in, how many days you want to stay in town, whether you should go to a museum or lay on the beach…).  When you travel solo you follow no one’s agenda but your own.  That rocks!
  • The downside of always being in charge is always being in charge.  Traveling involves a lot of thinking, navigating foreign languages and chaotic bus stations, making decisions about how best to spend your time and money.  Solo travel means there’s no one else you can leave this to when you want a break.
  • Sometimes a party of one can get in when a larger group can’t.  I went by myself to Disney World and was whisked to the front of every line to fill a cart that had a stray seat.  I showed up for the Gibbon Experience (awesome zip-lining in northern Laos) and got in the same day without a reservation.  Smaller means more flexible.
  • One of the disadvantages is that in some parts of the world you will find yourself paying for a double occupancy room even though there’s only one of you.  Once you get over being annoyed, this can be convenient: one bed for you, one bed for your pack.

 

Contemplating an acient ball court…

Traveling with Others

Doing things- anything,  with other people means compromise.  It means giving up always having things done your way.  Rather than have the world be flexible with you, it requires you to be flexible with others.  I don’t drink coffee and I prefer to shower in the evening.  Sometimes when I travel with other people I feel like half the day has gone by before they are ready to get started.  It’s a good chance for me to practice patience, going with flow, chilling out- skills that will serve me well in life as well as travel.

Provided expenses are shared fairly, traveling with a friend or friends is often cheaper.  It may also allow you access to more.  I hired a friend, who happened to be fluent in Mandarin, to be my tour guide in China.  When I was deciding whether or not I was willing to increase my expenses by doing this, food was a major factor.  Food in China is served family style.  Eating with a friend, we could justify ordering three dishes at each meal, but alone? Well, missing out on all that good food would just have been too sad.

The big difference is mental.  Alone is more reflective, with a friend you share perceptions- have more opportunities to see things through someone else’s eyes.  You’ll get more laughs out of the ridiculous things that happen (and believe me, ridiculous things will happen) if you share them with a friend. Your down time will be more interesting.  You may also get sick of that person.  It’s good to agree in advance that everyone is allowed to strike off on their own once in a while.

A Word for Couples

So what if the someone you’re thinking of traveling with is that special someone? Traveling with your partner means spending a lot of time (like every hour of every day) together.  I remember meeting a young woman in a hostel who was traveling with her fiancé.  A friend commented that she’d heard traveling as a couple could be challenging, to which the woman emphatically replied, “He’s driving me crazy!”

So traveling as a couple is good chance to test your relationship; to make it or break it, to see if you’re ready for a next step (marriage or cohabitating) that involves more time together.

When it works, it can be great.

And if you’re clever, you can really make the most of it.  I was particularly impressed with a scheme cooked up by a couple of British honeymooners I met in Central America.  (Cheers, Debs and Phil!)  Being that they were both around 30 and had been living together for a while, they decided they didn’t need a new toaster.  Instead, they made their own wedding registry of the more spendy things they wanted to do on their trip (boat cruise up the New River, spending the night at the expensive hotel in Tikal, cocktails on the beach in Caye Caulker, etc.) and got their friends to give them money for all those wonderful things.  Then as they “spent” them all they would email a thank you and a photo.

Made me wonder if I could pull it off without actually getting married…?

 

In the end, the best measure of whether or not you will like traveling alone is whether or not you like being alone.  If you enjoy your own company, solo travel is likely to be a good fit.

Knowing multiple languages is an amazing task to conquer and I applaud all those who can triumph over language barriers with ease. I, on the other hand, have been attempting to learn Spanish since Elementary School and you’d think I would have gotten past the ‘Como estas?’ stage. Nope, I am part of the .01% of the world that has the last name ‘Gomez’ and cannot converse in Spanish to save my life.

Now that you know my lack of skill in the language department you might be shocked to find I’ve been living in Amman, Jordan for almost 10 months now and have not once been thrown off guard just because I do not speak fluent Arabic. So don’t be hesitant on taking a trip to China or traveling across Europe just because you don’t know the language, it’s not a problem! Take my advice and enjoy all the pleasures and beauty the whole world has to offer and conquer those language barriers with ease!

There’s An App For That

Screen shot of Vocre in the works :)

Apps; solving problems you didn’t even knew you had! The technology world has really meshed well with travelers worldwide as there are loads of apps and other devices that truly cater to their convenience.  If you are uncertain how to navigate your way around the city just because your lack of knowledge of the native language, check out these awesome apps I believe will help you out:

Vocre– To me, this is the best all-around app that I have had great experience with. Instead of making crazy hand motions to get what you want you can just talk into your phone, record what you want to be said and your words will be converted into a text bubble or spoken in the other person’s native language. But it gets better, this is a FREE app and everybody loves free right?!

Translator with Speech- The cool thing about this app is that when you record yourself or have previous texts, even when you are not in a wi-fi area, you can go back to the saved recordings and click them to playback for you. Plus the fact this app supports 54 languages you will more than likely find what you need.

There are plenty more to check out like The Language Pro and Speechtrans, which I have heard are great also, but these two I have personally tried out and loved. If you have a favorite translating app let me know, I’m always open for more ways of communicating ;)

What Does سوبر ماركت Mean?!

If you guessed supermarket you were right! However I don’t know about you, but I would never have guessed that. Every day I wish the Roman alphabet was the only one that existed, but for now pictures are my best friend! Check around your surroundings and usually there are pictured symbols that let you figure out what type of store it is. For the most part there are usually English translations close by so look around before you go out of your way to ask someone what it means. If you are unsure how to explain to the taxi driver, and unable to use one of the above apps, you can get someone from the hotel or find an English speaking local that will write down your address in their language. Make sure they also include some major landmarks; from my experience most people do not actually know street names but rather the famous Hyatt hotel or the local Police Station that is close by. My husband did this for me and trust me I use that piece of paper ALL the time!

Now you can easily guess that this is a Pizza Hut..yay for pictured symbols :)

English Is Quite The Universal Language

Luckily for me, I was born in an English speaking country and thankfully that just so happens to be quite the universal language. However, even if you are not from an English-speaking country it is almost guaranteed that you learned English during school (and since you are reading this article I take it you learned well). So instead of attempting to Rosetta Stone your way to greatness in another country, brush up on your English and you will more than likely find someone that can communicate with you. My husband is always amazed at how many times I simply can just speak English to a person over here and they understand me.

Take it from me, the most hard headed language learner you could imagine, you CAN get around an unfamiliar city not knowing the language and still appreciate all that is around you. So go ahead and explore the world without those silly language barriers getting in your way!

Have you ever been in a country that you did not know the language? What did YOU do?