How to keep yourself safe as a travelling newbie

If you’re new to travelling, there’s a few essential tips to keep in mind wherever you’re going. Don’t be overwhelmed or worried – so long as you stay safe and sensible, you’ll be fine. Here are just a few tips to ensure you do so.

 

Keep an eye on your belongings

One of the most common issues travelers have is the misplacing of their belongings. Whether it be their own fault or not, you’re bound to meet someone who has lost their luggage – don’t let it be you.

Keep a close eye on your belongings wherever you go, and never leave your bags unattended. There are plenty of opportunists lurking and picking out the vulnerable tourists, so keep your wits about you and protect yourself and your things. Don’t show your valuables off, either – you’ll become a prime target. And, worst of all, you won’t be covered if your neglect leads to your things going missing.

 

Have a budget

Don’t be left out of pocket before the end of your trip. Plan out a daily budget so you’re not unexpectedly without any money at any given moment. A daily budget can help you visualize just how much you can spend each day, give or take whatever is necessary.

Haggling is one way to cut costs even further, too. It’s common practice between travellers and vendors, so don’t be afraid to try your hand at it. Haggling can cut prices down by half in some instances, and this will leave you with more to spend elsewhere.

 

Don’t stray from the beaten track

Unless you’re with an experienced tour guide, don’t be tempted to explore areas you aren’t sure about. Too often are tourists left stranded and compromised in dangerous situation due to their urge to head into unfamiliar territory, sometimes with dire circumstances.

If you want to visit an area where it seems unsafe to go alone, look into tours to see if it’s possible to go in a group. This way, you’ll be led by somebody who knows how to keep you safe and protected – so long as they themselves are registered and official.

 

Interact with the locals

Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with locals whilst travelling. Often, locals are eager to talk to tourists and help you out if needed, so don’t shy away. Whether it be in a bar, restaurant or market, present yourself as outgoing and confident and you’ll get along just fine.

With that being said, make sure you’re clear on how to greet said locals in certain countries. In Thailand it’s with a wai, that being when you put your hands in a praying position when saying hello. In Japan, you’ll bow when greeting a local. These cultural practices are incredibly important, so make sure you adopt them.

Respect the culture

Talking of culture, there’s a few strange norms that you may want to bear in mind to keep your trip going smoothly. In Thailand, for example, expect to take your shoes off before entering buildings to keep the bad energy out. And in Egypt, don’t put salt on your food – it’s actually considered an insult by locals, especially the chef.

But, for the most part, locals don’t expect tourists to abide by cultural customs all of the time. So long as you’re generally respectful, friendly and open to learn more, you’ll get along just fine.

Do you have any tips for first time travelers of your own? Leave your suggestions below.

 

Guest Post by Sarah Hess
Sarah has always dreamed of travelling around the world. She’s very active with outdoor activities and she used to go with her brothers on camping and fishing tours. Now that she’s on her legal age and she has a way of funding her travels, she plans to make her dream come true. She’s been to European and North American countries and some parts of Asia. Aside from that, she’s also passionate in writing stories about her travels and sharing tips when travelling.

 

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Posing in front of the Duck

Riding the Purple Duck on Father’s Day

Disclaimer: Real ducks were NOT used or harmed during this ride! No we haven’t created a hybrid purple duck!

When we say duck here, we do not literally mean the yellow feathery creatures. The Seattle duck is a World War II era amphibious vehicle that runs on both land and water. So we decided to take the 90 min tour for Father’s Day and have some family fun.

Ticket Counter
Ticket Counter

All of us were looking forward to the duck ride but as we boarded our purple duck, the LO (little one) got a bit whiny and any amount of singing and rocking did not seem to soothe him. We weren’t sure what to expect during the entire 90 min ride now! But as soon as the ride started, the music started to play and the wind blew against our faces through the huge windows, LO fell asleep in mommy’s arms.

Our amazing Tour Guide

Our Captain and Tour Guide
Our Captain and Tour Guide

Your tour is as good as your tour guide. Helen Joy, our tour guide, was an exuberant young lady, keeping us engaged with her jokes, little general knowledge pieces and some interesting props. She even demonstrated the “Flying Fish” from Pike Place market with a stuffed dummy fish! She also told us stories about the great Seattle fire and the gold rush, albeit in an interesting rap form, which was cool.

When the Duck swam in the Lake

Unfortunately for us, it was the Solstice parade in Fremont and so that part of the tour was diverted to Ballard. Well, basically the duck tour is a family-friendly tour and the solstice parade participants are supposedly cycling wearing nothing on their bodies but some body paint!

What we Saw

Floating Houses
Floating Houses
  • Floating Houses: These are multi-storied (Upto 3 levels) houses with one level below the water level. They are not actually floating and are grounded to the lake floor.
  • House Boats: These are like RVs on land. They can be towed around using attached boats.
  • Fishing Vessels
  • Other Ducks
  • Ballard Bridge and Fremont Bridge: These are drawbridges. So when a big vessel needs to pass through below the bridge, the traffic on the bridge has to be stopped and the bridge parts to let the vessel pass through.

When the Duck hopped on Land

What we Saw

We caught glimpses of:

  • Pike Place Market
  • The house from the animated movie “Up”
  • Westlake Center
  • Seattle Great Wheel
  • Olympic Structure Park
  • Pioneer Square

Starting Point

Seattle Center Location
Seattle Center Location

There are tours starting from two locations.

  1. Seattle Center (near the Space Needle) – We boarded from here
  2. Westlake Center

Any ride starting from any of the two points follows the same exact route. There are no stops, and passengers remain aboard the duck at all time.

Tips

  • This ride is no Hop-On Hop-Off tour, neither do they give you a detailed tour. It just gives you glimpses into the major attractions of Seattle and a feel of the city, where water is undoubtedly a big part of the landscape. So, take this ride if you want to experience a unique and novel way of viewing the city or if you have very less time and just want to catch the highlights.
  • An infant below 5 years of age gets a seat at just $5!
  • Do not worry about entering the water in this vehicle. It is equipped with adult and kid life jackets. Also, it can catch maximum speed of 4.5 knots in water, which believe me isn’t fast at all. It is more of a leisurely stroll.

The White Duck
The White Duck



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Heidelberg Student Prison

School and college life is usually associated with fun and mischief by most, more by some than others. Ever imagined how life would have been if there was a special prison designed for students, on your college campus?

Our visit to Heidelberg, Germany, brought us to such an unusual well-preserved museum of sorts (for want of a better word). Heidelberg is known as being Germany’s oldest and most reputed university. It is believed that the US spared Heidelberg from bombing during World War II due to the presence of this university.

During our visit to the town, we came across the unique history of the town and were surprised to discover a Student Prison on the Heidelberg tourist map!

As we traversed up a floor of stairs, we did not know what to expect really, when we started to see these black side faces painted on the walls.

And a lot of other graffiti as well..

As the story started to unfold, the guide explained that during the 19th century the most mischievous of the university students were kept locked up in these rooms as punishment. The prison although called so wasn’t really in any dreadful condition but was only meant to keep these students in isolation and teach them a lesson.

But as kids are, they turned this punishment into a kind of rite of passage. All students wanted to get into the prison at least once before passing out of university! This led to a rush of students into the prison with frequent parties and even more unruly behavior. The prison was eventually shut down but has been well-preserved since then.

The most iconic of the graffiti are the black faces. It is said that the students used to pass time by painting portraits on the wall. One person stood in between the wall and a lamp, while another painted the silhouette on the wall using carbon from the lamp. The different color caps are supposed to represent the various houses that the students belonged to.

 

Most of the original furniture has been preserved well in the prison.

How to reach

Augustinergasse 2, 69117 Heidelberg, Germany

Heidelberg is an hour’s train ride from Frankfurt. The town is best traversed on foot as everything is in walking distance.

Opening Hours

Apr to Oct – 10 am to 6 pm

Nov to Mar – 10 am to 4 pm (Closed on Sundays)

Entry Charges: €3




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A kid performing an Irish dance with enthusiasm

Seattle St Patrick’s Day Celebrations 2016

We witnessed a St Patrick’s Day celebration for the first time in Seattle. The crowd’s exuberance and the excitement of the performers helped us feel a part of the gathering.

Irish Sports
Irish Sports
Marjorie Dwiggins carving leather at her stall
Marjorie Dwiggins carving leather at her stall

See Marjorie Dwiggins’ amazing hand crafted leather here.

An Irish singer performing on stage
An Irish singer performing on stage
Irish Lego display and kids' activities
Irish Lego display and kids’ activities
A kid performing an Irish dance with enthusiasm
A kid performing an Irish dance with enthusiasm
Brilliant performance by a group of Irish kids
Brilliant performance by a group of Irish kids
Display of "Carbony Celtic Winds" wind instruments
Display of “Carbony Celtic Winds” wind instruments

Visit the Carbony Celtic Winds collection online.

The Irish band at the Closing Ceremony
The Irish band at the Closing Ceremony
Amazing participation from the community
Amazing participation from the community




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Adult Bald Eagle by Frank Cone

Skagit Valley Washingon : Winter destination for Bald Eagle spotting

We were mulling over what activities we can do in the Pacific Northwest Washington area, other than snow-related, when we came across this Eagle spotting article in the Seattle Times. We had never seen bald eagles ever and so we decided to take the wonderful trip from Seattle to the Skagit River Bald Eagle Interpretive Center, ~3 hour drive.

The drive itself was amazing, taking us through different terrains. It was wonderful to see how we did not change much altitude on the way and yet we saw towns covered in snow, followed closely with towns that did not have any snow at all!

We ended up spotting 8 adult eagles and couple of juveniles, all engaged in eating a dead cow carcass. Well thankfully we did not catch a look of the carcass, but managed to clearly see the birds flying across from one tree to another, or perched on top of trees. Sadly, we could not get good pictures as we did not have the appropriate camera lens to capture the birds. The images here have been generously shared by Frank Cone.

Bald Eagles

The bald eagle is the national bird of the USA since 1782. And should I say, it so deserves to be! The very first time we laid eyes on the grand bird, we could see how royal it looked. It kind of had an aura about it! Its wingspan itself can stretch up to 8 feet! The eagles reside in Alaska and Canada, but migrate south during winters following the chum salmon in the streams of Washington.

Juvenile and Adult by Frank Cone
Juvenile and Adult : Photograph by Frank Cone

“Bald” eagles are not actually bald or hairless. “Balde” means “white” in old English. The Bald Eagles are called so because of the white colored heads of the adult eagles. Until they are juvenile or young, the eagles in fact have brown colored feathers on their head. As they start to grow up, the feathers start to change color and change to white.

Skagit River Bald Eagle Interpretive Center

Washington state offers great places to view Bald Eagles. One of the most popular destinations is near the Skagit River. The Skagit River Interpretive Center is a non-profit organization that is run with the help of volunteers in the area. Their aim is to raise awareness about the unique species by encouraging ecotourism.

They help visitors with spotting eagles from certain viewing points. There are volunteers posted in these following locations with binoculars to help spot eagles in the nearby trees.

  • Skagit River Interpretive Center
  • Mile Post 100 Rest Area on Highway 20
  • Howard Miller Steelhead County Park
  • Marblemount Fish Hatchery
Getting there

Eagle Festivals
Other Places for Eagle spotting

The National Wildlife Federation lists some other places as well to spot bald eagles here.

Groupon discount on Eagle Watching Tour
Sitewide Sale Extension




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Celebrating Lohri (Indian Bonfire festival) in the US

When we were in India, Makar Sankranti was just another festival at home. The thing that I remember most is eating the special Bong sweet that mom used to make for the occasion: Pathishapta (sweet crepes with cocomut filling and topped with condensed milk) and Pitha (fried sweet potato patties dipped in sweet syrup). At Siddhartha’s place, as in most Indian homes, it includes eating sweets made of Til (Sesame seeds) and Jaggery.

When we were moving to Bellevue, Washington, we were aware of the presence of a vibrant Indian community here, and yet did not expect too much. We have lived in other countries (across Europe, Asia and Australia) as well and have been part of a few Indian festival celebrations; found them pretty good. Yet, this celebration of Lohri in Bellevue was something else.

Lohri gathering
Lohri gathering

First of all, the sheer volume in which people participated with their entire families was huge. The priests made sure to include everyone in the aarti (prayers) and help explain the importance of the occasion. This has never happened in India for me! There was also the traditional Lohri bonfire right outside the temple, which was pretty neat for a chilly evening. As per tradition, people made rounds around the fire throwing popcorn and peanuts into the fire.

Lohri bonfire
Lohri bonfire
Bonfire offering
Bonfire offering

There were Temple volunteers managing the crowd and helping in distributing the meals. The dinner consisted of traditional Punjabi food: Makke ki roti, sarson da saag, rice and Punjabi Kadhi. The makke ki roti was prepared by several lady volunteers at their homes and the rest of the dishes were prepared by the organizers at the temple kitchen.

Temple volunteers
Temple volunteers

The only disappointment: I could not get my hands on the special dinner menu due to the huge gathering and my prior commitments to leave early 🙁

About Lohri

Lohri is a popular North Indian (Punjabi) festival which marks the winter solstice. Traditionally, it was celebrated as a harvest festival for Rabi crops. Rest of India mostly celebrates this day as Makar Sankranti, while parts of South India celebrate it as Pongal. The celebration of Lohri with a bonfire sets it apart from the other versions of the festival in India.

About Bellevue Hindu Temple

This is a temple in Bellevue. The Temple is a non-profit organization. Their Facebook page shows they celebrate almost all Indian Hindu festivals. This gives expat Indians keep in touch with their culture and people like me explore different Indian festivals in one place.

Bellevue Hindu Temple
Bellevue Hindu Temple

Disclaimer: This is a completely personal view and does not represent any organization or individual.



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Frankfurt Christmas Market in pictures

Reminiscing Christmas from a few years back, while we were in Frankfurt (Germany). There used to be Christmas markets, with the streets turned into a huge fair. There were shops filled with street food lined up along the street, and even with temperature below 0 (degree celsius), the warmth of the festivities filled the street. Although Frankfurt is not even one of the most popular Christmas markets of Germany, yet we really found it quite festive.

Missing the cheer in the air, streets lined up with candy stores, the sweet aroma of warm apfel wein (apple wine), the colorfully lit up markets, the warm sweet and cheesy breads, the deep-fried hot Kartoffel (potato) and the numerous stalls of trinkets.

Kartoffel
Kartoffel

Santa on top of shop

Stalls

Tree decorations
Tree decorations
Candies
Candies
Turkish bread
Turkish bread

drink1 drink2



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Besalu moat and bridge

Besalu – A Spanish medieval town

Our trip to Spain was sudden and not very well planned, and yet it turned out to be one of the most adventurous trips that we have had. We had planned to visit Castelfollit de la Roca, a beautiful cliff-top town. This was completely off the tourist circuit. We boarded a bus for our destination, and our fellow passengers were all locals, with not a single person able to understand English (not even the driver).

Besalu stairs
Besalu town stairs

As we drove past the scenic route, amongst the trees, peeped a magnificent golden castle! We were literally taken aback by the beauty of it, probably because we had not expected to see anything but villages on our route. As we swerved past the castle, with its impressive moat and bridge, we made up our minds that we would stop here on our way back.

Besalu Town
Besalu Town

When we returned back we did realize that the castle was not in fact as much golden as shades between white to brown. Probably the time of the day and the sun’s reflection had attributed to it looking golden, when we first saw it. Nevertheless it was still a unique find, and it gave us such happiness to think we discovered a new place 😉
The town shines as an important relic of the Middle Ages, with its Romanesque bridge with an additional gateway at the centre. The cobbled streets take you back to a different era altogether. The castle town houses small shops selling toys representing the knights from the Middle Ages. One cannot make out where the forted area ends and where the town starts. It has just all merged together now.

Medieval knight toys
Medieval knight toys

The town also houses a Synagogue from the medieval era and a Jewish bath from the 11th century. Even if one is not a history person, the sheer joy of walking down the streets and getting lost in the beauty is reason enough to visit Besalu.

Besalu streets
Besalu streets

Our only regret: We did not have enough time to explore the castle and village. We would have loved to spend an entire day here. But we did witness a beautiful sunset 🙂

Besalu sunset
Besalu sunset

Tips:
• If you plan to take a bus down to this town, be sure to carry a bus time table with you. We lost ours and we would’ve landed in a mess if a local wouldn’t have handed us his own schedule.
• There are pretty little cafes in the castle village and you can enjoy a cup of coffee.
• Since this is not a very touristy place, the shops close at around 5 pm, so make your return trip plan accordingly.
• We visited in early November. It wasn’t too cold but the changing colors added to the beauty of the place.

Parking and coffee shops
Parking and coffee shops


Hotels.com Canada: $99 or Less




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Castlefollit de la Roca

Cliff town of Castellfollit de la Roca, Spain

Travelling is all about getting lost. Getting lost in the culture, wilderness and streets of places you never knew existed. While we were planning our trip to Spain a few years back, one of our friends told us about a small town deep inside the Catalonia region; Castellfollit de la Roca. When we read about the place ourselves, we knew that we HAD to visit the place. How can anyone not visit a village sitting pretty on top of a high cliff which is barely two houses wide? The sight of a church at the edge of the cliff made the place even more appealing.

Castlefollit de la Roca
Castlefollit de la Roca

When we reached the place after a 90 min bus ride from Girona, it was every bit as beautiful we were hoping it to be. The high basalt cliff shaped by two rivers flowing on either side of it, the houses on top of the cliff, precariously built, the beautiful church at the edge of it. Everything was so unique that we kept wondering how come we never heard of such a beautiful place. We just roamed around the place for good couple of hours. Best part of it was we were the only two people there who were visitors. We had realized this when we boarded the bus from Girona. We had trouble explaining the bus driver where we wanted to get off as they did not understand English much. And well, our Spanish was no good either, but we somehow managed. The locals there were extremely helpful in guiding us to the bus stops and also requesting us to ensure that we catch the bus while returning as there were very few of those and that too not at regular intervals. One helpful gentleman gave us his own bus time table after realizing that we had less idea about the bus timing for our journey back to Girona.

Our short trip from Girona to Castellfollit de la Roca was enough to make us realize that the world is full of amazing places which are still unexplored. It gave us a kick to travel to such places and explore the unexplored. Explore the culture and learn about them. Explore the places and smile. Explore the food and enjoy!


Hotels.com Canada: $99 or Less




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