Whether you are travelling for pleasure or professional reasons, finding ways to entertain yourself during your flight is important, especially if you are on a long-haul flight. Fortunately, the resources available to us today make it easier than ever to stay entertained. Combining this with traditional methods of entertainment means you won’t have to worry about being bored while you travel. For some inspiration, here are 5 fun ways to pass the time on a plane.
Have a Sleep
Travelling can be long and stressful, especially if you had to get up early to go to the airport or your destination is in a completely different time zone. Getting some sleep on the plane is a great way to pass time and will help you feel more refreshed and prepared for the journey. It can be hard to get comfortable enough to fall asleep on a plane, but making some smart decisions using these tips will make it easier.
Watch a Movie
It is easy to get into a movie or binge-watch a series at home, so there is no reason why you can’t do the same on a plane. Watching movies or TV-series can be a great way to pass time and reduce stress. Not every flight will have access to built-in TVs and the ones that do may have limited content for you to watch, so you should be prepared with your laptop or tablet and a pair of good-quality headphones.
Try Live Streaming
If you are into sport and the team that you follow and support is playing a game during your flight, then you should try live streaming. Live streaming gives your internet-enabled devices the power to become a TV and broadcast live events. Finding a good website or app is key to the quality of your content. For access to live streaming and betting on a variety of sports, you should check out Unibet.
Listen to Music
Listening to music, audiobooks, and podcasts can be a great way to pass time and relax during your flight, especially if you are particularly anxious about flying. There are so many things that you can listen to that can be used for entertainment or education purposes. If you have a window seat, then listening to something you love while watching the clouds and sky can be extremely therapeutic.
Do Some Reading
Reading is another great way to pass time during your flight and can give you something to look at and focus on if you are not sat by a window. You can read for your entertainment or learn new things. If you don’t enjoy reading books, then you can always use your free time to study or catch-up on some work that has been on your mind. This will make you feel like you have achieved something positive.
There are many fun things you can do on a plane to pass time. If you don’t have the technology or resources, then you should make the most out of your surroundings by talking to people around you.
For something like three or four years, Sheldon and I kept this blog up – writing posts at least weekly and telling people about how to take advantage of credit card rewards to “travel the free-way.” I think it goes without saying that we’ve fallen off for a bit. I wish I could say that I were reinvigorating the cause, but unfortunately too many other duties call at me to make this blog a priority again.
Even so, I’m compelled to write a bit – partially out of selfishness and partially out of selflessness. How can that be? Let me explain. Chase recently sent me a referral link for the business travel rewards credit card that I use – the Chase Ink Business Preferred Card. It seems they will offer me 20k points for each referral, up to a maximum of 5. I already passed along the link to a friend, so, selfishly, I’m hoping to round up 4 more and top up my Ultimate Rewards balance. That’s the selfish part.
Now the selfless part. I can’t tell you how many friends we inspired to jump on this bandwagon over the years and to my knowledge, none of them has filed for bankruptcy under a mountain of credit card, and dozens of them have taken incredible vacations – paid for in large part with points, not money. It’s a beautiful thing.
It’s also beautiful that at the moment this business travel rewards credit card is offering 100,000 points if you can spend $15k in the first three months. I realize that not everyone will have that much in typical expenses, but many business owners do, and it would make all the sense in the world to use those typical expenses to get the enormous bonus and start trip planning.
If the big up-front bonus on this card were the only attraction, it would still be worth it, but the card also offers 3x points “for each $1 of the first $150,000 spent each account anniversary year on combined purchases in the following rewards categories: shipping; social media and search engine advertising; travel; internet, cable, and phone services.” Click here for more details on these categories. If your business spends substantial amounts on these categories, this is the one and only credit card you should ever use.
The fine print? This card does have a $95 annual fee that is not waived the first year. But it also has a very unique benefit – cellphone protection up to $600 for theft or damage to any phone paid for with the card. It also has the Auto rental CDW coverage, so you can decline any coverage offered by the rental company. (Remind me to tell you sometime how that saved me from a $780 bill for a dent I put in a rental car when I backed into a baluster on a rainy evening in Slovenia).
Ok. Enough about the card – you can look at the benefits and decide for yourself, but let me start in on the fun part and tell you about what I’d suggest you do with your points hoard once its been accumulated. Let’s assume that $5000 of the $15,000 you spend in the first three months got you 3x points so once you’ve met the requirement, you have 125,000 Ultimate Rewards points burning a hole in your rewardpocket.
So let’s just assume that you are turning 40 years old in 2021 and your spouse has told you, “Let’s go anywhere you want to go.” Sadly you reply, we can’t go anywhere I want to go, we are in a COVID-world, so we can only go the places they will let us go. So then you start your wanderlusting the same place I have for the past 9 months – the the US News and World Report page, “Where can Americans Travel Right Now?”
The good news is that this list is actually starting look more robust now, and let’s say you home in on three options: The warm and incomparable islands of French Polynesia, the lush and rich cultural wonderland of Ireland, or the historic and fascinating city of Istanbul.
One of the best features of these points is that you can use them either as “cash” to book through their travel booking portal or transfer them to partners – including United, Air France KLM, Southwest, IHG, Marriott, Hyatt, and others. This allows you to be wise and use them efficiently. What does that mean? When used as cash through their portal, an Ultimate Reward point is essentially worth 1.25 cents. Sometimes you’re better off to transfer them to the airline, sometimes you’re better off to use the points. I just used United as an example and flying from Boise, here’s how it works out:
UR for Cash
Bang for your points buck
So you can see that in this case it would be better to use the Ultimate Rewards as cash when booking to Tahiti, but take fewer UR to transfer them to the United to book both Ireland and Istanbul. Keep in mind that moving the UR to airline points, you may need to pay a small booking fee (usually less than $100). Also, if you’re really only at 125k UR, you may need to build up a few more or in some cases you can buy the small remaining points you need. In any case, it’s easy to see how this one card bonus can get you and your partner half-way around the world in any direction.
Hang with me – we are just getting to the fun part. What would you do in each of these epic locations?
Tahiti is easy – you spend every moment in one of these over-the-water bungalows. When you have a place like this, you have absolutely no reason to go anywhere else. Just stay here. All day, every day, until you have to leave.
In Ireland you start by testing out your left-side-of-the-road driving skills. You’ll have to pay extra for a rental car that has an automatic transmission, so skimp and test your left-hand shifting skills, as well. Because Northern Ireland is part of the UK, you may need to skip that part while Coronavirus rules the world. No worry. Here’s an itinerary that will knock your Irish socks off. Keep in mind that it is extraordinarily tight – I don’t like the idea of crossing the pond for anything less than 10 days, so keep in mind that you could absolutely expand it – this is just an absolute minimum.
Hop in the car and make your way to Castle Leslie – a magnificent castle estate where you can live like an Earl (what, even, is an Earl?). Take a traditional Irish breakfast in a spectacular setting or explore the grounds on foot or on horseback. The nearby town of Glaslough is idyllic – particularly Ambledown Cottage.
Enjoy the morning on the castle grounds, but by lunchtime, make the 3 hour drive to Galway. When I was there, I stayed nearby in Peter’s Castle – one of the most incredible overnight experiences I’ve ever had. Not for luxury, but rather for authenticity – Peter is a stone mason and has been rebuilding the castle from ruins for two decades.
Stroll the streets of Galway, but leave enough time to drive to the Cliffs of Moher and then on to Killarney.
Drive the “Ring of Kerry” taking special care to see the sheepdog demonstration, marvel at the lushness and check out the Muckross House – an old hunting lodge on the edge of Killarney National Park.
No visit to Ireland would be complete without the chance to kiss the Blarney stone at Blarney Castle in Cork. Kiss it like you mean it and take your gift of gab onto the “Rock of Cashel” then crashel for the night somewhere near Kilkenny.
En route back to Dublin, stop in at Powerscourt Gardens for an impressive display of floral and botanical beauty.
You can’t miss seeing Trinity College and the Book of Kells, among many other wonders of Dublin.
Start by watching the Netflix 6-episode series on Mehmet the Conquerer’s siege of then Constantinople – a radical hingepoint in religious world history. You may think – could I really spend an entire week in a single city? I’ll interrupt your thoughts to answer – yes, absolutely!
Stay in the core of the historic city – near the Hagia Sophia. You’ll be shocked at what sumptuous lodging you can get for very little money – here’s a place that looks pretty nice and has rave reviews that would only set you back $550 for a week stay. From there you can attack all the sites – starting, of course, with the Hagia Sophia herself. Southern Spain and the city of Istanbul are some of the best remnants of a melded Christian and Muslim history, and no other place in the world embodies that more than this cathedral…err…mosque.
Also, don’t miss the Basilica Cistern, particularly if you’re a Dan Brown fan and you enjoyed “Origin.” It’s definitely the most fascinated you’ll ever be by a water-storage system, not that there’s much competition. I’m underselling it, but that’s okay, just trust me.
Since I was a child I dreamt of visiting the Grand Bazaar – more than 4,000 shops occupying 61 streets. It did not disappoint. Get lost in this place and don’t come out until you’ve had your fill of Turkish Delight (a tasty sweet delicacy), ornate hand-loomed rugs, and any number of other wonders.
Top this day off with a visit to the Blue Mosque, another iconic landmark.
Wander the cobbled path of Isitikal Street to Galata Tower and then onto Galata Bridge. Getting to the bridge isn’t so much about seeing it, as it is seeing the city from there as a vantage point.
You’ve seen the marvels of the Grand Bazaar, now make your way to the Spice Bazaar. Close your eyes and experience it purely with your nose. Imagine that visitors to this city have been doing the same thing for thousands of years.
Later that night, see the spiritual ritual at the Hodjapasha Cultural Center.
This is as much a dare as it is a suggestion. I dare you to take on the experience of having a Turkish Bath. Although, I’m not sure they are doing these during COVID 19-21+ because it is likely one of the most intimate things I have ever done and certainly the most intimate I have ever been with another man. Basically they get you naked and sweating under intense heat, and then they proceed to beat the living hell out of you. It’s literally like UFC but there’s no tapping out. Tap all you want, but the big hairy guy will not stop twisting you and beating you into submission. The honest truth is that you will feel amazing after it’s over, but give yourself a day to recover.
The reason that Byzantium/Constantinople/Istanbul has become what it is today is of course because of its strategic location on the Bosphorus strait, between the Mediterranean (or technically the Sea of Marmara) and the Black Sea. Today you should take a cruise and see the seas as well as the Beylerbeyi Palace.
Let’s make this day all about food. By now you will likely have your favorites and they will be many. When a place becomes such an intersection of varying cultures, it has a way of propagating the best combinations of each in the form of a most delicious array of options – pastries, meats, spicy-soupy vegetable concoctions, seafoods, and more. Take it all in without regrets.
This is the first of a two-part series I’m doing on my experience as a delegate from the American Council of Young Political Leaders to Vietnam and Malaysia. ACYPL is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization, internationally recognized as the pre-eminent catalyst for introducing rising political and policy professionals to international affairs and to each other. Their mission is to promote mutual understanding, respect and friendship and cultivate long lasting relationships among next generation leaders in the US and around the world. More at www.ACYPL.org.
A reporter from the US-Vietnam Society captured a moment in our visit to the Friendship Village in Hanoi. The Friendship Village is a home which was founded by a former United States service member for children and veterans who’ve suffered from the horrible effects of Agent Orange – a toxic herbicidal chemical that was spread all over the country to defoliate the jungle during the Vietnam War.
I was cheek to cheek with a former member of the Viet Cong Army. He’s pulled me in for such a tight embrace that I, although quite the touchy-feely kind, couldn’t help but be a little bit awkward. We had just exchanged recommendations that he eat more Idaho potatoes, and that I eat more Vietnamese rice before he took me in heartily in a half hug/half headlock.
It’s possible that this man could have had relatives of mine in his sights when he was in his twenties, but today, 42 years after American military and diplomatic forces were evacuated in Operation Frequent Wind, we are friends, and he is as happy to see me as I am him. It’s palpable evidence of what the Department of State told us before our departure – that 84% of Vietnamese have a favorable view of the United States.
For all but six years of the 20th Century, the s-shaped, coastal country of Vietnam found itself at war. They are a people who understand the value of peace because they have seen the tragedy of war. At least 19 of those years – from 1956 to 1975 – can be attributed to the United States. Anyone who has visited the Museum of War Remnants in the former Saigon has seen the records and can attest to the atrocities that took place – the long-standing effects of wartime bombings and Agent Orange in particular. It was undoubtedly an ugly period in history.
I have no intention of adjudicating the past, but only appraising and understanding the present. Our meetings and experiences in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City allowed me to do exactly that.
Being politically-minded, a brief review of a country’s governmental structure is a precursor to any of my travels. Vietnam’s golden star atop a red flag does little to hide its unabashed proclamation that it is one of only four remaining countries which whole-heartedly claim a Communist government. In Hanoi, this is abundantly clear as the only buildings of substance appear to be government buildings – the most prominent of which looks like colossal spaceship and houses the 500 member Vietnamese National Assembly, which governs the One-Party Socialist Republic.
Inside the National Assembly building
Among the most curious insights was to find that many of the representatives do not hail from the provinces they represent, but are assigned to represent particular areas. It’s strange, but then again, so also is a completely one-party system, government-controlled media, and deceptive air-quality monitors.
The latter of these only makes in more ironic that the concerns expressed to us included Climate Change – particularly the impact of melting ice caps and the consequent salinization of the Mekong River delta. Also, as if speaking from talking points, in every meeting our hosts each acknowledged the much-trumped trade deficit with the US and noted their disapproval of the US withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and their frustration with China’s incursion in the South China Sea.
I found it most interesting that one of the individuals with whom we met told us that the Vietnamese Communist party acknowledges the failure of socialist economic policy. They realize that it did nothing to unleash the productivity of their people – evidenced, perhaps by the fact that with 96 million people, Vietnam clocks in at the 15th largest country by population, yet only the 47th largest economy. As a result, in 1985, they began opening to a mixed economy. It is a transition, however, which remains materially undone as 99 of the 100 largest companies are still state-owned.
That said, in the skyscrapers and neon lights of Ho Chi Minh City, you can begin to see how the transition may fare out in the coming decades. In 2008 there were 4 buildings over 30 stories tall. Today there are 47. If Vietnam’s economy has grown at a 7% clip in the past decade, most of that has to be attributed to what is happening in the former Saigon. We saw a vibrant co-working tech laboratory and heard pitches from hungry entrepreneurs seeking venture capital. It’s a stark contrast to the rest of the country where 49% of the population make their living from agriculture.
One of the most captivating stories in the global economy in years to come may be the triumph of capitalism in Vietnam.
Vietnam is consistently in the bottom 10 in various metrics of theism or religiosity. The one temple we toured? The Temple of Literature – a relic of Chinese Confucianism. Aside from that, the only other evidence we saw of any religious conviction was a tired, old Catholic cathedral – an import from French colonialism.
The Temple of Literature
In one of our meetings, a gentleman explained that what Buddhism is practiced is differentiated from North to South. In the South, Theravada Buddhism places emphasis on individual enlightenment, while in the North, Mahayana Buddhism emphasizes collective enlightenment. In the days before Communism replaced religion, perhaps this factored into the divide between the country.
I don’t know so much where this observation belongs as that it does belong – Vietnam, as much as any place I have ever been, is a motorcycle mecca. Or, more appropriately, a scooter scrum. Aerial videos of the streets of Hanoi must closely approximate schools of fish, with cars and scooters moving with little regard or lanes or signals, yet somehow functionally choreographed. Oddly enough, our driver was pulled over at one point because traffic cameras captured evidence of him crossing a lane line. The officer directed him to park facing oncoming traffic while he logged the infraction. Puzzling.
The food in Vietnam was delicious, with my only complaint being the preponderance of bones. What it lacked in preparation, though, was more than made up for in flavor. Almost nothing is served as an individual plate, but rather placed in the center of tables to be eaten family-style. Of course our favorite was the Pho. A rich broth is the base, to which rice noodles, meat, and fresh vegetables are heaped in abundance. For some of us, tabletop peppers and sauces enhanced the spiciness to the detriment of our taste buds. One particular member of the delegation made such a habit of spicing up his soup that we called him the Pho King, man.
Beneath the aforementioned behemoth Assembly building were found the ruins of former ruling dynasties. Today they are enclosed in a very modern museum which we were among the first to see.
The most fascinating historical story we heard was beautifully depicted in an iridescent mother-of-pearl mural at the Vietnam Women’s Union. The story is told of the Trưng sisters, two young girls who led an uprising against Chinese overlords. It’s symbolic of the constant struggle for independence of the Vietnamese.
Though we weren’t able to visit, perhaps the most intriguing building in Hanoi is the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh. Minh was the father of Vietnamese independence and the founder of the Vietnamese Communist Party. In a paradoxical final tribute to the victory of the will of the State over the will of the individual, his embalmed body lies there on display in a glass casket, despite his personal desire that he be cremated.
I can’t help but consider Vietnam in the context of the brutal war we fought with them. Fittingly, I had a long layover in Washington DC on my return trip and took the opportunity to visit the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial on the Capitol Mall. Even the memorial itself is half-hearted tribute – partially buried, there’s a reason it’s called a memorial, not a monument. It was America’s longest war, and yet its most forgettable.
In proclaiming independence for his people in 1945, Ho Chi Minh used the most perfect example he could find – he drew from the words of Thomas Jefferson.
Communists and capitalists are both motivated by prosperity. Liberals and conservatives share a craving for freedom. Christians and Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists, we all pray for peace. We are not all that different. The gravest errors of human judgement occur when we see differences before we see our similarities.
If the object of this endeavor – an exchange between young political leaders of our country and others – was to “promote mutual understanding, respect, and friendship.” Then I believe we achieved our objective. Despite vastly dissimilar political systems, I have a greater understanding of and an appreciation for the country of Vietnam and her people.
Of all the special moments, I treasure most the bond I forged with a young boy in the Friendship Village. Though deaf from birth defects as a result of his ancestor’s exposure to Agent Orange, he was as expressive with his eyes and smile as anyone with full use of all their faculties. When I think of Vietnam, I will think of him.
You don’t need reasons to travel. Your own desire is reason enough, but I spent some time reflecting on some of what travel has provoked for me and I felt like it was worth sharing.
It was a guys’ trip. We had spent the morning climbing to the rim of the Volcan Santa Ana, the tallest of the chain of volcanoes in El Salvador, among which was perched the airy home and picturesque property where we were now resting.
We were peacefully enjoying the scenery when Lionel, the smiling, pudgy-faced son of the property’s caretaker, interrupted our repose with the roar of a chainsaw. As a 3-year-old, he wasn’t really entrusted with that kind of power tool, but it didn’t stop him from make-believing.
His lips generated the most realistic sonic recreation, and it was clear that he was no amateur, having followed his father around the property to perform maintenance for the better part of his 3 years. At first we were amused, but by the time we realized his sound effects went so far as to mimic the noise of cutting through a branch, we were in stitches.
Lionel and his motormouth chainsaw in El Salvador gave us reason to laugh.
The San Blas Islands on the Caribbean side of Panama are the home to the Kuna-Yala indian people. I’d managed to get my entire family to this dreamy archipelago of white sand and palm-dotted islands and we spent two days exploring the crystal blue waters.
Most of the islands are completely uninhabited, yet those which are, are densely populated. So on the last day there, on our return trip to the mainland, we stopped off to see a reed-and-palm metropolis.
In the alleyway, our kids were greeted by colorful-bead-covered children and were giddy to reveal that they’d brought a game of Candyland to play and give away. It was plopped atop a makeshift table and instantly there were childish squeals of delight as they played the one game they could without the possibility of communication.
Meanwhile, I was fixated on a leopard skin which was drying outside one of the huts. I approached the woman inside and asked her who had killed the animal (in Spanish). She responded that it was her brother-in-law, who had shot it with an arrow on the mainland.
Our conversation carried on until I noticed that there was a boy, lying atop a tablecloth on the bed behind her, with an ugly swollen arm under which was some kind of pail filled with roots and water. I asked what had happened and she explained that he’d been playing and broken his arm. For two weeks, she had been treating him by dousing the arm with this root-water concoction. He smiled at me and then grimaced with pain. I was instantly overcome with emotion.
I couldn’t help but cry there with that little boy in the Kuna-Yala hut in the San Blas Islands.
My son, Miles, with a Kuna Yala indian boy
You’ve heard that life is measured not by the number of breaths you take, but by the number of times you’ve had your breath taken away. I can tell you about a place which is guaranteed to do just that.
The sun burned down as we passed through the town of Interlaken – between two beautiful lakes in the Bernese Oberland region of Switzerland. Ahead were the snowy peaks of the Swiss Alps, and there was nothing disappointing about their grandeur.
Cliffs began to rise all around us, yet the road we followed stayed relatively flat as we reached the green-carpeted Lauterbrunnen Valley. We drove until we could no longer resist the urge to free ourselves from the confines of the car, and when we did, it was the most magically breathtaking moment. More than 70 waterfalls spill edoff these sharp ridges, some splashing to the ground, some completely disintegrating into mist. An alpenhorn rang in the distance, echoing off the walls.
Like no place else on earth, the Lauterbrunnen Valley will take your breath away.
The Lauterbrunnen Valley will take your breath away
My wife and I tend not to celebrate anniversaries on our anniversary date. It’s mid summer, and I’m content to spend my summer weekends in Idaho, but shortly after our 10th anniversary, I booked us a trip to Italy. The entire trip was full of romantic moments – the echo of clicking heels on vacant alleyways in Venice, cloud-gazing in the sloped Piazza del Campo in Siena, a morning meal on a picnic table outside a Tuscan farmhouse, but none of these were quite as love-provoking as the seaside walk in the Cinque Terre town of Riomaggiore.
We found a bench where we could sit and talk. We reflected on a decade of memories and admired the pastel hues of the buildings hanging on the cliffside while waves crashed against the rocks. Dozens of locks adorned with hearts and initials clung to a wire fence, where other lovers had “locked their love” in this perfect place.
When our conversation reached an emotional climax, I arose and revealed a lock of my own, which I attached to the fence and locked with a key. Then I promptly flung it into the ocean and turned back to find myself in the loving embrace of my soulmate.
It was a passionate moment, wrought by the romantic setting of Riomaggiore.
We locked our love in Riomaggiore
To Give (and to Receive)
In the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, I joined a relief effort that would radically change my perception on life.
We flew into the Dominican Republic, loaded a van with construction equipment, food, and other needed supplies, and drove across the border. As we entered, I found the strangest juxtaposition of emotions – raw, real suffering – people hurting, scared, worried, and yet there was an undercurrent of hope, excitement, and even joy.
We spent 11 days helping rebuild, reinforcing failing structures, providing materials to schools and orphanages, feeding people who were starving, but more importantly than all that, making friends.
To this day I carry strong friendships with people in Haiti – people who have truly endured an incomprehensible level of suffering. I’d like to think that I helped them – that leaving literally empty-handed, having given everything I had to people who needed it far more than I, was a gift to them, yet it was a gift to me.
I had an opportunity to give in Haiti and it became an opportunity to receive.
This darling girl was entralled with her coloring book
The excitement and adventure of travel can enhance a relationship like nothing else. Nicole and I had traveled mostly alone with a few exceptions for a number of years. We had extended plenty of invitations but synchronizing schedules can be challenging and we never had been able to make it work.
After reading a post on another popular travel blog, I started researching sites to visit Ireland. After researching sites to visit in Ireland, I was ready to book. We extended an invitation to a number of friends before reaching out to Marshall and Angie. Within minutes, Marshall had responded, “we’re in” and it felt like the start of something great.
Our flight arrangements differed, so they had already been in Dublin for a day when we arrived. We picked them up at their hotel and set off to Galway. Over the next nine days in conversations at quaint pubs, through drizzling rain in castle ruins, and beside peat-moss fires in adorable cottages, our casual friendship grew into deep connection.
In the homeland of W. B. Yeats, we recognized the authenticity of his belief that, “There are no strangers, only friends who’ve never met.”
Friends in Ireland
If you had told me that the most delicious thing that I would ever taste would be in Germany, I’d have scoffed at you… and yet it’s true.
Our itinerary that day took us from the historic Roman Irish Baths in Freidrichsbad through the Black Forest to the cuckoo clock capital of Triberg. After wandering through the misty fog that hung over the Mummelsee lake, our journey took us along winding roads through tiny towns until we found the Black Forest Open Air Museum – a sort of living history display of the buildings and lifestyle of the people of the Black Forest throughout the ages.
When we’d had our fill of the crafty architecture and the quaint farm culture, we wandered out to a roadside restaurant where we could get our fill of the traditional Black Forest cake we’d heard so much about. Sadly, it was only mediocre, but one among us (my wife, to be exact) had the sensibility to order the apple crumble cake.
While we were “meh-ing” over the chocolate cherry combo, she was “mmmm-ing” over the pastry apple combo, and it only took me one bite to find out why. Tender, flaky crust and crumbles, tart apple filling, it was the epitome of sweet and salty and the definition of moist. I ordered my own. Savored it. Then ordered another and savored it, too.
In the Black Forest, we discovered an incomparably delicious taste.
Deliriously delicious apple crumble pie
Life is hustle is bustle, and travel can be, too. But once in a while you need to make some time to relax, to re-frame, and to refresh your outlook on life. One way to do that is by reconnecting with nature, and that’s precisely what I found in the jungle of the Dominican Republic.
My first day there was actually chock full of adventure – an insanely exhilarating zipline and a rope swing directly into a waterfall pool really took it out of me, but by the time that was over, I was ready to take it easy.
I was staying at the Dominican Tree House Village, a heavenly retreat from everyday life. I watched a couple doing yoga, which was actually more relaxing than doing it myself since I’m not all that flexible. I wandered through the grounds, admiring colorful flowers, hearing the trickle of a stream, all the while following a hummingbird. And though the daylight gave me so much to peacefully enjoy, it was the nighttime that inspired me.
As I laid down to sleep, I couldn’t help but hear the cacophony of sounds – so loud in some ways, yet so serene in others. Tree frogs chirped, exotic birds called, and crickets creaked.
It was a symphony in the Dominican jungle, and I melted into my comfortable bed and truly relaxed.
To the roof of Africa. That was our objective as we set out from the humid jungle of the lowest slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro, where monkeys swing on vines and dense underbrush crowds the trail.
It was 2010 and a group of co-workers and I set out to conquer Africa’s tallest point. Over the days we climbed, the landscape gradually thinned along with the air as we trudged through every climate zone.
What started as a challenge became a trial and what was a trial, became a struggle. It demanded everything we had, breaking us down with steep inclines and intolerably disgusting pink african hot dogs. Yet then it rewarded us with the most marvelous sunsets and above-the-clouds vistas.
Mount Kilimanjaro allowed us to conquer – to feel like victors.
A Kilimanjaro Sunset
My oldest son has little appreciation for one of my passions – sports, so when I caught a glimmer of his interest in another of my passions – politics, I seized on it and planned us a father/son trip to Washington DC.
We visited the office of Governor Dirk Kempthorne, a former US Senator, Idaho Governor, and Secretary of the Interior, who had held Westley when he was only three months old and now found him sufficiently bright to sit beside him and converse.
We toured the US Capitol building, the Supreme Court, and other iconic sites before departing the city to our countries earlier roots in the Virginia countryside. We strolled through the rooms of Thomas Jefferson’s home and the streets of Williamsburg, and it was there that I felt the surge of hope. Westley, just ten years old, plopped himself down aside a seated statue of Jefferson, presumptive of his own equality to this man who was the author of human equality.
I sat and stared, in awe of my son and his swagger, and hoped for the best for him there in the streets of Williamsburg.
Many people are intimidated by the thought of planning a European vacation – and even more intimidated by the thought of having to pay for it. But what if you could just plagiarize my trip and do it almost-free? Suddenly it becomes a little easier, doesn’t it.
Here’s the deal, I don’t believe in proprietary trip itineraries – if I draw one up, I hope and pray other people will use it too, and even better, they can cut out my small mistakes and make it even better, that’s why I’m just going to place my last itinerary right here on “world wide web” for everyone else to see and copy.
9 days seeing some of the best of Europe
And, as you know if you’ve been visiting our blog for a while, doing these kinds of trips in “almost-free” fashion by using frequent flyer miles and points is just how we roll. We did this entire trip for a little more than $2000 per couple – and we didn’t cut any corners. I’ll be happy to show you how.
First off, I booked our flights with 40k American Airlines miles and a little more than $100 per person.
If we had paid cash for these flights, we’d have spent almost $3000 before we even set foot on the European continent.
[Note: The deal I used to get the 50k points on AA is gone and they’ve gotten more stringent on date availability. I think the best opportunity out there to get enough miles to go to Europe right now is the 60k Delta Skymiles Platinum card – you have to spend $2k in the first three months and pay a $195 annual fee, but 60k Skymiles should get you to Europe in shoulder seasons with some flexibility on dates.]
In keeping with my philosophy of shoulder-season travel, we did this trip in April of 2016. It could just as easily be done in summer, fall, or magical winter. I wouldn’t be scared to take on this itinerary any time of year, so don’t let that inhibit you. We basically spent one day traveling to and from, for a total of 11 days away and 9 days and nights in Europe.
Having kids and other obligations, we were a little short – a full two weeks would have been better, and there are lots of ways to button on a few more days and stretch it out a bit, but I’ll just pitch it to you as we did it.
Here were my guiding principles in making these plans:
Try to stay 2 consecutive nights in each location to reduce costs and minimize mobilization, but not get stale.
Start non-mobilizing days early, and mobilizing days a little later.
Keep a good mix of activities – some indoors – castles, cathedrals, and museums, and some outdoors – waterfalls, mountains, town strolls, and hikes.
Try not to have to drive more than 4 hours in a given day.
Eat meals in 4 different countries.
My favorite trip planning resource is other travel blogs – bloggers genuinely have the best interests of their readers in mind, and tell stories and share experiences so memorably – Rick Steves is great, but so many great ideas come from other bloggers. There’s a reason the travel blogger industry is booming.
This itinerary took us through 5 countries and several small towns, but only one major city.
Day 1: Paris
Arrive at Paris 9am – Uber to hotel and leave bags there, then go hit the town.
Sites to visit: Louvre, Palais Royale, Arc De Triomphe, Notre Dame, St. Chappelle, Eiffel Tower
We got up early and took an Uber ride to Orly airport where we picked up a 9-passenger van from Sixt for ~$1000/week. We drove first to Fontainebleau, then to Guedelon – a twelfth century castle in the making
Overnight: This is the one part of the trip I should have changed. I didn’t want to drive too much, so we planned a stop in Beaune – a nice city, but nothing spectacular. We should have gone onto Colmar and spent 3 nights there.
Day 4: Colmar, France
Colmar itself is a gem – blending French and German culture, food, and history – all of the villages along the Alsace wine route are incredible.
Our favorite little village was Eguisheim – just absolutely idyllic in every way. Being there in the shoulder season, we could actually enjoy some empty cobblestone streets at the expense of not having flowers on balconies in full bloom.
Overnight: We rented an amazing place called Aux2Cigognes right on the little canal in Colmar. It was perfect in every way – affordable and unique, exactly what you hope for in a vacation rental.
Day 5: Black Forest, Germany
We started this day very early – heading to the 170 year old Roman Irish Baths in Baden Baden. It’s quite the experience. Then we made our way down through the windy roads of the black forest – stumbling onto mummelsee – a perfect Black Forest experience, strolling around a foggy lake.
Between there and Triberg, there’s an awesome Black Forest open air museum where you can take in centuries of history in the area – unique architecture and farm life – just a treat.
We went on into Triberg – cuckoo clock central and home to some beautiful waterfalls.
It made for a late night getting back into colmar, but totally worth it.
Overnight: Again at Aux2Cigognes.
Day 6: Colmar to Grindelwald, Switzerland
The sun greeted us warmly as we crossed the border into Switzerland. We drove along the shore of Lake Thun, stopping first at a lakeside castle, then at the trailhead to St Beatus Caves. We brought a delicious array of meats, breads, and cheeses to the overlook at the caves and took in the most magnificent viewing combo of the spring waterfalls, mountains, and Lake Thun.
We arrived in Grindelwald with plenty of time to settle in and take in the Swiss Alps.
Overnight: We rented an adorable swiss chalet on Homeaway.com with this jaw-dropping view. In our fridge there was cheese, made freshly from the cows right there on the farm. This place was spectacular, and also worked out to be the least expensive place we stayed in the most expensive country.
Day 7: Lauterbrunnen Valley
This was our most leisurely day – with very little travel. We spent most of it in the Lauterbrunnen valley, took a tram up to gimmelwald, hiked through fog with glimpses of grandeur to Murren and had the most delicious hot chocolate I’ve ever tasted.
For dinner we indulged in a spread of fondue.
Overnight: At the same adorable swiss chalet.
Day 8: Grindelwald to Garmisch
We covered a lot of ground this day – stopping to shop at clothing stores in Lucerne, an antique shop in Lichtenstein, and a chocolate factory in Austria. Despite the travel, the scenery was amazing all along the way.
We started the day by traversing the world’s longest suspension walkbridge – Highline 179. It straddles a verdant valley which is overwatched by the ruins of an ancient castle – a marvel to visit and part of the $8 entrance to the bridge – a pittance.
Then we went on to Neuschwanstein castle – a wonder unto itself. The bridge where visitors normally take pictures was closed, so we had to hop some fences and clamber up a slope to capture the castle from this angle – one that did not disappoint.
Making our way back to Grainau, clouds hung like lingerie atop the Zugspitze.
The meals in this area were superb – who knew it would be the German food, not the French food, which was unforgettable.
Overnight: Again at the home in Grainau.
The next morning we drove 1.5 hours to the Munich airport where we departed.
It was a quicker trip than we’d like to have planned, but with kids and obligations at home, it was sucking the marrow out of life for as many days as we could muster.
There’s almost nothing I would change about the trip – it was a masterful combination of everything we wanted – truly an experience to remember – precisely why we travel.
Traveling with friends sure makes things less expensive – by the time we split up our total lodging and transportation costs, we were under $1100/couple. Even eating like kings, our total cost on the trip was not much more than $2000. This is why you cannot afford to not travel the almost-free way.
Thousands of you, no, hundreds of thousands of you will travel to Europe this year. You’ll pay big money for flights. You’ll go in the summer. You’ll fly in and out of the same location. You’ll travel by train. You’ll stay in hotels. You’ll eat in restaurants.
You’ll do it all wrong.
Let’s get one thing clear – the important part is that you not let the wonders of Europe go unseen. It matters more to me that you’ll commit now to spend some time discovering idyllic villages, soaking up centuries of history, indulging in delicious foods, and reveling in rich, rich culture at some point in the very near future, even if you do choose to do it the wrong way.
Yet, my whole point in writing this is to tell you that doing it the right way is cheaper, more fun, and even more exquisite.
What is the right way? Let me break it down.
Pay points, not money, for flights
Generally, the biggest expense of travel is the airfare itself. You’re looking a somewhere in the neighborhood of $1000-$2000 per person for flights. The problem with dishing out that kind of dough is that it makes you a miser once you get there.
This is how we recently booked flights to Europe.
This is how someone else would have booked the same flight.
If you want to inject your European travel adventure with a feeling of frivolous freedom, start by getting there for free. I know that sounds easier said than done, but if you ask the thousands of followers of our blog, they’d tell you its easier done than thought.
A good base rule is that you can get flights to Europe for 45k-60k miles if you’re willing to be flexible and look a little bit, and if you’re willing to go “during the off-season” (which we’ll talk about next). That means you need 100k-120k frequent flyer miles for a couple getaway and that’s not a terribly high hurdle. I could go on and on about this, but that’s really what our blog is all about. We’ve been posting almost-free travel recipes for more than five years now and a little bit of poking around will set you on your way.
Opt for spring, fall, or winter, not summer
If you live in Phoenix, I get it. I don’t blame you for wanting to escape July and August, but if you live anywhere else, for hell sakes, spend your summers at home! If you follow the traditional approach to vacationing, you’ll wind up fighting the crowds, higher prices, and the heat everywhere you go. Sure you have a better chance at having sunny days, but you’ll spend half of them in museums, anyway.
Spring, fall, and winter all make for far better travel pictures and isn’t the reason we travel so that we can take pictures and post them to Instagram for our friends to like, anyways?
This picture of spring in the Lauterbrunnen valley wouldn’t be nearly so awesome were it not for the thick blanket of clouds and fog that kept the colors sharp and added to the mystique of the 72 waterfalls which plunge off huge cliff walls on both sides. I know because I was there the day before when it was sunny and my pictures were washed out and shadowy.
Fall morning on Lake Bled, Slovenia
Similarly, the magic of the seasons just adds to the experience. We visited Lake Bled in Slovenia and captured this moment – rowing out to the fall-colored island in the crisp morning air.
I know I’ve already made my point, but I’ll go ahead and belabor it with a winter example. Just tell me what, exactly, would be wrong with visiting Hallstatt, Austria in the winter? That’s right, not a damn thing.
Hallstatt, Austria in the Winter – Photo Credit: Stephanie Bowen
When you opt to travel in the shoulder season, sure, you may find yourself having taken the tram to the tiny Swiss alpine hamlet of Gimmelwald (where Heidi was filmed), only to find it socked in with fog and desolate, but maybe then you’d take a rainy stroll to the next village of Murren where you sit down for the most delicious mug of hot chocolate you’ve ever had, and who wants to miss out on that?
Fly open-jaw, not in&out
For most people “open-jaw” is something you get when you look at that picture of the Lauterbrunnen valley (go ahead, scroll back up and have a look one more time), but for me, it means not backtracking and maximizing your experience/mobilization ratio.
An open-jaw flight arrangement simply means flying into one city and out of another. It’s so easy to get caught up in the mindset of round-trip flights in and out of the same city, but chances are you’re going to be spending some time in other places, so if you can avoid retracing your path, all the better.
If you do have to go in&out, at least arrange a loop itinerary, which allows you to see more and not waste the valuable vacation time that we Americans don’t get enough of anyhow.
I like to think of travel itineraries as “slashes,” cutting from one major city to another. It also helps make booking flights with points easier, as you can take advantage of the best routings to and from different airports.
Doing it this way also allows you to not exhaust your agenda in a single city. You could certainly spend an entire week or two in Paris, but if you’re like me, you’ll become city-stir-crazy. Spend 2 days at the beginning or end of a “slash” itinerary and then get out of town. You can catch the rest on the way into or out of another trip in the future. Embrace the open-jaw!
Skip the train and rent a car
Yes, Europe has very efficient rail infrastructure. It’s modern and fast, and somewhat affordable, but there’s not a train in the world that can take you to Civita Di Bagnoregio – one of the most picturesque places I’ve ever seen. If you’re on a train you can’t pass under a massive suspension bridge and decide, “hey, we should pull off and check that out.”
Civita Di Bagnoregio, an Etruscan hill city 1 hour north of Rome
Sure, there’s a train that will take you to all five of the Cinque Terre, but having your own vehicle in Europe allows for the kind of off-the-beaten-track adventures. Parking is kind of a challenge, but less so if you’re heeding our non-summer advice. Navigating has been made easy by turn by turn GPS. Driving itself is fun and adds to the adventure. Fuel is inexpensive (at least at the moment), especially when costs are shared. Car time is great for connecting with travel companions and scenic vistas.
Will there be some tolls? Of course, but all told (see how I did that?), it will still come out cheaper and far more convenient. Best of all, you won’t have to give yourself a one-hour scenic tour of the train station when you show up just a few minutes late for the train you’re trying to catch.
As an added bonus, there’s a 100% chance you will not be affected if or when the train personnel n a given country decide to strike – a common occurrence that has a way of really wreaking havoc on a vacation.
Stay in vacation homes, not hotels
Somewhere a hotel executive is having a hard time sleeping. She’s worrying about Airbnb.com and Homeaway.com, and for good reason.
Live like a king in Peter’s Castle
The idea behind hotel chains is that no matter where you are, your stay experience is the same. How lame does that sound? Shun the unique – when in Ireland, pretend you’re in Houston. I can’t think of anything less attractive. Why not stay in Peter’s castle – an 800 year-old castle tower which has been painstakingly restored to kingly appointment… wait for it… for far less than you’d pay to stay at a hotel!
If you’re not staying in vacation homes, you’re robbing yourself of one of the best experiences travel has to offer – the chance to live like the locals.
Grindelwald from the porch of our vacation rental home
On our recent travel to Europe, we stayed in a farmhouse in the shadows of the Swiss alps. In broken English, our host showed us around the perfect home. After settling in, I went to put some of our food items in the refrigerator, where I found a block of cheese – made from the milk of the cows in the neighboring barn, and cured in the cellar below the home we were staying in. Did I mention that it cost us half of what a lame 2 star motel would have cost us?
If all that weren’t enough, vacation homes also offer three other significant benefits – they allow you the convenience of cooking food at home and doing laundry. Imagine how much less you have to pack if you know you’ll have a chance to do some mid-trip laundry. Lastly, if you’re in a group, there’s nothing like stoking a fire and gathering around it to play cards, tell stories, eat snacks and enhance the experience. There’s no better way to do it, I’m here to tell you.
Eat picnics, not just at restaurants
Ok, let me clarify, unless you’re absolutely strapped or are 0% foodie and eat only to live, you must have the restaurant experiences in Europe, but also don’t deprive yourself of the magic of a picnic.
For less than $5-10, you can pick up some fresh-baked bread, local cheeses, and unique meats just about everywhere in Europe. You can do the same with pastries or fruit for breakfasts.
The best part is selecting the scenic environment for your picnic. Sure there are restaurants which offer great scenery and $24 plates of spaghetti, but there’s nothing wrong with making your own little meal and choosing a proper setting.
The view of Lake Thun from St Beatus Caves – a great place for a picnic
Doing something like this can allow you eat one or two meals a day like a king, and still keep your food budget below $100/day or lower.
Doing it right
Truth is, I’m secretly hoping you won’t take my advice.
I like taking pictures of vacant gilded palace halls far more than I do elbowing away the crowds, and I’d just as soon not have competition.
I’d much rather find perfectly blissful vacation homes with abundant availability than to have hoards of people bailing on hotels in exchange for more authentic lodging.
But if you do happen to listen and we see you pulled off in your Peugeot, huddled under an umbrella for a rainy April picnic in the seaside village of Ribadesella, please just do me a favor and throw me the double-W WorldWanderlusting gang sign…
One of our long-time WW followers asked us to put together a Costa Rica Itinerary for him. Planning something like that sounded like way more fun than everything else I’m supposed to be doing, so here I am, dedicating my Sunday evening to someone else’s wanderlust (and daydreaming of my next trip to CR).
We love the freedom that having your own vehicle provides, and that’s especially handy in Costa Rica, where it’s common to be driving along and find a tree full of monkeys, crocodiles under a bridge, or a roadside stand with the most enormous strawberries you’ve ever set eyes on. I have used Avis (booked through Expedia.com) and 4x4RentACar.
It’s not an absolute must to have a 4×4 as the roads in CR are way better than they used to be, but it may come in handy, particularly if you’re going to some of the more remote areas that we are of course recommending.
Many of the flights coming into SJO come in late, so you’ll want to spend that first night somewhere close to the airport in Alajuela. The budget approach would be to stay at Hotel Pacande, or a slightly more expensive option is the Hotel Aeropuerto. Just, whatever you do, don’t stay in the city of San Jose. It’s further away and ends up backtracking where you’re headed.
Now, the next morning you’ll load up and head out. Here’s the full driving itinerary for all .
Costa Rica 8 Night Driving Itinerary
By about 10am you’ll make it to the La Paz Waterfall Garden. This is effectively a zoo, but not your typical zoo. Much more of a hands-on experience. There are beautiful waterfalls, gobs of hummingbirds, an enormous aviary with some breathtakingly beautiful birds and much more.
Toucans at La Paz Waterfall Garden
Driving from there to La Fortuna will take some time, but do it leisurely. Stop in little towns along the way and at scenic overlooks. Costa Rica is beautiful from the road so don’t think of it as transportation, think of it as touring.
If you really want to splurge in La Fortuna, book at least one night at Tabacon Hot Springs. The setting there is like something out of a fantasy novel. If you’re on the cheap, there are plenty of places there that can meet that need for you.
The next day you can make your way to La Fortuna Waterfall. You’ll descend 471 steps to an incredible waterfall you can feel free to swim in. It’s a great way to cool off before the obligatory climb out.
There are many fun shops to visit in La Fortuna as well. Find your way to a local “soda” (local restaurant serving typical food – “comida tipica.”) Don’t be surprised when you’re sharing restaurant space with an iguana or something of the like.
Comida Tipica de Costa Rica
You’ll also want to see if you can get a good look at Arenal Volcano – what used to be an active volcano until a few years ago. Maybe plan a little hike or just spend some time exploring the national park there.
Stay another night in La Fortuna so that you can get up early the next morning and start heading towards Monteverde.
The road to Monteverde can be quite nasty and you gain a lot of altitude. That makes sense when you realize that Monteverde is not only the continental divide, it’s also a cloud forest.
This is the perfect place to stay in an awesome local lodging like this farm house on Airbnb. At $145/night, split between two couples this place is a bargain and makes for a destination unto its own.
Monteverde Farm House on Airbnb
But before you go and spend the whole day there, get out and see what there is to do in Monteverde – hanging bridges, ziplines, massive mahogany trees, all kinds of animal life. You are going to love this because it’s one very few places in the world where such incredible old growth forest still remains.
The next morning, find another soda and enjoy the costa rica version of breakfast – gallo pinto, a rice and bean mixture that’s served alongside eggs. Dee-lish!
You’ll head south towards Puntarenas, where you get along the coast. Again, take your time driving and enjoy the scenery. You’ll come to a point where you cross the River Tarcoles on a bridge and you’ll notice that many cars are pulled over to the side of the road.
Costa Rican kids will be trying to sell you stuffed crocodiles and promise to watch your car in exchange for a few bucks while you go lean over and look down on the army of crocodiles which patrol the river below the bridge. It’s an eerie feeling to look down and see dozens of them.
Keep going once you’ve had your fill and find a place to stay in closer to Manuel Antonio rather than Quepos.
The next day you can spend the better part of the day at Manuel Antonio National Park. This place is a veritable wilderness and wildlife wonderland. Beautiful beaches, several species of monkeys, snakes, and so much more. Hike to lookouts and hidden coves, bring in lunch for a picnic at an amazing overview.
Before dark, get back to the car and keep making your way south towards Dominical. Again, you could find a cheap little hotel, but I’m just so high on these amazing little places on Airbnb. How can you pass up a place with this much character? And for $105/night? Lets do 2 nights!
Dominical is a chill little surfer town. Here you can try to surf in some relatively tame waves, enjoy the hippy vibe, and use it as a homebase to explore.
Nearby is one of my favorite beaches – Playa Ventanas, where tunnels cut through the rock outcropping are pounded by waves and the tide.
You’ll also want to hike up to Nauyaca waterfall and find the hidden away Pozo Azul swimming hole. Drive to the top of the pass and have dinner at the El Mirador near Tinamaste – one of the best meals I’ve ever had… so good, I had it twice in the same night.
Those activities should keep you plenty busy before you have to make your way back to Alajuela for departure.
***WorldWanderlusting pro-tip: Make your stays at Airbnb properties totally free by reimbursing yourself with the 40,000 points you get from the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard. That’s more than $400 in free travel after spending $3000 in the first 90 days of having the card.
The editorial content on this site is not provided by the companies whose products are featured. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or evaluations provided here are those of the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the Advertiser.
The offers that appear are from companies from which WorldWanderlusting.com LLC receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site, including, for example, the order in which they may appear within listing categories. Other factors, such as our own proprietary website rules and the likelihood of applicants' credit approval also impact how and where products appear on this site. WorldWanderlusting.com does not include the entire universe of available financial or credit offers.