How to Plan Your Trip to a Place You know Nothing About

Yvone AK Johnson: How to Plan Your Trip to a Place You know Nothing About

How to Plan Your Trip to a Place You know Nothing About

One of the best things about traveling is experiencing a place and a culture that you know nothing about. There is no better way to learn about this planet and the people we share it with than to leave behind all your preconceived notions and go exploring. Putting myself in an entirely new situation and embracing my surroundings has lead to some of the most meaningful experiences of my life. Of course, the trick is knowing how to plan the right kind of trip for you. When you’re going somewhere you’ve never been, it can be hard to know where to start. How do you plan a trip to somewhere you know nothing about?

Whether you’re the kind of traveler who likes to make detailed itineraries or wait and see what takes your fancy when you land, you’ll have to start somewhere! Here’s a crash course in planning your trip when you’re starting from a blank slate.

 

Wiki It

Seriously, look up your destination on Wikipedia. It might sound silly, but when you’re really going in blind this can be a great way to get an overview of the country and its history. Pay attention for any tidbits of information that pique your interest. If something catches your attention, do a little more research and you may just have found an awesome destination or activity that isn’t part of the standard guide-book fare!

Get Guide Books

If you’re pinching every penny for your upcoming trip, you can even visit you local Barnes and Noble and sit in the coffee shop with a stack of books, or your local bookstore with the comfy armchairs. You’ll probably want to take at least one or two of your favorites home with you, though, so that you can mark them up and dogear the best pages. Reading guide books is a fantastic way to get a sense of the sights you won’t want to miss, and many offer great tips for safety and cultural sensitivity.

Ask Around

Once you have an idea of what kind of questions to ask, start asking around among your friends and family to see if anyone else has already been to your destination. Where better to get advice than from those you trust? Make sure you ask not only about their favorite days, but also about their least favorite parts of the trip, things they wish they had know before they left, and what they would have done if they had more time. Keep in mind what you know of the person, however. If they like to travel in style and luxury and you like to rub shoulders with the locals, you may not want to take their word as gospel.

Find Bloggers

And no, it’s not just because I run a travel blog! Blogs that center around your destination can often fill in the gaps and suggest neat things that aren’t common knowledge. The best part is, you can reach out and ask them your questions directly! Get googling.

Crowdsource Your Plans

If you are comfortable with putting your trip in the hands of others, don’t underestimate couchsurfing as a resource. You’ll get a real taste of local flavor staying with locals, and many hosts will be happy to take you around their city. There are even some people who sign up simply as guides without offering a bed. It’s hard to know exactly what you’ll get, but you’re guaranteed to have experiences that you couldn’t find in the guide book!

How to Pack Light and Travel Smart

Yvonne AK Johnson: How to Pack Light and Travel Smart

How to Pack Light and Travel Smart

We all have this problem. It can be frightening to travel to an entirely new destination — you are placing yourself at the mercy of a foreign country without your usual safety nets, and it is a natural impulse to try to bring everything you can think of to be prepared for every scenario. What if you really need that extra bathing suit? Or a large umbrella? Or the shampoo you’re used to? We have all faced this pitfall, but the savvy traveler learns to fight it and bring only what she or he needs. With the rising cost of baggage on flights, no one can afford to bring extra suitcases., If you’re planning to stay on the road visiting multiple cities, or even try backpacking, you can’t afford any extra weight or space. Besides, you need to leave a little extra room so you can bring souvenirs home with you!

Here are a few easy tips to follow for those of us who struggle to pack light and keep moving!

 

  1. Pack Right

Versatile, low maintenance clothing is key. Bring only clothes that match a large amount of the other things in your suitcase. There’s no point in carting that one great shirt all around the country to wear it only once or twice. If it wrinkles easily, leave it at home. If it takes ages to dry, put it back in your closet. Aim for light fabrics and clothes that can layer for a cool evening rather than bulky coats and sweaters.

  1. Roll, Roll, Roll

It won’t make your bag lighter, but it sure will save a lot of space. It might seem counterintuitive, but the most efficient way to pack your clothes is by rolling them up, squeezing tight to push out the air, and line up the cylinder shaped clothes in your case. This also also has the added benefit of letting you look down at all the colors of your clothes at once. If anything sticks out as being a different color scheme that won’t go with most things, ditch it. In a similar vein, pack your socks and underwear last. Ball them up and use them to stuff your shoes or other containers, or push them down into the corners to take up any empty space. On your trip home, you can use them to surround and protect any fragile souvenirs.

  1. Wearing it Doesn’t Count

Wear your heaviest coat and bulkiest shoes onto the plane. You’ll keep warm up in the air and save a huge amount of space in your bag. If you’re really pressed for space you can stuff your coat pockets with underwear, socks, and toiletries.

  1. Make Airline Policy Work for You

Take every bit advantage of that “one personal item” policy! Bring a large tote bag and use it either as an extension of your suitcase, or treat it as leeway space for all the extra things you’ll pick up for the trip home. You can even put your usual purse inside a larger bag to gain a little extra space.

  1. Ditch the Toiletries

Don’t pack anything that you can buy at your destination! No matter where you’re going, you’ll always be able to pick up soap and sunscreen with ease.

  1. Virtual Packing

Finally, you can cheat by “packing” certain items on your smartphone. Ditch the moleskin in favor of a notebook app, and get digital versions of maps, travel guides, leisure books and magazines, etc.

 

For more tips, check out the lists here and here

Happy traveling!

Safety Tips for Solo Travelers

 

Yvonne AK Johnson Safety Tips for Solo Travelers

Yvonne AK Johnson Safety Tips for Solo Travelers

Traveling and immersing yourself in new cultures can be one of the most rewarding experiences in your life, and doing it alone can be a very different and powerful experience. You will meet interesting new people, see incredible sights, and get to know yourself better. If you’ve travelled enough, chances are you have a horror story or two about the time you got lost and couldn’t find your hotel, showed up for your flight on the wrong day, or were even pick pocketed. It’s almost a rite of passage – but certainly one you should do your best to avoid!

No one should let fear and anxiety keep them from having the trip of a lifetime. If you’re careful, away, and rely on your common sense, you’ll have a fantastic time and come back overflowing with exciting stories to tell. Just take a few basic precautions, and go book that trip you’ve been dreaming of!

  1. Copy, Copy, Copy

Don’t leave without multiple photocopies of all your important documents — your passport, driver’s license, visa, traveler’s insurance, and health insurance. If you get into any trouble, you’ll be glad you protected the most important things! Keep one copy easily accessible at all times, one in your hotel room, and one permanently online on a service like google docs or dropbox, or emailed to a friend or family member. As for the originals, they should always be in the safest place available to you. If your hotel does not have a locked safe, keep your most important documents on your person.

  1. Keep a Secret Money Stash

Duh, right? But the important point here is to hide it in several different places. Keep only a few small bills in your wallet, enough for one day’s worth of shopping or mail. That way you’ll never accidentally flash a wad of big bills when you’re hurrying to get change for the bus. Not only would that be a tempting target for crooks, it could also show vendors that it would be worth their time to overcharge you. Just in case your main bag is snatched or left behind, carry an emergency stash of money in a hidden place, like a shoe, concealed pocket, or undergarment. Make sure you always have at least enough money hidden on you to get back to your hotel if you were to need it.

  1. Hug Your Bags Close

Hopefully, of course, you’ll never have any need of that emergency stash! To protect yourself from thieves, never let your bag out of your arms in public. If your bag has a shoulder strap, put it over your head so that it is harder for for someone to snatch and run off. If you’re worried, consider investing in a slash-proof bag with reinforced straps. Backpacks are practical, it’s true, but it’s easy for a pickpocket to get behind you in line and ease those zippers open without you feeling a thing. On public transportation, don’t just set your bag on the seat beside you, loop an arm through the strap and hold it in your lap if possible. Finally, if you’re distracted pulling things out or talking to a cashier, keep your bag between your legs or between you body and the counter to make it harder to grab and run.

  1. Call Mom

No matter who it is, make sure you leave a full copy of your itinerary with someone back home, and schedule a regular check in time with them. Someone should always have a general idea of where you are, and no when you’ve arrived there safely. If phone calls for skype don’t make sense, Whatsapp can be counted on almost anywhere in the world.

  1. Keep your Maps a Secret

If you lose your way, no problem — you brought maps! But be careful to never take out a map or check your smart phone in the streets. It just screams “I’m a tourist, I’m vulnerable and I’m not paying attention.” Instead, duck inside a cafe for a few moments while you get your bearings and head back out with confidence.

  1. Register

Finally, it’s a good idea to register with the U.S. Department of State. If anything important happens back home or in the country you’re visiting, they’ll give you the information you need ASAP. They even have a handy Smart Traveler app.

 

You can check out some more tips here. Most of all, remember to have fun! Be careful, but also know that sometimes the unexpected or even scary moments will become your best stories and your favorite memories. Bon voyage!

Canada

Our neighbor to the north, Canada is an amazing country filled with culture, delicious food, beautiful sights and very friendly people. It’s a great place to escape to on vacation. Certain places in Canada, like Montreal, can make you feel like you’re in Europe. With lots to do Canada is a great place to vacation in for not too much money. Everyone who goes highly recommends it!

Vancouver

The third largest city in the country Vancouver is consistently named as one of the top five worldwide cities for livability and quality of life. The city is located on the western coast of the country. It’s a beautiful city located right on the water with the mountains as a backdrop. The city is filled with culture. There are many theater and dance companies throughout the city. It’s also filled with many museums that you should definitely check out. Vancouver has become a major film location, giving it the nickname, Hollywood North. At night Vancouver doesn’t disappoint. It has a very fun nightlife. Whether you want to go out for a drink, see a show, listen to some live music or go dancing there is never a shortage of places to go.

Toronto

Located very close to Buffalo, New York, on the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario Toronto is the largest city in Canada. The city is in a unique location being intersected by a network of rivers, ravines and urban forests. Like Vancouver, it’s a major city for music, theater and film and television production. A very modern city, Toronto is well known for its skyscrapers and high-rise buildings.

Montreal

One of the most interesting cities in Canada, Montreal is a must go to! Certain parts of the city are very modern. Others, though, will make you feel like you’ve traveled across the ocean to Europe. With cobblestone streets, beautiful stone buildings and many people speaking French, you will truly be immersed in the unique culture of the city. Another thing that makes Montreal great is the food. Be sure to try the poutine when you’re there!

Niagara Falls

The world-famous Niagara Falls is incredible. It’s a sight that everyone should see in their lifetime. Be sure to take a boat tour down under the falls. Not only are the falls incredible but throughout the years a great city has boomed up nearby. With a population of just over 80,000 the city of Niagara Falls is truly dominated by the falls itself. After checking out the falls head into the city up to an observation tower to check out some different views. At night you can enjoy one of the many casinos and theaters in the city. You can also head just outside the city for some great golfing. It’s a perfect place to go to on your next family vacation.

How To Travel The World With Almost No Money

Traveling is something that almost everyone, if not everyone, loves to do. We can explore new places, try new foods and things, meet new people, and just escape from our everyday lives. Travel is something that everyone should do. Research has shown that people who spend money on experiences rather than on things are happier. But what about if you don’t really have any money to spend on travel? This amazing TedX Talk will show you how it’s possible for anyone who wants to travel to do so.

How to Pack a Carry-On

Preparing for a trip can bring up a lot of emotions all at once: excitement, stress, happiness, worry etc. It’s a mix of good and bad. You’re extremely excited to be getting away and exploring a new place or going back to a favorite place you’ve been before. But the actual act of traveling can be stressful. What if your luggage gets lost, you miss your flight or you flight gets delayed for a really long time? Packing a carry-on bag instead of checking a bag can help relieve some of these worries. You’ll never have to worry about your bag getting lost or getting stuck on the check-in line to give in your bag, possibly making you miss your flight. The only issue with packing a carry-on bag is fitting everything in. Travelchannel.com is here to help you efficiently pack your carry-on!

 

The Four Most Incredible Travel Destinations in the Pacific Northwest

Olympic_National_Park_Hurricane_Ridge_Trail

The Pacific Northwest may not be the first place we think to travel, but this untouched nature of the region makes it a particularly beautiful travel destination. The Pacific Northwest is a testament to how awe-inspiring nature truly is. There are many beautiful places to explore in this area, but here are some of the most worthwhile:

1. Seattle

As the largest city in the Pacific Northwest, Seattle more than begs a spot on this list. A trip to Seattle means surrounding yourself with natural beauty while also engaging in the metropolitan charm of the city. Visit the Pike Place Market, where one can interact with all of the vibrant people, from the street performers to the fishmongers. Seattle, also known as the Emerald City, is home to a vibrant culture, from its cafes, to its music to its art.

2) North Cascades National Park

This beautiful park receives fewer than 27,000 visitors per year, meaning that any visitors are bound to have a lot of space to themselves. The wild and rugged terrain possess a spellbinding beauty that is sure to leave anyone in awe. Not only is this park home to the highest number of glaciers outside of Alaska, but it also has an incredibly diverse ecosystem. Within the lush forests, one will find bald eagles and ospreys, and the rocky slopes are home to a number of other beautiful creatures. Wolverines, gray wolves, fishers, moose, black and grizzly bears, and cougars are all inhabitants of North Cascades National Park. A trip to this park won’t soon be forgotten.

3) San Juan Islands

It turns out you don’t have to travel all the way to the Caribbean to enter a stunning archipelago. In fact, the San Juan islands are easily accessible from Seattle. To get to the islands, one takes a ferry that weaves its way through enchanting forest islands. The second largest and most populous island in the archipelago is called San Juan Island, and it is not to be missed. It is a great place to relax while also exploring the scenic seaport town of Friday Harbor and immersing yourself in its history. The island is also home to a number of shops, museums, art galleries, and eateries. The cuisine is the real deal, with restaurants serving local ingredients, such as fresh produce, herbs, and seafood.

4) Mount Rainier National Park

Peaking at 14,411 feet, Mount Rainier’s impressive stature makes it easy to see from a number of points throughout the Puget Sound area. However, going to Mount Rainier National Park will provide visitors with an even more memorable impression of the structure by allowing them to see it up close. The mountain is completed with alpine meadows, colorful wildflowers, waterfalls, glaciers, and of course a beautiful snow-capped summit. If you’re looking to get an a truly breathtaking view, Tipsoo Lake is a must-visit. At Tipsoo Lake, photographers are able to capture a reflection of the mountain in the lake’s waters.

The Pacific Northwest is one of the most incredible parts of the country with its natural beauty and its quaint charm. If you’re thinking of heading over to the Pacific Northwest for a vacation, be sure to look into these destinations. You won’t regret it!

Escape to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter spans two theme parks within Universal Orlando Resort, Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida. The first phase, in Islands of Adventure, opened in 2010 and the second phase, in Universal Studios Florida, opened in 2014. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, is the main attraction. It is part of a recreation of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and takes riders on a journey through Harry Potter’s wizarding world. There are many other attractions here as well, such as Dragon Challenge, which is a pair of inverted roller coasters, and Flight of the Hippogriff, a more family-oriented roller coaster.

Throughout The Wizarding World of Harry Potter there are many shops that let you experience what it is like to be a wizard. You can have a wand choose you at Ollivanders, get some candy at Honeydukes, learn some jokes and tricks at Zonko’s Joke Shop, and get a meal at the Three Broomsticks, where you can get a glass of the famous Butterbeer.

Fanatics and casual fans alike all love The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Filled with awe inspiring animatronics that bring Diagon Alley to life, replicas of the famous places in the series, and fun filled rides, you will really feel like you are in Harry Potter’s wizarding world. For those who live up north, escaping to the wizard world is a great place to head to get out the cold and into a magical place!

Take a tour of the wizarding world:

Tips for Traveling in Europe

Thinking about taking a trip to Europe? Make sure to check out this video for tips and tricks about how to travel smartly and safely and get the most out of your trip!

8 Things to Do in Barcelona, Spain

Yvonne AK Johnson

Barcelona, Spain is a vibrant city with tons of things to do, see and eat. Whether you are looking for a relaxing day on the beach, a day of sightseeing, stores to shop in, or a place to party at night there is something for you in this beautiful city. Located in the Catalan region of Spain, the official language of Barcelona is not only Spanish but Catalan as well, which is the language mostly spoken on a daily basis. Barcelona is a city that offers you the opportunity to go on many adventures!

Antoni Gaudi

Park Guell, Sagrada Familia, Casa Mila, and Casa Batllo might be four of the most famous sights in Barcelona. All built by the renowned Antoni Gaudi, these sights are not to be missed. Park Guell is located in the Gracia district of the city. It sits on a hill and offers beautiful sights of the city below. Park Guell is a public park system composed of gardens and buildings all designed by Gaudi. Sagrada Familia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is arguably the symbol of Barcelona. It is an enormously beautiful Roman Catholic Church whose construction began in 1882 and is still being built to this day. At the time of Gaudi’s death in 1926 less than a quarter of the project was completed. Casa Mila and Casa Batllo are both architecturally unique buildings. Today they have been turned into museums with audio tours.

Museu Picasso

Housed in five adjoining medieval palaces in Barcelona, the Picasso Museum is a must see. Many of his famous pieces are kept here including two of his first major works, The First Communion (1896), and Science and Charity (1897). It is very interesting to see Picasso’s work while in Barcelona because many of his pieces were shaped by the city, which is where he spent a large part of his life.

Montjuic

A hill that allows for beautiful views over the entire city, Montjuic is home to the Castle of Montjuic, which dates from the 17th century. Also on top of the hill are the grand Palau Nacional, the Olympic Stadium, and the magic fountains. While this is a great place to go during the day, if you have the opportunity to you should also go there at night. Music and lights incorporated with the fountain put on a show for the hundreds of people who gather to watch. Performances are a half-hour long and take place every weekend.

Gothic Quarter

The Gothic Quarter is the center of the old city of Barcelona. Many of the buildings in this area were built during Medieval times. The streets are all narrow and labyrinth-like. There are many sites to see within the Gothic Quarter such as the Cathedral of Santa Eulalia, La Merce basilica, Carrer del Bisbe, and City Hall, to name just a few. There are also many hidden gems within the narrow winding streets such as small cafes, such as Caelum, tapas restaurants and street performers.

La Rambla

The heart of the city is La Rambla. Here you can find many street performers, restaurants, shops, and more. It is almost always crowded with locals and tourists. There are many historic buildings lining the street, which leads directly down to the sea. This is a great place to eat some authentic paella and drink sangria. In all of Barcelona, but on La Rambla especially, keep an eye out for pickpockets!

La Boqueria

Located off of La Rambla, La Boqueria is a large public market in Barcelona. With a giant fish, fruit, and dessert sections, the market has almost every type of food you can want. Many locals come here daily to get fresh food for the day. One of the most popular things to get here is a fruit juice, which comes in all different flavors such as mango and strawberry-banana. You can find them for about 1 Euro each.

Tapas

Tapas are a variety of snacks or appetizers that are traditional in Spanish cuisine. They can be served either hot or cold, depending on the food. Some restaurants have tapas as appetizers while others only serve tapas. At restaurants that strictly serve tapas there will usually be a bar with an assortment of tapas and you can go around and pick what you want, but be sure to keep your toothpick so that you can pay at the end of your meal. This layout allows diners the opportunity to mingle and have conversations with many different people instead of being focused solely on their food and the people at their table. Popular tapas include croquetas, patatas bravas, jamón y queso and gambas.

Flamenco show

A flamenco show is typical in Spanish culture. It is an artform as well as a music genre native to Spain. Performers sing, play instruments and dance. A popular thing to do in Barcelona is see a Flamenco show with dinner. Many restaurants, such as El Tablao de Carmen, offer drinks and/or dinner with the show. Seeing a flamenco show while in Barcelona is a great way to immerse yourself in the culture and history of this beautiful city.