CategoriesAccommodations

Hostels – Four Reasons They’re Awesome

hostels

Anything can happen in hostels – from just a good night of sleep to waking up to a naked Dutch dude parading around.

If you’re not used to that sort of mayhem, the latter can be a bit off-putting. You might even conclude "Well, I’m never staying in a hostel, then." And your travel experience will be poorer for it.

I’m not literally talking about The Flapping Dutchman here – but the overall vibe of a hostel. Here’s what I like about hostels, and why you should make it a point to stay at one.

They’re cheap – You dropped serious scrilla on airfare. Staying in hostels is a good way to take your budget back. You’ll pay less than a hotel. And yeah, in many cases, you’ll give up some amenities and privacy. But let’s remember: You’re traveling to get out and do things, not faff about in your room.

 

hostels
Me enjoying a relaxing moment at the Skotel in New Zealand.

You’ll meet people – Hostel crowds are more gregarious than typical hotel folk. They’re often younger, too. So if you’re just venturing into travel, you’ll find people who have something in common with you. It starts to get fun when you move from town to town and start bumping into the same people. Next thing you know, you’ll be hiking together or hitting a nightspot for a drink.

They’re not as Spartan as you’d think – Some hostels are far from the glorified barracks you’ll expect. Sure, in some places, you’ll bunk 20 to a room. But there are some way sweet hostels out there – like the three-person rooms at the Skotel ski lodge in Whakapapa, New Zealand: The cozy wood rooms and sparkly bathrooms make it one of my favorite hostels ever. You’ll be surprised at the quality of other hostels like it.

They’re great for planning travel – Hostels seem very plugged into the cool places to go. Often, the staff members are extra-helpful for planning excursions, getting boarding passes and finding local places to eat and drink. I’ve always felt the service is a little less polished, yet more personal. And I’ll take genuine friendly over corporate-mandated courteous any time.

So, what are your thoughts on staying at hostels?

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CategoriesfeaturedGear

Backpack Tips for New Travelers

backpack tips
Your backpack can be your best friend – or your worst enemy.

I saw a soon-to-be first-time traveler ask online about backpacks – specifically, which one he should take for a three-week trip. The question opens a massive can of live eels. Let’s see what I can do to offer some quality backpack tips.

1. What kind of backpack traveler do you want to be?

Your backpack can just be a suitcase you wear on your back from hotel to hotel. Ot it can signal intent to camp, ability to cook on the fly and a desire to go hiking a lot. So which are you? Be honest with yourself. If you’re the first option, you’ll have more room for extra shoes, evening wear and various fancy city shit. If you choose option 2, your tent, sleeping bag and cooking/eating gear will eat up space when you load your backpack. Plan accordingly.

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CategoriesGearTastes

Scandinavia – My Travel Packing List

Epic trips require epic backpacks. Store that away for a rainy day, eh?

Scandinavia is less than a month away. Well, same for Finland, which is really a Nordic country. No matter what you call this trip, it’s time to mentally pack my bags for a trip through Sweden, Finland, Norway and possibly a bit of Estonia.

We like camping and hiking when we travel, which adds challenges people who go on laid-back beach vacations won’t ever encounter. So, what’s on the packing list for Scandinavia? Pretty much the same stuff I brought to Iceland with a few new additions …

  • Cook stove (MSR Whisperlite International) – I’ll never go on a camping vacation without it after seeing a French family whip up a gourmet meal with one -- while I choked down a cold military MRE pack. It sounds like bottles and fuel are readily available in Scandinavia. There’s no reason to eat bad when you travel!
  • t-shirts and underwear (tasc Performance) – I wind up wearing the same stuff for many days. The bamboo blend of the tasc Performance gear resists funky stench. And it’s super-comfortable. tasc sent me some of its latest bamboo/merino wool blends to test out above the Arctic circle. It’s not on the tasc website yet, but you can check here for other tasc goodies. Watch for a full review later. I expect they’ll be great for hiking and camping.
  • Shirts (Kuhl Breakaway Cafe) – These follow the "no stink allowed" theme. They’re made from something called Coffeenna, which incorporates recycled coffee grounds to beat the stink. Also comfortable to the max. I flogged them without mercy in the humidity of Asia and stayed fresh the whole while. A perfect travel shirt.

I’ll also bring a few packets of freeze-dried foods to get us started. But we may switch to canned stuff once we’re on the ground … I imagine all sorts of canned fish products in Scandinavia. Lutefisk, anyone?

And my travel pillow stays home this time. I’ll bring an inflatable pillow instead, and use a stuff sack as either a pillowcase or a second pillow. I might also skip my infamous hat and just roll with a decent stocking cap instead. But that should do it for the big Scandinavia trip.

CategoriesUncategorized

Hiking Destination: Iceland’s Landmannalaugar

Windy, steep, bleak. Things are starting to get rough.

Landmannalaugar isn’t so much a place. It’s more of a rip in the space-time continuum.

Consider its summer: It’s hard to tell 3 a.m. from 3 p.m. It can wrap you in the warmth of geothermal vents, chill you with wind, hose you down with rain – all in the span of 30 minutes. You can hike for hours without seeing a solitary living creature. It can even dispatch a lethal blizzard – yes, even in June.

Night doesn’t fall. The often-overcast skies will keep you in a permanent state of twilight. The terrain and scenery changes drastically from mile to mile. The colors of the rhyolite mountains will make you want to get your eyes checked.

In June of 2010, I arrived at Landmannalaugar with my wife. We read about it in guidebooks and blogs. Nothing even remotely prepared us for this place. Oh, we had the equipment we needed. But the scenery! You can look at these photos all you want, and you will still not believe your eyes when you get off the bus from Reykjavik.

There just is no other place like this.

Here’s what to expect on this amazing, one-of-a-kind, 12-kilometer trip from Landmannalauger to the Hrafntinnusker camp site.
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CategoriesGearUncategorized

Packing – One of the Hardest Parts of Travel

That's a big pack, dude!

As I was filling up my backpack for traveling to Iceland, all I could think about was a line from Monty Python’s The Life of Brian: “Is it too big? Is it too small?”

I never want to bring too much, but I also never want to get totally soaked in a random storm like I did in New Zealand.  And I actually needed a tent and sleeping bag this time – and a pair of running shoes since my wife signed us up for the Miðnæturhlaup, which is “Midnight Run” in Icelandic. I also had to bring stuff for hanging out in Reykjavik in addition to exploring the volcanic badlands.

Anyway, I ruthlessly put together a packing list of everything I took and evaluated whether or not I would bring it on my next trip (well, to a place with a similar climate, anyway). Some mainstays that always make it into the pack are ExOfficio underwear, my freakin’ awesome La Sportiva boots and my practically immortal REI convertible cargo pants, which continue ticking after nearly 5 years of use.

Anyway, here’s how all this stuff fared during two weeks at the 66th parallel. Keep this in mind if you’re planning to hit the cooler climates this summer.

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CategoriesGearTastesTravelUncategorized

Flying With MREs – Banned or Not?

When it comes to flying, you can’t be too careful these days when it comes to packing. Since my upcoming trip is going to involve backpacking in Iceland, I decided to take some military Meals, Ready To Eat packages.

Then I paused. The MREs all come with this little self-heating thing. I decided to check with the authorities to check on whether flying with MREs is allowed. I wrote to Delta Airlines, which we’re flying from Phoenix to JFK, and Icelandair, which will take us the rest of the way. I explained my plan, and specific that I’d have the MREs in checked baggage. Here are their answers.

flying with MREs
MRE 2003 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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