Reader Story: How Angela Travels the World as an Au Pair

Posted from https://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-blogs/travel-work-au-pair/

Angela walking in a snowy town
One of the biggest challenges for people is saving up for a world trip. It can be daunting trying to save thousands of dollars for your next big trip. Yet I always say “If you can’t save, go work.” The world has an abundance of jobs that travelers can get. Millions of travelers fund their trips by working their way around the world. Today, I want to profile one of our community members who does just that. Angela works as an au pair. This funds her round the world travel dreams, let’s her stay in a place longer, and get to know a culture better. Today we share her story and tips for being an au pair.

Nomadic Matt: Hi Angela! Thanks for doing this. Tell us about yourself!
Angéla:I’m Angéla and I’m 28 years old. I was born near Lyon, France, and am the eldest of four sisters. After graduating from school when I was 21, I started working as an au pair in Germany. I wanted to get out of France and work with children, so this was the perfect job! Seven years later, I’m still an au pair, currently in Japan! I love what I do because I get to travel and work with children, the two things I love the most.

Were you always interested in travel? How did you get started?
Funny enough, out of all my big family (I have three other siblings and lots of cousins), I’m the only one who likes to travel a lot! Nobody around me ever went abroad for more than a few days, and especially not very far away. So I didn’t know much about traveling, except from watching movies and pop culture.

I didn’t begin traveling until I was 21. I guess it was because I never did it that I wanted to do it. I’d always dreamed of traveling the world and seeing the places I saw in the movies

How did you decide to become an au pair?
It happened seven years ago when I was looking for a job in France and after finding nothing interesting, I decided to have a look at the au pair thing. It sounded interesting — working in another country and living with a family. By being an au pair, I would be able to have a job, accommodation, food, lots of free time, and some extra spending cash. It was perfect. I could enjoy traveling without needing a lot of money because I could use the money that I would earn during my stay. It lets me travel without huge savings.

In 2010, I found my first host family in Germany and stayed one year with them. I loved the fact I could work in another country and use the free time to explore a new place. Plus, I get to work with children all the time, which is my field of work, so now I have accumulated years of experience. I was hooked after that first year, and decided to do it again instead going back to France to find another job.

A Japanese castle

Where have you worked as an au pair?
I’ve been to Germany, England, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and Sweden, and I’m currently in Japan. I stay from eight months to one year in each country. All of them have been great experiences. I’ve been lucky enough to stay with very good people, and everybody I met while traveling has been super nice.

My favorite place has been New Zealand. It’s simply breathtaking! The landscapes are unbelievable. I can’t recommend it enough. Canada is probably my next favorite. It is a relatively safe country to live in, the people are nice, and I love the cold winters. I got to try ice fishing and totally loved it!

How does someone become an au pair? Is it easy? Hard?
I personally think it is easy. Your main job is to take care of children, so you must be OK working with them, but other than that, the tasks are often easy enough and you have lots of free time. You work on average between 25 and 30 hours per week. All your weekends are free, as are the evenings as soon as one parent gets home. You may be asked to babysit from time to time, though.

Everything is included when you live with the family, so you don’t have many expenses. The only thing I paid for myself was my plane ticket (although you can be lucky enough to have a family that pays it for you). I never felt like this was a so-called “job” — more like helping out a family and being a part of it.

To become an au pair, you can either use au pair agencies or one of the websites like Au Pair, Au Pair World, International Exchange, and Go Au Pair. With an agency, you pay them and they do the paperwork, show you different family profiles, and put you in contact with them. All along your stay, they are in touch with you in case of any problem. It’s like any other job placement service.

On the internet, there are a lot of websites for au pairs. This is more DIY. You create a profile, search for families (they can search for au pairs too), and if one catches your interest, you start by sending a message, and from then, if both parties get along, you get in touch via phone, mails, Skype. There’s no third party involved. It’s between you and the family (so no one is there if something goes wrong). I’ve only ever used these websites, as it’s free for au pairs to join, and I’ve always been lucky in my searches for families.

What qualifications does someone need to be an au pair?
While it’s not necessary, it’s good to have experience with kids, because the families might feel more confident in hiring you, but other than that, you don’t really need much. Every family is different. Some will want you to have experience and will ask for references; others don’t ask for anything.

Angela posing near a mountain

What’s the biggest challenge?
I will say it’s learning how to live with total strangers. You’re in a brand new country, with people you don’t know, and you’re going to spend six months to a year with them. It takes some days for everybody to get used to each other and to know how the family works. You need to learn to accept their way of living. Sometimes it can be really different from what you’re used to, and it takes some time to just be a part of it.

Also the fact it is not your own place is a bit of a challenge. You may live there for a long time, but at the end of the day, it’s still not your place. I find it always a bit hard to pretend it is. For me, it is my host’s home. You can’t have guests like you would in your own home. You hear the kids playing, running everywhere all the time, even on your days off. Sometimes the parents may leave the house a mess and you have to tidy it up, because you can’t stay a day in such a mess any longer!

Personally, I’m really easygoing and used to living in any kind of place with different people. I never felt that was a “challenge” — from my first experience all was smooth during my stays. Maybe I find it easy to get along with people, and don’t mind their way of living.

Is it hard as a Westerner to get a job outside of “the West”? I always thought Western au pairs only worked in other Western countries.
It is true [that Western au pairs are] mostly in Western countries. In Japan, it is not common at all, especially because here the moms are often stay-at-home moms, so they don’t need another person to do the job. Also, it is in their culture to not accept a total stranger taking care of their own kids.

The few families I could find in Asia have always been expat families. Often one parent got a few years’ contract with a company and moved abroad, thus they know what the au pair thing is. In Nagoya, where I am now, I know at least three au pairs, but I don’t think we’re much more than that. So if you want to be an au pair, you’ll find that most of the jobs are in Western countries.

Tell me about life as an au pair. What’s the pay like? How often do you work?
The pay depends mainly on the family and the country you’re in. But my salary was usually 300-400 euros per month. It seems to be the average for an au pair working 25–30 hours a week.

The work mostly consists of bringing the kids to school and picking them up, helping with homework, cooking and having dinner, bathing them, and getting them ready for bed. Some families may ask you to do house cleaning in addition (in which case you’re paid more for that).

When the kids are at school, you’re totally free. Most au pairs will take language classes, or do sports or other activities. I usually take some of this time to cook dinner and clean the house (if needed). Mostly I try to hang out with friends or visit some places nearby. When in a country where au pairs are popular, it is really easy to meet up with them, as we all have the same free time. It’s an easy job if you are good with kids, sensitive, and practical. And especially if you get along well with the family, there’s no problem at all!

Mountains in Canada

What’s your one tip for people looking to become an au pair?
If it is your first experience as an au pair and you don’t know how you feel being away from home, my advice would be to start in a country that is near your own. That way if you’re homesick, it will be much easier to go back. And if you like the experience, you know you’ll be ready to start again farther away! I started in Germany, knowing that if anything happened I was just few hours away from home.

Other than that, nothing specific, except I can only recommend it! It is a really good experience living abroad and a way to get out of your comfort zone, as you’re going to live for a few months somewhere totally new!

What’s been the biggest lesson so far?
Never think traveling is not possible for you. I had no exposure to it while I was growing up and would never have imagined myself a traveler, as I was very shy and introverted. I think, besides shocking my family, I shocked myself when I went away. But when you go away, you realize how easy travel is and how many opportunities there are out there to make travel a reality.

I think that traveling is a good opportunity to discover new parts of yourself. It changed the way I am now. I feel more confident and more open to talking to strangers. It’s made me a better me!

You’ve be traveling for 7 years now. What’s your number one tip for new travelers?
Be friendly to people and be respectful of the country you are in. Respect is important, and people will accept you more if you are openly happy and curious to be visiting their places. Don’t judge. Learn to listen.

When I was in Australia, I was told numerous times that French people there were acting really poorly, being mean to animals and disrespectful of people and the environment. I can’t understand this type of behavior, and it made me ashamed and sad to learn that. It is so important to show respect and be kind to those in the country you are visiting. You’re a guest in their home.

****
Angela got a job working as an au pair in order to fulfill her desire to travel the world. When you have limited funds, find a job like Angela and use your skills or passions to earn money and keep you on the road.

Hopefully, this post will inspire you to think outside the box a bit and figure out ways to use your passion and skills to get out there, escape the cubicle, and see more of this world.

Become the Next Success Story

One of my favorite parts about this job is hearing people’s travel stories. They inspire me, but more importantly, they also inspire you. I travel a certain way but there are many ways to fund your trips and travel the world. I hope these stories show you that there is more than one way to travel and that it is within your grasp to reach your travel goals. Here are more examples of people who found work overseas to fund their trips:

The post Reader Story: How Angela Travels the World as an Au Pair appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

Posted from https://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-blogs/travel-work-au-pair/

Angela walking in a snowy town
One of the biggest challenges for people is saving up for a world trip. It can be daunting trying to save thousands of dollars for your next big trip. Yet I always say “If you can’t save, go work.” The world has an abundance of jobs that travelers can get. Millions of travelers fund their trips by working their way around the world. Today, I want to profile one of our community members who does just that. Angela works as an au pair. This funds her round the world travel dreams, let’s her stay in a place longer, and get to know a culture better. Today we share her story and tips for being an au pair.

Nomadic Matt: Hi Angela! Thanks for doing this. Tell us about yourself!
Angéla:I’m Angéla and I’m 28 years old. I was born near Lyon, France, and am the eldest of four sisters. After graduating from school when I was 21, I started working as an au pair in Germany. I wanted to get out of France and work with children, so this was the perfect job! Seven years later, I’m still an au pair, currently in Japan! I love what I do because I get to travel and work with children, the two things I love the most.

Were you always interested in travel? How did you get started?
Funny enough, out of all my big family (I have three other siblings and lots of cousins), I’m the only one who likes to travel a lot! Nobody around me ever went abroad for more than a few days, and especially not very far away. So I didn’t know much about traveling, except from watching movies and pop culture.

I didn’t begin traveling until I was 21. I guess it was because I never did it that I wanted to do it. I’d always dreamed of traveling the world and seeing the places I saw in the movies

How did you decide to become an au pair?
It happened seven years ago when I was looking for a job in France and after finding nothing interesting, I decided to have a look at the au pair thing. It sounded interesting — working in another country and living with a family. By being an au pair, I would be able to have a job, accommodation, food, lots of free time, and some extra spending cash. It was perfect. I could enjoy traveling without needing a lot of money because I could use the money that I would earn during my stay. It lets me travel without huge savings.

In 2010, I found my first host family in Germany and stayed one year with them. I loved the fact I could work in another country and use the free time to explore a new place. Plus, I get to work with children all the time, which is my field of work, so now I have accumulated years of experience. I was hooked after that first year, and decided to do it again instead going back to France to find another job.

A Japanese castle

Where have you worked as an au pair?
I’ve been to Germany, England, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and Sweden, and I’m currently in Japan. I stay from eight months to one year in each country. All of them have been great experiences. I’ve been lucky enough to stay with very good people, and everybody I met while traveling has been super nice.

My favorite place has been New Zealand. It’s simply breathtaking! The landscapes are unbelievable. I can’t recommend it enough. Canada is probably my next favorite. It is a relatively safe country to live in, the people are nice, and I love the cold winters. I got to try ice fishing and totally loved it!

How does someone become an au pair? Is it easy? Hard?
I personally think it is easy. Your main job is to take care of children, so you must be OK working with them, but other than that, the tasks are often easy enough and you have lots of free time. You work on average between 25 and 30 hours per week. All your weekends are free, as are the evenings as soon as one parent gets home. You may be asked to babysit from time to time, though.

Everything is included when you live with the family, so you don’t have many expenses. The only thing I paid for myself was my plane ticket (although you can be lucky enough to have a family that pays it for you). I never felt like this was a so-called “job” — more like helping out a family and being a part of it.

To become an au pair, you can either use au pair agencies or one of the websites like Au Pair, Au Pair World, International Exchange, and Go Au Pair. With an agency, you pay them and they do the paperwork, show you different family profiles, and put you in contact with them. All along your stay, they are in touch with you in case of any problem. It’s like any other job placement service.

On the internet, there are a lot of websites for au pairs. This is more DIY. You create a profile, search for families (they can search for au pairs too), and if one catches your interest, you start by sending a message, and from then, if both parties get along, you get in touch via phone, mails, Skype. There’s no third party involved. It’s between you and the family (so no one is there if something goes wrong). I’ve only ever used these websites, as it’s free for au pairs to join, and I’ve always been lucky in my searches for families.

What qualifications does someone need to be an au pair?
While it’s not necessary, it’s good to have experience with kids, because the families might feel more confident in hiring you, but other than that, you don’t really need much. Every family is different. Some will want you to have experience and will ask for references; others don’t ask for anything.

Angela posing near a mountain

What’s the biggest challenge?
I will say it’s learning how to live with total strangers. You’re in a brand new country, with people you don’t know, and you’re going to spend six months to a year with them. It takes some days for everybody to get used to each other and to know how the family works. You need to learn to accept their way of living. Sometimes it can be really different from what you’re used to, and it takes some time to just be a part of it.

Also the fact it is not your own place is a bit of a challenge. You may live there for a long time, but at the end of the day, it’s still not your place. I find it always a bit hard to pretend it is. For me, it is my host’s home. You can’t have guests like you would in your own home. You hear the kids playing, running everywhere all the time, even on your days off. Sometimes the parents may leave the house a mess and you have to tidy it up, because you can’t stay a day in such a mess any longer!

Personally, I’m really easygoing and used to living in any kind of place with different people. I never felt that was a “challenge” — from my first experience all was smooth during my stays. Maybe I find it easy to get along with people, and don’t mind their way of living.

Is it hard as a Westerner to get a job outside of “the West”? I always thought Western au pairs only worked in other Western countries.
It is true [that Western au pairs are] mostly in Western countries. In Japan, it is not common at all, especially because here the moms are often stay-at-home moms, so they don’t need another person to do the job. Also, it is in their culture to not accept a total stranger taking care of their own kids.

The few families I could find in Asia have always been expat families. Often one parent got a few years’ contract with a company and moved abroad, thus they know what the au pair thing is. In Nagoya, where I am now, I know at least three au pairs, but I don’t think we’re much more than that. So if you want to be an au pair, you’ll find that most of the jobs are in Western countries.

Tell me about life as an au pair. What’s the pay like? How often do you work?
The pay depends mainly on the family and the country you’re in. But my salary was usually 300-400 euros per month. It seems to be the average for an au pair working 25–30 hours a week.

The work mostly consists of bringing the kids to school and picking them up, helping with homework, cooking and having dinner, bathing them, and getting them ready for bed. Some families may ask you to do house cleaning in addition (in which case you’re paid more for that).

When the kids are at school, you’re totally free. Most au pairs will take language classes, or do sports or other activities. I usually take some of this time to cook dinner and clean the house (if needed). Mostly I try to hang out with friends or visit some places nearby. When in a country where au pairs are popular, it is really easy to meet up with them, as we all have the same free time. It’s an easy job if you are good with kids, sensitive, and practical. And especially if you get along well with the family, there’s no problem at all!

Mountains in Canada

What’s your one tip for people looking to become an au pair?
If it is your first experience as an au pair and you don’t know how you feel being away from home, my advice would be to start in a country that is near your own. That way if you’re homesick, it will be much easier to go back. And if you like the experience, you know you’ll be ready to start again farther away! I started in Germany, knowing that if anything happened I was just few hours away from home.

Other than that, nothing specific, except I can only recommend it! It is a really good experience living abroad and a way to get out of your comfort zone, as you’re going to live for a few months somewhere totally new!

What’s been the biggest lesson so far?
Never think traveling is not possible for you. I had no exposure to it while I was growing up and would never have imagined myself a traveler, as I was very shy and introverted. I think, besides shocking my family, I shocked myself when I went away. But when you go away, you realize how easy travel is and how many opportunities there are out there to make travel a reality.

I think that traveling is a good opportunity to discover new parts of yourself. It changed the way I am now. I feel more confident and more open to talking to strangers. It’s made me a better me!

You’ve be traveling for 7 years now. What’s your number one tip for new travelers?
Be friendly to people and be respectful of the country you are in. Respect is important, and people will accept you more if you are openly happy and curious to be visiting their places. Don’t judge. Learn to listen.

When I was in Australia, I was told numerous times that French people there were acting really poorly, being mean to animals and disrespectful of people and the environment. I can’t understand this type of behavior, and it made me ashamed and sad to learn that. It is so important to show respect and be kind to those in the country you are visiting. You’re a guest in their home.

****
Angela got a job working as an au pair in order to fulfill her desire to travel the world. When you have limited funds, find a job like Angela and use your skills or passions to earn money and keep you on the road.

Hopefully, this post will inspire you to think outside the box a bit and figure out ways to use your passion and skills to get out there, escape the cubicle, and see more of this world.

Become the Next Success Story

One of my favorite parts about this job is hearing people’s travel stories. They inspire me, but more importantly, they also inspire you. I travel a certain way but there are many ways to fund your trips and travel the world. I hope these stories show you that there is more than one way to travel and that it is within your grasp to reach your travel goals. Here are more examples of people who found work overseas to fund their trips:

The post Reader Story: How Angela Travels the World as an Au Pair appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

The 5 best Paris luxury hotels with a pool

Posted from http://www.aluxurytravelblog.com/2017/07/25/the-5-best-paris-luxury-hotels-with-a-pool/

Paris is a favorite destination for couples celebrating a honeymoon or anniversary, as well as families seeking a cultural city break.And from its legendary museums, such as the Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, and Musee Rodin to its lovely gardens, such as the Jardin du Luxembourg to its excellent Michelin star restaurants and farmers markets, there’s so […]

The 5 best Paris luxury hotels with a pool is a post from A Luxury Travel Blog

The post The 5 best Paris luxury hotels with a pool appeared first on A Luxury Travel Blog.

Posted from http://www.aluxurytravelblog.com/2017/07/25/the-5-best-paris-luxury-hotels-with-a-pool/

Paris is a favorite destination for couples celebrating a honeymoon or anniversary, as well as families seeking a cultural city break.And from its legendary museums, such as the Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, and Musee Rodin to its lovely gardens, such as the Jardin du Luxembourg to its excellent Michelin star restaurants and farmers markets, there’s so […]

The 5 best Paris luxury hotels with a pool is a post from A Luxury Travel Blog

The post The 5 best Paris luxury hotels with a pool appeared first on A Luxury Travel Blog.

How to Find a Cheap Hotel Room: Sites to Use and Sites to Avoid

Posted from https://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-blogs/find-cheap-hotel-room/

a fancy hotel room
As much as I love hostels and other forms of cheap accommodation, there is something nice about the luxuriousness of a hotel: the clean room, comfy bed, desk, iron, strong shower, and bottled soap for the taking (errr…I mean borrowing). They are quiet, relaxing, and a respite from the world.

But luxury comes at a price. Hotels certainly aren’t cheap, and I hate spending money on a room I am only going to be in for a few hours. After all, it’s just a place to sleep (and take soap). It’s why I mostly avoid hotels — I don’t think they are a good use of money. I would much rather stay in a hostel or Airbnb, which cost less, have more social interaction, and don’t make you feel as removed from the destination you’re staying at. I always feel hotels are so isolating like a concrete bubble keeping out the place you’re visiting.

But there are times when a hotel can’t be avoided. Hostels aren’t everywhere, booking a last minute hotel room is easier than finding an Airbnb host, and sometimes you just really need a nice bed and shower. Plus, I have a ton of points so free is worth the isolation.

A few years ago, I was traveling to conferences and other work-related events a lot and staying in a bunch of hotels. I decided to see which hotel booking sites came back with the cheapest results. I picked five cities to research (London, Los Angeles, Paris, NYC, and Seattle) and stays close to the date of my research and then far in advance, on both weekdays and weekends.

I searched six booking websites — Expedia, Hotels.com, Booking.com, Hotwire, Priceline, and TravelPony — in 2-, 3-, and 4-star categories.

The conclusion? Well, there wasn’t really a great conclusion.

The overall numbers showed that some sites were stronger in certain regions or for certain classes of hotel. TravelPony was the winner in the US and for higher-class hotels, and Expedia dominated London and Paris, while Priceline was great for 2-star hotels and Hotwire for 3-star hotels. The big loser? Booking.com.

That was in 2014, and booking websites and options have changed a lot since then. The only constant in travel is that nothing is constant — and a booking website is as only good as its inventory, which, as someone who now owns a hostel that’s not listed in every booking engine, I can tell you varies widely.

So I decided to do another search. This time I searched Expedia, Hotels.com, Booking.com, Agoda, and Priceline for prices in London, New York, Paris, Bangkok, Buenos Aires, and Berlin. I searched on July 3rd for space later that week and then one month later during the weekday and weekend (prices and availability change on the weekend).

The results?

Well, the complete opposite of the previous results. Back in 2014, Booking.com was terrible, TravelPony showed promise, and Agoda was only good in Asia.

This time around the clear winner was Booking.com, followed by Agoda. Though it didn’t return the largest number of total places, Booking.com returned the largest number of cheap places – and that’s the most important thing. I found the best deals and largest variety in all the destinations I searched for on Booking. For example, in my September search in Paris, it listed over 2,300 results, including 250 2 star listings and 750 star listings (and it told me the place was over 60% booked when I searched). Agoda still had the best results in Asia (it returned 2,900 results in Bangkok compared to 2,500 for Booking) but had definitely expanded their listings around the world – it roughly tied Booking in Paris, Buenos Aires, and Sydney for overall listings, though they had fewer budget listings than Booking.

And all those other major booking websites? Well, Orbitz and Travelocity are part of Expedia and use the same database, and while they turned back a large number of results, they tilted more to the higher end of the price spectrum. And websites like Priceline and Hotwire have top-notch blind booking and bidding options that can get you a very cheap hotel (in the star category and area you want). Sometimes prices are up to 40% off. The downside? You don’t get to know the name of the hotel you’re staying in until after you have paid.

There are a lot of hotel websites and I’ve tried many over the last few years as I’ve started to book hotels more and more, but this test just proved what I already thought: for cheap accommodation, Booking.com and Agoda are just the best resources that have the largest selection of results. If you search these two companies, you’ll always find the best hotel bargains in the 1, 2m or 3 star category.

Note: Years ago, I said to skip Trivago because I found it misleading: when you went to the other sites to compare results, the hotel classes and prices were different. I found the same thing this time. I clicked over to their cheapest deals, then did the search on the website they took me to only to find out that the place Trivago listed wasn’t even in the same class I wanted — and there were better options on the redirected website. In short, I would still skip Trivago.

How to book a cheap hotel

Besides using the right booking websites, there are some hacks you can use to score the cheapest room rate possible:

Contact the hotel websites directly – If you’re booking a big-name, global-brand hotel (think Starwood, Marriott, Hilton, etc.), book directly with that hotel. They often have the best deals on their website, but if you find a better deal elsewhere, they’ll match it. The big benefit to direct bookings at these global hotel chains is that you only earn loyalty points and status when you book directly, so if you love points, don’t book their rooms elsewhere.

Bargain – Want a better deal? Call up a hotel and ask for one. Sometimes they can give you better rates, especially if it’s during mid-week on some non-peak time of the year.

Use loyalty reward programs – The best way to stay for cheap is to stay for free. Collect points with the big chains by using their branded credit cards, shopping portals, and other travel hacking methods.

Use discount rates like AAA or AARP – If you are part of the AARP or AAA you can get special rates that are cheaper. Fun fact: Anyone can join the AARP. I’m a member. They have amazing travel benefits (including deals on hotels and British Airways flights). It’s well worth the membership.

Get discounted gift cards – You can book major hotel chains with hotel gift cards. Check out a website like Giftcardgranny.com for discounted gift cards and use it to book your hotel. (Gift card purchases also count toward point earnings and status.)

Buy someone else’s reservation with Roomer – Often people can’t go on a trip and can’t cancel the reservation, so rather than lose the money, hotels put these rooms on Roomer, where they sell it at a discount to earn some money back. I’ve never used this website, but I’ve heard decent things about it. It’s worth a try.

***
Hotel pricing is a lot more set than airline pricing and tends to fluctuate less. I wouldn’t spend hours searching hotel websites or days tracking prices like people do with airline prices. I’d spend, at the most, 30 minutes on booking a hotel. I found that the variation between sites isn’t enough to justify more time.

Just follow the steps above, get a great cheap room, and enjoy your trip.

P.S. – Want to be featured on my Instagram account AND win some sweet prizes? I’m holding a contest on Instagram right now, so check out my account for the details!

P.P.S. – Want to travel with me? There are only 4 spots left on my next reader tour! I’ll be taking readers on an intimate group tour of Vienna and Prague, where we will visit all my favorite sights, restaurants, bars, and off the beaten path places! Come explore the world with me!

The post How to Find a Cheap Hotel Room: Sites to Use and Sites to Avoid appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

Posted from https://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-blogs/find-cheap-hotel-room/

a fancy hotel room
As much as I love hostels and other forms of cheap accommodation, there is something nice about the luxuriousness of a hotel: the clean room, comfy bed, desk, iron, strong shower, and bottled soap for the taking (errr…I mean borrowing). They are quiet, relaxing, and a respite from the world.

But luxury comes at a price. Hotels certainly aren’t cheap, and I hate spending money on a room I am only going to be in for a few hours. After all, it’s just a place to sleep (and take soap). It’s why I mostly avoid hotels — I don’t think they are a good use of money. I would much rather stay in a hostel or Airbnb, which cost less, have more social interaction, and don’t make you feel as removed from the destination you’re staying at. I always feel hotels are so isolating like a concrete bubble keeping out the place you’re visiting.

But there are times when a hotel can’t be avoided. Hostels aren’t everywhere, booking a last minute hotel room is easier than finding an Airbnb host, and sometimes you just really need a nice bed and shower. Plus, I have a ton of points so free is worth the isolation.

A few years ago, I was traveling to conferences and other work-related events a lot and staying in a bunch of hotels. I decided to see which hotel booking sites came back with the cheapest results. I picked five cities to research (London, Los Angeles, Paris, NYC, and Seattle) and stays close to the date of my research and then far in advance, on both weekdays and weekends.

I searched six booking websites — Expedia, Hotels.com, Booking.com, Hotwire, Priceline, and TravelPony — in 2-, 3-, and 4-star categories.

The conclusion? Well, there wasn’t really a great conclusion.

The overall numbers showed that some sites were stronger in certain regions or for certain classes of hotel. TravelPony was the winner in the US and for higher-class hotels, and Expedia dominated London and Paris, while Priceline was great for 2-star hotels and Hotwire for 3-star hotels. The big loser? Booking.com.

That was in 2014, and booking websites and options have changed a lot since then. The only constant in travel is that nothing is constant — and a booking website is as only good as its inventory, which, as someone who now owns a hostel that’s not listed in every booking engine, I can tell you varies widely.

So I decided to do another search. This time I searched Expedia, Hotels.com, Booking.com, Agoda, and Priceline for prices in London, New York, Paris, Bangkok, Buenos Aires, and Berlin. I searched on July 3rd for space later that week and then one month later during the weekday and weekend (prices and availability change on the weekend).

The results?

Well, the complete opposite of the previous results. Back in 2014, Booking.com was terrible, TravelPony showed promise, and Agoda was only good in Asia.

This time around the clear winner was Booking.com, followed by Agoda. Though it didn’t return the largest number of total places, Booking.com returned the largest number of cheap places – and that’s the most important thing. I found the best deals and largest variety in all the destinations I searched for on Booking. For example, in my September search in Paris, it listed over 2,300 results, including 250 2 star listings and 750 star listings (and it told me the place was over 60% booked when I searched). Agoda still had the best results in Asia (it returned 2,900 results in Bangkok compared to 2,500 for Booking) but had definitely expanded their listings around the world – it roughly tied Booking in Paris, Buenos Aires, and Sydney for overall listings, though they had fewer budget listings than Booking.

And all those other major booking websites? Well, Orbitz and Travelocity are part of Expedia and use the same database, and while they turned back a large number of results, they tilted more to the higher end of the price spectrum. And websites like Priceline and Hotwire have top-notch blind booking and bidding options that can get you a very cheap hotel (in the star category and area you want). Sometimes prices are up to 40% off. The downside? You don’t get to know the name of the hotel you’re staying in until after you have paid.

There are a lot of hotel websites and I’ve tried many over the last few years as I’ve started to book hotels more and more, but this test just proved what I already thought: for cheap accommodation, Booking.com and Agoda are just the best resources that have the largest selection of results. If you search these two companies, you’ll always find the best hotel bargains in the 1, 2m or 3 star category.

Note: Years ago, I said to skip Trivago because I found it misleading: when you went to the other sites to compare results, the hotel classes and prices were different. I found the same thing this time. I clicked over to their cheapest deals, then did the search on the website they took me to only to find out that the place Trivago listed wasn’t even in the same class I wanted — and there were better options on the redirected website. In short, I would still skip Trivago.

How to book a cheap hotel

Besides using the right booking websites, there are some hacks you can use to score the cheapest room rate possible:

Contact the hotel websites directly – If you’re booking a big-name, global-brand hotel (think Starwood, Marriott, Hilton, etc.), book directly with that hotel. They often have the best deals on their website, but if you find a better deal elsewhere, they’ll match it. The big benefit to direct bookings at these global hotel chains is that you only earn loyalty points and status when you book directly, so if you love points, don’t book their rooms elsewhere.

Bargain – Want a better deal? Call up a hotel and ask for one. Sometimes they can give you better rates, especially if it’s during mid-week on some non-peak time of the year.

Use loyalty reward programs – The best way to stay for cheap is to stay for free. Collect points with the big chains by using their branded credit cards, shopping portals, and other travel hacking methods.

Use discount rates like AAA or AARP – If you are part of the AARP or AAA you can get special rates that are cheaper. Fun fact: Anyone can join the AARP. I’m a member. They have amazing travel benefits (including deals on hotels and British Airways flights). It’s well worth the membership.

Get discounted gift cards – You can book major hotel chains with hotel gift cards. Check out a website like Giftcardgranny.com for discounted gift cards and use it to book your hotel. (Gift card purchases also count toward point earnings and status.)

Buy someone else’s reservation with Roomer – Often people can’t go on a trip and can’t cancel the reservation, so rather than lose the money, hotels put these rooms on Roomer, where they sell it at a discount to earn some money back. I’ve never used this website, but I’ve heard decent things about it. It’s worth a try.

***
Hotel pricing is a lot more set than airline pricing and tends to fluctuate less. I wouldn’t spend hours searching hotel websites or days tracking prices like people do with airline prices. I’d spend, at the most, 30 minutes on booking a hotel. I found that the variation between sites isn’t enough to justify more time.

Just follow the steps above, get a great cheap room, and enjoy your trip.

P.S. – Want to be featured on my Instagram account AND win some sweet prizes? I’m holding a contest on Instagram right now, so check out my account for the details!

P.P.S. – Want to travel with me? There are only 4 spots left on my next reader tour! I’ll be taking readers on an intimate group tour of Vienna and Prague, where we will visit all my favorite sights, restaurants, bars, and off the beaten path places! Come explore the world with me!

The post How to Find a Cheap Hotel Room: Sites to Use and Sites to Avoid appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

Top 6 things to do in Taipei

Posted from http://www.aluxurytravelblog.com/2017/07/20/top-6-things-to-do-in-taipei/

Taipei surprised me as a very interesting and entertaining city. Taipei was not in the popular destination category for tourism. They have just started showing up their beauty and culture around the world. With their street food, organised city and lovely nature, more and more tourists are being attracted to this city. They have Chinese […]

Top 6 things to do in Taipei is a post from A Luxury Travel Blog

The post Top 6 things to do in Taipei appeared first on A Luxury Travel Blog.

Posted from http://www.aluxurytravelblog.com/2017/07/20/top-6-things-to-do-in-taipei/

Taipei surprised me as a very interesting and entertaining city. Taipei was not in the popular destination category for tourism. They have just started showing up their beauty and culture around the world. With their street food, organised city and lovely nature, more and more tourists are being attracted to this city. They have Chinese […]

Top 6 things to do in Taipei is a post from A Luxury Travel Blog

The post Top 6 things to do in Taipei appeared first on A Luxury Travel Blog.

5 reasons to stay in a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn)

Posted from http://www.aluxurytravelblog.com/2017/07/18/5-reasons-to-stay-in-a-ryokan-traditional-japanese-inn/

What is a ryokan? Perhaps you’ve heard the term ryokan bandied around when planning a trip to Japan, but what exactly are they? In ancient times ryokans provided lodging for passing travellers, so the closest comparison would be an old fashioned inn. These days they provide so much more than a bed for the night […]

5 reasons to stay in a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) is a post from A Luxury Travel Blog

The post 5 reasons to stay in a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) appeared first on A Luxury Travel Blog.

Posted from http://www.aluxurytravelblog.com/2017/07/18/5-reasons-to-stay-in-a-ryokan-traditional-japanese-inn/

What is a ryokan? Perhaps you’ve heard the term ryokan bandied around when planning a trip to Japan, but what exactly are they? In ancient times ryokans provided lodging for passing travellers, so the closest comparison would be an old fashioned inn. These days they provide so much more than a bed for the night […]

5 reasons to stay in a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) is a post from A Luxury Travel Blog

The post 5 reasons to stay in a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) appeared first on A Luxury Travel Blog.

How to Travel Around Namibia on a Budget

Posted from https://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-blogs/travel-around-namibia-budget-2/

namibia road trip
Welcome to the latest post in our Africa column by Natasha and Cameron from The World Pursuit. While I’ve been to the continent in the past, I’ve only seen a few countries so I’m super duper excited to have these two travelers share their knowledge about traveling the continent. This month they are sharing how to travel around Namibia, one of my top five countries in the world, on a budget!

As steam rose from the tarmac and mirages presented themselves in the far distance, our truck’s engine nearly boiled over. We drove through empty Namib Desert in 40°C (104°F) heat with the windows down and heat on full blast to cool it off. Traveling around a sparsely populated desert country in Africa presents its challenges!

Despite our desert adventures, we loved traveling around Namibia and think it’s a great African destination to explore, especially for first-time travelers to the continent. We saw the sun rise over the largest sand dunes in the world in Sossusvlei and listened to thousands of seals give birth at the Cape Cross Seal Colony. Just driving around the country without seeing a single other person for hours made us feel as if we were on another planet.

Namibia is a special place that many in the world have never even heard of. Compared to South Africa, it’s a lot less visited by tourists, especially those traveling on their own and not on a tour. But we found the country easy to visit and affordable.

Where did we go?

We entered southern Namibia, as we were traveling north from Cape Town, and exited via the Caprivi Strip into Botswana. Here is the route we followed.

Fish River Canyon – Luderitz – Aus – Kalahari – Namibrand Nature Reserve – Sossusvlei – Walvis Bay – Swakopmund – Skeleton Coast – Spitzkoppe – Etosha National Park – Caprivi Strip

This route took us a month to complete, with most stops taking up 3-4 days of our time. We wanted a relaxing holiday, but if you move fast and are short on time, you can easily do a Namibian road trip like this in 15-20 days.

We decided to skip Windhoek, as there wasn’t much in the capital city we were dying to see. Due to lack of time, we also skipped the northwestern Kunene region, which is where the Himba people live. For those wanting to travel to this part of the country, the only way to get there is with a fully equipped vehicle or a tour. The region is isolated, so you must be fully capable of getting yourself out of any circumstances and stock up with food and water.

How much does it cost to travel around Namibia?

namibia road trip
Namibia is one of the cheapest countries in Africa. It uses the Namibian dollar (NAD), which is 1:1 with the South African rand, and all prices are about on par with South Africa . Depending on your chosen method of transport and accommodation preference, Namibia can easily be done on a budget.

We averaged about $45 USD (600 NAD) a day per person for campsites, food, beer, and transportation, with a majority of that going to fuel (our Land Cruiser was thirsty – 6km per liter/14 miles per gallon – and distances are long).

Here are some average prices:

  • Campsite – $6 (80 NAD) per person per night
  • Dorm bed – $8 (100 NAD) per person per night
  • Private double room – $45-$60 (600-750 NAD) per night
  • National park fees – $6 (80 NAD)
  • Petrol – $0.80 (10 NAD) per liter
  • A cook-your-own-pasta meal from the supermarket – $2.50 (30 NAD)
  • Salad from a café – $4 (55 NAD)
  • Bottle of Windhoek beer – $1.10 (15 NAD)
  • Cup of coffee – $2 (25 NAD)

So if you were staying in dorm beds, taking the train, and cooking all your own meals, you could get by on a budget of $20-30 a day. However, if you want to camp and get outside the main cities, you will need to take a tour or have your own vehicle, which will up your costs to about $45 (to self-drive with four passengers) to $90 (for a tour) a day.

How to get around Namibia

namibia road trip
Bus
There is no official public bus system in Namibia, but there are local buses that connect almost all of the major towns and cities.

The most reliable bus option in Namibia is the Intercape bus service. They are generally in good condition and safe, and even provide air conditioning. Intercape buses do not run every day and don’t have many stops, so it’s important to look at the website for their routes and schedule.

Prices vary according to the distance traveled: a bus from Windhoek to Livingstone, Zambia, costs roughly $50 USD depending on the exchange rate, while a bus to Springbok, South Africa, from Windhoek costs $31 USD.

Rental Car
This is the most popular form of traveling in Namibia. The rental truck industry in Windhoek, the capital, is booming! With wide-open desert roads, towering sand dunes, and no one around, a road trip in Namibia is the perfect way to go exploring.

Rates for a rental truck stocked with everything you need for camping and a pop-up tent vary depending on the season. In low season (January–July), you can pick up a two-person Hilux for $75 USD a day; in the high season (July–December), it will go for around $130 USD a day. The more bells and whistles you add on to your rental, the higher the cost gets. When we last visited in November, the entire country was sold out of rental trucks in what was traditionally the shoulder season, so it is highly advised to book in advance.

Overland Tour
We talked about overland tours previously. There is a really wide range of ways in which you can do a tour in Namibia. The least expensive option is to go with one of the many overland tour companies such as Oasis, Nomad, Acacia, or Intrepid.

Tours are great for solo travelers looking to meet people, and also for those that want maximum fun with minimal planning effort. Overland tours in Namibia start at an average of $87 USD per person per day. These tours cover all transport within Namibia, activities, camping, and most meals.

Train
The TransNamib passenger train makes only a few stops, but it definitely provides interesting views of this desert country out the window. Trains mostly operate at night, so if you plan to make use of the train you should be prepared to sleep in a first-class seat or economy reclining seat. There are no sleeping cabins aside from the Keetmanshoop-Windhoek train. Tickets range from $6 to $15 USD for economy and business-class seats, respectively.

The Desert Express is another train service geared toward more the luxury-minded tourist, with prices starting at $230 USD per ticket.

Hitchhiking
There seems to be an increasing number of vagabonds in Africa who are getting themselves into dangerous situations and relying on strangers to bail them out. We would not recommend hitchhiking in Namibia, as the population is sparse and it could be hours between passing cars.

Tips for traveling in Namibia

namibia road trip
Traveling around Namibia is fairly straightforward. Here are ten tips to keep in mind for your trip there.

  • Learn how to change a tire Namibian roads are very rough on cars. They are badly corrugated and dry and dusty. Make sure you know how to change a tire in case you get a flat or else you could be waiting on the road for a few hours.
  • Avoid night driving – Whether self-driving, on an overland tour, or taking buses, we would advise against any kind of night driving. There are no streetlights on Namibian roads, and cattle roam freely on them.
  • Don’t rely on the internet – We found the Wi-Fi in Namibia to be passable at best, and even if you pick up a SIM card, don’t expect it to work anywhere but in the cities and towns. Much of the country is empty desert where there are no cell phone towers.
  • Stay full and hydrated – No matter what kind of transport you use, it’s important to stock up on food and water, although Western-style supermarkets can be found in Windhoek, Swakopmund, Walvis Bay, Luderitz, and other relatively large towns.
  • ATMs can only be found in main cities and towns – You will be able to withdraw cash in Windhoek, Swakopmund, Walvis Bay, and Luderitz, but we would be wary about being able to in other places. Make sure to have enough cash on you to make it to your next major destination, as credit cards aren’t widely accepted. Almost all places in Namibia accept the South African rand as well.
  • Prebook in the high season – Namibia’s high season runs from mid-May to mid-November, so we would recommend booking your accommodation for these months ahead of time. Even the campsites book up with overlanders. We visited in November and ran into problems a few times with hotels being at capacity.
  • Stay safe – Namibia is one of the safest countries in Africa. However, it is still a developing nation, and common sense should be utilized, especially in the capital of Windhoek, which in recent years has seen a rise in crime. Don’t show signs of wealth, use vigilance at night, and all should be OK.
  • Namibian national parks are affordable – We found that Namibia has some of the cheapest national parks in Africa. Etosha National Park, for example, is the largest and easily most recognized park in the country, with entrance fees costing as little as 80 NAD ($6 USD)! The wildlife spottings are fantastic in the dry season as well.
  • Take care of your electronics – The desert heat is no joke, and neither is the sand. Cameras, laptops, and even cellphones should be well protected from the dry air and dust that can easily find its way into the tiny crevices of your valuables.

When people ask us what country they should visit in Africa, Namibia is always at the top of our list. There is just something about seeing the stars twinkle in the desert night without a soul around.

Even though we had a month in the country, we still felt we could have delved way deeper into the remote parts and explored more. The country is vast and has so many interesting things to offer, we can’t wait to return!

Natasha and Cameron run the blog The World Pursuit, focusing on adventure and cultural travel. The two of them met in the film industry before they decided to abandon the American lifestyle and travel the world together. They’ve been traveling together for three years across 55 countries and six continents.  They recently bought a 4×4 at the tip of Africa and are traversing the continent while documenting their story on Instagram and Facebook

Photo Credit: 1,3

The post How to Travel Around Namibia on a Budget appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

Posted from https://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-blogs/travel-around-namibia-budget-2/

namibia road trip
Welcome to the latest post in our Africa column by Natasha and Cameron from The World Pursuit. While I’ve been to the continent in the past, I’ve only seen a few countries so I’m super duper excited to have these two travelers share their knowledge about traveling the continent. This month they are sharing how to travel around Namibia, one of my top five countries in the world, on a budget!

As steam rose from the tarmac and mirages presented themselves in the far distance, our truck’s engine nearly boiled over. We drove through empty Namib Desert in 40°C (104°F) heat with the windows down and heat on full blast to cool it off. Traveling around a sparsely populated desert country in Africa presents its challenges!

Despite our desert adventures, we loved traveling around Namibia and think it’s a great African destination to explore, especially for first-time travelers to the continent. We saw the sun rise over the largest sand dunes in the world in Sossusvlei and listened to thousands of seals give birth at the Cape Cross Seal Colony. Just driving around the country without seeing a single other person for hours made us feel as if we were on another planet.

Namibia is a special place that many in the world have never even heard of. Compared to South Africa, it’s a lot less visited by tourists, especially those traveling on their own and not on a tour. But we found the country easy to visit and affordable.

Where did we go?

We entered southern Namibia, as we were traveling north from Cape Town, and exited via the Caprivi Strip into Botswana. Here is the route we followed.

Fish River Canyon – Luderitz – Aus – Kalahari – Namibrand Nature Reserve – Sossusvlei – Walvis Bay – Swakopmund – Skeleton Coast – Spitzkoppe – Etosha National Park – Caprivi Strip

This route took us a month to complete, with most stops taking up 3-4 days of our time. We wanted a relaxing holiday, but if you move fast and are short on time, you can easily do a Namibian road trip like this in 15-20 days.

We decided to skip Windhoek, as there wasn’t much in the capital city we were dying to see. Due to lack of time, we also skipped the northwestern Kunene region, which is where the Himba people live. For those wanting to travel to this part of the country, the only way to get there is with a fully equipped vehicle or a tour. The region is isolated, so you must be fully capable of getting yourself out of any circumstances and stock up with food and water.

How much does it cost to travel around Namibia?

namibia road trip
Namibia is one of the cheapest countries in Africa. It uses the Namibian dollar (NAD), which is 1:1 with the South African rand, and all prices are about on par with South Africa . Depending on your chosen method of transport and accommodation preference, Namibia can easily be done on a budget.

We averaged about $45 USD (600 NAD) a day per person for campsites, food, beer, and transportation, with a majority of that going to fuel (our Land Cruiser was thirsty – 6km per liter/14 miles per gallon – and distances are long).

Here are some average prices:

  • Campsite – $6 (80 NAD) per person per night
  • Dorm bed – $8 (100 NAD) per person per night
  • Private double room – $45-$60 (600-750 NAD) per night
  • National park fees – $6 (80 NAD)
  • Petrol – $0.80 (10 NAD) per liter
  • A cook-your-own-pasta meal from the supermarket – $2.50 (30 NAD)
  • Salad from a café – $4 (55 NAD)
  • Bottle of Windhoek beer – $1.10 (15 NAD)
  • Cup of coffee – $2 (25 NAD)

So if you were staying in dorm beds, taking the train, and cooking all your own meals, you could get by on a budget of $20-30 a day. However, if you want to camp and get outside the main cities, you will need to take a tour or have your own vehicle, which will up your costs to about $45 (to self-drive with four passengers) to $90 (for a tour) a day.

How to get around Namibia

namibia road trip
Bus
There is no official public bus system in Namibia, but there are local buses that connect almost all of the major towns and cities.

The most reliable bus option in Namibia is the Intercape bus service. They are generally in good condition and safe, and even provide air conditioning. Intercape buses do not run every day and don’t have many stops, so it’s important to look at the website for their routes and schedule.

Prices vary according to the distance traveled: a bus from Windhoek to Livingstone, Zambia, costs roughly $50 USD depending on the exchange rate, while a bus to Springbok, South Africa, from Windhoek costs $31 USD.

Rental Car
This is the most popular form of traveling in Namibia. The rental truck industry in Windhoek, the capital, is booming! With wide-open desert roads, towering sand dunes, and no one around, a road trip in Namibia is the perfect way to go exploring.

Rates for a rental truck stocked with everything you need for camping and a pop-up tent vary depending on the season. In low season (January–July), you can pick up a two-person Hilux for $75 USD a day; in the high season (July–December), it will go for around $130 USD a day. The more bells and whistles you add on to your rental, the higher the cost gets. When we last visited in November, the entire country was sold out of rental trucks in what was traditionally the shoulder season, so it is highly advised to book in advance.

Overland Tour
We talked about overland tours previously. There is a really wide range of ways in which you can do a tour in Namibia. The least expensive option is to go with one of the many overland tour companies such as Oasis, Nomad, Acacia, or Intrepid.

Tours are great for solo travelers looking to meet people, and also for those that want maximum fun with minimal planning effort. Overland tours in Namibia start at an average of $87 USD per person per day. These tours cover all transport within Namibia, activities, camping, and most meals.

Train
The TransNamib passenger train makes only a few stops, but it definitely provides interesting views of this desert country out the window. Trains mostly operate at night, so if you plan to make use of the train you should be prepared to sleep in a first-class seat or economy reclining seat. There are no sleeping cabins aside from the Keetmanshoop-Windhoek train. Tickets range from $6 to $15 USD for economy and business-class seats, respectively.

The Desert Express is another train service geared toward more the luxury-minded tourist, with prices starting at $230 USD per ticket.

Hitchhiking
There seems to be an increasing number of vagabonds in Africa who are getting themselves into dangerous situations and relying on strangers to bail them out. We would not recommend hitchhiking in Namibia, as the population is sparse and it could be hours between passing cars.

Tips for traveling in Namibia

namibia road trip
Traveling around Namibia is fairly straightforward. Here are ten tips to keep in mind for your trip there.

  • Learn how to change a tire Namibian roads are very rough on cars. They are badly corrugated and dry and dusty. Make sure you know how to change a tire in case you get a flat or else you could be waiting on the road for a few hours.
  • Avoid night driving – Whether self-driving, on an overland tour, or taking buses, we would advise against any kind of night driving. There are no streetlights on Namibian roads, and cattle roam freely on them.
  • Don’t rely on the internet – We found the Wi-Fi in Namibia to be passable at best, and even if you pick up a SIM card, don’t expect it to work anywhere but in the cities and towns. Much of the country is empty desert where there are no cell phone towers.
  • Stay full and hydrated – No matter what kind of transport you use, it’s important to stock up on food and water, although Western-style supermarkets can be found in Windhoek, Swakopmund, Walvis Bay, Luderitz, and other relatively large towns.
  • ATMs can only be found in main cities and towns – You will be able to withdraw cash in Windhoek, Swakopmund, Walvis Bay, and Luderitz, but we would be wary about being able to in other places. Make sure to have enough cash on you to make it to your next major destination, as credit cards aren’t widely accepted. Almost all places in Namibia accept the South African rand as well.
  • Prebook in the high season – Namibia’s high season runs from mid-May to mid-November, so we would recommend booking your accommodation for these months ahead of time. Even the campsites book up with overlanders. We visited in November and ran into problems a few times with hotels being at capacity.
  • Stay safe – Namibia is one of the safest countries in Africa. However, it is still a developing nation, and common sense should be utilized, especially in the capital of Windhoek, which in recent years has seen a rise in crime. Don’t show signs of wealth, use vigilance at night, and all should be OK.
  • Namibian national parks are affordable – We found that Namibia has some of the cheapest national parks in Africa. Etosha National Park, for example, is the largest and easily most recognized park in the country, with entrance fees costing as little as 80 NAD ($6 USD)! The wildlife spottings are fantastic in the dry season as well.
  • Take care of your electronics – The desert heat is no joke, and neither is the sand. Cameras, laptops, and even cellphones should be well protected from the dry air and dust that can easily find its way into the tiny crevices of your valuables.

When people ask us what country they should visit in Africa, Namibia is always at the top of our list. There is just something about seeing the stars twinkle in the desert night without a soul around.

Even though we had a month in the country, we still felt we could have delved way deeper into the remote parts and explored more. The country is vast and has so many interesting things to offer, we can’t wait to return!

Natasha and Cameron run the blog The World Pursuit, focusing on adventure and cultural travel. The two of them met in the film industry before they decided to abandon the American lifestyle and travel the world together. They’ve been traveling together for three years across 55 countries and six continents.  They recently bought a 4×4 at the tip of Africa and are traversing the continent while documenting their story on Instagram and Facebook

Photo Credit: 1,3

The post How to Travel Around Namibia on a Budget appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

Learning to Live like a Local in France

Posted from https://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-blogs/france-sharing-economy-travel/

A chateaux in France and the surrounding gardens
Earlier this year, I went to Paris, saw it though the lens of the 1920s, and wrote about how traveling with a theme can spice up and add focus to your trip. Narrowing your focus helps you go deeper.

Last month I went back to France and again wanted to travel with a theme. But, instead of focusing on only Jazz Age attractions, eating French food, visiting modern art museums, drinking at bars that start with the letter Q, or whatever, my theme would be a style of travel, something a little broader. I’d be traveling using only (at least when possible) the sharing economy, the term given to the plethora of websites designed to connect travelers with locals, offer more unique experiences, and make travel more affordable.

While I’ve used the sharing the economy frequently before (I am a big fan), they have never the primary focus of my entire trip. I usually add a few activities in while I’m being a normal tourist seeing the main attractions.

But this trip was going to be different. My plan was to rely on Airbnb for accommodation, Couchsurfing for meetups, BlaBlaCar for transportation, EatWith and VizEat for meals, and Vayable and greeter programs (programs run by tourism boards that set you up with a local guide) for activities.

I wanted to get off the tourist trail, meet more locals, and (hopefully) learn more about a country I love so much.

But I also wondered: Would this be the best way to meet people? How much cheaper is it, really, to use only the sharing economy? Would it be more work? Would I even like using the sharing economy all the time?

So, with those questions in mind, I found myself waiting on a street corner in a random section of Paris for Justine, my BlaBlaCar driver, for the one hour ride to Orléans. I was little nervous. Not because of where I was, but because all her responses to my messages had been in French, and I was worried we wouldn’t end up talking much. I was right. After making some initial small talk with her and the other rider, we exhausted their English and my French and they just spoke French to each other while I buried my nose in a book. I can’t blame them though. It’s a lot easier to speak in your native tongue than grasp for words in a language you don’t know well.

a bright field in France on a sunny day

So my two-week trip with the sharing economy began not with an exciting social bang, but a simple, polite whimper.

The rest of the two weeks? The results were mixed (and depended a lot on the service I was using).

In Orléans, my Airbnb hosts were young graphic designers, super accommodating, helpful, and had an excellent tea selection. However, they spoke little English, weren’t so keen to hang out, and mostly left me alone. But their home was beautiful. They lived in an old medieval house and I loved the ancient hardwood floors, exposed beams, and tiny staircase that gave the place a real sense of history.

In Tours, I quickly left my first place (they smoked) and found myself with Anne Marie and Patrick, an older couple who proved that the third time is often the charm. They cooked me breakfast (including adding a candle to my croissant on my birthday), and were incredibly friendly and polite. We swapped stories (they recently returned from a trip to the States and were in love with the $2 bill, Whole Foods, and the national parks) and laughed over a shared bottle of wine. To me, they embodied what Airbnb is really about and ended up extending my stay with them. (If you find yourself in Tours, I highly recommend staying with them.)

In each destination (and I went to many), I fired up the Couchsurfing app — but often found no one around to hang out with. In Orléans, Bloise, and Amboise, there was no one on the app. Sometimes Couchsurfing requires a shotgun approach, so I basically fired off emails to about a dozen hosts in Tours to see who wanted to hang out and ended meeting two people for drinks.

In Lyon, I had much better luck (it is the second largest city in France, after all). The app always showed activities and people interested in meet-ups. I had dinner with a few people, drinks with another small group, and spent a day in the park with even more. I met a local psychologist, a recent college grad touring his own country, a Syrian refugee from Aleppo (which I found to be an enlightening – and very depressing – experience), a fun Dane, and a Japanese tourist who wanted to be a farmer. They filled my time with laughter, fun, and insights.

Travelers meeting in France

The meal-sharing apps were hit and miss. EatWith, BonAppetour, VizEat, and AirDine always came back empty in smaller cities. There were just no hosts. I eventually found two last-minute hosts on VizEat in Lyon: one, a jazz musician, cooked me an awesome burger, and the other, a Thai guy and his boyfriend, made some delicious Thai food.

In terms of looking for fun things to do, Vayable yielded no results. I even branched out into other sites, like Withlocals and Airbnb Experiences, but those were all duds too. I was left to play the traditional tourist, though I did spend my last morning in Lyon walking around with a retired teacher from the Global Greeters program.

As for transportation, I used BlaBlaCar three times. After a few pleasantries to the driver in terrible French and English, or trying to speak in Spanish (a bridge language with a few drivers, as I spoke no French and they spoke no English), the conversation typically went silent as the driver and their passenger talked to each other in French and I found myself staring out the window or at a book.

As I left Lyon to fly back to States, I started to have mixed feelings about the sharing economy.

First, it’s not convenient. You’re dealing with people, not companies, and people have things pop up. Life gets in the way, so you can have encounter cancellations, delays, rejections, and odd meeting times. It’s not as simple as checking into a hostel or hotel or just buying a ticket for the train. You have to work around people’s schedules, which can often waste a lot of your day.

Second, it’s not always cheaper. While BlaBlaCar and Airbnb were much cheaper than traditional accommodation and transportation, listed meals tended to cost 30% or more than those found at a restaurant. And the listed tours were quite pricy too, often rivaling traditional tour companies. While there was the odd meal or activity that was cheap (though never available), the money saved using Airbnb or BlaBlaCar was eaten up (pun intended) by VizEat.

Third, it’s hit or miss. Every time we passed through a smaller town (or even a medium sized one), I would fire up the apps to see what was going on and — crickets. I probably would have had more luck if I had lined more hosts (at least on Couchsurfing) in advance but who can say?! That’s just a guess.

Using the sharing economy in France

Finally, it’s very time consuming to research dozens of rideshares, meal hosts, tours, Couchsurfing hosts and events, and Airbnb listings. I probably spent a good eight hours altogether researching everything. It’s one thing to book one or two things using the sharing economy; it’s another to need to look through hundreds of potential Couchsurfing hosts, meals, activities, and hangouts every day.

Sidenote: One thing I didn’t like about BlaBlaCar in particular was the highways. I had envisioned this as a great way to talk (nope) and see the countryside (nope). Since most people are going from point A to point B and are in a rush, they stick to the highways. That isn’t to say this happens all the time, but I enjoyed the trains more, because I could see more of the countryside.

After using the sharing economy for two weeks, I don’t think I would devote so much of another trip to doing so. You can count me in for BlaBlaCar when I’m in expensive countries and major cities (though I would also try to find drivers who spoke English), the Couchsurfing app is going to continue to live on my phone (the hangout feature is golden), and I’ll use VizEat and EatWith in larger cities, as they led to some amazing experiences (one VizEat host took me to a French hip-hop jazz concert, and the other was just friendly as hell — and Thai, so we bonded over that!). Airbnb, despite its hiccups, is still also my preferred way to travel. I’m also not ready to fully declare the meal sharing and activity services as more expensive. They could be cheaper in other destinations. More research is required.

But, in the end, the sharing economy is not the panacea I thought it was and still has some growing pains (there should be a penalty for hosts who cancel last minute, not vice versa!). I won’t spend as much time researching and trying to find hosts or events. The time I spent sitting at my computer would have been better used outside doing something.

Yet still, for all its faults, the sharing economy is an interesting way to travel and meet locals. I may not devote an entire trip to it again but there’s no way I’ll abandon it completely.

The post Learning to Live like a Local in France appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

Posted from https://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-blogs/france-sharing-economy-travel/

A chateaux in France and the surrounding gardens
Earlier this year, I went to Paris, saw it though the lens of the 1920s, and wrote about how traveling with a theme can spice up and add focus to your trip. Narrowing your focus helps you go deeper.

Last month I went back to France and again wanted to travel with a theme. But, instead of focusing on only Jazz Age attractions, eating French food, visiting modern art museums, drinking at bars that start with the letter Q, or whatever, my theme would be a style of travel, something a little broader. I’d be traveling using only (at least when possible) the sharing economy, the term given to the plethora of websites designed to connect travelers with locals, offer more unique experiences, and make travel more affordable.

While I’ve used the sharing the economy frequently before (I am a big fan), they have never the primary focus of my entire trip. I usually add a few activities in while I’m being a normal tourist seeing the main attractions.

But this trip was going to be different. My plan was to rely on Airbnb for accommodation, Couchsurfing for meetups, BlaBlaCar for transportation, EatWith and VizEat for meals, and Vayable and greeter programs (programs run by tourism boards that set you up with a local guide) for activities.

I wanted to get off the tourist trail, meet more locals, and (hopefully) learn more about a country I love so much.

But I also wondered: Would this be the best way to meet people? How much cheaper is it, really, to use only the sharing economy? Would it be more work? Would I even like using the sharing economy all the time?

So, with those questions in mind, I found myself waiting on a street corner in a random section of Paris for Justine, my BlaBlaCar driver, for the one hour ride to Orléans. I was little nervous. Not because of where I was, but because all her responses to my messages had been in French, and I was worried we wouldn’t end up talking much. I was right. After making some initial small talk with her and the other rider, we exhausted their English and my French and they just spoke French to each other while I buried my nose in a book. I can’t blame them though. It’s a lot easier to speak in your native tongue than grasp for words in a language you don’t know well.

a bright field in France on a sunny day

So my two-week trip with the sharing economy began not with an exciting social bang, but a simple, polite whimper.

The rest of the two weeks? The results were mixed (and depended a lot on the service I was using).

In Orléans, my Airbnb hosts were young graphic designers, super accommodating, helpful, and had an excellent tea selection. However, they spoke little English, weren’t so keen to hang out, and mostly left me alone. But their home was beautiful. They lived in an old medieval house and I loved the ancient hardwood floors, exposed beams, and tiny staircase that gave the place a real sense of history.

In Tours, I quickly left my first place (they smoked) and found myself with Anne Marie and Patrick, an older couple who proved that the third time is often the charm. They cooked me breakfast (including adding a candle to my croissant on my birthday), and were incredibly friendly and polite. We swapped stories (they recently returned from a trip to the States and were in love with the $2 bill, Whole Foods, and the national parks) and laughed over a shared bottle of wine. To me, they embodied what Airbnb is really about and ended up extending my stay with them. (If you find yourself in Tours, I highly recommend staying with them.)

In each destination (and I went to many), I fired up the Couchsurfing app — but often found no one around to hang out with. In Orléans, Bloise, and Amboise, there was no one on the app. Sometimes Couchsurfing requires a shotgun approach, so I basically fired off emails to about a dozen hosts in Tours to see who wanted to hang out and ended meeting two people for drinks.

In Lyon, I had much better luck (it is the second largest city in France, after all). The app always showed activities and people interested in meet-ups. I had dinner with a few people, drinks with another small group, and spent a day in the park with even more. I met a local psychologist, a recent college grad touring his own country, a Syrian refugee from Aleppo (which I found to be an enlightening – and very depressing – experience), a fun Dane, and a Japanese tourist who wanted to be a farmer. They filled my time with laughter, fun, and insights.

Travelers meeting in France

The meal-sharing apps were hit and miss. EatWith, BonAppetour, VizEat, and AirDine always came back empty in smaller cities. There were just no hosts. I eventually found two last-minute hosts on VizEat in Lyon: one, a jazz musician, cooked me an awesome burger, and the other, a Thai guy and his boyfriend, made some delicious Thai food.

In terms of looking for fun things to do, Vayable yielded no results. I even branched out into other sites, like Withlocals and Airbnb Experiences, but those were all duds too. I was left to play the traditional tourist, though I did spend my last morning in Lyon walking around with a retired teacher from the Global Greeters program.

As for transportation, I used BlaBlaCar three times. After a few pleasantries to the driver in terrible French and English, or trying to speak in Spanish (a bridge language with a few drivers, as I spoke no French and they spoke no English), the conversation typically went silent as the driver and their passenger talked to each other in French and I found myself staring out the window or at a book.

As I left Lyon to fly back to States, I started to have mixed feelings about the sharing economy.

First, it’s not convenient. You’re dealing with people, not companies, and people have things pop up. Life gets in the way, so you can have encounter cancellations, delays, rejections, and odd meeting times. It’s not as simple as checking into a hostel or hotel or just buying a ticket for the train. You have to work around people’s schedules, which can often waste a lot of your day.

Second, it’s not always cheaper. While BlaBlaCar and Airbnb were much cheaper than traditional accommodation and transportation, listed meals tended to cost 30% or more than those found at a restaurant. And the listed tours were quite pricy too, often rivaling traditional tour companies. While there was the odd meal or activity that was cheap (though never available), the money saved using Airbnb or BlaBlaCar was eaten up (pun intended) by VizEat.

Third, it’s hit or miss. Every time we passed through a smaller town (or even a medium sized one), I would fire up the apps to see what was going on and — crickets. I probably would have had more luck if I had lined more hosts (at least on Couchsurfing) in advance but who can say?! That’s just a guess.

Using the sharing economy in France

Finally, it’s very time consuming to research dozens of rideshares, meal hosts, tours, Couchsurfing hosts and events, and Airbnb listings. I probably spent a good eight hours altogether researching everything. It’s one thing to book one or two things using the sharing economy; it’s another to need to look through hundreds of potential Couchsurfing hosts, meals, activities, and hangouts every day.

Sidenote: One thing I didn’t like about BlaBlaCar in particular was the highways. I had envisioned this as a great way to talk (nope) and see the countryside (nope). Since most people are going from point A to point B and are in a rush, they stick to the highways. That isn’t to say this happens all the time, but I enjoyed the trains more, because I could see more of the countryside.

After using the sharing economy for two weeks, I don’t think I would devote so much of another trip to doing so. You can count me in for BlaBlaCar when I’m in expensive countries and major cities (though I would also try to find drivers who spoke English), the Couchsurfing app is going to continue to live on my phone (the hangout feature is golden), and I’ll use VizEat and EatWith in larger cities, as they led to some amazing experiences (one VizEat host took me to a French hip-hop jazz concert, and the other was just friendly as hell — and Thai, so we bonded over that!). Airbnb, despite its hiccups, is still also my preferred way to travel. I’m also not ready to fully declare the meal sharing and activity services as more expensive. They could be cheaper in other destinations. More research is required.

But, in the end, the sharing economy is not the panacea I thought it was and still has some growing pains (there should be a penalty for hosts who cancel last minute, not vice versa!). I won’t spend as much time researching and trying to find hosts or events. The time I spent sitting at my computer would have been better used outside doing something.

Yet still, for all its faults, the sharing economy is an interesting way to travel and meet locals. I may not devote an entire trip to it again but there’s no way I’ll abandon it completely.

The post Learning to Live like a Local in France appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

Top tips for drinking great wine in Meribel

Posted from http://www.aluxurytravelblog.com/2017/07/14/top-tips-for-drinking-great-wine-in-meribel/

You’ve raced down the last red run into the village and your thighs are telling you it really is time to stop for the day. Your head wants to go back up again and just do one last run, but your thirst is great and that first beer awaits just across the road. It’s a […]

Top tips for drinking great wine in Meribel is a post from A Luxury Travel Blog

The post Top tips for drinking great wine in Meribel appeared first on A Luxury Travel Blog.

Posted from http://www.aluxurytravelblog.com/2017/07/14/top-tips-for-drinking-great-wine-in-meribel/

You’ve raced down the last red run into the village and your thighs are telling you it really is time to stop for the day. Your head wants to go back up again and just do one last run, but your thirst is great and that first beer awaits just across the road. It’s a […]

Top tips for drinking great wine in Meribel is a post from A Luxury Travel Blog

The post Top tips for drinking great wine in Meribel appeared first on A Luxury Travel Blog.

Top 5 gin bars in Barcelona

Posted from http://www.aluxurytravelblog.com/2017/07/12/top-5-gin-bars-in-barcelona/

From underground clubs to classy rooftops, Irish pubs and beach boozers, there is no shortage of bars in this eclectic city. But no matter what dance floor or bar stool you find yourself on, the menu at any bar is sure to have one thing a gin and tonic. Whether you’re a newcomer or a […]

Top 5 gin bars in Barcelona is a post from A Luxury Travel Blog

The post Top 5 gin bars in Barcelona appeared first on A Luxury Travel Blog.

Posted from http://www.aluxurytravelblog.com/2017/07/12/top-5-gin-bars-in-barcelona/

From underground clubs to classy rooftops, Irish pubs and beach boozers, there is no shortage of bars in this eclectic city. But no matter what dance floor or bar stool you find yourself on, the menu at any bar is sure to have one thing a gin and tonic. Whether you’re a newcomer or a […]

Top 5 gin bars in Barcelona is a post from A Luxury Travel Blog

The post Top 5 gin bars in Barcelona appeared first on A Luxury Travel Blog.