Traveling to 12 countries in a year, I learned a lot of tricks to traveling internationally. If you’re dreaming of a winter getaway to a faraway land, I have some international travel tips along with three destinations that are perfect for winter, or any time of the year!
Before You Go Tips:
Research where you’re going to know some culture etiquette and a few words in the local language. I’ve found being able to say hello, good morning, good evening, goodbye in multiple languages works wonders when traveling. It’s a small effort to learn a few words before your trip, but will have huge payoffs.
Err on the side of conservative with clothing. In other words, leave the short shorts and minis at home! I always travel with capris to cover my knees and at least one shawl to cover shoulders, which is necessary to visit cathedrals.
Pull all of your clothes and gear then take out at least 10-20%. Traveling lighter is always better. I take Woolite travel size pouches so I can do a load of laundry if there’s a washer or can hand wash in the sink. Traveling so much I’ve cut way down on what I take. Black pants are lifesavers! My favorite is the Metro pant from Athleta. They are part of my usual “Travel UniformTravel Uniform.” For longer trips I’m a fan of packing cubes. If you’re interested in how I pack, check out my blog “9 Days in Central America With Only 2 Backpacks.”
Be Patient – The rest of the world doesn’t move at the mock speed of the United States. Relish in it. Take the siesta or enjoy a longer lunch. Get into the groove of the culture you’re visiting.
Roll With It – Mishaps and miscommunication happens when traveling. Just roll with it. Being kind and understanding goes a lot farther in getting to a resolution rather than showing an err of entitlement. In others words – don’t be rude and don’t be a jerk.
Ask Questions – This is my biggest tip while traveling. If you don’t know something ask! You’re less likely to offend someone by asking a question or being inquisitive about someone’s culture. I’ve found most folks are more than happy to share a little bit about their culture and customs with you. Asking questions will make you an enlightened traveler. Plus, locals will likely share some sort of local gem for you to go check out.
Here’s the segment I did on the Everyday Show on Fox 31 Denver (KDVR) this week.
TIP 1: Go with an Adventure Tour Group
I’m usually a solo traveler or with only a few people, but a 9-day tour through Belize and Guatemala with G Adventures changed my thinking on adventure tours. G Adventures uses CEOs, or Chief Experience Officers, to lead the tours. That person helps get you from place to place and offers suggestions on what to do in each place. When you do an excursion, the guide is local from that town or area. I had really wanted to visit Belize and Guatemala and the Classic Belize and Tikal 9-day tour looked super intriguing to me. On the trip, we visited the Tikal Mayan ruins and picturesque town of Flores in Guatemala; then went cave tubing, hiking around Caracol Mayan ruins, soaked in natural pools and hiked to a waterfall in San Ignacio; then caught the island vibe in Caye Caulker with snorkeling, flying over the Blue Hole, and going on a study led tour with Bike with Purpose, which is one of the 68 project partners with Planeterra in 41 countries. I loved seeing the island through high schoolers’ eyes, learning a little creole, and knowing the kids were making money for their future by taking us on the tour.
Here are just a few of the benefits of traveling with an adventure tour group while traveling with G Adventures: small groups (generally less than 16 people, we had 11 plus CEO on mine), meet travelers from all over the world, tours for any budget from basic tours where you stay in hostel like accommodations to high end tours in their partnership with National Geographic Journeys series, local guides for excursions, CEOs share their knowledge of local gems for dining and activities, and safety
One note about traveling in Belize. While I felt safe the entire time on my trip with G Adventures, I would suggest limiting time in Belize City because of crime there. The rest of Belize and into Guatemala are safe!
TIP 2: TRAVEL TO SAFE COUNTRIES
Switzerland, Austria, Finland and Japan are always ranked as some of safest countries in the world. Usually topping the list is Iceland, or as I found out the land of waterfalls & geysers. Traveling to safe countries is a biggie, especially if traveling solo or with just one or two other people or if you’re not an experienced traveler. My cousin Susan and I went over her spring break in March. We took advantage of Icelandair’s direct flight from Denver.
We used Reykjavik as our base for our 5 day trip. In the city you have to take the elevator up the tower of Hallgrims Cathedral to see the view of the colorful rooftops. Many folks have the Blue Lagoon on their Iceland travel list. We did too, but of everything we did I found it to be the biggest tourist trap. It’s worth going to once, just know you’re going to have to deal with some crowds. It’s kindof like the Disney World of Iceland. For a Golden Circle tour, I researched and found Moonwalker. Not only was owner/tour guide Bessi an absolute hoot, he shared with us the waterfalls, geysers, and even Iceland’s extreme weather weather with us. The winds that day meant we couldn’t snowmobile or hiking inside the glacier, but Bessi made our adventure unforgettable. Something else you have to do in Iceland is snorkel or dive between tectonic plates. Silfra is the only place in the world where you can do this. Instead of going with the biggest outfitter on the island, I found boutique outfitter Diving Island. We booked the first snorkel of the day and were treated to having the experience all to ourselves. My cousin was super nervous about it, but literally within 30 seconds in the water, she was off exploring and loving it. The water temperature stays about 37° so you can only stay in the water for 25 minutes, even in the dry suits provided. As we were walking back to our car, the larger tour operator was bringing folks to snorkel in multiple groups. I’m sure their experience was great too, but going with a boutique outfitter meant we got an extra special experience. Winter best time to see Northern Lights. We saw them from plane luckily because the weather didn’t cooperate for us to see them in Iceland even though we tried a couple of times with outfitter Happy World. Anita and her crew worked really hard, but seeing the Northern Lights is like storm chasing. You may or may not see them. I feel like not seeing them was Iceland’s way of saying you have to come back! I would 100% book again with these three outfitters and highly recommend you do too if you’re traveling to Iceland.
*Note: Flights are cheap to Iceland, but be prepared for sticker shock. Food is expensive. Lobster soup is $20. That’s right – soup is $20! Drinks also ran close to $20 each. So do what we did. Book a hotel stay to include breakfast. We stayed at Hotel Reykjavik Centrum and took advantage of their wonderful breakfast buffet. That would tide us over until we did linner (late lunch/early dinner).
TIP 3: GO TO THE LESSER TRAVELED AREA IN REGION
Southeast Asia is a hot destination right now, but instead of going to uber popular Thailand, I traveled with some of my cousins in Cambodia. It as an unforgettable coast to temples adventure. After flying into Phnom Penh, I immediately took a taxi with one of my cousins and his girlfriend to the beach and fishing village of Sihanoukville. From there we took a ferry the next day to Koh Rong and stayed in a $75 bungalow with Paradise Bungalows, while across from the island there’s a resort where rooms run over $1500 a night. The island sunrises and sunsets were amazing and so was the quaint fishing village we found. We only spent two nights on the island – not nearly enough time! We taxied back to Phnom Penh to meet our other cousins. Riding in a tuk tuk is a must in Cambodia or any asian country. The driving is insane! If you want to see what it’s like check out my blog “Driving in Cambodia.” During our one full day in Phnom Penh, we took time to learn about the past. I remembered a little bit of the Khmer Rouge genocide in the late 1970s, but after touring the S-21 prison where only 7 survived out of the 14,000-20,000 that entered the prison, I learned a lot more in what was one of the most difficult but educational travel days I’ve ever done. As I was coming out of the prison I met one of the 7 survivors. He greeted me with the kindest eyes as I burst into tears over learning the torture he and others endured in S-21. Out of the seven of us, only three made the trek to the Killing Fields, the mass grave site of some of the at least 1.7 million people who died in 1975-79 in Cambodia. The Killing Fields is now a serene, very reflective place. Somehow I found peace there after feeling the horror of S-21 prison. The history lesson I learned that day is far beyond any textbook could have taught me. To switch gears for something happier and more lively, we headed to the night market where my dinner cost only $1.75! We dined on rugs laid out on the ground, sipped a sugarcane drink, and wandered in and out of the shopping stalls. The next day we took a van to Siem Reap, which is a lively city too. Definitely wander the night market and day market here. We spent the next day at Angkor Wat, the ancient temples built in first half of 12th century (113-5BC). We got up early to catch sunrise then explore other other temples in complex like Ta Prohm, where “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” was filmed. I could have spent days exploring Angkor Wat. One day was not enough.
Couple of notes for Cambodia: Book AirBnBs. They are definitely the cheapest way to go. Ask AirBnB hosts to help arrange drivers too. We did that in Siem Reap and had the same driver the entire time we were there. Taxis and food are cheap. The taxi from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville for 3 of us was $60 for a close to 3 hour drive and for all 7 of us from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, also about 3 hours and included a lunch stop, was about $160. Remember it’s a 3rd world country. My biggest shocker was leaving the airport and seeing lots of trash and plastic water bottles piled up along side the roads, something that is common in 3rd world countries.
Here’s the segment I did on international travel tips and winter destinations for ABC 4 Utah.