SmarterTravel https://www.smartertravel.com The Best Trips Start Here Sat, 23 Sep 2017 00:17:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.2 The Best (and Worst) Days for Holiday Travel 2017 https://www.smartertravel.com/2017/09/22/best-days-holiday-travel-2017/ https://www.smartertravel.com/2017/09/22/best-days-holiday-travel-2017/#respond Fri, 22 Sep 2017 17:50:34 +0000 https://www.smartertravel.com/?p=188703 When experts name the “best” days to travel, they usually name the days airfares are lowest—which often aren’t optimal for most people once you factor in personal convenience and schedule constraints. There’s typically a reason why these ones are the slower travel days. All you really need to conclude the best days for holiday travel […]

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When experts name the “best” days to travel, they usually name the days airfares are lowest—which often aren’t optimal for most people once you factor in personal convenience and schedule constraints. There’s typically a reason why these ones are the slower travel days.

All you really need to conclude the best days for holiday travel this year is a calendar. And while this talk is usually about “best” days, it’s better to work backwards: Focus on identifying the worst holiday travel days (read: busiest and most expensive) based on the days of the week, and try to fly on one of those outlying days.

Here are the flying days to keep in mind for holiday travel 2017.

Thanksgiving Holiday Travel 2017

By now, just about everybody has heard this conventional travel wisdom: Thanksgiving weekend is the busiest time of the year for airlines. The worst days to fly are the Wednesday before Thanksgiving (this year, November 22) and the following Sunday (this year, November 26).

For the few days before the 23rd and the few days after the 25th, low-fare seats will be scarce. So, the further away from these days you can travel, the better. Low-fare seats are often more available on Thanksgiving Day and the next day, when everyone is relaxing after the Thursday meal and/or looking for Black Friday shopping deals.

Canadian Thanksgiving is on Monday, October 9, so the worst days will likely be Friday, October 6, and Tuesday, October 10. And just the same, the few days leading up to and following those days will be busy.

Christmas and New Year’s Holiday Travel 2017

The biggest year-end holidays fall on Mondays in 2017, making for a plethora of “worst” holiday travel days. For Christmas they’re Friday, December 22, plus the 23rd and 24th. For New Year’s avoid Friday, the 29th, and Tuesday, January 2nd. Travel on the interim days is usually down a bit from these peak days, because many travelers like to combine the two three-day weekends into a 10-day holiday to use up those leftover vacation days. So, you can likely find some good deals during that period.

When to Buy for Holiday Travel 2017

But, be sensible. Sure, if you’re flying, you want to find good deals—but don’t let the airlines dictate your holiday. Always keep in mind those days you really want to be at your destination, not flying, and finalize your fares somewhat early.

Previous reports have found that airfares rise from their lowest point only gradually until three to four weeks before the holiday period begins. Finding them will only continue to get tougher after a certain point as the holidays approach. Check the available airfares early, and, as Airfarewatchdog‘s George Hobica often advises: “When you find a good deal, pounce.”

If you’re heading to a popular holiday destination such as Hawaii, Florida, or Vegas, remember to check for air-hotel packages. Packages often remain available and affordable well after cheap airline seats are gone.

More from SmarterTravel:

Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.

 

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Canada 150: Scenic Shorelines in Newfoundland and Labrador https://www.smartertravel.com/2017/09/22/canada-150-newfoundland-and-labrador/ https://www.smartertravel.com/2017/09/22/canada-150-newfoundland-and-labrador/#respond Fri, 22 Sep 2017 15:10:59 +0000 https://www.smartertravel.com/?p=188656 This year our national neighbors to the north celebrate their 150th anniversary and we’ll be celebrating with them as they do. Each month we’ll focus on one part of their magnificent country and share it with you. From the sky-high trees and brown bears in British Columbia to the kitchen parties and salmon streams in […]

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This year our national neighbors to the north celebrate their 150th anniversary and we’ll be celebrating with them as they do. Each month we’ll focus on one part of their magnificent country and share it with you. From the sky-high trees and brown bears in British Columbia to the kitchen parties and salmon streams in the Maritimes, our toast to Canada will give you well over 150 reasons to make this the year you take the trip. This month we’re exploring tiny towns and Viking lore in Newfoundland.

Canada 150: Newfoundland and Labrador

Newfoundland and Labrador are having a moment.

Canada’s easternmost province has long attracted nature lovers, but in recent years its popularity has grown to include a big pop-culture following as well.

From the jet setting, celebrity clientele that have developed a passion for the decadent pleasures of Fogo Island, to the art lovers who fell in love with Tony-Award winning musical Come from Away, the true-to-life depiction of Canadian compassion for those stranded after 9/11, tourists of all stripes are finding what they’re after on The Rock.

Whether you choose to explore Gander, St. John’s, or Bonavista in the east; the French Shore, Corner Brook, or Norris Point in the west; or the rocky coast of its provincial partner Labrador in the north, the only thing you’ll find is missing is enough time to see it all on one visit.

The City: St. John’s

If there is such a thing as a big city vibe in Newfoundland, St. John’s is it. The province’s capital city is also the country’s oldest. Wander its narrow streets, pop into the shops run by locals, and enjoy the city as an easy entry point to all things maritime. Hike Signal Hill for views that have stood the test of time. Succumb to the fishing-town feel of historic Quidi Vidi Village Plantation. Or wander along Jellybean Row—so named for the brightly colored houses that dot the waterfront. Your big-city fixes will come by way of the incredible art at The Rooms (the province’s largest public cultural space, and home to the provincial art gallery), fantastic dining (try Mallard Cottage and Raymonds) and local pubs on George Street that are perfect place to get your official welcome to Newfoundland—a “pucker your lips and kiss the cod” Screech-in.

Why Now Is the Perfect Time to Go

Weather and space: It’s cooler than you might find in other areas of the country this month, but not so cold that you’ll need your mitts and boots. Fall offers smaller crowds and greater access to some of the destinations that are hotbeds for summertime visitors.

Family Favorites: If you’re traveling with little ones, you’ll be rewarded with plenty of options to keep them engaged. At the Bonne Bay Marine Centre in Norris Point, they can get hands-on with a giant sea snail or spiny urchin.  The teaching and research center operated by Memorial University is a great educational opportunity and at the Newfoundland Insectarium, where exotic butterflies and insects from around the world make for a fun-filled afternoon.

Road Trips: Fall weather is perfect for a scenic drive out along the Viking Trail, where you can stop and explore the small towns on the Western Shore, home to incredible stories of individuals who sacrificed, made bold decisions, and affected an entire province. Among the must-sees: The Greenfell Interpretation Center, a museum and home in Saint Anthony that tells the story of the English doctor whose life’s work was to improve the medical care to the area’s impoverished coastal inhabitants. His efforts eventually led to the creation of hospitals, schools, and orphanages across the region. Also worth a peek is The Bennett House, a registered heritage structure in Daniel’s Harbour that was the home of Nurse Myra Bennet, the “Florence Nightingale of the North.” This intrepid woman was the only medical professional for a nearly 200-mile range for more than 50 years.

The Quirky Fun of the French Shore: Continue the history lessons in the tiny town of Conche at the French Shore Interpretation Centre, where the French Shore Tapestry—an over 200-foot long, hand-embroidered panel—tells the history of the region with all the humorous and rambunctious style Newfoundland is known for.

Lighthouse Visits: Each lighthouse that dots the shoreline of the island has their own incredible story and many even allow you to venture inside to learn about the families who originally ran them. Such as Lobster Cove Head Lighthouse on the edge of Gros Morne National Park in beautiful Rocky Harbour (built in 1897) and the Rose Blanche Lighthouse (just east of Port aux Basques), which are sure to be favorites.

Why It’s Great Other Times of Year

The Water: With waves crashing all around the coastal harbors, travelers should make a point to get out on the water. BonTours on Bonne Bay offer fantastic views of the national park, as well as the tiny fishing communities alongside it. In this area, whales feast along the shorelines, which makes a tour in areas like Western Brook Pond or St. Anthony (try Northland Discovery tours) worthwhile.

The Winter: Winter enthusiasts can get their fill in Newfoundland and Labrador, with some areas of the province receiving as much as 16 feet of snow each year. Skiing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling are all a part of the winter sports season. Try spots like Marble Mountain, with its 1,700-foot vertical drop, and Labrador’s  Smokey Mountain Ski Club which has 100 percent natural snow and offers the longest ski season in the Atlantic Canada region.

Crafts: You’ll find small shops with local crafts throughout the province, but the Annual Burin Peninsula Arts Council Craft Fair in Marystown is the largest. This November marks the fair’s 30th anniversary, so expect to find local musicians, great food and plenty of souvenir options.

Head North for Icebergs: Iceberg Alley stretches from the coast of Labrador to the southeast coast of the island of Newfoundland. Keep an eye open for the mammoth pieces of ice either from the shore of from a tour boat in spots like Battle Harbour, Red Bay, St. Anthony, Cape Spear, and more. The icebergs come through Iceberg Alley from spring to early summer and late May and early June offer the best views.

The Festivals: As soon as the snow starts to melt, Newfoundlanders take to the streets to make the most of sunny days and friendly neighbors. Festivals run throughout the year but the ones you won’t want to miss include the George Street Festival, five days of “music and drink” in August, the writer’s festival in Woody Point, Regatta day (August 7), a civic holiday and marked with a regatta complete with a full-fledged celebration in Quidi Vidi, and the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival, also in August, showcases local and international talent for a foot-tapping good time.

If You Go Don’t Miss…

The Vikings: Anthropologists believe Vikings landed here and explored Newfoundland at about 1000 A.D. At L’Anse aux Meadows—a national historic site at the northernmost tip of the Viking Trail—you can even step into the re-created spaces they once roamed. Famous Viking Leif Eriksson was said to have used the area as a base camp, and with costumed interpreters, Parks Canada guides offer a glimpse into how they survived.

The National Park

Gros Morne National Park: It might take weeks to fully explore this 700-square-mile park, but it would be time well spent. Use whatever time you can spare to visit this protected land, which is also a designated UNESCO World Heritage site. Explorers should start at the Discovery Centre where films, Parks Canada interpreters, and detailed information boards outline the hiking options and guided experiences. The other must: A visit to the Tablelands. These towering, rust-colored mountains are one of the few places in the world where you can walk on the earth’s mantle core—a result of shifting tectonic plates crashing together millions of years ago. You don’t have to be a geologist to grasp the magnitude of the harsh surroundings and the contrast of the lush green fauna, inland fjords, and colorful villages that wind around them.

More from SmarterTravel:

Remember: National Parks and National Marine Conservation Areas are offering free admission all year as part of the celebration of Canada150. Request your free park pass here!

Heather Greenwood Davis is a lifestyle journalist and a National Geographic Travel columnist. Follow her on Twitter @greenwooddavis or keep up with her family’s adventures on GlobeTrottingMama.com

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6 Weird Tours You Couldn’t Pay Us to Take https://www.smartertravel.com/2017/09/22/weird-tours-you-couldnt-pay-us-to-take/ https://www.smartertravel.com/2017/09/22/weird-tours-you-couldnt-pay-us-to-take/#respond Fri, 22 Sep 2017 13:12:37 +0000 https://www.smartertravel.com/?p=188628 Bored with tours that sample the best regional cuisine, or promise to show you some of the world’s best art? Swap out those passé attractions for one of these weird tours that promise death, trash, sewage, forced labor, and more—for a price. Weird Tours #1: Helter Skelter Tour (California) (Photo: TripAdvisor, LLC) California vacations evoke […]

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Bored with tours that sample the best regional cuisine, or promise to show you some of the world’s best art? Swap out those passé attractions for one of these weird tours that promise death, trash, sewage, forced labor, and more—for a price.

Weird Tours #1: Helter Skelter Tour (California)

(Photo: TripAdvisor, LLC)

California vacations evoke images of wine tasting, beaches, and palm trees. Want to forget all that to instead to gawk at tragedy? Dearly Departed Tours’ Helter Skelter tour exploits murder victims by taking tourists on a three-hour tour through the sites where the Tate and LaBianca murders were carried out by the Manson Family. But don’t worry, your $75 ticket price includes a $5 donation to the Doris Tate Crime Victim Foundation and gets you a piece of rock from the Tate house fireplace.

Weird Tours #2: Border Crossing Tour (Mexico)

(Photo: TripAdvisor, LLC)

In between kayaking, abseiling, and zip-lining at Mexico’s EcoAlberto you can take a fake tour through a simulated border crossing between Mexico and the United States. Rather than being a fun attraction, this Night Walk tour is designed to deter young people from attempting to cross the border.

Weird Tours #3: Labor Tour (North Korea)

Would it surprise you to know that North Korea has an official tourism website? If you haven’t been following it, you could be missing out on one of their “interesting labor tours” in which Kim Jong-un invites tourists to help supplement his forced-labor operations by participating in rice planting, weeding, and fruit picking in North Korea. Sounds fun, and totally representative of a famine-stricken country. The tours are not specifically offered by North Korea, so you’ll have to find a third-party operator like Young Pioneer Tours to take you. Bad news for Americans: You’ll have to find another way to participate in grueling labor on your vacation, as the State Department recently banned American tourists from visiting North Korea.

Weird Tours #4: Rubbish Trips (London)

(Photo: TripAdvisor, LLC)

“Well, that trip was rubbish” is what organizers of London’s Rubbish Trip hope that you say as you leave their tour. This two-mile walk takes willing, paying participants on a two-mile walk past “historic dumps and landfills,” and promises to show you the “sounds and smells of the city’s waste.” Personally, I think you can get that for free walking down the sidewalk the night before trash day.

Weird Tours #5: Rolling with the Paparazzi Tour (California)

Ever wanted to stalk B-list celebrities? You can on the Rolling with the Paparazzi Tour, which pairs participants with Rick Mendoza, a professional paparazzo, for a three-hour hunt for famous people whom you can photograph without their consent.

Weird Tours #6: Loo Tours (London)

(Photo: TripAdvisor, LLC)

My absolute favorite tour descriptions are the ones that include that they are the “best and only” of something—like the London Loo Tours. This, unsurprisingly, is the only public-lavatory themed walking tour in London. Chose from the Original Loo Tour (tips on where public toilets are, plus “stories of intrigue”), the Bloomsbury Loo Tour (focuses on history), and Thomas Crapper: The Life and Times (a tour through one of history’s most famous plumbers’ former neighborhood).

More from SmarterTravel:

Caroline Morse has been on some weird tours during her travels but none as crazy as the ones above. Follow her on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline to see photos from around the world. 

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5 Popular Travel Scams to Avoid (and How) https://www.smartertravel.com/2017/09/21/popular-travel-scams/ https://www.smartertravel.com/2017/09/21/popular-travel-scams/#respond Thu, 21 Sep 2017 19:42:19 +0000 https://www.smartertravel.com/?p=188669 Whenever you travel, you risk falling victim to travel scams. That’s been true since Marco Polo, and while travel scams can affect anyone, knowing what to look for might help you avoid getting ripped off. The First National Bank of South Africa recently named some of the still-prevalent travel scams that anyone can encounter during […]

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Whenever you travel, you risk falling victim to travel scams. That’s been true since Marco Polo, and while travel scams can affect anyone, knowing what to look for might help you avoid getting ripped off.

The First National Bank of South Africa recently named some of the still-prevalent travel scams that anyone can encounter during travel planning or on the road—from hidden fees to fake guides. Here are some of the most popular travel scams, and how you can defend yourself from them.

Travel Scams to Avoid

The Travel Scam: Bogus Travel Agents

FNB reminds you not to trust a tour operator or packager you don’t know and can’t track easily through public records—especially with a big payment. An even more worrisome version of this scam in the U.S. is fake versions of websites: You search for a hotel or tour and get through to what looks like a legitimate website from a known company. But it isn’t: It’s a copy-cat version run by a scamster who paid a lot of money for a good search engine position. At best, after you make a payment, the hotel will honor your reservation—but probably at a higher price than you should have paid. At worst, you get nothing.

The Defense: Take a close look at the website’s URL. Unsure if it’s right? Do a new search to find the company’s homepage and compare it to the first half of the link—any rogue characters, numbers, or symbols might mean it’s a fake. You should also never pay for a service via wire transfer, or any other irreversible money-transfer system.

The Travel Scam: Currency Short-Changing

A longstanding travel scam relies on tourists’ unfamiliarity with a foreign currency. This can take various forms: counterfeit bills, miscounting change, mixing smaller bills into what should be a pile of larger notes, etc.

The Defense: Get to know the bills of any country you visit, and limit the amount of foreign currency you exchange and have with you at any time. Get your foreign currency from an ATM, and put all your big-ticket purchases on a credit card.

The Travel Scam: Counterfeit Event Tickets

These days, high-tech forging can make almost any piece of paper or cardboard look authentic. Don’t buy a high-priced ticket (or even a low-seeming one) to a sold-out event from someone on the street or via an uncommon website. You might be turned away at the gate.

The Defense: Buy from an authorized source—the box office or an online dealer that’s a verified reseller.

The Travel Scam: Fake Guides

Have you ever been walking in a tourist-frequented area and had someone approach you offering to be your guide? Of course, you would have no idea in this situation whether this person has any useful knowledge of the city, but you may be coaxed into a nearby store that they claim offers the “best” prices on local specialties.

The Defense: Pre-arrange a guide through an official tourism office or a local travel agency so you can compare prices and know what you’re getting. I once arranged the best local guide I ever had through an American Express agency. A university history professor showed us the fantastic National Museum of Damascus in Syria.

The Travel Scam: Credit Card Fraud

The First National Bank also zeroed in on one of many potential credit card fraud risks: The familiar “verification call” gambit. In this travel scam, within a few hours of checking into a hotel, you get a call from someone claiming to be at the front desk to “verify” the details of the card you used. Of course, that caller is a scammer with no connection to the hotel who just wants to get your card data.

The Defense: In this and any other situations, be highly suspicious of anyone who calls you asking for credit or debit card information, no matter how plausible the excuse may seem. Tell the caller you’ll be right down to settle the problem, and instead call a known number, like the hotel, to settle whatever account is involved.

More from SmarterTravel:

Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.

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What It’s Really Like to Quit Your Job to Volunteer Abroad https://www.smartertravel.com/2017/09/21/volunteer-abroad/ https://www.smartertravel.com/2017/09/21/volunteer-abroad/#respond Thu, 21 Sep 2017 17:45:33 +0000 https://www.smartertravel.com/?p=188650 Ever wonder what it would be like to drop everything, quit your job, and travel abroad indefinitely? It’s a pricey proposition, but adventurous travelers can bring down the cost by finding ways to volunteer abroad and travel. If you’re not sure if voluntourism is for you, or wondering where to begin, you’re not alone. I […]

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Ever wonder what it would be like to drop everything, quit your job, and travel abroad indefinitely? It’s a pricey proposition, but adventurous travelers can bring down the cost by finding ways to volunteer abroad and travel.

If you’re not sure if voluntourism is for you, or wondering where to begin, you’re not alone. I talked to two people who are traveling the world as they volunteer abroad. And while both made no secret of the challenges, they also sang the praises of this worthwhile adventure.  Here’s how a Texas teacher and a British project manager made their dreams of volunteering abroad a reality.

Taylor Carroll has been teaching in Tanzania and is now joining a surf outreach program with  International Volunteer Headquarters (IVHQ) in South Africa, both as part of his year volunteering abroad. Hannah Cox and her partner recently left the United Kingdom to work on organic farms (WOOF) across Europe on an overland journey to Bhutan—which she details in their  blog.

What It’s Like to Volunteer Abroad

What was your job before you left, and how did you decide to quit and volunteer abroad?

Taylor: “I was an 8th grade math teacher in Dallas for three years. I had always wanted to volunteer abroad. Originally, I looked into the Peace Corps. I decided on using International Volunteer Headquarters because the time frames were flexible, and I had more destinations to choose from.”

Hannah: “I was a freelance Project Manager for a creative agency. Although I loved the job, it was never my passion—travel was. I decided that if I worked really hard for a year or two, started some side hustles, and cut back on luxuries, I would have enough money to get away and explore the world. I’ve never been interested in marriage, kids, or a mortgage, so when everyone I knew started to settle down, I knew it was time to leave.

What did your boss say when you quit to volunteer abroad?

Taylor: “My boss, although not thrilled that I wouldn’t be there the following school year, understood: She had previously volunteered in Namibia. She wished me the best of luck.”

Hannah: “I think most people thought I was joking, because I wanted to travel overland and such a great distance (U.K. to Bhutan via rail and road), without much of a plan. Many people’s reaction was ‘Oh I wish I could do that’ and I just thought ‘You can!'”

What was the first thing you did after you made the decision to go?

Taylor: “Within two months I sold my car, all of my belongings, canceled all my services, and moved my official addresses to my parents’ address (travel credit cards, bank statements, forwarding address). I tend to be pretty methodical, so I made several lists of everything I needed to do before stepping on the plane, and then I ranked them by level of importance and time sensitivity.”

Hannah: “I started a small e-commerce business with my best friend, who also wanted to escape her job. I took on more freelance work so that I was earning as much money as possible in a short amount of time. I researched volunteer programs in the countries my partner and I were visiting that would allow us to spend time with local families and really get to know and understand the culture.”

What was it like when you arrived for your volunteer opportunity?  

Taylor: “I arrived in the middle of the night. I was given a brief show around the volunteer house in Arusha, Tanzania, and then slept. Waking up in the morning, I was welcomed by both new and seasoned volunteers and the staff. The high point was making connections with the other volunteers and the locals. I will remember them always and all their wonderful personalities. I’m smiling now thinking about it and laughing at all the outrageous times. But the low point is realizing that no matter how hard you prepared, or thought through the issues that you would face, that the problems are going to be more complex than you imagined.”

Hannah: “So far we’ve volunteered at three WOOF farms—two in Denmark and one in Finland. Meeting new people is always a bit nerve-wracking, but we made sure only to apply to farms that took on small groups of volunteers, and were very clear about working hours, facilities, and opportunities/tasks while we were there. We made sure to communicate well with all our hosts in advance, and tried to go above and beyond what was expected of us.”

What’s the day-to-day of volunteering like?

Taylor: “There’s a mixture of bright moments of feeling useful, and dull moments of feeling useless. You learn to weigh yourself not by doing what you thought you would, but doing what you’re able to. I tried my best not to have any expectations about the experience. I wanted to be as open as possible and not be disappointed if the experience or set up didn’t match the preconceived picture I had formed in my head.”

Hannah: “WOOF volunteers often end up fulfilling the roles that farmers just don’t have time to get to. For example, in our first host home, we spent weeks fixing old cattle fences. On our second property, we helped build some new greenhouses and paint a kitchen. Our third hosts had us weeding fields. Most of the work is quite physical, which I struggled with sometimes. But you only work four hours per day, giving you plenty of time to rest and enjoy the countryside.”

Do you think you’ll return home when you’re “done”? Why or why not? 

Taylor: “After Tanzania and South Africa, I’m traveling to Morocco and Italy. I’m not completely sure I’ll know what I want after that. I am open to other options if they seem like a good fit for me at the time.”

Hannah: “I have no idea! WOOFing has only broadened my horizons; we met some incredible people who have inspired us to volunteer further afield. There are so many opportunities overseas to volunteer that I think I’ll struggle to do all the ones I want in this lifetime.”

Is volunteering abroad a good environment for making friends?

Taylor: “I haven’t met many others who have quit their jobs and are doing a whole year of volunteering. Most of the volunteers seem to want to gain a broader world perspective, some just want a cheap vacation, some have big hearts and want to do as much good as possible … I think it’s a fantastic environment for making lasting relationships. I have already met so many unique individuals who I plan to see again.”

Hannah: “It’s a great environment for meeting people who are looking at the world with a different viewpoint. Talking to farmers about the issues they face is very different to working in an office—there is no way for them to ‘switch off.’ People who volunteer also tend to be more interested in learning about a culture, and the communities they visit, rather than the tourist trail.”

What’s the hardest part about volunteering abroad? What’s the best part?

Taylor: “Some days it’s just not what you thought it was going to be. You can feel a little lost. The best part is when you get over those hurdles and remember what originally brought you down this path. Finding your own strength is always empowering. I’m lucky enough to have had several of those moment already, and I’m not even halfway through my year of volunteering abroad.”

Hannah: “The hardest part for me has been the physical aspect because I have chronic pain issues. While movement is a positive thing for me, some mornings I felt I couldn’t face another day weeding in the rain. But meeting our hosts and their friends has given us valuable life lessons and friendships. I think it’s impossible to really get to know a country as a tourist, and volunteering affords a real opportunity to get under the skin of a nation.”

Editor’s Note: These answers have been condensed for clarity.

More from SmarterTravel:

Associate Editor Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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10 Things to Do in Gothenburg, Sweden https://www.smartertravel.com/2017/09/21/10-things-to-do-gothenburg-sweden/ https://www.smartertravel.com/2017/09/21/10-things-to-do-gothenburg-sweden/#respond Thu, 21 Sep 2017 16:02:22 +0000 https://www.smartertravel.com/?p=188601 From nautical adventures to cozy meals, and from thrill rides to nature walks, there’s an abundance of things to do in Gothenburg. Goteborg, Sweden’s second largest city, may have a name that’s almost impossible for foreigners to pronounce—it sounds something like “Yuteyorgha” to untrained ears (foreigners can stick to the anglicized Gothenburg)—but its abundance of […]

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From nautical adventures to cozy meals, and from thrill rides to nature walks, there’s an abundance of things to do in Gothenburg.

Goteborg, Sweden’s second largest city, may have a name that’s almost impossible for foreigners to pronounce—it sounds something like “Yuteyorgha” to untrained ears (foreigners can stick to the anglicized Gothenburg)—but its abundance of fun is familiar to all. This moated city in the west of Sweden feels more like a large town than a big city, with its inviting tangle of waterways, parks, and squares.

Things to Do in Gothenburg: Ride the Paddan Boats

Arrive in Gothenburg and go for a wander and you may get the sense it’s just a tangle of waterways. But on a paddan boat tour, you start to understand the strategic interplay between the river, the moat, and the lock-guarded canal, all while taking in views of the city. Not only is it a great way to get the lay of the land, it’s also an adventure in of itself—the paddan boats are low because they convey passengers underneath more than 20 of the city’s bridges, a few of them low enough that you’ll have to duck (really duck) to make it under with your hat, and head, untouched.

Things to Do in Gothenburg: Explore Fiskekorkan

Swedes worship the bounty of the local waters, so it’s entirely fitting that Gothenburg’s fish market is called Feskakorka, which translates to “fish church.” The design of the building, constructed in 1874, was inspired by Norwegian stave churches and Gothic churches. Enter Feskakorka, which sits nestled along the city’s moat, and you’ll discover a wide open space lined with stalls selling the freshest local seafood. Even if you’re not outfitted for cooking, you can still sample—just head to Restaurang Gabriel, which crowns the second floor balcony. It’s an ideal place to feast on oysters, local crayfish and shrimp, herring, and more.

Things to Do in Gothenburg: Wander the Botanical Garden

Ready for a surprise? Gothenburg is home to one of Europe’s largest and most diverse botanical gardens. With more than 16,000 species of plants—including the largest tropical orchid collection in Sweden and the rare Easter Island tree—it’s a place where you can wander for hours, enjoying the long summer days (it’s open from 9 am to 9 pm). If you’re, say, looking for a more strenuous trek to work off a few of those cinnamon rolls, venture into the neighboring nature reserve, Anggardsbergen, for peaceful paths that will take you through valleys and up to ridges where you’ll get a spectacular view of the city.

Things to Do in Gothenburg: Shop

Swedish design aficionados, local fashion lovers, and anyone looking for a great cup of coffee and a warm cinnamon bun converge on the charming backstreets of the inner city. Magasinsgatan, Vallgatan, and Sodra Larmgatan offer trendy local brands against an unmistakably Swedish backdrop. To escape inclement weather and find all your favorite brands, head to the surprisingly-tucked-away-but-huge Nordstan Shopping Centre, which has more than 200 shops. Cross the moat and stroll to the Haga quarter for hip boutiques, cool bars, and giant cinnamon buns.

Things to Do in Gothenburg: Take the Ferry

Catch a ride on one of the ferries that plies the river and you’ll get a mini-sightseeing cruise on the cheap. In water-rich Gothenburg, ferries are part of the public transportation system, and are either free or included in the cost of a day pass. In good weather, it’s one of the best things to do in Gothenburg—you can take in the views from the open deck, and on chillier days you’ll still get a great view from inside. For a nice survey of the surroundings that takes about an hour round-trip, hop the Alvsnabben river ferry that leaves from Lilla Bommen harbor, a 10-minute walk from Gothenburg’s train station.

Things to Do in Gothenburg: Eat

Eating well is a big part of life in Gothenburg. Make like a local and browse the stalls at Saluhallen, an indoor market right in the central old city bursting with the freshest local produce and seafood. It’s also a great place to pick up some local cheese (try the Prastost, or priest cheese) and sample a Gothenburg truffle, dark chocolate topped with sea salt.  The fiskekorke, or fish church, has beautiful displays of the freshest local seafood. And Michelin-starred restaurants like Sjomagasinet, Koka, and Bhoga give you a taste of the best of West Sweden.

Things to Do in Gothenburg: Visit the Archipelago

Gothenburg’s archipelago puts wild islands and tiny villages within easy reach of city visitors. More than 20 islands stretch along the coast and are an easy ferry trip away. On these islands, you’ll find hiking and biking trails, seal safaris, kayaking, boat excursions, and fishing, all set against a slower pace of life. Build a visit in as a day trip or stay for a night or two to add some serious nature to your city escape.

Things to Do in Gothenburg: Scream at Liseberg

Imagine lush gardens … echoing screams of joy. Liseberg amusement park is Gothenburg’s most popular attraction, but it doesn’t just draw in thrill-seekers. That’s because, mixed in among the parks more than 40 thrill rides are extensive gardens, a sculpture park, concert venues, plus nearly a dozen restaurants serving up everything from Swedish seafood to vegetarian gourmet dishes.

Things to Do in Gothenburg: Enjoy Fika 

To experience Gothenburg like a local, make room in your day for a few stops at local cafes and bakeries for fika, or coffee break. The Swedish tradition of pausing your day for a bit of socializing, coffee, and a snack fits effortlessly into a long day of sightseeing. Not only is it a great chance to rest between activities, it’s also an opportunity to taste your way through the icons of fika—cinnamon buns, cakes, cookies, and open-faced sandwiches at cafes around the city.

Things to Do in Gothenburg: Visit Museums

Gothenburg museums celebrate not only art but also aviation, history, fishing, sports, and even the country’s beloved Volvo cars. The city’s 22 museums inspire curiosity and many are surprisingly affordable. The Goteborg City Card is a must if you’re planning on visiting a few museums, since it offers admission to many plus tram, bus, and ferry travel.

More from SmarterTravel:

Christine Sarkis explored Sweden as a guest of West Sweden Tourist Board and Goteborg & Co. Follow her on Twitter @ChristineSarkis and Instagram @postcartography for more advice about making every vacation the best vacation.

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Is This $300, Multi-Day Escape Room New York’s Best? https://www.smartertravel.com/2017/09/21/300-escape-room-new-york/ https://www.smartertravel.com/2017/09/21/300-escape-room-new-york/#respond Thu, 21 Sep 2017 16:01:50 +0000 https://www.smartertravel.com/?p=188610 Traveling is a form of escape, whether that escape means visiting a vibrant city or a secluded island. But when it comes to things to do, travelers are taking the word “escape” much more literally these days. Escape Rooms are having a moment, and the appeal seems to be in the challenge. Clues are provided […]

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Traveling is a form of escape, whether that escape means visiting a vibrant city or a secluded island. But when it comes to things to do, travelers are taking the word “escape” much more literally these days.

Escape Rooms are having a moment, and the appeal seems to be in the challenge. Clues are provided to the escapees, most often groups of friends and it is their job to decode the puzzles, usually a series of locks, math equations, or hidden messages that all lead to the next clue. But how hard is it to conquer an escape room challenge that comes with a $300 price tag? Apparently hard enough to last a few days.

An Immersive Escape Room in New York

In an office building in Manhattan’s Koreatown, Paradiso is more than just a locked room. It’s a multi-room adventure that involves live actors who will interact with participants, and interrogate you with personality quizzes that may or may not come back to haunt you. But what makes Paradiso really stand out is the unique $300 experience they offer: the Path of Beatrice. It’s a customized, fully immersive game that doesn’t take place in a staged office building, but on the streets of New York.

For $300, you get a fully customized experience (plus one of their more affordable puzzle experiences) that can transform your New York vacation into a live-action thriller inspired by David Fincher’s film The Game. Players meet with actors all around the city, from coffee shops to museums, for “episodes” that last between twenty to thirty minutes and receive mysterious text messages and packages throughout their week. Although the Paradiso website advertises the Path of Beatrice as 5-7 day experience, it can be customized to fit any timeline, from a short weekend in the city to two weeks—for diehard escape room enthusiasts.

This is definitely one of the priciest escape options out there. So far, the reviews are pretty convincing that it’s an experience like no other.

Escape Rooms Elsewhere

Live actors aren’t unique to Paradiso. The Basement in Los Angeles and the appropriately named Trapped in a Room with a Zombie in Chicago also utilize actors to make their escape room experience more immersive.

After becoming popular in Japan a few years ago, escape rooms have been popping up all over the U.S., providing the perfect rainy-day activity to travelers, especially those visiting big cities like New York and Los Angeles. Escape rooms vary in price, theme, and length—and as this puzzling trend continues to grow, escape rooms are going to have to do more to stand out above the rest.

Are you an escape room fanatic? Would you spend $300 to live like the star of your own conspiracy thriller on your next vacation? Comment below.

More from SmarterTravel:

Jamie Ditaranto is a writer and photographer who is always looking for her next adventure. Follow her on Twitter @jamieditaranto.

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Discover Orust, Sweden’s Wild West https://www.smartertravel.com/2017/09/21/discover-orust-bohuslan-sweden-wild-west/ https://www.smartertravel.com/2017/09/21/discover-orust-bohuslan-sweden-wild-west/#respond Thu, 21 Sep 2017 15:33:57 +0000 https://www.smartertravel.com/?p=188571 It’s time to rethink Sweden. From its daily sweets-laden coffee break, fika, to IKEA, the ubiquitous Swedish furniture store, the Scandinavian country has long been known for its cozy indoors. But Sweden is as much about its wilderness as it is warm hearths. The wild spirit of Sweden is on irresistible display in Bohuslan, the […]

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It’s time to rethink Sweden. From its daily sweets-laden coffee break, fika, to IKEA, the ubiquitous Swedish furniture store, the Scandinavian country has long been known for its cozy indoors. But Sweden is as much about its wilderness as it is warm hearths.

The wild spirit of Sweden is on irresistible display in Bohuslan, the country’s farthest western province. Here, the “freedom to roam” ethos—which makes almost all lands accessible for people to walk, cycle, ride, ski, or camp—opens up an entire frontier to outdoor enthusiasts.

Adventure in Bohuslan

Orust, Bohuslan’s largest island, is about an hour by car from the large city of Gothenburg, and is a perfect home base for exploring the wild west of Sweden. Most visitors rent a car; bridges and free ferries connect the mainland to many of the region’s larger islands.

But a car will only take you so far. To really see the region, you need to be moving slowly across the landscape. It’s simply not enough to steer the car along the island’s beautiful backroads—human speed is the best speed if you want this island to unfurl around you. Otherwise it’s a blur of red barns and green grass, of blink-and-you’ll-miss-them villages, and glimpses of the surrounding archipelago.

Two-Wheeled Adventures

On an island like Orust, peppered with three-house hamlets, it’s a strategic move to ditch four wheels for two. On a bike, you can take it slow and soak up the scenery, all without blocking the road.

Exploring by bike turns a day out into a memorable study in small moments—pedal slowly past a gaggle of lambs playing in a field, pause to photograph the wildflowers or be dazzled by the sparkle of local quartz on the bike paths. On a bike, there’s no need to look for parking if you decide to stop for a view or take a fika break and treat yourself to a coffee and cake (you’ve earned it, after all, pedaling all that way).

The official bicycle map for Orust labels roads by their traffic level, and it’s entirely possible to circumnavigate the island sticking mostly to nearly traffic-free paved roads. Some hotels and B&Bs have bikes to lend, and outfitters like Upplevelsebolaget will rent you both gear and bicycles. There’s even the option to stay at multiple properties during a challenging but beautiful multi-night island excursion.

The Ocean’s Surprise

Thanks to the Gulf Stream, the summer waters along Sweden’s western coast are about the same temperature as those in Southern California. And Swedes make the most of the welcoming sea—Sweden has among the world’s highest per capita boat ownership, and most families have at least a little rowboat or kayak for getting to nearby uninhabited islands for picnic lunches, swimming, and sunbathing.

There’s no shortage of small islands to explore. Archipelagos rule along Sweden’s western edge. And thanks to the freedom to roam, you can dock your vessel and explore any island you see—as long as there’s no yellow sign that marks it as a protected land (usually because it’s an active breeding ground for wildlife).

Even if you’re not an avid boater, it’s worth venturing out onto the water with a guide. The early settlers didn’t come for the granite cliffs or fresh air—they came, and stayed, for the bounty of the sea. To step into a kayak and explore the archipelago by paddle is to take a step back in time, and to embrace the true heart of island life.

The Trick of the Weather

It’s not just the land that’s wild here—the micro-climate-based weather can feel untamed as well, even in summer. But as in the tropics, the saying here is if you don’t like the weather, just wait 10 minutes. Systems pass fast and rain in the forecast doesn’t necessarily mean canceling a day out. Talk to locals and sooner or later, they’re likely to mention the adage of Swedish grandmothers everywhere: “There is no bad weather, just bad clothing.” Listen to grandma and pack accordingly.

If You Go: Orust

Stay

Ladfabriken: Design and hospitality meld at this bed-and-breakfast housed in a former fish box factory. Breakfast is included, and dinners are extra, but worth every penny.

Slussens Pensionat: This cozy and welcoming seaside hotel features dinner and concerts on weekend nights.

Explore

Upplevelsebolaget: This outdoors outfitter rents bikes and kayaks and offers independent and guided day and overnight trips.

Snack (Fika)

Mia’s Sjobod, Hälleviksstrand: Find a seat in the cozy interior or opt for a table with a view on the dock at this beloved boathouse-turned-café serving up homemade Swedish sweets.

Solegarden, Svanesund: Try the coffee and Swedish cake, or opt for the chokladboll, at this part-café, part community gathering spot.

Tavlebords Honey Farm, Henan: Enjoy the farm-like setting and locally produced treats at this café and farm shop.

More from SmarterTravel:

Christine Sarkis explored Sweden as a guest of West Sweden Tourist Board and Goteborg & Co. Follow her on Twitter @ChristineSarkis and Instagram @postcartography for more advice about making every vacation the best vacation.

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Should You Check Your Bag for Free at the Gate? https://www.smartertravel.com/2017/09/20/check-your-bag-free-gate/ https://www.smartertravel.com/2017/09/20/check-your-bag-free-gate/#respond Wed, 20 Sep 2017 20:11:58 +0000 https://www.smartertravel.com/?p=188598 Been on a full flight lately? Then you may have heard an announcement or seen an appeal posted on the monitor at the gate asking for passenger volunteers to check their bags at the gate for free. Asking for volunteers to check their bags at the gate is the airline’s response to two things. First, […]

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Been on a full flight lately? Then you may have heard an announcement or seen an appeal posted on the monitor at the gate asking for passenger volunteers to check their bags at the gate for free.

Asking for volunteers to check their bags at the gate is the airline’s response to two things. First, they know that there is likely going to be more carry-on bags than there is overhead bin space, an issue that leads to unhappy passengers and significantly slower boarding times. Second, it can also often be a sign that there’s a lot of room in the under-plane baggage area, which can contribute to weight distribution issues on the plane.

There’s no right or wrong answer to the question of whether you should check your bag at the gate. Sometimes, it can be a great opportunity; other times, it might slow you down. Here’s a quick guide to deciding if you should check your bag at the gate:

Should You Gate Check Your Bag for Free?

  1. Are you in a later boarding group? If so, you might arrive on the plane to find your overhead bins already full, and it could reduce stress to know you don’t have to fight to find a home for your baggage. Answer: Consider checking
  2. Are you going to be in a rush when you arrive at your destination? Unlike true “gate check” items like strollers that you can grab on the jetway as you exit the aircraft, the bag you check at the gate under these circumstances will most likely be routed to the baggage carousel at your destination airport. If you don’t have time to stand around and wait for your suitcase to reappear, keep it with you as a carry-on. Answer: Don’t check
  3. Do you have a connecting flight? If you do, verify with the gate agent that the bag will be able to make the connection. If that’s the case, you should consider checking the bag unless you’ll need it during your layover, since it’s a lot easier to make a tight connection—and less burdensome to wait out a longer layover—without a suitcase to drag behind you. Answer: Consider checking
  4. Are you traveling with young kids? If you’re trying to wrangle little ones and pull carry-ons (say, because you want to avoid checked bag fees for the whole family), free bag check at the gate can be like a golden ticket. But, make sure you’ve got everything you need in the bags you’ll carry on with you before turning over your suitcases—you don’t want to find yourself without extra diapers or the only stuffed animal that will make your kid stop crying midflight. Answer: Consider checking

More from SmarterTravel:

Christine Sarkis uses these guidelines to decide whether or not to gate check her bags. Follow her on Twitter @ChristineSarkis and Instagram @postcartography for more advice about making every vacation the best vacation.

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Surprising Free Hotel Amenities (Video) https://www.smartertravel.com/2017/09/20/surprising-free-hotel-amenities-video/ https://www.smartertravel.com/2017/09/20/surprising-free-hotel-amenities-video/#respond Wed, 20 Sep 2017 19:52:35 +0000 https://www.smartertravel.com/?p=188593 Long gone are the days when the best you could hope for was a disposable razor or a tiny tube of toothpaste. Many hotels have upped their game and are prepared with everything from flat irons to phone chargers.

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Long gone are the days when the best you could hope for was a disposable razor or a tiny tube of toothpaste. Many hotels have upped their game and are prepared with everything from flat irons to phone chargers.

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