Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Vatican City: The Smallest Country In The World

   Well since I went to Russia I had to go to the smallest country in the world too, just kidding. Of course while in Rome I visited the Vatican. I guess I didn't take many photos here so the above is my best. My best money saving tips for Vatican City is of course walk around for free and see all the great sights in St. Peter's Square, but pay whatever needs to be paid to visit the Sistine Chapel, it's a great work of art, but also if you are on a really tight budget the famous churches of Napoli are not as well known still famous in their own right and equally pleasing to the eye in my humble non artistic opinion. You can spend anywhere from a whole day here to a couple of hours if you are in a time crunch.

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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

My Visit To Iran

 "So you're an American and you are going to go to Iran!?" 
"Yeah, is that a problem?"

     It was somewhere in the middle of two months in Italy last year that the thought sprang to me... Where to go next? I always have a loose idea of what's next on the list, and it seems that it always materializes while I'm traveling, so somewhere in central Italy I decided that the next year I was going to go to the Islamic Republic Of Iran.

     While many people told me I was crazy to go to Iran people have told me I am crazy to go just about anywhere I have ever been in my life outside of my border states... In 2005 I was crazy to want to move to Arizona, I was crazy before I moved here to visit Mexico, I was crazy to go to World Cup, to go to Israel, Turkey, I was crazy to go to Chernobyl (maybe this one I agree), crazy to go to Communa 13, so let's face it, I guess I'm crazy... But Iran was so worth being crazy.

In Front Of The Former American Embassy in Tehran
    It's unfortunate about the political climate in Iran with USA and some of the western world, and of course the middle east itself has had some rocky political climate points. But I didn't find any of this in Iran. I found some great people, great museums, great architecture, beautiful landscape, and unforgettable memories. I had read on forums over and over again how the Iranians are the most kind people, the nicest, the humblest etc. And I'm not going to negate this, some of them are, but my number one take of what the Iranians are, they are people. Just like everyone of us, I don't want to get over political as this is a travel blog, but all the people I met there were so unbelievably close to normal and like me. Religion and state are not separate so of course that's different. But I found people talking with me about American & foreign films, taking selfie pics, photo bombing me, hanging out in cafe's watching football with me, working out in the parks, and just living day to day life. I visited the former American Embassy, the anti-American paintings were still there, but absolutely no one bothered me as a tourist. That being said, should we all go to Iran? That's a personal decision. It sucks to talk about it, because there are political tensions, and you can't say without a doubt nothing will happen, but in the same breath you can die crossing the street, taking the train to work, etc.

    Anyway, here's my travel tips for going to Iran:

Walking down Azadi St, one of the main roads

  • Your entry visa will be a whole separate post I will do later, it's a bit complicated. 
  • You will need to bring a lot of cash, no credit cards will work in Iran, exchanging money is fairly easy, bring Dollars or Euros, of course I'd check on travel forums when it's closer to your stay to see if this info is up to date.
  • Hotels... This is going to be different, you will have to email your hotel and make the reservation with an emailed copy of your passport. You will pay the hotel in cash and they hold your passport as a security deposit. This part was super uncomfortable for me as my passport is on me at all times unless I'm in the ocean, but it is the way things are done there. 
  • Getting around Tehran is a breeze, the metro is very easy, but if you decide to walk there are countless gems to find along the way, parks, art exhibits etc.

  • In my opinion your must see and do's in Tehran are the Azadi Tower, catch some views from the Milad Tower, take a walk on the Tabliat Bridge, and you can really get immersive in the Grand Bazaar historical market.

  • Something I didn't read about and didn't expect was so much street art, I didn't write any addresses down but you will be delighted to find murals everywhere such as the horses and war mural below.

  • My favorite picks for Persian food: Bademjan, Ghormeh Sabzi, and of course Kebab. Surprisingly to me the coffee and coffee shops in Tehran were absolutely top notch!  
  • Interestingly while in some parts of the middle east I have literally been followed by store owners leaving their business behind to get tourist money out of me, in Iran, not a single person recognized me as a tourist. People routinely spoke to me in Farsi before realizing I was not from there.
  • Persepolis.... ughhh... sadly to say, I am a budget traveler, and I did not have enough time to get to Persepolis, next time!!!
     As I have now been to several "conflict" countries, I think about how similar we really are to each other out there and how travel breaks down these racist and xenophobic stereotypes that say otherwise. Three countries in particular I've thought about that I have been to: Italy, Japan, and Germany. 75 years ago, it would be thought to be insane for an American to go to these WWII places, but today no one would bat an eye, they most likely have been or know someone that have been and maybe even would give you an insider tip on a good restaurant there. I hope one day this is the same for everywhere in this world... in less than 75 years of course, I don't know if I'll still be traveling then!


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How Old Is Too Old To Stay In A Hostel?

Japan: 2009 when I was a young man & I began inter-continental travel at 28 years old

Iran 2017: This year, slightly older about 8 years from when I started
      I began traveling around the USA and north America in my early 20's, but for the title of the blog we will begin my travels out of the continent in 2009 to my first amazing trip to Japan. That was really the moment that set the tone for what would be the next decade and hopefully beyond of my life. Like all budget travelers I have inevitably gone the hostel route. And like all budget travelers over 30 I began at some point to consider... at what point am I too old for the hostel?

     Like everyone we like to believe we "look younger", but in reality I'm 36. However, that's no reason to not travel, but at what point are you the old guy in the hostel. My short answer is, it's about a year ago, at 35 I'm noticing I'm not the old guy in the hostel, but I'm pretty close, and if it weren't for my high ability to party I'd maybe be too old even at 35. My income is above the hostel level at this point in life, but it's been such a habit over the last few years to spend at least part of my journey in a hostel that I still stayed in a few during last year's travels. But in reality I think my time has come. Once you start getting that feeling you are too old for the hostel, you probably have about a year or two. If you enjoy a quiet evening reading a book, or need your own space, you probably are already there regardless of your age.

    So at your mid thirties, it's time to throw the hostel away and start spending more money, but alas, there is hope!!! Here's some exceptions to the age rule:

  • You are staying in the hostel but you have a private dorm
  • You and your friends are renting the whole room so you won't be with strangers
  • The price is enormously different, as in you need a side job to afford the difference, so you will be that weird guy or gal
     There's also other great options like just renting a room off Airbnb. If you've been in the travel game awhile you knew the moment was coming, if you are coming in late, it's ok! You will still have plenty of time and options to see the world!


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Monday, July 3, 2017


     In 2017 on a journey through the middle east while exploring my booking options traveling through Iran to Dubai I came across a layover at an airport coded GYD, it didn't ring a bell, and I'm always looking for exciting layover vacations to spice up my trips, so I did a quick google search and found it was the airport for a city called Baku, which honestly I had never heard of, in a country called Azerbaijan which I only knew of it's geographical location. If you are a Baku fan and think bad of me for not knowing, I wasn't alone, to this day on TripAdvisor the forum for Baku is rarely talked about, I answer quite a few questions as this amazing place has not really been discovered by the Western world. Anyway a quick google image search of Baku was all I needed... I had to stop here.

     I'll get into what Baku and Azerbaijan mean to me towards the end, first I'll address the main parts of my journey there:

  • Due to extreme interest in seeing more I changed it from a layover vacation to 4 days there, I'd love to spend a month everywhere as I have addressed in this blog before, but 4 days is what I had.
    Atop The Maiden Tower
  • Azerbaijan is Airbnb all the way at the time of this writing, I stayed in a beautiful one bedroom modern apartment right off Baku Boulevard, next to the Maiden Tower for around $35 a night.
  • Sample the street popcorn, who can resist?
  • Baku is very walk able for the tourist sites, unless you will be doing excursions on your own you won't need to rent a car, uber is also common.
  • For my excursions to the Mud Volcano's and Qobastan I used
    Now don't wear your best clothes for the mud volcanoes, they give you cover for your feet, but it can get muddy
    Mud Volcano
  • For your Visa it's now easier than ever to just do it online directly through Azerbaijan
  • Firuze was my top choice for Azerbaijan's local quisine, I enjoyed it so much I actually went twice in 4 days since the menu is pretty big!

    Great beers too, Azerbaijan is not dry.
  • Meals and drinks at the time of this writing are very affordable, there was not a single purchase in Azerbaijan I hesitated on.
  • Nightlife: Baku has a terrific night life, great bars and clubs, but just the general rule for single guys, if you go to a bar and the ratio is 10:1 girls to guys you may be in a working bar, check tripadvisor before you go for better party vibes and cool local spots. But there are bars every corner you turn, you'll have no problems finding one!
  • Azerbaijan is also known as the Land Of Fire, though I didn't see the eternal flame at Yanar Dog I did have an incredible night scaling the hills of Dagustu Park, the funicular was closed (we are budget travelers so of course must prepare for alternatives) so it was time to take the stairs and I saw so many great views of the city, Martyr's lane, and the eternal flame thanks to this. It is a must stop, and I really enjoyed doing it at night, though sunset would likely be equally beautiful.

Eternal Flame in Dagustu Park
  • Old City Baku will be one of the best parts of your journey, it's completely free and so enjoyable to walk around, the Maiden Tower was a bit of money, but it's too small for me to remember, $5/10 USD maybe? It's also fun as you walk thru Old Baku to see the Flame Towers creeping out of new Baku, speaking of which...


  • The Flame Towers built 2007 and completed 2012 were in doubt what got me to come here, granted I am a firefighter, and it's the Land Of Fire with Flame Towers, but beyond that, these are without a doubt the most interesting buildings I have ever seen in my life. All 3 nights at some part of my evening I had to just stroll Baku Boulevard and watch them change in color telling the stories of the Azerbaijan and Baku life in images and art. You will definitely want to take a coffee to go from one of the many great cafes there and just sit wherever you or your camera deems best on the Boulevard and marvel at these.

  • There is plenty of major chain shopping in Baku, but of course I always vote to support local, I usually will just buy one little memento but for Azerbaijan I actually loaded up because how much I loved the place and the people.

  • I can't emphasize enough how enjoyable it will just be to walk Baku Boulevard there are lots of things I didn't mention, like kid's parks, waterfront cafe's, famous Mosques, and a mini Venice like boat ride.

    So what is Azerbaijan to me? To me it was the people, and the freedom. I had been to some strict countries prior to my visit there, and to me Azerbaijan showed when the people have the power, the place is more incredible than the people in power. The sense of freedom and the urge to burst into the city it wants to be and is becoming is felt throughout this place. Although I don't speak Azerbaijani I do have a decent understanding of Russian and of course English and with this I was able to make a connection with these people. Azerbaijan falls into one of the very very few places that not only could I visit there again, I could live there.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Inevitable Trip To Dubai As a Budget Traveler


     No interest in going to the Middle East or a high interest in going to the Middle East? It doesn't matter, if you are a budget traveler, I absolutely promise you at some point you are going to go to United Arab Emirates, and of course more specific, Dubai.

     What you make of Dubai is what you make of it... An advanced civilization, a conglomerate of too many chain stores and too much money, an adventure in the dessert, or a melting spot of travelers from everywhere and every demographic? For me, it was all of those things. After 3 weeks in the Middle East it was my last stop to a great adventure. Here's my tips to make Dubai great without breaking the budget...

  • My usual airbnb, or vrbo advice is a no go here. Emirates don't need your cash and you'll likely not find a good room on a budget, maybe in a large group, but I went solo so hotel was my best bet. As far as the hotel, I stayed in the business district, it was cheap but not to far from the center, if you stay by Jumeirah beach or the Burj Khalifa anywhere on the train line you will have no problems getting around. Hostels are definitely a good option, I'm 36 now, when I started traveling I was 28ish, I'm getting to the point now where I'm the old guy at the hostel and it's not so much of an option now, but more on that another time.
  • Getting around you can take the train almost everywhere except the beach, it's extremely easy, don't do what I did and accidentally board the gold front area, I didn't get busted but it's a fine if you do, you also need to board the male or female area respectively.
  • The Burj Khalifa, let's get this out of the way, you can't go to Dubai without seeing the tallest building in the world (soon to lost it's title to the Jeddah Tower). There are two options, level 125, or level 148. You are a budget traveler, and you will not notice the difference between 23 floors that high. Go for 125. It's a bit more crowded, but you have the experience to deal with crowds.

  • Partying in Dubai, or lack thereof... Dubai and U.A.E. are dry... for locals at least... but for tourists you can drink in the hotels, but get your wallets ready! While Dubai is generally a bit more expensive than most cities, the alcohol is outrageously expensive. It's sin taxed. So take this tip and on your way in stop off at the duty free and buy some booze if you wanna have a few cocktails in your room and save money. The only establishments that will serve alcohol will be in hotels. It's an interesting night because you will meet many people, probably local expats that aren't staying in your hotel and hear the stories of why they came to Dubai.
  • The mall: I'm not a big shopper, but you can shop to your heart's content at the Dubai Mall, however you can't buy this bird there... at least when I went.

  • The food... you will have everything from McDonalds to the Jumeirah Beach 7 star hotel to choose from, but of course as always I recommend going Italian when in Rome, try the local foods. The vast majority of the restaurants on the main street are places you have seen all over the world. Try to find the little local shops (and this won't be easy) and try something different.

  • The Airport: Just a quick warning, I won't tell you the story about how my airline stranded me for 8 hours there, but I will tell you that Dubai Airport boasts tons of things to do, and that's true, but it's only when you get passed the security check points! My 8 hours were spent at Starbucks with no book and limited cell service. So plan accordingly.
  • The Dessert: this is really where I had the most fun, a look into what Dubai was like before the high rises and corporations came in.... While sometimes I advocate against group tours, you are going to be a lot better off here on a group tour, plus you are not allowed to off road on your own which was one of the best parts. During this day tour which is optional as an overnight as well we road camels, sand boarded the dunes, coasted over them in a 4x4 with a our driver, and of course had a great dinner with entertainment at the end.


     Overall, for me Dubai was never a place I had to go, but as you travel more and more, you realize more and more people have talked about it, and eventually you have to see it for yourself. While it's in no way a must go back for me, it was a nice relaxed ending. We are budget travelers, and at this time Dubai is the crossroads of budget travelers for the Middle East, if you are there and you can go, by all means, no journey is wasted when it is spent exploring a new land.
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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Day Trip In Barcelona

   Quick note and not a fair assessment of this beautiful country, but on my way to Egypt I of course took advantage of a 24 hour layover in this beautiful city! I stayed in the Gothic Quarter and treated myself to delicious tapas, I explored the area a bit then got some good shut eye. 

    The following day I had enough time for two big sights... Casa Batllo...

   And of course, the main event the Sagrada Family Church:


    I enjoyed an espresso for about 1 euro across the street from the Church marveling in it's crazy architecture. There wasn't enough time to do more, because of course as budget travelers, we never have enough time. But nonetheless, I was thrilled to be able to spend 24 hours there before heading to Egypt to ring in New Years 2017.

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Sunday, May 7, 2017

Moroccan Adventures in Marrakesh and the Zagora

Ait Ben Hadou
       I can't put my finger on what drew me to Morocco in spring of 2017, but I did know that it as my list of things I wanted to see grew I wouldn't have enough time to see it all, Morocco is the type of place you can easily do a month in. But we are budget travelers, we don't always have the month off to do what we love to do. That was the bad news, the good news is that Morocco is a beautiful country, with crazy and amazing people, and for the budget traveler you have hit the jack pot. It's pretty damn cheap. Here's my tips for making the best of your journey:
  • I hate to do group tours as much as the next guy, but to really see Morocco you need to do a lot of driving, and as they say TIA, this is Africa, you're going to be much better going with someone that knows the roads or the way around the roads when they randomly close for unknown reasons. Most companies offer the same exact tours, use internet reviews and your budget to suit what best for you.
  • The Zagora dessert is a must see, they try to entice you to do the 3 day tour, but the 2 day tour has so much to offer, it's a lot of driving but well worth it. We camped out under the stars after a great day there.

  • Ouzoud falls is another can't miss. This photo doesn't come close to the beauty of actually being there.

  • Marrakesh is one of those cities that when you enter, you feel it has a bounding pulse. I stayed in Hivernage for night life which was ok, but if you want real Marrakesh immersion you have to stay in the Medina. The night life is a short cab away if you still want. Speaking of the Medina...
  • Spend a day there, check out the street performers and snake charmers, don't make the amatuer move I made and not negotiate a price before they start throwing snakes on you and asking for more money than you planned!
  • $40 for this photo! Worth it?
  • If you like shopping and you like deals, bring extra luggage! With the exception of my shoe size there's was tons of shops that sell everything you'd buy at home for half price, but of course more authentic African style souvenirs and gifts.
  • If you decide to head out for the night life, get ready... For both safety and insanity concerns! TIA, so be on guard, I left my wallet at home and just went out with cash in my pocket and emergency cab fare home in my sock. There are definitely some shady people and if you are single not every woman that smiles at you is smiling because she finds you charming. That's the bad side, the upside is that these people know how to party. The last place I went to closed around 5am, it's foggy, but I remember a scary clown show with acrobatics, scantily cladded women, and a lot of vodka. Good times.
     Africa is the most country dense continent in the world, sad to know I will never get to see all of it but this was my 6th country on the continent and it could not have gone better. Morocco is a blend of Spanish, Muslim, North and sub Sahara African culture. What makes it a great place is looking at a place like Marrakesh, it's a place that keeps it's old world tradition and style but integrates cultures from other countries and races. We are world travelers shaped by our influences of the places we have seen and been bought to, Morocco is shaped by the people who have seen it and has brought in by it's beauty and history. 

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