Monday, November 28, 2016

My 1 Year Review Of Duolingo

Peru, Spanish is by far my most used 2nd language.

      So I recently finally accomplished it, a 365 day streak of Duolingo. Those of you who follow this board know that I have studied around 8 languages, a few of which I use frequently and/or fluently. The others were learned for a trip, a speech, or whatever, and I have not studied since. When Duolingo was launched I quickly became a fan and user of the app. With life's daily inconveniences it took me a few goes, but finally I recently hit a 365 day streak or one year of learning Duolingo. I've been working on 3 languages there, Spanish, Italian and Russian. Here is my review of using it for one year straight.

  • Duolingo is a great tool, but it is by no means an end all be all to learning the language, I would say it's great for starting or mid-level. Now I have been using it for Spanish, Italian, and Russian. Russian is one of my weakest languages that I regularly use, and for one year I've only used Duolingo for Russian, while my Spanish and Italian have accelerated to the point where I'm reading novels in both and regularly communicating with people, Russian has only moved a bit from where it was a year ago. Using only Duolingo is only going to get you to a basic level.
  • Excellent for drills and grammar. But for vocabulary building, speaking, and listening I don't think the program is effective enough, you do speak and listen, and of course build grammar, but it's limited each drill. Grammar however is extremely well covered. You can build a great foundation of grammar from Duo that you can build further on by other means. 
  • Fun, Duo is fun, the little owl reminder everyday and the streak competition that you can do with friends or other people on the site makes it fun. It's also fun because you can put 5 minutes in a day or 2 hours.
  • Listening/speaking, here is where it's lacking, there's a drill or two to listen, it would be great if you could get a special option to practice only listening or only speaking.
  • Taking all 3 languages I've used it for I'd say if you use Duo in conjunction with another program, or programs, or even better yet practicing with a native speaker, it's well worth it's price tag, which by the way is free!
     So overall, it's a great way to learn, but it should be your side kick, not your main weapon to learn. Having a native speaker practice with you, a language exchange, a meetup group, or if it's in your budget an immersion trip is the best way to learn in my opinion. But if you don't speak it you won't learn. You have to force yourself to use your 2nd language and use English as little as possible to get to the next level. Which you will! Because if you are reading this without a translator it means you have already learned one of the most complicated languages in the world, and the next one is right at your fingertips (or tip of your tongue haha) if you want.
      So another great app I want to mention quickly here is HelloTalk, this is like the meet up square of the world for languages! You can meet people anywhere to practice communicating with, I won't go into detail of all the special features, but I will say that in a year when I review HelloTalk, I have a feeling I'll put it above Duolingo. And finally a great book to get you started on whatever language you are learning, Fluent In 3 Months by Benny Lewis the Irish polyglot is such a simple read yet so much information! Have a look on amazon.com link below.




Have a great day!
 And if you don't speak English yet and maybe used a translator to read this, I hope to learn your language to communicate even better!



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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Incredible 4 Day Layover in Iceland!

       

     If you have heard Iceland is one of the most beautiful countries in this world, you have heard very correctly! What unfortunately what most people haven't heard about this beautiful little country is that Iceland Air offers free layovers up to 7 days here, which in my humble opinion is more than enough to get a taste of any place! The first time I took Iceland Air passing through here on the way to Russia we only stayed in the airport a couple of hours, but it was more than enough to inspire me and make me realize I had to see Iceland.



      When I traveled to Italy in end of winter/early spring of 2016 I had seen it was only going to be an extra $200 or so to fly thru Iceland and do my layover there. My dream was to actually camp there and explore the country that way, but unfortunately the camp grounds were not going to yet be opened and I wasn't feeling versatile enough with my rental to go off road and pitch a tent somewhere, but... in a beautiful exception of events, I got to see Iceland under the snow, travel thru the ice caves, snow mobile, taste the cold without it being bitter cold, and experience this great nation. Here's my tips to make a kick ass great lay over:

  • Get a taste of Reykjavik, but don't sacrifice it for the rest of the country. It's a beautiful city with amazing people, but we are budget travelers and don't have all time in the world to explore every corner of every city we visit, and as you travel more you will see many big cities are similar, it's getting out of the cities that you really learn a country.
  • By all means self tour! Rent a car, it's super easy driving there, there's only one road once you are out of the city, my 6 hour drive across the country took closer to 10 because the amount of times I had to stop and pull over to explore or photograph something, as tour buses passed I felt bad for the people that were locked in and unable to get out and see more of the place.

      
  • If you go in the winter do everything you can to make it to the Jokulsarlon Ice Caves, by far the highlight of that trip.

      




  • And winter or not winter, you can snow mobile year round on the glaciers!



  • And of course either on your way when you land or before you take off head to Iceland's top tourist spot, the geothermal spa Blue Lagoon, it was perfect after my red eye flight to get me ready for the long drive ahead through this amazing country!



  • OH YEAH BONUS TIP! Don't speed, the cops found my friend and gave her a $400 ticket!


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Sunday, October 9, 2016

Thailand The Budget Traveler's Paradise

    Sometimes I like to travel solo, other times with friends, in February of 2015 I was glad to have experience Thailand with a group of friends. A lot of my friends had been to Thailand already, you obviously fly into Bangkok and the overwhelming majority of advice I got going into the trip, was don't spend too much time in Bangkok. My advice is going to be the complete opposite:

SPEND A LOT OF TIME IN BANGKOK

   The Thai beaches are beautiful, the scuba diving, the moon parties, the entertainers, etc. But to get a real feel of what Thailand is about, you also need to see the capital. As I read more and more on Thailand, and talked with other travelers both in person and on forums, it became clear that there was a lot to see and do in Bangkok, and merely using it as a stopover for the beach cities or Chang Mai was not going to be an option. 

    So first and foremost, my must see and do's for Bangkok and the areas around:

  • Take tuk tuk taxi's, there are constant signs warning tourists of the dangers of taking the tuk tuk's, but you are a budget traveler, the tuk tuk's are cheap, and danger is your middle name... especially if you have a few Singha beers on board.
  • Your trip is going to be almost free.... compared to cost of things in first world countries, and compared to what you would be spending at home, Thailand is pretty much about just booking your flight.
  • The elephant bath is my top recommendation for your nature experience, we used Tour With Tong who has infinite good reviews on the net and a great value.

                              
  • Ayutthaya is a great day trip from Bangkok, rather than pay for a tour 100 to 300 usd each, take public transport there and hire a tuk tuk driver for the day to tour you around for around 50 bucks for the group. The temples are incredible and so is the elephant ride.
     


  • Lopburi, aka the monkey city is a great excursion too less travelers hit, the downtown of the city is pretty much occupied by monkey's. Beware, they are not afraid of you, one actually climbed up on me and stole my shades.

  • We ventured into the tiger temple which is now closed. I don't know enough about animal rights to comment on what happened, but I will say it was epic while I was there.

  •  Take a river cruise, the floating market is great, but if you really wanna see it check ahead for schedules as it's not there every day.

  • Be sure to hit up a roof top lounge bar around sunset to see the skyline, Octave Roof Top was definitely our favorite.

  • Heading to the beaches....

           
  • Check out local kick boxing gyms or rent a moped for some island experiences, but make sure you know how to drive it! A rental is 6 bucks for 24 hours, but the scratches etc are super expensive if you nick it!  
  • Check ahead of time if you want to do the full moon or half moon parties as they are only twice a month.

                            
  • And finally just when we thought it was over, on your way out of the country have dinner or lunch at Koh Lanta Suvarnbhumi Restaurant, literally right next to the airport it's a recreated little Thai village to give yourself one last feel of this beautiful country.



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Thursday, June 16, 2016

My Top 50 Travel Tips!


      So after seeing 6 of the 7 continents, there's a lot I know about travel, and I lot I wish I knew!!! In no particular order here are 50 tips to travel and see the world!
  1. Plan! Sure I've gone last minute with no plan, but generally Plans go a lot smoother
  2. You will no doubt at some point need to get a Visa, try to get it on your own for free, or thru the mail, before paying a Visa service. If you don't live by a consulate maybe you frequently visit a city with one and can do it then. For instance I know next time I go to NYC to visit my family I can double down and stop by the consulate for India to get my Visa since the Visa is a 10 year re entry Visa with plenty of years to make the trip.
  3. Also when you get your first Visa you will need passport style photos, you might as well print about 20 copies and leave them at home wherever you leave your passport so that for the next Visa you will already have photos lying around, assuming you don't change your look too much.
  4. WiFi is you best friend on international travel. Don't spend tons of money on international calling fees, use Skype or whats-app as soon as you are in a restaurant or lodging with WiFi and save some money.
  5. As you exit the plane for an international trip, don't be a jerk and knock people over, but you may want to walk a little faster than the crowd, as being in the back of the customs line can seem like an eternity when you are anxious to step foot into a new country.
  6. The golden rule when you are not sure if you packed everything, your passport, your wallet, and your camera or phone camera. Everything else you can buy when you get there... Except!
  7. Prescription medication, don't get caught without it if you take it! Remember to pack it! 
  8. Non prescription: Anti diarrhea pills, nuff said
  9. Know your European/Asian/USA etc clothing or shoe size for the place you are going in case you wanna buy while there.
  10. Go when you can go, not when you have 3 months off to go. Most of the people viewing this web page are American according to my stats, so am I. The typical American may only have 2 weeks vacation a year and holidays, after family visits, stay-cations, and whatever else you needed to take off for, if you only have 5 or 6 days to go somewhere, go. People will wait till they have a month off to backpack across Europe and end up blowing $2,000 at a casino in Vegas over a weekend, but never seeing Europe. It sucks we don't have much vacation/holiday, but use what you got, it also sucks that you lose a day flying, but I promise I've had amazing short trips, from 1 day to 5 days in other countries that blow all my domestic holidays away.
  11. Learn a bit of the language! I cannot emphasize enough how much language will help in international travels. You don't need to be fluent (though it would help more!), learn foods you don't eat or are allergic to, also learning some basic phrases can get you so far and the people will appreciate it too!

    Espanol in one of my many trips to South America
  12. If you are going to a 3rd world country, pack and carry an emergency roll of toilet paper. Nuff said.
  13. Think beyond the box of an expensive hotel, with options like airbnb, couch surfing, hostels, and vrbo there are so many other options to save you money!
  14. Bring gifts, something cheap from your country that they don't have where you are going, you can even email a hostel or guest house before you go and ask if they'd like anything, a little $20 gift or even cheaper will go a long way when you arrive.
  15. Know what you need in your carry on, and what you don't.
  16. Speaking of which, anytime possible, consider traveling with just a carry on! 
  17. When you must check a bag, I always like to leave room for souvenirs, you can also bring clothes you no longer like and just leave them there or donate them to have plenty of free space for the way home.
  18. Not so much an option with international travel, but with domestic I have also shipped my dirty clothes home to make more room in my bag.
  19. Traveling with friends is great, but don't always bank on it, Travel Alone when you have to, in some cases there are even some more fun aspects about solo travel!
  20. Layovers are thought of as a boring inconvenience, nothing can be further from the truth if you utilize them to your advantage! Make the lay over longer and add another city or even country to your itinerary.

    Some airlines, I.E. Iceland Air give free layovers to increase tourism. 
  21. Currency, know how much you are spending, some idiot I know was in China the first day and forgot to pack a belt, he ended up going to a mall and spent ¥500 Yuan on a belt! It was about $70 and it didn't even fit me... oops.... I mean him... yeah know the currency. 
  22. Also for currency exchange  go to your bank before the trip to have at least the cost of a taxi in cash on hand, once there withdraw from safe ATM's in that country. There is no need to pay crazy exchange fees at the airport.
  23. Speaking of fees, make sure you have a credit card that does not charge foreign transaction fees.
  24. Don't forget to call your credit card and bank to make the travel notification so you can use the card abroad.
  25. Do what must be done to get thru an international flight, it is legalized human torture.
  26. Buy books on ebay, I actually wait a year after my favorite authors release so I don't have to buy the hardcover, way too expensive and as soon as I am done reading the book I give it to another traveler to free up room in my bag, I'm not into the kindle scene yet.
  27. Souvenirs: Don't buy something you can buy at home, unless it's dirt cheap! I always found it strange when I lived in NYC how people came there to shop at chain stores that are all over the world (Ie. Gap, Victoria Secret, etc). Buy things that are unique, that you can't buy at home. 
  28. Use the library to plan your trip. Yeah remember that place you went to as a kid? They have great travel sections that will save you a ton instead of buying the books.
  29. Keep a travel journal, on your lap top, or in your own writing, it will seem silly a week or two down the line when you get home, but will make you smile a lot when you read it after a few years.

    I wish I wrote it down, because too much Vodka to rememeber exactly everything from my New Year's trip to Russia
  30. Make a friend, at least one. Meet people, either fellow travelers or a native to that country, when I first began travel I thought I'd never see some of these people again, yet we've remained friends, they've helped me travel, and have become not only great resources, but great all around friends. 
  31. Use forums like tripadvisor.com or similar to talk to people about any questions, and then be a good TA guy and answer questions on your city or a city you are well versed in.
  32. Check the flight status on your phone as you are heading to the airport, last thing you want to do is find out there was a crazy delay you didn't know about and now have to sit there for 4 hours waiting.
  33. Consider a money belt or passport belt if you are going into a shady country, but keep your wallet in your pocket with  a few dollars and an expired credit card so God forbid you are robbed you give something as a tourist with no money would be a bit suspicious!
  34. Accept that you will get ripped off by a taxi, do as much research to prevent it, but when it happens don't let it ruin your trip.
  35. Know the Celsius basics if you are American, 0 - very cold, 21 - Perfect weather, 40 - dessert heat. You can sort of figure out the rest with that.
  36. Same for the metric system, have a general idea of how many meters tall you are, your weight in kilograms, and how many kilometers it is to get to work, also remember 100 kilometers an hour is about the speed limit on American Freeways, not foreign (80 ish depending).
  37. For a long flight throw an extra pair of socks and underwear in your carry on, you may find a lot of airports on a layover have showers somewhere that you can change and feel fresh and ready to hit the place you are visiting.
  38. If you can get to the airport earlier you can typically check in for better seats on the plane, maybe even the exclusive exit row! Although sadly most airlines are now charging extra.
  39. If you are from the United States and people ask where you are from (and it's safe to say), don't say America, say the United States, USA, Etc, remember America has a lot of countries and two continents. Some South Americans get annoyed when we say we are American, I've been found guilty of this all the time.
  40. Book your rental car insurance through orbitz or expedia when using them, it's a lot cheaper than the rental companies typically and of course...
  41. Fill it up with gas before you return it, those war criminals will charge you a lot more for it than the gas station.
  42. 4 is the magic number to travel with, if you go with 5 most likely you will need 2 taxis for everything booking rooms will also be harder.
  43. Unplug your car battery for trips longer than 3 weeks
  44. Leave a copy of your passport with friends or family at home
  45. Same thing with an itinerary
  46. Join frequent flier clubs for ANY airline you use and keep a list of all the numbers on a file in your email or somewhere you can access it easily. 
  47. Carry business cards, even if you don't normally, an easy way to make friends and pass on contact info.
  48. Technology is great, but nothing beats old school map reading for a skill. Your gps or smart phone may fail, always be ready to read a map.

    I could not have made it around Southern Italy without map skill and Italian, many places had no signs, or trains didn't always necessarily announce stops.
  49. Look into getting TSA precheck, or global entry, they are huge benefits right now that may be obsolete once everyone has them, but for now are well worth it!
  50. And of course, share your travel knowledge and stories with friends, what good is it seeing and exploring the world if you can't share the stories or help the next person that is looking to follow.



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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

What To Do At/For Home Before A Trip


    Well it's almost time to get on a plane again for my 2nd international trip this year, but this one is gonna be a big one, I am going to Italy for 6 weeks with layover trips to Iceland and Denmark. I thought this would be a good time to go over what to do for trips over one week. So, here's a rough check list:


  • Book all flights/lodging if applicable, this particular trip I've only booked the beginning and end to travel around more freely in the middle. 
  • Obtain all necessary Visa's if applicable
  • Medications if applicable 
  • Pack your bags, duh
  • Make travel notifications for you bank cards or credit cards you will use on the trip
  • Have a little bit of foreign currency before you leave in case you can't find an ATM right away at your destination
  • House keys, personally I don't like to travel with them, so I make arrangements to keep them with someone at home, it's also a good idea if you live solo to give a copy to a friend just in case.
  • Get a pool or yard guy to take care of pool/yard while gone.
  • Unplug car battery for extended trips, anything over 3 weeks I'd unplug the battery.
  • Verify with work before you leave that all days scheduled to be off have been approved
  • Leave photocopies of your passport with a friend or family member
  • Leave an itinerary with a friend or family member
  • Make arrangements if you are taking classes for the time off
  • Verify that your tickets have global entry and/or TSA Pre check if you have it
  • Secure transportation to the airport, and have a great trip! :)


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Friday, December 18, 2015

How To Use Only A Carry On For Trips

Japan, my first but not last carry on only trip
     Well it's that time again, my favorite holiday to travel, New Year's eve is around the corner and I will be celebrating the holiday in Colombia for 2016. I'm looking forward to exploring nature there, visiting some museums and historical sites, hiking, seeing some old friends in Bogota, and of course partying in Medellin for the turn to 2016. And now of course it's time to pack, also a good time to give my tips on how I travel with only a carry on. My last multiple continent/country trip, I used only a carry on and traveled for 30 days through 4 countries in Europe and Asia, and that was a winter trip which makes it even more challenging. I am a guy, not sure how this would work for a female... So....

  • Anytime during the year if I have clothes that are tweeners, I am not quite sure if I want to donate them or keep them, they become the travel clothes, these are shirts or whatever that you will be getting rid of soon, so pack them for your trip, and plan on leaving them in the country you visit. That will give you room in your bag for clothes you buy there or souvenirs.
  • Speaking of buying clothes, plan on it, maybe you don't need 3 dress shirts because you want to buy some when you are down there anyway.
  • Buy socks and underwear as you go. An option thats not always necessary, but if laundry is gonna be an issue as your under garments get dirty, toss them and buy new ones. Speaking of laundry..
  • Try to book your place to stay with laundry facilities there or near by, if not you can always go old school  bath tub wash and hang dry. Even when I am checking a back pack I never pack more than 7 days of clothes.
  • Two pairs of pants, one pair of shorts, that's the max you will need, one pair of nice pants, one pair not nice.
  • It is especially important to try to do this on trips where you will be flying a lot or doing a layover vacation, I can't begin to tell you the freedom you feel when you don't have to wait for bags and can just get off a plane and start touring a city. 
  • Don't bother bringing a laptop or ipad, you probably can do it with a smart phone, or find an internet cafe, and who wants to be on a computer while traveling anyway?
  • Shoes are my worst enemy, I have a big foot, so two options, one is stuffing things into the shoes so they are not taking up as much space, or two is buying a pair when I get to the country if that's an option. In Greece I actually did this, I went to Israel but was coming back to Greece and hid the shoes in an apartment stairwell for when I got back.
  • A summer carry on only is gonna be real easy, less layers, less clothes to pack, winter you need more clothes but your coat has pockets you can take advantage of.
  • I clip my flip flops (if applicable) in to my locker which hangs out on the strap of the bag, 1 inch more of space for the inside of the bag.
  • Don't forget you will be wearing an outfit on the plane. So one of your shorts, or one of the pants you don't need to pack.
  • Make sure your carry on is a backpack rather than a luggage or shoulder bag, much easier to carry, and easy to clip things onto.
   And that's it! Just choose a good carry on and practice makes perfect, my recommended bag for carry on only:

    Now it's time for me to continue packing my backpack for this trip, from USA right now, and Colombia in only a few days, Happy New Years!



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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Israel



      So as I was spending 2015 in Greece, I realized that for very little money I could hop one continent over and not only see Israel, but also visit Turkey on a layover. Israel is not renown for being a budget destination, but like all things, the deals are there if you look for them. I had obvious safety concerns like any American going to Israel, but they way I explain it to people after going, if I had a choice to be stuck in downtown Phoenix at 3am where I live now, downtown NYC at 3am where I am from, or downtown Jerusalem at 3am, I would feel safest by far in downtown Jerusalem. That's not to say that things don't happen anywhere in the world, but I also could be hit by a bus as soon as I finish this blog post.

Here's how I spend my short stay in Israel and everything I did in only 4 or 5 days:


  • I found a room off airbnb and stayed with a Russian couple right outside the walled city of old Jerusalem for about $40 a night. The location was perfect to see everything Israel had to offer.
  • I find that you need to geographically measure countries, this isn't fool proof, but when people start telling you that you need to spend a month to see country you need to see just how big that country, Israel is about the size of New Jersey, I wouldn't dare tell someone that they need to spend a month in New Jersey to see it. That made the battle plan a lot easier, and my biggest travel tip for Israel...
  • RENT A CAR! I wouldn't deal with crossing the borders, but for travel within Israel, it will be a hell of a lot easier and cheaper to rent a car and do it on your own, of course make sure to have gps and paper maps if gps fails. The rental car is around $30 a day, I had an international driver's license but they didn't ask for it. Having the car gave me the chance to see a ton more than I would have with a tour company, and no tour companies went to one of my main interests in the trip, the Negev Dessert. I also had extra time to do the dead sea in the car, and the ancient mountain city of Masada.


                              
  • Ride a camel across the 4,000 year old trail in the Negev Dessert, nuff said.
  • I was told on trip advisor I needed at least two days to see the dead sea, I 'd correct this to say two hours max, float in it, take some pics, grab lunch, and leave.

The Dead Sea, trust me, it's dead.
  • Now although I self toured with my car, I loved the Midnight Biking In Jerusalem tour, such a great and different way to see and learn about the city. I also self toured old Jerusalem.
  • For the Palestinian Territories it was easier and safer to go with a tour company. I did a day in Jericho, & Bethlehem.
  • And of course at night enjoy some Jewish or really any cuisine and shopping at Mamilla in Jerusalem.
  • Tel Aviv is cool, but pretty much like any other big city.

         This was my first trip to the middle east. It was a short but sweet journey that I will never forget. It opened my eyes more to not only the Jewish history but the Palestinian history as well. My first trip to the middle east, and hopefully not my last.
                                            


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