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How To Stay Active While Traveling

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Day trip biking through Waterland near Amsterdam.

Maintaining a daily fitness routine is hard enough at home base. Yes, you can make your own meals, go to the gym, go for a run and set a regular workout schedule. How to stay active while traveling? While that’s a whole other ball game…

Traveling throws your fitness regime out the window.

As much as I love not knowing where I’ll go next, what experiences are coming my way, trying new foods and being totally open to, well, the open road, I always get frustrated by my lack of ability to maintain some sort of fitness regime. And that really hurts when you’re traveling in summer on the coast of great beaches such as those in Greece or Spain.

Suddenly there is no gym you can go to, no familiar running path to take, probably no awareness of what you’re eating and definitely a change in sleep patterns.

So, the question remains: how to maintain some sort of fitness routine while on the road?

Stay Active While Traveling Tip #1: Set A Goal

Personally, I think the most important factor in staying fit for your trip, whether it is just a week or months at a time is to set a reasonable goal for yourself. I try to workout at least 30 minutes per day, five days per week. That is probably not realistic while traveling.

So instead, set a goal for yourself that can be accomplished relatively quickly, without any gym equipment in a small space. Check out some of these 20 minute, equipment optional whole body workouts from Buzzfeed.

If these still seem too much for you, be realistic. Can you do 100 sit-ups and 30 push-ups per day? Probably. Find what works for you and stick to it. Also keep in mind that you can find many video workouts online.

Stay Active While Traveling Tip #2: Walk… A Lot

Generally, when I travel I spend a lot of time walking around the new city exploring compared to the typical amount of walking I do during a normal day not traveling. Also remember that biking through a city or other destination is a great and inexpensive way to see a lot in a short amount of time. This is a great thing if maintaining your fitness is important to you during your travels.

Day trip biking through Waterland near Amsterdam.
Day trip biking through Waterland near Amsterdam.

Also, don’t be afraid to try day trips to places outside of the city, especially if there will be a little hiking involved. One of my favorite trips was to the Calanques National Park in Southern France (outside of Marseille). We had to walk 3 km up and down a huge hill in 30-plus degree summer heat in order to get to the beach, but definitely worth it!

Stay Active While Traveling Tip #3: Be Aware Of What You’re Eating, But Don’t Forget To Enjoy

I’m the kind of traveler who gets most excited to eat new things. I plan a day around which places I want to try food at, rather than what sites I want to see (not great for a fitness regime).

Red fruit Tiramisu and red wine with a view of the Notre-Dame in Paris: a.k.a. my reason for traveling.
Red fruit Tiramisu and red wine with a view of the Notre-Dame in Paris: a.k.a. my reason for traveling.

On my next trip, I would like to be a little more aware of maintaining some sort of healthy diet while traveling. Instead of just eating whatever at every meal, maybe save it for once per day and the rest of the time choose something more typical to what you would eat normally at home. Plus, a lot of the best food to try is the fresh, seasonal fruits and veggies you can’t get in your home country!

Stay Active While Traveling Tip #4: Plan Active Trips

Some of the best sites that Europe has to offer are part of an active trip. Go skiing in the Alps, hike through the Sierra Nevada Mountains, go surfing in Greece. Take advantage of all the natural gifts!

View from the top of the slopes in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
View from the top of the slopes in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

What other tips do you have for the active traveler?

Airbnb vs. hostels vs. Couchsurfing

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Apparently this is an 18 euro view in Ibiza!

Which sets you up for the best travel experience?

As someone who is always on a budget, hotels never factored into my decision of “where to stay?” Instead, I’ve mostly stayed in hostels (the good, the bad, and the ugly) and recently, Airbnb has been the go-to option for traveling. Though I’ve never actually tried couchsurfing, I know some friends who have and I’ve read a bit about it in case I want to try it in the future.

When comparing Airbnb vs. hostels vs. Couchsurfing, there are definitely different benefits and drawbacks that each one brings to the table

1. Price

In my experience, Airbnb and hostels are tied in this respect. You may find hostels cheaper in some destinations over others or vice versa.

Airbnb has the potential to be less expensive if you are in a larger group and the host has a flat rate for the entire apartment. For example, five of us recently stayed in beautiful apartment in the city center of Belgrade for less than 10 euros per person per night, but if there had been only two of us, it would have been much more expensive. I always try to compare the two options before booking. Sometimes you can find really good deals on hostel booking sites such as the one we had in Ibiza for 18 euro per person per night which actually turned out to be a private apartment.

Or the castle we stayed in in Carcassonne, in southern France for 17 euro per person per night!

View from our room at the Castle Chambres, Carcassonne, France.
View from our room at the Castle Chambres, Carcassonne, France.

If price is your biggest concern, however, Couchsurfing is the winner here, as you don’t have to pay anything to use the service. Instead, the price is more for your time, social interactions and sharing your experiences with the host, if they wish. You aren’t required to spend time with the host, of course, but it can be considered a bit rude if they are hosting you for free and you don’t want to make any conversation with them at all.

2. Comfort

On the spectrum, I would put couchsurfing as the lowest level of comfort, as you can many times be sleeping literally on someone’s couch in the middle of their living area. Or you could have your own space; it really depends on luck in this case.

I’ve stayed in some hostels that were absolutely terrible and would have actually rather slept on the park bench outside (cough, cough, in Edinburgh) but on the other hand I’ve stayed in really comfortable hostels, with each bed having their own privacy curtain such as the Lounge Hostel in Skopje, Macedonia.

The clear winner for me in terms of comfort is Airbnb. Having your own private apartment is amazing for any trip and not having to be kept awake by stranger’s snores is a huge perk! Plus, depending on where you’re staying and how much you’re willing to pay you can get a super cool place, such as the one I stayed in in Amsterdam with a rooftop hot tub!

Our rooftop hot tub at the Airbnb in Amsterdam.
Our rooftop hot tub at the Airbnb in Amsterdam.

3. Socialization

Airbnb is definitely the most private of the options, though sometimes the host is happy to give you some advice and perhaps invite you for a drink with them or something.

If I was to travel alone or with just another friend, maybe a hostel would be the best option so that you could meet fellow travelers and socialize with others. Couchsurfing is also a great option for meeting new people, but you are more limited to the host and perhaps if they want to introduce you to some friends.

In conclusion:

Want the cheapest option? Couchsurfing

Want to feel the most comfortable? Airbnb

Want to meet new people? Hostels

What do you think? Do you agree?

Useful Tech Travel Accessories

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Macbook Air work station. Taken by Alejandro Pinto via Flickr.

I love writing for a travel website!

Besides giving me the freedom to go where I want, when I want, it is also the perfect excuse to visit new and exciting places (it’s research, okay!).

With that being said, it means I can’t really unplug during my travels. Sometimes I do just try to disconnect for at least a few days, to really get the feeling of the place I’m visiting but I also think it’s important to write down at least a rough draft of the experience shortly after it happened so that all the important details are still fresh in my mind. Considering that I try to pack light, there are a few electronic essentials I consider absolutely necessary for any trip!

Here is a list of he ones I’ve got already and stay tuned for the ones on my wish-list!

Tech Accessory #1: Laptop

Macbook Air work station. Taken by Alejandro Pinto via Flickr.
Macbook Air work station. Taken by Alejandro Pinto via Flickr.

Essential item number one is my laptop. I’m really lucky to have a 13 inch MacBook Air, which is super light and doesn’t add much weight to my luggage. I have a case that I always keep it in to protect it and also is the perfect lap pillow to use if I don’t have a table or desk to use.

Also- I use a keyboard cover like this one, which I think adds a little extra insurance when you’re bringing an expensive electronic around with you, in cafes, at hostels and traveling throughout the city.

Tech Accessory #2: Smartphone

Navigation with the iPhone. Taken by Kārlis Dambrāns via Flickr.
Navigation with the iPhone. Taken by Kārlis Dambrāns via Flickr.

Any seasoned traveler will tell you that your mobile phone is the perfect travel tool. I have an IPhone 4S, which is great to have when I need to connect quickly to Wi-Fi for directions or look something up. Also, I am working on improving my picture taking skills (and motivations) before I switch to a real camera, so the IPhone takes acceptable photos for the time being.

Tech Accessory #3: Portable Charger

Portable charger. Taken by Dennis van Zuijlekom via Flickr.
Portable charger. Taken by Dennis van Zuijlekom via Flickr.

I just got a portable phone and laptop charger for Christmas (thanks, mom!) and I’ve already put it to use a few times. It’s the best accessory, especially for long trips such as bus rides when you won’t have access to an outlet. This insures that if I have to at the very least connect with a friend I’m meeting, check directions or find some other important information I won’t be of out of battery and out of luck.

Tech Accessory #4: Adapter

Power adapters for international outlets. Taken by Alen Levine via Flickr.
Power adapters for international outlets. Taken by Alan Levine via Flickr.

With a U.S. charger cord, I always have to carry an adapter with me. It’s ideal to get one that converts the voltage because it varies by country. I’ve had a few hair dryers or straighteners short out so I make sure also to check the voltage before I plug in.

Budget guide to traveling city to city

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Luggage

What’s your favorite way of traveling?

Do you enjoy luxury vacations, equipped with a hotel, spa, breakfast buffet and those white fuzzy robes? Or do you prefer to “rough it”? Staying in cheap places, saving up as much as you can for your next trip? For me, I would be a healthy medium. My best traveling experiences have come when I’ve gotten up close and personal with how people really live.But, of course, I enjoy a big, comfortable hotel bed every once and a while too!

Once I’ve checked out the major sights the city or village is known for, I try to scoot away from the main tourist drag. Instead I try to look for the little side streets that offer a more authentic feel.

Being a student, I definitely can’t afford to pay full price any nice hotel or “luxury travel experience”.

I have learned, however, that you can travel pretty comfortably from place to place within Europe for very low prices if you know where to look. This way, I can spend my limited funds on visiting new places and gaining more experiences.

Flights

Airport terminal

Flights wouldn’t be my favorite mode of transportation. Airports can sometimes be located far outside the city. Plus, you always have to get there a few hours ahead of time. The reasons why I do choose to fly when traveling are because it could be the quickest route or even the least expensive option (surprisingly).

Skyscanner.com is a good place to start. If you don’t know where you want to go, just put in your current location and choose “everywhere” as your destination. From there you can see the cheapest flights for the desired time period. If dates are flexible, you can also choose “whole month” or “whole year” instead of specific dates. Then, find the cheapest flights during that entire time period. Sometimes, the prices are not the most up to date, but usually you can get a good idea from the initial searches.

Trains

Train

If you are going from one country to another, look at various search engines from each country, as one may be a lot cheaper than the other. Last year, my train from Holland to German was half the price on the Dutch website versus the German one.

If you’re planning a long trip throughout Europe, I would definitely recommend using the rail system. If you can find a train that offers an overnight ride with a bed or “couchette”. That is a great option to not only travel comfortably but also save money, as you won’t need to pay for a place to stay that night. Also, if you are a student or under 25, StudentUniverse.com offers discounts. Plus, trains give you the chance to see the countryside and some beautiful scenery like this view from our train ride in Slovenia!

View from the train in Slovenia.
View from the train in Slovenia.

Bus

Bus

The bus is usually a really cheap traveling option. But I always want to be careful the bus route doesn’t take way longer than the other modes. And, if you get stuck with a dud bus company, the trip can be pretty uncomfortable. Bus prices are always advertised throughout the cities, so just do a quick Google search to find one on the route you are looking for.

Car-sharing

Driving

I’ve had only one experience with the German car sharing “mitfahrgelegenheit” and I could definitely recommend it. It was inexpensive and very convenient. Plus, if someone is already going that way, why not hop in and save some carbon emissions that would have been used for you if you traveled separately? Another good option for ride sharing is BlaBlaCar.com, too!

4 Reasons To Buy Local On Your Next Trip

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Local farmer's market. Via Flickr.
Local produce and foods. Taken by Edsel Little via Flickr.
Local produce and foods. Taken by Edsel Little via Flickr.

The “buy local” movement is on the rise. In many cities you can find initiative organizations popping up bringing together local farmers and consumers. In the grocery store there are products marked as “from the region”. The demand for farmer’s markets is increasing at a steady rate.

This is a great idea! There are so many reasons to buy local (which I’ll get into a little further down). When you are in your own city it’s relatively easy to figure out where and how to get the local products. When you’re traveling, however, it may not be quite so simple. There are a few reasons that it can be difficult to buy local (especially including food) when traveling. Maybe…

You simply don’t know what are the local products.

You don’t know where to find local products.

You don’t speak the language and therefore even if a product were marked as local you wouldn’t know.

You’re on a budget and familiar chains like McDonald’s or Burger King fit into your price range.

Etc., etc…

While all of these points may be valid, there are so many reasons to buy local products, not only for residents but also for travelers!

1. Local food teaches you about the culture and traditions.

Jamon! Taken by Cristina Valencia via Flickr.
Jamon! Taken by Cristina Valencia via Flickr.

Buying and eating local produce, meats, cheeses, etc. is the absolute perfect way to learn about the place you are visiting. In many cultures, there are few things more indicative to their traditions than cuisine, which are deeply rooted in the experiences of generations past.

When I first learned that Jamon in Spain was a salted leg of pork mounted in the kitchen for weeks at a time I was quite concerned… Was I really going to eat this piece of meat that my Spanish friend just shaved off an unrefrigerated hunk of meat? But I’m so glad I did! Jamon is delicious and absolutely at the heart of the Spanish culture.

2. Local food is fresher!

Brussels sprouts.
Brussels sprouts.

Eating what has been recently pulled from the ground or plucked from a tree pretty much ensures you’re going to get a fresh, nutritious, delicious experience. I’ll never forget how much flavor was in tomatoes and cucumbers bought at the Serbian market in the summertime.

3. Local (and seasonal) food can be less expensive.

Local farmer's market. Via Flickr.
Local farmer’s market. Via Flickr.

Buying products that are in season and locally grown cuts a lot of costs: transportation, storage, preservation, etc. If you head to a local market in the summertime, look for salad vegetables like lettuce, cucumber, peppers and tomatoes. In the fall, more hearty options such as cabbage, beets, Brussels sprouts and squashes will be in season.

4. Local food supports the local economy.

Local strawberry stand in Zagreb, Croatia. Taken by Kirstie.
Local strawberry stand in Zagreb, Croatia. Taken by Kirstie.

Buying local gives security to farmers that they can continue producing local. By supporting the local economy, you can ensure that these cultural traditions won’t be substituted by a big company who imports their products from the developing countries (in which many times the labor force there is exploited).

Where to Celebrate Carnival in Europe!?

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Carnival in Venice. Taken by Salvatore Gerace via Flickr.

The time for Carnival celebrations has begun throughout the world!

History of Carnival

The exact origins of this festivity is not certain, though it may be traced backed to the Medieval Latin word(s): carnem levare or carnelevarium, which mean to remove meat. Because the celebrations are thought of as the final festivity before the period of Lent during which Roman Catholics would abstain from eating meat in earlier times, this derivation makes perfect sense.

Where the history of Carnival begins is also unsure. It may be rooted in the primitive festival, which honored the beginning of the new year and rebirth of nature. Or, perhaps it is linked to the pagan Saturnalian festival of ancient Rome. Either way, the founders of the idea probably didn’t imagine it would turn into the eccentric dance, drink and be merry festival it has today!

Worldwide Carnival Celebrations

Probably the most famous Carnival celebration takes place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t find elaborate and fabulous festivities here in Europe either! Where are the best places to celebrate Carnival in Europe?

Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain.

Carnaval at Santa Cruz de Tenerife. Taken by Philippe Teuwen via Flickr.
Carnaval at Santa Cruz de Tenerife. Taken by Philippe Teuwen via Flickr.

Located in the Canary Islands of Spain is perhaps the most famous Carnival celebrations behind Rio. This year’s celebration runs from February 3-14th, so preparations are in full swing! The festival is one of the most important to the people of Tenerife, and the entire year can be spent planning the floats, costumes and designs. During the peak times, more than 250,000 people can be found in the main streets and squares dancing to traditional Latin music, drinking and dressed up in elaborate costumes.

Venice, Italy.

Carnival in Venice. Taken by Salvatore Gerace via Flickr.
Carnival in Venice. Taken by Salvatore Gerace via Flickr.

The Carnival of Italy’s city on water began January 23 and runs through February 9th. During the Carnival you will find masked party-goers invading the streets, singing dancing and simply enjoying the party! The biggest excitement comes during the weekend and the not to be missed is the election of the year’s best costume- decided on the final day, February 9th. The most famous spot to join in is at St. Mark’s Square, so get a mask and get over there! Only a few days left!

Nice, France.

Like the Venetian Carnival, masks are an important part of the costume. This year’s celebration takes place from February 13th-28th with the theme being “King of Media”. The final days of the festival culminate on Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) where the people each as much heavy, fatty food as possible before the abstinent period begins the following day. Not sure what to expect? Check out the video here!

Cadiz, Spain.

Carnaval in Cádiz. Taken by Alcalaina via Flickr.
Carnaval in Cádiz. Taken by Alcalaina via Flickr.

The Carnival of Cadiz is one of the most extravagant in Europe, taking place this year from February 4th-14th. There are processions, concerts, shows, fireworks and tons of dancing, drinking and singing in the streets. The “Chirigotas” or satirical songs about the current Spanish news and politicians are a popular aspect of this Carnival!

 

My Top Tips to Be a Good Traveler (6-10)

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A friendly match at the FC Barcelona stadium last summer.

And the list of my top ways to be a good traveler continues…

6. Brush up on the local language.

Even if you’re someone who travels to many different countries, each with their own unique languages, it’s a good idea to learn to say even a few basic words. I’ve found the most important ones are “Hello”, “Thank you”, “Excuse me”(like if you bump into someone on the street by accident), “Goodbye” and “Do you speak English?” or simply “English?”. I think learning to say a little bit shows respect for the culture, and also doesn’t give you away so obviously as a foreigner.

In the case where you must speak English it’s relatively easy throughout Europe to find at least one person who speaks some English in case you need some help. In many countries, especially in the south of Europe, English has only been recently integrated into the curriculum in the past 10-20 years, so you will most likely find that the younger people speak well, while those older than 40 or so probably won’t.

7. Be comfortable being uncomfortable.

It’s completely natural (and normal) to feel unsure of yourself or out of place in a new place (duh, Sarah). The best way to deal with this is to just simply be comfortable with discomfort. Don’t let yourself feel overwhelmed that you don’t understand what anyone is saying, you have no idea where you are going or the food is completely different than anything you’re used to. This is all to be expected. When I first started traveling, I looked for things that were like what I would have at home, things that were familiar. The more time I spend visiting new places and learning about new cultures, the more I look for things as different from what I’m used to as possible. Good travelers will always challenge themself to try new things.

8. Buy local.

Please, please, please, don’t go to Italy and eat at McDonalds, or the Hard Rock Café for that matter (okay, I’ve done it, but I’m not proud about it!). Look for local restaurants, shops, things to do, etc. Supporting the local economy will ensure that this magical place you’re visiting can keep thriving. Plus, local food is fresh, delicious and something you can’t get at home-like this authentic Neapolitan pizza from one of Naples’s most famous pizza restaurants- da Michele.

Pizza at da Michele in Naples.
Pizza at da Michele in Naples.

Also, it can be fun to visit some local farms outside the city like this one with strawberries and raspberries that we found on our way to a lake last summer.

Picking raspberries in Germany.
Picking raspberries in Germany.

9. Learn to like football (If you don’t already).

A friendly match at the FC Barcelona stadium last summer.
A friendly match at the FC Barcelona stadium last summer.

I don’t mind watching football (soccer for us U.S. natives), but I also wouldn’t seek out a game on my own either. With that being said, some of the most fun times I’ve had in Europe have revolved around watching a football game.

World Cup 2014 Fanfest in Hamburg, Germany.
World Cup 2014 Fan-fest I went to in Hamburg, Germany.

The fans are diehard and the atmosphere, even in hole-in-the-wall bars in some tiny little village, are going to be wild even if there is a relatively unimportant game on. If you are so lucky to be in Europe during a very important match (like I was in Germany during the last World Cup) consider this your golden opportunity. Find a local sports bar (or maybe even public viewing location) and join in with the festivities. I promise you won’t be disappointed!

10. Write postcards, don’t buy souvenirs.

Taken by esperales via Flickr.
Taken by esperales via Flickr.

Does your mom really want a small little figurine of a Spanish Matador? Perhaps not. Writing postcards to family and friends back home is a much more personal memory that can easily be stuck on the fridge or kept in a scrapbook, for example. Plus, you won’t add any extra weight to your baggage!

My Top Tips to Be a Good Traveler (1-5)

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Like taking an unplanned sunset swim on the island of Hvar in Croatia!

As the New Year is beginning, I find myself wondering which new places I will visit in 2016. That has got me also reflecting on the places I’ve been and what I’ve learned about traveling thus far. One thing that really sticks out is this idea: There is a big difference between a “tourist” and a “good traveler”.

A tourist may only take away pictures (from the most important sites, of course), while a traveler takes away experiences.

Learning to be a good traveler isn’t always easy, and I wouldn’t say that I’ve quite mastered it yet. But taking the steps in the right direction will put you on the right path to getting the most out of your visit- gaining a deeper cultural insight, new knowledge about the place, maybe learning a little more about yourself and, if you’re lucky, some really crazy stories!

Here are my top ways to be a good traveler (1-5):

1. You have the knowledge of a newborn.

If you’ve never visited this place before, especially not even the country, then think of yourself as a completely blank slate- clueless. Guidebooks and Internet research can tell you all about what you should see or do- but you shouldn’t consider these your absolute rules.

Instead, ask around. Cab drivers are one of the best guides out there. They know the city in-and-out, they are a captive audience for at least a few minutes and, from my experience, they are usually pretty blunt about what’s cool and what’s not. Hostel, Airbnb or hotel owners and staff can also be really helpful, but sometimes I’ve found that they have a partnership with a certain bar or restaurant and therefore just guide all their guests there.

2. Meet people.

I’m not saying go out and make friends with that sketchy-looking person in the park, but if you’re somewhere where it would be okay to strike up conversation with another person, such as a bar, a park or even on public transport go for it! Maybe they would be interested in hearing your story and letting you know their favorite places to go (especially in a smaller or less touristic place). If you’re with a group of friends maybe they would also be interested in inviting you to join them for dinner or a night out.

Our new Greek friend who was eager to take shots of Ouzo with us in Thessaloniki!
Our new Greek friend who was eager to take shots of Ouzo with us in Thessaloniki!

3. Be spontaneous!

Like taking an unplanned sunset swim on the island of Hvar in Croatia!
Like taking an unplanned sunset swim on the island of Hvar in Croatia!

A good traveler knows that rigidity while traveling is always a no-go. Challenges are bound to arise no matter where you go, and if you aren’t able to change plans without an anxiety attack, this may cause some problems. Even if you’re simply planning the days activities- be open. Sticking to a rough plan will give you a guideline of where to go, but being absolute in this will create the risk that perhaps you miss out on a really cool, unique experience. One of my favorite things to do when I visit a new city is to simply walk around for a few hours before I plan to go to or see anything.

4. Get off the beaten path.

Especially in really touristic cities, the beaten path is overrun by footprints of the many tourists that have come before you. I’m not saying that there isn’t the right time to be a tourist, take a selfie in front of the Eiffel Tower, bend your head in shame and move on, but I generally find that the really fun stuff happens when you get outside the most visited areas. Plus, you tend to save some money this way too, as many of the locals know that tourists are there to spend money and therefore prices are higher in these areas. Try heading out from the center in any direction, finding a run-down looking bar or café, sit and have a drink and chat with your waiter about where to go next- works almost every time!

You may find some interesting sights such as these pictures I took from a recent visit to Serbia:

Roses in Niš.
Roses in Niš.
Dried hanging peppers in Niš.
Dried hanging peppers in Niš.

Or, if you’re in a less urban area, just find a dirt path, a map and head out!

Biking out to the beach in Formentera.
Biking out to the beach in Formentera.

5. Leave anywhere better than you found it.

I always cringe a little when I see someone, especially one who is obviously a tourist, just throw his or her trash on the ground or leave it lying around. Even in cities where the idea of recycling (or even throwing away garbage in the proper receptacle) isn’t hugely important, there is no reason not to leave it nicer than you found it. Someone has to pick it up don’t they? Or shall it just sit there to rot? A good traveler leaves it as nice or better than they found it. Let’s work together to make the world a better place!

Those were some of my top ways to be a good traveler, stay tuned for the continuation….

New Year’s Eve Celebrations in Europe

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New Year's Eve at the Champs-Elysées. Taken by Falcon® Photography via Flickr.

New Year’s Eve is a time to celebrate the ending of the old and the beginning of the new with friends and family throughout the world.

I’ve been lucky enough to spend a few New Year’s Eves in Europe, once in Spain and once in Germany, which just left me curious to find out about more celebration traditions across Europe.

Spain

¡Feliz Año Nuevo!

New Year's Eve in Puerta del Sol. Taken by Börkur Sigurbjörnsson via Flickr.
New Year’s Eve in Puerta del Sol. Taken by Börkur Sigurbjörnsson via Flickr.

Let’s start with my all-time favorite European country (of course I’ve not been to all, but I think it will be difficult to steal my heart from Spain!). New Year’s celebrations in Spain include burning straw dolls in the street and eating 12 grapes at midnight. The heart of the Noche Vieja (New Year’s Eve) can be found at the Puerta del Sol in the center of Madrid. It’s totally packed by the time the famous bell tower chimes so get there early if you want a spot!

Germany

Prosit Neujahr!

New Year's Eve at Brandenburger Tor. Taken by RedBull Trinker via Flickr.
New Year’s Eve at Brandenburger Tor. Taken by RedBull Trinker via Flickr.

New Year’s traditions in my current home include leaving out a bit of food on the table after midnight to ensure plenty of food for the upcoming year, or falling molten lead in cold water, with the end shape being the basis for predictions made for the future of the person such as wedding, traveling or abundance of food, known as Bleigiessen. Berlin’s Brandenburger Tor is the heart of the German New Year’s Eve (known as Silvester), where thousands watch fireworks to celebrate.

Holland

Gelukkig Nieuwjaar!

Fireworks in Amsterdam. Taken by LenDog64 via Flickr.
Fireworks in Amsterdam. Taken by LenDog64 via Flickr.

Another one of my favorite European countries, especially the capital city of Amsterdam, is a great place to celebrate the coming year. One tradition is to eat a donut or something shaped like a ring to bring good fortune in the new year. Come New Year’s Even (known as Oudejaarsavond) people gather in the streets with the countdown taking place in the large grassy square in front of the Rijksmuseum. As well Nieuwmarkt and Dam Square are also great to visit, with the latter featuring live music from famous Dutch DJs.

France

Bonne Année!

New Year’s Eve at the Champs-Elysées. Taken by Falcon® Photography via Flickr.
New Year’s Eve at the Champs-Elysées. Taken by Falcon® Photography via Flickr.

One French New Year’s traditions is in the expected romantic fashion, where there is typically a large feast (which includes crepes, foie gras and champagne) with a formal ball or torchlight procession to pick grapes to follow. In the capital city of Paris, crowds gather along the Champs-Elysées with views of the Eiffel Tower’s midnight lights.

Italy

Buon Anno!

New Year's Eve in Rome. Taken by neigesdantan via Flickr.
New Year’s Eve in Rome. Taken by neigesdantan via Flickr.

Some Italian New Year’s traditions include wearing red underwear or throwing old clothes out the window to ring in the New Year. In the capital city of Rome on New Year’s Eve (San Silvestro) people gather to the piazza del Popolo to see a free concert and fireworks display.

What are your favorite New Year’s traditions?

[Time Out], [123 New Year]

Where Does The Christmas Tree Come From?

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Christmas tree with ornaments. Taken by Joe Shlabotnik via Flickr.

Placing a Christmas tree is your home during the holiday season is a common tradition in Europe and the U.S., and all around the world. Do you know where this custom originated?

Christmas tree with ornaments. Taken by Joe Shlabotnik via Flickr.
Christmas tree with ornaments. Taken by Joe Shlabotnik via Flickr.

Germany.

It is widely accepted that the origins of placing an evergreen tree in your home to celebrate Christmas began in the 16th century Germany. There are a few theories to the exact reasoning behind this, however…

Early Beginnings Of The Christmas Tree

“Happy Christmas”. “Johansen Viggo – Radosne Boże Narodzenie” by Viggo Johansen – “Glade Jul”, Den Hirschsprungske Samling. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.
“Happy Christmas”. “Johansen Viggo – Radosne Boże Narodzenie” by Viggo Johansen – “Glade Jul”, Den Hirschsprungske Samling. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

One is that the 16th century Protestant reformer Martin Luther was walking home on a winter evening and was so taken with the beauty of the stars twinkling amidst the evergreen trees. In an effort to recapture this, he put a tree in his own living room and placed lighted candles on its branches.

Another theory states that the tree was to represent a “tree of paradise” during medieval mystery plays given on the 24th of December, the day of Adam and Eve in many Christian countries. During these plays, the tree was decorated with apples to represent the forbidden fruit. Over time, they became popular to be placed in homes and the apples were replaced by red, shiny balls.

It should be considered, however, that the tradition of placing greenery in the home during winter dates back farm before the advent of Christianity. It many countries it was believed that evergreens keep away witches, ghosts, evil spirits and illness. The evergreens also had a connection with the winter solstice that falls on December 21 or 22nd of each year for civilizations such as the Egyptians, Romans and Celts.

Many ancient people such as the believed that the reason for winter was because the sun god became sick and weak, the solstice meant that the god would begin to be healthy again and that the sun would get stronger. Therefore, they decorated with evergreens as a reminder that the green plants would soon come back again and summer would return.

The Christmas Tree Becomes A Religious Tradition

While the practice of placing a Christmas tree in the home was popular in Germany early on, it was considered an oddity in many other countries such as the U.S. or the U.K. In the U.S., German settlers in Pennsylvania would put up Christmas Trees as early as the 1830s, but it was not widely accepted.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert around their Christmas tree. By Godey's Lady's Book [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert around their Christmas tree. By Godey’s Lady’s Book [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Many credit a popular royal with the emergence of the Christmas tree as a widespread tradition. In 1846, Queen Victoria of Britain encouraged her husband, German Prince Albert to decorate a Christmas tree like the ones he grew up with in their home. They were sketched in the London News in front of their tree along with their children. As Victoria was very popular with her subjects, whatever she did immediately became fashionable- in Britain as well as the East Coast American Society.

As electrical lights became more available, this made the Christmas tree a safer endeavor (as opposed to candles). Along with lights, people would decorate with homemade ornaments as well as food and other sweets such as candies or Marzipan. In Europe, the trees were commonly only a few feet tall, while in the U.S. they reached floor to ceiling.

The Christmas Tree Today

Throughout the world people everywhere put up trees in their home each year to celebrate the Christmas season. Some go out and chop the tree themselves (a common tradition in the U.S.) or some even put up artificial trees.

Cutting down the Christmas tree! Taken by CJ Sorg via Flickr.
Cutting down the Christmas tree! Taken by CJ Sorg via Flickr.

Christmas tree today. By DR04 (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Christmas tree today. By DR04 (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
In the U.S. perhaps the most famous tree is the one at Rockefeller Center in New York City. Check out a video from the History Channel with more information here:

Lit tree at Rockefeller Center. Taken by Anthony Quintano via Flickr.
Lit tree at Rockefeller Center. Taken by Anthony Quintano via Flickr.

Interesting stuff, huh?

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