It’s Winter holidays time, and many of us are wondering where to head next. If you are unfortunate enough to live in the North (like myself), seeking out some sunshine is crucial at this time of the year. It could be anything from a short break away from the city to a 16-hour flight to South-East Asia. Why not take that Ryanair flight to ski resort? As long as you get to recharge your batteries and bring up your D vitamin level.
Tag: USA travel
Our visit to Grand Canyon was in early March. It was part of our amazing USA Road Trip. The weather was getting warmer already and it was a perfect day for a nature walk. It was a dream to see the beauty of this nature phenomenon, so we planned whole day for this visit. Here is our guide Flagstaff to Grand Canyon – How to visit Grand Canyon in one day trip from Flagstaff on your own.
Flagstaff to Grand Canyon – Overnight in Flagstaff
We drove from Las Vegas and stayed in Flagstaff overnight. The motel was called Aspen. It’s a nice property, but a bit cold for winter months – night temperatures went as low as 0 C. There was still snow at mountain peaks. Wish I had a heated blanket with me! On the positive side – it felt like a true nature hike – something completely different from Vegas style hotels. Location of the motel is very convenient, it was clean and fairly good price. There is a supermarket next door and few nice restaurants. I recommend Satchmo’s – amazing BBQ ribs at great price. Their address is 2320 N 4th St, Flagstaff, AZ 86004, United States.
We woke up early in the morning and after a quick breakfast filled our gas tank with fuel and started our trip. The distance is around 86 miles, took us 1,5 hours to get there. The roads are wide and it’s an easy drive from Flagstaff to Grand Canyon. It was fun to ride while streaming our favorite music to car stereo and singing along to favorite songs. At the gates of the park there is a fee to be paid – 30$ per car. The ticket is valid for 7 days. Once you enter the park, there is another 2-3 miles to reach the parking lot. It’s really well organized and easy to understand. Once you park your car, there is an option to check the map, visit a store/cafe or take the shuttle bus to one of the viewing points. Make sure to have a map
Of course, you can drive to the view points as well, but the parking is limited there so I recommend using the shuttle. It’s totally free!
Our first view point was Kaibab trail head. We decided to hike down the trail as long as we feel like and then turn back. It’s an easy hike for beginners, but might be crowded in peak seasons. Once we started off, the temperatures started to increase a lot. It’s a good idea to have enough water and snacks with you. By the way – you can refill your water bottle for free. Also beware of donkey poo.
The views are amazing, as you walk down the trail, you discover the whole beauty of the canyon! It’s not possible to see it from above, so make sure to hike at least one trail (I recommend Kaibab, as it’s one of the easiest). You can decide, how long you’d like to hike, but make sure not to overestimate yourself. Hiking up is very hard! Good shoes are a must!
After climbing up again, we took the shuttle to the next view point – Yaki point, and then took the shuttle back. At that point we were hungry and wished to see the other side. We walked to Grand Canyon Village and visited their huge gift store for some souvenirs. Afterwards we took our car and drove to Grand view point. It was an amazing view, we loved it so much! The pictures speak for themselves!
Next were Lipan Point, Navajo Point and lastly Desert View watchtower. The last stop was really nice place – we stayed longer and enjoyed the view. The weather was getting colder and windier, so we decided to end our tour at that point. It was an amazing trip and so much to see! The nature is breathtaking!
On our way back to Flagstaff we stopped at Tusayan Village (right outside the gates to the park) for a dinner – the place was called Yippee-Ei-O! Steakhouse. Really good cocoa (loved their mugs), the meal was OK too.
Why drive from Flagstaff to Grand Canyon?
If you are looking to visit Grand Canyon, I recommend doing it by car. There are many advantages over tour buses or helicopter tours.
- First, you get to decide where you go and how much time you spend there. The nature is so amazing, you don’t want to rush through. We spent there whole day and it didn’t feel like enough. So think twice and consider renting a car and taking the trip on your own.
- Second, coming by car from Flagstaff to Grand Canyon gives you the freedom to move around and have your own pace. You can always stop at souvenir shops that you like and not the ones that tour guides have chosen for you. There are much cheaper GC souvenirs at gas stations!
- Third, it will be cheaper in the end, especially if you are traveling with a group of friends! You will have better memories of the trip.
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Frequent travelers may hear this question a lot – What was the least safe country you have been to? Especially those who travel alone. What makes a country dangerous for a tourist? Surely some countries are portrayed as least safe countries, even violent against foreign visitors. In most cases they are not safe for their citizens either. As Tom Perko mentioned at his TED talk, the people are mostly friendly everywhere, but it’s the media that creates these images. Also there are rumors, that neighboring countries create about each other which in fact are not true at all. There are, however, real stories, when people end up in unpleasant situations and feel threatened.
Here is my own story:
For me, the least safe situation happened in Israel. And not just because of all the shotguns they were wearing around – that part was actually a bit comforting. The real reason was the constant thought of missiles flying around that could hit you any time. I know it doesn’t happen a lot, but the danger is always there. One funny moment – we were taking a bus back from Jerusalem to Eilat (southernmost point) and it was getting dark. I was sheepish, but i could swear i saw a tank by the road.. Maybe it was just my imagination though. On the way back, at the airport, I was questioned for about 30 minutes, all my bags were checked and they even wanted to inspect my camera for the pictures. One woman from our group had her passport stolen, so she didn’t have a proper document, just a paper from police. I heard she was questioned for 3 hours, including all kind of inspections (no comments). Even though Israel (and Eilat in particular) are wonderful destinations, their security level is crazy and a bit too much for an average traveler!
Brazil is considered one of the dangerous ones, especially the not-so-touristy parts of the cities. Due to high poverty and low living standards, the crime is a serious problem there. As a common advice, it is recommended not to go alone walking in the dark, wearing expensive clothes or having jewelry/electronics and money with you. Speaking in foreign language may also attract unnecessary attention.
Paris (France) has high crime rates, especially the areas away from tourist zones. You can, however, get robbed pretty much anywhere – even in a restaurant. Police seems to be unable to help a lot of times, not to mention they have hard time understanding English. Many people have an image of Paris being a “love capital of the World”, but the real picture is somewhat different. While it is a stunning, beautiful city in itself, the reality of street life may change your mind for worse.
During my latest travels in the USA, there was a scary moment, when me and a friend were walking on a dark street at night and a car stopped right next to us. Having heard so many horror stories, I really felt uneasy and tried to quicken our pace. Luckily they were only asking for a lighter. I have heard, however, enough stories with gun being pointed at people for no reason, road rages and danger of walking in unsafe neighborhood. What a shame for a country as powerful and wealthy as US to have such crime problems.
Surprisingly, Germany is climbing the ladder of unsafe destinations, particularly after recent events of mass rape in Cologne. I have spent 3 years in Germany during my studies and never have I felt threatened or unsafe. I have moved around Berlin by bike at 2 am and no problem what so ever. So the reason might be increasing immigration of young, poorly educated males who do not understand western life and standards.
Obviously there are more countries, some of which are at the state of (civil) war. Going to places like that involves a risk, no matter where you go. The map shows the most dangerous countries of the world (Relevant for 2016):
Although most large cities are generally safe, there are some tips to make it even more stress free.
- Travel light. Try to use just hand luggage – it will save you money on ticket (most airlines allow to take carry on for free). Bringing less personal items with you minimizes the risk of being spotted as a target. It is also more convenient to move around with a smaller bag – taking a bus, metro or even taxi.
- Avoid a lot of cash. Most big cities in developed countries are happy to accept credit card as a method of payment. Having too much cash attracts attention and your wallet may (depending on the currency) increase in size a lot. Try bringing just enough to get by. If necessary, you can always get some more from the ATM.
- Store you documents well. If possible, make some copies or take a picture of your passport with your smartphone. It is also a good idea to label your luggage with your name and address and use luggage locks.
- Download offline maps to navigate in case you get lost. One of the good ones is NavMii – it’s free and allows you to download the map of the area/city and even store addresses. Saving the address of the hotel may save you a lot of trouble.
- Beware of strangers, especially if traveling alone. Do not discuss your travel planes, invite them over to hotel room and don’t go with them if invited somewhere. When going out, avoid excessive drinking. Always be in control!
- Be careful with publishing your travel plans on Facebook, as some robberies are taking place when hosts are away.
- Do your homework – research about your destination. Make plans, where it is OK to go. Stay away from the not-so-great areas. Avoid walking alone at nights. If lost, pretend you know where you are going and stay on busy streets with traffic.
- Investing in travel insurance may be worth it, especially if you are traveling to developing countries. I recommend getting travel insurance, as well as accident cover.
- Try to look as a local as much as possible – that way you won’t be an obvious target. Try to blend in, wear local clothes if possible.
- Let your friends and family know where you are going. Checking in regularly will keep them from worrying and in case of emergency helps them find you sooner.
Share your scary travel memories in comments! What are your personal travel safety tips?
Now that a month has passed since we returned from our awesome USA West Coast Road Trip, it’s time to sum up and create a post on the things we liked. We had planned a lot of different destinations, so the trip was quite intense. I might have to think of few more posts on some specific locations and things we did. Here are some of the best moments and memorable experiences from our trip.
Our USA West Coast Road Trip route looked like this:
Rental car for USA West Coast Road Trip
We started by picking up our rental car for our USA West Coast Road Trip from Phoenix, AZ. Rental company we chose was Alamo and the car was full size. When we were picking up, we had a choice (Toyota Camry, Hyundai Sonata, Volkswagen Passat) and were advised to choose cars with California plates (car return was in Los Angeles).
So we picked Hyundai Sonata. The car was 2015 model, very nice and smooth. I really loved driving it on US roads. Total cost for almost two weeks was around 600$. There was no issue with returning the car at SNA airport – very quick and smooth!
We booked this trip while being unaware of the weather. As it turned out – it was almost stormy on that day, so we got to experience some really nasty sea sickness. Luckily, the staff recommended to take sea sickness pills (sold them on board) and we took them in time (30 min before the shaking began). When it started rocking, some people felt really bad. We went out in the ocean and spotted some small whales. On the way back, we also got to see dolphins and sea lions (they were sunbathing). The trip takes approx. 3,5 hours and is a great way to spend a morning (or afternoon). The ocean is incredible and the views are spectacular! A must for a proper USA West Coast Road Trip!
Must visit for USA West Coast Road Trip – Venice Beach in Los Angeles
Our trip to Venice beach was rather spontaneous – we made it there just in time before the sunset. The promenade reminded us of a typical south European resort – souvenir shops, cafes, people relaxing, playing music and enjoying themselves. The beach is very wide and clean – perfect for long walks. It’s a place that needs to be in any town – where you can come and spend the evening alone or with a friend.
Cirque Du Soleil in Las Vegas
Visiting Las Vegas was high on our list during our USA West Coast Road Trip, but not for the casinos or party – we really wanted to see the shows. So on our first morning we went to one of the numerous Tix4tonight booths and stood in line before the opening. Surprisingly, we were not the only ones. The company is selling show tickets for the same night (sometimes for tomorrow as well) with nice discount (up to 50%). While you are in line, customer service reps help you pick the right show. After standing in line for half an hour and listening around, we decided to go for Cirque du Seleil show called Mystere. They were giving a charity show and therefore there was to tax charged. Two tickets cost us just under 100$. On the minus side – we had to get to the casino where the show was played right after buying these “tickets” to exchange them for actual tickets at the ticket office. The show was held in Treasure Island.
The things that I remember about Flagstaff are – fantastic BBQ ribs and very cold motel room. First – the ribs. It was time for dinner so I googled the best place to go out for bbq. The place we picked was called Satchmo’s and the ribs were AMAZING! If only I had a power to eat more, I would! About cold rooms – weather in March is still quite chilly (especially when you have just been to the desert), so at nights it dropped so much, that we had to keep the heating on (it was noisy). Here is a tip – visit Flagstaff in summer!
There are hardly any words to describe Grand Canyon properly – one just has to see it! It is powerful, majestic, breathtakingly enormous. One day is hardly enough to explore it. To see the best of it you need to hike, of course. We made a small hike just down the Kaibab trail. Really short one but enough to see the beauty and changing landscapes.
Later we visited some of the famous viewpoints – Grand View, Yucca Point and some others. It was a really great, but also exhausting day. I would totally recommend vising GC from Flagstaff – it’s an easy 1,5 hour ride. There is an entrance fee – 30$/car, and it is valid for 1 week. Totally recommend visiting as part of your USA West Coast Road Trip!
Our last small adventure on USA West Coast Road Trip was a ride through an endless desert and finally arriving in Palm Springs for the night. To be honest, I always liked the idea of oasis, so Palm Springs was a natural choice. It’s hot and reminds of a resort, kind of get away spot. It’s very different from other places we visited – you can feel that people come there for holiday. Having said that – it should be no surprise that the first thing we did was to jump in the pool. What a great way to finish long day of driving!
Although our trip was amazing in almost any way, it was still so good to be back home! Traveling helps you realize how much you value the people and places. Sure, sometimes you may realize it was so much better somewhere you just visited. In this case you might need to move on, change your home for a new one. For us it was a moment of realizing that home is the best place on Earth – a place you always want to come back to!
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We continued our adventure in San Diego with visiting the famous Zoo. Make sure to arrive early, as it get’s crowded. I also recommend purchasing tickets in advance – online. You will receive a map at the gates. We decided to take advantage of Go San Diego Card for really Cheap San Diego Zoo Tickets – and got really great deal on the ticket price! Compared to gate price of $54, we only paid around $30.
The Zoo is very large in size, so in order to enjoy all the animals, more than one day is needed. We managed to squeeze most of it in one day due to tight schedule. There is an option to use tour bus inside the zoo, which may be a good idea if you are not into long walks. Luckily there is enough shade to hide from the sun.
The animals are truly wonderful and they are kept very well. We really enjoyed seeing a panda, even though there was a huge line. The Zoo is making a great job by preserving and breeding these amazing animals.
One my personal favorites was cheetah and lab together in one cage – they are animal ambassadors – raised together, they are kept separately from other zoo animals, play and live together as friends.
Here are some photos from our visit :
Our Cirque du Soleil experience started with a proper research. We were only for 1 day in Las Vegas, so it had to be a good show for limited budget. For me, visiting Cirque du Soleil was one of the main reasons for coming to Vegas. Among other things, like casinos and nightlife, these shows are a true highlight and a must see for anyone visiting Sin City for the first time. Read the rest of this entry »
Our visit to Grand Canyon was in early March 2016. The weather was getting warmer already and it was a perfect day for a nature walk. It was a dream to see the beauty of this nature phenomenon, so we planned whole day for this visit. Read the rest of this entry »
Now that a month has passed since we returned from our awesome road trip in the US, it’s time to sum up and create a post on the things we liked. We have packed a lot of different destinations, so the trip was quite intense. I might have to thing of few more posts on some specific locations and things we did. Here are some of the best moments and memorable experiences from our trip. Read the rest of this entry »
Rough plan of our trip
- Landing in Phoenix, Arizona
- Driving to San Diego, CA
- Heading North to Los Angeles, CA
- Visiting Sequoia National Park, CA
- Heading East to Las Vegas, NV and Grand Canyon, AZ
- Visiting Sedona, AZ
- Heading back West to San Clemente, CA via Palm Springs, CA
- Flying back from Los Angeles, CA
Arriving in Phoenix and the start of California Road Trip Itinerary
Upon arrival in Phoenix, we will be spending first night at a friend’s house. A rental car will be picked up from the Airport the following day. It is going to be mid size car (Ford Fusion or similar). Total price for the 2 weeks came down to around 530$. We will then head to San Diego for three nights. We will be staying at Good Night Inn near SeaWorld. This small, but cozy hotel offered a hard-to-beat rate of 143$ for three nights. In San Diego, a few attractions are planned: SeaWrold, Zoo and Whale watching cruise. Combo ticket can be purchased online with 20% discount compared to gate prices. Our ticket cost ca 135$ for mentioned attractions. As the time difference may have an effect, will take it easy and try to spend some time on the beach and simply relax.
California Road Trip Itinerary: Los Angeles & Sequoia national park
After such great time in San Diego we will head North to Los Angeles to enjoy the famous city of movie stars. Venice Beach, Hollywood Walk of Fame, as well as Sunset Blvd nightlife are all on the list. Will stay at Budget Inn in Hollywood (65$/night). This accommodation is a bit outdated, but all we really need for that night is a place to crash. We will skip Universal Studios, as theme parks are not on the top of our interest and visiting the giant trees seems like a more tempting idea. Next morning will head North to the famous Sequoia National park and spend the day among these amazing trees. Will spend the night at Bakersfield roadside motel (50$/night).
Centuries old forest
Las Vegas & Grand Canyon
Next on the list is a trip to Las Vegas. After the long ride through the desert, will hopefully reach the fabulous destination, check-in at Fortune Hotel and Suites (95$/2 nights), relax and get ready to hit the Strip. Bellagio Fountains, High Roller, Variety show and other attractions are on the list. Not to forget – the night would be wasted without spending some time at the slot machines. This is Vegas after all! If there is enough time, we will take a look at Fremont Street as well and take part in the nightlife there.
After Las Vegas we will drive east and settle in Flagstaff for two nights(75$/2 nights). The choice of this destination is not random – it is equally close to both Grand Canyon as well as Sedona. We will be taking a few trails (Kaibab Trail in GC and Cathedral Roch trail in Sedona) to ensure the best memories and pictures are taken home. As we are nature lovers, visiting the Canyon was high on the list. Additionally, we might check on Jerome – a ghost town, highly recommended by a friend as a must see in the area.
City that never sleeps
Always colorful Canyon
Palm Springs and San Clemente
After enjoying Canyon trails we will start our way back to California. Originally we planned to stay at Laughlin, as this place has amazing hotel rates(as low as 20$/night in a 4* resort), but changed our mind and decided to stay in Palm Springs instead. The reason is quite simple – after Las Vegas, vising another Casino resort seemed too much. Moreover, we have heard a lot about Palm Springs and the events that are being held there every year. So this was a definitely better option.
Our last night will be in San Clemente, right near the Pacific Ocean. Very quiet and peaceful, this seaside town is a great place to relax and take it easy. It is a perfect spot to say our goodbye to California and USA.
A lot of mentioned hotel rates may seem surprisingly cheap. There is no secret really – all hotels were booked online and are simply a result of daily monitoring of prices. I’ve been planning this trip for almost a year, reading about various places of interest. Here is a tip – use the Free cancellation option and keep checking the rates once every few days – your might get lucky and catch a good deal! You may also try Airbnb, if that is your thing. For me personally it is much more comfortable to stay at hotels, rather than at someone else’s home. But many people are using this service and it is certainly worth a shot. One thing to know about booking online – the rate doesn’t include tax, which is usually somewhere between 10 and 12%.
Renting a car
Great rental car deals for your California Road Trip Itinerary can be found online. Beware, however, that some rates are suspiciously low. When i was looking for a deal myself, the cheapest possible option was the one by rentalcars.com. However, i decided to read some reviews and found out it is not very trustworthy, meaning there are some negative feedback. So i decided not to risk and went to my travel agent. They had a deal with a different company and with the rate i got free second driver and a free tank of fuel. That came out to be better deal than what other companies are offering.
Comfort during your trip
International Drivers Permit
It is also a good idea to check, if you are from Europe or anywhere else in the World, if your drivers license is valid in US. I’m from EU, so i had to make myself IDP for a fee of 26 Euros. Not a big deal, but good that i checked it before going. Rental company could refuse to give me the car without it. Please note, however, that IDP is valid WITH original drivers license, not alone!