Life in a Bubble

Nope, not figuratively!

I’ve noticed 5 million star hotels popping up all over the place lately and decided to try one out. Just outside of Reykjavik, our accommodations for the night were simply a giant plastic bubble. How incredible is that?

The bubble structure is kept inflated by a slight over-pressure from a noiseless ventilation system. It renews the air inside 2-7 times the volume per hour to prevent humidity, and the system has heating elements with a thermostat so the bubble stays warm – even in the middle of winter!

We pulled up to an adorable little house to meet the host. After following her down the road and off into the trees, she led us to our bubble. We were so excited we didn’t listen to a word she said as we ran around it taking pictures and poking it.

We grabbed all of our stuff from the car and piled it up next to the entrance.

Now, how do we get in this thing without letting all of the air out?

We unzipped the front, and the entire entrance way collapsed onto us and all of our stuff as we fell to the floor laughing, but also somewhat concerned we had just deflated the entire thing.

While fumbling around on the floor underneath all of the collapsed plastic, we found the zipper that allowed us to get into the bubble. Before unzipping it, taking into consideration what had just happened, we zipped up the outside zipper before undoing the inside zipper – and there we had it! The entrance filled back up with air and we were INSIDE!

So to summarize:

Step 1: Unzip entrance zipper

Step 2: Step inside the deflated part

Step 3: Zip up the outside zipper

Step 4: Unzip the inside zipper

Naturally, after figuring all of this out, we had a photo shoot.

 

The bubble created a serene feeling that nothing is between you and the rest of nature. I highly recommend this experience to anyone that enjoys outdoor exploring.

Unfortunately, there is no aurora borealis in the summer months in Iceland, and therefore we did not get that experience. It is now something I plan to go back in the winter months for.

 

 

HB.

 

 

 

 

 

Wandering is the Way We Discover the World

There I was, stranded in the middle of no where.

The solution to my problem was right there in my hands, but I still couldn’t solve it. Oh, the frustration. I bumbled through each item.

Some patches, a small piece of sandpaper, a long tube, a random stick with a handle on the end, and rubber solution – what the hell do I do with all of this stuff? I can’t believe this happened.

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Toronto Transportation

Toronto is a big city.

They must have a very intricate subway system.

I won’t do any research on this and assume that I’ll be able to take the subway everywhere I go.

Lessons were learned.

It’s not that Toronto’s subway system isn’t reasonable considering the population size and downtown core traffic; it’s more so the fact that I didn’t prepare myself properly. As an East Coaster, I figured all large cities had elaborate subway systems that you could get almost anywhere on. New York does, so all big cities must!

Mistake Number 1:

The subway will be available from the airport to downtown.

Turns out, the subway lines don’t go all the way to the airport. They do however, end at a point that you can catch a bus to get the rest of the way. The bus is called the “Airport Rocket”, and I can assure you the name is misleading – it travels at far less than rocket speed.

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Mistake Number 2:

All of the street cars and/or buses I need to take will be up and running on the days that I need them. 

So, Toronto has a lot of construction… The street car I needed to get to the main subway station was down, making the transport there much more difficult.

Mistake Number 3:

We’ll call an Uber! 

This one’s actually not a bad idea! Uber is pretty inexpensive, and when you’re new you can get some free ride credits. Our mistake was on the first call we accidentally ordered an “Uber Select” car instead of an UberX so it ended up being more expensive.

Mistake Number 4:

Following website instructions to figure out what bus or street car to take.

Only do this if you’re on the official website of the Toronto City Transit, otherwise your information may not be up to date. I found myself looking for a bus that didn’t exist anymore!

 

Luckily, none of these led to any serious problems. We weren’t in a rush to get anywhere since we were mostly touring around, and where’s the fun when you don’t get lost a few times?!

What mistakes have you made while touring around?

 

HB.

 

 

 

Scrambling Mountain Tops

Summit seeking is a passion of mine.

Recently, I went on what has become a popular annual trip with friends to climb Mount Katahdin in Maine, USA and whitewater raft the Penobscot class 5 rapids! However, the rafting story is for another post, another day.

So Mount Katahdin is the centerpiece of Baxter State Park with an elevation of 5,267ft (1,606m), and it has a very interesting intimidating feature – a tail called “Knife’s edge”. I assure you, the name is NOT misleading.

This specific trail is not for the faint of heart as portions of it span no more than a foot from side to side with steep drops on each edge. The 1.1 mile scramble starts from the summit and stretches over to Pamola Peak.

The views are indescribable the entire way across. Katahdin has a bowl-like shape that you can really appreciate as you slowly make (crawl) your way from peak to peak, however you may need to briefly pause here and there to truly appreciate it and not fall off the edge…


Should you decide to make this great climb

I learned the hard way that a parking pass is required, and you must show up by 7a.m. or they will give it away to someone that showed up on time! We arrived at 7 on the dot, which I certainly don’t recommend trying to do. They only allow 35 cars into Roaring Brook parking lot, so purchasing your pass online 14 days ahead of time is your best bet to ensure you don’t miss your day of climbing!

My favorite route on the mountain starts on Chimney Pond Trail. It’s a relatively easy trail that leads up to the base of the mountain, as you can see below:

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The end of chimney pond trail brings you out here!

 

Next up – Cathedral Trail! This is a relatively shorter trail at 1.5 miles, but don’t let that fool you. It’s pretty much a straight shot from the base of the mountain to Baxter Peak, and it’s very much a scramble. This trail isn’t sheltered by any trees so pack some sun screen if you’re heading up on a nice day.

After some lunch at the summit, the moment we have all been waiting for, it’s time to embark onto Knife Edge trail. CAUTION: If it’s rainy and windy, this is a trail you should avoid, as it becomes an extremely dangerous trail in which several people have died or been seriously injured attempting it in inclement weather.

Here’s an idea of what I’m trying to explain:

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A quick glance at the rest of the Knife Edge trek
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Yes there are people in there somewhere!

 

Finally, after a quick stopover at Pamola Peak, it’s time to head down. At this point it has already been a long day, but it’s not over yet.

It’s quite a ways down, but eventually you hit the beginning of Chimney Pond again and you know you’ve completed the loop. Congratulations!!

I recommend visiting Mount Katahdin to any regular hiker. There are many different trails to suit your needs, and Chimney Pond never fails as a beautiful less strenuous family hike if you’re short on time or not ready to climb to the peak. They also offer lean-to camping, which I haven’t experienced personally, but I’m certain it would be a beautiful spot to camp out before a big climb.

We stayed at Big Moose Inn Cabins – which is only 8 miles from the gate, and it is the last available accommodations that offer electricity and plumbing before you get to Katahdin, so we opted for the luxury “camping” this time :).

 


Things to bring in your day pack

  • Long sleeve/wind breaker for the summit
  • Flashlight
  • Small medical kit (bandaids, blister relief, etc.)
  • Whistle
  • At least 2.5 liters of water
  • Lunch and snacks that include protein
  • Camera
  • A beer for the top!

 

Trail Summary of my favourite route

  • Chimney Pond Trail (3.3 Miles – easy/moderate hike)
  • Cathedral Trail (1.5 Miles  – Strenuous)
  • Knife Edge Trail (1.1 Miles – Very Strenuous)
  • Helon Taylor Trail (3.2 Miles – Strenuous)

 

For additional information please visit: Baxter State Park – Hiking Mount Katahdin

 

HB.

Bali Belly

 

Many travelers experience the aches and pains of an upset stomach, and not only in Bali.

When your body experiences a change in diet, it may react negatively, and you could end up bedridden for a few days. Although curable, it’s extremely unfortunate having to waste a few days in bed when you’re traveling. It will put you behind on plans or cause you to miss some sights you’ve traveled far and wide to see.

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Chicken Satay’s, Nusa Lembongan
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Morning Cappuccino on Gili T

Precautionary Measure Are Key:

  • Dukoral – an oral vaccine that usually does not require a prescription most, it will help prevent an upset stomach due to E. coli.
  • Wash your hands – Always. Especially after handling money and before meals.
  • Hand sanitize – Keep some on you at all times in case there is no where to wash up.
  • Avoid food and beverages that are more likely to be contaminated, such as:
    • Peeled fruit
    • Under cooked meat
    • Tap water – Always ICE OUT! A lot of places use tap water to make their ice
  • Food and beverages to stick to:
    • Anything boiled or deep fried
    • Fruit that you peel yourself
    • Bottled Water
  • Choosing a spot to eat:
    • Ask other tourists at your hostel where they ate
    • Walk around and look for a busy spot, chances are they have good food and it’s fresh
    • Don’t purchase meat from street vendors. I rarely purchase from street vendors, but when I do I ensure they’re cooking it right in front of me
    • If it doesn’t taste right, don’t eat it! It’s not worth saving a buck if it’s going to make you sick, find something else.
  • Protein Bars – Bring some with you for when you can’t find somewhere to eat right away, or you end up with a meal you don’t feel comfortable eating. It will hold you over until you find other food.

You could take all of the precautions and still end up with Bali Belly. I was SO CAREFUL in what I chose to eat, but I still ended up in bed for a full day. I was completely drained.

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Eating breakfast at Sunrise Huts, Bali

If You Get Sick:

  • Go to the doctor right away – even if they don’t speak English, you can hold your stomach and they’ll understand what to give you. I ended up with tablets I had to take twice a day for 3 days.
  • Get hydrated – drink tons of bottled water and put hydration tablets in it (I always bring hydration tablets when traveling)
  • Rest up – It’s unfortunate to miss time out and about, but at least take some time to get a solid sleep in. I drank as much water as I could, took a Gravol, and slept for a solid 14 hours before I felt any better. I would have felt sick a lot longer if I tried to push through it.
  • Imodium – 2 tablets right away and one in the morning if you can’t get to a doctor.

If you’re traveling for more than a month, slowly introducing your body to more and more local food should help your adjustment without getting you sick. Avoiding anything that might make you sick is worth it if you’re only traveling for a few weeks.

Enjoy your travels, and I hope you don’t experience Bali Belly, or something of the like!

 

HB.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Traveling With Camera Gear

There’s no way around it, this isn’t an efficient thing to do.

But it’s so worth it.

Bringing along the right amount of gear is a challenge, especially when you’re backpacking. I am an amateur photographer that is gradually learning along the way.

Below is a list of what I generally take along in my camera bag:

  • Travel Tripod – Long exposure and fun group shots
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    Goofing around with our timer
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    Practicing long exposure by the camp fire

     

  • Zoom Lens (I bring 55mm-250mm) – Close up shots

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  • Extra lens cap – I lose mine ALL the time
  • Extra charged battery
  • Extra SD cards – I’d prefer to have two 32G cards than one 64G card
  • Charger

 

I limit myself to two lenses and I find even that can be bulky. I’ve seen people traveling with some pretty heavy duty looking gear, including drones.

What do you bring with you for camera gear, if any, when you travel?

 

HB.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hiking the Great Wall

“Go on and do it! People will say no, and I’ll tell you why they say no, it’s not to hurt you it’s not to stifle your dream, it’s that from where they see it, it’s too scary.” – JD Lewis

 

One of the most memorable days of my life was the day I set out to hike the Great Wall of China.

Words can not express how beautiful it was at HuangHua Cheng (“The Wall of the Yellow Flowers”), and I would highly recommend it to anyone planning a visit, here’s why:

 

  • No Crowds – This section of The Wall was shut down to the public several years ago, however locals have ‘opened’ up a few routes. This section stretched several kilometers and not a single other person was in sight.
  • Not Too Dangerous – Although some parts of The Wall do not have railings, you are not required to hike across any parts that are damaged and very dangerous. In my picture, I am crossing to get to a view spot (which was kind of sketchy) but that is not required on this hike. I do recommend some solid footwear such as sneakers/hikers! Some parts are quite steep slopes with no stairs, they could be slippery and tough to climb up on a rainy day.
  • Incredible View – From the water down below to the mountain ranges you can see The Wall stretch across your entire view! I can not describe how much appreciation I have for how breathtaking it was.
  • Inexpensive – Our day trip from Beijing cost approximately $45 USD each. It was about an hour each way. Our driver spoke great English and told us some amazing facts on our way. He hiked up to the beginning of The Wall with us to show us where to go, then left us to meet him at the end. We hiked for about 4 hours, but a lot of the time we were taking pictures and sitting enjoying the view.

 

If you’re planning a visit to the Great Wall, don’t aimlessly wander over to the most touristy spot. Take some time to plan out an alternate route, find a less popular spot to visit – you will not regret it!

 

HB.

 

 

 

Calling on Fellow Travelers!

 

I have a never ending bucket list.

I love adding new things to it.

I want more ideas from YOU!

From relaxing activities to extreme sports, I want to hear it all!

I’m going to plan a trip in the coming months, and hearing from other travelers experiences is a great way to research.

 

Here are some things I have checked off:

  • Hang gliding (Switzerland)
  • Canyoning (Switzerland)
  • Learning to drive a scooter (Indonesia)
  • Parasailing (Indonesia)
  • Feeding a monkey on my shoulder (Indonesia)
  • Visit the Blue Lagoon (Iceland)
  • Horseback Riding (Iceland)
  • Ski in Whistler and Banff (Canada)
  • Canada’s Wonderland
  • White Water Rafting (United States)
  • Hike along the Great Wall of China
  • Visit a concentration camp (Germany)
  • Hike an active volcano (Indonesia)
  • Paddle boarding (Indonesia)
  • Visit the Yellow Mountains (China)
  • Bamboo Raft down the Lei River (China)
  • Climb Mountains! (Everywhere!)
  • Attend a Work Mission for the Poor (Dominican Republic)

 

Here are some things I would love to do:

  • Attend a summer and winter Olympics
  • Swing at the end of the world (Ecuador)
  • Victoria Falls Devils Pool (Africa)
  • Ride in a helicopter over the Grand Canyon (United States)
  • Skydive (Anywhere!)
  • Photograph Penguins (Antarctica)
  • Volunteer for the Lemur Conservation (Madagascar)
  • Climb a challenging mountain – For me personally, this would be a climb that would span 3-4 days.
  • Visit Machu Picchu (Peru)
  • Scuba Dive (Galapagos Islands)
  • Photograph in Yosemite National Park (United States)
  • Try Archery
  • Attend another Work Mission
  • Experience busy Bangladesh
  • Camel Trekking in the Desert (Morocco)
  • Visit the Amazon (Brazil – Even though this somewhat terrifies me)
  • Visit Dubai and not go bankrupt

 

What are some other interesting things that are on your list?

 

HB.

 

 

 

Navigating A Foreign Country

 

Not all who wander are lost. Except this time I was lost, very lost.

Only a few minutes after landing in Beijing I hopped into a cab. I handed the driver half an address and sat back in my seat. He looked at the piece of paper, then back at me, then quickly spewed out some words in Mandarin. With no internet available to find the rest of the address, it didn’t take long to realize this trip was going to be one of my more challenging ones.

“I learned once again that fear – and there’s a lot of it in our society – fear is to me for people that don’t get out much” – Rick Steeves

Here are some everyday travel challenges and tips to overcome them:

1.) Language Barriers

This was one of the more difficult challenges for me personally. Talking slowly and loudly to the other person in English doesn’t help when the other person doesn’t know any English.

Screenshot, or have reception at your hostel write down the name and addresses of both your hostel and destination(s) in the required language as well as in your own language so you don’t mix anything up. The most important thing is that you can always find your way back to your place of stay.

Take advantage of translation apps – but do not rely on them exclusively. They are great for basics, but they are not 100% reliable, so always have a backup plan. I always kept “I am a vegetarian” handy when I wasn’t in the mood to order strange meat. Try and find an app that is available offline.

2.) Limited to No Internet Access

Surprisingly, your cell isn’t useless! Your phone GPS doesn’t need WiFi to tell you where you are, but it does need WiFi to load the map and for you to look up your destination.

Before you leave a WiFi area, google map where you’re heading and ‘drop a pin’ on the location. Once you leave the WiFi area, your phone will continue to track you in reference to your pin without costing you a dime. I do this even before I cab places so I can be sure the driver isn’t taking me in circles to increase fares.

If you have one available, it doesn’t hurt to keep a spare battery and charger on you if you’re constantly using GPS.

3.) Transportation 

How will you get around the country you’re visiting? There are a few things to consider here.

  • Population Density: If you’re travelling to a dense city, it is likely that they have an extremely efficient subway/train system that can cheaply get you around day-to-day and also on longer hauls to and from larger cities. If the city is smaller, you’ll want to look into cabbing, renting bikes, scooters, or walking. Some places, you can hire a driver for an entire day for a very reasonable price.
  • Cost: Before you leave a WiFi area, find out how much cabs normally cost in that area and their custom on negotiation, some people will attempt to charge you double the price!
  • Scooter/Bike safety: Try getting a feel for how safe it would be to rent a scooter or bike – look at the traffic patterns (if there are any) and if there are special lanes for scooters/bikes. Also, try to go somewhere that will also rent you a helmet. Keep in mind that sometimes it makes more sense to pay a little extra to take a cab in core downtown areas if you aren’t confident in taking a scooter or bike.

 

Every country operates differently, a little planning will take you a long way a lot smoother and a lot safer. Getting lost can lead to great adventures, but being able to transport back to your place of stay is very important.

 

HB.

Budget Airlines: What to Expect

Enjoying the convenience of an international airport close by is not one of the perks of living in a city with a population of 70,000. Finding a reasonable airfare can be daunting. More recently, budget airlines have been expanding, and I’ve tried a few of them out.

Here are some things to consider if you’re thinking of flying budget:

Their business model usually strips the ticket right down to just the flight itself, no inclusions, no exceptions.

Before purchasing a ticket that appears too cheap to be true, dig into the fine print and find out what your needs are versus what is offered in a basic ticket. They charge extra for things such as seat choice, food and drink, luggage, and often have processing fees. I have almost purchased flights that ended up being approximately the same price as a higher end airline simply because I needed to bring a carry on as well as a checked bag.

 

Pro’s

  • Safety features are not sacrificed in order to provide cheaper fares
  • They actually can work out to be significantly cheaper – if you understand ALL of the rules & regulations before hand

 

Con’s

  • Extra fees can add up
  • Often do not cover as much as higher end airlines in the case of lost/delayed baggage
  • Usually no entertainment system
  • Blankets and pillows are often not provided for long haul flights
  • Frequent delays, clear disorganization (understandably, this could happen on any airline – in my personal travels I have had issues much more frequently on discount airlines)
    • If you are worried about making a connection, check the airline reputation for delays
  • Jam packed waiting areas
    • Often you are pushed to a smaller terminal where the budget flights leave from, they are usually way over capacity crammed with people sleeping on the floors, and no places to eat

 

Recommendation

Overall, every individual will have a different view of budget airlines. Always remember to add up the extra fees that you’ll be paying before purchasing the ticket, then compare that with a ticket on a non budget airline and determine what the perks that airline offers are worth to you before making your decision.

For example, if the price difference turns out to be $100 – is being able to watch movies, fee food, blankets, and pillows worth the extra $100 on a long haul flight?  Is your flight only 4 hours or is it 15 hours?

Always research the airline you would potentially be flying with before purchase because some budget airlines are fantastic and you could save yourself a ton of cash for a small amount (if any) discomfort. And sometimes, those extra perks outweigh the (usually) cheaper cost.

 

HB.