This post kicks off a brand new series of youtube videos which I’ll be posting over the next few weeks. In them I delve into my trove of travel adventures, dig out some of my favorite stories, and share them. The goal? To keep the stories short and to tell them in a fashion similar to how I’d tell them if you and I were sitting in a small traveler’s pub enjoying a pint after a long day of exploring an exciting new city.
First up? My Guatemalan introduction to colectivos (communal taxis). It features incredibly awkward moments, breast feeding, culture shock and a wealth of other fun experiences. So, without further elaboration, I’ll let you dive straight into the video! If you enjoy it, make sure to subscribe to my youtube channel so you don’t miss future updates!
It’s Thanksgiving back home, probably my favorite holiday of the year. It’s a holiday about people, about coming together, and about taking a moment to focus on all that is positive in our lives. The people, the opportunities, the friends, the family, and yes, even the challenges. As I reflect on what I’m thankful for travel comes to mind as a major aspect of my life and a true blessing. In honor of that, I’ve put together this photo post showcasing some of my favorite signature boot shots from around the world. If you enjoy these shots, feel free to check out the complete album over on flickr.
Mt. Fitz Roy near El Chalten, Argentina
Smoo Cliffs, Northern Scotland
The Grand Canyon in Arizona, United States
The National Monument and Jefferson Monument in Washington D.C., United States
Caving in Budapest, Hungary
Penguins in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina
Nyhavn Harbor in Copenhagen, Denmark
Sharkstooth in the San Juan Mountains Colorado, United States
Tulum Beach, Mexico
Loch Ness, Scotland
Painted Desert in Arizona, United States
Swimming with Sharks, Belize
Tikal Ruins, Guatemala
Warehouse District in Bergen, Norway
Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland
Wooden Stave Church in Oslo, Norway
Iguazu Falls, Argentina
Great Barrier Reef, Belize
The Old Fortress in Cadiz, Spain
Guejar in the Sierra Navadas Near Granada, Spain
Scottish Highlands, Scotland
Preikestolen, the Preacher’s Pulpit, Norway
Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina
Sunrise at Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Mayan Pyramids in Tikal, Guatemala
Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins, Mexico
San Juan Mountains in Colorado, United States
Actun Tunichil Muknal, Belize
Orkney Islands, Scotland
Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina
Waterfalls in the Fjords, Norway
En-route to Tobacco Caye, Belize
Bergen From Above, Norway
Sunset in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina
The world is a wonderful place and travel a spectacular gift. If you’re already a veteran traveler, then I hope you’ll pause for a moment and reflect on all the gifts you’ve received from travel. If you’re just gearing up for your first trip, then I encourage you to dive in and have to admit, I’m slightly jealous of the journal of self discovery, awe, adventure, and new experiences you’re about to undertake. The majority of the photos in this post were taken on my Canon G11, though some shots were taken on my older Canon G6.
Over the last few years I have been lucky enough to travel to some pretty amazing places. A few years ago I decided that photos alone were not cutting it. So, I picked up a video camera and started shooting. It’s been quite the learning experience and isn’t always easy. It’s amazing the added challenges you face as a travel videographer – things like wind, moving objects and shaky hands – which just aren’t real issues when shooting travel photos on the go. You can find all of my videos on my youtube channel. But, now without further adieu I give you five of my favorite travel videos.
Number 1 – Argentina
Number 2 – Scandinavia
Number 3 – Central America
Number 4 – Mixed Locations
Number 5 – The Grand Canyon
The footage in the above shots was taken on a Canon Vixia HF200 and a FlipUltra with waterproof casing.
Have a favorite video which I didn’t include on this list? Tell me which one. I’d love to know! Personally, I’m a huge fan of my Argentina series in particular – though I’m only including the summary video in this post.
Howdy all. Three exciting updates to share with you all. So far September has been a great month and included several exciting events!
The first of which is that the above photo which I shot in Belize back in December is today’s featured travel photo on BootsnAll Today via WhyGo.com. The photo is one of several shots I’ve taken that have been featured as the photo of the day over the last 6 months or so.
Speaking of dollars, off-season getaways can be considerably cheaper.
Where to go? For video blogger Alex Berger, it’s Mexico, Belize and Guatemala. Two weeks’ vacation costs him between $2,000 and $3,000, including airfare. “Traveling during the off-season can be a huge money-saver,” he said. “Off season offers a significantly cheaper option for the budget-conscious. Less hassle and increased room availability, most of the time. Greater access to locals. Better insights into local culture and increased camaraderie among travelers.”
Lastly, as those of you familiar with Oktoberfest are well aware, it’s not only one heck of a party, but a party which actually starts in September! I had the pleasure of spending several days in Munich back in 2007 as part of my 3 month adventure across Europe and weighed in with advice in a recent Savings.com article, “Oktoberfest 2010: A Holiday Worth Saving For“. My advice and suggestions are scattered throughout the article so you’ll have to click on over to see what I had to say.
Eager for more original content? Stay tuned. I’ve got several great blogs in the works which will cover the Norwegian Fjords outside of Bergen and the ancient port city of Copenhagen.
Interested in picking my brain? Feel free to reach out to me via twitter or by e-mail alex [@] virtualwayfarer.com.
Autumn is a perfect time to get away – and save money in the process
One of the most common questions I receive from friends and readers alike is how do you afford it? The assumption is that a 16-20 day trip abroad must be terribly expensive. People commonly expect the trip expense to be somewhere in the $5,000-$10,000 USD range. Which, given the structure and cost associated with most of the vacations Americans take, isn’t unreasonable. When I tell them that my average trip costs me less than $3,000 most people are surprised, and more than a few don’t initially believe me.
I recently wrote a post explaining how I’ve managed to save for/budget the ~$6,000 I need each year for two 16-20 day trips abroad in my blog post, “Tallying Up the Cost: How I Afford to Travel“. My goal with this post is to share with you my real world application of the techniques I outlined previously.
A few things to keep in mind: I could have done this trip for several hundred dollars cheaper. I splurged on food on a regular basis, opted for mid-tier budget accommodation, and took a number of tours which I could have done solo/on my own for half the price. I was also traveling during Central America’s peak season (December/January) which resulted in a significantly more expensive flight ticket and increased prices for the tours I did.
What It Cost
A round trip ticket from Phoenix to Cancun with travel insurance: $530 USD.
Total Credit Card expenses: $280.29.
Total ATM Cash Withdrawals: $1,461.99.
Misc. expenses (ATM Fees/Reserve USD): $87.
Total price: $2358.81 for everything.
Evaluating the Real Cost
That’s not the end of the story. It’s important to put that figure into context. Keep in mind that I was gone for 20 days. An extended period during which I would have had a number of basic expenses regardless of where I was located.
In a given day at home/work I spend at least $20 on food. That means that my average food expense had I stayed at home would have been at least $400. I also go through about 1 tank of gas a week at an average cost of about $40 per tank. At nearly 3 weeks on the road, I would have spent around $100 on gas in total. Then add a conservative projection of about $150 total for entertainment expenses (bars, movies, etc.).
The end result is about $650 in expenses that I would have spent anyway, had I been at home.
This drops the real added expense burden down well under $2,000 to about $1,710 for the trip.
Is it cheap? Not necessarily, but is it significantly cheaper than you were probably expecting? Most definitely. Is it doable for most people? Most definitely, IF you’re willing to prioritize and set some money aside.
Thoughts? Questions? Comments? Leave a comment or shoot me a tweet @AlexBerger. I look forward to your thoughts!
The following are 30 of my favorite travel photos. Shots were taken on PowerShot G series cameras (G6, or G11). All are my original photos. Please do not re-produce them without my consent. You can view more of my photography on flickr.
I didn’t sleep well. I was nervous. It was sometime around 4AM in the twilight hours of the last day of 2009. I had an early bus to catch, was traveling on a holiday, would spend time in 3 different countries over the next 10 hours, and had to sleep with my camera. Why the odd bedfellow? In the absence of an alarm clock, watch, or other time keeping device – the internal clock on my Canon G11 was my sole time piece. Luckily my internal clock held true, waking me a half hour or so before I needed to be up.
I stretched, groaned at the odd noises one of the local birds was making, and then stumbled over to my locker. A few brief minutes later I found a bench outside my dorm room and sat down, carefully making sure I had everything as I tied my shoes. The sun had just begun to rise. It was the start of a gloomy, but invigorating day. The type that was made for travel – gloomy enough that you don’t feel like you’re missing something, but nice enough that downtime between buses etc. isn’t miserable.
From there it was down the uneven cobblestone streets to the waterfront where my Flores (Guatemala) -> Chetumal (Mexico) bus would pick me up at 7:30. I confirmed my booking, then opted for a bit of breakfast at the small cafe next door.
As I sat down at one of the outside tables, I chuckled while making eye contact with a vibrantly colored, inquisitive parrot who was carefully perched (dare i say stranded) on top of the “Break Fast” sign.
There were a few of us out and about. All bleary eyed. All wishing we were still in bed. My food arrived, as did a bland black coffee just as there was a loud POP! Crackle! POP! From somewhere overhead. Startled I looked over and up in time to see the large power pole begin to spark and smoke. The two locals underneath it jumped back as I leapt out of my chair and got under the cover of the building, carefully eying the power line which stretched directly over the table i’d been sitting at.
The owner quickly grabbed a wooden broom, then ran around turning off all of the electronics as the power pole/line continued to smolder and throw off periodic sparks. Eventually it died down…just in time for the local who had previously been standing immediately under the pole to walk over and tentatively touch it. Luckily, the danger appeared to have passed and with a wary eye I returned to my table, plowed through my food, paid my bill and made my way to the bus stop.
The bus ride itself wasn’t anything special. A long trip with brief pauses ever hour or two. Two quick stops – one at the Guatemala/Belize border and another at the Belize/Mexico border where we disembarked, paid a plethora of fees, then wandered aimlessly into the country. The highlight, however, was a wonderful husband and wife who were traveling together. The husband was a scientist and professor at UNLV who shared a wealth of insights with me about climate change, recently discovered micro-organisms in extreme locations, and other like-kind scientific insights. Our conversation was both fascinating and extremely informative which went a long way towards speeding up the trip.
Eventually we arrived at the Chetumal bus station, where we would book the second leg of our trip. For me it was onto a 1st class bus for the 4 hour bus ride to Play del Carmen where I hoped my hostel reservation was waiting for me. Unfortunately, the first bus was sold out, leaving an hour plus layover and adding to my anxiety. Nervous about losing my reservation I found a tiny internet cafe in one of the Bus Station coffee shops, from which I sent a follow up/confirmation e-mail to my hostel. “Please hold my spot, I am coming from Guatemala today! If everything goes according to plan I’ll be arriving sometime between 10-11:45”.
I was exhausted, smelled, and stressed. The last thing I wanted to do was spend New Years on a Mexican bus. Luckily, the bus eventually appeared, was on time, and got me safely to Play del Carmen by 10:30PM.
Nervous about my reservation I made a B-line to the hostel and was relived to find that they’d received my e-mail right about the time they were debating giving the bed away. I was in luck, they’d kept a bed set aside for me in one of the dorms. I’d made it before new years – and I was ready to celebrate.
In a small mealstrom of activity I washed up quickly, deodorized, changed and made my way up to the hostel bar. A couple of dollars later and with a beer in each hand I set to the task of making new friends. I quickly fell in with a Dane and some Aussies. As the seconds ticked by we counted down, drinks held in in the air: 10, 9, 8, 7 – whew I’d made it! – 6, 5, 4 – What an amazing year. I’d kicked it off in the Plaza del Sol 12 months earlier in Spain and now I already found myself saying goodbye to 2009 on a different continent, with equally delightful people after a year of incredible adventure – 3, 2, 1…..and then the rooftop bar exploded with a roaring cheer. Hugs and high fives were exchanged, glasses and beer bottles clanked together and as one, people from all over the world celebrated the start of a new year and a new adventure.
After another hour or so at the Hostel bar, a group of us formed up and set out to explore a few of the local clubs. Before long we found one along the beach with an incredible view of the ocean and great music. For the next few hours we danced, drank, socialized, and exchanged stories. At 4AM I realized I was quickly approaching the 24 hour mark and that I was drained of every last ounce of energy I had. I said by goodbyes and made my way back to the hostel where I crawled into my bunk, let out a great sigh and drifted towards sleep.
Unfortunately, I was in the top bunk located in the very corner of the room, immediately between two large windows. The good news was, that the sunrise was spectacular. The bad news was, that between the sunlight and eventual heat coming off the windows I was awake and drenched in sweat by 8:30AM. Hungover, I set out to walk the beach and get some fresh air. To my amusement and surprise the party was still raging at one of the beach clubs. With more than a few people passed out along the beach in front, the bar itself was full of people dancing. Many were still in evening dresses from the night before, though most had long since lost their shoes. Most of the guys were in similar form, though almost all had long ago abandoned their shirts.
As I strolled along the beach I paused and couldn’t help but laugh. Immediately in front of the club, half buried in the sand a reveler was sound asleep. Passer-bys had decorated the individual with beer bottles, sand breasts, and upended cups. The only sign of life was a periodic roaring snore.
Eventually feeling refreshed I made my way back to the hostel where the Air Conditioning had kicked in. I crawled back into bed for a quick nap.
By 1 I made my way to the rooftop common area, where I settled in with a large water and my book. Before long Daniel and Jesse joined me. We exchanged stories from the night before, and I quickly learned that after I’d left Jesse and Daniel had continued full force. As it turned out, much to Daniel and my entertainment – Jesse was locked out of his room. With nothing better to do, we opted to head down to a beach front bar for a lone drink as we recovered.
Before long we’d stumbled on the site of a week long rave/music festival that was operating 24/7. Set up around a resort’s beach front pool the area was packed with people dancing, celebrating, and relaxing. The scene was an incredible chance to people watch and full of entertaining antics. Before long, someone volunteered to grab the first round which obliterated any hope we’d had for a relaxing 1 beer afternoon. As the part picked up steam we drank, danced, and met an entertaining mixture of locals, travelers, and vacationers. In what seamed like the blink of an eye 1PM had turned into 6PM which had bled into 8PM. Hungry we tore ourselves away from the party long enough to make our way back towards the hostel. The walk there was amazing, mostly along the beach, and under a full Blue Moon. Once back to the hostel we picked up a few more people, changed quickly, then found a near by dollar taco stand. The jokes were hilarious, offensive, and often told around a mouth full of taco and Pacifico.
With laughter and salsa induced tears streaming down our faces we eventually finished dinner, before striking out to find a nightclub. The first attempt was a failure…apparently night clubs didn’t care for one of the Australian’s ball-bulge-spedoesque-swimsuit, which set off another round of jokes and laughter. Making a scene as we ambled through the street – often laughing hysterically or making odd faces – we eventually found a club that welcomed us with open arms…and free drinks. From there it was on to the Blue Parrot where we watched a fire show, danced, and laughed at each other mostly because Daniel, Jesse and I had all begun to lose our voices and sounded ridiculous.
By 3 we’d all started to hit a wall and eventually opted to limp our way back to the hostel and turn in. If New Years Eve/Day was any indication, 2010 will be one hell of a great year.
The city of Flores is an unusually picturesque city. Situated on a small island in the middle of lake Peten Itza, Flores is connected to the mainland by a narrow causeway. The causeway connects Flores to the two surrounding towns which are home to most of the area’s population. The two neighboring towns are Santa Elena and San Benito both of which sit along the shores of Lake Peten Itza and service Flores.
The island of Flores is an odd oasis. Still concretely Guatemalan, the island has evolved into a tourist oasis. Cleaner, more secure, and significantly more upscale than Santa Elena and San Benito, Flores is home to a wealth of hotels, restaurants, small stores, internet cafe’s and nick-knack shops. Roughly circular in nature, the island offers an incredible 360 degree view of the lake and surrounding towns, jungles and neighboring islands.
Unlike most small islands its size, Flores sits on top of a relatively tall hill. The hill itself is mostly invisible, submerged under hundreds of years of development, modification and cultivation. The city has a large outer loop road which wraps around the waterfront and then a series of internal rings in smaller circles which are bisected by cobble stone streets on a gentle incline which point towards the city park and Cathedral which rest on the flattened top of the hill in the center of the island.
The mainland is home to the airport as well as a large series of semi-permanent outdoor market streets. The most interesting of which was a long market street which features a ramshackle collection of street side fruit and vegetable vendors. The sheer amount of produce was incredible. The photo above showcases one stand and is representative of the 30-50 similar stands which were set up side-by-side along the street.
For those feeling inquisitive it’s possible to fork off of the main drag, which serves as the produce street, onto one of several smaller mixed goods streets. These are a seething mass of humanity, clutter, smells and small motorcycle Taxi’s called Tuk-Tuks. As an Argentinian girl from the hostel and I made our way through the market, we paused periodically to enjoy the vibrant pulse of the marketplace.
Though the market seemed safe enough, the always visible military and security personnel standing on every other street corner with automatic weapons or sawed off machine guns at the ready, were a vivid reminder of the economic and political turmoil currently plaguing the region.
Though the market itself had a fairly visible security presence, it paled in comparison to the amount of security, police and military personnel on the Island of Flores. In many ways the police presence left me feeling as though I was in an island fortress in the midst of some sort of great turmoil. Stores of any significant size and even some restaurants had armed security guards. At night the police were out in force – some 10+ motorcycle officers, each heavily armed with extended clips clearly visible.
At one point I came across an armored truck making its rounds while replenishing the local ATMs. Most of the places I’ve traveled in the past, armored truck guards are…lazy. They meander in, meander out and while somewhat diligent are not overly concerned. Not so in Flores. The guards were out of the truck, shotguns in hand, eyes sharp as they hustled in to the ATM, re-filled it, then with a jump to their step made their way back out and back into their armored truck.
Despite the general sense of added vigilance and the silent threat of violence and crime – my experience was entirely positive. The people were friendly and helpful. The city safe. The weather beautiful.
As the Argentinian and I finished our exploration of the island we hopped in a Tuk Tuk and for less than $1 USD a piece were shuttled back out to the Island. The Tuk Tuk was a fun adventure. Though I barely fit, it offered a fun view of the city as we wound through traffic, small back streets, and then eventually made our way out to Flores. All the while our driver was on his cellphone, driving one handed, except of course, when gesturing at other drivers or honking a horn in hello.
Once back on the island it was time to relax, eat, and then settle in for a bit of socializing in the common area. The hostel – Los Amigos – offered one of the most pleasant atmosphere’s Ive ever found in a hostel. The entire common area was decorated with lush vegetation, hanging ornaments, or books.
The hostel itself had as much space dedicated to the gardens and plant life as to beds and human comforts. From swinging rope chairs and vegan food options to a TV documentary zone the place oozed a relaxed hippy culture. In addition to the local owners, the hostel was also home to two dogs, an Albino bunny rabbit and a parrot. All of which had a free run of the hostel.
If you find yourself in Guatemala and are considering a trip to Tikal, Flores is a must!
My stay was entirely too short. With new years fast approaching, I found a direct bus from Flores to Chetumal (the border between Belize and Mexico). After confirming that the colectivo was a tourist bus, I booked my ticket and prepared for what promised to be a full day of travel. You see, Guatemala and Mexico don’t connect directly in the north. The only option was to back track from Flores to San Ignacio, then into Belize towards Belize City before turning north and striking up to Chetumal on the border. The trip took about 7 hours. From Chetumal I had to wait an hour or two due to full buses (I was traveling on the 31st) before transferring to a 1st class bus to Playa del Carmen. Nervous that I’d arrive late and lose my hostel/miss new years, I sent a hasty e-mail from the bus station, telling Hostel de lay Playa in Playa del Carmen that I was still coming and to save my new years reservation. After three more hours on the bus I arrived – with only an hour and a half to spare – at 10:30PM. I splashed some water on my face, checked in…and set out to welcome 2010….but that is a story for tomorrow!