Do I Really Need Flip Flops for Hostels – Ask Alex – Travel Question Wednesdays

Ask Alex - Travel Question Wednesdays

This post is part of the Ask Alex, Travel Question Wednesdays weekly series. To see previous questions click here. To submit your own; tweet it to @AlexBerger, ask it in a comment on this post or send it in by e-mail.

This week’s travel question is from Jane who asks,

Q. “Alex, I have a big hostel trip coming up and am trying to pack light. Do I really need to pack an extra set of sandals for the showers? Why?”

A. – Yep! Further, I suggest you stick to a cheap pair of plastic sandals/flip flops/thongs. I’ve seen a lot of people opt for a pair of leather sandals which they use as general shoes and also use for the hostel showers as well. I’d advise against this as it is both disgusting (the leather gets wet and soaks up nastiness) and rude (you’re tracking street germs into communal showers). If you opt for sandals instead of shoes on a day-to-day basis it is still worth packing a second pairs of sandals. One thing every hostel/backpacker should have is a set pair of dedicated hostel/shower sandals.

But why? Well simply put hostel showers are semi-communal in nature. They seldom see sunlight (which can kill a lot of bacteria) and are not always the cleanest in the world. Your average hostel dorm bathroom services at least 4 people and sometimes 10-20 times that. These are people from a variety of backgrounds traveling in a wide assortment of ways and with vastly different hygienic standards. While the average hostel goes out of their way to keep their showers clean, and all showers are cleaned on a daily basis, they still got a lot of use. You also never know if the person who just finished showering before you is freshly arrived from an undeveloped nation where they decided to walk around barefoot. So, while your chances of actually catching some sort of bacteria or nastiness from a hostel shower is relatively small…it is still a healthy enough risk that it’s well worth avoiding.

Also, at the risk of being overly graphic keep in mind the wide assortment of things that people do in the shower and consider that hostel bathrooms and showers are often one of the few areas in the hostel which A) have a lock on the door and B) are not under video surveillance. Ask yourself, is that really a place where you want to walk around barefoot?


Have a question of your own? ASK IT! Want to see previous questions? click here.

My 7 Links – A Stroll Through Blog History

Tierra del Fuego Boots

I was recently nominated to participate in the My 7 Links project sponsored by TripBase. The process is simple. Nominated bloggers identify several posts which meet seven criteria and then share them with readers. In turn I have the opportunity to nominate 5 bloggers who I feel are truly exceptional. So, here we go!

Your most beautiful post

Regular readers will note that I make an effort to make sure that every post is awash in vibrant, captivating, and enticing photos from my travels. Still, some stand out above and beyond others. While it doesn’t include pictures from my recent Scandinavia and Argentina trips I would say my “This Beautiful World: 30 of My Favorite Travel Photos” may take the cake.

Your most popular post

I’ll leave you to research my most popular posts of all time on your own.  So far this month my most popular post is a classic and one of my favorites, “Tallying up the Cost: How I Afford to Travel“.

Your most controversial post

Though this blog is almost exclusively travel focused I periodically blog on other topics I’m passionate about.  This can be education, technology, or at times entrepreneurship.  One of my most controversial posts of all time based on comments and discussion is, “Educating Millennials – Why We’re Doing it Wrong“.

Your most helpful post

While it might be a slight exaggeration to say this post has saved lives, it’s safe to say that there’s at least some truth to the claim.  My post, “How To Pick A Travel Partner and Avoid Killing Them” has dramatically influenced a number of people’s travel plans for the better and done a lot to prepare thousands of other readers for the challenges they’ll face on the road.

A post whose success surprised you

I knew it would be popular and successful but as I sat down to braindump for my, “Traveler’s 101 – The Complete Travel Tip Post” I had no idea just how useful and successful the post was destined to be.  While I’m no longer updating the version here on VirtualWayfarer, the response to the post was so positive that I split it off and created a stand alone site which has continued to grow and is now Ultimate Packing

A post you feel didn’t get the attention it deserved

That’s a challenging one. There are a lot of great posts which for some reason or another didn’t quite click.  Also, before I started integrating a lot of photos into each individual post people were intimidated by the large slabs of text and narrative.  One favorite (which I’ve re-added photos to) is, “Croatia: Zagreb & the Lakes and Waterfalls of Plitvicjka Jezera“. The falls were hands down one of the most spectacular places I’ve been.

The post that you are most proud of

Impossible to say as it changes from day to day. There are so many older posts which I really love but that aren’t at the forefront of my thoughts and current focus.  One of my more recent favorites, however, is actually a series of posts I did covering my time on the Perito Moreno Glacier in the Patagonia region of Argentina. The post, “Lands of Ice and Snow – The Perito Moreno Glacier” still brings a big smile to my face.  In my opinion the combo of stories, photos and Videos embodies everything a good travel post should be.

Also, please keep in mind that some of my favorite posts have led to split off/stand alone websites which are part of my Travel Resource Network.  For those interested these are Ultimate Packing List, Travel Resource List, Daily Travel Pic and the soon to launch Airfare Basics.

My 5 Nominations

Brendans Adventures –

Go See Write –

Traveling Canucks –

LandLopers –

Turkish Travel Blog –

VirtualWayfarer and Alex Berger In The News

Tobacco Caye, Belize

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  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.

Second, if you’re a regular reader of MSNBC’s Travel Tips section you may have noted a familiar name. I was quoted in last Friday’s article by Christopher Elliott of, “Falling Into A Vacation Deal: Autumn is a perfect time to get away – and save money in the process“.   The entire article is well worth a read, however, I’ve included the following excerpt for your immediate review:

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 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 [@]

Autumn is a perfect time to get away – and save money in the process

Scandinavia Bound – Packing and Trip Prep

Hello friends!

As I gear up and prepare to start my next adventure later today, I’ve assembled a few tips and tricks for those of you who may be considering making a similar trip.  I’ll be spending the next 18 days traveling through Norway, Denmark and Germany, with a brief overnight stop in Dublin.

As i’ll be taking the trip between June 25th and July 13th daylight is not an issue (the equinox was on the 21st).  Temperature, however, will be. I’ll be leaving 110+ degree temperatures for the 50s and 60s which are the status quo this time of the year in central Norway.

I’ve recorded and included my latest packing video above. My key considerations have been layers, technology, and dealing with the high probability that I’ll end up drenched a few times.  The video is self explanatory, but if you have any questions on specifics, please don’t hesitate to ask!  I’ll be shooting photos/video on my Canon G11 and my Vixia HF200. Both of which I’ve been really happy with.


When I initially purchased my ticket, I had tentatively planned to visit Central Europe. As a result I picked an airport schedule that allowed me to fly into Dublin, Ireland (RyanAir’s main hub/cheapest airport in Europe, Madrid being the 2nd), and fly out of Nuremberg, Germany.  As I watched for airfare specials, it quickly became apparent that there’s some sort of pricing tiff going on between RyanAir and Central European airports, which drove me to choose a 5 Euro ticket (total cost, 25 Euro w/ 1 checked bag/taxes/fees) from Dublin to Oslo, Norway.  Combined with the recent economic woes which have crippled the Euro/Euro area countries, it seemed like there probably wouldn’t be a better  or cheaper time to visit Scandinavia, which is notorious for its high prices.

By the time I worked in my 1 day layover in Dublin, timezone changes, and travel time I have about 15 days of actual travel time.  Which, while longer than some trips, really only gives me 5 days per country.  This forced me to scrap my initial plans of doing Sweden, in addition to Norway, Denmark and Germany as it just didn’t make sense from a travel time cost.  Unfortunately, I only realized that I wouldn’t be able to do Sweden AFTER purchasing a 4 country, 8 day Eurail pass.  In retrospect, a 3 country, 8 day pass would have been a far better choice.  That said, the price difference was fairly negligible (some $70) compared to what the cost would have been for 8 individual train trips, which removed some of the sting from the mistake.  The final price for the pass was $390 which wile a decent expense, is far cheaper than the $80-$170 price on most medium-long leg train tickets in Scandinavia and Germany.  In addition to the base $390 fee, there will be several smaller reservation fees to reserve my actual seat, but these fees should be small.

I’ve booked two other major legs ahead of time.  These are a ferry trip from Stavanger to Bergen in Norway and a budget flight from Bergen to Copenhagen, Denmark.  While I prefer to travel on a more flexible schedule, research indicated that Stavanger and Bergen are only connected by Rail through a round about route which loops back through Oslo adding 6+ hours on to any tentative trip.  A ferry ride provides the opportunity to travel through the Fjords by boat, while traveling straight north along the coast directly to Bergen.  Additionally, by booking online through Flaggruten, a Norwegian ferry company, I was able to knock the price from 750 NOK, to 250 NOK or $38.50 USD. A hard price/special to beat.

The second challenge was getting from Bergen to Copenhagen, without having to re-trace ground through Oslo and Sweden.  What would have been a 10-15 hour train ride ends up being a mere 1 hour direct flight.  By experimenting with different budget airports, airlines and destinations, I was able to find a flight for 693 NOK which is about $107 USD.  This cut hours and hours of travel time out of my schedule, was reasonable, and allowed me to spend an extra day exploring the cities I wanted to spend time in. I found the ticket through Wideroe, which seems to be the best priced discount Scandinavia airline (they also have an amazing all you can fly pass – similar to a Eurail pass).  Unlike a number of their competitors Wideroe offers a youth (under 25) ticket, which knocked the price down substantially.  By choosing a flexible departure time, and booking a youth ticket I was able to save $50-100+ off the price of the next cheapest competitor.

The rest of my travel and transport will be done via my Eurail pass or local day tour groups.

For now, I’ve gotta run.  My flight and a new part of the world awaits!

Traveling the Lonely Planet Trail

Highland Road

It’s not something widely mentioned. However, get a few travelers gathered around a fire or in a circle at the hostel bar, and you’ll start to hear it talked about: the surprising regularity at which travelers run into each other. Often these reunions happen several times over the course of a trip, sometimes hundreds (thousands?) of miles and countries apart. It’s always a surprise, though it shouldn’t be, and is usually a welcome occurrence. It happens in internet cafes, hostel common rooms, and even at random on the city streets. It seems to defy common sense – after all, the world is a big place, isn’t it?

The truth is, we make the world we explore significantly smaller by following pre-established paths. The most significant of which is what I’ve come to call the Lonely Planet Trail (LPT).  If you’re like most20-30 somethings planning a backpacking/hosteling style trip you probably opted for a Lonely Planet guide book.  Why? Because frankly Fodor’s, Rick Steves‘ etc. have done an excellent job servicing their own niches but lack real value for the average backpacker. Meanwhile Lonely Planet has targeted backpackers and done a great job developing a useful resource.  A resource which has become the go-to guide for backpackers the world over and holds a special spot in most backpacker’s packs, right next to their socks and underwear.

It makes sense when you think about it – no matter how random or willing we are to go off the beaten path, we’ll still take all the help we can get. That help (hostel information, things to see/do, even a map) typically comes in the form of a blue book with big white text on it. Which, comically enough, adds a certain level of standardization to our travel route. The most entertaining part is, that it’s almost inescapable. I can be a bit of an Ox at times and it’s not unusual for me to take off on a trip without doing a lot of research, having an itinerary or taking a guide book and yet, I’ll still find myself on the Lonely Planet Trail. Why? Because the recommendations I receive, tips and must sees are all driven, in large part, by Lonely Planet.

Marketplace in San Ignacio, Belize

Going to Guatemala? What should you see? What should you do? Where should you stay? It’s all there, just a few well worn pages away. Ask ten backpackers and you’ll probably find that 80% of their responses are similar/nearly identical and not without good reason. Lonely Planet does make very legitimate recommendations. But, those recommendations are also something to be very mindful of when charting your trip.  There’s a lot of stuff out there that didn’t make it into LP or that the author’s might not have liked/missed.  Don’t assume that if it’s not in the book, it’s not worth seeing.

Personally, I enjoy traveling along the LPT – in no small part because it ensures a more social experience.  It’s not, however, ideal for those who are really looking to break free and engage with the local population.  People often complain about how little time they spent away from other travelers.  I’d suggest that it’s often because they mistake hostel travel for truly immersive travel – which isn’t always the same.

Coastal Village

My biggest suggestion for people who find themselves traveling the LPT is to take a critical look at the suggestions before making decisions.  Is LP great for finding accommodation?  Yes.   Is it good for finding local “must see” attractions?  Usually. Is it good for budget/authentic food recommendations?  Definitely not.  Tour companies?  Hit or miss.

At the end of the day, I think the thing to keep in mind is that once a company/venue is featured by Lonely Planet, they’ve become the default go-to source for that service.  Which often results in a decrease in quality, increase in prices, and a decrease in availability.

As you chart the course for your next trip, make sure to take these factors into consideration.  Remember, your ultimate goal is to get what YOU want out of the trip and the best way to do that, is to examine even our most trusty travel tools with a skeptical eye.

Until next time, I’ll be keeping an eye out for YOU on the Lonely Planet Trail.  No doubt, we’ll share a pint soon!

Belize Bound – What Should I See?

My next trip is booked. Well, the airfare and time off work is at least!  I’m now in that month(s) long stage of tantalizing anticipation as I eagerly wait to throw my gear in a backpack, fold myself into a crappy airline sardine can and kick off another adventure.

The Trip

I’ll be departing Phoenix on December 16th with a round trip ticket to Cancun, Mexico with a return date set for January 4th. Wait, why Cancun? Airfare! The cost of a round trip ticket to Cancun was some $200-$400 cheaper than airfare into Belize proper and having never been to Cancun before, I figured why not kill two birds with one stone! The unfortunate thing about travel between Dec. 15th and January 10th is that it’s holiday high season.  Which means all of the airfares skyrocket. If i’d been able to extend an extra 3 or 4 days on the front or tail end of my trip i’d have knocked some $150-$200 more off of my airfare at least.

Total cost of the airfare with insurance was $530 ($488 sticker price) for a direct flight from Phoenix->Cancun on US Airways.  Interestingly, the price for a direct flight was about $100 cheaper than a flight with a layover.  Also noteworthy – the direct flight/route prices didn’t show up in Orbitz’s general search results.  Only search results that requested direct flights only. This caught me off guard as conventional wisdom is that more layovers = cheaper airfare.  It was also peculiar, since sites like Kayak etc. missed the cheaper airfare (probably for the same reason).

The Plan

My current plan is to arrive in Cancun and bunk up in a hostel for a day or two before catching a Bus towards Belize.  I’d like to explore Cancun in greater depth but am thinking about doing it on the tail end of the trip (around new years) when I head back to Cancun to catch my flight back to the states.

This is my first trip to Central America, so i’m expecting it to be significantly different from my previous trips which have mostly focused on North America/Europe.

Tips and Suggestions

So, here’s the deal. I know a lot of you have done Cancun/Belize and the surrounding areas and have a lot of tips/tricks/warnings/suggestions to share. In an effort to centralize all of your suggestions I’ve created this post which I’ll be able to access while on the road.

So, let’s hear it! Must see/must avoid places?  Good hostels to stay in? Incredible ruins, natural wonders, or spots to see/dive/snorkel?

Please post them in a comment below! I treasure your wisdom and suggestions.

10 Tips For Ballroom Success

I’ll be the first one to admit that my approach to dancing is a bit different than a lot of people’s. When I started the program at ASU in the fall of my sophomore year I took the Level I Ballroom/Latin/Swing class and was hooked. However, unlike most of the others in the class I didn’t pursue one of the two chief choices: stopping there or moving on to Level II. Instead I re-took the Level I class. I continued to learn and laid down the foundation for what has become one of my favorite, educational and most rewarding pastimes. By my third semester in the dance program, I finally decided to move into the Level II B/L/S class. I learned a lot, improved my dancing exponentially and enjoyed the class, but still found myself attending the Level I classes. By the time my third semester in dance wound down to a close I did the unthinkable. Instead of repeating Level II or moving up to Level III, I returned exclusively to Level I and that’s where I stayed for the remainder of my 4 years at ASU.

To be clear, it wasn’t that I couldn’t go on. I could have quite easily and was pressured fairly heavily to do so. Which isn’t to say I started out as a good dancer. Quite the opposite. In fact, I take a certain level of pride in just how horrible I was when I started. Clumsy, petrified of the girls I was forced into close proximity with, unable to hear the beat, unable to count out the steps – I was a complete dance disaster. About the only thing I had going for me was an awkward sort of charm and perseverance.

Over the last 4 years my dancing has come a long way. In fact, as a person I have changed a lot – and in no small part due to dance. My confidence has skyrocketed. Girls are now relegated to only being marginally scary (downgraded from petrifying). I can hear the beat about 95% of the time. I still can’t count, but I’ve figured out the rhythms. I haven’t dropped a girl and, through it all – somehow – I’ve been accused of moving smoothly and gracefully. I still have a long way to go but the transition from ugly duckling to swan has been an interesting and enlightening one.

I’ve had the opportunity to dance with and to get to know a lot of the incredible dancers that have come out of ASU. In the 3 years I spent in the program, and the year I’ve spent on it’s fringes since I graduated, I’m constantly amazed at the talent and thrilled to see the program grow. It’s truly amazing how things have changed in the last 4 years. When I started Ballroom was still taboo – something for “girls and queers”. Somewhere between the 60s and 70s it had fallen out of favor. That dead period has finally come to an end. Our generation is once again embracing dance and that is a really fun and exciting thing.

For those of you just getting into it or considering picking it up, I’m offering these suggestions as food for thought based on my experiences, approach, and what I’ve seen.

  1. Dance is fundamentally about having fun. I’ve seen a lot of people get into it, push through the classes, and memorize routines with an all consuming focus on competing. For a lot of these people the drive to be the best comes at the cost of actually enjoying what they’re doing. Fundamentally, dance is about enjoying yourself and making sure your partner does the same. If you lose sight of this none of the medals or fancy moves mean squat.
  2. Men – beyond fancy turns or quick spins focus on your ability to lead. If the girl can’t follow you, you aren’t doing your job. On the flip side Girls – work on your ability to follow. Don’t cling to him, listen to his suggestions, and let his body lead you.
  3. Find the music. This one is more difficult for some of us than others. As someone who to this day fights with the beat in some dances, I can’t over emphasize the importance of listening to the music in your spare time and figuring out a system that works for you. Mix it up. The way they told you to count it may not be the best for you. I had major issues with salsa until I started matching up “Quick, Quick, Slow” to the music in my head. No numbers, no this on that beat. Just a simple rhythm I could match and follow. To this day it’s what I use and it’s allowed me to break away from the standard salsa formats and embrace a more South American/natural style.
  4. Be humble – it’s easy to get cocky. It’s also really easy to get frustrated when dancing with someone at a totally different skill level. The reality is, you sucked once. Not only did you suck once, but you’re probably a lot less skilled right now, at this moment, than you think you are. You just won’t realize it until you reach the next skill level. Always make time to dance with a beginner, take the time to be patient, teach them the basics, offer a tip, and be supportive. Guys – in the long run, I promise a smile and a little support will leave the girl feeling like you were a much better dancer than a horribly executed Level III move designed to show her how good you are.
  5. Be careful who you turn down. To this day there are girls I won’t dance with because they were rude. There are others that I won’t dance with because of the way they treated my friends. Also, girls – quite often the guys who have the roughest time at the start end up being some of the best and most prolific dancers. Likewise – guys, it takes a lot of courage for a girl to ask you to dance. If you have the energy, go for it. Even if they intimidate you or you really don’t have any desire to dance with the person. One of my biggest goofs was turning down a phenomenal dancer who approached me about partnering with her on ASU’s competition team. In my shyness, I was intimidated by her and felt severely outclassed skillwise. That combined with my policy at the time not to compete (and frankly my lack of interest in competing) led to a hasty no. That no wasn’t delivered with nearly enough grace or consideration and is something I’d take back in a heartbeat given the opportunity.
  6. Guys – just go for it. There’s a whole story behind it, but there was a line a few girls told me summer of my freshman year during a drunken night out on the town in Edinburgh, Scotland. To this day it’s stuck with me. I’d just finished flailing around at a club in a disastrous drunken version of dance-meets Big-Bird on rollerblades when the girls stopped me mid sentence, “Alex, it’s such a nice change to finally find a guy who dances. Anything is better than the stalker dance.” What is the stalker dance one might wonder? It’s when you stand on the side of the dance floor, bobbing your head to the beat, and stare at the girls like a basset hound eying dinner. So remember – just don’t do the stalker dance and you’ll be a hit.
  7. Try not to smell – I know this one should be common sense but a lot of people are not aware of the scent associated with them. For some it’s just bad breath, for others it might be tied to medicine, breath mints, your toothpaste or gum. Regardless, always be conscientious and pay attention to how you smell. If you smell, not only will it drastically harm the level of enjoyment your partner gets out of the dance, it will cost you future dances.
  8. Girls – don’t tolerate gropers. Accidents happen. Lord knows I’ve accidentally grabbed a boob or two, and on more than one occasion blown a move and ended up with my face nose deep in cleavage. It happens and it can’t be helped. Unfortunately, there are more than a few guys out there who intentionally grope, squeeze, pinch, and generally disrespect the women they’re dancing with. If a guy starts pulling this sort of crap don’t feel like you have to finish the dance with him. Just stop and walk away. Never dance with him again and feel free to intentionally stomp on his toes if you do decide to finish the dance with him. Warn your girlfriends, and let the guys you dance with regularly, know. My only word of caution would be to make sure it’s not legitimately part of the dance (eg: Bachata’s close grinding).
  9. If you’re just starting don’t let the skill of the dancers you see keep you off the dance floor. Anyone who’s going to judge you isn’t worth your time to begin with. Also, it took me about a year to figure it out – but the better dancers typically don’t tend to dance in the more visible locations. So, it’s probable that the dancers dancing along the edge of the dance floor right at the entrance etc. are probably some of the best dancers at the club. Just push on in to the middle or find a quiet corner where you’re comfortable and have fun.
  10. Don’t stop. Even if you totally blow it and get lost – just push through and have fun with it. Crack a joke, make a funny face, and keep going. Remember, you’re out there to dance. Not to be a robot carrying out pre-programmed moves. Besides, how do you think some of the best moves were created?

Tips, ideas, suggestions or questions of your own? Post a comment!