10 Great Travel Tips

suitcase travelThe blogger Matthew Karsten, the self-proclaimed “Expert Vagabond”, has spent four years traveling around the world.  He sold everything he owned and started his journey with a one-way flight from Miami into Guatemala City.  I recently came across an article where he shared 30 valuable tips learned from traveling around the world.  Here are ten that I think are particularly interesting:

Wake up early: Waking up at sunrise lets you have attractions all to yourself while avoiding crowds, and is a magical time for photos.  Sketchy areas are also less dangerous in the morning.

Stash extra cash: Cash is king, as the saying goes.  To cover yourself in case of an emergency, have at least a couple hundred dollars’ worth, God forbid you lose your wallet, your card stops working or the ATMs run out of money.  Stash it somewhere convenient, such as socks, under shoe inserts, a toiletry bag or around the frame of your backpack.

Meet local people: Make a point to avoid other travelers and start conversations with locals.  Basic English is spoken widely all over the world, so this is easier to do than you think.  Be friendly, smile and say hello, and even the most unfriendly-seeming people will open up to you.

Take lots of photos: These could be once in a lifetime experiences, so remember them forever with plenty of photos; they cost nothing, are easy to share with others and don’t take up space in your luggage.  Just remember to get out from behind the lens sometimes and enjoy the view.

Keep an open mind: Don’t judge the lifestyles and cultures of others, listen to opinions you might not agree with, practice empathy and embrace different possibilities, and you might learn something.

Try Couchsurfing: If you truly want to experience a country, staying with a local in the form of couchsurfing is the way to go.  There are millions of them around the world who will host you and provide recommendations.

Don’t be afraid: Reading the news, it’s easy to think that the entire world is dangerous.  Keep an eye out for sketchy situations, but don’t let that shape your entire trip.  All you need is common sense, and you should be okay.

Eat local food: Even if you think you know what Mexican or Chinese food tastes like, you’re probably wrong.  Taste a bit of everything, even if you don’t know what it is.  Try street food from vendors with big lines out front.

Say yes: Be impulsive and say yes when somebody invites you to meet their family, try something new or explore a new place.  Such situations often turn into the best stories from your experience.  Challenge yourself to try things new; if something normally makes you uncomfortable, try it.

Get off the beaten path: Cliche as it sounds, seek out interesting and unusual places that don’t see many tourists, and you’ll get plenty of memorable travel experiences.  Travel to popular sites, but don’t rule out any places.

from Ari Kellen| Travel Page http://ift.tt/1XN0Ix5


Traveling to Isaan

IsaanWhen it comes to Thailand, it’s very easy to just want to travel to Bangkok and overlook the other areas.  Yet this is a sore mistake.  I recently came across an article about the region Isaan, an underrated part of Thailand that most people skip on the way to Laos.  Most of it is farmland and small towns without any real “attractions”, so it’s often overlooked by tourists.  Yet if you want to see what day-to-day life in Thailand is like away from the crowds, then this is where you want to go.  It’s extremely cheap, averaging on about $25 to $35 a day.  Overall, it should take at least one month, but can be done in two and a half weeks if you press yourself.  Here are six tips for traveling through Isaan:

1. Don’t pre-book: Since the region doesn’t see many tourists, just showing up to guesthouses and bus stops should work just fine.  Unlike Bangkok, you shouldn’t have any issues with fighting for space.

2. Try to have your own transportation: Like Ireland, Iceland or Southern France, Isaan is best explored on your own terms.  To really get out and see what it has to offer, rent your own bike or car.

3. Drivers can be hired and prices shared: If you don’t have your own transportation, then you’ll have to rely on hiring drivers.  It’s expensive, but it’s the only way to get to national parks and ruins, which are far outside the cities.  Yet drivers all charge set prices, allowing you to share costs with friends.

4. Expats can help: Isaan is filled with English teachers, so breaking into the local scene with Couchsurfing is great, and they’ll be more than happy to show you around.

5. National parks are far away, and day tours are hard to organize

6. English isn’t widely spoken: Since there are fewer tourists, the language barrier is going to be bigger.  You’ll be able to get around, but you’ll need to use more hand gestures and pointing.


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NYC’s Best Winter Rooftop Bars

Rooftop bars, just like smelly fermenting trash and sweaty subway platforms, are a staple of New York City summers.  Yet even when winter is in full swing, there are still some places with removable covers, heat lamps and hot drinks to warm up patrons.  I recently came across an article that shares some of the best all-season rooftop spots in the city, which I’ve shared below:

The Lodge at the McKittrick Hotel: In the winter, this spot become a work of art: a sneaky hideaway bar that looks like a woodsy cabin with bunk beds, battered books, a fire pit and plenty of furs.  You can sip on a maple toddy, then see if you can brave the haunted Macbeth house below.

The Ides at the Wythe Hotel: While the outdoor section here is ideal for summer, you can still enjoy the scenery behind the windowed roofdeck in the winter.  You can enjoy such cocktails as the Old Pal or Dark and Stormy while watching the snow fall.

NYC skylineKimoto: Brooklyn might turn some people off, but even those who hate it have to concede that Kimoto is an exceptional place.  With 26 craft beer options, mostly Japanese, 9 custom cocktails and a diverse menu of Asian fusion, it’s more than enough to lure even the biggest Brooklyn skeptic.

Baita at la Birreria: In the winter, the rooftop bar at Eataly become Baita, a pop-up bar and restaurant inspired by the Italian Alps.  It’s more food-oriented, but that food is delicious, and can be washed down with warm drinks like mulled wine and an extensive list of brews.

Upstairs at the Kimberly: The retractable roof keeps the uppermost level of this hotel bar cozy, even when the temperature drops.  Luckily, the glass doesn’t obscure the views here, allowing you to overlook Midtown and the peak of the Chrysler building.

Hotel Chantelle: Filled with plush banquettes, this art-deco lounge is a jazzy, covered rooftop that can transport you directly to Paris.  With a full bar and a DJ booth, after the clock strikes midnight it attracts a young crowd looking to dance the night away.

The Heights Bar and Grill: Finding a rooftop bar north of Midtown can be tough, but this Morningside Heights spot does just that.  It’s covered and heated in the winter.  It should be noted that it’s mostly a Columbia University bar, so it might not be the best place for those who aren’t as into the collegiate crowd.

Top of the Strand: This small Midtown spot gives you an up-close and personal view of the Empire State Building, and a retractable glass structure to seal in the warmth in the cooler months.

Refinery Rooftop: Like Top of the Strand, this is just a stone’s throw away from the Empire State Building that gives you a great view and a comfortable space with cushioned chairs and romantic lights.

from Ari Kellen | New York City Exploration http://ift.tt/1KeyObo

Cold Weather This Weekend

cold cold cold

New York’s weather this winter seems to have been all over the place; Christmas felt nearly tropical, the rain was torrential in the early part of January, but then a couple weeks ago a record-breaking snowstorm hit.  And now, the Polar Vortex is set to sweep into New York City this weekend, getting ready to ruin your Valentine’s Day.  It will be sending down frigid air southward, from beyond the borders of Canada.  Some of this air will be sliding directly southward from eastern Canada, avoiding any warming effects on the mild waters of the Great Lakes.

A polar vortex is a storm typically centered near the North Pole, and tends to keep the coldest air trapped in the north of Canada.  This storm will occasionally weaken or shift enough to allow for frigid air to plummet southward into the US.  After a month with temperatures averaging 5-10 degrees Fahrenheit above normal, temperatures for this weekend will be falling to 10-20 degrees below normal, possibly going down 30 degrees.  After climbing to 38 degrees later today, the temperature is set to plummet dramatically; temperatures for Friday and Saturday morning will be around the teens, and Sunday morning could see temperatures down to five below.

Cold air will be tough for any New Yorkers spending time outdoors and not properly dressed.  Some things to worry about include frostbite, hypothermia, the bursting of unprotected pipes, water mains and battery failures in vehicles.  While New England will be get hit harder than New York, that’s not to say that Gotham won’t be cold.  Yet much like Jonas, this weather will leave just as soon as it came.  Temperatures might get as low as all of last winter, but the cold air isn’t likely to linger.

from Ari Kellen| Travel Page http://ift.tt/1WgRqbt

L-Pocalypse When?

L train

When the MTA announced that the L train would be shutting down in the near future, it seemed that all of New York City was terrified.  For those who live in Manhattan, the L served as the only way to get into the hip and happening Brooklyn.  While it isn’t the only way to get into Brooklyn, its role in making Brooklyn what it is today is undeniable.  During the turn of the millennium, the L train helped transform Williamsburg from an eyesore of urban decay into a hipster mecca.  It’s no coincidence that Bushwick, the next neighborhood in Brooklyn to attract the hipsters, is also off the L.  The L was what gave young Manhattanites a chance to explore another side of New York just a couple subway stops from Union Square.  These same people were terrified of what damage this shutdown will do to their nightlife, but luckily they have a lot of time to brace themselves.

Earlier this week, a group of elected officials met with the MTA to discuss the various options for repairing the Canarsie tubes, which were seriously damaged by flood waters during Hurricane Sandy, that help the L travel between Manhattan and Brooklyn.  So far, it looks like repairs on the tubes won’t start until two or three years from now, with work most likely not starting until 2018.  The MTA is still weighing a number of options for the project, including closing just one of the tubes at a time, a project that would take three years, or only closing the tubes on nights and weekends, which will make it a five-year project.  Yet if the Canarsie tubes were completely shut down, the process would be cut down to just eighteen months.

While Manhattan is dreading the “L-pocalypse”, imagining how inconvenient it will be to make it to their favorite Williamsburg brunch spot, without a doubt those people who live, work and spend most of their time in Brooklyn (particularly off the L line) will welcome the shutdown of the L train.  Now, the only way for Manhattanites to make it to Bedford Avenue, the heart of Williamsburg, will be to take an out-of-the-way voyage that relies on the notoriously unreliable G train, or take the equally unreliable J/M/Z trains.  Such inconveniences will help to hinder the gentrification that has already taken place in this neighborhood.  Yet it will also mean that Manhattanites will look to other, more-easily-accessible Brooklyn neighborhoods, such as Park Slope or Crown Heights, dramatically expediting the process of gentrification there.  Yet for those locals of Williamsburg, such a location will be beyond their concern.

from Ari Kellen | New York City Exploration http://ift.tt/1o2Z0vb

Announcement About Second Avenue Explosion

explosion on second avenue

Workers take away the rubble from the explosion that occurred on Second Avenue last March.

Late last March, nearly a full year ago, a deadly explosion caused by faulty pipes hit the East Village on Second Avenue.  It destroyed two buildings, displaced dozens and took the lives of two people, Nicholas Figueroa and Moises Ismael Locón Yac.  The block it hit, right next to Saint Mark’s Place, is part of the very heart of the East Village.  Where three buildings once stood, there’s now nothing but dirt, surrounded by a chain link fence that’s covered with decorations in memory of those who died.  What will be done to those buildings remains to be seen.

CBS 2 has reported that officials are set to “make a major announcement” this morning regarding the explosion.  It’s been scheduled for 11am at the Manhattan DA’s office.  To date, the city has yet to file charges against anybody who has been connected with the explosion.  Last April, the Post reported that investigators have “six prime suspects”: landlady Maria Hrynenko, her son Michael, contractor Dilber Kukic, an unidentified subcontractor and two workers.

Less than an hour ago, it’s been reported that five people are facing criminal charges in connection with the gas explosion.  Among those suspects brought to the Manhattan DA’s office included Maria, her son and contractor Kukic.  As authorities brought her in, Hrynenko told authorities that she’s a “good person”.

The area that was hit by the explosion was the true center of the East Village, near the mecca of St. Mark’s and just walks away from some of the most well-recognized institutions of the neighborhood, including Paul’s Burger Joint, Veselka and craft beer guru Jimmy’s No 43.  One of the buildings that was destroyed housed Pommes Frites, the Belgian-style french fry bar whose potatoes and special sauces made it a must-visit for any nighttime revelers in the neighborhood to get their deep fried fix.  Even if a duplicate restaurant opened around the corner, many remain upset at the loss of Pommes Frites, especially as the second location on Macdougal Street doesn’t show signs of opening any time soon, its previous release date for the Fall of 2015 is long gone.

from Ari Kellen | New York City Exploration http://ift.tt/1o2YX2t

Traveling to Bangkok

Although it’s developed a reputation as a place where just about anything can happen, Bangkok’s pollution, traffic and lack of tourist attractions frequently leaves tourists feeling underwhelmed.  In the traditional tourist sense, there isn’t much to do here, but those who live in Bangkok would beg to differ.  Here are some tips for places to travel if you’re there, based off of an article I found written by somebody who used to live there:

The Grand Palace: Thailand’s royal palace, built at the end of the 18th century, is filled with numerous temples, including one that houses the 15th-century Emerald Buddha statue.  Located nearby is Wat Pho, a massage school tBangkokhat features a larger-than-life gold reclining Buddha statue, as well as the incomparable Wat Arun Buddhist temple.

Chatuchack Weekend Market: If you’re looking to buy anything and everything, here is where you go.  It’s a huge market with gifts, knockoffs, traditional food and plenty of chances to barter.

Jim Thompson House: Jim Thompson was a former American spy and silk merchant, who built a traditionally Thai home in Bangkok decorated with traditional wood furniture.  Although he vanished mysteriously in Malaysia, his house is now a museum paying homage to traditional Thai architecture.  In addition, the proceeds from the museum go to helping underprivileged kids.

Terminal 21: While most malls don’t turn head, this is an airport-themed mall, where every floor features a different region of the world.  There’s free wi-fi, restaurants on every floor, a movie theater on the top floor and an exceptional food court.

Suk Soi 11: This downtown street is the expat hotspot of Bangkok, where you’ll find great bars such as Cheap Charlie’s, guesthouses like Suk 11, Indian food from the Moghul Room and even Tex-Mex at Charley Brown’s!

Chinatown: A great place to get delicious seafood at night.  The only drawback is that the area is flooded with people all jockeying for space on the tiny streets, so be prepared to push your way through.

Khao San Road: All travel paths seem to lead to and from this infamous tourist street.  Yet apart from being a transit hub, it’s also the epicenter of backpacker life, with no shortage of bars, shops, street food, international restaurants, vendors, locals and activity.

from Ari Kellen| Travel Page http://ift.tt/1o2Y3ms

Best Noodles in Astoria

pho noodlesAll gluten aside, few things are better than a big bowl of noodles.  Whether you’re enjoying spaghetti, pad thai or ramen, they’re carb-y goodness that can help fill you up and, when it’s cold outside, warm you up.  It’s hardly surprising that in recent years there’s been a major interest in Asian noodle soups, particularly Vietnamese pho and Japanese ramen.  Lucky for you, every neighborhood in New York seems to have great places to get a helping of noodles.  I recently came across an article that features some of the best noodle spots in Astoria, Queens, which I’ve shared below:

Trattoria L’incontro: This is the perfect place for the special occasion that you’re craving a full Italian dinner of pasta.  The type of noodles here are diverse: lasagna, fettuccine and ravioli, just to name a few select choices.

The Queens Kickshaw: Even though it’s a coffee house first and foremost, Queens Kickshaw has a surprisingly diverse menu: unbeatable grilled cheeses, fun craft beers and, more recently, a delicious vegetarian ramen.

Vite Vinosteria: The author of the article spoke about how she and some of her colleagues recently came to this excellent restaurant, where the pasta, specifically ravioli and tagliatelle, were major standouts.

Tamashii Ramen: With no shortage of choices for vegetarians and meat-lovers, Tamashii is a great place for noodles, located right on Broadway.  The Champon bowl, topped with seafood and featuring a slightly spicy broth, is one major feature.

Brick Cafe: You can get a lot of great things here, and the pasta is no exception.  Two particularly notable examples are their wild bucatini ragu (featuring wild boar in a red wine sauce) and linguini mare nero.

HinoMaru Ramen: Located right of Ditmars, this is sure to satisfy the ramen-seeker in you.  Tonkotsu, with a creamy pork broth, is one of their signature dishes.spaghetti and meatballs

Wave Thai: Also located on Ditmars, this is perfect for those whose preferences lean more towards Thai than Japanese.

Pye Boat Noodle: Few things are more comforting than a large serving of pad see ew, and few places can do it better than this authentic Thai restaurant on Broadway.

Vesta: It’s hard to go wrong here.  If there’s ever a pasta special on the menu, then you’ll be in for a treat.

Ornella Trattoria: This cozy restaurant has everything you’d want for Italian: both reliable Italian standbys and more inventive options, such as hemp or chickpea flour pastas.  Pasta di Castagna, a chestnut flour pasta in a cream and pistachio sauce with truffle oil, is one of the more noteworthy examples.

60 Beans: Much like Queens Kickshaw, 60 beans has evolved from a coffee shop into something even more beautiful, in this case a go-to Ditmars dinner spot.  Their pasta selections are exceptional, especially the burnt leek reginette, featuring braised lamb and creamy ricotta.

from Ari Kellen| Travel Page http://ift.tt/1ouVdas