Jetlag Express from Shanghai to Casablanca VIA Tripoli

36 hours from China to Morocco. I’m on a train from the airport to Casablanca and it’s only been  an hour but feels like it took 20 hours.  We are arriving to Morocco after a 36 hour-long Qatar flight 550 from Shanghai where we each racked up almost 8000 miles of distance along with a dose of mind-boggling jet

Air Terminal @ Tripoli

lag.  I’m Traveltired to say the least.  The flight itself felt like we were tagging along a Chinese missionaries sponsored by the People’s Republic peace corp (if there is such a group is doubtful) because we were just about the only passengers not equipped with a yellow safety helmet and military issued backpack.  The flight dropped all of those workmen losing their flying virginity in lovely Tripoli.  Unfortunately we weren’t able to get off to check out the airport but the graveyard they call their runway was enough of a visual souvenir.  The plane is now 90% empty. This was a Boeing 777 which can seat up to 550 people. The flight attendant still refused to give us an upgrade to first class.  Too tired to care.

 

 

Libya Air Fleet or spare parts?

The 3 hour trip to Casablanca from Tripoli got us landed in the middle of the afternoon Western Europe Time .  There was just enough day light to get to the hotel, find something edible nearby and to find ways to keep our eyes open since it would be a bad long-term move if we turned in before 8pm. It was our only time to see Casablanca. We just wanted to see a little bit of the city while overcoming the harshest jet lag I had ever experienced.  The hours from the airport to the pillow was surprisingly hassle-free, my head didn’t burst and the little pill had no problem helping me get to sleep later.  A good night’s sleep was imperative tonight since this adventure wasn’t close to being over. We had booked a morning Marrakesh Express.  Don’t worry I’m not going to reference the song as tempting as it may be.

 

The train, like in most places, is the best way to go from Casablanca to Marrakesh May Day weekend 2008.  Taking a plane was just ridiculous since it’s expensive, we didn’t need to get anywhere fast and besides, we would miss the opportunity to witness inside and outside scenery of the humid train.

One of the pitfalls of planning a RTW trip is the things which can’t be avoided.  We had traveling in this part of the world before the severe heat, Ramadan and here we had May Day.  Being in Morocco during that particular weekend isn’t ideal since it’s Europe’s equivalent to the US Memorial Day long weekend holiday.    Like us, they usually hit the road and descend in the thousands near by attractions like Marrakesh.  The euro was strong and still is years later. For many, its great place to spend a few Euro on rugs and other bric-a-brac found in cute shops inside the Media and on a spa treatment back at the luxurious Riad.  The USD just wasn’t allowing us to go crazy and proposed a challenge to our planned budget.  We were just about half way through our year-long sojourn and had already had some unplanned budget overrides.  We just had to just roll with the Euro backed punches like we had done from the start.

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Why waste more time and money on worrying about forces that were out of our reach.  We were determined to enjoy Europe Morocco since we had just spent 2 days getting there . Our fiscal pains temporarily were forgotten in the steam of our Tagine and help of a few bottles of local beer. The common theme on such a trip is to manage with what we had and we did.  We found beautiful yet reasonably priced Riad called Riad al Faras for $85 USD, and enjoyed a few days of walking around the Medina, enjoying the company of those also staying at the Riad.  At the end, it only took a medium size chunk out of the budget but it was one of minor indulgences we treated to ourselves that year away.

Great Skate Escapes of NYC Black Friday Holiday Weekend

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For those frugal travelers coming into NYC for some deals on Black Friday there is some hope of having a good time even after the wallet is empty.   NYC is, like many other cities is much more fun without a budget but there’s still so much to do.  It just requires a little more thinking, planning and possible a little more walking or time on the subway.    One of the best ways to spend an afternoon after exercising the wallet here in NYC is spending some time at a local ice rink.  It doesn’t have to be crazy over the top expensive.  Here are some choices which can keep the budget in check while visiting NYC this weekend.

Skating in the Park

There a number of places around Manhattan to skate.  If you can bring your own skates it’s less expensive and even free in some locations.  The first one that comes to mind to most is Rockefeller Center.  Some people just dream about coming here to skate and there’s nothing wrong with making a dream come true.  It’s good to know what you are getting into beforehand.  Well…it maybe an icon but it’s small (the Ice Rink website even says no more than 150 skaters at a time), usually packed (line at peak times is 1-2 hours long), and expensive (you can skate as long as you want but it’s $10-14 for admission and $8 for the rental if they have your size).  If you have to go it’s a good idea to go first thing, during the week and way before the holiday season.  This year that means in the next couple days.

If you really want to skate but $18-22 per person exceeds the budget I suggest a couple of very nice, larger and more affordable places.  The first one that comes to mind is the Ice Rink that is just a few blocks away from the Rock and it’s located inside of the historic Bryant Park. There is 17,000 square feet of open ice for skaters to twirl around in.  They do not charge admission so if you bring your own skates it’s FREE, but the skate rental is $13 (rumor has it is that they are clean and comfortable if that makes you feel better).  Bring your own lock and your shoes can be safely stashed away for free. (the Rock’s lockers are for members only…sorry)  Just keep any bags and larger items back at the room because they charge $7-10 for bag check at Bryant Park.  I didn’t say it was all free.  It just can be if you are frugal and think ahead.

On the northern end of Central Park sites the Lasker Rink and Pool that was built in the 1960’s.  The park as two rinks.  One for  the hip checking high school hockey players and another for all ages.  The park charges $6.50 for adults, $3.50 for youths, and $2.25 for seniors.  The skate rentals for all are $5.50 for all and a lock costs $7.50 but you get back $4 of it when the lock is returned.  That’s fair.  If you have your own skates then it’s a bargain at $2.50-6.50 per person.

photo credit: SETH WERKHEISER of BatteryParkCity.com

There are some unfortunate rinks that didn’t make it out this season.  One of the tops on my list in the rink located in Battery Park downtown.  They didn’t seem to find the right contractor to take over the job.  The site also had some problems due to extremely cold temperatures, larger amounts of snow fall and incidence of fallen debris from nearby construction sites.  Skating is not fun when windows and plywood are in the way.   The skating was $10 with or without rentals which was the best deal around.  I can only hope it maybe makes a late season debut or comes back next year.  I have a feeling the price may go up as it usually does in NYC.

For more info on other area rinks check out  the New York Led which has put together a great guide to these and other NYC metro area rinks.

Get out and enjoy the kind weather we have been enjoying this mild fall here in NYC.  Black Friday can be a fun day if you include some outdoor activities like skating. Happy Skating..and shopping as well!!

How do you afford to Travel?

This is a question I get from time to time.  It’s simple and it only takes a little sacrifice, motivation and organization.

Here are some of the things I do to save for the next trip.

1.  Manage Eating out. Eat at home as much as possible, take lunch to work and instead of dining out with friends, try doing to brunch instead.

2.  Things add up. Walk/Bike instead of taking taxis and subways.

3.  Fully utilized Twitter and local blogs Local blogs/twitter are good resources for free/alternative entertainment

4.  Visit your local Library Even with budget cuts they have a lot to offer

Short List of Subway train fares in the U.S.

Here’s a breakdown of current subway fares which will all probably be going up soon.  This isn’t a complete list but the most popular and interesting routes in the U.S.

New York City MTA: $2.25

Washington D.C. Metro: $1.65-$4.50

Chicago L: $2.25

Boston T: $2.00

San Francisco MUNI: $2.00

Los Angeles Metro:  $1.25

San Juan, P.R. Tren Urbano: $1.50

Detroit People Mover: 50 cents (WOW)

The fares on the New York City Subway aren’t looking too bad are they.  It’s not the cleanest and it’s not as modern like the Tokyo Metro, but it does take riders far and does it 24 hours a day.   Chicago charges the same fare but goes a fair distance but only until around 1am like Boston which is 25 cents less.  The MUNI is a fare price if you live in the right neighborhoods.  If anything, one can’t beat the transfers they give out.  I once got one that gave me 2 hours.  Who even takes the subway in LA?  Ridership is up on LA subways so hopefully there are less cars on the road as well (doubt it).  San Juan P.R. (10.7 miles) and Detroit (3 miles) are small systems but they must help some people get to where they want go.  Can’t beat either prices.

To pack or not to pack?

So it’s about a week or so until the flight is taking off to the other side of the earth and it’s time to start packing.  What is in your bag will be the same amount for a trip that’s a month or a year in general terms.  This is of course considering that you will be finding a laundry to freshen up the travel garments along the way.  Don’t count on it.  Save your money since most places will be doing what you would do and that’s washing by hand and in a tub of water with a little soap.  As Rick Steves says, “Pack light and pack smart.”

The basic clothing

Best course of action is to lay out what you have to take with you.  This will all depend on the climate or types of climates you will be trudging through.  The basics first will be undergarments (underwear and socks)  and then bottoms, tops, jacket (preferably one multi-functioning, light in weight, and water proof or resistant), shoes (also ideally one pair that is also multi-functioning)  and small cosmetics bag (most in the 2 ounce size if possible).  Now, put everything out and  see if they will fit your minimum standard for comfort.  The choices of tops and bottoms  (I have had luck with Patagonia gear) ideally will be ones that are also made of fast drying materials and are easily washable.  Personally, my laundry has many times been done in the sink or wash basin supplied by my hostel.  Don’t expect most things made of cotton to dry overnight unless you are in the middle of the Sahara in the summer.

The bag and it’s peripherals

It’s now time to start packing.  I’m assuming you have taken the time to find the best pack.   I like the ones that have good zipper with a proper place to attach a small lock on(TSA approved of course), are light in weight, and have a good hip belt for support.  Forget the ones with the wheels and the cool colors.  They end up being bulky, heavy and who wants to wheel around a suitcase through a dirty street and then pick it up after being covered in filth.  Besides, the backpack allows you to have your hands free.

Look for something that’s feels comfortable and the correct size.  This is an investment so do your research by reading reviews and find out which type and brand of pack is worth the money.  I suggest a company that just specialized in travel gear like my favorite:  Eagle Creek.  It suits me but like everything, find what works for you. A 30 liter size is an ideal size to start looking at.  It will likely be small enough to carry on a plane and be universally acceptable when using public buses and vans.  Less like to make the locals annoyed or agree when they will be using the same space to put their own goods into.  Also, good to consider one with a built-in cover for when it rains or you need to put it on top of a van or bus.  For further help,  consult the folks at stores like REI and Patagonia are also experienced travelers.

Next is consider using compression stuff sacks made of sturdy nylon.  I usually take two medium-sized ones using one for clean and one for dirty laundry.  The clothes and other basics can now be placed in the bag.  Let’s see how much room you have left, and is it time to put more or less in?  This is a good time to try the pack on and see how comfortable you are with the weight.  If you are comfortable with the weight then add more to the pack.  Keep in mind that you may want to leave room for stuff you want to pick up along the way and consider if you can live without out it.  There is no need for it weighing you down if you end up using the items a couple of times if not at all.

All the rest

The items in your bag and what you decide to take on your journey is up to you.  Many travelers debate on what is and what is not acceptable. Each traveler is different and each trip is different.   It is just important to take the time and consider what works for you.  Things to keep in mind are the following:

Do you need it?

Can I get this along the way and if so, will it be extremely expensive or hard to find or the opposite?

Do I want to carry this much stuff and if not what can I get rid of?

Are my clothing choices practical?

Be aware that the first trip of this sort will be a learning experience and you will have to learn as you go.  Be able to just let it go.  Do the best you can and hope that you don’t forget anything.  Even if you do, you will probably find it along the way and there’s always fed-ex and DHL.  This is the beginning of the simple life and hopefully you will discover how little we really need to survive.



Now that you decided to travel….

So now you have decided to take that week, month, year or unlimited time off to travel, now it’s time to figure out where to go from here.  Planning and preparing for any trip can take a while to do thoroughly so start a few months ahead and pace yourself.  The list can seem endless. Basically, organization is the key to a great trip.  Don’t get too bogged down with the details.  This part can easily be left to a travel expert if you are not up for the job.

If you do decide to go it alone and use little to no travel services for your trip here are some things to consider while planning. The following are some general questions and short explanations that need to be considered while planning for the trip.  The best way to answer them is not exactly in the order listed.  It’s more than likely that you will go back and revisit and edit the answers though the process.   “Where to travel to?”.  Next,  “When will the trip take place?”.  Thirdly, “How much time is available?”.  Lastly, “What’s my budget?”.  There are many more things that a traveler needs to consider but these are very basic things to keep in mind.  These questions may take a while to answer and don’t be surprised if you end up going back and revising one after moving on to the next.   Please  don’t get too frustrated while planning your trip.  The more kinks which worked out before the trip the less surprises or unexpected roadblocks will surface will traveling.

Where?

This is the most obvious thing a person needs to decide on for the trip. If the destination isn’t obvious then do something like put a wish list of destinations together and break it down from there.  Next, take that list in put them in order of importance to you and your partner(s) if you decide to go with others.  From there, figure out when the ideal time of year to travel.  For example, you probably don’t want to go to the Philippines during monsoon season unless you don’t mind the rain and it’s just when you can go.   At least you don’t have to deal with as much crowds and can save a few pesos.  Is there a very important to know when public holidays are going on in the region you plan to visit.  For example, if you plan on taking the train in India while visiting you may not want to go during Dawali.  Dawali is a wonderful holiday  and is great one to witness in person.  This is a  peak time where travel costs will be premium,  so if you really want to go just figure it into your budget.  The best place to find out is the official tourism website of the region or country.  Most countries these days have them and if not, try a google search.

When will the trip take place?

The time to travel usually determined by your work policies, when your travel partner(s) can go or when the best time to go to your destination is.  Figuring out when to travel is difficult for some to figure out.  Best thing is to go back to that list of destinations and see when is the ideal time to visit according to your preference (the weather, holidays, and festivals are some things to consider)

How much time is available?

The amount of time can also be the main determining point on where and when to travel.  Time could have already be the underlying determinate in deciding on where and when to go.  You only have one week to travel so this limits your choices to where and when you can go.  If you have access to a private jet then it wouldn’t be so hard but most budget travelers are at the mercy of commercial planes, trains and bus travel.  You also need to take account travel time to destination and how much you want to actually be experiencing the destination.  Most travelers want the most experience for the least amount of time in getting in and out of the place from home.  A traveler going to far out places will  likely need to make many transfers, long bus rides from the airport and the time suck of the unknown (usually transport delays, cancellations and the like)  Basically, if you only have a week then usually going on safari in Uganda is not the best choice.  The best thing to do is decide on a place that will give you the most time for your money.  South Africa is a great place to see wild animals since some great sites are only a few hours away from major cities.

What is the trip budget?

This could be the first or last thing considered when planning.  The budget no matter how little or big it is needs to be made before traveling.  A traveler should decide the costs of traveling to a specific destination for many reasons. No one likes to get ripped off while traveling.  Know how much a hotel in Cairo will cost on average before you get there.  Determine your travel options and find out if it’s cheaper to travel overland opposed to taking a plane.  Do as much research on the costs of transport, food and lounging before heading out.  This way you are not caught off guard when you guessed wrong.   Wasting money is of course stressful and can ruin an otherwise great experience at the destination.

As seen, planning a trip is work.  The more work put into planning a trip the chances of unpleasant surprises.  The planning process does become easier.  The trip may have some unexpected incidents but these will make you a better traveler and open your mind up to new adventures.