International Adventure Guide 2013: Stockholm, Sweden

Known as the Venice of the North, Stockholm is a city defined by water; it’s in the soul of the city’s inhabitants. Cold and icy in the winter and ready for sailing and bathing in the summer, water is as much a symbol of Stockholm as Old Town and the Royal Palace. This makes the Swedish capital the ideal hub for adventure – the chance to blend an urban center with the beauty of the outdoors.

Swedes are known for their deep connection to the outdoors. Nature is a part of Swedish literature, art, music and everyday life, and you’ll find this throughout Stockholm. From boat trips out into the Stockholm Archipelago to afternoon walks around Djurgården, Stockholm is the city for those that love the outdoors. In a time when Scandinavian culture is at the top of every travel hit list, Stockholm and its outskirts are worth an exploration for those that are looking to blend the big city with the beauty and possibility of the outdoors.

Activities

By Water
You can’t know Stockholm without exploring its waterways. For anyone that loves life on the water, there are plenty of options. The archipelago is a hub for summer sailing trips, and kayaking is another easy way to get to know the area. Renting a sailboat for a week and touring around the islands is a popular summer pastime of Swedes. If your sailing skills aren’t quite up to par, you can go on an organized sailing tour with Event Segling. An excellent way to explore the city of Stockholm is to kayak the waterways. The Stockholm Tourism Office has a list of companies that have kayak rentals in the city. You can also go out for a day in the archipelago and rent a kayak on one of the islands. Horiston Kajak offers guided tours of the archipelago, as well as rentals and help for organizing a self-guided trip. For even more water-based adventures, check out Stockholm Adventures, which organizes everything from kayak trips to hiking tours.

By Foot
Because of its many parks and the surrounding natural areas, if you like trail runs or hiking, you’ll have plenty to explore in Stockholm. Get a good feel for the city with a Waterside Jogging Tour from Stockholm Jogging Tours, which will take you around all of the central city’s well-known waterways and monuments. If you are looking for a more urban adventure, check out the guided Rooftop Tour, a combination of climbing (in harnesses of course) and sightseeing. For a slower pace, there are a variety of hiking trails easily accessible, providing the opportunity for day trips or even multi-day excursions. In the vicinity you will find Sörmlandsleden, Upplandsleden and Roslagsleden. Stockholm Adventures organizes hiking tours, but you can also take off on your own. In Sweden you are able to take advantage of Allemansrätten, the Right of Public Access. It is an important part of Swedish outdoor culture and allows you to fully explore areas, even if they are on private land.

By Bicycle
If you want to really learn how to be Swedish you will get on a bicycle because in this country, cycling is a way of life. Stockholm City Bikes is the local bike share system and allows you to use one of the bicycles for up to three hours at a time. A three-day card can be purchased for 165 SEK at various retailers around the city. If you are staying for more than three days, consider getting a season card for 300 SEK. If you want to rent your own bike instead of using the bike share system, check out Rent a Bike, located right by the water on Strandvägen. Pick up the Stockholm Bike Map from the tourist office or the department store NK and you will have a good guide to exploring the city. There’s also a digital version you can use to find a route from point A to point B. For guided tours, check out the following companies:

  • Bike Sweden – Bike tours in the city and in the archipelago. They also do multi-day trips starting at 2390 SEK/person, including lodging.
  • Guide Stockholm – Guided bike tours of Djurgården.
  • Stockholm Adventures – Stockholm on Two Wheels Tour, a tour of all the classic Stockholm sites for 300 SEK/person.

Hotspots

Lidingö
Home of Lidingöloppet, an annual 30-kilometer run around the island that’s popular for Stockholm residents that want a dose of the countryside. It’s also home to Långängen-Elfvik National Park, which has 125 acres of open farmland and also houses one of the largest old farms, Elfviks Farm, which is still functioning today. In the winter the island is home to both cross country skiing trails and long distance ice skating routes, and in the summer it’s a hotspot for anyone interested in being close to the water.

Skärgården – Stockholms Archipelago
Stockholm’s Archipelago is made up of approximately 30,000 islands and islets, meaning there is more than enough to explore. Some of the most popular islands are Vaxholm, Sandhamnm, Grinda and Utö. The easiest way to access the archipelago is by ferry. Waxholmsbolaget runs an extensive network of boat services to many of the bigger islands. Visit Skärgården is the archipelago’s own tourist bureau and a good resource for planning a trip to the islands. The Right to Public Access allows you the right to pitch a tent in public places, so for a budget adventure, bring your accommodations with you and sleep on a beach by the water.

Hellasgården
A 20-minute trip from Slussen, Hellasgården is an outdoor area that’s full of bike paths, hiking and running trails, swimming areas and even beach volleyball courts. In the winter you’ll find ice-skating as well as cross-country skiing trails. After a day on the snow you can go sit in the sauna for 60 SEK/person as well. From Slussen, take buss 401 to Hellasgården I Älta, or take subway line 17 towards Skarpknäck and get off at Hammarbyhöjden.

Where to Stay

Af Chapman
Centrally located on the island of Skeppsholmen, Af Chapman is one of Stockholm’s most well known budget accommodations as it’s a hostel on a boat. Since you’re staying on Skeppsholmen, you’re well located for a morning run around the small island and into the city. Staying right on the water also gives you a very different feel of the city than staying in a standard hotel. Starting at 260 SEK/night.

Cabin Rentals in Stockholm’s Archipelago
If you’re looking to explore Stockholm’s archipelago for more than a few days, consider renting a cabin. There are plenty of accommodations available throughout the archipelago, on both the big and smaller islands. This gives you the chance to enjoy a summer week like a true Swede. Prices vary. www.skardgardsstugor.se

Långholmen Hostel
Renovated in 2008 the Crown Remand Prison was turned into the Långholmen Youth Hostel. Today the dorm rooms are built in old prison cells. There’s beach access to Mälaren and a jogging trail, so you get plenty of chances for fresh air while at the same time living centrally in the city. Starting at 255 SEK/night. Långholmsmuren 20. www.langholmen.com

Where to Eat

8T8
Craving raw, organic and vegetarian food? 8T8 is the place to go. An environmentally conscious restaurant and café, 8T8 has breakfast, lunch and the classic Swedish “fika” offering of a variety of goodies to go with your coffee or tea, all with raw and vegan options. Perfect for the health conscious adventurer. It’s centrally located close to Mariatorget. Swedenborsgatan 1, www.8t8.se.

Vete-katten
There is no more classic Stockholm café than Vete-katten. This is the place to go for a cup of coffee and a cinnamon roll or a freshly baked scone. During the summer months you can even sit in the inner courtyard to get a dose of sunshine. Kungsgatan 55. www.vetekatten.se

Café Panorama
Located on the top floor of Stockholm’s centrally located Kulturhuset, Café Panorama offers simple Scandinavian fare in a classic cafeteria setting with an excellent view from above the city. You can come here for a full lunch or just an afternoon coffee. www.kulturhuset.stockholm.se

Logistics

Get Around
Central Stockholm is easy to navigate by foot. For longer journeys there are buses and a subway system, as well as a bike share system from April – October. One-way tickets on public transportation within Stockholm are 12.50 SEK, and you can get a seven-day unlimited pass for 300 SEK.

Seasonality
Depending on your sport of choice, seasons in Stockholm are very different. Winter is dark and cold, but perfect for winter activities like long-distance ice skating and skiing. Stockholm even has its own downhill slopes at Hammarbybacken. For trips out to the archipelago, summer is a better bet. Many Stockholmites flock to the islands during the summer, which means that stores and cafes that are closed during the off-season come back to life. You’ll find that during the summer there are certainly more visitors to Stockholm and the surrounding areas, but the weather is ideal and you’ll get to take advantage of the long hours of daylight.

Safety
Sweden in general is a very safe place to travel. As in any big city, in and around Stockholm, be aware of your surroundings and stay street smart.

Adventure Guide 2013: Aspen

If you’ve ever yearned to visit Aspen, this is the time. Aspen is hot right now, fresh off the X Games, because it’s just opened its first sidecountry terrain (see below). The revamped Limelight Hotel is also making headlines for having the coolest après ski spot in town. If you crave adventure and think Aspen is out of your budget, time to reconsider: the hardcore outdoor opps are boundless, regardless of season.

Aspen’s got some of the best downhill skiing, lift-accessed extreme terrain, and parks-and-pipes in the country, even if lift prices are stiff. The key is to cash in on the incredible hotel/ski packages on offer at places like the Limelight or The Little Nell, or bunk at some of the surprising budget options in the area.

New this year is sidecountry terrain at Snowmass. The Burnt Mountain Expansion has added on 230 acres, bringing total skiable acreage to 3,362 – making it the second largest ski area in the state. The Roaring Fork Valley, which includes all four mountains of Aspen/Snowmass (Aspen, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk, and Snowmass – the latter has a whopping 21 lifts), has some of Colorado’s best scenery, as well as a free, 60-mile Nordic trail system. You can also cross-country ski 18 miles down-valley, from Aspen to Basalt on the Rio Grande Trail (take the bus back if you’re tired).

If adventure is your thing, however, you’re going to want to head into the backcountry. Get your adrenaline pumping by mountaineering, ice-climbing (beginners can try this sport out at a waterfall just 10 minutes from downtown Aspen), or skiing/riding in the Maroon Bells Wilderness. For an overnight trip, cross-country ski to one of the historic 10th Mountain Division Huts (some are even accessible via chairlift, although they’re still in what’s considered backcountry).

If you’re in need of a not-too-tame recovery day, try taking a Snowcat Dinner Ride, or take a horse-drawn sleigh out to Pine Creek Cookhouse.

Hotels

Limelight Hotel: Formerly known as Limelight Lodge, Aspen’s sweetest, sleekest remodel, completed in 2010, this boutique property is just yards from the slopes. Sunny, spacious rooms are tasteful and subdued to better let the mountain take center stage.
The lobby, however, is the newest hot spot in town. Guests can avail themselves of the all-inclusive breakfast (think smoked salmon, waffles, and housemade granola), but après-ski locals, guests, and tourists alike descend for Aspen’s longest happy hour (3-7 p.m.), which includes free cookies and other snacks, $10 pizzas, drink specials and live music. Pet-friendly, wheelchair accessible, and kitchenette rooms available. From $285.
limelighthotel.com 335 S. Monarch Street

St. Moritz Lodge: Even if you’re not on a budget (but, let’s face it, all those toys cost a fortune, and you’re not planning to spend much time in your room, now are you?), this classic ski chalet is a cheerful slice of ’70s kitsch. With clean, bright rooms ranging from dorms to private rooms with or without shared bath or kitchenettes, the St. Moritz is the best deal in the Valley, and beloved for its friendly, homey atmosphere and plentiful free Continental breakfasts. And while you’ll definitely find the expected international backpackers and their ilk, the majority of the clientele is more aging ski bum and bohemian ski bunny. This is Aspen, after all. From $44.
stmoritzlodge.com 334 W. Hyman Avenue

Aspenalt Lodge, Basalt: If you have a car or don’t mind taking the shuttle, one of the Roaring Fork Valley’s best-kept secrets is this no-frills hotel located right on the Frying Pan River (there’s an outdoor hot tub, too). Basalt is a sweet little town, and one of the Valley’s most desirable (and tourist-free) places to live, thanks to the multitude of outdoorsy activities out the back door. The lodge is 20 minutes down-valley from Aspen; the RFTA transit stop is one block away and costs four dollars, one-way. From $99.
aspenalt.com 157 Basalt Center Circle, Basalt

Eat and Drink

Louis’ Swiss Bakery: Aspenites all know and love this old-school-style bakery, tucked within the ABC (Aspen Business Center) across from the airport. Swiss immigrant/skilled baker/rancher Felix Tornare turns out buttery pastry and the best meat pies (made with his grass-finished beef) on this side of the UK. The breakfast burritos are also the bomb, and provide all the fuel you need for a day on the slopes.
No website, closed Sundays; 400 Aspen Airport Business Center

The Meatball Shack: Since opening last June, this casual eatery and bar has been drawing crowds because it’s a hell of a bargain. Two heaping plates of delicious pasta (with meatballs, of course) and drinks will set you back just $50, and in Aspen, that’s not too shabby for a meal at a place with cloth napkins. Service is warm, the drinks are strong, and daily specials run the gamut from ribeye steak to sandwiches.
themeatballshack.com 312 S. Mill Street

Ajax Tavern: Located on the upper deck of The Little Nell Hotel, and steps from the Gondola, this is the spot to scope celebs if you care about that kind of thing. More important, it’s got a killer view, and the best après ski deal in town: a juicy burger served with Ajax’s famously addictive fries and a beer for just $15.
ajaxtavernaspen.com 685 E. Durant Avenue

Chefs Club: Aspen’s packed with great restaurants, but if you want to go big, this innovative, 8-month-old restaurant in the St. Regis Hotel is the place to do it. The menu changes seasonally, and is designed by a rotating cast of former Food & Wine Best New Chefs (Aspen is home to the famous FOOD & WINE Classic, held every June). Whether you order a la carte or spring for the tasting menu, be prepared to dine very well. If nothing else, have a drink; top mixologist Jim Meehan of New York’s PDT designs the seasonal cocktail menu, and you won’t be disappointed.
chefsclubaspen.com 315 E. Dean Street

Like most Colorado ski towns, you don’t need a car in Aspen. Most accommodations are walking distance to the slopes, or provide free shuttle service; the town transportation center at the base of the mountain makes getting out of Aspen-proper easy. RFTA transit runs the length of the entire Roaring Fork Valley, from Aspen to Glenwood Springs.
Aspen/Pitkin County Airport has daily non-stop flights from Los Angeles, Dallas, Denver and Chicago. From Denver International Airport, it’s approximately a 3.5-hour drive to Glenwood Springs on I-70; Colorado Mountain Express also provides round-trip transportation from DIA.

Adventure Tip

Best get up before the sun if you want to be the first to carve tracks in the backcountry; you’re going to have competition in this neck of the woods. Remember, safety first: never head out without telling someone where you’re headed (ideally, take a buddy with you), and carry an avalanche beacon, probe and shovel.


[Photo credit: Flickr user a4gpa]

The West’s Best Hostels For Winter Sports Enthusiasts

backcountry skiContrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be young, broke, or drunk to stay at a youth hostel. I’ll be the first to admit not all hostels are created equal, but as a perpetually cash-strapped journalist in her 40s, they’re often my only option for indulging in the snowy outdoor pursuits I love. Fortunately, there are clean, efficient, well-run hostels throughout the West that make a stay pleasurable, rather than painful.

There are other good reasons to bunk down at a hostel, whether it’s a dorm, private, or shared room. If you’re planning to play all day (and possibly night), who needs an expensive room? Hostels are also great places to meet like-minded people to hit the backcountry or slopes with – a huge advantage if you’re traveling solo.

Most hostels also possess a decidedly low-key, “local” atmosphere where you’ll get the inside scoop on where to cut loose (on the mountain or off). In many instances, hostels also offer tours or activities, or partner up with local outfitters, which make life easier if you don’t have a car or require rental equipment. Also…free coffee.

Below, in no particular order, are some of my favorite Western hostels, based upon their proximity to snowy adventure:

St. Moritz Lodge
, Aspen, CO

I’ve been a regular at this place for a decade now, and I’m still smitten. Its groovy, ’70s-meets-Switzerland ambience; friendly, helpful staff; clean, well-lit rooms, and free mega-breakfast kick ass…what’s not to love? It’s just a few minutes walk from the slopes, and free parking is plentiful. A dorm bed is $44, and a private room/shared bath $95, high season.

The Abominable Snowmansion, Arroyo Seco, NM
Just outside of Taos is this classic, rambling old hostel with a communal feel. Arroyo Seco is an adorable mountain hamlet (all you need to know is that Abe’s Cantina gives great green chile). A private room/bath at this hostel is $59 in winter, and the region abounds with backcountry opps and natural hot springs.banff national park HI-Mosquito Creek Wilderness Hostel, Banff National Park, Alberta
The photo at right shows the sauna at this off-the-grid cabin near stunning Lake Louise. If you’re good with no shower and using an outhouse, this 20-bed spot will keep you cozy after a day ice-climbing, snow-shoeing, or skiing the backcountry.

Grand Canyon International Hostel
, Flagstaff, AZ

Owned by the same people who have the janky Du Beau hostel in town; I recommend this place instead, which is located in a historic, multi-story building minutes from downtown. “Flag” has loads of opportunities for outdoor buffs, from backcountry, to downhill skiing at Arizona Snowbowl, 20 minutes away. The hostel also offers year-round tours to the Grand Canyon, 80 minutes away. Flagstaff itself is a happening little college town; before heading out for the day fuel up on caffeine and divine, house-baked goods at Macy’s European Coffeehouse (I accept bribes in this form).

Alyeska Hostel, Girdwood, AK
Girdwood is pure Alaska-weird. Moose wander the main street, and quirky locals are just as likely to invite you to an all-night kegger in the snow as they are to take you cross-country skiing (the bonus of being female in Alaska, I discovered). This tidy hostel will set you back $20 for a bunk bed, making it the best deal in (a very, very small) town.

Hostel Tahoe, King’s Beach, CA
I’ll be honest; I’ve never bothered to stay in a hostel in Lake Tahoe for two reasons: dirt-cheap motels abound, and my brother lives there. But I came across this place researching this story, and it looks great. You’ll need to self-drive or shuttle to ski (it’s mid-way between South and North Shore, but right by a bus stop servicing Northstar, Squaw, and Alpine Meadows), and it looks infinitely more pleasant than some of the budget lodging I’ve enjoyed in Tahoe in the past. King’s Beach is old-school Tahoe at its best: funky, boozy, and a bit down-at-the-heels.

Crested Butte International Hostel, CO

Cheap lodging is tough to come by in Colorado ski towns, which is what makes this place such a find. Eighty dollars for a private queen with shared bath in downtown CB is a hell of a deal, and a $39 dorm bed can’t fail to make cash-strapped skiers and snowboarders happy. This is also the place to induct hostel-phobic friends or partners. I find it rather sterile, but it’s spotless, quiet, and kid-friendly. With two apartments for families ($184/night) and off-site condo rentals also available, CBIH makes family vacay do-able. Bonus: loads of free parking, and just 100 yards from the free mountain shuttle (Mt. Crested Butte is 3 miles away).

Fireside Inn Bed & Breakfast and Hostel
, Breckenridge, CO

This sprawling, historic old home converted into a warren of rooms is a treasure if you’re a lover of hostels. Friendly and walking distance to downtown (you can shuttle to the Breck Connect Gondola, Peak 7 and 8, and the Nordic Center), it’s got the patina of years on it, but it’s cozy, homey, and a great place to meet like-minded travelers. Love.

The Hostel, Jackson Hole, WY
In this spendy little ski town, affordable accommodations are rare as a ski bum with a Platinum card. Located at the base of Teton Village, The Hostel offers dorm beds and private rooms. Backcountry fans will love being just one mile away from the glory of Grand Teton National Park (be sure to check park website for information on restrictions or necessary permits)

[Photo credits: skier, Flickr user Andre Charland; hostel, Flickr user Mark Hill Photography]

Nordic Skiing Basics

Tim Leffel On The World’s 21 Cheapest Countries

tim leffel author of world's cheapest travel destinationsTim Leffel’s mission is to help skinflints like me find travel destinations they can afford. He traveled around the world on a shoestring with his wife three times and decided to write a book about the world’s cheapest countries after realizing that there was no single resource out there for travelers looking for bargain destinations. The fourth edition of his book, “The World’s Cheapest Destinations: 21 Countries Where Your Money is Worth a Fortune,” is due to be released in January and Leffel maintains a blog devoted to the cheapest travel destinations on the planet.

I had a chance to check out the forthcoming edition of Tim’s book and it’s packed with data on how much you’ll spend in the 21 destinations he profiles, along with insightful and sometimes hilarious advice on where to go and how to travel. (“I have a daughter and I have taken her abroad to eight countries now, but I am not yet ready to take her on crappy third-world buses, pumping her full of malaria pills, exposing her to aggressive deformed beggars, or trying to ward off touts while simultaneously keeping her occupied.”)
%Gallery-173113%For example, he informs readers that a beer in Nepal costs the same as an ounce or two of marijuana or a finger of hash; double rooms or suites in private homes in Bulgaria go for $5-20 per person; and a full three-course meal in Bolivia can be had for as little as $2. I caught up with Leffel at his home in Tampa this week to talk about the world’s cheapest travel destinations.

boliviaYou just returned from Bolivia. A lot of people consider that to be one of the cheapest countries in the world. Do you agree?

I agree. It’s probably the best deal in South America. In the Americas, Nicaragua might be a bit cheaper, but they’re neck and neck. But it’s hard to compare, it depends on what you’re doing, where you’re staying. And for Americans, Bolivians have reciprocal visa fees, so you have to cough up $130 at the airport just for the pleasure of walking out of the airport.

Do the costs in Bolivia vary from region to region? A lot of people don’t like to stay in La Paz because of the altitude.

Not really, but the altitude in La Paz hit me hard because I was coming from Florida – sea level. I felt like crap when I landed at the airport in La Paz, but then I got on a connecting flight to Sucre, which is lower and felt better. But then I went to Potosi, which is more than 13,000 feet, and had a pretty rough headache for a day or two.

Coming from the U.S. can you avoid La Paz?

No, but you can get out of there cheaply. My flight to Sucre was only $67.

What makes Bolivia so cheap?

Meals are cheap. Accommodations are reasonable and transportation costs are very low because Venezuela subsidizes their fuel. Buses cost $1.50-$2 per hour depending on the class of the bus. A set meal of a few courses, a soup and a main dish and a drink or dessert is a couple dollars. Two to three dollars in a basic place, or more if you are in a nice restaurant, but even in those places the prices aren’t bad at all. Alcohol is cheap. It’s a cheap place to party.

Give me an idea for what mid-range accommodation goes for in Bolivia?

I had a pretty nice room with private bath and hot water for $8.50 that was quite comfortable. Then I paid $32 for a full-blown hotel. For $20-35 you can usually get a decent mid-range hotel room pretty much anywhere. Bolivia is a poor country and there isn’t much domestic tourism so there isn’t much competition. In Potosi, the most expensive hotel in town was about $70 but most were in the $20-40 range.

Sucre is especially nice. It’s a beautiful old colonial city like you see in a lot of Latin American countries but much cheaper than a lot of other places.

Do you consider Nicaragua to be the cheapest country in Central America?

Yes, but Guatemala isn’t very expensive either. Honduras is quite cheap on the mainland but most people are there to visit the islands, which are more expensive.

nicaraguaBut Nicaragua’s become quite a trendy destination. Aren’t the prices going up there?

Really only in Granada. That’s where people with money go. But even there, you can go out and get a really great meal for $4 and you don’t have to look hard for deals like that – they’re right there in the center. It’s also one of the cheapest places to drink I’ve ever seen. As long as you drink rum or beer they make domestically.

Ometepe is a really good deal; almost any of the small towns are very cheap. It’s a wide-open blank slate. There isn’t much tourism besides Granada and San Juan Del Sur. But that’s still mostly a surfer/backpacker hangout too. There are a few nice hotels, but the bulk are hostels and cheap guesthouses. It’s a cheap place to eat, surf and party. The drawback is that it isn’t real comfortable to get around – you’re mostly on chicken buses.

You mention cheap drinking. Bulgaria has very cheap beer and wine. It’s on your list of cheap destinations as well, right?

Yes, I was just there for the first time in April. I loved it. It was gorgeous and there were very few tourists. It’s incredibly cheap to eat and drink there and the food there is very fresh and good.

rila monastery in bulgariaI love Bulgaria but I haven’t been there in a while. How are the prices now?

I think it’s the cheapest country in Europe. Accommodation may be a little cheaper in Romania and maybe even Hungary because there isn’t as much competition in Bulgaria. A lot more people have opened budget-oriented places to stay in Romania in recent years. But I think overall Bulgaria is still cheaper.

Other than Romania and Bulgaria any other cheap countries you like to visit in Europe?

The other two I have in the book are Hungary and Slovakia. I used to have Turkey in the book but it’s gotten too expensive.

I lived in Hungary five years ago when the forint was much stronger and it didn’t seem cheap then, but now it’s reasonable?

Yes, I was there four years ago and it seemed much cheaper on my recent visit. Part of that is more competition among hotels but the forint is also much weaker.

Any other countries like Hungary where the currency has gone down, giving travelers a bargain opportunity?

The euro has gone down and a lot of the non-euro countries in Europe have currencies that have gone down as well. The dollar is also doing well against the currencies in Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Mexico. But countries like Brazil and Chile have become much more expensive for Americans, because of the strong economies in those countries.

Before we leave Europe, I found some great bargains in the Greek islands this year too. Is Greece in your book?

No, but I’ve heard from a lot of people that prices have gone down there but maybe not as much as they expected, given what’s happened to the economy there. But it’s still a better deal than most of Western Europe and that goes for Portugal too, which also has good prices.

Let’s move on to Asia. Lots of cheap countries there but are there any that stand out?

Most of the countries I surveyed stayed about the same since the last edition of the book came out in 2009 except Thailand, which got a little bit more expensive. Their currency has gotten a bit stronger and stayed there. But I still think that Thailand is a terrific value.

cambodiaOf those three countries, which is the cheapest?

Cambodia is the cheapest and Laos is pretty close. Cambodia is a little easier to get around but I couldn’t believe how crowded Angkor Wat was.

When you travel with your wife and 12-year-old daughter in Southeast Asia, do you stay in very cheap places?

We are more mid-range travelers when I travel with my family. Our budget was $150 per day for the three of us, including everything. It was just a three-week trip and we stayed in hotels, most of them very nice ones, for $40-50 per night. You can get a fantastic room that is like the equivalent of a Hilton or Marriott here for that price. A lot of times that was also for a family suite or a place with three beds. In Cambodia, we paid $44 per night for two connecting rooms. And that was for a very nice hotel with breakfast included, hot showers, and maid service every day.

Any other countries in the region that you like?

Malaysia is a great value too. You get a lot for your money and the food is great. It’s more expensive than those countries but the infrastructure is better too. Indonesia is a great value as well, depending on where you are.

Even in Bali?

Even in Bali. It isn’t as cheap as it used to be but you can still get very reasonably priced hotels. But it’s getting polluted and crowded there.

How about the Middle East?

I just have Jordan and Egypt in the book. The region is such a powder keg. Jordan is a great deal. Egypt – who knows what’s going to happen there, but it’s certainly cheap. And it’s probably going to get cheaper too because they are so desperate for tourists to return. You can find a four-star hotel in Luxor or Aswan for $50-60 per night. There are deals galore if you want to go to Egypt.

How about Africa?

I just have Morocco and Egypt in the book. There’s a backpacker route along the east coast of Africa that is fairly reasonable if you stick to that path but the real trouble is that it’s hard to get around both comfortably and cheaply.

moroccoWhat about Morocco?

Prices have gone up there but it’s still a good country to visit on a budget. The prices are comparable to Eastern Europe. You can get a good deal on a hotel, and good food too.

What would you spend if you went to Morocco with your family?

Probably about $150 per day to be pretty comfortable. If you want a beautiful, atmospheric hotel though, you’d pay about $60-80 per night – you don’t find the same screaming bargains there that you would in Southeast Asia. Backpackers can find places to stay for $10-15 per night, but they might find cold showers and squat toilets too.

So for Americans, it’s pretty expensive to get to a lot of the cheapest countries. Of those that we can fly to cheaply, what are the best options?

Latin America. I have Mexico in the book as an honorable mention because the coastal resort areas aren’t that cheap but the interior is. Central America is pretty reasonable and you can find pretty good deals to Ecuador as well. My last flight there cost about $600 round trip.

How did you decide to write this book?

I went around the world with my wife three times. We were teaching English and I was writing stories as well. There was no good guide to figure out what countries were the cheapest; we just figured it out by trial and error. There was nothing out there, so I started working on it when we had our daughter because we were staying home and not traveling. I put it out and it did well, and then we put out a second edition and that did even better, so we’ve kept it going and we started a blog too. I also run a few other websites like Perceptive Travel, and Practical Travel Gear.

nepalWhat other very cheap countries do you write about in the book?

Nepal and India. Nepal is probably the cheapest place in the world. And India is pretty close. Indians are seen as wealthy by the Nepalis, so that shows you that it’s all relative.

Do you think these countries want to appear in your guidebook or are they not that keen to attract budget travelers?

I don’t think most of them are that thrilled to be in the book. No one wants to be perceived as a cheap destination. But some of these countries are smarter about it than others. Thailand did a study a few years back and found that backpackers spend more in aggregate than other travelers but just over a longer time period, so once they crunched those numbers they realized they did need to attract those people.

And it’s not just young backpackers looking for cheap places to stay. I’m married with two kids and I’m still looking for cheap places to visit!

I know! I’m in my 40s and I meet all kinds of people who want to get the most out of their vacation time so they go where they can afford.

[Photo credits: Tim Leffel, Cavallotkd, globalmultiplelisting, Mike Behnken, and Ahron de Leeuw on Flickr]

10 Pieces Of Travel Advice To Ignore

friends As someone who has traveled solo to dozens of countries, I’m often given “helpful” advice from well-meaning friends and family. The problem is, much of this advice can actually hinder your trip experience. Think twice when you’re given these common travel tips.

Don’t Talk To Strangers

This is probably the most common piece of advice I receive before going on a trip, especially as I’m often traveling solo. For me, talking to strangers is one of the most important steps in getting to know a culture. I stay in hostels so I can hangout with other backpackers, or I’ll do a homestay to immerse myself in the daily living of locals. Additionally, I pepper cab drivers with questions, ask bar tenders to help navigate me to offbeat attractions and invite tour guides out for drinks. I’m not saying to put yourself in dangerous situations where you’re completely alone with a total stranger; however, having conversations in public spaces can enhance your trip. If I could revise this tip, I would say “talk to strangers, but have your guard up.” There’s a difference between chatting and spending some time with someone you just met, and believing there’s no way you’re new friend could rob or harm you. Use good judgment, and you’ll be fine.Hostels Are Dirty

I’ve stayed in at least 100 hostels in my life, and I can only think of one that I considered dirty. Off the top of my head, I can think of two hotels that were less-than-pristine, even one that had a dead frog on the floor. Yes, in a hostel you’ll often be sleeping in a room with at least three other people, so the level of tidiness you’re accustomed may be compromised. However, clothes strewn about the room does not mean there are cockroaches or rats. Most hostels are clean and safe while still embodying a character of their own. I’ve stayed in hostels where the walls were covered in vibrant graffiti to reflect the local streets, themed like a medieval castle to show the city’s history or just extremely laid-back with bean-bag chairs and a barefoot philosophy. The only thing that’s really ever compromised is your privacy, although many hostels now offer private rooms.

You Must Be Rich To Travel

Along with being a writer, my job titles have included waitress, cashier and telemarketer. I’ve never had a particularly high-paying salary, and I’ve always managed to be able to take extended trips. Just because you can’t afford to stay in five-star hotels and eat at Michelin-starred restaurants every night doesn’t mean you need to stay home. Use some budgeting tips, and you’ll realize a little cash can go a long way. Travel during shoulder season, stay in budget hotels or hostels, travel to countries with favorable exchange rates, avoid restaurants with English menus, take public transportation or walk instead of cabbing it and travel slowly instead of hopping between 10 different cities. While you may not be living in the lap of luxury, you’ll still experience a new culture and enjoy the benefits of travel.

solo travel Females Shouldn’t Travel Alone

It’s odd to me that – as a young female who has traveled solo numerous times through countries many wouldn’t visit in a group – people still tell me I “can’t travel alone as a woman.” I, along with countless other solo female backpackers I’ve met on my trips, am living proof this is false. I’ve backpacked solo through Thailand, China, Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, Morocco and most of western Europe, and have never so much as been pick-pocketed. Use your brain and listen to your instincts, and you’ll be fine. Don’t walk alone at night, don’t flash electronics and expensive jewelry, stay out of dangerous neighborhoods and always be alert to your surroundings, and you should be fine.

Planning Out Your Trip Is Essential

I’m a firm believer in planning a trip without making plans. While you may want to have a rough itinerary and know your flight dates, planning every single detail of a trip can make it difficult to go with the flow. Before arriving to your destination, you have no idea what you’ll encounter and what opportunities will arise. Keeping your itinerary loose and your options open helps you experience more. Know country entry and exit requirements, do some research on the culture and leave the rest to chance.

You Can’t Travel To (Input Lesser-Known City)

I’m not saying every city in the world is 100% safe, but the popular school of thought seems to be if a person hasn’t heard of a city or doesn’t know anyone who has been there, it isn’t safe. Many times, this actually ends up being inaccurate on many levels. For example, when traveling through Ecuador I visited Vilcabamba, Cuenca, Banos and Quito. One friend of mine commented, “I would love to travel through Ecuador. Although I’d only go to Quito, not those other places I haven’t heard of.” The truth is, Quito was the most unsafe by far of the four cities. Just because a city is more popular than others in terms of tourism doesn’t mean it’s safer. And, just because you don’t know someone who’s been to a certain place, doesn’t mean you can’t pave the way.

paris Don’t Visit (Insert Popular Site) Because It’s Too Touristy

In order for a trip to be well rounded, you should include a mix of touristy and off-the-beaten path fare. Many travelers believe visiting touristy sites is, well, too touristy, and will omit these points of interest from their itineraries. Would you really want to visit Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower? Or Rome without visiting the Colosseum? New York without the Statue of Liberty? These sights are iconic, and for good reason. A site doesn’t become touristy because it’s got nothing to offer; in fact, these places usually hold much historical and cultural significance. While filling your itinerary to the brim with tourist sites can leave little room for surprise, not including them at all will lead you to miss out on important knowledge.

Eating Street Food Will Make You Sick

This is a tip I often get from concerned family and friends. Everyone’s heard one horror story of someone getting food poisoning from street food in foreign countries. To counter that, I’ve actually gotten sick from dining in upscale New York restaurants. I know many people who eat street food and at small local eateries religiously when they travel, and have never had a problem. Eating at these places will not only give you insight into local culture, you’ll be consuming the most fresh and delicious food in the city. Bonus: you’ll be saving a lot of money by avoiding the touristy eateries.

You Need To Know The Local Language

While knowing some useful phrases is helpful, you don’t need to be fluent in the local language to visit another country. Depending on how long you spend in a place, you may actually pick up on language just from being immersed in it. I become an expert in charades and hand gestures when traveling, and always bring a pen and paper to help draw or write down words I can’t pronounce. You’ll find a way to communicate. And when in doubt, you can always look up how to say something.

puebla Mexico Isn’t Safe

Sure, there are places in Mexico travelers should avoid; however, this doesn’t mean Mexico as a whole is unsafe. For example, on a recent trip to Puebla, I felt more than comfortable with my surroundings. Not only that, but my friends took a trip to Mazatlan to take part in some adventure sports and had a great trip with no problems. Moreover, taking a road trip through Baja California will introduce you to some of the country’s best wine in a relaxed setting. Don’t believe everything you hear. Also, realize one person’s idea of an unsafe city may differ from yours. A friend once deemed Playa del Carmen unsafe for travel because “a friend of a friend’s girlfriend got sick after drinking and was probably roofied.” If that’s all it takes to scare people away from a city, I’m surprised they even leave their house.

[Images via Jessie on a Journey]