Train Travel 101: Here's Why You Should Travel Through Europe By Train + All The Train Travel Planning Resources You Need

by Lindsay Shapka in , , , ,


I love the traveling part of traveling, and — if you have the time — there is nothing better than train travel. Europe has an incredible network of trains criss-crossing countries, passing through incredible scenery, and giving you access to off-the-beaten-path towns and villages. 

I know what you're thinking — why travel by train when I can get a quick, inexpensive flight on Ryanair, EasyJet, or some other discount airline? Hear me out. If you factor in the time it takes you to get to the airport (discount airlines are usually flying out of secondary airports further away from the city centres), plus the time it takes to check-in and wait for your flight, and then the time it takes to get to the centre of your destination city, is traveling by train really that much longer? Plus, don't forget to factor in additional costs that come with a flight like checked baggage and over-priced snacks to eat on the flight. 

On a European train trip, you can take your own food and water, and the size of your bag doesn't really matter. There are no security lines to get through, and you can wander around the train from the minute it leaves until your destination — no need to fasten your seatbelt! Plus, trains will take you directly to the city centre station, or to a station that will connect you to a metro or city bus that will take you where you want to go. 

If you are traveling by train in the off-season, I wouldn't recommend a Eurail or Interrail pass, as you can usually find day-of train tickets that will end up being cheaper (see the resources below for more information).

If you are traveling during the high-season (May-August) or to multiple countries in a short period of time however, a Eurail pass or Interrail Pass is definitely a good choice. The travel pass requirements and specifications for both can get a bit complicated, so make sure you read through all the info on their websites before purchasing. 

Here are some changes to the Eurail passes in 2017, that is making it even easier to travel by rail:

  • Youth Eurail Passes (which are up to 35% less expensive than the adult pass) are now available to those that are under 28! (They used to be only for those that were under 26)
  • You have up to 11 months to use your pass from the time of purchase (it used to expire after six).
  • The Eurail passes are a lot more flexible than they have been in the past, making it easier to jump on and off the train.

There are three Eurail passes that vary in price depending on what European countries you are planning to travel to by train: Global Pass, Select Pass, and One Country Pass. In my experience, the One Country Pass does not always save you money, as some countries have really inexpensive tickets day-of (even in the high-season).

Do some research before you buy any pass by checking out average train ticket prices online in the countries you are planning on visiting — most rail companies have an English version of their website for tourists. 

  • AustriaOBB has great prices for train tickets in Austria and also offers night trains to other parts of Europe. 
  • BelgiumBelgium Rail has a really clear website that breaks down the different types of train tickets helping you pick the best one for your train travel through Belgium.
  • Czech RepublicCD has lots of great train ticket options for the Czech Republic including all-day tickets in Prague and trains with cinemas for children.
  • Denmark — DSB has ticket information and planning tools for Denmark's train routes.
  • Finland — VR not only helps you plan your train travel in Finland but train trips to Russia too!
  • FranceSNCF is where you can reserve train tickets and geolocate your train anywhere in France!
  • GermanyDeutsche Bahn is a great site for trip planning and offers train tickets in Germany starting at just 19 Euros!
  • GreeceRail CC contains all the info you need to plan your train travel in Greece, including night trains and special offers.
  • HungaryMAV is a simple website, but you can still find train ticket prices for travel in Hungary.
  • Ireland — Irish Rail has information on Ireland's train schedules, ticket prices, and more.
  • Italy — Italia Rail is a great website for booking train travel in Italy with quick route options from major cities like Florence, Rome, and Venice. 
  • NetherlandsNS has everything you need to easily book tickets for train travel in the Netherlands.
  • NorwayNSB is where you can purchase tickets for the train and find out about any delays
  • PortugalCamboios De Portugal has train ticket info and info on how to get to major events.
  • Spain Renfe is the best website to find cheap train tickets for traveling in Spain.
  • SwedenSJ helps you discover Sweden by train and even has a handy budget calculator!
  • UK — National Rail Enquiries has a great site that is easy to use and purchase train tickets on. 

Other resources worth checking out while planning your train travels through Europe include Rail Europe, a one-stop-shop, that combines maps, schedules, and fares from different train companies across Europe. And, if you are looking to hit as many countries as you can, Interrail offers a 30 countries rail pass that allows you to easily explore all of Europe by train. 

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Travel Trends: Book A Layover Instead of Trying to Avoid One

by Lindsay Shapka in , , , ,


Avoiding long travel layovers and international stopovers when travelling long distances by air used to be the goal when it came to booking tickets. But, thanks to some outstanding recent campaigns by airlines like Icelandair (I know that I can't go a day without seeing gorgeous photos of Iceland's blue lagoon popping into my newsfeed), a long layover is not only something not to avoid, but an air travel trend that is now being sought out — it's two vacations in one! And, multiple airlines are getting on board. 

Icelandair 
The most well known stopover deal, Icelandair's long layover is ideal for those traveling between North America and Europe. You can stopover in the country for multiple nights with no additional fee, and they will even arrange accommodation and tours for you (for an additional charge) if you wish as well! 

Emirates
You can pre-book a stopover in Dubai with Emirates, but will need the help of a travel rep (see the info on their website), as they will have to apply for your no-fee visa. This stopover does come with an additional charge, but it can be as low as around $60. 

Singapore Airlines
This airline offers a multi-destination booking option that allows for a long layover in Singapore with no additional charge. For a small fee you can pre-book transfers and a hotel room with your flight so the stopover is as easy as possible! 

Thai Airways
This airline offers free travel stopovers in Bangkok(see my post on 22 Things to Love About Thailand if you are wondering what to do in Thailand!), a perk that is advertised to Aussies travelling to Asia or Europe and back. The airline also runs regular promotions for a free night's stay during your stopover as well.

TapPortugal
With this discount airline in Portugal you can book a layover in the country for up to three nights for no extra charge! They also have a comprehensive website to support this campaign that includes ideas on what to do during your layover, an app, and hotel deals. 

Air Canada
If you are travelling to Europe or Asia from the United States, you can take advantage of Air Canada's Toronto Stopover Program that allows you to spend up to seven days on an long layover in the city for no extra charge. 

Qatar Airways
Well not an overnight stopover, Qatar Airways will give you a free tour of four major landmarks in Doha, including the stunning Museum of Islamic Art, if you have a long layover. 

I don't know about you, but these layover options are definitely going to have me rethinking the way I book my travel in the future. I can't imagine anything better than breaking up a long travel day with a new culture and a bonus adventure! 

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13 Travel Quotes That Will Inspire You To Pack Your Bags

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,


"Surely of all the wonders in the world, the horizon is the greatest."
—Freya Stark

"We travel for romance, we travel for architecture, we travel to be lost."
—Ray Bradbury

"Jobs fill your pocket, adventures fill your soul."
—Jamie Lyn Beatty

"People don’t take trips, trips take people."
—John Steinbeck

"The most beautiful thing in the world is, of course, the world itself."
—Wallace Stevens

"Now more than ever do I realize that I will never be content with a sedentary life, that I will always be haunted by thoughts of a sun-drenched elsewhere."
—Isabelle Eberhardt

"I travel because I’d rather look back at my life saying ‘I can’t believe I did that’ instead of ‘If only I had…’"
—Florine Bos

Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life (and travel) leaves marks on you.
— Anthony Bourdain

"Travelling is like flirting with life. It’s like saying, ‘I would stay and love you, but I have to go, this is my station.’"
—Lisa St. Aubin de Teran

"The more I traveled the more I realized that fear makes strangers of people who should be friends."
—Shirley MacLaine

"One of the great things about travel is that you find out how many good, kind people there are."
—Edith Wharton

"Solo travel not only pushes you out of your comfort zone, it also pushes you out of the zone of others’ expectations."
—Suzy Strutner

"I travel because seeing photos in books and brochures wasn’t good enough for me. To be there, that was everything."
—Wiremu Ratcliffe

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Your Ultimate Guide To The Best Places To Travel In 2017

by Lindsay Shapka in , , , ,


Are you wondering where to go on holiday this year? Need some insight into the top travel destinations? You've come to the right place!

Everyone seems to put out a "Best Spots to Travel" list every year, so to make things easy for you, I've put together a master list with the Top 3 spots from the following lists: National Geographic's "Best Trips 2017", Travel and Leisure's "Best Places to Travel in 2017", Fodor's "No List 2017", Lonely Planet's "Best In Travel 2017", and Conde Nast's "Best Places to Travel in 2017." 

You'll also find my pick for a dream destination (for those of you willing to spend a few extra dollars for an outstanding experience!) at the end. 

National Geographic

The authority on culture, travel and adventure, Nat Geo has divided their "Best Trips 2017" list into three sections: Nature, Cities and Culture. 

NATURE

1. The Island of Kauai, USA
This stunning island is one of the Hawaiian islands, and one that is more sparsely visited than the rest. You will find lush jungles, stunning waterfalls, and fantastic hikes. There's a reason that more than 60 movies have been filmed there (including Jurassic Park)! 

2. Finland
Northern lights that dance through the night sky, stunning natural views, rocky beaches, winter sports, and reindeer — what more could you want in an outdoor adventure! 

3. Baja California, Mexico
Underwater adventures are what you travel here for — the marine life is what scuba divers' dreams are made of! 

CITIES

1. Marrakech, Morocco
One of my absolute favourite cities, Marrakech will transport you to a world where snakes are charmed in the main square, the call to prayer is beautifully hypnotizing, the food has flavours you have never tried before, and even colours seem more vibrant. Museums, markets, art, culture and more — exactly my kind of urban adventure! 

2. Madrid, Spain
The country's vibrant capital, Madrid is full of everything you would want in a city — great food, great nightlife, an abundance of culture, and an international feel. 

3. Anchorage, United States
This pick could fall under nature as much as it falls under cities, as anywhere up north seems to be defined by the harsh, yet stunning, environment that it is located in. And outdoor activities are one of the main reasons to visit — surfing, hiking, glacier walks, the list goes on and on. 

The narrow streets in the Marrakech Medina

CULTURE

1. Malta
A small island in the Mediterranean sea, this spot has been on my personal travel list for a few years now. There have been some fascinating archaeological findings made in recent years, and who doesn't love a trip that involves blue skies and a beach?!

2. Papua New Guinea
Nat Geo's description of this spot has me sold! "Located in the South Pacific north of Australia, PNG includes the eastern half of the world’s second biggest island, New Guinea, and about 600 small islands. For indigenous cultures in secluded villages, life pretty much goes on as it has for centuries." 

3. Chengdu, China
A UNESCO-designated City of Gastronomy, this city has some incredible restaurants serving traditional cuisine and some incredible World Heritage Sites as well. 

Travel + Leisure

The staff of this fantastic travel publication came up with 50 great places to visit in 2017. Here are the top three! 

1. Angra dos Reis, Brazil
Located between Sao Paulo and Rio, this is where the Brazilians escape to in the summer time when the beaches in the larger cities get too crowded. 

2. Belfast, Northern Ireland
Hip cafes, lounges, restaurants, and art venues are making this beautiful city an attractive destination for those looking for an urban adventure. 

3. Belgrade, Serbia
Not a typical destination (at least not for those of us in North America), according to T+L, this city has a quickly growing food scene and "the biggest draw is the growing craft-beer scene (the city has 37 breweries)."

Food being prepared at a street stall in Hong Kong

Fodor

Fodor does something a bit different, they put out a "No List" and tell you the spots that you should stay away from (due to an outbreak, war, etc.) and where to go instead. 

1. Avoid Dubai (its under construction in preparation for Dubai Expo 2020) and go to Hong Kong — one of my favourite cities — instead! 

2. Skip the Great Barrier Reef (it's under threat, give it some time to recover!) and head to the small and stunning Atauro Island instead. 

3. Miami Beach is one to miss if you are concerned about Zika, but Key West is the perfect alternative if you are looking to soak in some Florida sunshine. 

Lonely Planet

My fave travel guide company has multiple must-see lists for 2017 (make sure to check them all out!), but — so this post doesn't go on forever — I am only going to list their picks for the top three countries to visit. 

1. Canada
I have to admit that I am very excited that my home country topped this list! Canada has so much to offer nature loves, urbanites, culture, buffs, foodies and everyone in between. Plus, it's our 150th birthday in 2017, meaning that there are going to be major events and celebrations going on throughout the year. 

2. Colombia
I know, this seems a bit strange due to the history of drugs and violence that this country is known for, but according to LP, that violence has subsided and what has been left behind is incredible architecture, great food, and a really interesting culture. 

3. Finland (our first repeat spot!)
Also on Nat Geo's list above, Finland made the LP list because it is celebrating it's 100the year of independence in 2017, and will "also [play] host to the World Figure Skating Championships and the Nordic World Ski Championships this year."

The Canadian Rocky Mountains in Jasper, Alberta

Conde Nast Traveler

Conde Nast has 17, editor-endorsed picks on their "Best Places to Travel in 2017" list. 

1. Canada (our second repeat spot!)
See the info above.

2. The American Midwest
According to CN, they want to explore the cities and talk to the people that voted for Trump in order to find out who they are, what they believe in, and how they live. Could make for an interesting adventure! 

3. Cuba (beyond Havana)
Since the island country has been opened up to Americans, tourism is booming. Now's your chance to get there before it becomes too commercialized! 

My Dream Destination

Last year I picked a resort in the middle of the ocean as my dream destination, but this year I'm sending you inland to Chiang Mai, Thailand — more specifically, the Four Seasons Resort

This stunning (and very expensive — rooms start at around $1,300/night) resort is nestled amongst rice paddies and the jungle with rooms that look like treehouses, beautiful pools, and sunset yoga... just watch the video below, you'll see what I mean. 

Is there anything that you would add to the list? A great spot or hidden gem that you think would be the perfect destination in 2017? Let me know in the comments below! 

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12 Top Tips For Solo Travelers

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,


I'll be the first to admit that traveling alone for the first time can be scary (in fact, I wrote a blog about it). What happens if you get lost? What if you look like a fool? What if you can't communicate with anyone? Will people think you're a loser if you eat alone? And what do you do if you get lonely? 

The reality is this: if you get lost, you will find yourself, and if you look like a fool, there's no one around to make fun of you so who cares? You can easily learn a few words in the language of the country you are in, and most people are kind and will try to understand what you need. Eating alone isn't that bad, but if it really freaks you out, I have some alternatives below. And trust me, you will learn that when traveling solo you will be anything but lonely.

Here are some tips that have come from my many solo adventures:

1. Have a Safe Place to Land
Book your first night, or first few nights, of accommodation after a long flight to make sure you don't have to scramble to find somewhere to stay. Especially if you are arriving late — which leads me to my next tip...

2. Avoid Arriving Once the Sun Has Gone Down
Try to arrive in a new country, town, or city when the sun is still up and local businesses are still open. It's safer, but will also ensure that you can easily find a place to stay, get something to eat, and get directions if you need them.

3. Pack Light
You are the one who will be carrying everything that you bring with you, there will be no one around to help you out. If you are a budget traveler like me, this may require schlepping your gear for long distances. Trust me, you will be cursing those extra three pairs of shoes you threw in "just in case" after the first 10 minutes. 

4. Eat Out at Lunch
Concerned about eating alone? Don't be. It's awesome. But, if you are really worried about it, try eating your big meal at lunch instead of dinner. It's common for people to dine alone in the noon hour, plus many restaurants offer smaller portions of their dinner dishes at a much more affordable price during the day. That means your travel budget will stretch longer! 

5. Embrace Street Food
The best part of traveling solo is that you are on your own schedule! That means you eat when you want to. So, eat like the locals do and grab a meal from a street cart (watch for the busiest carts, those will have the freshest and most delicious options). This is the perfect way to sample some local flavour and a great excuse to sit on a bench and people watch while you dine! 

6. Don't Make Plans
Go where you want, when you want! Did you meet someone that told you about this awesome festival happening in the next town that you had no idea about? If you have nothing booked then you don't have to worry about cancelling reservations! 

7. Meet New People
In my experience, traveling solo means meeting more people than when you travel with friends. When you are alone you appear more approachable, and you are probably more willing to reach out to new people. Stay in hostels, B&Bs, or guesthouses with common rooms if you are looking to meet people easily. There are also free or affordable walking tours that you can take in most cities that will help you meet both fellow travelers and some locals in-the-know! 

8. Do Things that Scare You (aka do something new every day!)
Now, let me clarify. I am not telling you to put yourself in danger or do something that will risk your (or someone else's) health. I'm talking about things that you would NEVER do at home. Eat alone, hike up an active volcano, go to a full moon party, do non-stop yoga for a week — there is no one around to judge you, do something new! 

9. Don't Look Like a Tourist
Walk like you know where you're going (even if you don't), look at your map confidentially, and don't let people approach you on the street (they might be distracting you to pull a scam). Making sure that you have neutral clothing (leave the patriotic t-shirts at home) that will help you blend in with the locals is also a good idea. 

10. Leave The Valuables at Home
Don't bring flashy jewellery or expensive technology with you unless you absolutely have to. It will only make you a target. 

11. Talk to Locals
Ask the guy at the front desk of your hostel, guesthouse, or hotel where the best places to eat are, the areas of town that should be avoided, and about local hot-spots. Other locals to ask for advice would be your waiter, barista, and the people working at the information desks at art galleries or museums. 

12. Learn The Local Lingo
Now, there's no need to become fluent, or even be able to hold an in-depth conversation in a foreign language. But learning a few key words and phrases in the local lingo will endear you to the locals, and will help you greet someone, find the bathroom, and order a beer with ease! 

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The One Travel App I Can't Live Without

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,


On a recent trip to Sweden, I found myself in the city of Gothenburg with no map, no access to wifi, and no data plan that allowed me to use my phone to figure out where I was. I had the Lonely Planet Sweden in my bag, but the only map large enough to be of any use was of Stockholm. It was unbelievably frustrating to think that in this age of technology, I could still find myself completely lost with nothing to help me navigate the city I was in. 

Normally, I would have planned ahead, making sure that I knew where I could get a paper map, or taking screen shots of Google Maps when I had access to wifi. Circumstances beyond my control had thrown me into the helpless situation however, and, as someone who is rarely unprepared when exploring a new city (yes, I am Type A), it really didn't feel great. Eventually, I found a coffee shop with free wifi and figured out where I was and how to get to where I wanted to go, but I figured that there had to be an easier way. 

And that's when I found Maps.me.

This fantastic app gives you access to fast, detailed maps that you can zoom in on and search while you are COMPLETELY OFFLINE. All you have to do is download the map of the city you are visiting when you are on wifi (or data) and then you have access to it when your phone (or tablet) is offline and with you while you are exploring a foreign city. 

You can figure out exactly where you are thanks to GPS, get route information, and bookmark favourite spots so that you can return to them later (or remember them to tell friends about in the future). 

While I will always love the feeling of security that comes with having a physical map in my pocket (what happens if my phone battery dies?!), this is a fantastic way to be able to navigate a new place without getting stuck paying ridiculous data fees or feeling like you are a slave to wifi. 

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24 Hours In Shanghai

by Lindsay Shapka in , , , ,


Do you only have a day to spend in Shanghai? You've come to the right place! This is your 24-hour guide to the things you need to see and do in Shanghai!

Sometimes referred to as the "Paris of the East," Shanghai is one of China's largest and most cosmopolitan cities. While it doesn't have the epic historic sites that you will find in Beijing and Xian, the city has a lot of great spots to explore! 

Start your day early with a walk along The Bund, a mile-long stretch along the river that used to be where those arriving by water would enter the city. It runs parallel to Nanjing Road, which is lined with historic buildings in a variety of styles that look like they were plucked from the streets of New York or a major European city.

The imposing structures house foreign consulates, banks, museums, and swanky bars. The best part about a visit to this stretch of river is the view that you have of Pudong (above) across the river — day or night (or half immersed in fog), it's an incredible view. 

Grab some traditional, handmade dumplings for lunch in Old Town, and then spend some time wandering through the alleyways and gardens of the Yuyuan Gardens & Bazaar. The gardens were founded by the Pan family during the Ming dynasty and they took 18 years (1559-77) to create! They are stunning, with pavilions, carp-filled ponds, twisted pines, and a maze of arches to explore. 

Once the sun is starting to go down, East Nanjing Road is the place to be! This pedestrian-only stretch is where you will see neon signs galore (see photo at the beginning of this post) and there are lots of great options to dine — no matter your budget — and shop!

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