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. 

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! 

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.

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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What You Need To Know About Thailand's Official Year of Mourning

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,

On October 13, 2016, Thailand's beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej passed away at the age of 88. The government immediately declared that the country would be in a year of mourning, with the first 30 days (until around November 13, 2016) being especially somber. Thai's are expected to wear black and refrain from participating in any celebrations or festivals during that time.

What does Thailand's year of mourning mean for visitors?

If you are planning to travel to Thailand in the next few months, be aware that some restaurants, bars, and clubs may be closed or have different hours. Trains, planes, and bus schedules may be disrupted, and there may be a more somber air on beaches that are normally teeming with loud, late-night party goers. 

Bangkok's Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace will be closed to the public, as this is where the funeral rites are going to be taking place. 

Thailand's Tourism Authority has encouraged visitors not to cancel their plans, but lists these recommendations: 

"• Many Thai people will be wearing black or white clothing as a sign of mourning. This is not required of visitors but if possible, they should wear sombre and respectful clothing when in public.
• Visitors should refrain from conducting any inappropriate or disrespectful behaviour.
• Most of the traditional and cultural events will be taking place as usual, although the celebrations may be changed for appropriateness as a mark of respect, or the events may be dedicated to the memory of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
• All transport, banks, hospitals and other public services will be operating as usual.
• The related authorities have stepped up safety and security measures for all Thais and visitors to facilitate their travelling around the country."

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Durian Fruit: It Tastes Delicious But Smells Like Roadkill — Would You Try It?

by Lindsay Shapka in ,

It is described as having a smell that is overwhelming, revolting and reminiscent of rotten onions, turpentine, and raw sewage. A smell that penetrates fabric and remains on your hands for days. It has even been banished from hotels, public transit and public spaces because the smell has been known to linger in the air for days.

Yet, the soft, delicate, creamy fruit apparently tastes delicious (if you can get past the smell — I admit that I never have).  

What is this strange food that I speak of?

The durian fruit.  

Trust me, I do not usually shy away from street food, even when I can't identify it, but this large, spiky fruit — known as the King of Fruits — has bested me. But it isn't just me, most Westerners find the smell too offensive to get near, let alone eat. 

The fruit can be found all over South East Asia, with Thailand being the largest exporter of it — they even hold an annual World Durian Festival each May in Chantaburi.

What makes it smell so bad, you ask? 

A study conducted in 1995 discovered esters, sulphur, and ketones (the compound responsible for morning breath) all present in the fruit (GROSS). 

So why on earth are people eating the stuff? 

First of all, it is apparently really good for you as it contains a generous natural source of magnesium, potassium, copper, folate, thiamin, and other elements that are often missing from our diets.  

Second of all, and most interestingly, the fruit contains super high levels of tryptophan (the same amino acid found in chocolate) which explains why those that eat it claim that it is addictive and hard to put down once you start eating it. Apparently is produces euphoria when eaten as a dessert.

Have you been brave enough to try this smelly fruit before? I would love to hear what you thought of it!   

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Travel Tales: Surviving The Songkran Water Festival in Thailand

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

I stepped gingerly out of the cab, swinging my heavy pack onto my back, trying to get my bearings amongst the chaos of the Thai New Year celebrations.

The driver had dropped me only about four blocks away from my hotel — it was as close as he could get — but there were so many people on the street celebrating Songkran that I was feeling a bit turned around.  

Already sweating in the 40+ mid-day Thailand sun (not that it mattered, I was about to be soaking wet) I set off down a side street lined with food carts, and stalls selling small waterproof bags and water guns... and water...

While looking up at the flags strung across the street above me, I felt a cold stream of water run down my neck, then another hit me straight in the belly button, and yet another smack dab in the middle of my forehead... It had begun... 

What's a bigger target than a foreigner at a country's largest festival that involves throwing water at each other?

A foreigner with a ackpack on her back. (Luckily I had planned ahead and packed ALL of my stuff in plastic bags... one point for me!)

Everything in my bags was packed away in plastic — I had a feeling I would be a target... I was correct...

I was right in the middle of a country-wide water fight that ushers in the traditional Thai New Year (April 13, 14 and 15). It is traditionally a time of renewal, cleansing AND wandering the streets with buckets of water to soak people with.

The country's most famous festival did not start out as a full-on no-holds-barred water fight. Not too long ago it was celebrated with quiet temple visits, 'new year's resolutions' and house cleaning. The temple's primary Buddha was ceremoniously bathed by monks and followers splashing water on it, water was splashed on the hands of elders, and was playfully splashed (not thrown) at friends as a way to with them luck.

Oh, how things have changed...

(As an added bonus, the festival falls on the HOTTEST time of the year in Thailand and the cold, cleansing water is actually a welcome escape from the heat.)

Decorations strung up at the Wat Pho temple in Bangkok, Thailand

Pieces of gold leaf are placed on stone Buddhas at Wat Pho in Bangkok, Thailand

Pieces of gold leaf are placed on stone Buddhas at Wat Pho in Bangkok, Thailand

During Songkran it is next to impossible to step into the streets of Bangkok and stay dry (especially if you are staying in the Th Khao San area, which I was). The streets were not only full of people (mostly Thais) throwing water, but also with live music, DJs, and an indescribable atmosphere. 

It was an incredible experience, but after being soaking wet for 2 days straight I was ready to dry off!

Luck is said to be measured by how doused you are — it is safe to say that I am the luckiest girl in the world (even a monk threw water at me at the temple!).

Luck is measured by how soaked you are — I'm feeling like this is going to be a great year!

How To Eat Like A Local On Your Next Trip

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

What you eat when you travel can often make or break your trip. If you make a wrong food choice, you risk missing out on the authentic version of a cultural delicacy, spending too much money, or (worst of all) becoming deathly ill. 

What's the best way to experience all the culinary delights that a culture has to offer? 

Eat like a local!

Don’t Be Afraid of Street Food! 

Some of the most mouth-watering flavours that I’ve tasted have come from food purchased from street vendors.

They key is to pick the right vendor.

Pay attention to where locals seem to be lining up, and I will guarantee that the food will be safe and fresh. Steer clear of the stalls that don’t seem to get much traffic, the food there may have been sitting out for too long.

Eating this way is also cheap and fast, which means it won’t cut into your touring time or your budget. 

If The Menu is In English, Walk Away

If you are in a country where English is not the first language, a translated menu usually means that you are about to encounter inflated prices and generic food. Stay away. 

Shop For Food At A Local Market or Grocery Store

Load a bag full of local delicacies, for a fraction of the price you would pay in a restaurant, and then find a park to people watch in while you eat! 

When In Doubt, Ask A Local

Ask the people that work at your hostel or hotel where they like to eat. Instead of giving you tourist friendly options, they will usually direct you somewhere more authentic. 

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