Monday, 26 September 2016

Top Destinations to Visit in Europe

From major metropolises to charming, overlooked locales, Europe is brimming with cities everyone should visit. But where does a penny-pinching, adventure-seeking twentysomething even begin when it comes to traveling Europe?

The big players -- London, Paris, Amsterdam -- are great. Those should be on everyone's bucket list. For millennials, these 20 cities offer delicious street food, hip hostels, cozy cafes and many glimpses into new cultures.

And there's a bonus -- these beautiful cities are even worth visiting if you're not exactly in your 20s anymore.

1) Berlin, Germany

By day, Berlin is a cultural wonderland, with an impressive roster of museums, art galleries and historic neighborhoods to explore. By night, Berlin boasts some of the best nightlife Europe has to offer -- whether you want to listen to some low-key live music or rave the night away, there's a club for every style.

2) Riga, Latvia

Riga was named a 2014 European Capital of Culture for good reason. There's iconic architecture, museums, the historic center (which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and lots of festivities to attend.

3) Stockholm, Sweden

Hip, exciting and undeniably beautiful, Stockholm should be high on your bucket list. Summer is the ideal time to visit, when the skies are extra blue and you can spend the day wandering the cobblestone streets of Gamla Stan. Explorers can make an excursion to some of roughly 30,000 islands that make up the skärgård archipelago.

4) Copenhagen, Denmark

The capital of Denmark is possibily one of the most charming, friendliest cities on Earth. Hop on a bicycle and explore the historic canals and squares while admiring the city's eye-catching architecture. Be sure to pay a visit to Tivoli Gardens, the nearby amusement park that's more than 170 years old. And, of course, get cozy at a bar or cafe and chat up those friendly locals.

5) Budapest, Hungary

The "hipster capital of Europe" is also possibly the most beautiful spot on the continent. The "playground of twentysomethings" is, clearly, perfect for young travelers looking for cultural enrichment and some uber-cool nightlife. Check out District VII's offbeat shops and cafes, pop into a "ruin pub," visit a few museums and ogle the city's gorgeous architecture.

6) Fira, Greece

If you're backpacking through cities, you'll eventually need a place to slow down, relax and admire some gorgeous scenery. The island of Santorini is that place. From soaring cliffs to the Aegean Sea's sapphire water, there's no shortage of beautiful landscapes. From Fira, head to Ancient Thira or hop over to Oia and take in one of their famed sunsets. You can also sample delicious Greek cuisine and sunbathe on the island's black sand beaches.

7) Oslo, Norway

Norway is the greatest place on Earth. So its capital, Oslo, is pretty excellent. And yes, the country is expensive, but can be done on a budget. Set on a backdrop of forested hills and the Oslo Fjord, the city has no shortage of natural beauty. The city also offers some unique museums, like the Viking Ship Museum and the Nobel Peace Centre.

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Friday, 23 September 2016

How to Book the Cheapest Flight Possible to Anywhere

We’ve all experienced the tiresome, repeated searching when trying to book the cheapest possible flights to any given destination. With endless search engines and continually fluctuating prices, the approach to frugal flight booking is overwhelming. Here’s some key tips that will save you time, frustration and most importantly money when booking your next flight.

1. Keep your searches top secret

You’re not crazy for thinking that a flight price has changed after searching it a few times in your web browser. Based on the cookies in your browser, flight prices do increase when a particular route is repeatedly searched, as the site wants to scare you into booking the flight quickly before prices get even higher. Always search for flights in incognito or private browsing mode to see the lowest prices.

In Google Chrome or Safari, incognito is enabled by hitting Command (or “Control” if using PC), Shift, “N”. For Mozilla Firefox or Internet Explorer, hit Command (or “Control” if using a PC), Shift, “P”. This will open a new browser window where your information is not tracked, thus not inflating prices as you search. Note: if you’re using an older version of OS X, open Safari then click “Safari” in the menu bar, and select “Private Browsing”.

Your cookies are reset each time you re-open an incognito window. So if you want to start with a clean slate for each flight search (so your previous searches aren’t “remembered”, potentially inflating costs), close all your incognito windows, open a new one, and then perform your flight search.

2. Identify the cheapest day to fly out

While many theories exist around booking specifically on a Tuesday to save money, the reality is there is no consistent truth to exactly which days are cheapest to fly. Most of the time it is cheaper to leave on a weekday, though this isn’t always the case. Your best strategy is to get a quick visual of prices for a whole month to see what days are cheapest for your specific route.

3. Befriend budget airlines

Budget airlines offer significantly cheaper tickets than their full-service counterparts. It should be obvious, but this comes with compromises such as less leg room and no “free” food/drink on-board (which by the way, is normally covered in your higher-priced ticket with full-service airlines).

  • Check where the airport location is (some budget airlines fly to airports further out of  town).
  • Ensure you’ve booked & paid for your luggage allowance. Adhere to restrictions on weight, height, and  of bags allowed. Some airlines (e.g. Ryanair) will charge hefty fee if you’re over. Remember, paying only for the exact luggage space/weight you need is how budget airlines keep their prices lower than traditional airlines!
  • Read the fine print. The best example is that Ryanair WILL CHARGE A FEE if you do not print your own ticket or adhere to their strict luggage weight and dimensions. A warning of this fee is clearly stated in all capital letters in the first sentence of your e-confirmation. In a nutshell, always read and follow instructions

4. Book long-haul flights yourself for less!

If you’re flying somewhere that involves a transfer, say from Canada to Australia which typically involves Canada to LA, then LA to Australia, consider that it may be cheaper to book these two legs separately on your own by adding another destination to your trip. It should go without saying that in doing this, you should not book tight layovers. I repeat: do not book layovers that are hours apart! This approach is for those who want to create an additional destination of a few days or more, before catching their next flight.

First, do your research: are there budget airlines unique to the country you’re flying out of and where you’re headed to? Booking with a budget Australian airline from Sydney to Honolulu, then an American one from Honolulu to Montreal saved us over $400 each when flying back from Australia to Canada earlier this year. This allowed us to create a thrifty five-day stopover in Hawaii on our way back, which was less exhausting and a lot cheaper!

It should be said that a travel agent can be used to do the legwork of booking long-haul flights with strategic multi-day layovers. We have not done this ourselves but it’s certainly worked for others. If you can show an agent a cheaper price online, they may match it, plus include a few days’ stopover in a desired spot if that is what you’re seeking.

5. Don’t forget about local airlines

While the above search engines are great, they do not always include small airlines, especially in less popularly booked routes and/or in remote regions. If you’re flying somewhere obscure, Google search and ask around if there exists a local airline. While in South America we learnt that the LADE Air in Argentina (flown by military pilots) has crazy cheap flights to Patagonia, which is of course not listed in mass search engines online.

When you do find small airlines, even if they are listed in a search engine results, it often pays to check the company site which may reveal exclusive online offers not found in a regular search engine. For example, when flying in Western Canada, I found that Hawk Air, a small and local company offers weekly deals on certain days. Be sure to double check!

6. If you know when and where you’re going, don’t wait to book

Rarely ever do airline tickets get cheaper as your departure date approaches, especially if you need to fly on a certain date. Budget airlines typically offer low rates as a baseline price, and as these tickets sell, the remaining ones increase in cost. This is very typical in Europe and Australia. If you know when and where you’re going, don’t wait on an unknown sale. More often than not, your biggest savings come from booking far ahead when you can.

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Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Canada Shopping and Nightlife

Shopping in Canada

You’ll have no trouble buying large vats of maple syrup or cuddly polar bears galore. If you’re looking for something more original, check out the extensive range of fine Canadian crafts available, such as art woodcarvings, leather goods, pottery, jewellery and native artworks.

Sports lovers might enjoying kitting themselves out in an ice hockey strip: take your pick from NHL teams the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators, Winnipeg Jets, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers or Vancouver Canucks.

Outdoors enthusiasts meanwhile will find a vast selection of stores selling all the must-have gear and clothing. Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) has branches across the country, sells everything you could possibly need for trips into the backcountry, and is something of a Canadian institution.

Canada boasts a strong tradition of microbreweries, and a few bottles of the local ale make for a unique and consumable gift. Edible treats include salmon candy (chewy strips of smoked salmon steeped in honey and spices), fireweed honey and a smorgasbord of specialist chutneys, pickles and sauces.

This being North America, shopping malls are everywhere; if you’re a mall fanatic, make a pilgrimage to the country’s (and previously the world’s) largest, the West Edmonton Mall in Alberta. With more than 800 shops, a water park, ice rink, amusement park, aquarium, cinemas, restaurants, clubs and even two hotels, there are no shortage of outlets to splash your cash.

There are three different forms of sales tax throughout Canada; these are added onto the price of goods at the till. A 5% goods and service tax (GST) is levied on most goods and services in Canada. In addition, most jurisdictions (except Alberta, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and the Yukon) levy a provincial service tax (PST) of 5 to 10% in shops, restaurants and short-term accommodation.

In the provinces of British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Ontario, a harmonised sales tax (HST) of 12 to 15% has replaced the GST and PST. Residents of British Columbia voted to bring back PST following a referendum on HST in 2011 however; PST will return in April 2013. Note that visitors may no longer reclaim GST or HST on accommodation and any goods purchased and taken out of the country.
Shopping hours:

Mon-Sat 0900-1800, with late-night shopping in some stores Thurs-Fri, up to 2100 (malls in large cities are often open until 2100 Mon-Fri). Some shops and stores are also open on Sunday, and some are open 24 hours a day.

Some countries have restrictions against the import of endangered animal species products, such as products made from polar bear, seal, walrus or whale, so you should check entry regulations in your home country before departure; some of these products may also require a Canadian export certificate.

Nightlife in Canada

Canadian nightlife isn’t solely oriented around boozing. But if you’re up for a few drinks, most cities have a pleasant selection of casual brewpubs and hipster lounges. In many cases, the most popular bars are connected to stylish hotels. The major cities have at least a handful of nightclubs playing music to suit most tastes. Live music’s popular too – try Nova Scotia for traditional Celtic music with a Canadian slant or Alberta for boot-stomping cowboy tunes.

A night out in Canada is just as likely to be centred around eating, and the country’s considerable ethnic diversity means you’re in for a treat, with an enormous variety of food available. Vancouver is the place to head for sushi, while Montreal is renowned for poutine - a stodgy dish of fries smothered in cheese curds and gravy.

Canadians also love hanging out at coffee bars and these tend to stay open late, making a nice alternative to sitting in the pub.

Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and Winnipeg are centres for ballet, opera and classical music, with visits from leading orchestras and internationally renowned performers.

Entertainment in the more remote towns is scarce, but it’s always worth having a few beers in the local bar where you’re likely to encounter a few characters. 

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Friday, 2 September 2016

Our Top 6 Lakes in the Canadian Rockies


The Canadian Rockies offer a wealth of lakes for your viewing, swimming, boating and exploring pleasure. It was hard for us to pick a favourite, so here is our Top 6 Lakes in the Canadian Rockies.

Lake Minnewanka - Banff

The largest lake in Banff National Park is nestled between mountain scenery and is cloaked in history. A cruise on board the Banff Lake Cruise, with experienced captains and entertaining guides, will delve you into the past yet transport you in to the present of the beauty surrounding you. You may choose to rent a pedal boat and explore the water’s edge, hike on local trails or use it as the centre-point for amazing photography in all seasons. Lake Minnewanka is also a popular spot for scuba-diving in the Rockies for exploration of the submerged village of Minnewanka Landing. 

Peyto Lake - Icefields Parkway 

One of the most awe-inspiring lakes in the Canadian Rockies is easily accessible from a viewing platform high on the mountainside. Watch the glacier-fed turquoise waters sneak into view as you complete the short pathway to the view point. These mountainous lakes get their vibrant turquoise tint from rock flour, or glacial flour that is picked up during the melting process. Peyto Lake received its name from Bill Peyto, a significant man of history in the Rockies; an early mountain guide in Banff National Park.

Lake Louise – Lake Louise

A destination in itself and needs no introduction, this Iconic lake of the Rockies is cuddled by towering peaks and mesmerizing glaciers. Discovering the Rockies is simple onboard a sightseeing excursion such as the Mountain Lakes and Waterfalls tour - visit Lake Louise and gain a bonus of a visit to Moraine Lake. Lake Louise, beautiful in every season offers canoeing opportunities to explore the water’s edge and popular hiking trails in the summer. In winter, the lake is a host to the Ice Magic Festival showcasing a stunning carved Ice Castle on the surface of the lake. 

Pyramid Lake - Jasper

A warmer lake in the Jasper area offering another unique perspective of the Rockies as Pyramid Mountain towers over the lake below. Stroll over to the island on foot-bridge, canoe across the lake to the secluded lake beaches or look for wildlife along the shore! Swimming is also popular in this temperate water. For those who wish to visit in the winter, this lake turns in to a winter wonderland with cross country skiing and sleigh rides. 

 Maligne Lake - Jasper

The largest glacier-fed lake in the Canadian Rockies is a must-see! Not only that, it holds the iconic Spirit Island only accessible by boat. Hop aboard the Maligne Lake Cruise and be transported to this magical place. For those experienced in kayaking or canoeing, you may choose to paddle the almost 30km round-trip to the island itself. The lake goes further past the island and ends with a small campsite at Coronet Creek at the 22 km mark (if you are daring enough to embark on a multi-day canoe trip).

Johnson Lake - Banff

Trust a local, this is a top pick for summer relaxation! This is a great place for a cool-off as the water is the perfect temperature for swimming or a float on a warm day. A quick exploratory loop around the lake gives you great view points within a small distance and it’s an achievable hike even with small children. You may even come across the Red Chairs (Parks Canada initiative) to sit and enjoy this unparalleled landscape.

There are so many more lakes we could list; however, we hope this compilation offers some inspiration for your travels! 

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