Category Archives: Travel Planning

Pros and Cons of Car Hire Abroad

Pros and Cons of Car Hire Abroad Auto Europe Rental

Car hire abroad can be a blessing and a curse! We’ve gone from not being behind the wheel for a whole year to twice in the past month. Our preferred mode of transport while in the Americas has been two wheels, with and without a motor, but hiring a car abroad was a necessity in Austin and in Hungary. Here are the pros and cons of hiring a car abroad.


» You may also like: our road trip packing list (for all seasons)


Pros of Car Hire Abroad

Freedom and Flexibility

One of the beauties of car hire abroad is the flexibility to change your itinerary! Local tips often results in change of plans (for the better) and if hiring a car you don’t have to worry about how to get to suggested hot spots. I did a call out via or Facebook to find out where we should hit during our Hungarian road trip with Auto Europe, Lake Balaton was a recommended destination so off we went! Hiring ‘Buda the Blazer,’ our trusty top of the range Skoda, meant we could nip over to Slovakia to see Esztergom’s Basilica in all of her glory.

Pros and Cons of Car Hire Abroad Esztergom Hungary

Cheaper Option

Hiring a car while travelling can sometimes be the cheaper option. I know this sounds mad, and naturally, it is country/city-specific (you can’t beat the chicken bus prices in Nicaragua!) but when you need to make several journeys in one day, Über and buses can add up, not to mention the time saved. For instance, our first day in Austin. We had to get from the airport to our apartment, then to two different shopping areas for wedding gear, which we were doing separately, I then had a hair appointment in the late afternoon from which we then had to make our way back to our apartment, about 200km in total. Car hire was not only the cheaper option in this instance but cut out wasted time too. It was also nice to have a chauffeur (Craig) for the day! As you escape the bright lights of the city for the calm of the countryside, prices tend to drop so money can be saved on accommodation, food, and social activities offsetting the cost of hiring a car abroad.

No Baggage

You don’t have to lug 20kg each worth of baggage around subways (*ahem* Craig doesn’t have to lug 40kg) ‘Nuf said!

Pros and Cons of Car Hire Abroad Baggage

Wheels of Steel

Move over Calvin Harris & Bieber. In the privacy of your own ride, you are in control of the sound system. If you’ve ever been to Latin America you’ll know that those public buses like to ram cheese down your ear holes at every given opportunity, or even worse… Reggaeton.

Cons of Car Hire Abroad

City Driving

City driving is not a breeze, there is no denying that. You can often see where you want to get to but one way systems (yes you Glasgow) often makes reaching that destination the grounds for divorce in any relationship. My advice is, fork out for a GPS system! City parking can also be a pain, Craig paid for parking three times in one day in Budapest and turns out if was free for that special Saturday!

Cultural Driving Differences

Us Brits drive on the left-hand side of the road, unlike most of the rest of the world. Attempting to not change gear with the window handle may take a bit of getting used to. Other drivers can be quite mean and impatient too, this is especially true in cities but the same can be said for the city drivers in your home cities too. The middle finger means the same in every language, use it sparingly.

Car wing mirror, Iceland landscape

Signs, Maps, GPS

Each country seems to have its own unique road signage and speed limits. In Hungary, they just assume that everyone knows them, in the UK they like to tell you repeatedly what the limit is in MPH whereas other European countries and further afield tend to be KPH. Although the measurements differ they sure have one thing in common: speed cameras and police! Ask your car rental company what the limits are for each type of road to keep yourself and pedestrians/cyclists/ animals safe. Again, GPS is recommended, and don’t rely on your iPhone when there is a chance that it will lose signal.

Quick tip – check out how to how to export Google map itinerary when the phone is offline to stop potential d-i-v-o-r-c-e!

Car Iceland landscape, reflection in water

Designated Driver

Hiring a car while on the road can be very social, invite others to join you on trips around the lakes of British Columbia (Canada) or the waterfalls of Oregon (America) but when it comes to a liquid lunch, the designated driver will have to pass. This is tricky in the likes of Islay in Scotland which hosts 11 whisky distilleries of Eger in Hungary, home to some of the world’s best wine. It may be best to go on a bus tour for those types of trips or give your liver a welcomed rest for a couple of hours.

Pros and Cons of Car Hire Abroad Hungarian Wine

Regardless of the stresses of hiring a car abroad, this benefit tops it all: the ability to escape the concrete cities for an adventure in the countryside.  Fresh air, local prices, and culture!

Pros and Cons of Car Hire Abroad Car Hire

Nagymaros, Hungary (near Danube Bend)

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Pros and Cons of Car Hire Abroad


Thanks to Auto Europe for our Hungarian road trip, an honest review as always!

Slow Travel: Not Just for Tortoises

Slow Travel Feature

Six months, six countries, eleven flights, hundreds of hours on busses and no new tattoos, yet! We (Gemma and Craig) are now a third of the way through our 18 month career break and I am feeling quite reflective. This is not normal practice for me, I am more of a ‘close a door on that chapter’ type of person when it comes to feelings. I think I have started to look back on the last six months because I have enjoyed being in one place. For the past two months we have lived in a caravan in the back garden of a hostel on the Sunshine Coast (BC, Canada), waking up to this view every morning

Sunset Roberts Creek Sunshine Coast Photo of the Fortnight 11

…. and it has been a dream. I am now at the stage where I don’t think I can face the ‘two nights here, three nights there with a twelve hour bus journey, snacking on crackers and praying that there is a toilet’ type of travel! I’ve had an epiphany – and I’m here to tell you five reasons why slow travel is the way to go.

1. Don’t Go Loco! Go Local

Touch down, it’s 6am in the morning so we taxi to hostel, dump bags in storage, baby wipe wash, eyes nearly at knees, concealer, Craig is crabbit (grouchy), grab breakfast, walking tour, check in, shower (praise be), dinner with Jamaican imitation band playing in background, sleep, 07:30am rise (can’t waste the day), wander, breakfast, meet our new friend Ricardo who take us on a private tour, miss dinner, pre club drinks, club with new hostel friends, bed, wake up at check out, chuck everything in bag and drag out of room, flight to Santa Marta in three hours, taxi to airport, check in, miss flight as Viva Colombia told us wrong boarding info, pay for another flight with Avianca (actually cheaper), fly to Santa Marta, arrive at 11pm, sleep. Rinse and repeat for

Santa Marta
Consteño Beach
Palomino, Cartagena
Medellin
Salento
Tayrona National Park
and back to Bogota

… before following the same fast paced stop – see – go loco travel routine in Cuba (before we ran out of money!)

How did we do it?! Don’t get me wrong, we LOVED Colombia and you know it but I would have loved to have spent more time in Medellin and at the peaceful El Mocambo, Salento but time was of the essence. A local also recommended smaller less touristy towns but the gringo trail was all three and a half weeks would allow.

From Facebook you will know that we have been up and down the Sunshine Coast – swimming in lakes, crashing wakes, partying with locals and even being stopped by the police after a gig at the local community centre! We’ve had the chance to borrow the hostel car and take road trips to the likes of Smugglers Cove. Sometimes we don’t even make a plan for the day. Bliss. We’ve seen nearly all of the Sunshine Coast at a steady pace and spent much of that time in the water!

2. New Skills

Staying somewhere for a period of time gives you the opportunity not only to get to know the area but also the local people and businesses. There is a beautiful, bright yoga studio in the heart of Roberts Creek but to pay for classes would have to fall into our luxury category. A guest at the hostel suggested I contacted the studio as they run a volunteers programme. Every Friday for the past two months I have cleaned the studio in exchange for free passes to the drop-in classes. So now I can develop my yoga skills by sharing my ability to sweep floors and dust crystals!

Yoga By the Sea Roberts Creek Slow Travel Exercise Whilst Travelling

3. Bring in the Benjamins

Obviously, not all forms of employment have to be paid with social capital; there are jobs that pay you cash! Many travellers such as Yasha from Dare2Go have used their skills to teach English as a foreign language. Yasha has taught in a one to one setting in Santiago, Chile as well as teaching English to asylum seekers on Maunus Island, Papua New Guinea. Pretty unique opportunity! My friend, Sarah (who I met in Cuba!) has a background in social work and now she lives in Mexico and teaches high school kids English, and if that means through the medium of One Direction (big fans apparently!) so be it.

Teaching English abroad gives you the chance to submerge yourself in local culture and maybe, just maybe, fall in love like Craig’s high school friend Iain did! Iain has been teaching English in Hanoi, Vietnam for years (we met up with him on our South East Asia trip) and has just married a Vietnamese chick! Check out these online TEFL courses for more information.

4. Volunteering

Now that I am seeing the benefits of slow travel, I will be following in the footsteps of other travellers who travel and work. Why wouldn’t I want to look after your dog whilst sunbathing by your private pool in Granada? Where do I sign up?! This would save us monthly rent, gas and electricity as well as giving us the chance to meet new friends. Obviously, you have to exchange a bit of work for your stay!

Las Penitas Leon Sunset Nicaragua Dog

5. Slow Travel Combats Fast Fat!

White bread, jam, and butter – the typical South American breakfast. That meal does not bode well with my thirty year old body! Before we left for travelling I was pounding six gym classes per week and not really having to think about what I ate. When you are on the road, you really do start to miss not cooking your own meals.

This was an issue in Cuba where we mainly stayed in casa particulars that don’t necessarily have access to kitchens. Hostel facilities vary; some have outstanding kitchens whilst others have none. If you are moving every second or third day it’s hard to justify buying fresh produce which goes off and store cupboard foods tend to be the type that is bad for you.

Sometimes it’s just easier to eat out and my will power isn’t great so a salad is not always my first choice! Check out the lovely Nomadic Boys tips on how to stay fit while travelling (they certainly are in shape!)

Churros so good I Long Term Travel Planning

Remember how I said that sometimes Craig and I don’t have a plan for that day on the Sunshine Coast? More than often the plan is simply to cycle to the supermarket, pick up food for dinner, prepare and enjoy it! Slow travel at its best.

Finding places to exercise in hostels is not always possible: three stories high, bedrooms underneath you and the shared dorms often make exercise impossible. And yes, there are plenty of hiking opportunities but I need heavy cardio to keep the weight gain at bay. This was one of the reasons we hired an Airbnb apartment in La Paz, Bolivia for four nights, it had a garden so I could do some cardio!

Top 10 Things to do in La Paz

An added thrill might be hitchhiking with slow travel? Check out these hitchhiking tips.

 

Slow travel or fast paced trips – what’s your favourite?

 

Deafying Stereotypes – Deaf Travel

Varadero I Travel Budget for 3 Weeks in Cuba

“Can Deaf people drive?”

“How can you survive in this world if you don’t know how to communicate?”

… and so on.

There are two bloggers who have captivated my attention – Lilo and Stacey, and I am honestly thrilled that they have taken time to share their story with us…

These are the most common questions we get asked throughout our lives. So, you can imagine how people react initially when they find out that we wanted to travel.

Deaf Travel

“Isn’t it too dangerous for you to travel?” Our parents’ utmost fears. They feared that since we aren’t capable of hearing certain surroundings, that there may be a risk to our lives. For instance, they feared that we wouldn’t be able to hear oncoming speeding cars.

The truth is: Deaf people can do anything, except hear. What people tend to forget or may not realise is that although we cannot hear, our other senses are heightened. We naturally developed other senses more strongly – in particular, our vision. We develop skills such as reading lips, expression and body language.

Deaf Travel Deafinitely Wanderlust Thailand

However, we put off travel for a long time because of the fears that society and the media instil into our conscious. One day, we both decided to face that challenge and prove to others that Deaf people are capable of travel. Thus, our blog, Deafinitely Wanderlust, was born.

Deaf Difference

Through our adventure, we conquered not only the language barriers but communication barriers as well. In comparison to Hearing people, we naturally picked up their local gestures faster because our voices are our hands. We can also distinguish through body language when locals are nervous, annoyed or even lying!

There was a time when Stacey wanted try to socialise with some Hearing travellers at this couch surfer’s place in South Korea. During the conversation, it was like playing ping pong to try and read lips back and forth. When Stacey missed what this other guest was saying, she asked, “Can you say that again please?” The traveller repeated the sentence but Stacey still missed her words. “Sorry?” Stacey asked. There was a sudden flinch on her eyebrow, her hands clenched and started knocking lightly on the table and she scratched her temple as if she was trying to hide her frustration. Stacey immediately could tell by observing small body language gestures that many Hearing people don’t often pay attention to. This observational skill is highly beneficial in any situation as a Deaf traveller.

Deafinitely Wanderlust Deaf Travel BangkokUniversal Sign Language & Travel

Not only do we socialise with Hearing people, we also meet many Deaf people in different countries. Each country have their own sign language, therefore American Sign Language is not an universal sign language. Sometimes it can be a little similar or vastly different. Regardless of the difference, we still somehow understand each other. We use gestures, expression and body language to converse. Deaf people share mutual feelings and understanding, this is extraordinary. One of the perks as a Deaf traveller is that we do not only learn a culture but also a subculture, which is Deaf culture, as well. Deaf locals tell us what is it like to be Deaf in their country since each country view Deaf people differently. We learned one of the most common problems is lack of certain accommodation of Deaf community.

The lack of accomodation for Deaf people is not only a problem in undeveloped countries but everywhere. One of the most important accessibilities that we need is visual services. When travelling with no visual aids, we often have to ask local people what the man on the speaker said or when is the destination we need coming up. Generally, this problem is because of the lack of Deaf awareness, especially depending on how each country view Deaf people. For example, in America, Deaf is viewed as disability whereas in South Korea, it is viewed as handicap. Because of the lack of Deaf awareness, we often also encounter discrimination.

In Singapore, we were checking in for our flight to Thailand; the flight attendants were not willing to accommodate us when we told them that we needed communication through writing. “You CAN talk!” One of the flight attendants shouted and pointed at Lilo, “I saw you talking earlier! You can talk!” Imagine our frustration! They not only obstructed our way to communicate, but they took away our human rights. Fortunately, a man who was standing behind us, told one of the flight attendants, “They’re Deaf. You need to write, that’s how you guys are able to communicate,” PRAISE THIS MAN! It is so nice to see that there are some people out there that are aware and understand Deaf people and their human rights.

Like any other travellers, we have experienced so many great and unfortunate experiences ranging from getting stranded in Japan to bathing elephants. Even though, it hasn’t been all rainbows and butterflies, it still pushed us to see that we were capable of doing anything. It helped us to gain confidence in facing these obstacles and learning from it. Most importantly, it made us even more proud of being Deaf.

Deaf Travel Deafinitely Wanderlust Taroko National Park, Hualien, Taiwan


Lieurene (also known as Lilo) and Stacey are two Deaf female adventurers, who won’t let being Deaf hinder them from travelling. Since they shared the same interests of wanderlust, they jumped on the opportunity to venture into the world. The pair want to challenge themselves to try overcome any obstacles that get in their way and learn from their experiences. Lilo and Stacey hope to inspire anyone to travel, regardless. Join me in following their experience…

Website I Facebook I Twitter I Instagram

What obstacles do you face whilst travelling?

5 Ways to Improve Your Spanish Without Taking A Flight

Improve your Spanish

Looking for ways to improve your Spanish without moving abroad? This guide details online opportunities, ways to connect with people who can help in the Spanish speaking community and free apps that you can use when on the move. The benefits of learning Spanish are numerous! Fit in when you take a vacation, avoid getting ripped off when you go backpacking, be the best in class at school and open up to a bigger market in business. Here’s five-way to improve your Spanish without leaving your armchair with thanks to Jess from Sweet and Sour Adventures.

 

 

Andean Mountains from Thomas Grill hostels in Cusco Peru

Improve Your Spanish

They say the best way to learn a language is to live in the country to allow for full language immersion.

However having lived in Spain for 10 months, I have to say my Spanish hasn’t improved greatly.

It all depends on you and how willing you are to learn the language.

No matter where you are, you can create opportunities to learn Spanish.

So whether you just want to be able to say thank you in the native language as it is polite, order from a menu without the use of Google translate or make business transactions in Spanish speaking countries there are actionable things you can do to get to your goal. 

Online Language Exchanges 

Go to language exchanges. It may seem obvious but one of the best ways to improve your Spanish is to speak to locals. You can easily find intercambios on Facebook or Meet Up.

In the UK, there is an abundance of Spanish people who are equally as keen on learning English, as you are about learning Spanish. Take advantage of it!

Language Exchange Partner

Get yourself a language exchange partner.

Alternatively, if you prefer to have an exclusive language exchange partner that you can meet up with regularly, you can head to conversationexchange.com.

Once you sign up, search people in your area that want to learn English and speak Spanish and hey presto, you’ve got a list of potential contacts. I’ve used this in different parts of the world and it works great.

Listening Skills

Listen to the radio.

When outside of Spain, it’s hard to improve your listening skills since your exposure to hearing the Spanish language is very little.

I would recommend that you listen to Spanish radio programmes as often as you can. Whilst you’re cooking, driving, showering – everything.

In the beginning, you won’t understand anything but trust me, after a while, you will subconsciously pick up some words and start to understand what Spanish people are saying – miraculous!

Create a Spotify playlist of Spanish songs for you to listen to during your commute or tune into Spanish news every day to bombard your brain with the Spanish language. 

Learn from the Movies

Rewatch a British/American TV series or film with Spanish dubs. 

Slightly awkward at the start but you will soon get used to not hearing the voice you expect.

The familiarity of the story matched with the new language allows your thinking some familiarity with the challenge of the language. 

TV and movies in Spanish are great because they help improve your understanding the Spanish pronunciation and vocabulary.

This is to help improve your Spanish speech.

English movies with Spanish subtitles won’t improve your listening skills and its impact on reading is dubious too as the brain will just ignore them and tune into the English narrative. 

Write to Improve Your Spanish 

Write as often as you can and publish your writing on Lang8.

It’s a great website for improving your Spanish writing as native speakers correct your texts which can be as short or as long as you like.

In return, you correct other people’s work in your native language.

Learning Spanish Apps 

Apps are a fun way of introducing the language and also keeping your skill up to speed. However, they can’t be your only method of learning so team them up with the guidance above. 

  • Duolingo – most popular, fun games (free)
  • FuentU – lessons, videos, audio (paid)
  • Rosetta Stone – known for traditional language courses

A Final Note

Lastly, remember that whilst all of us want to sound as sexy as Penelope Cruz, the reality is that we need to adjust expectations and take the language learning process one step at a time.

Make yourself small manageable goals such as listening to the radio twice a week or going to a language exchange once a week. You won’t become fluent overnight but enjoy the process and have fun!

Now that you can speak Español why not check out a road trip in Spain?’

Jess from Sweet and Sour Adventures is a British born Chinese girl with itchy feet. Year abroad student now turned content creator who can’t sit still and loves to live outside her comfort zone.
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What methods help you improve your Spanish?

My Week Work Experience at Westminster

As I sat under the chimes of Big Ben I considered what a unique experience this was, a week work experience at Westminster. There are not many people that can say they have walked ‘the corridors of power’ and it wasn’t anything to do with luck or chance or an election that got me here.

Why Do Work Experience At Westminster?

As a Modern Studies teacher (politics and current affairs) it is expected that I have knowledge about political procedures and because I studied Social Policy at university I lacked some of that knowledge.

As every good student should – I filled that learning gap and arranged work experience at Westminster with my school’s local Member of Parliament (MP), Thomas Docherty (Labour).

Luckily for me, I have a good friend (Kaci) who was willing to put me up for the week or it would have been an expensive voluntary work experience.


» Potterheads! Here’s how to get to Harry Potter Studios in London


Shock in St Mary’s Undercroft’s Cupboard…

On day one, Stephen, Thomas’s research assistant greeted me and took me for coffee at Portcullis House.

This is the best place for politician watching, Nicholas Soames (Winston Churchill’s grandson) and Jo Johnson (Boris’s brother) sauntered by.

The morning was wrapped up with a tour of Westminster, I’ve never seen so much green (House of Commons) or red (House of Lords) leather in my life. Did you know that Michael Jackson asked to buy the gold features in the House of Lords (apparently)?

The highlight of the day was seeing the plaque which celebrates Emily Davison (suffragette and hero) which Labour MP Tony Benn illegally put up in the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft’s broom cupboard!

That, and sitting in Angela Eagle’s (shadow) cabinet office with Thomas as they discussed strategy regarding the House of Lords reform as the TV displayed a Lord being interviewed by the BBC in the Parliament lobby below us. Surreal!


You may also like: London budget tips


Sitting With Giants

It was an exciting time to be in Parliament as The Commons’ timetable was saturated by The House of Lords reform debate. As Thomas’s guest I was granted permission to sit ‘in front of the glass’ in The Chamber, normal Joe Bloggs’ view the debate from behind.

During the debate, I heard Nick Clegg, (then) Deputy Prime Minister, speak on behalf of the Coalition Government and sat across from Baroness (Betty) Boothroyd, another great in the fight for women in politics – the first (and only) female Speaker of the House!

Committees, Collaboration, & Constituents

Although it is what we see on the telly, Westminster is not solely about the debate.

Much of the work completed by MPs and Lords is in committees. At this time, Thomas was part of the Defence (Select) Committee and I observed the committee question the then Defence Cabinet Minister, Philip Hammond (soon to be Foreign Minister) about army equipment; the impact on dockyards post Scotland’s referendum on independence and finance.

I also watched Thomas in action during a Backbench Business Committee meeting where he requested floor time for a debate on the cost of supermarket milk which is having detrimental effects on the farming industry.

Although party politics plays a large part in what goes on at Westminster, I did see collaborative work through the All-Party Parliamentary Disability Group.

The MPs discussed the short and long-term problems that families with children who have disabilities face, taking notes as these witnesses were given a voice.

It was tough to listen to but that’s what MPs are there to do – represent their constituents and I saw a wealth of evidence of this during my week work experience at Westminster.

How to Apply for Work Experience at Westminster

I had met with the school’s MP on a few occasions before I asked to spend time at his office in London but that should not stop you from applying for voluntary work, make that call! You can find out who your local MP is here.

Heading to The Big Smoke? Check out these free attractions in London, it’s an expensive city so every penny counts!

Have you travelled for work experience? Would you?