lodging, travel tips

Where should I stay when I travel: Camping

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Camping:

Outside of friends and family, camping is often your cheapest option. I’ve seen 8-10 people put 3 tents on one $20 camp site and literally pay about $2/each. There are some places you can even camp for free (Iceland and New Zealand are known for allowing people to camp for free on much public land and even the US has some free primitive sites). Being outside with nature is a travel experience everyone should have a least once a year if not much more.

Drawbacks to camping include, cold or hot nights, the need for camping gear, set up and take down, and limited facilities.

To avoid weather extremes, I’d recommend camping in the fall or spring. Bring proper warm clothing and blankets to stay warm. Plan to share a tent in cooler weather and perhaps sleep in a hammock in hotter weather.

Build a collection of camping essentials. These include (but are not limited to) a tent large enough for the group you wish to travel with, a warm sleeping bag, chairs, headlamps and lanterns, cooking utensils, fire starters, lighters, extra blankets, a tarp, a rain fly (if your tent doesn’t come with it), and a large cooler (for food to cook over your cozy fire).

Only camp if you have at least two days to stay at the site. Preferably 3 or 4 nights. While set  up and take down may only take a couple of hours, this adds up significantly when you add cooking time  and inconvenience of showering off site. If you must pay to camp, look for a spot that offers on site showers, has built in fire places with grills, and allows you to make reservations in advance.

One of the last times I went camping was in California in the Inyo National Forest. There were two of us and we stayed 3 days. It was about 45 degrees at night which was rather chilly, but we had 3  extra blankets and two sleeping bags which helped. Set up and take down was about 2 hours total. We did have a couple of fires and cooked our meals on them which was quite enjoyable. Cost was about $18/night plus $5/night for firewood. We already had all the equipment so that wasn’t a new expense.

If you plan on camping overseas and must fly equipment out there, make sure your cost of flying the equipment is worth the hassle. If you are only planning on camping a few nights and flying your gear is going to cost you $$$’s, you may find another lodging option is more affordable and convenient.

Happy Travels!

Keep up with my latest adventures and photos 🙂

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Nikon D3300
Nikkor 18-140mm Zoom Lens
Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X116 Pro DX II

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lodging, travel tips

Where should I stay when I travel?: Hotels

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Hotels:

The vast majority of people I know stay in hotels when they travel. I just finished a road trip across America where I stayed in hotels nearly the entire way. I thoroughly enjoyed all but one of my stays and rarely paid over $50/night.

Hotels are often overlooked by budget travelers. But if you aren’t stuck on a certain brand or “star” rating for a hotel and you aren’t traveling alone, hotels can quite often be your best bet.

There is nothing wrong with 2 star budget hotels. I’m always shocked to see these fellow travel bloggers who frequently stay in 4 and 5 star hotels and honestly can’t help but believe they must be sponsored to stay there. The difference in quality between a good 2-star hotel and a 4 or 5 star hotel is rarely worth the quadruple or more price difference.

I like to value hotels with the law of diminishing returns. Once your base, minimum need are met, the law of diminishing returns states that for the more your invest the less you will get on that return. In other words, you may get something that is an 8 out of 10 for $80 but have to pay $100 more to get a 9 out of 10 and $200 more to get a 10! Is it really worth it?

If money is not an issue, if you aren’t on a budget, if spending a $1000 doesn’t feel much different than buying a coffee: than why the hell are you reading this 🙂 You don’t need to worry. But if you are on a budget, get a clean two star option and be happy with it!

How do I find good deals? I use Orbitz and Skyscanner to search for the best priced hotels in the area. Why both? Skyscanner is good because it searches nearly every single site for the best deal and has certain search options  (like total price for entire week’s stay) that other sites don’t offer. However, I often find that an individual search on Orbitz will give me special deals and options that Skyscanner apparently doesn’t have access to.

Why Orbitz? I picked a travel site and stuck with it. There are so many who all claim they are better than the next but essentially offer the same deals or are even the same business. Orbitz and Expedia are the same for example with different rewards programs and page colors.

When selecting a budget hotel, I check out the photos and look for ones that appear recently remodeled in ALL the photos (often they remodel just one room, showing a few photos of that one room, giving the impression of a full remodel. However further investigation will show the rest of the hotel looks old and nasty). Next, I look at the amenities and make sure they are reasonable and standard. Most budget hotels offer free breakfast and parking with wifi as well. Finally, I read a few recent reviews and look for hotels that generally have a 75% recommendation rate or better. Reading a few reviews is helpful if you really want to be thorough. Sometimes a hotel has bad ratings  (and therefore perhaps cheaper prices) because a few demanding, unreasonable, people stayed in a 2 star hotel hoping for a 5 star experiences. You can quickly tell by their reviews that they are reviewing a Kia with Mercedes standards.

Another option is to use HotWire. This website will give you phenomenal deals on hotels which are given a star-rating, a specified neighborhood on a map, and a customer review rating without specifying the exact hotel. Somehow this allows them to give you a better deal. And sometimes it really is an exceptional deal.

I’ve stayed in brand new Motel 6’s with chic Ikia style furnishings, hardwood floors, 50 inch TV’s, and clean comfy beds for under $50/night. I once got a 3.5-star hotel in an excellent location in Paris for $60/night. I’ve stayed in 4-star boutique hotels in  Washington DC and San Francisco for about $90/night. I like hotels that offer a free breakfast and 24 hour check in as that eliminates time constraints and allows me to get some quick food on my stomach before the days adventures.

What I like most about hotels is the impersonal aspect of them. If you are just trying to spend some time alone, some time with someone special, or engage with a very particular group hotel’s allow your interactions with others to remain impersonal and distant. They also often offer a higher level of security than other options. Clean towels every day, fresh sheets, and bathrooms essentials as needed are also nice bonuses.

Keep up with my latest adventures and photos 🙂

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Save money by traveling like I do

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Nikon D3300
Nikkor 18-140mm Zoom Lens
Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X116 Pro DX II

lodging, travel tips

Where should I stay when I travel?: Hostels

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Hostels:

I feel like hostels are the classic travel option for backpackers around the world, particularly Europe. People that want to see the world but don’t necessary have a lot of money love this option. It is also the favorite option of people looking for new friends, solo travel, and trying to party their way around the globe.

My personal opinion is that hostels are not a great option in the US. I’ve heard of people paying $70/night to stay in a dirty hostel in San Francisco. I stayed in one hostel in Chicago that was full of families and people in their 70’s. Nothing wrong with them trying to save money, but it really messes up the hostel vibe. In any more expensive country (US, Norway, Iceland), you are often better off with another options ESPECIALLY if there are more than one of you.

However, eastern and southern Europe, Central and South American, and (from what I’ve heard) Southeast Asia, are all excellent hosteling choices. A bunk can often be obtained for as little as $10/night. Of course you can always pay a bit more and get a private room as I did with my girlfriend in Madrid. We got all the benefits of the social environment of a hostel, still paid a total of about $50/night, and got a clean, quiet, private room with a bathroom as well!

Hostels really are the prime social environment. Mix numerous young enthusiastic travelers, often solo, with an environment that forces you to be in close contact and gets you out of your comfort zone. Add in the frequent party atmosphere, planned or readily available events, and cheap alcohol, and you have a great recipe for new friends, adventure, and hopefully a few wild late night stories. All for a couple of dollars a night.

My last few hostel stays (at the age of 30) I’ve felt that I’m starting to out grow the full hostel scene. In  the future I’d see myself staying in a lot more hostels but focusing on smaller more intimate ones with private room options and perhaps a more mature crowd. I stayed in a wonderful hostel last year in Budapest, Hungary, that was full of happy young people cooking and mingling together and actually building relationships which is what travel is all about. Later that same trip I got wild at a famous party hostel in the same city. I don’t remember much of that but the intimate hostel will never be forgotten.

In the future, I hope to review some tips on hosteling and also to suggest some good ones that I’ve enjoyed.

 

Keep up with my latest adventures and photos 🙂

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Save money by traveling like I do

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Nikon D3300
Nikkor 18-140mm Zoom Lens
Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X116 Pro DX II

camera, photography, travel tips

How I get my photos: Camera Settings

So you have all your gear now. How do you set up the camera?

I almost always use manual mode on my D3300. I can be way more specific and have much greater control over the outcome this way. I find that auto tends to overexpose things.

I do use the Auto setting for my White Balance quite often, especially if I’m having trouble getting the correct balance with the presets. However, play with this, because sometimes the Auto setting doesn’t get things quite right you will end up with an overly red or overly blue photo.

The manual mode has 3 primary functions you can adjust: shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.

I try to use the lowest ISO possible (100 for my camera) to reduce the amount of grain in a photo. Sometimes I go higher if I need a quick shutter speed in a darker situation.

Aperture basically determines whether you are focusing on a very narrow and specific depth of field (lower numbers) or focusing on a larger range of distances (higher numbers). Lower aperture lets in more light (thus you can use lower ISO and fast shutter speeds) and is good for focusing on one specific item while keeping the background and/or foreground blurry.

For a standard landscape photo I use an aperture somewhere between 8 and 11. This allows me to keep the ISO at 100, keep the shutter speed fast enough that I don’t need a tripod, and still get the entire landscape, both near and far, in focus. When trying to get a long exposure I will turn the aperture up to 22 to reduce the light coming in so I can decrease the shutter speed without over-exposing the photo.

Shutter speed determines how long the photo absorbs light. I like long shutter speeds to blur water, take in stars, and give a dreamy soft light feeling to my photos. However, this requires a tripod or something sturdy to set your camera on, much more time, and compensation if it is bright out (a dark filter for example). Quick shutter speeds (1/400) are good for motion that you want to stop in mid-air (my classic jumping photos on my Instagram are taken like this).

I have recently been using an extra dark filter, 30+ second exposure, 100 ISO, and an aperture of 22 to capture some fantastic dusk photos with soft ambient lighting and blurred water (see the photo featured in this post).

Keep up with my latest adventures and photos 🙂

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Save money by traveling like I do

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Check out the Equipment I use

Nikon D3300
Nikkor 18-140mm Zoom Lens
Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X116 Pro DX II

 

city reviews, iceland

Reykjavik, Iceland

Reykjavik is the little big city. Its official population is 119,000 people with about twice that living in the surrounding towns. In the US or most of Europe this would be quite a small city; however, Reykjavik really pulls off a bigger town feel.

Language:

Almost everyone in Reykjavik speaks decent English so communication shouldn’t be an issue if you know that language.

Transport:

The city is very navigable with a couple of larger roads but no real highways. There is plenty of free parking if you are willing to walk a few blocks which I always am! The city is quite walkable once you park. There are also public buses which will get you from place to place; however, they don’t come that often and were a bit hard to figure out for me.

Lodging:

I recommend Airbnb. I paid about $40/night to take a private room for two in an apartment. We had full range of the apartment and hardly saw the owner. Another visit we did use a hotel which was under $100/night for 3 people and included a large delicious European style breakfast. My upcoming trip I have rented a 5 bedroom house for a large group of us for about $350/night.

Eating:

Food is quite expensive in Reykjavik. Going out to eat at an average restaurant that might cost $10-20/person in the US would be about double that in Iceland. However, shopping for your own food is reasonable, sometimes cheaper than the US, but still more expensive than most of Europe.

Because of this I haven’t eaten out much in Reykjavik. There are plenty of other blogs where you can learn more about the cuisine there, but if you are budget traveling like me, you may want to skip it.

Two recommendations I can make: Omnom Chocolate: got a bunch of free samples from them and loved it. Quite delicious dark homemade chocolate bars. Reykjavik Roasters makes some awesome brews. They are located in a quaint red house that really sets that perfect coffee house mood.

Shops and stuff to see:

Most of Reykjavik’s shops and restaurants are located along Laugavegur street and its side streets. Here you will find numerous bars, restaurants, locally hand made products of all sorts, clothing shops, and more. Much of it is touristy of course so prices may be a bit higher than elsewhere. We discovered some cool pottery shops and lots of wool clothing stores on our last visit.

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A view of the city with the mountains behind it from one of the hotels I stayed in on my first ever visit to Iceland in 2015

Nightlife:

For its size Reykjavik has amazing nightlife. Both times I visited, I took one night to go out on the town and had an amazing time. Tons of people out including many locals not just tourists. Last time I met a guy who recognized me from my Instagram where he had seen photos from my previous visit. We also met some random Icelandic guys who showed a great time, skipping the line to get into a more exclusive club. One of the most fun bars in Reykjavik is the gay bar, Kíkí Queer Bar, fun music and a great mixed crowd. We also enjoyed Lebowski BarKaffibarinn, and Austur.

Because drinks are expensive in Reykjavik ($10/beer, $15/cocktail), I’d recommend a good pregame to get the night started. Drinking age is 20 and there are bouncers but they are pretty chill. Icelandic people love to drink and party (or so they have told me), and from what I’ve seen they seem to be right. Most of the bars are off that same main street with all the shops and restaurants. Just walk up and down and go bar hopping. You will have a good time!

Touristy Stuff:

Like most towns there are all sorts of tours including free walking tours. I’ve never done one in Reykjavik but I know that in some towns the system kind of rips off the tour guides, so make sure you tip well and maybe read up on the way the tour guides work before going on one.

Whale watching is tons of fun and a good way to enjoy the nearby natural beauty. I recommend Elding Adventures At Sea, whom I went with and quite enjoyed. They have their own museum about whales as well.

There is also a large swimming area (well lots of them but one in particular) in the city, taking full advantage of the thermal waters underneath Iceland. Every pool at this swimming park is somewhat warm and there are multiple hot tubs of various temperatures. The park is called Laugardalslaug and is open to the public.

Another popular tourist attraction is the Hallgrimskirkja, a large church deigned to resemble the natural volcanic rock formations found in Iceland. It is quite beautiful and offers a great view of the city from the top.

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Random tourist saying a prayer in front of the great church

The best thing about Reykjavik is you can do all this stuff in just a day or two, giving you tons more time to see the rest of the nature on the Island.

Keep up with my latest adventures and photos 🙂

Follow JELTOWN on Instagram, FacebookTwitter and now on YouTube!

Save money by traveling like I do

$35 off your first Airbnb booking!

Check out the Equipment I use

Nikon D3300
Nikkor 18-140mm Zoom Lens
Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X116 Pro DX II