Get Off The Plane: Other Ways To Explore America

America is a huge country – Texas alone is the size of most of Europe – and there is too much to see in a single trip. Unfortunately, most people restrict their exploration of this vast country because, although traveling by plane covers a lot of distance, it can get expensive flying from one state to another. Fortunately, there are ways to travel that are easier on your budget, and let you see more of the country. Get off the planes and try these different methods of travel.

By Train

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Few people know that you can travel around the whole country by rail with a train pass from Amtrak.com. Amtrak offers USA Rail Passes for 15-day, 30-day or 45-day trips. If you’re savvy about using public transport in each stop on your tour, they’re an affordable way to see the country. The most scenic route is the California Zephyr from Chicago to San Francisco, which is one of world’s greatest train journeys. In around 48 hours you will cross the farmlands of Nebraska, scale the Rockies beyond Denver while you eat egg & bacon for breakfast in the diner, snake through rocky river valleys in Colorado and pass through the Sierra Nevada mountains to reach Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay area.

By Boat

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You might not believe it, but there are some fantastic things to see along the coastline of the country. You can plan your perfect trip around the coast by buying a boat with help from boatfinancing.co, or you could get some friends together and split the cost of hiring a chartered boat for the duration of your travels. If you’re charting the course, you have full control over where you go, and how long you stay there. Alternatively, there are some amazing cruises that let you see more of the country; cruises to Alaska, Hawaii, or the Caribbean are popular, but you can also dock in New York or New Orleans. Not to mention the cruise itself has a lot on entertainment and activities on board, so you never feel bored while you’re traveling.

By Road

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The American road trip has been a popular genre in literature, and it features many coming of age stories, Unfortunately, some of the best routes have been forgotten in favor of the interstate or flying. It’s time to bring back this mode of travel and explore parts of the country you might never have seen before. When you’re planning your road trip, you can schedule as many pit stops as you want, change your route whenever you’re bored, and stay in a single place for as long as you like. The beauty of a road trip is that you can dance to the beat of your own drum. Just make sure you stay safe on the road.

If you don’t feel like driving, you can also take the bus. Book the Great American Crossing tour, and you’ll experience New York, Detroit, Mount Rushmore, and many more cities over the course of 21 days.

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Chinchero, Maras Salineras, and Moray in Peru

CHINCHERO, MARAS SALINERAS, and MORAY: This was our first day-trip in Peru after spending a night in Lima and landing in Cusco the following morning. These small villages are not so touristy but has magnificent Incan sites. While the highlight of Chinchero is its colorful outdoor market, Maras Salineras is an awe-struck site of thousands of years of salt fields, and Moray Terrace displays the innovative and scientific minds of the Incans.

Moray Terrace surrounded by Andes, in Peru

Moray Terrace surrounded by Andes, in Peru

The cab drive/tour guide was reserved before we reached Cusco airport. It was relaxing but once we were near Moray and Maras, I felt the altitude sickness little bit with dizziness and light-headed feeling. My girls and I fell asleep during our drive from Maras Salineras to Moray because we were feeling really dizzy.

Also, if you are going to be in Peru for few days and are planning to visit multiple Inca sites, it’s cheaper to buy the Boleto Turistico pass for 130 Sols for adult and 70 Sols for kids, which gives you free access to many ancient sites for 10 days.

Scenic drive to Ollantaytambo at the end of the day

TIME of TRAVEL: We visited Peru end of August, 2017. It was winter there and very pleasant for us. We did carry sweaters for all of us since it can get a bit windy in the mountains and chilly at night.

OUR HOTEL: We really didn’t stay in any of these places, since it was just a day-trip on our way from Cusco to Ollantaytambo. Please check my upcoming post on Ollantaytambo to see our hotel. Tourists don’t usually stay in these places and I’m sure there aren’t many options here either. Ollantaytambo is within an hour drive and has lots of choices for lodging.

EATING and SHOPPING: We had lunch in the open market of Chinchero before visiting Santa Cataline Monastery on the hill. The food in Chinchero market were all street foods and women were cooking right there…openly. Food was very cheap with a nice big portion. We had fried trout with rice and potatoes. I also ordered a stuffed bell pepper with vegetables (deep fried). Don’t expect nice sitting arrangements and cleanliness, but it’s an experience we loved. We were just happy to actually get a table with 4 plastic chairs and sat down with few other locals and tourists.

Fried trout with rice, boiled potato, and veges in Chinchero market, Peru

Fried trout with rice, boiled potato, and veges in Chinchero market, Peru

Chinchero is a good place for buying small trinkets and hand craft items. You can find jewelries, home decors, wall hangings, shawls and sweaters, potteries, stuffed llamas, and lots of local goodies here. But do bargain, especially if you are buying multiple items from one vendor. When you are in Maras Salineras, buy few packages of natural salt from the mine at the entrance.

Vendors at Chinchero open market with their crafts

Vendors at Chinchero open market with their crafts

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: As I mentioned before, we were picked up from the Cusco airport in the morning by a previously appointed tour guide and went off to explore ancient and present Peru with all the luggage and backups. We reached our hotel in Ollantaytambo in the evening after visiting the below sites. It was not packed or tiring at all. We took it slow and enjoyed every bit of these country-sides and majestic Peruvian Andes.

Just one thing to remember is that, some people may get mild to severe altitude sickness in these areas. So, it’s better to drink some chlorophyll or coca tea right from the beginning of your trip. We got ours from the Vitamin World and coca leaves can be found in all the hotels or departmental stores near Cusco. I even saw free coca leaves in the airport also. It’ll help a lot, better to be feeling good than drowsy in your trip.

  1. CUSCO TEXTILE: It’s called Figueroa Alpaca Textile. As we entered the complex, we were greeted by llamas, baby alpaca, and guinea pigs. There was a small shaded area with all the materials to demonstrate how alpaca wool get processed into making different items. A lady in traditional Peruvian clothes walked in and introduced herself with her broken English. As she started to demonstrate the process, another lady walked in with 4 cups of mint tea in beautiful blue and white clay-made tea cups (which inspired me to buy those tea cup from Chinchero market). One thing that was really remarkable is that they use all natural product starting from cleaning the alpaca wool (juice from a plant) to dying them in different colors (all natural colors), to weaving them into different products.
A weaver working with alpaca wool at Figueroa Alpaca Textile in Peru

A weaver working with alpaca wool at Figueroa Alpaca Textile in Peru

After the demo, we were taken to a lady who was knitting a shawl from the alpaca wool. I was just eager to get to their store and explore some goodies. We ended up buying ponchos, shawls, sweaters, table clothes, and few small things for really good price. Items made with baby alpaca are very soft (softer than lamb wool) but can be expensive depending on location and complexity of the design.

An alpaca in Figueroa Alpaca Textile, Peru

An alpaca in Figueroa Alpaca Textile, Peru

  1. CHINCHERO: Chinchero is situated on higher ground than Cusco at almost 12,500 feet elevation. The Inca ruins here consist of nested terraces rising up to a plateau which can be viewed from the Santa Cataline Monastery. This is a church that was built in the early 1600s. We didn’t go inside and not sure if it’s even an active church or a museum. The site is included in Boleto Turistico pass.
Santa Cataline Monastery in Chinchero, Peru

Santa Cataline Monastery in Chinchero, Peru

Before climbing the hilly path to the monastery, we stopped at the open market area which is a heaven for souvenir hunters. Prices are not necessarily cheap here, but most of these items are hand crafted by the surrounding villagers. You can find potteries, shawls, table clothes, and other decors. I bought two traditional tea cups (without handles) for 20 USD both…not that cheap.

A lady in Chinchero market selling street food

A lady in Chinchero market selling street food

  1. MARAS SALINERAS: About an hour drive from narrow mountainous roads of Chinchero was the Salineras. This is a natural terraced salt mine in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. We could see the salt terraces from far as we were passing thru the mountains. Once you are at the gate, you have to walk for few minutes to get to the site, which I couldn’t do because my exhausted girls fell asleep in the car. You have to see the nestled salt pans in the canyon to understand how the salt from water at the Salineras spring has been transformed into salt crystals for thousands of years.
Driving to thru Andes towards MARAS SALINERAS in Peru

Driving to thru Andes towards MARAS SALINERAS in Peru

Salineras can be done in less than an hour.  Enjoy the high mountains and the drive to get here, it looks dangerous being so high up on the mountains and driving by the edge. But breathe in and trust your cab driver/tour guide and enjoy the peaks, cliffs, valleys, and fresh air.

Salt pans of MARAS SALINERAS in Peru

  1. MORAY TERRACE: Moray is very close to the town of Maras and sits in the Sacred Valley of the Incas about 3500 meters above sea-level. This was more like an experimental site for different types of produces for the Incans. Other than this archeological site of Moray, enjoy the surrounding giant Andes Mountains and small farms.
MORAY TERRACE in Peru, sits in the Sacred Valley of the Incas about 3500 meters above sea-level

MORAY TERRACE in Peru, sits in the Sacred Valley of the Incas about 3500 meters above sea-level

We stayed in Moray Terrace about half an hour. We didn’t go down to the terraces, but there are stairs for that. The site is included in Boleto Turistico.

Experience the Wildest Holidays of Your Life in Southern California

California is a big state that is split into Southern California (SoCal) and Northern California (NorCal). There are many cultural differences between the two thanks to the large, unique state that they both reside in. There are diverse groups of residents, plenty of tourists and outsiders and unique food cultures that separate the two. NorCal is known to some as foodie heaven with its Michelin-star restaurants, while SoCal is known for its authentic Mexican food and popular chain restaurants. With so many differences, visiting “just California” won’t do the state justice, which is why we’ve decided to write solely about the experiences you’ll have in SoCal alone.

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Disneyland Park

Of all the theme parks in the United States, Disneyland Resort is probably one of the most popular and well-known destinations that all children want to visit at some point during their adolescence. There’s plenty of fun to be had in this iconic location that is absolutely filled to the brim with your favourite Disney references and characters. Even adults can have a lot of fun here reliving their childhood memories—there’s always something magical here.

Universal Studios

If you’ve ever wanted to see your favourite movies come to life, then look no further than a trip to Universal Studios. With exciting attractions, plenty of rides and non-stop thrills to indulge in, it warrants more than just a day of your attention. Get a room at a nearby hotel such as Best Western PLUS Executive Inn and it’ll make it far easier to travel to and from this wonderful destination. There’s fun for the whole family here so no matter who you bring, you’re going to have a blast.

Hearst Castle

IF you love historic landmarks, then you’ll want to give Hearst Castle a visit. In 1954, the castle became a state park and is one of the most beautiful locations to visit in the whole of California, not just the south! There are tours you can take inside of the castle, and you’ll get to travel back in time to experience what it was like to be a privileged guest in this luxurious castle. There are also evening tours to let you sample what life would’ve been like inside the castle when the lights were out.This is truly a museum like no other and you’ll be doing yourself a disservice if you don’t stop by at least once.

Getty Center

If fine art, architecture and gardens are more your style then don’t miss out on a visit to the Getty Center. Here you’ll find beautiful art on display such as manuscripts, drawings, sculptures and European paintings that range from the 19th to 20th century. There’s also a wide array of food on offer that is made entirely with local ingredients. With so much to see here, you’ll definitely want to come back in the future to see newer exhibitions on offer.

USA Theme Parks For All Ages

Theme parks are quite literally fun for all the family – they’re the very definition of it, in fact. No matter what the age of your kids, there’s something for everyone to enjoy – be it white-knuckle rides or a more sedate, quaint experience.

There’s literally hundreds of theme parks in North America, and particularly in the USA; the land of freedom and fun. If you’re a fan of a holiday that involves taking in a theme park, the biggest hurdle you’ll have to overcome is deciding where you should actually go.

So let’s break it down. Rather than comparing rides, amenities, what the shows are like – let’s focus on the overall vibe. While each theme park undoubtedly has something to offer the whole family ensemble, there are some that are best suited to particular ages.

Young Children (Ages 0 – 4): Dutch Wonderland, PA

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You might not have heard of Dutch Wonderland before, but if you’re a parent with very young children, then it’s the dream destination you have been waiting for. Located in Pennsylvania – the Dutch is as in Amish, not Holland –  the park is a cornucopia of delights with a good old-fashioned sense of family fun. It’s simple enough to find good family-friendly hotels near Dutch Wonderland too, meaning you can explore the local area and spend as long as you want at the park itself.

Must Do: The show ‘A Royal Fiasco’ is a romp of humor that kids will love, as a Princess tries to plan a Royal Ball with the help – and hindrance – of inexperienced aides.

Older Children (Ages 4 – Tween): Water Country, VI

As the name might suggest, Water Country in Virginia is a water park. It’s a perfect summer holiday trip, when the sun is high in the sky and there’s plenty of fun to be had on the rides. It’s best to save this trip for when your children are older; they’ll want to be able to swim confidently to take advantage of the rides and attractions inside the sprawling park. You can stay on-site in the private cabanas, or in nearby history-rich Williamsburg if you prefer.

Must Do: ‘Rock And Roll Island’ has a multitude of different experiences in one area, from huge slides to a pool to paddle in while you watch the kids have fun.

Tweens & Up: Cedar Point, OH

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Wikimedia

As the above image shows, when it comes to white knuckle rides, you can’t go far wrong with Cedar Point in Ohio. Once again, you can stay on-site if you prefer, though there’s plenty of surrounding accommodation if you’d rather stay for a single day. With that said, there’s so many exciting thrill rides here that you might be tempted to linger a little longer!

Must Do: Corkscrew – in the image – was the first ever rollercoaster in the world to feature three inversions. It’s still a thrill today, and is a nice piece of theme park history to enjoy.

So whatever the age of your group, there is a theme park out there in the USA that is ready and willing to welcome you.

 

Advice For A First Time Tourist of Japan

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Image By Jason Goh

If you’re planning on visiting Japan, it’s likely that you already know that it’s one of the best parts of Asia, with its elegant architecture and amazing technological feats. However, without proper knowledge of the country, you are at risk of getting stuck in a situation you don’t know how to get out of, or completely over spending when it’s simply not necessary. To avoid this, here’s some of the best advice I can give for traveling to Japan for the first time.

  1. Eat At Fast Food Restaurants

Most people associate the phrase “fast food” with a grease filled burger or some variation of fried chicken, but in Japanese fast food restaurants that simply isn’t the case. Here you can order miso soup, dumplings, bowls of rice, and many other typical Japanese foods, often at a price cheaper than the processed junk from back home.

  1. Bring Cash

A lot of places in Japan don’t accept bank cards, and many ATMs don’t accept foreign cards even in Tokyo, so money really will be your friend on your trip. Because of this, you will have to make sure you either have enough cash or know of an ATM that will accept your card.

  1. Carry Hand Sanitizer

Strangely, most public bathrooms in Japan don’t have any dispensable hand soap, so if you want more than a simple rinse of warm water, you should probably carry sanitizing hand gel.

  1. Learn Japanese

You don’t necessarily need to learn Japanese fluently, as many people in Japan do speak English quite well. However, it’s always best to have a few key Japanese phrases memorized, in case you get stuck in a situation where there isn’t anyone that can speak English. It’s also polite, and many Japanese people would probably appreciate being asked if they can speak English in their language.

  1. Print Out Hotel Address In Japanese

Much like above, if you get stuck in a situation where you can’t find anyone that speaks English, it’s always best to have your hotel address written down in Japanese, to give to a cab driver to help you get back. This tip is useful in any foreign country you visit.

  1. Rent A “Pocket Wi-Fi”

A “Pocket Wi-Fi” is a wireless internet router that allows several different gadgets to connect to it and use its unlimited internet. They are available to rent at most airports in Japan, at a fraction of the cost of data roaming charges.

  1. Find Your Nearest Konbini

A Konbini is a Japanese convenience store that often sells anything you could possibly require, from hot meals, to gadget chargers, to socks. They also often have ATMs that do accept foreign bank cards, so it really is a refuge, if you get into a pickle.

  1. Get A Japanese Rail Pass

If you plan on visiting several different cities during your trip, a JR Pass could save you a lot of money, especially if you plan on going to another one of the four main islands.

Japan is a beautiful and elegant country, but it can get confusing if you don’t know the language and customs. Hopefully, this advice will help you navigate the country with a bit more ease, and allow you to have a completely stress free, and memorable getaway.

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