Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts published in “blog”

When In Rome: Why Locals Are The Best Food Guides When Traveling Abroad

Karen Cottle

One thing you hear from a lot of tourists or out-of-towners when picking a place to eat are sentences that usually start with “I’ve read about this place in…” or “I saw this place on…” Once I hear those words, I know that there’s trouble.

I’m not saying that things that get featured in articles or on TV shows are bad. They’re usually quite good. In the case of American regional specialties, they’re generally spot-on. When going abroad however, it’s a whole different ball game. When abroad, I highly recommend getting advise from the locals, or frequenting the restaurants or bistros they favor. Here’s why:

Prices

Let’s start with what discussions usually boil down to in the end anyway. When comparing the prices of a restaurant or eatery the locals favor as compared to one that’s featured on travel media, it’s a safe bet that the ones locals favor are significantly more affordable.

This is usually the case because rather than focusing on tourists who are likely to eat there once during the trip, they focus on repeat business from locals. It can be rather hard to attract customers when your prices aren’t conducive to repeat customers at least 2-3 times a week.

Authenticity

One thing I have noticed is that food geared towards tourists is usually altered in some way, particularly when geared at western tourists. Usually, it’s substituting local flavors with alternatives that western palates are more used to. This means that rather than getting an authentic flavor, we get a flavor that’s designed to be more familiar to us.

This usually means that locals are dismissive of the dish because it’s no longer the true to the flavors they grew up with. This means that the eateries and restaurants that cater primarily to locals are more likely to prefer the traditional versions. For travelers who are aiming for the authentic experience, this makes all the difference.

Regional Variety

When perusing the menu for a restaurant that caters to tourists, you may notice that the menu will feature some regional specialties (usually the most popular), then populate the rest of the menu with items that are more international in scope in order to ensure that there’s something for everybody. This means that other regional dishes that aren’t as popular may not be included in the menu.

While this may not be a great loss for most tourists, for those who are really looking for a complete immersive experience, it’s these dishes that may one day turn out to be favorites. For example, Filipinos will usually highlight dishes such as adobo as a “national” dish, with balut serving as a more exotic candidate, but what’s become my favorite dish from the region is letchon paksiw which doesn’t usually get featured.

Recommendations

One thing I have learned during my travels is that no matter where you go, there will be locals who love to talk to tourists about what the area has to offer. Whether bragging about which place makes the best local favorite, or where the best places to visit that most tourists don’t know about are, there’s always someone who wants to talk about their hometown to the tourists. Local eateries are a good place to find them.

How do you usually find the best eateries when you travel? Let us know!

 

 

Two Roads, One Destination: Taking A Tried And Tested Route Versus Trying Something New

Karen Cottle

One of the things I love the most about travelling around the United States and Europe is that if you have the time, there are so many options other than flying. Backpacking, bus rides, train rides, and driving all become viable options. But most people are likely to go with what they know, sticking with familiar routes rather than trying something new. Let’s look at some of the pros and cons of both.

Old, Familiar Routes:

Pros

There is a sense of safety in familiarity. If you've already happened to enjoy a Monaco trip, with a nice luxury car rental and everything...why do something new? When preparing for a trip down a familiar route, you know that should anything happen, such as a car breaking down, an essential item getting left behind, etc., you know if there are places to get your car serviced or where you can go to get the essential item replaced.

Being familiar with the route also means that you have a much clearer idea of how long it should take you to get to your destination, which allows for a clearer timetable. Knowing you’re ahead of schedule will allow for more rest stops and the like instead of always worrying how much longer it will take to get there.

Cons

Too much repetition can feel like work. Part of the joy of travelling lies in discovery. Taking the same route to your favorite weekend spot can be a little TOO reminiscent of work. This can make the journey feel less like vacation and more of routine, which is something that vacations should avoid feeling like.

Another issue with being too familiar with a route is that it can lead to overconfidence. Leaving late because you know you can make the trip in a certain amount of time, not worrying about whether you remembered to pack something or not because there are stores on the way. This can lead to disaster if it turns out your usual route isn’t passable and requires a detour or the stores don’t have stock.

Trying Out New Paths

Pros

The chance to discover something new is always great. Just imagine a Ferrari hire in Marbella, cruising through the streets and turning heads in your awesome ride. If you’re travelling around the continental United States, a lot of the road routes often have little tourist traps and eateries that aren’t widely known outside the area. This can lead you to discovering new favorites and making your trips all the more memorable!

Exploring new routes can also be helpful in the long run in the event your usual route isn’t available or becomes over congested.

When travelling abroad, routes that aren’t along the more popular tourist paths often offer better prices for their food and wares. This makes it a lot easier to try out local delicacies or local crafted items without eating too much into your budget.

Cons

Even with GPS based apps to help us get to where we’re going, the chance of getting lost or turned around still exists, especially in areas where there’s poor signal. This is especially true when travelling abroad and can even be dangerous.

Conclusions

Now that we’ve discussed the pros and cons of each route type, what would you consider trying? Would you focus on the routes you already know, or would you try out new routes when you can?

 

Eating Out: The Best Apps And Websites For Finding Food When Traveling Around The US

Karen Cottle

The hardest part about travelling, even if it’s just around the US, is finding quality places to eat.  Unless you’re the kind of person who is happy with fast food all the time, finding quality food that’s within budget or caters to specific diets can be hard. Fortunately, technology has come to our rescue! Here are our favorite foodie apps:

Zagat

One of our recommended resources, Zagat.com’s filter feature and dual pool of restaurant reviews bumps it high on our list. The dual review pool of Google ratings as well as Zagat contributor ratings really adds credibility to the reviews as major discrepancies between the two can help filter out “sponsored” reviews.

The ability to filter out by restaurant type and budget also saves you a lot of time as you won’t have to search for the venue’s menu and hope they have one online so you can figure out how much you’ll be spending to dine there. It also cuts down the number of candidates you’ll have to go through to see if their offerings match your current cravings.

Off The Menu

Not so much for finding places to eat, as it is an app that keeps track of hidden menu items. It makes the list because it helps bring fresh light on old standbys. This is great for when you’re in the mood to try something different but are in a group that doesn’t want to try anything new and wants to play safe with an old standby.

It covers a wide range of franchises and updates regularly, which has helped us discover hidden treasures from places that we thought had nothing new to offer. It’s also a fun way to impress your friends when you get something that they can’t find on the menu!

Happy Cow

How does the Happy Cow app make cows happy? By helping you find restaurants that don’t serve beef or any kind of meat! Happy Cow is an app that helps vegans and vegetarians find places to eat that cater specifically to their diets, or at least have vegan options available. Despite the rise of vegan diets lately, the number of vegan restaurants still isn’t very high and travellers often have a hard time finding one.

Happy Cow helps you find places to eat without you having to do the somewhat embarrassing ritual of asking if the place has vegan options then leaving when they don’t (which can really make us vegans look kind of snooty). A must-have app for vegans who have to travel around the United States a lot.

Roaming Hunger

Lately, there has been a surge in the popularity of food trucks once again, with food trucks becoming as popular as their non-mobile competition. The main problem with food trucks, however, is that they aren’t always where you saw them last. Roaming Hunger helps solve this issue by tracking food truck locations for you.

This is great for finding out if that food truck that has those really addictive cucumber kimchi chips is in the area, or if that amazing coffee truck is close enough to get to on your lunch break. For travellers, it’s a great way to see what food truck options are available, given that most other foodie apps don’t track them.

What’s your favorite food app? Has a food app helped you discover a restaurant that became a favorite? Let us know!

One With The Wind And Sky! Destination: Scandinavia

Karen Cottle

Scandinavia is a rather large region, covering Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland. That’s quite a bit of ground to cover, and we highly recommend either planning your trip thoroughly or devoting a lot of time to your vacation here. Some people may feel that there isn’t much difference in the different areas that comprise Scandinavia, but there’s actually quite a bit of diversity to be found.

Planning Your Trip

When planning for your trip to Scandinavia, we recommend that you decide what you’d like to focus on when there: are you after the cultural aspect of the trip, focusing more on food, architecture, and shopping; or are you more interested in the outdoor aspect which includes treks, snowmobile tours, kayaking, and camping?

Given how much there is to see of either, trying to do everything that the region has to offer in one go is a daunting task. Focusing on one aspect at a time (although splashing in some of the other activities is fine, of course) will really let you maximize your stay in this beautiful Northern European region.

What To Eat

Generally, when we think of Scandinavian cuisine the first things that probably come to mind are herring and meatballs. If you aren’t crazy about those, no need to worry. Scandinavia offers quite a few options in the culinary arena.

Flaeskesteg, a traditional Danish pork roast is served with heavy gravy and caramelized potatoes. Further north, sausages made of deer, elk, or even bear can be found. Meatballs are, of course, found everywhere across Scandinavia, but keep in mind that each region has their own way of preparing them! Don’t expect the meatballs you had in Sweden to be the same as the ones you’re served in Norway!

For the dessert lovers, Kanelbullar is a cinnamon bun popular around the region, but especially in Sweden. These buns aren’t just a breakfast buns either! Expect to see locals enjoying them any time of the day, usually with fresh-brewed coffee. Kladdkaka, a sticky chocolate cake, is popular as well.

And of course, we would be remiss not to mention the infamous lutfisk: codfish preserved in lye and usually eaten around Christmas. There are other variations, such as hakarl, which is fermented shark, but lutfisk remains one of the most infamous internationally.

Activities

As we mentioned earlier, the activities can be divided between cultural and outdoor activities. While the outdoor activities offered here may not seem so different from what we have available back home in the US, it is worth noting that those outdoor activities are significantly different here. Nothing in the US quite matches the vistas and skies offered by Scandinavian park grounds and campsites, some of which are found above the Arctic Circle.

Trust us, the sky you see when camping at night above the Arctic Circle is something you’ll never forget!

Cultural tours reflect the incredible diversity in Nordic culture. Ranging from the comforting, rustic feel of Finland, the parade of festivals that Norway seems to celebrate year round, to the stylishly modern architecture of Sweden, there’s something in the cultural tours for everybody.

And for the Disney fans out there who love Frozen, let’s not forget that the story it was based on did originate in Scandinavia! So take those qualms you have about visiting and… let it go!

Getting Ready For A Wild Ride! Destination: South Africa

Karen Cottle

For most people, South Africa invokes images of adventure: safaris on the wide-open savannahs, interacting with animals we usually perceive as wild and frightening, good food under bright, clear skies. Knowing full well how they’re perceived, South Africa has for the most part, embraced tourism as a major source of income.



Planning Your Trip

The best way to prepare for your trip to South Africa is to check out their official tourism website. It gives you a great overview of what they have to offer. It also has a section on business events and travel partners! Given the wide range of activities and offerings South Africa has, this can help you narrow down the essential experiences for a first-timer.

What To Eat

South Africa provides a wide variety of flavors that reflect its diversity. One must try is vetkoek (literally: fat cake), a fried ball of dough that can have different fillings, from the sweet to the savory, depending on what you’re in the mood for.

Biltong is a dried and spiced meat strip, similar to beef jerky. Biltong however isn’t exclusively made of beef. If you want to try something different, kudu and ostrich biltong is also available.

Shisa Nyama isn’t a dish but rather a traditional way of eating. It’s a social event that has friends sharing meals cooked over coals. It’s a good way to experience South Africa’s many flavors the way they’re served traditionally!

For those looking for something sweet, koeksisters (whose appearance and flavor is different based on where in South Africa you are) are comparable to fried donuts, and are popular around the area. Cinnamon-topped milktarts are another popular pastry you may want to try while you’re there.

The more adventurous can try a dish called smiley, a popular street food made from sheep head. Yes, the smiley comes from the wide smile-like grimacing mouth. Not something everybody would try, but for the brave, the flavor and tenderness of the meat is hard to match.

Activities

South Africa is one of the top 10 megadiverse countries in the world, boasting a wide variety of animal life. In an effort to raise awareness and support for the wildlife, ecotourism is one of the primary forms of tourism you can enjoy here. In a conscious attempt to move away from the days of big game hunting, photo safaris are available almost everywhere, whether on the veldt or along the coasts.

For the adrenaline junkies, South Africa offers a wide variety of choices as well, ranging from skydiving, hot air ballooning, whitewater rafting, and dune surfing. There are also nature trails in certain areas, bicycle tours, and theme parks you can visit during your stay.

For those who want something less adrenaline pumping, there are golf courses and city tours as well. One can enjoy the architecture and cultural centers in Johannesburg or explore some of the country’s many museums.

South Africa is a land with a lot of history and its effects echo throughout the country to this day. The wide variety of cultures, both native and foreign, is reflected in their food and architecture. The days of big game hunting and its effects on the land and people are clear in the steps being taken towards ecotourism. Be part of that history. Experience that change.

 

Pirates Ahoy! Destination: The Caribbean

Karen Cottle

When most people think of a summer cruise, the Caribbean is usually the first destination that comes to mind. Given that region has been a tourist getaway since the 1800s, it’s no wonder that they’ve become one of today’s best and busiest tourist destinations.



Planning Your Trip

With around two dozen island destinations available, planning a trip to the Caribbean can seem like a daunting task. In fact, we don’t recommend first-timers trying to plan a Caribbean trip on their own unless they have a specific island they know they already know they want to go to. What we instead recommend is booking one of the many different tour packages available first.

What To Eat

The Caribbean offers a wide range of flavors from the sweet tartness of tropical fruits, to the savory goodness of the Caribbean’s signature goat stew. The abundance of seafood should also be taken advantage of. However, be sure to check health alerts concerning seafood related issues, such as Red Tide.

For more experienced travelers looking for authentic flavor, local eateries and marketplaces are a definite must. A word of warning however, especially to those with sensitive tummies: eating too much, too fast of a new dish may shock your digestive system! Remember to take everything in moderation. Also avoid tap water when unsure of water quality.

Activities

Land, air, or sea, the Caribbean has something for everybody!

Being an island chain, many tours are done by chartered plane, offering an amazing view of the islands and the surrounding ocean. This is a good method for island hopping as the travel time is shorter and the smaller planes usually have shorter lines and are perfect for small tour groups that don’t really aim to socialize much. The main downside is that large groups will usually have to split up in different planes.

For those who would rather keep their feet on the ground, the Caribbean has quite a few golf courses, nature trails, ATV courses, and other terrestrial out door activities. Just remember to bring insect repellant! Tropical areas usually have a lot of mosquitos and other biting insects. Always best to be safe!

For those who want to take advantage of the wide-open waters of the Caribbean, there’s fun to be had both on and under the water. Island hopping cruises, jet skis, and surfing make up the surface activities, while scuba diving remains the most popular underwater activity. Just remember: while coral and starfish look great, don’t break them or bring them home! Protect the environment for future generations!

As you can see, the Caribbean has a lot more to offer than TV and movies lead you to think; a cruise isn’t the only fun to be had in this amazing chain of islands. If this is the destination you’ve decided on, remember: plan ahead so you don’t end up trying to cram too many activities and end up enjoying none of them, bring bug repellent, and vacation responsibly! When you get back, let us know how it went for you!