Discover Three Thousand Year Old History in Sri Lanka

When you think of Sri Lanka, you may picture a tropical island dotted with sandy beaches, wildlife reserves filled with elephants, coconut groves, spice and tea plantations. Surely, the small island located just south of India merits all these, but there’s also three thousand year old temples, palaces and caves to explore.

Here are some places in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka that are must see:

Rangiriya Dambulla Cave Temple

This UNESCO World Heritage Site also known as the Golden Temple of Dambulla, dates back to 1st century BC. Burial sites in the area indicate that prehistoric Sri Lankans lived in these cave complexes 2700 years ago.

You must ascend over 100 stone steps to see the complex of 5 caves carved into a 160 meter rocky hill. Inside you can see 153 Buddha statues, three statues of Sri Lankan kings and four statues of gods and goddesses, along with various cave inscriptions. Every inch of the roofs of the caves are covered with colorful murals (many still intact) covering an area of 23,000 sq. ft. You will feel insignificant in the presence of one of the largest statue of Buddha spanning 15 meters located inside the first cave.

Hotel Tip: Stay at Habarana Village by Cinnamon in Habarana for luxurious village style retreat near the spiritual sites. The hotel organizes village tours including bullock cart rides and traditional meals by the river. 

Sigiriya

Also know as Lion Rock, this ancient rock fortress is the iconic image of Sri Lanka in posters and tourist brochures. According to the ancient Sri Lankan chronicle the Culavamsa, this site was selected by King Kasyapa (477 – 495 CE) for his new capital. You can see this example of urban planning by climbing up the  massive column of rock nearly 200 meters (660 ft) high. On the way, see a gateway in the form of an enormous lion, the palace ruins, painted frescos, and a swimming pool. On top, enjoy spectacular views of the canopy and gardens surrounding the complex, with giant white Buddha status propping in the green.

Hiking Tip: The best time to climb Sigiriya is early morning when it’s not too hot or late afternoon so you can see the sunset. The best photos of the rock are aerial shots, but you must obtain permission to fly a drone prior to your visit. 

Anuradhapura

Also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Anuradhapura was the first capital of Sri Lanka from the 5th century BC to 9th century AD. The ancient city, has 16 square miles filled with monasteries.

Pay respect to the oldest historically documented tree on earth (over 2,200 years old). The Bodhi tree is considered to be the island’s oldest Buddhist shrine, as Buddha got enlightened under it (the sapling comes from the original tree in India). A large white stupa as well as small alters surround the complex. Look for impressive white ‘dagabas’ (relic chambers), stone carvings, rock sculptures and more.

Temple Visit Tip: It is necessary to cover arms and legs; remove shoes, hats and sunglasses when visiting holy sites in Sri Lanka. You will find the locals typically dressed in white, a symbol of purity. While it’s ok to take photos inside the temples, it’s illegal to take a picture with your back towards Buddha. 

Mihintale

This is where Buddhism was first introduced to Sri Lanka and is therefore regarded as the cradle of Buddhism. On this rock are many shrines and dwellings, originally used by monks. A grand stairway of 1,840 steps made of granite slabs 15 feet wide, leads to the summit from where one could get a splendid view of the surrounding countryside.

Polonnaruwa

There are mostly ruins of temples, palaces and stupas to be seen in this medieval city, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After a brief perspective at the museum, visit the Royal Palace complex including the Kings Palace and Audience Hall, the Quadrangle with its concentration of ancient heritage and the spectacular Gal Vihare complex of four massive images of the Buddha, cut from a single slab of granite. Some of the best examples of the Hindu influence – the Temples of Shiva, intricate statues of Hindu Gods, fascinating Buddhist temples, the Lankatileka and Watadage, the Galpotha, the Lotus bath, the Kiri Vihare Dagoba and the remains of a former Temple of the Tooth are other impressive sights.

Temple of the Tooth

This is one of the most important shrines for Buddhists and pilgrims from all over Sri Lanka come to the hill town of Kandy through the year, offering trays of lotus flowers and sweets, as they pay respect to the tooth relic of Lord Buddha. While you can’t actually see the tooth (the door encasing it is opened once a year), you can admire the beautiful carvings and splendor of the palace-turned-temple located on the lakeshore. Spend some time walking the temple ground, listen to the drummers dressed in traditional costumes and peek into the museum for some historical facts. There are two ceremonies performed each day so make sure to time your visit accordingly.

Kandy Tip: Kandy is a popular tourist town, mainly because of this temple, access to hiking areas, trendy restaurants and lots of shops selling tea, gems and souvenirs. Stay at Cinnamon Citadel by the river and reserve a special Sri Lankan curry lunch overlooking the city at Theva Residency.

The above sites can be visited in 2-3 days and give valuable insight into the belief system of the Sri Lankan people. If you are the kind of traveler interested in ancient history and culture, add Sri Lanka to your travel list.

Booking Tip: To avoid the hassle of making hotel reservations, public transport and finding guides, contact The Holiday Place for a custom made itinerary in Sri Lanka. They can arrange a private driver with knowledgeable guide, tickets to the monuments and hotel reservations. 

Do you have a travel tip for Sri Lanka? Post your comments below…

Love Travel? Get This New Conversation Starter Card Game

“Do I need a conversation starter?”

It’s not an uncommon question.

We want to get know people better, have genuine connections, and be closer to each other. Whether it’s a friend of a friend, a traveler we meet, a colleague, an acquaintance, or even our friends at home.

But, sometimes we don’t know what to ask, or how to start a conversation.

To help create engaging conversations around travel and culture, I launched Travel Banter, a deck of conversation starter cards based on the popular #CultureTrav chat and blog.

I’ve been hosting my #CultureTrav Twitter chat for almost 4 years now. It’s been incredible to watch travelers connect with each other online, become friends, and have fun meetups offline.

I wanted to create the same fun chat interactions in a new way: an offline version of #CultureTrav chat called Travel Banter. Travel Banter travel-themed conversation cards feature popular questions asked by my #CultureTrav community.

The design process for Travel Banter

The concept of conversation starter cards came to me at the dinner table earlier this year. I started thinking that while it’s great to talk about travel, it’s even better to talk about it when you have a question or interesting prompt to consider.

Over the years of hosting my Twitter chat, thousands of questions have come my way. Fellow travelers, my co-hosts and I would think about engaging questions that we were curious to know the answers to. While I love hearing about people’s personal favorites, I find it even more compelling to hear about how people deal with things like language barriers or mishaps. I love hearing about people stumbling upon hole-in-the-wall cafes or having unexpected adventures, or discovering local street art.

A lot of these types of stories and conversations often come up during my Twitter chat, so I thought, “How can I translate the Twitter chat questions into in-person conversation starters?”

The concept of a conversation starter isn’t new. Companies have used conversation starters in their HR process to get to know candidates, and people have used conversation starters during events or orientations. But, I wanted to add a fun and engaging twist to travel-related conversations.

After thinking about it more, it was time to get “down to business” and start brainstorming design concepts. My boyfriend has advanced Photoshop skills (and is an entrepreneur of several product-based endeavors), so I asked him for help with the initial design of the cards. Additionally, I hired three graphic designers on Fiverr to see what they could brew up for the design. In the end, the final card design is a mix of my boyfriend’s design, elements of designs from the Fiverr designers, and feedback from family about an added visual element: a photo. Each card features two conversation starter questions on one side, and a community-featured photo on the other. I love that I’m able to highlight my traveler community’s photos as part of the game, because this game is very much a communal effort.

How to use conversation starter cards

While there is nothing “wrong” with talking about the weather, that’s not exactly exciting.

We carry around flash cards when studying Spanish or French verbs, but for some reason, it’s considered unusual to carry around a conversation starter card. And, when we have conversation starters on hand, how do we introduce them to people in a way that invites the conversation, and isn’t awkward?

It’s not that you’re bad at having conversations. But, a conversation starter can be a fun and useful guide to getting people to share stories that you may not have heard otherwise.

It’s easier than you think!

Here’s a real conversation brought to you by the Travel Banter question, “Would you try a local delicacy, even if you found something about it objectionable?”: 

“And, yeah, I ate a jellyfish!”
“….what did you do that for?”
“I know! Crazy, right?! Part of it was revenge for that time I got stung by a jellyfish.”
“Wait! What?!”
“But, really, jellyfish tastes like nothing. It’s like nothing. Which makes sense, I guess!”
“But, we were also on a trip with my students and I was trying to impress them by eating this weird thing.”
(Overheard at the Travel Banter Kickstarter launch party on Wednesday, October 17).

And, there you have it! A conversation created by Travel Banter. A story told that you may not have otherwise heard at all.

Wouldn’t it be great to have questions to ask to create a better conversation?

Travel Banter wants to make stimulating conversations happen. Travel Banter gives you a fun and easy way to bring you closer together, and share memorable moments.

Get to know your friends and family better, and also learn about strangers on the road. The next time you’re at a family gathering or party, pull out a Travel Banter card and ask a meaningful question. You’ll be pleasantly surprised about the things you can learn.

By guest blogger Nicolette Orlemans. Nicolette is the founder of #CultureTrav and CultureTrav.coTravel Banter is the byproduct of the conversations shared on the #CultureTrav Twitter chat. Follow her on Twitter.  

7 Places In Bali Can Make You A Better Person

Many travelers claim that the spirit of Bali has the power to seep into your unconscious mind and radically change your thoughts, beliefs, and actions. If you are capable of finding a sense of awe in watching colored puffs of incense rise from small flower offerings and centuries-old Balinese temples scattered throughout stunning natural settings, then no other place on this planet is more ideal for you than Bali. There is a good chance that if you visit these places in Bali, you may go back home as a better person.

The Holy Waters of Gunung Kawi Sebatu – Ubud

This temple is unique and infrequently visited. Lush and scenic, it is perched upon a forested hillside drawing water from holy mountain spring-fed water sources. It was embellished with statues, ornamental fish ponds, water shrines, and bathing spots around the temple complex. You can think of the Gunung Kawi Sebatu temple as one of the finest tranquil and soothing retreats that stands far away from the busy streets and the bustle of Ubud. From here, go to the Pura Dalem Pingit, which is revered as a purification spot among the Balinese Hindus.

Pyramids in Sea – Semeti Beach

The test of this place is that to reach the vantage point for a phenomenal view, you will have to cross an extremely rough and rocky path on Semeti Beach. The stones on this beach share an uncanny resemblance with the crystal box in planet Krypton. But after you reach there, you will be able to see pyramid-like rocks rooted in the sea and crossing these towards your vantage point will call on a lot of your conviction and perseverance.

Bali Spirit Festival – Ubud

This is an annual event taking place in March. Yoga practitioners and instructors from Bali and all around the world, artists, dancers and musicians performing colorful concerts gather for this event. Participate in yoga workshops, Dharma Fairs that have health bazaars and organic food stalls. The stage acts as the center of attraction and many world musicians keep up the vibe of the celebrations throughout the day.

An Almost Private Island – Gili 

Some of the Gili Islands are so isolated that they will feel like your own private island! So, if you’re looking for a place to self-exploration and retrospect whilst island-hopping in Lombok, then the white sandy shores of the Gilis are made for you. Here, you can sunbathe, swim,  snorkel or even explore the marine life around the breathtaking coral reefs.

Magic Tree in Trunyan Village – Kintamani

This is an ancient and remote village on a Balinese lakeside which is known for odd burial rites and a magic tree. The magic tree, locally known as Taru Menyan, grows in this village’s open-burial cemetery and releases a strongly fragrant resin which interestingly neutralizes the odors coming from the decomposing dead bodies. The silence of this remote area coupled with the chilling sight of graveyard skulls and bones will most likely unnerve you, but your close encounter with the ancient and upheld traditions of this place will teach you to be accepting.

Battles of Tenganan Pegringsingan – Candidasa

The old Balinese village is only a 15-minutes north of Jalan Raya Candidasa road. The age-old tradition of the Perang Pandan ‘battles’ is a highlight event of this place and is unique to only this village. This ritual is actually dedicated to the Hindu Mythology god of war and sky, Indra. The battles entail friendly duels between male villagers who are each armed with a rattan shield and a tied packet of the thorny pandan leaves. This ritual highlights their sportsman’s spirit and comradeship.

The Twin and Spiritual Gitgit Waterfalls – North Bali

Gitgit is Bali’s most popular waterfall that is both a beautiful natural attraction and an important spiritual destination for visitors. You will be able to reach its base after a few minutes trek by foot, after which you can enjoy the tall twin spouts that constantly crash into a rocky pool. For spiritual travelers, another bonus waterfall awaits near Gitgit that can be reached via forested pathways adorned with cacao trees, called the Jembong waterfall, which is considered to be a place for spiritual purifications and healing.

There are a lot of unexplored and unconventional places in Bali that have a completely different energy than the regular tourist places. So, coming here and exploring something that may not be on your regular itinerary can make you see things, think of them and feel their significance like you have never done before.

~ By guest blogger, Palak Narula. Palak is a full-time travel writer who visited Bali in 2017. She lives for good conversations, holistic experiences and the beauty of words. Follow her on Instagram @Wordbeatle

To book a personalized sustainable individual or group trip to Bali with a focus on spirituality, yoga or volunteering, contact us.

Want Fresh, Fast, and Healthy? Purely is the Place to Be

Being Italian, I had high expectations for the gelato at Purely. Non-traditional soft serve gelato sounded iffy at first. But no lie the gelato was so good I shed a tear. Italy will just have to wait for now.

Dominic Leong, owner of Purely, informed me that he studied the art of making gelato n Rimini, Italy, help start and ran the restaurant chain Pino Gelato (one of their locations is at Hartsfield Jackson Airport) for 12 years, and even modified the soft serve gelato machine himself.

Leong is the ultimate renaissance man. He consults and designs restaurants, as he did with Purely (his baby), creates the innovative menu, cooks all the food, and engages customers with his bubbly personality.

The Midtown Atlanta space has tall glass windows looking out to busy Peachtree Street, bright lime green painted walls with eye catching photos of the food, and exquisite glass chandeliers.

The concept of Purely is like other ‘make-your-own restaurants’ where customers design their own meal in an assembly line style. All the meat and vegetables are prepared fresh daily, and customers have the option whether to create their own concoction or choose from already created specialties. Purely’s food is fast, fresh and healthy, which makes it a perfect lunch spot for business people and college students. What’s more, most meals are under $10.

Even the presentation of the food is stunning. Organic vegetables such as cabbage, carrots, kale and mixed greens are showcased in a glass container so customers are more attracted to eating fresh food.

Diners start by choosing their base in a bowl. They have options of white or brown rice, mixed greens and even gluten free pasta. For tacos and salads, customers choose their protein with options such as slow cooked Mexican style pork carnitas and or all natural Caribbean beef barbacoa. After, adding fresh veggies of your choice, top it off with sauces such as creamy chipotle and sweet chili.

Tacos are served in cooked to order warm Chinese steamed buns, but customers also have the option of a traditional corn tortilla. I tried the braised jerk chicken taco served with kale, and a customer favorite – Asian sesame sauce, topped with grape tomatoes and a sprinkle of shredded cheese. The taco was sweet considering the sauce, but I was expecting more of a kick since it was jerk chicken. I also felt the kale and the lack of sauce made the taco a little dry.

The spicy chicken teriyaki taco with Purely’s signature sauce (like spicy mayo), fresh red cabbage, well-seasoned chicken, the dish was very different though, hitting all the right notes of spice and texture.

Fun fact, Purely’s bowls are 70% decomposable.

Food bowls have become the new hipster food trend of 2018. Specifically, poke bowls, which are often served with raw fish, salad topping and Asian sauces. I created my own poke bowl and added tuna and salmon with spicy mayo, poke sauce, lime juice, mixed greens, cabbage and edamame. With several competitors out there trying to master the poke bowl trend, Purely’s bowl deserves a spot at the top. The bowl made for a light flavor packed lunch.

Bubble tea has never tickled my fancy, but I decided to give it another try by adding strawberry popping pearls (like tapioca but made of real fruit) to my matcha tea. With one sip, I was in heaven! Purely uses oolong tea as the base instead of water which gives it a more robust flavor. And did I mention the matcha powder is imported straight from Japan?

Purely’s biggest hit are the bubble waffles. Bubble waffles became popular in Hong Kong and are a fancier version of the traditional American ice cream waffle only with batter filled spheres, making it look more attractive. I filled mine with matcha gelato and triple berry sorbet, topped with mango and strawberry flavored popping pearls and fresh peaches.

Sorbet isn’t typically my first choice, but the soft serve gelato version of it made the consistency creamy rather than icy. Although bubble waffle tasted like a regular waffle, it was rather soft than crispy, which can be messy to eat.

What Purely is offering is not totally unique, but having the best gelato, teas, buddle waffles and poke bowls – all in a vibrant atmosphere at affordable prices – is notable. I would return to create new combinations using the fresh, healthy and organic ingredients Purely offers.

~ By Daniella Boik, Go Eat Give summer 2018 intern. Daniella is a journalism student at Georgia State University and has a passion for food, books and skateboards. When she’s not writing, she is drafting her ideas while running long distance. Follow her on Facebook 

Reasons your travel insurance claim could be denied, and how to make sure it isn’t

As you can imagine, having your travel cancelled, interrupted or simply not go as planned is never ideal. When you have travel insurance, however, you can feel better knowing that at least some of your travel expenses will be reimbursed. Hurricane season starts one month from today, and after last’s years record storms, many are ensuring they are covered if something does arise this year.

But what if you file your claim, and it comes back denied?

Stan Sandberg, travel expert and co-Founder of TravelInsurance.com, is a respected authority on travel insurance in the U.S. has provided some information below on reasons a claim could be denied, and how to ensure it isn’t.  Given tropical storms could start hitting as soon as next month, having this knowledge could hopefully come in handy when, not if, storms affect travel this year.

You didn’t purchase the right kind of insurance for your needs:  A common mistake that those filing claims make is not taking the time to fully understand their travel insurance policy and the coverage that it provides, before making the purchase. For example, if a traveler is going heli-skiing and gets injured. If he or she did not purchase Adventure Travel coverage, the medical expenses likely won’t be covered. Many travelers submit claims for coverage that they do not even have because they assume that travel insurance will cover just about anything.

Take the time to read your policy, and if you haven’t purchased one yet, look at a few quotes online to get a general idea of how travel insurance works. If you need to submit a claim, a solid understanding of your policy will be the best tool at your disposal. Most policies will have glossaries of the terms, or you can review one online. Click here for the one on TravelInsurance.com.

You misunderstand what is needed when submitting: Some travelers may think they understand everything they need to submit when filing a claim, but they may miss important details. This can hold things up at best, or cause the claim to be denied altogether.

We recommend always calling the insurance company prior to submitting a claim. Read up on your plan so you have a basic understanding. From there, you can ask what documents are needed specifically, the correct steps to file a claim and the best route to send in the claim. The process is usually straightforward for filling out forms and submitting them with the right documentation, but the more complete everything is, the faster the claim will be filed and the payments made.

You failed to provide proof: Documentation is key when it comes to receiving a payout for covered situations. Even if travelers are fully entitled to the benefits of a travel insurance claim, they can wind up with a claim denial if they do not provide the documentation to back their claim up. An insurer will want proof of a trip delay, cancellation or event that causes a policyholder to file a claim, along with receipts that pertain to the purchases made.

Before anything goes wrong, it is always important to keep track of your purchases related to your trip — receipts and credit card statements showing that you actually paid for the flights, hotels and other trip-related costs that you are claiming against. When you submit your claim, make sure you have all the documentation you can think of. For instance, for ticket compensation, you will need to produce receipts for the tickets. For lost luggage, you will have to provide the list of items inside the luggage as well and so on. Without this information, the insurer has no way to verify that you actually paid for the trip costs. If you are filing a claim for a stolen personal effect during your travels, you should make sure to save the documentation provided by the local police (when you reported the theft) so the insurer can validate that the event actually happened. You might also want to take pictures of all of the items you are bringing on your trip just before you pack them.

You waited too long: Most insurance providers require consumers to file a claim within a specific period from the event of loss. Some insurance providers may offer a period of a few weeks while others may offer a period of one month to file a claim.

Travelers should review their policy or call the insurance company to know about the exact period. If a claim is filed after the due date, most insurance providers will reject the application without any consideration. Most modern travel insurance companies have websites that allow claims to be digitally submitted and processed. This is a great way to get the process rolling and helps save time to meet the deadlines.

You take no for a final answer:  Travel insurance claims usually take a few weeks to process. However, complicated claims take longer. For some, if their claim is denied they may fume, but do little to change the outcome.

If your claim is denied, contact the company or agent that sold you the travel insurance plan right away. They will often help with filing an appeal. The good news is that about 50 percent of appeals are honored, so taking this extra step is not a wasted effort, especially if you feel strongly that your claim is valid. When a company will not honor an appeal, the next step is to contact the state insurance commissioner and the Better Business Bureau and see if they can assist.

~ By guest blogger, Sarah Mann 

Why I Ditched That Luxury Vacation For A Volunteering Trip

For some travelers, a ‘holiday/ vacation’ is synonymous with a relaxing time, or maybe just another break to do nothing and just chill. While I also had the option for the same, I decided to do something different and take a volunteering journey to Nepal. I had no idea how it would turn out to be like! Yes – to be honest, I was tensed and skeptic thinking whether I can really do this or not. But once I was there, all my doubts melted away. I knew that this was one of the best decisions I’ve ever taken and here are the reasons why I feel good about ditching the regular holiday for a more meaningful one.

Discovering Myself

I’m bothered by certain social causes that catch my attention on and off. I feel bad to see the little boy at the traffic signal selling balloons to earn his daily bread. Nobody cares to stop and ask him what he wants to do in life. This is just a small incident – there are probably hundreds of other things that catch our attention, and then get wiped off our minds. On a volunteer trip, I can actually do something about it, and bring smiles to others faces.

Doing Something for Others

There’s no denying that all our lives we work, we earn, and we spend on ourselves. Instead of complaining, I accepted  that life isn’t easy for all, but if we can help others to live better, then we should. As a volunteer in an orphanage in Nepal, I had to take care of the toddlers who became like my own kids in no time. There was an immense sense of satisfaction to see them happy when they were around me. Maybe, we can’t totally change someone’s life, but even if we can give them a moment of happiness – that counts!

Spending More Time with Locals

When we are on a holiday, we mostly spend time doing nothing. We barely make any effort to know the place and the people, often being too busy clicking those endless selfies that we can show off to the folks back at home. A volunteering journey, on the other hand, is the best way to connect with the natives of a place. During my stay in Nepal, I was living with a host family who took care of me like their own. Not even for a day did I feel like a guest at their place. It was fun to adapt to their way of life, follow their customs, take part in their festivals, and attend family gatherings. Now that I’m back home, I know that I have another family in a faraway land, and I can go back to visit them whenever I want to.

Exploring Unique Places

On a regular vacation, we mostly visit those listed touristy places that are almost always crowded and overpriced. Often, I’ve seen that those places are hyped and not as good as they appear in photographs. Quite opposite to that, a volunteering journey can endow us with the opportunity to explore the hidden gems of the country – courtesy: the local friends! I went for a hike in the Himalayan trails, and trust me when I say this, I’ve never seen a view so beautiful. The tiny little villages tucked on the slopes, the majestic mountains covered with snow right in front of me, and the humble people who called me for a warm cup of tea just made my life worthy. Witnessing the gorgeous sunset with the Himalayan backdrop is something that has left mark on my mind, and I can visualize it every time I close my eyes.

Meeting Like-Minded People From Around The World

During my volunteering trip, I realized that the world still has good people. There were folks from different parts of the world, people of different age groups and from different walks of life, who came together for a common cause – to help the little ones at the orphanage. We brainstormed together, thinking what we can do better for the kids. We worked together for hours, sharing thoughts and ideas, planning games and activities for the children, we fundraised to buy stuff for them and renovated the care center to make it more vibrant and lively. It was such an amazing experience that I would probably never had if I chose just another regular holiday.

I was lucky to find an organization like Volunteering Solutions, who offered me the opportunity to volunteer at an orphanage in Nepal and supported me throughout my entire journey. The time that I got to spend with those toddles there has left a mark on my mind, heart & soul.

If you are also craving to set out on a meaningful journey, then don’t procrastinate. Know that there are millions of people out there who need your help. And if you have the time and strength to make a difference in their lives, you must do it.

~ By guest blogger Riyanka Roy from Haryana, India. Roy has traveled extensively throughout India. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

Looking for a Luxury Spring Break! Here’s Why You Need to Head to Monte Carlo

There aren’t many places in the world that give off a clearer air of luxury than Monte Carlo. Because of this, a lot of people write it off as a place they’ll probably never actually visit. But this is actually a mistake! Yes, it’s a luxurious destination. Getting there can be expensive, and some of the activities and meals you’ll enjoy once there will be pricey as well. But you can actually spend a night in a fairly nice hotel for under $200 – which is expensive, but really not too bad for international tourism.

If, then, you decide that Monte Carlo doesn’t have to be taken off the map, you might start exploring what a trip there would actually look like. The best time to go is during the spring, and below we’ll get into a few of the things you might do there.

Explore The Harbor

If you have a picture in your head of Monte Carlo, chances are that picture includes a large Mediterranean harbor filled with yachts and sailboats. This indeed is the trademark postcard image of the city, and it’s one of the more iconic city views in the world. Exploring the harbor and taking a look at the spectacular boats is an absolute must when you’re in Monte Carlo (and it’s free!). As one write-up put it, the harbor sits like the stage of an amphitheater upon which the rest of Monaco looks down. That’s about as nice a way to explain its situation and appeal as there is. And if you want to enjoy it even more intimately, there are a few different opportunities to essentially rent time on one of the yachts.

Lounge On Larvotto Beach

In a place like Monte Carlo it’s only natural that there will be a few great beaches. The most famous of the bunch (and probably the most fun) is Larvotto Beach. It’s very much a city beach in one sense, just steps away from luxury condos and fancy restaurants. However, it’s also a very pretty shoreline where you can lounge, swim, and even rent a kayak or jet ski to go out on the water.

Visit The Casino

Visiting just any casino may not sound like your ideal hobby. It may also sound somewhat unnecessary or old-fashioned given that casinos have been reborn as a thriving online industry. Where once there were crude poker sites there are now full-fledged online platforms, complete with their own mobile apps. A single download can include over 500 games, begging the question of why anyone would need to visit a real life casino. Monte Carlo, as it turns out, has the answer. This establishment is not about the gaming or the money, but rather the experience. It’s an elegant, beautiful, world famous venue where you almost can’t help feeling like a movie star. Even if you don’t sit down at a poker table or spin a slot reel, it’s worth checking out as a sightseeing point of interest.

Tour The Oceanographic Museum

The Oceanographic Museum is actually one of the more famous attractions in Monte Carlo, which is saying something in a city like this one. It’s known primarily as a museum – a large, striking building on a hillside sticking up over the sea. The museum largely contains sea-related relics retrieved by Prince Albert, who founded the establishment early in the 20th century. What really sets it apart though is the fact that it doubles as an aquarium. The museum contains more than 90 tanks with sea creatures in them, including an indoor shark lagoon.

Eat At Elsa

As you would no doubt expect there are a lot of truly wonderful places to eat in Monte Carlo. Elsa is certainly among the best of them though. A combination of fresh local ingredients, Mediterranean seafood preparations, and seaside seating make for a simply delightful experience. Plus, it’s one of the few very nice restaurants in Monte Carlo where you don’t necessarily feel like you have to be dressed up and formal.

Watch The Grand Prix

As a final point, if your trip happens to overlap with the Monaco Grand Prix (which is one reason it’s great to visit in the spring), you’ll have the opportunity to see one of the world’s most iconic sporting events. It’s an annual Formula 1 race through the streets and by the harbor, and it’s a true treat for everyone who’s able to see it. The whole town tends to be abuzz with energy during the race and the few days on either end of it, and there are numerous ticket packages you can look into that allow you to experience the action, whether via watching the drivers practice or sitting on a yacht during the race.

~ By guest blogger, Jonathan Nelson. 

2018’s Best Frequent Flyer Programs

Airline loyalty is hard to come by. Most travelers are willing to jump to another jet for the slightest of discounts. Yet roughly 7% of flights are paid for with points or miles, according to PWC. So there’s obviously value in committing to a carrier. You just have to find the right one.

To help you earn more free flights and other assorted perks, WalletHub compared the 10 largest domestic airlines’ loyalty rewards programs across 23 key metrics, ranging from the value of a rewards point or mile to blackout-date policies.

Here are the best frequent flyer programs:

Frequent Flyer Program Overall WalletHub Score
Delta SkyMiles 64.14
Mileage Plan 50.87
HawaiianMiles 49.38

Main Findings

Delta SkyMiles is the best frequent flyer program for the third straight year, earning an average WalletHub score of 64.14% in the three usage scenarios.

Hawaiian Airlines offers the most rewards value ($19.95 per $100 spent), with Alaska Airlines coming in a close second ($19.87 per $100 spent).

Four of the 10 largest airlines offered more rewards in 2018 than in 2017, sweetening the pot by an average of 20%.

Delta Air Lines and JetBlue Airways are the only two major airlines whose miles do not expire because of inactivity.

Airline miles cost an average of 62% more than they’re worth when purchased rather than earned.

This comparison was based on three hypothetical annual airline budgets: Light ($453), Average ($4,088) and Frequent ($7,722). But you can customize the results to match your own airline budget using a tool. Read the full airline study on WalletHub.

Who benefits more from airline rewards programs: consumers or the airlines themselves? Leave your comments below…

~ By Alina Comoreanu, Senior Researcher. This article was reprinted with permission from WalletHub

11 Fun Things To Do in Myrtle Beach

“Are you going to play a lot of mini golf?” smirked my boyfriend, as I told him about my planned trip to Myrtle Beach, sponsored by the tourism board.

And hey, it’s not a bad question. Actually, Myrtle Beach is known as the “Miniature Golf Capital of the World,” with over 50 courses to choose from.

But that’s not what I would be focusing on for my trip. Instead, my goal was to go beyond the guidebook to discover Myrtle Beach activities beyond the green. And while I did spend time around the “Grand Strand” — Myrtle Beach’s waterfront strip showcasing 60+ miles of beaches — I added other atypical experiences to my itinerary.

Stay: North Beach Plantation

This luxury resort sits on the Atlantic Ocean in North Myrtle Beach. Onsite you’ll find pretty much everything you could need: beach access, free Wi-Fi, restaurants, a 2.5-acre waterpark, multiple indoor and outdoor pools, a hot tub, a fitness center and incredible spa (tip: get the Fijian Ritual!) and more.

Along with two towers full of various sized condos, they have standalone villas and vacation rentals with shops dotting the blocks, giving it a suburban neighborhood feel. It’s large, and there’s a free shuttle that can help you get around if needed.

Tip: Spring for the waterfront views, especially as even the one-bedroom condos have balconies. They’re actually pretty budget-friendly for what you get, especially if you go in September (about $200 or less per night!).

Airbnb also offers a slew of great Myrtle Beach options! Click here to snag $40 off your first Airbnb stay!

So what kinds of Myrtle Beach activities exist beyond mini golf? Check out the video above. Then, scroll down to read my trip highlights (so you can add them to your itinerary, too!).

  1. Savor Local Wine Culture

While typically vineyards in the US grow grapes like chardonnay, merlot and pinot grigio, in South Carolina there’s only one variety that flourishes: the muscadine. There are over 300 varieties of muscadine, many of which you can try at La Belle Amie Vineyard in Myrtle Beach.

I never expected Myrtle Beach to have a vineyard and winery. A tasting room maybe, but actual rows of grape vines next to olive bushes? I felt like I was in Italy.

Or France, as they also sell wine from their family vineyard in the South of France. You can read the full (and inspiring) story of how that partnership came to be here.

Vicki Weigle, La Belle Amie Vineyard’s owner, believes you only need to know two things about wine: if you like it or if you don’t. This fun philosophy can be felt throughout the property, including Wine Wednesday’s live outdoor music and the creative wines with fun names offered at the tasting bar. How about a glass of “What Was I Thinking?” or an “Ice Queen” ice wine made without freezing the grapes?

By the way, it’s just $5 for six tastings + surprises like mulled wine and wine slushies. Yum!

  1. Learn A New Water Sport

There are so many water sports to choose from in Myrtle Beach! Two on my itinerary were new to me: wakeboarding and surfing.

While inclement weather cancelled the wakeboarding, I did visit Shark Wake Park to see what the course looked like. It’s a controlled pool with ramps if you’re up for doing tricks. Cables pull you as you try to stand on what looks like a snowboard. Sitting back and watching the advanced wakeboarders is also an option.

I did get to try surfing near Springmade Pier at the softest beach I’ve ever stepped on with Jack’s Surf Lessons.

Wow, was surfing hard! The waves were pretty high — about three feet — so it definitely presented a fun and exciting challenge for a newbie.

Actually, here’s me (below) standing for 0.3 seconds until I came crashing down so hard I lost my GoPro to the Atlantic Ocean despite it being on a headstrap tied into my hair. I just hope a school of fish has found it and is putting it to good use. Sigh.

Despite the technical issues, I had a lot of fun trying something new. Plus, Jack is such a cool, laid-back dude he had the group laughing the whole time.

Just leave the GoPro on the beach unless it’s really affixed.

  1. Indulge In Some Boozy Brunch

You know those beautiful wood accented spaces with high ceilings and lots of natural light flowing in? And maybe a case of colorful macarons beckoning you to stay a while? That’s Croissants Bistro & Bakery.

And while they do make some incredible baked goods (salted caramel brownie, anyone?), you also won’t want to miss their savory fare. Of course, shrimp and grits is a local favorite, especially as these grits are laced with pimento cheese. Make it a boozy brunch by adding on a mimosa or Bloody Mary with your choice of vodka!

  1. Get High (Literally)

Myrtle Beach’s boardwalk stretches for 1.2 miles along the waterfront, showcasing quirky restaurants (some jokingly claiming to be the “8th Wonder of the World”), arcades, various Ripley’s Believe It Or Not attractions, rides and more.

While a walk down this wooden stretch is a must on a list of Myrtle Beach activities, another way to take it all in is with a ride on the Myrtle Beach SkyWheel.

The giant enclosed Ferris wheel takes you 200 feet high for an aerial perspective of the beach and boardwalk.

While I rode the SkyWheel during the day, I was told by many locals it’s actually best at night when it’s all lit up.

Tickets are $14 per person.

  1. Stretch It Out (On The Beach)

A true highlight of my trip was doing a morning yoga class on the beach with Dawn Yager, owner of Shanti Yoga. I love yoga anywhere, anytime; but there’s something truly therapeutic about going through Sun Salutations while actually being washed in the sun’s loving glow.

I must have felt inspired, because I held Crow Pose for my longest time ever! Just a few simple shifts like moving my gaze beyond my hands and digging my fingers into the ground helped so much.

Tip: If you’re visiting during September, Shanti Yoga offers discounts on classes at their Myrtle Beach studio for National Yoga Month.

  1. Photograph The Gorgeous Live Oaks

You can see Live Oaks draped in Spanish Moss all over Myrtle Beach; however, in historic Conway — a city founded in 1732 located about 25 minutes from the coast — you can take a tour of them.

They’re so whimsical; the gnarled branches adding a gothic beauty to the area. In Myrtle Beach they’re prevalent and protected. You can wander the very walkable neighborhood yourself using the free Historic Trail guide (pick it up free at the Conway Visitor Center). Additionally, here is a link to a self-guided Conway tour using a map and/or QR codes.

Tip: After seeing the gorgeous trees, take a walk along the Waccamaw River on the 1.5-mile River Walk.

  1. Savor The Local Craft Beer

While Myrtle Beach isn’t a craft beer hub, it does have some quality beer offerings. Hop heads can check out New South Brewing, featuring a large tasting room with plenty of space to chill with some board games and a nut brown ale, or talk suds with the brewmasters.

While they don’t have flights, 6-ounce pours are only $3. Plus if you book a tour in advance ($7) there are tastings included.

If you try one beer only, make it their famous “White Ale.” The brew is a take on a classic Belgian wheat ale, with notes of coriander and citrus.

They’re also known for their canned beers; in fact, their slogan is “The beer from here. Hand crafted. Hand canned. Hands on.” You can purchase a 6-pack to-go ($9) or create a mixed case ($30).

Tip: The local grocery chain, Lowes Foods, features a Beer Den with craft beers on tap and a growler program!

  1. Wander Brookgreen Gardens

I love wandering without a plan, especially when that wandering involves being immersed in lovely live oaks, inspiring sculptures and gorgeous gardens. Brookgreen Gardens is that place, a sculpture garden (the country’s largest) and wildlife preserve featuring thousands of acres of nature.

Take a pontoon ride on the onsite creek to see alligators and osprey while learning about the property’s rice farming heritage (cultivated by past African and Indian slaves). Made up of four former plantations, one pre-Brookgreen Gardens homestead was actually home to Aaron Burr’s daughter, Theodosia.

While the tour was interesting, my favorite part of the visit was just wandering the gardens without a plan, taking moments to regroup and admire Mother Nature.

  1. Bird Watch In Huntington Beach State Park

Nearby is another natural beauty: Huntington Beach State Park. The two main attractions in this 2500-acre park are the beach and the trails, including a nature walk and a boardwalk over the marsh.

Oh, the Marsh Boardwalk! One of the most peaceful places I’ve ever seen and one of my favorite Myrtle Beach activities. I spotted so many birds — egrets, herons, cormorants — as well as a variety of crabs dancing in the mud. I stood in silence and awe for a good 30 minutes just taking it all in.

Here’s a printable birding checklist for the park if you want to create a fun challenge for yourself! According to the park, a full day of bird watching could very well get you 100 different species sightings.

  1. Try Hook-To-Plate At Wicked Tuna

You’ve probably heard of farm-to-table; but what about hook-to-plate?

Murrells Inlet is where many locals — especially local restaurants — claim the freshest seafood in South Carolina comes from. At The Wicked Tuna they make use of their uber fresh location, employing their own fleet of fishing boats to head out each day and catch what’s served on your plate.

Fresh catch, lobster tails and sushi rolls are all part of the fun, typically with a twist. While the pan-seared scallops might be dressed in a cauliflower puree and tamarind brown butter, a soft shell crab might be topped with cilantro oil and sweet potato flakes.

I was obsessed with my “Dragon Egg” appetizer: a halvedavocado filled with cream cheese, smoked salmon, blue crab, king crab and spicy crab and gowned in tempura sweet potato, spicy mayo and sweet glaze. Paired with my wasabi- and basil-laced “Wicked Lemonade” (pictured above), my taste buds were certainly dancing.

Everything was superb, complimented by a prime waterfront view from the patio!

  1. Indulge Your Inner Carnivore

The name River City Cafe may sound simple; but actually, this meat-focused eatery has a dizzying list of delicious burgers you must try.

While I was tempted to try their Short Rib Cheeseburger featuring short rib meat mixed with prime beef, I had to savor the “Kitchen Sink Burger.” This enormous sandwich showcases two patties topped with chili, hickory-smoked bacon, grilled onions, spicy jalapeños, mushrooms, Swiss and cheddar cheeses, lettuce, tomato, pickles, mustard and mayo. And that’s not all. That setup is then placed neatly (yea right) between two grilled cheeses, accompanied by fries, onion rings and coleslaw.

Luckily this was a trip full of active Myrtle Beach activities!

Turkey, chicken and veggie burgers are also available for those seeking a healthier meal.

What are your favorite Myrtle Beach activities beyond golf? Have a travel question? Please share in the comments below!

~ By New York city based award-winning travel blogger, Jessica Festa. Find her at Jessie on a JourneyFacebookTwitterGoogle+ and Pinterest. This post originally appeared on her blog

Each One Teach One – Volunteer Abroad With Kids

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” ― Nelson Mandela.

What is ‘Education’?

This might sound like a very easy question and everyone is well versed with how the Oxford Dictionary defines the term – “The process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university”.

But in reality, the word has a much deeper sense associated with it – ‘Education’ is not just about what Oxford Dictionary tells us. It is the means of understanding life, and knowing what we want. It is the tool to polish our thoughts and turning them into actions. It is an art of choosing between right and wrong, good and evil, truth and lies. Great people like Rabindranath Tagore never went to school, but he was one of the most learned men that the world has ever seen.

Generally, when we talk about education, what we majorly mean is schooling and knowing the basics of reading and writing. The parameter of literacy is judged by an individual’s capacity or write his/her name in any language, preferably in the mother tongue.

What statistics have to say?

According to the UNESCO data, more than 17% of the total world population is still illiterate, of which 2/3rd are women. Undoubtedly, this makes gender equality more difficult to be attained.

In most of the developing countries, the situation is worse compared to the First World Countries. An estimated number of 122 million youths and nearly 67.4 million children are currently uneducated and dwell in some of the most poverty-stricken lands of the World.

While Europe and America are at a much better position, countries in Africa and Asia are the most affected. Several government and non-government organizations have taken up the issue of education, and thousands of youth who believe in the proverb – ‘Each One Teach One’ – have stepped forward to make a difference.

How can you contribute for eradication of illiteracy?

It is always easy to talk about a problem from outside, but if you are really concerned about this grave matter then try to be a part of the solution, and contribute in whichever manner you can.

While many people initially chose to donate money for the cause, it was later seen that half of that amount wasn’t properly utilized. Therefore, it is more advisable to give time to the kids and get involved with them so that there’s some real difference.

One of the best ways that most of the millennials are opting is to volunteer for the cause of education. Thousands of University students, gap year travellers and even professionals are traveling abroad to spend time with underprivileged kids, and spreading love and knowledge among them.

Volunteer Abroad With Kids
Volunteer Abroad With Kids

Being a volunteer myself, I’ve stayed in a tribal village in Rajasthan, India, where I taught kids in a government school. In spite of a huge enrollment in the school, only a handful of students turned up, and my main aim was to get all the kids to the school. It was a challenging task, but not an impossible one – and in nearly 5 months time, I was able to get them all to the school. The moment of satisfaction was when they said they love to come to school because of me.

Once you’ll take up the cause of spreading the light of education, you’ll see that people will eventually come under the rays.

Volunteer Abroad With Kids
Volunteer Abroad With Kids

In countries like Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, India and Vietnam, most kids dwelling in the slums never get the opportunity to visit a school. Even if they do, those schools suffer from a lot of inadequacies like lack of staff, poor method of teaching etc. The infrastructural facilities aren’t proper, and many kids stop going as they don’t find the process of learning interesting.

What is necessary in this case to focus more on activity based learning – where kids can be involved in the process of teaching, so that it’s more of a communicative procedure than a boring class.

You don’t need to be a teacher to teach these kids – all you need is patience and perseverance to deal with them, and make them learn something that would help them in later years of their life. If you are good in singing, dancing, painting or origami, you can teach that as well – because every step counts!

If you are thinking of how to be a part of the change, then take the first step of volunteering. Travel to a new country, and spend some time with the kids who need you. From my personal experience of volunteering in a tribal school of India, I can assure that it’ll be one of the most satisfying chapters of your life.

And not only will you make a difference to someone else’s life, but you’ll also inspire other people to think about the cause and doing something for it.

If we want to have a better tomorrow, then we have to spread the light of education – as that is key to make this world a better place to live.

Here are a few organizations which have specially curated volunteering programs for people who really care for the cause: PeaceCorpsVolunteering Solutions, and GoAbroad.

~ By guest blogger Riyanka Roy in India. Riyanka is a self proclaimed die-hard traveler and has explored India through its length and breadth – from Himachal in the North to Kanyakumari in the South, and from Kutch in the West to Gangtok in the East. She currently lives in Gurgaon, Haryana. She loves to binge on local food from the places where she travels to. She has previously written for Tripoto, Youth Ki Awaaz, Your Story and Huffington Post. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.