The Runaway Guide http://www.runawayguide.com Run Away & Travel The World Tue, 04 Aug 2015 09:07:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.3 Is Auschwitz Worth Visiting? http://www.runawayguide.com/runawaysblog/is-auschwitz-worth-visiting/ http://www.runawayguide.com/runawaysblog/is-auschwitz-worth-visiting/#comments Thu, 16 Jul 2015 20:00:23 +0000 http://www.runawayguide.com/?p=9260 ww2 sign at auschwitzTo be honest, I didn’t really want to visit. I had been to the Holocaust museum in New York many times growing up. I didn’t want to pay 20$ for what I knew would be a depressing 5 hour tour. But my friends wanted to go and so I decided to follow them.

First things first we had to decide whether we were going to take a shuttle/tour or go there on our own and walk around

Although Auschwitz was very sad, sometimes important things are. The whole experience was much more illuminating and intense than I expected. It was more than simply another documentary or a museum. It was a tangible testament to the horrors of the Nazi regime, the dangers of scapegoating minorities, and the evil that can be justified when people are dehumanized. It was definitely worth visiting, and I feel grateful to have witnessed this very important place.

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Run Away To Guatemala http://www.runawayguide.com/runaway-country-guides/run-away-to-guatemala/ http://www.runawayguide.com/runaway-country-guides/run-away-to-guatemala/#respond Sat, 11 Jul 2015 19:28:33 +0000 http://www.runawayguide.com/?p=9077 hanging from a truck in guatemalaOverview Preparation Budget Travel Guatemala Hideouts

Overview

Name: Republic Of Guatemala
Nick-Name: Guate (Guatay)
Population: 16,000,000
Capitol City: Guatemala City
Main Language: Spanish
English Speakers: Low
Main Religion: Christianity
Slogan: Land Of Eternal Spring

Runaway Review

Our Slogan: Land Of Volcanoes
Favorite Destination: Lake Atitlan
Top Experience: Meet The Maya
Safety: 3.7 out of 5.0
Friendliness: 4.1 out of 5.0
Deliciousness: 4.0 out of 5.0
Cheapness: 4.8 out of 5.0
Recommended Budget: 18$/Day

Guatemala is the largest country in Central America. It’s territory extends from the pacific, through highlands home to the modern Maya, across dense jungles filled with ancient ruins, and over to the Rasta rhythms of the Caribbean coast. There are so many different peoples, cultures and epic landscapes that there’s something for every traveler. Not only that, but Guatemala is one of the cheapest countries in Central America and the world.

World Travel Expert Rank:  4.8 out of 5.0


Safety

Guatemala isn’t as dangerous as you might think. Neither is El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, or Panama for that matter. Yes gang related violence does exist. Tourist are robbed, rooms are broken into, and violent crime does occur. But Guatemala, like the USA or any country, isn’t dangerous everywhere all the time. In fact, most cities, aside from Guatemala City, have a heavy police presence and are actually pretty safe. You really have to go looking for danger it if you want to experience it.

As long as you take necessary precautions like going out at night with groups, and staying out of bad neighborhoods, chances are you’ll never have a problem. Nevertheless, travel insurance is recommended.


Friendliness

Guatemala is extremely diverse both ethnically and culturally. In the highlands you’ll encounter the Maya. Along the Caribbean coast you’ll find the Garifuna. In large cities you’ll meet people of direct Spanish descent. And everywhere else, you’ll find a beautiful fusion of the three. Despite this cultural melange, or perhaps because of it, most people welcome gringos and other foreign travelers.

The Maya, much like the Japanese, tend to smile politely but are often weary of getting too close to foreigners. The Garifuna, descendants of Brazillian/African slaves, love to share their culture and coast with travelers. And the upper class Spaniards are so astonished you came that they’ll bend over backwards to show you a good time.


Deliciousness

Guatemala, like much of Central America, is no culinary hotspot. Chicken with rice, beans and corn tortillas is the most common dish. In terms of street food, it’s all about the fried chicken and tacos. It’s good for what it is, but after a month you’ll wish you had more variety in your diet.

By far the most delicious part of Guatemala is it’s fruit and vegetables. Although you can buy almost any kind of produce, the avocado, papaya and mango really stands out. Remember to buy the fruit whole as opposed to pre-cut (dirty water used to clean fruit knifes = weeks of diarrhea).


Cheapness

Guatemala, along with El Salvador and Nicaragua, is one of the cheapest countries in Central America. Prices from food to accommodation can generally be found for 50-60% less than in the United States or Europe. Even in tourist hotspots, like the ancient Guatemalan capitol of Antigua, you can still find a budget hotel room with breakfast included for around 10$/night.


Top 10 Things To Do & See

1) Sunset On Lake Atitlan
2) Tube Semuc Champey
3) Climb Tikal
4) Thur & Sun at Chichi Market
5) Ruins Of Antigua

6) Hang From A Truck
7) Go Garifuna In Livingston
8) Climb Volcan Pacaya
9) Drink More Coffee
10) Learn From The Maya


Why Guatemala?

Guatemala is extremely cheap, it’s much safer than you think, and the locals, from the Garifuna in the north to the Maya of the highlands, make you feel simply comfortable. For these reasons and more, Guatemala received a score of 4.8 out of 5 from over 25 world travel experts.

Guatemala is my favorite country in the world for taking a short vacation, an extended backpacking adventure or even living longterm.

Step 1: Get Prepared ]]>
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How Traveling Got Me Into College http://www.runawayguide.com/runaway-options/how-traveling-got-me-into-college/ http://www.runawayguide.com/runaway-options/how-traveling-got-me-into-college/#respond Thu, 09 Jul 2015 18:22:37 +0000 http://www.runawayguide.com/?p=9063 20140720_163039Everyone always says that going traveling will help you find your purpose. They exclaim that adapting to new environments builds confidence. They claim that the entire experience becomes an asset that you can draw upon for the rest of your life.

Honestly, I couldn’t agree more.

It was because of an understanding of my privileged position in the world that I decided to go to college. It was because of the new perspectives I gained that I knew exactly what I wanted to study. It was because of my travel story that I got in.

Whether you’re trying to illustrate to your parents the value of travel or trying to harness your past travels towards your academic career or a new job, check out my college application essay below.

Application Essay

Prompt #1

What is your intended major? Discuss how your interest in the subject developed and describe any experience you have had in the field – such as volunteer work, internships and employment, participation in student organizations and activities- and what you have gained from your involvement.

First, I would like to say that this program, Global Studies, is tremendous. For the past year I have habitually visited the website and read every aspect of it many times over. As I am reading the course descriptions and what the alumni are now doing, I am filled with excitement and know that this is something I will love and subsequently excel at. Furthermore, as vain as this may sound, I can think of no better candidate for this study then myself. From my multicultural heritage to my unconventional but highly rewarding travels in Europe and the Middle East, I am not only one who is culturally open minded but one who will bring first hand experience into class discussions and add to the global studies community at the University Of California Santa Barbara.

While globalization has reduced the infrequency of multi ethnic offspring, it still remains a unique trait and one which has provided me with a broad humanistic outlook. My Mother was born in Japan, the daughter of an Irish American serving in WWII and a Japanese mother. My Father was born in Norway, son of two Norse parents. Both ended up as leads in A Chorus Line, on Broadway, and created me and my younger sister. A prime example of the “American Melting pot.” The final score, ¼ Irish ¼ Japanese and ½ Norwegian. From Japanese cuisine, the etiquette which I observe through my grandmother Obachan and my random Buddhist lessons departed by my great uncle Bonchan, Japanese culture is an essential part of my life.

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On the other hand, I have acquired strong Norsk nationalism through countless holidays with my grandmother Bestamore, snaking on Royk Laks, while she bestowed upon me her Lutheran ideals. All in all, a professional would say I’m an American with an identity crisis. On a serious note, my innate cultural pluralism has enabled me to better understand and see all people as siblings, connected beings, and has left me always searching for new cultures in which to enrich my life.

The multicultural suburban community that I grew up in presented me with an opportunity to indulge my fascination with peoples of different upbringing. In high school I focused most of my attention on world history and was a member of the Multicultural Club. I would often dream away math classes studying the miniature map of the world found in our homework organizer, imagining the different landscapes and peoples. My international heritage and society in which I developed all contributed to my fearless desire to explore and experience the world, just as my countryman and favorite explorer, Leif Erikson had done 1000 years before me.IMG_2831

However, instead of discovering the America, I would discover Europe and later the Middle East. Following High school, I took my backpack, my wits and my spirit and was off on the road less traveled. As I had no money, I hitch hiked, jumped trains and often slept in parks or on benches. Food came from kind restaurant owners throwing out leftovers at closing time and dumpsters behind supermarkets containing goods only a few days past their expiration. I visited nearly every European country over the course of around 6 months. I gained a sort of European perspective few have encountered. Every new country I entered, sublimity crept into my spine creating euphoric goosebumbs. Such different lifestyles and people translated into infinite inner possibility. The more I saw the more I wanted to see and the more I learned, I realized how little I knew. I gained an enormous wealth of experience and knowledge, which has influenced my outlook daily.

When I left the western world and entered the extreme unknowns of the Middle East, theses feelings increased exponentially. Although fears did plague my conscience as the media and western culture had left me confused about what to expect from this region, I entered with an open mind. However, the moment I stepped out of the train station in Istanbul, I fell in love with the place. Countless people offered me tea and asked if I was hungry, a theme which continued throughout my stay in this intriguing land. In Syria, a man named Atif from Canada who was studying Islam in Damascus offered me two weeks lodging in his apartment as well as food. He bought me a haircut, Muslim attire, a prayer mat and beads. It was with him that I experienced and partook in Muslim prayer at a mosque.

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Next, I worked in a Hotel in Amman for one month. This job provided further insight into Muslim life and the language of Arabic. Finally, experiencing Ramadan in Cairo was by far the most enlightening. For one month, the entire city including my self would fast during the day. At the moment the sun descended beneath the horizon, the call to prayer would sound and tables and chairs where erected like dominos in reverse. Each day, the richest men of Cairo catered food for the masses, a concept so generous I could hardly believe. I also spent time in Israel, attending temple for the high holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I heard the views of Israelis towards their Arab neighbors and vice versa. Perspectives and insights such as these gave greater depth to what I had learned in text books and through the news, giving me an understanding few my age could fathom. I was 16.

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I have since continued to fulfill my wanderlust during breaks in my academic career. The year after, I spent three months discovering Eastern Europe and the year after that, I traveled through India, Nepal and Thailand for six months.

My interest in global studies commenced through my culturally diverse background, and continued through my expeditions of Europe the Middle East and beyond. They will persist as long as my travel bug remains, there is mystery to be uncovered and knowledge to obtain. I see my future as a great opportunity to build on all my experiences so far. I will continue to surround myself with different cultures, and educate myself with the intent on better understanding the world we live in. I greatly desire to continue preparing for my life of travels and studies by attending UCSB’s Global Studies program.

Harness Travel

With this application letter I was accepted to UCSB. There I dedicated myself to the Global Studies major, graduated a year early with a 3.8 GPA, and even got Arnold Schwarzenegger’s autograph. I owe much of this success to myriad life experiences and knowledge gained through travel.

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Travel can inspire, build confidence, help you find new purpose, and equip you with some stories that you’re definitely not going to want to tell your parents about. Take a gap year, study abroad in high school, or train through Europe this summer. It’s a decision you won’t regret for the rest of your life, I guarantee it.

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Guatemala Budget Travel http://www.runawayguide.com/runaway-country-guides/guatemala-budget-travel/ http://www.runawayguide.com/runaway-country-guides/guatemala-budget-travel/#respond Sun, 05 Jul 2015 08:36:59 +0000 http://www.runawayguide.com/?p=9128 one hundred guatemalan quetzalsOverview Preparation Budget Travel Guatemala Hideouts

Budget Travel Index

Currency Name: Quetzales “Q” (GTQ)
Average Rate: 1$ = 7 Q

  • Budget Hotel: 50 Q
  • Dorm Bed: 40 Q
  • 3 Tacos: 15 Q
  • Brahva Beer: 5 Q

Current Rates

Minimum Budget: 14$/Day

Comfortable Budget: 24$/Day

Recommended Budget: 18 USD/Day

 


How Travel Around Guatemala For Cheap

  • Chicken Bus: is simply a US school bus that has been “pimped-out,” is failing emission standards, and is used to transport everything from chickens to the elderly between towns and across countries. Prices range from 25 cents to 2-4$ depending on the distance.
  • Hitchhiking: varies significantly by region. In the Mayan highlands it’s often very difficult to find someone willing to stop. And those who do are looking for compensation. In the Caribbean north, hitchhiking attempts are often more successful. In general, hitchhiking in Guatemala is not impossible but more times than not you’ll end up paying a few dollars to ride with 40 others in the back of a truck.
  • Shuttle Bus: operators can be found in almost every Guatemalan city. These shuttles are specifically for tourists and have prices to match. However, they’re still pretty cheap and arguably the easiest way to get around the country. For example, from Antigua to Lake Atitlan takes around 3 hours and costs just 10$. For more info about getting around Guatemala , check out AtitlanLiving.com

How To Eat Cheap In Guatemala

  • Local Markets: offer the cheapest means of sustenance in Guatemala. 3 Avocados = 1$, 1 big papaya = 1$, 1 pound of Chia seeds = 3$.
  • Local Market Restaurants: Small restaurants located in the market area always serve up authentic local dishes at guaranteed local prices. If lots of locals are eating there, than it’s probably pretty safe to eat. Fried pork chop with rice, salad, tortillas and tamarind juice costs about 2.50$.
  • Street Food: isn’t that great in Guatemala. The friend chicken and french fries are generally soggy and taste of old oil. The tacos wrapped in corn tortillas are pretty sweaty as well. But for 2$, it’s a decent meal in a pinch.

How To Sleep Cheap In Guatemala

  • Sleeping On The Street: is not recommended, especially in cities. If you decide to camp in the countryside, it’s a good idea to find an isolated location. Farmers and land owners generally won’t mind but it’s often better to stay out of sight.
  • Budget Hotels: offer the cheapest accommodation in most destinations. Private rooms are often very basic and average between 8-15$/night. You can search for budget hotels in Antigua and other cities on Agoda.
  • Hostels: Only the biggest cities like Antigua have hostels. Backpacker hostels often cost the same as budget hotels, with dorm beds for around 8$/night. Cheaper hostel dorms can be found for around 4$/night. You can find cool hostels in Antigua and other cities on Hostel World.
  • Couchsurfing: is growing in Guatemala. It’s not a bad way to get to know locals.
  • AirBnb: in Guatemala is filled with vacation rentals. Most listings are gringo owned. Still, it’s not a bad way to find a comfortable room in a private house. Sign up with AirBnb and get 25$ towards your first stay.
Step 4: Find Your Hideout ]]>
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Guatemala Preparation Guide http://www.runawayguide.com/runaway-country-guides/guatemala-preparation-guide/ http://www.runawayguide.com/runaway-country-guides/guatemala-preparation-guide/#respond Sat, 04 Jul 2015 12:30:04 +0000 http://www.runawayguide.com/?p=9150 DSC02126Overview Preparation Budget Travel Guatemala Hideouts

Preparation Overview

Best Time To Go: Oct-Nov
Worst Time To Go: Aug-Sept
Fly To: La Aurora International (GUA)
Visa?: Free 90 days
Cash?: ATM/Exchange On Arrival

Immunizations: Typhoid, Hep A
Tap Water: Bad News
Diarrhea Risk: Fairly High
Travel Insurance: Excellent Idea
Don’t Forget: A Windbreaker


Recommended Resources & Gear


How To Pack For Guatemala

The key to packing for any trip is to pack light. This is especially true if you’re planning on hiking the highlands or taking chicken busses.

If you’re on the road and realize there’s something you need, you can almost always buy it in Guatemala and usually for much cheaper than at home.

Below are a few essentials you won’t want to forget!

  • Footware: 1 pair of sandals for the coast and 1 pair of shoes for climbing volcanoes.
  • Bathing suit: for surfing Montericco or swimming in the Caribbean.
  • Wind Breaker: combined with a light sweater is the perfect combination for staying warm on volcano hikes and during the evenings in the highlands.
  • Long Pants: 1 pair of long pants is necessary on cool evenings and when visiting traditional Maya towns.
  • Toiletries: I always recommend that you leave all liquid toiletries like shampoos and creams at home. This way you don’t have to check your bag and can avoid budget airline fees.
  • Documentation: Passport photocopies, passport sized photos, vaccination pappers, travel insurance papers, and ticket information are all good things to carry.
  • Technology: Unless you have to, I would recommend leaving your laptop at home. Almost everyone, aside from bloggers like myself, get by fine with nothing but a smart phone.
  • Comfort: Ear plugs, sleeping mask to block out church bells, dogs, and angry grandmas.

For a more extensive guide to packing, check out How To Pack For Central America.


The Best Time To Visit Guatemala

Guatemala’s climate varies significantly between regions and by altitude. However, much of the country is characterized by two seasons.

  • Summer season:Last from early November and lasts till around late May. This season is characterized by hot and dry weather.
  • Winter/Rainy season: known as Inveirno (winter), lasts from early April and ends around mid October. This season is characterized by afternoon showers and cooler nights.

Although travel in Guatemala is great throughout the year, the best time of year to travel is right after the winter season. During the month of October the landscape is lush and the lack of tourists means it’s easier to bargain down prices for both market textiles and budget hotels.


Do You Need A Visa For Guatemala?

For the latest visa information for all nationalities check out the Ministerio De Relaciones Exteriores.

  • Citizens of US, CA, UK, EU, AU, NZ: receive a free 90 day tourist visa on arrival at Guatemala City International Airport.
  • Guatemala is part of the CA4: which means your tourist visa is valid for travel among Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua for 90 days (Not 90 days within each country). Although the CA4 is akin to the Schengen Zone, most borders do enforce passport control and some will even charge you an extra fee (ex/Guatemala >> Copan Ruins, Honduras).

How To Get To Guatemala

The cheapest airport to fly into is La Aurora International Airport (GUA) located in the heart of Guatemala City. Note that this airport is just a 1 hour shuttle from Antigua.

Additionally, you can also fly into San Salvador, which is a 5 hour shuttle away from Antigua.

For cheap flights from your location you can check out Skyscanner or the individual airlines recommended below.

  • From North America: Spirit Air offers flights a low as 50$ from Ft. Lauderdale to San Salvador and 100$ to Guatemala city.
  • From Europe: Your best option is to fly Norwegian Air from Oslo, Copenhagen, Stockholm, or Gatwick to Ft. Lauderdale. These flights cost around 250$ on average. Then look for a connecting flight through Spirit air.
  • From Oceania: If you’re coming from New Zealand or Australia, first try and find a cheap flight to Los Angeles. Then search separately for a connecting flight to Guatemala City. Again, check out Spirit Air.
Step 2: Travel Cheap ]]>
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Guatemala Hideouts http://www.runawayguide.com/runaway-country-guides/guatemala-hideouts/ http://www.runawayguide.com/runaway-country-guides/guatemala-hideouts/#respond Fri, 03 Jul 2015 17:05:06 +0000 http://www.runawayguide.com/?p=9165 DSC01961Overview Preparation Budget Travel Guatemala Hideouts

Runaway Hideouts are both short and long term accommodation options. They’re off the beaten path and always the best value.  All opinions expressed are always 100% my own. 

Vulcano Lodge

Ultimate off the beaten path garden hideout  


Price: 40$ / night
Location: Jaibalito, Lake Atitlan
The Low Down: fast wifi, excellent nachos, high powered showers, flowers and humming birds, traditional Mayan life, eccentric American, German, Israeli, Swedish and Norwegian expats, infinity pool nearby, authentic and cheap German food across the street, relaxation, yoga, writing, hiking, kayaking, living & loving life. Read the full review of Vulcano Lodge.

Check Availability & Reserve

Hostal Posada De San Carlos

Start Guatemala off the right way

hostal-antiguaPrice: 7$ / Dorm | 40$/ private
Location: Antigua
The Low Down: in the heart of Antigua, modern yet charming, class on a budget, a place to ease into hostel life, from backpackers to pensioners, perfect amount of social space, huge terrace with volcano and world heritage site views, fast wifi, unique private rooms, comfortable beds, super relaxed and friendly staff.

Check Availability & Reserve

Find Your Own Hideout On Agoda




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The Best Regions For Budget Travel http://www.runawayguide.com/runawaysblog/the-best-regions-for-budget-travel/ http://www.runawayguide.com/runawaysblog/the-best-regions-for-budget-travel/#comments Tue, 30 Jun 2015 16:50:29 +0000 http://www.runawayguide.com/?p=9020 There’s a lot of debate over which region is the best.

But there are only 3 main contenders;

They are:

Southeast Asia | Eastern Europe | Central America

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So what sets these regions apart from other popular destinations?

1) They’re all composed of unique countries located in close proximity to one another.
2) They’re relatively safe and easy to get around.
3) And most importantly, they’re all budget friendly.

So which one of these regions is the best?

In the guide below we’ll take a look at the most important budget travel indexes. These include Safety, Friendliness, Deliciousness and Daily Budget.

Then we’ll put these regions head to head, and let you decide which region is best for you and your next adventure.

(Certain generalizations have been made out of necessity. These generalizations aspire to reflect the dominant themes of the region. They do not attempt to characterize the countless smaller unique peoples and cultures that compose them.)

 

Southeast Asia

(Exc. Indian Subcontinent)

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I love Southeast Asia. I fell in love with it the first time I visited in 2006 and I fall in love with it every time I return.

It’s got beaches and bungalows, and temples and big Buddha’s. It’s got all the world’s religions and all those crazy wonderful people that come with them. It’s a place where you can both surround yourself with other backpackers on island paradises or immerse yourself in traditional ways of life. It’s also budget backpacker cheap.

Safety: 4.4 out of 5

Southeast Asia is one of the safest regions in the world for travelers.

Although there does exist violent groups in the Philippines and on the border between Thailand and Malaysia to name a few, the vast majority of the region is extremely safe. Governments are relatively stable and the rule of law is strong.

In tourist hotspots, there is always the possibility of pickpockets and bungalow break-ins, but harsh punishments and the law of karma makes petty crime relatively rare.

Perhaps the biggest threat to one’s safety is disease. Although tropical diseases such as Dengue fever, and Malaria exists, you’re far more like to get travelers diarrhea. Fortunately, most pharmacies will prescribe you an Antibiotic course with no hassle, and for around just 15$.

Friendliness: 3.9 out of 5

It’s very hard to generalize, but from Singapore to Thailand and Myanmar to Laos, there’s an exceptional amount of emphasis on being polite, staying calm, smiling before interactions, and maintaining harmony. Most people smile at and will help foreign travelers in need. Even if it’s a fake smile out of politeness, it still feels welcoming.

However, there are always places, especially in Thailand, where locals have been dealing with backpackers for so many years that they’re absolutely sick of us.

Deliciousness: 4.8 out of 5

Don’t even get me started on the food. Mango with sticky rice, Won Ton Soup, Pork Sandwiches, all kinds of BBQ’d things on sticks and coconuts in countless incarnations.

If you’re a spicy food addict, look no further than Thailand. If you’re looking to try authentic Indian, Malay, Chinese or a fusion of all of them, SE Asia is your region.

Daily Budget: 23/Day

Aside from Singapore & Malaysia, prices range between 30%-50% less than Western Europe and the US (and even more if you get off the full moon circuit).

Cheapest countries in SE Asia: Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia
Most expensive countries in SE Asia: Malaysia, Singapore

Price Index
Beach Bungalow: 10 $
Pork On A Stick: 1 $
Wonton Soup: 1.50 $
Sugar Cane Juice: 0.50 $
640ml Beer At 7/11: 1.50$

A comfortable daily budget for travel in tourist areas: 25$/day
A comfortable daily budget for travel in the countryside: 18$/day

Recommended Minimum Budget: 23$/day

*budget is an average based on 3 meals & cheap accommodation across region

Verdict

SE Asia is safe, definitely the most delicious, friendly enough, and as cheap as they come. In Thailand you can hop skip from one island paradise to the next with a coconut curry in hand. In Cambodia you can explore Angkor Wat like Indiana Jones. In Indonesia and the Phillippines you can surf some sizable and consistent breaks. And in Vietnam, you can overdose on Buddhist temples if you want.

Maybe it’s because my Japanese Grandmother, Haruko, imparted upon me some Asian tastes buds. Or maybe it’s because the cultural mélange of Malaysia and much of the region reminds me of my hometown of New York. Whatever the case, Southeast Asia always feels like a second home and it’s one of my favorite regions to travel through.


 

Eastern Europe

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The very first time I traveled to Eastern Europe, I thought one thing; this region is ghetto and I love it. City blocks were in disrepair, buildings were bombed out, and Soviet era trams ran the streets.

Everyone seemed to be rougher around the edges, yet somehow nicer at the same time. Although I didn’t have any money, the train ticket checkers would let me stay on the train. If I asked politely, restaurant owners would even invite me to eat. Everyone was poorer than in Western Europe but people helped me much more.

This hospitality inspired 3 more adventures that took me through nearly every country in the region. During this time, I furthered my understanding of a diverse mix of people and cultures scattered across an even more diverse and beautiful landscape.

Eastern Europe is much cheaper than, just as naturally beautiful as, and arguably as safe as Western Europe for travelers. Although the region is kind of ghetto, it’s ghetto in the best kind of way, making it one of the best regions for budget travel.

Safety: 3.9 out of 5

Although Eastern Europe has a bad reputation for being dodgier than it’s Western counterparts, it’s really not as dangerous as you might think. I was never once robbed, picked on, or felt threatened throughout two months of hitchhiking.

Different and a bit ghetto yes, more Roma people yes, more traffic law breaking yes, more road side prostitutes yes…more dangerous? not so much as long as you take common sense precautions.

Friendliness: 4.0 out of 5

From Poland to Bulgaria I noticed a similar theme. Although at first people had tough shells, after a few minutes or beers, they quickly dissolved into welcoming smiles.

People either ignored me out right or, and most often, tried their best to help. When they found out I was American, they wouldn’t hesitate to break out an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie line.

Deliciousness: 3.4 out of 5

Aside from Greece, Eastern Europe isn’t really known for it’s food, which is a shame because they really do excellent meat, cheese, and stews.

For example, no one can do Goulash better than the Hungarians. And few countries can match Croatia’s wine and seafood.

More, if you’re on a budget, it’s all about the baked goods, most notably the Burek. In almost every country in Eastern Europe you can find some form of Burek. It’s basically a cream and feta cheese filled pastry with yogurt drizzled on top. It’s simple but delicious, and best of all, extremely cheap.

Daily Budget: 26$/day

Aside from most capitol cities, prices are around 15%-25% less than Western Europe.

The Cheapest Countries: Moldova, Albania, Poland
The Most Expensive Countries: Croatia, Hungary, Greece

Price Index
Hostel Dorm: 10-15 $
Budget Hotel Room: 15-20 $
Burek Pastry: 0.50 $
0.5 L Beer: 1$
Mid-range Restaurant Meal: 4-7$

Comfortable daily budget for travel in cities: 33$/day.
Comfortable daily budget for travel in the countryside: 24$/day.

Recommended Minimum Budget: 26$/day

*budget is an average based on 3 meals & cheap accommodation across region

 

Verdict

Prices from Poland to Albania tend to be considerably cheaper than Western Europe. The people are poorer on average but often considerably friendlier and welcoming. Everything is generally kind of ghetto, but ghetto in a really good, let’s break the speed limit and paint graffiti, kind of way.

If you’re interested in backpacking Europe but looking for a cheaper experience off the beaten path, Eastern Europe is where it’s at.


 

Central America

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Even while I hitchhiked through Sudan, the thought of traveling through Central America still made me nervous. I always envisioned the whole region being awash with gangsters and wannabe gangsters. I put off visiting for ages.

It wasn’t until Oct 2013, after finding a 79$ flight from NYC to San Salvador, that I finally decided to jump. Not only did a net appear but the net was just a buck and there wasn’t a gangster in sight.

Central America is arguably the cheapest and possibly the best region in the world for budget travel. If you like tacos, you won’t find them more delicious than here. If you got ants in your pants, there’s always a bar where you can dance. If you want to immerse yourself into indigenous culture there’s no better than the Mayan. For all of this and more, Central America is one of the world’s best budget travel regions.

Safety: 3.4 out of 5

Chances are you won’t run into any gangsters unless you venture into ghettos and go looking for them.

In reality, the biggest threat to your safety are thieves that prey on gringos. I myself have even fallen victim to them. The last time I was in Antigua, Guatemala, I was beat up and had my camera stolen from around my neck. Just glad I had travel insurance.

However, situations like these are easily avoided if you take precautions. For example, don’t get too drunk and wander around dark backstreets in the middle of the night. Definitely learned my lesson the hard way.

For the most part, you will feel relatively safe as a traveler in Central America.

Friendliness: 4.6 out of 5

I found the people, especially the indigenous people of the Guatemalan highlands and Nicaraguan jungles, to be the kindest, warmest, and most welcoming people I’ve ever found anywhere.

Although some people are opportunistic and looking to profit from friendships, most people generally want to help you out and then hang out.

Deliciousness: 3.8 out of 5

If Central America was a single country the national dish would be rice, beans, and chicken. Aside from this, the most common budget meals are tacos, corn tortillas, funky sandwiches filled with too much ketchup, Papusas, burritos, and plantains (fried bananas).

Although Central America has cheap and delicious food, unless you’re in Mexico, it’s hit or miss from little town to big city.

Daily Budget: 20$/day 

Prices across Central America tend to be 40%-50% less than the United States.

The Cheapest Countries: Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua
The Most Expensive Countries: Costa Rica, Panama, Mexico

Price Index
Hostel Dorm: 6-12 $
Budget Hotel Room: 14-24 $
3 Tacos: 2.25 $
0.5 L Beer: 0.65$
Mid-range Restaurant Meal: 3-5$

Comfortable daily budget for travel in cities: 22$/day.
Comfortable daily budget for travel in the countryside: 16$/day.

Recommended Minimum Budget: 20$/day

*budget is an average based on 3 simple meals & cheap accommodation across region

 

Verdict

Central America is full of quaint colonial cities, sky scraping volcanoes, enticing surf, tasty tacos, diverse cultures, and a wonderful melange of Latin rhythm and local hospitality.

If it’s you’re first time traveling, you can easily make friends and get a taste of the region along the Gringo Trail. If you’re looking to get off the beaten path, you can venture into the Guatemalan highlands for a true Maya experience.

Central America is an excellent region for first time budget travelers, and it’s also my favorite region in the world.


 

The Best Region For Budget Travel

Safe

#1 SE Asia 4.4
#2 EE 3.9
#3 CA 3.4

Friendly

#1 CA 4.6
#2 SE Asia 3.9
#3 EE 3.4

Delicious

#1 SE Asia 4.8
#2 CA 3.8
#3 EE 3.4

Cheap

#1 CA 20$ (+5)
#2 SEA 23$ (+2.5)
#3 EE 26$ (+0)

So Which Region Wins?

#1 Central America Total Score: 17
#2 Southeast Asia Total Score: 15.6
#3 Eastern Europe Total Score: 11.3

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Krakow: Charming, Cheap, Delicious & Just Ghetto enough http://www.runawayguide.com/runawaysblog/krakow-charming-cheap-delicious-just-ghetto-enough/ http://www.runawayguide.com/runawaysblog/krakow-charming-cheap-delicious-just-ghetto-enough/#comments Sun, 28 Jun 2015 11:32:15 +0000 http://www.runawayguide.com/?p=9019 brick building in krakow poland“So what will we do with you now?

He said it long and slow, biting into W’s and licking his L’s.

“Are you joking?” I said, my heart racing faster than it should of been.

“Not joking you. You must pay.”

All I could see was his big dumb polished head reflecting the bus stop information screen.

“Ok, ok, look. I tried to buy a ticket but I couldn’t figure out that machine. I just arrived and I’m trying to find my hotel. Can you please cut me a break or at the very least just back off a little bit.”

Only in Eastern Europe would bus ticket checkers resemble some kind of gang. They had no uniforms, piercings in their eyebrows, and seemed to know no other way to converse than by physical intimidation.

As you might expect, I wasn’t thrilled by my first experience in Krakow. I even regretted coming for a few minutes.

But this is the kind of thing that Eastern Europe is all about. It’s rough around the edges. And I was definitely expecting this.

Fortunately, Krakow got better. It got a lot better.

Although Krakow retains a level of Eastern European ghetto-ness, it’s more refined, historic, delicious, and budget friendly than I could have ever imagined.

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Krakow Isn’t like The Rest Of Eastern Europe

I was always under the impression that all everybody ever did here was drink vodka. But the very first thing I saw, before I nearly got beat by ticket controllers, were hundreds of fit people jogging along the river in the evening light.

There’s also something very peculiar about the population of Krakow. In all my time here, I never once saw a Roma, an African immigrant, or really anyone foreign who wasn’t a tourist. It was a bit bizarre, and raised a lot of controversial questions for me. At the same time, I have to admit, never once being hassled was really refreshing.

It’s not just the people of Krakow, who seem health conscious, liberal, and ubiquitously Polish, but it’s also the history that sets this city apart. Unlike many European cities that suffered complete destruction during the wars of the 20th century, Krakow was never bombed. This means that all of it’s 150 churches and it’s castles, some of which date back to the 13th century, are all in tact. You can also find Schindler’s factory, along with the whole set of the movie, practically as it was in the 1940’s.

Each block transports one to different eras. It’s nostalgique, melancholic, and simply charming.

fred astaire painting poland

Eastern European Cheap

The architecture is antiquated and prices seem to be too. Everything in Krakow is cheap. The 30 minute bus ride from the Airport to downtown costs just 1$ (Unless you don’t have a ticket and then it’s 35$). And tram and bus tickets around the city go for 50 cents a ride.

Krakow is also full of cheap eats, from 4 and 5 star restaurant dishes for around 10$ to street food for just a buck.

You can sleep cheap too with a dorm bed in a quaint centrally located hostel for just 10$ (Good Bye Lenin Hostel). Or you can splurge a bit and get a private cabin in a boat hotel for 2 for just 26$ – Excellent breakfast spread included. (Hostel On The River Marta)

hostel on a boat poland

Hip & Delicious

The beauty of the cities is only rivaled by it’s traditional fare. In Kazimierz, Krakow’s Jewish quarter, Polish Jew’s are rediscovering their rich traditions and cuisine. At street side cafes you’ll find the most delicious Kosher Polish fusion in the world. Definitely try the Perogies, Polish dumplings filled with cabbage and potatoes.

Just a few blocks away in Ploc Nowy, the ‘hipster’ square, you’ll find vodka bars (aka Bania Luka) and beer gardens with drink and food all for just 75 cents a glass/plate. Be sure to try a Zapoekanka, Krakow’s ultimate drunk people food. It’s basically a huge French oven pizza smothered with mushrooms and cheese, and whole lot of ketchup on top for just 1$.

cheap vodka bar in krakow called bane luka

An Unfortunate Past

Just 60 kilometers away from Krakow lay the largest and most notorious concentration camp of Nazi regime, Auschwitz.

Here, nearly 1,300,000 Jew, Poles, and other enemies of the Reich were murdered. It’s an extremely sobering day trip and something everyone should experience, whether you’re interested in this history or not.

halt sign at auschwitz concentration camp

Eastern European & Ghetto?

Yes, there are some aspects of Krakow that make it unmistakably Eastern European and a bit ghetto.

But the city is ghetto is the best kind of way. Delicious drunk people street food and modern Polish fusion at sidewalk bistros thrive side by side. Everything is remarkably cheap from food and accommodation to transport and attractions, but the city is anything but poor. And crumbling streets aren’t simply in disrepair, they’re just really old and charming.

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Jetwing Sea: A Perfect Start To Sri Lanka http://www.runawayguide.com/runaway-hideouts/jetwing-sea-a-perfect-start-to-sri-lanka/ http://www.runawayguide.com/runaway-hideouts/jetwing-sea-a-perfect-start-to-sri-lanka/#respond Tue, 23 Jun 2015 16:21:13 +0000 http://www.runawayguide.com/?p=9001 P1060360I wanted to give myself some time to relax before the start of Travel Blog Conference Asia. To be honest, I was pretty nervous about meeting everyone and definitely didn’t want to be jet lagged.

So I decided to accept an invitation to stay at a hotel for the first few nights.

The hotel was located close to the airport and right on the beach. The room was unexpectedly luxurious. The breakfast buffet made me excited to start each day. The private balcony on the beach allowed for lots of quiet wrting.

It was, in short, a great value, and the perfect place to start to my Sri Lankan adventure.

This Runaway Hideout is Jetwing Sea in Negombo, Sri Lanka.

*Like all Runaway Hideouts, all opinions expressed are always 100% my own

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Location

Jetwing Sea is located in Negombo, which is just 12 kilometers or a 20 minute drive from Bandaranaike International Airport. It’s ideally situated on a somewhat secluded stretch of beach, where you can enjoy a jog or bathing without the crowds.

Unfortunately, as a result of it’s relative isolation, the fishing village of Negombo and it’s attractions is a good walk away.

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Accommodations

Jetwing sea has 3 types of rooms, the standard for around 60$, The deluxe for 150$ and the Suite for 500$. The rooms epitomize a high 4 or even 5 star hotel. They brilliantly blend tropical aesthetics with a modern design. The resulting feeling is one of luxury and relaxation.

resort hotel in negombo sri lanka

Food

The breakfast buffet was the highlight of my stay. They really thought of everything.  They had omelet, crepe, and fruit bars. Lots of different fresh fruit juices and smoothies. And a range of European breads and pastries. The best part about the buffet, it’s included with the room.

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Activities

Jetwing beach is all about eating well, enjoying swims in the pool, and exercising on the beach. However, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can catch a cab into town and check out the famous fish market and colonial Dutch fort. Additionally, you can also go out on a traditional Sri Lankan fishing boat located just steps from the hotel.

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Conclusion

Jetwing Sea is a luxurious hideout at a great value. It’s a place where you could easily spend a week simply relaxing and getting a taste of Sri Lanka. It’s also a hotel whose proximity to the airport makes it the perfect place to start any Sri Lankan adventure.

Just a side-note, Sri Lanka is fairly strict when it comes to visas. All travelers must obtain an ETA or Electronic Travel Authorization prior to arrival. Only then will you be granted a 30 day tourist visa. For more info on obtaining or extending your Sri Lanka tourist visa, check out srilankavisa.org.

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Best & Worst Travel Moments Of 2014 & 2015 http://www.runawayguide.com/runawaysblog/best-worst-travel-moments-of-2014-2015/ http://www.runawayguide.com/runawaysblog/best-worst-travel-moments-of-2014-2015/#comments Mon, 22 Jun 2015 11:49:27 +0000 http://www.runawayguide.com/?p=8918 DSC01999The year started out with a fireworks show on the mystical Mayan Lake Atitlan. From there I traveled to Sicily, France, Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Japan, Sri Lanka, back to Italy, England and finally New York in time for Christmas.

Not only did I visit heaps of countries, even by my standards, but I also pushed my own limits, and sought out new experiences in ways I never had in years past.

I helped a good friend escape from Sudan, kicked a deadly habit in Sweden, ate way too many bugs in Cambodia and explored Sri Lanka like a king to name a few.

These experiences taught me about myself. They furthered my understanding of the world. And they prepared me for what I know will be another enlightening year of travels.

In chronological order, here are the worst and best moments of 2014 (and a bit of 2015).

1) Living On Lake Atitlan (Jan)

I decided to make Lake Atitlan a home base and the idea felt good. I started a destination blog about the lake, Atitlan Living, I met loads of cool expats, and began contemplating some kind of Runaway Tour. Simply eating papayas, writing, and brainstorming the future reminded me that it’s ok to do nothing and take it easy. DSC02148

2) Successfully Smuggling My Friend To Sweden (May)

It was incredibly gratifying to follow through with my promise to help Ashenafi escape Sudan and get to Sweden. He experienced so many “firsts”;  first beer at a bar, first Thai lady boy on the TGV to Paris, and first time he wasn’t afraid of being beat by crooked Sudanese cops. Now he’s becoming a Swedish citizen. I feel grateful to have been able to help him, albeit just a little bit.

lady boy on the train in france

3) Plight Of African Asylum Seekers (May)

Learning of our mutual friends drowning was numbing. Trying to console Ashenafi was heart breaking. Hearing of a sadistic smuggling operation based out of Libya was maddening. Learning of the enormous scale of immigration via the Mediterranean made me realize that it isn’t going to stop until the much larger issue of global inequality between the developed North and underdeveloped south is addressed.

In the end, this experience taught me many things, but ultimately reminded me to be grateful for all that I have, all of the opportunities I’ve had throughout my life, and the privileged position I’m in to make a difference.

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4) Eating Lunch At Statoil (June)

After I got Ashenafi to Sweden, I popped into a Norwegian gas station chain called Statoil. Here I feasted on a bacon and cheese stuffed hot dog over instant mashed potatoes covered in crispy fried onions, ketchup and mustard. Conclusion, happiness can often be found in a hotdog.

5) Thailand In The Low Season (Aug)

Although I had visited Thailand 4 times before, I had never been during the low season. At this time, the weather was cooler, prices could be haggled down and there were far fewer people, making it the perfect place to contemplate a future Thailand tour.  Travel lesson: Don’t base travel plans around weather forecasts. Rainy seasons aren’t as bad as they say they are, plus everything is cheaper!
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6) Trying Crickets In Cambodia (Oct)

Following some peer pressure at a Cambodian bus stop, I crossed bugs off the bucket list (Although they were never on it). Some things taste exactly how they look…not so good. Not so good at all.

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7) Meeting This Guy! (Nov)

I had just arrived in Tokyo. I had nothing planned for the day and I didn’t even know where I was going to sleep. So I ended up just hanging around Shibuya with this guy. Even though I speak decent Japanese, I had no idea what he was on about. Still, it was better than hanging out by myself. Sometimes any company is good company, especially if it’s this character(/model for Mugatu’s garbage fashion line).   

homeless guy in japan

7) Exploring Sri Lanka Like A King (Nov)

I couldn’t quite believe it when I got the email. Out hundreds of bloggers, I was chosen.

They (Sri Lankan Airlines & Cinnamon Hotels) flew me there, took me to see the best of Sri Lanka, fed me 5 star food, and flew me out to anywhere in the world I desired. Never in my life had I traveled in such style.

Not only did I get to experience Sri Lanka like royalty but I got to hangout and travel with other travel bloggers, all of whom turned out to be wonderful mixes between hardcore travelers and computer nerds. Among them, I really hit it off with Kate from AdventurousKate.com and eventually ended up leading a tour with her through Central America.

The whole trip reinforced the fact that traveling isn’t about where you are, but who you’re traveling with. 

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8) Losing My Tooth (Early Dec)

I fought a baguette in Rome and the baguette won. I always wanted to try out the toothless look and finally got my wish. But 1 week in and I was ready to get it fixed. People just don’t take you as seriously without a tooth. The missing tooth reminded me that I really need to be careful for what I wish for sometimes, and that I really need to floss more too. 

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9) Everything Coming Together (Dec)

By the time December rolled around I found myself right back where I had started, on Lake Atitlan. The tour that I had planned the year before was set to begin in January. The destination blog had grown. And I realized that I had shaped 2014 exactly how I wanted it to be. 

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So What’s In Store For The Rest Of 2015?

Since 2015 is already half over, let’s get caught up a little bit more.

1) More Runaway Tours (Jan, Feb, Mar, 2015)

1 tour of Central America somehow turned into 3 more. It was tough and stressful at times but these tours helped me evolve as a person more than any travel experience before. They instilled a kind of take-charge confidence that had been lacking in my life. And through them I made loads of new friends, 5 of which are actually going to join me again on Runaway Tours in Thailand and Japan.

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2) I Got My Tooth Replaced & Met A Really Nice Girl(Feb 2015)

West Nyack Dental quoted me 6,000$ to fix all my dental problems. So how did I get my tooth fixed?

  1. Took a 129$ flight to Guatemala.
  2. Found an incredibly talented dentist named Dr. Titi
  3. Got everything fixed for just over 1000$
  4. Met a Swedish/Croatian girl named Matea.

I actually met Matea before I lost my tooth, which just goes to show that you don’t need a full mouth of teeth to get a girl. 

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3) The Best Bad Decision I Made (Feb 2015)

I could easily walk anywhere I wanted to. I would only be able to use her for 2 more months. I wouldn’t be covered by insurance should anything happen. Plus, at 1,200 dollars I really couldn’t afford her.

Nevertheless, I decided to buy a 125 cc Yamaha enduro motorcycle! And boy was it worth it. I rode to a coffee plantation in the Guatemalan highlands, and even started offering day trips around Lake Atitlan.

Happiness can come from things, if things are surfboards and motorcycles.

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4) I Quit Smoking! (March, 2015)

After over a decade of at least two packs a day, I finally kicked cancer sticks! I had tried countless times before but never succeeded.

So how did I finally quit?

I simply got sick of it. I got tired of being tired. I could feel my brain slowing down. I had 1,000$ in tobacco induced dental work. (I also met a girl who said that if I didn’t stop we couldn’t be together. So there’s that too ;)

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So What’s In Store For The Rest Of 2015?

Now I’m back in Sweden for the summer. I’m here to learn me some Swedish, make pepper steak BBQs, run in the forest, celebrate Midsommar (theSummer Solstice), and finish writing my book with the help of the midnight sun.

But I won’t be in Sweden the whole summer. On June 24th I’m taking the train down to Croatia and stopping in Poland and Hungary on the way. On July 14th I’m back in Sweden and taking a week to discover Stockholm. On August 16th I’m flying to Bangkok for Runaway Tours: Thailand Island Hopper.

After that, it’s Indonesia or maybe Sri Lanka for a month. Then it’s Japan for the Japan Tour and finally back to Guatemala on Nov 1st for Runaway Tours: Central America.

If you want to keep in touch and follow the journey, subscribe to my bi-monthly news letter below.

Safe travels!

-Leif

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