Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Five Off Roading Myths That Simply Aren't True

]'Off roading is an incredibly fun motor sport which basically involves driving a vehicle over un-surfaced areas such as mud, sand, ice, gravel or even rocks. There are a number of different types of off roading and just as many vehicles that are specifically designed for this kind of activity. Due to its increase in popularity however there have been a number of myths flying around that simply aren't true. Here we aim to debunk these myths and finally get down to the truth.

Autos Are Not As Good As Manuals

This may have been true back in the good old days but it is no longer the case. Automatics are much easier to drive slowly and just as powerful as their manual counterparts making them perfect for off road activities. Most automatics now come with excellent disc brakes and great gear reduction ratios so they are perfect for hilly terrains and perform much better than manuals.

Filling Your Tyres With Nitrogen Is A Good idea

Nitrogen may be the air of choice for race car drivers but there are hardly any benefits to filling the tyres on an off road vehicle with the same gas. Not only is it more expensive but the speeds that an off road vehicle travels at are not high enough to see any notable differences.The theory that nitrogen tyres are less prone to punctures is also not true. The best thing you can do is to have your tyres serviced every couple of months and watch out for any cracks - there's no point in using nitrogen.

Diesels Are Slow

This is another myth that was true a few decades ago but now an off road vehicle that uses diesel is as fast as a vehicle that uses petrol. Furthermore most diesel cars come complete with a high number of gear ratios and they have a lot more torque - petrol may not be the best fuel of choice any more.

Braking Downhill Is The Worst Decision Ever

Okay so whilst it's not the worst decision ever if you do find that you are travelling too fast on a downhill slope there is no harm in braking so long as you do it gently. This myth is actually there to protect drivers but when done safely, and in the lowest gear there is no reason why you shouldn't brake whilst travelling downhill.

Traction Control Is No Good In Sand

The myth here is that traction control actually ends up slowing a vehicle down when it travels over sand but this is not true. You may think it sounds weird as the traction controls are actually linked up to the brake system but almost all of the new off road vehicles are quick to react and can do so before the momentum of the vehicle is lost. One thing you may want to make sure you do when driving through sand however is to lock the centre differential (if you have one) on sand - this can prevent the wheels from digging in which can cause your wheels to stick.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Three Things To Consider Before Heading Off On Your First Road Trip

No matter your age or your occupation, everyone can benefit from heading out into the outdoors and getting some fresh air from time to time. Road trips are an ideal way of exploring an area that you are not too familiar with and can also be perfect for people who want to revisit some specific attractions at a pace that suits them. Before getting buckled up for your first ever road trip however there are a few things that should be considered.

Travel Partners

One of the most important things that should be considered before heading off on your first road trip are your travel partners. Most road trips last for at least a couple of days and some can even last for months at a time, especially if exploring a whole country is your idea of fun. Unless you plan on traveling in separate vehicles you may find that you are spending anywhere up to 24 hours a day together so know it can try your patience if you don't exactly get on with your travel partners.

Where possible it's a good idea to travel with people who have a similar personality type. If you like your own space, traveling with a group of extroverts whose idea of fun is heading off on an extended party is probably not the best idea. Also think about traveling with people who can drive (and will be happy taking over the wheel for an hour or two) unless you are happy driving the party around on your own for days on end.

Places to Visit

Road trips are great in that it isn't important for your plans to be set in stone. One thing that should be kept in mind however is your return date so if there are a few specific places that your group wants to visit it may be a good idea to plan the rest of your trip around these. Before traveling, invite your travel party out for a few cocktails (this is the best way to get your creative juices flowing) and see what you come up with. Don't make the experience stressful, just try and get a general idea of what your trip will entail.

Your Budget

Road trips don't have to centre around flashy hotels and top price attractions - if you are short on cash you can still have just as good a time, it may just mean sacrificing slightly when it comes to accommodation. Many people find camping is a great way of saving some money but guest houses and hostels can work just as well. When planning your road trip, remember to account for the cost of things like petrol and toll roads (some of which can be avoided altogether depending on where you are driving).

Thursday, May 24, 2012

My Top Five Family Vacation Tips

Over the years, we've really learned from our mistakes when traveling with our children. For the vacation to be fun for adults as well, some little things can make a BIG difference.

1)Get a room with a balcony. If your kids need to nap or have a bedtime earlier than yours (I hope!), you can put them down and still be able to chat and relax outside. Remember to bring a baby monitor also.

2) Get a room with a kitchen, or at least a coffee maker and a mini fridge. It's really hard to get kids dressed and ready to go to a restaurant for breakfast when you only have one eye open. It tended to start the day off poorly when I'd been up for a couple of hours before my first cup of coffee!

3) Bring your child's favorite breakfast cereal from home (see item #3). It always seemed to take longer than expected to pack up the beach/pool toys, sunscreen, cameras, etc. If the kids are already having breakfast, they'll be less cranky waiting for you to get everything ready. When my two were little, this made a HUGE difference! Restaurants don't usually have a big variety of cereals, and the other menu items were often a much bigger portion than they could finish. Besides, it's much cheaper, too! Try to bring some favorite snacks as well, especially ones you don't buy often. It makes the vacation even more special if they get the treats they rarely have at home.

4) Be in (at least some of) the Pictures! It seems like this is a growing trend, as evidenced by this ABC news spot, but it's something we started doing about 9 years ago. There's your Christmas card photo! Many resorts have an on-site photographer who can be hired for a private photo session of an hour or two. Disney goes one step further with this idea by having dozens of "PhotoPass" photographers throughout the parks. Your Photo Pass card is encoded so that each time you give it to a photographer, the pictures they take are saved into your online album. When you get home, you can purchase a whole cd of photos or prints of individual favorites.

5) In restaurants, have the server bring the kids' meals out as soon as they're ready. When your meals come out of the kitchen, the kids can have dessert. I'm not very patient waiting for my own food, and certainly children are less so. Buffets are even better for kids. They can try a little of everything with no worries about them not liking what was ordered. And no waiting!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Ten Helpful Tips for Travel to Cuba

are a main draw for those looking to buy but don't get tempted by the allure of cheap cigars on the street. Chances are you'll either get fakes or stolen cigars which can be confiscated at the airport.

Renting a car in Cuba is one of the best ways to see the island but there are a few things to consider. Before you head out, get a GOOD map and make sure it's up to date. Don't let the gas get too low before filling up as you may find a lot of gas stations are either out of gas or closed. A great way to get insight into the island is to pick up a hitchhiker as it is both safe and one of the main ways the locals get around.

Donations in the way of basic daily necessities such as clothes, soap, shampoo etc... are always in demand however; drop these off at either hospitals or churches and avoid using them in lieu of monetary tipping at resorts.

Food in Cuba tends to be quite bland as there are not a lot of spices and while the water is generally safe, bottled water is advisable. This is not to say the food is inedible, but if you like basic tastes like salt and pepper or hot sauce, I would recommend packing your own.

Currency in Cuba is the (CUC) Cuban convertible peso and the (CUP) Cuban Peso. Exchange at the hotel only and avoid changing money on the streets. ATMs are next to useless so get enough money for the day. Credit cards are accepted however, any American credit cards such as American Express are not. American currency is not accepted but some places will exchange for about a 20% premium.

Accommodation throughout the island range from 5-star all inclusive resorts to budget apartments and for the most authentic Cuban experience, a Casa Particular. These Cuban versions of a bed and breakfast are not only cheap but it is an excellent way to get the Cuban culture, atmosphere and friendly hospitality of living with a family in Cuba.

Beggars and street vendors are more common in the larger cities such as Havana and Santiago de Cuba and are more of a nuisance than anything. While not overly aggressive, use what I call the "seagull rule". If you either say no or ignore them, eventually they will go away. However, if you even give one of them any money you will quickly be surrounded and they will be very persistent.

Crime and personal safety is much like anywhere in the world, if you keep your head about you and be sensible, you'll be fine. Crime in Cuba is generally very low and Cuba is considered to be a very safe destination. I have seen it written many places about how women will feel safe at night even walking alone and although I don't disagree with that statement, I do find it a fairly irresponsible way of describing the safety of a destination no matter who it pertains to.

Internet in Cuba is still quite in the early stages and is not only hard to find but can be very expensive. Some of the larger resorts have internet access but really... you're on vacation in Cuba and shouldn't be on the internet anyway.

Pack necessities such as sunscreen, bug repellent and other sundries ahead of time as most of these items can only be bought at the hotel and since they know the tourist with sunburn is desperate, you can expect to pay upwards of $30 just for sunscreen.

Overall, Cuba is a pretty laid back destination that really doesn't disappoint, any problems that may arise on vacation can generally happen anywhere but by using these 10 tips, you can cut down on any unforeseen problems and spend more time enjoying the fantastic resorts and beaches of Cuba.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Colombian Amazon: The Good the Bad and the Ugly

More and more people are becoming interested in visiting the largest rainforest on the planet. I am of course referring to the Amazon. Measuring approximately 5 500 000 square kilometres it boasts the highest biodiversity in the world. One of the entry points into this vast expanse is through the Colombian city of Leticia. Leticia has become one of the primary destinations for international tourists visiting the country. However despite more and more people visiting the region the type of experience tourists encounter is very inconsistent with many leaving very dissatisfied. There are ways to ensure you have an enjoyable visit to this natural wonder. By knowing what is worthwhile, what to avoid and in general what to expect you will live this unique adventure to its fullest.

The Good

So as not to scare everyone off from the get go let's begin with what is good.

    The biodiversity: The amazon has an incredible amount of birds (1300), mammals (430), reptiles (380) amphibians (430), fish (3000), insects (??? >1 000 000) and plants (40 000). Despite the fact that the many of these are experts at staying hidden you are guaranteed to see something.

    The natural beauty: Independently the rivers and the forest are both beautiful. Together, at times they make for a stunning landscape. This combination of water and vegetation also lends itself to some of the most amazing sunsets you will ever see. Also, although from above it may appear as a homogeneous mass of green, the forest is varied with each particular forest type revealing its own particular beauty.

    The isolation: This may not appeal to everyone but to some the sense of being a million miles away from the rest of the world is appealing. Once you manage to get away from populated and trafficked areas of the forest the feeling of peace and serenity is amazing. It is almost magical sitting under a sky filled with stars with only the symphony of night sounds to be heard. It may be difficult to experience this as few tour operators take visitors that deep into the forest but if you truly want to experience the real Amazon it is a must.

The Bad

The negatives as in most or probably all areas have nothing to do with the physical location but rather how it is managed and the people that live and work there. Here in the Amazon it is no different.

    Poor infrastructure: Despite tourism making up most of the local economy there is very little money that has been invested into infrastructure. Rampant corruption has meant that the large sums of money that are available for public projects disappear. This shows in the pot holed streets the basic airport, the very visitor unfriendly port and virtual lack of quality tourist information.

    The same poor options offered everywhere: For some strange reason almost everyone will try and sell you the same few experiences. For the most part these experiences are not worthwhile. The standard tours offered to most visitors include Monkey Island, the native community of Macedonia, the National Park Amacayacu and Lake Tarapoto, Lake Tarapoto being the only spot I can truly recommend.

    At monkey you are guaranteed you will see monkeys however the problem is that the one species you will see is not native to the Island and only survive there because people feed them. Originally it was an American who brought both the monkeys and the natives to the island and as it was then it still is not an ecologically friendly site to visit. The community of Macedonia suffers from a lack of authenticity. The natives many times try to sell the idea that they still dress in grass skirts and wander around half naked all the time while the reality is that many have huge sound systems in their homes and some even have Direct TV. The National Park is likely one of the greatest disappointments. Tourism within the Park is handled by a private company and they only offer a 500 meter wooden pathway with the only interesting sight being a large ceiba tree. It is relatively expensive and only shows a very superficial look at the true natural beauty hidden within the park. In general it is a little difficult to find sights that authentically show the Amazon as most operators prefer to sell what has always been sold and many great alternatives are ignored.

The Ugly

There is definitely an ugly side and hopefully most won't see or at least not notices it. I am referring to the total indifference towards conservation and the environment in general. For whatever reason the culture in and around Leticia is very exploitative. By this I mean any resource that can be used is taken advantage of regardless of sustainability. This has been seen with logging with hunting and with fishing. Tourists may notice this while they walk through the forest, in many areas it's quite difficult to see animals yet in all the communities and some hotels and tourist attractions you see them tied up or on display. Here is where tourists can help take action for change.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

What You Should Know Before You Travel

Traveling Got You Frazzled? Try These Tips!

A collection of tips on how to begin traveling smarter and safer makes the perfect starting point for a beginner to begin planning their own trips a bit easier. Below is just such a collection that will hopefully assist the eager novice into eventually becoming a pro when it comes to traveling.

Do not ever tell a street vendor where you are traveling from. These vendors are experienced sellers. They know the financial interests of many different cultures and will use yours against you to get you to buy what they are selling. Just tell them, "No, thank you," and keep walking.

In order to keep your dirty clothes away from your clean clothes when traveling, you should use a drawstring bag or a pillow case. A drawstring bag or pillow case is compact and can prevent your dirty clothes from rubbing off on your clean clothes. You can also add some clothespins to your bag for hanging your clothes once they have been washed.

When taking photos on a trip, upload them each day if you have access to a computer or brought a laptop with you. This way, even if something should happen to your camera, you will still have the pictures from your trip online and easy to access from any computer.

Before booking your cruise vacation, get a map of the ship you will be sailing on to help select a specific cabin location. Look for clues on the map for areas that might pose a problem. Cabins near ice and vending machines, elevators and laundry rooms tend to be gathering places for passengers and are often congested and noisy.

Shop around for the best deal. Often, a shift in a day or two from your departure or return can amount to a significant savings of several hundred dollars in your transportation cost. Many websites can check this automatically for you. As a general rule, if you can avoid travelling on Fridays or Sundays, you will save a pile of money.

One way of minimizing ice buildup on your windshield is to park your car with the windshield facing away from the prevailing wind. Another way too few of us think about is to cover our windshields with a throw rug when we park our vehicles. Tuck the edge in under your windshield wipers and your car will be as snug as a bug in a rug.

Well, hopefully this collection of tips were enough to give you a great start on what to do when it comes to taking and planing trips. This collection was carefully constructed to help you begin learning how to plan and take a trip, much smarter and safer that you did before.

Last, Turn to the internet for some great information about hotels reviews. You will find the hotel reviews to be packed with honest and helpful information that you can use to plan the vacation of your dreams. You will be able to learn which hotel to book and the best restaurants to dine at.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Earth Friendly Galapagos Tours

 The Galapagos Islands are one of the most fascinating places on earth. Most people know of them vaguely as a place with rare animals, including the famous and very large and long-lived Galapagos turtles. Because the area is so unique, beautiful and enthralling, Galapagos tours are easy to find and can be found at an affordable price, too.

Let's start with the basics. The Galapagos Islands are part of Ecuador, though most people think of them as being their own country. However, they do belong politically to Ecuador and are located a little over 600 miles from the Ecuadorian coast.

Each island is actually a volcano that has risen out of the ocean. In fact, the Galapagos Islands are thought to be one of the most volcanically active places on the planet. This no doubt has played a part in the unique development of the area. The oldest island shows it has been above water for 4 million years. However, the area is still volcanically active and smaller islands continue to rise slowly.

The Galapagos Islands were first included on a map way back in 1570. They were named the Galapagos Islands even back them, in honor of the notably large tortoises that are native there. This was back when the ocean was a wilder place. In fact, English pirates are said to have used to grouping of islands to hide the Spanish ships that they stole!

In the 1700s, however, permanent residents came to the islands. These were whalers and other hunters. They massacred significant numbers of turtles, seals and whales. Some varieties of these species were actually wiped out during all this and have been marked extinct.

Charles Darwin brought the Galapagos Islands fame in the 1800s when he was greatly inspired by the unique animal and plant life present. Islands in general present interesting and unique examples of life on earth, but the Galapagos Islands are possibly the densest collection of unique species that are found no where else on earth.

In the 20th century, the Ecuadorian government realized these amazing islands needed protection from humans. Today it is a National Park. However, it is also home to 15,000 people whereas it was discovered uninhabited. Conservancy continues to be an ongoing struggle as the natural animals and plants suffer from sharing space with humans.

If you decide to fly to this exotic and naturally unique location, you will not be disappointed. When booking Galapagos tours, though, only attend events that are respectful of the natural living things. Otherwise, the beauty of the Islands may be killed off completely.