A Unique Adventure in Baños, Ecuador (+ 5 Tips for Learning a New Language Before a Trip)

Yellow house in Baños EcuadorThe bright yellow house down in the green jungle valley below beckoned us. We were in Baños, one of the most popular tourist towns in Ecuador, walking up a dirt road off the tourist radar, beyond all the hostels, tour companies, and restaurants and into the surrounding farmlands. Huge greenhouses growing babaco fruit (which resembles a papaya but tastes completely different) and tomates dulces (”sweet tomatoes”—another tropical fruit that resembles a tomato but is unrelated) dotted the hillsides. The yellow house had a huge sign on it which read, “Cafe Bar.” We strained to see a road to the place, perhaps in the trees behind the building… But it looked like it was down there by itself, in the jungle across a river canyon, with only a footpath leading to it. Continue reading

How Checking a Bag Can Ruin Your Trip (plus: my exact packing list PDF)

A couple months back, I published a blog post on how to pack everything into carry-on luggage.  Now, recently returned from our two and a half month trip to Ecuador, I have some real-life examples of how not checking a bag saved our behinds (twice!) from being stranded in an airport overnight, hundreds or thousands of miles from our origin and destination.  Not only that, but by carrying everything with us we were able to jump into the front of many long lines and avoid what could have been hours of hassle.  FREEDOM!

FREEDOM!!!

FREEDOM!!!

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2 How To: Pack Only Carry-On Luggage

Currently my husband and I are traveling in Ecuador for 2.5 months, and we came down without any checked luggage.  Each of us packed a small duffel bag that easily fits in the overhead compartment on the airplane, and a day pack. 

Day pack and small duffel bag: my only luggage for our 2.5 month Ecuador trip.

Day pack and small duffel bag: my only luggage for our 2.5 month Ecuador trip.

Packing light proved advantageous several times over even on the flight down. Continue reading

How To: Learn the Local Language

Berlitz Romanian

Being able to speak even a few basic phrases of the language of the country you plan to visit will pay off in more ways than one.  This is a strategy I use to not only help me save a little more money, but also to increase my safety and connect with the locals in a more fulfilling way.  By making the effort to speak the language of your destination, in most cases the locals will be far more likely to help you, give you better prices on their goods, and generally like and respect you much more than the next tourist who expects everyone to speak English to them.  Even in situations where the guides, shopkeepers, waiters and others speak English, if you speak to them in their own language it will put a smile on their faces and you’ll get a lot more positive attention from them.

A few nights ago my husband and I landed in Ecuador.  We spent our first day in Guayaquil.  As we walked along the Malecón Salado (boardwalk along the river), we found a man with a long pole reaching high into a mango tree and decided to interact with him.  “¿Qué está haciendo?” I asked him (What are you doing?).  Continue reading

1 How To: Use the Local Resources

 

Image credit: Shawn Ford

Image credit: Shawn Ford

Travel can become extremely affordable when you learn how to use the local resources.  Depending on where you travel to, it could make your trip even cheaper than just staying home!   In earlier posts I talked about how to overcome the biggest expenses of airfare and lodging by using frequent flyer miles and staying with couchsurfers or in hostels.  I’ll discuss other lodging options in future e-mails, but those are the main ways I save when I travel.  After those big expenses, the next big money pits are food and ground transportation.  However, if you learn to use the resources that the locals use, you may find you spend even less than you do on food and transportation at home, especially in some of the world’s cheaper destinations, such as many countries in Latin America and Southeast Asia.

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1 How To: Stay in Hostels

In a previous post, I talked about couchsurfing as a great way to eliminate lodging costs while traveling.  When couchsurfers aren’t available or I want to do my own thing without worrying about my host’s schedule, hostels are my next best resource for reducing my travel costs considerably.  Hostels are wonderful places to connect with other travelers and learn some great tips for things to see and do in the area or places to visit in the future. 

Hostel Kitchen

Many hostels have kitchens which will help you save on food costs. (Image credit: Brian)

Most hostels have kitchen areas, so you can make your own meals and save a lot of money that way, rather than eating out several times per day.  Often hostels offer other amenities as well, such as computer/internet access, free breakfasts, airport shuttle service, cheap tours, and lots of information about the area.  Some have pools, hot tubs, or barbeque grills.  Many offer a common area full of games, books, movies, and other things to do.

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1 How To: Couchsurf

Image credit: ChazWags

Image credit: ChazWags

I was first introduced to the concept in late 2005, just months before a planned trip to West Africa, with a multi-day stopover in Paris on the way home. 

“Have you ever heard of Global Freeloaders?” a friend asked me.

I laughed.  “No…what is it?”

“It’s a community of travelers that host other travelers for free in their homes, all over the world.”

I was instantly in love with the idea and quickly signed on.  I filled out a profile and listed myself as a host.

I then began scanning the profiles of members in Paris, France, Continue reading

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How To: Earn Frequent Flyer Miles

I have literally flown all over the world on Frequent Flyer Miles, including to Benin (in West Africa), France, Ecuador, Mexico, Hawaii, and all over the continental U.S.  I have also used my miles to get plane tickets for friends and family members.  When I went to Ecuador, I had enough miles for two other people.  I got their tickets for them, and in exchange they covered some of my expenses for a trip to the Galapagos Islands.  As a result, I spent a mere $600 for two weeks on the islands, which are notoriously expensive!    Continue reading