Not All Who Wander Are Lost: A Blog for Adventurous Women

Climbing Kilimanjaro: 5 decisions to make

Posted by Marian Marbury on Jan 17, 2014 6:10:00 PM

KILI1 copy

Climbing Mt Kilimanjaro is a dream for many women. It's non-technical, meaning you don't need mountaineering skills or even to be an athlete. It is also truly a physical and mental challenge. If you are finding yourself thinking about it, here are some of the decisions you need to make.

1. Are you healthy enough to climb Kilimanjaro?

It is our heartfelt belief that anyone who is healthy can get in the condition required to successfully complete the climb. It requires determination and commitment to training, and acquiring hiking experience if you don't already have it. But what do I mean by healthy? There are several common conditions that should make you think twice:

  • Bad knees The descent is challenging for everyone, even those with healthy knees. If you have significant knee pain, it is unlikely you could train sufficiently. Even if you could, your knees will be incredibly painful when you descend. That being said, many people with some knee pain find that a regular program of strengthening the muscles around their knees (e.g. lunges and squats) will significantly decrease their knee pain. This was true for me.
  • Chronic lung disease Air has progressively less oxygen as you get higher on Kili. If you have lung damage that impairs oxygen exchange, trying to get enough oxygen into your bloodstream can leave you literally gasping for breath, even when you are hiking quite slowly. If you have never been diagnosed with lung disease but have a history of heavy smoking, having a pulmonary evaluation would be a good idea.
  • Heart disease This is not automatically a disqualifier because there are several kinds of heart disease. If you have had stents for Coronary Artery Disease and can exercise vigorously at high heart rate, you may be fine - check with your doctor. But if you have angina, even if it is controlled with medication, then climbing Kilimanjaro is probably not a realistic goal. The combination of the physical stress of climbing with the thin air means that your heart has to work extra hard to keep up with the demands.

2. What company should you go with?

Tanzanian law requires you to have a Tanzanian guide and at least one porter to climb Mt Kilimanjaro. You can either go through a local Tanzanian company or an overseas company (like us) who works with a local Tanzanian company.

Booking directly with a local operator will cost less. If you want to climb Kilimanjaro alone or have your own group to do it with, and feel confident in your travel planning skills and your ability to pick out a good local operator, this can be a great way to go. If you prefer having all the details arranged for you, having access to people who can give you advice as you prepare, having a Western leader who works with the local leader to make the trip go smoothly and provides extra medical backup, and you like the idea of being part of a group of people with the same goals, then it may be worth the extra cost of going with an overseas company.

Regardless of which direction you take, you should think twice about focussing only on the price. Trips are cheap because porters are inadequately paid and inadequately clothed. We highly recommend that you start with looking at the Kilimanjaro Porter's Assistance Project to familiarize yourself with the issues. Unfortunately they have had to suspend their Climbing Partners program because they are now denied access to the Mountain (due to the government bowing to pressure from local operators who did not meet their standards). However, you can educate yourself about the questions you should be asking any company you want to go with.

3. When is the best time to climb Kilimanjaro?

Kilimanjaro is close to the equator, so you can climb it year round.  January, February, and September are considered to be the best months in terms of weather (warmest with the lowest precipitation). The tradeoff is that they also tend to be the busiest and therefore more expensive. The longer rainy season goes from the end of March to early June; you will likely deal with more clouds and lower visibility, plus wetter and muddier trail conditions - but there will be fewer people on the mountain. The summer months (June, July, and August) are drier but colder. There is a shorter rainy season that lasts from November through the beginning of December, where skies are clear in mornings and evenings and afternoon rains are common. So it's all tradeoffs and what is most important to you.

We always plan our trip in February because it offers better weather and coincides with the time that many animals are giving birth - which is an amazing sight during the safari. The specific timing depends on the full moon - we always plan for the final ascent to take place on the night of the full moon because when the weather is clear, the moon is so bright that headlamps are unnecessary - truly a magical experience.

4. What is the best route for climbing Kilimanjaro?

You can read about the 6 different routes on Kilimanjaro on Wikipedia. Again, there are tradeoffs. We have chosen the Machame route for the last several trips because 1) it is very scenic, going through five different eco-zones; 2) it allows adequate time for acclimatization (we break up the route from Barranco to Barafu with an overnight at Karanga to allow one more day for acclimatization); and 3) the drive to Machame Gate is only a couple of hours. The main drawback is that it is a popular route so there are more people on it.

One option some choose is to sleep in the crater at the top (called Crater Camp), which means that they only have 800 feet to climb to the summit at sunrise. We don't offer it because it is colder than most people have ever experienced (it's not only the air temperature but the fact that you feel cold more when you are oxygen-deprived) and sleeping at 18,000 feet significantly increases your risk of altitude sickness. However, one of the advantages is that your summit day is shorter - 800 feet up, then 8,000 down. I know several people who have done it that say it was an amazing experience. Our summit day is 4,000 feet up and 8,000 feet down and it is a very, very long day. However, climbing the 4000 feet up in the dark by the full moon will remain one of my most treasured memories - I wouldn't trade it. But you might!!

5. Can you guarantee success on Kilimanjaro?

Absolutely yes!

But not if your measure of success means getting to the top. While we all talk about "it's the journey, not the destination", that attitude often seems to fall by the wayside when climbing Kilimanjaro and only reaching the top is deemed success.

No, we can't guarantee you will reach the top. That will depend on your conditioning and your luck. Your conditioning is about the only thing you can control - but fortunately, it is under your control. But luck? Not so much. When I say luck, I mean

  • weather - one year there was an unsual amount of snow and no one made the summit, on our trip or any other trip going on at the same time
  • acclimatization - whether or not you are affected by altitude is largely a matter of genetics (although Diamox can help). Some people will have been fine at altitude their whole life and suddenly become sensitive to it.
  • your health during the trip - if you get a cold, bronchitis, or diarrhea, you may feel too weak for the final summit attempt.
On the other hand, if your definition of success is to get as prepared as you can, give it your best shot, and then be open to whatever experience you have (and it will be amazing!!), then absolutely, we can guarantee your trip will be successful.
Hiking Tips for Women

Topics: adventure travel, international destinations, hiking trips

Planning your adventure vacation itinerary

Posted by Marian Marbury on Jan 29, 2013 8:02:00 AM

We are in the thick of planning for 2014 and even 2015, and while planning for a group of people who are paying you is different in some respects than planning an itinerary for your partner or friends, there are still some key questions that you have to ask.

  • Where are you going to go? This can be the most difficult one. Over the years we have found that there may be a really awesome place, one with great natural beauty, fun kayaking or hiking, good accomodations - in short, perfect for the kinds of trips we like to offer - but if no one has ever heard of it, no one will sign up. You may run into something similar with friends - "What? Why would we want to go there?!!" At the same time, if you're interested in adventure travel, an itinerary that totally stays on the beaten path probably isn't appealing either. But for international trips in particular, an itinerary that starts in a major city and goes from there can be perfect. AMjor cities have better airline access and accommodation; plus you can come a day early so you have time to recover from travel fatigue and deal with lost luggage and missed flights.

    Whether you want to plan your city time probably depends on the city. Most European cities are quite easy to navigate with enough tourist information bureaus that you can decide what to do once you're there. Other cities, where the alphabet is different and few people speak English, may be more enjoyable with at least a guided tour to get you oriented.

  • Will you stay one or two places or be moving most days? There are definite advantages and disadvantages to both. Some people love staying in one or maybe two places because they find that not having to pack up is more relaxing, they like getting to know a place better, and in general it provides for a more relaxed and in depth experience. The disadvantage is that you either see less of an area or spend more time driving, unless there is lots to do from that one location. On a trip that is moving frequently, you trade off seeing more for packing more. And those trips are in depth in a different way.

    Our two trips to Switzerland are a good example. On our Day Hiking the Swiss Alps, we stay in 2 different villages. There are lots of hikes from both villages, easily accessible by public transport, and we end up seeing a lot of the Lauterbrunnen Valley and Zermatt areas. On our Swiss Alps Alpine Pass Route, we hike from village to village on old trails, passing from the Lauterbrunnen Valley into the Kiental, an area that is only a mountain pass away but has a completely different feel to it. Some of the areas we can get to are more remote and have less of a tourist feel. But at the same time, we don't have the relaxation of settling in. Which is more appealing is a totally individual decision.

  • How structured do you want it to be? On our trips we find that most people want a fairly good idea of how they will be spending each day but they don't want it so highly structured that it feels rigid. On a personal trip, you need to make the same decision. If you don't plan anything, you may find yourself uncertain about what to do, you might miss doing something very worthwhile, or you might spend so much energy trying to figure it out on site that you waste time. But if your plans are very structured, then you may not have the time to sit at the restaurant you discovered, or hike the trail a local tells you about that isn't in the guidebooks. We've found that a day that allows some time for serendipity is more rewarding than a day that is crammed full from breakfast to bedtime.

  • How much do you want to use TripAdvisor to plan your trip? There is no doubt that TripAdvisor has made it easier to avoid ending up in fleabag hotels and overpriced restaurants. When we're starting to plan a new itinerary we often use TripAdvisor to point us in the direction of what hotels or restaurants we should check out. And while there is always the issue of fraudulent reviews, TripAdvisor has been aggressive in trying to weed them out and penalize establishments that use inappropriate tactics. So if a restaurant or hotel has a lot of good reviews that don't look suspicious, it's probably a good bet.

    The potential downside, though, is that you may miss a small restaurant, a local hangout, or a brand new establishment if you leave nothing open to chance. Asking a local person or two will often get you to some gems. But ask yourself this - is the risk of a mediocre meal worth the possibility of an unexpected delight? Or will you be really bummed if that happens?

    Almost all of travel is about personal taste and preferences. Even if you decide to go with a tour group, each company has its own flavor - how big are the groups, where do they stay, how much unstructured time is there? If you're not sure what your preferences are, the only way to find out is to try something - anything - and pay attention to whether it feels right to you.

    Our EBook will help you get ready ready for your next interational trip

Topics: adventure travel, trip preparation, international destinations

Adventure Vacations: The Ten Best Free Attractions in Sydney

Posted by Marian Marbury on Dec 12, 2012 12:52:00 PM

Editor's Note: We have been considering adding an adventure vacation to Australia in 2015 so it seemed fortuitous when someone approached us with a blog post on Sydney.

Glamorous Sydney is one of Australia’s priciest cities, but that needn’t deter visitors on a budget. Like all great cities, Sydney has plenty of free Sydney Harbour Bridgeattractions.

Circular Quay
With its combination natural beauty and urban charm, Sydney Harbour is one of the world's great waterways. At the center of it all is the Circular Quay, home to shops, cafes, street performers, and waterside views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. Along the Quay, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the colonial era Customs House offer free admission. Not to be missed is the glass floor of the Customs House, through which visitors can view a scale model of the entire city.

Harbour Bridge
While many have heard of Sydney’s dizzying Bridge Climb, few people know there’s a free pedestrian walkway across the bridge that skips the vertigo and offers excellent views of the Harbour and the iconic Opera House.

The Rocks
Located on the south side of the Harbour, the Rocks is Sydney's oldest European settlement. Restored buildings give a sense of 19th century life, as do the interactive exhibits at the free Rocks Discovery Museum. An abundance of cafes, pubs, and shops make for a lively visit. There are three open air markets each week, featuring food on Fridays and arts, crafts and locally found fossils on Saturdays and Sundays.

Replica of the Endeavour
Darling Harbour, on the south side of Sydney Harbour, is home to the National Maritme Museum. While the museum requires a fee, its collection of historic vessels lie at anchor outside, and can be seen from the walkway. Included is a faithful reconstruction of the Endeavour, the ship commanded by James Cook when he explored the east coast of Australia in 1770.

Queen Victoria Building
Aside from the 200 boutiques it houses, the QVB is a grand reminder of ambitious colonial architecture. There are tiled mosaic floors, a spiraling Grand Staircase and wrought iron balustrades on the gallery levels. There’s also an animated clock with mechanical figures that act out scenes from British history every hour. A free 45-minute tour departs from the ground floor and points out details that might otherwise be missed.

Strand Arcade
Rivaling the QVB for flounce and swagger, the Strand is the only Victorian-era shopping arcade to survive intact. Upscale clothing shops dominate the three floors and spotlight Australia’s leading designers.

Nicholson Museum
This small but jam-packed museum at the University of Sydney houses the largest collection of antiquities in Australia, with pieces from Greece, Cyprus, the Near East, Egypt and Italy. By popular demand, an exhibition featuring a model of Rome’s Colosseum in Legos has been extended through March.

Sydney Beaches
Most of Sydney’s beaches are free, including famous Bondi, the 90210 of beaches for people watching. Nearby Tamarama Beach is tops with surfers while Bronte Beach is a favorite with families. Public beach amenities include picnic areas, refreshment stands, changing rooms and toilets.

Bondi to Coogee Walkway
A well-tended walkway follows the coastline south from Bondi Beach and overlooks several other beaches. It’s just a half hour walk from Bondi to Tamarama and Bronte beaches. Energetic walkers can continue on to Clovelly (2.2 km from Bronte), Coogee (another 1.8 km) and even as far as Maroubra (3 km from Coogee). The views of sea, cliffs and beaches are stunning, with resting places and inland points of interest along the way.

Whale watch
From May to November, some 3,000 whiles swim by Sydney during their annual migration. Good viewing points are from any of the beaches and along the walk from Bondi to Coogee. Best chances for sightings are early mornings and late afternoons.

Author bio: This was a Guest Post by Brenda Panin. Brenda is a regular contributor to several travel blogs. She is currently a web content writer for Sydney flights. In her free time she loves to write about her travel experiences.

Topics: international destinations

Should women travel alone or join a group?

Posted by Marian Marbury on Oct 20, 2012 8:16:00 AM

women group travelI saw a question in a TripAdvisor's Forum from someone who was interested in a Gutsy Women Travel tour to Europe and wanted to know if anyone had experience with them (Gutsy Women is a women's travel company that offers (non-adventure) group tours to a variety of destinations). The snarkiness of many of the replies was appalling, and basically came down to - if a woman is gutsy, she doesn't need to go with a tour group. Of course I think that is an absurd proposition, but it made me think again about the pros and cons of single vs group travel for women.

Many women who travel with us do so because they have no one to travel with: either their spouses/partners don't enjoy travel, want a different kind of trip, or are too busy; and/or their friends aren't active and prefer spa, shopping, or beach vacations. So for many women the choice isn't whether to go with a travel company or with friends and family, it's whether to go with a company or by themselves.

There are pros and cons to each, and ultimately it comes down to the style of travel you enjoy - there isn't a right or wrong, a bold or a timid way. Like so many things in life, we need to be honest with ourselves about what we truly enjoy, not what we think we should enjoy.

Here are some questions that can help you decide what type of travel is right for you.

  1. Do you enjoy trip planning? Is it fun to pick a destination and then spend time on the internet planning where you'll stay and what you'll do when you're there, possibly making some contacts with people before you go who you can meet when you're there? Or does that feel like work? Do you prefer to put that all in someone else's hands so all you need to do is pack?

  2. Do you like planning how to get around, possibly renting a car or taking public transport? Or do you find you can focus more on where you are if you don't have to figure out how to get there?

  3. Do you like complete spontaneity, deciding every day what to do? Or do you prefer not having to think about what to do every day, but instead being able to follow a prearranged plan?

  4. Do you enjoy being on your own? Do you find it easy to start up conversations and meet new people? Do you like dining alone? Or do you enjoy the camaraderie inherent in group travel when everyone is sharing the same adventure?

  5. Do you like problem-solving all the little things that inevitably come up when you're traveling? Or do you like the idea of someone else having to do that?

  6. Do you like navigating a foreign culture and figuring out how to communicate when you don't know the language? Or is that anxiety-provoking and something you don't enjoy?

The answers to these questions can change with the circumstances and the destination. For example, much of Europe is easy to navigate - many people can speak some English, signs are often in English, and public transportation is usually quite good. I've travelled there by myself and while I find it is less relaxing and more work than being part of a group, there are times that feels like a reasonable tradeoff for the freedom and spontaneity that independent travel brings - although I do always miss the camaraderie of group travel. On the other hand I have not been tempted to travel independently in Bulgaria, where the alphabet is Cyrillic and most people outside the cities speak very little English. I think I could find my way around, but I know I would understand much less about where I was and what I was seeing. And it definitely would not be relaxing.

If you have never done either and you're not sure which you prefer, I recommend starting with a group - you'll learn alot about how to travel and about what you like. Once you have some confidence, you can decide whether or not trying solo travel has any interest for you. If women-only adventure travel sounds appealing, check out all our trips on our continually updated Trip Calendar.

The only serious mistake you can make is staying at home when your heart wants to be on the road.

Topics: womens travel, safety, international destinations

International adventure travel and low fat diets

Posted by Marian Marbury on Aug 10, 2012 10:02:00 AM

A couple of years ago I had to start restricting my intake of saturated and trans-fats for health reasons, and I wondered how it would impact my international adventure travel plans. I've a cheesey mealdefinitely made some adjustments but it really hasn't been that difficult.

Two caveats: Personally I don't worry about overall fat intake, it's only saturated and trans fats that I try to minimize. And while I am often a vegetarian at home because low saturated fat diets and vegetarian diets are very easy to combine, I am not a commited vegetarian.

When I travel internationally, I feel like a guest in that country. Like any guest,  I am not going to have the same control over my food that I do at home. And I do not want to quiz my host closely about what exactly is in each dish. I also want to try local dishes because I think cuisine is an important part of culture. Nonetheless I do not want to go home with my cholesterol 100 points higher. So here's what I do:

  1. Airlines still feed you on international flights and they still offer "special meals" if you order them ahead of time. Don't just order a vegetarian meal, because most likely it will be cheese-based. I had a delicious Asian Vegetarian meal on my last trip. Special meals also have the advantge of being delivered before the rest of the cabin is served, so they're still hot.

  2. Bring "natural" peanut butter with you. Even if you can find peanut butter in a local grocery store, it will be U.S.-made hydrogenated peanut butter that is high in trans fats. As long as you have your own stash to put on whatever the local breadstuff is, you are well fed.

  3. If you have a vegetarian and a non-vegetarian option, make sure you know what the specific meals are. The non-vegetarian option is often lower in saturated fat than the vegetarian option.

  4. Find other people in the group who like swapping bites or sharing desserts. I'm not going to order cheese fondue when I'm in Switzerland, but I'll hope that the person who does is interested in trying a bite of my fish. And while some people prefer to focus on one dessert that they don't share, others prefer to have one bite of four different desserts. You'll find me in that latter group.

  5. Do 5 minutes of internet research to get an idea of what low fat local cuisine might be available. For example, I googled "low saturated fat Italian food" and found a recipe site that listed over 800 recipes for foods meeting both criteria, which reminded me that minnestrone soup is a great option. There were also other general reminders that the food in Italy is usually much healthier than the Italian food we eat in U.S. restaurants. Since I enjoy cheese, I also want to know if there are local cheeses I might never have heard of that are lower in saturated fat.

The whole point of travel is to try new things, open yourself to new experiences, learn about new cultures. You don't have to completely ignore how you "should" eat, but with a little advanced thought and preparation it doesn't need to be a distraction or an obtacle to enjoying just being there.

8/12 Update: Just to be clear, I am not suggesting people need to give up being vegetarian or any way of eating that is based on health or values. But I do think you need to be flexible in what you eat and come prepared to supplement what is available. I bring peanut butter; vegetarians might choose protein bars and gluten-free folks could being gluten free snacks.

Topics: travel tips, health and fitness, international destinations

Five things you may hate about European travel

Posted by Marian Marbury on May 15, 2012 3:54:00 AM

Although European travel is full of delights, there are at least five aspects you may find you don't like. But if you're prepared for them, you'll be in a better position to cope even if you can't change them. Not every thing I list is true for every country, but these are fairly common sources of discomfort I've found in my years of guiding trips in Europe.

  1. Dinners are late. And large. This is particularly true in Spain but also many other countries (The UK and Bulgaria being two exceptions). Restaurants simply don't open earlier. So your choices on how to deal with it are either to eat at cEuropean travelafes or to buy food from grocery stores. Or simply plan to eat less. Instead of finishing every course, eat only half or two thirds. Or order soup and salad, something lighter that won't leave you going to bed wishing you weren't so full.

  2. Hotel rooms are small and the bathrooms look like they've been added as an afterthought. That's because they probably have been added as an afterthought. Having bathrooms in every bedroom (called "en suite") is more of an American thing than a European thing. If this is something that is important to you, then you want to either stay at hotels that cater specifically to Americans or at newer hotels. We always look for hotels where Europeans stay because they seem more authentic, but this is not to everyone's taste.

  3. You will arrive jetlagged and be unable to check in. Like hotels in the U.S., they have a check-in time that is based on people checking out and getting the rooms cleaned. It never hurts to ask if you can check-in; if they can accomodate you, they will - but don't count on it. Plan how you're going to spend the day, store your luggage at the hotel, and go sightseeing. A couple of other startegies- I once saw someone get a room after they stretched out on the sofa in the lobby and went to sleep. If you really absolutely have to have a room when you arrive, reserve one the day before and make sure they know you won't be there until the next morning.

  4. Many people don't speak English, especially in the smaller towns. You can almost always find people in the larger cities but people in small towns, even ones that often have tourists, may not. Some strategies: first, look for a young person. They are much more likely to be fluent. The second is to have fun pantomiming. I stilll remember going into a pharmacy with someone on the trip and trying to act out needing hemorrhoid cream. Fortunately the person I was with saw what she needed on the shelf and pointed at it, because I was definitely not having much luck (but for sure I was having fun!).

  5. They don't put pots of coffee on the table. In some countries they don't even make real coffee, or at least they only make it in small cups of strong brew and it isn't a morning thing. In Italy they make your cup to order, which means it is hot and delicious - but it is also often difficult to get more than one cup. If you need more, bring some instant coffee with you. And do try to learn to like Nescafe.

Personally, I find all these things are small potatoes compared to how much fun, enriching, and enlivening European travel is. But the more you can be prepared for what you find to be bumps on the road, the easier it will be to focus on all the things you enjoy. Ciao!

Topics: international destinations

Hiking Amalfi Coast: Five things you might not know

Posted by Marian Marbury on May 8, 2012 10:58:00 AM

Or maybe you have experience hiking Amalfi Coast so you do know these things, but I sure didn't the first time I did our "Amazing Amalfi" trip. Let me specify that I am defining "Amalfi Coast" broadly so it includes the whole coastline down to Paestum and also the Isle of Capri.

  1. Despite the fact that Amalfi is one of the more densely populated part of Italy and has been a tourist magnet for centuries, it is not difficult to get away from tourists. On two of our hikes, you are unlikely to see any other people. One of them, "Sentiero Dei Degli" or The Gods' Walk, lives up to its name: following a path that traverses the side of high hills, there are nonstop views of the Mediterranean's rugged coast. It was definitely our group's favorite hike.

    Temples at Paestum on Amalfi Coast
  2. There are three well-preserved Greek Temples in Paestum, dating from the time the Greeks founded a colony in the area in the 7th century BC. In fact these are the best preserved Greek temples anywhere except for the Acropolis. Well-preserved ruins from the Roman occupation that followed the Greek one are also on the same site.

  3. Limoncello, a lemon-flavored liqueur, was first created and is still made here. When you walk past terraces of lemon trees on the steps between Amalfi and Ravello, you really understand just how well lemons grow in this area.

  4. The Isle of Capri isn't just for rich people who love shopping. Which is not to say that there isn't plenty of opportunity for shopping and it helps if you're wealthy. But Capri is a beautiful place and the walk out to the ruins of Tiberius' villa or following the path that goes down to the ocean and follows the shoreline are both uncrowded and delightful. There is also the well known Blue Grotto where your boatsman sings as you paddle in the cave- hard to describe, quite touristy, and well worth it.

  5. While we often think of Pompeii as being interesting because of its history of being buried by ash from the eruption of Vesuvius, what makes it really interesting is the degree to which the ash preserved it - and thus what remains is the most well-preserved Roman town in Italy, which has provided scholars tone of insight into how the Romans actually lived.

And one pleasure that is true almost anywhere you go in Italy? Gelato!!! Hmmm, its just as good as you always heard.Enjoying gelato in the town of Capri Amalfi? What's not to love!

Topics: international destinations, hiking trips

Staying in touch on international adventure travel trips

Posted by Marian Marbury on May 1, 2012 1:22:00 PM

cell phonesOne of the most confusing issues travelers face on international adventure trips is how to stay in touch with people back home. There are so many options and so many variables, and it all changes so quickly!  Sometimes it seems the best idea is to give up trying to figure it out, and just give folks a list of the hotels where you're saying or the number of the tour company you're going with.

Actually, I think that is a great idea!! It's how people used to travel and it allowed them to truly get away when they were away. Many times I've seen someone on a trip get jerked out of the present and back into their regular life by a cellphone call or text - and usually it is not about something they can do anything about. But that is a whole other topic and I digress.

We've actually tried to lay out all the options in our International trip prep checklist (see the Appendix) but even that isn't easy reading. So in this post, cowritten with Jan Latham, I am simply going to describe what we each do and why.

I carry a phone for two reasons: I want people to be able to get in touch with me if it is urgent; and I want to make any in-country calls that become necessary during a trip. I have an iPhone from AT&T, which means that it works almost anywhere in the world. I usually upgrade to an International Calling Plan for the month I'm gone and I only use the phone as a cellphone when I have to. For any optional calling, I wait until I am someplace that has WiFi. I then use Skype on my iPhone to make calls. If the other person has Skype, then it is free- and we can even see each other! If the other person doesn't, Skype charges pennies per minute to make a call. Either way, I save alot of money.

Jan doesn't have a smart phone, so she can't use skype, and her plan is Verizon, whose network pretty much works only in the U.S. So her options are totally different.

  1. On personal trips she often uses the tried and true method of purchasing a telephone card that is used by entering a code into the public telephone system of the country. These cards are purchased for specific numbers of minutes and tend to be very economical. In most countries these are readily available even in the smallest towns.
  2. For AGC trips she might rent an international telephone from Verizon.  The telephone rental is free, other than a one-time fee for shipping and handling ($19.99 currently).  Your telephone plan is then adjusted for the period of time you will be gone to accommodate calls from the country or countries you will be visiting.  All of your personal information on your original cell phone is transferred to the International phone and then transferred back when you return (so people still reach you when they call your phone number).  You still have to pay the rates for international calls so be sure to read the fine print.  Usually texting is the bargain with this type of arrangement. 
  3. You can also purchase (either before you leave or when you arrive) an inexpensive telephone that works in the country you are visiting and buy time as you go.  The companies that specialize in this are called TIM cards or UnoMobile Sim cards.  These shops are found pretty easily now in Europe, particularly in the larger cities and airport/railway cities.  It is helpful to know  the local vernacular for these types of companies; for example, in Scotland they are called ‘Orange’ Sim cards. 

Neither of us have personal experience with this but we know you can rent or buy a phone or SIM card from National Geographic. You can see the Cellular Abroad program here.Thier website is helpful in fiuring out the best option for you, based on where you're going and how long you'll be gone.

See how many options there are? Now really, wouldn't it be easier just to give everyone the tour company's phone number for emergencies and tell them you'll send postcards?

Our EBook will help you get ready ready for your next interational trip

Topics: adventure travel, travel tips, trip preparation, international destinations

7 ways to prepare for international adventure travel

Posted by Marian Marbury on Apr 25, 2012 8:40:00 AM

On the trip document for our international adventure travel trips, we always recommend books you might want to read in advance just to get prepared or get the feel of a country. But, in addition of course to packing, there are lots of other fun ways to "get ready" too. Here are some ideas.getting ready for international adventure travel

1. See a movie that was filmed in the country. Even if the movie isn't all that great, you'll see the country. For example, I watched the Eiger Sanction before starting a hike in Switzerland (it might not have had realistic mountaineering content but the scenery was amazing).

2. Listen to a radio station in the country. The internet gives us access to radio stations all over the world these days. This website can be a good place to start: It might be hard to find one in English but at least you'll hear what music they are listening to.

3. Listen to folk music from the country. Wikipedia defines folk music as "Any style of music which represents a community and can be sung/played by people who may or may not actually be trained musicians, using the instruments available to them." Every country has their version of folk music. Your library may be able to help with this and, if not, try iTunes.

4. Go to a restaurant that specializes in the country's cuisine. The growth of ethnic cuisine in major cities is one of the most fun things to happen on the dining scene. Even better, if your city has an area where immigrants from that country tend to live, try the local cafe. Of course often the cuisine has been Americanized - don't think the Chinese food in America bears any relationship to the food in China - but you're just doing this for fun anyway.

5. Try cooking a meal from that country. The availability of cookbooks that specialize in different country's cuisines is growing by leaps and bounds. And of course the internet has a treasure trove of recipes.

6. Learn a little bit of language from either a community ed class or from tapes. Of course you are not going to be fluent but hopefully you can avoid asking "Who is the bathroom"? In my experience most people in other countries appreciate the effort.

7. Read poetry from people who live there. Many times poetry can capture the feeling of a culture or the current mood in the country more quickly and completely than prose.

Whatever you choose, have fun with it. Tthis should not be one more thing on your To Do list- after al, you have enough on that already!

Topics: travel tips, trip preparation, international destinations

Travel tips: When should I buy airline tickets?

Posted by Marian Marbury on Feb 17, 2012 4:58:00 AM

In preparing for an adventure trip, when to buy airplane tickets is undoubtedly the most common question we get. With airline consolidation and elimination of many flights, airline tickets have gone up substantially and will likely continue to climb. Of course no one wants to buy a ticket now and find out the price dropped a month later, or to hold off on buying a ticket only to find it much more expensive the next time we look.airplane

Unfortunately there is no good answer to that question, but here is our approach.

Generally, tickets are most expensive far in advance (more than four months) or very close (less than a week) to your departure date. Buying it closer to your departure time (say 3 weeks) may or may not be more expensive. It depends on how seats are filling up, how much competition there is, what the price of oil is etc.

At Adventures in Good Company we start looking at fares about four months in advance of a trip. The first place we go is Bing to see if they have a price predictor and fare history for the route and dates we want. If the price and schedule look OK, we might book right then. Yes, maybe the price will drop more later - but maybe it won't and we've locked in a price we're OK with. If we don't like the price, we then go to Kayak. Bing's results are actually powered by Kayak so you won't find anything different, but I find the interface easier to use and you can then set up a Fare Alert (maybe you can do this on Bing but it isn't obvious how). I also check Southwest if they fly where I'm going and possibly ITASoftware if I'm having trouble finding what I want, but neither of those will give you Fare Alerts.

Some other pssiblities for finding lower airfares: if you have a twitter account, follow the major airlines and also some websites that focus on lower airfares, such as Airfare Watchdog (I just generally like this website including their Facebook page). These generally work better when your dates are open.

But bottom line - your time is worth money too, and driving yourself nuts to find the lowest fare may be more anxiety and effort than its worth.

P.S. I often get sticker shock when I first look at prices. Looking at them over time allows me to adjust to the idea that I'm going to be paying that much.

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Topics: travel tips, trip preparation, international destinations, domestic destinations