Recently, as part of the Tripbase Blog Tag game, we were tagged by Lisa of LLWorldTour to share our top three travel secrets with the blog-reading universe. I’ve been sitting on this post for over a week now, because honestly I just don’t know what to share. Do I share a place, a restaurant, a hotel, a person, a moment, an idea, a tip? And is it possible there is anything secret I have left, anything I haven’t yet shared? Yes, I have a tendency to over think things. So, before I change my mind again about what to post, here it is, our top (for the moment at least) three travel secrets.
1. Take Trains…And Not Just in Europe
I love trains. I love the hustle and bustle of rail stations. I love the constantly changing arrivals and departures board that makes it seem you could go anywhere. I love the way that trains force you to slow down, sit back, and enjoy the scenery. So whenever we found a train, we opted to take it, even if that sometimes met hanging around a town a day or two longer than we had planned in order to align our schedule with the train schedule. And in exchange for going the old fashioned way, for taking the time to take a train, we were rewarded with authentic travel experiences that stuck with us far more than any flight ever has. On a train from Mbeya, Tanzania to Dar Es Salaam, we were treated to an impromptu safari as the tracks traversed Selous Game Reserve, allowing us to spot zebras, giraffes, wildebeest and more from our bunks. And as we made our way from Hanoi to Hoi An, we made fast friends with the family sharing our cabin, learning from them all the places we had to go, gaining insight into local life, and tasting all kinds of food we’d never seen before but that they’d brought with them and insisted on sharing. This happened over and over, on every train trip we took. And that’s why I like trains. It’s slow travel. Travel that gives you a more intimate look at a place and its people. Travel that is as much about the journey as the destination.
2. You Can Go On Safari on a Budget
Safaris have a reputation for being expensive, primarily because the industry has somehow tricked us into thinking that the only way to go on safari is on a fully catered operation. But that’s not true. It doesn’t have to be expensive, and you can do it on your own. In fact, almost all the parks in southern Africa–from South Africa’s Kruger to Namibia’s Etosha–allow for self-catered safaris. Rent your own car, pack your own tent, and bring your own food (or eat in the very nice park restaurants) and a safari can in fact be quite inexpensive. And don’t even begin to worry whether you’ll be able to spot any animals without a guide. From our tiny little Kia (not even a 4WD), we spotted lions, cheetahs, rhinos, elephants (they’re pretty hard to miss!), giraffes, hyenas, and all sorts of other amazing creatures. Heck, more than once, we even had the guided safaris pulling up to where our lone car was trying to figure out just what we had found. I resisted requesting a finder’s fee 🙂 And if you’ve always wanted to do an Okavango Delta safari, the most notoriously expensive of all African safaris, don’t fret, that too can be arranged. Just get yourself to the village of Seronga, in the far northwest corner of Botswana (accessible by rental car from Namibia), and hook up with the Okavango Polers Trust, a co-op of local mokoro polers who will guide you on an overnight or multi-day delta safari at backpacker prices.
3.Skip the Bus and the Boat and Hike into Torres del Paine
Most information about hiking Torres del Paine will tell you that there are two options for getting to a starting point at Torres del Paine: you can take the bus to the lodge at the end of the W closest to the Torres, or you can take the boat to Paine Grande. There is, in fact, a third option, and this is the one you should take: get dropped off at the Administration Building and hike the 17 km to Paine Grande. Though this may sound a bit crazy, considering you’re going to already be hiking 80 km to complete the W (and much more if you plan to do the full loop), it is the absolute best introduction to the park. The hike is relatively flat, and the views are stunning. Spread out in front of you is the entirety of the park, allowing you to take in the awesome grandeur of the place that you will soon mainly be seeing in macro. Though there are splendid views throughout the park and the hike, only on the 17 km hike in will you get the panorama, and that alone makes the walk worth it. Plus, being relatively flat, it’s a good warm up for the hiking to come.
And to keep the game going, I’m supposed to tag five fellow travel bloggers. So you’re it: Sean & Dawn at Wandering Why, Craig at The Wide Wide World, Cindi at Blowfish Vodka (formerly Bubbles & Bugs), Kimberly & Elizabeth at Go Green Travel Green, and Steve at Asian Ramblings (who’s finally back!).