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Visiting: The Ice Castles

Tucked into the base of the White Mountain National Forest are NH’s Ice Castles, an acre of hundreds of thousands of hand-placed icicles aglow with LED lights, creating a maze of dreamy frozen canyons, tunnels, squeeze passages, slides, fountains, sculptures, icy thrones, and more. The experience is one of 6 across North America, and the only one of its kind in the Northeast.

Now in its 6th season in NH, visitors can take a horse drawn sleigh around the property, fly down a tandem ice luge slide illuminated by pulsing rainbow lights, and warm up around controlled fire pits with hot cocoa and sweet treats.

The Ice Castles can be found in the following cities: North Woodstock, NH, Dillon, CO, Excelsior, MN, Lake Geneva, WI, Midway, UT, and Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

This fun and beautiful attraction is a wonderful way for families, couples, and friends to celebrate the magic of winter.

Tips for Long-Term Backpacking on a Budget: Part I

Padar, part of Komodo National Park, Indonesia

Each New Year brings with it a welcome refresh, and the excitement of new experiences, relationships, and destinations. Will you be traveling to new vistas this year? We know there’s lots to think about when planning a long trip abroad – passports, visas, finances, gear, health, and just plain traveling all the time – especially when backpacking on a budget. The lightness of your pack is freeing, adding more weight to each item brought along, while you collect stories and insights throughout the journey to carry back with you.

This is the first of two articles sharing some of the tips, tricks and hacks we learned along the way through research, mistakes, and experience during our travels in South East Asia. Here we’ll cover planning your trip, transportation, accommodations, and health and wellness.

 

BEFORE YOUR TRIP

US Passport Know Stone Unturned

Passports & Visas: Make sure your passport is up to date well in advance of your trip. Express passport renewal services exist but they’re more costly. Find more information on getting or updating a U.S. passport here.

Some countries require Visas for any length of stay, while others may allow you to visit for anywhere from 1 – 3 months before requiring a Visa. You can determine what countries require Visas by visiting their embassy websites. We used the Department of State website which lists a ton of relevant information by country, including Visa requirements, vaccinations, travel advisories and other tips.

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Onward Ticketing: If like us, you’re vision of long-term travel is one of freedom and openness without having every destination pre-planned, you should know that you will often be expected to have an onward ticket when entering any foreign country. We learned this in the wee hours of the morning at Boston International Airport on our way to Indonesia. Eager to get to Bali and expecting to decide where we’d travel next from there, we discovered that we would not be able to board our plane without proof of our onward destination. This applies to anyone flying internationally with a one-way ticket. For the airlines, your onward ticket is proof that you won’t be staying in a country beyond the time allowed, which is often 30 days. We booked a flight from Bali to Phuket, Thailand, on the spot for just under a month after we would arrive in Indonesia. Crisis averted. Thus armed with the knowledge that we would always be at risk without an onward ticket, but still not wanting to pre-plan our entire trip, we discovered an onward ticketing website that offers a solution to this problem. The site allows users to rent onward tickets for $10 with their names on them to use as proof for the airlines. We used it once or twice, and always with success.

Marry Me Bali Know Stone Unturned

Choosing Your Gear: This was one of the most agonizing decisions we made leading up to our trip, but the amount of research put in more than paid off. We both chose Osprey backpacks: the Farpoint 40 for Nikki and the Porter 46 for Chadley. Those numbers correspond to the volume of each bag, measured in liters. We brought packing cubes to condense our belongings and organize our packs, and day pack Osprey bags for everyday living (these bags are super light and fold up into a neat little ball for easy packing when not in use). Nikki also brought a cross body purse, Chadley brought a Martin Backpacker guitar, and both of us took along sealable waterproof bags, just in case. They came in handy. 

Bali Know Stone Unturned

Pack Light: Less is more, especially in a hot region! Not only will schlepping too much stuff cost you at the airport (see below), but you’ll want to have room to take some special trinkets home with you, including new threads. We saw lots of folks dragging rolling suitcases in the most unlikely places, and even met a backpacking couple with a huge rolling suitcase they called their souvenir bag. You really only need to pack enough clothes for a week or so. (Soap isn’t that hard to find) Ultimately, it’s good to remember whatever you bring with you is what you have to carry, and lift into the overhead bin.

TRANSPORTATION

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Your Baggage Weight Matters: We tried to take our bags with us as ‘carry-on’ every time, and usually we were successful. Once however, we had to pay nearly $100 (more than the plane ticket) to have 2 backpacks checked at the last second, because they weighed too much. While we were used to baggage size requirements in the US, in Asia there are also strict weight limits. As your travels go on your bags tend to get heavier. Go to your airline’s website to find out their weight requirements and check your bag online in advance if needed, it’s much cheaper. However if you are able to travel with only carry-on sized bags, you can reduce costs, and more importantly the risk of being separated from your bags.

Bagan Know Stone Unturned

International Driver’s License: It’s good to look into this if you plan to drive a car or even a motorbike abroad. Getting caught without a valid license by local police could cost you precious time and money you’d rather spend elsewhere. We drove motorbikes without the license and didn’t have any problems, but we were advised by locals to avoid police ‘traps’ on a few occasions.

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Expect Chaos at Airport Taxi Stands: The moment you leave an international airport pretty much anywhere, you will likely be bombarded by taxi drivers wanting to give you a lift. This can be overwhelming if you’re not expecting it. If you are expecting it, it’s much easier to hold your ground, choose the right transport for you, and get the price you can afford. Be confident and take your time. Don’t let anyone rush you into a decision. Extra tip: Look up the standard cab rates in the city you’re traveling to before you get there. If you forget to do that, this information is often in the back of your in flight magazine.

ACCOMMODATIONS

Eden Hotel Bali Kuta

Search Multiple Booking Sites for Accommodations: There are often different deals at different times for many hotels and hostels across platforms. We used Agoda, Orbitz, HostelWorld, and AirBNB primarily. And check the hotel website you’re interested in, too. Technology changes, but the concept of perusing multiple websites for the best deals will remain.

Serenity Eco Guesthouse and Yoga Bali

Where to Stay: We typically stayed in hotels, hostels, and occasionally AirBNB’s that cost between $15 and $25 a night, with a preference for $15 - $20/night. In South East Asia this was most often achievable. We looked for the following in a place to stay: breakfast included, private room with ensuite bathroom, walking distance to attractions yet outside of the hustle and bustle of ‘town,’ WiFi, and a pool if not near the beach. Note: Staying in the shared room at a hostel will run you much less than a private room anywhere, and can be as little as $5 - $10 per night. This is a great way to stretch your funds while meeting lots of new people at the same time.

HEALTH & WELLNESS

Charcoal Powder

The Dreaded D: Bali Belly, Montezuma’s Revenge, traveler’s diarrhea, whatever you call it – nobody wants it, but almost everyone gets it. Pack activated charcoal and/or clay tablets for a gentle remedy. This always worked for us. That said, if your condition persists, take something stronger and consider heading to the doctor.

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Avoid Raw and Uncooked Veggies: Unless you know your salad greens were washed in purified water, that super looking health salad might be setting you up for a day or several in your hotel bathroom in some countries. When in doubt, opt for cooked meals.

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Drinking Water: In some countries its best not to drink the tap water without boiling it first to avoid illness. If this is the case, you can take further precautions by not opening your mouth in the shower, and brushing your teeth with filtered water. Pro Tip: Most countries with water sanitation issues use filtered ice, but if you’re unsure whether the ice in your drink is clean, just ask.

Ko Lanta Boat Thailand

Motion Sickness: We're not into pharmaceuticals, but if you’re prone to motion sickness, pack some Dramamine. Rule of thumb, if you hear from other travelers that the route ahead is nauseating – believe it. Nobody wants to be the one person barfing on public transportation all the way to your next destination. Trust us. Additional things that help – Fishermans Mints can calm the stomach, but they are not a solve all.

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First Aid: It’s always good to pack a first aid kit, especially if you’re planning on some adventurous hikes. Here’s what was in ours (italics indicate those items we actually used during our travels): band aids, tweezers, alcohol wipes, antibiotics, anti yeast medication, Dramamine, activated charcoal, goldenseal/Echinacea pills, probiotics, melatonin, turmeric pills, solar powered battery charger, hydration pills, anti-diarrheal medication, heavy duty insect repellent, organic insect repellent, feminine products, and sunscreen. These last two items can run you a pretty penny depending on the country, so you might opt to bring them with you. 

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Vaccines: Depending on where you’re traveling, you may face some mandatory vaccinations. A quick look at the US CDC website per country will help you determine this, along with all the recommended vaccines, which can seem like a long and scary list. Other than what’s mandatory (nothing for where we traveled in South East Asia) the rest of the recommended vaccines are really a personal choice. We opted with two of the plethora of options available - Hepatitis A and Typhoid - and got our shots at Passport Health, which is available in most major cities internationally.

Good to Know: We paid out of pocket because our health insurance would not cover any of the recommended vaccines. If you have great health coverage and it won’t cost you an arm and a leg to get yours at your primary care doctor, obviously opt for that. Passport Health was a good service with kind and knowledgeable staff. We went in Boston, MA, just 24 hours before our flight. Also note, some vaccines require multiple doses over a period of several weeks or months. Do your research in advance so you know what’s required. Regarding insect borne illness – yes, the threat of malaria, and other mosquito born diseases is scary, but unless you’re going to be in the deep jungle trekking for weeks this is probably not a huge issue for you. We bought heavy insect repellent, but never used it and regretted bringing it along. Passport Health gave us a comprehensive booklet with detailed worldwide health information, including what seasons would be worse for certain diseases, as well as the regions affected. All this said – to each their own. Please remember we are not doctors and this is not medical advice.

ENJOY YOUR TRIP!

Elephant Nature Park Chiang Mai Thailand

Long-term backpacking is wondrous, life changing, and often a once in a lifetime experience. While traveling on a budget can be challenging, the experiences you’ll have will far outweigh the difficulties. In the next article we’ll share our tips on budgeting and finances, insurance, identity theft, technology, equipment, and adjusting to long-term travel.

Where are you going this year? Let us know in the comments!

Visiting: Serenity Eco Guesthouse & Yoga - Canggu, Bali

INDONESIA

Located in Canggu, home to some of Bali’s premiere surf, international restaurants, co-working spaces, temples, tattoo studios, shopping and nightlife, Serenity Eco Guesthouse focuses on just that: Serenity. Only a five-minute walk to Batu Balong Beach, quietly tucked away from the noisy beaches in Kuta, while still being 45-minutes from the airport and an hour to Ubud, Serenity is a sanctuary for travelers looking for an affordable, quiet, nourishing and soulful space to rest their heads.

While planning our trip to Asia we scoured the web for insight on where to stay in Bali, poring over reviews of beaches, neighborhoods and accommodations until we found Serenity, which promised to provide the perfect mix of location, activities and health food we sought. Though we had only planned to stay five days at the guesthouse, it didn’t take long for us to extend our stay. In total, we spent about five weeks here in five different room types on two occasions, bookending our trip with plenty of yoga, clean food, relaxation and beach time. We recommend staying at least five days to truly soak up all Serenity has to offer. For a closer look at the guesthouse watch our video tour.

 

AFFORDABLE ACCOMMODATION IN A BEAUTIFUL SETTING

Founded by owners Daniel & Yatna on their personal property in 2009, this family run business now has dozens of employees and three additional branches of guest rooms in short walking distance from the main complex.

Despite increased demand for rooms, the guesthouse never feels crowded. The yoga studios are spacious, guests are always willing to share a table in the health conscious Alkaline Restaurant, and the gorgeous pool is surrounded by plenty of seating. Every room is equipped with a safety box, and comes either with full or discounted breakfast. Guests are invited to store food in shared refrigerators, and a shuttle service is provided between the main house and branches for added convenience.

While eco resorts may feel out of reach for many budget travelers, Serenity instills the feeling that sustainability is achievable for everyone, and at a reasonable price. Presently, Serenity’s dorms cost about $10 a night, and private rooms range from $15 - $30 per night. Check out their website for the most up to date prices.

 

YOGA & WELLNESS

The guesthouse pays careful attention to wellness for the body, mind, spirit, and environment. A dozen yoga and meditation classes are scheduled daily. Taught by Balinese, Indonesian and international teachers, classes range from ashtanga, mysore, hatha, yin, and various vinyasas, to yoga for surfers, chakra flows, aerial yoga, life coaching workshops, gong meditation, acroyoga and more. A meditation room, massage, surf lessons, bicycle and motorbike rentals are also available.

A variety of 100% organic, natural and mindful oriented products are sold on-site, including: virgin coconut oil, mosquito repellent, activated bamboo charcoal (a detoxing purifier), reusable straws, sunscreen, and books on consciousness.

Serenity’s Alkaline Restaurant offers an organic menu filled with raw, vegan, vegetarian, and gluten free items. Meat options, are available, too. Super foods abound, from electrolyte packed coconuts, to iron-rich moringa (a native plant grown on-site), to wheatgrass shots, turmeric juice, a variety of homemade detox juices, multiple brands of locally made kombucha in many flavors (including Serenity’s very own), alkaline water, and divine cacao bars made in Ubud, to name a few. Daily and weekly specials add even more variety. But best of all, it’s obvious the food is made with love.

 

SUSTAINABILITY – ADDRESSING BALI’S DESPERATE NEED

Sustainability is another of Serenity’s core values, and this is seen throughout the property, from the banyan tree that stands at the entrance, to the composting and recycling bins placed throughout the common areas, the cleaning products used, the array of eco-friendly goods sold on-site, and the reminders in every space to reduce energy use.

The growing movement toward eco-tourism is of international importance, and especially in rapidly developing areas like Bali where there is little pre-existing infrastructure to handle the intense growth and resulting waste generated by the industry. A shortage of waste management systems coupled with a lack of community awareness on how to properly dispose of mass quantities of garbage – 20,000 cubic meters of trash is discarded daily – is a huge problem in Bali, and notably so in the beach communities. It’s estimated that seventy-five percent of trash is not collected by official services, meaning it’s likely burned, washed into waterways, or otherwise illegally dumped. This problem is only exacerbated by the large quantities of non-biodegradable trash produced by the booming tourism sector.

In 2016, Bali hosted close to 5 million foreign tourists, a number that surpassed the island’s total population in 2014. While the industry has a positive impact on Bali’s economy, mass tourism takes a serious toll on the paradisiacal environment, which is one of the very reasons travelers make the trip to the ‘island of the gods' in the first place. Offering over 6,000 hotels on 2,175 square miles, the tourist industry absorbs approximately 65% of Bali’s total water supply, with four- and five-star hotels requiring at least 50,000 liters of clean water every day, according to the Bali Hotel Association. Despite the stresses tourism puts on the island, the Balinese remain welcoming of tourists, and an increasing number of organizations are cropping up to combat the problem.

While the hotel business, in particular, is in desperate need of improvement, this is an area where Serenity truly shines. The Eco Guesthouse offers conscious travelers the ability to be good stewards in their host country by making a positive impact on the local environment, while still having fun, eating well, and staying in budget.

Serenity boasts a number of sustainable practices focused on reducing, reusing and recycling. Rather than burning trash and grass, they compost organic waste, and recycle used plastic bottles and paper at Eco Bali. Many other items are reused, too, including glass, scrap wood and plastic bags. Local building materials, bamboo, and plastic bottles are used in the infrastructure, and gorgeous works of art are created from broken materials that would be otherwise trashed. Inorganic waste is further reduced by the restaurant, which provides biodegradable takeaway boxes.

At Serenity, water is saved by staggering linen washes in guest rooms. Drying linens in the sun further reduces energy. Low energy light bulbs and natural septic tanks are also used.

The charming grounds incorporate permaculture gardens, an organic nursery, a wastewater garden, and organic worm farm. The gardens provide a variety of fresh fruit and medicinal herbs, and incorporate homemade organic fertilizers. They are kept mosquito and pest free by growing neem, lemongrass and zodiac, and by using garlic spray and neem oil instead of toxic chemicals.

In addition to all this, the staff makes a point of using eco-friendly products for their dish and linen washing, and to keep their beautiful swimming pool clean and pristine. Guests are asked to do their part by washing off inorganic sunscreen and bug sprays before entering the pool, hanging their towels out to dry, composting, recycling, and reducing energy by turning off lights, AC and fans when not in use.

At Serenity, you know sustainability is a team effort in which we all play a part. As a guest, patron at the Alkaline Café, or a student in a yoga class, you know that you are part of a movement to make a positive impact on the world while minimizing your global footprint.

 

MAKING A DIFFERENCE

When you stay at Serenity you know you're helping to care for the world while taking care of yourself. The feeling you get throughout your visit is one of mindfulness and intention. The thoughtful, friendly staff, artful attention to detail – from the yin-yangs, murals, and mirror mosaics, to the labeling of plants and information on super foods placed around the restaurant – and intuitive sense of sustainability and well-being that permeates the guesthouse all contribute to the peaceful atmosphere, making it a wonderful place to reflect, relax and grow.

 

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