Asia, Central America, Cruises, Europe, France, Island Hopping, Middle East, Nordic, North America, Spain, Uncategorized

3 secrets to travel more in the new year

man sitting on edge facing sunset
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low angle photography of airplane
Photo by Cameron Casey on
  1. Think outside of the box: Destination Bingo!

Going to Rome? Did you know flying directly to Rome may not be the cheapest option? In fact, by flying to another city and using Europe’s budget airlines to get to Rome, you could save hundreds! So, for example, it may be cheaper to fly to Berlin first and then Rome. I have flown budget airlines in Europe for as little as $10 USD each way and saved over $500 choosing an indirect route over a direct one. The one thing to keep in mind is luggage, but even if you do have luggage and pay extra for it, it could still be worth it. Better yet, doing it this way allows you to see another city on your trip before you get to your destination. Caveat: this takes a bit more time and effort, but with the money you save you can spend more on experiences, food, and even hotels when you get there! Better even still, you can save some cash!


person standing on boardwalk
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      2. Travel Yoga: Travel date flexibility

It’s true, remaining flexible on your travel dates can save you a lot of dough. Imagine this scenario: you want to go to Paris in April, but that very same week you are interested in is a major concert or event. That could cause flight prices and hotels to skyrocket. Staying cool, calm, and flexible affords you more to afford. This one can be a bit tricky depending on your job situation and vacation time but being on the lookout for different dates and sales that may occur can save you a lot. With the money you save, you can afford more trips this year!


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      3. Friend them: Sign up for travel alerts!

So many travel booking sites allow you to sign up for price drop alerts on the trip you want. So, what are you waiting for? Give them your email address! If you are worried about too much spam in your inbox, don’t. You can unsubscribe after you find your killer deal and you are only going to get emails when the trip or trips you are interested drop in price!

Check out the sites I use to save hundreds when I travel:



Google Flights



Which Budget






Sit back and let someone else do the work: Check out the travel deal sites and programs.

There are so many websites who are solely dedicated to find those random low prices and deals, so why not take advantage of them and let them do the monotonous searching? Some of my top suggestions are:


Scotts Cheap Flights


With these three tips, you can save some serious money that can afford you more travel in the new year. A little searching and dedication can go a long way! Better yet, just signing up for travel emails can really help you plan a trip and save money at the same time.


Going somewhere and want advice? Email me @! I have been to over 60 countries and I am not slowing down yet! Be sure to subscribe to keep in the know with my latest itineraries, deals, and ideas!

Europe, France

Go to Marseille’s Beaches (Nice shouldn’t get all the attention!)

beaches of marseille1

Some believe that Marseille, France does not have nice beaches. This is untrue! Since Vieux Port is such a popular central visit location for the area, and there are no beaches there (it is a port), this rumor still reigns and many miss out on the beauty that Marseille beaches provide. In fact, most skip out on Marseille beaches and head east to Nice. While Nice is its own amazing visit, skipping out on Marseille’s Beaches can mean missing some very cool local experiences. Marseille, France is known for its eclectic mixture of African flare in the South of France. While a walk through the markets of downtown Marseille is a must-do, save room for a beach stroll or two. Even if you stay in Vieux Port, you can get to the beach in minutes (Yes! Minutes!). In fact, you can choose a beach along Marseille’s coastline that fits your vacation type and personality. Just check out the guide below with recommendations for your personality type.

I would describe myself as the



Marseille most righteously has the beach for you! Along some of Marseille’s southern coastline, you can find areas to get the adrenaline pumping. Why is it adventurous? The rocks! No, you do not need to mountain climb and scale your way down, but it is rather fun hopping from rock to rock on your way down to the water. Once off the big rocks, you can lay your towel on some small pebbles. (Note: high tide means low beach space) Keep in mind, if you are a sand-dweller, this is not the beach for you. Try Bonneveine Beach. It is free to enter, but there is a fee for parking if you happen to be renting a Peugeot (or any other vehicle). Another great recommendation is a hike up the Calanques. From there, you can scale down for a quick dip in some pretty private settings or just admire the beauty from above after a brisk hike. To get there, it is around a 30-minute drive.

Lazy Beach Bum (and/or family group):


Plage Du Prado is your ticket to easy entry and relaxation. With nice, sandy beaches, you can cozy into your towel and let the world outside fade away. There are nice, shallow places to swim as there are many calm coves due to the jetties. (Note: water can be chilly!) Access to this beach is also free, and there are restrooms and lifeguards on duty most of the time. This is also a great place to bring the kiddos or anyone who is not a strong swimmer.

Party Seeker:


If you are the life of the party and you like get social and mix with the locals, your best bet will be either Plage Du Prophete (the northernmost beach) or Plage Des Catalans. Here you can usually find a big crowd and volleyball games as well. Or, you can opt to chill with a crew of your own. These beaches are also free from cover. You can bring your own beverage as policies are loose in these areas (cue wine and cheese!) If you want to party in a secluded beach with a waiter, check out the next suggestion.

Big Spender:

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Just to the north of Plage du Prado, you can find a line of “private” beaches to choose from. These beaches serve appetizers, dinner, and drinks. You pay a cover charge to get in (usually includes food or drink) and you can enjoy the private beach on your posh beach recliner. If you want to live the life of luxury, this is the beach for you. These beaches are rather small, but only contain paying customers.

Some tips for the beach:

No matter where you choose to hang out, you can benefit from knowing a few things ahead of time:

Guard your valuables: All the beaches here are safe, but keep an eye on your bag, money, and jewelry. This is more common sense traveling because of a high theft rate at the beach. Remember, don’t provide an opportunity for an opportunist! Some of the Big Spender options have lockers if you wish.

Know the colors before you swim: If the flag is purple, you need to pay attention. Purple signifies marine life in the area. Swimming is forbidden when this color is flying. This does not mean that another beach down the road will be closed for swimming as well. As long as you see a green flag, you are good to go! Yellow is at your own risk swimming (sans a lifeguard) and Red means dangerous conditions.

Don’t settle: Remember, Marseille has several beaches right next to one another. If you do not like the first one you see, keep walking south along the coast. You will be glad you did.

Clothing optional: If you are easily offended by nudity, keep in mind that France has a different beach culture than the U.S. (aside from South Beach) and many people choose to go without the swim top or even in their birthday suits. Men tend to wear Speedo type swimsuits as well. Just a heads up if you are bringing the kids.

Sunscreen: You still need the stuff even in another country. Another common sense tip. The sun often feels weaker in the moment, but you can end up with a bad burn at the end of the day.

Green Space: There are a lot of green park spaces around these beaches to enjoy. You can bring Fido and a Frisbee, or even enjoy a picnic.

-Getting there: The bus is the best way to get there from Marseille proper. If you are going from Vieux Port, you would take bus 83. For a bus schedule, click here. You can also take Uber.

Have you been to a beach near Marseille? Which is your favorite? Let us know in the comments or at!

Asia, Central America, Europe, Middle East, Nordic, North America, Spain

11 reasons to travel abroad NOW

While a nice visit to a Florida Beach with your inner tube and paddle ball set definitely qualifies as a “vacation,” there is much more of the world to explore beyond our own borders. While some may find a visit out of the U.S. to be “out of their comfort zone” a visit abroad can really broaden perspectives on life. Really, there is nothing to be afraid of and much to be gained. Here are just a few of the many reasons to “hop the pond.”

  1. Flying is much better overseas.What? You mean the hours and hours are not going to make me miserable in my airplane seat? Well, I did not say that. However, did you know that you get actual meals and free drinks on most international flights? Yep. That is one great reason to try it out. Not to mention the service is better and most planes are roomier with more exit rows and bulkhead options. Did I mention the free movies on your personal entertainment device? One of my go-to’s for finding low cost overseas flights is You can even try the “explore” option if you are flexible on locations to find some uber cheap flights. Tip: fly out of a big city if you can. Google Flights is another reliable planner.
  2. Experiencing other cultures will give you a better appreciation for life. The people you meet and the traditions you observe along the way can really shape the way you see reality. While you can definitely get some of that here in the good ole’ U. S. of A., being immersed in the thick of it in a new country. You can try new food, dance to a new song, and even try a new activity. It’s all waiting to be explored!
  3. Going abroad can allow you to lose (or find) yourself.There is no better way to see what you are made of then to drop yourself into a country you have never seen before surrounded by a language you have never spoken. While that may sound scary to some, it is extremely liberating to discover that you actually can fend for yourself and that human kind really does still have compassion when a traveler is lost.
  4. You can make friends abroad.What better excuse to visit another country again than to have to visit some friends in a year or two? You will be surprised how friendly people can be. That owner of the B&B is going to want to know all about life in your hometown. If you join in on a travel group or even just meander the cobblestone streets, chances are, you will meet a friendly local or two. While these “friendships” may be short lived, you just may find a life-long friend.
  5. You can taste the foods of the world.Try something new! Ever fancied a bowl of haggis? What about potato dumplings in sheep’s milk? Just like your mom said, you’ll never know if you like it if you never try it! An array of tasty things are just waiting for you to discover whether you are going to Korea or Slovakia. Just don’t be surprised with you absolutely fall in love with trying new things.
  6. Soul searching is included.Traveling abroad can mean many things for the traveler. Maybe you are searching for yourself. Perhaps you are searching for what you want to do in your life. Even still, maybe you want to visit the places your family came from. Whatever the goal may be, traveling abroad can get you there. Want to see the old house in Poland that your grandmother grew up in? Go!
  7. Traveling abroad will make you appreciate your life more.Everyday things we have grown accustomed to can get lost in the business of our daily lives. Seeing the way kids live in Cambodia will make you step back and appreciate how lucky and blessed you are to have a hot meal whenever you want it along with clothing and a roof over your head. What’s even more beautiful is seeing people with way less than you who are extremely happy in life. (Didn’t you just complain yesterday about the line at Starbucks?)
  8. You can help others. Ecotourism is growing in popularity lately. Why not get your grubbies dirty building a community school in China? How about feeding some homeless people in Vietnam? You can experience a new culture and help the community there. Now that’s a win-win.
  9. Get away from it all.It will be easy not to respond to work calls when you are out of calling range (resist the urge to get a sim card and give the new number to everyone you know). Disappear and really get away. “I’ll be in Turkey. Talk to you in a week.” Not only will you get away from work and problems, but you will be so distracted by all of the new experiences, you will forget you were ever stressed out in the first place.
  10. See really cool stuff.From the Coliseum in Rome to the Great Wall of China, you are sure to make great memories (and take great photos) abroad. Gawk at the Pyramids in Egypt. Dip in the Danube River in Austria. Ride an elephant through a Thai jungle. Slide down the Swiss Alps. Hug a Wallaby. It can all be attained by traveling abroad!
  11. Everything is cheap.Disclaimer: things can be expensive, if you fall into the “tourist traps.” Check out fellow (and my) travel blogs and see how savvy travelers do it. For example: tourists in Phuket could pay $50 USD for dinner. However, if you go to the local restaurants (which are way more delicious and also safe by the way) you will not pay over $5 USD and eat like a king or queen. Be savvy. Come home with money in your pocket. Of course, the most expensive part of traveling abroad is the overseas flight. Once that is taken care of, the rest is super economical – if you know what you are doing. Even travel between countries once you leave America is cheap. Did you know you could fly from France to Sweden for $35 (with budget airlines like Ryan Air)? Believe it.

Whatever your reason for taking the plunge into a new country and culture, one thing is for sure: you will not come back the same. Experiencing new things and cultures will be sure to change your perspective on life and give you the most valuable thing that money cannot buy: precious memories.

Have you booked your trip yet?

To join in on the conversation on my Facebook page, click here! Or, feel free to send me an email at 

Follow me on Twitter@Abroadwabrain.

© 2018 Elana Nichols, All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without prior permissions from the author.

Asia, Central America, Europe, Middle East, Spain

10 things you need in your carry-on

Headed across the pond to Europe or another country? Feelings of excitement and thrill may be hitting you now as your vacation dates rapidly approach. The trip itself may be all planned out to the very last detail, but what about that dreaded overseas flight? Well, the overseas flight does not have to take away your joy. In fact, it can be a very enjoyable part of your trip. From the meal onboard to in-flight entertainment, you may be pleasantly surprised with a trip that could last ten hours or more in the friendly skies. There are some tips you should know to make your flight one that will enable you to arrive relaxed, refreshed, and ready to explore! It all starts with your carry-on bag. Yes, what you bring on board can make your trip in the sky oh so divine. Here are some items you must bring onboard for optimal enjoyment onboard your next flight:

Earplugs and Eye mask

While this may seem like a no-brainer, those little foam inserts and mask can be easy to forget. Be sure to pack two pair, just in case. Why are these so essential to your next flight? Well, they may aide in your slumber aboard, for one thing. Another thing is that it may be unpleasantly loud in your area, whether it be a loud talker or the innocent crying baby. In fact, if you have issues with ear pressure, you can get some fancy pressure-regulation ear plugs as well! Either way, you will be glad you brought them along.

Your comfy headphones

Whether in-ear or over ear, be sure to bring your favorites for listening to music and watching movies. Most overseas flights will distribute these for free, but they are usually a one-size-fits-all cheap, hard plastic, and utterly uncomfortable. With your own pair, you can be sure to avoid ear or headaches. Need ideas for a new pair? Check out this list of the most comfortable headphones.

A pillow

Again, this may seem like a no-brainer, but a pillow may be the difference between napping and red eyes. One clever way to use a neck pillow is to put it under your chin. In this way, you can rest your head in tight quarters. IF you don’t have one, Business Insider found the top pillows on the market.

A change of clothes

This is essential. From spills to, unfortunately, smells, having a fresh pair of clothes is a breath of fresh air. Some choose to bring two pairs of clothes on overseas flights, one loose pair to change into for the night portion and one to change into upon arrival. The choice is yours, but you will feel a lot less gross if you bring some clothes along.


There is nothing worse than dumpster mouth after an overseas flight. Chances are, you are going to eat on the flight, and hours of furry teeth can lead to a desperate search for mouthwash. Bringing a travel toothbrush and toothpaste will be a true comfort saver for your trip. Again, you can arrive feeling more refreshed and less embarrassed to speak to anyone for fear of your green toxic breath causing any fainting. You should also bring along deodorant. Women will want to bring along any travel creams that are usually used at night for ultimate comfort. Wipes are also a must; you can use them on your face and hands to clean off the dirt. You would be surprised the dirt on your face after sitting in the airplane for eight hours. One great place to find travel toiletries is Target.

Something to do

Most overseas flights these days provide in-flight entertainment with movies and the like. However, this is not a guarantee. Bringing along your laptop, tablet, kindle, or even a book can help comfort you and pass the time. Another great idea is to bring a traveler’s journal to write down ideas for your destination or even thoughts about your trip’s beginnings. (Or, maybe a review for the airline!)

Comfort Food

While food is usually provided on overseas flights (and some have food available at all times) it may be wise to bring a favorite snack. In fact, why not treat yourself to some cordial chocolate covered cherries? Whatever tickles your fancy, bring it along. When you get the munchies at 3 a.m. you will be glad you did! If you are into cooking, you can even prepare your own before the trip. Kale chips, anyone?

Something warm

The climate on the aircraft is always changing. Instead of hoping the odds are ever in your favor, bring along a comfortable, soft, hoodie or jacket. It can also pair as a vertical bed if you happen to be lucky enough to have a window seat.

A hat

This one may be a shout out to the ladies, but a hat can tame some unruly locks. That altitude can stress your tresses, so come prepared!

A charged phone and phone charger

Many of the flights have usb charging ports at your seat so that you can charge your phone, which is great. However, it is best to have a full battery on your phone, just in case. You can use your phone to pass the time with games or even take some pretty glorious pictures from the air at your window seat.

Remember, you can use your carry-on as a prop for your feet too, to get a different leg position. The best carry on is a backpack, as it is the most versatile and soft, but roll-ons work as well. Remember, there are things you should not bring as well. Please think of others and leave things like nail polish, tuna sandwiches, and loud actions at home, everyone wants a comfortable flight! With these tips, you could arrive feeling fresher than ever, just like a pro


Jacobite Loch Ness Cruises: A Review

Rating: 5/5

Only a few lucky souls get the chance to embark on a journey into mystical and magical legends that surround the Loch Ness near Inverness, Scotland. Only a few get a chance to breathe in the fresh air as it brushes against mountains that are so beautiful they resemble art. Only a few can say they lurked in the Loch where a monster may roam. Only a few.


If you are one of those lucky few, you really should find a reputable company to take you out onto the Loch. Find a company that is personable and kind. One that is veiled and enriched in Scottish history. Embark on a Loch Ness cruise that is as big on safety as they are on history and whimsy. Which one, you ask, would this be? None other than Jacobite Cruises.

The Jacobite company is the poster child for what we wish all companies could be. They put customers first and, beyond that, make each and every customer feel special. From the moment you park in their parking lot (where you can meet ‘Nessie herself) to the moment you exit their boat, you will truly feel cherished and a part of what makes Scotland so friendly. Yes, from the moment you purchase a ticket, you will feel a part of the magic.

Upon purchasing a ticket for the Jacobite Loch Ness Cruise, you will be greeted by a smiling face and feel as though you are part of the Jacobite family. “Doesn’t look anything like it.” the lady joked referring to my signature as I signed my receipt after purchasing my ticket. Stepping onto the vessel it is immediately apparent that the love and care that goes into keeping everything shiny and new is immense. Once inside, you will see a quaint café area with booth seating and comfy benches to sit. Open air can be found at the front of the ship and upstairs, so good pictures will be easy to capture. However, if the weather is too cold or rainy, the windows are clean as a whistle for all the viewing glory one could ever imagine to enjoy.

The cruise on the loch is nothing short of magical. If you like to lend an ear to the rich history of Scotland, you can choose to listen to the pleasant intercom narration as your journey commences. While on the loch, you can check out the Jacobite Sonar to search for the elusive ‘Nessie as you chart your nautical miles.

Everyone will get a magnificent view of Urquhart Castle as well. Jacobite offers a package that includes admission to explore the castle ruins if you so desire. In fact, Jacobite offers something for everyone from the basic 1-hour loch cruise to the 6.5-hour cruise that includes Corrimony Cairns. Jacobite has four magnificent vessels to provide the best in Loch Ness cruising. Whatever your wish may be, Jacobite offers a competitive price that is sure to fit with most any budget. Jacobite has been in operation since 1973 and serves over 100,000 happy customers per year. In fact, they even cater to some special events like weddings. You can book your cruise or package online for the optimal convenience, but tickets are also available onsite. However, in the high season, a reservation is recommended (please note that cruises may be cancelled in the event of bad weather in the interest of safety). For a more intimate cruising experience, try to avoid peak summer months as well as school holidays. Jacobite also stands by its green initiatives to love the environment by cutting energy usage as well, so you can feel good knowing your choice of cruise was green. In fact, the company supports many local causes and charities as well. You can find the Jacobite Cruise near the Clansman hotel and also in Inverness. Choose Jacobite and cherish your memories of the Loch forevermore!

To join in on the conversation on my Facebook page, click here! Or, feel free to send me an email at

Follow me on Twitter@Caligirl7508.

© 2016 Elana Nichols, All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without prior permissions from the author.

Asia, Uncategorized

A short stop in Brunei: Must do’s


It isn’t any wonder why Brunei attracts visitors from all over the world. While it may be a less known Asian destination, it should be included in your Asian vacation destinations. Brunei resides on the island of Borneo, an island well-known by nature enthusiasts for its biological diversity. The rainforests there are simply a must-visit. After all, rainforests are not as widespread as they once were.  Best of all, Brunei can be visited on a budget, especially if it is a stopover while visiting other Asian destinations. In fact, Brunei can be thoroughly enjoyed in three days.

Before arriving in Brunei, American visitors should apply for a tourist visa. This is a simple process that can be completed online, but it does charge a higher fee than visiting your local consulate, if you live near a big city. Visitors should be aware that Brunei is a Muslim kingdom, ruled by the Sultan. Therefore, tourists will not find the usual bars and clubs as in other Asian destinations.  Brunei is a dry country. However, the government does permit tourists to bring up to two bottles of wine, twelve cans of beer, or two bottles of liquor. The food in Brunei is acceptable, although nothing to write home about. One great tool for food delivery is Food Panda. Travelers can order from many restaurants delivery directly to the hotel room. The real reason people include Brunei on their itineraries- the nature. Take a look at a sample three-day itinerary:

Day 1: Arrive in Brunei

Arrive at Brunei International Airport. Book a hotel that has a free shuttle, or you can pay for a pickup for a nominal fee. Hotels are sprinkled throughout the city, but there are less than 20 to choose from. Always check out the reviews. is a great one-stop shop to find the right hotel. Catch the shuttle to the hotel, settle in, and plan for the first adventure. Some ideas for the first day include:

Jerudong Park: Depending on the level of fatigue, this is a very interesting place to visit. At the very least, it merits a walk or drive-by. Horse themed, this ghostly theme park does have some rides and attractions. It costs roughly $15 per person to get in, and is well-kept on the outside. This theme park gives an almost creepy abandoned theme park feeling, but can also be interesting to visit.

-Walk around the city of Bandar Seri Begawan: While it is possible to take taxis galore to and from the different areas, a walk around the city is quite peaceful. Grab a coffee at De’Royalle, a quaint local coffee shop and café. Walk around and appreciate the architecture of the mosques. The top mosques worth a look are: Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque, Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque, and Masjid Kampong Pandan. The most impressive, however, is the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin as it slightly resembles the sultan’s castle from Disney’s Aladdin.


-Take a moment to shop: Check out the Kg Kianggeh Open Air Market. The natural beauty of the fruits and vegetables make great photographs and snacks as well.  The mall downtown is also worth a visit.

Day 2: Excursion

The toughest part of this day, is which excursion to take. Some excursions allow an overnight stay in the rainforest. Others allow some of the most spectacular diving in the entire world.  If diving and rainforest trekking are both in your wheelhouse, you should do both. One day for trekking and one for diving. The possibilities are endless.

For diving, try the Oceanic Quest Dive Center or Poni Divers. Diving is surprisingly affordable, by diving standards, and those with very little or no experience can try out diving here as well. The biodiversity is worth the dive.


For rainforest trekking, a visit to Ulu Temburong National park is a must-do.  A tour guide is essential to really experience and appreciate all of the life all around you. Borneo Guide is an excellent choice. If you only want a day trip, you can try their Ulu Temburong day trip. It is the best of everything with two unique boat trips and a chance to climb onto the scientists’ canopy walk high above the rainforest floor to take in the wide expanse of the oldest rainforest in the world. The tour even includes lunch, snacks, water, and a free natural fish food spa session for only B$135.00 per person! If time permits, you can venture even deeper into the rainforest and possibly be lucky enough to spot an orangutan or proboscis monkey.


Day 3: Unwind


After a day of adventure, you are sure to be a bit tired. Take advantage of a nice massage at one of the spas in town.  Thann Sanctuary Spa is a good choice and is rated by Conde Nast. After a nice massage, try a meal at Energy Kitchen. Finally, wrap up a successful day with a visit to the Gadong Night Market.


Wherever Brunei leads you, it is sure to leave a lasting impression. Whether it is getting back to the wild, trying a new adventure, or admiring architecture, it should be added to your Asian travel list. For more information, visit Brunei’s website.


Asia, Uncategorized

Siem Reap, Cambodia: 10 things to know before you go

A visit to one of the most mystical places on Earth featuring temples visited by the likes of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider definitely draws tourists to Cambodia from all over the world. Offering mystical temples, a peek into simple life on the land, and friendly hospitality all make Siem Reap, Cambodia a place worth stamping your passport for. Although it may not be super convenient to get to Cambodia, if planning on visiting Asia, it is a must see. Nestled between Thailand and Vietnam, a savvy traveler can easily stop in for a visit. From the food to the sights, there are things to know before you go.

Grab a ride from a Tuk Tuk, which is basically a wagon attached to a moped, to get around Cambodia cheap.

Grab a Tuk Tuk from the airport to save some green. Elana E. Nichols


See the temples…your way! Elana E. Nichols


  1. Tour Responsibly

Poverty is a big plague in this part of Asia. It is actually a bit of a clash between fancy, sometimes rich tourists and poorly fed, often struggling locals. The key to remember is that Cambodia has spent a lot of money on tourism to entice travelers to visit, hoping to stimulate the economy and even alleviate some of the poverty problems. If you have a few weeks to spare, visit the Concert Cambodia website. If you give them plenty of notice, they will pair you with an organization that will make your travels to Cambodia extra memorable. From volunteering as an English teacher to working on a medical team, there is really something for everyone who wants to provide a helping hand. The feeling of knowing you are doing some good is priceless. If it will be a quick trip, you can help out by eating in restaurants like Green Star (a non profit restaurant that donates proceeds to Gecko kids) or purchasing souvenirs from non profit shops. Giving wrapped food or school supplies to children in the streets is welcomed as well. One word of caution: please do not give money – often children are hired and they never see any of the money in their own lives.

  1. Beware of Scams

The very fact that Cambodia suffers from poverty is the reason why many whole-hearted tourists fall into deceptive scams and traps. One famous and wicked scheme is called the Milk Scam. Women and young children often parade the town holding sleeping babies with empty milk bottles claiming that they do not want money, only milk for the baby. Upon entering the store with her, she will choose the biggest and most expensive bulk formula only to sell it back to the store and not feed the baby after the traveler purchases it. In fact, these encounters can even get violent. I was actually a victim and was scratched by the girl for not purchasing the formula. Another popular scam is orphanage shows. Not only is the treatment of these children questionable, so is the usage of the money given. Please use reputable organizations to help you find good and credible places to help out. Also, many children will gladly accept wrapped non-perishable snacks from you.

  1. Know your temple viewing expectations

Many websites will tell you that it is impossible to see the temples around Angkor Wat in less than three full days. This is simply not true. My husband and I saw the temples in a matter of hours. It really depends how in depth you wish to get. You can hire a local tour guide who you can find hanging around the temples or you can walk through on your own. If you are like me, exploring on your own is more exciting and less demanding and can even give you more free time. Through your hotel (or on the street) you can hire a Tuk Tuk to take you in and around the temples. To go inside of the temples, you will need to purchase a ticket for $20 each ($40 for a three-day pass). However, you can actually see the outside of all of the temples for free. Just let them know you want to take pictures of the outsides of the temples. Be sure to see Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm (where Tomb Raider was filmed), Angkor Thom, and Bakong. If trekking through sometimes ankle sprain invoking rubble sounds a bit less than desirable, you can also see everything from an air balloon for around $20 using Angkor Balloon.

  1. Wild Animals Roam

On your trip, you will see monkeys, wild hogs, snakes, bats, wild dogs, and more. While most tourists do not find peril without interacting with these animals, attacks are possible. The numerous wild dogs roaming the land can be dangerous, especially if they are in a pack when you see them. Rabies is not eradicated either. The rabies vaccine is an option, but as long as you mind your p’s and q’s and do not engage any of these animals, the chance of an attack is low. Even the packs of dogs interact with people in the town on a daily basis. One way to avoid a potential attack is to use a bicycle or Tuk Tuk instead of traveling on foot. When interacting with the temple monkeys, remember that they should be approached carefully and the only direct interaction you should have with them is handing them a banana. Take care not to have any other food on you or hanging bags or straps.

  1. Check out Aspara Dancing and the Night Markets

At the night market, visitors can attend a show free of cost. If dinner is desired with the show, check out The Mondial, otherwise, just see the free version in town. After some haggling and shopping at the night markets, it is a great way to relax. Be sure to also check out the massage parlors inside the night markets where you can get a fishy pedicure and a massage for only $2.

  1. The price given is much more than what it can be sold

When shopping in and around town, remember that haggling is common practice. “For you, special price” is usually the most expensive. Try aiming a dollar or two under what you want to pay for the item. Once they drop their offering price, if it is not what you would like to pay, walk away. Most often, they will meet your price when they see your sudden lack of interest. Lades, you can score some amazingly life-like replicas of some of your favorite brands of handbags. Even my most high-brow bag friend cannot tell the difference in my replica Coach bag and the real thing. I paid $20 instead of $500.

  1. See Tonle Sap (Stilt Houses) sans tourist trap

If a boat ride is on your to do list, do it. Otherwise, save $20 for tons of souvenirs, food, and drinks. In all honesty, a lot of very interesting stilt houses can be seen just on the $2 tuk Tuk ride there. Tonle Sap is a very expansive lake that has many diverse parts to offer, but if it is just the stilt houses you want to see, just enjoy a ride through the countryside.

  1. Bring U.S. Dollars and enjoy the low prices

Cambodia has its own currency. However, bringing U.S. dollars is a great idea. Not only are most menus and goods sold in U.S. dollars, you will not have to pay any exchange fees (if you are from the U.S.). A meal can run anywhere from $1.50-$5.00, a drink from $0.50 to $6.00, and goods as cheap as $.025.

  1. Tourism is still relatively new and growing

Don’t expect your bartender to know how to make a Mai Tai or a Blue Hawaii. Tourism is new and growing and people are happily learning. Be patient with the people you interact with within the hospitality venues. They will appreciate knowing your happy and will only benefit from having the patience from you as they learn their craft.

  1. Come prepared for the mosquitopocalypse

Mosquitos seemingly come from all over the world to this very place to breed and spread diseases like Malaria. There is a mosquito net around your bed for a reason. Siem Reap is majorly flooded with many areas of stagnant water and flash flooding. This is the perfect home for those pesky insects. Be sure to come prepared with a good bit of mosquito repellant and even pants and long sleeves if you can bare wearing them in the extreme heat.

With the right attitude and preparation, Cambodia will be an everlasting memory for travelers everywhere. Knowing what to expect and how to help are half of the battle. Cambodia offers a treasure chest of wonder and mystique for those who walk its ancient grounds.

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© 2013 Elana Nichols, All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without prior permissions from the author.

Middle East, Uncategorized

Top 6 things to do in Dubai


Dropping by Dubai? You wouldn’t be the only traveler to do so (and there’s good reason for that!). The truth is, Dubai is packed with people, activities, and sights. The show Ultimate Airport Dubai did not start because it is a small uncharted destination. So, with all this grandeur going on, it is important to have a plan when going to visit the city of the world record breaking Burj Khalifa. Set your sights on a cool itinerary that will enable you to get the most relaxation out of your trip.


Burj Khalifa Elana Nichols

Burj Khalifa

Guinness recognizes this mastodon as the tallest tower in the world. While the top of your list may include a ride to The Top, did you know that its observation deck is actually not the tallest? For the tallest observation at 488 meters, you will actually have to hop another plane to Guangzhou, China for the Canton Tower. While Burj Khalifa is the tallest, its observation is actually at 452.1 meters. So, save the 30-100 bucks and appreciate her beauty from the outside. The record breaker can be viewed from virtually everywhere in the city and the best up-close viewing is at the Dubai Fountain accessed from Dubai Mall.


Desert Safari/Dune Bashing Elana Nichols

Desert Safari/Dune Bashing

A trip to Dubai is truly not complete until you embark on a Dune Bashing excursion. Imagine climbing steep sand dunes in a SUV and weaving up and down their steep peaks without flipping and there you have it. Drivers let air out of their tires and tear into some major sand. Often referred to as a desert roller coaster, it is fun for the whole family. Just be sure to go with a certified company. Most excursions can also include camel riding, henna tattoos, belly dancing, and dinner as well. Expect to pay around $35 U.S. dollars per person. Try Desert Safari Dubai.


Sunset at Kite Beach Elana Nichols

Sunset at Kite Beach

Skip the pay-in beaches and head to Kite Beach. You can walk for miles without paying a dime and get dazzled by the flips and tricks of the many kite surfers along the beach. The desert wind makes this sport a big hit here and the beach is quite beautiful. Go at sunset when you can actually view all the sights along with the Burj Al Arab as the sun creates a splash of color as it sets in the sky. Expect to see strange shells along your walk as well.


Mall Mania Elana Nichols

Mall Mania

Dubai Mall and Mall of the Emirates simply must be on the list. These are not your average malls. Mall of the Emirates has an indoor skiing park and Dubai Mall hosts a gaggle of sharks in their large aquarium. Which mall is better? Well, it is really your preference, so try to do both. Both special attractions can be viewed from inside the mall without purchasing tickets. At Dubai mall, you can enjoy a cupcake from Project cupcake while watching giant sharks circle next to you. If sharks are not your thing, you can skate around the ice rink, enjoy the indoor Sega theme park, or watch a movie. The malls are pristine and also boast the biggest collection of ethnic foods from around the world in their food courts. So, in the mood for whatever? You can find the food you are craving at either mall.


Souk Searching Elana Nichols

Souk Searching

A visit to the Dubai Souks is also a must-do. While the gold souk is a bit disappointing as it is essentially a row of jewelry stores, the spice and gift souks are quite the sight. The array of spices is visually pleasing and a wonder to see. You can find fun knick knacks including the UAE flag and even a hat with the president on it. Whatever you decide to buy, remember to bargain with the seller to get the price you want.


Local Cuisine Elana Nichols

Local Cuisine

A quick stop in to get some local fare is a must do. From hummus to falafel, you can find your fancy at any of the many “hole in the wall” restaurants around town. Don’t be surprised when you actually enjoy the aroma from the Shishas being smoked by other patrons. The aroma usually smells like grape or vanilla and is very pleasant in contrast with cigarettes.


Plan your trip! Elana Nichols

Plan your trip!

Whether seeking adventure or relaxation, a trip to Dubai is one that will not be forgotten. After all, this desert oasis boasts some of the most amazing sights in the world.

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© 2013 Elana Nichols, All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without prior permissions from the author.


Europe, Uncategorized

Get a whiff of how to tackle an aufguss sauna in Europe

Get a whiff of that? It’s not teen spirit, it’s German ingenuity. Bashful? Well, most Americans are, especially when they walk into a nice “clean” sauna only to find that clothing is not optional, rather, discouraged. A rather large “no bathing suits” sign can be discovered upon entering the  sauna, and if the aufgiesser sees you sans nude attire, he just may send you out, you clothed fool! Welcome to the European Sauna. It is a whole new experience, and one, if you’re not too prude, just may satisfy your relaxation bone.

Have I lost you yet? Well, let me give you something that may reel you back in. How do you feel about chocolate aromatherapy? Imagine a hot heat hitting your face followed by the smell of swimming in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Now, I see I have your attention. While the thought of nude people covered in chocolate may sound disgusting, it’s okay; it’s white chocolate paste, no worries. The chocolate room is one of the many “experiences” you can acquire in and around the spa when you choose to experience an aufguss sauna. And if you are a young guy getting your hopes up, stop. It’s just not like that at all! In fact, no one really even looks at anyone else. It’s really more of a medical wellness thing. No perves allowed.

The German spa has everything to offer you. From the sauna to the steam room to Jacuzzis, to pools to swim indoors and outdoors, there really is something for everyone. While most areas are clothing optional, if you feel a bit shy, you can wrap yourself in a nice fluffy white towel. (Hint to girls: bring two towels. One can cover you and the other you can put underneath you).

Upon entering the spa, guests receive a nice trendy, watch-looking, plastic wrist band. No, you can’t tell time with it and no, you can’t keep it, but it will be your device that decides how much you pay for your birthday suit adventure depending upon how much time you spend there. Prices vary per spa and often Groupons can give you the all-day experience at a lower price. Once in, you can visit your men’s or women’s locker room to change into something, well, more comfortable. And yes, you can wear your bathing suit around the spa (in most – not all). You can get a massage for an additional fee, but you may find that the best use of your time is to just hang out in the many pools, hot springs, saunas, and steam rooms around the area. In fact, many have hot mineral springs that are fantastic for your skin.

You will want to ask for a schedule for the aufguss. There is something special about them that you simply must experience. Sure, you can walk into any of the many saunas any time for a real heat up, but the thing to do is to find the schedule to experience a real aufgiesser’s work. What is an aufgiesser? Simply this: a man (don’t worry, he wears a towel to cover his nether regions) or woman who sprinkles magical scents on the hot rocks in the sauna. Sometimes he may have some singing bowls to rub to make some cool soothing noises. Sometimes he will have a fan. Other times, he will use a towel. He pours a secret solution of smells and therapeutic oils onto the hot stones. Usually there is particular scent in the solution. It may be eucalyptus, chocolate, or other herbal concoctions. He then whiffs and pushes the extra hot air and scent IN YOUR FACE. Yep, the uber scalding smell is wafted straight into your nostrils and pores. Intense? Yes. Worth it? Oh yea.

One waft of the magic technique will relax you intensely. One word of caution though: beware how close you sit to the stones. Some of the sauna rooms have seating surrounding the hot stones and if you are too close to them, when he wafts the hot air it could feel so hot that you may wonder if you are being scalded alive. Be sure to take it at your own pace. If you feel like you are going to pass out, step outside for some cool, fresh mountain air. Each scheduled session usually lasts around  three to ten minutes.

Now, back to the chocolate therapy option. I did mention that you are covered in non-edible chocolate, right? Well, afterward you will need to rinse off. One very brave and daring thing to do would be to rinse with the cold water bucket. It is a very large bucket with a string. Pull the string, and you get the idea! Just try not to laugh when you hear grown men scream like small girls.

All in all, this experience is worth the taking. It just depends how opposed to nudity you are. While you never have to participate in the nudity, it WILL surround you, so, this experience is not for the faint of heart. However, if you can muster some courage and stick on some blinders, go for it! Let it all hang out! And remember, unless there are some fellow Americans in there, no one is looking anyway.

Recommended spas with aufguss saunas:

Domaine Thermal de Mondorf

Bad Fussing

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© 2013 Elana Nichols, All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without prior permissions from the author.


Asia, Uncategorized

Phuket, Thailand and all its life-changing wonders


The land of smiles promises to bring a smile to the heart of any and every traveler, no matter which part of Thailand is visited. Phuket is no exception. This tropical paradise has so much more to offer than just a t-shirt that tempts friends at home to mispronounce the name. Phuket takes travelers on a journey to another time and place. A place where the traveler is king (or queen) and every whim is suddenly somewhat important.

Flying into Phuket was more like landing in a dream. As we were descending, I saw a tropical oasis of magical mountainous islands tickling the drizzling sky. It was the same sulturous land that Leonardo DiCaprio frolicked in the movie, The Beach. My feet were not even on the ground, and I was already melting away pounds of stress and feeling true relaxation set in.

After landing, there was a bit of confusion after our debit card was stolen (we were tired and left it in the ATM machine for a second) and we had to find a taxi. Let this be a warning to keep a close hold on all of your personal affects as they could be stolen otherwise. The people are very kind in Phuket, but many poor people gather in tourist-heavy areas to get a chance at obtaining something of value. Travelers may need to purchase a visa upon arrival (depending which country you are coming from) and cash is preferred. We read not to take the taxis directly outside of the airport, so we ventured into the tropical drizzle, passed the parking lot, and across the street to try to find a “metered” taxi. Another warning for you: just because a taxi is across the street and reads, “metered” does not necessarily mean that it truly is. After giving the “metered taxi” man an attempt at swindling us, we went back in the airport and rented a car. It was about the same price as a taxi. In the end we never really used the thing, but whatever you choose to do, it should run you around 100 bucks (for a two way taxi ride or three to five days of car rental).

Renting the car proved to be a bit of a setback for us. We were in Thailand in Monsoon season, so a mountainous drive with Orlando-esque rains and 10 M.P.H. scooters proved to be quite a challenge. We forgot to pack our GPS, so we ended up making a four hour drive of what should have been an hour and a half from the airport to our hotel. After finally stopping at a gas station and getting help from a Thai cross dresser with a sharp beard, we finally found our hotel and realized that we had passed it about a dozen times.

Here’s where the real king and queen feelings began. We parked at our hotel and were immediately greeted by a nice man who scolded us for trying to get our own suitcases. What? You’ve had that experience at a fancy hotel in America? Well, we did not have to tip him; in fact, he was insulted when we tried to! Tips are not expected or welcomed in Thailand as a part of local culture. This was, of course, enhanced when we checked in and the woman behind the desk escorted us to our villa with umbrellas and a white glove. Once there, she gave us a tour of our room and told us she would be at our disposal. We stayed at the Access Resort. While it is not located on the beach, each villa includes a king sized bed, private entry into the resort-wide pool, and uber cheap local buffet breakfast in the morning. Oh, and there are two wet-bars you can swim up to as well. However, the real kicker is that this place only set us back around $60 per night. Take that, fancy American hotels!

Since our hotel was so dreamy, we spent a lot of time there. You know, accessing our private pool entry, ordering room service (which is delivered by gondola) and lounging around our over-sized room. After a few days of enjoying the feeling of being royal, we decided to do some Phuket exploration. A walk around the tourist area of town is really interesting. You pass all sorts of bars, but one thing that really stands out is the Australian bars. Everyone assumed we were from Australia since Phuket is a hot spot for Down Under dwellers. The beach is just a short two-minute walk from all that is touristy in Phuket. You will find palm trees jutting out of the sand, Cliffs nearby, and even soothing waves tantalizing you to enter. A day on the beach alone with change your entire life. We Floridians are accustomed to beaches, but nothing quite compares to the beaches of Phuket.

If you so desire, you can take a tour of the Phi Phi Islands where The Beach was filmed. We skipped that since it was an all-day venture and involved going over by boat. It was also quite rainy while we were there, but November through February are the most promising months to visit as far as rain goes.

Don’t be surprised if you notice a bit of rice with candy placed strategically around a building or in the middle of a walkway. All around Asia, including Thailand, these offerings are set out daily. Just be careful where you step so as not to disturb the local customs.

One thing that all visitors to Thailand must do is the Elephant jungle trek. You may be tempted to don a loin cloth as you mount this gentle beast and roam the jungle up a mountain passing natural fauna and flora and even pristine butterflies. We chose Kok Chang for our elephant trekking needs. The elephants were allowed to roam there and seemed to be treated very well. The price will run you 600-100 THB per person ($19-$32). Our elephant was amazing. She took us up a mountain that was sparkling with beautiful plants and butterflies. Once we were at the top, we saw the ocean and mountainous terrain. Our guide was very nice and helpful. He actually took photos of us the whole trek and never asked for a fee. You can feed the elephants there before and after riding as they have buckets of bananas for you to choose from. The owner has a bar with some local rum and even a small sort of shop where you can purchase nick-knacks and keepsakes. Thailand still incorporates elephants into their daily lives for various tasks, so don’t be surprised if you see one while you are out and about.

The food in Thailand reigns king over all other food. While I realize that this is a big claim, it is true. My advice to you would be to steer clear of the touristy restaurants. Not only are they pricey, but they often have a commercialized feel to them and may not include true local authentic favorites. Our favorite restaurant was a short walk from our hotel on the back road that leads up the mountain. It looked like more of a shack, but the people were friendly and warm and the food was spectacular. The portion served is more like an American restaurant while the price is like something from 1957. For a full meal and a drink, we paid under $5.00 per person. Again, tipping is not expected, a smile and thank you is much more appreciated.

Phuket, Thailand was an experience that I feel privileged to have enjoyed. I will always keep fond memories of the people, the food, and the serenity. The only problem with Phuket is the desperate desire to return and never go back to the way life used to be.

To join in on the conversation on my Facebook page, click here! Or, feel free to send me an email at

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© 2012 Elana Nichols, All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without prior permissions from the author.