10 Reasons NOT to get a Tesla

…and why they’re all FALSE! You may have some doubts about buying a Tesla, or maybe you’re considering grabbing yourself a Model 3 but your brother-in-law told you it’s a bad idea. This list will dispel some of the false rumors and misconceptions about this beautiful car! Don’t forget to scroll to the end and use my referral code to get 1,000 free miles of charging!

1. It’s only for the super-rich

Not anymore! Yes, the first Tesla Model S had a base price of $60,000 and didn’t have any financing options. However, a couple years ago, Elon Musk promised to produce a $35,000 Tesla in the near future. It took quite a bit longer than people expected, and many didn’t even believe him, but finally, that vision has been realized, with the base price of the Tesla Model 3 now standing at exactly $35,000. Of course, this is without all the bells and whistles, and without the coveted autopilot feature, but the reality is that you can now get a fully electric vehicle that will take you 220 miles per charge for a relatively affordable price. If you put $5,000 down, you’re looking at as little as $485 a month, according to Tesla’s estimation tool. Want to add the autopilot later? You can do that with the click of a button and $4,000 any time you want ($1,000 more than buying it initially).

2. There’s a long waiting list to get one

Also false! This was true several years ago, when the waiting times could be over a year, but now you can get your hands on the Model 3 in a matter of weeks. If you’re going with the base price, the “Standard Range,” you’re going to be waiting 6-8 weeks if you live in New York. If you spring for the “Standard Plus” for a couple thousand bucks extra, you’ll be behind the wheel in as little as a week!

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3. It’ll be outdated in a few years

With high tech gadgets becoming such a large component in cars these days, especially Teslas, it’s easy to worry that the car will be outdated in a couple of years, much like a computer or a smartphone. Tesla goes out of their way to produce hardware that is capable of being upgrade though software patches and updates. Take this huge performance upgrade for example. You don’t need to be jealous of the newer model your cousin got last week, because chances are your older model will still get the same upgrades. Maybe some minor tweaks will be made to future models, but I don’t expect any that will outdate a Model 3 in less than ten years.

4. It’s unsafe

First of all, this is ridiculous. Tesla has been granted a five-star safety rating by the NHTSA, making it one of the safest cars in the world. You might also be thinking “Wait – we have all these laws that you can’t look at a phone while you’re driving. Now they’re putting a 15-inch touchscreen on the dash? One you’re supposed to operate while driving?” Well, all the information you would normally have on the dash are displayed on the screen, and changing the climate and audio controls has been on touch screens in cars for years. Once you are used to it, it won’t be difficult to adjust the radio or climate using the screen. You need to look at the knobs in a normal car anyway, so this isn’t any more distracting. For more in-depth things like plotting a route or making a playlist, we recommend pulling over or doing it ahead of your trip, us tike you would on a smartphone.

5. There’s no way the auto pilot can be accurate…

Letting the car drive itself on the highway can be scary. But after spending some time behind the wheel, it’s definitely accurate enough to trust. You should absolutely never take your eyes off the road in case something does go wrong though, and in case you need to, disengaging the autosteer and cruise control is as easy as tapping the brakes. The car even reminds you to put your hands on the wheel every few minutes, to make sure you’re paying attention.

6. Road trips are impossible

If you’re opting to at least spring for the Standard Plus on the Model 3, you’re looking at 240 miles of range per charge. That’s just enough to get from Boston to New York City. But what if you want to take it further? What about a road trip to the Keys for Spring Break? Hello, Supercharger Stations. Tesla will automatically plan your route to stop at Supercharger Stations along the way. In August 2018, there were 10,836 Superchargers in operation at 1,339 stations around the world. Tesla has announced that is plants to double this by the end of 2019. If you were to charge from 0% to 100% it would take around 75 minutes, but that isn’t the most time-efficient method since the car will slow down its charging after around 75%. The recommended way to do it is to charge up to 80% whenever you get down to 20%. This can be done in about 30 minutes, giving you just enough time to grab some food and use the bathroom every 150 miles or so. Admittedly this takes longer than filling up on gas, but it’s worth the money saved.

7. They’re tiny and have very little storage

When you first look inside the Model 3, it does seem that there isn’t much storage space. Open the trunk, and the space seems pretty small. But upon closer inspection, you’ll see that the bottom of the trunk opens up to more storage space. Added to that, in the place where an engine would be on a traditional car, there’s an additional storage compartment. You’re still looking at a bit less storage than a typical sedan, but it’s not too shabby.

Tesla

8. Electricity costs the same as gas anyway

Nope. Let’s say that on a 2019 Honda Accord, you get around 26 MPG on average. That’s about 4 gallons to 100 miles, costing about $11 as of this writing. The Tesla Model 3 takes 27 kWh to go 100 miles, which currently costs $7.56 at Supercharger Stations. Rounding down, that’s a savings of around $3.50 every time you go 100 miles, or about 3.5 cents per mile. It may not sound like a lot, but after a year of driving 15,000 miles, you’ve already saved $525. And that’s just at Supercharger Stations. Charging at home can be much cheaper, depending on the price of your electricity at home.

9. It takes forever to charge the battery

This is both true and false. As previously mentioned, it would take around 75 minutes to charge from 0% to 100% at a Supercharger Station. You wouldn’t ever really do that, but that’s the maximum you’d ever wait. The car’s navigation system will automatically find the best route for you to charge along the way, including recommending how long to charge for. At home though, it can take as long as four days to charge on a standard 120 v outlet. With a “Level 2” charger, the kind many washers and dryers use, you can get 9-52 miles of range per hour of charging, which should be enough to get you to and from work the next day. Consider what kinds of plugs you have at home, and how close you live to Supercharger Station before you buy.

10. They’re just as bad for the environment as a traditional gas car

No way! There seems to be a lot of people out there who claim that the generation of electricity for electric vehicles has just big of a carbon footprint as any other car. Well, a little research is all it takes to show that gas cars produce, on average, twice as much carbon as electric vehicles, including the cost of producing the car.

There you have it! 10 Reasons Not to get a Tesla, and why they’re all just plain wrong!

Interested in getting a Tesla, and want 1,000 free miles of charging at Supercharger Stations? Use this code!

Have any of your own tips? Any other concerns about buying a Model 3? Leave them in the comments below!

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Tourist in Pripyat – Visiting the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant (Part 2)

You have to see it to believe it – Almost falling backwards in an attempt to get a good photo, my jaw dropped as the guide explained that for a while, conspiracy theorists thought that these Duga radar devices were used by the USSR as a means of weather and mind control.

This tour was organized by one of several companies who make trips to Chernobyl and Pripyat. Most of the them include a documentary on the bus on the way, entrance to the Exclusion Zone, and various stops at points of interest. You can also order lunch of a few bucks extra. Oh, and if you’re not Ukrainian, expect to pay nearly double the admission price – there’s a big discount for Ukrainian citizens.

The little souvenir shack right before the entrance to the Exclusion Zone was a little weird. It boasted T-Shirts declaring “I <3 Chernobyl” with a biohazard symbol instead of the heart, and postcards proudly proclaiming “I survived Chernobyl. They had everything you would expect from a Disnyeland gift shop, from Chernobyl pens to coffee mugs. I found it a bit in poor taste, but hey, whatever pays the bills.

The idea of visiting Chernobyl can be a bit scary at first. Half the population of the world or more is old enough to remember the disaster. My mother-in-law, who joined us on this journey, remembers being mocked in school as the “Radioactive girl” who lived in Kiev during the accident. It’s easy to think that it would be dangerous to visit the area.

In truth though, it’s perfectly safe. We were told that a routine X-ray exposes you to ten times more radiation than a visit to Chernobyl, and as long as you don’t take a piece of a building and literally eat it, you’re going to be fine. To be safe, the workers in the area work in short-term shifts of only a few months per year. There are apparently still residents who refused to leave the Exclusion Zone, and according to our guides hundreds of people still live in little villages throughout the 1,000 square mile zone. Since radioactivity really is an “invisible enemy,” it’s hard for many to believe that they are at risk.

The road towards Pripyat was a but monotonous – Just forest on either side. Finally, we mae a turn and headed towards the Duga Radar system – a monolith steel structure stretching 150 meters in the air and 500 meters from one side to the other. Nicknamed “The Russian Woodpecker,” this radar system was used to intercept shortwave radio signals. The nickname came from the annoying sound that it made when it disrupted signals from nearby aviation and radio broadcasting companies.

You have to see it to believe it – Almost falling backwards in an attempt to get a good photo, my jaw dropped as the guide explained that for a while, conspiracy theorists thought that these Duga radar devices were used by the USSR as a means of weather and mind control. In the shadow of this colossal testament to its time, I found myself entertaining such a notion myself…

The next stop was at the border of the city of Pripyat, where everyone got their selfie on in front of the welcome sign. After this, the blue dot on my Google Maps inched every closer to the center of the city. We were now only a few kilometers from the Block 4 Reactor, still humming with deadly radiation under its steel sarcophagus…

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Tourist in Pripyat – Visiting the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant (Part 1)

I anxiously kept my eyes glued to Google Maps. What would it be like? What would the city be like, once a bustling Soviet metropolis of 50,000 people, now a wasteland – abandoned in a moment during the disaster in 1986?

Hopping on a bus in Kiev, Ukraine at 7 AM, I could hardly believe where we were headed. Would the bus have a bright, blaring marquee declaring “Chernobyl” on it? We really didn’t know what to expect.

After some trial and error, we finally located the little van that would take my wife, her mother, a dozen other tourists and me north about 100 km to the abandoned town of Pripyat. It was the heart of winter and the temperature wouldn’t get much above freezing that whole day.

Along the way, we were handed out little devices that would measure the radiation in the air around us. These were basically just a novelty to let us know that we were safe, and were a bit of fun when we saw the numbers start to rise. The levels never got high enough to do any harm, and in fact we were told the snow was an additional insulator against any radioactive particles.

Along the way, as the 2006 documentary “The Battle of Chernobyl” played on a small screen, I started googling statistics. Apparently, we were among 60,000 people to visit Chernobyl that year. I knew it was safe and that, of course, they wouldn’t let people come if it wasn’t, but I couldn’t help searching things like “Effects of visiting Chernobyl” and “Signs of radiation poisoning.”

Google Maps told me that we were getting close, and sure enough the van stopped and we entered what’s known as the “Exclusion Zone” or “Alienation Zone.” This is an area of 30km in radius from the reactor itself, and is to this day uninhabited, except for some stubborn villagers who refused to leave. We hopped off the bus, had our passports and special passes checked, and got back on.

The drive inside was fairly uneventful, mostly through forests that have had the chance to thrive in the absence of human intervention. I anxiously kept my eyes glued to Google Maps as the little blue dot got closer and closer to the town of Pripyat, and the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant just a few kilometers away. What would it be like? Would we need special suits to get close to the reactor? What would the city be like, once a bustling Soviet metropolis of 50,000 people, now a wasteland – abandoned in a moment during the disaster in 1986?

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Tonsai Bay in Summer and in Winter – When to Visit Thailand?

My wife Olena and I may be two of the only people on Earth who have ever visited Tonsai Bay in Krabi, Thailand in both Winter and Summer. The first trip was a magical ten days full of perfect weather, daily excursions, and lots of swimming and lounging in the sun. Though it probably shouldn’t have, the atmosphere of our second venture to Tonsai really caught us off guard…

My wife Olena and I may be two of the only people on Earth who have ever visited Tonsai Bay in Krabi, Thailand in both Winter and Summer. The first trip was a magical ten days full of perfect weather, daily excursions, and lots of swimming and lounging in the sun. Though it probably shouldn’t have, the atmosphere of our second venture to Tonsai really caught us off guard…

December 2016:

Our first trip to Tonsai was during the Christmas holiday in 2016. We flew into Phuket, spent the day on the famous Patong beach, and hopped on a ferry to the much more chilled-out Tonsai Bay. The late-night party life hasn’t been our thing for years, so it was nice to head to a more secluded area. In fact, Tonsai Bay is only reachable via longtail boat from Ao Nang beach in Krabi. This makes it all the more exclusive!

There are a few ways to get to Tonsai. Most likely if you’re in the area you’ll hear that most tourists are going to the nearby Railay Beach resort area. You can get a longtail boat for around 100 THB per person from either Railay East or from the more accessible Ao Nang beach. My suggestion is to head straight for Ao Nang and, in the high season (December), there will be plenty of others willing to share a longtail boat. If there is no longtail boat available, you can walk from Railay beach, but if it’s high-tide you have to hike up and over some pretty treacherous terrain. Not recommended if you have lots of luggage.

Upon arriving, one must walk about half a kilometer up a small hill, through the forest and past hordes of thieving monkeys. After arriving at our $6 per night bungalows, we immediately felt at home. Not too crowded, very relaxed atmosphere, Bob Marley on the loudspeakers, helpful and friendly staff, and a fire show every night. The seating area at Chillout Bungalows included several hammocks, some picnic benches and even a few tree houses. Surrounding the bar area were several food stalls where anyone can find a delicious bite to eat. Chillout is located on Tonsai’s only main strip which is lined with more relaxing bars, some restaurants and a few more similar bungalows.

The bungalows themselves were incredibly basic. One bed, one shelf, one bathroom, one fan, and electricity only between 6PM and 6AM. We were officially off the grid, and it felt fantastic! Life was good. We had five full days ahead of us to relax in the sun and go on adventures.

During this trip, we spent a couple days on the beach, a few days on excursions in Krabi, and one day island-hopping, snorkeling and kayaking. It was the perfect combination of relaxation and adventure. We were sad to wave goodbye to Tonsai and longed to return someday.

July 2018:

Fast-forward 19 months to July 2018. We had a flight booked on July 27th to leave China for good and start a new life in New York City. We were going a bit crazy because I only had one day to pack between school finishing and leaving the country. Also, my birthday was coming up. After lots of back-and-forth decision making, we decided I would take an entire week, unpaid, off from work to go to Thailand for a full 9 days. After all, it was our last chance in Asia!

Olena and I are avid travelers, but we never return to the exact same place. We’ve always considered it a waste of time and money because the world is so big and want to see as much as possible. Well, with visions of our time in Tonsai at Chillout Bungalows swimming in our heads, we booked four nights at Chillout and a flight into Krabi. We were determined to repeat our experience on our last trip. It was so exciting! This time, we planned to take fewer excursions and just relax on the beach. It was going to be amazing!

I think you see where this was going. Our second trip to Tonsai was absolutely nothing like the first. For starters, the weather. No one bothered to tell us and we never bothered looking, but July is right in the middle of Thailand’s rainy season. In fact, two ships carrying tourists had capsized the day before we arrived, killing more than 50 people in the very same bay we planned to take a ferry. To the North, 12 boys had been trapped in a cave because of rapidly-rising water. When we arrived in Krabi, a torrential downpour started within minutes, right out of the sunny blue sky.

The rain was so bad that, when we arrived at Ao Nang beach, where tourists had lined up in December for a longtail boat to Tonsai, we found the beach deserted, waterlogged and devoid of any boats. We were informed that no longtail boat would go that day because of the weather.

Our spirits would not be crushed! We were determined to get to Tonsai. We grabbed a Tuktuk to Ao Nan Mao pier, got on a longtail boat to Railay Bay, walked over a kilometer in the rain to the aforementioned treacherous path, climbed up and over carrying 20kg each on our backs, and finally made it to Tonsai. The walk through the Railay area was depressing. The beach, crowded with tourists last time, was as empty as the food stalls that lined the streets. Arriving at Tonsai, waterlogged and exhausted, we still felt a spark of joy at our accomplishment. This spark, however, was quickly extinguished by the weather and the low season. Walking up the path to Chillout, no monkeys barred our way to beg for fruit, no happy locals greeted us on our way, all the bars we passed were either closed for good or completely empty, and to cap it all off, some rich guy had bought a bunch of land in the center of the area and cut down most of the trees. What had once felt like a secluded walk in the forest felt much more exposed and public.

Arriving at Chillout, we found the bar also empty and almost no one staying in the bungalows. No fire shows planned for the evening, no music on the loudspeaker, just the dreary-eyed people who ran the place during this low season. With all of this against us, the lack of electricity and comforts of home were much more noticeable. Back in our rooms, instead of an off-the-grid lifestyle and chilled-out atmosphere, we instead noticed the dirty sheets, wet bathroom and lack of light. We made the best of it, went swimming in the rain, but ended up canceling our next few nights and moving on to Phi Phi island, where our adventure took a much more positive turn.

The moral of the story:

Know the season of where you’re traveling, and never expect a journey to the same place at a different time to be the same as the first trip. In fact, I think that in life we should never seek to repeat exact experience because it lines you up for disappointment. Let every experience be its own, and try to keep your chin up! As I said, we still had five more days and ended up having a fantastic time in Phi Phi. The weather improved, our spirit was revived, and we learned a lot from the experience. Tonsai Bay, it was amazing while it lasted, but it’ll never be the same again.

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Throwback Thursday: Italian Adventures

How canceled flights, stolen deposits, and ankles sprained by angry volcanoes made our trip to Rome, Naples and Pompeii impossible to forget!

How canceled flights, stolen deposits, and ankles sprained by angry volcanoes made our trip to Rome, Naples and Pompeii impossible to forget!

Prologue:

“Ickily! Easyjet is offering flights to Rome for less than 2,000CZK!”

This was the excited exclamation several months ago from my girlfriend Olena, who is an expert when it comes to finding cheap deals on travel, food, going out and the like. At first I was naturally skeptical, “Yeah, of course, then there’s all the hidden fees, right?” Well, it turned out (as she loves to hear me say) that she was right. A few clicks of the mouse later we had two tickets to Rome Fiumicino airport in June. Aside from the cheap accommodation we booked through Airbnb, we had absolutely no itinerary planned and nothing booked, but that didn’t matter. I would reschedule some lessons and we would leave on a Thursday night and arrive on Monday evening, only missing a bit of work. Satisfied and filled with excitement for the coming journey, we shelved the rest of the planning til later, only occasionally bringing up the trip as the weeks went by.

Flew by would probably be a much better way to describe how the following weeks passed. One minute we were still freezing in Prague and the next we were lying on a beach under the Italian sun… But I’m getting ahead of myself. This all sounds very well and good, but our journey was not at all without its complications…

Thursday, June 11th, 2015:

The Travel Gods first strike while I’m sitting in my last lesson of the day, three or four hours before our flight. My tablet is playing a listening text for my student whom I am preparing for the FCE exam. While the listening plays from my tablet, a message from EasyJet pops up. I’m not usually in the habit of checking my emails during lessons, but I cannot ignore the preview of the message: “We regret to inform you that…” My heart immediately starts racing, Attempting to hide my suspicion of an impending disaster, I open the email to find that our flight has been cancelled.

I continue the lesson with my student, but I can’t really focus. What are we going to do? Can we reschedule? Will there be another flight we can take? How much is this going to cost? Will we even be able to go on our trip? Over the past week we’ve spent a great deal of time planning this trip, and in my backpack are not only our flight tickets but several entrance tickets to the sites we are hoping to visit…

Finally the lesson ends and I have a few minutes to review the email in detail before catching my train back to Prague (I work in a small town south of Prague, about 40 minutes away by train). It turns out that it isn’t our flight there that has been cancelled, but the flight back. This comes as a relief, but only a small one. Many things still need to be worked out.

Jump ahead to my train ride home, where I am on the phone via Skype, talking into my headset to a Customer Service representative in India who claims to go by the authentically Indian name of “Tom.” Apparently, there is great news! We can simply leave on the same EasyJet flight the next day, arriving Tuesday night instead of Monday. An extra day in Italy, isn’t it great?

My impatience starts to escalate, “I’m sorry Tom, but unfortunately we have jobs and we can’t just call out of work as we please…”

“I understand your situation sir,” says ‘Tom,’ “but because I can offer you a flight within the next 24 hours, we are not obligated to pay for a ticket on another airline for Monday night. You can leave on the Tuesday night flight with no problem.”

Our conversation continues in circles like this for nearly half an hour and after various threats of bad feedback and of flooding social media with EasyJet horror stories, I’m finally able to convince a representative to let me find a flight from another carrier, for which they will ostensibly reimburse me. I call Olena, who is also on the way to the airport, and explain the situation. We decide to wait and figure it out after going through security at the airport. After all, we have several days to figure it out while in Italy.

Our arrival in Rome proves to be later than we expected because, of course, the flight is delayed for three hours. A very nice woman notices us talking and informs us of the delay, and we thank her for the information. Well, at least that gives us time to conduct research into possible flights…

…which yield very poor results. If we want to leave Rome on Monday night as planned, it would mean not arriving in Prague until Tuesday morning with an eight-hour layover in Paris. I’m not one who can sleep in airports, so that is not an attractive option before a seven-hours day of teaching.

Several Customer Service calls later (This time I speak to “Linda” and “Peter”) we decide we’ll just have to call our bosses, explain the situation, and come home Tuesday night. For me this means a loss of 1,500 crowns (about $60) and a few disappointed students, but for Olena it means over-using her holiday time and missing important face-time with Tomáš Baťa, the founder of the fashion company Baťa for which she is a new employee. She’s been looking forward to meeting this fashion guru for some time, so it comes as a real let-down. Now find ourselves reciting a mantra that will become familiar to us throughout the trip, “It could be worse. Let’s not let this ruin our trip.” After all, we had an extra day in Italy!

We then turn to the next problem at hand. We are going to be too late in Rome to get normal public transport to our accommodation, so we have to find another way. Our host informs us that a taxi would be over €60, and we prepare for the first of many extra expenses on the trip.

Fortune begins to shine a small ray of line upon us when we arrive in Rome at 2:00 AM Friday morning. As we wait for our luggage, we spot the same woman who told us about the delay. We ask her how she plans to get to the center, and she said by taxi. We agree to share the ride with her, cutting the cost in half for all of us.

Waiting for a taxi outside in the pleasantly warm Roman night, our new companion realizes that she has no cash and goes off to find an ATM. Olena and I are having a hard time locating the taxi, so I decide to run over to a bus that’s loading on passengers and ask where it’s going. The driver says they’re going to the city center, and the cost is €7. We’re now left with a moral dilemma: Let the bus go and wait for our new cohort, or take the bus and leave her in the dust. Well, we’re already feeling our wallets thinning, so we take the latter option.

“This is gonna follow us for the rest of the trip, you know.” Olena says as our bus pulls out. “Karma is gonna pay us back for this.”

“Don’t worry. She will understand… right? Besides, our karma can’t be that low. Let’s just call this strike one…”

A half-hour journey later brings us to the central train station, where we have to pay for a €20 taxi ride to our host’s apartment. The bill I plan to send EasyJet now stands at €34, and it will continue to rise.

Our host is understandably annoyed at our late arrival (nearly 4 AM) and leads us to our room. The accommodation is great, but she could have been a bit nicer. Oh well, we thought again. It could be worse. At least we finally have beds to sleep in… for about four hours. We are scheduled for entrance into the Vatican at 10:30 tomorrow, so our sleep after such a long day of travel ends up being less than satisfactory.

But we made it, we’re in Rome! Ahead of us we have a tour of the Vatican, the ancient Colosseum, the Roman Forums, sun-drenched beaches, and a trip to Pompeii to cap it off. We are not to be brought down!

Friday, June 12, 2015:

Seemingly five minutes later, I awaken to the Chocobo theme from Final Fantasy VII that serves as my phone’s alarm clock. I’m not particularly exhausted; I seem to have slept fairly well in the last four hours. I turn over to make sure Olena is awake and get a groan in response, which in her language means only kisses will wake her up, and I am happy to oblige.

We shove some croissants down our throats and brew up some instant coffee and are out the door by 9:45. We finally figure out where to buy a ticket for the bus and are on a packed bus minutes later. We barely have room to move, and it must be over 30 degrees in the bus. Nevertheless, we’re excited for our trip to the Vatican, a country to which neither of us has been.

We head in the general direction of the Sistine Chapel with the help of Google Maps, but it turns out the whole city is surrounded by a ten meter-high wall with one entrance half a kilometer away. We have about five minutes to get there…

Having purchased tickets online, we pass the throngs of people waiting in line with well-deserved schadenfreude. They will be waiting the better part of an hour while we sail through the front entrance. The extra €4 we paid for advance tickets were well worth it. Things are looking up after all.

I may be an English teacher, but I am not nearly eloquent enough to describe the beauty of what we saw in the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel. I will let Olena’s skillful photographic eye guide you through our winding journey through halls of statues, tapestries, ancient maps, mosaics, and of course the Sistine Chapel itself. I encourage you to look at her Facebook page, where she will undoubtedly post pictures from our trip. I’ll put up a link at the end of this post. She got some great shots, and we even managed to sneak in some forbidden pictures in the – “Silencio! No photo, no video!” – sorry, that guy is really giving us a hard time. We would NEVER take pictures in the Sistine Chapel. No way, no how.

Our eyes still dazzled by the wonders of the Vatican, we head to a nearby cafe to meet up with Hana, an acquaintance of Olena. She works as a tour guide in the Vatican and is from Ostrava, in the Czech Republic. The information she gives us is incredibly helpful, and she even leads us around down a few streets to find some cheap pizza, our first of many pizza lunches. On the way, I pick up a sun hat for €5 which, knowing myself, I will undoubtedly lose in no time.

So. We’re still exhausted despite the overpriced yet delicious espresso but it’s only 3PM. We need to take advantage of our limited time in Rome. So what do we do? We take a metro as far as we can to the outskirts of Rome. A short walk from the metro station and we’re lying on the beach, relaxing. We still have another two days in Rome, so why try to force it on us while we’re so tired? Besides, the beach is nice, even though it’s a bit cloudy and windy. The water is nice too, and we enjoy a quick dip. We even buy one of those giant fabric tapestries that the meddlesome vendors are selling and sip cheap wine as we watch the sun set over the Mediterranean Sea. The stressful journey to get here seems distant, and we let the evening wind wash away our troubles of the previous day.

Saturday, June 13, 2014:

The chocobos wake us from deep sleep after a hot but restful night back in our little room. After some breakfast and coffee, we’re still not exactly sure what we’ll do today. After lots of Googling we decide to hit the Colosseum first. Most of the sites we want to see are in that area, so it’s a logical place to start.

We make a pit-stop at the central train station to pick up our Roma Pass which will not only give us free entrance without lines to the Colosseum and the Forums but will also give us unlimited access to Rome’s rather extensive public transport system. That done, we head to the Colosseum. Outside the entrance I pick up another €5 hat because, yes, I lost the first one. But don’t worry, I’ll lose this one too in a few days I’m sure.

We experience that familiar feeling of schadenfreude as we float by the lines of people waiting to buy tickets. We do a circuit of the ancient amphitheater and are amazed by the size and splendor of this structure which was built such a long time ago. The word “awesome” is one of the most overused words in the English language and thus has lost its true definition which perfectly describes the scene around us. This isn’t the first time this thought crosses my mind.

My camera is acting up, so I decide to stop using it for the rest of the trip and let Olena be the photographer. She not only has a much better camera but also a better eye for photography. I still snap the occasional selfie with my phone’s camera though. Again, check out her Facebook page for some pretty fantastic pictures.

Our next stop is the ruins surrounding the Forums, where we pass temples to various gods. Olena intones that the gods better appreciate how much money was spent on their worship given the multitudes of people who could have been fed with the same money. I agree, but hey. That’s ancient history. (bada-boom-TSH!)

It’s 33 degrees and we are starting to get really tired again, but we trudge on past more gorgeous ruins. We end up in Piazza Venezia and find ourselves jaded by the wondrous things we have seen. After all we’ve experienced, it’s getting more and more difficult to appreciate the smaller buildings. “Meh” we say, as we pass the Basilica di Santa Maria. “Psh” we mutter as we saunter by the Trajan Forum. “I think it’s time for a pizza break, huh?”

A short tram ride brings us to a small pizzeria where we enjoy some more cheap yet delicious pizza. We sit by the river and munch while discussing what to do with the rest of the day. We know we want to watch the sunset near the Castel Sant’Angelo, but it’s too early for that. We decide to go and relax in a park for a bit, while seeing the famous Spanish Steps on the way there.

Again, we seem to be a bit jaded by what we’ve already seen, so the Spanish Steps honestly just seem like a glorified flight of stairs. I’m sure it would be more impressive if we knew a bit more about them, but for now we just curse the heat as we trudge up the ancient staircase. A quick look at Google Maps shows us that the Hard Rock cafe isn’t far, so we head there. It’s kind of a tradition for Olena and me to get a drink at the Hard Rock in every foreign city we visit.

Well, we visit the Hard Rock, but we definitely don’t have a drink there. The smallest bottled beer would run us 6.75€ and a large draft beer would be more like 13€. Yeah, no thanks. But the place was pretty cool and the bathrooms had toilet seats. Seriously, you’d be surprised what a rarity that is. For some reason, most public toilets in Italy don’t have toilet seats. If you’re more learned than we are, please enlighten us as to why this is…

We head to the nearby Villa Borghese park to relax. We make a few organizational calls, arranging our trip to Pompeii and our last night in Rome. It’s here that the Travel Gods strike again.

Our plan has been to head to Pompeii via a ride share service, then head back Monday night to stay at a really nice hotel room in Rome that we’ve booked for an amazing 600CZK each ($25). Turns out that booking.com has deceived us and this is no hotel but some kind of vacation home that you’re supposed to rent for more than a month… The stay is €44 for one night, which is a great price, but we are informed that there will be a €50 cleaning charge plus a €7.5 “tourist tax” and a €20 fee for arriving late in the evening.

We decide to cancel this booking, but we still have to pay the €44 for the stay. EasyJet’s bill continues to rise…

Anyway, it works out okay because we decide to just stay an extra night at our hostel in Pompeii and go straight back to the airport from there on Tuesday. This will prove to be a good decision because we will need the extra time in Pompeii.

So, back at the park. We head towards what looks to be a small lake on Google Maps, and it turns out there are some rowboats you can rent for a 20-minute romantic voyage around a small yet beautiful stone temple to Asclepius, the god of medicine. Olena assumes the Cleopatra position as the front of the boat while I do the dirty work. It’s all very romantic, yadda-yadda-yadda =P

Now it’s time to watch the sunset so we take a bus close to the St. Angelo Bridge, one of the oldest bridges in Rome. We buy a couple cheap bottles of wine (come on, give us a break, we’re in Italy) and sit by the river. We play music from our smartphones, reflect on the beautiful day, and clink our glasses (well, bottles) as the sun sets on a toast to another fantastic day.

Sunday, June 14, 2015:

It’s not even 7:00 when the chocobos rouse us from our rest, and we hastily get ready to leave Rome behind. In less than two hours we’re meeting up with our driver with whom we arranged a drive to Naples. If you’re ever in Italy, Blabla car is a great way to get around. 10€ each gets us to Naples in less than three hours. The driver and his girlfriend are really nice and they even take us exactly where we need to be in Naples. We pick up a Pompeii card, a similar pass to the Roma Pass, and schlepp our luggage through the narrow streets of Naples. Our walk takes us by some stunning views of the city. “So, when are we moving here?” Olena asks, not for the first time.

We were informed by our driver that we were not permitted to leave Naples without trying some of their famous pizza. Apparently the Margherita pizza was invented here in 1889. According to rumor, famous chef Raffaele Esposito of Pizzeria Brandi created the pizza to resemble the colors of the Italian flag. He made the pizza for Queen Margherita of Savoy while she was visiting Naples.

We find a reputable-looking place and decide to sit down because we have a bit of time to kill before catching our train to Pompeii. We order up two of the best pizzas we’ve ever had for only €6 each. I’m no George R.R. Martin, so I won’t go on for three paragraphs about these pizzas, but I easily could if I tried. We even manage to save a bit for later.

Our bellies content with these oily yet scrumptious delights, we descend into the metro into one of the coolest stations we’ve ever seen. It’s got an “under-the-sea” type theme, the tiles and paint making wave patterns on the ceiling. “I would totally be making fun of someone in my shoes in Prague” Olena remarks about her touristy camera-clicking, never missing a photo op.

From Napoli Centrale we hop on a commuter train with the catchy name of “Circumvesuviana” (can you guess where it takes us?) It being a nearly cloudless day, we are treated to fantastic views of the volcano as we roll by. It’s an active volcano, and we joke about it erupting with only half smiles and nervous giggles.

The train station in Pompeii is a circus of street vendors selling any kind of souvenir you can imagine. My second hat is already gone, left in our Blabla car driver’s Subaru, and I’m not going to buy another one. There’s a line, and I’ve crossed it.

After politely shaking our heads at the hordes of vendors in this carnival of consumerism, we hop on a bus, courtesy of our Pompeii Pass. It’s only a five minute ride to our hostel.

And what an awesome hostel it is! We are greeted by the friendliest couple we’ve met so far who welcome us with stereotypical Italian friendliness. We have found so far that Italians are quite friendly in general, and these two don’t disappoint. Every time we have a question they are happy to oblige. They lead us to our private room complete with a double bed and a private bathroom and best of all, air conditioning. These hot nights have been brutal, and the AC is a welcome addition. Best 600CZK ever spent. If you ever stay in Pompeii, look up Agora Hostel.

It’s already 4:00. Our plan was to go up Vesuvius tonight by bus, but our host suggests waiting until tomorrow because it’s getting late. Instead, he recommends something completely unexpected: a trip to the romantic little coastal town of Sorrento. We take his advice and hop on a 20-minute train ride.

The town is absolutely gorgeous. I’ll say it again: look at Olena’s photos to see what I mean. The view of the Bay of Naples is breathtaking. At the very least, look it up on Google Images.

We walk down a narrow path to the beach area maybe 30 meters below us and look for a place to swim. There are many paid beaches around, but it is Italian law that each town has to have at least one free beach. We find just the one, a very small and crowded patch of sand, but we don’t care, we just want to dive headfirst into that beautifully clear blue water. With the corner of our eye on our belongings, we make the blissful plunge.

We stay at this beach for several hours, until the sun touches the horizon and we start to get a bit cold. As it goes down, we reflect on the wonderful trip we’ve had so far. The Gods of Travel may have got the upper hand at the beginning, but we are making the best of it, and the best definitely is the best.

Monday. June 15, 2015:

It was a blessing in disguise that we had to stay an extra day, because it would have been a shame to pack up and leave from here. We still had a lot to see. There was Vesuvius, and of course the ruins of the ancient city destroyed by its eruption.

After a delicious breakfast and some coffee, we hop on a bus that takes us up the mountain. We get some amazing views on the winding road and are almost to the top after only 45 minutes. We’re informed that it’s about a 20-minutes hike up to the crater at the summit. On our way up, the clouds start to move in and our view is completely obstructed. At first I think this is a real shame, but Olena reassures me, saying that it’s actually pretty cool how the clouds are moving. The frequency of her clicks from behind me confirm that she’s enjoying the sights, clouds or no clouds. I decide that she’s right. Why complain about the conditions we’re given? It’s a blessing just to be up here.

Olena has told me that she was not allowed to take any sand from Hawaii back to the USA because the gods punish anyone who does so. She almost took some sand home anyway but discarded it at the last second, apologizing to the gods. We haven’t been told such a thing about Vesuvius, so we select a particularly colorful handful of volcanic rock from the ground and tie it up in a baggie with plans to take it home. I’m starting to get a little bit nervous about the level of bad karma beginning to surround us. First there was the woman we left high and dry at the airport, now we’re stealing from Vesuvius… That’s two strikes, and perhaps there are more gods than just the Travel Gods…

Finally at the top, we make the circuit around the crater. It is a truly unbelievable sight. The crater is more than 250 meters deep and up to a kilometer across. The mountain used to be three times its current height of 1200 meters before its explosive eruption in 79 AD which destroyed the surrounding towns and killed 16,000 people. The molten rock shot 33 kilometers into the air at 1.5 million tons per second, the temperature of which was 1.5 million times the temperature of the nuclear explosion in Hiroshima. Those numbers might be unbelievable, but not as much so as the spectacle before us. It was truly amazing.

On our way back down the mountain we stop at a souvenir shop, where I haggle quite a bit with the vendor. Olena buys a really nice ring made of volcanic rock and I buy her a heart-shaped necklace of the same material. A bit more haggling gets me a hematite ring thrown on top, and the woman gives me a really dirty look and clearly doesn’t like me. “What if she cursed you?” Olena jokes. I laugh along with her, but the edge of my mouth shows a nervous tick. I can think only one thing: strike three.

As we walk down the mountain towards the buses, we realize we only have about ten minutes until the bus leaves. If we want to see the ruins of the city too, we have to hurry. We begin to jog down the hill, in the face of the looks of concern that we keep getting from the people who see us doing so. Oh well, I just don’t want to sit around in this heat for another hour while being badgered by street vendors. We’ve got ten minutes and maybe another 600 meters to go. Then we’ll be on our way. If we can just- CRACK!

My vision goes blank as a howl of pain escapes my throat. I’m vaguely aware of several people surrounding me to check what happened, because now I’ve fallen to the ground and am still involuntarily moaning in pain. As my thoughts clear I locate where the pain is coming from. It seems I that, while running, I caught my foot in an uneven patch of rock and landed directly on my left ankle, which is where the cracking sound came from. My first though is first   and then the more immediate question of “How the hell will I get down from here?”

Okay, time to start thinking logically. I gauge the pain and realize it isn’t quite as bad as it was right after the fall. Maybe it’s just adrenaline, but I can use that. First I need to try to stand on it, because if I can’t it’s probably broken.

I am able to make some stumbling steps, and yes, I can stand on my left foot. Good sign, but it’s far too painful for me to walk all the way down to the buses. Plus, the bus comes in six minutes, and the next one isn’t for an hour. What can we do?

Olena flags someone down and tells them to call a car to take us down.  We have seen one going up, so it’s definitely possible. Not long after, fortune shows a wan smile as a park ranger’s car comes from the top of the mountain. We flag it down frantically and it takes us to the buses.

I sit down at the small cafe near all the buses and can’t help sobbing in pain. I’m trying to stop, but it’s some of the worst pain I have ever felt in my life. I’ve always been a bit reckless, but I’ve also been really lucky and have never had a very serious injury. I quickly pop three ibuprofen from my bag and eat a Mars bar to go down with it.

A very nice Italian man offers to call us an ambulance because the bus will take a long time, and won’t go straight to the hospital. My ankle could easily be broken so I definitely need to get it checked out. We agree, but my American brain can’t help but picture this bill for this. We’ve already paid much more than we’d expected on this trip. I don’t know how much I can afford. But there is no escaping the fact that this is the only way.

It’s almost an hour before the ambulance comes, but luckily by then the pain has subsided to a dull ache and I am no longer humiliating myself by sobbing. I could probably get into the ambulance myself, but they put me on a stretcher. I’ve never been in an ambulance before so I’m pretty scared. Especially because I am in a foreign country and have no idea what their policies are.

Right when I get into the ambulance the medic takes out a needle and a tourniquet. I start to panic, demanding to know what they are going to do to me. The medic doesn’t speak English very well, so he just keeps saying “Don’t worry, don’t worry.” I finally get him to confirm that they’re not giving me any drugs, and it’s just an outlet for quick access at the hospital if they need to use it. Standard procedure. But still, the panicked feeling is there.

Olena has climbed into the back of the ambulance with me and is holding my hand, God bless her. She won’t even sit in the back of cars because it makes her nauseous, so I am very grateful that she’s there. I know it isn’t easy, especially on the windy roads down Vesuvius. As the sirens blare and we speed on towards the hospital, I catch a glimpse of Vesuvius and think again: strike three. Touché, Mountain God.

At the hospital, they wheel me into a room where we wait for about ten minutes. Now my ankle doesn’t hurt so much and I’m worried that we’re just wasting time. I finally get an X-Ray and wait in suspense to finally be told that nothing is broken. It’s just a really bad bruise. I am told to take ibuprofen and no to walk on it for five to six days. I can’t help but think of the ruins we wanted to see today, and the Cat Empire concert I have coming up in two days. Still, I’m happy it isn’t broken, and I’m glad I got confirmation.

Now we’re left with the problem that we’re eight kilometers from town and have no way to get back. I have one of the guards call a taxi, and in thirty minutes, around 4:00, it arrives. The meter is already at €25 when he arrives because of the drive there, and a trip to the ruins costs me a solid €40. But amazingly, the ambulance ride and the X-Ray were free. I wasn’t even asked for an insurance card, only my passport. Point one for the Italian healthcare system.

I still haven’t given up on seeing the ruins, especially knowing how badly Olena wants to see them. For her Pompeii is a life dream and the main purpose of our trip. I’ll be damned if I’m gonna ruin that, so I stumble with her up to the entrance. It hurts a bit, and I really shouldn’t be walking on it, but I can get by.

I don’t see as much as Olena does because I’m mostly sitting while she walks around taking pictures, but it’s still really cool. It boggles my mind that this was once a bustling city whose life was cut short in an instant, not to be discovered for 1,700 years.

We walk through the main square, into private homes complete with baths and fireplaces, through public bath houses and temples to various gods. The temples are plentiful, but clearly the gods were not sated in the end. As we walk towards the exit (well, as Olena walks and I hobble) we pass by the amphitheater of Pompeii which is having a special exhibition of the bodies that were excavated from the ruins. Plaster casts were able to preserve several bodies in exactly the same position they were in when they died. One shows two people huddled together, many with their hands shielding their faces, and even one mother with a child on her lap. It’s horrifying yet fascinating at the same time. I can’t imagine what those last moments must have felt like, futilely trying to fend off the inevitable. The exhibition is called “Stolen from death” – a very fitting name.

Somehow I manage to stumble my way back to the hostel with Olena’s help and we enjoy a €5 carbonara dinner. I am utterly exhausted from the stress my body has sustained, so we call it a relatively early night, especially since we have to be up for a big day of travel the next day. We cap it off with the season finale of Game of Thrones and hit the hay.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015:

We wake up around 8:30, and I examine my foot. It seems to be in just about the same condition it was in before: a dull ache and not too painful to walk on. I think I will make it home without damaging it more.

We have breakfast one last time at the hostel and begin our long journey home. It’s a pretty uneventful trip on several forms of transport: A bus to the center of Pompeii, the Circumvesuviana to Naples, a train to the Rome main station, a bus to the airport, a plane to Prague, and a bus a and tram home. I check on my foot when I get home, and it’s starting to get really purple in some places, but it still doesn’t hurt to walk and I know it’s not broken, so all I can do is wait and stay off it as much as I can.

The Travel Gods cost us quite a bit of money, the Mountain God messed up my foot, and we spent quite a bit more money than we’d meant to, but it was a fantastic trip. Olena and I have been to many places together but never have we had a trip as action-packed as this one.

I am happy that I don’t have to work until later tomorrow, because I have a lot of things to do. Maybe I’ll even sit down and write up a blog about our trip. For now, we drift off to sleep with dreams of ancient ruins, Italian beaches and romantic sunsets swirling through our minds.

Epilogue:

Well, thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed it. Special thanks to Olena for being an awesome travel companion and for finding the tickets in the first place. Feel free to post any comments or questions, and be sure to check out this page because I’m sure there will be photos sometime in the next few days. Give it a “Like” while you’re at it: https://www.facebook.com/thetravelbugbite/

For those worried about me, don’t. This was all a true story, and it was quite bad when it happened, but I promise you I’m fine. I think my foot should heal in a week or two, and I’ll never run down an active volcano again 😉

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New York City Explorer Pass vs. Sightseeing Pass

Quick facts about both passes:
– They both offer free entry to over 80 attractions (though some are already free anyway)
– They both offer to pay by the day or pay by attraction packages
– The included attractions are quite similar for both passes
– They both exaggerate how much each attraction costs when bought separately

A quick Google search of “Which Tourist Pass to use in New York City” will no doubt leave you scratching your head. Under all the ads from Viator, TripAdvisor and Groupon, you’ll see links to the many different tourist passes offered in New York City. The most popular are the New York City Explorer Pass and the New York Sightseeing Pass. You’ll have to advance several pages into the Google results to finally find personal accounts written by people who have actually done the research and planned out an itinerary that makes sense. If you’ve made to this page, congratulations! I am a real, live person here to tell you which pass is actually worth it!

The Travel Bug Bite has already posted about how the New York City Explorer Pass saved us over $100 with its 5-attraction pass. I’m not here to say one is hands-down better than the other. Instead, I’ll take you through the process we used to decide where to go and which pass to purchase. If you’re in a similar situation, great! If not, this article should still give you some idea about how these tourist passes work.

Quick facts about both passes:

  • They both offer free entry to over 80 attractions (though some are already free anyway)
  • They both offer to pay by the day or pay by attraction packages
  • The included attractions are quite similar for both passes
  • They both exaggerate how much each attraction costs when bought separately

Prices and attractions:

New York City Explorer Pass

  • 3 choices – $89
  • 4 choices – $119
  • 5 choices – $134
  • 7 choices – $169
  • 10 choices – $219

You can get a quick 5% off for entering your e-mail address so our 10-choice card would be $208.05 per person.

New York Sightseeing FLEX Pass

  • 2 attractions – $64
  • 3 attractions – $89
  • 4 attractions – $110
  • 5 attractions – $135
  • 6 attractions – $150
  • 7 attractions – $165
  • 10 attractions – $199

The 10-attraction Sightseeing Pass is already $10 cheaper, plus we got a Father’s Day discount which made each ticket for 10 attractions only $159.20! We found that it would still be worth it for the original price though – read on!

How Did We Decide?

No matter which package you want, whether a quick two-day trip or a longer trip like ours, it comes down to what you want to see and how much it would cost to pay for everything separately. Me being my stingy self, I wanted to find out how much money we would save if we went to the most expensive attractions that we wanted to see. To get a general idea, you can see the value on each of the company’s websites: Sightseeing Pass here and the Explorer Pass here. Take these with a grain of salt though because some of the prices are exaggerated. For example, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Natural History are both “Pay what you want” and the listed fees on the websites are actually the “suggested admission” prices. Don’t waste one of your valuable “Attractions” on these!

Here is our suggested method of planning your trip:

  1. Make a list of places you want to go
  2. Check each attraction’s website to confirm its cost
  3. Since each pass is around $200 for 10 attractions, make sure your average price per attraction is over $20.
  4. Read the fine print! Does any attraction say “only covers blahbitty-blah?” Does it require booking in advance? Be sure to check these things before making your choice. Nothing worse than getting all the way to Ellis Island only to find out the tour doesn’t actually include going inside the Statue of Liberty!

After looking at the list on both websites, we decided on the following attractions:

  1. Empire State Building – $37

For the Main Deck on the 86th, the 102nd floor is $20 more and not included. Also, for the Sightseeing Pass, this attraction isn’t technically included. You need to redeem your $40 Attraction Credit and book this for free through CitySitesNY.com.

  1. Top of the Rock Observatory – $36

$5 extra for Sunset Times not included.

  1. One World Trade Observatory – $32

Only available on the Sightseeing Pass, not the Explorer Pass.

  1. Coney Island Luna Park – $49

The $49 fixed date pass includes ALL rides when purchased separately. The Explorer and Sightseeing pass both exclude the iconic Cyclone roller coaster and any “Extreme Thrill” rides. We decided to use this on the Sightseeing Pass and pay the $8 each if we want to ride the Cyclone.

  1. Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty – $25.50

NOT including access to the pedestal and crown of the statue. Only includes ferry and access to the Immigration Museum. To get to the Crown, you need to book months in advance here for $21.50.

  1. Hop on, Hop Off Bus – $59

Downtown Tour, Uptown Tour, Brooklyn Tour, Night Tour and Ferry Tour. Unfortunately, the Night Tour and Ferry Tour count as separate attractions.

  1. Hop on, Hop Off Night Tour – $0

Valued at $0 because the $59 when purchased separately here lets you ride all four tours, including the night tour, for one price. We already counted that $59 above, so we can’t count it again here.

  1. Spyscape – $39
  2. I ntrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum – $39
  3. 9/11 Memorial Museum – $24

Grand total if purchased separately – $340.50

Total savings with the Sightseeing Flex Pass – $141.50

Total we will save because of the Father’s Day discount: $181.30

Wow! So either way, even if you aren’t lucky enough to score the discount we did, you’ll be saving some serious money!

The Verdict

When it comes right down to it, these are very similar passes offering an almost identical list of attractions for a similar price. We went with the Sightseeing Pass because it includes One World Trade, we got a discount on Father’s Day, and it was already $10 cheaper. Make a list of attractions check the prices and fine print, and you’re sure to save with either pass.

Want your own pass? Use the affiliate links below! It’ll help The Travel Bug Bite grow =)

New York Sightseeing Pass: http://www.anrdoezrs.net/links/8827860/type/dlg/https://www.sightseeingpass.com/en/new-york

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Five Things NEVER to Buy at the Grocery Store Again

These days it’s easy to get caught up in all the flashy products available at the supermarket. Everything has a fancy, complicated version of itself. Pick up a bottle of tomato sauce at a grocery store and count the ingredient. Now grab the tortillas and see if you can pronounce all the chemicals. Finally, look at the fancy $10 organic peanut butter, and you’ll see the point I’m trying to get to: salt and peanuts. That’s it…

These days it’s easy to get caught up in all the flashy products available at the supermarket. Everything has a fancy, complicated version of itself. Pick up a bottle of tomato sauce at a grocery store and count the ingredients. Now grab the tortillas and see if you can pronounce all the chemicals. Finally, look at the fancy $10 organic peanut butter, and you’ll see the point I’m trying to get to: salt and peanuts. That’s it.

The peanut butter example is to show that there’s no reason to buy something like this in the store when it’s so simple. The other examples illustrate all of the useless and complicated things that are in basic products. I’m here to tell you about 5 things that are ridiculously easy to make in your own kitchen. There’s no need to EVER buy any of them in the store. You’ll save money, get creative, be healthier, waste fewer containers, and most importantly be able to show off to your friends.

#1 – Peanut butter

Why God, why? WHY do we insist on buying this crap when it literally has two ingredients! You have been LIED to your whole life that peanut butter is something to buy at the store! Not only is it always sold in wasteful plastic, it’s usually loaded with extra salt, sometimes sugar, and all sorts of other chemicals. “Oh, but I buy the fancy organic peanut butter” I hear you say. Again, WHY? This can be made at home in ten minutes, for a fifth of the price. Here’s how.

1. Put peanuts in the oven for 10 minutes at 190 degrees C.
2. Put peanuts in a food processor and pulse. Scrape down the sides. Pulse.
3. Repeat until it’s peanut butter.

That’s it. Never again will you pay $10 for a jar of peanut butter containing $2 worth of peanuts.

#2 – Milk

Okay, yes, I’m vegan, but that isn’t my point here. Obviously, most of us don’t have a cow out back that we can milk for cow’s milk. I’m referring to the alternatives, like rice milk, cashew milk, almond milk, etc. This is also something that’s insanely easy to make at home. Most alternatives to cow’s milk are healthier too! You don’t have to be a vegan to appreciate the smooth taste of freshly made almond milk. Instead of buying a $5 carton of milk every week, try this:

1. Fill a large mason jar 1/3 of the way up with almonds. Fill the jar with water.
2. Wait a few hours, or overnight.
3. Drain the almonds, fill the water up again (drinkable water this time).
4. Dump water and almonds into a blender.
5. Blend.
6. Strain out the almonds with a fine strainer or nut bag, back into the mason jar.

That’s it. You can do the exact same thing with rice, any nut, oats, chia seeds, pretty much any grain. No more wasting cartons, wasting money, or torturing cows for no reason.

#3 – Tortillas

Again, two ingredients, maybe three if you’re feeling frisky. Ignore the novel on the back of your overpriced tortillas and grab some flour. You can make literally hundreds of tortillas for the price of that package, and your gut will thank you for it. Here’s how:

1. Dump a bunch of flour into a bowl. I don’t know, let’s say 300 grams.
2. Add a cup of water and stir until it’s doughy. Not too sticky. Imagine pizza dough.
3. Sprinkle some dough onto your (clean) counter.
4. Grad a golf ball-sized wad of dough and flatten it over the flour. Use a rolling pin or your hands. You’ll get better with practice. Flip it occasionally.
5. Add a LITTLE oil to a pan and get it SUPER hot.
6. Cook the tortilla on that pan for 30-60 seconds on either side.

That’s it. If you like it salty, add some salt to the dough. Or anything. Cinnamon, garlic, any seeds or grains, all can be additions. Play with it however you want. Keep the packaging of your old tortillas in the bathroom for some light reading on those especially long visits.

#4 – Oatmeal

This stuff can be SUPER expensive when you buy the fancy kind. But let’s not do that. Let’s see what’s lying around your house and make it into something you can have for breakfast for a week or more. Grab any nuts you have (peanuts, cashews, almonds), some cinnamon, rolled oats, and some honey or agave.

1. Put all the things listed above into a bowl.
2. Mix them around a bunch with your (clean) hands.
3. Spread it all out onto a baking pan and bake at 200 C for 20-25 min.
4. Lick your fingers.

That’s it. Once it cools, put it in a big container and it’ll store for weeks. Use some of that milk you made earlier for an incredibly healthy and delicious breakfast.

#5 – Guacamole

Ah yes, the caviar of the hipster. People will shell out 10 bucks for a jar of this (welcome to China). You can make it at home for $3. Go and get three avocados, half an onion, as much garlic as you can stand, a lemon and a tomato from your kitchen.

1. Chop up the ingredients above and throw them into a food processor (obviously, squeeze the lemon; don’t chop it…).
2. Press the “On” button.
3. Wait one minute.

That’s… Yeah. That’s it. You just made some delicious guac to serve with the two-ingredient tortillas you made earlier. Make both these things for less than $5 at your next potluck and you’ll be famous. Take THAT, Cindy and Martin from down the street.

So yeah. You can make all this at home, mostly with stuff you have lying around anyway. Hopefully, you found at least one of these things useful, and even more importantly, I hope that next time you’re at the supermarket and pick up a product, you’ll think twice and maybe do a quick Google search of “How to make ______ at home.” You’ll be surprised what you can do yourself!

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Going Zero-Waste: 5 Things You Can Do RIGHT NOW!

Recently our friends and readers have been asking us what steps they can take to “go zero-waste.” Maybe they’ve have read that America alone uses 100 billion plastic bags a year. Possibly they are worried about the impact we’re having on marine life, like the whales that are being found washed-up with their stomachs full of plastic. Maybe they’ve heard about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch that’s now twice the size of Texas. Whatever the reason, they want to know what a single person could possibly do to help!

Recently our friends and readers have been asking us what steps they can take to “go zero-waste.” Maybe they’ve have read that America alone uses 100 billion plastic bags a year. Possibly they are worried about the impact we’re having on marine life, like the whales that are being found washed-up with their stomachs full of plastic. Maybe they’ve heard about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch that’s now twice the size of Texas. Whatever the reason, they want to know what a single person could possibly do to help!

Living a lifestyle free of needless waste doesn’t have to be hard. With a few simple steps, you can be on your way! It’s important to remember that striving towards a zero-waste lifestyle is NOT an all-or-nothing endeavor. Every little bit helps! Here are five things you can do to start RIGHT NOW!

1. Carry a “Zero-waste kit” in your car, bag, or purse.

My wife and I realized that the three single-use products we used the most were plastic bottles, to-go products and plastic straws. Instead of using these every day, consider making a Zero-Waste kit with things like reusable cutlery, aluminum straws, a collapsible container and of course, a reusable water bottle. Read more details in our Guide to Building a Zero-Waste Kit.

2. Say no to plastic bags

We buy a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables. Here in China, vendors love to bag each item separately. For a while, we were each using up to five plastic bags every single day. That’s thousands of bags a year! Not anymore! Buy yourself a reusable canvas bag, sold at any major grocery store. In my backpack, I always carry a Trader Joe’s bag for fruits, vegetables and anything else I might buy on the way home from work. Why bag everything separately? It’s all going the same place!

Having said this, don’t throw away the precious plastic bags you might still have at home! Feel free to keep using those! Just try not to build up your supply.

3. Buy in bulk and use what you have

Of course, if you want to buy a bunch of oats, seeds, grains or nuts you can’t exactly put it all in one big canvas bag. I know it’s convenient to stop at a bulk shop on your way home and grab the necessities in plastic bags, but consider bringing some containers with you. This can be free! Use anything you have around the house. We buy a lot of Nutritional Yeast and these large containers are fantastic for buying things in bulk and storing them at home. So what if the vendor gives me a weird look when I ask them to weight my cashews in a Nooch jar? We’re trying to save the world here! And guess what, maybe she’ll go out and tell her friends about the (“crazy”) guy who went out of his way not to use plastic. Another great way to spread the word!

4. Always ask for less plastic

We know ordering online is the easiest way to get what you want easily and quickly. Heck, I post links to products all the time! I’m not asking you to stop ordering online, especially if what your ordering is helping you on your way to a zero-waste lifestyle. Just one suggestion: most websites have a “note to seller” option when you’re checking out. Just put a quick note in there requesting less packaging, if possible. Does your new collapsible container need to be bubble wrapped a thousand times? No! Do the two sandwiches you ordered from Subway need to be bagged separately? Of course not! Even if the seller refuses, asking can’t hurt. If enough people start putting notes like this in their purchases, maybe companies will start following the trend! If we keep it up, more eco-friendly packaging options will become available.

5. No one is perfect!

Ok, so you’ve got your zero-waste kit, you’re saying no to plastic bags and straws and you’re asking sellers to use less plastic. One day, you forget to bring your straws and your favorite vendor gives you a plastic one. Another day, you really need to order a breakable item that will come shipped in bubble-wrap. It’s okay! Don’t beat yourself up about it! Striving towards a zero-waste lifestyle is a process and no one is perfect. No one is asking you to abandon all worldly conveniences and go live in the woods. Remember EVERY TIME you make a conscious decision not to use a plastic bag, that’s one less bag that could end up in the ocean. EVERY TIME you do remember your zero waste kit, you’ve won a small victory towards a better future.

Being 100% zero-waste is extremely difficult and sometimes seems impossible. But taking small steps on the way there is easy! You’ll save money, have less junk in your car and home, and most importantly will be a constant voice in the growing choir that’s chanting the same thing:

“I can make a difference!”

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Creating a Zero-Waste Kit: It’s Easy and Cheap!

In the morning, you stop at Starbucks for an iced coffee. You like it sweet, so your stir in some sugar. You’re late, so you grab a quick bagel off the street for breakfast. Next, you stop at the local deli to grab a sandwich and a bottle of water to have later for lunch, plus a couple mustard packets to spice it up. By the time you get to work, you’ve inadvertently used a paper cup (lined with plastic), a plastic lid, a straw, a plastic stirrer, two sugar packets, a plastic bottle, a plastic bag and packaging for your bagel, plastic wrapping and a plastic bag for your sandwich, plus two plastic mustard packets. Statistically, 10% of that will end up in the ocean.

In the morning, you stop at Starbucks for an iced coffee. You like it sweet, so your stir in some sugar. You’re late, so you grab a quick bagel off the street for breakfast. Next, you stop at the local deli to grab a sandwich and a bottle of water to have later for lunch, plus a couple mustard packets to spice it up. By the time you get to work, you’ve inadvertently used a paper cup (lined with plastic), a plastic lid, a straw, a plastic stirrer, two sugar packets, a plastic bottle, a plastic bag and packaging for your bagel, plastic wrapping and a plastic bag for your sandwich, plus two plastic mustard packets. Statistically, 10% of that will end up in the ocean.

Am I asking you to give you your coffee and street food in the morning? No! Am I asking you not to get your favorite sandwich for lunch? Absolutely not! Can you enjoy all these things without single-use plastic? The answer is a resounding YES! You might even save some money. Here’s how to create a zero waste kit that’ll fit in any bag or purse.

  • Water Bottle: By far the most important thing to have on you at all times. Why pay money for a single-use bottle when you can bring your own? I tend to prefer drinking from glass bottles like these but you can carry a BPA-free plastic one if that’s too heavy for you.
  • Coffee Cup: Whether you like it hot or iced, it’s easy to carry a cup for your coffee. Some places, like Starbucks, even offer a discount! Try this one for iced or this one for hot.
  • Cutlery Kit: Instead of using plastic knives and forks, carry around a portable cutlery kit like this one. This kit is less than 150 grams, making it easy to carry around in any purse or bag!
  • Collapsible container: Fan of street food? Like to order take-out? Carry around one of these silicone collapsible containers. They’re BPA free, can withstand very hot and very cold temperatures and can be thrown in the dishwasher after use. They’re great to use at home too!
  • Aluminum straws: If you’re a fan of smoothies, juice, cola or iced coffee, you no doubt use a lot of plastic straws. Not anymore! Just grab a set of reusable aluminum straws! Just remember to remind your server that you brought your own!

Now, let’s go back to your morning commute:

You stop in at Starbucks and hand them your cup. You get a 10 cent discount on your coffee, which will add up to $20 a year in savings. You kindly ask the barista to add some sugar for you, which they do from a glass jar. You stir the iced coffee with a spoon from your cutlery kit and pop in your aluminum straw. Now you’re headed to the bagel shop, where you kindly ask them to hand it to you without any packaging. You eat your bagel on the way to the deli, where you order your sandwich for lunch. They know you by now, so they accept your reusable container with a smile and even offer to wash it for you. They know you like it spicy, so they add some mustard from the deli counter. You put your boxed sandwich in your bag or purse and head to work, having used ZERO single-uses products. No new waste will end up in the ocean, and at lunch, you’ll be a constant advocate for your new lifestyle as your friends and colleagues watch you take out your container for lunch and fill your water bottle from the tap.

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Bali 2018: Seawalker Experience

For the underwater sea walker experience, our driver took us to a small beach on Turtle Island. This area is generally pretty controversial because of their treatment of turtles and other animals, so we skipped the animal experiences and went straight for the Sea Walking.

Upon arrival, we were sat down and shown a list of water activities and prices. The Seawalker experience was listed at $90 per person which is more than double what we’d read about online. We showed him a post on our phone with a much lower price, and he agreed to let us go for $40 each.

Remember, in Bali you can bargain anywhere! This whole setup reminded me of buying a used car, complete with the guy going to a back room to talk to his boss every time we asked for a lower price… In summary, don’t go for the listed price or you will get RIPPED OFF!

Next we were given a key to a locker, changed into swimsuits, and hopped on a 5-minute boat ride. We were a bit nervous to begin with but our guides reassured us and gave us a briefing on how the experience works. There were just a few simple rules: keep your head level, only look up, and don’t look down or your helmet will fill with water.

Even if that happened though, they said we could just look up again and the helmet would fill with air. Oh, and remember that a thumbs-up gesture doesn’t mean everything’s good, it means TAKE ME UP NOW I’M FREAKING OUT! If you want to say you’re OK, use the OK symbol.

After putting on water shoes and getting in the water, they lowered huge weighted helmets onto our heads. They must have weighed 50 pounds each because we immediately were immediately pulled down.

Climbing down slowly, we kept having to pop our ears to equalize the pressure. If you’ve never been deep under water before, it’s easy. Just stick your hand inside the helmet, plug your nose, and blow out. This should do the trick.

When we got to the bottom we had a few minutes to get used to breathing in the helmet, walking without looking down, and just the sheer craziness of the whole situation. From there we were free to roam around a bit, taking selfies with the thpousands of fish surrounding us.

I said earlier that we avoided the controversial animal activities, but it turned out that this experience wasn’t exactly environmentally friendly either. The guide took out fish food and let us hand-feed it to the fish, which was cool, but we couldn’t help feeling a bit guilty for intruding on their environment. But on a scale of seeing animals in the wild to exploiting animals in the circus, this was closer to the former.

After being hand-fed for a while by humans, these fish have been domesticated and probably wouldn’t survive without us, but at least they’re not caged in at an aquarium. It was a lot of fun, but we probably wouldn’t do it again because of the impact on the fish.

After 10 minutes of Ooooing and Ahhhhing at the fish and coral, the guide signaled that it was time to go up. I was starting to feel a bit like Darth Vader in the helmet, so that was enough time for me.

This was a once in a lifetime experience, and we’re still on the fence about the impact on the environment. If you decide to go on a sea walk, just keep in mind that you’re guests in the fish’s home, try not to disturb their surroundings.

For more adventures in Bali and around the world, follow The Travel Bug Bite!

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