5 Things You Need to Know Before Visiting Chernobyl

There are lots of homeless dogs living around the check points in Chernobyl and the general vicinity. These dogs are no more radioactive than the ones you’ll see around Kyiv.

This past December I did something I have wanted to do for years! I got to visit Chernobyl. I considered it to be just another exciting day trip, but then my family membered began crossing themselves and praying under their breath whenever I mentioned it.

This made me a little nervous, so I started doing some research. The information I read on English-speaking tourist websites varied greatly from what local Ukrainian websites said. I ended up sitting in the van confused and slightly worried about my safety… I wish somehow had told me the following:

1. It is 100% safe to visit Chernobyl on a tour

Although thousands if not tens of thousands suffered from the negative side effects of radiation and even died, visiting Chernobyl today is completely safe. There are people living within the “danger” zone year round. Even in the frosty December temperatures, we saw a lady going about her day from a store in Chernobyl.

The city that no one lives in is Pripyat, where certain areas do have radiation hot spots. Although no one lives there, our tour guide told us that many people break in illegally and spend the night or several nights in the long-abandoned buildings telling ghost stories and sometimes creating beautifully haunting graffiti.

2. The dogs are not radioactive

There are lots of homeless dogs living around the check points in Chernobyl and the general vicinity. These dogs are no more radioactive than the ones you’ll see around Kyiv. These dogs are all spayed, vaccinated, and they are taken care of by the local residents and employees. These dogs are also super sweet and love a good scratch. Our guide was petting them and reassuring us that it was safe!

3. Tour prices vary greatly, shop around

When Isaac and I were searching for tickets, we found tours for as much as $300 per person. Keep in mind that there are different tours, including overnight that let you sleep in a hotel in Chernobyl! But even the same day trip can vary in price, which is why I let my mom search Ukrainian websites for the best one.

The tour she chose had tickets for about $150 for foreigners and only $100 for Ukrainian-passport holders. Apparently it was the European Union, who have sponsored the protection of Chernobyl, who made the law that locals should be able to visit and learn about their history at a discount.

4. There are lots of rules on the tour

According to my mom, all these rules are just for show as part of the thrilling experience. I can see why she would think that, but I didn’t mess with any of them. One guy on our tour, however, broke every single one without consequence. He walked inside of buildings that he was told to stay out of and he took photos of things he was told not to.  Finally, I would bet anything that he snuck out souvenir that he collected along the way.

5. It is a unique and exciting experience

Even if it’s no longer unsafe and if all the precautions are overdone, what happened in Chernobyl is an important part of history. I hope that all tours play the Chernobyl documentary on the way there. You should watch it even if you never go on the tour.

The facts are that even today, there is no safe way to completely secure the reactor. Every few years, new precautions need to be made. While all of this is happening, there are still nuclear generators around the world and their dangers are 100% real. The accident at Chernobyl was unexpected and it was a miracle that it didn’t wipe out all of Europe. If it hadn’t been for the quick thinking of a handful of brave heroes, most of Europe would be unlivable today.

If you get the chance to visit Chernobyl, don’t forget where you are and what happened there. So many people suffered painfully and died in the most horrible way due to the accident. It was a terrible accident that could have been worse, but was absolutely devastating to so many already. Think about that when you walk through the abandoned kindergarten and past the homes of what was once the most prosperous city in the Soviet Union.

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Scuba-Diving at Pileh Bay: Phi Phi, Thailand 2018

When it’s cold where you currently are, remember warmer times!

When it’s cold outside, it’s nice to think about warmer times in a tropical place! I know I can’t complain because -14 is nothing compared to the -50 polar vortex killing people in Chicago, but it’s still colder than I’m used to!

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Vegan Meals on Flights

Obviously, different airlines have different standards. On our Chinese flights, there was a little less creativity in the meal. There was no vegan butter and the dessert was a simple fruit salad. On our more recent Singapore Airlines flight, on the other hand, there was not one but two meals with a different fancy dessert each time.

People frequently ask me how I manage to eat vegan food while traveling. It isn’t always easy to find vegan street food and it can be disappointing to not have an opportunity to try a traditional meal. The easiest part of vegan travel is the flight, 1. because the food is delicious and 2. special meals get served first!

Any flight that includes a meal will accommodate to the passengers needs. In the past year and a half of being vegan, we’ve been on dozens of flights and where there was food, there were vegan options! All it takes was a quick phone call a few days in advance and they will provide you with the food you request free of charge.

Obviously, different airlines have different standards. On our Chinese flights, there was a little less creativity in the meal. There was no vegan butter and the dessert was a simple fruit salad. On our more recent Singapore Airlines flight, on the other hand, there was not one but two meals with a different fancy dessert each time.

Earlier, I mentioned that airlines would accommodate your dietary needs which is only slightly misleading. The vegan meal is often also the same one that is served to vegetarians, people with a gluten allergy and sometimes also halal/kosher. On fancier flights, each category will have a different meal but you pay for what you get.

So once you make the call and book your meal, all you need to do is get on the plane and wait for the flight attended to come by before take-off to double check with you about the meal. If you want to be extra sure, you can ask at check in if it is in their system. Sometimes, mistakes happen but if you let them know two hours in advance it can still be salvageable!

Last tip: don’t expect your vegan meal to be particularly healthy. Sometimes you will get fancy steamed veggies but you may also get fried rice, saucy pasta or a perfectly roasted eggplant smothered in oil – which was one of my favorite and most fattening flight meal ever!

Don’t forget, when you get a special meal, they bring it to you first – with the exception of first class. No more waiting hungrily in row 50 after hours of travel with delicious food smells filling the stuffy plane! Prepare for angry stares by hungry meat-eating passengers. But as a vegan, you’re probably already used to it 😉

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Flying Cheap from NYC to Europe

Consider layovers, free trips from the airport and booking long in advance, forget 6 weeks.

My most recent trip, the last of 2018 and the first of 2019, was an 18 day adventure to four amazing countries. It was a little hectic and we were exhausted afterwards, but it was surprisingly affordable!

Did you know that everyone sitting on the same plane with you paid a different price for their ticket? The world of traveling is full of injustice, I know. One of my skills that I am most proud of is finding great flight deals, and I love to share my tips!

The flights we took on this trip included: NYC to Reykjavik, Reykjavik to London, London to Kyiv, Kyiv to Prague and finally Prague to NYC via Frankfurt. The total cost for these 6 flights was just over $1,700 for two people! If you google flights from America to mainland Europe right now, the average cost will be around $1,000, so how did I manage to get such a great price for so many flights?

Layovers:

Before I book any flight, I always check where the layovers are. If many different airlines have layovers in the same city, I will create a new search and check for independent flight going though that city. When I did this for New York to London, I discovered that Iceland is a popular layover spot. When I searched for independent flights through Iceland, the price dropped by $100 per ticket.

When booking flights independently, please keep in mind that if there is a delay that makes you miss your flight, you will not be reimbursed. That’s what makes booking flights independently risky. But there are plenty of websites that will give you information on the statistics on how often similar flights are delayed and by how long. Of course it’s not 100% reliable, but it’s still a good indicator. I try to allow for at least 10+ hours between flights just in case!

Some countries also offer special layover trips/layover extensions for free. Seoul and Reykjavik for example offer free tours of the city during your layover. You can find out more online or by calling the airport.

Book well in advance:

There are plenty of great last minute deals out there, or so I have heard. Personally, I have never found one so I like to book up to a year in advance. There is supposedly a formula for the cheapest ticket and that’s too book 6 weeks in advance, but when it comes to trips during busy flight seasons and holidays, the sooner you book, the better!

Don’t overdo it:

I’m the queen of fitting lots of travel into a short period of time. However, I don’t remember the last time I returned from a trip relaxed. Before you book layover upon layover for your two week trip, consider the time you have and whether the quality will be compromised by the quantity of places you stop over in.

My trip was amazing and I wouldn’t have done things differently. But next time, I will definitely try to spend more time in one place even if it costs me a little more. I’m getting too old to sleep on airport floors while lugging heavy suitcases around the world!

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Droning at Pileh Bay: Phi Phi, Thailand 2018 (Video)

Pileh Bay was beautiful and amazing to explore via kayak and even underwater. We were lucky enough to get to also see it from above, and now you can too! We use the DJI Mavic Air drone.

Pileh Bay was beautiful and amazing to explore via kayak and even underwater. We were lucky enough to get to also see it from above, and now you can too! We use the DJI Mavic Air drone.

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Bamboo Island, Krabi: Thailand 2018 (Video)

Just four months ago, we were on a spontaneous trip to Thailand! One of the best days on Phi Phi was spent visiting Bamboo Island. Krabi is a beautiful part of Thailand worth exploring.

Just four months ago, we were on a spontaneous trip to Thailand! One of the best days on Phi Phi was spent visiting Bamboo Island. Krabi is a beautiful part of Thailand worth exploring.

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Tonsai Sucks During Monsoon Season, Thailand 2018

While it’s the perfect getaway during high (and dry) season, it’s really not enjoyable during the low (monsoon) season. Unless you enjoy being one of 10 tourists on a hard to get to spot with only two available restaurants that mainly serve fried food…

We’ve been to Tonsai twice now – once in December and the second time in July. December was hot, dry, lively and exciting! In July it was dead, everything was closed, the weather was miserable! Tonsai is a great place that’s still pretty empty compared to Phi Phi Island and even neighboring beaches.

While it’s the perfect getaway during high (and dry) season, it’s really not enjoyable during the low (monsoon) season. Unless you enjoy being one of 10 tourists on a hard to get to spot with only two available restaurants that mainly serve fried food. If you come any other time, you can enjoy a long tail boat ride to the beach, a choice of many restaurants, food vendors and bars, there are lots of people hanging out on the beach or at the hostels but there are also thieving mischievous monkeys!

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Ao Nammao Pier to Railay: Monsoon Season 2018

The second time we visited Thailand was the middle of July, which is right when monsoon season is wreaking havoc on the island and keeping all those selfie-taking tourists away – but clearly not all of them.

The first time we visited Thailand was during the dry winter months when it’s hot, overpopulated with tourists and low tied can ruin boat rides, kayaking and other water adventures. The second time we came in the middle of July, which is right when monsoon season is wreaking havoc on the island and keeping all those selfie-taking tourists away – but clearly not all of them.

A week before we arrived the famous case of football camp boys who were stuck in a flooded cave and a ferry had sunk, drowning many on board. We didn’t know about this when we booked and it was quite scary to be there. We got lucky and the weather ended up clearing up, but all ferry and boat rides were rough, scary and puke-inducing.

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Soi Cowboy Street in Bangkok Thailand

Soi Cowboy is the crazy street in Thailand known for strip clubs and prostitutes, but there are no ping-pong shows here! We visited the street just to people watch and it was quite a show. We saw women aggressively dragging single men into the clubs and offering all sorts of services.

Soi Cowboy is the crazy street in Thailand known for strip clubs and prostitutes, but there are no ping-pong shows here! We visited the street just to people watch and it was quite a show. We saw women aggressively dragging single men into the clubs and offering all sorts of services. They also had a great happy hour deals which I enjoyed and it was an interesting place to visit. Of course, you couldn’t film inside and I only went in quickly to use the bathroom!

Check it out:

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Govinda’s Vegan Restaurant: Ao Nang, Thailand 2018

Govinda, a vegan restaurant in Ao Nang, Thailand was delicious and the staff was incredibly kind!

Govinda, a vegan restaurant in Ao Nang, Thailand was delicious and the staff was incredibly kind! We arrived over half an hour before opening and sat downstairs waiting. It was pouring and miserable, the owner noticed us waiting and invited us in, carrying our heavy luggage in. It was awesome. We spent and ate way too much but it was worth it!

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