The Gili Islands

Each island offers something great, and navigating between the three is simple

Do you ever daze out and find yourself dreaming of beautiful, tropical paradise? Is the paradise located on a small island with white, sandy beaches? Are there fruity drinks, palm trees, great surf, and snorkeling and diving galore? Does your paradise consist of three of these islands? If so, you may be dreaming of the Gili Islands in Indonesia.

Located off of the northwest coast of the island of Lombok, the Gilis are a group of three small islands that are becoming some of the most popular pieces of paradise to visit while in Indonesia. Travelers typically get to the Gilis from Bali (fast boats take two hours and cost around $25, slow boats cost $10 but take a full day), but can also fly directly into the Lombok International Airport, and take a boat from any number of cities.

What makes the Gilis so great, besides being amazingly beautiful islands, is that each island offers something different. For those looking to party, the largest island, Gili Trawangan, is packed with backpackers and resort dwellers, and each night of the week offers a different bar jamming out to live music with cheap drink specials. This island offers the cheapest accommodation, the most amounts of bars, restaurants and western amenities, as well as the most tourists. The bummer is that the local culture is quickly dwindling at the hands of tourists wanting to smoke weed and do mushrooms.

For those looking for a more romantic setting, the middle and smallest island, Gili Meno, has the most beautiful beaches and the least amount of travelers. Bungalows on the beach can be procured for cheap (not at cheap as Gili T), and honeymooners can get their alone time.

The island is one massive oval of stunning beach, and when you are done spending time being couply, it also offers great food and decent snorkeling. Gili Air is almost as laid back as Meno, but gets a bit of a bigger crowd because it has a few bars, decent surf, and great scuba diving and snorkeling.

While the islands may boast many differences, two things all three share are incredible sunsets and sunrises. At the same point of the day in the morning and the evening, locals and tourists alike flock to the beach to watch the sun going about its daily duties. While on Trawagan you can watch the sunset at a hip bar, you can’t go wrong watching the wake and sleep of the sun on any of these islands.

If you are in need of some time in paradise, make sure to take a trip to the Gili Islands. Each one offers something great, and navigating between the three is simple. Don’t forget your sunscreen! 

The laid back vibes of Chandidasa, Bali

A trip to the small town offers absolute relaxation.

It isn’t everyday a traveler finds a spot where they are forced to become even more chilled out and relaxed than the normal level attained through backpacking. It also isn’t every day that travelers get the chance to visit Chandidasa on the eastern coast of Bali in Indonesia.

Located about two hours outside of the main city of Denpasar, Chandidasa is quickly, but quietly, becoming a must-stop destination for visiting Bali. While many travelers tend to spend a few days in the outrageously loud, eccentric and party driven Kuta area of Bali, Chandidasa boasts the exact opposite.

Though live music is easy to find on a Friday or Saturday, the people of Chandidasa pride themselves on not having, nor wanting, any discotheques or clubs in the town. The tranquil atmosphere is exactly what makes Chandidasa a desired destination.

While Chandidasa is coastal, beach lovers best not rush to book their trip just yet. While it is only a few kilometers drive to the “White Sandy Beach,” (trips offered by every local on the street), there are actually no beaches in the town.

The water flows directly to the manmade blockades of resorts and restaurants, with many establishments having small stairs for patrons to go swim between meals. A few of the resorts along the coast have made their own sandy beaches, but a drink or food purchase is necessary to use them.

For those still wanting to visit Chandidasa, the main draws are small, relaxed snorkeling trips, easy access to nearby hikes, and most importantly, rest and relaxation. Though some of the resorts definitely cost more than the average week of backpacking budgets, deals for some 3 and 4 star hotels drop near the $20 range if booked through Agoda during the low season.

For myself and a friend, a room at the Natia Seaside Resort cost $14 per person. This included a huge morning breakfast, a large, beautiful room with air conditioning, a comfy king size bed and a clean indoor/outdoor bathroom with shower and tub. Did I forget to mention the enchanting swimming area that boasts an infinity pool looking out on to the sea?

While Chandidasa may be a slow pace of life, a trip to the small town offers absolute relaxation. Along with beautiful hotels, local and western food can be purchased at a range of prices and messages can be had starting at around $5 for 30 minutes. If you find yourself needing a vacation from your vacation, Chandidasa may be the perfect destination. 

Time is of abundance and so are ways to spend it

Things to do to keep yourself occupied during travel

While it seems like there is never enough time to do everything you want back home, the fact is, while you travel, time is of abundance. Sure having no set responsibilities and no specific agenda items may leave you a bit lethargic, the fact is, though, you got a lot of time on your hands. You may be a creative person yourself, but a push in the right direction never hurt anyone. Here are some great ways to spend your time while abroad that don’t involve destroying your budget. Do them right and they may even help you transition the lessons you learned while abroad into your life back home.

Playing games: Fun as a kid and fun now! Playing games is something you will absolutely do while traveling. Be it board games in a cool hostel or café or jumping in a game of volleyball or futbol with your local friends, game playing is time honored travel tradition. Some other favorites while traveling include a myriad of card games, Would Your Rather, 20 questions and of course, Rock, Paper, Scissors.

Long meals: Remember as a kid when you had to eat long, boring dinners with your family and their friends every so often? Well this may have been boring back in the day, but now, it is all the rage. Trying the local cuisine is part of the fun while traveling, and mixing this with good people leads to lots of time spent eating, drinking and being merry. While some meals are definitely spent alone, taking the time to eat and drink with friends is a worthy way to spend some time abroad.

Reflection: While time spent with others is what makes travel so great, it is definitely necessary to spend some time reflecting on what you’ve seen, and how this can and will affect you. While I’m a big fan of reflecting by myself, it doesn’t necessarily have to be this way. Regardless of whether you prefer to be alone or reflect through conversation with a close friend, take the time necessary to make sure you get the fullest impact of all you see and experience while abroad.

Stop, look and listen: At home we don’t take much time to remember how incredibly awesome it is to be alive. Along with this, it is also easy to forget how beautiful the world and nature are as well. Even if you don’t live in a tourist destination, the fact is, every place around the world has something beautiful to offer. With that being said, being abroad with time on your hands is a great way to remember these facts. Take in your surroundings. Listen to the sounds, see the sights, and live in the moment. If you can’t remember the last time you sat around starring at clouds roll across the sky or the sun lay its head to bed, then maybe a trip to the unknown is exactly what you need.

Easy traps to avoid in the developing world

Booking, bartering and roundtrip tickets

The more I travel around the developing world, the more I realize how different the two worlds are. While traveling unveils the simple fact that people are people all around the world, it also shows how our day-to-day lives can be completely different from one another.

Though we all have aspirations, crave human contact and want the best for ourselves and our loved ones, the fact is, we do have our differences. This occurrence is what makes travel so fun. Below are a few simple things one should do differently when traveling in the developing world.

Don’t book in advance: While in the developed world it is seemingly impossible to do anything without advance notice, in the developing world, booking in advance limits you. In fact, one of the easiest ways to curb spontaneity and increase the amount of money you spend while travel is by booking in advance. Wait until you get to your destination, and maybe even get a cold drink first, before you start booking.

Round trip tickets: Unless you have a short, set amount of time, booking round trip tickets is absolutely crazy in the developing world. This is an easy way for street hustlers to get the most of your money, and once again, can really impede taking advantage of the freedom of travel. One way tickets for any form of transportation (especially domestically) is the best way to book transportation.

Bartering: Though some of the local salesmen are great at pulling out a sob story, only a fool would take the first price they hear during developing world travel. It may not be the easiest skill to acquire, but if you want to save money and combat overcharging other travelers, learning to barter is essential. While there are millions of guidelines, deciphering your best medium to cheap prices will always work best.

Booking multiple nights at a hotel: While I’m not saying you shouldn’t stay multiple nights at a single hotel, what I am saying is that you shouldn’t pay for those nights in advance. Travel plans change on the drop of a dime, and refunds are few and far between. As long as you pay each day and make sure you leave by check out time on your day of departure, all parties are happy. This will save you time, money and peace of mind.

Enjoy your travel in the places unlike your own. Though these rules will help you save some money, this list isn’t all encompassing. Make sure to keep your eyes open for reoccurring themes throughout your trip. 

Getting swindled like a rookie

An afternoon of empty promises

Sometimes, it is a good thing to get blindsided. While I would like to consider myself a veteran of the trade, there is always someone who can come and knock you off your high horse. While I’m not ready to admit that I’m maybe on the downward slope of my travel-savvy peak, I will say that there is a possibility I was out of practice. Regardless, my first day back to the developing world after a long trip to Australia saw me fall for a new spin on the one of the oldest tricks in the book.

The story goes like this: As I walked down the beach of Kuta in Bali, I was approached by a man on the street. Much like many a tale of falling for stupid stuff while traveling, said man offered me something and reluctantly I took it. This said thing was a free prize offer card, and although my free gift of two T-shirts wasn’t enough of a draw to continue conversation with this man, my friend’s free iPad or $1000 was. This, of course, led to an afternoon spent in a newer version of a time-share meeting.

While we were promised only one hour of conversation followed by a chance to win an iPad, our afternoon was quickly wisped away by a very chatty Brit named Tony. Tony was new to the organization and I’m assuming that is why he was put with two obvious backpackers who didn’t have the money to afford eating in a five-star hotel restaurant, let alone join their membership team. Tony, though, wanted to give it his all. Tony took us through all the places a membership worked at, all the money we would save and finally, all we would need to pay. After the presentation met its conclusion and we finally declined membership, we made our way to “claim our prizes.” This is where the magnitude of our mistake came to fruition.

While my free T-shirts ended up being a $10 voucher to a local convenience store (score!), the possible free iPad or $1000 could also be a “free” one-week vacation with said company. Though the actual vacation is free, the stipulations attached to profit on this vacation, unfortunately, involved a few clauses our hustling friend on the street didn’t tell us about. One of which was an age clause, which has the ability to exclude us from picking up our trip. Bummer.

In conclusion, for two hours of my time, I came out with a $10 voucher to the local convenience store, some free tea and the hope that maybe my travel partner and I can actually swing this free vacation we supposedly won. It is a shot-in-the-dark, but we are going to make a run at it. I guess the truth is that even the best fall down sometimes, and even the best can fall for a stupid timeshare meeting if a free iPad is involved. 

Telltale signs you are back in Southeast Asia

Religion, WiFi, 7-Eleven and crazy Westerners

For some people, it is easy to switch from one extreme to another. Certain people are able to be completely serious at one moment, and then have you nearly peeing your pants as they tell you their array of knee-slappers. Other people can so subtly mix being stern with being your friend.

Removed from character traits, some people have the ability to jump from one lifestyle to the next. One minute they may be a ruthless defense lawyer, and when the bell tolls, they are the most caring family men or women their neighborhood has ever seen. Regardless of your ability to adapt from one idea to the next, when going from developed to developing countries, the change isn’t so subtle. Here are some huge tells that you are back in Southeast Asia.

Local offerings to local deities: While specific religions dominate each country, what has been so amazing to see while traveling is the local spin taken on well-known religions. In many of the countries I’ve been to in Asia, even though Islam, Hinduism or Buddhism are the main staples, small excerpts of local sprits, gods, or prayers will still surface as a part of the main religion. Keep your eyes open while traveling to see indigenous add-ons to what the majority religion is of the place you are visiting.

Abundance of free WiFi: Places catering to tourists are getting really good at catering to tourists, and the Southeast Asians are some of the best at it. We all know one thing westerns love is free WiFi. Internet access is ubiquitous in Asia, and after coming from Australia (which apparently doesn’t believe in WiFi), it has been great.

7-Eleven or small convenience stores: Believe it or not, they are absolutely everywhere. While 7-Eleven is dominant in Thailand, small, knock-off convenient stores are literally all over tourists stops all throughout Southeast Asia. I can’t actually prove this fact, but I’m going to assume that the introduction of the 24-hour store is the result of night owl tourists.

Ridiculous westerners: Though you traveled halfway around the world to get some culture, one of things that will definitely be ubiquitous on your trip to Asia is seeing ridiculous western tourists. Depending on your destination, you will either see those who are out to party, those who are out to find freedom from the western world (i.e. hippies), those who are completely immersed in the culture and will no longer acknowledge westerners, or my personal favorite, those whom you suspect of dodging doing time for a crime by coming to Asia. Be careful of the last ones, they may come off as friendly, but as soon as a large group of westerners show up, they will disappear in a flash.  

Assessing the important lessons learned while traveling

Using patience and faith to face your fears and make decisions

As I inch closer to the one-year mark for time spent traveling, I’ve found myself in an interesting place. While the list of destinations I want to visit has grown immensely, the desire to settle down and try something new has also begun to fester. While the former still heavily outweighs the latter, I’ve felt more inclined, in recent days, to revisit lessons I’ve learned over the last few months. Here are the most important lessons I’ve learned while on the road.

Make a decision: While one of the most important parts of traveling is being able to be flexible, I’ve truly become aware of how important it is to make a decision. Though I love being spontaneous, the more I see, the more I realize that so much of human frustration comes from decisions. Though it may be scary to take a leap of faith, the funny little secret is that there is seemingly no wrong, or for that matter completely right, decision one can make. You just choose one and ride out the path which has been laid out before you.

Patience: While I still cringe when thinking about my Dad spouting, “Patience is a virtue,” every time I complained as a kid, I’ve realized he is on to something. If you have backpacked in the developing world before, you will know that you better learn patience real quick, or else you are going to lose your mind. Patience is one of the most important skills one can gain from exploring the world.

Faith: While I’ve been blessed to experience, enjoy and partake in activities and events from religions all around the world, this lesson of faith does not actually have to do with a theology. The lesson of faith is simply the idea that things will work out in the end. It is trusting that even when times get tough, or the road is dark, that your path will still lead you to safety. Believing in and full trusting your friends, family, loved ones and travel companions isn’t a bad use of the lesson either.

Face your demons daily: While many people believe that travel is a way to run from your problems, I firmly disagree with this idea. It CAN be a way to try to escape, but people who get the most out of travel realize it is the exact opposite. Life doesn’t have a pause button. It keeps occurring whether you like it or not. Your demons, vices and problems will follow you everywhere you go, but as you learn about faith during travel, you also learn all these setbacks are not impassable. All it takes is being able to confront them when the time comes. 

The best tour money can buy

A great way to get in touch with the places you're visiting

So you may be saying to yourself, “Wait, wait, wait. Mulv Jones is actually going to tell me to take a tour? Is this a very late April Fools' Day joke?” No my friend, in fact, it is not a joke. The truth is, tours are a great way to get in touch with the place you're visiting. It is important to know the lay of the lay of the land, and unless you in fact “tour,” the location, you aren’t going to see anything worthwhile. The choice, though, is what type of tour you are going to take.

While some travelers are keener to taking organized tours through an agency, the well-versed budget traveler knows that this can hurt your budget, while rarely showing you the good stuff. That is why one great way to see a city is actually through taking a trip on their public transportation.

If you have ever moved to a new city, you know that learning the public transit routes are very important. Most people will figure out the routes one way or another, with some even bold enough to ride a train, tram, or bus the entirety of its line. This practice, in fact, is a great way to get a tour of a new place, with out paying top-dollar.

Public transport, if you engage it properly, not only gives you great views of a your new location, but also allows you to have your finger on the pulse of your new destination’s culture. You can observe the architecture of the buildings, the typical day-to-day happenings of its inhabitants, as well as getting a good grasp of things like fashion, literature and music habits, as well as what is being advertised around this city. Certain products may surprise you and billboards, signs and posters will let you know exactly how to spend your time.

Along with an outside view, if you have a good grasp of the local language, befriending others in transit can help add commentary to your tour. While there is no exact art to this, I’ve found that engaging in conversation with someone near you can often lead to a tour based on the local’s knowledge or personal preference. Finding someone who looks nice, knowledgeable,and loquacious is important for this travel tip to work.

Don’t waste your time and money on a tour that isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Hop on the best looking loop of your destination, get a good seat, and let the public transportation set your day of exploration in motion. 

Port Campbell on the Great Ocean Road

Small stretches of beach, backed by inviting, pint-sized towns

For those that don’t enjoy small, quaint beach towns, the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Australia may not be for you. In fact, the entire eastern coast, besides the big cities, may not be your forte. If small stretches of beach, backed by inviting, pint-sized towns tickles your fancy, then Port Campbell may be for you.

Located about four hours outside of Melbourne, Port Campbell is the closest town to the world famous 12 Apostles rock formations. Discovered in the mid-1900s, the petite fishing village has become a popular resting point for those looking to ride the Great Ocean Road beyond the rock formations, heading toward the South Australian state boarder lines.

For those visiting Port Campbell, one necessary activity is a four-mile hike known as the Port Campbell Scenic Walk. The trailhead is located at the south end of the main spit of sand dubbed as the Port Campbell foreshore. The hike, for those used to walking, isn’t very demanding, but offers great views of the Loch Ard Gorge and the steep cliffs backing the seemingly endless shoreline. Lucky hikers may also catch views of bandicoots and echidnas scurrying across the trail. The hike is an out and back, so if you don’t want to go the entire four miles, the best views come about 1.2 miles in. An unmarked bench denotes the unofficial best views of the walk.

After the hike and a dip in the chilly waters of the Tasman Sea, a walk around the small town center is a must. Along with the Frying Nemo Fish and Chippery and the 12 Rock’s Bar, charming shops line the street. Ranging from art to antiques, and to rival surfing shops, the town center has at least a few hours worth of things to browse. Though it may not be a sanctioned tourist destination yet, the Trading Post Surf Shop hosts the largest pair of Uggs in existence. The sight is on the waiting list to become a UNESCO World Heritage Sight (#notatruefact).

For those looking to stay overnight, Port Campbell has accommodation of all types. Vacationers have their pick between camping and RV sights, hostels, motels, guesthouses and self-contained cottages. Prices range from $50 privates and up, with campsites and dorm rooms being the cheapest accommodation at around $30. The Port Campbell hostel is located directly on the water, but books up fast. Make sure to call ahead if you want the sound of the sea singing you to sleep.

If you find yourself visiting the Great Ocean Road, make sure to schedule time for Port Campbell. While the town may not be the biggest destination on the map, it definitely has a lot to offer. Enjoy visiting the 12 Apostles, and remember, when driving in Australia, look right then left before crossing the road.

Best practices for motorcycling through Southeast Asia

Buy a bike, get a helmet, find a map and plan your trip

Traveling in Southeast Asia seems to have become a staple for many young backpackers. With its beautiful, diverse landscapes, cheap prices and gaggles of other, young backpackers, the entire region screams, “visit me!” With many people giving into this desire, finding adventure and less touristy sights is becoming harder and harder to find. While this could appeal to some travelers, it leaves others underwhelmed. For those wanting a new take on Southeast Asia, the best way to do it is by motorcycle.

Though many people have rented scooters or done some of Asia by bike, the fact is, adding your own transportation brings a whole new dynamic to the trip. Being able to pack up and head to your preferred destination becomes incredibly easy, and the only one stopping you from visiting a new place is you. Bikes are readily available, roads are decently paved, and petrol is dirt cheap compared to home.

The first rule to biking through Southeast Asia is to find a motorcycle or scooter with Vietnam plates. Bikes with Vietnam plates are allowed to cross over the boarder of Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Cambodia. They also are easily transferable (which you really don’t even have to do), and are everywhere. Aging Honda Win’s can be found for as low as $100, and bike shops all over Asia can fix any ailment that pops up for a few bucks. Make sure you are given the green identification card, or else you can be hassled by police.

After finding your bike (and hopefully investing in a good helmet), getting maps and planning out your trip is very important. While it isn’t necessary to have a strict plan, knowing that bikes can only be sold in Cambodia and Vietnam is helpful. If you bring a bike into Thailand, your visa will be registered with the bike, and you will be charged a big tax if you leave without it. Laos is less strict, but will still give you problems if you don’t leave with the bike you came in on. Thailand also only allows for you to have 30 days with your bike in the country. While it is legal to cross the borders on your bike, be prepared to pay “taxes,” to corrupt border guards, especially while entering Laos and Cambodia. Asking for a receipt and badge number can often save you from paying a made up fee.

While driving in Asia can be dangerous, the fact is, if you avoid big cities and drive at a reasonable speed, the risk isn’t all that large. Make sure you have previous knowledge of riding a motorcycle before you come, because if not, you are putting yourself and others at risk. Ride safe and enjoy the beautiful, diverse landscapes of Southeast Asia.