Blog Post

Is TravelPony the Best Hotel Booking Site?

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Okay, lets be honest, now days there are apps and websites for just about everything you can think of. You may not think much about apps when traveling, but Jeff and I depend on them to help us out when we are on the road, or in a plane, or even on a boat in the middle of the ocean. There are many travel websites that can help you when you’re traveling. One we have recent come across is called TravelPony.com and here is how it can help you out too.

 

What is TravelPony?

 First of all it is really simple and they have a pretty unique concept. Booking hotels is one of the biggest part of any trip and they make it simple and get you some great deals. Because TravelPony focuses on getting you the best rates for hotels possible and because their deals are so cheap you have to create an account in order to see the rates and book hotel rooms.

Now you may be thinking, “Really, I have to make another account on another website?” but trust me, this one is worth it and it is free! If you’re looking for a quick way to create an account you can just login through your Facebook account.

Once you have your account, you can start searching for great hotel deals. I wanted to see if the deals were really as good as they claim they are so I tested the theory. I searched for the same hotel in Phuket, Thailand for two people all on the same dates with several different hotel-booking sites as well as on TravelPony. I was a bit surprised that TravelPony rates were in fact much lower.

 

The Website

Overall the website functions really well and is very simple. It’s easy to look up new hotels in new places. They even have new hotel deals every day:

“1 Deal – Per city. Per Day. While they last.”

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If you’re just in the mood to browse or do some research on vacation ideas, you can also see thumbnails of popular cities on their websites. I like to check in every once in a while and see the prices in London. Jeff and I were just there for only two days this past winter and although it is a very expensive city, I want to go back and see more. With TravelPony, I can just log on and see new deals!

 

The App

 Most of the time now days, people use apps more than online websites. This is really true for me when I’m traveling because I always have my phone with me and every time I stop into a café for a cup of coffee or am kicking back at the hotel pool, I use the wifi to access the internet on my phone. Most of the time it is to plan our next destination and with TravelPony I can open the app and see some great deals for hotels.

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Sharing with friends

What makes TravelPony unique is that you can share your deals and experiences with friends. In such an age of social media, it is always fun to share what you are up to with your friends. You can share how much you saved on Facebook, Twitter or even LinkedIn. They even have this great feature called “Pony Promise” where you can tell others about the great discount you found!

 

Overall 

Having resources for any traveler is always important. As someone who travels more than most, I have many resources I check before booking anything and recommend you do that too. Whether I’m on my desktop or on my phone, I can be confident that TravelPony will help me find the right deal for me!

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Bio Photo Marina 150x150 Taking A Chalkboard Around The World (PHOTOS)Marina Dominguez is the co-founder of Latitude 34 Travel Blog as well as a photographer and documentary film maker.

As a maturing women, Marina has dedicated her life to travel and new experiences. After working a 9-5 cubical lifestyle, Marina sold everything she owned, left her job and begun a new life with her boyfriend and travel companion, Jeff Johns. Together they relocated to Phuket, Thailand and founded Latitude 34 in which they seek to share their alternative lifestyle with the world. 

Marina is a Visual Journalism graduate of Brooks Institute of Photography where she studied photography, videography and ultimately caught the travel bug. Through creating several international documentaries, Marina realized there was more to the world than work and wanted something more. 

Exploring the Swiss Alps

From the Road: Exploring the Swiss Alps

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When you think of Switzerland, you think of the Alps – the enormous snow capped mountains with an alpine backdrop. You barely ever hear mention of the Swiss cities like Zurich or Basel. Swiss cities display an impeccable mix of modern cleanliness and rich historical architecture. When one of these picturesque cities collides with the rugged Swiss wilderness, something truly special is born: Lake Lucerne.

I found myself headed to Lake Lucerne after a brief trip to Munich, Germany, and even the trip there was an adventure. We boarded a little stuffy bus in the early morning, only to find out that we landed on a ferry in the mid afternoon. It was on this ferry that I captured my very first breathtaking picture of Switzerland.

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Exploring the Swiss Alps

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Lake Lucerne became one of the most beautiful cities I’ve laid eyes on in Europe. For someone who is both- a European city fanatic and an outdoors enthusiast- it really was my dream location.

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Exploring the Swiss Alps

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I knew that I wanted to experience one of the Gondola tours up to the top of the Alps. The most popular two mountains in Lake Lucerne are Mount Rigi and Mount Pilatus. Unfortunately, both gondola rides for these mountains were shut down for the winter (it was early November) so I settled for Mt. Stanserhorn.

 

The bus ride to the base of Mt. Stansorhorn took us amidst the surreal Swiss countryside filled with small farmhouses, cattle, and some of the healthiest looking grass I’ve ever seen.

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Exploring the Swiss Alps

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The adventure to the top of Stansorhorn begins with a vintage wooden train that strolls along the meadows and up the side of the mountain. The sightseeing begins here, as you get higher and higher you can view the scenery in its entirety. The train ride is peaceful and quiet, with only the sound of the train tracks and some cowbells in the distance.

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Exploring the Swiss Alps

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Next, we reached the station of the Cabrio, an open top aerial cable car that would escort us to the top of the mountain (6230ft / 1900m). The view from the second deck of the Cabrio is an unforgettable experience.

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Exploring the Swiss Alps

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The top of Mt. Stanserhorn offered an outstanding panoramic view over ten lakes, 100 kilometers of Alpine mountain range and three countries. From here, you can hike to the lookout point, or choose from various other paths along the summit. When you get hungry, you can grab a bite at the Ronorama- a revolving restaurant at the top of the mountain. If you time it right, you can get the opportunity to watch the sunset over the mountains, which is a sight you won’t want to miss.

Exploring the Swiss Alps

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Exploring the Swiss AlpsExploring the Swiss Alps

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After returning to the city from our trip to the Alps, we worked up quite an appetite. We opted to take a stroll across the famous Chapel Bridge and grab some Swiss fondue along the water edge. The Chapel Bridge, a landmark of Lucerne, is said to be the oldest woodbridge of Europe (however it was rebuilt after an accident in 1993).

Exploring the Swiss Alps

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The next day we decided to view Lucerne by boat, which is a great way to see the other small towns located around the lake.

Whether viewing the city by boat or gondola, Lake Lucerne is an exceptional town and an enchanting place. I came for the lake, was charmed by the city, and fell in love with the mountains.

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Exploring the Swiss Alps

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Exploring the Swiss Alps

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Want to see more of Marteen’s experience in Lake Lucerne?

Watch Lake Lucerne: A Video Starring the Alps

 

Marteen is a travel obsessed twenty something trying to live the dream while maintaining a 9-5 to pay the bills (until she has the freedom to go rogue). In her blog, Lust For The World, she proves that it is possible to travel the world while your young, earning an entry level salary, and working 40 hours a week.

 

 

 

Dream Destination: Australia

Dream Destination: Australia

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Marina and I have had a blast this year having already traveled through 35 countries since January, but the gold at the end of the rainbow was always Australia! Unfortunately, while we’ve made it most of the way around the world, it doesn’t look like we’ll be able to make it to the gold coast before New Years, and that is why we’ve added Australia as a this weeks dream destination!

I was able to visit Australia and New Zealand about 15 years ago and have been dying to go back and explore more since. While the country is absolutely massive, there is little in the majority of the country, with all major cities spotting the outlines of this beautiful country. Marina and I have been lucky enough to meet some amazing friends in our travels, and among our favorites are our Aussie friends! (yes, they know how to party). I think us Americans feel a kinship with Aussies, we are both loud and know how to party, however I’m not sure how they’d feel about me comparing them to Americans!

So no matter if we get to Australia before the end of this year or sometime in the future, it will always remain a dream destination, and here is why.

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Dream Destination: Australia

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1. Epic Road Trips! 

Australia can be quite expensive to travel through, especially if you are used to backpacking in South America or South East Asia, however there are some easy ways to cut down on your costs. One of the most fun ways is to rent a camper, grab a couple buddies and drive around, camp and really hit the open road! This has been a dream of ours for a long time, and while it might take us a couple more tries to get a group of friends together in one place (harder than herding cats!), it’ll happen one day. There are endless routes to take, from the west coast cities if Perth to driving up the gold coast from Sydney to Brisbane and up to the beautiful sights of Bondi Beach and the Great Barrier Reef. So make it happen, I know we will!

 

2. The Beaches

I’ve been telling myself for years that I will learn to surf, and while it has yet to happen, I can’t think of a better place to at least give it a shot than in Australia. Bondi Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen (yes, we did live in Thailand for 2 years) and even failing miserably would be fun. There are no bad experiences, so take the leap!

If the sand isn’t your thing, the Great Barrier Reef is hands down one of the most amazing things on Earth and snorkeling above the reefs will spoil any visit you ever take to another aquarium. I saw full length sharks, the most colorful fish and creatures I had never dreamed of, all while just floating a few feet above it all.

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Dream Destination: Australia

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3. Sydney

One of the most beautiful and picturesque cities in the entire world, Sydney is home to some of the most recognizable landmarks on Earth in the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbor Bridge. Stepping inside the opera house is amazing even if music isn’t your thing and no trip to Sydney would be complete without strapping on a harness and climbing your way to the top of the Sydney Harbor Bridge, an experience that is hard to top.

With such an amazing skyline, taking advantage of the top hotels in Sydney is a must, as you’ll be glad you paid for a room with a view in this amazing city. We always dreamed of celebrating New Years in Sydney, as the first major city to celebrate the holiday, but get your room reserved months in advance as they fill up so quick! While a hotel room would give an amazing view of the fireworks from up high, you can also rent a house boat on the harbor for the night, an experience that would last a lifetime!

With so much to explore in Sydney, we’ll need at least a week to get lost and find the hidden gems we know are just waiting for us.

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4. The Wildlife

When you think of tigers you think of Asia, giraffes remind you of Africa and without a doubt koala bears and kangaroos will give you visions of the vast Australian outback. Australia has done an amazing job of educating, caring for and preserving the ecology of these two amazing animal species. Steve Irwin probably taught us all everything we know about crocodiles and while we are all sad he is gone, he left behind some of the most amazing animal education programs, preserves and zoos in the entire world. So make sure to plan a trip to learn about and interact with the wildlife in this amazing landscape.

While not wildlife, no true traveler would say their trip to Australia was complete without at least gazing on Ayers Rock, sure its just a huge rock in the middle of nowhere, but when you see pictures of something your entire life and you’re that close, you’ve got to go for it!

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Dream Destination: Australia

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Some images provided curtesy of Flickr by Yoann JEZEQUEL#dailyshootCharlie Stinchcomb and Ib Aarmo 

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.H . jeffjohnsheadshotJeff Johns is the co-founder and editor of Latitude 34 Travel Blog. Through 65 countries on 6 continents he has accumulated a seemingly endless stream of odd information, interesting stories and helpful tips and tricks to better travel. Jeff’s goal is to visit all 204 countries on Earth before he is too senile to remember them all. A graduate of the Visual Journalism program at the Brooks Institute, his true passions lay in honest visual storytelling, documentary filmmaking, Thai food and a good laugh. Together with Marina, they run Latitude 34 Travel Blog as a source of helpful information for those who love to travel or those who simply dream of it. If you have a comment or suggestion, send them an email at hello@latitudethirtyfour.com and they’ll respond super fast! 

6 Things Never to Take on Vacation

6 Things Never to Take on Vacation

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You’ll find plenty of suggestions for what to take on vacation, the latest gadgets that will supposedly make traveling easier, and other tips on packing (like rolling instead of folding clothes). However, if you really want to make the most of your next trip, focus more on what not to bring. By literally lightening your load, you can enjoy the time, money and effort you put in to designing the ultimate getaway. Isn’t that what holidays are supposed to be about?

First, start by assessing what you’re “addicted” to and challenge yourself to go without it. This might mean coffee as soon as you wake up in the morning, checking your Facebook (at all) and sneaking in those work emails. If you have certain habits or vices that tend to dominate your life, they have no place on your vacation.

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6 Things Never to Take on Vacation

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Here are a few ideas of what to ditch before your next flight:

 

1. Your “work” laptop

Ideally, you wont’ take a laptop, tablet or other major device like this at all. There are some exceptions, such as if you’re required to at least check your work email every other day. However, having your usual work laptop or computer handy will tempt you to try to squeeze in a little daily grind. It’s important for your health and relationships that you truly go on vacation from time to time—work can wait.

 

2. Your smartest phone

Do you really need your phone when you’re traveling around Italy or bumming it on a Mexican beach for a few days? Probably not. Instead, for safety, pick up a local pay as you go phone and make sure family and friends back home have your number. This will let you call cabs, make reservations at local restaurants, etc. but will keep you from browsing Facebook, checking in and basically not being present during your trip. Pack an old school camera instead for snapping pictures.

 

3. A negative mindset

Traveling can be stressful, especially when things go wrong (as they often will). Do you best to flex your optimist muscles and remember that it’s about the adventure, not getting the smoothest check-in possible. It’s a lot easier to embrace your positive side when you’re completely checked out from work and other responsibilities.

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6 Things Never to Take on Vacation

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4. Unreasonable, unbroken-in shoes

Both men and women should pack one pair of dress shoes and be done with it. Otherwise, you’re going to be playing tourist or relaxing and there’s no room for uncomfortable or new shoes. For dress shoes, choose a neutral pair that you know are comfortable. Otherwise, you won’t be able to enjoy your getaway when you’re dealing with blisters non-stop.

 

5. Packed to the brim suitcases

Leave some room—and maybe even an entire bag—for purchases you’ll be making on vacation. This is an often overlooked problem, and the last thing you want is paying for overweight or extra bags on your return flight.

 

6. Your entire makeup bag

For women (and some men), it’s tempting to just toss your entire makeup bag in the suitcase. Instead, have a smaller, travel-sized bag for toiletries and take only the essentials you know you’ll be using everyday and a couple of pieces for dressing up. It’ll be a costly lessons if all your makeup gets lost or broken, and it takes up space that’s better used elsewhere.

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6 Things Never to Take on Vacation

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 When it comes to packing, aim for light and versatile. You don’t really need a brand new outfit for every day you’re on vacation, especially when you’re going somewhere tropical and a swimsuit with a couple of coverups will do.

 

Jenna is a freelance writer who loves the outdoors, fashion, and relaxing with her family. Follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Hotel Review: Phuket Arcadia Hilton

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There are many beautiful places around the world and after visiting many of them, Phuket, Thailand will always be one of my favorites. Nothing beats the beautiful ocean and island lifestyle you can find in Phuket, not to mention the amazing Thai food, one of Jeff and my favorites. And just because we lived in Phuket, doesn’t mean we didn’t also enjoy some of the best hotels the island had to offer. I will always treasure the days that we would spend poolside at the Phuket Arcadia Hilton.

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The Spa treatment Villa

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If you’re looking for a 5 star resort experience, look no further. The Phuket Arcadia Hilton is located in the beautiful town of Karon Beach in Phuket. Karon is a great family city in Phuket full of shopping, great restaurants and a gorgeous beach. It is very centrally located to many of the other popular beaches so you can just jump on a motorbike and drive down to Kata or Rawai in the south or head north for a nigh out on the town in Patong.

My favorite part of the Phuket Arcadia Hilton is the Ocean Beach Club Pool, which has the beautiful Andaman Sea as a backdrop. While you’re laying poolside drinking a Piña Colada you can oversea the beautiful ocean in Karon Beach. The pool chairs are extremely comfortable and there are umbrellas just in case it gets too hot. Some of the pool chairs are even in the sand or you can relax in a private cabana and watch the sun set. They play lots of fun music and it’s a perfect place to relax or get ready for a night out!

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King Deluxe Plus Garden

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If you’re looking for something more family oriented, don’t worry the Phuket Arcadia Hilton has something for everyone! They have three pools all together and the Garden Pool is perfect for families to have some fun and even has a great water slide! The third pool is the Seafarer Pool, which is a calmer pool for those looking to just sit back and relax. You can order food or drinks at any of the three pools.

If you’re looking for something else don’t worry there is plenty to do at the Phuket Arcadia Hilton! There is a golf course, a great fitness center, a spa, a jogging track, playground and plenty of activates you can join in on.

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Marquee Lawn

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After a long day of events and swimming, your guest room or suite will not leave you disappointed. Each room has either a ocean view or garden view and have everything you would need for your home away from home. They even have laundry services, childcare and cribs available for the little ones.

Phuket is a great place to visit and after living there for the past two years I have fallen in love with this little tropical island. Phuket is very diverse and really does have something for everyone and staying at the Phuket Arcadia Hilton will only make your experience better. The hotel has everything you would ever need and is located in the great little town of Karon, our home away from home.

Book your room now, as there are currently great rates across Asia Pacific with Hilton Hotels from as low as £28!

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Dinner at Ocean Beach Club

 

 

A Visit to Eilean Donan Castle in Scotland

A Visit to Eilean Donan Castle in Sctland

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Eilean Donan Castle: situated on a small tidal island where three sea lochs meet and surrounded by majestic mountains and Scottish wilderness, it is not hard to see why this castle is considered to be one of the most photographed in Scotland, and beloved of shortbread tins.

Eilean Donan was the focus for a road trip earlier this year. A spectacularly moody and dramatic image of Eilean Donan was featured in February’s edition of Countryfile Magazine and as soon as I laid eyes upon it I wanted to see it in the flesh. So off we went.

A few weeks later my partner and I set off from Kent to begin the two day drive north, staying with my parents in Yorkshire overnight. The second day of driving saw us skirt the Lake District National Park and enter Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park north of Glasgow a few hours later. But the best part of the drive for me was traversing the A82 towards Fort William through the misty, brooding mountains of Glencoe.

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A Visit to Eilean Donan Castle in Scotland

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And boy was Eilean Donan worth the long drive, all 610 miles of it.

The first fortified castle was built in the mid-13th century, with various alterations over the next few centuries until it was partially destroyed during the Jacobite uprising in 1719. It wasn’t until Lieutenant Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap bought the island in 1911 that Eilean Donan was restored to its former glory. The castle was re-opened in 1932 and is now a popular tourist attraction.

As we visited during March there were few tourists around, and it was wonderfully peaceful gazing out from the small island across the waters to the distant mountains. The only way to look around inside the castle is by guided tour, for which we were more than happy to pay. Our guide was very knowledgeable (who wouldn’t be after working there for 15 years?) and told us so many fascinating things; the entrance hall has a barrel vaulted ceiling with no keystone to hold things in place – quite unusual and a master of design. And the walls of the great hall have narrow passageways within and peep holes, the better that people may listen in on councils in centuries gone by – perhaps where the saying ‘the walls have ears’ comes from…

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A Visit to Eilean Donan Castle in Scotland

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The tour finished with a walk through the bedrooms where the current family still reside; recent wedding photo’s lay side by side with old trinkets and old paintings adorned the walls with family trees. A wander through the original kitchens revealed a room trapped in time, stuck in the mid-1900’s when parties would have been hosted and friends invited to stay and plenty of food was required.

Oh to live in a castle!

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Rachel is a freelance ecologist based in the south of the UK. In between travelling around the UK to carry out protected species and habitat surveys, she takes any opportunity she can to explore the local area and hopefully discover hidden gems. Her blog Hither and Yonder documents her work, experiences and little local adventures.

Is Singapore the Next Great Music City?

Is Singapore the Next Great Music City?
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Having lived in Thailand for much of the last two years, Marina and I were lucky enough to get to Singapore a couple different times recently and have absolutely loved it each time. Singapore is an amazing city, and very unique in South East Asia. The laid-back island life of Phuket was wonderful but it was equally nice to know that a major city such as Singapore is just right around the corner. While many major music acts come to Asia, we found it hard to find any known acts play in Phuket, aside from the cover bands!

Singapore will show itself in the best light once again for the hosting the well-known Taiwanese singer, actor, and composer, Jay Chou. He is now standing tall right next to the greatest international singers and he has become a model for the contemporary Asian music. His success comes from a fusion between Rock, R&B and Pop he has developed throughout his career in music. This singer is 34 years old and he has already recorder 12 LP over the more than 15 years he has been on stage. While we might not have heard of him, he is huge in the Asian world as Singapore is quickly becoming a major music destination not only in Asia but in the world. Buy tickets to his December 27th show in Singapore as he is not to be missed!

While cities like Dubai are able to attract major acts like Lady Gaga and Eminem once or twice a year, major musicians are looking for other cities in Asia to perform in and Singapore is quickly becoming a popular destination. With all of the amazing food options (seriously, they are endless) and entertainment options (check out Santoosa Island for a good time) and the endless shopping malls, Singapore provides an ultra modern city just a short flight from some of the most cultural little villages in all of Asia.

Some of the most amazing hotels in the entire world are in Singapore and we have absolutely loved staying at the Four Seasons Singapore and the world famous Marina Bay Sands, which shouldn’t be missed even if you aren’t staying there. We have written many posts about why we love Singapore and always enjoy our time there, but are quickly realizing it will also be a popular place for us to catch good music for years to come!

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Glamping: Not Your Grandmothers Camping

Glamping: Not Your Grandmothers Camping

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Have you heard of glamping? Neither had we, until recently. Marina and I love to get off the beaten path, find that extra bit of adventure and wing it as anyone who reads this blog knows. But you surely also know that we like to be comfortable when we do it, and long gone are the days when we were simply happy to crash in a rowdy youth hostel and share a bunk bed filled dorm room with a crew of Scottish lads on a stag weekend. This is where glamping comes in.

There have always been two different kinds of travelers – those who need their luxury comforts from home, and those who prefer the natural wilderness, to get away and settle for sleeping bags and fire cooked hotdogs. However, with the recent rise in popularity of “glamping” (or glamour camping) there is no need to compromise anymore.

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Glamping: Not Your Grandmothers Camping

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Without having to buy or rent yourself a fancy RV for the week, there are more and more glamping places popping up all over the world, especially in the US and UK. While you might have been ok getting dirt in your food and peeing in the woods just to get that authentic nature feeling, now you can do it in complete style and a comfort you would never expect to find in the wilderness.

You know, Marina and I have been on the road so much in the last 18 months (over 35 countries and counting!) that we often long for all that the US has to offer when it comes to retreats and holidays, especially in nature. While we have absolutely fallen in love with the wilderness in vastly different areas of the globe, from the deep, dark snowy woods of Finland to the endless and vast Arabian desert, we sure do miss home sometimes and all that the US has to offer.

Now that it is autumn and we are seeing pictures of beautiful multi colored leaves pop up all over the Internet, we are left to think about how best to enjoy the fall weather, and how much we miss it.

While I am from the east coast, and Marina is a California girl through and through we will be the first to admit that some of the best wilderness in the US is right in the middle. From the gorgeous mountains of Colorado to the vast fields of Idaho and Montana, some of the greatest outdoor sights the US has to offer is rightly a bit off the beaten path.

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Glamping: Not Your Grandmothers Camping

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Montana boasts some of the most secluded, beautiful and impressively luxurious ranch’s in the world, with The Ranch at Rock Creek offering more outdoor activities than you could ever imagine, and with a luxurious comfort you’d never dream of finding in the middle of the wilderness.

From horseback riding, to fly fishing, helicopter rides, geocaching, luxury spa treatments, paintball and fine dining, there is little you can’t find at The Ranch at Rock Creek. Of course, you might just want to sit back and relax or escape on your own for a hike in the beautiful wilderness, and who would blame you, Montana has some of the most beautiful wilderness imaginable.

While you can stay in a cabin, lodge or traditional accommodations, why not try your hand at glamping? Glamping combines the best of both worlds giving you the freedom and rugged feeling of camping in the wilderness while maintaining all the comforts and luxuries of a 5 star resort. The Ranch at Rock Creek offers luxury canvas tents and a complete experience, which is not only unique but downright fun at the same time.

So while we might both be living in the middle of big, bustling cities much of the time, or off on an adventure in some far flung corner of Asia or South America, we still dream of the adventures to be had back home in the USA, and we cannot wait to spend time further exploring the endless beauty of our home country one of these days.

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This post pay contain sponsored elements from one of our travel partners. As always, the opinions expressed are our own. 


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.H . jeffjohnsheadshotJeff Johns is the co-founder and editor of Latitude 34 Travel Blog. Through 65 countries on 6 continents he has accumulated a seemingly endless stream of odd information, interesting stories and helpful tips and tricks to better travel. Jeff’s goal is to visit all 204 countries on Earth before he is too senile to remember them all. A graduate of the Visual Journalism program at the Brooks Institute, his true passions lay in honest visual storytelling, documentary filmmaking, Thai food and a good laugh. Together with his girlfriend Marina, they run Latitude 34 Travel Blog as a source of helpful information for those who love to travel or those who simply dream of it. If you have a comment or suggestion, send them an email at hello@latitudethirtyfour.com and they’ll respond super fast! 

Off-Roading in the Arabian Desert (VIDEO)

Off-Roading in the Arabian Desert (VIDEO)

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Dubai might just be the most fascinating city on Earth – definitely the most shiny and new, but just outside of the glitz and the glamour is one of the most vast and desolate deserts in the world, and it should not be missed if you are in the UAE, even for a couple days. When we found ourselves in Dubai earlier in the year we just couldn’t miss the chance to go off-roading in the arabian desert with Arabian Adventures, the top rated adventure tour company in the region.

It is easy to get lost in the vast malls of Dubai, the water parks on The Palm, the endless amazing restaurants, rooftop bars and even an indoor ski slope, but Dubai is unique in the fact the just a few miles outside of the city is almost absolutely nothing – endless desert sand dunes as far as the eye can see. There are a number of desert adventure tour companies, but Arabian Adventures is easily the most popular so we decided to go with them, and we were not disappointed one bit.

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Not entirely sure what to expect, we were picked up at our hotel (read our review of the Grand Hyatt Dubai) and driven about 45 minutes outside of Dubai to the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, a vast protected area which only Arabian Adventures is allowed to enter. After deflating our tire pressure we drove into the sand to our first stop, a palm tree filled area where we were treated to a falcon show. While short and quick, it is truly amazing to see these amazing birds flying through the sand dunes so fast. It is easy to get distracted by the beautiful dunes and I have to admit we spent most of the time there shooting pictures of the scenery – but thats what you get when you put two photographers in the middle of the desert!

After the falcon show we strapped ourselves in for the off-roading portion of our adventure and man was it crazy! There were about 25 other SUV’s in our caravan, carefully spaced out as we ventured off across the dunes. The 4×4’s have extra installed roll bars, so hold on tight and enjoy the ride, its pretty exciting. I have to admit, like you’ll see in the video, that I got a bit “sea sick” trying to shoot video and hold on the whole time, but it was of course well worth it.

The drivers timed our adventure perfectly to get to the top of the dunes a few minutes before the sun set, an absolutely amazing scene which looks like something out of Star Wars more than less than an hour from a mega city.

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Off-Roading in the Arabian Desert (VIDEO)

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Standing on top of these sand dunes with nothing but desert in every direction is a truly breathtaking site, even with all of the other tourists and cars in the caravan. I was a bit worried before we took off that going with so many other people into the desert would cheapen the experience but it really didn’t, which was a surprise.

After the sun set the temperature dropped a bit, and while still very hot it was pleasant enough to sit outside and enjoy our night. Arabian Adventures has built an amazing little camp/village in the middle of nowhere, and while built specifically for their tours, it still holds a semi authentic feeling to it where they offer camel rides, henna, shisha, a huge buffet dinner, belly dancing show and stargazing – all included in the price of the tour. (even beer and wine!)

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Off-Roading in the Arabian Desert (VIDEO)

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Marina and I enjoyed wandering around the camp, eating amazing Middle Eastern food, smoking some shisha, Marina got henna and we really enjoyed the belly dancing performance. While not native to Dubai whatsoever, the dancing was a nice touch and entertaining – she really knew how to dance.

One of our favorite parts of the entire day was when they turned off all the lights in the entire camp, leaving us in utter darkness, the stars as bright as I had ever seen them – just cross your fingers it isn’t a full moon or you won’t get the full effect. Once the dining and dancing concludes you are free to enjoy a last drink and make your way back to your driver and SUV where you will be again dropped off back at your hotel, around 10pm.

An amazing day all in all I would do it again in a heartbeat (and actually did it again with a friend last week!). Arabian Adventures has done an excellent job of providing a very easy to plan tour into the desert which incorporates many different elements which would simply be hard to find all in one place on your own – especially on a tight timeline. For a total cost of around $100 per person – it is a very well done tour and an excellent value for the money. So strap on your seatbelt and prepare for the adventure of a lifetime!

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Off-Roading in the Arabian Desert (VIDEO)

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.H . jeffjohnsheadshotJeff Johns is the co-founder and editor of Latitude 34 Travel Blog. Through 65 countries on 6 continents he has accumulated a seemingly endless stream of odd information, interesting stories and helpful tips and tricks to better travel. Jeff’s goal is to visit all 204 countries on Earth before he is too senile to remember them all. A graduate of the Visual Journalism program at the Brooks Institute, his true passions lay in honest visual storytelling, documentary filmmaking, Thai food and a good laugh. Together with his girlfriend Marina, they run Latitude 34 Travel Blog as a source of helpful information for those who love to travel or those who simply dream of it. If you have a comment or suggestion, send them an email at hello@latitudethirtyfour.com and they’ll respond super fast! 

The Best Ways to Travel Across Europe

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Europe will always be one of the most popular tourist and holiday destinations in the world, but far too many visitors simply don’t take advantage of all the region has to offer. Coming from the states, Marina and I are always surprised when we travel across Europe, just how close everything really is. So while its lovely to fall in love with Paris for a weekend or get swept off your feet in Budapest, here are our best tips for making the most of your next trip to Europe.

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The Best Ways to Travel Across Europe

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Get out of the city! 

So many visitors simply fly in and out of the same city without ever getting outside the city boundaries, where there is so much left to explore! The city center will always offer a visitor most of the top attractions, tourist restaurants and photo opportunities, but rarely does a city center offer the culture and feel of a country like you find when you escape the tourist traps and long lines. So no matter how you travel, by bus, bike or foot, get out of the city limits!

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Walk Everywhere

Traveling is already exhausting enough as it is, so who wants to walk around all day when you arrive to your destination, right? Wrong! Walking and getting lost in a new city, especially when you travel across Europe is simply one of the best ways to get to know a city, find a secret hole in the wall, run in to friendly locals and discover a completely different side to a city you probably never dreamed of finding. So strap on your big boy shoes, forget the popular areas and wander off into the unknown, we promise you’ll love what you find.

We found some of our favorite areas in Europe simply by getting lost on foot, be it an amazing pub in Tallinn, Estonia or a neighborhood in Holland we never would have seen otherwise.

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Rent a Car

While Europe is very centrally located and much is close together, you’ll still need more than a pair of legs to get around. Flights are a quick and (sometimes) cheap way to get around, however you’ll miss so much of the experience that if you have the time, take a bit longer and consider renting a car. While a bit more time consuming than other modes of transportation, there is really no better or exciting feeling than jumping in a car and driving off into the sunset on a road trip to the unknown. Make sure if you drive in Europe that you have a valid international driver’s license and that you are carrying Breakdown Cover from The AA as the last thing you want to be is stranded in the middle of nowhere. Traveling is all about the adventure, so don’t shy away from a more exciting way to explore a new place, the benefits always outweigh the negatives.

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The Best Ways to Travel Across Europe

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Jump on the Train

Easily the most popular way to travel across Europe, especially among young travelers, the train system in the region is easily the world’s finest, no matter where you are traveling to. While the German, Swiss and Finnish systems are known for their absolute efficiency and on time departures, in general the train will be the easiest, fastest and cheapest way to travel around the area.

The always popular Eurail pass offers travelers nearly endless combinations of routes, passes, tickets to truly match any travel itinerary whether you are hoping to travel in just Italy or through all the 27 countries the pass services.

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Some images provided by Flickr via Santiago La Rotta and Brian Koprowski

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.H . jeffjohnsheadshotJeff Johns is the co-founder and editor of Latitude 34 Travel Blog. Through 65 countries on 6 continents he has accumulated a seemingly endless stream of odd information, interesting stories and helpful tips and tricks to better travel. Jeff’s goal is to visit all 204 countries on Earth before he is too senile to remember them all. A graduate of the Visual Journalism program at the Brooks Institute, his true passions lay in honest visual storytelling, documentary filmmaking, Thai food and a good laugh. Together with his girlfriend Marina, they run Latitude 34 Travel Blog as a source of helpful information for those who love to travel or those who simply dream of it. If you have a comment or suggestion, send them an email at hello@latitudethirtyfour.com and they’ll respond super fast! 

Visiting the Great Pyramids

Visiting the Great Pyramids, all you need to know

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There are few attractions on Earth that can be found on every single travelers bucket list, and visiting the Great Pyramids is one of them. Both Marina and myself have been dreaming of visiting Egypt and the pyramids since we can remember. Who doesn’t remember learning about the Nile and King Tut in elementary school and who doesn’t fantasize about wandering through the desert and coming across these mystical buildings? For Marina, visiting the pyramids was her number one trip on Earth and I was thrilled to be watching her face as we rounded the corner and she got her first glimpse of these amazing structures. So sit back, prepare to get excited, whip out that travel credit card and book a trip to amazing Egypt, you’ll never regret it.

Now, we were very fortunate to be staying with some great Egyptian friends of our in Cairo this time around and had the distinct advantage of visiting the pyramids with them over the course of two days. That said, we still figured out all you need to know to when visiting the great pyramids so hopefully any trip you make to the pyramids will be nothing but filled with great memories. Our friends live about a 40 minute drive from Giza, however there are tons of great hotel options in Giza if you want to be just a stones throw from the pyramids.

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“There are times we simply cannot believe what our eyes are seeing. Sitting at the Sphinx and gazing at the Great Pyramids in Giza is definitely one of those times…”

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First on our list? Camel rides! Riding camels and visiting the great pyramids sort of go hand in hand, that is if you were raised watching the Mummy with a totally westernized and semi warped view of what Egyptian history really was. That said, the Egyptians are happy to offer both camel and horse riding trips through the cast desert surrounding the great pyramids. As soon as you get into Giza and close to the pyramids themselves, you will be surrounded by Egyptian men who, rather boisterously, convince you to follow them for the best visit to the great pyramids. And while we wouldn’t suggest blindly following any man loudly shouting at you as a rule, these guys were nothing but helpful, energetic and ultimately showed us an amazing time. Also, it is worth noting that there is no information center, tourism office ore official tour guiding building. Don’t try and fined official licensed guides, you will just be wasting your time. That being said, the vast majority of those offering camel rides, guided tours, etc are well trained and more than capable of showing you a great time.

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Visiting the Great Pyramids

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Visiting the Great Pyramids

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A two hour camel ride will cost you about 150 Egyptian pounds, which at about $23 is quite a good deal. The number of camels, horses, kids, goats and general livestock running around shouldn’t deter you, and while you might feel as though you are in the wild west, just go with it, jump on a camel and set out on one of the most memorable afternoons of your life. You can, of course, head out in the morning, or mid day, but we highly recommend either a sun rise or sun set trip, for obvious reasons beyond the heat.

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Now, as soon as you jump on the camel you will notice one thing very quickly, besides the fact that camels are super tall and extremely odd looking animals, you are heading AWAY from the pyramids. No you are not heading in the wrong direction, and yes it will all be worth it we promise. You will head through a traditional Egyptian neighborhood and emerge headed out towards the vast desert after about 15 minutes. The pyramids are almost completely hidden at this point but as you slowly ascend the sand dunes all three of the great pyramids become visible and the view is simply breathtaking. 

Once off the camels, you can rest, relax and take unlimited pictures of you, the camels, friends and of course the view. The afternoon light becomes quickly beautiful and the scene only gets better the longer you wait.

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Of note is that while on the camel trips you will be nowhere close to the great pyramids as the trip really focuses on the camel ride in the desert and the pyramids as a dramatic backdrop. You have a couple different options to fully take in the great pyramids while in Cairo. While all can be done in one day, we broke up our visit into two days and were glad we did as both days were exhausting, but they could easily be done in one. A visit to the great pyramids themselves is a completely different experience and totally different from the camel ride.

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Visiting the Great Pyramids

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You can drive up, or take a taxi surprisingly close the main gate to the great pyramids. Once parked, a simple ticket building displays the various ticket options. A ticket to enter the great pyramid complex is 80 Egyptian pounds, about $10. If you want to go all out and buy the all inclusive ticket which grants you access to all 3 of the great pyramids as well as the Sphinx and various other tombs and ruins, it will set you back 200 Egyptian pounds, about $30. If you want to purchase a photo pass it will cost you 20 pounds ($3), but in our experience it is not needed at all, and we are photographers – meaning we had all of our gear and no one ever said anything about needing the pass. That said, there are some odd photo rules which we will go into further in a bit.

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We’d highly recommend just buying the total pass, spending the $30 and exploring all afternoon. Although there is security set in place which you must go through, it seems more of a formality as they didn’t seem to check what we were bringing in at all.

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As you enter the great pyramid complex you will undoubtedly be surrounded by hagglers selling everything from cowboy hats to plastic statues, bottled water and scarves. While a bit annoying to most travelers, we have found the hagglers in Egypt to be mostly pleasant and kind and not too harsh. We ended up buying multiple bottles of water as well as a scarf, all for a total of $5.

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Visiting the Great Pyramids

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Visiting the Great Pyramids

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One thing that we did find very surprising was the sheer lack of any written information about the great pyramids and surrounding structures. This is when hiring a local guide really is a good idea. Not only do they speak English, but they are cheap, very knowledgable and will take you places and tell you things you would never be able to find out about on your own. A guide for the afternoon cost us $8, well worth it I’d say.

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TIP: You will definitely want to bring your cameras as you run up to the great pyramid an pose for a couple pictures, however, if you are entering the great pyramid itself, cameras are strictly forbidden. We promised we wouldn’t take pictures inside the passage ways or tombs but still had to walk our cameras back to the car until we exited. You can of course leave your cameras with a friend, guide, etc if you feel comfortable, but with all of our gear we felt best to place it back in the car.

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I’ve never felt more like Indian Jones than I did as we all, hunched over, ascended the 100meter passageway into the direct center of the great pyramid and emerged in a seemingly basic room, with an empty tomb in the center. While we were both expecting a bit more fanfare, the pyramids were simply a burying place, and while the main chambers were filled with remnants, the pyramids themselves were not where many of the artifacts were recovered from. The few that were, however, now lay a short drive away in the Egyptian Museum. Once inside the main chamber, the Egyptian crypt keeper as it were, offered to take our pictures and even posed us as he snapped away using our iPhones, flash and all. So yea, irony all around about the strict photo policy, so sneak in your smart phone and make sure to tip the crypt keeper. We only visited the biggest of the pyramids, Khufu, which was the largest and first built. The other two pyramids are nearly identical and were built for his son and his grandson.

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Visiting the Great Pyramids

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NOTE: The passageways are small, tight, and hot so if you are the slightest bit claustrophobic consider what you are getting into. The trip into the tomb is not all that long but you will be in a dark passageway, possibly on your knees, crawling and ducking for fair portions, so be prepared for that. The inner room is about 20 feet by 10 feet and has tall ceilings, which feels spacious after the ascent. 

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Visiting the Great PyramidsOnce out of the pyramid, spend the money to hire a guide to take you around. You will learn all about the star ship, a 5,000 year old boat which used to be docked right next to the great pyramids, as the nile was right at the base of the pyramids for three months a year during their construction. You will also explore the tomb of the architect of the great pyramids, which for us, satisfied our excitement to see statues and hieroglyphics, which are not present in the actual pyramids. The architects tomb is shockingly detailed with precisely cut objects and symbols in the walls, some with the paint still visible. 

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The three pyramids were build over the course of 30 years by a force of over 25,000 workers, many of whom are buried in tombs in the complex. Remember, the complex closes at 4pm, so make sure to save time for the 10 minute walk to visit the Sphinx, which is stunning in its own right. Situated slightly below the great pyramids, the Sphinx was built out of a huge stone which was naturally located on the grounds. The pharaoh who had the first pyramid constructed saw the stone and didn’t want its massive size to distract from the pyramids so he ordered his workers to make it a beautiful monument as well. The sphinx bares the face of the pharaoh, the hair of the pharaoh’s wife to symbolize beauty and the body of a lion to represent strength.   

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Visiting the Great Pyramids

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NOTE: Watch out for hagglers who try to give you “gifts”, as, of course, nothing is really free. You will be wearing a full head scarf and a necklace before you realize it, and while told it is simply a gift to you, a “gift” back to them (money) will be expected. There are some nice souvenirs to be purchased if you wish, but just do so on your own time, at your own pace. 

From the complex of the Sphinx you can clearly see all three great pyramids and can sit, relax and be in complete awe at the scene that your eyes are witnessing. As some of the most recognizable, misunderstood, timeless and remarkable works of art on the planet, no visit to the great pyramids will leave you wanting more. The pyramids are such an iconic symbol of Cairo that many Egyptian high school and college graduations are held at the pyramid grounds.

We were very surprised to find such few tourists during our two days around the pyramid grounds. We maybe saw two other western couples, but generally the grounds were very empty with only Middle Eastern and Egyptian visitors. Egypt has taken a huge cut in their tourism numbers since the revolution three years ago and they are simply happy to see visitors and very accommodating to their every need.

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Whether you spend an afternoon or a few days exploring the complex and surrounding areas, and despite the seemingly lack of organization, the hectic hagglers, wild livestock and possible hordes of tourists, nothing will take away the utter stunning beauty of these buildings. 

Marina and I were simply at a lack of words for most of the time we spent at the great pyramids and have witnessed few other natural or man made structures with such affect.  So now you have the tools and all you need to know when visiting the great pyramids. 

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COMPLETE PRICE GUIDE:

Camel/Horse Ride: Approx. $25 US (2 hours)

Great Pyramids Complex Ticket: $11 US

Ticket to go inside all 3 Pyramids: $30 US

Guide for afternoon: $8 US

Bottles of Water: $0.50

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WHAT TO BRING:

Sunscreen & Hat

Camera

Egyptian Pounds

Water

Clothes to get dusty

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Visiting the Great Pyramids

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.H . jeffjohnsheadshotJeff Johns is the co-founder and editor of Latitude 34 Travel Blog. Through 65 countries on 6 continents he has accumulated a seemingly endless stream of odd information, interesting stories and helpful tips and tricks to better travel. Jeff’s goal is to visit all 204 countries on Earth before he is too senile to remember them all. A graduate of the Visual Journalism program at the Brooks Institute, his true passions lay in honest visual storytelling, documentary filmmaking, Thai food and a good laugh. Together with his girlfriend Marina, they run Latitude 34 Travel Blog as a source of helpful information for those who love to travel or those who simply dream of it. If you have a comment or suggestion, send them an email at hello@latitudethirtyfour.com and they’ll respond super fast!

Travel Meaningfully with GlobeDrop

Travel Meaningfully with GlobeDrop

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Travel is not only an amazing way to see the world but a powerful tool to not only educate yourself about the people and cultures we share this planet with, but to interact with them as well. With the surging emergence of websites like Air BnB and Couchsurfing, the traveling community is coming together faster than ever – so why not lend a helping hand at the same time?

Ever been traveling through the depths of Brazil and walked by a struggling elementary school and felt the urge to help in some way? How about traveling through a small village in Cambodia that clearly lacked basic supplies? Now, thanks for a great new organization called GlobeDrop, helping those around you on your travels is as easy as a few clicks, to find out just what you can do and exactly what is needed.

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Travel Meaningfully with GlobeDrop

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I really fell in love with traveling after volunteering around the world post natural disasters. One of our biggest problems on the ground after a tsunami in Thailand or a typhoon in Bangladesh was trying to manage the influx of supplies from large humanitarian organizations. Unfortunately we always dealt with the same issues – the supplies being donated were not always those most needed on the ground.

GlobeDrop offers a simply and easy to use website which allows either an organization or traveler to easily find out what is needed and where as well as to list all the specific items a certain school, organization, village or hospital might need.

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Travel Meaningfully with GlobeDrop

 

.I remember working in a school in the southern Philippines that was destroyed after a terrible typhoon years ago and feeling the urge to help buy supplies for the sweet children who still showed up every day even though their school was in pieces. I took the long bus into town and purchased all the office and school supplies I could carry without knowing what they all needed most. Now thanks for GlobeDrop, I can easily find a way to truly make an impact on the ground while traveling in the future – all over the world.

Check out their short video below to see exactly how their system works and how you can help. This is not a sponsored post, I am in no way affiliated with GlobalDrop and was not paid to write this article. Sometimes it just pays to help highlight a new organization in hopes of connecting well intentioned travelers around the world with the organizations who really need their help – and isn’t that why we are all doing this in the first place?

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Travelers – How to Use GlobeDrop from Charlie on Vimeo.

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