Tag Archives: Travel Hacks

Why I’m staying at a 7 star Hostal…and you should too!

I do what every other backpacker who stays at a hostel does: I go to either Booking.com, or Hostelworld.com (or TripAdvisor, etc) and filter on 8.5 stars and above, and then sort on  price.

The problem is that everyone does that, and suddenly you’re faced with a completely full dorm room, and companions the like of which you may neither approve nor deny.

The last 8.8 hostel I stayed at had all 4 beds full, one of which had a very loud snorer. The second was next to a busy street with honking taxis cruising by till 2 in the morning.

So, despite their many amenities: “free” breakfast, luggage storage, pool table, foosball, laundry service, etc, all I really want is a clean, quiet, secure place with nice front desk people – all at an affordable price.

Sites such as Tripadvisor, and Yelp attempt to fulfill the Dream of Social Media, (no more crappy products) – the truth of the matter is that once a person exits a reviewable locale, the burning of the bridges commences.

Just don’t go there! Everything is a mess!! (etcetera)…

Here’s the thing: you kind of have to read between the lines and figure out what you can and can’t live with. Also, after a place has had a few bad reviews, many attempt to salvage whatever stars they have by fixing their place up. The gift in that is you may, like myself, have a 4 bed dorm room all to yourself.

This place is quieter than my last hostel, and except for 2 nights where I had to share the room, I’ve had the place entirely to myself. It’s like having a private room without paying the private room price (about 3 times as much as a dorm).

At the moment, I’m paying less than $7 USD/night (gotta love Peru!), and while I could afford the private room – like the proverb says: why buy the cow when I get the milk for free? So what that there’s no lock on the bathroom door – I’m the only one here! And so what there’s a drip from the shower – I just close the bathroom door, and I don’t notice it.

Because of the price I felt able to stay longer in Arequipa. I find myself exploring, and spending more at new restaurants because of the money I’m saving by staying at a cheap hostel. And hey, I only go to my hostel to sleep – only occasionally to socialize.

But what I like is a bit of quiet. Access to a kitchen to boil water for my tea. A comfortable bed – and an empty room is icing on the cake.

I did a bit of hostel-visitations, just to see what I was possibly missing out on for that extra star or two. What I found were nicely appointed rooms, cool common areas with ping pong table, shuffle board, etc – and invariably full dorm rooms. Everyone comes for the 8.8 starred cheap hostels, and I mean everyone. So, if that’s what you are looking for – be prepared.

Oftentimes a highly rated place is full, when down the street there may be a 7 star up-and-comer – that is clean, quiet, nice staff, with no pool table, nor foosball – and completely empty!

Read between the lines

Now, you do have to read the reviews carefully. One key is to see if bad reviews were in the past, and newer reviews are more positive. Look at what the people complaining are complaining about – if it has to do with either bedbugs or loud honking in the wee hours of the night – maybe you should look elsewhere. But maybe it’s because the place doesn’t have a kitchen, or church bells rang on Sunday, or no laundry service – or whatever. Consider whether those are things you actually need. If not – why not check it out and see what it’s like.

Tips and Tricks

What I like to do is only book a room for my first 2 nights in a city. In those first couple of days, I go visit a few other hostals that look interesting on Booking.com, or one of the other review sites, but I don’t limit it to just the 8.5 starred and above – I throw in a couple 7 star hostels as well. Some I find to deserve their lower stars, but once in awhile I’ll find a gem in the rough that fits my criteria with the added bonus of not breaking the bank. I’ll book it for a couple night just to see if the reality meets my expectations – and if it does then I will likely complete my stay there. The bonus is that for longer stays, you get to know the staff, and you tend to get treated a bit better – free luggage storage, cheaper laundry service – or something.

Anyway, give it a try and let me know in the comments if this worked for you.

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How I use Maps.me and Kindle Travel Guide books together

Maps.me could have made my life easier when I found myself lost in a bad part of Santiago. Ahh well, that experience is far behind me now, like 2 months ago, if you can believe it (I hardly can). And, I have also been using maps.me to help me get around parts unknown for awhile now.

Maps.me, if you don’t already know, is a mapping app, much like Google maps, but unlike Google Maps, it has a great offline feature. Using some unexplainable magic, the app pings nearby cell towers to establish your position and provide you with maps of the area. You do have to download an area map prior to use, which requires a wifi connection, so if you are planning a future trip, then I suggest searching for the new location, such as a city, where you will be prompted to download an area map if you do not already have it.










Once downloaded, I use Maps.me in conjunction with one of my online Travel Guides to make the map more interactive.










What I do is find a site I am interested in, a museum, or restaurant, or other local attraction, and once I find that location I bookmark that location by placing a colored star on it.










I then click “Edit this bookmark” and copy relevant details from the travel book for that location. This way I don’t have to flip back and forth from the travel guide to the location, the starred location already has the detail in one place.










On those long bus rides from city to city this is what I do to prepare and preplan what I want to visit once I arrive.

Typically, the first thing I do will be to locate the bus terminal, and the hostel I will need to travel to. This helps me figure out if I can either walk there, or if it is better to take a taxi.


From there, I add museums, restaurants and other local sites.

I use Kindle versions of travel guides such as Lonely Planet, and copy and paste their descriptions onto the starred locations.










Now, what I basically have is a localized map with detailed descriptions. It’s really helpful to have in this format, and I wish there was a service that already does this. Lonely Planet, if you are listening, can you team up with Maps.me – okaygreatthxbye!

Overall Route planning

I also pre-plan my big destinations by starring the major cities I plan on traveling to by bus. If I do not have a map for that portion of the globe I get a prompt to download the location from Maps.me.










But once I land, the once empty map starts to take on colored stars as I add places I either want to visit, or have visited:










Giving certain colors to certain landmarks makes finding them so much easier. You can use Red for major landmarks, for example, green for restaurants, blue for museums – whatever makes sense to you. All of sudden, your map is customized to your travels. You can not only add travel guiedbook information – you can travel notes, memories of the place, what you’ve experienced – whatever comes to mind. All of a sudden the map becomes not just a tool for orientating – it becomes a way to memorialize your travels.

Buen viajes!

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How to Travel Internationally for Free!


I often get asked how much money I have saved for traveling around the world. Besides being a very personal question, I can understand the curiosity factor. A better question is: How much is it going to cost to travel the world, and my answer is: zero. It doesn’t take any money at all to travel internationally. That includes airline tickets, hotels  and food.

A common response: I call bullshit.

No really, if you want to travel internationally for free, you can. But you have to pay the price.

Wait a second, I thought you said “free?” I did, but the “price” you pay is to (maybe) be a little inconvenienced. And I say “maybe” because what you get (World Travel) compared to the “price (Tad inconvenienced) is so lopsided, that the inconvenience is barely one at all.

Here’s how I do it: The first stop on my travels is Chile. By using an online service that searches for the cheapest flights, instead of paying the $1,200-$1,300 cost of a one-way ticket to Chile through Expedia, I am only spending a little over $500 by using Skyscanner.

Now, to offset the cost of air travel, I could use a service like Grabr, basically buying goods for people at your destination. You get paid a fee for bringing items over for people in the countries you are visiting, where it may be difficult to get in their own countries. I’ve heard of one person, by filling up his checked luggage with Grabr goods (Inconvenience) he earned $500 (Benefit=Free travel!). And I haven’t even touched the 100,000 points I received for getting the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card!

Free airline travel, check!

Well, how about room and board? Personally, I found a voluntourism opportunity, where in exchange for 20 hours of my time and expertise (Inconvenience) I receive free room and board (Benefit=Free room and board, duh).

I got my volunteer opportunity through Workaway.info. I basically just paid a small fee, filled out an online volunteer profile with my information, the countries I was interested in visiting, and what skills I could provide in exchange. I was actually contacted by someone named Ricardo with the subject line: “Chile needs your skills!” Two months later, May 1st, I will be helping him with the User Interface (UI) of his online accounting software project for farmers in the area.

Free Room and Board: Check!

The amount of time I’ll spend there is open ended. Basically up to me, or until the project is finished. If I like Chile, who knows, maybe I’ll stay. Hosts get reviewed on workaway as well, and Ricardo has a perfect 5 star review with 83 reviewers.

Seems legit.

There, that’s how you travel for free!

And the price: bringing gifts to foreigners and get paid for it, and volunteer on interesting projects with the opportunity of meeting locals who can also help your transition to a new country is the price you pay. But really, is it a “price” at all? Personally, I choose this way of travel. After a lifetime of working, like Liam Neeson says in the movie Taken, “I have a particular set of skills…” 😉

But, even if you think you don’t have any worthwhile skills, you can always help clean, or check guests in, or something – all the while receiving free room and board and a built in support system.

Is that even a “price?” Or is the “cost” really a free benefit for helping a brother out? I believe it’s the latter.



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