If there’s something I always invest on when I travel, that’s a good travel insurance policy. In fact, I travel so much nowadays that I eventually decided to get a 365 days policy, so that I don’t have to worry every time I step out of town – not to mention, the savings are considerable. It comes down to little over $1.50 per day, and I believe that it is a good investment.
That’s why I cringe every time I hear someone saying he travels without travel insurance. It’s especially a backpackers’ habit, and there are various reasons backpackers refuse to buy travel insurance. The most typical one is that it is too costly and they are trying to travel on an extreme budget (I guess I am an unsuccessful backpacker, then!).
Yet, most people decide not to purchase travel insurance because the odds of something happening that requires that kind of assistance are extremely low.
But are they, really?
I could go mention a million nightmare stories I have heard from other travelers that would convince anybody to get travel insurance. Instead, let me tell you a few reasons why I always get travel insurance. But first, let’s get the basics covered and let me clarify what travel insurance is.
Here’s why travel insurance is really necessary
What Is Travel Insurance And What Should It Include?
The term travel insurance can actually be confusing, as it may refer to a number of different things. There are many travel insurance companies around, and picking one isn’t always easy. Some are quite reliable.
Whichever company one may opt for, travel insurance policies should always be read and understood before being purchased, and a good way to go about it is via a travel agent, who typically sells that many that he can clarify almost all questions.
A good travel insurance typically includes health insurance, which means coverage for accidents and hospital or doctors’ visits while traveling. This means being able to go to the doctor if that food poisoning isn’t going away on its own.
Travel insurance should also include medical evacuation insurance, which means that if something happens during the trip and there’s no hospital nearby, the insurance will organize transportation to a major hospital.
Trip cancellation means that the travel insurance also covers for unexpected interruptions and changes to travel plans – ie when a natural disaster causes flights to be cancelled; or when a variety of reasons means we can’t go on that trip anymore.
Finally, a good travel insurance also has a baggage and property insurance which covers for thefts, loss or damage to luggage and gear while traveling. The most typical example of this is an airline not delivering luggage, or a phone being stolen while on the metro.
Now that we are clear on what travel insurance is and what it should cover, let me clarify the reasons I always get travel insurance.
Travel insurance may protect against natural disasters
Ten Reasons I Always Get Travel Insurance
Luggage actually gets lost…
… and although airlines say that they will deliver lost bags the next day, it takes more than that to get them back. That may be one of the most annoying things that can happen when going on holidays, but a good travel insurance provides coverage to replace the lost items.
I know the odds that an airline loses luggage aren’s so high, but trust me: it happens. Indeed, I don’t even know how many times Alitalia lost my bags or those of my family and friends. We almost take it for granted that our luggage will be misplaced – and the only thing we can do to protect ourselves is getting travel insurance.
Many of you may be wondering why I keep flying with the same company since I know that they regularly lose my stuff, and why I don’t pick another carrier. Guess what: that’s easier said than done. I live in Sardinia and my options are limited. If I want to go to get out of Europe, I usually have to fly via Rome Fiumicino and Alitalia is the only airline that takes me there.
The good news is that while there’s not many airlines that fly out of Cagliari, there’s excellent travel insurance policies I can pick from.
Adventurous travelers should always get travel insurance
Stuff gets stolen
But a good travel insurance will protect against that. As a travel blogger, I almost always carry my precious MacBook everywhere. While not all travelers take their laptops everywhere, most carry at least a smartphone, and many go around with expensive cameras or a tablet. Besides, we all have ATM and credit cards in our wallets.
While I always recommend my readers to keep valuables locked in the room while out exploring, I know that theft can happen and that’s why travel insurance is necessary. For example, sitting down at a café, most of us take the smartphone out of the pocket and place it on the table: someone may walk by and steal it, and it would be gone in a matter of seconds.
And what about the time I was working as a tour leader and took my group to Chichicastenango Market, in Guatemala? I remember warning everyone not to take any valuables inside the market, but sure enough someone did and within a few minutes someone told me that his wallet was taken right out of his pocket. Thankfully he had a good travel insurance that assisted him to replace his documents and stolen credit cards.
Travel insurance is recommended when traveling to Thailand
Sometimes I forget my prescription medications…
… and I will need a refill. I have asthma. It is nothing major: I keep it well under control swimming, but I am on regular medications too. I should be used to packing my prescriptions, then.
The sad truth, however, is that whenever I pack my bags for a trip (which generally happens a couple of hours before my flight) I forget something – it can be a pajama when I am meant to sleep in a dorm; and even my asthma prescriptions. That’s when my travel insurance comes in handy, as it will help me locate the nearest pharmacy and get a prescription.
I often lose things
Never mind losing a book, a head lamp, or a pair of socks while I am doing laundry. That happens and while it can be annoying (I want to know how a book ends!), it hardly disrupts any travel plans and no travel insurance company will ever cover it.
But losing a passport? That’s a wholly different thing.
And it can happen even to the most experienced travelers. For example, I forgot mine in a shop in Nicaragua moments before getting on a bus to Costa Rica. Luckily, I could trace it back and managed to retrieve it, but it would have been a nightmare had I not been able to do that.
A good travel insurance can also include passport loss coverage and that means helping in the process of getting a new one.
Clumsy travelers need travel insurance
Volcano erupts… (and flights get cancelled)
… and airlines duck out when it happens. Airlines don’t refund tickets when flights are cancelled due to things such as natural disasters, strikes or terrorism attacks, and I only know too well. Thankfully a good travel insurance helps sort things out.
During my first trip to Argentina, back in 2012, first a strike caused the cancellation of one of my flights: I was meant to go from Buenos Aires to Trelew, but the flight landed in Bahia Blanca, about half way, when the pilot came out to announce that due to a strike he couldn’t go forward and passengers would have the option of either returning to Buenos Aires or land there, and make their own way to the final destination. My travel insurance covered the costs of the shuttle that took me to Trelew.
On the same trip (what are the odds of more than one flight being cancelled on the same trip?), a volcano erupted in Chile causing flights cancellation. That meant I had to change my itinerary, and give up on some places (and flights) altogether – because I simply could not make it to the destination in time. My travel insurance refunded me for that too.
If a flight gets cancelled or delayed, it is actually possible to claim compensation for flight delay or cancellation. Various companies help travelers get their money back in case of a cancellation, and even in case of a delay, and it’s much much easier to go through them than dealing directly with the airline, having to spend hours on the phone or emailing back and forth to just obtain what is – quite simply – within your rights as a traveler.
With the risk of food poisoning, it’s better to get travel insurance when going to Mexico
I am clumsy
This means that at times I injure myself. I trip, fall, bang my head – stuff like that. A good travel insurance helps me locate the nearest hospital or doctor, so that I can get medicated.
Sure enough, this is what happened when I traveled to Jordan in March 2017. I was on a 5 days hike from Dana, a lovely historical village, to Petra, the famous archaeological site. But on day 3 of the hike, following my guide, I walked through some bushes and a hard, wooden branch got right into my leg, causing a deep, painful wound.
I was in the middle of nowhere and had no choice but to continue walking, but the first thing I did as soon as I was able to get phone reception was call my travel insurance, which immediately sorted out a doctor’s appointment at the nearest hospital and paid for all the expenses, including the antibiotics I had to take to prevent any infection.
Long term travel means I may get sick on the road
And sometimes seeing a doctor is actually necessary. A good travel insurance will sort out doctors’ appointments, pay for any test the doctor may want to run and also cover the prescriptions.
I mostly travel to developing countries. Travel insurance is a must when going to these places, because not all hospitals are good, and the hygienic conditions are not always ideal. I use all precautions: I try to only eat street food that’s cooked in front of me, for example. But at times this just isn’t enough.
I remember one time in Mexico when I was actually thankful the toilet was right next to the bathtub – you can figure out why. I was so sick, I could not even hold down water, and had to call my travel insurance who managed to find a doctor that could come visit me in my room.
Another time, in Peru, I had a bad sore throat – in fact, it had been lasting for over a month. I eventually decided to seek the advice of my travel insurance, who recommended I get all sorts of tests to see if I had some sort of bacteria and sent me to the international clinic, where the doctors ran all sorts of tests and determined I had a staph infection, for which I needed strong antibiotics.
Some tour companies require travel insurance
I generally prefer traveling independently (and solo), but I occasionally go on a guided tour, sometimes even for a week or so. Most tour operators, and especially adventure ones that take travelers on hikes and other fun activities, actually require people joining their tours to purchase travel insurance, which normally has to include trip cancellation and medical coverage.
And some countries too
But there’s more! Some countries actually deny entry to travelers who don’t show proof of having a travel insurance. One of them is Cuba, and other countries are thinking of implementing this policy too.
Why I Always Recommend Buying Travel Insurance
I can hardly stress the importance of buying travel insurance. It’s helped me, my family and friends a bunch of time. The thing is, life is really unpredictable and for as optimistic as we want to be, we really can’t predict the future.
I always hope that I don’t need to use my travel insurance, but in case I do, I am glad I have it. It is a safeguard against the unexpected, and as a responsible adult I know it is worth having it.
I admit it – I have yet to make the transition into the digital era when it comes to travel. I still carry around a heavy guidebook (I guess it goes back to me being an unsuccessful backpacker), more because I like reading the background information about the country I am visiting than for the actual need for finding hotels through that. Besides I like paper books, I like the whole flipping through pages thing, and I still refuse the idea of reading a book on a screen.
Yet, I have to admit that as of late I have had to rely on some travel apps, and on a few occasions they have literally saved my neck (ok, perhaps I am exaggerating a bit, but you get the idea). This is to say that although I am not an app freak, there’s a few that I like using and find very useful.
So, here’s my ultimate travel apps list – in no particular order:
I say, keep it basic. I know most people will laugh at me for even just considering this a travel app, but I love maps because it gives detailed information on how to get from one place to another either by car, public transport or walking. It’s easy to follow, it screams at me if I am going in the wrong direction, and if I save the map I can use it offline too.
I sure was glad to have it when I arrived in Varanasi and the taxi dropped me outside the Old City. I don’t think I would have ever managed to navigate the intricate tiny alleys to get to my guest house without.
Google Maps saved me from getting lost in Varanasi
Trip.com is what happens when the community gives back and when a fantastic team of people is dedicated to help travelers to have a better experience. It’s a series of reviews, organized in short yet juicy guides, where to find the best in terms of attractions, hotels and restaurants. The guides are organized by tribes (there are a whopping 19 tribes), so that budget travelers, family travelers, backpackers, luxury travelers etc can all find what they are looking for. Trip.com can also be used to make reservations.
In search of the best food in Israel with Bite Mojo
This is one app that I hope will get exported to many cities. I have had the opportunity to use it in Jerusalem. Bite Mojo allows people to organize their own self guided food tours – they can select the places they want to visit from the list, they can even select what they want to eat in each place, and they can set their own pace. If food is part of the culture of a country, Bite Mojo certainly helps a lot in getting to know a destination.
Go Euro is the go-to Rail Planner app when traveling around Europe, as it allows to find the cheapest, fastest and best travel options either by bus, train or plane across the continent. What I like about it is that it allows me to compare the companies for any route I may be searching for, and then it gives me the best price. And there is a great customer service that is always ready to help if any issue arises. The app is both available on Google Play and on the App Store.
I read reviews before I book a hotel
This is the one app that I always recommend using with a grain of salt. Anybody can writes reviews on Trip Advisor so it can happen that some particularly bad ones are written to hit a business, or that some incredibly good ones are written by the owners or their relatives. Yet, as with everything, truth lays in the middle and Trip Advisor, with its millions of reviews and listings, which are always up to day, is a great place to find useful information about restaurants, hotels, attractions, and even to ask question to the community of travelers. It’s my go to for a last minute check on where to eat.
As a traveler, I spend a good share of time in airports in between flights. Some provide free wifi for an unlimited amount of time; but most put a time limit to wifi access, or demand fees that go from slightly expensive to ridiculous. That’s why I love WiFox, a super cool app created by the incredibly smart blogger Anil Polat. This is a regularly updated map of wireless passwords from airports and lounges from around the world, that Anil managed to put together thanks to the information provided by travelers and airport staff (pilots and so on).
Not exactly a travel app, but why should I not consider it such? Created with specific intentions in mind, Tinder developed to be an interesting platform. As it follows the movements of its members, that means that Tinder will know if I am in my hometown or in Tel Aviv, and this way it has the potential of putting me in touch with locals, wherever that may be. And there’s no better way than getting to know a place through the eyes of a local. Sure, a local may not necessarily be the best tour guide but he will surely know where to go to have a drink, and that is a great part of traveling!
Do you have a favorite app that you use while you travel? Let me know in the comments below!
Clouds on the horizon: the prelude to a stormy day?
“Stop wasting my time! Open the bus and let me check,” I yelled to the bus driver. I was so exasperated that I eventually raised my voice. People around us stopped and held their breath. I guess I scared them.
I am a hot tempered Italian. Worse than that. I am Sardinian, which also implies that I am stubborn and chances are I (almost) always want to have the last word.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t endorse arguing as a daily practice. And surely, I don’t burst at just about every little thing. In fact, I try to avoid direct confrontation as much as I can, and to be as understanding and polite as possible.
So, if people scream in my face, I generally make it a point to keep my cool and stay calm. I do this for two reasons. First of all, I don’t think that just because someone is screaming, it means they are right or they should get their way. And second, the sadistic part of me enjoys the dirty pleasure of seeing others getting increasingly frustrated as I keep my cool (I know it is passive aggressive but I take it as a sociological exercise).
My general policy is to be respectful and demand respect. I can’t stand discrimination of any kind and the minute I sense I am being treated disrespectfully either because I am a woman, or because I am a foreigner, I try to put people back in their place. And on some rare occasions, I do argue quite fiercely: frustration builds up to the point I eventually explode.
The following are just a few tips, based on the lessons I have learned from some of the most epic arguments I have had while traveling, and how I reacted each time. Feel free to draw from my experiences!
Do what you can to cool off before fighting
Try to keep your cool
“There’s a cockroach in my bed!” I ran to tell the owner of the hostel were I had just checked in, in Playa Las Lajas, Panama.
I had arrived in Playa Las Lajas after about 8 hours of traveling from Bocas del Toro. It was a fairly isolated place, with not much in terms of facilities for tourists. All the better for me, as after the crowded and dirty Bocas del Toro, I needed somewhere quiet.
I had not bothered making reservations for a hostel. I had just read online that there was one, and I showed up at the door. It was around 7:00 pm, and the owner let me in saying that I was lucky: she would lock the gate at 8:00 pm and after that, no new guests would be allowed in. Just in time, I thought!
Before showing me to my dorm, I was lectured on the hostel rules.
“This is an ecological place” they said, sipping a glass of wine. “Please turn the lights off when you leave the room, and make sure to take very short showers so as not to waste water,” they added.
The yard was dark. Really dark. I couldn’t see a thing dark. I switched the light on in the dorm, and picked my bed. I made my bed and carefully placed the mosquito net around it. I then walked to the toilet, and went to wash my hands before going to dinner. That’s when I spotted a huge crab right by the sink. Except, it was not a king crab but the biggest spider I have ever seen.
One hour later, when I walked back and got to the dorm, I spotted something moving on my mosquito net. A closer look and I realized it was a cockroach. And it wasn’t outside. It was inside! There was no way I could sleep there. I appreciate the need to respect the environment. But I can’t take dirty and I won’t accept cockroaches as roommates.
“Sorry to bother you, but there’s a cockroach in my bed,” I warned the owner who was still sipping wine.
“There’s no cockroaches here,” she said, not making a move.
Except there were, not just in my bed but around the entire property. And, despite years of backpacking experience in tropical climates, I still haven’t managed to overcome my sever cockroaches fobia. They. Just. Disgust. Me.
I don’t like sharing my bed with cockroaches – photo courtesy of jo.sau (flickr)
“Well, perhaps if you came to my dorm you could see…” I started.
“I told you, there are no cockroaches here!” she insisted.
There was no point in arguing back, I realized. So I went back to the dorm, grabbed my backpack and walked back to reception.
“Look, I didn’t even use the sheets or the towels. If you give me my money back, I am out of here,” I suggested.
She stood up, slowly walked to the office, and handed me the money back. Then she started insulting me in Italian. She had known all along I am Italian, and it turned out she was too (we had only spoken English and Spanish until then, and I picked an accent but was unsure).
“Careful, wherever you may go it may be worse than here” she started.
“As long as there’s no cockroaches,” I said.
“This is not a place for snotty Italians” she started.
I didn’t answer to that. I just made my way to the door. As I walked out, I could hear her screaming all sorts of swearings in my direction. My total lack of reaction must have aggravated her alright!
Always stay calm and show respect
Respectfully put people back in their place
“Pasen y vean,” (come in and take a look) is the typical welcoming sentence that souvenir shop owners in Central and South America use to invite tourists in. Usually, saying “no thanks” and moving on is sufficient to discourage an eager vendor. However, at times the vendors become “too welcoming.” So welcoming indeed that they feel intrusive, if not outright rude and aggressive.
“No, thank you!” I automatically yet politely replied to the shop owner inviting me in, in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. As I turned to talk to my sister, he heard we were Italian and decided it was a good idea to insult us.
“You stupid Italian w@@@@s,” he screamed as we walked away.
I really dislike racial and sexual harassment, so I stopped, turned around and right there, in front of his friends and co-workers, I calmly said to him: “We may be stupid Italians, but at least at the end of the day we have food on our tables. With that attitude of yours, we’re not sure you’re going to be eating tomorrow.” Not a word more, and I left. He was so surprised by my reaction that he didn’t reply. I wonder if he’s figured out that rudeness is not a good marketing technique.
Walk away from situations you can’t endure
Know how much you can endure – and walk away when you’ve had it
“I am leaving tomorrow,” I finally told the owner, after having only worked at her farm for 3 days.
“You are going to have to pay for tonight’s accommodation, then,” she said. I guess she didn’t take it well.
Soon after arriving in Tucurrique, Costa Rica, I realized that I wouldn’t be able to survive at the farm for nearly as long as I had planned.
I had been “employed” as a volunteer at the farm to tend to rescued animals – dogs, cats, a horse and two pigs. That seemed a noble enough cause to dedicate my time and efforts and to volunteer for.
However, soon after arriving at the farm I found out that tending to the animals would only be a minimal part of my duties, which included endless cleaning shifts for what was meant to become a profitable business. All of this, in a place that was severely infested with cockroaches (thankfully none in my room) which I wasn’t allowed to kill – due to the owner’s belief – and where I was pretty much starved due to the owner’s dietary fixations (which she wanted to impose on me).
Feeding the pigs? No problem!
Every night, I pondered on what to do. I loved the animals, but the fact that I was literally starving didn’t help and after yet another horrible night, I eventually announced that I would be leaving.
When I was told that I would have to pay for that night’s accommodation, I replied before I actually had time to consider the various options.
“Fine, I am leaving today then,” I said. I went back to my room to pack my stuff and go. The fact that it was the 1st of January and public transport may not be running as normal, if at all, didn’t worry me. I may hitch a ride if necessary.
Not long afterwards, she was banging on my door, screaming that she’d call the police.
“What for?” I asked. “Exactly what crime have I committed?” I didn’t barge. I closed the door behind me, finished packing, and left.
The minute I was out the door, a car drove by and I hitched a ride to the village. As I was waiting at the bus stop, I spotted the owner of the farm. She had been driving around, looking for me. She was begging me to go back. There was no way on earth I would.
Customer service – a lo cubano!
Accept that customer service is not a given in some countries
“I am going to call the police,” said the short, bulky travel agent in Spanish.
I was in Trinidad, Cuba. After 10 days of fiercely haggling my way around with taxi drivers, working hard on avoiding scams, dealing with dodgy guides who’d take me where they wanted rather than where I wanted, I’d had it.
“Let’s book a tour with a travel agency,” I begged my sister, who was traveling with me. So we went to one of the State owned agencies, and browsed around for a tour that would suit us. After asking the agent about a million questions, we decided to visit Cayo Blanco. We’d travel on a catamaran that would take us to the coral reef, were we’d be given gear to snorkel, then head to Cayo Blanco to have lunch and relax before heading back to town.
It was an all inclusive tour, so we’d have drinks included (“Even mojitos?” I asked, hopeful. “Yes, even mojitos!” the agent confirmed), lunch included (“Beware I am severely alergic to bell peppers!” I told the agent), transport included. And, most importantly, not a single worry about being scammed, about any service, product, souvenir, guide, or whatever else forced on us. That sounded like a good deal to me.
Customer service?! What is that?
Too bad we didn’t get to do any of the things the brochure and the agent promised. We never saw the coral reef and never stopped to snorkel. Lunch was a sad business where I had to beg for some food as everything had bell peppers; and there surely were no mojitos included – though the rest of the people on the tour were not bothered and got drunk on cuba libres.
The minuted we got back to Trinidad, the westerner in me could not resist: I went to complain about the tour and to demand at least some form of compensation. A conversation started, in Spanish as the agent didn’t speak a word of English. Try to explain the concepts of “customer service,” “customer satisfaction” and “compensation” to an agent who works in a State run agency in Cuba, and it’s easy to understand why I call it mission impossible. They have zero incentives to give a better service, so they make close to zero effort.
“You said we’d stop at the coral reef, but we never did,” I explained.
“Yes, you did,” said the agent.
Luckily, some other people who were on the same tour walked in and confirmed my version of facts, because it was pretty clear that the agent had no intention to listen to me.
“Since we didn’t get to do anything that was promised to us, we’d like compensation – we want at least a partial refund,” I suggested.
Bewildered looks followed. “A what?”
“I want my money back,” I stated more clearly. “You sold me a tour that said I would go to the coral reef, and I never did. So I want my money back, or at least some of it.”
That’s when he started getting seriously mad at me, suggesting I had called him a liar and I had offended him. I suppose the fact that I was a foreign woman didn’t really help: in a country where I was generally seen as a sexual object or, in the best case scenario, as a tourist to be ripped off, being a stubborn foreign woman demanding respect wasn’t exactly expected nor welcome.
“I am calling the police!” he announced.
“That is fine, let’s wait here to see what they say,” I gingerly said.
Saying “I am calling the police” in Cuba is a good way to get rid of someone. People generally don’t like having to deal with the police. I suppose I was meant to be afraid too. But I wasn’t in the least.
In the end, I was offered to go on another tour to the barrier reef the following day as compensation. But I had to pass on that offer as I was leaving to go to Cienfuegos. Needless to say, I never got my money back and it turned out that I just wasted my time arguing. Do I regret wasting that? Not one bit. If anything, at least I gave him a piece of my mind, I showed him that I could not be easily fooled and quite importantly so for me, I proved myself that my Spanish is good enough to get into some heated conversation and even have an argument if needed.
When a pretty smile doesn’t work, be prepared to have a row
Lose it when you need to
“I am sorry, sir, I think one of our day packs may have been left on the other bus,” I told the guide as soon as we realized that one of our day packs was missing.
I had been traveling through Argentina for a few weeks and for some reason I decided that joining a guided tour of Torres del Paine, in Chile, was a good idea. That was simply poor thinking: I read the words “Torres del Paine” and was hooked. I hadn’t realized how vast Torres del Paine National Park is and how much there is to see there. I had not consired that the best way to see such a fantastic natural attraction would be by hiking one of its many trails and not hopping on and off a bus where at most I’d be allowed 1 hour to walk around by ourselves. I guess this goes to show once more that I am an unsuccessful backpacker.
At 4:00 am sharp I boarded a bus that would take me to the border. The guide seemed nice enough. The driver, on the other hand, was snappy.
“Hurry up!” the driver yelled at me after a stop to use the toilets.
“I am sorry, but there was such a line for the toilet!” I offered as an apology. There had been such a long line that of course the 10 minutes we were allowed off the bus turned into almost 30. I would have imagined that, since he was right there with the rest of the group and saw that most of us were in line, he’d notice. Apparently not.
I took my seat again, not bothered by his rudeness.
Be prepared to raise your voice when needed
As we reached the border, immigration procedures were longer than expected. Apparently, despite having been told several times not to, someone on the bus was carrying fruits across the border, and the Chilean authorities were fining him. The overall process took a long time, so the guide told the group to wait at the coffee shop (it was so windy that waiting outside and walking around was not an option) while the driver and he would transfer our bags on the bus that was waiting for us right across the border.
When we eventually were called to get on the (new) bus, we noticed that one of our day packs was missing.
“One of our bags is missing,” I warned the guide. He immediately stopped the driver, so that we could get on the other bus, which was still parked outside, and check if it was there.
He explained the situation to the driver as politely as I could. He didn’t flinch. All he said was “We took all the bags on the other bus.” That was it. He didn’t offer to check.
“Well, I looked everywhere, and the bag just isn’t there. Do you mind if we get on the other bus and check? Could you just open it for me please? It will only take one minute,” I promised.
“No. All the bags were taken to the other bus. You already made us wait forever when we stopped for the toilets, now I can’t wait for you any longer.” That was it. He had been picking on me all day for no reason. We had been stuck at the border due to someone else’s, and there I was, trying to explain that if he’d just let me on the bus, we could quickly check, and move on.
I raised my voice: “You’ve been picking on me all day and it is time you stop. Just let me on the bus now!”
I guess he wasn’t expecting such a potent voice to come out of such a small girl. Taken aback, he finally let me on the bus, where I triumphantly found my bag which he had omitted to carry to the other bus.
Was raising my voice worth it? Totally. This guy had no intention to listen to me. He was on his own agenda which did not include being polite to tourists. That put him in his place and we could finally move on, and (not) enjoy the rest of our day.
I love traveling, and I love writing about travel. I love exploring new countries, learning about their culture, way of life, and even their food. One of the things I enjoy the most while I travel is trying the local drinks. It could be mezcal in Oaxaca, Mexico; rum in Trinidad, Cuba, pisco in Paracas, Peru; a good ale in a fantastic pub in London, England or a glass of Malbec wine in Mendoza, Argentina. I find that trying the national drink is a good way to get into the local atmosphere, to appreciate the local culture and to complement local food.
Don’t get me wrong, though! I am not the kind of person that could be called an alcoholic. Quite the opposite indeed. I don’t drink much and most people would say I am a light weight. But I am Italian, which means that wine appreciation is pretty much written in my genes. Even more so in my case, as my mom comes from a small village in Sardinia which is quite famous for its vineyards and its delicious wines, and where most families actually make their own wine (my grandfather used to do that too).
Nature and countryside is what I seek the most when I travel – photo courtesy of Tulio Soria (flickr)
I also love nature. As I get older, I appreciate spending more and more time outside. The hours I once spent bar hopping and recovering from a night out, are now those I use to get out and bike or hike my way through mountain and countryside trails. I value breathing clean air. I enjoy the silence. I appreciate the crispy wind biting my skin and I feel rejuvenated as I puff and pant while I hike up a trail – till the moment I reach the top and get to stare at the view below, completely mesmerized.
The gorgeous vineyards around Mendoza
My appreciation for wine and nature drew me to Mendoza last March. I had been to Argentina before, and found it to be one of the most incredible countries in the world. But back then, I had no time to visit the most famous wine producing region of South America. So, when I decided to travel to South America again, I made it a point to stop in Mendoza for a few days. Little did I know that I would end up falling in love with this city, to the point that I am planning a second visit for 2016 to stay even longer and explore the region further.
I can’t help falling in love with these views – photo courtesy of danicho (flickr)
I arrived in Mendoza from Santiago de Chile. It was a long ride, and before boarding the bus I had fully braced myself for it, preparing for interminable hours of snoozing, reading, listening to music and being plainly bored. None of that happened: at every turn, the views that opened in front of me were simply fantastic. The region is home to the Cerro Aconcagua, the tallest mountain of the Western and Southern hemisphere – well deserving the title of Roof of the Americas.
On the way to Mendoza, from Chile – photo courtesy of mewd (flickr)
As the bus crossed the mountain range, knowing that I wouldn’t have time to for a proper hike in Aconcagua National Park, I glued my face on the window and made the most of it. I gazed at the pretty mountain villages, envying the groups of people pic-nicking and enjoying the beautiful day. I admired the countryside, rows after rows of vines which would soon be turned into one of the delicious regional wines.
Mendoza welcomed me the minute I arrived. I knew I was in for a good time (despite a short one) when I spotted the wines on sale at the lobby of my hostel (apparently, all good hostels sell bottles of wine in Mendoza: isn’t that a treat?). Furthermore, as he walked me to my room, the receptionist asked whether I would care to join the rest of the guests for the asado that night. Memories of my previous time in Argentina kicked in immediately: all hostels organize asado nights there, and for a more than reasonable price. I had been waiting for the moment when I could taste that mouthwatering meat seasoned and grilled to perfection and accompanied by chimichurri, a tasty marinade made of parsley, garlic, oregano, a hint of chili and olive oil again since the time I had left the country a couple of years before. Staring at the bottles of wine for sale, I said yes – I would be glad to join. And I purchased a bottle of Malbec for good measure.
As it turned out, I was one of the few foreigners at the hostel. Most of the other travelers were other Argentinos who had gone to Mendoza to explore the wine region and the surrounding areas, just like I had.
In the few days I spent in Mendoza, I found the city to be truly charming: wide boulevards, lovely coffee shops, delicious restaurants and a relaxed atmosphere make Mendoza one of the must see cities of Argentina. Although the area where Mendoza sits is pretty much a desert, each square in the city is decorated with beautiful fountains. Mendoza is lively during the day but gives its best at night, when the friendly Mendocinos crowd the restaurants, bars and cafés of Avenida Arístides.
Chilled yet lively: this is Mendoza – photo courtesy of Photostat (flickr)
Yet, what I loved the most about the city is the fact that it was really easy for me to get out of it to get to the amazing countryside nearby. That is how I managed to put two of my favorite activities together, in the very same day. I went on a biking tour around the vineyards.
One of the stops along the wine bike tour around Mendoza
A short bus ride from the centre of Mendoza took me to Maipu, where I rented a bike and, map at hand, I set to explore the beautiful countryside and hopped from one bodega (vineyard) to the other. It was pure bliss. At each vineyard an eager employee guided me and other visitors around, to explain us the history of the bodega and of the family behind it: some of the vineyards are as old as 170 years and the founders had arrived all the way from Italy or France with their vines. Then, we would be given as an introduction to the best wines produced and eventually presented with what we had all been waiting for: an array of wines we could taste.
Barrels of wine in one of the bodegas near Mendoza
As if they aren’t perfect enough already, some bodegas also have an annexed restaurant. That meant eating on the grounds. Actually, that meant eating a delicious local meal on a gorgeous terrace with a view of the beautiful vineyards and countryside and a selection of fantastic wines to go along the meal.
Visiting the vineyards around Mendoza was one of the highlights of my latest trip to South America – photo courtesy of Mark Surman (flickr)
It really was as good as it could possibly get. So good that I couldn’t resist and decided there and then that I would do my best to reproduce an Argentinian meal at home, in Italy, and bought a few bottles of wine to go with it. I was so happy with it that I didn’t mind one bit the fact that I could hardly carry my backpack afterwards and almost broke my back in the effort. I wanted to make sure that friends and family at home would get at least a hint of the marvels I experienced in Mendoza.
When I opened one of those bottles a few nights ago, fireplace on and a nice (Italian) meal on the table, memories flooded back. So much so that I resolved to go back to Argentina in 2016 and head straight to Mendoza. And this time, I am staying way longer than just a few days, so that I can get more of the fantastic local vibe. Not only I want to bike across the gorgeous countryside again, taste more Malbec and eat more asado.
This time I want to go a step further: I want to enroll in a wine tasting course and get my appreciation of wine to the next level. I want to practice my Spanish with the charming locals. I want to be there for the vendimia, the harvest season, when the region is at its best and the city organizes a number of festivals, celebrations and concerts. And as I will be spending a longer time there, I won’t be able to find an excuse not to join a hiking expedition to the Cerro Aconcagua, where I will take on the challenge and test my limits.
With all that it has to offer to its visitors, I wouldn’t be surprised if Mendoza becomes one of the hit destinations in 2016 and the years to come. I can’t wait to go back – and you should plan to visit too!
Everybody knows I am in love with anything Latin America. But those who have the privilege of talking to me, quickly find out I have an obsession for Nicaragua. I have been there 3 times, and I hope to visit Nicaragua again soon. Yes, it is my favourite country in Central America, so much so that when people contact me to ask about other countries such as Costa Rica or Panama, I end up suggesting visiting Nicaragua instead.
What makes it so special to me? It simply is an amazing country, that has so much to offer to travellers. Beautiful colonial cities
Leon is one of the best places to visit in Nicaragua
A turbulent yet fascinating history
Museo de la Revolucion, Leon
Incredible nature and wildlife.
Panchito lives on La Isla de los Monos, at Las Isletas: one of the places to visit in Nicaragua – courtesy of George Kenyon
Lakes and volcanoes.
Volcanoes are among the tourist attractions in Nicaragua – courtesy of George Kenyon
Poneloya is one of the best beaches in Nicaragua
Kind and warm people.
La cara de Nicaragua, the face of Nicaragua – courtesy of George Kenyon
And, something that backpackers should never underestimate, this beautiful country is still unspoilt by mass tourism (but hurry! This will change, it is such an incredible place), it is very safe to travel even for solo female travellers, and it actually is the cheapest country in the continent: my dollars could get me a long way here.
Not convinced yet? Perhaps these amazing sunsets will do the trick and prove it is time to plan a trip to Nicaragua.
Five amazing sunsets that will make anybody want to travel to Nicaragua
Granada and Las Isletas:
Anybody visiting the country will take a side in the local argument over which city is better, Leon or Granada? Many will say colonial Granada, is the prettiest one among Nicaragua attractions. I must admit my heart beats for Leon, but the most touristic destination in the country (which for some reason reminds me of Trinidad, in Cuba) is indeed picture perfect, and the waterfront of Lake Granada or a boat ride across Las Isletas offer fantastic opportunities to photography lovers. Snapping a good picture is one of the things to do in Nicaragua.
Nicaragua tours can’t skip a stop at Las Isletas
Volcano Mombacho – view from Las Isletas
Poneloya and Las Peñitas
A half hour ride on a chicken bus from Sutiava, Leon, these two Nicaragua beaches are more than a surfer’s paradise. Lay in the sun, challenge the waves, go for a walk, enjoy a cold beer and by all means, do not miss the amazing Pacific sunset.
Catching the waves at Las Peñitas, one of the best beaches in Nicaragua
Volcan Cerro Negro
About one hour drive from Leon, Cerro Negro is a great, short and windy hike. I could practice volcano boarding here and get covered in sand. And, let’s not forget that the view from the top is simply stunning. I absolutely did not want to miss a volcano on my Nicaragua vacation.
It’s not a Nicaragua vacation if it doesn’t feature a volcano: view from top of Cerro Negro
Storm in the distance – sunset from Cerro Negro
Isla de Ometepe
Located in Lake Nicaragua, Ometepe is an 8 shaped island which, despite the presence of two active volcanoes, is peaceful, remote, and offers great hikes, wildlife and spectacular views. Among Nicaragua attractions, it may well be my favourite.
That’s one smokey volcano!
Corn Islands Nicaragua
Whether I feel like relaxing under the Caribbean sun, snorkelling in the clear waters, diving or just want to walk around to explore the island, Isla de Maiz won’t disappoint me. And here, I can be treated to a beautiful, almost stereotypical sunset.
Little Corn Island – courtesy of Nomad Kiwis
Care to know about more things to do in Nicaragua? Stay tuned for more posts!
Hi, my name is Claudia. One day I packed my life and started traveling… except I packed too much. Follow me as I fill my life with dreams, drop the weight and inspire you to live your dreams. View and download my media kit here (updated Oct 2018). Learn more about me here…