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Thursday, December 14, 2017

Free things to do in Berlin, Germany

Alisha McDarris

Ah, Berlin. Now this is a city where I could feel at home. Modern conveniences, good coffee, entertainment venues, green space, lots of vegan food, and nobody is pretentiously over-dressed for everything. I like it. And what's more, there are plenty of free things to do in this city just brimming with history! Start searching for flights, 'cause you're gonna want to pay this metropolitan center a visit.

Getting Around Berlin

Public transportation in Berlin is as good as it gets in Europe. There are clear signs, everything is in English, and screens often alert you when your stop is approaching. So get yourself a ticket and ride the rails without fear.

From the airport
You can take the S-Bahn Railway, Regional Railway (Airport Express) or the bus. It costs €3.30 for any and all methods, so take your pick depending on where you're headed.

Trains, Buses and Trams
All forms of public transport (s-Bahn, U-Bahn, buses) in Berlin are super easy to use and it's cheap. Tickets are on the honor system, so you buy one at a time or a pass or a whole pack of tickets at a ticket machine at most stops and stamp or swipe it as you board. We never saw anyone checking tickets, but we heard from locals that especially in high tourist areas random checks were semi-frequent, so don't risk it. At 2.80 for a ticket that gets you on any method of transport for two hours, why would you need to? There's also a short-haul ticket for 1.70 if you're going three stops or less in a single direction. It's 7 for a day pass and 30 for a week.

This is Berlin's public bike-share company. You can download the app or register on their website then pay as little as 1 per half-hour or 3 for unlimited 30-minute trips in a 24-hour period. Just pick up a bike and return it to the most convenient location to your destination.

A walk through Großer Tiergarten unearths all sorts of little garden-y surprises

Free things to do in Berlin, Germany

There are enough free events and activities in Berlin to keep you busy for several days at least. So spend that money on more exciting things. Like vegan food.

Brandenburg Gate
Not only is this where all the free tours meet, it's where all the tourists come to hang out on their first day in town. You can take a look at the huge gate, look up at the balcony where Michael Jackson dangled a baby, and get crappy coffee from Starbucks if that's your thing. Take a couple snaps and use the free WiFi if you need it. I know I did! Nothing like making a business phone call beneath Brandenburg Gate and trying not to freeze my butt off on the cold stone structure.

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe 

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
Just down the street from Brandenburg Gate is this eerie and haunting memorial. Made up of xx monoliths, all different heights, spaced evenly to create echoing hallways of sorts, it evokes a sense of quiet and reverie. It's free to take a walk through the cement structures, just don't climb on them; it's a memorial, after all. There's also a museum beneath the monuments where you can read stories and see faces of Jews who lost their lives during WWII. It's a dark, solemn place, so be prepared.

Checkpoint Charlie. Not a lot to look at, but I guess you've got to at least go look.

Checkpoint Charlie
This point is literally just a checkpoint for troops leaving or entering East Berlin. There's not much to see other than a big photo of an American soldier. But on the corner is a little outdoor gallery where you can look at photos and read about some of what went down at or near Checkpoint Charlie and the way things were during that era of tension.

Plan to spend at least and hour at the Topography of Terror
The Berlin Wall Memorial

Topography of Terror (Topographie des Terrors)
A short walk from Checkpoint Charlie is this museum/photography exhibit about the terrors of WWII. It's right next to one of the longest remaining sections of the wall that's still in tact, The Berlin Wall Memorial, which is lined with it's own photo-timeline of happenings, but inside the building you can spend hours reading about the horrors that were done to not only Jews, but homosexuals, gypsies, and so many more in nearly every country in Europe. This is the stuff you didn't hear about in school.

Weekend Markets
Saturdays and Sundays offer a wealth of farmers markets and flea markets. If you're in Berlin over a weekend, it's worth taking an hour or two to peruse the aisles of second-hand, antique, or hand-made wares filling the stalls. Our favorite was Mauerpark.

Just one of the many murals that are part of East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery
The longest section of the Berlin Wall still remaining has been turned into an art gallery. The city brought in artists from all over the world to turn the concrete structure into something beautiful. So grab a lunch to go (for a picnic along the river) and take a walk down the 2 kilometer stretch of road.

Have a wander in this modern, touristy square for the requisite craning up at the famous TV Tower. Snap your photos, grab a snack and check out some of the shops nearby for souvenirs (or sunglasses to replace the ones you lost the previous afternoon...).

A statue in Großer Tiergarten

Großer Tiergarten and Victory Column

In Berlin's largest and oldest park you could walk for hours. And hours. It's huge. But near the middle is the famous Victory Column commemorating victory in the Prussian-Danish war. The park is a great place to have a picnic, admire some sculptures, or play on a playground.

Reichstag Building
Visiting the interior, and the Dome on top, of Germany's parliament building is free, but you have to register in advance. If you didn't, you might still be able to go up to the dome, you just have to request tickets two hours to two days early at the Visitors' Service Center nearby. If you register in advance, though, you can often get a tour of the building, visit the historical exhibits, or even watch a plenary sitting.

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp
While entry is free, if you're taking public transit it'll cost you a few bucks to get there and back as it's not actually in Berlin. There are guided tours available for 15 per person and plenty of tours from the city that'll cost a pretty penny, but the exhibits at the site are all free. It's 45-60 minutes away by train.

Cheap Things to do in Berlin

It's not all free all the time, of course. But if you're going to spend, here's how to save in Berlin.

Free walking tours
There are plenty of free walking tours to choose from, but we tended to stick with Sandeman's tours while in Europe because after the first one we felt we knew what to expect. The tour in Berlin was especially good as the guide takes you to many of the historically relevant spots in the city and covers history from the Berlin Wall to WWII and beyond. Tips are expected at the end (so it's not technically free), but you can give whatever you feel is fair.

Berlin's famous TV tower

TV Tower
Also known as the Berliner Fersehturm, tickets to ascend 203 meters into the sky for a look down on the city will run you 13. You can buy a fast track ticket online to avoid the lines once you get there, but depending on when you want to go it'll cost a bit more at 14-17 per person.

Museum Island
Looking for museums? Look no further. This Unesco World Heritage Site houses five of the biggest and best museums in the city, including, but not limited to: The Neues, Altes and Pergamon Museums. They all have separate admission prices that range between 10-12. However, if you'e crunched for time or want to catch 'em all, you might consider the Museum Pass. It costs 29, but gets you admission to 35 museums all over the city and public transport for three days. There's also the Museum Island Pass, which is €18 and grants entry to all five museums on the island for a day. You can pick one up in visitor centers or at the museums themselves.

Vegan food is everywhere in Berlin

Cheap Eats in Berlin

Want to find cheap food, cheap restaurants in Berlin? Maybe some of Berlin's tasty (and cheap) vegan food? Look no further. Berlin is overflowing with it. In fact, it's one of the most vegan-friendly cities in the world!

One of the many Goodies locations in Berlin

This vegan and vegetarian joint has good prices for healthy (and not healthy but still delicious) brekky, lunch and dinner. Grab a sandwich to go for around 6.00, get a croissant and cappuccino for a couple bucks each, and pick up a raw dessert while you're at it. There are several locations, some of which are all vegan and some of which have vegetarian options, so check if you need to, but stuff your face cause it's all delish.

It may not look like much, But Curry at the Wall is a tasty, cheap snack

Curry at the Wall
You can't leave Berlin without eating some currywurst (pronounced curryvurst), and that includes vegans. This little food trailer may not look like much, but it has vegan and non-vegan varieties and at only 3.50 per sausage, you can afford to get your own.

Pick a spot. It's all good and most places have free WiFi so you can sip your latte and check your email. Just skip the Starbucks, OK? Berlin has so many better options that you can't experience at home.

Street Food Thursday at Markthalle Nuen is an amazing place for food from all over the world (including vegan food)

Markthalle Nuen Street Food Thursday
Once a week on Thursdays, this weekend market turns into a foodie's paradise. Every inch of the warehouse-y space is packed full of vendors selling international food, everything from baked goods to pizza, sushi to Yemen cuisine. And alcohol. Lots of alcohol. Of course, you can spend a lot here on delightful full meals, but you can also just get your snack on, purchasing small bites for as little as €1.50 or so. If you're in town, I highly recommend it. It runs from 5-10 pm and I suggest getting there early to avoid the crowds.

Gluck to Go has several different styles of veggie burgers with creative toppings

Glück To Go
For tasty vegan and vegetarian burgers and some pretty delicious fries, this is your place. There are several kinds of patties to choose from and less than standard condiments (think mango chutney or balsamic). Burger and fries together will run you about 6-7.

Wonder Waffle
When we were there, this uber popular local chain was only serving vegan waffles at a handful of their locations one or two days a week, so if that's what you want, check before you go. Otherwise, this joint basically serves up waffle omelets stuffed with fruit, candy, ice cream, whatever you want. They start at 3, but specialty fillings can cost extra.

Indoor and outdoor markets are a great way to grab locally made food and fresh produce

Or Markthalle and Wochenmarkt, as they're known in German. These are indoor and outdoor markets all over the city. Markthalle are indoors and are general open every day and have options ranging from fresh produce to homemade sausage and soap to food stalls. Many even have vegan food. So don't be afraid to browse as you may just find a really great deal on lunch.

Savory Chat
This vegetarian Asian restaurant has Thai and Vietnamese deliciousness with all sorts of "mock meats." Appetizers are under €4 and you can get a full meal for under €10, so all in all, not a bad deal. Plus it's tasty!

I know that's less of a place than a thing, but it plays. Beer is super cheap in Berlin. And Germans have strict standards for brewing, so you can count on a reasonably decent beverage. In the grocery store, you can buy single cans and bottles for less than a bottle of water, between .30-.80 cents. In a bar or restaurant you can expect to pay a couple bucks.

Basically, Berlin wins. For everything. I'd go back just to eat more food, no joke. Have a fave spot in the city? Feel free to share!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Gear Guide: Peak Design Camera Clutch

Alisha McDarris

It being holiday present purchasing season and all, I figured, what better time to write about another piece of gear I love from my fave camera accessory manufacturer: Peak Design. No joke, I love literally all of their stuff. All of it. And I love that it all works together so seamlessly. It all starts with the Capture Clip and builds from there. But the latest piece of tech I tried out was the Clutch. I'm not a big fan of camera straps, though as they go, you can't beat the Slide Lite for convenience and cool factor, but I do occasionally need a little something to help secure my camera to my person when I'm leaning over a cliff for "that shot" or jumping over water to get to a dock. Just ask my summer employers. They'll tell you this would have been a wise investment before I dropped their camera in the lake. Live and learn. In any case, here's what we think of the Peak Design Clutch.

First of all, it looks super awesome. For real. Just look at it!

Peak Design Clutch
Peak Design Clutch

See? Super awesome. Second, it fits all manner of hand sizes and DSLR's. And since it uses PD's Anchor Link Quick Connect system on one side, you don't even have to remove the quick release plate when you attach the Clutch. You can swap right from a strap to the clutch to nothing at all. Cause it quickly connects. Get it? In fact, that might be my favorite thing about PD: All their products work together, often interchangeably. Which is awesome because as much as I loved my designed-for-women Black Rapid strap, if I wanted to use my PD Capture Clip or a tripod or anything else that screwed into the bottom of my camera, no dice. It was one or the other. Peak Design created a screw-in plate that works with ARCA-type tripods and has strategically-placed holes in it for their Anchor Links so I can oh so easily switch from using a tripod to my Capture Clip to my SlideLite strap to my Clutch or to nothing at all. Brilliant. It's like they planned it or something.

Check out how the quick connect Anchors work with not just the Clutch, but the SlideLite, too.

But I often prefer the Clutch as opposed to a strap because I don't always want a camera hanging across my body. But even if I'm hand-carrying or lugging my camera around in a bag, I really can't be trusted not to drop expensive equipment. Ask anybody. The Clutch is the perfect solution. Attached to my Canon 6D, it takes up very little space if I'm carrying it in a camera bag and doesn't look ridiculous dangling two feet below my camera like a strap would if I have it on my Capture Clip attached to a belt or backpack. Best of both worlds.

The quick connect Anchors allow accessories to be easily swapped.

On the bottom, Clutch hooks up to the included quick-release plate via PD's Anchor attachment. Two of these little guys are included. And if you're worried they look too thin and frail to hold your DSLR and largest lenses and accessories, fear not: the tiny cords are designed to indicate when they need replaced by turning yellow, then red as they wear out. Up top it loops through the D-rings built into the DSLR and connects quickly and easily with a self-locking carabiner-type clip. It's actually the world’s first camera hand strap that is quick-connecting and quick-adjusting. It's both secure and easily removable if you want to swap it for another accessory. Then all that's left is to easily tighten or loosen that stylish adjuster for the perfect fit for any size hand. Including mine. Which is quite small. And it's comfortable. Yay!

Loosening and tightening the Clutch is super quick and easy.

My only disappointment is that it doesn't work on my little mirrorless Fuji X-T20. I've been using that more and more as we travel, but the camera is just too small and the Clutch isn't designed for something of that specific design (something with the shutter release on top and no D-rings). Fortunately, they have other products like their Leash that fill that void. That's the problem with having such a diverse gear arsenal, I guess: It requires lots of different accessories. But it's good to know that even if I do have to dedicate more space to that sort of thing in my camera bag, everything works together seamlessly, designed in a singularly intuitive way that I've only seen Peak Design master.

Want $10 toward your first/next PD product? Of course you do! Just order HERE and it's all yours!

*Product was furnished for this article but in no way affected the outcome or content of this review.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

10 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Iceland


For those who don't know, Iceland is a Nordic Island Country of Europe located in the North Atlantic Ocean. While most people conjure images of Vikings, the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull (try saying that ten times fast) or perhaps the location of some of your favorite Game of Thrones episodes, there's a lot more to the land of Ice and Fire than you might think. Here are ten examples of what makes Iceland such a unique place.

1. The Arctic Fox

The Arctic fox is the only indigenous land mammal in Iceland and was the only land mammal prior to the arrival of humans.

2. Iceland's Population

The population of Iceland reached 300,000 in 2006. That’s less than a 5% of the population in New York City.

3. Pricey

Iceland is the 4th most expensive country in the world. The cost of living is 2.14% higher than NYC.

4. Eco-Friendly

Iceland is the only country in the world which obtains 100% of it’s energy from renewable sources. 87% of it’s electricity comes from hydro-power and the remaining 13% from geothermal power.

5. Safest Place on Earth

According to the Global Peace Index, Iceland is the most peaceful country in the world. There are only 1.3 murders per year.

6. Sheep's Head is on the Menu

Sheep’s head is a very popular meal. It is also served in the form of sviðasulta (sheep head jam) where the meat is chopped and pressed into moulds. The result is sliced and served with bread and butter.

7. Swimming Year Round

Iceland has more than 120 public swimming pools which are geothermally heated and used year-round.

8. Religion

At birth, Icelanders are registered in the Evangelical Lutheran church, the official state religion.

9. Glaciers Abound

Vatnajökull, also known as the “Water Glacier” is the third largest glacier in Europe, covering an area of 3,127 square miles.

10. Origin of "Geyser"

The English word "geyser" comes from Iceland's Great Geysir in Haukadalur.

Want to visit Iceland? We'll help you do it on a budget! Money saving tips, tricks, and itineraries

Friday, November 24, 2017

2017 Holiday Gift Guide

Alisha McDarris

Travelers are hard to buy for. We get it. We're constantly on the move, flying or driving around the world, keeping it simple and our belongings to a minimum. But sometimes, you still want to get the traveler in your life something nice. Well we've got just the thing whether your wanderer is living out of a van, making the most of a gap year, living abroad, or just someone with itchy feet. So check out our best gifts for travelers and nomads for 2017 and give a gift that won't end up in a box in their in-laws' basement.

1. A hostel survival kit -- $20-$30

No kidding, this one is a life-saver for any traveler too cheap to spring for a private hotel room. And if the traveler you know is setting off on one of their first adventures with hostels (or couchsurfing) in their future, they're gonna want this one. Bundle up a sleep mask, quality ear plugs, a padlock (for in-room lockers), and a travel towel and wrap it all up in a nice little package. They'll thank you for it after they spend their first night in an eight-person dorm.

2. Portable backup battery -- $8-$15

I can't tell you how much of a lifesaver a couple of these guys have been in our own travels. When you're using your phone for everything from maps to photos, vegan restaurant searches to the Airbnb app, batteries don't last too long. Gift them with a rechargeable and pocket-sized version so when that battery icon turns the dreaded red, they won't panic (and as a result, will always be able to find which bus they're supposed to take to that big art museum).

3. Survival or Navigation Courses -- $40

Is there a wilderness backpacker on your list this year? Nothing says "I love you" like "Don't get lost in the woods and get eaten by a bear." Cities all over the country (and the world) offer courses on wilderness survival and navigational skills, including a lot of big outdoor retailers like REI or state parks. Search for ones in their area and give the gift of not starving if a raccoon eats all their provisions.

4. Peak Design Camera Accessories -- $40+

In all my years as a traveler and photographer (and travel photographer), I have never come across such brilliant and useful camera accessories as those made by Peak Design. It's like they know exactly what's going through photographers' heads when they travel (be it to a nearby park or halfway across the world). I never go anywhere without my Capture Pro clip (See our review here), which works seamlessly and in a myriad of ways, with all their other products, including my faves: the Slidelite strap (review) and the clutch. In fact, if I would have had the latter this summer I may not have accidentally thrown my employer's camera in the lake. Oops. I promise, the traveling photographer you know will flip over any combination of PD products.

5. Foreign Sim Cards -- $15-$30

Staying connected while traveling can be tough. And arriving in a foreign country and having to spend the first three hours locating a cell service provider is no fun. Trust me, we know. So if you know where your traveler is off to next, get online and order them a sim card for their destination! Don't forget to pair it with a few gigs of data and a reminder to call frequently while they're on the road!

6. Multipurpose Scarf -- $5+

For the stylish traveler, a good scarf is irreplaceable. I used my almost every day over two months in Europe. A big square deal can function as a scarf, blanket, shawl, head covering, towel, you name it. And if you're really in a pinch, you can use it as a snot rag or pillow, too. And yes, I did use mine for all of those things. Find a good deal and you could pay as little as $5.

7. Dinnerware -- $30-$50

All backpackers require certain things. Food, for example. And if they're eating (which they must at some point), they're going to need something to eat with/out of. This is where you come in. Wrap up a dinnerware set with a good collapsible or squish-able bowl and plate, spork or flatware set, and a packet of wet wipes and they'll be set. Keep in mind that the less space it takes up (and the less it weighs) the happier they'll be.

8. Photo book -- $20+

If the travelers in your life are anything like me, they take lots of photos. Photos that just sit on their hard drive for ages because they neither have the time nor the energy to print out all those photos and place them in an album. They probably don't have space for all those albums, anyway. But I bet they do have room for ultra-slim photo books! If you can sneakily get access to their photos, spend some time designing them a photo book with all their best images FTW.

9. Portable WiFi -- $50+

So here's the deal: Sometimes staying connected while abroad is a pain, especially if you're supposed to be turning in a big project and can't find WiFi (we've used our cell phone's mobile date to send videos from the middle of fields and had to hide in the corner at Starbucks so we wouldn't get in trouble for mooching WiFi without buying an overpriced beverage). So if somebody on your list tends to hop around a lot and likes (or needs) to stay connected, a portable WiFi device might be just the thing. Just flip it on and use it for Google searches, maps, internet phone calls, submitting articles from public parks, you name it. Just make sure you get them some data to go with it!

10. Travel Medical Kit -- $10-$20

Ok, this one may sound a little boring, but hear me out. This is an invaluable piece of equipment that every traveller needs. Now, you can go get a travel first aid kit from any outdoor store, but there are a few things I think are more important than others. Make the kit small and packable, but include bandages of several sizes, pain killers, Pepto Bismol type stuff, motion sickness pills, antibiotic ointment, immune booster (like Emergen-C) and some wet wipes. And the thing I personally can't live without? My nasal rinse pot. There's not exactly a travel size one, but a large syringe (without the needle, obviously) works pretty well. Include one of those and some saline packets and your traveler with be happy and healthy.


Planner -- $25

Obviously I couldn't neglect mentioning Terradrift's own Freelance Planner. Designed by us with freelancers, creatives, small business owners, travelers, even teachers and students, in mind, It's a great gift for the people in your life who like to keep it together. Or the people in your life who you think need to keep it together. Just buy one. Or three.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Terradrift Guide to Packing Ultra-Light

Alisha McDarris

We are masters of packing light. Self-proclaimed masters, but masters none the less. We take great pride in responding with a sly smile and a confident nod of the head when fellow travelers, friends or family look at the size of our bags and say, "Is that all your luggage?!" Why yes, yes it is. One large and one small backpack for two people for a three week trip to Mexico comprised of beaches, hiking, city exploration and a wedding, professional shooting equipment included. One rolling carry-on and a daypack for two people for a week in Florida. One daypack per person for two months in Europe. Yeah, you read that right. Still not sure? Go ahead and read it again. I'll wait...See? I told you. And those two daypacks? They did in fact hold our camera gear in addition to clothing. Amazed? Want to know how we did it? Why we did it? This is our ultimate guide to ultra-light packing! Our gift to you.

Why ultra-light?

I'll tell you why. Because when you're flying around Europe (or the U.S.) on cheap airlines, it's not uncommon to pay more for a checked bag than you did for your seat. And it doesn't even have to be a checked bag. Even international buget airlines like Wow Air charge extra for as much as a roll-aboard carry-on. All you get with the price of your seat with airlines like Ryanair and the like is the space underneath it. So if your bag doesn't fit under there, you're gonna pay. And after a couple of those flights, you're not gonna wanna do that anymore. So it makes serious sense to carry less with you. Also when you get stuck carrying your luggage around a foreign city all day because you cant check it at you hostel or host's place until dinnertime, you wont threaten to throw everything you own off a bridge just so your shoulders dont have to bear the weight anymore. Also, lugging a giant rolling suitcase through the sandy streets of Jamaica or Mexico? It just doesn't work.

This is actually a bit more than I took with me to Australia for nine months. I removed about three or four articles after I took the photo.

How to pack light

It all starts with a bag. You're going to need a good one. I'm a big fan of Osprey, but that's because their packs feel like they're hugging me from behind. Yeah, your shoulders are going to get sore no matter what kind of fancy pack you have, but a good pack that fits well and is made for long hauls is going to be much more comfortable in the long run. It'll probably hold up better, too. But you'll want to keep size in mind. Nothing bigger than about a 20-22 liter pack (a standard daypack or book bag size), is going to fly (literally) in an airline cabin. A lot of budget airlines like Jetstar in Australia even weigh your bags or test fit them in a little box before you get on the plane, just to make sure.

The next step is not to just start shoving things in to see if they fit. C'mon! You knew there was gonna be more to it than that! It's about planning and order when it comes to packing small. There's a process to it. Enjoy it. First, consider your itinerary and the climates in which you're traveling. Will it be cool? Warm? Hot? All of the above? If so, it'll be tough, but you can do it! Then start pulling items out of your closet and lay them on the floor or bed so you can see what you've got as you go.

Start with base layers. Will you only be in cooler climates? Then tank tops probably won't be necessary. Pack a long-sleeve undershirt instead. Will it be warm? tank tops and T-shirts take up less space, but count on running into cool nights and pack at least one sweater. While traveling I regularly have one at least two to three layers because it means I can shed them as the day warms up or pull them back on as the day cools down. It also means I have more stand-alone pieces without extra bulk in my bag (like I would if I brought three tank tops and three sweaters).

This is the only bag I carried for two months in Europe. Note the clever usage of all the straps and loops! Josh's bag was the same size.

Next, keep it simple. solid colors beat crazy patterns no matter what when traveling light. You just don't have room for the pineapple shorts and the leaf-print top when they can only be paired with one other item in your bag. Neutrals go with everything. That doesn't mean you can't have a few pops of color, but keep it to one or two pieces so you can wear it with anything.

Lastly, multi-purpose items are your BFF's. Ditch the top with the flowy sleeves that you can't put under a sweater and the mini skirt you think you might wear for a night out. You ain't got room for that. Everything has to serve double duty. The shorts you bring have to also work over leggings. The leggings also have to look good under a skirt or dress. The dress needs to be able to be worn over a long sleeve shirt or with a sweater. The sweater has to multi-task for an evening out or walk around town. Nothing should have just one purpose. Except pants. There's not much else you can do with pants. Unfortunately.

And as far as shoes go...let 'em go. Pick two pair of low-volume multi-function models and wear 'em out. For example, a pair of sandals that look just as good with a dress as with skinny jeans and a pair of stylish sneakers with aggressive tread that you can take from cobblestone streets to day hikes without issue.

Want a sneak peak into my bag for two months in Europe? Of course you do. Here it is: two tank tops (that can be used for warm weather, as workout tops and sleepwear), a spaghetti-strap shirt (to be worn as a base layer or under a button up), one long-sleeve shirt (that works under a dress, on it's own, or layered under another shirt or sweater), a plaid button-up (used as a light over- or middle-layer or tied around my waist to cover my bum in leggings), a cardigan, a compact pullover for warmth, a rain jacket, one pair of skinny jeans that roll up quite small, a pair of leggings (for under skirts/shorts/dresses or jeans in extra cold weather), a simple skirt with pockets, a basic dress (that could be worn over leggings and a long-sleeve shirt if it was cool), a swimsuit, and a cute pair of sandals and Evolv city/hiking shoes. Oh, and five pairs of socks/underwear and one bra and sports bra, cause I'm a lady and I need them. And that's it, my friends. Every article of clothing in my bag. And it all only takes up about three quarters of the space in my daypack. Cool, huh?

Take a look at all the combinations that can be made from just a handful of items!

What's harder to pair down in my opinion are personal items. Shower stuff and hair stuff and makeup stuff and sunscreen and headphones and all that. I have the advantage of having very short hair, so I don't feel I need much product, but Josh and I usually bring one small container of some sort of hair goop for the both of us. Whatever you can share with travel companions, do! If you're more high-maintenance that me (and most people are), all I have to say is this: embrace your natural beauty. Your head probably won't explode if you don't straighten your hair for four weeks. I also don't wear much makeup, so all I bring along is mascara and some concealer. If you do wear more, pare it down to the bare necessities cause that crap takes up space! As for shower stuff, I'm generally a fan of good ol' castille soap for just about everything. One bottle works as body wash, shampoo, laundry detergent, face wash, you name it. I like the liquid, but the bars work, too. And for the end of your shower, travel towels take up far less space than fluffy bathroom varieties.

Of course, once you cram all the necessities, you've got to fit the (let's be honest) other necessities. I'm talking cameras, laptops, charging cables. Take as little as you can get away with, but it's important to make room for things you actually need, like a laptop if you'll be working. We tried to get a Chromebook to save space and that we could use as a tablet, too, but we were clearly overthinking/not thinking at all when we decided this would be a good idea because we mostly just wanted to throw it out a window on a daily basis. We should have just brought one of our 15" MacBook Pros, but you'll know better what works for you. We also started bringing along a smaller, lighter, pro-level mirrorless camera instead of our humongous DSLR's that weigh 40 pounds with our most utilitarian lens. No bueno. Instead we have a Fuji mirrorless with a single 18-135 lens.

And yep, it all fits in a daypack. And here's a little tip if they weigh your bag at the airline counter and it's too heavy or you have too many snacks: take out your jacket and stuff every pocket with anything that'll fit, then tie it around your waist or loop it through a backpack strap. problem solved. You still get to carry everything on in one tidy package and don't have to pay any extra. That's a win, my friend.

Have we inspired you to try packing ultra-light? send us a photo or tag us so we can give you the slow-clap you deserve.


Thursday, November 9, 2017

Free Things to do in Prague, Czech Republic

Alisha McDarris

Prague is a beautiful city. Beautiful architecture, beautiful castles, beautiful streets... but it's also swimming with tourists. And I mean swimming. They're everywhere. You can't turn around without running into another traveler or tourist (mostly tourists -- and yes, there's a difference). Is it still worth a visit? Absolutely. And fortunately, there are enough free things to do in Prague to keep you occupied for at least a few days.

Gothic churches and ornate architecture abound in Old Town Square (so do tourists)

Public Transportation

Prague has great public transit. Buses, trams and metro are all well maintained and easy to use. One ticket grants you access to all forms of transport and stops and signs are easy to find. Buses, trams and metro even all have really intuitive screens that not only tell you what stop is coming up, but the next four or five stops ahead, too. All stations operate on the honor system and we didn't see anyone ever checking for tickets, but tickets are cheap, so just buy them, OK?

Public Transit in Prague: Tickets can be purchased at newsstands and similar shops and convenience stores. You can purchase one 30-minute ticket for 24 koruna ($1.10), a 90-minute ticket for 32 ($1.45), a day pass for 110 ($5) or a three day pass for 310 ($14). You'll pay more if you try to buy it on the bus and you'll have to have cash. We went for the three day pass just because we thought it'd be easier, though after we did the math before we left, it would have been about as much to just buy a bunch of single tickets.

From the airport: Getting to the center of Prague from the Prague airport is relatively easy. There are multiple buses that run into the city (The 119 will take you to Metro line A and the 100 to Metro line B) and an Airport Express that goes straight from the airport to the main train station and from there you can get a train or bus anywhere. The express bus is 60 koruna ($2.70) and a normal city bus that takes a bit longer is just 32 ($1.45).

Prague's streets are full of color, be it from the buildings or the city's oldest market

Free attractions in Prague

Visiting Prague on a budget? Fear not. There are plenty of things to do that don't cost a thing.

Take a free walking tour: There are plenty to choose from, just do a Google search. Or make it easy on yourself and just show up for a Sandeman's Free Walking tour. Wear comfy shoes, 'cause you'll be walking for like, three hours, but you'll learn a lot about the history of the city, and at the end you can pay whatever you think the tour was worth. So, technically free, but a couple bucks won't kill you.

Prague's Astronomical Clock is quite a feat of engineering, even if the hourly show is less impressive than spectators might anticipate

Marvel at the Astronomical Clock: Or don't. Apparently it's in the top three most disappointing monuments in Europe, but I'd have to disagree with that one. You may have heard that little people pop out and move around, but don't hold out for anything too exciting: the movement is limited. But take a few minutes to examine the clock itself; all those parts telling time, the phase of the moon, the position of the earth around the sun, it's a pretty impressive feat of science and art. There will be a million people crowded around every hour, though, so be prepared.

Visit the Prague Castle Complex: The Prague Castle Complex is the largest in the world. And it's not a bad place for a wander in the morning. You'll go through a security check to enter, but it's free to take a stroll around the expansive gardens, gaze up at the cathedrals and castle walls, and read up on local history. The exhibits and many of the building charge exorbitant entrance fees, but wandering between them all doesn't cost anything and it totally worth it.

Take in the view: For the second best view of the city (the first one from the observation tower isn't free), walk to the top of Letenské Sady (or Letná park), near that big weird sculpture of the metronome, and take it all in. On a clear day you can see pretty far.

Star Wars spotting at Hamley's of Prague

Play all day at Hamley's: I don't care if you're 5 or 50 -- who doesn't love a toy store? And this one has a slide and everything! A slide! And toy demos. And life size storm troopers. And a merry-go-round! What's not to love? Need an afternoon pick-me-up? this is the place.

Walk across Charles Bridge: We saw this bridge from a distance first and were all, "OK, it's a bridge. What's the big deal?" But walking across it from one side of Prague to the other was actually a little bit cool. There are sculptures, lots of photo ops, and some pretty good views. Go at night, too, to see everything lit up along the river. There are usually street artists and performers (as well as people hawking generic crap) along the pedestrian route, so let yourself be entertained.

The evening view from Charles Bridge

Wander up Wenceslas Square: Which is actually less of a square and more of a long street with shopping on both sides and a nice public chill spot in the middle. Also there's free WiFi. I know this because I made not one, but two internet calls for articles I was working on from a bench in the square. Handy, no?

Take a snap at Lennon's Wall: John Lennon's face isn't visible anymore through all the layers of graffiti and street art, but I'm told it was actually there once. If you're into street art, the display is constantly changing.

A view from Petrin Hill

Take a walk up (or on top of) Petrin Hill: You can hike up it if you want, or for the low price of a bus ticket, you can ride the tram cart (and there is someone checking for tickets here). It's a short ride or a long hike up, and once you reach the top, you can walk around the gardens, gaze up at Observation Tower (once again: not free), and enjoy the feeling of being on top of the city.

Visit Kampa Island: While I feel like the term island is a bit misleading -- Kampa is more like just another neighborhood that happens to be surrounded by a narrow canal -- it's still worth a wander. There's a nice park on the "island" and the buildings along the canal are lovely and there are cafes and restaurants, too.

St. Vitus Cathedral within the Prague Castle Complex is a beautiful work of architecture

Admire some churches: Not all are free, but the impressive edifices that don't charge admission include Old Town Square's Our Lady before Tyn and St. Vitus Cathedral.

Czech Museum of Music: It's only free on the first Thursday of the month, but if you happen to be in town you can check out all manner of instruments, music, and more. If you're into that sort of thing. It's located in the Church of Santa Maria Magdalena.

Sit for a film screening: I'm not gonna lie, I'm pretty bummed we missed this one while we were in Prague. Unfortunately, we didn't know it was a thing until we left. But we don't want that to happen to you, so for your edification, the American Center, part of the U.S. Embassy, often shows free independent film or documentary screenings on Thursday nights. I know, right? Check out the schedule and bring some popcorn! Or don't. I'm not sure what the policy is on snacks, actually...

Cheap things to do in Prague:

These things aren't free, but if you're into them, they might be worth it.

Absinth, anyone?

Drink: In a bar or from a supermarket, it doesn't matter. Booze is cheap. We bought a bottle of red wine so I could make sangria for one of the sites I write for and it set me back all of $3. A beer from the supermarket cost as little as .50 and if you find a bar or pub that isn't swarming with tourists or hipster swanky, you can order a pint for $1-$2. Now you know why Czech Republic drinks more beer than any other country. You're welcome. Beer not your thing? Try some absinth from one of the many shops that sell it. You are in Bohemia, after all!

Petrin Tower in Prague

Climb Petrin Tower: Or Observation Tower, as it's often called. Of course, we didn't do this, because, as you may recall from our recent posts on Bruges or Reykjavik, I don't pay to climb stairs. It's still not that expensive at only 150 koruna (or just under $7 per person), but I wasn't feeling it. Fun fact: it not only looks like the Eiffel Tower, because it's on a hill it's at the same elevation as the Eiffel Tower, too.

Tombstones in the Jewish Quarter are practically stacked on top of each other to fit all the markers for the hundreds of people buried there.

Investigate the Jewish Quarter: While walking around this small, historic neighborhood is free, there's an admission fee to enter the many synagogues, galley and museum, including a crazy cemetery where bodies are buried 12 deep because once upon a time no one would grant the Jews permission to expand their property. We were actually going to pay the 330 Koruna ($15) for this one, if only to see the graveyard and where the Golem is purportedly hidden away (if that tells you anything about us), but the day we went everything was inexplicably closed (and no, it wasn't the Sabbath).

Listen to the music: There are dozens of concert halls and theaters vying for tourist dollars, practically begging visitors to buy tickets to hear orchestras perform classical composers like Mozart, Bach and Vivaldi. But your best bets are The National Theatre, Estates Theatre, and State Opera (tickets for which can all be purchased from the same site), for starters.

Visit a, uh, unique museum: If you've got 30-60 minutes to kill, 250 koruna ($11) burning a hole in your pocket, and you're up for a chuckle, check out the Sex Machines Museum. Probably one of Prague's weirdest museums, it has a bunch of contraptions that, allegedly, have been used in the boudoir in centuries past. Enter if you dare.

These tasty treats did NOT originate in Prague, but that doesn't stop tourists from taking selfies with them. Don't be that person.

Cheap eats in Prague

Prague is a pretty cheap city, even with the inundation of tourists. So it's pretty easy to find budget dining options in Prague, even for vegans.

Supermarkets: I know you know, but it must be said: cooking your meals is always the cheapest option. Billa and Albert are the big ones, but don't expect to find a plethora of vegan options at either.

Pistachio and dark chocolate vegan gelato, anyone? This is the best we've ever tasted.

Creme de la Creme: Some of you may not believe me when I say the best vegan gelato I've ever tasted was in Prague. Not the U.S., not Italy, Prague. But you don't have to believe me, 'cause it's true. Best. Gelato. Ever. The peanut butter flavor was the peanut butter-iest and the dark chocolate was to die for. Even the pistachio was phenomenal and I don't even usually order pistachio! (That was a Josh flavor.) They have non-vegan flavors, too.

Dhaba Beas: One of Prague's ubiquitous pay-by-weight buffets, this one is all Indian, all vegetarian, mostly vegan. We paid 105 koruna (less than $5) for a pretty good sized plate of food that both of us shared and felt pretty good about. And if that isn't cheap enough for you, the hour before they close whatever food is left is 40% off! (There are multiple locations)

Veganland: Another restaurant with several locations is a pay-by-weight buffet, this one all vegan and mostly Asian food. Again, it was pretty cheap at around $6-$7 for a plate big enough to share and was pretty tasty. They also have a few vegan staples and desserts for sale.

Look at that mountain of food from Country Life! Kept us full for hours!

Country Life: This one confused us at first as there are several Country Life locations. The first one we went to was just cosmetics and body care items. The next was a small health food store, but behind it is a delightful vegan pay-by-weight buffet where we paid about 135 koruna (or all of six bucks) for a heaping plate that stuffed both of us. No joke. Of course, it was happy hour when, instead of the normal price per gram, a plate up to 1000 grams (that's a whole kilogram or 2.2 pounds!) was only 135 koruna. It's country-cooking, homestyle-type food, but it's tasty, warm and filling.

Vegan donuts from Blue Vegan Pig in Prague

Blue Vegan Pig: Those of you who are loyal Terradrift followers know I'm helpless to resist a vegan donut. So naturally I would find at least one joint to satisfy my obsession. This place even offered a peanut butter and jelly donut, which was right up my alley. There are other breakfasty items in this tiny storefront, too, but the donuts were the cheapest!

That enough to get you started? Should be! So pack your bags and get yourself to Bohemia!

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