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Friday, September 15, 2017

A Day Trip on Iceland's South Coast: Route 1 to Vík

Alisha McDarris

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Iceland is expensive. And one of the most expensive things to do is a tour. You know, one of those deals where you get on a giant coach with 35 other people and are shuttled from one tourist attraction to the next, rushed in and out of gift shops and hustled up and down stairs to viewpoints... You We don't like tours. Not most of the time, anyway (there are always exceptions). But Iceland is no exception. If you want to see some of this country's vast beauty, we recommend skipping the tour bus and renting a car instead. If there are more than one of you (as there are more than one of us), it's cheaper, even with fuel added in, and you have the freedom to go and do as you please at your own pace. We recommend the Golden Circle one day and then taking Route 1 south to Vík another. Because there's no such thing as too many waterfalls. So if you're worried you might miss something as you venture out on your own, here are the top 5 highlights and attractions on Route 1, Iceland's southern road.

1. Seljalandsfoss

Waterfalls are great, hey? I don't care how many you've seen, they're great. And Iceland's are impressive. Seljalandsfoss is the first stop after leaving Reykjavík, and you get two waterfalls for the price of one here because Gljúfrabúi is just a short walk around the bend (but be sure not to miss it because it's the most fun and there aren't as many tourists hovering). Seljalandsfoss is big and powerful and you can take a stroll behind it (though you will get wet). But our fave was Gljúfrabúi, a tall, slender giant of which you could wade through a pool to reach the base or climb (and I do mean climb, scurry, scramble) to a lookout near it's middle where you get a killer view. Those climbing shoes I bought for hiking really showed their mettle on this one. Parking is 700 krn ($7), but there is a free gravel lot right next to the road that is only a 5 minute stroll away.

2. Skógafoss

This is the second and last waterfall stop of the drive. Less impressive from below, choose to take the (seemingly endless) stairs to the top for a view of not only water plummeting downward, but the winding rapids leading up to the plummeting water. There's a trail, too, if you want to walk alongside the river for a bit. Parking is free, but if you have to pee it'll cost you 200 kr or so.

3. DC 3 Plane

Just down the road a couple minutes away from Skógafoss is a large unmarked lot where you can park the car and take a walk to the skeleton of an American DC 3 airplane that crashed in the 70's. It's a long walk. A really long walk. A long walk made longer by the fact that there is nothing to look at on the whole way there. It's just a flat, black gravel track with no changing scenery that goes for 2.5 miles. It took us 45 minutes and all I can say is that unless you're really into old plane wreckage, maybe just skip this one. It wasn't that exciting. Also we couldn't get a single decent photo of it because one tourist decided they should climb on top and then all the other tourists, like a flock of lemmings, decided they did, too. Face-palm!

4. Vík

The small village of Vík wasn't our last stop, but it's clustered within a couple miles of the last two and we wanted coffee and a snack, so we stopped there next. The town itself is unimpressive. We stopped at the visitor's center and the employee told us there were three places to get coffee: the gas station, the supermarket, and the cafe next door. We tried the latter. But alas, no milk alternatives. Didn't even bother checking with the gas station and super market. Other than that there's pretty much just the little church at the top of the hill that, while picturesque, looks pretty much the same as every other little church in the country, so... There is also a hike that supposedly leads to some pretty nice views, but as I said, we were tired and hungry and maybe still a little sore from the previous day's hike at Reykjudalur, (and this hike is about 1.5 hours) so we passed.

5. Reynisdrangar Beach and Reynisfjara

I believe Reynisdrangar is the beach and Reynisfjara are the basalt sea stacks viewable from the beach, but they're both right there, so we'll call them one and the same. In any case, it is unique because it is a black sand beach with huge, crazy, geometric basalt rock formations jutting out of the earth. They are insane. So go, take lots of pictures, walk into the big caverns, make a throne of them, just stay away from the water. Like, far away from the water. Several of the 12 tourists who got themselves killed in Iceland just so far this year died here because they underestimated the power and size of the waves and the current. And they weren't even swimming! So resist the urge to dip your toes in or wade down the beach, K?

6. Puffins!

Puffins would have to be last because what else would matter after you saw puffins? I'm going to warn you, though: you're going to need a serious telephoto lens and/or some top notch binoculars cause they aren't going to just fly up and say hello and pose for a photo. And if they do for you, I don't want to hear about it because there will be no limit to my jealousy. First you'll probably want to go up the winding dirt road on the right to see Dyrhólaey, which is lovely. But when you realize there are no puffins there, you're gonna wanna drive right back down to the paved road to the parking lot and head out to look out over the cliffs. We saw then furiously flapping their wings, zipping out over the ocean from about 8:00 pm, but finally saw two or three resting on the cliffs jutting up from the beach at about 8:30-9:00, and all without paying those hefty puffin-spotting tour prices. We were lucky to see any as nesting season was pretty much over when we were there at the very end of August. Summer is prime puffin-spotting season.

That enough to fill your day with wonder? Of course, there is plenty of wild and impressive landscape along the way, including the famous Eyjafjallajökull (Ay-ya-fiat-la-yoh-cool), so there won't be a dull moment. It's certainly a country for road trips! And if you go, share your fave stops below!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Drive around Iceland's Golden Circle

Alisha McDarris

The "Golden Circle" is so dubbed because it is a route with some of the most popular attractions for visitors near Reykjavik. Fortunately, since most of these are natural attractions, they don't cost anything (or don't cost much)! There are plenty of companies that offer Golden Circle tours, but they are expensive at around $99 per person for a day trip. That's a lot of money. Plus, we generally don't like tours as they don't allow a lot of flexibility or time at each attraction. Also the buses are filled with tourists (not always a bad thing, but stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason). So if you want to break away from the pack and have your own adventure, then rent a car for the day -- or get together with some fellow travelers who did and have spare seats -- and start driving the Golden Circle yourself.

First step: Find transportation

The cheapest rental company we found was SadCars at about $70 for two days (no insurance included), but we found some pretty hairy reviews, so we went with the second cheapest, Budget, which was $108 for two days. Their rental office was only a ten minute walk from our AirBnB, too, so that was convenient. And since we knew a day or two in advance that we were going to do this, we posted an event on and offered to let two other travelers come along if they helped pay for fuel. And just like that we had a full car and no fuel costs for the day (which came to about $35).

On the flip side, you could do what our new French friends, Alexis and Andrea, did and use to find a ride. You might be able to hook up with someone with a car and an open backseat and get a full day of adventure for less than $35 or so.

The Stops

þingvellir National Park

We started out from Reykyavik at 9:00 with a bag full of food and a few extra layers and headed to þingvellir national park. It was overcast and a little drizzly, but we just put up our hoods and marched onward. The park is the site of Iceland's first parliament from the 10th to 18th centuries and sits in a rift valley caused by the separation of 2 tectonic plates, with rocky cliffs and fissures like the huge Almannagjá fault. On the site are also the Þingvellir Church (very picturesque) and old stone shelters. We spent about 45-60 minutes walking the trails, taking photos, marveling at the waterfall and getting to know each other. It was lovely. It's free to enter the park, but there's a 500 kr (approximately $5 USD) parking fee. It's honor system as there are no window tickets or space numbers, but considering U.S. state parks are more like $25 for entry, $5 seemed like a steal. Plus it helps keep up the park. It's also 200 kr ($2) to use the bathroom, but there are port-a-potties at the bottom of the trail that are free.


It's no Old Faithful, but this one does go off more frequently. Like every couple of minutes. Sometimes it's bigger than others. (So many "that's what she said" setups, I know!) And actually, it's not even Geysir that erupts anymore, it's Strokkur. And surrounding it are various other bubbling pools that will burn your skin off if you touch them. So refrain. It was a cold day, so after we watched hot water shoot into the air a few times, we went across the road to Glimr Cafe to use the free bathrooms and get some expensive coffee. It was 550 kr ($5.50) for a latte, but they didn't charge extra for soy milk. Between that and the latte art, I was pretty stoked for a good espresso, but alas, it was more like espresso-flavored soy milk than a latte. So it goes. There were vegan soup options at Supa, also in that building, but it was 1500 kr ($15) a bowl.


Iceland's most photographed waterfall was next. And it. Was. Serious. I've been to Niagara Falls, and it's huge, bigger in breadth than Gullfoss, but what it lacks in width it makes up for in power. It's a three tier fall, though only two are readily apparent, and it kicks up some serious spray. We got a little soggy when we walked the boardwalk to the top. Free and impressive. Can't beat that.

Icelandic Horses

This was less of an official stop than Josh looking out the window and yelling, "horses!" but it was a stop none the less. There were a handful of Icelandic horses in a pen near the road with a parking lot and a box of "horse candy" you could buy for 200 kr ($2). We petted the smallish, fluffy, long haired horses, snapped a few photos, and left when a minibus of tourists arrived and all wanted horse selfies.

Skálholt Cathedral

"Cathredral" is a bit of a misnomer, here, as it's really just a small country church that looks pretty much the same as every other small country church. However, there were some nice views of the countryside surrounding it and a cool underground tunnel to nowhere beneath the church. It was also where an important bishop lived ages ago.


This is a volcanic crater lake on the way back to Reykjavik. You can walk along the top ridge or on a path along the rim of the lake. It's pretty cool, actually, even with the 400 kr ($4) per person entrance fee. It's a small manned booth that accepts your money, so a less honest individual could probably sneak right by, but it's a natural wonder and with all the tourists coming to visit all of a sudden, it takes money to maintain the paths and safety ropes, so I don't mind paying.

Reykjadalur Hot Springs

Now this is a hike. We were a bit tight a day or two after this one. It's about 3.5 km (a little over 2 miles), but it sure feels like more as nearly all of it is up. The hike takes about an hour (one way) to complete and on the way you'll get an eyeful of mountains, waterfalls, roaming sheep, rivers, and steam rising up through fissures in the ground. It's beautiful. And the payoff at the end is a hot spring you can soak in. Bring a swimsuit and a towel the size of your modesty because there are no changing rooms and people all over are getting creative with ways to change without exposing themselves. Then find a comfortable spot and step in! We relaxed in the hot water for about an hour before reluctantly climbing back out into the cold air and hastily drying off, holding up towels for each other, and changing back into dry clothes. Totally worth it. Also there's a tiny little cafe at the entrance that has milk alternatives and one type of raw vegan cake (expensive cake, though, at 950 kr or $9.50).

Moral of the story

Skip the tour bus and drive yourself. You'll see more, do more, experience more, and besides, those host springs aren't on tour bus itineraries! Enjoy!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Vegan Dining at Quincy Market

Alisha McDarris

Eating vegan in Boston is easy. Eating vegan in the midst of a group of omnivores? That's harder. The larger the group the more difficult it is to agree on a spot for lunch. But there's always Faneuil Hall Marketplace, right? Well, sort of. While Faneuil Hall Marketplace and Quincy Market do have a plethora of dining options, choices for vegans are limited. So what's a vegan to do? Lucky for you, we've compiled a list of the places where vegans can eat (and what they can eat) in and around Quincy Market. How sweet is that?

Where vegans can eat in Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall Marketplace:

Bagelville: A veggie bagel sandwich

El Paso Enchiladas: Burritos, nachos, tacos, enchiladas (may have to order without cheese, sour cream, etc.)

Gourmet India: Three entrees with basmati rice are vegan, but not the naan

Ueno Sushi: Several vegetable rolls are available

Boston Pretzel: Pretzels

The Monkey Bar: Smoothies (some contain dairy but are clearly marked)

Sprinkles Ice Cream: At least one flavor of sorbet or smoothie

Berry Twist: More sorbet

Boston Cafe: Various types of candy and coffee

North York Deli: Fruit cup

Prime Shoppe: More fruit cups

And if you're planning on dining with the whole family, look into pre-purchasing vouchers from Faneuil Hall Marketplace's Food Voucher Program, which are good for snacks or meals any time of the day at over 2 dozen eateries. That way, instead of dolling out wads of cash, you can just give everybody a slip of paper and let them decide what suits their fancy. We used them when we went with some friends, and despite all of our different diets, it couldn't have been easier for all of us to get exactly what we wanted (chana masala for Josh and me, a corn dog and cheesy fries for them). Plus, they have a list on their website of what's gluten free, nut free and kosher. But they don't list what's vegan; that's why you need us!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Should you use a travel agent?

Alisha McDarris
We never used travel agents. We always booked all of our own accommodations and activities after spending hours upon hours scouring the internet for the best deal or highest rated activities. And then we went to Mexico with the help of Molly, an experienced travel agent, and had a distinct light bulb moment: using a travel agent was awesome! It didn't seem in the beginning like she was doing that much -- just booking a few flights and a couple nights' accommodation -- but when it came time to travel and I didn't have to scour my email archives to find flight confirmations, print out sheets of directions and phone numbers or call to confirm airport pick-ups or hotel transfers, I was pleasantly surprised to find that even for the little things, I quite liked having someone take care of all the details for me. So the question became, should I use a travel agent? Is a travel agent for me? Well check out this interview with Molly to find out when it's time to use a travel agent (and when not to bother)! You might just be surprised!

Terradrift: What does a travel agent do, exactly? I picture them behind a desk with a headset surrounded by maps of far away places helping tourists book all-inclusive resorts.

Molly: Travel Agents are continuously in training for various worldwide destinations, traveling to visit resorts and cruise lines, and learning on their own time to be able to give recommendations for any given vacation option. We start by talking with you to understand what you are looking for, then we send a few options based on your requirements and desires. We price match various companies before booking to make sure we are getting the best possible price, then when it is time to book, we handle all the details. Restaurant reservations, seat assignments, preferred room types, frequent flyer reservations, you name it, we can handle it. Many agencies have a concierge that has contacts all over the world and together we help book tours and cruise shore excursions, and give our recommendations. The other added benefit is that when something goes wrong (which is rare, but can happen), we are behind you as your advocate. Some companies even offer 24-hour emergency services when you book through them.

Terradrift: OK, that seems like a lot, but couldn't I do most of that myself?

Molly: You could go online and spend hours searching reviews of resorts, or you could come to us and we would already know or could find out much easier, saving you time, money, and stress. Sometimes we even have access to discounts or specials through corporate affiliations that are not open to the public. You could do it yourself, but why would you want to when you could have an expert helping ensure you get a great vacation? An online website will not ensure your happiness, and if you have a complaint, good luck trying to reach a real person, especially when you have to call the airlines!

Terradrift: So what's the real benefit of using a travel agent?

Molly: The main reasons most people use a travel agent is to know you are getting the best price, be guaranteed a great vacation, and always be able to contact us with questions or issues. It is all about peace of mind. Do you want to spend thousands of dollars on a vacation that Tripadvisor is telling you is 4 stars but not really know anyone that has gone there or seen it first hand? There are so many details, especially with more intricate European and other global destinations, that if you have never been there before, you would not be aware of. We know those ins and outs. We know that taxi drivers in Rome will rip off tourists by taking you the long way unless you tell them the most direct route and say you have been here before. We know that in Mexico at public beaches you will need pesos in order to have toilet paper. Booking online will not get you the insider tips unless you spend hours and hours researching websites (of which half are opinions and not fact). Also for special occasions we will always offer an added gift or amenity when possible.

Terradrift: So do travel agents charge a fee? How do they make money?

Molly: Some companies charge don't charge anything extra for their services, but others might charge a nominal fee, perhaps around $35, for basic reservations such as cruises, all-inclusive resorts, or hotel, flight, and car reservations. If it will be a vacation that is much more detailed, such as an independent booking in Europe where we have to set up each transfer, flight, train, hotel, tour, etc. individually, then this might come with a higher fee due to the amount of time involved. In addition to that, most resorts, cruises and hotels will offer our company commissions for using them. Commissions vary, but this is normally the bulk of profit for a travel agency (which the travel agent, depending on the company, may only make a small percentage of). For airfare only, the airlines do not offer any commissions to the travel agent, so for airline tickets might charge a little extra per person for bookings. But when your flight is delayed or cancelled, we are automatically notified and are working on your behalf before you can get through that line at the airport to be rebooked. We usually get the last seats on the next flight much faster than the people in front of you in line, so that is a great benefit to using an agent. The cruise lines, hotels, and resorts will just keep this commission amount for themselves if you don't use an agent, so you are basically paying for one whether you use one or not!

Terradrift: Is there a situation when I shouldn't bother using a travel agent?

Molly: Honestly, for a condo or home rental, we don't get any discounts for these types of vacations, so it's usually best to book these on your own. The individual renters do not work with travel agents and want to work directly with the renter, so it can be tricky in helping with these reservations (i.e. AirBnB).

Terradrift: What's your favorite kind of travel to book for clients?

Molly: My favorite travel is the vacations that I do for people in the British Isles and Europe. I love doing the independent trips that are customized for each individual. They do take much more time, but in the end I love how they turn out!

Terradrift: Then what's your least favorite?

Molly: My least favorite would be Myrtle Beach trips; there is so much more out there to see besides Myrtle Beach! Especially when I can get you a better rate at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico or a Caribbean Island!

Terradrift: How is a person supposed to know if they've found a good travel agent?

Molly: You should know right off the bat whether you've found a good agent. Always check to see how long they have been in the business, or if they have not been in it long, how much travel they have done on their own. Also, if they have the designation of "CTA" which means Certified Travel Associate, this means they have been in the business for at least 2 years and have gone through rigorous geography and destination courses. There are several other designations as well, so you can always ask them if they are a specialist in your given destination or cruise line! Another main factor is how responsive they are to you, how knowledgeable they are about the requirements (passports, visas, etc.) for various destinations, and how well they know each product they are offering.

Terradrift: So how do you know if you've found a bad one?

Molly: If the agent does not listen to your needs and only tries to sell you their "preferred" suppliers, this is not an agent you want. Also, if they do not tell you about all of the requirements and warnings for a given travel area, then you should look elsewhere. If they are not enthusiastic and passionate about everything they do for you, then they are most likely not a great agent!

Terradrift: What's the one biggest misconception people have about travel agents?

Molly: The biggest misconception is probably that you do not need an agent because everything is online now. I think everything being online has actually made it harder and more stressful to book a vacation because you don't know which websites to trust and which resorts out of the thousands are actually a great deal. A website such as Cheap Caribbean can have some rock bottom prices, but what are you really getting for that rate? No personal service, no assistance in an emergency, and no guarantee that you are getting a decent property. Always check with an agent; If they charge a fee you won't pay unless you book so you can always talk with an agent to get an idea!

Have a big trip coming up? What have you got to lose? Try a travel agent on for size and see if you like the fit! If you've used a travel agent before, feel free to share your experiences in the comments below.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

12 Reasons to go to the Calgary Stampede this year

Alisha McDarris

Oh, you've never heard of the Calgary Stampede, you say? Don't feel bad; neither had we until about a month ago. But I've got to be honest, now that we know, it sounds like a blast. So if you're up for an impromptu trip to Alberta or you're heading to Banff this July, add this robust annual event to your itinerary and enjoy the culinary and craft brewery scene in Calgary during this historical event. And if you're on the fence, here are 12 reasons to go to the Calgary Stampede in 2017.

1. There are 10 days of activities and events

Go to one or attend all ten. It makes it super easy to drop in on your road trip across Canada or liven up a week-long vacay. Check out the schedule online and pick which concerts or exhibits you're into and check em all out! And make sure to join the official kick-off parade on July 7 and enjoy free admission into Stampede Park until 1:30! Yay free!

2. The live music is on point

No really, there's something for everybody at the Stampede whether you're into donning a cowboy hat or not. Brooks & Dunn, Usher & the Roots, USS and Nelly Furtado are just a few of the headliners. And of course the five-time world champion Calgary Stampede Show Band will be there. You can even catch a Bollywood performance on the Community Stage. And as the stages are mostly outdoors it makes for a killer festival atmosphere.

3. You can learn all about Calgary's First Nations

Did you know it was illegal for the indigenous people to speak their language, wear their clothing or participate in their rituals until 1961? Well you do now, but there's so much interesting history where Calgary's First Nations are concerned, so come find out why a painted tipi is significant or what a smudge ceremony looks like for the five nations of Treaty 7: Kainai, Tsuut’ina, Stoney Nakoda, Siksika and Piikani.

4. To watch the cowboys ride and wrangle

Calgary is more or less known for it's cowboy culture, and nowhere is this more apparent than at the Calgary Stampede. I'm not personally a fan of rodeos (you know, vegan and all that), but if you are, this is the place to spot some world-class bull riding and roping. It takes place daily at 1:15.

5. To catch a show

The evening show, that is. It features the world's premier chuckwagon derby that you can see, hear and feel and a TransAlta grandstand show with elaborate musical numbers, acrobatics and fireworks
that will blow your mind.It takes place at the grandstand every night at 7:45.

6. To eat all the food

Raw cookie dough in a waffle cone surrounded by cotton candy? Thai rolled ice cream? Clam chowder poutine? No guarantees you'll find a lot of vegan options, but of course there will be all the traditional fair food, too, including deep fried Jello.

7. Because we know you want to pet a pony

Or a baby goat. Or a momma pig. Or a donkey. Or try milking a big plastic cow. Anywhere you go on site you'll find cute little furballs to love on.

8. There are events on events on events

Let the gravity defying stuntmen and women of Bell Motocross light it up. They've set records with their stunts, won medals, and promise to impress. At the Dog Bowl, canines compete in agility, athleticism and stunts as they strut their stuff. Watch blacksmiths ply their trade at the blacksmith demos.

10. To ride all the rides

All of them. Ferris wheels, giant swings, roller coasters, spinny rides, flingy rides, whatever your thing, you're gonna have a ball. Or just play some games. That's always fun. But know that you're not gonna get off cheap. All-day ride wrist bands are $55 Canadian on weekdays and $58 on weekends.

11. To shop till you drop

From Indigenous made art to cowboy boots to Calgary Stampede swag, you can find it here without ever leaving Stampede grounds. So whether it's a blanket for a picnic between concerts or a hat to keep the sun off, stock up and roll out.

12. You can spend less on certain days

Because you know we're all about saving cash. From 5:00 pm on July 6 you can pay only $9 for a sneak peek at certain areas of the park, parade day offers free admission until 1:30, Cenovous Family Day means free admission from 8:00 am to noon and free breakfast for the first 25,000 visitors, seniors get in free all day on Canada 150 Day (July 11), and BMO Kids Day on July 12 is free for kids from 7:00-9:00 am and $2 for the rest of the day. You can also get a discount book at Costco for just under $40 for $50 to spend on admission and at the park. Buy a specially marked 12-pack of Coca-Cola at nearby retailers for a 2-for-$5 admission coupon.

The Calgary Stampede takes place from July 7-16 and costs $9 for seniors and kids 7 to 12 and $18 for adults. It's free for kids under 7. Regular hours are 11:00 am to midnight, so cowboy up, 'cause there ain't no party like a Stampede party.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Tipping in popular destinations around the world

Alisha McDarris

So you just got off the plane in a brand new country and all you can think about is where the closest pizzeria (or taqueria or pub or food stand) might be. You scarf your meal, sit back stuffed and refreshed, and suddenly it hits you: are you supposed to tip?

It's a common panic-inducing thought amongst travelers, but fear not! Because we've done the legwork for you and are here to put you at ease with a list of countries and their tipping practices around the world. So pull up a chair, tuck in, and tip (or don't tip) with confidence.

North America

Bahamas and Caribbean Islands: Common tipping amounts range from 10-15% for good service.
Belize: 10-15% is common in nicer establishments, up to 10% in smaller restaurants.
Canada: Tips of 15-20% are expected.
Costa Rica: 10% is often added to the bill. For fantastic service, 5-10% more is fine.
Cuba: 10% is customary.
Dominican Republic: On top of the included 10%, a small additional amount is appreciated.
El Salvador: 10% is often added to the bill. If not, the same amount will suffice.
Guatemala: A 10% tip is popular.
Honduras: It's often added to the bill, but if not, 10-15% is fine.
Jamaica: Expect to pay 10-15% if the fee isn't included.
Mexico: A standard tip in Mexico is 10% at sit down establishments.
United States: Tips ranging from 15-20% are not only expected, but necessary as servers here only make half of minimum wage and rely on tips for their salary.


Australia: Tipping is not customary or necessary. In upscale restaurants with exceptional service feel free to leave a little something if you see fit.
New Zealand: No tipping is required, but 10% for good service in nice restaurants is appreciated.


China: No tips are expected except for maybe small sums in Hong Kong.
Cambodia: 5% is a good tip, 10% for exceptional service.
Indonesia: Round up your bill or throw down small change if you see fit.
Japan: Never tip.
Korea: Sometimes small tips are accepted at Western restaurants, but never anywhere else.
Loas: Tipping isn't expected, but in nicer establishments is always appreciated.
Malasia: Same as Korea; Only in western establishments
Maldives: Tipping is not customary nor expected.
Phillipines: 5-10% is generally expected.
Russia: Cash tips of 5-10% are appreciated.
Singapore: No tips are expected.
Sri Lanka: A 10% cash tip is standard for mid- to high-end restaurants.
Thailand: Not required, but in upscale restaurants where the service is good, 10% is acceptable.
Vietnam: If the service was good, a 5-10% tip is appreciated.

Middle East

Israel: A 10-15% tip is a polite amount.
Jordan: A 5-10% tip on top of a 10% service charge is often expected.
Oman: Rounding up to 10% of the bill is typical in fancy restaurants, loose change in others.
Qatar: A 10-15% tip is common.
Turkey: 10-15% in upmarket restaurants is acceptable if not added to the bill already.
United Arab Emirates: Tipping 15-20% is customary.


Amsterdam: Tips of 10-15% for good service are appreciated.
Austria: 5-10% or round up the bill.
Belgium: Round up for good service.
Croatia: A 10% tip is plenty for a meal.
Czech Republic: 5-10% if not included on the bill.
Denmark: Tipping isn't necessary, but round up to show appreciation.
France: If a 15% fee isn't included on the bill, leave that amount.
Greece: At upscale restaurants 10-15% is appreciated, up to a couple euros at smaller establishments.
Hungary: A 10% tip is a good standard.
Ireland: 10% is standard.
Italy: Tipping is not a common practice. But for exemplary service in touristy areas, 10% will do.
Netherlands: Appreciated but not necessary.
Germany: Round up the bill to an even amount, usually between 5-10%
Switzerland: Round up for good service.
Spain: Not necessary, but rounding up is appreciated for good service.
Sweden: 5-10% is generous if service was good.
United Kingdom: A tip of 10-15% is customary if not already added onto the bill.


Most African countries appreciate tipping, though it's not compulsory. If service is good, the general rule across most countries is 10-15% at the most, 5% if a service fee is included on the bill.

South America

Argentina: voluntary, but 10% if service is good.
Bolivia: 5-10% is common for good service.
Brazil: 10% is a common tip if it's not already included in the bill.
Chile: It's often included in the bill, but if not, a 10% tip is appreciated.
Columbia: Tipping is optional, but up to 10% shows appreciation for service.
Ecuador: If it's not included on the bill, 5-10% is common.
Paraguay: Loose change will suffice, but in nicer establishments, 10-15% is normal.
Peru: A small tip is typical in lower-end eateries, but at nicer restaurants 10-15% is more common.
Uruguay: 10% if a service fee is not included.
Venezuela: A 5-10% tip (even on top of a service charge) is common.

Of course, this is hardly an exhaustive list. If you know the tipping practices (or want to) for a country not listed, comment below!

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Living Eco-Friendly in a Tiny House

Alisha McDarris

We live in a tiny house. You probably know this. You've probably read the posts and seen the photos and thought "Oh, I love the idea of a tiny house!" or "Oh my gosh, I could never live in that small of a space!" But we love our tiny house. I love the fact that I'm no farther than 10 steps away from anything I could possibly need. I love that no matter where I am in the house sunshine pours in through the windows. I love that I never have to yell across the house to get Josh's attention (unless I want to). And I love that it's so eco friendly. How, you ask? Let me tell you.

First of all, let me point out that our tiny house could absolutely be more environmentally friendly. We could have rain water collection (we will, we just haven't set it up yet), solar panels (also on the horizon as soon as we save up enough to pay for panels and batteries), and our own garden (we are really bad at keeping plants alive). But what we do have (an efficient water heater and appliances, a composting toilet, a water-reducing shower head) is a big leap forward on the sustainability front, which is how I like it. Oh, and we're vegan. (For those of you unaware this is the most effective way of going green known to man).

Let's walk through "green" things, shall we? Starting with appliances.

We don't have a stove or oven. Not a proper one, anyway. Full size ovens consume massive amounts of electricity (or gas) and are usually way bigger than you need (unless you're regularly baking 6 dozen cookies at a time or a turkey three times a week), making them very inefficient. Instead, we have a convection toaster oven that's big enough to bake a dozen muffins (or a roasted chicken if you're into that), a 12" pizza, even a casserole. And on top of the counter we have two very efficient induction burners that heat up in seconds. Very efficient.

Our fridge isn't particularly efficient (try finding a compact model that is!), but it doesn't have one of those fancy water and ice dispensers or a window to the inside that reduces efficiency, so that's a win. Our compact washing machine, on the other hand, is a high-efficiency model. We don't have a dishwasher. We live in a tiny house. We don't have enough dishes to warrant the use of one.

Another appliance we don't have is a dryer. We live in Texas; don't nobody need a dryer in Texas. OK, that's not entirely true, but in the last three months we've probably used the shared dryer on the property a total of three times. And that was mostly when we were renting out Serenity and needed sheets or towels washed and dried stat! On a sunny day it takes a total of an hour and a half to dry clothes in Texas, so there's really no need for such an energy-sucking appliance. A fold-out rack and a clothes line do just fine.

In the bathroom

While most homes in America have 2-3 porcelain thrones that get flushed a bazillion times a day, we have a composting toilet. And no, it's not like using an outhouse, so wipe that cringey look off your face. While you can fashion one yourself out of a bucket and a funnel and a heap of other supplies, we sprung for a fancy (read: expensive) model that does all the work for us. We turn a crank instead of flushing and empty it when it gets full. It doesn't smell and you don't have to touch anything gross. And a huge plus for me is the reduction of bacteria. Even with a toilet lid closed, flushing sends all kinds of nasty bacteria all over every surface of your bathroom. How close to your toilet is your toothbrush? Closer than five feet? You may want to reposition.

What about water?

Well, a conventional toilet uses between 10-18 gallons of water per person per day depending on whether you have a low-flow model. That's a lot of a precious resource literally going down the toilet, especially in drought-prone areas like California. A composting toilet eliminates all of that. Plus, you can actually reuse all of your waste if you want to. Diluted urine has been proven a delightfully effective fertilizer and human waste, properly composted, can be used on your flowerbed and around trees.

The shower was a tough one to figure out. Since we couldn't use a super efficient electric tankless water heater (something to do with voltage and plugging in, etc.), we purchased a 7-gallon model that is 94% efficient. Still good, but it only offers seven gallons of hot water at a time. And since most shower heads have an output of 2.5 gallons per minute, you're looking at less than a three minute shower. Yikes. So we looked for shower heads with the WaterSense logo. Still couldn't find anything under 1.5 GPM (or a 4.5 minute shower, which still didn't seem like enough some days). So we did what we always do when faced with a problem: we turned to the internet. Where we found a showerhead that you can adjust from 1.5 GPM to .5 GPM. We set it on .5 and haven't had a cold shower since! We're not even sacrificing water pressure!

Since we're not hooked up to sewer (and never will be), our grey water (the stuff that drains from our sinks and bathtub), goes straight into the ground. We make sure to use only eco-friendly products with no harmful chemicals, dyes, etc., but plants actually do an awesome job of filtering out that stuff in addition to food particles and so forth, so it's all good. We could even store our grey water or divert it if we ever plant a flower or veggie garden, meaning we wouldn't have to use up fresh water to do the watering.

Keeping cool (and warm)

We went back and forth a lot on the AC front. I even considered trying to go without it for a hot second, there. But between living in Texas and Josh's propensity to complain if the temperature rises above 78 degrees, he wasn't having any of that. So we got ourselves a ductless mini split, one of the more efficient AC/heating units on the market. But before we ordered we had someone who installs them for a living (or used to) come out and measure windows, square footage and ceiling height so he could tell us exactly what we needed. Having a unit that's too big or too small for your space isn't helping anybody. Or the environment.

Taking out the trash

Since Serenity is parked more or less outside the inner city limits, there's no recycling service. Maybe there is and our landlord just doesn't want to pay for it, but the fact remains: no one comes around in a big truck once a week to take our recyclables off our hands. And since not recycling isn't really an option for us, we simply collect our recyclables, along with those of our tiny house neighbors, and deliver them to the recycling center about 3 miles away. It's free and they even take styrofoam (which, in case you weren't aware, never breaks down in a landfill).

As for the rest of our rubbish, we produce very little, actually. At least since we started composting all of our food waste. Instead of throwing banana peels, coffee filters and the last three bites of crusty stir fry in the trash, we chuck it in a bucket and then transfer that bucket to a compost pile (or we will as soon as we build a box for it). Vegetable scraps we stuff in a plastic bag or bowl in the freezer to use to make vegetable broth every few weeks. If we have too much, we chuck it in the compost bucket.

Let's shed some light

First off, we only need to use artificial light in Serenity after the sun goes down (except occasionally in the one-windowed bathroom). She has eight windows and two large glass doors and sunshine just pours in! But when we do need to turn on the lights, there's no issue with energy efficiency. Every light from the dangling overheads to the recessed discs are LED and consume minimal energy. The overhead lights are even dimmable so we can use even less energy (or create a little mood lighting for a romantic dinner--or more likely, late night movies).

Being environmentally responsible is important to us. We've only got one Earth, so we've got to take care of it. If not for our generation, then for the next. There's so much you can do to make a difference and you don't have to live in a tiny house to do it. Oh, and we'll let you know when we install those solar panels.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Saving for Travel for Beginners

Alisha McDarris

If you're the kind of person who wants to travel but looks at the cost of airline tickets and hotel stays and balks at the high numbers, wishing you could afford to take a trip to Hawaii or Brussels, well, you clearly haven't read our post on saving on travel. Many people honestly believe they just can't afford to see the world, but I'm here to tell you that you can. Sure it involves spending judiciously once you arrive at your destination, but maybe more importantly, it requires saving wisely well before the flight is booked. Read on to learn our best tips for saving up for that one big trip or for many travels for years to come.

Bank it 

Begin with your bank account. If you don't have a savings account, get one. And then open another one just for travel. Most banks will even let you name your accounts so when you log in online you can clearly see what is what. Then, once you have the account (named "vacation" or "travel" or "Alaska" or whatever), use it. Add to it religiously, even if you can only afford small sums at a time. The easiest way to do so is to set up automatic transfers from your checking account each week or month. We don't get paid on a regular basis, so every time we do we just log on and schedule a transfer. We save a percentage of our income every month just for travel (5-10%), but you might prefer round sums like $25 or $250 a month. Once the money starts to accumulate, make sure you don't use it for anything other than travel! And once you have saved enough for that dream trip, spend it without guilt or hesitation. This is what you worked so hard for!

Analyze your spending

Maybe you don't think you can swing an extra $40 every month for that savings account. I bet you can. But if automatic withdraws seem like too much just yet, it's time to take a look at what else you spend your money on and if it's as important as that trip you've always wanted to take to Bejing. How often do you eat out per week? How many times do you stop at the coffee shop for an expensive latte? How many shoes do you buy each month? I would never tell you to deprive yourself of everyday things that bring you joy, but every time you go out to dinner when you could just cook at home, consider what's more important to you: Visiting the Louvre or chowing down on a steak and potato (or in our case a cashew cream alfredo). Every time you talk yourself out of a night on the town or a cute pair of heels, take the money you would have spent and put it in that vacation account! To help you visualize how much you could save, if you go out for a dinner for two three times a week and cut out one, you could save $30 a week. That's $1,560 in a year! We've toured entire countries for less than that! Do you order a $4 Frappuccino four times a week? Cut it down to two and you just saved $416 in a year for your next trip!

Find cheap alternatives

If there is something you do actually need at home, shop around and look for the best deal on everything, especially big ticket items like appliances or car repair. Buying used or refurbished saves money and the planet. Even shopping at discount stores can save a lot of dough. At the grocery store, buy the off-brand if it's cheaper. It usually tastes/works the same and if you do so continuously you could save plenty on your grocery bill in a year. If you need a new jacket, shop thrift stores or online to see if you can get it cheaper. Want a few new books to read? Buy them used. Holidays or birthdays coming up? Not even kids need all the crap they get. Try making gifts instead or spending a fraction of your usual amount on each recipient. They probably won't even notice. Go out with the girls (or guys) often? Propose free or cheap activities instead of pricey dinners or cocktails or movies or the shooting range or whatever you're into. Little savings add up over time and free up more cash for that travel fund.

Ask the hard questions

It helps that we live in a tiny house with limited storage space, but our favorite question when we are considering a purchase large or small is, "Do we really need this?" It's the question my mom hates when we go shopping. (Me: Oh, that's cute. Mom: You should get it, it's only $8. Me: Naw, I don't really need it.) Drives her crazy. 'Cause it doesn't matter if those shorts are only $8 if I have a pair almost just like them and they're not going to fit in my tiny wardrobe anyway. This goes for large and small items from smoothies that you could make at home for 1/4 the price to that shiny new Cannondale you've had your eye on. Here's your follow up question: "Would I rather have X or a trip to [enter dream destination here]?"

Get somebody else to pay

Don't think you can save quite enough but might be close? Ask family and friends to get you airline or hotel vouchers for birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, you name it. A handful of people pitching in can really help put a dent in the cost of a trip.

Make some extra cash 

I'm not saying go out and get another part time job (unless you want to), but sometimes finding little ways to make money here and there can make a big difference in your savings account. If you have a garage sale, commit all that money to your travel fund. Sell big ticket items on Ebay or Craigslist. Go old school and shovel some driveways. Check Craigslist for people looking for someone to weed their garden one weekend or want to pay someone with a truck to help them move. Sign up to be a local co-host on AirBnB. It all adds up!

Save that loose change

No joke. We used to save up all of our pocket change throughout the year and then use it toward Christmas presents. Instead, do it for travel. It probably won't add up to much unless you pay for everything with cash, but it will at least be enough to purchase a meal or two once you get to where you're going, and that's something!

Cut it out 

Have a lot of regular monthly fees coming out of your account? Get rid of them. Cable, for example, is expensive. Opt for a Netflix or Hulu account instead and pocket the difference. Do you actually use that gym membership? If not, cancel it. If you subscribe to any magazines that you never actually get to reading, do not renew. It's also not a bad idea to analyze your phone usage to see if you could downgrade to a cheaper plan. Same goes for internet. Have a regular mani-pedi appointment on the books? Unless you're a hand or foot model, that's unnecessary luxury if you're trying to save up.

With just a few adjustments to your lifestyle at home, those dreams of lying on a beach in Belize or photographing the Seine in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower are totally within reach. And you may even find that you love the frugal lifestyle! Have more ideas on how to save up for travel? Share them!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Saving on Travel for Beginners

Alisha McDarris

We talk a lot about saving money on Terradrift. Indeed, budget-friendly travel is one of our cornerstone principles. It's how we travel, it's how we recommend others travel, and it's how we show that travel doesn't have to be just for the wealthy. But a lot of folks still think travel, especially international travel, is out of their reach. So we've compiled this handy guide to help you on your way to understanding that you, too, can see the world, even if your last paycheck didn't contain any commas.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Building, building, building...

Alisha McDarris

Trying to build a tiny house on a budget can be a challenge. And it often means calling upon a DIY skill set to make things from scratch instead of buying pre-made. It's time consuming, but it can save hundreds if you're careful.

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