Playing Tour Guide: Showing Visitors Around

by Alex Schnee
( July 28th, 2015 )

Showing Visitors Around

I’m back in Montana for a few days before leaving for New York, and I was fortunate enough to have my boyfriend come and visit me for a little bit over my birthday. To say that there’s a slight difference between Montana and New York is more than obvious, and I wanted to show him the best parts of where I come from. I’m not sure if I succeeded (he may have just been nice about it), but it made me start thinking about how trying to represent a certain location to visitors can be a challenge—especially if it’s a place you’ve grown to love and care about.

I remember feeling similarly when I was studying abroad in Venice and my parents came to visit for a few days. I had fallen so deeply in love with the city and I wanted them to share my love for it too. I took them to my favorite restaurants, showed them the sights, and hoped that they would be able to understand the relationship I had formed with this spot.

I don’t think I made the kind of impression I wanted. They definitely enjoyed their time and respected my adoration for the city, but it wasn’t the same kind of experience for them—and I had to learn that just because they didn’t feel the same way it didn’t mean that my feelings toward it were any less valuable.

As expats or when you’re studying abroad, you see everything about the place that you are living in. You see the good and the bad and the fantastic, and when someone comes to visit, you only have a limited amount of time to show them what it’s like. They don’t get to see everything. And that’s okay. I’ve been on the receiving end of this, as well. I’ve been thoroughly impassioned about a place because I had a quality guide, but I have also been turned off by a location, as well.

When it comes down to it, you can only do the best you can by showing your friends and family what they want to see and what you feel comfortable sharing. Your love for a place is your love—it doesn’t have to change because someone else doesn’t feel the same way. That’s part of the beauty of travel. It’s a personal experience—whether you’ve been living abroad for some time, or you are visiting someone you care about.

Have you ever visited a place that you hated? Did you change your mind after you had a good guide to help you?

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Generation-Y Travel and Tours: Peru with Contiki Tours

by Alex Schnee
( July 18th, 2015 )

Contiki Tours Peru

I wrote an article about a year ago on whether or not taking a tour is a good idea for members of Generation-Y. I had previously taken a tour right after graduating college (a whirlwind European adventure that left me with a whole bunch of new friends and out on the couch binge-watching for a week after), and although I enjoyed myself, I began to make the transition to traveling alone. Let’s face it, when most millennials think of traveling, it’s not usually with a guide leading the way or an itinerary. We think of forging ahead on our own, discovering new people and places with only ourselves to rely on.

Contiki Tours Llama

With this in mind, I embarked on a press trip for Contiki Tours to Peru. I was offered a chance to experience their Andes and Amazon Highlights tour—nine days in the country of Peru with international and domestic flights included. Starting in Cusco, our group of twenty-three people ages 18-35 were offered the chance to visit ancient Incan temples, make an 11k trek through the mountains to Machu Picchu, and to climb on a boat and head down the Amazon.

To be fair, I was a little hesitant to embark on a tour again. I had gotten used to doing my own thing as a traveler, from choosing my own food options to deciding what I was going to do as far as activities. A tour seemed, well, very planned.

However, almost immediately after landing in Lima, a set itinerary seemed like a solid idea. I had never been to South America before, and Europe and South America are quite different entities from one another as I soon discovered. Having everything laid out for us, including some meals, took a lot of pressure off me as a traveler to figure everything out—and also gave me a lot more time to enjoy where I was rather than worrying about what I was going to do next or the logistics of finding suitable hotels or hostels.

Contiki Tours River

Another perk to taking a tour to Peru was the fact that you had the option to choose whether or not you wanted to head out on the original Inca Trail. Trying to get tickets on your own is almost impossible (they only let 500 hikers on the trail a day—think of the thousands upon thousands of travelers vying for those tickets), but I didn’t have to worry about it when working with Contiki. I was able to enjoy the absolutely stunning 11k trek without stress. (Other than the stress of the hike up the Andes.) This was a major highlight for me, and I know if I had missed out on that experience because I couldn’t get a ticket on my own I would have been devastated.

There were also several activities included in the tour that would have been difficult to plan on my own, including a corn beer tasting, caymen spotting in the Amazon, and trying home-cooked guinea pig. I don’t know if I would have had the resources to put together these activities by myself, and I was afforded a cultural experience that I might not have been aware of or exposed to without an unreasonable amount of pre-planned research.

Contiki Tours Ruins

However, the best part of the journey for me was the people I met on tour. (Mark Mackenzie.) Everyone I met was an experienced traveler (which you would have to be to choose a tour like this), and we had a blast swapping stories or trying new foods. As a group, we all meshed quite well together, and I plan on keeping in touch with a number of the people I was “stuck” with. I enjoy both experiences of traveling alone and with others, but the group I was with was exceptional—including our tour manager, Gaby.

Would I travel with Contiki again? Verdict: Absolutely. I was thoroughly impressed by their South American operation, which has only been running for five years. Though I might not choose them to travel Europe, I would definitely consider their other South American packages, their Australian options, and even some destinations in Asia. I’ve always said any sort of travel is good—no matter whether or not you choose to do it on your own or with a tour company. This tour with Contiki gave me a reason to stick by that motto, and I would highly recommend other members of Generation-Y to consider an experience like the one I was offered.

Contiki Machu Picchu

Would you consider taking a tour as a Generation-Y traveler?

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A Tale of Two Hostels: Where to Stay in Ljubljana

by Alex Schnee
( July 7th, 2015 )

Best Hostels Ljubljana

I was in Ljubljana a few months ago and I ended up staying at two different hostels when I was there. Part of the fun in staying in a location for maybe a few days longer than normal is that you get to experience the culture and enjoy a few more spots. I stayed at Vila Veselova for one night before making my way to Zagreb and a few nights at the Celica Art Hostel not far away from the bus and train station. Here’s some thoughts I had on each location and which might suit you better during your time in Ljubljana.

Vila Veselova

I stayed in an eight person mixed dorm at this little converted house on the edge of town. It was about a twenty-minute walk from the train station, which was tough with a backpack on—not a great beginning to a hostel that claims to be backpacker-friendly. However, the rooms were charming and the bed set-up made it possible for a feeling of privacy even in an eight bedroom. The staff is friendly and the entire place offers a homey feel compared to some sterile hostels you can find suited to backpackers.

There’s also a free breakfast in the morning with a variety of breakfast items. Again, the hostel is pretty laid back, so there’s a communal sharing of food. If you want a more charming feel, this might be a better option for you than some of the other hostels available in the area.

Hostel-Celica-Ljubljana

The Celica Art Hostel

For a bit more of a novel stay, the Celica Art Hostel offers rooms in a former prison in the old part of town. Though it looks a bit creepy from the outside, the inside offers clean rooms (even though beds are on the floor and you’re on top of your fellow roommates) in the former jail cells. This layout definitely requires you to get friendly with your new inmates.

There’s also a bar and semi-restaurant located on the main floor where you can order snacks and some food items during the day. The prices are a bit expensive, and you have to pay for breakfast, so it might be worth it to head to the city center where you can get a better beer and food for the same price.

Verdict?

Overall, I enjoyed both for different reasons. They both had their upsides and downsides, but I would say choose one over the other depending on your personality. If you want some privacy and are just in town for a night, the Vila Veselova might be a good option (just make sure to take a cab in the morning if you need to get somewhere). If you are thinking about meeting some new people and the novelty of the place, consider the Celica Art Hostel.

Image courtesy of Kim S.

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