Safe and Sound

safety collageHello wanderers!

I took a nice little break from blogging last week to celebrate Reading Week (and yes, I did do a lot of reading! For book reviews, author interviews, and literary news, check out my blog and podcast Literally, Katrina!). I am glad to be back with more travel tips!

This week’s post is all about staying safe while traveling, because, you know, safety first. As many of you know, I’m planning on trekking Europe with two of my friends this summer. If you’ve been following the headlines in the news recently, you might be thinking that this isn’t the best year to go to Europe…with the refugee crisis, economic instability, and the potential Brexit, things aren’t looking very stable.

As a news junkie and human rights grad, all of these things are troubling to me. That being said, none of these are major deterrents to traveling this summer. Traveling is the best way to learn about yourself, culture, and the world around you. Conflict, economics, and politics invariably play into that. At any point in time, we can say it’s not the right or best time to travel virtually anywhere on the map (for example, lots of people are writing off Brazil and much of South America because of the Zika virus outbreak, even though only a small portion of travellers might be affected by the virus). I have many friends who’ve gone places in what we might consider the worst of times and had the best experiences – and that’s all because they’ve taken every precaution to be safe while traveling.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to be aware of what’s going on around the world – at all times, but especially before you plan on traveling. Remember, forewarned is forearmed. We can’t plan for everything and we certainly can’t control everything that happens, but we can control what we do to prepare for a trip. Being informed is your first step to a safe trip!

Before you book a trip, research the political and economic climate of the destination you’re planning on visiting. And then do additional check-ups closer to your departure date – things can change on a dime and a location that is safe in January may not be stable in June. When looking for updates, check out local news sites and international sources, because we don’t always get all of the international headlines in Canada. Upon arrival, pay attention to local conversations and headlines at newsstands – it’s good to stay up-to-date with what’s going on on the ground. Be aware of your surroundings, be aware of your belongings (especially money and electronics), and be aware of where the nearest embassies are while abroad, and you’ll be golden.

Another thing you can do to stay safe while travelling is to take advantage of the Registration of Canadians Abroad service provided by the Canadian government. I sign up whenever I’m leaving the country on a major trip so that if anything goes awry (think natural disaster, etc.), government officials can contact me with important info. The service also provides travel watches and advisories – all you have to do is look up the country you’re planning on visiting for info (ex. Croatia and Slovenia, two of my top destinations this summer, are both in the clear! Yay!).

How do you stay safe when traveling? I’m constantly looking for tips and tricks and would love to know what your go-to strategies are! Let me know in the comments below or on social media. Don’t forget to post your #WanderlustWednesday posts on Instagram over the month of February. Tag your pic with #WanderlustWednesday, #hopelesswandererblog, and @katrinasklepowich – you have a couple of weeks to participate and each picture posted and tagged is an entry to win an awesome travel prize pack (details coming soon!). And keep your eyes out for mini cards in all of your favourite travel guide books and accessories.

Until next week, stay well!
Katrina

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Planes | Trains | Automobiles – Part 3

autos planes trains

Hello wanderers!

It’s here – Part 3 of the Planes, Trains, and Automobiles series, and it’s all about cars, busses, and all the fun stuff in between. Like I mentioned previously, I usually end up taking a variety of transportation systems to get from place to place when I travel, and while driving may not always be the quickest way to travel, sometimes all you need is a good road trip!

From the autobahn to the backroads of rural Zambia, and safari jeeps to a tiny little tuk-tuk in India, I feel like I’ve seen it all.

From top to bottom, left to right: The Rempels and a Sklepowich in a tuktuk in New Delhi (photo by Margaret Stefels), going 260km on the Autobahn in Germany (yes, that is super fast), a typical dirt road in rural Zambia, and a safari truck convoy at Disney's Animal Kingdom in Florida (not in Africa! But I have been on game drives in India, South Africa, and Botswana)

Four Rempels and a Sklepowich in a tuktuk in New Delhi (photo by Margaret Stefels), going 260km on the Autobahn in Germany (yes, that is super fast), a typical dirt road in rural Zambia (bumpy), and a safari convoy at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Florida.

bridesmaidsThere’s nothing like a road trip to take in the scenery and enjoy your company. Driving somewhere gives you more time to appreciate where you are, where you’re going, and who you’re with. I love road trips with friends – we usually end up talking for hours about random topics, laughing until we’re crying, dancing to the most ridiculous music, and snapping fun pictures. Road trips are also optimal for good naps and a ton of reading (if you don’t have motion sickness issues). Vehicles that come equipped with DVD players and screens are also king for long trips (or you can just use a tablet or laptop!). If you opt to take a road trip (check out this amazing list of road trip routes!), just remember to take some breaks to stretch, and split time between drivers (safety first!).

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 5.26.15 PMThis summer, I’m heading to Europe with two friends, and we decided to do a bus tour (operated by Topdeck Tours) for the first two weeks of our trip, taking us from London to Rome.

Some of the benefits of taking a bus tour when traveling internationally is that you don’t have to worry about getting from one place to the next on your own, and generally accommodations and food (if not all, some) are included in your trip costs.

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 5.25.24 PMWe used TourRadar (an amazing travel site) to search routes and found one that matched what we were looking for in terms of price, route, stops along the way, types of activities, and age (our tour is for 18-39 year olds – some tours range from 10-70 year olds, so if you don’t want to travel with little kiddos, it’s best to keep your eyes out for that). I’ve done short day trips on busses in Europe but I’ve never done a long tour, so I’ll let you know how it goes! I’m very excited not to have to plan every step of our trip – it’s vacation, after all!

There are so many options when it comes to travelling and transportation – you can rent a car, hop on a  bus, hit up the metro, or fly to your heart’s content. When it comes to planning your trip, anything goes because it’s your trip. I hope these tips have been helpful!

Don’t forget to post your #WanderlustWednesday posts on Instagram over the month of February. Tag your pic with #WanderlustWednesday, #hopelesswandererblog, and @katrinasklepowich – you have a couple of weeks to participate and each picture posted and tagged is an entry to win an awesome travel prize pack (details coming soon!). And keep your eyes out for mini cards in all of your favourite travel guide books and accessories.

Enjoy the long weekend, dear wanderers.

Until next time,
Katrina

Planes | Trains | Automobiles – Part 2

trains autos planes2Hello wanderers!

We’re in week two of the transportation series, meaning we’ve arrived at trains – my absolute favourite form of getting from place to place when travelling! I have a deep love for trains and, my goodness, if I could take a train every day, I would (no offence, Winnipeg Transit….but you suck a little bit – at least compared to trains!).

I’ve taken trains in North America, South Africa, India, and all over Europe, and I’m telling you, for a Prairie girl, trains just make sense. They’re quick, they’re efficient, they’re generally environmentally-friendly, and they’re affordable. What’s not to love? I like metros and subways, I enjoy regional trains, and I adore high-speed trains (Eurostar, ICE, La Frecce, the TGV, I miss you all!). Sure, some trains are more comfortable or prompt than others (don’t mention anything about trains being late in Germany…Germans are all about being on time and/or early!), but, all in all, trains are pretty awesome. I very, very much wish Manitoba had more efficient passenger trains  – but I suppose that is a rant for another time!

When planning a trip, it’s essential to know what public transportation systems are available and how accessible these systems are to where you are staying – and if these systems are going to help you get from Point A to Point B in the most efficient, cost-effective, and comfortable way possible. Sometimes, it makes more sense to rent a car, and other times, the metro and bus systems are going to get the job done. Sometimes, your metro pass will get you access to bus, metro, and regional trains. It all depends on the city/region you’re in, so you have to do a little bit of research before you make any decisions.

If I could tell you a straight-up answer right here, right now, and make your travel dreams come true, I would – trust me! It would be so much easier that way, wouldn’t it? But, in reality, it’s all up to you and what works best for your trip. I’ve always relied on a variety of transportation methods when getting around different cities and countries, so here’s a few tips I’ve picked up along the way.

  • If you’re going to Europe, do your research and see if a Eurail pass is right for you. There are a variety of passes (ex. one country passes, select passes, or global passes) for different ages and groups, and if a pass is right for you, you can save yourself a lot of money (PS: there’s also a deal on between now and the end of April – win!). The last time I went to Europe, I traveled solely by rail between cities (I used what’s called a Global Pass) and it definitely saved me time and money. Rolling with Eurail is best for routes that are close together and trips that are continuous – a lot of passes have restrictions for validity (ex. 22 days of continuous travel vs. only 15 days of travel within two months) so you’ll have to figure out what’s best for you in terms of where you’re going and how often you’re moving from city to city.
  • Another Europe tip: a lot of trains require reservations depending on how far you’re traveling and the type of train you’re taking. Night trains and high-speed trains generally require that you book your seats ahead of time – you can’t just use your Eurail pass (if you have one) to secure your spot on the train. Make sure you book your reservations, especially if you’re on a tight schedule!! On my most recent trip, we booked our first few trains the day we arrived at our first destination (Paris), and then booked the final leg of our trip at our halfway point (Bern, Switzerland). You don’t have to book everything all at once, especially if you don’t have concrete plans –  but it is important to book your train tickets once you do know (particularly if you have to take a train to a certain destination in order to catch your flight home). One thing to note: regional trains don’t generally require reservations – yay!
Regional trains are my favourite. My best friend and I had this lovely compartment all to ourselves for a few hours, traveling from Friedrichshafen, Germany, to Salzburg, Austria.

Regional trains are my favourite (you can tell I’m pretty excited!). My best friend and I had this lovely compartment all to ourselves for a few hours, travelling from Friedrichshafen, Germany, to Salzburg, Austria.

  • In South Africa, trains don’t always run on time, so don’t bank on the train getting you from place to place by a certain time. If you’re on a strict schedule, you’re best to take a taxi or drive. However, time is pretty relative in South Africa – if you’re late, you’re doing things right! Nobody will be mad at you if you’re behind schedule because the lifestyle is a little more relaxed and most people are late on the daily. I also noticed that you kind of just jump on and off the trains, and the doors don’t close. So just bear that in mind. It’s a worthwhile experience though!
  • In India, the trains and train stations are busy and stinky. There are a ton of people (again, I kind of found this to be common everywhere in India), so it’s important to get to your train early just so that you have time to navigate. If you can, try to get a ticket in first class because it really is more comfortable (there’s AC, which is wonderful!). Why is it stinky? I don’t really want to have to explain it to you because I think you can make an educated guess. It isn’t very pleasant and that’s really all you need to know. Just be prepared and you’ll be fine! One thing to note: just don’t use the washroom on the train or in the train station if you can help it. If you can’t help it, bring your own toilet paper, disinfectant spray, and hand sanitizer – you’ll need it.
  • Final tip: trains aren’t always the most efficient way to travel. If you’re in a hurry or have destinations that are really spaced out from one another (ex. Berlin to London will take about 11 hours depending on what train(s) you take), your best bet might not be taking the train. And sometimes, you’ll find that busses take a quicker route for less money. Again, my best advice here is to do your research!

Trains are wonderful. I’m sure the novelty wears off if you take trains every day, but I’m pretty excited to head back to Europe and hop on a train or two this time around. My friend Beckie, who’s travelling with me this time, has never experienced the joy that is taking the train, so I’m excited to share that with her!

Next week, I’ll be back with Part 3 of the series. Also, don’t forget to post a travel pic on Instagram every Wednesday between now and March for your chance to win a prize! Tell me where you’re longing to travel to and use the hashtags #wanderlustwednesday and #hopelesswandererblog, and tag me @katrinasklepowich. I can’t wait to hear from you (also, who doesn’t want to win a prize!).

Until next time,
Katrina

Planes | Trains | Automobiles – Part 1

Planes Trains AutomobilesHello wanderers!

One of the most important (and arguably, one of the trickiest) things to organize when planning a trip is transportation. You have to consider how to get where you’re going, and then how to get around once you’re there.  Do you drive? Fly? Hop on a bus? What about a cruise?  Sometimes, your trip may require a combination of these – or you may just rely on one mode of transportation. It all depends on what you want to do and how far you need to go.

When making these decisions, you have to factor in a few things: affordability, accessibility, convenience, and comfort are usually on the top of my list. Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to outline how to go about choosing transportation while traveling, covering planes, trains, and automobiles (I haven’t been on a cruise yet, so I can’t dole out any personal advice in that area!). Hopefully you’ll find these tips and tricks useful!

Planes

Oh flying. We’ve covered lots of ground on what to wear, how to pack, and how (not) to behave while flying, but we haven’t yet discussed the joys of booking flights and finding the best deals. Having just booked an intercontinental flight myself, the process is fresh in my mind.

Here are seven tips on how to book affordable flights for international travel.

  1. Use meta search engines like Momondo (this is the site I just used to book my flight to London this summer! It’s awesome), Google Flights, Hipmunk (a friend just recommended this site to me – it’s a great resource), Expedia, and InsanelyCheapFlights.com, to search for the best rates on flights.
  2. Keep your eyes out for sales in advance – go to airline websites and sign up for e-newsletters so that you get a heads up on sales and first pick when the sales are running. This Buzzfeed article recommends booking your flights on Tuesdays or Wednesdays, as this is when sales are usually announced by airlines.
  3. If you aren’t in a hurry to get from place to place, book a flight with a longer layover or multiple connections – it may take you an extra 10 hours to get where you’re going, but you’ll save money! My only advice for this one is that sometimes your comfort is more important than your bank account – flying can be exhausting and sometimes you just want to get where you’re going. In that case, a more direct flight plan is your best bet.
  4. Budget airlines are king. Amen to RyanAir and its comrades – if you’re going to Europe and want to jump from city to city in a cheap and efficient way, sometimes flying pans out better than taking the train. Keep in mind that while budget airlines  may not take you to the main airport, you will still save a ton of money. This summer, I need to get from Berlin to London and don’t have time to train or bus it – it’ll only cost me 40€ maximum and there are several flights at different times every day  (30€ depending on the time of day!). Worth it!
  5. Depending on where you’re flying, try to book about 4-6 months in advance. Some people recommend 1-2 months, but that depends on your destination and the time of year you’re flying. If you’re flying in high season (June to September), your best bet is at the 4-month line.
  6. If you see a flight at a good rate (if you can get to Europe during the summer months for under $1100, you’re golden), don’t hesitate. Book it right away. Sometimes, certain seats sell at a cheaper rate, and once those seats are booked, the cost of your flight will go up incrementally. And you have at least 24 hours to cancel your flight in case a better deal catches your eye.
  7. If you have a credit card and can get your cancellation and medical insurance all in one place, you should do it. Read the fine print and compare prices on packages – generally, you can get a better deal doing this than purchasing the insurance offered by the airline. That being said, always get some level of cancellation and interruption insurance.

There are a ton of resources out there on how to get the best deals for flying and which airlines have high quality ratings – do your research ahead of time and your flight booking experience will be a breeze! And remember, flying is part of the journey and traveling is just as much (or more so) about the journey as the destination. What are your best tips for flying? Send me a tweet @KatrinaSklepo or comment below!

Until next week, stay well!
Katrina

All fun, all the time

Minicards collageHello wanderers!

I’m starting something new to get the word out about Hopeless Wanderer and I’m being totally sneaky about it (it’s fun!). I’ve gone around the city and placed cute little mini cards at various spots travel enthusiasts (you!) frequent (think, the travel section in bookstores, etc.). I encourage you to go forth and find these mini cards (examples of what they look like are in the image above!), snap a picture, and then tell me about the travel destinations on your bucket list on Twitter and Instagram (follow me @KatrinaSklepo). I want to hear from you! Life is more fun that way. Get your scavenger hunting on – I can’t wait to hear about where you want to go next. You never know, maybe I’ll work your suggestions into my summer travel plans.

There’s also a contest coming your way soon (#WanderlustWednesdays! Get excited!) so make sure to keep up with the blog for opportunities to enter to win a prize. All fun, all the time.

Here are some of the destinations on my European bucket list right now – are any of these spots on your list?

  1. Split, Croatia. Waterfalls, beaches, Game of Thrones…enough said.
  2. Ljubljana, Slovenia. City of Dragons – yes please!
  3. Bled, Slovenia. This might just be the most picturesque lake in the world.
  4. Cinque Terre. Five gorgeous villages on the Italian coast.
  5. Santorini, Greece. I have yet to visit Greece and I’ve always wanted to go!

Where to next? Okay, go.

Until next time, stay well!
Katrina

On the Road Again

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Beckie, Kaeri, and I at our high school graduation! I used to have really curly hair!

Hello wanderers!

It would seem that about every two years, I get the itch to go on an adventure. Usually, these trips line up with a milestone in my life – a graduation, a major birthday, etc. And every time, I justify each trip by saying “it’s probably my last chance…”

I think it’s important to say yes to opportunities as they come along –  if you have the chance to do something you’ve always wanted to do, or go somewhere you’ve always wanted to go, then why not say yes? But I’ve also come to realize that it’s never really your “last chance” to do something – so many of my trips in the past have been motivated by the “well, it’s probably my last chance” justification, but I’m beginning to think that if you want to do something, just make it happen (duh, right?).

Here’s a recap of my “last chance” trips over the years:

  • When I was in university, I had opportunities to do some extraordinary travel for school – real “once-in-a-lifetime” trips that I couldn’t pass up (I promise they were educational!). I got to go on a UN Study Tour to Ottawa and New York and sit in on incredible workshops from speakers around the world, as well as a real Security Council assembly (to this day, this was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had).
  • Following the UN Study Tour, I took a course in South Africa, came home for a month, and then hopped back on a plane to Africa – this time, to Zambia (remember that story about borrowed pants?! Yep, same trip). It was the craziest, busiest summer of my life, but I had the best time and all that travel just got me hooked on adventuring. To be honest, I thought going to South Africa would be my one and only chance to go to Africa – it’s funny how things work out, because I certainly didn’t expect to go to Africa twice in one summer!
  • When I was about to finish my degree, I thought my traveling days were coming to an end – my best friend and I planned our India/Spain/Germany extravaganza, thinking it was “our last chance to travel together”. I thought I’d return from our trip and jump right into a job and be an adult for real. However, post-grad life didn’t turn out quite like I thought it would…
  • Within a year of graduating, I knew I wanted to go back to school. I worked to save up for my studies and got my travel on!
    • I went to Osheaga in Montreal because it was “my last chance to see Mumford & Sons” (I hope that isn’t true!).
    • The following summer, right before I began my CreComm journey, I dragged my lovely mom and cousin Hayley across Europe because I thought it truly was “my last chance to travel”. I thought CreComm was it. Once done, it was adult time for real.

Well, dear ones, with another graduation on the horizon (only a few months to go!), this summer really does look like “my last summer to go on a major trip” (I can seriously justify anything!)…so I decided to take this summer off and go on another adventure!

I’m so excited to be traveling with two of my favourite people – my best friend and travel buddy Kaeri (who gets bitten by the travel bug as often as I do!), and our friend Beckie (this will be her first time across the pond!). We’re starting things off in London and then trekking it across Europe for 5 weeks, just 3 girls and some backpacks. I can’t wait!

beckie kaeri and katrina at rempel wedding

Beckie, Kaeri and I at Kaeri’s sister’s wedding a couple of years ago. I’m so incredibly excited to be traveling with these girls this summer!

As our travel plan starts to emerge and solidify, I’ll keep you all updated on where we’re going and how we plan on getting around – follow along for some great tips!

Thanks for following me on my planning journey – 2016 will be an exciting year.

Until next week, stay well!
Katrina

Wander far, wander often

2016-banner

Hello wanderers!

Happy 2016 – I hope you all had a wonderful holiday and are feeling refreshed and energized for the new year. I certainly took full advantage of the break and had the best time with family, friends, and a ton of good books!

Now, I’m not usually one for poetic new year’s resolutions (#newyearsameyou? All good! No judgement here!), but I did take the time to set some travel goals over the holidays and I can’t wait to chat about my plans here on Hopeless Wanderer over the coming months – get excited (I know I am!).

I’m also going to be trying a few new things on the blog this year, including some 24-hour city guides, more helpful posts dedicated to tips and tricks to make your adventures more fun, and much, much more. There’s even a contest coming your way next month. There’s so much to look forward to. 2016, let’s do this!

Here’s to many more adventures and a happy new year!

Until next week, stay well.
Katrina