Reassurance

Today is a short one. My tablet screen cracked. It comforts me.

It’s not a big crack, not a slash through the screen or a spiderweb spiral. But it is a crack right around the audio-out in the lower right corner. To me, it shows that technology is not the invincible boogie-spirit we deify it to be.

I’m writing this on the east coast, so maybe mine is a local saturation. But that crack is proof that ‘technology’ and its development world, the talked up land of high prices and higher expectations, is not everything. It’s a reminder that at the end of the day, it’s just a device, just a tool made by humans to further their goals. It’s fallible, and fragile.

The real question to ask when that next new device comes out, is not what its specs are, but what will we use it for?

I’m going to hold on to this device for a while longer.

Brass Tacks

Alright alright, enough with the poetry. Let’s get down to brass tasks.
“Travel?” You say, “What’s that? How can it last?”
Well my friends, travel is living. But what can one do with grand statements? Let me tell you a story.
Or rather, let me give you a set.

1.
A man sees his goal across traffic.
Sniffling with germs he prepares.
And then, at the signal, he embaks down the street
shouldering the plentiful stares.

He approaches a quiet side market
So fresh it has yet to stock shelves
and using words pulled from old pages
Attempts to convey how he fares.

2.

A woman screams inward at confines
That counter each move that she makes.
She clenches her fists, nails cutting her flesh
and finally,
inside,
it breaks.

She leaves her cellphone and passport.
She leaves her wallet and keys.
And with barely a word to her partner,
Grasps the door latch,
swings it open,
and leaves.

I may have lied about forsaking poetry.

3.

Child of the Orient
Plump in youth and love
Your look like a Buddha
Why are you so angry?

Daughter, running, slow down!
Don’t trip, you will hurt your knees!
Oh, now you’ve gone and done it.
Thank you stranger, for lifting her, please.

Furry sausage?
Miniature lion?
Ancient mascot of the sea?
Nay, I believe that’s a pet dog.
Dragon Dog, you forever be!
When it comes to it, travel, in the way of myself and my peers, is of putting oneself in the unknown and forcing oneself to pay attention. It is a ritual and a recipe for experiencing the facets of the world that we overlook. Yes, it is possible to see those aspects without going far and away – but appreciation is enhanced by effort. Circumstance as well; helping another is a special thing, but is even more so when their thanks come in a language you do not understand.

The nature of travel, then, is the nature of life: a never-ending-until-it’s-done, always impermanent, never fully realized journey you barely exert control over. There is always more than you can experience. There is always something else to be mindful of. There is always a waiting surprise. But the mindset of travel is opposite what daily life encourages: It’s a cyclic process of renewal and repeated, exerted openness. It is, at its core, a recognition of the size of the child in comparison with the parent. Rather than gaining dominance over a static, arbitrary, or outright imaginary territory, travel is an embrace of the dynamic nature of life, the rise of all things, and their inevitable wane. It is an invitation to make peace with your place in the world, and to learn as much as you can stand. All of that can take a heck of a lot of time.
That is why Travel Lasts.

Time for a Tale!

Good Morning! Or Afternoon, if you like.

The day has come for a story. The night has come for a tale.
I urge you to sit still and listen; to consider words vulgar and fair.

Imagine, if you will, a hero.
Imagine, if you will, a dare.
And imagine what happens when the hero accepts
On the assumption that (s)he cannot fail.

Adventures commence! And trials.
Tribulations without known compare.
The hero is challenged and falters,
Then strengthens, rises, and flares.

The antagonists come from the shadows.
Devils torment from their dreams!
Allies spring up from the wood and the plain
And cry to support their new king.

But mountains watch as molehills.
As time swings by in a flash.
And before God can blink
The man without stink
is a memory of bone, sand, and ash.

Yet sure as can be, new’s stands up:
Young, betrodden old souls.
Who know without knowing
that destiny’s showing
They could be the man in the mask.

And perhaps each fellow is cor-rect.
Perhaps each women is right.
Perhaps the willing do triumph.
Perhaps order comes from their might.

May hap their lives bring greatness.
Or maybe their wrongs spawn grief.
Yet sure as can be,
From man to his fleas,
All humble, and fumble, and fall.

Their expanse, once claimed, is divided.
Their wealth, once amassed, no more.
Their banquets are feasts for the flies now;
Past greatness but shades on the floor.

For though man crusades for distinction,
Through kindness, and compassion, and lies,
All who aspire should remember,
That The Creator has two eyes.

Your thoughts?

The Life of a Blog

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Greetings all!

The travels have continued, alas this blog has not. That will change.

It’s a bit of a rub, blog hosting. As a blogger you’re to write what you’re interested in, but as a communicator, you’re to write for your audience. That’s kept me stuck in inaction. What does my audience want? Or, how do I manage a ‘good’ blog? Chalk up my concerns to too many writing seminars that speak of consistency and regularity as the primary virtues- I am neither. Oh sure, I tried to force it- that was Tip Tuesday. A neat idea perhaps, but too sterile, no fun. So! I am abandoning those blogging virtues. I am going rogue.

Lasting Travel is titled what it is intentionally. Travel to me is not something you put your life aside for every so often. It is an integral part of your life, a sustained and continuous feat. We’re supposed to be on sustained journeys, yes? Of discovery, of growth, of family, of relationships, etc. This blog means to capture that.

I will post tidbits from along this journey. Many will be travel themed, yes. Many will be stories. Many may be out of the scope of what a travel blog is ‘supposed’ to be. I guess I’m just a Maverick. Enjoy, and stay healthy! More will come.

-Ben

Tip Tuesday #5 Making the Flight

IMG_0962editWelcome to the last Tip Tuesday in this segment. You’ve figured out your destination and picked your tickets- so today is about making that flight in comfort.

Here’s everything I know:

Go for side of the airplane seating for extra comfort, especially if your plane is a wide body jet with 4 or 5 seats in the center aisle. Meeting people is all well and good, but being elbow to elbow with two or more jet-drunk co-travelers is an unfortunate way to do so. Plus, aircraft walls can be your vertical pillow.

Bring sunglasses. Sometimes you want to see what’s outside the plane – but you’re tens of thousands of feet closer to the sun. It is BRIGHT. Bring sunglasses to pop over your eyes before your raise the shade. This goes for any plane flight, local, international, or cross-continent.

Bring your own earbuds. Half the time your comfortable and familiar earbuds will work with the entertainment system. Sometimes it won’t, but on the off chance it does, you’ll enjoy the sound and feel way more than with the earphones they serve you.

IMG_0949editSpecify a meal preference on your ticket. Cross-continent flights frequently let you do so. Picking something besides “General” gives your trip a little extra flavor. My current favorite is Indian vegetarian. Extra bonus: you may be one of the first served come meal time.

Wear comfortable traveling shoes. My preferred weigh next to nothing, are breathable, and come off easy in the (American) security lines. My feet don’t sweat, I don’t stink up the cabin, and I can put then on and off again without trouble. They crush down to save on space too.
(Mine: They’re Merrel Trail Glove 2 shoes- These from REI, close to or possibly now rebranded as these from Merrel now. These are very particular shoes, I do not recommend them for everyone, but the principles above are for everyone.)

Be nice to everyone. Sometimes that is aiding another traveler, sometimes that’s holding a rude comment inside. That loud lady on the phone in the waiting line may have the seat behind you. The fellow struggling with his bags may have the seat next to you. Being nice now can make your travels extra enjoyable. And of course, that goes double for the flight staff and desk people.

Bring some snacks. Oh my goodness a long flight goes better when you have your own stash of chocolate chip cookies.

Do not buy liquids if you are crossing borders. ‘Don’t care how much currency you have left- there is a solid good chance you’ll find yourself in another security line before too long, and oop, there goes your $8 smoothie. God I wanted that smoothie.

IMG_0910editPlan your security line unpacking ahead. My style: empty your pants pockets and place your belt in your coat pockets that zip as you walk towards the line. Pair the coat and shoes in a bin and place that on the conveyor. Next pull out your laptop and put in the second bin. Third, put your ‘personal item’/laptop bag on the conveyor. Carry on, if you have it, goes last. At the other end, your shoes and jacket let you know it is your stuff coming, your laptop comes next, and then your bag to put it in. Put laptop back in bag, grab all your stuff, and mosey over to one of the benches to reassemble yourself. DO NOT put your laptop on the conveyor last. If you’re stressing out about your next flight you are more likely to forget that last lonesome laptop. That was me in Croatia.

Super Tip #2: If you are going to travel with matching pocket watches (and I know this applies to most of you), put them in the same container and expect to have security ask to see them. Yes this happened to me. As I had not planned for this obvious eventuality I had to disassemble my bag of gifts to find the second watch. Learn from my foolishness. Keep your second watch accessible.

And that’s it for this Tip Tuesday! If you have any questions, comment or message me directly.

Thanks for Reading!

-Ben

Tip Tuesday #4 Shopping For Plane Tickets Part 2

So you’ve chosen your dates, but there are a few possibilities and you’re not sure what to pick. Here are a few last things to check before you buy.

IMG_1220editBrand Loyalty
People talk about loyalty, about liking one airline over another. In the last three years I have flown inside the US on American Airlines, United Airlines, US Airways, and Delta. Transatlantic flights have been on Continental, US Airways, and Lufthansa; Europe has been Lufthansa, Croatian Airlines, EasyJet*, and my personal favorite SmartWings**. My favorites so far are Delta for inter-US and Lufthansa for Transatlantic flights.

Delta’s legroom was more than the other domestics while Lufthansa spoiled me rotten crossing oceans. Maybe it was hearing my name in its native tounge; maybe it was the complimentary soft drink, water, 3-course meal, wine, water, hot towel, soft drink, water, wine, coffee, tea, water, soft drink, water service… or maybe it was getting served first amongst my class and the personal attention that came with it. Or maybe it was the good seats that I picked. Or the excitement of going downstairs in an airplane. Regardless! Lufthansa was a lot of fun.

As popular as the question of brand is, I’m afraid I can’t offer more than this. I’ve heard good things about Virgin, JetBlue, and Southwest, but I’ve never flown them. I’ve heard bad things about everyone else, but generally found their accommodations adequate. The more important issues are arrivals, departures, travel time, layovers, and the aircraft.

*EasyJet seats are cheap but they hike the price for luggage. I bought several levels of extra baggage space for a hefty sum and then came in well below the cheapest category, wasting a sizable sum. Obviously my fault – but it left a bitter taste in my mouth.

**SmartWings is the “Low-cost brand of Travel Service Airlines.” Just look at that name. If I was going to have a sketchy shell company of an airline I’d absolutely name it “Travel Service”. Apparently they rent their aircraft to other airlines to fill gaps in capability. They were where I was when I needed them, so I’d recommend them to anyone- but man was it weird to step outside the familiar brands. We literally ran across the tarmac to get into the plane.

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Choosing Tickets

When you’re choosing between tickets check four things: the flight arrival and departure, total travel time, and the layover or transfer time. Arrival and Departure: Ask yourself, am I getting where I want when I want? Am I leaving at a reasonable time? Early morning and late night flights are often cheaper, but are stressful. Look for a balance.

Next, compare how how long each of the trips are. This is where you find out that your super cheap early afternoon arrival and mid morning departure flight actually spans two and a half days. Typically speaking, a domestic US flight should be 2-7 hours while a transatlantic will be more like 18. The crossing takes about 8.5 hours direct, but any connecting flights will add to that. Boston serves Germany directly, so crossing was 8.5 hours plus timezone acceleration. When I flew out of Pittsburgh I went through Washington-Dulles first, adding two hours and a 6 hour layover. If the predicted time for your ticket is beyond your expectations, read the detailed flight list.

Layovers and transfer times are the last thing to check. Domestically I aim for 40 minutes between connecting flights, and Internationally I want an hour, especially if I’ll be going through customs, security, or rechecking my baggage. Get too short and the slightest delay makes you miss your flight. Get too long and you get bored out of your mind. If the delay is the airline’s fault they’ll re-book you for free- but if you missed, or if you bought unconnected tickets, you’re out of luck.

A Note on Aircraft

My first Atlantic crossing was miserable. I was in a Boeing 777 with a 2-5-2 seating arrangement. I was in the dead center of the craft. There were so many people, it was so tight, so uncomfortable. Had I looked up the airplane ahead of time I would have seen the error of my ways. Rather than let you experience the same discomfort, I give you the link below:

Seatguru let’s you can look up the size of the different aircraft you’re you’ll be flying before you go. I highly recommend looking before you buy the ticket; one may be a mega jet packed with blokes. Another could well be a comfortably small regional jet. Below I’ve linked most of the planes I’ve flown, and extracted some of the basic information as it seemed relevant. Be aware that Seatguru, at least, does not say what the leg space measurements are.

Local/Regional

UA: Bombardier Q200 – Turboprop – 2-2 Pitch 31, Width 17.3 (mini plane- seats 37)
US: Bombardier/Canadair CRJ-200 – Regional Jet – 2-2 Pitch: 31, Width: 17.5 (little puddle jumper – seats 50)
UA: Bombardier Q400 (DH4)– Turboprop – 2-2 Pitch: 30, Width 17, tight and small
AA: Bombardier/Canadair CRJ-700 (CR7) V1 – Regional Jet- 2-2 Pitch 31, Width 17.3. 63)
LH: Bombardier/Canadair CRJ-900 – Regional Jet – 2-2 Pitch: 31, Width: 17.5 (seats 70)
LH, easyJest: Airbus A319 (319)– Narrowbody Jet – 3-3 Pitch: 30, Width 17, less tight
Smartwings/TravelService: Boeing 737-800 3-3 Pitch 31, Width 17.2 (unintentionally silly – there were like 10 people on the flight. It fits 150+)
UA: Embraer ERJ-170 – Narrowbody Jet – 2-2 – Pitch: 31, Width: 18.2 (pretty spacious, seats 70)
US: Embraer ERJ-175 – Narrowbody Jet – 2-2 – Pitch: 31-32, Width: 18.25 (seats 80)

Transatlantic

UA: Boeing 777-200 (777) – Widebody Jet – 2-5-2 – Pitch: 31-32, Width 18-18.5. (What they don’t highlight is your lack of leg space. It was mega cramped.)
UA: Boeing 757-200 (752) – Narrowbody Jet – 3-3 – Pitch: 31, Width 17.3.
LH: Airbus A340-300 (A343) – Widebody Jet – 2-3,4-2 – Pitch: 32, Width 17.5

Thanks for reading! Post any questions you have in the comments.

Until next time,

-Ben

Tip Tuesday #3: Shopping for Plane Tickets Part 1

Approaching San Diego

Approaching San Diego

Welcome !

Shopping for air fares can be daunting, let alone out and out buying the thing. Below I’ve collected a few tips from my experiences buying domestic, international, and cross-continent plane tickets. Read below to learn when to buy and what to consider when you do. I’ve broken it into 4 suggestions.

First up: Aim to buy your ticket at least one month prior to your departure.

Prices go up as you get closer to the departure date. At about one month prices plateau. I have not seen much of a difference between 1 month, 3 months, and 5 months out. This is the standard, non-inflated price that you should have every reasonable expectation of paying. Anything above that number is a rip-off. Anything below is a deal.

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Departing San Diego?

Second up: Choose your departure and arrival airports wisely.

As of this writing, I would pay $1,091 USD for round trips across the Atlantic leaving from the US and landing in Paris. I can save $120 if I move my departure from Boston to New York’s JFK airport for the same week in April, and another $170 if I switch from ORY airport in Paris to CDG, also in Paris. It pays to look around. Major East Coast international hubs are Laguardia and JFK airports in New York and Washington-Dulles, technically outside of Washington D.C. Charlotte, North Carolina is another possibility, and I believe Atlanta and Florida may fly over as well. When you find a deal at a neighboring airport, see if a train or bus ticket can get you there, and vice versa on the other side.

Flying south over the Atlantic.

Flying south over the Atlantic.

Third: Check the days of the week you are flying.

The $1091, $970, $800 ticket searches listed above arrives and departs on Tuesdays. If I switch that to Sunday-Sunday, prices bump to $1288, $1148, and $968. $150 difference may not look like much when you’re talking in thousands, but those price differences apply to local flights as well. When your $120 puddle jumper is charged an extra $140 to land 20 miles closer to the city? No thanks, I’ll take the hour bus ride for $15. Length of stay is also a factor. The longer there is between your arrival and your departure, the cheaper your ticket will be- but per-day savings can override this somewhat. A 4 day trip coming home in the middle of the week could be cheaper than a full week trip coming home on the weekend.

On the ground (and in a bus) at Zračna luka Split, Split, Croatia.

On the ground (and in a bus) at Zračna luka Split, Split, Croatia.

Fourth and Final: Consider the season you are flying in.

When I left Croatia in October I was leaving at the end of the tourist season. I literally caught the last flight out of Split that this particular discount carrier offered for the next several months. Most other carriers had already ended their service. Sure, there were other options- but for double or triple the cost of my ~$150 ticket. Find out when high traffic and tourist seasons are for your location. Going in the off season means the main carriers may charge you less- but going at the height of travel may give you options with discount carriers if you can find them. Somewhere between high and low is a sweet spot for your particular destination.

That’s it for now. I’ll continue the discussion on planes next week. Thanks for reading!

-Ben

 

 

Tip Tuesday #2: Picking Where to Sleep

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Book from England, Cookie from America, Feet resting in the Croatian air.

Tip Tuesday time! Last week we talked about how to start thinking about taking an international vacation, adventure, or personal exploration time. That’s full of preferences specific to you-but I can help with some of the more immediate logistics. I’m talking, of course, about where to sleep.

Choosing your sleep location is possibly the biggest choice you have to make. It will affect everything that comes after it: your mood, your openness, the people you meet, and of course, the stories you have to share. Picking where you sleep is immensely important.

The secret to happiness is good socks, good shoes, a good bed, and good company. Or to put it another way, invest in what separates you from the ground.

There are two major factors to consider besides quality of mattress: the privacy you want and the price you are willing to pay. To flip that: the number of people you want to meet and the money you want to save. Different combinations will suit your different moods. Over the course of my 3.5 months, I sometimes wanted people, sometimes wanted privacy, and was occasionally splurged on the location. There are three genres of lodging to pick from, so pull up a chair, grab yourself a drink, and let’ get into the details.

First up: Hotels

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Hotel/Resort in San Diego, California

Hotels are the classic, and maybe the first place people think of – but they’re also the most expensive. Sure you can find discount places, motels, et cetera, but consider what you’re paying for. What you get is privacy, cookie-cutter furnishings, and a dedicated cleaning service. The door has a lock, many rooms or hotels have safes, and maybe you get a breakfast.  Why are they so popular if they are so expensive? Location. Hotels are usually situated close to attractions, meaning you can get up early, stay out late, and never be too far from a bed or the action. Some even have restaurants, pools, gyms, or other amenities for guests inside them. Certainly those can be perks, but in my book, it’s not worth the markup.

Pros: Privacy, Location
Con: Price

Second topic: Hostels

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Hostel in Vienna, Austria

For you Americans in the audience let me make this clear: European hostels are NOTHING like American hostels. My American hosteling experience is best summed up by a place I stayed in Harlem, New York City: A doorman, a key, a bare room with metal beds, thin sheets, and dirty lockers. Technically there was a bathroom. Technically there was security. Overall, though, it wasn’t a place my mother would have been happy to know I stayed. They did serve surprisingly wonderful Banana nut muffins for breakfast, but somehow I don’t think that would have eased my mother’s heart.

European hostels, however:

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Hostel in Prague, Czech Republic

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Hostel in Prague, Czech Republic

So what is a hostel? Well, it’s dorm-room sleeping. Typically rooms come in 6, 8, 10, 12-person or higher rooms. A room is a space enclosed with walls and usually a single door. Privacy is less than what you’d get at a hotel – but that’s where their perk comes in. Hostels are where you meet people.

I cannot do hostels justice in the space allotted for this post, but let me sum it up for you: In Prague I spent the day with an Irishman, had dinner with six Australians, learned cautionary tales from a pair of English women, shared stories with a pair of Swiss women, spent a night and a day with three Polish folk, an American, an Irish lass, an English woman, and a Japanese sculptor, and spent some three days with a Ukrainian photographer. All of these amazing people I met in hostels.
In Poland I met a French Mathematician and an Argentinian businessman. In Manchester I met three German teachers cum PhD students. And in Germany I met a fellow Pennsylvanian. Sure I didn’t get to spend much time with all of these folks- but I had a healthy conversation with each and spent an extended time with most.
Hostels are about meeting people who want to meet people. I can’t tell you how many invitations I turned down above and beyond the adventures I had with the folks above. There were drinks, restaurants, card games, conversation, late nights in the city- whatever your interest there were folks looking to do it. And I went in the off-season.
A few tips: It’s easiest to sleep in a room with 6-8 people. Beyond that you WILL find folks getting up way earlier and coming in way later. 6-8 usually got me the interaction I sought while maximizing my chances for sleep.
If you’re traveling in a group, many hostels offer 3 or 4-person ‘private’ rooms at the same per-person rate as a 6-8-10 person dorm room, provided you buy the whole room at once. I usually hosteled alone so I didn’t get to try this.
Some cities have female or male-only hostels, if you’re worried about mixing genders. Others divide the rooms in the hostel by gender, and still more just mix. I had equal amounts of fun and sleep in both of the latter two.

Pros: Meet people, do things, pay less money.
Cons: Less privacy, higher chance of sleepless nights.

Last up: Hosts – Airbnb

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One of the Airbnb host places I stayed at in Europe.

If you want privacy to the point of seclusion, pick a hotel. If you want interaction at the risk of less sleep, pick a hostel. But what if you want more privacy than a hostel for cheaper than a hotel? Enter: Airbnb.

Airbnb is a space sharing system. Upstanding, insured, and with dedicated customer service, Airbnb is a place where you can rent out or rent up your spare space. Pretty much anything is fair game as long as you present it accurately. Couches, rooms, floors, apartments, houses, trailers, yachts… if a person can sleep there, there’s a fine chance someone has (and lived to leave a review about it). You go online, create an account, prove your identity (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) search for places, and contact hosts. They let you know if their space is available, you book the nights, and then you pay through Airbnb. When you get there no money changes hands. The host’s only desire is to treat you well, and your only requirement is to respect the space and write a review after you go. I love Airbnb.
I’ve had the occasion to use it in California, Missouri, D.C., North Carolina, England, and Germany, and had a great time all but twice. Even the two lesser times were adequate. I think so much of Airbnb I’ve even helped my friend rent out her vacation home on the sea in Croatia. ‘Met some Canadian airline pilots working for a carrier in Hong Kong there, but that’s another story.

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Seriously though, Croatia is a beautiful place to spend some time away.

Airbnb is wonderful because you get to stay in a home, close to where you want to be, for 1/3 to 1/2 the cost of a hotel. I cannot emphasize that home aspect enough. Your hosts live in this space, or used to. They maintain it like it’s their own because it is. I’ve found these experiences more welcoming and more informative than I believe any hotel stay would have been, and more private than any hostel. Airbnb, or house shares as I think of them, are a fair middle option.

Socially speaking, it’s comfortably light. In Missouri and Manchester I had barely a conversation with the host past “here’s the key.” But in London I was treated to helpful tips, in Charlotte I was greeted with chocolate cake and shown around town, in San Diego I was offered Salmon under pesto, raspberry lemonade, and Belgian Waffles, and in Freiburg, Germany- Oh, in Freiburg I was accompanied to an opera, raced down the Autobahn, granted mountain and street bicycles, accompanied to a restaurant open only a few weeks in the year, treated to breakfast, and invited to enjoy a special seasonal beverage. Truly, I had a wonderful time.

Like all things you can pay more if you want to. The longest I’ve stayed in an Airbnb space was about a week, but it is possible to do longer stays, especially if you are getting an entire apartment or house. Luxury spaces can get as high as you’d like, with Parisian apartments coming in at thousands of dollars a week. But that said, last I checked I found apartments with views of the Eiffel Tower for around $30 USD per night perperson. That said, I’ve noticed prices trending upwards, so you may find less of a discount as time marches on.

Pros: Privacy, location, price
Cons: A bad host is a bad time

Note: if you sign up through my links (it’s free) both you and I receive $25 travel voucher once you take a trip.

Ending note:

Sunset in Split, Croatia

Sunset in Split, Croatia

So where and how do you want to stay? The choice is up to you but the trick is to balance the three: Price, Location, and People.

Hotel:     Price $$$, Location: &&&,  People: *
Hostel:   Price: $,     Location: &&,      People: ***
Airbnb:  Price: $$,  Location: &/,       People: **

Any questions? Post int he comments and I’ll tell you all I know.
Thanks for reading!
-Ben