podcast

Ep 26: Shooting AK-47s with Latvian Gangsters. Plus: Tales from Chernobyl

In this weeks travel podcast episode we’re joined by James Finnerty from Lupine Travels. Finnerty is an unconventional travel agent of sorts. He takes people to Iraq, North Korea, the Chernobyl Nuclear Site, Antarctica and more. In this episode he shares a great story about shooting AK-47s in Latvia with gangsters and brothel runners.

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Episode 23: Are Millennials Changing the Travel Industry? From Van Life to Airbnb.

Millennials and Van Life

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Transcript:

Alex: In our last episode we briefly mentioned the book, “On the road”. Published in 1957, Jack Kerouac’s novel helped define a generation of post WWII Americans. Americans who were exploring the land they fought to protect. Like their generation, today’s millennials are defined by circumstances out of their control. Circumstance that effect the way they live, work and travel. Hi, I’m Alex Cwalinski, and you’re listening to Go, a podcast about travel, places, and adventure.

Parker: If you’re in your mid 20s or early 30s, you’ve seen enough economic recession to be fearful to be scared.  

Alex: That’s travel writer and photographer, Parker Hilton. He writes a lot of interesting articles about life as a millennial. I spoke to him to learn more about how this generation is doing things differently.

Parker: Just living through 2007/2008, we saw our parents lose money, we saw people lose jobs. We saw things get really scary overnight.

Alex: 2008 saw the worst economic recession since the 1930s.

Alex: The crash caused many people to lose money, when the value of homes, investments, and pension funds plummeted.

Parker: And because of that I’m not about to work my ass off for a paycheck in a market where I know it could disappear.

Alex: This perception of, the market, has changed the work habits of a lot of millennials. They’re basically, not following in their parent’s footsteps.

Parker: Growing up my dad was always working. As much as I envy the drive to do that I don’t want that and it’s a very millennial thing for me to say but my dad literally worked until the week he died.

Alex: My father also worked until the week he passed away. I remember, when I was a kid, he used to take me to work with him and told me to get a good education so that I wouldn’t have work as hard as he did. But even with a college degree, a lot of millennials aren’t better off than their parents, and a lot are in debt.

Hilton: The majority of that debt is either in student loans or mortgages.

Alex: From 1994 to 2014 the average cost of a home went up 46%, after adjusting for inflation, but wages only went up 7 percent in that same time. Meanwhile tuition and fees at Public universities went up almost 300 percent. And that’s changing how millennials are spending their money.

Hilton: Our parents had excess wealth, I mean there was disposable income, and we want that as well, and buying a house is not a way to get it.

Alex: Not owning a home isn’t all that bad. It can have its benefits. Like having greater freedom to travel or move to a new city. Like what Hilton did, when he moved from New Jersey to Montana.

Hilton: Yea, I moved there to study photography and ended up getting sucked into Montana life. I very easily could have spent the rest on my life there but got the idea that I would have been too comfortable.

Alex: Hilton moved again, this time for a job in a bigger city. Where the cost of living was very different than Bozeman.

Hilton: I left Montana to go work in New York. The price difference from Bozeman Mt to Brooklyn was earth shattering. ‘Cause, you go from Montana when it’s $200 a month in a nice apartment with a bunch of your friends to New York where you’re spending 1,000 dollars a month for a closet.

Alex: I briefly lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, and found myself paying way more than I wanted for a teeny tiny studio apartment. I met a lot of really good people there, but took the first opportunity to leave. Hilton’s experience was similar.

Hilton: And that was eye opening. I really enjoyed working in NY, I made some great connections and had a great time but. Yea, one of my buddies offered me a job in Hawaii, that was actually when I moved out to Hawaii. I was living out of a van for a little while.

Alex: Van Life or Van Dwelling is basically the act of living and traveling in a van. It first became popular in the 1960s, and has been getting a lot more popular lately. Vice News recently wrote that “Living Out of a Van Is the New American Dream.”

Hilton: There’s this big van culture/shift and a lot of millennials are kind of bailing on the 9 to 5 and living remotely and doing things a little differently…

Alex: With people being able to work remotely today, sometimes all it takes to live this lifestyle, is a van and access to the internet. Technology has permanently changed the way we can live and work.

Hilton: Our generation is kind of utilizing it, we’re starting to see the potential of that.

Alex: Like working remotely while Van Dwelling, or while living overseas as an expat.

Hilton: You can live in Shang Mai, Thai Land, like a lot of people do and live a very comfortable life for much less money.

Alex: Or you can move to an affordable city, where the cost of living is cheaper.

Hilton: You can buy a house in Boise, Idaho or Bozeman, Montana for a lot less than you can in Downtown LA or Lower Manhattan.

Alex: Another trend millennials are getting used to, is the gig economy. An economy based on temporary or freelance jobs. The work isn’t as consistent, but it’s become more common since it provides a lot more time for travel. Like, Hilton who writes and does photography.

Hilton: All summer we shoot weddings, national, international, destination weddings. Based out of New Jersey, but come winter time we’re traveling, photographing.

Alex: But living this lifestyle does require some sacrifices.

Kelly: I think millennials as a group tend to delay rights of passages, they might be marrying later, buy a house later.

Alex: That’s John Kelly, etymologist and writer at Mashed Radish dot com. With all this talk about millennials, I thought it would be important to get a better understanding of the term.

Kelly: Millennial means two things now. It means a person born in the early 80s to the mid 90s, early two thousands. It also means a sort of attitudes, a lifestyle.

Alex: As an etymologist, Kelly studies the origin of words and how they’ve changed throughout history.

Kelly: So around 1626, It first appeared in English, it was this term Millenariaum. This is an attitude that refers to a belief that in the future the second coming if Christ would usher in a 1000-year period of peace. But it also becomes a term for an upcoming moment of big historic, transformative change.

Alex: The word has certainly changed over time, but it didn’t become popular until recent history.

Kelly: In the 70s, 80s, even 90s, millennial refers to the year 2000 as this transformative moment in culture and it comes with a sense of dread. The Y2K stuff.

Alex: If you don’t remember Y2K, it was a fear that the year 2000 would create major problems with computer systems. Supposedly, computers only used two digits to tell the year. So 99, meant the year 1999, but would the digits 00 mean 1900 or 2000, that uncertainty led to what was called Y2K. Computers now require 4 digits to tell the year, so it won’t be a problem again until the year 10,000. Anyway, back to etymology.

Kelly: Back in the 1980s, there were these two authors. Strauss and Hall

Alex: That’s William Strauss and Neil Howe.

Kelly: They write this book called Generations and they are credited with the first use of the word millennial. This group of kids was defined by the fact that their parents were very over protective, and they saw that as a very defining feature and by the 2010s, millennials became the preferred term for this generation. It beat out the term generation Y.

Alex: Today the term, seems to have warped into a different meaning. Some use it as a way to mock or dismiss the generations lifestyle and choices.

Kelly: The term itself has become quite diluted. You know, in 2017 millennial is almost used as a joke. Oh, millennials aren’t able to buy a house because they’re spending all of their money on Avo-toast.

Alex: Avocado toast. There are actually several articles you can read online trying to link avocado toast or some other spending habit, with people’s inability to afford a home. These are often blamed for hurting an industry like housing market. It’s so common that it’s become a meme on social media sites like twitter.

Kelly: There was a user who made a passing comment about the phrase, ‘millennials are killing dot dot dot.” And she made a collage and she rounded up all the things millennials are killing napkins, they’re killing home ownership.

Alex: The way a lot of generations are perceived, according to Kelly, is how the preceding generation views the younger one.

Kelly: You’re going to see a lot of the older generation trying to define the younger generation. Some of the things that I read in preparation for this interview, called back to the original description of baby boomers. And the language is almost the same: they’re quick with communications, they’re dressing in more liberal ways…

Alex: And although millennials are often blamed for the ‘killing’ of this or that industry, they’re also giving rise to new and innovative ways of doing traditional things. By flocking to new companies like Airbnb, millennials are permanently changing the travel industry.

Hilton: They’re the largest hotel chain in the world and they don’t own a single piece of property. That’s mind blowing. 

Alex: Airbnb lets people rent out a room or even a whole house to someone who’s traveling. The experience can sometimes feel more authentic or local, as opposed to staying in a hotel.

Hilton: It’s a really great thing you get to see the local perspective, in a way that you can’t from a hotel. You’re not eating in a hotel restaurant, you not eating in the hotel bar, you’re walking down the street and eating at a pub. And that’s a very cool thing.

Alex: If you haven’t used Airbnb, checkout our website: gothepodcast.com. There you can find a coupon where you can get $40 off you first Airbnb stay of $75 dollars or more.

Hilton: Airbnb does a brilliant job to not limiting their market. You can rent an RV as an Airbnb, just as quickly as you can rent a boat or a tree house or a house.

Alex: Another growing trend with the way millenials are traveling, are these things called work-stays.

Hilton: People will spend money to go work on a farm in Cambodia or farm agave in Mexico.

Alex: Work-stays are described as alternative or eco-friendly projects, where a farm or organization invites people to do volunteer work. Some work-stays require that you have a bachelors’ degree, like SEEDS in Iceland. Some have less requirements, and depending on where you volunteer they can even provide you with free food and accommodation. Organizations like WWOOF or Workaway, help facilitate work-stays around the world.

Alex: So what is your take on the way that travel is changing, and the generation that’s embracing it? Let us know on our social media accounts by searching for Go the Travel Podcast. Hilton actually shared a story with me about a van trip he took several years ago.

Hilton: I think it was two/three years ago now, me and some kids I went to school with, we packed up a van up in Montana and drove it until it broke down in Ecuador.

Alex: Hilton and his friends wanted to drive it all the way to southern tip of South America.

Hilton: The goal was to get it to Patagonia but the engine block cracked on the border of Colombia and Ecuador, so we kind of smuggled the van into Ecuador, ‘cause you can’t import a broken vehicle. So we kind of snuck it in so it looked like it worked.

Alex: Hilton said him and his friends spent six months on their trip. He couldn’t help but continue to mention the hospitality of the locals.

Hilton: There were so many time where people didn’t have to be nice to us and went so far out of their way to help us out. That was what blew me away about the whole trip.

Alex: Like what kind of things? Do you have any examples?

Hilton: Oh for sure, people giving us meals all over the place, people giving us beds when they didn’t have to. Yea, a couple walked up to us and said, do you guys need a bed? We have two guest rooms and you can cook in our kitchen and gave us a place to stay. In Cartagena we were stranded there, we were waiting on a laptop screen to get shipped out there, and this woman came down and brought us coffee every morning and invited us to shower her house every morning.

Alex: After their van broke down, Hilton spent three weeks in Ecuador before heading back to the states

Hilton: That stretch of the world I was definitely blown away by. I mean Ecuador especially.

Alex: You can find more about Hilton and his work at parkerhilton.com. And make sure to check out John Kelly’s site Mashed Radish. 


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Episode 21: The 2017 Solar Eclipse, the Olympics, and more.

Solar Eclipse 2017

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On August 21st, the first coast-to-coast solar eclipse since 1918, will move across the United States. Up to 7.4 million people are estimated to travel to cities and towns in its path. To find out the science behind the eclipse, I spoke to Brian Jackson, Assistant Professor of Physics at Boise State University.

"The solar eclipse is very simply when the moon covers up the disk of the sun," says Jackson.

The moon leaves a large shadow on the earth's surface 70 miles across, this is called the path of totality.

"It can be like night, temperatures will drop, the stars will come out. It will be a pretty striking event," Jackson explained. "The total eclipse will last about two minutes, but the exact amount will depend on where you are in the path of totality."

Over 12 million lucky people already live in this path and won’t have to travel to experience the eclipse

"This eclipse is going to be unique because it crosses over the entire width of the United States. And through a lot of very populated areas," says Jackson. "Anyone in or near the path of totality should expect a lot of visitors around August 21st."

Solar eclipse podcast and path of totality

Major cities like Nashville, Tennessee to smaller ones like Columbia, South Carolina will go completely dark. The last eclipse of this size to pass through the US was 99 years ago, but worldwide these events aren't that rare.

"Eclipses roughly happen every year and a half," according to Jackson. "But usually the track of the eclipse is out over the ocean somewhere. So, you have to spend a lot of money on a cruise ship if you want to go see it."

Nasa has a great website with an eclipse tracker that can tell you the exact second it will go dark based on your location, but how long have scientists been able to make these predictions?

"We’ve been able to make pretty accurate eclipse predictions going back hundreds of years," says Jackson. "There was a pretty famous eclipse in 1715, the timing of which was predicted by Edmond Halley to a precision of four minutes."

During the eclipse, Jackson warns against looking directly at the sun without the proper equipment.

Solar Eclipse Glasses Nasa

"You should not look at it without the proper filters," he says. "However, getting a hold of the proper filters is very easy. You can get a hold of what’s called eclipse shades for a buck a piece online. You want to get them from a reputable vendor though."

Now for some people not expecting the eclipse to happen, it may be a shocking event, but what about for animals?

"Animals will notice this eclipse. There are stories where wild animals bedding down fo the night, because as far as they know the night has begun. So there are stories where hippos go back to where they nest for the night. Birds will go back to their nests to sleep. Animals definitely notice this and they can become very confused. But as far as I know there is no harm to the animals."

State Department Warns of Tainted Alcohol in Mexico

State Department Mexico Warning Alcohol

The State Department this week issued a travel warning to Americans heading to Mexico. The warning comes after an unusually high number of incidences involving “tainted” or “substandard” alcohol. Including the death of a 20 year old Wisconsin woman.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s reporting into the woman’s death prompted other vacationers to contact the paper. Many claimed similar experiences with alcohol at the Iberostar Resort in Cancun.

Some said they only had one or two drinks before losing consciousness. When they woke up hours later, they had no recollection of what happened.

Naked Passenger Delays Flight

Naked Passenger

A passenger on Spirit Airlines, home of the bare fare, took the tagline a bit too seriously.

Last Saturday, a flight from Las Vegas to Oakland was delayed after a passenger removed all of their clothes. Police officers and first responders at the McCarran International Airport were called last Saturday to reports of a naked man walking down the aisle.

The incident occurred as the plane was boarding, causing the flight to be delayed for thirty minutes. The man was removed from the aircraft and received medical treatment The flight made up for some lost time, arriving about 20 minutes late.

Shrinking Plane Seats Could Pose a Safety Risk

 

Airplane seat size shrinking

Alex: Legroom has been taking a hit as airlines try to squeeze another row into their planes, but not if a Consumer Advocacy Group, gets their way.

Last week the US Court of Appeals ordered the Federal Aviation Administration to adequately address a petition about the safety of shrinking airline seats. Consumer advocacy group, Flyer’s Rights, filed the petition, claiming the lack of space could make it harder for passengers to evacuate in case of an emergency.

According to Congressman Steve Cohen, a democrat from Tennessee. as seats grew smaller, Americans grew larger.

"Seats used to be 18 inches in width and now they’ve gone 16 and a half," Cohen said. "The average man in 1960 weighed 166 pounds and the average woman 140. Now the average man is 196, that’s up 30 pounds, and the average woman 166, that’s up 26 pounds."

Cohen also claimed that cramped conditions on aircraft can pose health risks. Like a higher chance of developing blood clots, which have the potential to be fatal.

Like Flyer’s Rights, Cohen is also trying to address this issue. Last year he introduced the SEAT ACT, a bill that would have set a minimum standard for the size, width, and pitch of seats, as well as the amount of leg room, and width of the aisles.

The Seat Act failed to pass, but this year Cohen successfully included a version of the bill as an amendment into the FAA Reauthorization Act.

No date yet on when the bill will come up for a vote or when the FAA will address the Court of Appeals’ ruling, but we’ll keep you posted.

 

Switzerland Builds World’s Longest Pedestrian Suspension Bridge

Image via KEYSTONE Video/YouTube.

Image via KEYSTONE Video/YouTube.

 

Switzerland has just opened the World’s Longest Pedestrian Suspension Bridge.

The 1621-foot-long Charles Kuonen Suspension Bridge is located in the Swiss Alps. Hikers can see views of the famous Matterhorn peak, as well as the Weisshorn and Bernese Alps.

The new steel bridge cuts down a hike through the valley from three hours to ten minutes.                                                    

2028 Summer Olympics are coming to Los Angeles

 

This week, Los Angeles won a bid to host the 2028 Summer Olympics.

This ends a 32-year gap in the Summer Games being hosted in the U.S. We spoke with Newsday Sports Columnist Neil Best to get his take.

"To me LA is great option and I remember in 84 when everybody was freaking out about traffic and how terrible it was going to be but now of it ever happened," Best said. "The other good thing about LA, is they leveraged the waiting till 2028 to get more money from the IOC."

Many reports are saying that LA struck a better deal than other cities have in the past with the International Olympic Committee or IOC."

"Part of the deal with all of these Olympics is the IOC contributes with the cost and getting loans. But LA managed to get more."

Among the support that LA is receiving, the IOC is paying 160 million dollars to invest in youth sports, something they don’t do for host cities until after the Olympics.

The IOC also agreed to forfeit its typical 20% fee on any financial surpluses. LA can also keep the 487 million dollar contingency, money set aside to pay for cost overruns, if they complete the game under-budget.

 LA is expected to keep costs down by using existing infrastructure instead of building new stadiums. Like the 94 year old LA Coliseum which could be used to host some of the games.

"It’s kind of cool to have a building that hosted the 1932 Olympics host the 2028 Olympics," Best added.

With the Olympics being 11 years away, there’s no telling which athletes will be competing.

"If you figure most of the top gymnasts are 15, 16, 17, 18, then most of them are really young now. Obviously we don’t know which one of them is going to win the Gold in 11 years."

 

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Episode 20: Passenger Rights and Air Travel

Air Travel and Passenger Rights

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When I travel via plane, I try and pack as many things into my carry-on as possible. Why pay that $50 check-in baggage fee if I can avoid it, right? Well, that may soon be ending. Some airlines like United, are planning to charge fees for using the overhead compartment.

Is it just me or does the air travel experience seem to be deteriorating? 

To answer this question for myself, I did a little bit of research and found that in the 1970s, some US airlines used to have cool perks like pubs and lounges in their coach section; today First Class doesn’t even have that. I also found that the average width of an airplane seat in the 1970s was 18 inches.

Today, that's shrunk to an average of 16.5 inches.

Shrinking seats has consequences according to Proxemics, which is the study of the human use of space. It states that anyone within 1 – 4 feet can be considered within our personal space.

So if you're unfortunate enough to sit in the middle seat of an airplane, you could have up to seven complete strangers all within arms distance of you. Proxemics states that people can feel discomfort, anger, or anxiety when a stranger is inside of their personal space.

Although travel is good for your health, getting squeezed onto a plane can create a lot of tension on an aircraft. Tension that could be avoided if 'Airplane Etiquette: the Unwritten Rules of Air Travel,' was required reading.

According to the International Air Transport Association, the rate of unruly passengers is increasing. It seems like every couple of weeks, there’s an airplane horror story in the news. From fights breaking out, to passengers having to restrain a man, to someone having a temper tantrum over baggage space.

With all of this stuff happening, I gave a call to David Cogswell, executive editor at TravelPulse.com, to get a better understanding of what's happening to the airline industry.

"I think what’s happened, the industries have become so consolidated; really monopolized," according to Cogswell. "You have 4 big airlines that control 86% of all domestic traffic. They divide the market up nicely so they don’t really have to compete."

Continental Airlines Coach Lounge, circa 1970

Continental Airlines Coach Lounge, circa 1970

With fewer airlines to choose from, there is less business competition. Airlines don’t need to offer perks like lounges and pubs, to convince you to fly with them instead of their competitors. The lack of competition is shrinking almost every year. In 2012 Continental Airlines merged with United, in 2015 American Airlines merged with US Airways, and last year Alaskan Airlines bought Virgin America

The prices are rising faster than inflation.

This trend doesn’t have good consequences for consumers. Like at the Philadelphia International Airport, where American Airlines controls 77% of all seats booked, after they merged with US Airways. Before the merger the cost of a ticket in Philadelphia used to be 4% below the national average, now it’s 11% above the national average.

"The prices are rising faster than inflation," Cogswell says.

Although huge airline mergers have to pass through Congress to make sure they don’t violate any anti-trust laws, they are almost always approved.

"They’ve made it so that they’ve twisted these words around," according to Cogswell. "They go to Congress and use the word ‘competition’ to say, ‘well you’ve let these guys merge, so now they’re bigger than us. So if you let us merge then we’ll be more competitive.’ So they’re saying, ‘we’ll be more competitive,’ but the marketplace won’t be more competitive."

With less competition, things like customer service begin to lose priority, the size of your seat matters less, and practices like overbooking increases.

"They're overbooking to the extent of abuse. There’s a certain degree of it that makes sense in terms of yield management, so they don’t have to fly with a lot of empty seats all the time."

The overbooking issue is what caused United to infamously kick Dr. David Dao off their flight in April of this year. You can watch the video below:

Overbooking continues to be a problem for passengers flying United. Just this month they took a ticketed seat from a two-year-old and made the mother hold the baby during the flight, just so they could give the seat to someone else. 

"The thing with the woman and her baby was that she was afraid. She said that she was afraid to complain," Cogswell explained. "When it finally came out, the airline said that it was a mistake. But she was afraid to bring the subject up because who knows what would have happened to her.

"It definitely feels like they have the power. It’s their company, it’s their airplane, even though you bought a ticket. You definitely don’t want to do or say the wrong thing," says Susan Shain, travel writer and blogger.

Shain has gotten really familiar with passenger rights, like what you’re owed if you get bumped from a flight due to overbooking.

Air passengers rights

"It’s pretty normal for airlines to overbook seats, to make up for no-shows," Shain says, "But when more people show up than they expect, that’s when they’re offering vouchers.

These vouchers are for discounts on future travel with the airline.

"So that’s when they’re seeking volunteers. It’s only in a case when not enough people volunteer, that’s when airlines are forced to bump people against their will. They don’t want to have to pay you so they’re going to offer you some pretty great incentives and they’re going to keep going up if they don’t have any volunteers."

Airlines are required by law to pay you in cash not vouchers, if they bump you against your will. You do qualify for different amounts of compensation depending on when you arrive to your destination.

"If you’re involuntarily bumped from a flight and you arrive within an hour of your scheduled arrival time, you’re not owed anything," says Shain, "But if you’re 1 – 2 hours late, you’re owed double the price of your ticket. If you arrive more than 2 hours late, the airline owes you quadruple the cost of your ticket, which maxes out at $1,350.

I asked Shain, "What if your flight is delayed or canceled, and you miss that Quinceañera or Bar Mitzvah? Are you owed any compensation?"

"So unfortunately there are no regulations that require an airline to do anything for you in case of a domestic delay or cancellation."

Air travel rights

Although there are no regulations, Susan says that some airlines might still give you something for your troubles.

"If you ask nicely, some airlines might give you some form of compensation just for good customer service," she says. "You can ask for vouchers, not flight vouchers but food vouchers to eat at the airport restaurants. I’ve also asked for hotel or taxi vouchers in the past. That happens more often if the delay is due to a mechanical or a scheduling issue. I found that if it’s due to weather, they’ll say they can’t do anything."

If they can’t give you vouchers, you can always ask for something else.

"I’ve also asked for airline miles. So if I’m a frequent flyer with the airline, I’ll say, ‘hey, I love your airline, I fly with you often and I understand this happens. Would you be willing to give me some air miles for the inconvenience?’ And that’s worked too."

If the airline can’t compensate you for a delay, Susan says to check the credit card that you booked the flight with.

"One of my favorite cards, if you’re delayed more than 6 hours or you need to stay overnight, and you purchased the ticket or paid fees on that credit card, it will reimburse you up to $500 per ticket."

And if you have an issue with your checked-in bags, airlines are required to give you compensation.

Baggage claim travel rights

"The DOT says airlines need to compensate for reasonable expenses for loss, damage, or delay. Each airline does their own interpretation of that. But most of the time you can expect a stipend of about $50 a day. And they’re also required to reimburse any baggage fees. The max is $3,500 domestically and $1,500 internationally."

So all of these travel tips are great, but what if you’re not satisfied and think you’re still being treated unfairly? Susan says she has her go-to place to get those issues resolved.

"The first places I always jump on is twitter. I found that companies are always quicker to act if you complain politely."

Susan stressed about being polite. It always helps, especially when you’re talking to an airline representative in person.

"Last year I was flying to Georgia, the country, from San Diego, and I don’t really remember why, but the flight was canceled," she says. "People were going crazy and losing their cool, and it definitely sucked but it was not the gate agents fault, and she was really nice, doing her best. So when it was my turn I was patient and I worked with her and I ended up on a flight the next day, and when I got on the plane I realized that she bumped me up to business class. I’m sure if I was rude, I wouldn’t have been in business class."

Do you have any air travel stories? We'd love to hear them. If you want more information about your passenger rights, check out the Department of Transportation's Fly Rights.

Don't forget to listen to our travel podcast episode on this topic below:

Check out our co-host Adrien’s podcast and website at: www.strangersabroadpocast.com

If you haven’t subscribed, do so on iTunes or wherever you’re getting your podcasts.

 

 

Episode 19: Too Hot for Planes to Fly, A Bar with an ‘Unhappy Hour’, Cuba Flight Cutbacks.

Oregon National Parks

Why couldn’t planes take off in Phoenix in 118 Degree heat? Airlines are cutting flights to Cuba. A new bar with an ‘unhappy hour’. The Walking Dead cruise. Find out more in the latest travel news episode:

Misfornøyelsesbar Displeasure Bar

A bar called Misfornoyelsesbar or 'Displeasure Bar', recently opened in Norway’s capital city, Oslo. The owner of the bar says he aims to create an unpleasant atmosphere to customers. Christopher Nielsen designed the three roomed bar to represent anxiety, schizophrenia, and paranoia. One room is furnished with child-sized furniture; another has it’s wall painted with distraught faces. The bar even has an unhappy hour were patrons pay more, and pregnant women drink at a discount.

Oregon National Parks

The state of Oregon may start limiting visitors to its National Parks. Some areas have seen a spike in guests of up to 500% in the last two years. Parks that could be impacted are Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Washington, Three Sisters, Diamond Peak and Waldo Lake wilderness. Some proposals to reduce the number of visitors are to start charging for overnight camping, another is to issue a limited number of entry permits for the parks more popular area. Officials say the changes, which aren’t expected to take effect until 2019, should protect the area’s terrain, vegetation, wildlife and water.

Cuba flights

Southwest Airlines is latest U.S. airline to reduce flights to Cuba. American Airlines and JetBlue have also reduced the number of flights from the US to the Caribbean island. Meanwhile Spirit and Frontier airlines have cut all future flights. Although none of President Trump’s Cuba policy changes have taken effect, they’re already having an impact travel.

Walking Dead Cruise

Fans of the Walking Dead can now buy tickets for the official Walking Dead Cruise. The ship, which departs in January next year, will host several of the shows stars and its creator Robert Kirkman. Pre-sale tickets for 2,500 guests are now on sale. The four-night cruise departs from New Orleans and includes meet-and-greet sessions with the cast and crew, as well as question and answers panels, and zombie-themed activities.


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Episode 14: Climbing Mt. Everest

This is Go the Travel Podcast, a podcast about travel, places, and for today’s story: adventure. Hit play below to listen.

Mt. Everest

 

Transcript:

STANIFORTH: I just remember hearing this huge crack above my head, that’s when panic set in, ‘cause I realized that this was the sound of ice breaking off the mountain. Genuinely thinking, ‘this is it, this is how I die.’

CWALINSKI: That’s 21 year old adventurer, Alex Staniforth, recalling one of his two attempts to summit Mt Everest, the tallest mountain in the world.

STANIFORTH:  I wasn’t your likely prospect for Everest. I wasn’t active or outdoorsy or into challenges at all. It was all about overcoming adversity.

CWALINSKI: Not your typical adventurer, Staniforth suffered from health conditions that would have held back many people.

STANIFORTH:  Relentlessly bullied throughout my entire time at school. Had epilepsy when I was 9, only a very mild form, but was enough to really shatter my confidence at a young age.

CWALINSKI: Staniforth suffered from panic attacks, depression and eating disorders. He knew he had to turn this around and take control of this circumstances, instead of letting them control him.

STANIFORTH:  Whatever challenges we face, we don’t always get to choose, but what we can control is how we deal with them.

CWALINSKI: He started challenging himself with tasks that he never thought he could do, like rock climbing, scuba diving, and competitive running.

STANIFORTH: That constant proving limits thing. It’s really empowering and I’ve never felt it before.

CWALINSKI: This set him on a path to push further, to try and conquer on of the world’s toughest challenges.

STANIFORTH:  I had this kind of eureka moment one day when I asked myself, where is Mt. Everest and I saw a photo and that just captivated the journey. That gave me my purpose, that gave me the chance to prove myself wrong. And so from then on I went higher and higher.

CWALINSKI: Still a teenager, Staniforth would need years of physical preparation before he could make an attempt. Proving himself as mountain climber along the way.

STANIFORTH:  But it’s all about taking steps. My first taste of altitude was the Alps, with Mt. Blanc when I was 17.

CWALINSKI: Standing at 15,781 feet, Mt Blanc is the tallest mountain in the Alps. Climbers in Europe who want to be taken seriously, have to complete this summit before they can move on to higher climbs.

STANIFORTH:  That then gave me the opportunity to go on higher to a 7,000 meter peak, in the Himalayas called Baruntse.

CWALINSKI: Mt. Baruntse is one of many mountains, climbers summit before making an attempt on Everest. Standing at 23,497 feet, there is less than half as much oxygen in the air than at sea level. This would be Staniforth’s first time climbing at extreme altitudes and his first time experiencing high altitude mountain sickness.

STANIFORTH:  My first real high experience, and before we even got to Mera Peak high camp, I was really suffering with the early onset of HACE: High Altitude Cerebral Edema. Which is a nasty thing to have; really nasty.

CWALINSKI: HACE is a severe type of Altitude sickness that can occur at altitudes over 15,000 feet, where the brain begins to swell. Once at Mera Peak high camp, Staniforth’s condition wasn’t improving.

STANIFORTH:  And so with that, I realized very quickly that that wasn’t going to happen, came back down. I was in a bad way, and more ill than I’ve ever ever felt in my life.

CWALINSKI: HACE causes climbers to suffer headaches and confusion. Loss of appetite, vomiting, difficulty walking, and slurred speech are other signs and symptoms. HACE has been compared to suffering from a hangover and the flu at the same time, It can also be life threatening, if left untreated.

STANIFORTH:  Was basically told that if I didn’t recover the next day that I’d have to be helicoptered out, it was that bad.

CWALINSKI: The only sure fix to anyone suffering from high altitude sickness, is to go to lower elevation, which is what Staniforth and his team did.

STANIFORTH:  So the drop in altitude certainly helped. Amazingly, a bit of time lower down was all I needed, and I recovered quite quickly

CWALINSKI: Climbs like these require acclimating to the altitude. Climbers do this by gradually ascending in elevation, giving the body time to adjust to the thin air and low atmospheric pressure.

STANIFORTH:  A week later or so, we were at Baruntse base camp and I was back to strength and we went to the top. I’m not an expert, I’m just sharing my experiences. Age and fitness doesn’t do anything for you. It’s a good idea to be fit, but I don’t personally believe that fitter you are the more successful you’ll be. Being too fit you almost create an expectation that you’re going to do well.

CWALINSKI: After successfully summiting Mt. Baruntse, Staniforth was ready to push for Everest. But one of the biggest obstacles to getting there is a financial one. He would need to raise 45 thousand dollars, which is hard to do when you’re still in school.

STANIFORTH:  I was still at school, yea, I was sort of 17, 18. I still recall taking days off of school to go and sit in a board with the CEO and managing director of a multi-million dollar company. At 17, I’m there in a suit with a stammer, trying to be taken seriously.

CWALINSKI: Staniforth spent about a year fundraising and going to meetings like this. One of the biggest challenges is standing out from the crowd of people seeking sponsorships.

STANIFORTH:  It’s about how you market yourself, you’ve got a lot of people trying to do this, and in my position, I didn’t have wealthy parents to just sign the check. I had to go out and work for it big time, with corporate sponsorships and fundraising through businesses.

CWALINSKI: The money eventually came, with Staniforth raising the last of it only a few weeks before he departed.

STANIFORTH:  And so it was the end of March, 2014, we flew to Nepal, for what should have been a two-month expedition.

CWALINSKI: Two months is what it takes to climb Mt. Everest and return home. Most of those days are spent acclimating to the altitude and waiting for the weather conditions on the mountain to clear up. The weather is the most unpredictable part of the climb. Winds can reach up to 200 miles per hour and temperatures can drop to negative 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Conditions like these have killed over 250 people on the mountain. Today, only the most experienced climbers are able to lead expeditions up to the top.

STANIFORTH:  The trip was led by a British mountain leader who has now climbed Everest 5 times, so I was in a well supported team.

CWALINSKI: Most people arrive in Katmandu, Nepal before flying to town called Lukla, which has the closest airport to Mt. Everest. From here, climbers have to hike to base camp which sits at 17,598 ft and can take several weeks to hike to get there.

STANIFORTH:  We set off as normal, we got to base camp. It took us about three weeks.

CWALINSKI: Base Camp is the setting stone for Everest Climbers. It’s a small temporary tent village that can house hundreds of people in the spring. A lot of time is spent here preparing for the next several weeks of hiking to camps further up.

STANIFORTH:  And then you’ve got camp 1, 2, 3, and 4, and then you’ve got the top. So you move between them to acclimatize basically.

CWALINSKI: Climbers spend weeks hiking up and down these camps preparing their bodies for the altitude. But before they even arrive to Camp 1, they have to hike through an area called the Icefall.

STANIFORTH:  The icefall is probably the most dangerous section of the route. It’s a pretty unavoidable obstacle. To get to camps 1, 2, 3, 4, etc., you have to move through it.

CWALINSKI: This part of the climb has claimed more lives than any other part of the mountain. That because it’s part of the Khumbu Glacier, so there’s a chance that ice will move.

STANIFORTH:  Because it’s constantly moving, you’ve got the risk of falling ice (FX), you got the risk of crevasses.

CWALINSKI: Crevasses hundreds of feet deep that have been known to open up at random. The bodies of some climbers who’ve fallen into these, have never been recovered. Large towers of ice stick up out of the glacier and have been known to break, dropping chunks of ice the size of cars and houses down below.

STANIFORTH: And it’s quite spectacular, it’s a real stunning landscape.

CWALINSKI: To get through the Icefall, several Sherpas would go ahead of the climbers to find a path.

STANIFORTH:  Sherpa are an ethnic people of the Himalayas. They are the most super humanly strong people that I have ever seen.

CWALINSKI: Living at these altitudes, Sherpas are better adapted to hikes at high elevations. They accompany nearly every expedition up Everest.

STANIFORTH:  The Sherpas are amazing, nearly every climber will tell you this, but they are a highlight of every trip to Nepal. They do become good friends very quickly, even thought they live such a different life. A lot of them make a living out of mountaineering. We essentially use them as our support team.

CWALINSKI: On April 18th, 2014, 25 people, mostly Sherpas, were setting up the route through Icefall. They checked the snow and ice for stability. Over the deep crevasse, they constructed temporary bridges out of ladders and rope.  Meanwhile, Staniforth and his team were hiking to Base Camp.

STANIFORTH:  A day before we got there, there was the huge avalanche in the Icefall,

NEWS CLIP 1:  The high altitude avalanche hit early Friday morning, but above the mountains basecamp at more than 20,000 feet.

NEWS CLIP 2:  An avalanche this morning, claimed at least a dozen lives. That is the greatest one-day toll, recorded on the world’s tallest mountain.

CWALINSKI: The avalanche killed a total of 16 people, all Sherpas. The entire climbing season was cancelled before Staniforth and his team could even begin the climb.

STANIFORTH:  We had to pack up and go home, having not actually gone up above Base Camp.

CWALINSKI: But Staniforth was determined to give it another shot. A year later at 19 years old, he returned to Base Camp.

STANIFORTH:  Got to the basecamp, and we set off on our first rotation. The first rotation is Camp one for one night and then you go to camp two.

CWALINSKI: Prepared to push through the Icefall, Staniforth the rest of the team loaded up their backpacks and put on their gear. Crampons, helmets, ropes and carabineers are just a few of the necessary pieces of equipment need to traverse the terrain.

STANIFORTH:  Our team had left basecamp about 5 in the morning whilst the ice is more stable. After 5 long painful hours, it’s absolutely exhausting, we were probably less than half an hour from camp one.

CWALINSKI: Having crossed over the deep crevasses on ladders and under large ice towers, Staniforth had nearly finished crossing the deadliest place on Everest.

STANIFORTH:  At this point I was on my own because my leader and my teammates had dropped behind me by about ten minutes. And two guys are about ten minutes ahead. Everybody else had just raced ahead. I was struggling, like struggling big time that day.

CWALINSKI: At this point, Staniforth is standing at over 19,000 feet in elevation. The altitude and lack of oxygen was taking on toll on his body.

STANIFORTH:  And I was so tired that I remember pulling on the rope and just keeping on, pulling one step at a time, and that’s when the Nepal Earthquake it.

NEWS CLIP 1: Earthquakes of this high 7.2 Magnitude are rare. This is the worst to hit this Himalayan nation in over 80 years.

NEWS CLIP 2: The earthquake struck before noon local time in the capital city Kathmandu.

NEWS CLIP 3: Old brick buildings simply crumbled, with many people trapped under rubble.

STANIFORTH:  And I just remember hearing this huge crack above my head, like splitting in the whole valley and that’s when panic set in, ‘cause I realized that this was the sound of ice breaking off the mountain. Behind that, you’ve got the distant rumble of an avalanche coming straight at you. The fog that day, the visibility is so bad that we probably couldn’t see more that 30 meters away. And so you hear this noise booming at you, but you can’t see it. So you can’t run, you can’t hide. You just have to set off as fast as you possibly can and all the time looking and trying to work out where this thing is going to come from. And after a short while you here the noise getting closer and closer, like an express train. Louder and faster. But you assume that it’s fallen behind you, because it should have hit me by now.

STANIFORTH: And then suddenly the air pressure just flips and it just hits you with this ‘whack’ like a ton of bricks. At first it knocked me over, but it wasn’t solid, it was just a cloud and a big battering of wind and noise roaring at you from every angle. You’ve got this soft snow going into your face and you turn your head to gasp for air, but it’s like being suffocated. And you’re kind of thinking, when is going to end, when is it all going to turn black. That was the first time I really realized what was going on. And I guess at 19, genuinely for the first time in my life, for a few seconds thinking, this is it, this is how I die. That’s the most sickening feeling of fear.

STANIFORTH: And then nothing, it just stops like that. And then you open your eyes, you look down, and you’re shaking from head to toe, but you’re still here, in disbelief.

CWALINSKI: Staniforth and the rest of his team survived. The main path of the avalanche just missed them, instead it struck base camp where they had been only a few hours earlier.

STANIFORTH:  Huge avalanche, like a tsunami of rock, ice, and snow that just came down and absolutely whacked Base Camp. Which has never happened before. Sadly 22 people died at base camp.

CWALINSKI: The avalanche surpassed the previous years’ death toll, becoming the deadliest event in Everest’s history. Staniforth’s team was stuck at Camp 1 for two days before they could go back down. When they got to base camp, they found that 3 members of their support team had died, all of whom were Sherpa.

STANIFORTH:  That was a massive loss because for them they’re just doing their jobs and they were meant to be in the safe place. Our tents were covered under a foot of rock, snow and ice, had we been at base camp.

CWALINSKI: Staniforth says doesn’t have plans to return to Everest anytime soon, but it’s not off the table. Despite being only 21 years old, Staniforth has overcome a lot. Even when things haven’t turned out as planned, he keeps pushing.

STANIFORTH:  Success is about coming back stronger, and I think about the challenges we face, whether that’s chosen or a marathon or Everest or, being in the Army of anything, or if it’s out of our hands, it’s about how we respond to it. That’s why sometimes the biggest obstacle are ourselves.

CWALINSKI: Right now Staniforth is busy conquering his next obstacle.

STANIFORTH:  My next project, which is actually completely different from anything I’ve ever done before. Climb the UK, It’s the highest point of all 100 UK counties, so cycling, walking, running, and kayaking.

CWALINSKI: Staniforth is currently on the road doing this challenge. If you want to keep track of him, we’ll have a link to his social media accounts on our page at gothepodcast.com. If you want to find out the whole story about Staniforth’s life, you can get his new book out now, called Icefall.

CWALINSKI: Don’t forget to subscribe to Go the Travel Podcast and find us at our social media links at the bottom of this page. below Share this episode with a friend or family member.

Here's a link to Alex Staniforth's TwitterInstagram, and his Website.

Episode 12: A Journey to Trinidad, Cuba.

Trinidad Cuba

Listen to our second podcast on Cuba by hitting the play button below. Or find us on iTunes, Stitcher, and TuneIn.

A Casa Particular is your key to getting the Cuban food experience. Each one I stayed in, offered breakfast and dinner.

"You can always get breakfast at the casa particular; it’s five dollars. You will be stuffed if you finish everything that they give you," according to travel vlogger Shayla Hohiesle. "It's coffee and juice and water and bread, and then they would come with an omelette; ham and cheese is a staple in Cuba."

Jon Barr, another video blogger I spoke with, had a similar experience, "I always got a different kind of pork in the morning. Like sausage links, ham, bacon."

 

Cuban Breakfast

First Course of a Cuban Breakfast

First Course of a Cuban Breakfast

"And you’re like, ‘I can’t finish this all,’ it’s way more food than you should ever eat for breakfast," Hoheisel said. "It’s so cool because you’re in their home and they’re making breakfast for you."

You’ll find ham is an option in almost every dish in Cuba. In spaghetti, in sandwiches, burgers, and salad. Beef is less common and a little more expensive.

A Casa Particular is basically like an Airbnb, you can even book one on Airbnb.com, click here for $40 dollars off an Airbnb stay for first time users. These Casas are run by local Cubans, who are great sources of information. My first host in Havana, gave me the basic run down for what I could expect to pay for, for things like coffee and meals. For long taxi rides to places like Trinidad, it’s best to ask them to book the cab for you.

You can expect to pay 25 to 30 dollars for a ride from Havana to Trinidad. These rates usually match the price of the bus fare, but you’ll arrive a lot quicker. The trip should be around 5 hours, but be prepared for an interesting trip.

"Two hours into the trip, the driver pulls over to the side of the road, and he’s like, ‘ok guys, go to the bathroom,'" said Barr.

The car I rode in, had no seat belts, and you had to adjust the windows by pulling or pushing on the glass by hand. You’re lucky if you stop at a gas station.

"Instead of going to a gas station, this guy pulls over at his house and his dad comes out with a gallon of gasoline, and literally, they’re pouring the gasoline into his car," Barr said.

Once you get to Trinidad, you’ll know why it’s worth the hassle.

 

Trinidad

Casa de Musica, Trinidad

"That was our favorite spot. All the buildings were different colors, which is so cool. And the streets were cobble stone and horse were a real means of transportation," according Hohiesle.

Trinidad was once known as the largest sugar producer in the world. At it’s peak in 1827, 56 sugar mills were in full operation. Founded in the year 1514 by Diego Velázquez, It’s cobblestone streets and historic buildings are hundreds of years old. Today, the city center is a Unesco World Heritage site.

 

Trinidad Sounds

Trinidad Market

Trinidad Market

"It was definitely the sounds of just hearing animals running around in the streets. The butchers chopping meet when you walked by. It seemed like every little house had something to sell, so you couldn’t walk a few feet without being surround by something completely different," Barr said.

I was woken up everyday by chickens, horses and people selling onions or garlic. Listen to the podcast episode to hear some of them:

 

Sugarcane

There are a lot of things to do here, like a horse backing riding tour through the sugar mills, where you can squeeze the juice out of a sugar cane.

 

Horseback riding

Trinidad Horseback Riding

Trinidad Horseback Riding

You can find horseback riding tour in Trinidad that cost anywhere from 10 to 20 Cuc a person. Your local Cuban tour guide can take you to a coffee farm, a local waterfall, a restaurant in the mountains, or all three.

 

Disco Ayala

The Entrance to Disco Ayala in Trinidad

The Entrance to Disco Ayala in Trinidad

One thing unique to Trinidad is Club Ayala, a huge three story tall cave that's been converted to a nightclub. It’s hard to find, because it’s located up hill, at the highest point in Trinidad.

"We were like, waking up this hill, and I’m like, where are we going? It’s not well lit, but all of Cuba isn’t well lit. And then all of the sudden there’s like someone out on their porch with like disco lights and music and drinks," Hohiesle said.

I didn’t know what to expect, because it was this foreign land, almost forbidden land that you weren’t allowed to go to.
— Shayla Hohiesle

You’re going to have to walk through a residential area, on a dirt road to get to the club, where you’ll find locals bartending on their porches.

"It’s just like this homemade business for all the people on there way up to the cave. So you’re like porch hopping on your way up to this road, and all of the sudden there’s a giant line of people waiting to get into the cave," Hohiesle said. "And then you get into the cave and you go down, it’s like a normal cave that you go to during the day, but then it’s nighttime and there’re TVs on the wall and there’s a DJ, 20 feet up into the cave, 3 bars, and so many people. It was amazing and I had never been to anything like that."

Cover charge is 5 CUC, which is the Cuban Convertible Peso, and comes with one free drink. 

 

Canchánchara

Canchánchara

Canchánchara

The Cancháncara is a cocktail unique to Trininda.

"Canchánchara. That’s like my favorite to say but it’s also very delicious," according to Hohiesle.

It's made with lemon, ice, aguardiente (an anise flavored liquor made out of sugar cane),  honey, and soda water. If you don’t have aguardiente, Cuban rum is a good alternative. They’re served in these round clay cups, also called a Canchánchara.

 

The two currencies

The Peso Nacional

The Peso Nacional

One thing you should know about Cuba before you go, is that they have two different currencies.

"There’s the Cup and the Cuc," Hohiesle said. "The Cuc is the tourist currency, there’s literally two different bills, and then there’s the Cup.

The Cuban Convertible Peso (Cup), pronounced 'kook', is technically valued at 1 to 1 with the US Dollar, before you take exchange fees into account. Like Hohiesle said, this currency is meant for tourists. The other currency the Peso Nacional (Cup), pronounced ‘coop’. 25 Cup are worth about as much as 1 Cuc, but it can vary depending on who you ask. Cubans are paid in Cup and if you find a cafeteria for locals, you can get food for really cheap with some Cup.

 

Cafeterias

Cuban Cafeteria

Cuban Cafeteria

"It’s almost like their version of fast food," Hohiesle said, "you step up to the window and then you’re out."

These places are called Cafeterias. Most of them are run out of the window of someone’s home and the prices are incredibly cheap. If you can read where it says, Pan c/ tortilla de J. y Q, you can see that its costs 12 Cup.

 

Cheap Bites

A 0.47 Cent Cuban Breakfast Sandwiches

A 0.47 Cent Cuban Breakfast Sandwiches

That's about 0.47 cents for an egg sandwich with ham and cheese.

 

Visa and permission to travel

Cuban Visa

One of the most common questions people have asked me is: 'how did you go to Cuba? Don’t you need permission to go?'

The answer to that is, yes and no. So a little bit of background first: The US Embargo against Cuba restricted certain commerce and business transaction, and technically, the embargo is still in place, but there are a lot more exceptions to the rules now.

Like the new 12 reasons that give US Citizens permission to go to Cuba.

Cuba doesn’t care about these reasons, they want US travelers to visit and spend money on their economy. It's the US Department of the Treasury that created these permissions. They're very broad and I won’t get into all of them, but they range from family visits, to US government business. The most common one I’ve heard used is the, 'Support for the Cuban People,' reason. 

You’ll only have to deal with these permissions twice. Once when you buy your plane ticket to Cuba online, and a second time when you return to the US through customs. When I returned, the customs agent didn’t ask me anything about my trip, he just stamped my passport and let me through.

 

School and Healthcare

Young Cuban Students

Young Cuban Students

A lot of poor countries lack standard services like healthcare and a decent education system, but none of these things are true about Cuba.

A 2014 report by The World Bank found that Cuba has the best education system in Latin American. Students at all levels, can go to school for free, all the way up to a PhD. Cuba spends 13% of its national budget on education, the highest in the world. 

All students receive free lunch and uniforms. University students get free housing and a small monthly stipend. This encourages a lot of Cubans to stay in school. Overall, the country is well educated and they have a lot of doctors.

Their healthcare system is better than any in Latin America and they have the region’s lowest infant mortality rates and the longest life expectancies. Best part about it, is it’s all free.

Free education and healthcare are great benefits for Cuban citizens, but there is a drawback.

For example, since the Cuban gov’t has complete control over the healthcare system, they determine how much healthcare workers get paid. The highest a doctor can earn is around 67 dollars a month, and there are no private medical practices either, at least no legal ones. So a lot of doctors have to work second jobs or leave the medical field all together. Other professions can easily make more money, like being a tour guide, and even street musicians can earn more.

 

Apps and Downloads

Maps.me

Maps.me

The app store for Apple or Android phones, doesn’t work in Cuba. A lot of downloadable features don’t work there either. So download all your apps and ebooks before arriving.

Download Maps.me. This isn’t a paid endorsement; this is just the best map that I’ve found to work without an internet connection.

We’ve covered most of the travel basics in our two Cuba podcast episodes, but there are a few more things you need to know. We’ll be covering them in our next podcast. We’re going to release an episode called the Cuba Quick Guide, where we sum up all the points we’ve made about traveling to Cuba in one short episode. We’ll even add tips like, where to buy cigars and what to pack before you go.

Thank you Shayla Hohiesle and Jon Barr for being a part of this episode.

 

Don't miss out! If you haven't listened to the episode yet, hit play below:

Episode 11: Interesting Facts About Iceland

Iceland

If you want to know some interesting facts about Iceland, then you’re in the right place. On this episode of Go, we’re listing some of the most amazing things about the Nordic island. Press PLAY to listen to the episode below or read the article further down.

Thingvellir

Iceland is home to the first parliament in Europe. In the year 930 AD, the first Parliament, known as Althingi, met in what is now Thingvellir National Park. In fact, the word 'Thingvellir' translates into 'Parliament Plains'.

Every year Icelanders from across the island met for two weeks in June, around the summer solstice. During these sessions the country's leaders created laws and served justice. The elected, 'speaker' of Althingi, served three year terms and was required to memorize all of the laws. He stood with his back to a massive stone known as the 'Law Rock. '

This site is located along Öxará, which translates into 'Axe River'. The location is believed to have been chosen do to its proximity to Thingvellir Lake, which is Iceland's largest and is teeming with fish and other wildlife. In 1798, the last Althingi took place in Thingvellir before it was disbanded in 1800. Today, this area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Iceland still refers to their parliament as the Althingi.

Arctic Tern

Iceland is home to the Arctic Tern. This small white bird spends time in Iceland during the summer months, then flies all the way to Antarctica during the southern hemisphere’s summer months. This bird has the longest migration known for birds. An Arctic tern ringed as an unfledged chick on the Farne IslandsNorthumberland, UK, in the summer of 1982, reached Melbourne, Australia in October 1982. Only three months after leaving the nest, it flew over 14,000 miles.

Reykjavik

Reykjavik has the lowest murder rate in the world, per capita of cities with more than 100K people.

Silfra Fissure

Iceland’s Thingvellir National Park is one of only two places in the world where you can see two tectonic plates meeting above the earth's surface (the other is in Africa). These plates move apart about 2 cm per year. There’s even a place where you can scuba dive between the continents called the Silfra Fissure. Our 4th Episode covers the fissure, you should check it out.

Icelandic Forest

Iceland has no forests. When settlers first arrived they chopped most trees down to build houses and use as fire wood. Iceland’s soil layer is also really thin and the ground is mostly volcanic rock, making it hard for trees to grow and plant deep roots. The cold weather and short summers don’t give trees enough time to grow either. Icelanders are trying to change that with restoration projects around the country.

Glacier

Roughly 10% of Iceland is covered in glaciers.

Iceland Population

The population of Iceland is about 333,000 thousand people. California alone has ten cities with bigger populations. Wyoming, the least populated state in the US, has 250,000 more people than Iceland.

Reykjavik Population

94% of Iceland’s population lives within Reykjavík and 34 other towns.

Eyjafjallajökull

Since Iceland sits right on top of the Mid-atlantic Ridge, it’s very geologically active. Every 4 years there’s a volcanic eruption, like the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull. This eruption sent thick plumes of ash into the sky above Europe. This halted air traffic for 6 days in several countries. Volcanic ash may look like smoke, but it’s actually made of tiny volcanic rock particles. This can be dangerous for planes to fly through since it can damage their engines.

Strip

In 2010, Iceland banned strip clubs.

hakarl

Icelanders eat fermented Shark meat. Some people say it’s the worst thing they’ve ever eaten. The meat comes from the Greenland Shark, which can live to be over 400 years old.

Hydropower

Iceland generates their electricity from the environment. 80% is gained from 8 hydro-electric power plants. The rest comes from 5 geothermal power stations.  

Geothermal

Homes in Iceland don’t need a hot water heater. Geothermal power stations heat water that keeps the homes in Iceland warm.

Reykjavik Sidewalk

Some sidewalks and roads in Iceland have hot water pipes running underneath them to melt the snow in the winter.

Icelandic Horse

The Icelandic horses are a direct descendant from the horses brought by the first Vikings. They grow a thick coat in the winter to keep them warm, but their coats are often a different color from their summer coats. So a tan horse in the summer can turn into a dark brown horse in the winter. They're also the only horses in the world to have 5 different gaits, while all other horses have 3 or 4.

Internet Iceland

Iceland has the highest internet usage per capita in the world, with some of the best speeds. This could be the fact that Iceland is only 39,000 square miles, about the size of the state of Virginia.

Laundromat coffee

The picture above shows the inside of the Laundromat Coffee Shop in Reykjavik. Iceland consumes the 3rd most coffee per capita, in the world.

Elf Village trolls

Most Icelanders believe in Elves, Fairies and Trolls. This has been likened to the belief in Santa Claus, by Western cultures. Yet, enough Icelanders believe in trolls that construction projects have been forced to stop and even road plans have changed to go around sites where trolls are believed to live. 

Northern lights

Iceland is so close to the arctic circle that during the summer, the sky never gets dark. In the winter, it’s almost always dark. This makes the winters great for seeing the northern lights.

 

Icelandic Author

10% of the Icelanders are published authors.

Icelandic Alcohol

In 1915, alcohol was banned in Iceland. This is until 1921, when Spain refused to buy Iceland’s Cod unless they legalized wine. Spirits were still outlawed until 1933, but beer remained illegal. At the time, Icelanders wanted independence from Denmark and beer drinking was associated with the Danish. Eventually, Iceland became independent in 1944 but beer remained illegal until 1989. The only place you can buy alcohol in Iceland is at a government run store called a Vínbudin.

Iceland Phone Directory

Icelandic telephone directories list Icelanders by first name alphabetically.

Iceland Sagas

The Icelandic language is very similar to ancient the Norse language. 1,000-year-old books are still easily read Icelanders.

Iceland Police

Icelandic police don’t carry guns. Only one person has ever been killed by the authorities there.

Blue whale penis

The picture above is of a blue whale's penis. Reykjavik is home to Iceland’s penis museum. They have penises from over 200 different mammals, including one from a human.

Iceland winter New York

Although Reykjavik is near the arctic circle, the average temperature in January is about the same as New York City.

 

Icelandic Naming Committee

There are a limited number of names that you can give your newborn baby in Iceland. To preserve tradition, the Icelandic Naming Committee controls what names can or can’t be given to children. If you want to give your kid a name not previously approved, you have to submit a request to Committee, which will accept or reject it. Right now there are 1,712 male and 1,853 female approved names.

Mosquito

There are no Mosquitoes in Iceland.

geysir

The word "geyser" is an Icelandic word. In fact the first geyser ever named is called, Geysir.

Vigdís Finnbogadóttir

In 1980, Iceland became the first country to elect a women president. Vigdís Finnbogadóttir was president until 1996. Although the first female president was Argentina’s Isabel Martínez de Perón in 1974, she wasn’t elected president, she was serving as Vice President when the President died.

There are some places in Iceland where the ground is so hot from geothermal heat, that people use the ground to cook their food.

Icelandic Coast Guard

Iceland doesn’t have an army, navy or air force, but they do have a coast guard.

Dating App

Since Iceland is a small island, a lot of people are related to each other. There’s a dating app called, Islendingabok, which translates into, The Book of Icelanders. The app lets people see if their love interest is closely related to them or not.

whale watching

Iceland makes more money from whale watching tours than whaling.

Norse

Iceland was first inhabited by humans around the year 800.

Iceland golf

Iceland has the highest rate of golf courses per capita. With 6 golf courses, this equates to 1 golf course per 4,825 Icelanders.

Swimming pools

Iceland has over 120 swimming pools.

 

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