south korea travel tips 

5 Things I Love About Seoul, South Korea

By globedrifters Amazing trips around the world | Asia | South Korea

5 Things I Love About Seoul, South Korea

Written by : Rebecca

South Korea is an amazing place with beautiful landscapes and a capital that never sleeps. I’ve lived here on and off for almost 10 years now and despite my initial lukewarm feelings for the Land of the Morning Calm, I have grown to love it and call it home. Don’t get me wrong, living here is not without its difficulties, but the pros highly outweigh the cons in my opinion! Here are the top 5 things that I appreciated about Seoul, South Korea.

Gangnam Style - View of Gangnam Station area of Seoul.

Gangnam Style – View of Gangnam Station area of Seoul.

1. Diversity

While Seoul doesn’t compare to lots of other multicultural cities in the world, I have seen an exponential growth in the non-Korean population over the past decade. In conjunction with this growth, I feel that there has been a very positive shift in Korean attitudes towards the non-military expatriates living here. I am also lucky to live in a district of central Seoul called Yongsan that boasts a large number of Korean and non-Koreans living together in the same community. 5+ years ago, this was a place that a lot of Koreans were hesitant to visit because of misconceptions about foreigners or their inability to speak English. Nowadays, these fears have been cast aside by many and it is now a true mixing bowl of nationalities with lots of opportunity for cultural exchange and fun times!

View of Namsan Tower from a bridge in the Haebangchon neighborhood of Seoul.

View of Namsan Tower from a bridge in the Haebangchon neighborhood of Seoul.

2. Food

I considered putting this at the top of my list because eating is one of my favorite pastimes! Korean food is becoming more and more known around the world and I actually read something kind of cool that famous chef and traveler Anthony Bourdain said about Korean food. To sum it up, he explained that for a long time, the spice and seemingly bizarre nature of Korean cuisine was what kept it from becoming popular, especially in the U.S. The lack in popularity is what helped it stay true to its roots and thus, it abstained from catering to American taste buds. Today, the spicy and authentic properties of Korean dishes is what is attracting non-Koreans to it. Some mouthwatering foods and my personal favorites that you have to try are : marinated galbi (Korean style BBQ), braised beef short ribs (galbi jjim), spicy chicken stew (dakdoritang), kimchi stew (kimchi jjigae), and spicy chicken stir-fry (dak galbi).

Korean-style BBQ *yum*

Korean-style BBQ *yum*

3. The City Never Sleeps

Move over New York, there’s a new insomniac ready to take over your reigning title. This is probably one of the things I like most about Seoul. I come from a small town in Iowa where most places of business close early and bars do last call at 1:30 AM or before. When I first arrived in Seoul, I was amazed at the hustle and bustle of the mega city by night, but I have to say that I may have went a little overboard with the late nights out. A Korean night out can reach up to 4 rounds after dinner with rounds of food and Korean-style side dishes, karaoke rooms, nightclubs, and finally, a round of more food and drinks for a breakfast at sunrise. Now that I’m a little older and my body has so kindly given me the gift of the 3 day hangover after a night out, I don’t partake as much in the nightlife, but it is always bumpin’ 7 days a week!

Laser-powered dance moves!

Laser-powered dance moves!

4. Public Transportation

I know most larger cities have this, but out of all the cities I’ve traveled to, Seoul’s trains and buses are the cleanest, safest, and most punctual I’ve seen yet. The buses and A one-way trip on the train comes to about $1.25 USD, so it’s affordable and accessible to nearly everyone. Plus, the transportation connects pretty much all of the country, so there’s really no need at all for a personal vehicle! Finally, there are the taxis. In most big cities, taxis cost an arm and a leg, but not in Seoul! Fares start at around $2.50 USD and a ride across the whole city from Gangnam to the popular nightlife and entertainment area of Hongik University will $20 USD or less!

Seoul Bus

Super Seoul Bus

5. Korean Karaoke!

No matter if you’re an R&B diva, classic rock connoisseur, or OG rapper, Korean karaoke–“noraebang”, which translates to “song room”– has something for everyone.  I’m as tone deaf as they come and even I can get my singing on in a noraebang for hours on end! If you get stage fright like me, then this Korean style karaoke is perfect for you. It’s like regular karaoke, but instead of singing in front of a crowd full of strangers, you’re in a small, private room with just your friends and only your crew can hear your off key crooning. Some song rooms are even pimped out with full food and alcohol service as well. If you come to Korea and want to have an “authentic” experience, this is a must!

Killin' it at the karaoke room!

Killin’ it at the karaoke room!

That wraps up my top 5 about Seoul, South Korea! There are so many more great things about this city, so if you’ve been there and I’m missing some, be sure to leave it in the comments section or tell us about them on our Facebook Travel Forum! https://www.facebook.com/groups/613025845523107/

meditation for the first time 

Meditation for the First Time

By globedrifters Amazing trips around the world | Asia | India

While traveling, I always try to do activities for which a region is known, even if I don’t think I’ll enjoy them. Take trekking as an example. I am not a big trekker. I like leisurely walks, but climbing a mountain and trekking for hours doesn’t appeal to me much. It is actually quite the opposite : I loathe it! I would much rather just look at the mountain from a distance while sipping on some cocoa, so why not try meditation? True story, when at the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains, I couldn’t NOT do it. Up the mountain I went, huffing and puffing during the entire ascent thinking, “I really need to get in better shape!” or “When is break time?

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Loy Krathong Lantern Festival tour in thailand 

Asia – The Land of Festivals

By globedrifters Amazing trips around the world | Asia | Thailand

After living and traveling in Asia for many years I quickly learned that Asia has quite a fondness for festivals. There is the full moon festival, the Loy Krathong festival, harvest festival, hottest day of the year festival, washing hair festival, camel festival, weaving festival and the list goes on. Many of these festivals are enjoyable but what festivals are worth planning your trip around?

burma trip with globe drifters 

Broke in Burma

By globedrifters Amazing trips around the world | Asia | Myanmar

Myanmar is a country that has recently opened its borders to the outside world and travelers are now flocking there in droves. Since the global economy has not largely influenced this country, there are some unique rules to follow, especially when it comes to the money in Myanmar.

india trip globe drifters 

A Love/Hate Relationship – Traveling to India

By globedrifters Amazing trips around the world | Asia | India

Oh India…. you make me feel uncomfortable, give me severe diarrhea, make me take 30 hour train rides but in the end you utterly amaze me. You are that really bad relationship that I keep wanting to go back to. But what is it about traveling to India which is so addictive?

Cambodia-Orphanage-Childsafe 

Why You Should Not Volunteer While Traveling

By globedrifters Amazing trips around the world | Asia

The problem with volunteering overseas is that most do not have a skill set that is really needed for the volunteering position and most organizations want a minimum commitment of 6 months to really “make a difference,” not three days.

how you know you have been traveling for a long time 

How you Know you Have Been Traveling For a Long Time

By globedrifters Amazing trips around the world

Is one of your habits to live or travel overseas for an extended period of time and then return to your home country?  If so, then you can probably relate to these habits. And, of course, these are all true stories from my past 5 years of extensive traveling around the world. I can’t really say where I have called the last place home as I’ve been on the move all over for so long. And trust me, I got many stories to tell…

1) Your mom/roommate/friends keeps wondering why the trash bin in the bathroom is always filled with toilet paper.

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Plane landing by sunrise 

Jet Lag is for Amateurs

By globedrifters Amazing trips around the world

How to avoid jet lag when traveling overseas… These days it seems like more and more people are traveling further and further. Different corners of the globe are now open to exploration. The wonders to be seen are countless and the high you get from seeing, eating, and experiencing new things is second to none. However, there is one aspect of traveling that may put a damper on the excitement and adventure : jet lag. It is real and it can lay the smack down.

getting from bangkok airport 

Getting from Bangkok Airport to your Hotel

By globedrifters Amazing trips around the world | Asia | Thailand

Getting from the Bangkok Airport to your Hotel

Bangkok taxi

Bangkok taxi

There are two airports in Bangkok. One is called Suvarnabhumi Airport, the international flight hub. The other is called Don Mueang Airport for largely domestic flights, but some flights to and from neighboring countries also can be taken here. Both airports are about equal distance to the city center of Bangkok. If you are flying from the West you will be flying into Suvarnabhumi Airport.

cuban-food-recipes 

Food in Cuba

By globedrifters Amazing trips around the world | Cuba

Food in Cuba

Many travelers are pleasantly surprised at the quality and variety of food that can be found in Cuba. Beans and rice are the staples, along with cucumber, tomato and cabbage as conventional ingredients for a Cuban salad. Chicken and pork are the most common meats served in Cuba. However, fish and a surprising variety of delicious seafood are also very frequently offered.

Here are eight of the most common Cuban foods and dishes. Try not to drool all over your keyboard!

  • Moros y cristianos — Also known as “rice and beans” is a staple of the Cuban diet. It can be found at pretty much ANY Cuban restaurant. It is literally translated as “Moors and Christians”. The black beans represent the “Moors” while the rice represents the “Christians”. The black beans are boiled in water and the rice is then boiled in that same water. Other ingredients such as garlic, bell pepper, oregano and bay leaf are added for more flavor. Moros y cristianos can be eaten alone or with a meat/fish dish.

Moros y cristianos (black beans and rice)

  • Ropa vieja — This is one of Cuba’s most famous dishes and can be literally translated as “old clothes”. Don’t worry though, the taste is far from that of an old pair of gym socks! This specialty consists of shredded beef flank slow cooked in its own juices and stock along with tomato sauce. There are some vegetables such as onions and bell peppers added and it is usually served with rice and/or beans.

Ropa vieja tastes better than its name suggests!

  • Plátanos — Plantains look just like bananas, but are less sweet and are commonplace in Cuban cuisine. You’ll find them prepared in different ways, but every way is delicious! I actually went through painful plantain withdrawal after leaving Cuba! 😉 One way you’ll see them is in the form of mariquitas or pan-fried in thinner slices, which gives them the appearance and texture of crispy chips! Another common plantain preparation method is twice-frying them and when prepared this way, they are called tostones. They are also known in Cuba as tachinos/chatinos.

Tostones aka tachinos aka chatinos. (Try saying that 3 times fast!)

  • Picadillo — A dish that is actually common in a lot of Spanish speaking countries, but is equally popular in the food in Cuba. It is made of minced beef that has been seasoned with onions, garlic, oregano, cumin and other herbs and spices. Picadillo is almost always served with… You guessed it! Rice and/or beans! It can sometimes have a slightly Christmas-y taste thanks to the occasionally added cinnamon and raisins.

Picadillo cubano served with plantains & rice and black beans

  • Mojo — Austin Powers lost his mojo and you can find yours in Cuba! Mojo is a sauce used in the preparation of some dishes, but is also frequently used as a dipping sauce for fried plantains and cassava/yuca. It usually contains garlic, olive oil, onion and a citrus juice. Although I could probably do without the plantains or yuca and just drink straight up!

Mojo cubano…bottoms up! 😉

  • Medianoche — You might know it as the Cuban sandwich, but the one that you’re probably used to is a bit different than what you’ll find in Cuba. Its name means “midnight” in Spanish and is called this because it is a popular snack to have after a night out on the town. It will typically have ham, roast pork, mustard, swiss cheese, and dill pickles. The main difference is the bread on which it is served. Cubans usually make a medianoche with a sweeter egg bread.

Medianoche… *drool*

  • Arroz con leche — In English it is called “rice pudding”. It is a simple dessert that is eaten all over Latin America as well as Cuba. Cuban-style rice pudding is made with rice, sugar, cinnamon, lemon, evaporated & condensed milk. It can be eaten warm, but also can be served chilled and is quite refreshing after a meal on a hot day.

Arroz con leche is a perfect way to top off a meal.

  • Flan — It’s not specifically Cuban, but a lot of people eat it in Cuba. You’ll usually see it two different ways. First, it might be plain, but even without any topping or garnish, it’s pretty dang tasty! The second way you’ll often see it is with a caramel sauce poured on top, which is also really delicious, especially when paired with a nice cup of café cubano!

Flan with caramel is a must.

Additionally, fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season are to be found and include : mango, pineapple, papaya, guava, coconut, orange, grapefruit, breadfruit, corn, an assortment of sweet potatoes, bananas and enormous avocados, as well as many other tropical fruits.

Breakfast is included everyday on all of our trips in Cuba. It is an especially wholesome and filling experience at the homestays (casa particulares). The breakfast varies from house to house and typically includes coffee, milk, fruit juice, bread, eggs (or omelette), and fresh fruit.

Cubans are gradually becoming more aware of vegetarianism. Many of them are aware of its existence, but do not quite understand the reasoning behind it. The belief that to eat well means eating meat is still firmly embedded in the nation’s consciousness. However, through the influence of tourism, more and more vegetarian options are to be found on restaurant menus in Cuba and the cooks in the homestays are now quite accustomed to providing vegetarian meals. Therefore, it is not too difficult to get a vegetarian meal in Cuba, although you generally won’t find much variety and you may get tired of being offered the same (i.e. rice, beans, omelet and salad) everyday.

A vegetarian dinner in the homestays in Cuba will cost between 5 and 8 CUC. This isn’t much cheaper than a dinner containing meat and the reason is that vegetables on the free market in Cuba are of similar prices to those of meat.

There is little problem maintaining a strict gluten-free diet in Cuba. This is mainly because the food in Cuba is very natural (there isn’t much processed food available in Cuba). This is especially true in the homestays where there is also the additional advantage of being able to order specific meals and give the cook instructions about what you can and cannot eat. The guides are informed about gluten intolerance and to know which ingredients to instruct the cooks to avoid.

Most of the food you will have at paladares is limited to what is produced locally and what is in season. The US relies on mass imports and industrial farming to provide us variation in food year round. In Cuba, you will be offered what is in season. If it is avocado season, you will eat many avocados. If it is guava season, you will eat a lot of guavas, and so on. It is quite a treat to eat local and organic food. Monsanto and other US pesticide and GMO corporations are not allowed into Cuba due to the embargo, so think of how fresh the fruits and veggies will taste! Also, the meat is all grass-fed and free range. In Cuba, there is no industrial farming in which the livestock are pumped full of antibiotics or mistreated. Cuban pigs can lay on their backs and play in the mud! ¡Buen provecho!

  • Written 4/20/2019
cuba expect the unexpected 

7 Unexpected Things to Expect during your Travels in Cuba

By globedrifters Cuba

What to know before traveling to Cuba

Travel tips when traveling to Cuba from my experience

Cuba is trending big time these days – in the news, among travelers, on social media, etc. More and more tourists are flocking to the tiny island before it is “ruined”. (Don’t even get me started on that topic. I’ll save it for it for another blog post!) I encourage anyone and everyone to go to Cuba because it is a beautiful country with warm and extraordinarily resourceful people. HOWEVER… before going there, please, please, pretty please with sugar on top, open up your mind and as the title recommends : expect the unexpected! So here are my 7 Travel tips when traveling to Cuba!

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1.) Breakdowns can happen when traveling to Cuba

I don’t mean the emotional or mental kind! Cuba is a small and pretty much isolated island although it is only about 90 miles away from Florida. Because of the embargo still in effect, access to what we consider common tools and parts needed to fix cars, air conditioners, bathrooms, and so on can be very hard to come by. On top of this, appliances tend to be older models, so there is a strong likelihood that something will break down. So when the air conditioner in your accommodation is leaking water, don’t expect it to be fixed at the snap of a finger.

How to deal : Be patient! Kindly speak to a person working at your accommodation about whatever appliance is broken and understand that it may or may not be able to be fixed during your stay.

https://c2.staticflickr.com/4/3405/3270428419_1ee3b2f3ec_b.jpg

Broken down car on the side of the road

2.) Hablamos espanol

Spanish is the official language of Cuba, so naturally, you’ll hear it everywhere during your stay in Cuba. Furthermore, don’t expect to be able to speak English everywhere you go. If you stay in a casa particular, there will most likely be little to no English to be spoken. If it is spoken, it may be broken and limited in nature. When visiting a store or food/beverage establishment, interaction in English can be rare. Many non-Spanish speaking tourists rely on gestures as a means of communication.

How to deal : So before traveling to Cuba, a very good tip is to learn some key Spanish phrases before going. I suggest the standard “Please” and “Thank you” as well as “I would like…”, “How much is it?”, and brushing up on food and numbers before you go. Most guidebooks will have useful phrases in them to help you out.

3.) Spend Those CUCs

While Cuba remains relatively cheap in comparison to other major tourist destinations, it is still more expensive than developing countries that you may have visited. You shouldn’t expect to be making it rain CUCs in the club simply because the cost of goods and services are not as cheap as you might expect. A meal at a restaurant including a drink and tip can come to $10 USD or more per person. Cuban cigars, while cheaper than in other countries, can still be pricey, especially the more well-known brands.

How to deal : For our 9 day trip, we recommend that travelers plan on spending around $400 – $600 USD. Additionally, we recommend that you bring a few hundred more in case of an emergency situation.

One Cuban peso convertible (CUC) approximately $0.87 USD

4.) Go Off the Grid

As an American, cell phone and Internet usage are very limited for the time being. Most American cell phones do not get service in Cuba. Even some of those who had purchased international plans and were told that they would work while in Cuba were disappointingly unable to use them. The Internet is also not always a given. In order to use the Internet, you can go to a major tourist hotel and purchase an Internet card. These days, there are newer establishments where you can go to purchase these cards as well. However, you can only use the wifi in designated public squares in various cities throughout Cuba. Unfortunately, even when purchasing these cards, connection can be spotty at best.

How to deal : Be mentally prepared not to be able to use the Internet and phone while in Cuba. We always advise travelers not to tell their friends and family that they will be emailing/video chatting/texting/calling during their travels. Also, try not to let your need to be connected affect your trip. We know it can be hard because we are so used to having lots of telecommunication options at your fingertips, but try to enjoy it! It’s not everyday that you have an excuse not to be glued to your phone, tablet, or computer!

Cubans using wifi in a public square

5.) Toilet Toils

I have seen threads on forums and blogs on this pretty frequently. Toilets in Cuba, especially public ones, often do not have toilet seats. Ladies : now is as good of time as any to learn the art of hovering! Your accommodations will have a toilet seat and/or lid. Also, toilet paper is not usually freely offered in public restrooms. There is almost always a bathroom attendant to whom you give some small change and in return, you will normally receive a small amount of tissue for your use. Finally, don’t flush the toilet paper down the toilet in public and private bathrooms! If you have traveled to parts of Asia, you probably have had some experience with this. Plumbing in Cuba is kind of weak sauce, so wads of tissue down the toilet does not usually end well for the toilet and pipes. There is usually a small waste basket next to the toilet in which you can dispose of your used tissue.

How to deal : Ok so this is a weird one, but I guarantee that this travel tips when traveling to Cuba will come handy. Bring your own toilet paper! It’ll come in handy when you feel that the amount of tissue you receive from the restroom attendant is too small. Plus, you can use it to wipe off the toilet bowl rim prior to using it.

Cuban toilet without lid or seat

6.) Water Woes

These days, there has been a big influx of travelers to Cuba and that has put a strain on the infrastructure. The housing and plumbing are just not ready to handle all the tourists flooding the island. This will most likely have an affect on your showering habits. Be prepared for lukewarm or possibly even cold showers and low water pressure. In all of our travels to Cuba, we can count the number of times we have had a hot, high-pressured shower on one hand!

How to deal : The showers may be cold, but on the plus side, the weather will be hot! Shower fast and perhaps split the shower up into two parts. At night, very quickly wash your body. Then in the morning, wash your hair over the sink or tub if it has a detachable shower head. The water will be cold, but it will break up the showering process and hopefully you won’t feel too chilly after getting clean!

7.) Eat Your Veggies

Some find Cuban food to be delicious; others not so much. Cuban cuisine tends to be pretty simple in nature. You will almost always have a protein consisting of pork, chicken, beef, or fish that will be generally pan fried or grilled and lightly seasoned. Your meal will also come with some fresh vegetables that are in season. You may be offered some sliced tomatoes or cucumbers with shredded cabbage and a simple dressing of olive oil with salt and pepper. Also, for the starch, there is almost always rice and beans or just rice served. Occasionally you will get some boiled potatoes. A lot of people have told me that they have found the food in Cuba to be quite bland or very monotonous.

How to deal : Bring your own hot sauce! No joke! I always have my favorite one constantly on hand at the dinner table whenever I’m dining in Cuba.

Cuban meal : Ropa Vieja (spiced shredded beef w/ veggies), plantains, assorted veggies, black beans & rice!

All of these things seem pretty basic, but you’d be surprised at how many people gripe and complain about these things. I’m going to keep it real and let you know that the best advice I can give you is to remember that while it is tough to take a cold shower, have a boring meal, hover over a toilet, the Cuban people have had to live with this on a daily basis and they have survived. If they can do it for most of their lives, you can do it for a little over a week! Finally, don’t let this little stuff – because let’s face it, it really is little stuff – affect your trip too much. There are too many awesome things to see and lovely people to meet in Cuba to sweat the little things.  So with these travel tips when traveling to Cuba in your mind, definitely DO go to Cuba and have tons of fun!

cuba currency pesos 

Exchanging Money in Cuba

By globedrifters Amazing trips around the world | Cuba

Exchanging Money in Cuba

You’re traveling to Cuba and are wondering how to get local currency during your trip? Well you should, because it is not always a cup of tea. So here are 3 tips you should know about exchanging money in Cuba.

1. Money in Cuba : Double (Currency) Trouble?

There are two types of currency in Cuba : the peso cubano (CUP) and the peso convertible cubano (CUC). This is sometimes a source of confusion for tourists traveling to Cuba. Basically, the CUP is the currency used uniquely among the Cuban people for everyday exchanges of goods. On the other hand, the CUC is the designated currency for tourists. Neither currency is up for exchange in foreign markets. This means, that outside of Cuba, you cannot legally exchange either type of Cuban money for another currency. At the same time, no other foreign currency is accepted by local shops, restaurants, and bars.

Each currency’s value and rate of exchange within Cuba is controlled by the Cuban government and can fluctuate albeit generally not too drastically. For all intents and purposes, most travelers think of 1 CUC as equal to $1 USD. However, a more precise ratio is below :

1 Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) = approximately $0.87 USD 

3 Cuban Convertible Pesos / peso convertible cubano (CUC)

When traveling in Cuba, you will almost always purchase goods and services with CUC and receive CUC as change. On rare occasions, you will get CUP as change, but that is usually when the sales establishment has no CUC to give or it is not a major tourist institution.

Most Cubans you encounter, would much prefer to receive CUC because the CUP is extremely undervalued. 1 CUP is less than $0.05 USD – just to give you an idea of how little the local currency is actually worth. One Cuban man I spoke with once told me that the CUP is worth so little that he might as well use it as toilet paper!

5 Cuban Pesos / pesos cubanos (CUP)

2. ATM Withdrawals? Forget About It!

Should you run out of cash while in Cuba, there is a slim to none chance of getting more. You will not be able to withdraw money from an ATM using any American card. Western Union and other wiring services take a very long time to reach the receiver in Cuba.

This is why we always tell our travelers to bring more cash than expected to spend. We think it is always better to have extra cash on hand rather than to run out and have no way to get more. A large number of our travelers to Cuba have told us that they wish they had brought more spending money. Cigars and rum are probably the most popular souvenirs for purchase, but many travelers regret not budgeting for the amazing, original artwork. Artwork is exempt from the souvenir quota of $400 USD.

Artwork in Cuba is very popular as a souvenir!

Many travelers have also told us that they found Cuba to be a lot more expensive than other developing countries they have visited. In Cuba, be prepared to pay as much for food and services as you would in a ‘developed’ country. The unexpected higher prices are mainly due to the government placing large taxes on anything considered “non-essential” or tourism-related as well as the artificial exchange rate for the CUC. The trade embargo placed on Cuba by the United States also has some effect on prices. Cuba is a unique case and it is not as cheap as countries such as Indonesia, Guatemala, or Thailand just to name a few. Most visitors find it much more expensive than they anticipated.

Every traveler is different and therefore money spending will vary. Please consider your own spending habits when it comes to budgeting for drinks, shopping and tipping.

If you tend to purchase many souvenirs and/or art or if you enjoy spending a lot on big nights out, we recommend that you take more than the estimated amount below. An estimated total to bring for purchases, activities, and tipping is between USD $400-600. WE HIGHLY ADVISE BRINGING MORE MONEY THAN YOU EXPECT TO SPEND IN CASE OF AN EMERGENCY!

At the end of the trip, if you are satisfied with the service that you received from your Cuban guide and bus driver, you are more than welcome to tip them. You will have one bus driver that accompanies the group throughout the tour. The driver is employed by a Cuban government transport agency and thus receives a typical Cuban salary, ranging from about $10 – $20 USD a month. We therefore encourage you to tip the bus driver, especially if you received excellent service and your experience was enhanced by his/her services.

You are welcome to tip according to what you feel is appropriate, but here are some suggested amounts :

Cuban tour guide : $30 – $80

Cuban bus driver : $5 – $10

Our awesome Cuban guide (in black shirt)

3. Exchanging Money

For international exchange purposes, 1.00 Cuban Convertible Peso = $1.00 USD.  Note that on top of the 3% currency exchange fee, there is a 10% fee charged when exchanging US dollars, so you will only receive 87 centavos CUC for one US dollar when exchanging currencies.

There are two official currencies in Cuba. The Peso Convertible (CUC) and the Cuban Peso (CUP or Moneda Nacional – M.N). The exchange rates of these currencies are fixed by the Cuban government and are liable to change at any time.

Tourists use Convertible Pesos (CUC) and Cubans use Cuban pesos (CUP). You will be quoted for everything you purchase in Convertible Pesos (CUC) as a tourist.

In Cuba, there are official government exchange houses called CADECA. These can be found in every reasonably-sized city and also at the airport. We suggest exchanging most of your currency at the airport for the sake of convenience. There are CADECAs in some of the bigger hotels and also near the accommodation in Havana. All exchange houses and hotels offer the same rates so there is no need to shop around for the best rate. Be sure to count the money you receive from the CADECA, as staff have been known to short-change tourists.

Cadeca – Official money exchange offices of Cuba

Exchange counters accept all denominations, so you can bring 20’s, 50’s and/or 100’s. Make sure that the bills are in relatively good shape with no tears and limited wrinkles.

At the end of your trip, you can exchange your money back to USD at the airport. You cannot exchange pesos outside of Cuba, so you can either exchange it to USD in Cuba at the airport or spend the rest on souvenirs at the airport.

Many travelers ask about bringing Euros or Canadian dollars to Cuba as these currencies do not have an additional 10% exchange fee like the USD. Remember that all foreign currencies in Cuba are subject to the 3% currency exchange fee. Your home bank may also have supplementary currency exchange fees, so it is up to you to check with your bank and inform yourself of the exchange rate, which you can find online.

Please understand that we do NOT advise travelers on what currency to bring with them to Cuba and it is the responsibility of the traveler to decide on his/her own. Please weigh the pros and cons of exchanging to another currency on your own.

an american in cuba 

An American in Cuba : A Guest Blog by Leslie Spoor

By globedrifters Amazing trips around the world | Cuba

An American in Cuba

A guest blog by Leslie Spoor

I never even thought about going to Cuba – it has been off limits my entire lifetime. But then, over the course of an hour, not one, but two emails came into my inbox promoting a trip and I thought it must be a sign! A sign to take a trip to Cuba! And it seemed really important to go now, before the trade embargo is lifted and our US commercialism mentality charges full steam into Cuba, destroying the quaint and simple lifestyle it has enjoyed since it was first discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492.

But here was the thing – despite the fact I am a seasoned world traveler, I was a bit nervous about going to a place that few Americans had visited. I tried researching information and did find some, but even with that little bit of info, it still seemed better to go with a tour group familiar with the customs and history of Cuba.

So we ended up picking Globe Drifters as our tour group of choice and boy are we glad we did!

As luck would have it, we opted to go to Cuba, a third world country by anyone’s standards, at the worst possible time.  We picked the week the U.S. President decided to go too. And the Rolling Stones decided to have a concert that week. Oh, and it was Spring Break, Holy Week and, of course, Easter.

What were we thinking? Here is a country barely able to support itself and now it was going to be overrun with visitors. Even though Americans have only recently been allowed to travel to Cuba, other countries (especially Canada and Great Britain) have been traveling there for years.

So we scheduled the trip, very excited to go, only for it to be challenging right from the beginning – Our charter was cancelled, there were problems with our casa particulares (the homes where we were staying throughout our trip), Havana was closed down for the Presidential visit, there are no ATM machines, barely any Internet, and no cell service. Had we been alone, we would have been cut off, isolated and unsure of what to do.

It was Globe Drifters to the rescue! Not only did they have connections and experience in Cuban travel, but they engaged a Cuban tour company who chauffeured us from town to town, making sure our accommodation was reasonable, showing us the best places to visit (and eat!) and explained Cuban history and culture at every opportunity.

If it hadn’t been for Globe Drifters and Jodie, Rebecca and our guide, Tatiana, our trip could well have been a disaster. So yes, while it was challenging and even sometimes downright ridiculous, it was also an amazing, beautiful, fun and exciting adventure. And that is the key to a successful Cuban vacation – you must remember it is an adventure.

I was amazed by how much I didn’t know before traveling to Cuba. Globe Drifters puts out a fair amount of good information before you go, but there were still unexpected surprises and of course unforeseen complications due to the particular week we visited.

When we returned to the US after our weeklong visit, it occurred to me that other Americans opting to go to Cuba might benefit from a comprehensive ‘how to’ travel guide. So I wrote An American In Cuba, a quick and downloadable e-book travel guide.

Now is the time to go to Cuba, before it is disturbed by all the corporations chomping at the bit to get into the country and build a coffee shop and discount super store on every corner. Go now! Consider Globe Drifters as your tour company and for sure, download An American In Cuba, available for download at Amazon. For just $3.99 it may help you have an unforgettable Cuban travel experience.

 

*Leslie Spoor is an entrepreneur and founder/president of two successful companies – Executive Errands®, a lifestyle management company in the Palm Springs area (www.executive-errands.com), and Concierge Business Solutions® (www.conciergebusinesssolutions.com), a consulting company for small business owners and a software development company that services clients all across the US and internationally.  Leslie may be reached by email at info@conciergebusinesssolutions.com

vietnam cambodia travel tips 

How to get a Cambodian Visa at Siem Reap Airport

By globedrifters Amazing trips around the world | Asia | Vietnam/Cambodia

Getting a Cambodian Visa at Siem Reap Airport

Getting a Cambodian Visa on arrival at the Siem Reap airport is a pretty easy affair and it is outlined in the 4 steps below.

Just one of the amazing temples around Angkor Wat!

1.) Complete forms during your flight.

There is one international airport in Siem Reap (Siem Reap International Airport.) During your flight to REP, you will likely get the following forms from the flight crew :

  • Application Form Visa on Arrival
  • Arrival/Departure Card
  • General Department of Customs and Excise Passenger’s Declaration (Customs Declaration form)

Cambodia Visa on Arrival Application Form 

Cambodia Arrival/Departure Card

Cambodia Customs and Excise Declaration Form

If you do not receive them from a member of the flight crew member, just ask them the forms to get a Cambodian visa on arrival. If they’re not available, don’t worry; you can pick them up once you arrive at the airport. However, you will more than likely receive them during your flight, so you can fill them out with a pen. Ink pens are not typically provided at the airport, so it’s best to have your own with you. If you have questions when filling out the forms, just ask a flight crew member. He or she will be able to assist you.

2.) Receive your visa at the Siem Reap airport visa area

Once you’ve landed, you’ll enter the airport at which point you’ll need to have the following available to give to the visa officer :

  • Passport with 6 months validity and 2 blank pages for the visa sticker
  • $30 USD cash (exact change)
  • 3 above-mentioned forms (completed)

Once you’ve de-planed and entered the airport, you’ll need to go to the visa kiosks before passing immigration to get your visa on arrival. Look for the signs that say “Visa on Arrival” and follow them. As you enter the airport, you’ll see a large hall/room and will need to walk straight ahead. The signs are typically in plain view, but if you cannot locate them, just ask. Just make sure that you head to the Visa on Arrival desk BEFORE getting to the immigration line.

3.) Clear customs and immigration

Once you’ve given all proper documentation to the visa officer and received the visa sticker in your passport, exit the visa kiosk area and head to the customs and immigration clearance area to your left. You’ll then show them your passport and all other remaining documents including those that you filled out on the flight to Siem Reap. You’ll then pass through the immigration area to collect your luggage.

4.) Collect your luggage

Once you’ve collected your luggage, you’ll exit the baggage claim area into the public area of the arrivals terminal. Your Cambodian guide will be waiting for you there with a sign that says “Globe Drifters” in plain sight. He will guide you to your tuk tuks that will take you to your hotel.

You’re now ready to start your adventure in Cambodia!

The beautiful blue waters surrounding Koh Rong Sanloem!

 

Traveling Alone in India as a Female

By globedrifters Amazing trips around the world | Asia | India

Top tips when Traveling Alone in India as a Female

The Advantage of traveling solo to India

Traveling alone in India as a female can be daunting at times, even for the most seasoned travelers. I thought it would be useful to recount some of my stories and experiences I had. As a female solo traveler who usually throws caution to the wind, I got myself into some sticky situations when traveling alone in India. I will explain the pros and cons of traveling as a solo female, rather than just telling you “don’t do this” or “watch out for that.” This way you can draw your own conclusions and opinions.

koh-phi-phi 

People Ruin Everything

By globedrifters Amazing trips around the world | Cuba | Thailand

What are the downsides of mass tourism?

Seven years ago I visited the island of Koh Phi Phi, which is probably the most popular and well-known island in Thailand. I went during peak season so there were hoards of tourists on the beach and it pretty much ruined the mood. I remember going into the water and thinking, “Is the water really warm because it’s hot out or is everyone around me taking a piss?” Talk about one of the downsides of mass tourism… and there are so much more! Learn about the obvious ones I witnessed and how to avoid crowds and reduce your impact when traveling.

cuba expect the unexpected 

Cuba – Expect the Unexpected

By globedrifters Cuba

What to Expect in Cuba

Cuba is trending big time these days – in the news, among travelers, on social media, etc. More and more tourists are flocking to the tiny island before it is “ruined”. (Don’t even get me started on that topic. I’ll save it for it for another blog post!) I encourage anyone and everyone to go to Cuba because it is a beautiful country with warm and extraordinarily resourceful people. HOWEVER… before going there, please, please, pretty please with sugar on top, open up your mind and as the title recommends : expect the unexpected! Here are seven “unexpected” things to expect during your travels in Cuba!

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1.) Breakdowns

I don’t mean the emotional or mental kind! Cuba is a small and pretty much isolated island although it is only about 90 miles away from Florida. Because of the embargo still in effect, access to what we consider common tools and parts needed to fix cars, air conditioners, bathrooms, and so on can be very hard to come by. On top of this, appliances tend to be older models, so there is a strong likelihood that something will break down. So when the air conditioner in your accommodation is leaking water, don’t expect it to be fixed at the snap of a finger.

How to deal : Be patient! Kindly speak to a person working at your accommodation about whatever appliance is broken and understand that it may or may not be able to be fixed during your stay.

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Broken down car on the side of the road

2.) Hablamos espanol

Spanish is the official language of Cuba, so naturally, you’ll hear it everywhere during your stay in Cuba. Furthermore, don’t expect to be able to speak English everywhere you go. If you stay in a casa particular, there will most likely be little to no English to be spoken. If it is spoken, it may be broken and limited in nature. When visiting a store or food/beverage establishment, interaction in English can be rare. Many non-Spanish speaking tourists rely on gestures as a means of communication.

How to deal : Learn some key Spanish phrases before going. I suggest the standard “Please” and “Thank you” as well as “I would like…”, “How much is it?”, and brushing up on food and numbers before you go. Most guide books will have useful phrases in them to help you out.

3.) Spend Those CUCs

While Cuba remains relatively cheap in comparison to other major tourist destinations, it is still more expensive than developing countries that you may have visited. You shouldn’t expect to be making it rain CUCs in the club simply because the cost of goods and services are not as cheap as you might expect. A meal at a restaurant including a drink and tip can come to $10 USD or more per person. Cuban cigars, while cheaper than in other countries, can still be pricey, especially the more well-known brands.

How to deal : For our 9 day trip, we recommend that travelers plan on spending around $400 – $600 USD. Additionally, we recommend that you bring a few hundred more in case of an emergency situation.

One Cuban peso convertible (CUC) approximately $0.87 USD

4.) Go Off the Grid

As an American, cell phone and Internet usage are very limited for the time being. Most American cell phones do not get service in Cuba. Even some of those who had purchased international plans and were told that they would work while in Cuba were disappointingly unable to use them. The Internet is also not always a given. In order to use the Internet, you can go to a major tourist hotel and purchase an Internet card. These days, there are newer establishments where you can go to purchase these cards as well. However, you can only use the wifi in designated public squares in various cities throughout Cuba. Unfortunately, even when purchasing these cards, connection can be spotty at best.

How to deal : Be mentally prepared not to be able to use the Internet and phone while in Cuba. We always advise travelers not to tell their friends and family that they will be emailing/video chatting/texting/calling during their travels. Also, try not to let your need to be connected affect your trip. We know it can be hard because we are so used to having lots of telecommunication options at your fingertips, but try to enjoy it! It’s not everyday that you have an excuse not to be glued to your phone, tablet, or computer!

Cubans using wifi in a public square

5.) Toilet Toils

I have seen threads on forums and blogs on this pretty frequently. Toilets in Cuba, especially public ones, often do not have toilet seats. Ladies : now is as good of time as any to learn the art of hovering! Your accommodations will have a toilet seat and/or lid. Also, toilet paper is not usually freely offered in public restrooms. There is almost always a bathroom attendant to whom you give some small change and in return, you will normally receive a small amount of tissue for your use. Finally, don’t flush the toilet paper down the toilet in public and private bathrooms! If you have traveled to parts of Asia, you probably have had some experience with this. Plumbing in Cuba is kind of weak sauce, so wads of tissue down the toilet does not usually end well for the toilet and pipes. There is usually a small waste basket next to the toilet in which you can dispose of your used tissue.

How to deal : Bring your own toilet paper. It’ll come in handy when you feel that the amount of tissue you receive from the restroom attendant is too small. Plus, you can use it to wipe off the toilet bowl rim prior to using it.

Cuban toilet without lid or seat

6.) Water Woes

These days, there has been a big influx of travelers to Cuba and that has put a strain on the infrastructure. The housing and plumbing are just not ready to handle all the tourists flooding the island. This will most likely have an affect on your showering habits. Be prepared for lukewarm or possibly even cold showers and low water pressure. In all of our travels to Cuba, we can count the number of times we have had a hot, high-pressured shower on one hand!

How to deal : The showers may be cold, but on the plus side, the weather will be hot! Shower fast and perhaps split the shower up into two parts. At night, very quickly wash your body. Then in the morning, wash your hair over the sink or tub if it has a detachable shower head. The water will be cold, but it will break up the showering process and hopefully you won’t feel too chilly after getting clean!

7.) Eat Your Veggies

Some find Cuban food to be delicious; others not so much. Cuban cuisine tends to be pretty simple in nature. You will almost always have a protein consisting of pork, chicken, beef, or fish that will be generally pan fried or grilled and lightly seasoned. Your meal will also come with some fresh vegetables that are in season. You may be offered some sliced tomatoes or cucumbers with shredded cabbage and a simple dressing of olive oil with salt and pepper. Also, for the starch, there is almost always rice and beans or just rice served. Occasionally you will get some boiled potatoes. A lot of people have told me that they have found the food in Cuba to be quite bland or very monotonous.

How to deal : Bring your own hot sauce! No joke! I always have my favorite one constantly on hand at the dinner table whenever I’m dining in Cuba.

Cuban meal : Ropa Vieja (spiced shredded beef w/ veggies), plantains, assorted veggies, black beans & rice!

All of these things seem pretty basic, but you’d be surprised at how many people gripe and complain about these things. I’m going to keep it real and let you know that the best advice I can give you is to remember that while it is tough to take a cold shower, have a boring meal, hover over a toilet, the Cuban people have had to live with this on a daily basis and they have survived. If they can do it for most of their lives, you can do it for a little over a week! Finally, don’t let this little stuff – because let’s face it, it really is little stuff – affect your trip too much. There are too many awesome things to see and lovely people to meet in Cuba to sweat the little things.  So with these things in your open mind, definitely DO go to Cuba and have tons of fun!

teaching in south korea 

Teaching English in Korea

By globedrifters Amazing trips around the world | Asia | South Korea

Yes, I was an English teacher in Korea…as well as half the American population come to find out. Any time I mention to someone that I was teaching English in Korea I get this response, “I know someone who did that.” I knew it was really popular to go to Korea; money’s good, experience a new culture and the kids are ridiculously cute but shit, everyone and their mother taught English in Korea.

travel tips globe drifters 

Long Neck Village – Ethical Issues

By globedrifters Amazing trips around the world | Asia | Myanmar | Thailand

Ethical issues when traveling to Southeast Asia has always been at the forefront of traveler’s minds. Are we hindering or helping child beggars by giving them money? If we ride on an elephant are we exploiting them? If we visit a ‘long neck’ village, are we encouraging the cultural torture to continue?

Don’t get me wrong, in the West we are burdened by many ethical problems of our own but when you go to South East Asia many of these moral dilemmas are brought upon by tourism and we see it first hand, hence why we feel the need to write about it, talk about it and take action to improve it. But the big dilemma seems to be there is not any clear-cut answer. It is neither black nor white but a large grey area.