I Almost Missed a Bucket List Item in Malta- Gozo Salt Pans

Before going to Malta, one of the things I knew I absolutely positively wanted to do was go to the salt pans in Gozo. It was on my bucket list because the photos looked so beautiful and I had never to been anywhere like it. We only had two nights in Gozo, and the first day included flying into Malta, taking the ferry to Gozo, checking into our apartment, and getting settled, which didn’t leave a whole lot of time.

On our second day in Gozo, we went to three historical sites, The Old Prison, Ggantija Temples, and the Ta’ Kola Windmill. The prison and windmill were my favorites of the three places. I especially liked learning the historical significance behind bread-making in Malta, which was powered by the windmill. The prisons were pretty extensive and included areas for men and women which you could see into, along with background information for the prison.

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We were ready go on a walk along the beach by our apartment and call it a day as far as things to do when I suddenly remembered the salt pans. Luckily they were within walking distance of our apartment and even more importantly it was still daylight.

Like so much of Malta, the salt pans were even better than I thought they would be. They reminded me a bit of Sunset Cliffs in San Diego, but were even better. When I first told my husband I wanted to see the salt pans in Gozo I could tell he was thinking, really? How interesting can salt pans be? But when we got there and he saw them, he understood and he was as much in awe as I was.

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These salt pans are a big reason why I wanted to go to Malta in the first place
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Trust me when I say it’s even more beautiful here than a camera can capture

So when you hear people like me go on about the salt pans in Gozo, just take our advice and go there to see them yourself if you’re ever in Malta. They’re one thing in life that’s completely free to see but is absolutely priceless to enjoy.

Has anyone else been to Malta? If so did you get a chance to go to Gozo?

Happy travels!

Donna

Where in the World is Malta?

When I told some people I was going to Malta, the first thing they asked is “Where is Malta?” The truth is many Americans haven’t even heard of Malta let alone know where it is, but I realize for some Europeans Malta is a popular destination for relaxation and sun. When I first heard about Malta, I was fascinated by the independent nation’s rich history. Over the centuries, Malta has been ruled by the Phoenicians, Romans, Greeks, and Arabs, just to name a few and these have all influenced Malta in one way or another. The wikipedia page has way more info than I’m going to go over here, but I truly found it fascinating.

So where is Malta? Malta is an archipelago of three islands off the coast of Sicily; the main island is simply called Malta, and two smaller ones are Gozo and Comino. For this vacation, we were going to spend a couple of days in Gozo then a week in Malta. Upon arrival at the Malta airport, we picked up a rental car and drove to the ferry terminal to take a ferry to Gozo. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t the greatest for sightseeing on our first day. It was chilly, very breezy, and kept spitting rain off and on. We braved the cold and took our positions on the top deck of the ferry, snapping dozens of photos and thoroughly enjoying the ride despite the less than ideal weather.

The ferry from Malta to Gozo was extremely easy logistically. We just parked our rental car in a queue, went inside the terminal to get some sandwiches, and by then it was time to pull the car up onto the ferry. You are only charged upon return from Gozo so we didn’t even have to buy tickets. After the 30 minute incredibly scenic ferry ride, we pulled the car off the ferry and were on our way!

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First views of Gozo from the ferry

After getting settled into the apartment we rented through hotels.com (they don’t just have ordinary hotel rooms; you can also find apartments, condos, farm houses, and other less conventional accommodations sometimes) we went out to get our bearings, pick up some groceries for dinner that night and breakfast the next morning, and get a snack from a local bakery. The buildings in Malta are mostly beige or tan in color and the landscape is very different from anywhere I’ve ever been. It reminded me in some ways of Crete but it seemed much greener in Gozo.

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Approaching the ferry terminal in Gozo

Since there wasn’t time to go to any historical sites (they all close at 5 pm) that would have to wait until the next day. We took a walk and popped in a couple of cute shops while we were out then went back to the apartment to cook dinner, take some much-needed showers, and just relax for the rest of the evening.

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Would you go down this ladder into the water?
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View from our balcony in Gozo

We mapped out our plans for the following day and watched the beautiful deep blue water from the living room. The best part about where we were staying was the view. You could see water from both of the bedrooms and the living room. There was also a balcony that wrapped around from the living room and both bedrooms. We discovered there was access to the rooftop but it was disappointing in that it was designed as purely utilitarian for drying clothes rather than for enjoying the view since it was blocked by parts of the roof.

My first impression of Malta was a positive one. I liked the landscape and scenery a lot, the people seemed friendly and helpful, and the food options were good. I was excited to spend the next week here exploring the islands.

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Next up- historical sites and one of my bucket list places! Have any of you been to Malta? Did you love it as much as I did? Or do you want to go now after reading about it?

Happy travels!

Donna

My Revised Bucket List- More In-Depth this Time

The first bucket list I posted really just skimmed the surface. Basically I wrote about my burning desire to go to Malta, the Canary Islands, and the Republic of Georgia with several other honorable mentions. For the full post, you can go here. Since then, I’ve come up with a more extensive bucket list with specific experiences listed instead of just listing places. I did want to keep it reasonable, though, since I fully plan on actually doing these things eventually!

These are in no particular order, either (that would be nearly-impossible for me to rank them).

Hike in the Caucasus Mountains in the Republic of Georgia

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Republic of Georgia. Image credit YourAmazingPlaces.com

Enjoy the parades and music at the Las Palmas de Gran Canaria carnival

Visit the Xwejni Salt Pans in Gozo (Malta)

Climb Mount Fuji

Explore Croatia’s national parks and UNESCO World Heritage Sites

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Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia, image credit TripAdvisor

Tour the Postojna Cave system and Škocjan Caves in Slovenia

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Škocjan Cave in Slovenia; Image credit: samo_wi/Flickr

Visit the South Island in New Zealand and see if I like it better than the North Island

Road trip around the Isle of Skye

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Isle of Skye, photo credit unusual places.org

Hike up the trail to Machu Picchu peak

Trek through levadas and look for the Madeiran long-toed pigeon

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Madeira levada

Admire the Magellanic penguins in Chilean Patagonia

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Magellanic penguins, image credit aquariumofpacific.org

Watch a sunset at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park in Big Sur, California

Sample Uruguayan wine at a bodega

Visit all of the Provencal markets I possibly can in France

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Take Harry Potter tours in England

Climb up Lovcen National Park and Njegos Mausoleum in Montenegro

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Montenegro, image credit getbybus.com

Enjoy a Guinness in the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland

Play with rescue puppies at Potcake Place in Providenciales, Turks & Caicos Islands

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Rescue puppies in Providenciales, image credit Top13.net

I think that about covers it for me- lots of hiking, mountains with stunning views, good food and drink, beautiful water, and puppies! If you know me, you know this list sums up what I love most in the world (besides running of course, which I can do almost anywhere).

Now to see about actually making some of these places a reality for me!

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

 

 

14 Practical Tips to Save Money Before, During, and After Traveling

I’m an American who works full-time with a husband who also works full-time and we have a daughter in school, and we all manage to travel as a family about six weeks out of the year. My husband and I aren’t wealthy, but we do manage our finances tightly and keep an eye on our budget. Over the years, I’ve learned a few tricks to help keep travel expenses under control. We don’t stay in hostels or live in a van when we travel, but we don’t stay in 5 star hotels either. I’d like to pass along a few tips for saving money for travel I’ve learned and share them with you.

1. Plan your vacations waaaaaay far in advance. I’m a planner so this one’s easy for me. By purchasing airfare several months in advance, you not only will pay less, you also have better opportunities for choosing your seats. You’ll also save on rental cars by making reservations in advance, but I personally haven’t seen a huge drop in prices for hotels or on Airbnb by reserving in advance. You will have a bigger selection of available accommodations the further out you look (within 11 months or less out usually), however, so you’ll have a better chance of getting more reasonably-priced accommodations rather than getting stuck with whatever happens to be left at the last minute. I know there are websites and apps out there for last-minute deals on hotels but I’ve never had a need for them since I plan well in advance.

2.  Fly to popular destinations during the off-season or even shoulder-season. For example, we’ve gone to  Colorado in June, Utah in February (but not to ski areas), and Italy in October. Each and every time I was thrilled we chose to go when we did. Not only was the weather great, the crowds were fewer, and prices were lower.

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Colorado in June was lovely

3.  Flying during the mid-week (Tuesday-Thursday) is usually cheaper but not always. Always check to be sure. Sometimes flying into a city like New York City may be cheaper on a Saturday because of all of the business travelers during the week.

4.  Watch what you spend on food and drinks when you’re at home. The more you eat out, go out for coffee, spend on drinks, etc., the less money you will have for those things when you travel. My family doesn’t eat out at restaurants that much when we’re home except for special occasions like birthdays so we can eat at restaurants when we’re traveling and don’t have to worry about how much we’re spending on food.

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Restaurant with a view in Valparaiso, Chile

5.  Eat at your hotel, Airbnb place, or wherever you’re staying whenever possible. If a hotel offers free breakfast, by all means partake in it. If they don’t offer free breakfast, buy some groceries so you can make your own breakfast. Depending on what you have in your room or apartment you may be able to have dinner in your apartment a couple of times too, which saves even more money. My family also likes to pick up sandwiches and snacks from the deli at a grocery store before we go on a hike when we’re traveling. That way we don’t have to cut our hike short, go back to find a restaurant and have lunch, then go back to the trails. We get to have a picnic lunch while overlooking some gorgeous scenery, all while saving some money- bonus.

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We recently had a picnic lunch at this gorgeous national park in Chile

6.  If you’re in the United States, look for deals at restaurants through GrouponRestaurants.com, or Entertainment mobile app. While you won’t be able to find every single restaurant that exists, using these three apps together should help you find some good restaurants and save you a ton of money. I’ve gotten many free meals through the Entertainment app, after buying one meal at regular price, or I’ve also gotten deals like 20% off our entire bill pretty commonly.

7.  Seek out free things to do. Be creative! When my husband and I were in Sedona, Arizona, we opted out of the touristy pink Jeep tours that cost starting around $100 per person and decided to go it on our own in our ordinary rental car (not 4 x 4 or anything special). We kept coming to spots where the pink Jeeps had just been or were just leaving and laughed to ourselves. While we may not have had 100% access to every single trail, we certainly had no problems hiking around the area for a few days just using our rental car to get us to trailheads and never once did we get stuck or not be able to go where we wanted. The best part- we didn’t pay a single penny extra and we could go where we wanted when we wanted without relying on someone else.

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San Diego is expensive but hiking in most areas is completely free

8.  Play the credit card game and collect frequent flier miles. Many cards give a 50,000 mile sign-up bonus, which is pretty significant. Make sure you’re earning miles every time you buy airfare, pay for hotels, eating out, and all of your every day expenses as well such as buying gas, groceries, and everything else you can put on your card. Just make sure you pay off the card in full every month, otherwise what you pay in interest could wipe out any potential benefits. Also check to see what airlines are affiliated with the card you’re getting. If you always fly with a certain airline but your miles aren’t redeemable with that airline, find another credit card that is affiliated to your favorite airline.

9.  Be loyal but up to a point. I’m a loyal Delta flyer but only because it’s the most convenient airline for where I live and where I fly most of the time. I recently flew with Southwest, however, simply because the flights for my family were cheaper and direct flights (versus Delta’s more expensive flight with a layover). I have the Delta credit card, so I did at least earn miles with Delta by buying my airline tickets with my card, just not as many as I would have if it would have been a Delta flight.

10.  Speaking of flying, you will save hundreds of dollars, especially if you are part of a family for just one round-trip flight if you can pack minimally and not check any bags. My family and I have flown to multiple places around the world including two weeks in New Zealand, three weeks in San Diego, and two and a half weeks in Chile without any of us checking a bag for years now. At $50 for a suitcase for each flight segment, which is a pretty common fee charged by most airlines, that adds up.

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Flying to New Zealand is expensive but we saved money by not checking any bags

11.  I use Hotels.com. For every 10 nights you stay, you get one free, with no blackout dates or restrictions. There are also different tiers and once you become a higher level tier, by more stays, you are eligible for deeper discounts than those available to everyone else. I’ve saved thousands of dollars by using this website. No kidding.

12.  I also use Airbnb. Sometimes it’s cheaper in the long run if you can rent an apartment with a fully furnished kitchen rather than stay in a hotel room with no cooking facilities so you’re forced to eat out every single meal. Many times you can also wash clothes, so you don’t have to over-pack, and can save money by not checking bags. You can sometimes negotiate the price with your host as well.

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Dinner one evening at our Airbnb in Chile

13.  When you do eat out, eat where the locals eat. Not only will the food taste better, it will be a fraction of the price of a meal targeted at tourists. If a restaurant has menus in English but English isn’t the native language, say no thank you and find another place.

14.  Shop around to find the best market in the neighborhood where your rented apartment, condo, or house is. Each of the small markets will have different varieties of foods and other items they carry so try multiple markets to find one you like best. We had the good fortune of finding a supermercado in Chile that had their own baker in the back of the shop. We quickly learned to pick up hot, fresh bread straight out of the oven for dinner most days. Luckily we did a lot of walking to counteract all of that bread!

How do you all save money when you’re traveling? What tips do you have?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

15 Lessons Learned by an American in Chile

After a recent vacation to central Chile, I can honestly say this place was more of a challenge to me than anywhere else I’ve been. I think the biggest surprise was how few people in Chile speak any English. I’ve been to many places where the people speak a little English (i.e.. Costa Rica, Germany, Greece, Italy, etc.), and with that particular language I had attempted to learn before going to those places, it has not been a problem communicating.

Chile was the first time I’ve been to entire towns where no one (at least that I encountered) spoke English, not even at places advertised as tourist information places. While I don’t claim to be an expert on Chile, I learned many things during my two week vacation there and I’d like to share a few with you so that you can hopefully learn from my mistakes.

1. Learn as much Spanish as you possibly can beforehand. Use Duolingo. Use other apps. Listen to Spanish audio books. Do whatever you can to learn all you can before going to Chile. You will need all the help you can get.

2. When speaking Spanish with Chileans, keep it as simple as possible. The less words you have to use, the better. Also, ask the person you’re speaking with to use fewer words if possible.

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We encountered this little beauty at a national park.

3. Buy a hotspot for internet (also called MiFi). Wi-Fi is spotty at best even in some of the bigger cities. We did not buy a hotspot before we went to Chile and had to go a week with basically no internet. I’m considering renting one from xcomglobal for our next international vacation. If you have experience with them, or with another international mobile hotspot company, I’d love to hear about it.

4. There are no guarantees when it comes to public Wi-Fi. One place where we were staying was supposed to have Wi-Fi but it was down the week we were there. We went to a few restaurants and cafes that claimed to have Wi-Fi for customers only to find out the internet was down and would be down for several days at least.

5. Download Google maps of areas where you will be spending time onto your phone before even leaving for Chile so you will have offline access even with no internet.

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6. Find places to visit and things to do before leaving for Chile and print them out. Don’t wait until you get there thinking you’ll figure it out once you get there.

7. Don’t assume your credit card will always work. We tried to pay for lunch once with a credit card we had been using for well over a week with no problems only to be told the transaction couldn’t go through because of problems with the internet.

8. Make sure your credit card is chip-embedded or it won’t work well in Chile. Our debit card did not have a chip and didn’t work anywhere except banks.

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9. Make sure you always have cash on you. There are many toll roads in Chile that only take cash. You also need to be prepared to pay with cash in case your credit card doesn’t work (see number 7).

10. Most roads are in good condition and are paved but there are of course exceptions.

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Horse-drawn carts are still commonly used in small towns in Chile

11. Driving a rental car is your best option when venturing outside heavily populated areas but in Santiago taking the metro is your best option; in fact, driving in Santiago is not recommended.

12. Drivers in Chile are aggressive. Be prepared to drive above the posted speed limit to keep with the flow of traffic on highways, and don’t drive in the left lane unless you are passing. In small towns, however, stay within the speed limit as it is sometimes checked by policemen with radar (we saw this a few times in various cities).

13. Make sure you have plenty of gas when traveling to a new area. You may drive for hours with no gas station in sight (as we did going from Santiago to Vina del Mar).

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Lunch with a view over Valparaiso

14. Bring a converter and transformer (both) to safely plug in electronics.

15. The people in Chile are some of the most patient and kind people I’ve met. If you are trying to speak Spanish and follow their rules they will appreciate it more.

I hope you have been following along with me for some or all of my posts about Chile. This vacation was certainly an adventure but one I very much enjoyed. I would love to hear any and all comments!