Ask Trip Coach: Camping
You can't get much closer to nature than when you're sleeping out under the stars. But make the wrong move at the campground and your crew will be seriously un-happy campers.
In an upcoming Trip Coach column, we're taking a peaceful respite at the campground. Please send us all of your camping-related questions, and we'll answer as many as we can in the story. You might be wondering:
What kinds of travelers should and shouldn't go camping?
What are the best resources for locating and evaluating campgrounds?
What kind of prices do campgrounds charge nowadays, and what do you get for the money?
What camping gear is essential, and which products are gimmicks a camper can go without?
What common mistakes do newbies make that drive seasoned campers nuts?
For those just not into sleeping on the ground, what are some campground options beyond the classic tent site?
Under what circumstances is it just a bad idea to go camping?
Now it's your turn. Please send us your camping questions, so that we can focus on the most pressing issues in an upcoming issue of Budget Travel.
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Wilderness for beginners
Not everyone wants to spend a week in the Utah wilderness and, let's say, rip out invasive olive trees. Or volunteer outdoors anywhere during a vacation, for that matter. But what if you were told that, for only $300 (plus your own airfare), you could have a getaway outdoors at your choice of a gorgeous setting in Hawaii, Arizona, or elsewhere in America? And what if that opportunity included a chance to be physically active, make new friends, and indulge in some digital detox—unplugging yourself from our stressed-out world? Maybe this idea has something to it after all, right? Since 1997, the nonprofit group Wilderness Volunteers has been organizing volunteer service to America's wild lands. First-timers are allowed to make reservations for this year's line-up of trips in January of each year. So book your trips now for departures later this year. By March, it may be too late, as all slots may be filled. For details on applying, visit wildernessvolunteers.org. Other great options—typically costing a little more—include Volunteer Vacations, run by the American Hiking Society, and Outings, run by the Sierra Club. For more planning tips, check out our recent story "Ask Trip Coach: Volunteer Vacations." MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Like chocolate? You might like working with cocoa farmers in the D.R. Volunteer travel trend: Wwoofing Excavation vacations: Dig for a day
Council names the best tall buildings of '08. And the winner is...
We really like big buildings here at BudgetTravel.com. Lucky for us, there's an organization called the Council on Tall Buildings, which has recently awarded the "Best Tall Buildings" of 2008. The winner is the Shanghai World Financial Center. Topping out at 1,614 feet, or 101 stories, the tower has an observation deck that boasts the title of the world's highest publicly accessible space. It's pretty cool-looking, what with the trapezoid cut-out at the top and its slim, sleek shape (does anyone else thinks it looks a little like a bottle opener?) A Chicago-based group, the CTBUH (the UH is for Urban Habitat) hands out the awards annually, but the Council doesn't reward just glamour and a mammoth size; buildings are also judged on possessing "sustainable qualities at a broad level in order to preserve urban quality of life into the future," according to the Council's website. The other big winners were The New York Times Building in New York City, the Bahrain World Trade Center in Manama, and 51 Lime Street in London. MORE Read the Chicago Tribune's report on the awards The Next Big Thing
How to do adventure travel on a budget
Greg Witt is an amazing adventure traveler, who has guided mountaineering expeditions in the Andes, hiked through African jungles, led archeological expeditions across Arabian deserts, dropped adventures into North American golden slot canyons, and explored Costa Rican cloud forests. So he's the perfect author for the new book Ultimate Adventures: A Rough Guide to Adventure Travel. Earlier this week, we invited our readers to ask Witt questions about how to make adventure travel affordable. Here's the Q&A;: When I think of adventure travel, I think $$$. How can adventure travel be affordable? Ideas domestically?There are certainly some pricey high-end options that are gear-intensive (kiteboarding, heliskiing, and windsurfing come to mind) but for less than a tank of gas you can find some wonderful hiking trails wherever you live. A canoe or sea kayak can be a modest investment or an inexpensive rental, and can open up thousands of miles of nearby paddle trails to your use. I purchased both my first pair of cross-country skis and snowshoes on close-out for less than $50 and they've still given me hundreds of miles of use. Even for an extended vacation, a guided river trip or a fully outfitted backcountry experience is no more expensive than staying in a hotel, and eating meals in restaurants. Specific ideas domestically for a week long vacation? Paddling in the Everglades or the Boundary Waters, hiking in the Colorado or Glacier National Park, canyoneering or hiking in southern Utah or the Grand Canyon. Even outside the US, a week of sea kayaking in the Sea of Cortez or a river trip in Canada is accessible and affordable.I'm curious about cloud forests. What are they? Why are they worth visiting?Cloud forests are generally tropical montane forests which exist within a narrow band of altitude. T1hey are characterized by a lingering fog or mist. In addition to many unusual plant species such as epiphytes, you're also likely to find interesting and endemic animal species. Some of the best and most accessible cloud forests in the Western Hemisphere can be found in Costa Rica (Monteverde and Santa Elena), Jamaica (Blue Mountains), and Honduras (Celaque National Park). In each of these areas you can spend the better part of the day exploring the cloud forest with a local guide and naturalist, discovering new plants and animals. It's great fun for all ages.Every year seems to have its hot trend in adventure travel. What do you expect will be the buzz in 2009?My crystal ball says that there are some great rivers in southern China—the Mekong and others—that will come to the forefront now that the gorges of the Yangtze are out of play. Same could be said for the Sun Kosi and the Karnali in Nepal. All of them are also a good value—once you get there. Also the recent introduction of high quality, low cost sea kayaks makes me think there are some great adventures close to home that need to be explored. Maybe Isle Royale National Park or Washington State's San Juan Islands will become hotspots.Mr. Witt, I'm a birder. But I've never gotten to see a toucan in the wild. Any advice about sea kayaking, maybe in Iceland? And how to make this within the reach of a middle-school teacher (income)?! Many thanks! I've long enjoyed and have been mildly interested in birdwatching. Then I went to Costa Rica—BAM—I was hooked—an instant birder! It happens easily in a country with so many exciting tropical species. There are scarlet macaws, trogons, the resplendent quetzal; and with six species of toucans you're almost guaranteed to see one—I saw many in just a few days. In addition to being beautiful and easy to spot, they really have quite a personality and are fun to watch. Costa Rica really is affordable (once the airfare is paid for) and it's easy to travel independently, go to the various national parks and reserves (Carara for macaws, Monteverde for the quetzal, etc), hire a guide at the park entrance and discover an wonderful world of wildlife. Sea kayaking in Iceland is available in Reykjavik on a self-guided rental basis and there are also some excellent guides that can take you up the western coast to Breiafjordur Bay. In addition to Viking history, you'll have some great marine life viewing, including waterbirds like terns, gulls, auks and skuas. Land costs in Iceland are more than Costa Rica, but you can still do it independently and affordably. You may also have an advantage on airfare, since Icelandair often features some attractive packages from JFK.I read Outside, I watch The Travel Channel, I want to climb, I want to paddle wild rivers, but I just don't get off my candy ass. How can I get motivated?Start small; start local. Hook up with an outdoor club that has regular outings and different types of activities. The social component is a powerful motivator. Learning a new skill is also a great motivator. For example, just a couple hour from LA you have arguably the greatest rock climbing destination in the world at Joshua Tree, where there is a rock climbing school that offers classes and fun group instructions. The Kern River, is also nearby, and one of the best places in the world to learn whitwater kayaking. Go for it. Adventure is not a spectator sport. I want to buy boots. What is your recommendation to a weekend warrior who'd like to do some modest hiking in stable, supportive, comfortable boots?I walk hundreds of miles each year on local trails in Utah's Wasatch Mountains. Then I take off in July and August to guide in the Alps for my company (Alpenwild.com) where I'll typically do a couple hundred miles on the Haute Route and in the Jungfrau. I wear out my hiking shoes faster than I wear out my car tires. Still, the key is comfort—and since every foot is different, no one brand will work for everyone. I have a wide foot with a high arch and instep so I also add an arch support to my shoe. In terms of shoe components like a Vibram sole because it's sturdy and has some "gription" on rock surfaces. I also like an EVA midsole. I wear a low-cut shoe on any trail surface, but many people prefer a mid-cut boot for the added ankle support—it's a matter of personal preference and your call. And don't forget the socks. I find a good wool sock with a bit of synthetic in the blend add a lot to the cushioning, breathability, and comfort of any shoe.What are the misconceptions about ice climbing, in terms of how fit you have to be to safely try it? Perhaps the greatest misconception is that it is impossibly difficult. In fact, I find it easier and less physically challenging than climbing a similarly pitched rock face. Go initially with an expert teacher or someone with plenty of experience who can instruct you in the elements of balance, pick placement and anchors. Rent your equipment and try some different types. But once on the ice, I think you'll get the hang of it and be able to decide if it's for you. The other misconception? That your hands will stay warm. My fingers always seem to get cold—even numb. I still need to work on that.I'd like to learn canyoneering. What is the best way to master the basics (recommended schools, tour organizations, outfitters, videos, etc.)?You can have a great 4-7 days (or more) of canyoneering in Southern Utah. Zion National Park has some spectacular wet and dry canyons to explore. And off-the-beaten-path Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument has literally hundreds of hidden slot canyons. I'd recommend going with an experienced guide, one certified by the American Canyoneering Association (Excursions of Escalante is an excellent choice). They can tailor an itinerary based on you skill, interests, and time. Slot canyons offer some exciting challenges and fun adventures, but they are filled with hidden dangers, and lives have been lost (2 people died just 6 weeks ago south of Escalante in a flash flood in Egypt 3 Canyon) so go with experience and safety on your side. My husband and I are planning a trip to Antartica, December 2009-January 2010. We were hoping for a cruise from Argentina for about 16 days with as much time on the continental as possible. The choices seem really overwhelming. Is there a way to compare? We want a ice hardening boat that holds about 100 passengers, excellent nature guides and lots of time on shore. The accommodations need to be comfortable but not fancy. We are looking for a good value. Suggestions?Wow. I envy you. Antarctica is the ultimate frontier. And yes, make sure you go for one that offers sufficient land experiences with a focus on wildlife encounters. In such a pristine environment, keep environmental protection and safety in mind. Check with the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (iaato.org). Their members are committed to high standards and professional practices. And while the choice is still yours, they can help clarify some of the options and connect you with some experienced and reputable operators. You're virtually guaranteed of having a great experience.I'm trying to organize a Kilimanjaro climb for Sept. 2009 for a small group of 10 or less. The American companies are overcharging for the actual climb. Is it safe to go with an African company such as DAT? Also, I'm having trouble finding reasonable flight fairs. Any way to book less expensive international flights, or is there a company that will do a package deal at a reasonable rate?For Kilimanjaro, permits, ground transportation, guides and porter can all be arranged on your own in Arusha, but I wouldn't recommend it. Working with a reputable safari company (either US or African-based) that has a solid reputation on Kili is recommended. They will be focused on your safety and well-being and they will be supported by dedicated on-site staff who are treated fairly. This eliminates the logistical headaches and risks. Choosing a less congested route like the Machame or Umbwe also can allow for better acclimatization, better scenery, and increase your chances of summit success. I know one leading US operator, and while their prices are higher than African companies, they have their own operations in Arusha, they have their own local staff of dedicated guides, porters, and cooks who have been with them for many years, and are well paid and fairly treated. As a result, they offer a high level of service, an exceptional experience on the trail, and have one of the highest summit success rates on the mountain. ENTER A CONTEST ABOUT ADVENTURE TRAVEL Giveaway: Rough Guides offers $6,000 trip (Contest ends Feb. 28, 2009)
12 Most Beautiful Paths—No Car Required
With all due respect to road trips, some of the world's most breathtaking routes aren't fit for four-wheel drives. And they're better off for it. After all, aren't the world's most beautiful views best absorbed at your own pace? These 12 gorgeous trails, paths, and passageways let you do just that—from the saddle of a bicycle, a pair of skis, or your own two feet—without any impatient drivers looming in your rearview mirror. You don't even have to worry about planning the trip—outfitters run road-tested tours through all of these gorgeous spots. SEE THE GORGEOUS SCENERY ALONG THESE TRAILS 1. HIKE INCA TRAIL, PERU High in the Andes, this 26-mile journey follows in the footsteps of fifteenth-century Incans, leading past a series of ruins to the mystical royal retreat of Machu Picchu. Hundreds of species of exotic flowers (including nearly 200 types of orchids) and tropical birds (giant hummingbirds, tanagers, and Peru's national bird, the bright-red-headed cock-of-the-rock) can be seen along the way. Ancient stone stairs line the path as it leads up through cloud forests and alpine tundra, until the clouds part and the massive Puerta del Sol—Sun Gate—reveals the stunningly preserved granite city of Machu Picchu.Book a Trip: Access to the trail is limited (for preservation purposes), so it's best to reserve your trek well in advance (4-6 months in the high season of May-October). SAS Travel Peru's four-night trek includes bus transport from Cusco, all meals, tent accommodations, and porter service throughout (sastravelperu.com, four-night treks from $610/person). 2. HIKE APPALACHIAN TRAIL, U.S.A. Cutting through 14 states on the Eastern seaboard, the 2,180-mile "A.T." is one of the longest continuously marked trails in the world, taking in a greater variety of scenery than any other path on the continent. The route starts in Georgia's rugged green Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest, winds up through the vast valleys and peaks of the Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah National Park, then crawls through bucolic New England towns before ending in Maine's incredibly isolated Hundred-Mile Wilderness, one of the most likely spots in the country for moose sightings.Book a Trip: The Appalachian Mountain Club arranges three- and four-day hikes across New Hampshire's White Mountain segment of the trail, a swath of Alpine tundra best experienced when its high-altitude wildflowers are in full bloom (mid-June through September). Trips are led by staff naturalists and include meals, seasonal activities like bird-watching, skiing, or snowshoeing, and accommodation in rustic mountain huts (outdoors.org, three-day hikes from $316). 3. HIKE ZION NARROWS, UTAH This dramatic gorge cutting through Zion National Park claims a close second place behind the Grand Canyon for sheer, jaw-dropping canyon beauty, yet draws just over half of the more famous park's annual crowds. The path through the gorge—home to some of the world's deepest slot canyons—alternates between gaping, quarter-mile-wide stretches and narrow, 20-foot passageways, and runs directly through the Virgin River's bed—which means hikers who want to go the distance will have to ford waist-deep water from time to time. Still, Zion's fans believe it's worth the wade to stare up between the 2,000-foot-high sandstone walls, lined with lush hanging gardens, streaming with flutes of water, and bouncing with beams of red-orange light.Book a Trip: If you're not the type to wander through canyons on your own—or all that keen on waist-deep wading—the pros at Zion Rock Guides lead beginner-level full-day (dry) hikes that include a stop for lunch and ice cream at the in-park Zion Lodge (zionrockguides.com, from $90). 4. CYCLE HIAWATHA BIKE TRAIL, IDAHO AND MONTANA The pine-forested Bitterroot Mountains (part of the Northern Rockies) supply the deep-green backdrop for one of the country's most exhilarating rails-to-trails bike-path conversions (completed in 2001). This former stretch of mountain railroad straddling the Idaho-Montana border incorporates 10 covered tunnels (including one, the Taft Tunnel, that's more than a mile and a half long), seven dizzying, canyon-spanning trestles (some as high as 230 feet), and panoramic views across both states. Bonus: The 15-mile gravel trail is mostly flat or slightly downhill, so the smooth ride is doable for most kids and families. (Just be sure that your bike has a headlight for those dark tunnels! It's not only recommended—it's required.)Book a Trip: If you prefer to go it alone, day passes cost $10 through Lookout Pass Ski and Recreation Area (skilookout.com); less-experienced cyclists might opt for a guided tour from Row Adventure Center, which includes a picnic lunch and transportation from Coeur d'Alene, Idaho (rowadventurecenter.com, from $179). 5. HIKE PACIFIC CREST TRAIL, U.S.A. Consider it the other great American backpacking path: The 2,600-mile Pacific Crest Trail spans the entire West Coast, from the Mexico border to British Columbia. Along the way, hikers pass through 25 national forests and seven national parks, taking in everything from the vivid red Vasquez Rocks near Los Angeles to the deep blue waters and snowcapped peaks of Crater Lake in Oregon. Not to mention Yosemite, Sequoia National Park and the Sierra Nevadas in between. The parallel Sierra Cascades Bicycle Route provides a path for two-wheelers.Book a Trip: Newbies can hook up with the hardcore hikers who are tackling the full trail on Next Adventure's four-day, 32-mile hike along the Oregon Section of the Pacific Crest Trail (nextadventure.net, $400). Guides lead small groups through Mt. Hood National Forest, and all gear, meals, and snacks are included. 6. HIKE TORRES DEL PAINE CIRCUIT, CHILE This 52-mile trail loops through a section of southern Patagonian wilderness that contains some of the most otherworldly scenery on the planet. Giant blue glaciers and craggy mountain peaks are in abundance here, but the most spectacular formations in this national park are the namesake paines—10,000-foot pillars of granite that spiral up from the glacial-carved valley. The challenging hiking circuit also traverses past green lagoons and expansive ice fields—and if the landscape itself weren't enough, eagle-eyed hikers can spot exotic wildlife (llama-like guanacos, ostrich-esque rheas) roaming the grassy pampas.Book a Trip: Cascada Expediciones offers a five-day, four-night highlights trek; most nights, hikers stay in geodesic eco-domes equipped with sheepskin throws and windowed ceilings for midnight star-gazing (ecocamp.travel, from $1,313). 7. WALK CINQUE TERRE, ITALY Five colorful villages carved into the cliffs of the Italian Riviera are connected by a series of fifteenth-century footpaths winding directly above the Mediterranean. With autos on these ancient roads still few and far between, this is one of the few places where hikers can still travel car-free through the heart of Old Europe. The scenic vineyards, olive groves and fruit orchards lining the steep cliffs along the trail are bested only by the historic towns themselves, each one filled with centuries-old churches, postcard-perfect homes and high stone walls that cling to the rocks above the sea.Book a Trip: Seven-day treks from UTracks make the central town of Corniglia your base—travelers stay, local-style, in rental apartments—with daily excursions to the surrounding villages and breaks for vineyard tours and swimming (utracks.com, from $860). 8. CROSS-COUNTRY SKI OR HIKE THE KING'S TRAIL, SWEDEN One of Europe's last swaths of genuinely pristine wilderness lies more than 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Here, the narrow hiking and skiing path known as the Kungsleden, or King's Trail, is the singular sign of civilization along much of the route. For wintertime skiers the 270-mile route is a snow-swept wonderland; for summer hikers the untouched birch forests come alive with multi-colored flowers blooming under the midnight sun. Either way, you're likely to encounter herds of wild reindeer—and have an excellent chance of seeing the Northern Lights.Book a Trip: The eight-day trip led by Nature Travels is rife with extra-special experiences—sauna stops, a boat ride across Lake Ladtjojaure, and the option to add an excursion up 6,906-foot Mt. Kebnekaise, Sweden's highest peak (naturetravels.co.uk, eight-day trips from $1,100). 9. CYCLE ROUTE DES GRANDS CRUS, FRANCE For folks who take equal pleasure in viticulture and vélo-culture, there's no better bike path than "the road of great wines," a 40-mile route through the heart of Burgundy's famed Côte d'Or (golden slope). The road is lined by a procession of intimate, family-run wineries set along a southeast-facing limestone slope, which is the reason these vines get so much sun (and produce such great wines). The occasional castle punctuates the surrounding landscape. What's more, it's virtually impossible to get lost, thanks to the no-French-necessary road signs stamped with pictures of grapes that are planted all along the route.Book a Trip: The four-night trip offered by Detours in France includes bike rental, luggage transfers, hotel accommodations, breakfasts, two dinners, a wine-tasting meal and private tour of the Gothic Hospices de Beaune, built in 1443 (detours-in-france.com, from $857). 10. HIKE THE WHALE TRAIL, SOUTH AFRICA If you like long walks on the beach—and we mean really long walks—South Africa's 34-mile Whale Trail is sure to float your boat. The first half, which starts in the Potberg mountains of the De Hoop Nature Reserve, winds east down the verdant green hillsides toward the water; all along the way, trekkers gaze down on the turquoise rock pools and craggy cliff formations that make up this stretch of Indian Ocean coast. Once you hit the ocean, the trail doubles back west, with 17 more miles of secluded, sandy beaches, tide pools, and sea caves. Both segments of the trail have excellent vantage points for the star attraction—abundant southern right whales that populate these waters between June and December. During those months, hikers routinely report seeing 50 or more whales at a time, and some tour operators (like Karoo, below) have a money-back guarantee if you don't spot at least one.Book a Trip: Karoo Tours' six-day hikes include transportation from Cape Town, accommodation in rustic cabins, and all meals (www.karoospirit.co.za, from $555). 11. HIKE MILFORD TRACK, NEW ZEALAND To many folks—including, presumably, Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson, who filmed his trilogy there—New Zealand is the ultimate destination for dreamy, fantastic landscapes. The ecologically-diverse Milford Track, which cuts through Fiordland National Park, on the westernmost section of the South Island, is like a sampler platter of the country's most outstanding outdoor offerings. The 35-mile route swings through temperate rainforest, alongside rushing rivers and waterfalls, across wetlands vivid with ferns and moss, and over a narrow alpine pass. But the trail's primary attractions are its magnificent fjords—dramatic, V-shaped valleys carved out of the mountains by glaciers roughly 20,000 years ago.Book a Trip: Guided hikes on the Milford Track don't come cheap: Ultimate Hikes' five-day option includes all meals and snacks, accommodations in cushy lodges, and a cruise on Milford Sound, and starts at $1,488 per person (ultimatehikes.co.nz). If you'd rather strike out on your own, Hike South's self-guided option might fit the bill, with three nights' accommodation in unheated conservation huts for $276 (hikesouth.com). Just be sure to reserve your spot in advance—by several months, if possible—as access to the trail is limited to 90 new hikers per day. 12. MOTORBIKE HO CHI MINH TRAIL, VIETNAM An elaborate network of mountain and jungle roads built by the North Vietnamese to provide support to troops down south during the Vietnam War, this legendary trail runs the length of the country, winding more than 1,000 miles from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City. While segments of the road have since been reclaimed by jungle, the entire route is navigable by motorbike via secluded dirt paths that wind around vertigo-inducing mountain passes where stilted wooden houses are perched on the green mountainsides; through isolated ancient villages; and down to sandy stretches of uninhabited coastline.Book a Trip: Vietnam Adventure Tours has an 18-day, full-trail option, as well as a 3-day, all-inclusive "Taste of Ho Chi Minh" itinerary that offers homestays in Thai stilt houses and in a Muong village (activetravelvietnam.com, 3-day trips from $363).
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