Archive for June, 2008


Crazy Travel Times in… Lithuania?

June 27, 2008

I love to read the travel sections of foreign newspapers because they seem to find more off-the-wall locations to write about than our own papers. My local paper has a handful of destinations that it covers over and over again, due to their popularity: Hawaii, Disneyland, Paris, London, Orlando, and Lake Tahoe.

Those locations are fine, especially for family travel, but for student travel or adventure travel I like to read about places I’ve never heard of before, and that’s where the Sydney Morning Herald comes in.

Today they’re featuring an article about a communist theme park in Lithuania. Yep. Grutas Park has dozens of humongous statues of communist leaders, plus a petting zoo and restaurant. But even better, it’s located near a fake country. Have you ever been to a fake country? Well here’s your chance.

Uzupis sign“Realistically just a riverside suburb of Vilnius, the residents of Uzupis declared themselves independent in the 1990s. The Lithuanian government, it seems, just humoured them and let them play with their border guards, national flag and oddball constitution.

The latter can be read on three large plaques on a side street, and it’s displayed in Lithuanian, French and English. Among the 43 salient points is: A dog has the right to be a dog. And quite right, too.

Anyone getting the impression that this isn’t an entirely serious republic would be well advised to turn up on April 1, the national day. That April Fools’ Day has been chosen probably isn’t a complete coincidence, and the celebrations manage to combine pomp and ceremony with the air of a village fete.

On the bridge that forms the border, crowds gather to wave flags, while border guards clad in jeans and scruffy hats accost drivers attempting to get through. Their guns are purely for decoration, and they’re only asking the drivers if they’d like a passport stamp. Meanwhile there’s a Bohemian-looking woman hollering nonsense into a traffic cone and a couple of people dressed as flowers.”

Read more about Uzupis. It’s not quite as fascinating as, say, Lilliput, but it does show up on real maps.


Soak in Green Tea, Wine, or Coffee at Japanese Spa

June 26, 2008

Green Tea SpaWhen you travel, you’re bound to do at least one American thing out of habit. Maybe you’ll break down and eat at a McDonald’s on the Champs-Élysées (shame on you). Maybe you’ll skip a cultural tour to hunker down in a bar and watch the one TV tuned to U.S. sports.

Or maybe you’ll wear a baseball hat.

You’re allowed to enjoy the things that remind you of home once in a while as long you counter it by doing something completely bizarre that you would only find in the country you’re visiting. Go watch a cricket match, even if you have no idea what’s going on. Try to wash your laundry in a river like the locals do. Or spend a day laying in a tub full of fake ramen noodles.

At the Hakone Kowakien Yunessun Hot Springs Amusement Park & Spa Resort in Japan you can spend a day trying out 25 different pools, spas, and slides for just 4,000 yen (about US$37). The fake ramen noodle spa may be the most bizarre, but the other rooms are just as unusual. They don’t just put wine in the water, they have a giant wine bottle pouring it in. There’s also a humongous kettle by the green tea spa and an enourmous cask of sake next to that bath.

As theme parks go, this is one that adults can enjoy playing in even more than children. The website is available in English and has all the details of how to get there from Tokyo. Travel CUTS has some of their top Japanese tours on sale now, so get in touch with one of their agents if you’re ready to take a splash down Rodeo Mountain!


Become a Spy (For an Hour): International Spy Museum

June 25, 2008

International Spy MuseumAn around-the-world vacation is a dream for many of us. But until you can make it come true, try becoming someone else for a day. It’s a vacation from your regular life that’s completely within your reach.

The International Spy Museum in Washington D.C. is a one-of-a-kind collection of spy gadgets, formerly-classified artifacts, and exhibits that tell the stories of former spies. You can get an even closer look at the world of espionage by signing up for a one hour spy game. Operation Spy allows you to hunt for clues, conduct surveillance and practice your spy skills. Sign up ahead of time to guarantee your spot.

If you can’t be somewhere else, be someone else!


Travel Like Matt (Dancing Optional)

June 24, 2008

Have you seen this video of Matthew Harding? He’s a guy who likes to travel and likes to make people smile. He made a short video a few years ago, it spread around the Internet and made people laugh, and pretty soon a company offered to sponsor him to travel some more and make another one. Greatest gig in the world? Absolutely. 

Matt Harding dances

The final video is simple. There’s no dialogue or plot or moral or agenda. But it shows you everything that’s brilliant about traveling. Whether he’s in a famous tourist destination or way off the beaten path, the people he dances with all look the same. Well, they look different, but they all feel happy and free and silly and excited to be crazy dancing for a camera. It makes the human race look peaceful and friendly and a little bit goofy. It’s nothing like the image of scary foreigners that some people would try to sell you.

Be like Matt. Find something you love to do and figure out a way to share it with others. Hokey pokey your way around the world! (Start with an Around the World airfare. Travel CUTS can help you find a student fare from the U.S. or Canada and point you to other student travel discounts as well. Lower costs = more dancing!)


“Adventures in Hostelling” Writing Contest

June 23, 2008

Hostelling International just announced the following contest. Visit for more information.

Entry deadline: July 15, 2008
In honor of our 50th anniversary, the Golden Gate Council of Hostelling International USA is seeking short, personal stories (150-250 words) about how the experience of staying at a hostel has broadened your horizons, changed your perspective, or otherwise enriched your life.

We are seeking real-life anecdotes about a specific experience that either took place at a hostel or was made possible through a hostel stay. Did you meet someone at a hostel who changed the course of your life? Did you end up embarking on an adventure you never imagined? Did you make a life decision as a result of a hostel stay? Did something funny, unexpected, or simply memorable happen to you while hostelling?

In short, we’re looking for stories that help to demonstrate the breadth of experiences made possible by hostelling, or that illustrate the Council’s mission to help travelers “gain a greater understanding of the world and its people through hostelling.”

All winning stories will be printed and distributed by the Council in a 50th anniversary commemorative publication. In addition, a number of prize packages will be awarded as follows:

  • One Grand Prize winner will receive one round-trip ticket voucher for international travel on American Airlines, valid through March 5, 2009.
  • Three Jury Prize winners will each receive a Flip Video camera.
  • Honorable Mention winners will each receive a one-year Hostelling International membership.

Entries must be 150-250 words. One entry per person. There is no entry fee and no purchase necessary to enter.

Winners will be chosen by a jury including professional travel writers, other travel industry professionals, and HI-USA Golden Gate Council staff and alumni.

Entries will be judged on:

  • Entertainment value
  • Literary/narrative quality
  • Relevance to the mission of HI-USA Golden Gate Council

How to Enter

Entries must be received no later than July 15, 2008. Click here to enter online!


Treehouse Accommodations in Belize

June 18, 2008

Looking at blog stats, this has been one of the most popular posts. But has anyone actually stayed here? Let me know!

Travel Belize Like a Bird: Stay in a Treehouse

Parrot Nest BelizeWhen you travel you spend your long days walking and sightseeing, overwhelmed by new foods and faces and sounds and smells. So at night, don’t you want to get away, or even above it all?

The Parrot Nest Jungle Lodge in Belize will give you a relaxing night’s sleep, and a chance to see some local wildlife up close during the day. Prices are higher than a typical hostel, but more affordable than most hotels.

Belize is a great destination for adventure travelers, with plenty of options for kayaking, scuba diving, zip lining, horseback riding, cave tubing, mountain biking, fishing, and more, so there’s plenty to look forward to besides sleeping in a tree. On the cultural side, there are Mayan ruins to explore, and the origins of chocolate to rediscover.


Summer Camp *In* the Stars, Not Under Them

June 17, 2008

Space CampMost summer camps offer lakes and dirt and hotdogs. If that interests you not at all, then consider Space Camp, located at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where you can play with rockets and null-gravity and food in pouches.

Space Camp is offered for little kids, but it also has programs for teenagers and adults. And while mission control won’t actually shoot you off through the atmosphere, the crew will train you on the kinds of machines/rides that astronauts use, and you can learn all about Engineering, Space Technology, or Aerospace Science. Depending on your area of focus, you might even get to scubadive. Who needs Fiji when you have Huntsville? 

Just like regular camps, Space Camp needs counselors and other workers to make the place run smoothly, so if you’re over the age of 20 and have some college units under your belt, or if you’re almost finished with student life, start planning ahead for next summer or post-graduation.