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Top Travel Safety Tips

Travel is scary. No matter how experienced the traveler, each new destination is a stretch outside the comfort zone. For some, the fear of the unknown is incapacitating. It’s the reason many people never leave their home town, let alone their countries. For others, though, it is the thrill of conquering these fears alone that entices them to hit the road. There is unparalleled growth beyond the walls of our safe and monotonous existence.

The potential to be in a dangerous situation in a foreign place is probably the scariest thing about traveling. Imagine being somewhere you know next to no one, where you don’t speak the language, and couldn’t get anywhere quickly without taking ten minutes to consult a map. Yikes. I personally don’t believe, however, that this is reason enough to not venture out.

In fact, I would argue that danger lurks in even the safest places, and that instead of laying fault to the locations, we can take it upon ourselves to be prepared for what may come. Last summer, for example, I spent two months traveling through Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique. Although I had been to Egypt and Morocco before, I had no idea what to expect. The American media perpetuates a misconception that travel in Africa is more dangerous than nearly anywhere else.

For the most part, this couldn’t have been further from the truth. Not only did I feel largely welcome wherever I went, I also met a number of female solo travelers who felt the same. In Zambia, I squeezed into packed buses, with my luggage tucked away out of sight, hitchhiked on the back of flatbed trucks and in the personal cars of complete strangers without issue for almost a month.

But this is not to say the entire trip was without incident. Because when I crossed over into Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world, I was met with an unfortunate event. After withdrawing cash and heading to the market, I had almost $200 USD pick-pocketed directly from my backpack in the capital Lilongwe. It was a series of simple mistakes that leaves you wanting to blame the state of the world.

I was angry, of course. It forced me briefly to reconsider visiting Lilongwe, or to think that the locals were mean-spirited (also untrue, as Malawi is rightly known as ‘the warm heart of Africa’). But then I realized that the risk of theft is present almost anywhere in the world. I could have been pick-pocketed in San Francisco or Paris and to shame an entire city, country, people or continent for one fateful event is quite simply wrong.

And, truthfully, I was partly to blame as well. I had lessened my guard after becoming more comfortable on the road. I stopped carrying my money belt and wearing clothing with hidden pockets. If instead I had taken a sturdier pack with more zippers, I may still have my $200 USD (probably not, because I like souvenirs). The truth is, though, that in the end it didn’t matter. The experience I got from being in Malawi far outweighed the worth of the money itself.

Cape Maclear Malawi

Cape Maclear Malawi


That day I learned an especially valuable lesson: that you should go wherever your heart desires (within reason), but you should also be prepared to take necessary precautions. When it comes to pick-pocketing in particular, there are several travel safety tips for safe-keeping. A money belt is a simple, straightforward way to keep your personal belongings on your person. Another newly developed option is clothing with built-in security. You can get a travel jacket with specifically designed secret pockets to guard your goodies.

Whichever way you choose to go, know that there is a numerated amount of risk that comes with travel anywhere at any given time, but running the risk is always worth the rewards of the experience.

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Clouds hang over Whistler BC

5 Must-Have Travel Items for a Cold Winter Trip


I think we can all agree that often the most difficult part in planning a trip is preparing the items you need to bring. It varies, of course, depending on where you’re going and for how long. The task, for example, becomes especially difficult when you are off to a destination with cold and snowy weather.

Recent weather is bringing plenty of snowfall in California and across many of the Northern and Western states. (Finally some great news for all us winter sports fanatics!) States like Idaho and Colorado, a few of our favorite destinations to visit  if you are brave enough to travel this cold winter season, are perfect for a mid-winter trip. If you haven’t already heard, Keystone Snow Fort and Skating Rink comes with some of the best attractions, like a snow fort complete with mazes and slides. But, even with enough courage, an unprepared traveller will find it difficult to enjoy this kind of trip if they don’t  pack the right items.

Because we want you to enjoy every trip, we’re highlighting what every traveler must have in their luggage.  These are the 5 must-have travel items for a cold winter trip.

1. Layers of clothes

When it comes to your clothes, consider packing in layers rather than in bulk, as heavy sweaters and sweatshirts take up a ton of space in the luggage. This strategy will also give you more clothing options, which is always a plus. Clothes made of wool are especially helpful because it helps to regulate body temperature in any weather. Thin wool shirts will help keep your body cool when the temperature suddenly heats up, unlike a heavy sweater, which will most likely be sitting useless in your bag. You can also choose clothes that come with hoods, so you don’t have to worry about bringing additional hats along.

2. Thermal Socks

Along with your clothes, thermal socks will be highly important in this trip. Commonly, the feet are one part of the body that have the least clothing, but you can keep them more insulated in chilly weather by packing thermal socks with optimal warmth and comfort. A great tip is to pack hiking socks, because they tend to come in thinner styles than regular winter socks, but they’re also made of wool to keep your feet warm. Better yet, they’re designed to dry faster, can be hand-washed, and they still take up less space in your bag.

Winter Travel

3. Gloves

Gone are the days when mittens and wool gloves were the only options to cover your hands, at least for savvy travelers. Today, the best hand covers come in all shapes, designs, and sizes. If you’re on the hunt for something special for a particular trip, look out for gloves that offer any of the following features:

  • Waterproof
  • Breathable
  • Light
  • Quick-drying
  • Good grip
  • Metal fingers for smartphone use

4. Boots

When looking for footwear, opt for the shoes that give you both comfort and warmth in case you will be walking on ice. Boots are easily the best way to meet this requirement when traveling in winter. Apart from providing more warmth, boots are durable, come with good traction and are often waterproof. There are a number of solid, low-frills, attractive winter boots that you can wear right onto the airplane. We’d suggest ones with light lacing and dark colored, so stains will not show easily, but nothing is as heavenly as slipping into a comfortable boot apres-ski.

5. Scarves

To complete your look for the winter, don’t forget to bring a warm scarf on your trip. Consider colorful ones to bring balance to more muted winter wear. It will brighten up your whole ensemble all the while keeping you warm. Scarves aren’t only for the ladies, either. Men can also wear a scarf to look dapper in winter. If you’re still not sold, check out this Life Hack guide with 11 ways to tie a scarf for men.

Winter is as fun a season to travel as any, since there are certain attractions that are only available at this time. But it does usually require more preparation than a destination that only really calls for swimwear. If you have other tips worth sharing for travelers going on an adventure this winter season, leave your ideas in the comment section below.


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Mt. Rainier from the Wonderland Trail

5 Essential Backpacking Foods

There’s something really special about going deep into nature. For me, I find that it takes me three days to decompress fully into what nature has to offer. Because of this, I’m a big fan of multi-day treks wherein you can spend days seeing more animals than people. This past summer, Annelise and I embarked on the Wonderland Trail, which traces the 93-mile circumference of spectacular Mt. Rainier in Washington. The eight day trip (although it can take anywhere between seven and 14 and we originally planned for 10) required a heck of a lot of meal planning for all we had to take with us initially and for our cache that we planned to pick up halfway through our journey.

Food Cache for the Wonderland Trail

Food Cache for the Wonderland Trail

In my experience the following are the five most essential backpacking foods for every back-country journey:

Dehydrated meals

After a day of 10+ miles meandering through forest, over creeks and through multiple temperature changes at various elevations, nothing hits the spot quite like a warm meal. And yet nothing sounds worse (to me at least) than cooking. Instead, fill up the Jetboil with the required cups of water, bring it to a boil, pour the water into the bag, let it sit for 8-15 minutes and you’ve got a nourishing meal you may forget is dehydrated. Having tried multiple brands and flavors on trips throughout the years, I, myself, prefer the  Backpacker’s Pantry meals.


There are an overwhelming number of energy bars out there nowadays and I’ve sampled my fair share over a number of years and countless trails. I can safely say my absolute favorite for long hikes are RBars. In the past I’ve suffered with trying to just get down energy bars to keep me going on the trail. I’ve found them hard to chew, and felt I was eating out of obligation. With the great flavors (peanut butter and jelly!) from RBars, all of which contain seven ingredients or less, I instead found myself looking forward to my mid-morning snack breaks.

RBar plate


Flour tortillas are also a favorite hiking food because they are incredibly versatile. You can spread some almond butter over a tortilla and you’ve got an easy, palatable and sweet snack. Or you can re-hydrate some beans, add a little foiled chicken, throw on some cheese and you’ve got savory trail burritos. Tortillas are a little heavy, but they are worth it for the amount of energy and carbs they contain and how long they last.

Smoked salmon

Smoked salmon is a true treat on the trail. It’s salty and savory, as well as protein-packed with good fats, providing a lot of tasty nutrients where it counts. It can be slightly heavy, so I try to plan the smoked salmon to be the first meal when picking up a food cache. Spread on some crackers or tossed into spaghetti, it’ll prove worth its weight when the time comes. (Pro tip: make sure you seal it well, especially in bear country!)


Anyone who, like me, has a hiking partner that can get hangry at any moment knows the importance of having easy candy on hand. Hi-Chews have become my favorite because of their great consistency and the energy they provide quick when someone’s mood, er.. blood sugar, drops suddenly. The sugar provides a quick and easy energy boost to get you up the last leg without the need for a lengthy meal break.

Mt. Rainier from the Wonderland Trail

Mt. Rainier from the Wonderland Trail

Hot Cocoa

Hot Cocoa is something I never drink at home, but, for some reason, hot cocoa absolutely melts in your mouth on the trail as an after dinner treat to warm you up or mixed with your morning instant coffee. If you’re a coffee snob like me, instant can be startlingly unsatisfying, and the cocoa adds a bit of sugar to help soften the blow and get your engine going while you pack camp.

While there are a good number of things we’ve packed not on the list, these five have been a few of our favorites hands-down. Tell us what your must-take items are, because we’re on the hunt for great snacks as often as we are great trails!

Disclosure: I was not compensated for this post, which contains affiliate links, however I did receive a sample for my review. All opinions are my own and not influenced in any way.

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Stay Connected on the beach in Central America

Stay Connected While Traveling in Central America

When traveling to Central America it can be hard at times to stay in contact with family and friends back home. Of course you would like them to know what you guys have been up to and how you’re experiencing your trip. We will give you some tips on how you can stay connected while traveling in Central America and tell them all about the great Tulum ruins in Mexico, the hot springs in Costa Rica or Nicaragua’s Pacific Coast.

Stay connected through the Internet

It’s obvious that you’d like to stay connected through the Internet. Lots of public places offer WiFi connection, which is often free. You can find WiFi spots at malls, pools, bars, clubs, lounges and so on. Sometimes you have to pay a couple of bucks to connect to their WiFi (in your luxury hotels for example), but it is almost always cheaper than just using your phone subscription from back home. Phone carriers charge extra costs when you use Internet on your phone in another country.

Use a prepaid phone!

Sometimes the Internet at WiFi spots is very slow, because a lot of people are also using that connection. Some places don’t even have WiFi which makes it very hard to stay in touch with the people back home. Giving them a call and telling them all about your latest adventures sounds like a good option. Unfortunately phone carriers also charge extra costs when you call or text in another country. The alternative is using a prepaid phone. There are a lot of prepaid carriers that offer lower costs when calling internationally. You could also choose to buy a prepaid SIM card for a local carrier. Your prepaid credit can be recharged easily at You can do this ahead of your trip or during your trip, whenever you want!

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mexico mayan ruins

Best Resorts in Cancun for a Family of 5

Long-time readers of A Week at the Beach know that I love Mexico’s Riviera Maya for a family beach vacation. With plenty of flights from around the United States, miles of beautiful, white sand beaches, warm ocean water and a wide range of accommodation options, all families can plan a perfect beach getaway that meets their unique needs.

I’m often asked about the best accommodation options for families of five or more. While traditional hotel rooms may work for families of 4, when you have 5 or more people you simply need more space.

Here are the best resorts in Cancun for a Family of 5.

Grand Velas

Grand Velas is an excellent option for a family beach vacation. This luxury, all-inclusive resort is located about 35 minutes south of the international airport in Cancun, Mexico. Here you’ll find stunning groomed jungle gardens, numerous pools, and the soft white sand for which this Caribbean side of Mexico is rightly known.

Grand Velas Pool

Bonus for Families of 5: My friends at Olympus Tours love this property for families with older kids, as they have a fun “teen center.” This kids’ club for older children features games, snacks and music and a fun place for older kids to get away from parents, and little siblings!

Omni Hotel and Villas

If you’re traveling with young children, the Omni Hotel and Villas is an excellent option. Kids love the zero-entry pool and fun kids center and activities, and parents speak very highly of the on-site babysitting services.

best resorts in cancun for a family of 5

Dining options include nine restaurants, two snack bars and themed buffets at dinnertime, so every member of the family is sure to find something they like!

Bonus for families of 5: Be sure to book the three-bedroom villa for the most space for your family to spread out. You’ll find a complete kitchen on the first floor plus a dining room seating six, and a sunken living room with sliding glass doors leading to a spacious terrace offering direct access to the pools. The villa offers two king-sized beds and one room with twin beds.

Westin Lagunamar Ocean Resort

The one- and two-bedroom villas on offer at the Westin Lagunamar Ocean Resort feature separate living and sleeping areas, plus a balcony, full kitchen and washer/dryer. Why book a single hotel room when you can book a full villa!

best resorts in cancun for a family of 5

Shop at the resort’s on-site market if you need cooking ingredients, or choose from the resort’s many restaurants serving a variety of cuisine options. Between the kids club and programing for older kids, including daily beach volleyball, surfing lessons and more, kids of all ages will love it here.

Bonus for Family of Five: Book the two-bedroom villa for the most space plus an ocean view from your family’s private balcony. We love the Westin Heavenly® Beds in all rooms plus two separate indoor dining areas and a full kitchen.

Has your family of five booked a resort in Mexico’s Riviera Maya? Were did you stay?

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