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Travel: Active, Exciting, Unusual, Affordable?

Updated on July 13, 2015

View from a roadside cafe in Montenegro

Washing elephants in Tailand

Rio de Janeiro

The Sahara desert

Kitzbuhel Austria

Dinner in the British Virgin Islands

Machu Picchu Peru

Seals in Northern California

Peterhof Palace - St. Petersburg, Russia

Dunes on the North Sea near Denmark

Riding a camel to a pyramid in Egypt

The Taj Mahal India

Leather tanning vats in Morocco

Sorting grain in Nepal

Village elder in Nepal

Sunset on the Amazon

No one gets to travel as much as they would like. When you do get the opportunity, you want to make the most of it! Some like unusual travel destinations, some like active vacations, some like exciting places, and everyone would be happy if it was inexpensive. So, how do you get the most out of your limited vacation time and budget?

You need a plan.

I have been very fortunate to be able to travel extensively over the years. In fact, I have been in 49 of the 50 US states (saving Alaska for a cruise adventure after retirement) and I have travelled to 50 foreign countries, with number 51 hopefully coming up this fall. One of the side benefits of all of this travel is a wealth of experience to draw upon. I know how to select a destination, how to plan a trip, how to find the best cost/value relationship, how to minimize the discomforts of getting from point A to point B, and how to maximize the fun.

For the past 25 years I have travelled with Renate, my life partner. We have found that sharing our highs doubles them and sharing our lows cuts them in half. She is an active participant in all of our travel efforts. My discussions here will all be for travelers as a couple. That doesn't mean a larger group couldn't do what we suggest. My only point is, travelling as a single presents different challenges that I won't be covering.

So now what? Well, what I intend to do with this site is write about trips we have done in the past, trips we are doing now, and trips we are planning for the future. Hopefully, I will be able to pass along ideas to you on where to go, how to plan it so you optimize your vacation, and how to keep the costs affordable.

What will we talk about? Well, we've gone swimming in the Amazon, sailed on the Nile, trekked in the Himalayas, camped in the Sahara Desert, and played golf at the Old Course in St. Andrews. We have attended Broadway shows, the opera in Vienna, the ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia, and plays in London, as well as concerts in cities as far apart as New York and Beijing.

We have biked all over America, including Slick Rock in Utah, across the Golden Gate and the Verrazano Bridges, all 5 boroughs of New York City, Cape Cod, Key West, and hundreds of places in between. Our international biking includes Paris, Beijing, Shanghai, Berlin, Cape Town, Vancouver, Vienna, Oslo, Danzig, Rio, Lima, Marrakech, Cairo, Tuscany and dozens more.

Some of our trips have been totally self planned, and others have been with organized groups. We will discuss the pros and cons of each approach. Whether you are looking for a quick week end trip in your area or the best way to see the Taj Mahal, we will discuss it here. Sit back, relax, and lets talk about seeing the world.

Let's start with our favorite trip, trekking in Nepal. This trip has been the highlight of our international trips to date for a number of reasons. First, it was our first trip to Asia, which presents a whole new world to a traveler from the "West". Second, it was an extremely active vacation, which is our favorite kind. Third, it involved places with romantic names: the Himalayas, Annapurna Base Camp, Mount Everest and Katmandu. And fourth, the scenery was spectacular and the "natives" were wonderful!

We first got interested in trekking in Nepal by hearing about it from friends. So, the first tip is, always listen to friends who have similar interests as yours. You don't have to take the same trip as they did, but intriguing destinations are often initially proposed by friends. We then went on the internet to learn more about the destination. Once we decided it was appealing, we began another search for the best way to see the area.

We quickly decided this was a trip that required professional assistance - not one we could plan and execute alone. There are a number of companies that offer trekking trips in the Himalayas, and we settled on HAUSER, ( a company based in Germany that has a long history of successful trips to Nepal. Their catalog (available in English on the internet), lists dozens of trips varying in degree of difficulty from 1 to 4. Trips are in the early spring and then again in the fall, up until December. We selected a category 2 trip in October that took 5 days to trek from the town of Pokhara to the Annapurna basecamp, the jumping off place for the climb to the summit of Mt. Everest, and another 5 days to return to Pokhara. Add this to sightseeing in Katmandu and another nearby town, and the trip was 14 days.

Since HAUSER is a German company, their package deals begin and end in Munich, Germany, so you must get to the Munich airport on your own and add that cost to your total trip. We spent a few days in Munich before departing for Nepal, both to sightsee and to get used to the time change from the East Coast of the US. Renate speaks German, but even if she didn't, it would not have been a problem for us as everyone we dealt with in the home office, as well as the guides and the other trekkers all spoke fluent English.

As with most package tours, the HAUSER representatives met us on arrival at the airport in Katmandu, and from then until they delivered us back to the airport, everything was taken care of. This is nice when you are in a country where not only is the language strange, but the written word is indecipherable. Our guide was a Nepalese who spoke German and English. There were a dozen trekkers on our trip, Americans, Austrians and Germans, and we all got along famously.

After a day and night of sightseeing in Katmandu, we headed by private coach to Pokhara, the entry to the Annapurna trail into the mountains. Each of us carried what we needed for the day in backpacks, while the bulk of our gear was carried by natives working for a Sherpa, who was in charge of our lodging, food and overall welfare. For 5 days we steadily climbed toward our destination, stopping each night in small lodges where we ate simple meals in communal style dining rooms and slept in tiny rooms with 2 twin beds. This was all that is available on the trekking route up the mountains. You either stay in the lodges (no heat or indoor plumbing) or sleep in tents.

All the way the scenery was spectacular as we went through rain forests with monkeys watching, farmland, fields, and eventually above the tree line into the majestic mountains. We met many locals living in tiny villages along the route. Interesting people living a simple life. We trekked for 6 or more hours every day, with numerous rest stops along the way.

On day 5 we reached the Annapurna base camp, nestled at the foot of the Annapurna mountain at 15,000 feet, higher than any peak in the lower 48 states. The next day we started back down the mountain, stopping at lodges again each night. Each morning we had breakfast outside, staring in awe at the breathtaking mountains surrounding us. We eventually returned to Katmandu for another night of sightseeing before heading home. A truly remarkable trip. We saw dramatic scenery, sampled new foods, met amazing people, accomplished a remarkable physical feat (ascending by foot from Pokhara at 3,000 feet to the base camp at 15,000 feet) and enjoyed an introduction to the Asian way of living.

The cost for this adventure? The flight from Philadelphia to Munich was $1,000 per person round trip, and the HAUSER portion of the trip (flight from Munich to Nepal and back, all meals, in country transport, lodging, national park fees, bag transport, and guides) was $2,400 per person. To this we added two days and nights in Munich for sightseeing, bringing the total cost per person to $3,600 for our 17 day adventure.

As I said at the top, this was our all time favorite trip, and we recommend it to anyone who has the energy, stamina and a sense of adventure. Good luck!

(all photos taken by Renate Harshaw)


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