Tag Archives: travel planning

Travel And Your Creature Comforts…Store or Sell?

16 Apr

In light of the fact that we have spent the last three days moving into our new apartment, it seems like the perfect time to address the question that all long-term travelers have to deal with at some point.

What are you going to do with all your stuff while you’re gone?

storage

We knew we were coming home in less than two years, and we also had planned to settle in Colorado, so we chose to get rid of the stuff that we didn’t think we’d want/need later, and we drove everything else out to Colorado and loaded it into a storage unit.  The biggest argument long-term travelers have against storing everything is that, well, it can cost a fair amount of money.  Depending on where you are, and how big of a unit you have, you could be spending anywhere from $50-$200/month.  If you are living in a city, your best bet is to drive out, usually a half-hour will do it, and you’ll find rural storage units that can cost 1/3 of what you’d spend in most major cities.

It might seem, at first glance, that the $1000-$2000 needed to keep your stuff could be better used towards travel, especially when you factor in the money you could make selling it all!  The thing is, if you know you are coming home, you need to realize that you still are going to need a bed, dressers, bookshelf, couch, TV, dishes, towels, sheets, silverware, cups, pots and pans, a microwave, etc… when you return.

We have a really nice mattress that is only a few years old.  We have basically brand new dishes, pots, pans, glassware and kitchen appliances, most of which were wedding presents.  We bought a new TV just two years before we left.  Realistically, we would have had to spend far more money to replace these items than we ended up spending to store them, even taking into account what we might have made if we sold them.  If you don’t have high quality items, or many items at all, then storing things might not be worth it, especially if you have family or friends that are willing to keep a few personal items for you.

If you go the storage route, there are some things you can do to make packing, and unpacking it all just a bit easier when you get back.

  1. Bike boxes, usually free from bike stores, are great for flatscreen TV’s or artwork/mirrors.
  2. Shredded paper is fantastic for packing material.  Just start shredding everything you’d normally recycle.  You can get a cheap shredder for $20 that will do the job nicely.
  3. P1140359Number your boxes.  Then, make a list where you give a basic description of what’s in each number box.  For most things it can be as simple as just labeling the room the box should go in.  There are a few things you’ll want to name specifically though – like your wifi router, or the corkscrews…
  4. Tape up all the edges of the boxes.  It’s a pain, but it’s incredible how much dust can sneak into boxes from those edges that weren’t taped.
  5. Make sure you have a super thick, high quality mattress protector.  In addition, wrap your mattress (and box spring if you have one) in another layer, or two of thick plastic.  If the plastic isn’t thick enough it will tear, which leaves your mattress open to moisture (and mold…ick) and bugs.  If you are going to bother to keep it, keep it right.
  6. If you store your mattress upright, make sure it is exactly upright, and stack boxes flush with it so it doesn’t sag.
  7. Cover the furniture in some kind of sheet or cloth in the storage unit.  We didn’t.  It was a mistake that required many hours of cleaning.
  8. Put wooden palates down on the floor of the storage unit.  This will give you some protection in case of minor water leakage inside the unit.

Storing your belongings isn’t for everyone, but if you know you are coming home eventually, and you have even a few expensive items that you’d like to keep for the future, it might be worth it in the long run.

If you are a long-term traveler and have a different solution for dealing with your ‘stuff’ while you’re gone, let us know in the comments!

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The Thailand Roundup

9 Jan

Thailand Map

The Statistics

Number of days spent in country –  19

Cities/towns visited – Bangkok, Koh Tao, Khao Sok, Phuket

Number of different lodgings – 7

Flights – 0

Bus journeys – 10

Boat rides – 4

Taxis – 3

The Budget

Thailand chart

Total US dollar amount spent – $1,642

Average cost per day, per person -$43.22

Average lodging cost per night, per person – $11.86

Most expensive lodging, per person – $32 at the Royal President in Bangkok.  I had just gotten out of the hospital in Nepal and we decided to treat ourselves to a few days at a proper hotel.  It was lovely.

Least expensive lodging, per person – It’s a tie at $6.50 for a fan room that was pretty basic at SB Cabana II on Koh Tao, and an air-con room at a dive hostel in Bangkok that was also pretty basic.

Average food/drink cost per day, per person – $17.  Generally our meals were cheap street food in Bangkok, but we splurged big time with meals on Koh Tao and ate out many times at nicer places since my brother was there to give us some great recommendations.  The alcohol accounts for probably half of this total as we made up for all that beer we didn’t drink through Turkey, Jordan, Israel, India and Nepal…

The Best

$1 Pad Thai on the street.  Practically everywhere you look, you’ll find the super-cheap pad thai carts.  They aren’t always great, but they are a great value for a huge pile of noodles with veg, and chicken/beef/prawn on request.

 

Barracuda on Koh Tao – This place is run by a chef who worked for my brother when he had his restaurant on Koh Tao, and it’s easily the best place for a nice fish meal on the island.  Their appetizers are to die for.

 

Lung Pae on Koh Tao – It’s is a bit out of the way, high up on a hill with a great view of the ocean, which makes it perfect for a sunset dinner.  If you don’t have a scooter, they’ll come pick you up.  Interestingly enough, even though it’s a Thai place, they are best known for their steaks, particularly menu item # E4.

Portobellos on Koh Tao – Craving Italian?  This is the place to be.  Excellent thin crust pizzas and a decent wine list.

Sunday Roast at Banyon on Koh Tao – Obscene amounts of comfort food for when you are feeling particularly homesick.  It’s a local’s hangout so you’ll likely encounter bar and dive staff from all over the island at this weekly feast.

Going to the movies in Bangkok –There are massive movie theaters at the tops of nearly all the big shopping centers in the Sukhamvit area.  These are no ordinary theaters though, and they range from huge and classically decorated to enormous and lavish rooms filled with couches, soft lap blankets, and bottle service.  You can choose your level of service/quality of seat (and believe me, even the regular seats are generally nicer than those you’ll find in the States).  It’s a perfect way to deal with a rainy afternoon.  Don’t forget to stand for the national anthem…for real…it’s the law.

Photo by drekne on Flickr

Massage parlors literally line the streets!

$6 massages – Massage parlors are everywhere in SE Asia, and Thailand is no exception.  They run the gamut from sleazy ‘happy ending’ factories, to luxury spas that will pamper you for hours.  We stuck to crowded places with a communal area for Thai massages (no happy endings possible in these!) and if one massage wasn’t that great, we just went for another with a different masseuse!  If you want a super luxury deal (so, not $6) at a fraction of what you’d pay in the States, head to the Jamakiri Spa on Koh Tao.  They’ll come get you for free and you can spend the day getting pampered, and then relax by their pool that overlooks Sharks Bay.

The Worst

Getting random jumbles of noodles with fish sauce at a ‘Pad Thai’ cart in Bangkok.  This happened more than once.  Watch the cart before you order to see if they are really making Pad Thai or if they are just dishing up mixed noodles and veggies to drunk tourists.

Rediscovering Our Travel Style

16 Oct

Over the last two weeks, between bouts of lazing around on a variety of Indonesian beaches, I’ve had an overwhelming feeling of needing to do something.   Something we can’t do back home.  Something that will capture the essence of the foreign land we are in. The problem was that I couldn’t figure out quite what the something was.

photo by Jaymis on Flickr

Getting sucked into yet another guidebook…

In the last 6 months our travel has been faster paced than we are used to.  We’ve focused on visiting some really historical places, some of which we probably won’t get the opportunity to visit again, and we wanted to make sure we really used our time well.  The problem with this that we lost track of how we usually like to travel, which is slowly.  When I imagine a perfect day I see myself sitting at an outdoor café all afternoon just people-watching.  Or perhaps I’m wandering through the neighborhoods, checking out the houses, peeking into the local restaurants, or drifting around in the market.  This doesn’t mean I don’t also want to take a walking tour in a new city, or check out the museums and galleries, or hit up the famous towers and temples and churches, but I need there to be a balance between these different kinds of days.   Unfortunately, somewhere between dashing around to ancient holy places in Israel to making our way all over India by train and then being hospitalized in Nepal, we let ourselves get pretty unbalanced.

By the time we got to Thailand I was feeling some serious burnout.  Yes, that’s right, I was burned out on travelling, which is something I never really thought I’d say.  I’ve read about other long-term travelers having this problem, and I figured it would just take a few weeks of lazing around to get myself back together.  Having already been to Bangkok a few times, I didn’t feel too much pressure to go sightseeing, though there are a few sights I’d missed in my previous trips and we figured we’d hit up one or two of those so as not to seem like lazy travelers.  We ended up seeing none of them.  Instead, we spent our days eating absurd amounts of Pad Thai, having massages, and going to the huge and fancy movie theaters at the top of the big malls in the downtown area. Once or twice I’d feel a pang of guilt at not being motivated enough to do something more, but I justified it by reminding myself that it had only been two weeks since I had been released from the hospital so I really should just be taking it easy still.

As we made our way out of Thailand and into Cambodia, then back into Thailand and down to Indonesia, we felt a bit like we were on a huge pendulum, swinging back and forth between bouts of frantic ‘tourist stuff’ and complete sloth.  The thing is, with the exception of Angkor Wat, none of the ‘tourist’ stuff was really impressing us anymore.  There comes a point when you just get so templed and museumed out that you can’t imagine having to go to yet one more of them.  I know, these are not pressing issues compared to most of life’s problems, but it was unsettling because we felt like we should be enjoying ourselves more.  One of our problems was that the cost/interest level wasn’t balancing out.  In Cambodia we had paid something like $35 to go see a village built on stilts, but we both walked away feeling like we had totally wasted our time and our money.  $35 isn’t much by Western standards, but keep in mind that for us, that’s one half day’s allotment of our expenses.  We paid this to essentially be scooted along in a boat for 30 minutes through this village which, while interesting to see, just wasn’t $35 for 30 minutes interesting.

For nearly a month we tried really hard to figure this out because time and time again we simply weren’t feeling the love with our sightseeing choices.  What could we see that might re-energize us?  What could we do that would make us feel like we were getting our money’s worth out of the visit?

Eventually we gave up and just went to the beach.  I kept arguing with myself that we are all the way across the world, in this place that’s nothing like where we live usually, and we can’t find anything better to do than lay around at the beach?

Who wouldn’t want to lounge about here?!?!?

There are plenty of things you can do as a tourist here, but what we kept running into was that pesky cost/pleasure problem.  Do we really want to pay $200 to hike up a mountain at three in the morning to see the sunrise with 35 other people?  Do we want to pay $80 EACH to ride an elephant for 30 minutes (especially when the same thing costs $20 in Thailand where we just were)?  We neither dive, nor surf, so that takes away another chunk of options.  I get wildly seasick, so the boat trip to Komodo and Flores is a no-go.  We intended to go to Sulawesi, but that island is huge and we’d only have a few days there, which would definitely make us feel frantic and rushed.

I felt like I was losing my mind.  Here we have the trip of our lives and I already felt like we’d been lazy travelers in Thailand so I didn’t want to just waste time while we were in Indonesia.  Then, finally, it hit me.  This was the trip of OUR lives.  Ours.  Who said a ‘good’ trip is filled with non-stop sightseeing, especially if that’s not what you want to do?  There are other ways to experience a place, and they don’t all involve a tour guide or a rushed itinerary.  We totally knew this, but had somehow lost track of it along the way.  We started looking at our options through a different lens.

Why were we beating ourselves up over lounging on the beach when that’s something we love?  Colorado doesn’t have beaches with fabulous turquoise water, so it’s not like this is something we can do back home.  We decided to give ourselves 5 more days to explore the beaches around southern Lombok.  When we’re done with that we’re heading back to Ubud, in Bali, where we’ll take 5 or 6 days of introductory yoga classes and at least one cooking class.  In our spare time perhaps we’ll rent bikes and ride through the rice terraces, or maybe we’ll just find a lovely café and read.

It was incredible how much better we felt after that shift in perspective.  Making these decisions served to remind us, as we head into the next few months of travel, that this trip is for us and we will only be making the most of this time if we do things because we are interested in doing them, not just because they are in the guidebook under someone else’s list of ‘must see’ items to check off a list.

What are your favorite things to do when you travel to far away lands?

The India Roundup

9 Oct

The Statistics

Number of days spent in country –  33

Cities/towns visited – Mumbai, Aurangabad, Madgoan, Hampi, Mysore, Bangalore, New Delhi, Jodhpur, Pushkar, Jaipur, Agra

Number of different lodgings – 13

Flights – 1

Bus journeys – 20

Train trips – 10

Boat rides – 6

Taxi  journeys – 2

Rickshaw rides – 23

The Budget

Total US dollar amount spent – $1955 (includes cost of visas – $76 each)

Average cost per day, per person -$29.62

Average lodging cost per night, per person – $10.80 – We generally stayed in hotels with a private bathroom and air conditioning.  You can go much lower than this if you are on a budget, but we found that we couldn’t tolerate the lack of basic sanitation at lower price ranges.  On three occasions we splurged on much nicer rooms than we would normally take, mostly to have access to a nice pool.

Most expensive lodging, per person – $19.25 at the Welcome Hotel in Mumbai – double room with air conditioning, breakfast included, shared bath.  Not the best value, by far.

Least expensive lodging, per person –  $1.80 at the White Elephant in Hampi for a double bed bungalow with fan and private bathroom.

Average food/drink cost per day, per person – $8.18 We ate out for 3 full meals per day, mostly in local, but mid-range restaurants.  It was monsoon season and we were advised to stay away from most of the street food during this time.  We ate like royalty in this price range and you could definitely do it for less if you stuck with super cheap street food.  We had almost no alcohol in India, but if we had it would certainly have doubled our spending.

The Best

Hotel – Devi Bawhan in Jodhpur.  We stayed here for the weekend of our anniversary and while we intended to stay just one night because of the cost ($38 per night, which is a steal by Western standards and slightly cheaper than one of our hotels in Mumbai), it was so lovely that we ended up extending our stay to three days.  The hotel gardens were lovely, the rooms were very well appointed, large and clean with air conditioning that worked very well.  The pool was clean and chlorinated (not always the case with hotel pools).  The staff spoke excellent English and were kind and helpful.  It’s a little far out from the center so you must take a rickshaw to the tourist sites, but that made it a very peaceful stay.

All the food.  Seriously.  We just walked into restaurants that seemed busy and that had a price range we were comfortable with.  We ordered at random from the menu most of the time and generally the food was plentiful and delicious.

The Only Place in Bangalore – If you are craving some good ol’ American grub, this is the place to be.  They have burgers, lasagna, mac and cheese, and good apple pie.  The prices are tourist range, but the portions are big and the flavors will make you feel right at home.

The Mango Tree in Hampi – The view over the river in Hampi makes this spot stand out in our memories.  The food was consistently good, we ate here every day that we were in Hampi.  It’s a 5 minute walk outside of the main village area, but it’s not far, and it’s totally worth it.

Monsoon Mangos – Travelling during the monsoon season can be a pain.  Rain POURS in some places, and it’s hot as hell in other places.  One serious benefit of the monsoon is the abundance of delicious mangos that ripen in this period.  We gorged ourselves in Mumbai and Goa on fresh, juicy mangos that can be bought cheaply all over the place.

Mysore Palace – We’ve seen a lot of tourist sites, but this one is truly awesome.  The price is 300 times higher for tourists than for locals (the norm across India) and this is one time where it was completely worth it.  The palace is in excellent condition (no photography allowed inside, so you’ll have to take my word for it) and truly made us want to go back in time and live like Indian royalty.

Hampi – Filled with ancient temples and surrounded by a crazy landscape full of giant boulders, this turned out to be one of our favorite places in India.  The town is very mellow, the pace is super slow, but there is enough to do to keep you occupied for at least 3-5 days.  When you are all templed-out, you can rent a scooter and go zipping around the countryside to visit lakes and crazy rock formations.

Train travel – If you go to India and don’t travel by train then you are out of your mind. We took trains all over the place, everything from short 2 hour trips to long-haul 27 hour journeys.  For the overnighters we stayed in AC 3rd class, which was just fine, and on shorter trips we just went with the general non-ac standard sitting class, which was usually fine.  The trains were where we met the nicest people we encountered on our trip.  Whole families would strike up conversations, share their meals, and give us advice about where to go and what to see.  In addition, you get to see some gorgeous, and some not-so gorgeous, landscapes along the way.  You can book online using cleartrip.com (also a great resource just for checking schedules etc) but we mostly booked at the train stations using the foreign tourist counters.  In high season seats can book out as far as 3 months in advance, so be prepared to plan ahead.

The Worst

Hotel Empire International in Bengaluru – A decent location, and better priced than most things in the area, but overall a big pile of suck.  The hotel itself is generally run-down, and they lied to us about the type of room we were in – they were charging us for a ‘deluxe’ fan room even though we were placed in a standard fan room. We questioned the charges because the room didn’t seem to match their own description of ‘deluxe’ but we only knew for certain that we had been over-charged when we insisted on a room change after discovering ours had a roach infestation.  They tried to tell us they only had AC rooms left, but when we threatened to leave without paying they reluctantly changed our room to…surprise, surprise, a real ‘deluxe’ fan room.  We hadn’t been so blatantly deceived by a hotel until this point, and it left a very nasty impression.

It’s The Little Things – Essential Items for Long-Term Travel

2 Oct

Photo by Natmandu on Flickr

Earlier today, as we were trying to avoid walking through a thick stretch of tourist market in Ubud, Bali,  we were talking about how light we feel without the need to have all the ‘stuff’ that we regarded as essential for our daily lives when we were in NYC.  Our priorities have obviously shifted, and as such, our essential items have also shifted.

When we began to gather our gear for this trip we spent a lot of time thinking about what would suit our needs best.  Our packs can only hold so many things, so we wanted to make sure that we weren’t filling the space with frivolous items.  We searched other long-term travelers’ packing lists and made lists of our own.  We bought, and returned what seemed like a million different items of quick-dry clothing.  We were even running around on the last day before we left trying to gather those last minute items that we had forgotten about.

A few months ago we finished posting our own packing lists in the hopes that others might find them useful.  Today we’d like to narrow those items down into a list of little things that, as long-term travelers, we have found to be the most useful over the course of the last year.

Cheap flip-flops – This might seem obvious, but if you plan on staying in dorms these are essential for avoiding foot plague and other nastiness in the common showers.

Packing cubes – I never really understood these, but now that we pack up and move every few days I see that they are a huge lifesaver.  Nearly everything in our packs goes into a cube, and then the cubes go into our bags in a jigsaw-like manner to maximize space.  It makes it so that we can each get packed, empty to full, in just a few minutes.

Small combination lock– Again, this might seem obvious to some, but we’ve used our locks for everything from hostel lockers, to just locking our bags every day when we leave our rooms (we lock the laptops, etc inside them).  Sure, people could slice the bag open to get to our stuff, but it prevents opportunistic theft.  We also carry a little package of zip ties that we’ve used to secure smaller bags when we’ve had to leave items with a hostel (like when we go on multi-day treks).

Headphone splitter – Sometimes we want to just have a night in to be ‘normal’ and watch a movie.  These allow us to watch movies together on one laptop.

Quickdry towel – This is not my favorite item (it’s like drying yourself with a chamois), but has been one of the most useful.  We’ve stayed in many places, mostly in S. America, that didn’t provide towels, so these were essential.  In addition, when we hand-wash clothes we find that they dry more quickly when you wring them out in a towel, and these towels not only absorb tons of water, but they dry in only a few hours.

Smartphone – We brought Justin’s phone with us, even though we cancelled his plan (and it doesn’t use a SIM card so we can’t use it for calls), because we use it for an alarm clock, emergency wi-fi,  and GPS.  If we connect to wi-fi we can download maps of our destinations, which is incredibly helpful when you arrive in a new city and aren’t exactly sure where to go.  It was also essential in India where they don’t always announce train stops…without this we definitely would have missed some of our stops!

Multi plug thing – This is one of those plugs that allows you can charge 3-4 things at once.  With two laptops, two I-pods, two kindles and two cameras this allows us to make sure we’re always charged up and ready to go, even if we get a room with only one outlet.  It’s important to just get a two-pronged plug unless your voltage adapter allows for grounded plugs.  No need to go fancy with this, we picked ours up at a hardware store for less than a dollar.

Sleep sheet – We never would have expected it, but this has turned out to be one our most useful, non-clothing item on this trip.  They are made to be used when a place lacks sheets, has questionable cleanliness, or to put inside a rental sleeping bag.  We’ve used them for all these purposes, but also for loads more, including – warmth on long, cold, bus rides; as sarongs when we need to enter temples in Bali; as beach towels (they are huge, so your whole body fits on them!); and as a laundry bag.

As a counter to our favorite items, we figured we should include some of the crap we didn’t need after all:

Money belts – Justin doesn’t carry a wallet, so that solves his pick-pocket problem.  We do have an Eagle Creek money belt that we really like, and he used to wear it on the long bus rides in S. America, but honestly, we haven’t used it in at least 5 months.  We keep it around just in case. I had a more traditional money belt, and again, I used it once or twice on overnight bus rides, but other than that it just sat in my pack and wasted a little bit of space.  I got rid of this after 6 months.

Pacsafe – We got it ‘just in case’.  We NEVER used it.  We sent it home after 6 months..

Ethernet cord – In some places this might be a good idea, but we’ve found that most places have wi-fi, and if they don’t, they don’t often have wired internet either.  Not a huge waste of space, but totally unnecessary.

Tell us, what are your ‘must-have’ travel items?

The Israel Roundup

7 Aug

The Statistics

Number of days spent in country –  12

Cities/towns visited – Tel Aviv, Haifa, Akko, Jerusalem, Bethlehem (in the Palestinian Territories), Eilat

Number of different lodgings – 5

Flights – 0

Bus journeys – 6

Trains – 3

Boat rides – 0

Combi/collective/taxi  journeys – 2

Bike rentals – 1

Days of rain – 0

The Budget

Total US dollar amount spent – $1,157

Average cost per day, per person -$48.22

Average lodging cost per night, per person – $22

Most expensive lodging – Our Airbnb stay in Tel Aviv was $33.50 per person, per night, but it was well worth it since two beds in a dorm room there would have been only slightly less.  Through Airbnb we were able to stay in our own air-conditioned room, in a fantastic area, in the apartment of a lovely couple who helped make our time in Tel Aviv so much better than it would have been on our own.

Least expensive lodging – $15.75 per person for a dorm bed at Corrine Hostel.  It’s got some crappy reviews on the hostel sites, but we didn’t think it was that bad.

Average food/drink cost per day, per person – $12.25  We had to really cut back on the food spending to compensate for the cost of lodging.  This doesn’t mean we ate less, it just means we didn’t go out to restaurants generally.  It’s super easy to grab cheap and filling shwarmas and falafel all over the place.  For dinners we mostly cooked for ourselves, which really means we ate hummus and pita by the kilo, and went to the market for fresh tomato, cucumber, cherries, apricots and olives.  It was fantastic.

The Best

Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem – This is the world’s largest Holocaust museum and memorial.  We went on a Friday morning since it was one of the few tourist things open on Friday, and our biggest mistake was not giving ourselves enough time.  We spent nearly 3 hours here before we had to leave because the museum was closing, and we could have spent easily twice as long.   It’s the most organized and thorough museum we’ve ever been to.  There are dozens of short video narratives given by a number of survivors, and those were really the highlight for me.  Their stories are incredible and heartbreaking.  In addition, the museum has amassed a huge collection of person items salvaged from the camps, or thrown from the trains that took the victims to the death camps.  They do a very good job of bringing light to so many individual stories, as well as providing a thorough historical overview. Give yourself twice as much time as you think you’ll need, and bring a package of tissues.

In Akko you can visit ancient underground tunnels that were only recently re-discovered!

Akko – A smaller city north of Haifa that not as many tourists include in their plans.  Akko has a lovely old city that’s really worth visiting if you’re in the area.  We went for most of a day as a side trip from Haifa and had plenty of time to see most of the old city.  We also had some fantastic falafel from a street vendor there.

Green Bikes in Tel Aviv – Tel Aviv has recently implemented a new bike rental system similar to what London has done.  There are bike stands set up all over the city and you can pick them up and drop them off at your leisure.  You can rent by the day, week, or month, and it’s very affordable, even on a tight budget.  For less than $5 each we were able to pedal all over the city!

Taking a dip in the Dead Sea – Incredible!  We had read all the stories about how you simply can’t sink, but to experience it for ourselves was so much better than we anticipated.  You really can’t sink!  We had a blast covering ourselves in the mud and watching crazy lines of salt dry on our skin.

The Worst

Eilat.  We had heard that Eilat was fantastic from a number of people, but honestly, we weren’t impressed.  We snorkeled one day, which was nice, but other than that, we found it kind of ‘meh’.  It’s a good stopping point if you are travelling between Israel and either Jordan or Egypt, but we didn’t need more than a day there as there’s not a whole lot going on and the beaches aren’t anything to get excited about.

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