Enter The Dragans

✈ Turning travel dreamers into world travelers ✈

London in a day

Can you really see all of London in only a day?  Probably not.  But when we were given the chance to spend 23 hours in the city, we were determined to see as much as possible.



The first thing I noticed when we landed at London Heathrow was the amazing variety of shops and restaurants right there in our terminal.  You could literally never leave the airport and have one heck of a vacation.  Daniel reminded me about our tight schedule and spurred me to stop the wide-eyed wandering.

As you can see by some of the photos below, the summer Olympics were in full force during our trip.  Prior to our arrival, I imagined crowded streets and impossible public transportation but London was so organized that everything ran like a well-oiled machine.

The quickest and lowest priced way we have found to see and learn more about a city is a bus tour.  The London Big Bus Tour had the added advantage of a free boat tour ride in your ticket price.  We grabbed the boat first and had fun ride up the Thames River.  (Be sure to get a window seat because there are so many great photo opportunities from Big Ben to the London Tower.)  We disembarked at the Tower and grabbed the Big Bus.  (The best seat for photos is the front seat on the top level.)  We listened along to the recorded guide which covered all the major sites and some of the country’s rich and interesting history.

After a mandatory dinner of fish & chips with a pint of ale at a true British pub, we wound our way to the London Eye – the world’s largest observation wheel.  Extended hours for the Olympics allowed us to take a ride after midnight.  You won’t get a better bird’s eye view of the city than the London Eye.

Although we planned to stay awake for our entire time in London, I needed to grab just a few hours before our continuing flight to America.  After about 2 hours of searching, we were lucky to find a delightful bed & breakfast for  £75  (about $120 US) without a reservation.

Even though we were only able to get a taste of London in a day, we cannot wait to go back and explore more of the country.

“Our annual trip to Europe this year included an all-too brief stay in London. I have to agree with Samuel Johnson, “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.””

 

From London 2012, posted by Melanie A. Watterson on 8/24/2012 (30 items)

Generated by Facebook Photo Fetcher

 

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Are You Still Confused About Applying for a Passport? Your Questions Answered Here…

Passports are not just for James Bond characters or foreign diplomats.  Passports are vital for everyone wanting to travel outside of the country.  We’re going to reveal how easy it is for you to obtain your first official U.S. passport, otherwise known as the key to international travel.  Often it’s as easy as getting your driver license, or maybe even easier.  For simplicity’s sake, these instructions are for United States citizens over the age of 16 getting a first passport.  (If you have any questions about applying for a U.S. passport under other conditions, let us know in the comments below and we will try to get the information you need.)

The best time to apply for your passport is at least 6 weeks in advance of any planned foreign travel.  You need to allow plenty of time for processing your application.  (If you need a passport in less than 4 weeks, you will often need to make an appointment and may face additional expedited processing charges.  So plan to do this early!)

 

First time applicants must fill out a simple 2-page form, the DS-11, either online or by hand.  On the left you can see a small screen shot of the top of the form.  When you print the DS-11, you will also receive detailed instructions to guide you.

 

Along with the form, you will need:

1.  Proof of U.S. citizenship (such as a birth certificate. If you are unsure where to write for a certified copy of yours, use this handy link provided by the CDC.)

2.  Proof of identity (your original driver license plus a copy of the front and back)

3.  Recent color photograph (It’s fast, easy and cheap to get this done at a drugstore like Walgreens.)

4.  Fees (at the time of publication, $110 plus $25 execution fee)

These items and your application must be submitted in person.  To find a location near you, go to http://iafdb.travel.state.gov/, and enter your zip code.  For example, I found three offices within 5 miles of me in a small town.

An adult U.S. passport is valid for 10 years and you should renew it about 9 months before it is set to expire.  Some countries will not allow entry if you are within 6 months of the expiration date.

Now that you’ve seen how easy it is to apply for your passport, go for it!  In my experience, the blank pages of my brand new passport were just the push I needed to start traveling many years ago.  I’m on my second passport book now and each country’s stamp is a memory I cherish.

**All of the above information was accurate as of the date of publication: November 2012.  We will attempt to always keep this blog current, but please visit the U.S. Department of State’s website http://travel.state.gov or call 877-487-2778 to confirm that the rules, form, or fees have not changed.

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What is CouchSurfing? Should You Try It?

A few years ago I flew to Los Angeles to see Natalie, the coolest chick I’ve ever met. During my visit, Natalie filled me in on the “secret” world of Couchsurfing – traveling the world by sleeping on other people’s couches for free.  Couchsurfing appeals to people that want to see other cities and countries but don’t have the money to stay in hotels every night.  This community works because it is founded on trust.  The people that offer up their couches (or guest room in my case), are often travelers themselves and they want to help out like-minded people.

Two weeks ago we hosted our first Couchsurfers.  You are probably saying to yourself, “You mean to tell me, you let strangers sleep in your house?”  Yes. Yes we did – and we lived to blog about it.

 

After Natalie told me about Couchsurfing, it took me awhile before I began actively using the on-line community.  I decided to do this because I am a big advocate of frequent travel and I want to help make it possible for others.  I was relieved to see that there are several built-in safety features on Couchsurfing.org:

  • identity verification — Members donate to the Couchsurfing organization using a credit card in their name.
  • address verification — The Couchsurfing site mails you a postcard with a code which must be entered on the site.
  • profile — A good Couchsurfing profile is more thorough than a job application.  It includes photos, occupation, education, personality, interests, philosophy, what skills you have or want to learn, and languages you speak.
  • vouching — Established members confirm you are who you say you are and your good character.
  • references – Guests and hosts leave a positive, neutral, or negative reference.
  • friends – Couchsurfing members you know in real life can “friend” you on the site.

 

 

The first Couchsurfers to sign up to stay with us were two 21-year-old guys from the U.K. Our excitement for the novel experience was tinged with a bit of nervousness.  What if they’re criminals?  What if we don’t like them?  What if they don’t like us?

Our worries were natural, but totally unnecessary.  Archie and Alister charmed us with their accents and entertained us with travel stories from their 7-week trip along the east coast of the United States.  In return, we stuffed them full of pizza and cookies and served as ambassadors for our city.  The guys spent their days on the beach and at night we shared tips we’ve learned along the road.  Archie and Ali’s 2-day visit flew by and we were sad to see them leave.

 

 

 

Because of our excellent first experience, we immediately agreed to host another traveler – Carolyn, a professional photographer from New York.  Her current project on global climate change prompted her trip to the nearby Everglades.  She spent 9 months Couchsurfing the world and stunned us with her story of catching malaria in Kenya and not finding out until several stops later in Amsterdam.  Two bottles of wine and countless stories later we knew we had a new friend.

We loved meeting these three nomads and their tales have inspired us to go out and have our own Couchsurfing experience abroad.   What’s your opinion on Couchsurfing?  Would you consider having a stranger sleep on your couch?

 

 

 

All images courtesy of couchsurfing.org

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7 Netflix Instant Movie Suggestions for Travelers

If circumstances have left you homebound this holiday season, the perfect cure for your wanderlust is a good travel movie.  I’ve compiled a list of 7 streaming movies on Netflix Instant right now.

 

7.  Transsiberian

An American couple seeking to smooth out their rough marriage buys a ticket on the legendary Trans-Siberian Railway. But a chance meeting with two other passengers ends in accidental murder and high intrigue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6.  The Last Emperor

Recounting the last years of China’s Ching Dynasty through flashbacks and flash-forwards, this Oscar-winning epic charts the life of Pu Yi (John Lone) — who ascended the throne at age 3 — from coddled aristocrat to enlightened insurgent to ordinary citizen. Co-starring Peter O’Toole as Pu Yi’s Scottish tutor and directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, the lavish drama collected nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

 

 

 

 

 

5.  The Motorcycle Diaries

This foreign-language drama tells the incredible true story of a 23-year-old medical student from Argentina — future revolutionary Che Guevara (Gael Garcia Bernal) — who motorcycled across South America with his friend Alberto Granado (Rodrigo de la Serna) beginning in 1951. Walter Salles’s film is based on Guevara’s diaries of the trek, a deeply personal odyssey that ultimately crystallized the young man’s budding political beliefs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

4.  Return To Paradise

Americans Lewis (Joaquin Phoenix), Sheriff (Vince Vaughn) and Tony (David Conrad) spend a carefree summer together on the beaches of Malaysia. Two years later, a lawyer (Anne Heche) tells Sheriff and Tony that Lewis has been sentenced to death for drug trafficking. If both go back to claim their share of the drugs, each will go to prison for three years; if only one goes, he’ll be jailed for six years. If both refuse, Lewis will die.

 

 

 

 

 

3.  Wild China

This six-part series uncovers some of the most exotic and uncharted natural habitats hidden within the vast and diverse topography of China, including Yunnan’s forests, the Tibetan plateau, the Silk Road and the Mongol steppes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.  180 degrees South

Inspired by pioneering outdoorsman Yvon Chouinard’s freewheeling 1968 van trip to Patagonia, South America, a band of bliss-seeking surfer-mountaineers sets out — in 2007, by boat — to remake the journey in this adventure documentary. Jeff Johnson and his buddies hug the coast, stopping at the Galapagos Islands and Easter Island before arriving in Patagonia — a region that’s still breathtaking but is now besieged by environmental threats.

 

 

 

 

1.  The Way

When his son dies while hiking the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route in the Pyrenees, a grieving father flies to France to claim the remains. Looking for insights into his estranged child’s life, he decides to complete the 500-mile trek to Spain.
Did I miss one of your favorites?  Let me know in the comments.

 

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Dude, Where’s My Car? 8 Airport Parking Tips to Remember

When planning your dream vacation, usually the last thing on your mind is airport parking.  But with charges sometimes running $20 a day or more, airport parking can eat up a good bit of your travel budget for a long trip.  I’ve compiled this list of a few tips and tricks to save you time, money and aggravation.

1.  To help you remember where you parked you could: take a photo of the parking area sign, text the parking space number to a friend or relative, or use an app such as Google Drive.

2.  Always keep your parking ticket stub above your visor.  This will save you from a frantic search and hefty lost tickets charges.

3.  Compare the cost of parking at hotels near the airport.  They often will allow you to park there for much less than the airport will charge.  Find one that has free shuttles to pick you up and drop you off at the times you need!  On our last trip we saved over $200 by parking at a hotel next to the airport.

4.  Check out commercial off-site parking services such as Park ‘n Fly.  Although you are farther from the airport, one major benefit is you can reserve and pay for your spot in advance.  Guaranteed parking = peace of mind in peak travel season.

5.  Some cities have airport shuttle services and you can leave your car at home.  A shuttle from Naples, Florida to the Ft. Myers airport (30 miles) is about $80 each way.

6.  Airlines often require you to be 2 or more hours early for your flight.  Be sure to allow time for parking — especially during busy holidays — so that you are not rushed.

7.  Pay close attention to the lot you choose at the airport.  The rates for different lots can vary dramatically — leading to a big surprise when you return from your trip.  Visit your airport’s website in advance to determine the rates and location of parking areas.

8.  If cost isn’t an issue, some larger airports have valet parking.  If you are running late and about to miss your flight, the $30+ per day charge to valet park may very well be worth it.  For an additional fee, you can often add perks — like having your car washed or oil changed while you are gone.

What airport do you think has the best or worst parking?

 

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Don’t Ditch Your Day Job (You Can Still Travel the World!)

The fantasy of quitting the 9-to-5 in order to backpack around the world sounds alluring, but many times it won’t work for everyone.  Maybe you have an aging parent to care for, pets that you can’t leave for long, or your own illness that requires you to maintain good health insurance through your employer.  I have chosen to keep my full-time legal administrative assistant job yet in two years we were able to visit Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, Vienna, Venice, Romania, London, Costa Rica, the Florida Keys, Cancun, Cozumel, and the Bahamas.  We didn’t win the lottery, inherit a trust fund, or get a lawsuit settlement.  We did it with a little planning and you can too.

 

 

Step 1: Choose your destination
Where have you always dreamed of going? If you have someone special in your life, take the time to daydream of places to visit with them.  Browse travel magazines.  Read travel blogs.  Ask friends about their favorite places.  When you have picked your top three spots, move on to Step 2.

Step 2:  Select a time of year
What is the “best” time of year to go to your destination?  Is there a stormy season?  When are prices the highest? Fodors.com is our go-to site to get concise, accurate information on when to travel. Select your location and then check out the Travel Tips/When to Go section.

Step 3: Estimate the cost
Starting with your top pick, calculate what a one week trip will cost to go to each of your three destinations.  In addition to the obvious costs of food, airfare, and lodging, don’t forget to include the costs of pet/house/child sitting, airport parking, taxis/busses, roaming data charges, tours and excursions, and any souvenirs you may want.  This can be a rough estimate, but try to be as accurate as possible, and round up.  After you compare your data, you may find that one of your cities is much less expensive to visit than the others, making your choice easier.

Step 4: Save the money
How long will it take you to save the amount of money you figured in Step 3?  Saving just $5 per day, you will have $1,825 in a year.  What small things can you do to help you reach your goal?  You may be saying to yourself that you are just making ends meet as it is and there is no way you can afford to come up with the money to travel.  I’m here to tell you that if you make this trip a priority, it is possible.  Do a Google search for “extra income” and you will find a myriad of ideas.  Quit smoking, sell unused items on craigslist or eBay, round up your purchases and save the change, sell something you created on Etsy, ask for trip cash for birthdays and holidays – these are just a handful of ways to help get you closer to your dream vacation.

Step 5: Stay on Track
This step is too important to ignore.  It is very easy to become distracted and get off course.  Maybe some unexpected expenses came up and you want to tap into you trip account.  Perhaps you broke up with the person you planned on taking with you on the trip.  Don’t lose sight of the goal and let your dream pass you by.

According to the United States Department of Labor, Americans average 2 weeks of paid vacation time a year.  If that’s you, really make that time count in 2013 and go on the trip of a lifetime.  You can make this happen.

Please let us know if you used any of the advice in this blog.  We would love to hear about your adventures.

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Travel Backpacking Gear List for Girls!

On my first multi-country trip to Europe, we estimated that we would spend $600 in luggage fees if we had only two small checked bags. As anyone who has traveled with Ryan Air and the like can tell you, that $50 budget plane ticket jumps dramatically when you start adding luggage charges. Multiply that by flights from Miami to Paris to Madrid to Barcelona to Venice to Bucharest to Vienna and back! The challenge – get 2 weeks’ worth of girl stuff into one small backpack.

$20 bag still holding up after several international trips.

 

What I pack for a 2+ week trip in a mild climate:

Clothing

  • 6 pair of nude underwear
  • 3 pair of white socks
  • 1 black bra
  • 1 nude bra
  • 1 khaki skirt
  • 1 khaki capri pants
  • 1 white capri pants
  • 1 black capri pants
  • 1 black cotton shorts (good for a quick work out or PJs as well as one of your day outfits)
  • 1 black wrinkle-free cotton dress (can be worn “dressy” or casual)
  • 1 sundress/beach dress (multipurpose as a beach cover up and day/evening outfit)
  • 1 bathing suit
  • black v-neck t-shirt
  • white v-neck t-shirt
  • dark brown or olive-colored wrinkle-free shirt
  • black tank top
  • brown sandals
  • black sandals

Personal Hygiene

  • Oil of Olay face cleaning wipes (amazing for freshening up and gentle enough for the whole body )
  • collapsible tooth brush
  • hair pick
  • hair scrunchie (in my hair color)
  • 1 qt. Ziplock for liquids that I keep on top and easy to reach
  • hotel shampoo (I refill and reuse these bottles with my own products when they run out.)
  • hotel conditioner
  • travel sized tooth paste
  • travel sized deodorant
  • small bar hotel soap
  • disposable razor
  • perfume sample (I have a ton that I get for free and it’s fun to try a new one out each trip.)
  • 1 qt. Ziplock for my make-up essentials: foundation, bronzer (also used as eye-shadow, blush, & bronzer), one blush brush, mascara, moisturizer, eye cream, and black kohl eyeliner

Other

  • travel blanket (like you get on the plane – If I run out of room I wear it as a scarf to check into my flight.)
  • visor (mine rolls up or can be velcroed outside my pack if needed)
  • DSLR photo/video camera and bag (You can save a great deal of space if you are happy with the photos your cell phone takes. My camera gear alone takes up nearly half the backpack!)
  • 3 fully-charged camera batteries
  • extra memory card
  • extra zoom lens
  • phone charger
  • camera charger
  • 2 converters (if needed)
  • 1 lg gallon empty Ziplock
  • notarized copy of my passport

Exception: If I am going to be SCUBA diving, I will swap my mask, snorkel, GoPro & accessories, dive computer and dive log in exchange for the DSLR camera and bag. I rent the rest of my dive equipment on location.

What I wear for the flight

  • nude bra
  • pair nude underwear
  • jeans (wear your heaviest clothing for the flight)
  • black button down shirt
  • white tank top
  • neutral color sweater/cardigan/light jacket (if you run out of room in your bag, the jacket pockets can and should serve as additional storage)
  • small wristlet purse (for Android phone, passport, driver’s license, money, debit card, boarding pass, nude lip gloss)
  • inexpensive, silver jewelry – keep it small & light to speed through the security checkpoint
  • sunglasses
  • running shoes (it’s important to wear your bulkiest shoes for the flight)

You probably noticed I have about seven (7) days of clothing in my backpack. The solid-colored neutrals allow me to mix and match and have many completely different looks to make this packing list work for two or more weeks. I will re-wear the clothing if it is clean, and if it gets dirty, I will wash it out in the sink with a small bar of hotel soap or shampoo and hang it to dry while I sleep. When I’m lucky, we will be visiting family or friends with a washer and dryer at some point – most are kind enough to let us throw a load in while we hang out.

What’s in your bag?

 

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Ultimate Traveler’s Gift Guide – 101 Ideas

Although it is 82 degrees and sunny here in Southwest Florida, I can’t help but get in the Christmas spirit.  In case you didn’t notice the omnipresent carols or decorations that have been on sale for the past month, we are only a few weeks away from the biggest gift giving holiday of the year.  If you’re like me, you haven’t even begun your shopping yet.  Don’t worry.  We still have time to shop online at most retailers and have our gifts delivered before Christmas morning.

If you’re lucky, the people you love use Amazon’s wishlist feature.  Maybe you believe that wish lists are just for kids and brides, but you’d be wrong.  Wish lists are for everyone!  Amazon has created a useful program that allows users to add anything they want to an inventory they can share with their friends and family.  The products can be from anywhere on the web and do not have to be from Amazon.

If your nomadic loved one doesn’t have a wish list, fear not, I’ve compiled the Ultimate Traveler’s Gift Guide to help you out.

Books & Magazines

 

 

Electronics & Gadgets

 

 

Health & Beauty

 

 

 

Clothing & Accessories

 

 

 

Sports & Outdoors

 

  • small LED flash light
  • travel compass/thermometer
  • Swiss Army knife
  • LifeStraw Personal Water Filter
  • inflatable pillow
  • hostel sheet
  • SCUBA certification class
  • hammock
  • travel blanket

Stocking Stuffers & Other Fun Things

 

Choose any of the gifts above and you are practically guaranteed squeals of delight from your beloved adventurer. Please leave us a comment and let us know if you picked one!

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