Maybe you’re dreaming of your vacation to the ancient cities of China.
The bad news is that travel restrictions make it unlikely to arrange this year, but you’ll have plenty of time to plan for a trip of a lifetime to a country that offers a dramatic contrast to many western countries.
Most travel advisors recommend hiring a reputable guide or participating in a tour, and there’s a reason for that.
Language is a major issue. You can try learning some Mandarin, the most widely spoken Chinese dialect, on a language app. But people spend decades learning to actually communicate in Mandarin. It’s not like learning Spanish. At least English speakers know the alphabet. At a minimum, some words are familiar. But Mandarin has five different tones, so the word ‘ma’ can mean mom or horse. For English speakers, even distinguishing the tones may elude them for years. So, while you can try language apps, they might only give you a command of some basic words, which might be helpful.
Although Mandarin is the oldest continuously used language, every part of China has different dialects. Your collection of Mandarin words may not be understood by everyone.
Even hand signals are different. You can hold up your index finger to indicate one. But be sure not to bend it, because that might mean eight to the person you are speaking to. Or it might mean one. Just depends on where in China you are.
Be careful about taking pictures or videos. If you see a demonstration of some sort, walk away. Never take a photo.
No matter where you go, always carry the name and address of your hotel in Chinese characters on a slip of paper, even if you have a guide. You must also carry your passport everywhere, so make absolutely sure you have digital copies and photocopies of all your documents.
Beware of the traffic. In a country so fond of rules and behavior norms, traffic in China (and many places in Asia) is weirdly chaotic. Don’t trust the green pedestrian lights at crossings. Look before you walk.
Taxis must be hailed from a marked taxi stand. Be sure the meter is on and get ready for a wild ride, according to Intrepid Travel.
Finally, right now, the only people who can travel are in the diplomatic service, airline crews, people from China with family, and people who are going to China to work. A negative COVID test is required, along with a 14-day quarantine upon arrival.
Cultural travel: The problem of modesty
Flip-flops, shorts, tank tops — that is the ticket for summer travel, or so we think, but if your travel takes you to places with certain religious or cultural standards, think again.
The problem of modesty, both in apparel and behavior, has been a serious issue with travelers from the West to Europe and Asia and even within the Americas.
In mosques, temples, and churches, a good rule of thumb for both men and women is to cover legs and shoulders.
Acceptable for men and women: Lightweight, straight trousers. Women may wear a long skirt and loose-fitting top that, at minimum, covers the shoulders and chest. Men can usually wear a pair of shorts that covers their knees.
Don’t wear shorts, tank tops, sundresses, or spaghetti strap dresses. Carry a shawl for a cover if you absolutely can’t change clothes. Don’t wear leggings or skin-tight jeans to a religious site.
In mosques and Buddhist temples, everyone is required to remove their shoes. Be prepared by wearing socks. In some temples in Asia, you may also be asked to remove your socks.
At mosques, women may be asked to cover their heads, but not always. Look for a tour guide and stow your opinion at the door. Shoes are also often removed.
Save the public displays of affection for other venues.
The Buddha may be a pop-culture symbol in much of the West, but Buddhists revere figures of the Buddha.
Don’t touch the Buddha. Don’t hop on it for a great selfie. Don’t stand taller than the Buddha. Don’t take pictures. Be prepared to remove your shoes.
Don’t point your feet at the Buddha or at a Buddhist. Don’t point with your index finger. To indicate something, use your right hand, fingers together, palm up.
Monks are friendly, but don’t touch them. They are the ones in orange. Women should not get close enough to even brush the sleeve of a monk. If a woman buys something from a monk, she should put the money on the table, not in his hand. Women should not hand anything to a monk. Greet them with a bow. For extra respect, put your hands in a prayer-like gesture.
Cover your Buddha tattoo. It is considered disrespectful.
Trip alert: A unique oasis for lovers
Leave it to Dubai to surprise the world by building an Instagram-ready oasis in the middle of a desert.
The city is already renowned for the tallest building in the world, an indoor ski slope in a mall, and the world’s highest infinity pool (a dizzying 1,000 feet above sea level), among other attractions.
In 2018, Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, revealed a surprise new tourist attraction in an Instagram post.
Love Lake is two water-filled lagoons in the shape of intertwined hearts, with vegetation below (when viewed from above) spelling out the word “Love.” The attraction is located in the man-made desert oasis of Al Qudra on the outskirts of Dubai, already home to a number of artificial lakes.
Sheikh Hamdan’s father, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice president of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Dubai, commissioned the project.
Work was done around the clock and in secret over the course of 20 months leading up to Sheikh Hamdan’s reveal, then continued for another year. Thousands of flowering plants and more than 16,000 trees were planted at the site and seating facilities all use eco-friendly materials, including bamboo water sinks. There’s a running track around the site, which is also home to more than 150 species of birds and other desert wildlife.
And don’t forget about social media. Signage lets you know the best selfie points, and a variety of vegetation around the lake is crafted into interlocking hearts.
Van life: how to find the right vehicle
Do you dream of joining the van life movement and traveling the world in a tiny home on wheels? This nomadic lifestyle with its emphasis on simplicity, freedom, and adventure can be enticing. However, if you want to hit the open road, the first thing you’ll need is a comfortable and reliable vehicle.
In general, conversion vans and small motorhomes are the vehicles best suited for van life. One important factor to consider is how much space you’ll need. If you plan to travel alone or with a partner, a small campervan should suffice. If you intend to have kids, pets, or friends along for the ride, however, you may want a more spacious model with room to stand up.
Keep in mind that the furniture and features included vary from one vehicle to the next. In addition to a modest amount of storage space, you’ll likely want a model equipped with:
• A bed or long bench seat
• A table or fold-out countertop
• A sink and water tank
• A cooler, electric cooler or mini-fridge
• A camp stove or cooking plate
• A rack for bikes, kayaks, or surfboards
If you have limited funds, consider purchasing a used vehicle (inspected by a trusted mechanic) and transforming the interior yourself using new or second-hand materials. Alternatively, various companies offer van conversion kits that are fairly simple to install. Just make sure any modifications you make to a vehicle are safe and legal.
For example, find out if the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has any regulations about removing or modifying seats and other vehicle components. You should also leave the installation of electrical wiring and gas lines to a professional. In addition, make sure you don’t exceed the gross vehicle weight rating.
If you sell your home to become a full-time nomad, however, you might have a more flexible budget. In this case, you may want to invest in customizing your van to ensure it’s fully equipped and designed according to your preferences. Plus, with the right gear, you’ll be able to maximize your time off-grid.
Finally, remember to add personal touches that make your vehicle feel at home. These can include patterned fabrics, reclaimed wood, colorful lighting, eclectic decor, funny bumper stickers, and more.
Test it out
Do you want to get a taste of van life before you commit to buying a vehicle? Plenty of companies rent camper vans equipped with everything you need to enjoy a nomadic lifestyle for a few days or weeks.
Where the buffalo roam: Visit the roundup
In movies and stories, the thunder of buffalo stampeding across the American plains remains an iconic memory.
In the 1700s, tens of millions of buffalo dominated the West — and were driven nearly to extinction.
Luckily, even today, you have a chance to thrill to the thunder of hooves on the rolling plains. The iconic animal of the Old West still rumbles across the prairies in South Dakota, and you can be there for the roundup.
Every September, park rangers and volunteer cowboys round up the Custer State Park buffalo herd to give them their annual vaccinations and to check the health and size of the herd. It’s an event witnessed by 20,000 spectators from all over the world.
The Custer State Park buffalo herd spends the year wandering freely through the 71,000-acre fenced park. Along with the buffalo, there are bighorn sheep, elk, deer, mountain goats, antelopes, coyotes, foxes, and mountain lions.
The buffalo herd began in 1914 when the state bought 36 buffalo from a rancher. The herd expanded, and later the state bought 100 more buffalo from a Native American reservation. Today the herd numbers 1,450. The roundup has been an annual event for 56 years.
The 110 miles of parkland also have vast trails and scenic views.
In 2021, the roundup is Friday, September 24, 2021, with activities beginning on September 23, 2021.
American bison by the numbers – (National Bison Association and U.S. Dept of Interior)
* Estimated size of the North American herd: 385,000.
* Estimated size prior to 1600: 30 million to 60 million
* Estimated number in the mid-1880s: 700 to 1,000.
* Bison on tribal land today: 20,000
* 2025 Bison herd goal: 1 million.
* State with the largest bison population: South Dakota, 33,000
* The oldest bison herd: Yellowstone National Park, 4,800. The herd has continuously existed since prehistoric times.
* Bison bulls weigh up to 2,000 pounds and stand six feet tall.
* Baby bison are called red dogs.
* Bison run 35 miles an hour.
3 advantages of using a travel agency
Are you planning to go on vacation in 2022? Whether you want to head to a sunny destination, take a road trip across the country or go on an adventure to a remote locale, it’s in your best interest to use a travel agency. Here are three reasons to rely on the expertise of a travel agent.
1. Get invaluable advice
If you choose a travel agency that specializes in a particular destination or the type of vacation you want to take, you’re sure to benefit from insider information. The agent can give you advice on things to do, sites to see, and places to stay. This will help ensure your trip is a success.
2. Save time and effort
Although it’s possible to book your vacation online, it often requires many hours of research and planning. Make things easier on yourself by letting a travel agent do the work for you. These professionals have the industry knowledge and access to information that can prevent you from making costly mistakes.
3. Receive essential support
As a result of the pandemic, there’s a lot of uncertainty in the tourism industry. Hiring a travel agent is the best way to make sure you don’t neglect any important details prior to departing for your vacation. If you encounter a problem during your stay, a trusted agent will be able to provide advice and help you find a solution.
In addition, travel agencies often receive exclusive offers and discounts from big travel companies that they can pass on to their clients. For these reasons and more, consider booking your next vacation with a travel agent.
4 van life tips to simplify your daily activities
Once you’ve found the right vehicle and customized it to suit a nomadic lifestyle, it’s time to hit the open road and explore. Here are some tips to help you make the most of your travels.
1. Before you fill up, be sure to consult GasBuddy. This free mobile app locates gas stations in your area and compares prices to help you save money.
2. Find free spots to camp recommended by other van life enthusiasts on apps like iOverlander, park4night, and RV Parks & Campgrounds.
3. Eat fresh food purchased from local farmers and merchants whenever possible. This will allow you to travel light and discover new types of cuisine.
4. If you don’t have a shower in your vehicle, use the washroom facilities at rest stops, campgrounds, and restaurants to freshen up.
For more van life tips, search online for blogs, videos, and social media accounts created by people who’ve embraced this lifestyle. Use the hashtag #vanlife to find a global community of adventurers like you.
Before you go
Remember to contact your car insurance company to make any needed updates to your policy and ensure you’ll be covered on the road.