Space may be the final frontier, but you don’t have to wait for warp drive to explore it. Like myself, I’m sure many of you are waiting for the chance to extend your travels beyond our planet and my live chat guest today is working to make that happen.
In 2009 Jose Mariano Lopez-Urdiales founded Zero2Infinity in Barcelona, Spain; its maiden vehicle is bloon, a stratospheric balloon that will allow people to fly to Near-Space. Thanks to his astronomer father, he has been in close contact with space missions ever since he was a child. He graduated in Aeronautical Engineering from Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, and since then has been involved in a host of cutting-edge projects such as building and flying microgravity payloads for the European Space Agency, rocket science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Ariane 5 Evolution Space launcher, to name a few.
The Q&A is now closed. Thanks everyone for participating!
open today, July 11th from 1-2pm US EST (5pm-6pm GMT; 12am-1am Bangkok). Scroll down or click here to submit your questions below!
I first met Jose in 2011 when he gave a talk about bloon at a conference on space tourism and interviewed him about near-future space tourism later that year. Today, he’ll be here for one hour to answer your questions about how you can become a space tourist, the costs, challenges, and what’s next for tourism far beyond the stars, all in the comments section below.
Getting to mainland Yemen and Socotra Island, the Tim Burton inspired natural wonderland 380 kilometers of its southern coast, requires a few additional bureaucratic hops that aren’t too cumbersome if you know where to step. Both are surprisingly accessible and having spent 10 days in the country, I got to know a number of contacts that will make planning your trip to Yemen, Socotra, or both, a simple process.
Why Go To Yemen?
I’ll be covering this question in detail over the coming days but in short – Yemen has some of the most spectacular landscapes I’ve ever seen and Socotra Island is quite possibly the most exotic, yet untouched, place (that’s reasonably visitable) on the planet. When it comes to both mainland Yemen and Socotra, if you like natural beauty, trekking, or traveling in a country that has an unexplored feeling to it, these might be the next places to put on your travel list.
- Although Socotra Island is a part of Yemen, getting there requires a slightly different process, so I’ll show you how to get to both separately.
How To Get To Mainland Yemen
Yemen offers visa-free travel to very few countries (Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and Turkey) so chances are you’ll need to apply for a visa. Most Yemeni embassies don’t handle visa requests directly – plus the requirements change often – making it essential you call or email them directly for updated instructions. Be sure to plan at least 4-6 weeks in advance and not have your passport during that time. (For most nationals, Yemen requires you to mail in your passport as part of the visa process.)
Some of the standard Yemeni visa requirements are:
- A passport valid for 6-12 months beyond stay
- Completed application forms
- Passport photos (confirm the exact dimensions)
- Letter of invitation (a local tour operator can provide this, I recommend Eternal Yemen)
- Doctor’s note confirming you’re free of communicable diseases
- Some money (price varies)
Visas are typically only issued for travel to the capital Sana’a or the port city of Aden. You can, of course, save yourself a lot of the trouble by simply contacting a local tour operator like Eternal Yemen to take care of the entire visa process for you. They’ll also be able to get you the necessary travel permits to move around the country if you plan on exploring outside of Sana’a or Aden. (Permits must be shown at security checkpoints in between every governorate.) I have also heard that visa applications for United States citizens are especially likely to be rejected or have last minute problems, another reason to use a local tour operator who can circumvent any obstacles directly with the government.
- Flights – A number of airlines service Sana’a and Aden, the two most common entry points into Yemen. Turkish Airlines, Emirates, and Yemenia all connect many major Middle East and European cities to Sana’a, with stopovers in Aden. Budget airlines also fly to mainland Yemen routinely from Sharjah (outside of Dubai) in the United Arab Emirates.
- Overland – Land crossing from Saudi Arabia is not permitted for non-Yemeni nationals however buses run from Salalah, Oman to several cities in Yemen. Rides are over 10 hours and I’m told it’s not a comfortable journey.
- Where To Stay – In the map below you can locate all of the places I’ve stayed at and recommend in Yemen. And, as most stays will include at least one night in Sana’a, I suggest you look no further than the Dawood Hotel.
View Yemen in a larger map
For more information on each hotel, including contact information, check out my Yemen travel information page.
Is Travel To Mainland Yemen Safe And Do I Need Any Special Preparations?
The first part of that question has a layered answer that I’ll elaborate upon in the coming weeks and the second part is a short no. However, the U.S. Centers For Disease Control (CDC) recommends malaria vaccinations if you’ll be traveling to areas in Yemen below 2,000 meters (~6,500 feet). Sana’a is high enough that it doesn’t meet that criteria and I never got (and never have actually) taken anti-malaria medication; but you may decide to proceed more cautiously.
- Is Yemen Safe For Travelers? – I traveled to Yemen with my friend and fellow blogger Wandering Earl, who writes in detail about the security situation there.
Generally speaking, travel to the most dangerous and unstable parts of Yemen are strictly restricted. Elsewhere, the use of a local guide and driver both enhance your safety while opening up many of the smaller villages you’d likely miss if on your own. Once again, Eternal Yemen can organize custom trips giving you a local’s glimpse into Yemeni culture and heritage.
How To Visit Socotra Island
Air travel to Socotra from several Yemeni cities can be arranged on Felix Airways or Yemenia, which fly to Socotra 1-3 times a week for about $300, round-trip. If they don’t cancel the flights that is, which happens regularly, without warning, and at the last minute.
- Direct Flights To Socotra Outside Of Yemen – There aren’t many options except for Felix Airways flights to and from Sharjah, UAE. A good multi-city flight would be to book airfare to Dubai, connect to Sharjah using local ground transportation, and catch your Socotra plane from there.
Many travelers to Socotra simply skip mainland Yemen, save for a layover in Sana’a on the way to the island. Keep in mind any stops or layovers exiting in Sana’a generally require you have a travel permit. They can be obtained from the Tourist Police office in the Old City of Sana’a or a tour operator can get for you if you’re not planning on staying in the city.
Renting A Car On Socotra – It’s possible, but expensive at about $50 per day (not to mention fuel). Aside from the asphalt road that circles the outer-edge of the island, the interior is some serious off-roading on “road.” Imagine you driving in the video to the right.
- Where To Stay – There are a few luxury hotels with rooms for $100 per night but I’d recommend saving your money and sleeping right along the beach at one of two camps: Abdulluh Edib Camp or Delisha Camp.
There are over 300 endemic plant species plus nearly 200 species of insect and a similar number of bird species to be found on Socotra. Navigating them, even the most famous bottle and dragon blood trees isn’t easy initially and it helps to get in touch with a local guide for part of your trip. If you’re looking for one, I can recommend Saaber Aamer (email: [email protected] tel: 00967-771-969-576).
- Why Go To Socotra? Because it’s sort of like evolution got bored with the rest of the planet and decided to drop acid while creating the four-island archipelago. This video says it all.
Socotra is a hard place not to be mesmerized by, so following up on my I Love Istanbul Tour, I’m planning on giving a Socotra Tour at the end of this year. If you’re at all interested in visiting Socotra for New Year’s, send me an email and Wandering Earl and I will add you to our list of participants!
Socotra And Yemen Mainland, Not So Hard To Reach Both
Outside of the visa process and obtaining the necessary travel permits, arranging a trip to Socotra and Yemen much like booking any other trip. Depending on where you plan on going and whether or not you’ll be using a local tour operator like Eternal Yemen, the amount of added legwork varies. But once you arrive and meet the faces of Yemen, wander through plateaus of countless dragon blood trees, or sit on the edge of Burra Mountain, you’re likely to find the added effort well worth the time.
Airplanes are the magic machines that allow us to travel around the world and pilots the magicians who fly them. Despite taking over 40 flights a year, I know little details about how those experts keep 400,000 kilos of aluminum (and all of us passengers) in the sky and landed safely at out destinations. A fear of control can foster many of our flying anxieties, so today you can ask my live chat guest what it’s really like to fly, and the lifestyle of an international airline pilot.
Alejandro flew for a US based airline for 4 years before being offered to fly the Boeing 747 internationally for Eva Airways. Now based in Taiwan, he jets around the world delivering passengers and cargo to various destinations. Flying is his passion, but being a pilot isn’t as glamorous as it seems.
The chat is open today, April 16th from 3:00pm-4:00pm US EST (7pm-8pm GMT; 12pm-1pm Los Angeles). Scroll down or click here to join the chat below!
In addition to jet-setting, Alejandro and his wife Zeina recently launched the Habby Travels, a trip organization service. You may be curious whether or not planes come close to crashing without our knowledge (am I the only one who wonders that?), how “close” pilots and stewardesses really are, or want to get into piloting yourself. Alejandro is all yours to discuss the life and job of a pilot for the next hour in the comments.
The best travel budgets aren’t those you whip up before a trip and then pray to warlocks and wizards you’ll be able to stick to – especially if you want to continue traveling on a regular basis. Traveling is distracting for our brains, which aren’t very good at keeping track of details to begin with, yet that’s where software and web apps excel.
Here’s how you can create a travel budget from the planning stages of your next trip to arrival, and then back again.
First Know What’s Coming In And Out
It’s incredibly difficult to come up with any sort of useful budget without calculating the amount of money you earn and spend on a regular basis…accurately. Start by using the free online budget tracker Mint and adding all of your bank, credit card, and other financial accounts.
- How To Choose The Right Bank Before Going Abroad – Avoid fees, earn frequent flyer miles, and save even more cash.
Mint not only tracks what you spend, but it also notifies you of any fees you’re paying, recommends alternative accounts (e.g. credit cards with lower interest rates), and breaks down where your money is going. Aside from food, rent, utility bills, and other common spending categories, Mint lets you create your own (e.g. iPhone apps).
Keeping track of cash spending is a little more difficult however, and while Mint lets you add cash transactions, you’ll have to remember to enter them after a day of exploring the heights of Quito. To do so, download the free (previously mentioned) mobile app Remember The Milk. Anytime you make a purchase using paper money or coins, simply add the amount and set up a daily reminder to enter the amount in Mint. Since Mint doesn’t do currency conversions, (previously mentioned) free app Currency can for you instead.
Finally, Mint has a budget creation tool you can set up to save for specific purchases – like plane tickets to spend 96 hours in Granada, Spain.
Take Your Budget Mobile With These Apps
Although Mint does a fantastic overall job keeping up with your finances and is available in for iPad, iPhone, and Android, these other apps can help you fine tune your travel spending on the go. Easy Envelope Budget Aid (EEBA; free for Android/iPhone) gives you the ability to create joint accounts to track group savings for a trip with family and friends.
- Splitwise – Have roommates, travel buddies, or anyone else you regularly split bills with? Free on iPhone and Android, this app keeps everyone updated on who owes what.
Lastly, Travel Pocket is a powerful budgeting app that does currency conversions for you automatically as you enter your expenditures from country to country. It’s free for Android devices and $1.99 on iOS.
Use Automated Alerts So You Don’t “Forget” That $5 Latte You Drink Everyday
Most banks and credit cards let you set them up so you can get weekly, daily, or (preferably) instant email or text alerts whenever you use them to make a transaction. Doing so not only puts your spending in your face (as we tend to neglect guilty pleasures like Angry Birds Star Wars) but also alerts you immediately in case of a fraudulent transaction. Such added protection is especially prudent if you tend to use plastic at shops far and wide around the world.
- Find Out If Your Plane Tickets Will Get Cheaper – One of the best flight search engines, Kayak, now gives you advice on whether you should buy now or wait to purchase tickets.
Projected airfare is also a longstanding feature on with Bing Travel’s Price Predictor and you can set up email alerts to track airfare – plus get refunds if prices drop – using the previously mentioned Yapta.
Calculate International Costs Better For Realistic Spending Goals
You should always pad your estimates but don’t overestimate how “cheap” a place is – a delusion many backpackers tend to fall into. The website Budget Your Trip (original post) uses crowd sourcing to give you updated information on common expenses in countries around the world. For longer trips or a better gauge of what locals pay for the things you do at home, check out Expatistan.
Make More Money And Fly For Free
It’s more fun to have more money than to cut your travel budget from the other end. You can save more for travel if you don’t live on a first world income and earn frequent flyer miles without getting more credit cards. When you do have to spend, the free app Checkpoints can give you award points for stuff you’re paying for already (like groceries) while Yowza alerts you to specials and coupons directly on your mobile. (Yowza is free for iOS and Android devices.)
The better you track your expenses, the more efficiently you’ll be able to save and use low budget travel tricks to overcome big budget problems. Which ultimately means you can travel more and spend less.