Category: Guest Post

How To Fly With Your Dog And Make Sure You Both Have A Great Flight

This is a guest post by Stephanie Yoder, a girl who can’t sit still! She writes about everything related to Millennial travel at Why Wait to See the World? (formerly Twenty-Something Travel).

pug on a train

Owning a dog is just the best: long walks and cuddles on the couch from an eternally loyal best friend. The only huge drawback is that it makes it much harder to travel. Unlike a cat, you can’t just leave your dog alone with a bucket of food, a litter box and then hope for the best. You’ll need to leave him the care of a dog-sitter or at an expensive kennel. It can really cut into your travel budget.

Unless… you take your dog with you. It’s not the easiest, and not the most enjoyable for some dogs, but it is worth it when traveling with your dog is the best or the only option. Last year we took our funny little terrier Leo across the country and back again. It wasn’t a difficult process, but here is what you need to know.

Know the Rules

Every airline has slightly different rules for traveling with pets in the cabin. Some don’t allow it at all, and those that do generally have weight and breed restrictions. Unlike babies, dogs don’t fly for free. There is usually a fee per flight that can range from $30-$500.

traveling terrier

Usually the cap is about 9 kilograms (20 pounds) – although in my experience there is a little wiggle room as they don’t usually weigh your dog at check in. Larger dogs will have to fly in kennels under the plane. Some airlines also have restrictions against  brachycephalic (flat faced) breeds of dogs, which are more prone to respiratory issues while flying. Breeds like pugs, Boston terriers and bull dogs might run afoul of these rules.

Aside from that, your dog’s presence on the flight is subject to availability. Most airlines only allow a handful of in-cabin animals on a single flight. Makes sure you call and check that there is space available on the flight, and that you reserve both of your travel at the same time. Call again 24 hours before your flight to remind them you are traveling with a dog.

Talk to Your Vet

Most airlines will require a health certificate from your veterinarian issued within 7 days of departure (you don’t need  a second certificate for your journey home even if it is outside that time frame). You might need immunization records if you are traveling internationally.

In my experience, airline personnel usually don’t ask to see these records but you will want to have them just in case. If you don’t produce them, you’re dog could be barred from the flight.

terrier

While you’re at the vet, take some time to talk about the best method for keeping your dog calm during the flight. Some people choose to sedate their pets with low doses of Xanax, but you may want to do a test run first since it can hype some dogs up. Your vet may have some other ideas on non-medical ways to keep your pet calm depending on their health and temperament.

We chose not to medicate our dog, and tried some essential oils to calm him. The oils did nothing, so we kept him calm but talking to him during the flight, feeding him treats and stroking his head.

Prep Your Pooch

Traveling on a plane can be a pretty scary experience for a dog. It’s loud, and confusing, and smells kind of weird. You will want to do everything you can to make them as comfortable as possible.

terrier at the beach

Get your dog a comfy soft crate (make sure it fits airline restrictions for fitting under the seat). It should be big enough for them to turn around comfortably and the sides should be ventilated. Give your dog the chance to get used to the carrier, have them spend some time in there each day and reward them with treats. It’s a good idea to have them hang out in there while in motion as well- take a car ride with them.

Before our flight we spent weeks practicing with Leo. He would sit in the crate and we would shower him with treats and praise until he started to actually enjoy that space. We laid down extra padding and put a couple of his favorite toys in there. We also lined the bottom with absorbent puppy pads in case he had an accident in transit (which he never did).

On the Day

On the day you are flying, feed your dog 4 hours before departure, so that they have enough time to digest and pass their food. Give them lots of water to drink so they don’t get dehydrated during the flight.  Take them for a very long walk if you have time, to work off some energy.

Check in early for your flight. Most airports have some sort of designated pet area where your pooch can relieve themselves before the big flight. Once you’re up in the air, do your best to help your pet stay calm. They will probably need to stay in their crate under the seat for the whole flight but you can reach down and talk to and comfort them.

When you’ve arrived at your destination and de-boarded you can finally let your friend go free. Take them outside for some fresh air and breathe a sigh of relief – you made it!

Thank you very much Stephanie for this guest post! Stephanie writes about travel for millennials on her website, Why Wait To See The World. You can also follow Why Wait To See The World on Facebook, Twitter @whywaitworld, and Instagram.

How Travel Changes From Your Twenties To Your Thirties

This is a guest post by Stephanie Yoder, a girl who can’t sit still! She writes about everything related to Millennial travel at Why Wait to See the World? (formerly Twenty-Something Travel). 

stephanie yoder

I started traveling prolifically in my early twenties. A semester studying abroad in London gave me a taste of the freedom, and discovery, that comes with international travel. And I was hooked. I spent the next ten years working, living and traveling abroad as much as I could.

Along the way I met a similarly travel-loving guy, married him, got an apartment and a dog in Seattle and (like everyone eventually does) I turned 30. A couple years later I had a baby. While my wanderlust never changed, my life did. As a result, the way I travel has changed significantly too. Many things have stayed the same: I still love to walk until my feet hurt, stuff my face with local food and explore off the beaten path. At the same time, I thought I’d list what’s different now, and why.

Now I’ll give you a caveat that your results may vary. There are plenty of free-wheeling, young at heart thirty and forty-somethings, just as there are 23 year-olds with serious responsibility.

Changing Priorities

In my twenties, I didn’t have a ton of responsibilities beyond keeping myself alive and not going any deeper into debt than necessary. Otherwise, my major goal was simply to travel as much as humanly possible. All of my spare time and most of my money went towards planning my next escape.

why wait to see the world

Now I have a million things to think about besides stamps in my passport, starting with, but not limited to,: my career, my family, can I afford rent this month and who is going to watch my dog? That doesn’t mean travel isn’t on my radar, it just makes it harder to take off on a whim, consequences be damned.

More Selective

As a result of the above, it’s not so easy to just take off for any old reason. With limited time and money, I need to be selective about the trips I take.

In my twenties I would grab any available opportunity: girl’s trip to Puerto Rico? Last minute cheap fair to Europe? Impromptu road trip? I was always game. I racked up stamps in my passport and saw a good chunk of the world this way.

why wait to see the world yoder

Now, I plan my travels ahead of time, and I pick what I want to do more carefully. I’m not going to waste precious money and vacation days to go somewhere I’ve already been or don’t really care about. I would much rather save up my resources for a trip I’m really excited about, like our three week babymoon to Japan last year.

Less Late Nights, More Early Mornings

You never realize how much energy you have until it’s gone. When I was a young twenty-something backpacker, drinking late into the night with locals or other backpackers was the norm. I’d compensate by sleeping in (well, as much as you can sleep in in a hostel dorm room). I saw the sights, but this was usually secondary to socializing.

Now that I’m in my thirties, I appreciate the merits of a good night’s sleep, and staying up until the early morning drinking is much less appealing. Hangovers last longer when you’re older, and it takes less to get there. Now I’m all about one or two craft cocktails or local beers, a hearty meal, and an early bedtime. I’d rather save my energy for  getting up early to explore my surroundings.

A Higher Standard of Living

One of the bonuses to traveling in my thirties? My budget is bigger. Because my trips are usually shorter and because I have a job supporting me, I have more money to spend on each trip.

travel in twenties thirties

I’m nowhere near a luxury traveler, but having some extra funds enhances my travels in a multitude of ways. Instead of cramped hostel dorm rooms, I’m staying in a comfy apartment rental. Instead of cooking spaghetti in a group kitchen, I can afford to go out for a nice local meal. I have more money to spend on special excursions and tours, and I can pick up a nice souvenir to take home.

I also have the means to make my travels more inclusive. I used to travel alone (and sometimes I still do), but over the years my travel style has expanded to include my husband, my daughter, and even my dog. In 2014 I took my Mom on an Alaskan Cruise, and it was amazing to spend that time bonding with her.

More Confidence

Perhaps the best part of traveling in my thirties is that after over a decade of travel, I really know myself really, really, well. I know the sort of things I enjoy (beautiful cities, rich cultures, good food), and the stuff I really don’t (party islands, loud hostels and skiing). I know that I get sick at high altitudes, and that I vastly prefer warm weather destinations to chilly ones. I know what I like, and I’m willing to go the extra mile to find it.

Which isn’t to say you shouldn’t try new things. It’s just that when you clear out what you’re not interested in, all sorts of new possibilities emerge. In the past few years, I’ve taken trips that never would have occurred to me in my twenties. I went to Vancouver to watch the Women’s World Cup, I saw wild elephants grazing in Sri Lanka, and I ate sushi (at 5 months pregnant) in Tokyo. When I first visited Japan at 26 I wouldn’t even touch raw fish.

Are things better or worse now? I think they are just different. Sometimes I miss the freewheeling, spontaneous fun of my twenties, but I also really appreciate my current, more thoughtful and experienced travel style – and the family I now have to share it with. In the end I don’t think it matters so much what age you choose to see the world, just that you are getting out there at all.

Thank you very much Stephanie for this guest post decades in the making. Stephanie is right, no matter how young or old you are, traveling can open you up to many new insights and experiences. Stephanie writes about this very topic on her website, Why Wait To See The World. You can also follow Why Wait To See The World on Facebook, Twitter @whywaitworld, and Instagram.

How American Expats Can Lower (Or Eliminate) Their Taxes Back Home

This is a guest post by Olivier Wagner, a Certified Public Accountant, U.S. immigrant, expat, and perpetual traveler who preaches the philosophy of being a worldly American. In his new book, U.S. Taxes for Worldly Americans, he uses his expertise to show you how to use 100% legal strategies (beyond traditionally maligned “tax havens”) to keep your income and assets safe from the IRS. Oliver has also written recently what you need to know about taxes if you’re an American who moves abroad.

us passport money

Most Americans living abroad today know about the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE) (Form 2555). The FEIE lets you remove up to $101,300 of foreign income from your taxable income when filing taxes back home. This is great news for U.S. citizens who stay outside the country all year and don’t make six figures annually; as it legally allows you to avoid paying any taxes to the United States. However, to take advantage of it, you must be careful to claim things the right way on your tax return.

Choosing Between The FTC And FEIE

You can also claim a credit for any taxes you have paid to foreign governments through the Foreign Tax Credit (FTC) (Form 1116). This is very useful if you are a resident or worker in another country. However, you have to choose between using either the FTC or the FEIE to lower your taxes – you can’t take advantage of both.

  • Generally, if your foreign tax rate is greater than your U.S. tax rate, the FTC will save you more.

If you have children who are also American citizens, you can get a refundable tax credit of $1,000 per year per child with the Additional Child Tax credit. To qualify, you must have at least $3,000 of income and not use the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion.

U.S. Taxes for Worldly Americans U.S. Taxes for Worldly Americans

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My friend Laura from Ohio used to work as a self-employed English teacher in Milan. Because she would spend the entire tax year in Italy (and made much less than the $101,300 FEIE limit), she qualified for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion each year when she filed her American taxes.

However, there is one other requirement you must meet in order to use the FEIE. You must pass either the Bona Fide Residence Test or the Physical Presence Test. Although you only need to qualify using one of the two, having both provides a safety net. If you are ever audited and you fail one test, you can simply provide another Form 2555 using the other test.

How To Pass The Bona Fide Residence Test

This is a somewhat fancy phrase that explained Laura’s situation perfectly. A bona fide resident is someone who has legitimately established residency in a foreign country. Although she was abroad in Italy for an undetermined, potentially indefinite period of time, Ohio still saw her as a resident for tax purposes until she proved otherwise.

In order to use this test to qualify for the FEIE, she just had to remain a tax resident of Italy for an uninterrupted tax year. Even if a country doesn’t have an income tax system, so long as they would otherwise have authority to tax you, you qualify as a “tax resident”. She also must not have submitted a statement to Italy that she was a non-resident there. She could not be living in Italy as a tourist.

lisbon portugal

Every other tie to the country counts and the Bona Fide Residence test is inherently subjective. If you are unsure, I would not recommend claiming it. I advise that you use the Physical Presence test or the Foreign Tax Credit instead.

How To Pass The Physical Presence Test

Alternatively, Laura also could have qualified for the FEIE using the Physical Presence Test. To pass this test, a person must spend at least 330 days outside the US in any 12-month period.

Each of those 330 days must be an entire 24 hours. I once had a client of mine tell me, “Well, of course I can use the Physical Presence Test. I live in Canada year-round.” Then he said, “I only return to the States once a week to fill up on gas.” Oops. Those quick little trips meant he was only out of the country for 6/7ths of the year, or 312 days – not quite enough to pass the Physical Presence Test.

Additional Exceptions To The 24 Hour Rule

  • Being in the U.S. for less than 24 hours while in transit between two foreign countries.
  • Being in international waters for less than 24 hours in transit between two foreign countries. International waters do not count as a foreign country (hence, time spent there does not count toward the 330 days). Likewise, time spent in Cuba in violation of the embargo does not count toward the 330 days.

Since Laura was living in Italy for the entire year, she passed these tests as well.

Filing The FEIE On Your Tax Return

The FEIE can be claimed on either Form 2555-EZ or Form 2555. As a tax professional, I usually use Form 2555, but if you’re preparing your own return, you might enjoy the simplicity of Form 2555-EZ.

Requirements For Form 2555-EZ

  1. You must be a U.S. citizen or resident alien.
  2. You must earn wages or a salary in a foreign country.
  3. You must have a total foreign earned income of $101,300 or less.
  4. You must file a calendar year return that covers a 12-month period.
  5. You must not have self-employment income.
  6. You must not have business or moving expenses.
  7. You must not claim the foreign housing exclusion or deduction.

While the 2555-EZ is an enticing option, it is not applicable to people who receive self-employed income, claim moving expenses, or claim the foreign housing exclusion or deduction. This becomes a problematic area for many English teachers who give private courses outside of a structured work environment, and are therefore considered “self-employed.”

Another Option, The Foreign House Exclusion

My friend Laura also considered claiming the foreign housing exclusion. The foreign housing exclusion is useful for those whose earned income exceeds the limit of $101,300. (The first $44.28 per day is not deductible.) The Foreign Housing Exclusion is called the Foreign Housing Deduction for self-employed people, but the concept is the same.

american flag kansas

Many expats get extremely frustrated with the U.S. tax-filing process, with its seemingly never-ending pages of questions followed by the massive crunching of numbers. I have met many of those people, worked with them, and assured them that we would be able to comply with all the tax requirements so long as we were detailed in our approach.

As you probably already know, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), otherwise known as “Obamacare”, imposes tax penalties on American citizens without health insurance. Fortunately, anyone who qualifies for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion is not subject to the penalties of the ACA.

In Laura’s case, we managed to successfully file her taxes and her Foreign Earned Income Exclusion. We also managed to receive a tax credit for the income taxes taken out by the Italian government.

Thank you very much Oliver for sharing some of your expertise with the many expats who may be paying taxes they don’t have to. Oliver goes further into detail in his highly rated book, U.S. Taxes for Worldly Americans. For those of you Americans living abroad, it’s probably a good idea to know how your tax situation changes – and doesn’t – which Oliver has covered previously on foXnoMad in his post, How Taxes Change When Americans Go Abroad.

How Taxes Change When Americans Go Abroad

This is a guest post by Olivier Wagner, a Certified Public Accountant, U.S. immigrant, expat, and perpetual traveler who preaches the philosophy of being a worldly American. In his new book, U.S. Taxes for Worldly Americans, he uses his expertise to show you how to use 100% legal strategies (beyond traditionally maligned “tax havens”) to keep your income and assets safe from the IRS.

washington dc plane flying

More people are renouncing their U.S. citizenship now than ever before. Each has their own reasons for doing this. Some are worried about the changing political landscape of today. Others pay attention to new rules and restrictions on freedom of travel, or (for better or worse) how the rest of the world views Americans. Mostly, they want to avoid all the complicated tax burdens that come with the territory of being a U.S. citizen. It’s not necessarily difficult to get rid of your American citizenship, but it does warrant a lot of deep thought, planning, and a bit of money to pull off properly.

U.S. Citizens Always Have Tax Obligations

Many Americans living abroad have never even filed their taxes, or else haven’t filed in many years. Some have been abroad so long that, aside from their passports and the occasional trip back home to see family, they have no real ties to the United States (not even a Social Security number). In their minds, they’ve long ago sworn off the idea of getting involved with U.S. taxes and would be completely financially unable to get caught up on them anyway.

U.S. Taxes for Worldly Americans  U.S. Taxes for Worldly Americans

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Some of these people have been very lucky to coast under the radar this long without any consequences. It’s very important that they get tax compliant as quickly as possible, and that they utilize every tool available to minimize their expenses. There are very large consequences to continuing to ignore this, yet so many people don’t pay any attention to it at all because it seems so overwhelming to consider. They may even take personal offense to having to pay anything at all.

Foreign Banks Talk To The IRS About US Citizens

Things are only getting more complicated for Americans living abroad as time goes on. Starting in 2015, a new law went into effect across the globe requiring foreign banks to identify which of their clients are American citizens and report their name, address, and account balance to the IRS back home (although litigation between the Department of Justice and Swiss banks caused the trend to start in Switzerland as early as 2012). It’s called FATCA, and it stands for Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act.

Additionally, anyone holding an equivalent balance of more than $10,000 in foreign bank accounts must file an FBAR report. When the IRS receives this data, they will try to match that to the taxpayer on record as reported by the foreign banks directly. The penalty for willfully failing to file an FBAR could be up to 50% of the account balance per year, giving serious caution to anyone interested in holding even some of their money offshore (or $10,000 per account if the failure to file was not willful, and possibly zero if the taxpayer had a reasonable cause).

Some Taxes Can Be Avoided By Expats

Some Americans living abroad today know about the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE), which allows them to exclude up to $101,300 (as of 2016) of foreign income from their taxable income. Nomads and expatriates who don’t make a ton of money will typically use this to avoid paying taxes at all in the US, but only if they know how to claim things on their tax return correctly. One can claim the FEIE by being an actual resident of a foreign country (a “bona fide resident”). There’s also a physical presence test for people who spend at least 330 days in any 12-month period outside the U.S. This is fine for those who have truly relocated outside the states, but what about others who still return frequently to visit friends and family, or split their time equally between multiple homes?

american flags washington dc

It’s important to understand that your tax situation will never be the same once you start traveling, yet so long as you remain an American you will always have some kind of tax obligation. The IRS will always be checking up on you, no matter where you live or work. But that’s okay so long as you can keep up with the new rules that apply to you, and learn to (legally) work the system to your advantage. You may even be able to reduce your tax obligation to nothing at all.

Thank you very much Oliver for sharing some of your expertise with many who might not know they owe taxes. Oliver goes further into detail in his highly rated book, U.S. Taxes for Worldly Americans.

5 Unusual But Useful Tips For Traveling With A Toddler

This is a guest post by Lillie Marshall, who’s previously written about traveling while pregnant. Lillie is a travel blogger at www.AroundTheWorldL.com and mother to two young children. Find her at @WorldLillie on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and beyond.

mother toddler travel

Let’s get the obvious parts of toddler travel out of the way so we can move on to more unusual goodies. First, toddlers are insane, hence toddler travel can stink. Second, toddlers are hilarious and cute, so toddler travel can also be the most fun activity ever. Third, when traveling with a toddler, always have snacks, diapers, wipes, a change of clothes, and a sippy cup of liquid on hand, plus Elmo on an electronic device for emergencies. Fourth, adjust your travel speed and itinerary to honor naps and bedtimes. Fifth, do what it takes each day to maintain self care and sanity for yourself.

Ok, that’s done. Now for some less obvious tips!

1. On Road Trips, Call Ahead To Activate The Food Situation

Our family just finished our fourth annual 14 hour Boston-to-Cleveland road trip with our toddler, and as each mealtime neared, I’d use Yelp to find a certifiably yummy spot about 20 minutes up the road and call ahead to reserve us a table and high chair. We’d sometimes even use online menus to put in our order so food would be waiting for us, thus minimizing toddler meltdown potential upon arrival. On a related note, we have had particular success with Japanese restaurants, since many we’ve visited have had fish tanks: perfect for mesmerizing our little guy. “LOOK! BLUE FISHY!”

toddler eating Mystic Connecticut

2. Help Can Be Helpful… Or Harder

Whenever possible, I’d recommend getting assistance with your toddler during travel, be it in the form of bringing along grandparents, other relatives, friends for part of the trip, or hiring a vetted babysitter through your hotel one or two nights. Know, however, that having “help” can actually become MORE stressful if it’s not clear who is doing what and when. For example, during a recent extended family vacation, we suddenly had EIGHT adults staring, immobile, as our toddler raced towards a gleaming clump of poison ivy. Our mistake? Not designating who was “On” for childcare during that portion of the day.

toddler travel outdoors

3. Consider Mixing Different Travel Types And Permutations

Regarding mixing travel types, we loved touring Quebec, but were exhausted after a few days of keeping up with our little guy. Hence, it was ideal that the second half of our vacation was in tranquil Cleveland with my in-laws, where the only sightseeing we did was staring at a big bowl of food while we caught our breath again. Regarding mixing travel permutations, the classic recommendation is to leave the toddler(s) with trusted adults and have a solo couples vacation, but don’t rule out other combinations. I loved traveling alone to Dubai while my husband stayed home and watched the toddler, and became a much better mother when I returned for having the space away to clear my head.

Mont Tremblant Canada

4. Changes Are Always Afoot, Stay Agile

As of four days ago (during week one of our month-long travels this summer) our toddler can escape from his travel crib?! YEEK! After a full day of online research and asking our networks of other parents for advice, we found our savior: a night-vision baby monitor on sale. The best part? It has two-way listening and speaking capabilities, so when we saw our guy’s little leg emerge at the rim of the crib, we blared, in, “GET BACK IN BED, LOVE!” and Devi, shocked by the voice on high, immediately lay down and fell asleep. This level of the video game of toddler travel has been cleared, but next up is… travel and potty training. Oh my!

Hollyson Digital Security Baby Monitor Videos Camera with Night VisionHollyson Digital Security Baby Monitor Videos Camera with Night Vision

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5. You Are You, And Your Kid Is Your Kid. Experiment!

As a teacher, I’m clear that what works in my classroom may not work for another teacher, but it’s taken several years to realize that the advice one friend or article is giving me on child-rearing is not necessarily The Word of Truth for All, and it’s ok if I muddle through making my own bag of tricks. During hour four of our recent road trip, I discovered through experimentation that our guy could entertain himself for thirty full minutes by putting a small bag inside a bigger bag, and then on his feet. During hour twelve, I learned out that my lip syncing to Michael Buble made him raptly calm and happy.

traveling with a toddler

What smile-inducing victories will you discover when you allow yourself the freedom to mess up enough to find your own toddler travel style?

Want more detailed ideas? Check out my other articles, How To Travel While Pregnant During Every Trimester, Travel With a Baby, How to Travel With a Toddler, and Travel With a Toddler While Pregnant!

Thank you Lillie (and toddlers!) for sharing your experiences and travel advice with us. If you have any questions for Lillie, please feel free to leave them in the comments below.

Everything You Need To Know To Prepare For A Trip To Vietnam

This is a guest post by Claudia Tavani, a former human rights lawyer and academic who has previously written about traveling in Cuba and the 5 best beach in Sardinia, for foXnoMad. Claudia, who is from Sardinia, abandoned her career to follow her true calling, which has taken her on many adventures and misadventures across the world which she shares on her blog, My Adventures Across The World.

vietnam fields

A favorite destination among backpackers for being a super-budget destination, Vietnam is a gorgeous country that has a lot to offer. So much so that Vietnam can be overwhelming and without a bit of insider advice, you might end up picking expensive or lackluster choices for food, tours, or accommodation.

I spent weeks in Vietnam and want to show you how to ease any culture shock (as Vietnam can hit you hard) plus avoid the many, many tourist traps. Here is everything you need to know to prepare a trip to Vietnam.

Start By Picking The Right Time To Visit Vietnam

The weather in Vietnam varies a lot from region to region (there are three different climate zones) as well as within the same place in a short period of time.

an bang beach vietnam

  • North Vietnam – The weather in the mountainous north (Sapa Valley) can be basically divided in two seasons: the dry and cold winter, from October to March, and the wet and hot summer from April to September. It is overall better to travel in the dry season, even though the temperatures can be quite cold. When I visited, in March, it was actually much warmer than I had expected, with warm temperatures during the day, over 68 Fahrenheit (20 Celsius) but significantly colder (11C/52F) at night.
  • Hanoi And Ha Long Bay – The north of the country (including Hanoi and Ha Long Bay) has cold but dry winters, lasting from November to April and with average temperatures between 63F/17C – 72F/22C. Summer months (from May to October) are hot, humid and get a lot of rain, to the point that visits to Ha Long Bay may be suspended due to the adverse weather conditions. When I visited, Hanoi was pleasantly warm and sunny one day and in a chilly mist the next. Ha Long Bay was hot and sunny (79F/26C!) the day before I went, though after I arrived was welcomed with the more typical cool overcast. I would recommend visiting around February or March,
  • Central Vietnam – Dry weather between January and August, when the temperatures can reach up to 86F (30C). The most rainy months are October and November. Air conditioners are usually available in hotels and even in good homestays.
  • South Vietnam (which includes Saigon and the Mekong Delta) weather is divided into dry and wet season. The dry season goes from November to early May, with higher temperatures and humidity between February and May, and the wet season from May to November, with June to August being the rainiest months. Temperatures are always between 77-95F (25-35C). It was surely hot when I visited and I was glad to find air conditioners in hotels. Avoid August and September if you can, they are the rainiest months in this region.

Even though I don’t recommend planning too much around the variable Vietnamese weather, the best overall months to visit would probably be April or May.

How To Get A Visa To Vietnam

Citizens of more than 20 countries – mostly western European and southeast Asian – can get a Vietnamese visa on arrival if arriving by air. This visa, which is free, allows to stay in the country for up to 15 days, but for everyone it’s necessary to show proof of leaving the country within that time period. (Yes, they do ask.) Everyone else, you’ll have to contact your local embassy for specific visa requirements. Keep in mind in all cases your passport will need to be valid for at least 6 months from the date of entry into Vietnam.

flag of vietnam

Vietnamese Currency And Exchange Rate

The official currency in Vietnam is the dong (VN). One US dollar is worth roughly 22000 VN. Dollars are generally accepted in hotels, in some shops and even at markets, but it is better to use dongs in order to save on the exchange rate. When exchanging money at the bank, go with an idea of how much you should be given for your US dollars using a free app like Currency, making sure to check that you get the correct amount. Tellers often pretend to forget to give exact change in an attempt to pocket a little for themselves.

Learn How To Cross The Street (It’s An Adventure Every Time)

There really aren’t any major safety issues in Vietnam, not even for female travelers. The biggest challenge for travelers in Vietnam is crossing the street in (always) very congested traffic, dodging scooters and cars that never stop for pedestrians. You’ll also have to deal with scams but in both cases, being prepared will help you avoid any trouble.

traffic in hanoi

In order to cross the street, keep on walking without ever stopping keeping in mind to avoid cars and trucks. Traffic won’t stop, but scooters will make sure to drive around pedestrians and somehow nobody ever seems to get hit.

Common scams are the typical ones of the tourism industry: prices which are doubled or tripled for tourists, with the right amount of applied pressure to push you into buying tourist services.

The key to avoid tourist rates is to haggle fiercely at markets (I generally offer about one-tenth of the price asked, working my way to a price I think is fair based on that). For taxis, insist on paying by the meter.

Here’s a few examples to help clarify things: the driver from Hanoi airport to the city asked me to pay a flat rate of  400000 VN (around $18 USD). I demanded to pay by the meter and it cost me 360000 VN ($16 USD) – not a major difference in this case. Similarly, in Ho Chi Minh City airport I was asked to pay 300000 VN, but I only spent 120000 VN paying by the meter (a significant difference this time).

hoi an vietnam travel

Hotel personnel can often get quite intrusive (if not aggressive) when asking about your plans for the next few days, then try to pressure you into buying tours (since they receive a commission). The best thing to do in this case is to give elusive answers; “I don’t know” or “I have no plans yet” usually work.

Transportation

The best way to cover long distances in Vietnam is by plane. Traffic is extremely slow (up to 5 hours to cover a mere 150 km) not to mention the driving truly terrifying. All forms of motor-vehicle are constantly honking machines that are uncomfortable because they’re packed tight with bags placed overhead without regard to gravity. So unless you like long, life-threatening adrenaline rushes, take a plane.

ha long bay travel tourism vietnam

It is also possible to travel by train. I took the night train from Hanoi to Lao Cai, the main city to access Sapa Valley, finding it a nice experience. I was able to rest on the small bunk I was assigned in a train car that was fairly clean and comfortable. You can buy the tickets directly at the train station in Hanoi, or online through the Vietnam Railways System website. All trains to the north of Vietnam leave from Tran Quy Cap station (Train Station B, P Tran Quy Cap, open from 4:00 to 6:00 am and from 4:00 to 10:00 pm every day).

In cities, taxis are easily available and inexpensive. As I have said before, always ask to pay by the meter. An easy alternative to taxis are moto-taxis, which are a fast, cheap and fun way to get around. Moto-taxis are easily recognizable: the drivers sit right by their motorbike on the side of the road, and have two helmets. In smaller cities and in the countryside, bikes are a fun and cheap way to get around.

Where To Stay

Your dollar will go a long way in Vietnam, and even travelers on a budget can afford to get a private room, with a private bathroom and (a simple) breakfast included in one of the many hotels available. The average price for a double private room with private bathroom plus breakfast included is $9 USD per night per person.

  • Saigon: Yellow House Saigon, a hotel in the backpackers’ district located in a tiny alley that is closed at night, so despite the traffic of the city, the hotel gets virtually no noise. Rooms are on the small side, but perfectly organized and the breakfast buffet including noodles, fruits, and eggs is quite decent.

Lots of people opt to stay in homestays but beware that many of them are very spartan so research thoroughly before booking. Here’s a homestay in Hoi An I can recommend:

  • The Corner Homestay – A lovely homestay in Hoi An, literally a minute away from all the action. Rooms are nice and clean, the receptionist a real star who speaks perfect English and despite being so close to the center, it is in a nice and quiet street.

Keep in mind most hotels offer free wifi though you’ll have to put up with flaky connections.

What And Where To Eat

When in Vietnam, the best way to enjoy a meal is in the street or in the markets, or in small local eateries. Soups are to die for, especially the delicious pho bo, which consists of rice noodles in a slowly cooked beef broth, served with bean sprouts and raw beef sliced so thin it cooks in the broth. A whole meal (including drinks) can be as cheap as $2 USD.

vietnamse food

  • Nha Hang Ngon, in Dong Khoi, Saigon, is a very popular restaurant for locals and tourists. In a stylish setting with affordable prices, it aims at bringing together the best street food of Vietnam all in one place.

A note that seemingly vegetarian and vegan dishes (e.g. tofu dishes) often have fish sauce in them. One easy way to communicate food allergies or preferences when the staff speaks little or no English is to get on the Internet and show pictures of the specific ingredients.

  • Cargo Club – In Hoi An, a fantastic place serving a mixture of international as well as Vietnamese dishes that are to die for. It is as expensive as it gets in Vietnam, a full meal (including drinks and dessert) is no more than $18 USD. Chips ‘n Fish, right by the market, is another good inexpensive place to have seafood.

Finally, a bottle of local beer (usually Bia Saigon) costs around 20000 VN (less than $1 USD), but at local eateries it is possible to have beer by the glass (generally a 0.25 or 0.30 cc glass) for as little as 4000 VN.

Packing Tips

I recommend going to Vietnam with a backpack rather than a suitcase. More often than not, there are no elevators in budget hotels and carrying a suitcase up the stairs may well be a nightmare. Sidewalks are invaded by scooters, stalls, street food restaurants which make walking more like a steeplechase – not to mention getting on and off the boats in Ha Long Bay.

saigon street market stall vegetables

You will need a wind and waterproof jacket, a pair of hiking boots, lightweight hiking pants, plus a warm sweater if you’re heading to the north. For the south, cotton long pants and shirts to protect from the sun in the day and biting mosquitoes at night.

On the positive hand, people in Vietnam are generally nice, despite a language barrier in many cases. I found them to be way more reserved in the foggy north; conversely much more open, friendly with smiles in the south. They enjoy talking to tourists (as much as possible, given the language barrier!) and posing for pictures.

Are you ready to go to Vietnam? What do you look forward to?

You can follow Claudia’s adventures, including rafting down mighty rivers, zip lining across canyons, and trekking to the craters of active volcanoes on he blog, My Adventures Across The World. Have any questions about traveling to Vietnam? Leave them in the comments below and Claudia will do her best to answer them!

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About Anil Polat

foxnomad aboutI'm the blogger and computer security engineer who writes foXnoMad while on a journey to visit every country in the world. I'll show you the tips, tricks, and tech you can use to travel smarter. Read More


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