Category: Advice

How To Get To The Top Of Tirana, Albania’s Mount Dajti By Cable Car

dajti ekspres

Albania’s capital city Tirana doesn’t have the reputation of being the most beautiful, but I ask you to try agreeing with that from the view atop Mount Dajti overlooking the city. Something more objective however is Tirana’s ad-hoc system for pretty much everything, including public transportation.

You can get to the top of Mount Dajti, just outside of Tirana, by taking the Dajti Ekspress, the longest cable car in the Balkans. There are a lot of options for getting there but only a few that make sense. Here are the best ways to get to Mount Dajti.

From Town To Base Station

Before you do anything, it’s important to make sure you have, or withdraw, enough cash for the journey as well as cable car. The credit card machine at the base station hasn’t worked in forever – show up with only a Mastercard and you’ll have to go all the way back into town.

et'hem bey mosque tirana

  • Cash To Bring – A round-trip cable car ticket is around 800 lek ($6.30 dollars) and the bus about 65 lek (.50 cents US). There’s a good cafe and restaurant up at the top that do accept credit cards but I wouldn’t rely on them, so bring extra cash to enjoy some food as well.

Head to the Et’hem Bey Mosque in the center of town. Looking at the Et’hem Mosque (with the clock town on the left) about 50 meters to the left is a bus station. You’ll see people waiting around, possibly a bus, or neither. Look for the Linze bus and confirm with the driver he or she is headed toward Dajti.

  • Dajti Cable Car Hours – From 10am to 7pm (winter); extended hours to 10pm during the summer months. The Dajti Ekspres cable car is open everyday except Tuesdays.

The trip from the bus station to nearby the cable car station is about 25 minutes. Go to the last stop – it also helps to sit near the front so the driver can let you know you’re at the right place.

Drop Off And Ready To Walk

From this point, you’ll have to walk about 10 minutes uphill following signs that aren’t very accurate. As you walk in the direction the bus was pointing when it arrived at the station, ask every few shops to make sure you’ve not gone off track. The shop owners are very helpful, often leaving their stores to give overly detailed instructions for the deceptively winding roads.

mount dajti tirana albania

Unless you’re arriving with a bicycle, get a round-trip ticket up to the top by taking the 3.6 kilometer (2.2 mile) Dajti Ekspres cable car. A lovely 20 minute ride, unless you have serious fear of heights, take in all of the views of Tirana on the way. After arriving don’t miss the countryside on the far side of Mount Dajti.

  • Meal With A View – Although the pizza is pretty good, be sure to get a seat by the window, even if there is a wait at Ballkoni I Dajtit, the sight is spectacular.

Above it, there’s a cafe that rotates 360 degrees, like this:

Other Options To The Top

Taxi is an option but you’ll have to negotiate your way there, expect to pay about $15 USD for a one-way ride. There’s also a shuttle which connects with one of the bus stops but since there’s no set timing information available, consider it the very leisurely (possibly uncertain) way up. Up, by the way, is the direction it’s easiest to go – finding a taxi nearby, especially close to closing hour means bus is likely the only way you’ll be getting back into town.

How To Stick To Your 2017 Travel Resolutions

“Live everyday as if it were your last because someday you’re going to be right.”
-Muhammad Ali

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There’s a really big problem with New Year’s resolutions – namely, that most of us don’t keep them. And when it comes to travel, making plans in the middle of a holiday season that often involves being intoxicated doesn’t help get you anywhere in June. Fortunately for us, technology is much less forgetful than we are and our brains can be hacked to get the results we want from them.

Where do you want to go in 2017? Let’s get started:

remember the milk androidRefine Your To-Do List (aka. Resolutions) So It’s Believable

The most common list problem is the easiest to solve and neglect at the same time – where to keep your list. The free site Remember The Milk lets you set specific lists (e.g. ‘2017 Travel Resolutions’), prioritize them, and set schedules to make sure you stay on track. Remember The Milk also syncs with your iPad, iPhone, Android, and email accounts if you choose, as well as a few other online services you’re likely using.

getting things done  Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

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There are 4 types of travel lists that won’t help you very much and you can avoid creating one by keeping your travel resolutions short, have well defined steps toward your final goal, and set rough timetables for each item.

Use The Winner Effect To Knock Out Resolutions

Don’t make the first resolutions you want to tackle be the most difficult. Rather, use the winner effect to improve your chances of accomplishing more difficult goals down the line by setting up easier victories now. It works for boxers, 3-point shooters in basketball, and can for you by modifying your physiology for increased confidence.

3 pointer shot

The winner effect in many studies was nullified for subjects not in their territory (think home-team advantage) so for added chances of success early on, set up your early travel resolutions in familiar surroundings. Rather than making your first goal “travel to Thailand and live for a year” set yourself up for smaller victories like “go to the bank and open a savings account”. (Here’s how to choose the right bank for international travel.)

Digitize Peer Pressure

An effective way to get around saying one thing and doing another (a form of cognitive dissonance) is to hold yourself accountable to others. You can do that by informing close friends of your plans (and the key steps in your resolution lists – the winner effect can encourage them to believe in you more). That makes it all the harder to ditch your travel resolutions.

habitlist app ios

Another way to keep the pressure on yourself to get out the door and travel is to use apps where you can set goals, see progress towards them, and be nicely reminded when you might be falling off track. The Habit List app ($3.99 iOS) and free Habit Bull (Android/iOS) both let you set goals big and small, showing you streaks, and creating a flexible schedule so you can plan your way to success.

Motivate Yourself By Visualizing

The biggest path to our memories is through our eyes and we tend to believe what we see. That effect goes beyond what our eyes see to what our minds can visualize. Imagine yourself accomplishing each of your travel resolutions and you’re much more likely to believe it’s possible, less risky, and rewarding. (For more on this bias check out How Risky Is It?)

We often spend much of our travel-motivational efforts externally, trying to convince our family and loved ones who might not be as supportive initially as we’d like. The real conflict happens when their doubt becomes contagious or rather, they highlight flaws in our overall plans. Be an efficient and powerful dream-to-reality converter by motivating the most important person who needs it – you.

steve jobs biography  Steve Jobs

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The Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson is a great read for geeks for the technical tale it weaves; but also highlights what an incredible motivator the stubborn innovator he was. His 2005 Stanford commencement speech is both touching and powerful. A 15 minute dose of confidence and conviction for your travel resolutions and other passions in life.

The Hardest Steps Are The Ones You Haven’t Taken Yet

Traveling means many things to many people and there is no one way to go. Whether you want to take one trip to a nearby city once a year or go on a one-year RTW, define your goals for you. Once you know where you want to be, it’s up to you to get there. You can get from your desk to all the places you want to travel. Your craziest dreams are only crazy until you believe in them. Your biggest obstacle is yourself. I believe in you. Believe in yourself. Now go make those crazy dreams come true.

Happy New Year,
-Anil

This is an updated version of a post originally written in 2012.

Use This Tip To Save Yourself Up To An Hour When Landing At Havana’s International Airport

Havana Cuba Jose Marti International Airport

The first thing almost all tourists will need upon arriving in Havana, Cuba’s Jose Marti International Airport, is cash. This is particularly true for Americans, whose ATM cards won’t work; nationals of other countries have no guarantees either. And everyone can pretty much forget about using credit cards in Cuba’s heavily cash-based society.

As a visitor, it’s practically a necessity to take all the cash you’ll need with you for the duration of your entire trip prior to departing for Cuba. Unless you’ve got a prepaid ride waiting to pick you up at the airport, you need to convert some cash (e.g. dollars, euros, etc.) into the tourist-local Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC). Since everyone else has the same idea long, long, lines form outside of the exchange office in the arrivals hall.

Understaffed hardly ever open on time, here’s how you can forgo up to an hour of waiting in arrivals at Jose Marti International Airport after you land.

Go Upstairs To Departures

Walking into the arrivals hall your first stop might not seem like the departures hall upstairs, but it should be.

The departures hall (which will be deserted) has several staffed currency exchange booths and not a single person using them. Walk up, exchange enough money to get yourself where you’re staying, plus some extra. The exchange rate at the airport is often the same, if not better than most of the hotels in town (the primary place to exchange money in Havana) so it’s not a bad idea to convert larger amounts.

cuba old car taxi

Once you’ve converted your money, you can go back down to arrivals. Just past the massive line full of tourists waiting to get CUC will be a taxi that can take you into town. Now you’ve got an extra hour to explore Cuba, which might not be what you think it is.

Small Tips Often Pay Big

Because Havana airport only has a relatively small number of flights, arrivals and departures don’t overlap significantly which is why one is usually empty when the other is not. Keep this in mind when departing Jose Marti International Airport, currency exchange in arrivals is likely to be much less busy.

Many travel tips are as simple as this but go a long way in saving you money, time, or enhancing an experience. For instance, you should do this before visiting the Tesla Museum in Belgrade, find this restaurant in Kosovo, and can save a lot on trains in Japan before ever leaving home.

7 Good Reasons You Should Visit (The Country) Georgia Soon Or Even Better, Now

georgia tbilisi clock

You might not know a lot about the country of Georgia, a lot of which is due to the fact that it’s hidden in a part of the world that doesn’t often make headlines. Georgia is a country that shouldn’t be a travel afterthought, especially in the near future, because pretty soon it’s going to be a destination you’ll be sharing with many more travelers.

Since 2010, tourism to Georgia has almost tripled, so if you’re looking for a place to visit that still feels a bit like you’re discovering it before everyone else, here are 6 reasons you should consider Georgia, probably within the next 2 years.

1. Georgia Has All The Things That Make A Travel Destination Great

In case you’re wondering what the catch is, well, for Georgia, there isn’t one. Georgia is a safe, stable country with walk-able cities full of history and inexpensive, unique foods. Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, is fairly easy to fly to as most major carriers like Lufthansa have direct flights.

tbilisi views

2. Winters Aren’t That Cold

Being in the Caucasus (even having been to Georgia in the winter) it’s hard to get out of the notion that Georgia isn’t a 70,000 square kilometer (~27,000 sq. mile) ice cube during the winter months. Similar to not-so-cold Iceland, Georgian winters are chilly but not unbearably freezing. Tbilisi for example in December is an average of 7 Celsius (45 Fahrenheit). Still too cold? Temperatures in summer average in the upper 20s C (~85F).

georgian church

3. Free Entry To Many Touristic Sites

Many of the popular places to visit like very solemn Metekhi Church, Tiflis Avenue Art Gallery, and Stalin’s bizarre birth home, are free of charge.

georgian church painting

4. Georgia Is Inexpensive

Although the prices in Georgia, particularly Tbilisi, are trending slightly upwards, you can still get a nice dinner out for around $9 USD. Private hostel rooms at Old Town Hostel are about $36 a night; given these medians if you really want to travel cheap or splurge, you’ve got plenty of room on both ends of the budget spectrum.

georgian street sale

5. Good, Varied, And Unique Cuisine

Georgian food is a mix of Turkish, Balkan, Russian, and Persian flavors not to mention they make damn good wine too.

georgia country food

6. Transportation Within Georgia Is Straightforward

For those of you who enjoy travel by train, you can get to Batumi (wine on the Black Sea coast on an overnight sleeper for $8 a person. There’s also a good bus system, inexpensive as well, for nearby cities you may want to explore plus Georgian Airways has local flights too.

tbilisi metro

7. Not Many Tourists…Yet

As I mentioned earlier, Georgia has seen an increase from about 2 million tourists in 2010 to roughly 6 million in 2015. Georgia was the 49th most visited country in 2014, just under Sweden in overall tourists. For all of the reasons on this list – and much more – Georgia is likely to become a more popular place to travel.

georgian tbilisi cafe

Still, in Georgia now you can feel a bit like you’re discovering things right before everyone else with a more personable experience often difficult to find in more tourist-crowded places. After a visit though you too will be asking why aren’t more people visiting Georgia, a question on its way to being dated soon. Still, there’s time to experience a little more of the best Georgia has too offer, but not long.

Why Missing A Flight Isn’t Such A Big Deal And What To Do If It Happens

havana airport

The one event most travelers try to avoid at all costs is missing their flight. Whether you you show up at the airport 3 hours early or cut it much closer, fear of missing a flight can induce panic, terminal sprints, and philosophical debates on rush hour traffic flows. Missing a flight can brandish you a careless traveling idiot undeserving to board another aircraft again but like most things in life, stuff happens.

Fortunately I’ve been unintentionally researching for this post for years. Here’s what happens when you miss a flight and what you can do about it.

Under The Right Circumstances

Many of us who’ve ever flown on a route with a connecting flight have missed a flight due to a late connection. In those cases you’re put on the next available flight by the airline, an inconvenience but without the complications of missing your first flight from the airport altogether. This post is about the latter case, when, for whatever reason, you’ve shown up at the airport too late to check-in. The first thing to do is breathe and stay calm, in most cases it’s not the costly end-of-the-world mistake you may be thinking.

deep breath

Misconceptions

For starters, you’re not the only one. 2% of all travelers who show up two hours before a flight don’t make it and around 70,000 American Airlines fliers have missed flights in the United States alone due to excessive security line wait times alone. Given the numbers of people missing flights, the airlines have incorporated some flexibility for customers to handle such circumstances.

Know When It’s A Lost Cause

Prior to getting to the security line, your major deadline is check-in. For most flights if you’re not at the airline counter 45 minutes before departure, checked bags or not, you’re probably not making that particular flight. You should do all you can to make it on time but know when it’s time to start thinking about alternative options. Trivially stressful events like soccer matches can increase your chances of a heart attack and a missed flight isn’t worth a hospital visit.

tokyo narita airport

Once you’ve accepted the inevitable, begin politically pivoting to get on another flight and pay as little as possible for it.

Anecdotally, several airlines have policies that allow passengers to re-book flights with no penalties if they’re no later than 2 hours of the scheduled flight.

Internet Ahead

For close calls (i.e. missed flights within 2 hours) go to the check-in desk and explain your story. (Or as Spock would say, exaggerate the truth.) When you arrive at the airport, be sure to tell the staff you’re running very late for a flight so they can push you to the front of the check-in line – you might get lucky if there are any flight delays.

In cases where you’ve really screwed up the times, say A.M. with P.M., be calm, collected, and use The Art Of War to get on the desk agent’s good side but first call ahead to the airline. At worst, you’re likely to pay a re-booking penalty of $100-200, and while it’s not the best news, it’s a lot better than having to pay for a completely new ticket.

You Don’t Know You Like Belgrade Yet, But You Do

belgrade serbia Skadarlija

Serbia’s capital city is like an intimidating uncle you barely know who’s rough around the edges but when he visits is so interesting, you want to endear yourself to. For most people around the world, still, Balkan cities conjure up greying men with stern faces and apartment buildings dotted by bullet holes. And still, there are plenty of beer bellied 40 year-olds proudly packing man purses and old Communist apartment blocks that needed new pain a century ago, but now they’re filled with vegan food and jiu-jitsu schools that have nearly as many female fighters as men.

Belgrade is, like most Balkan capitals, surprisingly modern, if not a little weird, with Internet that’s faster than most anything in the West, offering the quiet, night, or high life depending on your preference and budget.

Getting Around The Not-So-Obvious

I’m often asked whether or not people in the Balkans speak English, or if there are ATMs in the major cities. To sum up, everyone under 35 (and a good portion of those older) speak English so accent-less it’s nearly distracting. There are ATMs everywhere, but many prefer to pay with credit cards, and half the population walks around hunched over the addicting glow of a cell phone.

belgrade serbia streets roads

  • How To Arrive Internationally – Flying is by far the easiest method, as train routes from nearby countries are very limited. Renting a car from other Serbian cities is a possibility, but nearly all rental companies won’t let you cross national borders, at least in this region of the world.

There are parts of town you want to avoid and you should order your taxi from this number to avoid getting ripped off. In all, not perfect, but modern, and very familiar to most people who’ve seen Europe, America, or similar.

Meat To Vegan Spectrum

Traditional Serbian food is hearty meats, with lots of heavy sides like beans, creamy salads, and other dishes that make you feel happy when it’s frosty outside.

gradska restaurant belgrade serbia

One of the best places in Belgrade to try home-cooked, traditional Serbian food is Gradska.

A 20 minute walk from central Belgrade, it’s location is so inconspicuous that you’ll doubt you’re headed in the right direction, no matter what your GPS says. (Getting a local SIM card for phone and Internet access is easily done from one of the small corner shops around town.) The waiters are very friendly, recommending what’s been cooked up fresh that evening (take their suggestion, trust me).

radost restaurant belgrade serbia

  • Radost – On the other side of town is Radost, a restaurant which is a reflection of the growing Balkan obsession with sugar-free deserts, vegan dishes, and alternative health-foods.

The Balkan version of veganism isn’t a militant one or the type where people restrict themselves to a diet which constantly makes them cranky. In Belgrade for example, people go out for a vegan meal occasionally but most don’t necessarily adhere to the lifestyle. Probably due to this softer attitude, many younger Serbians are open to the idea of going out for a vegan meal, since vegan and health-conscious options are often integrated into the menus of mainstream restaurants. Meat lovers might not drop buttered pork for pumpkin soup or beet burgers permanently but a craving could crop up occasionally after a trip to Radost. The coffee is also great, with or without soy creamer.

Stroll Scene Is Strong

During my time in Ukraine, I met with a local expert on Ukrainian history, who mentioned once that eastern Europeans love to walk stroll, particularly on Sundays, looking into shops they have no intention of buying from. I have found this to be true from Romania to as far as Albania, Serbia being no exception.

belgrade national assembly

  • Skadarlija – Plenty of small cafes, pubs, and restaurants like Tri Sesira if you’re looking for Serbian favorites in large portions. You’ll find a local fruit market at the end of the street near the tramway rails. Good for produce shopping if you’re staying in an Airbnb with a kitchen. (Prices for accommodation of moderately priced hotels are about the same as local apartment rentals.)

tri sisera belgrade serbia

To work off the food, or work up another appetite, a hike up to the Kalemegdan (Belgrade Fortress) is worth the the views of the city and where the Danube and Sava rivers meet.

belgrade fortress

Many places around the world are a mix of “old and new” but Belgrade is a mix of really old, less old, new, and upcoming, under a microscope.

Surprising Less

Training at the Gracie Barra academy, where I was warmly welcomed during my time in Belgrade, the instructor asks if I’ve ever seen this many women in a jiu-jitsu class. He takes pride in the fact that his school has opened up a very male dominated sport to so many women and children as well. Walking out of the class after a training session I hear a band practicing heavy metal in one of the large rooms nearby, echoing off the halls. All of this takes place in the mostly abandoned BIGZ building, the former headquarters and printing press of National Printing Institution of Yugoslavia. From Communism to choke holds, Belgrade isn’t taking the conventional road to modernity.

gracie barra belgrade

Belgrade is making its own path, while retaining Serbian culture with a toughness cultivated over a history of harsh winters, wars, and general hard times. Frankly, Belgrade is cool. Like much of the Balkans, staring at you with a strong, straight face, you’ll have to earn your smiles. Once you figure out how though, you’ll leave feeling a part of the group.

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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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