Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Another Welcome!

If you're reading this, you're a regular reader or landed here from Stingy Student, The Tao of Making Money, or Gadling (if you're from Gadling, your welcome is below). However your arrival, my name is Terah and I would like to welcome you to Traveler's Pen. I invite you to read the archives, subscribe to the free travel newsletter, or ask a travel-related question.

Thank you for visiting and please check back often!

* Have a travel question? Please send an email to or leave a comment.

Terah Shelton
Traveler. Writer. Ingenue

Travel Question: Where to Next?

While preparing for my next trip, I wondered, where is everyone else going? With the warm weather just around the corner, what destinations are on your radar for the summer? I'm always curious about the traveling habits of other travelers, hence The Traveler Next Door.

I would love to hear about your plans, finalized or tentative. And to start, my next international trip is in March to Slovenia and Croatia for an assignment. Anyone else?

Terah Shelton
Traveler. Writer. Ingenue

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Welcome Gadling Readers!

Welcome to Traveler's Pen! Thank you for checking out my blog. I hope you will find the information to your advantage.

So, what is the Traveler's Pen? It's a travelers resource addressing and answering travel-related questions. No matter how mundane or difficult. I'm a freelance travel writer based in Atlanta. I also teach "How to Travel the World on Your Budget" at Emory University and online. By teaching the class, I was surprised to learn the basic information I assumed everyone knew, most did not. More than that, daily, I receive travel or travel-related questions from readers or former students. So, I decided to keep this blog and invite readers to post questions about travel.
Please bookmark the site and check it regularly. Also, sign up for the free monthly travel newsletter, The Traveler's Notebook.

If you have a travel question, need more information about my online travel class, or would like to be interviewed for the Traveler Next Door, please send an email to or leave a comment.

Keep traveling!
Terah Shelton
Traveler. Writer. Ingenue

Hostel Environment

Question: I'm interested in backpacking through Europe, but I have very little money for accommodations. Hostels seem like the best and inexpensive choice for me, but I think I'm too old. Do you recommend hostels? And are they safe?

Answer: This is an interesting question, because when I started teaching my class, most of the people who asked me about hostels were students. Over time, older adults begin inquiring. Hostels aren't for students anymore. The 26 year old rule still exists, but has disappeared in most countries and it doesn't matter how old you are anymore. I know of quite a few retired couples who frequent hostels in the United States and abroad.

Hostels --- next to camping or couchsurfing --- is an inexpensive option to lodging. The average hostel in Europe costs about $10-$30 a night, compared to $60-$120 per night for a hotel room. Staying at hostels can expand your trip by weeks and save you bundles of money.

Of course there's a catch to sleeping at one. For those of you who don't know, the average hostel room consists of bunk beds and not much else. I've seen rooms with up to 12 bunk beds. Essentially, you're sleeping in a room with a number of other people. Single rooms are available in hostels, but they tend to be as expensive as a small hotel room.

In order to save you money, hostels don't offer many frills. They offer a community toilet and shower. Some rooms offer lockers for your luggage. Others have a business center for checking email, but, for the most part, they're simple. And in order to save you money, they have to be.

On the safety issue, I suggest you take the same precautions in hostels as you would anywhere else. Keep your personal and valuable belongings on you or locked in a locker. Keep a weary eye.

I hope I'm not deterring you from hostels. In spite of what it sounds, they can be fun. Most of the travelers you'll meet are very nice. In fact, if you're traveling alone, you may find a partner to hit the town with.

Here are a few more tips to consider when staying at a hostel:

  • Buy a lock for your bag in case the hostel doesn't provide lockers
  • Be prepared to sleep in a room with members of the opposite sex
  • Honor the hostel curfew
  • Respect your roommates by being quiet, if they're sleeping
Hope this helps!

* Have a question? Please send an email to or leave a comment.

Terah Shelton
Traveler. Writer. Ingenue

Monday, January 29, 2007

Travel World: Guidebooks

As many of you know, I teach "How to Travel the World on Your Budget" and one of the first questions my students ask me is about guidebooks. Why are they important?

Guidebooks act as a silent travel advisor. They provide recommendations on hotels, restaurants, and attractions in one place. These detailed profiles provide you with prices, addresses, websites, menus, and more. This allows you to prepare your daily itinerary and budget.

Some guidebooks document the history of your destination, allowing the traveler to understand current cultural and social environments. For example, by reading a Laos guidebook, I learned local women covered their shoulders. Because of this, I adjusted my wardrobe before my trip to become socially conscience of their rules.

Travelers differ in their perspective on travel and so do the guidebooks, so before you start to plan a trip, identify your travel personality. Interested in budget travel? Try the Lonely Planet and Rick Steves guidebooks (see below). Traveling with the family? Check out Frommer's that often cater to travelers with children.

Here are a few tips to choosing the right guidebook:

  • Find a guidebook that is a good match for what you like to do and how you want to focus on during your travels

  • To help you decide, head to your local bookstore or library and do a little hands-on research

  • Examine and study every guidebook available for your destination

  • Does the guidebook provide concise and informative maps and descriptions of attractions?

  • Visit the guidebook publisher’s website

  • Read reviews of guidebooks offered by shoppers on Amazon

Hope this helps!

Terah Shelton
Traveler. Writer. Ingenue

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Traveler's Notebook

For the past week, Traveler's Pen has undergone a few changes. I would like to reassure everyone, I'm committed to establishing Traveler's Pen as a valuable resource for travelers, which is the primary reason for the reinvention. Readership has increased since its inception and I anticipate further growth over time. I'm confident these new changes will aid you in your travels. Thank you for your support and patience during the redevelopment period.

That said, I would like to introduce one of the new additions here at Traveler's Pen, a monthly travel newsletter called, The Traveler's Notebook! It will consist of:

  • Feature service and travel-related articles
  • Round-up of Traveler's Pen's questions and posts
  • On a Budget.....
  • A travel quiz
  • Featured travel magazine/website of the month
  • And much more

If you're interested in subscribing to The Traveler's Notebook, type your email address in the box to the left.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Technical Difficulties

Hey Everybody!

I wanted to let you know I've had difficulties with my internet access this week. Posts will resume on Monday. Thanks for understanding.

* Have a question? Please send an email to or leave a comment.

Terah Shelton
Traveler. Writer. Ingenue

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Unknown Airlines

Question: I'm going to London at the end of May for a few days and I want to get my ticket this weekend. The airfare is less than $600 roundtrip if I book with Expedia. But, would you fly Air India?

Answer: Yes! This is a good question. Because only 30% of American hold passports, thus not traveling internationally, means some of these airlines, such as Air India, they've never heard of. But, just because you haven't heard of an airline doesn't mean it's not a respectable one.

Before you purchase this ticket, I suggest you research Air India. Go to their website and see what separates them (if anything) from say British Airways or Virgin Atlantic. Do they offer more legroom? Free drinks? What's the in-flight entertainment situation? Overhead screen or individual monitors? What's the weight capacity for luggage? Higher or lower than others?

You may also want to research the meals options. Since Air India is based in India, their meals may reflect their ethnic palate. If so, ask yourself: do you like Indian food? If not, I suggest you pack a snack, especially if you're flying on a long international flight. Last year on a China Airlines flight to Thailand, I packed a lunch after I researched their meals.

Honestly, my rule for choosing which airline to fly is simple: whatever is the cheapest. Seriously, I do not restrict airlines. As long as I arrive at my destination safely, I don't pay it much thought. If Air India is offering the lowest rate, buy it before the rate expires.

Hope this helps!

* Have a travel question? Please send an email to or leave a comment.

Terah Shelton
Traveler. Writer. Ingenue.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Another Change

Due to an overwhelming response and after much consideration, I've decided to keep Traveler's Pen as a travelers resource answering and addressing travel-related questions. I apologize for any inconvenience. My goal is to make this blog unique and I feel the original format will accomplish that.

I will be making changes. In addition to the Traveler Next Door and the travel questions, I'm still working out the clinks, but look for a destination feature and something else to be determined later.

Here's the new weekly schedule:

Monday --- TBA
Tuesday --- Travel Question
Wednesday --- Destination of the Week
Thursday --- Travel Question
Friday --- The Traveler Next Door

I know this may be confusing, but I promise I will work all this out soon. Hang in there!! Until then, look for another travel question tomorrow.

* Have a travel question? Interested in being interviewed for The Traveler Next Door? Please send an email to

Terah Shelton
Traveler. Writer. Ingenue.

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Traveler Next Door: Nyeshia Early

This week's Traveler Next Door is Nyeshia Early, a financial associate at Citigroup. Ny is a fiesty, yet, lovable New Yorker, but don't let her place of residence or aggressive nature fool you. Oozing with confidence and independence, Nyeshia's classic personality, coupled with her sense of humor and make her a great person to know.

What do you look for when traveling? A clean toilet and someone who speaks English.

When was your last trip? My last trip was in October 2006. I went to Paris, France for the first time. That was also my first trip to Europe. Paris is so quaint. I don't know how else to describe it. It's nothing like New York.

Why do you travel? I travel because there is so much to see and experience in the world outside of New York. I love where I live and New York City has a lot of style and flavor and there are so many people who live here, who where born and raised in different parts of the world. But that doesn't compare to going outside of the city and experiencing different cultures first hand. I'm quite the novice when it comes to globetrotting but I'm slowly earning my stripes.

How do you prepare for a trip? The internet is my friend. I also like to check out the Lonely Planet guidebooks.

If you could travel without restrictions, where would you go? Not sure I understand the question. What do you mean like restrictions on toiletries? Maybe if they didn't restrict the size of like toothpaste and shampoo and lotion and deodorant, I'd go to India or Africa. But I need my toiletries if I'm going to places like that, u dig?

Where to next? London, England so I can tryout my accent and see if I can fool 'em.

What's the one thing you regret about traveling? Not having enough time to do and see everything. I'd really like to have the time to take a super holiday where I'm gone for months at a time so that I am able to take the time to fully experience another culture and way of life. Coming home and being happy that I was away but still leaving where I was a bit unfulfilled.

* Interested in being interview for The Traveler Next Door? Send an email to or leave a comment.

Terah Shelton
Traveler. Writer. Ingenue

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The New Traveler's Pen

Welcome to the New Traveler's Pen!

As you read yesterday, I've decided to reinvent Traveler's Pen, again. Well, it's actually not a reinvention. I'm going back to the original format AND merging the current format. After a great month (thanks for your participation), I realize there's a drought of resources for beginning freelance writers. But, I also want to help novice travelers. So, I'm combining the two.
This time, Traveler's Pen will have a weekly format:

Mondays: My Beginning (an interview with writers about the start of their career)
Tuesdays: Travel Question
Wednesdays: Markets (submission friendly markets)
Thursdays: TBA
Fridays: The Traveler Next Door (interview with travelers discussing their travel habits)

Traveler's Pen will cater to all genres, not just travel writers. I'll explain more next week with My Beginning. I'm still working everything out, but, look for a new Traveler Next Door, Nyeshia Early, on Friday.

* Have a travel question? Interested in being interviewed for The Traveler Next Door or My Beginning? Please send an email to

Terah Shelton
Traveler. Writer. Ingenue.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Another Reinvention

Happy Tuesday Traveler's Pen Readers!

Yes, you read the title correct. Traveler's Pen will undergo another reinvention. But, don't worry it will not take six months this time. Actually, it'll only take a day. But, to give you clue, the new section, The Traveler Next Door will be a part of the new direction. In fact, the new Traveler's Pen will once again cater to beginning travel writers with interviews with travelers and writers, new markets, and more. Look for an explanation tomorrow.

Terah Shelton
Traveler. Writer. Ingenue

Monday, January 15, 2007

Today's Post

There will not be a question today in observance of Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday.

* Have a question? Please send an email to or leave a comment.

Terah Shelton
Traveler. Writer. Ingenue

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Traveler Next Door

This week's Traveler Next Door is Leir Williford, author of Voice of the Eyes. Leir has worked as an RN, offering physical and mental support for her patients. Now, she entertains and inspires her readers with her tales of wisdom.

What do you look for when you travel? Traveling to me is a sense of adventure — meeting new people and seeing how other cultures live. Most of all absorbing the beautiful of each place has to offer.

When was your last trip? My last trip was to New York. I lived there for three years. I took my granddaughter Alexis there so she could experience the Big Apple. New York is the place everyone needs to visit at least once in their life. My previous vacation to Europe was more memorable. Three weeks of sojourning in London, Paris, Bern, and Rome. Mere words can not express my positive encounter of tasting different cuisines, observing various kinds of education and social growth and viewing captivating scenic lands.

Why do you travel? I travel to flee from my routine of life. To rest and rejuvenate my energy to better deal with the everyday stresses of life.

How do you prepare for a trip, books, magazines, etc.? To be honest my daughter is a travel writer. I rely a lot on her expertise.

If you could travel without restrictions, where would you go? Israel has captured my heart for years. Some day I would love to journey to the land where biblical events occurred.

Where to next? Bern, Switzerland. During my three week tour of Europe, I only got a chance to spend three days in Switzerland. Bern won my heart. I could have spent three weeks there. I love the crystal green waters and the mountainous landscape. Two days was not enough for me.

To learn more about Leir, read a sample chapter, or buy Voice of the Eyes, visit her website,

* Interested in being interviewed for The Traveler Next Door? Please send an email to

Terah Shelton
Traveler. Writer. Ingenue.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

2007 Top Destinations

Question: I'm in the process of planning our summer vacation. What are some of the top travel destinations for 2007?

Answer: Interesting question, because today, while deleting old emails in my inbox, I discovered an article on the 2007 travel trends. My opinion of these types of articles is two-fold. Being a off-the-beaten path traveler, I venture against the grain and what these articles tend to do is lead travelers to the destinations mentioned . On the other hand, they also highlight changes or new developments in cities or countries. Either way, I suggest using these destinations as an idea.

According to Frommer's, the stand-out destinations features cities from six of the seven continents. Here are a few highlights (along with my personal comments):

  • Zurich, Switzerland --- I'm a bit bias on this one. I believe every city in Switzerland is a must-see. But, Switzerland's largest city enchants with churches, fountains, and great food.
  • Asheville, North Carolina --- Everyone knows North Carolina's top attraction is the Outer Banks. So I was thrilled to see Asheville make the list. Mountain scenery, quirky art galleries, and hiking.
  • Tokyo, Japan --- Be warned. Tokyo is not for the budget conscious. It's noted for being one of the most expensive cities in the world. But, don't let this stop you from enjoying temples, museums, and an active nightlife that rivals New York City.

Hope this helps!

* Have a question? Please send an email to or leave a comment.

Terah Shelton
Traveler. Writer. Ingenue.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Valuable Vouchers

Question: Great blog! On my way home from the holidays, I learned my flight was overbooked and the airline was taking volunteers to give up their seats for a $400 voucher. I declined because I'd never heard of this. Is this legit?

Answer: Yes! This is a legitmate proposition. In fact, I often wish my flights are overbooked to benefit from the airline's deliberate situation. I say deliberate because the airlines actually overbook popular flights with the hopes someone will not show up or arrive late. Why? To capitalize as much as possible. But, when all passengers arrive, they have to make concessions. This a huge perk for you.

Interested in qualifying for the voucher? Here are a few tips:

  • Don't check your bags. For various security reasons, you cannot fly without your luggage. If you check your bags, you don't qualify. Customer service representatives often tell you if you go back to the check-in counter you MAY be able to retrieve your bags. This is not true. When you check your bags, your bag is shipped away almost immediately. Don't waste your time. It's not worth it. If you believe you're on a overbooked flight, carry on.
  • Get to the gate early. As previously mentioned, the airlines purposefully overbook flights (holiday flights to popular cities, for example) and if there isn't enough seats, they make the annoucement early. The practice of receiving vouchers is very popular and there are always people waiting to volunteer. The earlier you arrive at the gate, the better your chances.

And there are other perks. I once relinguished my seats on a late flight to Dallas which was the last flight of the day. I received a $400 voucher, a free night at an airport Hyatt, two meal vouchers for breaksfast and dinner, PLUS a first-class seat on the first flight out the next morning.

But, before you give away your seats, ask the customer service representative and yourself these questions:

  • How will this affect my own travel plans?
  • May I use this voucher for domestic and international flights?
  • Does this voucher include penalties?
  • Can I redeem it online or over the phone or do I have to travel to the airport?
  • What's the earliest flight I can get on?

Hope this helps!

* Have a question? Please send an email to or leave a comment.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Traveler Next Door

Did you know the travel and tourism is a $1.3 trillion industry in the United States? That approximately 2.6 million hotels rooms are sold everyday in the United States? That said, I often wonder, who are these people, where are they going, more important, why?

As a freelance travel writer, I meet a interesting mix of people on the road, traveling for various reasons: adventure, independence, business, freedom, among many others. And in honor of the grand tradition of traveling, I would like to introduce a new section to Traveler's Pen called The Traveler Next Door.

The Traveler Next Door is a bi-weekly interview with average travelers, talking about their travel habits, favorite destinations, and answering the question: where to next? Look for the first interview this Friday.

If you're interested in being interviewed for The Traveler Next Door, please send an email to or leave a comment.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Finding Unknown Destinations

Question: Where do you find off-the-beaten path outdoor destinations? I read that you recently returned from Montserrat. Where is it located and how did you hear about it?

Note: After I wrote this post, I learned the Soufriere Hills Volcano shot an ash cloud 5 miles in the air. According to the Associated Press article, recent volcanic activity began on December 24, which was my first day there. Who says traveling off-the-beaten path isn't fun?

Answer: Great question to ask. Coincidentally, I've adapted the tired and cliqued "the road less traveled" as my travel mantra. I love finding destinations void of swank hotels and fanny-pack toting tourists. There's something mystical about arriving in a country or city that's not dependent on tourism. Where the locals live comfortably without selling their inflated-price wares on street corners and your itinerary isn't filled with popular tourist attractions.

Don't misunderstand. I love picnicking at the base of the Eiffel Tower and viewing the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, but I believe there's more to a travel experience than one you share with other people. Some may argue, but I believe there's a difference between a tourist and a traveler. A tourist follows the crowd, visiting every historic attraction and recommended restaurant in their worn guidebooks. A traveler seeks raw, uncooked places, untouched by redundancy. A place where the real attraction is often hidden and buried. Montserrat is one of those places.

Twelve years ago, Montserrat was the Caribbean's little secret. The small island, located 27 miles from Antigua, once hosted celebrities Stevie Wonder, Sting, and Elton John, who frequented the island to record at the famous Air Recording Studio. Then, after 400 years of dormancy, the Soufriere Hills Volcano erupted, crushed the island's tourism industry, and sent 7,000 of the island’s 10,000 residents retreating north or abandoning the island altogether. Today, Montserrat is slowly recovering and I went to see how a destination can recover from devastation.

I first heard of Montserrat while researching a trip to Puerto Rico. I was looking for short day-trips from Puerto Rico to other Caribbean islands and came across a short blurb about it. After more research, I realize it would make a great story. So, I went.
A whopping seventy percent of Montserrat consists of mountains that yield arresting and dramatic views. Peaks enshrouded in the rain forest reach as high as 30 meters. It’s haven for off-the-grid connoisseurs who can:

* Hike the Trail to "the Cot", with views of the coast and abandoned villages in the Exclusion Zone (the southern portion of the island inhabited and illegal to enter due to volcanic activity), snaked with lush vegetation and a banana plantation

* Climb Garibaldi Hill, with 800-plus feet of elevation, for a clear view of the Soufriere Hills Volcano and the "modern-day Pompeii", Plymouth, Montserrat's former capital, now buried in volcanic dust and ash

*Tour the “eruption” and volcano monitoring with scientists from the Montserrat Volcano Observatory, the organization responsible for monitoring volcanic activity

* “Lime” the night away at one of the island’s restaurants and rum shops, where locals indulge in Montserrat delicacies of Mountain Chicken and Goat Water

Finding off-the-beaten path destinations is not difficult. In fact, they're everywhere. Take Paris for instance. Paris doesn't qualify as off-the-grid, but what else could you see or do while in Paris that no one else thinks of? Jim Morrison and a few other celebrities are buried a Paris. You could take a day-trip and explore Paris' cemeteries. A few years ago, I spent an entire day at a cemetery in St. Louis searching for William Clark's grave. Morbid? No. Different. Yes.


Terah Shelton

Traveler. Writer. Ingenue.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Currency Changes

Question: I have done limited travel outside of the United States. Should I immediately change my money into whatever currency that country uses?

Answer: I'm approached with this question all the time. Should I wait to change my money or should I arrive with a little local currency? Well, that depends on who you ask. I know travelers who travel with local money to have just in case of emergency. For example, in London, I like to have a few pounds for the tube so I can bypass the long lines at the ATMs. Then again, there are others who don't mind either way. Whatever you choose depends on you.

Also, keep in mind the country where you are traveling to. Most airports have either ATMs (which will give you the exchange rate) or currency exchanges. But, if you're traveling to a remote location, neither may be available. When you're researching your destination, check to see money exchange opportunities at the airport. If not, your local bank should have whatever currency you need.

Hope this helps!

* Have a question? Please send an email to or leave a comment.