All posts by Vago Damitio

Vago Damitio  (@vagodamitio) is the Editor-in-Chief for Vagobond. He jumped ship from a sinking dotcom in 2000 and decided to reclaim his most valuable commodity, time. He bought a VW bus for $100, moved into it and set out on a journey to show the world that it was possible to live life on your own terms. That journey took him from waking up under icy blankets in  the Pacific Northwest to waking up under palm tress in Southeast Asia. Three years later, his first book, Rough Living: Tips and Tales of a Vagabond was published. After diving into the Anthropology of Tourism and Electronic Anthropology at the University of Hawaii (with undeclared minors in film and surf) he hit the road again in 2008. Since that time,he's lived primarily in Morocco and Turkey, married a Moroccan girl he couchsurfed with, and become a proud father. He's been to more than 40 countries, founded a successful online travel magazine (this one!), and still doesn't have a boss. Life is good. You can also find him on Google+ and at Facebook
Palace of the Bulgarian President

Vagobond in Bulgaria – Part 1 – Sofia Tourist Sites

During the time I traveled in Sofia, I managed to see and do a huge number of things. I can’t fit it all in one, two, or even three posts. To sum up, let me just say that Sofia was a great place for me to visit. On the one hand that’s cool, but on the other, when the first act of a play is awesome, it makes the rest a bit harder to appreciate.

I mentioned before that one of the cool coincidence’s about my host in Sofia was that he had a website and magazine called Vagabond. In fact, that’s a bit of a lie. It turns out that he used to work and is still associated and friends with Vagabond Magazine. Tim, left Vagabond to start his own company, Intercontinental Recruiting, which finds Bulgariand and other Eastern Europeans jobs in Western countries.

Tim and I hit it off immediately.

Communist Stadium Bulgaria
Apparently the communists liked Tennis a lot.
First of all, he had me watch the video about Sofia, then we went for a long walk through communist parks, into a communist hotel, and past all the great sites we’d seen in the video. Along the way, we mostly ignored the sites and talked about what had brought us away from the USA, how we liked the countries we lived in, what we wanted from life, and how cool it was to actually see the old communist stuff. I’ll do separate posts about statues and parks and the various churches and places of worship in Sofia, Bulgaria later.

Here is some stuff that is already written over at WikiTravel. The pictures are from Tim and my walk.

Sofia is one of the oldest cities in Europe with ruins spread across the city center. It was founded because of the quality of its mineral waters. In the city alone there are 7 independent mineral water springs. Bulgaria hot springsOne of the springs is in the central area of the city and is accessible for everybody – cross the square behind the mosque, next to TSUM (the intersection of Iskar and Ekzarh Yosif streets).

In the administrative center of Sofia the streets are covered with a specific yellow pavement. It was laid in the beginning of the 20th century and were a present to the Bulgarian Tsar Ferdinand for his wedding from the Austria-Hungarian royal family.

* National Assembly of Bulgaria, 2 Narodno Sabranie Sq., ? +359 2 939 39 (infocenter@parliament.bg, fax: +359 2 981 31 31), . edit

Sofia University in Bulgaria* Sofia University, 15 Tsar Osvoboditel Blvd., ? +359 2 9308 (fax: +359 2 946 02 55), . edit

* Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, 1 15 November Str., ? +359 2 979 53 33 (fax: +359 2 981 72 62), . edit

 Ivan Vazov National Theatre in Bulgaria, Sofia * Ivan Vazov National Theatre, 5 Dyakon Ignatii Str., ? +359 2 811 92 19 (info@nationaltheatre.bg, fax: +359 2 987 70 66), . edit

* SS. Cyril and Methodius National Library, 88 Vasil Levski Str., ? + 359 2 988 28 11 (fax: + 359 2 843 54 95), . 08:30 to 20:30. edit

* National Palace of Culture, 1 Bulgaria Sq., ? +359 2 916 63 00 (fax: +359 2 865 70 53), . The biggest congress center in the Balkans (a massive monolithic communist-style building). If asking for directions, ask for NDK (en-de-ka), as most Bulgarians refer to it by this acronym. edit

* Central Military Club. It`s a multi-purpose monument of culture building in the city center

Back at his place we had a delicious Bulgarian meal of chicken and potatoes and drank a bit of bulgarian wine with Bulgarian friends. I got to learn about some Bulgarian traditions, Bulgarian monsters, and Bulgarian customs.

The next day I wandered

retire in Hawaii

Finding the Cheapest (and Best) Places to Retire

I’m only 42 and retirement might seem like it’s a long ways away, but let’s face it – I’m already retired and I’ll probably never have the luxury of stopping working. But that’s me -

The truth is, for most people retirement seems like it’s far away and then whammo – it’s on you and you don’t know how it came so fast. Unfortunately, the horrible truth for most people is that when the time comes, they find that they have to downsize and lighten the load because social security, 401ks, and retirement funds never seem to be as much as you expected and – let’s be honest here – life is getting more expensive all the time.

It might seem odd, that a travel blog would be delving into the best places to retire, but in truth – that’s sort of what started this blog in the first place.  I realized that I could either keep slaving away in the corporate world or I could find a place more affordable and conducive to the lifestyle I desired. It’s always been about finding the best place to retire for me.

No matter where you retire, it’s always a good Idea to make sure you will able to retire comfortably. Many of us (especially those in the their mid-20’s and 30’s neglect the idea that one day we will have to rely on the money we’re putting away now. That’s where companies like Suncorp Super and the like come in, who can help you consolidate and manage your retirement fund so when your do retire, you can travel the world.

My own search has led me to some incredible places and not surprisingly, I always find a few retirees wherever I go. Here is a short list of some of the best retirement places I’ve found.

retire in Hawaii

1) Hawaii. Hawaii is great if you have money or you don’t have responsibilities. The weather is perfect, the people are cool, the culture is laid back and healthy – on the downside – it costs a lot to live in Hawaii. I loved living there as a single guy with no responsibilities, but I just can’t make it there with a family to support.

Morocco Retirement

2) Morocco. I’ve complained about it, but Morocco has a lot going for it. The food and rent are cheap and pretty good, the people are interesting and kind. The country is amazingly varied with the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, the Sahara, the Atlas Mountains, and astoundingly exotic cities and towns. On the downside, the religious nature of Morocco can be kind of a bummer. Still, where else can you buy a palace for $50k?

Turkey Retirement

3) Turkey. Beautiful country with fabulous beaches and mind blowing history. Great food, incredibly kind people, exotic culture, and open minded and progressive enough to satisfy anyone. On the downside – war in Syria next door and an increasingly religious oriented government that is curbing in freedom of thought and making things harder for the expat retirees who live there.

Retire on Oregon Coast

4). Reedsport, Oregon. I think my wife and I might be the only people in this town under the age of 65. Cheap, close to the coast, great beaches, abundant hiking and wild life, safe, and so far, the weather is fantastic. On the downside – we are the only people under 65 it seems and in terms of food and culture – there really isn’t any outside of our house.  Still, where else in America can you get a 3 bedroom house with a big yard, a garage and have access to a dozen lakes, beaches, three rivers, and more within ten minutes for less than $1000 – or if you have an RV for less than $300 per month?

What about you? What’s your favorite retirement city? Where do you want to retire to? What hidden gems do you love?

 

bed-bug-bite-picture

How to Not Have Bedbugs Eat You Alive

Ughhhh! Bedbugs! When I used to manage the hostels in Hawaii, we had a few run ins with bedbugs. Travelers coming down in the morning with bites covering their entire bodies. In some cases we would throw out all the mattresses on an entire floor, fumigate, and then re-open the rooms to travelers.

In fact though, not all hostels take bed bugs so seriously or even know how to deal with them. I realize, that because of my quick jaunt to Morocco to see my wife, things are out of sequence here, but this is important enough to let you know about a quick trip I took to Rome. I figured that Rome in winter would be an easy place to find accommodations, but I was wrong. Rome is always filled with people. My first choice in hostel was booked full. (and apparently so were all the couchsurfing hosts since even Roman friends of mine were packed with guests and couldn’t host me), so the first rule is to book ahead in Rome. I hate to do it too, but I think it’s essential.

bedbugs in Rome
The first hostel sent me to their sister property where I hadn’t read the reviews on Hostelworld. The Hotel Beautiful seemed like a great place, except in the night when I started to itch. I had looked at the mattress before checking in, but the mattress was black and I thought to myself, huh, maybe that keeps the bedbugs away. Wrong! I woke up feeling itchy but not seeing the bites yet. Luckily, I had put my bags on hard surfaces away from the beds, so none of the critters could hitchhike. A hot shower and a change of clothes and I was out of there.

Later, after finding other hostels full, I accepted the offer of the Hotel Beautiful 2 and thought, I’ll rent a private room and relax a bit. Within minutes of lying in the bed, I found, guess what, a bedbug biting my hand. They work fast, I wasn’t there twenty minutes and my right hand was covered with bites. This time, I hadn’t checked the mattress and I’m itching myself for it. both hands and my neck were covered with more than sixty bites. Again, my bag and clothes were on a hard surface away from the bed, this time I think it was the pillow that housed the buggers judging by the bites on hand and neck and face.

I grabbed my things and went to the desk to complain. “But it was just fumigated last week!” she told me. Later, on trip advisor, I saw more than a few complaints about bed bugs for this dump. I asked them to find me a different accommodation but the best they would do was give me a refund and send me out in the street. If you have aninfestation of bedbugs, for christ sake throw out the pillows!

Finally, after wandering the streets of Rome in the dark and finding nearly everything booked because of a coming festival and a rugby match, I checked into the Hotel Charter, a two star place that deserved three for their magnificently redone bathrooms, incredibly comfortable beds, and great staff. The price was out of my budget but they dropped it to 45 euros per night which i was glad to pay. A scalding shower, my clothes into a plastic bag, and myself in the clean, new sheets on a great mattress with no bug signs.

I would have preferred paying 90 Euros for two nights there than the 20 and 35 I paid at the bed bug hostels. The moral of the story is twofold. In Rome, book ahead and read the reviews on HostelWorld and on Trip Advisor.

The nightmare of every traveler is to become afflicted by bedbugs. In recent years even some of the top hotels in the world have suffered infestations of these nasty little creatures. Many people think you only find them in dirty or cheap hotels, but the truth is, they can be found anywhere. However, you find them in the cheap places more often than the quality ones. Don’t worry though, learn from my bad experience and miss out on this awful travel nightmare.

With a few easy precautions you can make sure to keep them out of your life. First of all read the independent reviews of hotels you plan to stay at using third party sites like Trip Advisor. If there are bedbugs there, someone will have mentioned it. While it is possible to get rid of infestations, it’s difficult, so your best bet is to avoid places where bed bugs are mentioned.

Once you check into the hotel, you want to also check the room and the beds for signs of the pests. Pull the bedding off the mattress and look for the black eggs or reddish marks left by bedbugs. The eggs are usually in the seams and look like black sand or coffee grounds. Don’t put your luggage on the bed or couch. Use the luggage rack or hard furniture instead. Pull the headboard from the wall and look for the exoskeletons which have been molted. Don’t forget to check the box spring seams too!
bed bugs suck
If there are bedbugs, the chances are that you will see some sign of them (but if the mattress is black, beware!) . One last thing, when you get back home, be sure to unpack on a hard, light colored surface (even the bathtub!) just in case you managed to pick up a hitch-hiker. You wouldn’t want him to get in your bed!

If I had followed my own advice, I wouldn’t be so itchy right now. Sometimes a little planning makes a big difference. Plan ahead using the Vagobond Hostel Planner. or better yet, find a luxury hotel in Rome