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

Modern Wonders of Singapore

My grandmother used to tell us about how wonderful Singapore was. She would rest and relax there for months on end while my geologist grandfather opened oil wells in Sumatra. My grandparents in Singapore about 1965We never did figure out why they weren’t rich, but maybe it was their mutual love for Singapore hotels and casinos. In any event, one thing is certain, my grandmother loved Singapore. If anyone knows where the bridge above is located in Singapore or the history of it, I would love to know. The people on it in the picture are my grandparents. The year was 1974.

That’s partly why I chose to visit the Lion City in mid March. The other reason was simply that I happened to be nearby. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the budget to stay in the many fancy boutique hotels the city offers to the jetset, nor did I have the inclination to indulge in the many touristic opportunities the city offers. What I did have was a desire to wander around this magnificent city-state and get a sense for what it has to to offer. My conclusion in brief: my grandmother was right, Singapore is a wonderland.

Singapore Resources
Singapore Eyewitness Guide
Singapore Travel Insurance
Singapore Hostels
Singapore History

Each day it seems, Singapore offers something new and innovative to those who are looking to have a unique, adventurous, or just relaxing holiday. As a city it is ultra-modern, easy to get around, exotic, and (here’s a big bonus) nearly everyone speaks English. Singapore is safe for families and solo travelers and it offers plenty to do whether you want to take thrill rides, soak in history or culture, or get pampered and spoiled in the many spas and boutiques.

From Sentosa Island to the Skyline Luge there is something for everyone in Singapore and the weather is almost always perfect for a holiday. For those looking for thrills, the Skyline Luge offers some serious adrenaline. Essentially, it’s taking a bobsled down a concrete track through the jungle. It’s up to you how fast you go down the 650 meter track. On the way down you can watch for monkeys or just check out the views of Sentosa Island and the newly revamped Harbour Walk.

Singapore SkyparkIn my grandmother’s time it was the gardens and the sea that drew the most attention, but these days the architecture of Singapore is equally as exotic. The incredible Marina Bay Sands is composed of three 55 story towers with a huge banana spaceship perched on the top. Since 2009, this modern wonder has been captivating visitors. Especially when they go to the amazing Skypark which fills the banana.

Singapore SkyparkWith the theatre, the casinos, the innovative Art Science Museum, and the many flowers in the city, you will be forgiven if you didn’t happen to look up and see the Skypark, but just in case you did, here is the lowdown. Completed in 2009, the Skypark holds a 146 meter long pool that sits just about 190 meters in the air. Nearly 400,000 gallons of water surrounded by restaurants, botanical gardens, and nightclubs.

The whole complex sits on movable joints connected to the three hotel towers so that if the ground shakes or the wind shifts the buildings, the Skypark will adjust and flex. If you take a swim in the infinity pool, you will no doubt note that the water seems to be falling off the edge of the park…Getting in isn’t cheap (not much in Singapore is) but $20 Singapore dollars is a small price to pay to experience this modern wonder of the world.

Singapore MerlionOf course you are going to head to Sentosa Island while you are in Singapore for the restaurants and more. Sentosa is also called Pulau Belaking Mati, or Death Island. Ohhh…scary. But in fact, Sentosa (the name since the 1970’s) is anything but scary except to your wallet. To get there you take a ten minute cable car ride. After that you can play in the water at the Wave House, visit Universal Studios, or take a walk through some carefully managed rainforest. Of course, if you prefer to zip through the jungle, there is a fun looking adventure park too.

While some people turn up their nose at it, the Singapore Flyer is a must see and must ride for many travelers. The Singapore Flyer is the world’s largest observation wheel and while it may not look like it is moving from a distance, that is because the thing is just really really big (and it moves pretty slow).

world's largest observation towerThe ride takes 30 minutes and passengers sit inside one of twenty eight air con capsules. Each capsule holds twenty people so that means that the Singapore Flyer holds a whopping 784 people. Wow. It was built by Japanese architect Dr. Kisho Kurokawa. It took more than two year to complete and stands 165 meters high. On the ground it takes up more space than not one but two football stadiums. From the top when the weather permits it is easy to see both Indonesia and Malaysia.

New Year’s Eve in the Florida Keys

For many people, New Year’s Eve is one of the most exhilarating events of the year, providing the ideal time to forget about the past and celebrate what’s about to come. Throughout the world, many spectacular events take place on December 31st as the clock edges towards midnight and the anticipation builds. Florida Keys is no different, and if you’re lucky enough to be holidaying in this beautiful area of the United States during Christmas and New Year’s, then you have to make sure you participate in the quirky parties and celebrations the city offers.

Florida Keys New Year

If you’re visiting the sunny state during the festive season, it’s a good idea to get a car so you can easily get around. Especially on the Keys, attractions and events can be spread out, and if you want to head down to Key West, then having the flexibility to jump in a car and drive can be a huge advantage.

There are many places in Florida Keys that celebrate the New Year with style, including the Schooner Wharf Bar, Sloppy Joe’s Bar and Ernest Hemingway’s old hang out. You should remember that many party venues will be selling tickets for the big event and post-midnight celebrations, so it’s important to book ahead so you’re not disappointed. On Duval Street, Sloppy Joe’s is particularly famed for its annual Dropping of the Conch Shell. Whilst New York has a ball drop, and Atlanta has a peach drop, Florida Keys celebrates in a particularly quirky style, with a shell dropped at midnight to celebrate the local surroundings. Crowds start to gather around 10pm and you’ll notice that many people are appropriately dressed in flip flops and bathing suits. As the clock strikes midnight, the Conch Shell drops from the roof of Sloppy Joe’s Bar, much to the excitement of everyone in attendance.

Also on Duval Street, is the world famous Shoe Drop. Located at Bourbon St. Pub, a drag queen Sushi sits atop of a giant high heeled shoe. As the clock nears midnight, crowds gather in anticipation of the drop, and as the New Year is ushered in, the giant red shoe, complete with drag queen, is lowered in celebration. Alternatively, if the crowds are too much as Sloppy Joe’s Bar and Bourbon St. Pub, there’s also the Schooner Wharf Bar, which lowers a Pirate Wench as January 1st arrives.

Florida Keys is a fantastic place to celebrate New Year’s Eve. Long before the evening’s festivities start, you can enjoy the tropical landscape and culture by indulging in some afternoon parasailing, kayaking and snorkelling to get you in the mood. The city is famed for its beaches, and spending December 31st lazing on a sandy shore is an ideal way to say goodbye to the year. Watching the sun go down is also a stunning sight, particularly if you indulge in a glamorous sunset cruise. Then, after you’ve seen the sun disappear on the horizon, you can prepare for the celebrations of the coming night.

The various quirky drops around Key West, including the Wench Drop, Conch Drop and Red High Heel Shoe drop are all free to attend. Whilst this ensures a vibrant atmosphere, it also means that a lot of people fill the streets. If you want a good spot, it’s important to get there early so you’re not disappointed. Florida Keys is certainly an exciting place to spend an unusual New Year’s Eve, and if you’re holidaying in the state’s southernmost city, then celebrating with residents and visitors alike, is a must.

To Tip or Not to Tip – That is the Question!

To tip, or not to tip?

to tip or not to tipMoney is a sensitive subject, taboo even in some places, because let’s face it, it’s quite uncomfortable, isn’t it? However, when it comes to saving money, we have to do it if it’s at all possible, especially in this day and age. Another subject regarding money which is a little uncomfortable, is tipping.

Do you tip? If you feel the level of service is substandard, do you feel pressurised into tipping regardless? It’s a difficult subject.

Not many of us have money to spare these days, so saving money is key. A good way to do this is to pre-book money saving airport extras before you leave, which will mean you don’t have to watch the pennies quite so much whilst you’re away. I recently booked airport parking with BCP, and I saved quite a bit compared with how much the train was going to cost me. I’d really recommend looking into this option, because not only was it a much less stressful journey, but the saved money really did help. Once you’ve paid for your meal or drinks, it’s difficult to know how much to tip, and if you don’t have money to burn, you might be tempted not to, but you do have to remember that these people are trying to make a living! Any savings you can make pre-holiday will make it easier for you to be able to follow etiquette without feeling rude.

How much to tip and how to do it really depends on where you’re going, and the variations are wide and too much to discuss here. Basically, you need to research what is the ‘done thing’ before you go, specific to your destination. If you’re heading to the USA, remember it’s customary to tip around 15-20% of the bill in a restaurant, and although it’s not the law that you have to tip, it’s almost seen as an “ethical law”. Basically you don’t have to, but you might feel a little uncomfortable and cringey if you don’t.

When I go away to European holiday resorts, maybe after a few beachfront bar drinks, I always leave a few Euros, lira, whatever the currency is, on top of the bill, because let’s face it, if you go back to that particular restaurant, you want good service again. People don’t forget!

As we’ve discussed, money is one of those strange subjects we don’t like to talk about, but people in resorts are trying to make a living, and often the tips are shared out amongst staff, so bear that in mind. I’m not suggesting you leave a huge tip, unless you feel they deserve it of course, but just a little is enough.

If you make your own savings prior to going on holiday, this will be easier for you, so remember to grab those bargains, such as free child places, last minute bookings, and parking spaces, and you’ll be happier about the whole tipping debate. If you are driving yourself to the airport, be sure to check out the offers at ParkBCP, as I’ve always found a great deal with them.
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To tip, or not to tip? My advice – tip, but in moderation!