Toura Mobile App was nominated at eTravel Awards 2018 in the category Best Travel Application. On the evening of 24 October 2018 at the ceremony, Toura App was awarded 3rd place in the Best Travel Application category.
Between 26-29 September 2018 I had the chance to participate in World Trails Conference that took place in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Find out more about the program of the conference.
It was my first encounter with the world and professionals of the trails of the world. I got to know this world of devoted hikes that would go for hundreds and thousands of kilometers on the natural and remote path in order to discover places and most of all discover themselves.
I understood a lot of things about the economics of trails – one of their main purpose is to help remote, isolated, poor communities to develop in a sustainable way in order to help them keep alive their tradition, and keep the community alive because otherwise people would leave to more crowded places where they could earn a living.
A point that I left with is that a trail is not about hiking (even though hiking is the means), but it is so much more: it is about communities and people, about hospitality and tolerance, about human interaction, about healthy choices, about local products, about traditions, about ecology, it is helping to get in touch with nature and getting to know yourself better and challenge your limits.
Most of the trails presented got to me, so besides traveling the world now I have a new plan, to hike to this places I learned about. Because people who designed them thought very carefully to include the most important ingredients so you can have a full and enlighten experience, to discover nature and cultural particularities, to take you to the popular places that are on any travelers list (like in Jordan trail you will get to Petra and Wadi Rum) but you will also go to some other places that you can share with a small community of devoted trail lovers, where the buses filled with tourists don’t stop and where you don’t have to wait in line for a picture.
I never thought of hiking to discover a country, but maybe, just maybe this will be a the new thing for me.
I made a promise to make this my first trail in May 2019 (by the recommendation of the people taking care of the trail)
It is a trail along the Spanish coast of Atlantic. I love water, so hiking on the coast with the sea on one side and earth on the other sounds the best first trail hiking experience for me. It is only 200 km compared with others that are 2000 km long, so it is accessible , but also enough to realize if you like it, this will be an experience that will make me live the trail experience. I think this is a good start.
It is also a great point for the sunsets, at this point I am totally convinced.
I love Traski – the mascot of the trails – it is unique, memorable and fun.
On our Sunday trip organized by World Trails Network Conference for its participants we arrived at Fisterra which is the end of the Camino dos Faros. I can tell you this is a great place.
It is a trail that goes through Rio de Janeiro area.
When you think about Brasil and Rio de Janeiro you think of amazing beaches, parties, but I haven’t thought about hiking. I liked the presentation because Pedro is so passionate about this trail and shared a lot of insides, I liked their logo (Jesus with a backpack) and also I liked the fact that you are so close to civilization, but also so far, also I loved the richness of the vegetation which looks very exotic for me.
In my opinion Transcarioca is the best example of trail architecture and management, it is a example for other trails managers to follow.
Camino de Santiago is one of the most popular trail in the world with a total number of 300.000 pilgrims in the year 2017.
Being in Santiago de Compostela where the conference took place, we were on the end of the journey for people who did this spiritual trail.
I liked that part of the team walk the Camino de Santiago before reaching the Conference.
The city of Santiago de Compostela, Spain.
Is was a very inspired option to host the World Trails Conference in this city which is at the end of the pilgrimage trails of Saint James. All day in the city there are arriving people with their backpack after who-knows how many kilometers. It is a place that it is in their mind all this time and once they reach it they have accomplished what they set out to do, it is a promise that came true, it is a dream that they lived. All this gives a very special feeling to the city.
The city is all made of stone. The architecture is amazing and it complements the hilly position of the city.
In my presentation I spoke about Toura as a digital tool that trails managers can use to create a digital travel guide in order to document and promote their trail. I spoke in the first day of the Conference in the “Trails an Technology” module
I think we are on the verge of using technologies in travel industries and trails professional seem to be early adopters. There a lot of initiatives in all kinds direction, we will see which will gain usage.
What I can say about Toura and the way we incorporated is that we are about any travel experience. For me information about a trail is important, but how I organize the hole trip is something I have to do and research on my own. This is why Toura wants to become a leader in the travel industry by integrating all the needs and expectations of the travelers.
I spoke with the organizers of this event about creating a Trails Atlas with the help of Toura.
The conference ended on Saturday and Sunday was reserved to hike a portion of the Camino. It was a great end of a great conference. We went to Sardineiro de Abaixo with a bus and from here we started walking towards Fisterra which by etymology means end of the land. This name comes before discovering the new and, so this is the most western point of the continental Europe, the end of earth. We walk for 10 kilometers on the cost of Atlantic.
1. Trails are so much more that a dirt road. They are and could be the blood line of a country or a region by connection people, places, experiences, traditions, gastronomy, health, communities, and creates the best way of emerging into a culture.
2. I think all of us should take in our life a trail of at least 200 km so we can spend 10 – 20 days walking and clearing your mind. I now know that trails should be part of our healing process.
3. Most people who work for trails associations are volunteers and they fight lack of funds, bureaucracy, corruptions, besides nature challenges and hazards.
4. Trail management is a never ending process, as one speaker said, “water will always win”, but I would say it more generic “nature always wins” so trails manager have to maintain and clean the trail periodically, it is an never ending process. So huge thanks to this people.
5. Like any industries, trails need collaboration,
6. From all the adventure travel activities out there, hiking is 1/3 of it.
7. And to end in a positive note: in a world that we have growing population and density problems in the big cities, trails just might be the solution to our problems in our quest of being an individual, of becoming a better person, of getting in touch with nature and with yourself, of preserving the values of our ancestors and for a clean and healthy environment.
Next conference will be in Nepal in 2020, so I really encourage you to go and see for yourself a little good in this world.
Special thanks to Filipa, who made this trip special and I hope will be my lifelong friend.
Thank you World Trails Network
We made 2 weeks itinerary in Albania in September 2017.
I have no idea how countries like Albania get their reputation, but it can not be further from the truth. We loved the mountains, we loved the sea, we loved everything. Yes they have to work on their infrastructure, but they are trying. Here is my personal favorites from our trip.
This is the best experience we had in Albania. You go with the ferry on this long and artificially created lake and fiord.
A crystal light blue water near Theth Village
This is my personal list of favorite cities to visit in Romania. I included some smaller cities as they deserve to be on your list as well.
Time stood still for some places in Romania. Where the life is the same for the last centuries, where technology is a word without meaning and where tradition is keep by the wish of the people or by the lack of other possibilities. The view, the people and the vibe it is always special in this places.
If you had to visit one place in order to understand Romania as a country, I suggest heading out for one of the villages. True value of this country lies in the should of people that hasn’t changed in the face of adversity. No regime, not poverty, no technological challenge, no war can change the profound beauty of these places and its people.
There 2 villages are settled on hill between Bucegi and Piatra Craiului Mountains. I call them the 360 degrees villages. Everywhere you look, you are surrounded bu mountains and natural beauty.
Viscri is a place that decided to make time work for it. No place in Romania has achieved so stubbornly to keep the traditions intact, despite the fact that is visited by more than 40000 people.
I was born in Romania so trust me when I tell you that you have no reason to doubt your decision to visit this amazing country. It is safe, it is friendly and it is amazing. It hasn’t been found by the crowds, it is very diverse and it is cheap. Do you need more arguments? Let me help you with that. All this suggestions are my personal favorites, so I have been to all of them and I highly recommend you to include as many of them on your list.
It took me a long time to decide, but I did – Bicazului Gorges is the most amazing place in Romania. It is surreal how the gorges go on and on and every turn just leaves you more impressed than before. Just to make a point of how beautiful they are, the first time I was there I had to vised them 3 times just to grasp what they are about. I was overwhelmed and could not compute the first time, so I returned for the second time and still wasn’t enough I had to return for the third time into the Gorges.
Danube Delta is a place to get lost, to forget your daily routine and float on the waters. You can not grasp the impact of this place until you have been there.
Tinovul Mohos is a strange ecosystem because you basically walk on a 6 meters of peat above a lake. The story goes like this: first there was the Mohos Volcano that exploded, 2000 years later Sfanta Ana (Saint Ana) volcano erupted and covered the near-by lake of Mohos formed in the crater with the ash and other pyroclastic material. On this newly formed layer it started to grow some special plants: a special type of pine that likes the acidity of the peat, some carnivorous plants and bilberry. And the lakes have 20 something meters below and communicate with the underground lake. And they have a petrol-like color.
This is so unusual to watch. It’s something you don’t see every day. Volcanic effect minus the heat and the destructive force of a real volcano.
As you go down, even in a hot summer day, you feel that every step it gets cooler and cooler. You are entering a cave that hosts an ice block, isn’t that something?
The blue and clarity of this water will mesmerize along with the story of this place.
Strange shaped rocks that grow every year – this pretty much summarizes it.
This is an volcano crater that you can go down in. Everything is black and red and the blazing sun creates a special feeling.
Gorges carved by the Danube River. It is called Cazanele (The Boilers) because the water is very deep and there are a lot of currents that make the water seem like is boiling.
One of the most famous and spectacular waterfalls in Romania
Stalactites and stalagmites mark the way to the remaining skeleton of a bear trapped in the cave
This is a very secluded gorge. Most people don’t know how about it, but it is spectacular. In order to cross it you need to go in the icy cold waters.
Natural carved rocks in anthropomorphic shape.
Like a futuristic decor contest this reservation has a very white bubbly cover to everything it meets on his way.
It is a natural dam formed on Red River. Presumably it came into being during an earthquake in 1838 and the forest got covered in the waters and in the meantime it got petrified . The stubs are visible today.
A spectacular 30 m height waterfall with a sad story about a bride.
Translated as The Rusty Pit , it offers a great view over a yellowish land slide. It is part of the Apuseni National Park,
One kilometer of wood path in the peat in Dorna Depression
A brutal and steep rocky entry in this amazing gorges.
This is the slide waterfall. As putna river came down on a rocky side it carved into it like a bobsleigh contest
Lands of natural grown daffodils and irises
Balea Lake is a glacier lake situated at 2,034 m of altitude in the Făgăraș Mountains. It can be reached on the Transfagarasan alpine road.
A 12 meter high travertine waterfall with intricate lacing
Volcanic rocks in rectangular shape.
A lagoon separated from Black sea with a strip of land and sand. It is a huge water surface (almost 400 000 square km) with only 3 meters depth.
Some of the oldest mountains in Europe. Eroded gorges of a once majestic mountain
We went to Thailand in January – February 2018 and one of the must see and must do was Mae Klong Railway Market. It always fascinates me when 2 or more organisms (entities) find ways to coexist. It is the same here, the market and the train find a way to work in perfect symbiosis: every pumpkin, every cucumber and every onion has a very well defined place in space so it fits perfectly in to both worlds: the static and the moving one.
Despite being a little hard to reach, the market is really popular, and when I mean popular I mean really crowded. After the train passes people take its place and you cannot imagine how did the train manage to pass through there and where all those people came from.
What is the best way to visit this place you wonder. Being a railway market, the best way to visit is obviously: with the train. In reality it is not so obvious because there are a lot of tour services that takes people there with buses (funny, no?). I actually witnessed a very weird scene: a guide with 2 tourists just got up on the train with 2 stations before we arrived at Mae Klong, and they have arrived to that station by bus from Bangkok. The guide was telling the couple that the train is not connected with Bangkok – which is more a lie that a truth, and I will tell you why.
This train line was build to carry salt from the region of Samut Sakhon to Bangkok. It was a private transport line that later entered into the national rail system of Thailand. The railway is not a direct one, I believe the reason was mainly economical because it had to cross a river, but nevertheless, it is very well thought out so you could do this trip easily. The trip from Bangkok to Mae Klong has 3 segments:
So you see the connection is there, it is easy to make the trip like this, but it is not a direct line in the true sense.
There is the consideration of time, how the 2 lines timetable match one another. The first connection to Maha Chai Railway is very often (every hour or so), but the second one has only 4 trips a day, so you have to organize around them. The train from Ban Laem Railway Station to Mae Klong Railway Station leaves every day at: 07:30 / 10.10 / 13.30 / 16.40
We wanted to catch the 7:30 so we had to wake up at 4 am, take a taxi to the station, take the 5:30 train from Wongwian Yai. We arrived at 6:36 (we had a delay – the train was supposed to arrive in Maha Chai at 6:23), we went for the ferry (10 minutes walk), and in a few more minutes we were on the other side of Tha Chin River. From here there is another 10 minutes walk to the station of Ban Laem. From here we took the 7:30 train to Mae Klong and arrived at the destination at 8:30.
In our itinerary near Bangkok we wanted to see Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, so we only went with the train and returned with the bus.
This is how our day looks (recorded with Toura Android App):
You can see our hole trip in Thailand or this specific day on Toura: day 18 in our 23 days itinerary:
Because it is a very interesting event I suggest to make a plan to see 2 trains coming and going through the market like this:
It usually is a 3 hours waiting time between trains, which gives you enough time to visit the market and the city.
If you are in Bangkok and want to visit something unique, don’t hesitate to visit Mae Klong Railway Market. You will probably need a full day for this. You can add to your trip: Tha Kha Floating Market and Damnoen Saduak Floating Market.
I travel a lot, actually in the last 6 months I have been traveling 59 days, it is like 2 months out of 6 or if you prefer 1 day out of 3. Here are the places I have been:
You can imagine no travel agency could keep up with my travel needs. I know what I want and I plan my own trips. But even planning requires time on it’s own so I developed a method that works for me and I am about to share with you.
I love to travel especially to new places. I usually prefer the destinations that are not discovered yet, which means that are not so crowded but on the other hand the infrastructure is not so good, people usually don’t speak English and it will be hard to find transport to get from one place to another. And not to mention you don’t have internet, which frankly is the worst of all.
It takes me a few days to a few weeks to plan a trip, depending on the length and the information I already have of that place.
After planning so many trips I have a validated system that works great for me. It is always about the money, because if money would not be an issue you would go anywhere, with no restriction of time and resources you can afford to plan as you go along. If you are in that category, please stop here. For the rest of you, please do read along.
When I start to plan a trip i do the following steps:
I like to see travel spots, interesting places to visit, nature wanders and amazing phenomena, just to relax and entertain myself when I am not on the road. I usually go on Pinterest and just browse the images, pin what I like and discover new places. My Pinterest account is Touraeu. As you can see I organize my pins by countries, usually by countries that fascinates me or that I already made my mind to visit or even to places that I have bought the tickets. Pinterest helps me discover new places that are still unknown. If the mass media is talking about them it is already too late to go there, the masses have arrived.
Every time I see a place that I like, I put a save them also on my Google Maps account so when the time comes to visit that place I have the pins already in place. You see a print screen of my map. My boyfriend says that my map has “chickenpox”, but that chickenpox is “contagious” and took at to some amazing places.
Interestingly enough, choosing a destination is mostly based on transport. And you will go: ahhh, what? Well, it’s true. I choose a destination that I can access without breaking the bank.
First I have to decide between flights or ground means of transport like car or train. I choose the transport accordingly to the distance. If it is in Eastern or Central Europe I would consider going by car or train, if it is further (and if there are available routes) I always go for the plane. I would love to add cruise or yacht to this list of options (maybe when I will go to Greece).
2.1. Getting there by plane
For the trips I plan with plane I have a rule: for European destinations I don’t pay more than 100 euro for plane tickets (per person) and the further I go, every 2-3 hours of flight will add 100 euro to the cart. So when we flew to Thailand on the route Bucharest – Doha – Chiang Mai for 11 hours we payed 400 euros per person for the plane tickets, which fits my rule.
Sometimes I choose a destination based on discounts at plane tickets. So in a way I can say that airway companies run my life. For example I knew I wanted to be somewhere on my birthday and when the time came with a 20% discount on Wizz, I didn’t miss the change and I search for a few destinations (including Stockholm, Paris) and I settled on Georgia for a fabulous amount of 45 euro / person (that’s a bargain 😉 .
I research flights on:
2.2. Getting there by car
If I go with a car or train I don’t consider the expenses as much as I do the time. How much time do I spend on the trip getting there in such manner I can optimize to make as less possible, but not to get there already tired. When we planned our trip to Slovenia Google says it is a 15 hours drive, but that is too much to drive in one day if you are already tired . So we split it in 2 days: Bucharest – Budapest and Budapest – Ljubljana.
2.3. Getting there by train
Train is a great option as you can travel long distances at night and you save money on accommodation. It is great combo because in the end you will pay less.
We went to Budapest by train, it is a special feeling to sleep with the noise of the train wheels on rails. I would love to discover Europe by train..
For me it is always clear: I don’t like the summer heat and I don’t like the crowds, so I travel most in the shoulder seasons: April, May, June and September. If you don’t have special preferences about the weather, you have to take into consideration the weather in that particular country.
From the beginning you need to know if you are going to rent a car or use the local transport. I will not go into details about car renting as I went through this process only 3 times and I still have some things to figure out. I will tell you more about the public transport.
It is always good to research the railway system of a country and see what there is accessible by train. Search in Google by the phrase “country + railway map” and filter by image. This is what you should get:
For example in Thailand there are 4 main railway lines. This says a lot and I knew how to plan my trip according to this information.
Search by “country + airports” on Google Maps or on Google Search and filter by image. This is what you should get:
Continue your research and check which airport is active and connected with other internal airports.
This are the backbone of the trip, the rest will be filled by buses and some creative local means of transport.
I use Rome2Rio to discover all the possibilities between 2 places. This is how you discover the connection with all means of transport and choose the best combination that works for you.
I know people search first where they want to go and what they want to visit, but you have to know how to get from one place to another. Sometimes you have to give up a place just because it is remote and you would spend too much time on the road to and from that place, when you could do much more in the same period. Of course it helps overlap this processes of transport infrastructure research and destination picking so you have an idea of places you want to go and how to reach them. And the brain will do the rest of the connection.
When establishing what to visit I always make a list of 3 or 5 places that are a must see. Based on this I know the main length of the trip. For me in Thailand it was the White Temple in Chiang Mai, Sukhothai and the Mae Klong Railway Market.
I will talk now about choosing destination. When I choose a place to go, I usually choose a country and I don’t focus on neighboring countries. One country at a time. It is easier because you don’t have to research visas and other information, you don’t have to pay different taxes: road tax, visa, etc.
I always prefer the natural landmarks over the cultural ones, but I try to keep them in balance because a country is made of both. For example in Thailand it is hard to ignore all the temples and architecture uniqueness.
I saw that usually I visit the countries from North to South but I have no idea why do this.
One of the most important aspects of your trip planning is the planning for each day. When we brainstormed for Toura we defined a special type of point to mark the end of each day, so in the end we would know the duration (number of days) and also we would know what to fit in a day. Based on this special type of point you can see one day at a time (each day has a different color):
I usually plan with 50 euro a day per person. Of course this is variable depending on where you go. If you visit Italy, France and other Western countries, probably it will not be enough, on the other hand if you go to Bulgaria, Georgia, Albania, Thailand or even cheaper countries, this money will take you much further. But the 50 euro per day is an orientation I use as a reference and then I multiply or divided according to the country.
As many as possible, obvious. But sometimes you have limitations like money or time or other priorities, so you have to work with what you have. I recommend taking one big trip every year (2 – 4 weeks) to a great new destination, add 2 or 3 small trips (5 – 10 days) and the rest you fill from you weekends and your free time.
I like to plan trips with multiple flights. This is great because from your country, not all the destinations may be available, but from the airport you are flying to there is a chance you can access at least one new destination. So the trip would be like A to B, B to C, C to D and D to A. You can add on your itinerary other stops like E F, G or you can make some of the distances between departing cities with other means of transport (Car, train or bus). We did this in our 11 days Italian trip: we flew to Naples and 11 days later we had a ticket back from Milan. I do this because I don’t like to go on the same route again, so this always works for me because I get to discover more places and don’t get bored in the same place. We did this in Morocco also: we flew to Marrakesh and flew back from Fes.
If you have to make a stop to change the airplane always take the connection with the smallest waiting time (if possible 2-4 hours) but if here is no connection it is better to take the longest in order to get out of the airport and visit that city also. Some on the biggest companies provide free city trips to the city (Turkish for Istanbul, Qatar for Doha, and so on). To wait 5+ hours in airport is not pleasant so go for either of the solution (the smallest or the biggest waiting time). If it is the return flight always go for the shortest wating time because you will be tired and not in the mood to visit something new, you just want to get home.
Choosing a destination is a matter of being open to discover serendipitous places that are in the world, watching the flying offers and being spontaneous to just buy the tickets and go.
Stay curios and stay alert. The plan it will change, but the more you know and the better prepared you are, the easier will be to adapt to travel challenges.