Keeping your air conditioner running well

Heating and air conditioning systems are a big part of your home’s comfort. Plus, these systems are usually expensive to install and replace. Therefore, you want to do everything in your power to take care of your air conditioner so that it will last as long as possible.

Besides your personal comfort level and the impact fixing a broken air conditioner will have on your wallet, there are even more benefits to maintaining your air conditioner. It will reduce the amount of harmful toxins released into the air, and it will also keep your energy bill from soaring.

Here are the steps you can take to keep your air conditioner running well all summer long! Continue reading

Plan an Amtrak trip across Texas

There’s no reason to go far-out to have a nice vacation: for example, a trip through Texas can be filled with amazing sights and encounters while still making you feel as if you never left your neighborhood.

If you’re going on a Texas-wide expedition, Amtrak trains will probably be the best way to get from one place to another. The tickets are fairly cheap, the trains are modern, and the rides are swift yet laid-back enough to let you enjoy the Lone Star State’s scenery in all its glory.

You probably won’t have to spend too much time packing your luggage – trains let you carry a lot, and you’ll easily be able to purchase whatever you’re missing in any part of the state. Figuring out how to cover everything in one trip might be difficult, though – for a single state, Texas has an astounding amount of places to see. Here are some events, buildings and zones you can’t afford to miss on your Amtrak trip.

 Amtrak Trip Across Texas

  • The Millenium Park in Chicago: A city famous for its industrial prowess, Chicago still manages to surprise with its many different natural areas that will make you want to bust out a picnic blanket. Millenium Park is one such place – free entry to one of the nicest parks in all of the U.S. seems like a pretty good deal. When you’re not admiring the nature enriching the Park, you’ll be admiring the various artistic sculptures and architectural ingenuities it boasts.
  • A San Antonio Spurs game in San Antonio: Like basketball or not, there’s one thing you can’t deny: the players stay active. If you’re visiting San Antonio, you should have no trouble matching your visit to a Spurs game – they play several times per week during every season. Seeing San Antonio’s iconic basketball team in action will definitely be a worthwhile experience even if you’re not all that into the sport – considering they were the NBA champions as late as 2014, there’s a pretty good chance the game won’t lack in excitement, too.
  • The State Capitol in Austin: Since Austin is home to the state’s imposing Capitol building, you’ll probably want to visit it during your trip. In fact, a plain visit just won’t do – aim to get in on one of the many tours of the city and its Capitol that are organized daily. You can get a complete small-group tour of Austin for less than $30, but if you really want to treat yourself, make sure to go for a Segway tour of the Capitol itself – you’ll pay a bit more, but the ride will be worth every penny.
  • The Symphony Center in Dallas: Dallas’ Morton H. Meyer Symphony Center is one of the most popular structures of this type in the country – day in and day out, the virtuosos there will work hard to deliver the best music humanity can produce. You can opt to have a tour of the place or purchase a seat during one of the concerts – needless to say, the latter option will be far more memorable if you can manage it.

How to pack for a vacation traveling on a train

What used to be the safest and most widely-used method of traversing longer distances is quickly falling out of favor – buses are going farther for less money, planes are cheaper and more commonplace and personal vehicles are getting safer and can have more mileage.

Non-metro trains must be feeling quite neglected these days considering how many people they once carried, especially in the cases of older ‘uns. If you’re making use of this old-but-not-forgotten method of transit, you can look forward to a good deal of comfort without having to fight anyone for your seat. The fact that you might not arrive quite as soon as you would with other travel methods might be a plus – you’ll get to enjoy better views of the many zones your train will pass through.

As safe and comfortable as it may be, traveling by train is best done with some planning beforehand. Here’s how to pack for a vacation if trains will be your choice of transportation. I have a friend in the Lone Star state of Texas who swears by these tips…

  • Keep an eye for different kinds of weather. It’s true for every mode of traveling – if you’re going long-distance, be sure to pack a range of different clothes. Pairs of T-shirts and shorts, regular shirts and jeans, a jacket and some vests… All should be brought in ample supply to ensure a pleasant trip. This often stands all the more true for train vacations – aside from going to far-out places often, trains generally let you carry a good bit more luggage than you otherwise could, so feel free to empty out your wardrobe before the trip.
  • Many trains won’t separate you from your luggage while you travel. This lets you pack things that you might normally be reluctant to, as your stuff will often sit right above you: expensive clothes, pricey items or those with an emotional significance, electronic equipment and so on. While the chances of luggage being stolen or lost while traveling by train is far lower, don’t push it – if you have a bullion safe back home, don’t empty it just so your gold bars can travel with you.
  • Laptops and mini-TVs are a good thing to have on trains. Due to how they operate, most trains let you plug in any reasonable electronic device in order to charge it for as long as you’d like. Be sure to fill your laptop or a similar device with movies and TV shows to watch if you’re going on a longer train ride, as there’s no guarantee you’ll have internet access on the train, even if you’re carrying a mobile hotspot.
  • Consider bringing a blanket, a sleep mask and some ear plugs! Train rides can take up to twenty hours depending on where you’re going, and you might want to get some sleep in there. Trains are known to be noisy from the inside even if there aren’t many people around, and the window curtains aren’t guaranteed to do a good job – the ‘gear’ listed above will shield you, although you’ll definitely want to minimize the amount of expensive items in your luggage if you plan on sleeping on board the train.

Traveling in Russia via train

While many countries are moving away from trains and favoring other methods of transit, Russia still loves its railroads just as much as it used to. Considering the country’s enormous size and the harsh weather conditions in many areas, this isn’t likely to change soon.

Traveling through Russia by train is a comfortable way to go all around the country and enjoy its many sights for as long as you’d like – most of the train rides are frequent and you’ll have no trouble boarding one promptly after choosing to stick around a place for a while longer. Here are some places to see, although there are many more to consider.

Traveling in Russia

Moscow: You didn’t think Russia’s magnificent capital would be anywhere other than the top of this list, right? Besides, Moscow is also the starting point of the famous and lengthy Trans-Siberian train ride, although you can board it from pretty much anywhere in the country. From Russia’s well-known Bolshoy Theatre to various tours of the Kremlin to souvenir shops selling iconic Russian items, you’ll have no shortage of places to see in this massive city. Keep an eye on the weather, though – Moscow’s winters can get notoriously harsh, so much so that even Russians avoid going outside during the peak of winter.

St. Petersburg: Russia’s ‘other capital’, many find St. Petersburg to be a better tourist destination than Moscow due to the amazing architecture and less poverty-stricken areas. If you’ve ever been to Europe, you’ll notice that many of the buildings have a distinct European feel to it – this is because the Tsar who built the city to its current glory commissioned many top architects from Europe. If you can appreciate art, the place will take you aback – its theatres and concert halls are the ‘home away from home’ for many of the world’s top classicals performers and there are dozens of stunning museums and art galleries to check out as well.

Ekaterinburg: It’s not just the name that’s similar to the previous city – like St. Petersburg, Ekaterinburg also has no shortage of baroque sights to gaze upon, with churches being a prominent architectural display. The city is also close to the Ural Mountains – if you pride yourself on your rugged stature, hiking through this Russian hillside is sure to test your abilities, especially if you picked a colder time of the year(if you’re truly brave, you can do the hiking while it’s snowing, too).

Vladivostok: If you have any familiarity with Russia and its history, you’ve likely heard of this fairly large naval city. Home to Russia’s mighty fleet, Vladivostok’s geographical location also puts it close to several Asian countries – if you’d like to spice your trip out with a boat ride, there’s a ship that will take you to Japan in as little as a day and a half. The city has plenty of things to see on its own, though – due to Vladivostok’s naval role, many of its sights are related to life in(or out on) the sea in some way: an ocean aquarium, a submarine converted into a unique museum and so forth.

How to plan a backpacking trip in Europe

A backpacking trip to Europe is sure to give you some bragging rights – many in the U.S. think of Europe as an exotic location even if most places in it are hardly different from an average American city. That being said, the perception isn’t completely unfounded – Europe has no unified language and is home to a wide variety of people, cultures and customs. Moreover, one part of Europe might look incredibly different from the other – from poverty-ridden areas to wealthy cities and from freezing urban zones to warm beaches, don’t expect a unified appearance from any part of the continent.

While a backpacking trip to Europe isn’t the wildest journey you can have, it still pays to be prepared – the places you’ll end up visiting might surprise you, and it’s good to have something to fall back on. Here’s how you should plan for a successful trip.

Backpack size: does carrying a skyscraper on your back still count as a backpacking trip?

The backpack you carry should be perfectly built for the type of journey you’re making and well-equipped for any necessities that could arise. Some things you’ll want to be carrying no matter what are:

  • A spare pair of solid, weatherproof shoes
  • A sleeping bag
  • A large first aid kit
  • Several pairs of clothes
  • A sufficient amount of hygienic accessories (soap, shampoo, toothpaste, brushes, nail clippers…)
  • One or more dictionaries covering the main languages you’ll be encountering

Regarding that last point, keep in mind that the locals might not appreciate you approaching them with a dictionary and a puzzled-yet-grinning look, which brings us to…

Interacting with the locals

As already mentioned, Europe is home to a staggering amount of different cultures – the people of each culture have their own specific beliefs and customs. There’s also the individual factor to keep in mind – every local might react to tourists differently.

There’s no shortage of tourist-friendly places in Europe, and you can confidently expect a majority of Europeans to enjoy greeting tourists, chatting them up and even taking some nice selfies with the visitors. On the other hand, some Europeans in closed communities or areas with a pronounced poverty issue might not appreciate seeing tourists or talking to them.

Be open to new encounters and friendly individuals during your trip, but don’t force it – if someone looks annoyed by the presence of an obvious tourist, don’t push your luck by trying to prove that you’re a likable individual, as there are better people to spend your energy on.

The funds for your trip

The trick with any backpacking trip, especially a lengthy one, is keeping yourself well-funded: if you carry too much cash, you risk having it lost and pilfered, but if you rely on credit cards, you risk encountering a confused look when trying to pay with one.

For best results, try to come up with an ideal ratio of cash against credit for your trip. Before going out to any location that might not have an ATM or credit card machine, be sure to calculate the potential costs of food, lodging and area entry and have slightly more than that in cash.

Also, always keep an additional amount of ‘travel cash’ on you in a waterproof container in case things turn sour and you need a lift from the middle of nowhere.