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Category Archives:North & Central America

What currency do I need in the Caribbean?

st kitts form the cruise ship

The title is a hint in itself because you might assume that each of the different countries in the Caribbean would have its own currency. You would be right, they mostly do. But that doesn’t actually answer the question.

Currencies that I’ve come across in the Caribbean have been the Eastern Caribbean dollar, the Bahamian dollar, the Netherlands Antillean guilder, the Jamaican dollar, and the Barbadian dollar, and there are of course many others. All are accepted in their respective countries and are the main currency for the locals.

But visitors are a different story. Because tourism is so huge for the Caribbean, and the vast majority of visitors come from the US, (many of which are on cruise ships), I think the Caribbean islands have realised is it easier for everyone if they just charge visitors in US dollars. Either that or they understand foreign exchange and know they can actually charge more in terms of their local currency if they charge USD. I think there’s probably a little bit truth to both of these assumptions.

And then, of course, some Caribbean countries, actually do use the US dollar as their main currency. The US and British Virgin Islands both use the US Dollar, Turks and Caicos also use the US dollar as their primary currency, as does Puerto Rico.

I tell this story about when I first visited Jamaica. We landed in Montego Bay and needed to get to Negril and I knew that most places preferred cash and many probably didn’t even take card so I was stressing because I actually owned zero Jamaican dollars. I bought about $500 worth thinking that should be enough to get me through 4 days on the island.

The problem was, I couldn’t spend the damn things!

No one would accept my Jamaican dollars, they all just wanted USD, even the resort. And since I didn’t want to get rorted at the currency exchange both ways, I made sure I spent it. Somehow I did, we bought some souvenirs, probably some food and cigars, but I’m sure that most purchases weren’t 100% crucial to our stay.

View looking north from Sir Timothy's Hill St Kitts
View looking north over St Kitts. The best currency for St Kitts is the USD.

On a subsequent trip earlier this year, I also noticed the same thing. This time we were on a cruise ship visiting 6 different islands with 3-4 different currencies. I don’t actually know how many different currencies there were because I didn’t buy any this time.

Need a driver? Pay in USD. Want to party at a beach bar in Barbados? The menu is in USD. Want to buy a sweet Caribbean shirt with flamingos on it? The lady in the hut will gladly take your USD.

I think the other part of this conversation though, is that when you actually find a place on one of these islands that only accept the local currency, you know you must be off the beaten track where most tourists don’t venture.

This happened a couple of times for me. In Negril, Jamaica we caught a lift into town and got some supplies at the local grocery store.

Then in St Lucia, it was the first couple of days in the new year and there was a festival going on. We wandered around, soaked in the jubilant atmosphere, and bought some jerk chicken off some lady’s barbecue. Honestly, it was one of the best meals I had on the entire cruise.

Anyway, for reasons beyond the scope of this article we did actually have some Eastern Caribbean Dollars in St Lucia so we paid her in that, but interestingly, she did also say she would have accepted USD. This was the exception though, because we paid for everything else in USD (which would be the best currency to take to St Lucia).

Grand Case Beach St Maarten

So to cut a short story even shorter, whether visiting for a day off a cruise or taking a short break on one island, the best currency for the Caribbean is the US dollar. You shouldn’t need any of the local currency. Sure, feel free to get a little for novelty sake, and just in case you come across someone in a small village that doesn’t accept USD. But the USD is almost like a second currency in the entire Caribbean region, so that would be very rare.

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10 Hot Destinations to escape the northern winter

Winter is creeping up, or, depending on where you live, has been here for some time. If the annual depression is setting, it might be time to trade the snow boots for some flip flops and recharge your batteries with a coconut in one hand, a good novel in another, and a beer in the other.

I’ve put together some of my favourite destinations that are hot year-round to get your travel juices flowing. I hope you enjoy reading it only slightly less than I enjoyed visiting each place individually. Continue Reading

The Best Fast Food in the USA: My Junk Food Tour

In-n-nout hollywood header

When I visited the USA 3 years ago I created a blog draft with the same name as you read above. But since I didn’t really eat that much junk food, that’s literally as far as the post went.

At the end of last year I was back in the USA for around 3 weeks and this time I made a concerted effort to ensure I enjoyed some of the finest dining experiences fast food USA has to offer. I made a list and checked off just about all of it.

If you’re visiting the USA soon and you’re a big fan of dirty burgers and seeing how the morbidly obese eat, then you are in the right place!

In-N-Out Burger

The undisputed king of the Western Conference. In-N-Out Burger believes that less is more; simple is better. And that getting it “animal style” isn’t something you’d do in the bedroom.

In-N-Out offer 3 burgers: a hamburger (meat, sauce, lettuce, tomato, onion), a cheeseburger (add cheese), and a Double Double (double meat and cheese). That’s it. Then you have fries, drinks and shakes to round out one of the simplest menus in global fast food. And it works because they nail it. The burgers are some of the greasiest around and the pickle-based sauce is what dreams are made of.

But if that truly isn’t enough for you then customise away with the “secret menu”. Well it’s actually not so secret anymore since some of it is on their website, however, one guy went on a mission to try everything on the secret menu and lists everything else here.

In n Out Double Doubles and animal fries
In n Out Double Doubles and animal fries

Shake Shack

Shake Shack is In-N-Out’s cross-continent arch-nemesis and undisputed champion of the Eastern Conference. West and East coast burger lovers are forever at odds with each over who has the better franchise but you will never truly know for yourself until you’ve had both.

Shake Shack was born in New York and has a wide variety of burgs to choose from. The burgers are good, but the franchise really comes into its own with the milk offering. Shake flavours are seasonal and at the time of writing they were Mint cookies and cream, salted vanilla toffee and mud pie.

In my view, In-N-Out is cheaper and have better burgers, but Shake Shack has better sides and shakes so it can’t be completely put to bed for me.

Shake Shack Las Vegas. One of the few in the west.

Chipotle

Taking a break from burgers, Chipotle is in my view the best spot for some quick Mexican. Burritos, tacos and enchiladas fill the room and scents of their signature chipotle sauce subtly fill the airwaves. The burritos are big, and the menu simple so your decision should be easy.

Born out of Colorado, the chain has spread all over the country so there’s a good chance you’ll be able to find one where you visit. 

East coast, west coast, the Rockies. Since this list spans the entire country you might actually need to rent an RV and road trip all over to try them all!

Five Guys

Despite my fanfare above about In-N-Out and Shake Shack, Five Guys was actually my favourite burger joint across the US. A thick, juicy patty, the right amount of pickles and onion (i.e. lots), a token amount of tomato, all overflowing with yellow American cheese.

And speaking of overflowing, these guys know how to do fries. The put a tiny paper cup in the bag, and generously fill the cup a laughable amount so you have chips all throughout the bag. It’s just wonderful.

Five Guys love tooting their own horn with awards and reviews plastered all over the world, each one of them well-deserved, and many from bygone eras. They also want you to see the ingredients they use (or have little storage out back); so much so that they stack them in the restaurant!

Chick-fil-A

Despite my best efforts, I actually never made it to a Chick-fil-A. And it certainly didn’t help that they aren’t open on Sundays – the day I was most often available to go. But I still wanted to include it because of its reputation and my disappointment.

Everyone raves about the nuggets so I’d be backing up the truck.

Fuddruckers

Maybe a little left of field, but I have very fond memories of Fuddruckers. I visited one in California back in 2011. Fuddruckers’ uniqueness is that you order the size of the patty you want (and you can go BIG), how well you’d like it cooked, and then add the toppings yourself from the salad bar. That way you get exactly what you want on your burger and how much of it.

They also bake all of their buns in house, something that cannot be said for most other chains.

P.Terry’s

Special mention here must go to P.Terry’s of the greater Austin area. My good friend brought me to a P.Terry’s for one of the greasiest, dirtiest burgs I’ve ever had. Along with fresh French fries It was pure bliss after a few beers. Earlier that evening we had also enjoyed Chipotle for dinner.

The following day I came down with a bad case of the voms and it lasted a whole 24 hours. It was clearly food poisoning of some kind. Kynie reckons it was the excess of fast food in one evening. I steadfastly refuse to join those dots.

It must have been something we bought at Whole Foods earlier that day. It’s the only explanation that makes sense.

PTerrys Austin

Hooters

Hooters is on here as an honourable mention. I went to the Hooters on Hollywood Boulevard and I found it a bit overrated. This probably comes as no surprise to anyone. I mean, the service was fine, I couldn’t complain about the atmosphere, the waitstaff were friendly and mildly attractive, and the wings I ate were just ok. It just wan’t a “wow” moment for me.

However, what was memorable about that night was while we were eating, some dude was getting arrested just outside. Yep, that’s Hollywood Boulevard.

Wendy’s

Ok ok so Wendy’s is on here as a bit of a joke. Wendy’s is just awful.

Obviously, there are so many other great fast food joints in the US. Which one is your favourite? Let me know in the comments below.

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Beyond the Beach: Underrated Activities In The Caribbean

When you think of the Caribbean what springs to mind?

Beaches?

Scuba diving?

Cocktails?

Me too. And when I think back to the trips I’ve taken to the Caribbean, this is immediately where my mind wanders because it’s a feature of the region that is actually incredible. The beautifully temperate waters of Negril’s 7 Mile Beach in Jamaica, or the perfect white sand of Barbados and, well, most everywhere else! Continue Reading

3 Days in Toronto, Canada: Best things to do

A few years ago I worked at a summer camp in Calgary and did a big road trip through the northeast of the USA, Ontario and Quebec. Toronto was a major stop on this trip, my crew and I spent 3 days there catching up with other camp friends from the summer just past. Toronto is a great city in which to live – It’s often voted as one of the world’s most livable cities – but some people argue that there’s not a great deal to see as a visitor. This notwithstanding, here are some of the things I spent my time doing.

CN Tower

Whenever I visit a city, I always check if there’s a tower so I can get a feel for the lay of the land. This was easy to find in Toronto, as I’d seen in many global tall building comparison pictures and it always featured towards to right. In fact, it was the world’s tallest tower until 2007. It was so high up that the ground seemed hazy due to the small clouds below us. It even has a glass floor so you can see down 550 metres to the ground. Unfortunately, all we could see at the time was a drab worksite.

View from the CN Tower Toronto
View from the CN Tower

Dundas Square

Dundas Square is Canada’s answer to Time Square. While Time Square will always wear the crown for the most billboards on a single block, Dundas Square has done a commendable effort. The square is full of restaurants, cafes and bars and is a centre for the arts with a couple of theatres and cinemas nearby. You probably wouldn’t come here for the sake of it, but it’s a good place to go for a meal or a few drinks.

Dundas Square, Toronto
Dundas Square, via Pedro Szekely on Wikimedia Commons

Read more: Canada Travel Guide on the Trusted Traveller.

Eat Poutine

“I LOVE POUTINE”. This was the catch cry of one of the young guys at the camp I worked at over the summer. He’s Canadian and clearly passionate. I can’t say I blame him though, as far as food inventions go, it’s up there with the buffalo wings, the Philly cheese steak, and the burger.

For the deprived, poutine is hot chips/fries with cheese curds and gravy. It’s so simple, and oh so delectable. It should be the first thing you order when you arrive in Canada.

Eating Poutine in Canada
Devouring poutine

Related: How much does it cost to visit Toronto?

Niagara Falls

It might be 90 minutes away, but Niagara Falls absolutely should be on your Toronto list. It’s just spectacular to see 600,000 gallons of water per second thundering over the edge down to the Niagara River 57 metres below.

My crew and I took a day trip, but you could easily spend a night out there to maximise your time. There are plenty of places to stay, but the Marriott is the closest and many of the rooms allow you to wake up to views of the falls. For information, see niagarafallsmarriott.com.

If watching the falls from the edge isn’t close enough for you, the Maid of the Mist cruise takes you as close as possible by boat. Prepare to get wet though, as the body-sized condom they provide doesn’t do a whole lot!

Niagara Falls with the Maid of the Mist
Niagara Falls with the Maid of the Mist

Further reading: an alternative list of things to do in Toronto.

MuchMusic

Depending on your age, this one might seem serious, or could be a joke. I am told that kids all over Canada grow up to MuchMusic, it’s like the Canadian MTV. MuchMusic is filmed at a studio in Toronto and I worked out that Foster the People, one of my favourite bands then and now, were performing on the show while we were there, so we thought we’d try and get in.

We lined up for about 15 minutes before long it dawned on us: all the other people in the line were teenage girls. We quickly bailed and went and did something adult-like. Thankfully I was able to see them play a full set later that month in Los Angeles.

Royal Ontario Museum

The ROM is one of those buildings where you’ll walk past it a dozen times, and every time you get a little more intrigued as to what is inside the doors. An ingenious design completed in 2007, combines the original 1914 building with a jagged, modern crystal-shaped building. Without saying a word it expresses the essence of the museum: everything from history, nature, arts and culture, all combined under one roof.

Royal Canadian Museum Toronto
Royal Ontario Museum

Casa Loma

Casa Loma is a large stone castle built in the early 20th Century. It has served as a residence, luxury hotel, war-time research facility, and museum. Now it serves as a tourist attraction where visitors can explore the great hall, secret tunnels, grand suites, towers, and the expansive castle grounds. The entry fee is pretty steep, but it’ll give you insight to how to absurdly wealthy lived 100 years ago.

Casa Loma Castle Toronto Canada with me
Casa Loma Castle

Toronto is billed as one of the world’s most liveable cities. In my experience, this means that there isn’t a whole lot for tourists to do. I could argue similarly – that it’s not bursting with tourist attractions – however, I had a really fun 3 days there and if you scratch a little deeper than what Lonely Planet tells you and get amongst the local culture, you’ll find plenty of things to do to fill up 3 days.

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