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4 Day Chernobyl Trip: Impressions, Advice and Photos

Chernobyl trip - abandoned classroom

I thought it would only be about abandoned buildings. And while we did visit and wander through dozens of schools, cafes, bus stations, hospitals, hotels, boat houses, supermarkets, television shops, summer camps, and a ton of more places, the experience of a Chernobyl trip went far beyond all of that.

For 3 nights and 4 days we were in ‘the zone’.

It was eye-opening, educational and very raw, all in one. We stayed in an old Soviet hotel in Chernobyl city, the only working town in the exclusion zone and home to several thousand people, almost all of whom work in some power plant / disaster related job. The rest of the population in town run the shop, two hotels, restaurant and other small businesses that support the workers.

Each day of our Chernobyl trip we learned more about the 1986 disaster, with our excellent guide, Nazar, providing details and information about every single site that we visited.

In between the education, I was left to stare out the window of the van or walk quietly along paths that meandered through the spectacularly overgrown forest, pondering the remains of a once flourishing region. I was left to try to comprehend the masses of people whose lives were uprooted and left behind, all within a few quick days (or slow days depending on how you look at the response to the disaster).

Chernobyl trip - apartment building

Sure enough, I found myself equally affected by the stories of those who sacrificed their lives to ensure the disaster didn’t escalate even more. And by those who knew the risks but decided to play a major role in securing and cleaning the area nonetheless.

Even today, there are still a couple of thousand people who work at or near the nuclear reactor, in various capacities. They spend 15 days in the exclusion zone and then they’re required to leave the zone for 15 days before they can return. Such workers include scientists, security personnel, contractors, technicians, engineers and more.

Again, this Chernobyl trip was far from a mere stream of photo opportunities.

Did you know that Sweden played a crucial role in uncovering the disaster?

Sweden detected radiation soon after and in their search for the source, they put pressure on the Soviet Union to confess if something had occurred. Had Sweden not detected the radiation and forced the Soviet Union to admit the situation, who knows if we would ever know what actually happened. And that would have been even more dangerous.

Chernobyl trip - control center

Places Visited During My Chernobyl Trip

As we traveled around, there were indeed the checkpoints, the bursts of radiation in certain areas, the feeling of desolation and the disgust at how the situation unfolded. There were the lunches at the local canteens, the memorials and the sad tales around every corner.

But at the same time, most of where we went inside the exclusion zone had a radiation level that would not be considered terribly excessive. The reason, I learned, is that the radioactive elements are heavy and as a result, have sunk into the ground by this stage.

We still found areas with levels as high as 10 uSV (microsieverts) and one piece of machinery that was a very high 750 uSv, but most places were between .4 uSv and 1 uSv on the Geiger counter radiation detector.

As the days passed, I saw the abandoned ferris wheel and the main square in Pripyat. I stood in front of the now covered Nuclear Reactor #3 where the disaster all began. There was a massive, rusted 1920s steamboat we climbed around, stuck in the mud near the Belarussian border. The piano shop was simply eerie, with rotting pianos lying silent all around the room.

Old piano shop

Chernobyl trip - reactor #3

The once grand swimming pool, the isolated summer camp on the shores of a river, the massive Duga radar station and an abandoned school deep in the woods along a road that seemed to receive no traffic for a long time. Dusty doll heads, broken desks, a boxing ring.

Dental implants and vials of chemicals, huge propaganda posters sitting behind a massive stage, an open purse on a kitchen table, in a house that was clearly abandoned in an instant.

A boat house, a rusted bus, a field of huge silent tractors. A cafe with impressive stained glass windows, a supermarket with shopping carts still scattered along the aisles, a room where soldiers studied the various missiles that might one day attack the Soviet Union.

Paperwork and school books, toys and broken televisions, old drink dispensers, gas masks and scattered clothes. Everywhere we went, every day, was a trip deep into the abandoned lives of thousands of people, into the stories and education and work and social activities of those who once called the region home.

Abandoned school house

Chernobyl trip - the gym

Chernobyl trip - dentist

Visiting a Resettler

And then, there was Vasily. One of 170 remaining re-settlers, this kind, golden-toothed 64 year old man returned to the exclusion zone shortly after the disaster, unwilling to have his life uprooted.

Today he lives way in the countryside, in an otherwise empty village located a one hour drive from any other sign of civilization, a village that can only be reached along a narrow, terribly pot-holed, completely forgotten road.

Vasily lives in an abandoned village, in a simple, but warmly decorated home. He grows an incredible amount of fruit and vegetables on his land, with beautiful looking cabbage, apples, plums, potatoes, berries, pumpkin, eggplant and more filling up the fields. He also raises chickens and some ducks, feeds the local storks and makes his own liquor, even though he doesn’t drink.

He leaves the village 1 or 2 times per year, that’s it.

Resettler Vasily

Chernobyl trip - Vasily's house

Our guide knew of Vasily but had never been to his village in the 7 years he’d been leading Chernobyl trips. He decided to take us out there on our third day.

What was supposed to be a quick stay to say hello turned into 5 hours as we dined on a wonderful spread of food – salads, eggs, stuffed tomatoes, sweet bread and of course some shots of his homemade brandy. Generous with his time and happy to have visitors, we asked him endless questions and listened to his stories of life before and after the disaster as we continued to nibble on the endless plates of food he served us.

And while you might hesitate to eat from his garden, the radiation level in his village is around .4 uSv. To give you an idea, a chest x-ray is about 100 uSv, some 250 times as strong. Even with that, Vasily’s health, his house, his land, chickens and even his cat are checked twice per year by scientists and doctors to ensure that it continues to be safe for him to live in this area.

Pripyat's old cafe

Chernobyl trip - cultural center

On our last day of this Chernobyl trip, I woke up in my simple yet somewhat cozy room at the Hotel Pripyat, took a shower in an impossibly small tub and soon found myself eating eggs and pancakes for breakfast. Life in Chernobyl city was remarkably normal considering the devastation that lies only a few kilometers away.

We passed through one last checkpoint, each of us standing inside a radiation detection machine in order to ensure we were radiation free. Then we handed over our lanyards/personal radiation detection devices that we were required to wear during our stay and we crossed the ‘border’ out of the exclusion zone.

And that was it. The Chernobyl trip was over and the exclusion zone was left behind, in a much different fashion than the thousands of people who had no choice back in 1986.

Quick Tips for Your Chernobyl Trip

I highly recommend visiting Chernobyl if you get the chance and I definitely recommend doing a multi-day trip.

A one day trip simply covers the same handful of sites that 95% of visitors see. If you spend a couple of nights in the exclusion zone, you’ll get to visit endless locations that very few people get a chance to explore.

In our 4 days, we saw almost no other tourists apart from at our hotel and at a couple of monuments in Chernobyl city. Everywhere else, we basically had to ourselves, all day, every day.

And while the temptation is high to turn a visit to Chernobyl into one big Instagram photo session, something important is definitely missed if you do. It’s worth taking time to learn as much as you can and to really appreciate the scale of the disaster and its effects. It’s quite an intense and draining experience when you do but it’s extremely valuable nonetheless.

  • Book through a local tour operator in Kiev
  • Book 2-3 months in advance as hotel rooms in Chernobyl city are limited
  • Either a private tour or a group with less than 6 people is the way to go (avoid big groups)
  • 3-4 days is highly recommended
  • Clothing rules require you to wear long sleeve shirts, long pants and closed-toe shoes
  • Take a comfortable day pack as you’re not allowed to put your bag on the ground while out exploring
  • Bring some money for snacks, drinks and basic supplies at the local shop in Chernobyl city
  • Ask your guide to include a visit with one of the re-settlers in the region
  • Eat at least one lunch at the power plant workers’ canteen
  • When to visit: Summer (great weather), Autumn (leaves have fallen, clearer views), Winter (quiet and eerier), Spring (few leaves, also good views)

Any questions? Just send me a message and I’ll be happy to assist!

Looking for more photos from my Chernobyl trip?

Check out my post: 33 Fascinating Chernobyl Photos

The post 4 Day Chernobyl Trip: Impressions, Advice and Photos appeared first on Wandering Earl.

How to Book a Good Airline Seat for Free (A Cool Trick)

Book a Good Airline Seat

When you purchase your flight, you could simply pay a lot of money to book a good airline seat. Of course, most airlines charge you to select a seat in advance. And prices for choosing your own seat in advance seem to be on the rise.

Recently, I was flying from Miami to Lisbon and TAP Portugal Airlines wanted $57 for me to choose a good seat. I decided not to pay.

Does that mean I was stuck with a bad seat?

Not at all. If you don’t want to dish out a bunch of money, there’s definitely still hope for you to book a good airline seat.

 

The second option…

I’m going to use another example of a recent flight I took.

Washington Dulles Airport to Istanbul with Turkish Airlines (A330-300 airplane)

Since I didn’t feel like paying another $50+ for a seat in advance, I waited until 12 hours before the flight departure time to check-in. At this point, Turkish Airlines, like many airlines, allowed me to choose a seat for free.

Upon checking in, however, the seat chart showed only 3 available seats for me to choose from. And to no surprise, the 3 available seats were all in the middle of the middle section, way in the back, in the last three rows. This is quite common to have the worst seats on the plane appear as the only options.

At first, you might think these are indeed the only seats available and that you must choose one. So, you’ll end up choosing what you think is the ‘least worst’ of these terrible seats.

But…try this instead:

A Simple Trick to Book a Good Airline Seat

  1. Don’t choose one of the seats
  2. Keep the app/website open to the seat chart
  3. Refresh the page or revisit the seat chart every few minutes
  4. You’ll start to notice that new seats will suddenly become available for you to choose
  5. Keep doing this until a really good seat is available
  6. Choose it, complete the check-in process and you’re good to go 

 

Flight Good Seat

 

How does this work?

When you go to check in 12 hours before your flight (or any time before your flight), there is no way that every passenger has chosen or been assigned a seat. Too many travelers don’t check in until they get to the airport and too many travelers wait until a few hours before the flight to check in online. Therefore, those people won’t have an assigned seat until they do check in.

As a result, when you check in online, the airline will try to force you to choose a crappy seat on the plane, hoping to fill up those seats with people who actually choose them. This is good for the airline as it leaves better seats available in case they need to move people around or resolve a situation by offering a passenger a good seat.

But, if you keep refreshing the seat chart, during that time, other people will start checking in online and choosing their seats. The chances are extremely high that other passengers will choose those crappy seats, thinking that they are the only seats available.

Then, once those crappy seats have been selected by other passengers checking in online, new seats will become available, because again, all of the seats have yet to be assigned. Once those few new seats are selected by other passengers, other seats will become available and so on, until a couple of hours before the flight when everyone has checked in.

With the example above, I refreshed the seat chart every 5 minutes for about 30 minutes. During that time, the available seats for me to choose from changed as the less desirable seats were filled by others.

I’m quite picky when I fly long distances. I really want to have an aisle seat in the middle section, close to the front of the plane. It’s just my thing.

After 30 minutes of refreshing, boom! Seat 19D was suddenly available, exactly what I prefer, and I grabbed it.

I then finished the check in process and was on my way, in a great seat.

Had I chosen one of those original 3 terrible seats, I would have been stuck in the last rows, in between two other passengers, right next to the bathroom, for 10.5 hours. And it would have been because I fell for the trick airlines play to get me to choose those unfortunate seats.

Don’t fall for the trick. Follow the above and you should get your desired seat, most of the time at least.

——–

Want to learn how I booked 13 flights around the world for $2200?

The post How to Book a Good Airline Seat for Free (A Cool Trick) appeared first on Wandering Earl.

33 Fascinating Chernobyl Photos

Chernobyl photos in the bus station

 

After my recent 3 night / 4 day trip into the Chernobyl exclusion zone, it’s time to share some photos. This trip was intense and everywhere I looked there were scattered pieces of a once thriving community, something that does not make for a light experience.

If you want to read my impressions and advice about traveling to Chernobyl, please check out my blog post: 4 Day Chernobyl Trip: Impressions, Advice and Photos

The below photos include shots from the main abandoned town of Pripyat as well as from villages and areas located all over the exclusion zone.

33 Chernobyl Photos

Chernobyl photos - checkpoint

Gas masks

Chernobyl photos - Duga radar view

Duga radar

Chernobyl photos - stairwell

Chernobyl photos - office building

Stained glass cafe wall

Chernobyl photos - soldier classroom

Greenhouse

Chernobyl photos - theater

Chernobyl photos - hotel

Backstage propaganda

Chernobyl photos - boxing ring

Chernobyl photos - gym wall

Eerie hallway

Chernobyl photos - school desk

Chernobyl photos - bus station lockers

Hospital room

Chernobyl photos - dentist

Chernobyl photos - dental office

Epidemic ward

Chernobyl photos - private home

Piano shop

Chernobyl photos - kindergarden

School building

Chernobyl photos - Roadside Picnic Shop in Chernobyl City

Chernobyl photos - summer camp

Computer

Chernobyl photos - bumper cars

Athletic court

Chernobyl photos - television shop

If you want to learn more about the Chernobyl disaster, I recommend reading Voices from Chernobyl: An Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster.

Here’s a quote from that book that summarizes the disaster well:

It’s certainly true that Chernobyl, while an accident in the sense that no one intentionally set it off, was also the deliberate product of a culture of cronyism, laziness, and a deep-seated indifference toward the general population. The literature on the subject is pretty unanimous in its opinion that the Soviet system had taken a poorly designed reactor and then staffed it with a group of incompetents. It then proceeded, as the interviews in this book attest, to lie about the disaster in the most criminal way. In the crucial first ten days, when the reactor core was burning and releasing a steady stream of highly radioactive material into the surrounding areas, the authorities repeatedly claimed that the situation was under control…In the week after the accident, while refusing to admit to the world that anything really serious had gone wrong, the Soviets poured thousands of men into the breach…The machines they brought broke down because of the radiation. The humans wouldn’t break down until weeks or months later, at which point they’d die horribly.

If you have any questions about visiting Chernobyl, please get in touch and I’d be happy to assist. I can recommend excellent local tour operators and guides that will ensure you don’t have the standard Chernobyl tourist experience that 95% of visitors tend to have!

Want to learn more about taking a Chernobyl trip?

Check out my thoughts and trip advice here – 4 Day Chernobyl Trip: Impressions, Advice and Photos

The post 33 Fascinating Chernobyl Photos appeared first on Wandering Earl.

Travel Agencies Find Success in Not Acting Like, Well, Travel Agencies

Indagare Travel founder and CEO Melissa Biggs Bradley with members of the Maasai tribe in Kenya in 2018. Indagare hires in-house specialists who design highly customized travel experiences.

Skift Take: Breaking with the usual travel agency practices has proved to be a winning situation for two travel companies on this year’s Inc. 5000 list. New approaches to hiring and travel planning are resonating in today’s culture.

— Maria Lenhart

Read the Complete Story On Skift

Themed Cruises Are a Double-Edged Sword for Travel Advisors

Cruise & Maritime Voyages

Cruises with a music theme, such as this one offered by Cruise & Maritime Voyages, appeal to a variety of demographics. Cruise & Maritime Voyages

Skift Take: Travel advisors who understand their clients’ interests and hobbies will likely find a themed cruise that meets their needs. But it may not be plain sailing since some operators seem to prefer to sell direct — and have the marketing reach to do so.

— Allan Leibowitz

Read the Complete Story On Skift

The Bachelor and Bachelorette Party Tradition Is Growing Up

Merlin Phuket  / Flickr

The bachelor and bachelorette party tradition is increasingly more about spas and wellness than partying. Merlin Phuket / Flickr

Skift Take: Millennials are getting married later in their lives, which means the debauchery typically associated with bachelor and bachelorette parties is changing with the times. There’s an opportunity for travel companies to respond to that demand.

— Rosie Spinks

Read the Complete Story On Skift

Fast-Growing Travel Companies Break With Agency Traditions

Marina Pursel  / Indagare Travel

Indagare Travel founder and CEO Melissa Biggs Bradley in Rwanda in 2017. Indagare provides highly customized itineraries and has a membership model quite unlike the business model of most travel agencies. Marina Pursel / Indagare Travel

Skift Take: Eschewing the usual travel agency business model, two travel companies on the Inc. 5000 list are enjoying significant success by providing highly curated itineraries and hiring staff with specialized expertise. Their approach is clearly resonating in today’s on-demand culture.

— Maria Lenhart

Read the Complete Story On Skift