South Dakota a hidden gem in the US

Black Hills

For those who are traveling to the United States and want to visit a part of America that is rarely seen then South Dakota is the place to visit. South Dakota’s northern border is about 200 miles south of Canada and borders Nebraska on the north with Wyoming and Montana on its western border. The second longest river in the United States flows through the state, the Missouri River. It provides opportunities for fishing and water sports.

Historically South Dakota was a part of the Louisiana Purchase and some of the cities retain their French names such as Pierre, De Smet, and Belle Fouche as tribute to its French history. However as the 40th state much of its history is tied to the west, in particular the pioneers and the Native Americans. Its ties to the pioneer life can be read in Laura Ingle Wilder’s ‘Little House in The Prairie’ and be seen in the movie ‘Dances With Wolves,’ for example.

For those who are flying into the state from foreign countries then the Black Hills is the must see place to visit. In summer the Black HIlls provides camping and the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors. Plus there are opportunities to tour cave, mines, visit Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse monument, and a plethora of activities. While in winter the Black Hills provides great winter sports like skiing and snowmobiling.

The advantage of South Dakota over other US tourist spots is the fact it is very inexpensive. South Dakota’s low sales tax, along with low wages, and reasonable lodging rate means your dollar will go farther.

However, since the state is sparsely populated it means if you fly to South Dakota you will have to change planes. Sioux Falls Foss Field (FSD) is the largest airport in the state with major carriers offering connections to their hubs in Denver, Dallas, Minneapolis, and Chicago.

Sioux Falls is located in the southeast corner of the state near the Iowa and Minnesota border. Driving time to the Black Hills is about 5 hours on the interstate. Nonetheless flying into Omaha approximately 180, miles to the south, might provide you with a cheaper flight and more connections. Also, Minneapolis approximately 250 miles to the northeast provides international connections to London, Tokyo, Paris, and Amsterdam. From experience, Omaha tends to be a better option if you do not fly into Sioux Falls due to expense or connections. However when I visit I closely monitor flight prices and book it when there is very little difference between prices for Sioux Falls and Omaha. Typically this is about 8 – 12 weeks prior to my departure date. For those of you who do not like to create baselines and monitor them, then flying into Omaha might save you a lot of heartache monitoring ticket prices. When factoring in the cost of gas, in most cases, flying into Minneapolis is more expensive then flying into Omaha or Sioux Falls.

Since the state is sparsely populated with approximately 40% of the state living within an hour of Sioux Falls, it means driving is the only option since there is no other form of transport. This means traffic, with the exception of Sioux Falls, tends not to be an issue and driving, depending on where you are, can be relatively hassle-free.

In this author’s opinion if you are looking to go somewhere that is a part of America that does not always get seen and is inexpensive then South Dakota, especially the western part is a place to visit.

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Israel a must visit country

English: Beaches of Tel Aviv - Tel Aviv Harbor...

Imagine a beautiful democratic country where English is a primary language that is modern and has a sumptuous history. Also, imagine visiting a country whose history goes back to the start of civilization, with beaches, and a very modern feel. If you ask this author what one country is a must visit for anyone who wants to travel internationally, my response is Israel.

Before going further, Israel to this author does not include Gaza or the West Bank, due to the risk to safety. However, other parts of Israel this author feels safer than visiting any other part of the world. When visiting major Israeli cities like Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, or Eliat the security that exists is remarkable and it allows me to feel secure. This does not mean there is no crime and it does not mean Israeli cities are free of terrorist attacks; instead it means the security that is in place can create a wonderful feeling. With that said, something also has to be said about the warmth of the Israeli citizens and their hospitality that goes a long way in creating such a feeling.

At this point, you may be asking yourself about all of the protest and boycotts against the country, how does it influence the experience? In reality it does not and from this author’s experience they have very little impact.

It is this author’s opinion there is a vast gap between what is shown in the media (especially some American networks, British media, and European) and what is occurring in Israel. Some outlets will claim there is apartheid in Israel especially those with political agendas that tend to be associated with progressive (left-wing) causes. In reality Israel is a democratic country that is a member of the UN and subscribes to UN treaties.  Having visited Israel on several occasions this author is confident there is no apartheid in Israel.

For those traveling to Israel who converts their money to Shekels from Dollars, Pounds, Euro, or Yen will find a generous exchange rate. The generous exchange rate along with the warmth of the Israeli people makes you quickly forget about the misguided views of those in Diaspora.  From experience this author has seen conversion rates as high as 8 Shekels to the pound and over 4 Shekels to the dollar.  This means a 100 Shekel pound pair of jeans costs £12.25. However current rates, at the time of writing this blog, are just above 6 Shekels to the Pound and just under 4 Shekels to the Dollar.

Weather in Israel varies greatly depending on the time of year and location. Northern Israel during the winter can be cool. However summers in northern Israel are warm.  While southern Israel remains warm all year with temperatures well above 100 degrees in the summer. Since the country is in a desert rainfall is limited, which means most of the time it is sunny.

For those interested in traveling to Israel there are several great locations to visit and all a very short drive from each other. Israel does offer limited train service but its transportation infrastructure is primarily bus. However if you rent a car, the traffic in Israel is very manageable and the country from the northern most point to the southern most point can be driven in less than 8 hours.

Tel Aviv is the largest city and offers many amenities that a large city offers.  It is a great place to visit but Israel has a lot more to offer. Jerusalem, Israel‘s capital is a crossroad between modern life and ties to ancient civilization. It offers open air markets, the Western Wall, great restaurants, culture, and an opportunity to learn about politics. In this author’s opinion no trip to Israel is complete without a trip to Jerusalem.

Other gems that many people do not know, includes Eilat. Eilat situated in southern Israel on the Red Sea by the Egyptian and Jordanian boarders.  It has great beaches, tours to the Sinai, tours to Petra, and a great night life. It is a thriving town that is a must visit for anyone visiting Israel.

Another location that gets overlooked is Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee, a great place to spend sometime relaxing and soak up the scenery. The Dead Sea offers spas, an opportunity to unwind, and makes a great place to visit for a day trip. Ashdod offers great beaches on the Mediterranean Sea and great shopping experience.

For those who are willing to take a bit of a risk, due to occasional rocket attacks from Gaza, Sderot and Ashkelon offer the opportunity to see another side of Israel that much of the media misses. Ashkelon offers a lot of history and provides a very temperate climate on the Mediterranean Sea; while Sderot among other things offers a glimpse into an Israel that much of the world media ignores. Both cities are a must visit for anyone who wants to see the side of Israel that gets missed.

Getting to Israel is very accessible from the United States and Europe. Israel has one major air carrier, El Al and two regional carrier Israir and Arkia. From the United States most of the major airlines offer flights from cities such as Chicago, Los Angles, New York, and Atlanta. United Kingdom has direct flights to Israel from London, on several different carriers and Manchester. With most major European cities such as Brussels, Paris, Amsterdam, Prague, and Geneva offering flights to Israel. Even if a direct flight is not offered a connecting flight through a major hub makes Israel quite accessible.

So, if you are looking for a country that has a great exchange rate, that is easily accessible, and offers more than a hotel with a pool then Israel is your location. If there is one must visit country then Israel is the country to visit.