How to travel solo and not be lonely

Every time I head out on a trip, whether it be an all inclusive vacation or to the other side of the world, everyone always asks ‘Are you traveling alone? All by yourself?’. My answer is pretty much always the same … ‘I’m traveling solo, but I’m never alone.’

It’s funny how needy we are (people in general). Everyone thinks you need to have someone else in order to travel, a partner or a friend. People don’t seem to get the whole travel solo idea even though millions of people are doing it. And, not just doing it but LOVING it.

All different types of personalities travel alone … some like peace and quiet, some like being social and meeting new people, some are nearly hermits at home, but when they get to a new country they flourish! Some people enjoy travel but there partner, spouse or friend does not or can’t get the time off. Everyone has their reasons.

Travelling solo gives you a great deal of confidence in yourself because it is up to you to make good decisions and hopefully non-harmful mistakes. We all make mistakes, it’s all about learning from them and hopefully making mistakes that make you stronger in the end. There is no one there but you to take responsibility for yourself and you truly learn a lot from that. Not to mention how much you learn about yourself! What you like and don’t like, how much stress you can handle, how resourceful you are …

It is true that I often get on the plane and leave my home in Halifax solo … yes, at that point I am alone – wait, not really … there’s another 100 people on the plane plus staff and crew. If I was really lonely, I could strike up a conversation with my seat mates or the staff, but most of the time I take that time to decompress, de-stress and get excited. Then I land in a new destination and there’s a whole new world out there waiting for me!

Don’t ever let not having a partner to travel with hold you back! Being alone is good for you sometimes and when you’re not ok with being alone, you just have to know where to find people … then you can make friends!

Generally speaking, people around the world like travellers. If you are lost, they’ll help you. If you are scared, they’ll get you to safety or take you under their wing. If you friendly, they’ll be friendly back. Ok, ok … unless you get yourself into some crazy gang area or unethical situations … then you might be on your own, so don’t do that! But, almost everywhere I’ve travelled I’ve found good people who want you to enjoy their country.

As we grow older, we forget how to make friends. As students, you spend time in class with people and create study groups. You hang out after class and have drinks together. But, as adults, we work and we don’t always want to work and play in the same sandbox, so where do you find friends then?

Students, hold tight to your best friendships in university. Work at keeping in touch with your best friends while you are traveling or when you move to different parts of the country. Sure, each of you are going to change, but you’ll always be bonded by memories of school years. These friendships can lead to interesting travel opportunities later on depending on where your friends spread out around the country and the world!

Here are a few tips for traveling solo but not getting lonely.

1. Small Group Adventure Tours – These tours are usually made up of 10 -12 like-minded travellers and are guided by a local. You get to go to some really interesting places and get a local’s insight along the way. You’ll meet new friends, see new places and not be alone which is great to stave off loneliness, but also for safety.

Have questions about which tour company is best or you or need help deciding on your destination? As an Adventure Travel Specialist & full service travel agent, I would love for you to contact me to discuss your many options! Keep in mind that prices are the same through a travel agent as online, but you get the benefit of personal experience, professional expertise and a real person to help sort out all of the details of your trip! For enquiries, email stucker@MeritTravel.com

2. City Tours – Not up for a week or month long small group tour? That’s ok, you can still join in on day tours. Again you’ll get to travel with a local and see some of the ins and outs of a city or area plus you’ll meet the others in your group and make plans for other day tours or hanging out for drinks later. As a solo female traveller, my favourite are the city by night tours. If I’m alone, I don’t normally go out in the city at night, so I love to go on night tours because I can meet people and travel the streets safely. It’s also nice to have a group to dine or have drinks with.

3. Bars – Although you have to be careful, bars are still a great place to meet people. Although I’ve never been very good at this one, lots of people are and I think it just takes practice. Find yourself a seat at the bar. Make sure you sit in the middle so there is a free seat on either side of you. Strike up a conversation with the bartender – male or female, doesn’t matter. Ask them about their community, their life, other fun things to do. Soon enough, you’ll probably have people sitting on both sides of you joining in the conversation. Just remember to keep your wits about you and be safe. Watch your drink at all times to make sure no one slips anything in it!

4. Hostels – Travelers of all ages use hostel accommodations these days. Staying at a hostel immediately gives you a sense of community. You are amongst fellow travellers. Don’t be shy. Ask someone if you can share their table at breakfast and start chatting about your travels. Some hostels have a bar or activity nights or a sitting / lobby area. Don’t be afraid to hang out there and chat with other travellers! Many a great travelling friendship has been born through hostel connections.

5. Couch Surfing – Looking for cheap accommodations? You can’t get much better than free! People offer up their couch (or spare bed) for travellers passing through for a day or two, sometimes longer. These folks are also often eager to show you around, tell you about their community and sometimes even take you out on the town. What a great way to meet new friends and stay on budget! Just make sure you check references and reviews carefully. If you ever arrive at a home and feel uncomfortable, don’t worry about anyone’s feelings, just keep yourself safe and leave the situation. Enjoy the local living and respect the people you stay with. Then, when you are done traveling and have a home of your own re-pay the favour to other travellers and offer your couch up for surfing!

Until the day when I meet the perfect travel partner who I am fully in tune with, I’ll continue traveling solo and loving every minute of it. You get to make the decisions that affect the outcome of your travel experience and you don’t have to be responsible for anyone else’s decisions.

Get out there. Step outside of your comfort zone. Start small with a week long trip to somewhere on the same continent. Challenge yourself to be fully responsible for your own happiness and travel alone. Cast aside the possibility of loneliness. With the few tips above, you’ll be well on your way to meeting new friends and having no shortage of fun options no matter where you travel. Once you get a taste of the freedom that solo travel provides, watch out … wanderlust is a disease that can’t be cured!

*** Credit Card Insider’s Visitor Experience department has requested that I write this post as a resource for their current and potential clients. If you wonder what credit card might be best for you, they are a great place to start. Give them a quick click and check it out! This is an unpaid post, solely on a collaborative basis.

Shari’s Epic Adventure 2014

For those of you who want to know what I’m up to and where I’m going this fall, here’s the quick version. Blogs with more details on each country to come soon.

Facts:

I’ll be visiting nine amazing countries in four short months.
Italy, Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, Turkey, Greece, Chile, Argentina and Dominican Republic.

Eight of those countries are places I have never been to before.

This is NOT vacation for me. I know this is hard for most of you to fathom, but I will be working while traveling. I will be working as a travel agent the entire time I am traveling. I will have a mobile office that just happens to be in a different country every couple of weeks. The only way I can travel is if I continue to work while I’m on the road, on a boat or in the air, so please, drop me a note if you are planning to travel. I’d love to help arrange your next adventure, big or small!

Highlights:
I don’t doubt that there will be an endless number of highlights that stand out from this trip and only a few of them are things that are planned. Most of the highlights are likely to be unplanned moments that spontaneously happen. For now, here are the things that I am most looking forward to:

Tall Ship Sailing on the Mediterranean. (Star Clippers, Royal Clipper – 7 days Venice to Venice) – Send your best wishes as I try to muster the guts (and a balanced stomach) in order to climb to the crow’s nest on the ship. Fully harnessed of course!

Cinque Terre, Italy – This is an area that I dream of visiting and I can’t wait to experience it’s beauty. The main highlight here will be hiking from town to town along the coast and up the mountains through tiny towns, lush vineyards, past monasteries and castles.

Cappadocia, Turkey – A sunrise hot air balloon ride over the valley. How does it get any better?

Visiting an estancia (ranch) near Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Patagonia – The southern most tip of South America crossing through both Chile and Argentina. Torres del Paine National Park and visiting a Penguin colony.

Studying Spanish in the Dominican Republic. I’m heading back to Sosua to Casa Goethe to study Spanish. I studied for 5 or 6 weeks in 2012 and lived in the Dominican for a total of 7 weeks. I can’t wait to go back to continue learning this beautiful language and visit with friends from all over the world.

I have one month before departure. I have no less than a million things to get done, but I have faith that it will all come together and that anything that doesn’t get done wasn’t that important.

Follow along on my Epic Adventure by entering your email to get notifications when I publish a new story (in the right side column on this blog). If you want to see photos, you should check out one (or all) of the following:

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Air BnB – I found one – Now what?

You’ve spent hours looking at pictures of lovely homes in the area you want to visit. You’ve read so many reviews from happy travellers that they are all blending together, but now what?

Exactly what do you do once you find a rental that you like?

For me, I save it to my favourites and write a little note about why I like this particular home, what was unique or anything else that caught my eye – good or bad.

For example: Great location – close to train / great reviews / no internet / lots of natural light
For example: Third floor, no elevator / no kitchen / reviews say wifi slow / 20 minutes from town / great host reviews / great view and balcony / breakfast included

Once I’ve exhausted my searching and narrowed down to a little (or large) list of my favourites, I start sending messages to the hosts to check on availability and pricing. This is also your time to ask any questions about any of the rules.

Air BnB does a great job at making things easy for you. Once you’ve written your first message, the site automatically saves it for the next time you write to a host. You don’t even have to copy and paste the message and you most certainly don’t have to start from scratch! Just take a moment to make sure the details of the message are pertinent to the host and property you are interested in and then send away! You might want to update any questions you have about particulars of a specific location such as asking about the size of the pool and how often it is cleaned; this is only relevant if there is a pool!

A big tip prices ARE negotiable. That’s right, you can ask the hosts for a special offer or discount. They can say yes or no, but it never hurts to ask! I don’t suggest trying to bargain like you would at a market in the Caribbean, but asking for a better price is acceptable. Every single host that I wrote, I asked for a discount … in Cinque Terre I reasoned it with ‘because October is low season and I’m renting for five days’ … However, I also found out from several of the hosts that October isn’t low season at all and that they are actually still very busy that time of year! Having said that, almost all of the hosts that I wrote, who had availability for my dates, gave me at least a small discount.

One rental started at $840 CAD and went to $751 CAD for five nights stay.
Another rental started at $463 CAD and went to $407 CAD for five nights stay.

When the host agrees to a discount, they can form a special offer for you with the details / price at the discounted rate and then you can decide to book or decline it. This is all done through the Air BnB mailbox that you will have once you set up your profile. Don’t worry, it isn’t another email address to remember, just part of your Air BnB profile. They can also put a deadline on the special offer so that you don’t take a month to decide when they could be booking up with other people.

If you simply get an email from them stating that they will give you a discount, that is not good enough. In order for it to be official, you need to get the Special Offer from them (a link that you click) and accept it. If it is simply done through email, you could arrive and be expected to pay the original price. You don’t want that to happen!

For Cinque Terre, I wrote to about five different hosts. My favourite home was out of my price range, but I asked the host for a discount and he obliged as I was traveling solo and his location was meant for up to five people. However, in the end I decided to go with a cheaper option (1/2 the price). Interesting enough, the host from my favourite location had also mentioned that he is involved with a tour company that offers wine / boat / cooking tours that he could give me further information on if I was interested. Although I didn’t book in to stay at his rental, I made sure to write him back and get more details on his tour company. I’m working on it now to see if they work with travel agent partners. If they do, I’ll be sure to share the information soon!

I’m excited that I will be enjoying my very first Air BnB experience in the lovely little fishing village of Vernazza in Cinque Terre, Italy. As I mentioned above, it was not my favourite rental option, however, it was my favourite within my price range, which is very important!

Eva’s Rooms #3

Maurizia, the host, has been absolutely lovely to correspond with so far and I suspect she’ll be a lovely host on arrival. Of course, I’ll be keeping you posted if you’re following along on my journey!

If you are considering trying Air BnB for the first time, please take a moment to sign up with this promo code. When you book your first stay it will give you $27 off, and I will get a credit as well. Share the love!

*** NOTE: As a travel agent, Air BnB is not a product that I sell or that I can assist you with professionally. They are private home rentals and you enter into an agreement with the hosts at your own risk. I am simply sharing my personal experiences and thoughts about the product because I love travel … just like you!

Air BnB – the ins and outs

When I first decided to really look into Air BnB, I started my Air BnB search with Cinque Terre, Italy. It is series of five fishing villages in the Italian Riviera where there are very few hotels. I’ve been looking for accommodations for two sets of honeymoon clients recently and coming up with nothing acceptable, only very basic or very luxurious accommodations, nothing in between. Both of these honeymoon couples decided to use Air BnB for their stay in this region, but still chose to book hotels with me in other locations, so now I’m giving it a go for part of my travels too!

I started looking through the listings which you can filter by price and various amenities. I found no shortage of great options in all five of the Cinque Terre villages.

What should you look for?
First of all, determine your wants and needs for accommodation and set up your filters to narrow down your search and make it less overwhelming. No point in sorting through 300 options if only 10 of them meet your price range! I set the filters to choose my price range and then in the amenities, only listings with internet as I will be working, not vacationing. I also choose if I want a private room, apartment or entire house, or sometimes I leave all three just to compare my options and the pricing variations.

Just like renting in your home town, if you rent a room from someone within their house, rent is cheaper than if you rent an apartment. And, renting an apartment is cheaper than renting a stand-alone home.

Once you have your filters set and hit search, you’ll be given all of your matches which you should look through thoroughly. They show up with the basic information: a photo, price and location. For me, I look at the main photo of the home on the profile and then I go directly to the written details. I look for what amenities are included (kitchen / internet / Air Conditioning / TV / Cable etc), how they describe the location, house rules, any extra charges (sometimes you have to pay electricity separate on longer rentals) and often if they give discounts for longer rentals it will be mentioned in the profile.

You’ll also want to take quick note of the cancellation policy category. If it is flexible, strict or long term. You can find descriptions for each of these here. It’s up to you, how confident are you that you are making a firm booking on those specific dates? If you are unsure, you may want the flexible option so that you don’t lose too much money. But, understand … not everyone offers flexible cancellation. If folks are in this to make money and you cancel your month long rental two days before you arrive, they may not be able to re-rent it. So, it is understandable if they put partial refund policy in place instead of full.

Further down the page you can check out the reviews. There are two types of reviews you can access. There are reviews on the specific property you are looking at and then there are reviews for all of the properties that the host has. Both are good to check out as you want to verify that the property you are looking at is as it says, but you also want to verify that the host is reliable, personable and honest.

On the right side of the website you can also see stats on the host’s response rate and timeliness. This is a great way to tell which hosts are organized and on top of things. If they have a 90% response rate within one day, you can be pretty sure they are going to get back to you quickly. If they have poor stats, that might be an indication that they will be difficult to track down in destination to get your keys or if a problem arrises. Something to keep an eye on.

One really great thing about Air BnB is that you get the chance to review every place you stay at AND the host cannot delete the review. That means if you give them a bad review, it shows up in their list and they can’t hide it. However, I would say about 90% of the hundreds of reviews I’ve read on various properties have been good. They seem to be more genuine and much less picky than Trip Advisor Reviews which you have to take with a grain of salt.

If the property and the host have good reviews, then I’ll check out all of the photos that they have.

Things to look for when you are reviewing the photos of a property:
1. Do they show all of the rooms? Kitchen / bedroom / bathroom / sitting areas / outside the property / pool
2. If it is listed as a two bedroom, do they show photos of both bedrooms or just one?
3. Do they show two or three photos of the kitchen (for example), but you notice that each one has different cupboards or layout? Then you need to ask which photo is correct for the property you are enquiring about. Sometimes it is a mistake, other times the same host has two apartments to rent within the same facility so they post photos of both. If you notice discrepancies though, it is in your best interest to ask before booking.
4. Do the photos match the amenities listed? If a pool is listed, is there a photo? Is it a full size pool or a lap pool? In the bedroom if you can see the entire room, is there only a fan or can you see an air conditioning unit? Does the kitchen have fridge / stove or cooktop / microwave? Or, is it just a kettle and a sink?

If everything seems to match your criteria for a good rental, then save it to your favourites and move on to the next one. Hopefully there will be a handful of really great options that become your favourites and a few others that would work if your top choices don’t pan out.

Air BnB – What’s that?

Just what is this Air BnB thing that you hear your traveling friends raving about? I’ve been hearing people talk about it for about the last year, but I’m sure it has been around much longer than that. There’s a long list of sites that offer similar (yet different variations) of private home rentals, Air BnB is one of them. Other variations are couch surfing, home away, flip key … the list goes on.

Since I started working in the travel industry and also running the Hello World meet up group I’ve been hearing great feedback about Air BnB. So, here’s the low-down for those of you who don’t know anything about it.

Air BnB is an online database of privately owned homes or rooms for rent around the world. Just like the real world, the homes vary in every way you can imagine! People can choose to rent out a room in their house or they can rent out their entire house. The ‘house’ could be an apartment, condo, shack, hut, mansion, castle or even a two person tented hammock.

As a travel agent, this is not something that I sell as it is dealing directly with private homeowners, so as an agency, we have no contracts in place for business partnerships with these individuals. It is something that you do *at your own risk*.

Air BnB is an online company dealing directly with homeowners, real estate agents or property management companies. They are not hotels or franchises of any kind and to my knowledge, do not work with travel agencies. They are simply homeowners like you and I … (oh wait, I sold my condo so I could go travel! So, not like me, but maybe just like you!)

People rent out their homes or a room for all different reasons …
1. To meet new people with similar travel interests and help travellers out.
2. To make money. They may own two or more homes, live in one and rent the others out. Or, they may be in the Property Management business.
3. To pay their bills. Maybe the owner is traveling, but has a place they have to pay for. Renting it out while they are away helps offset bill costs.
4. To boost their other travel related businesses. Many of the Air BnB hosts also run tour companies and although I haven’t found them pushy at all, they are certainly interested in having you try out their tours while you are there.

It is up to you as a traveler to decide what type of accommodations you are looking for and what price you are willing to pay. Do you want to be immersed in the culture and live with a local family? Do you want the privacy of your own apartment with the ability to cook meals? There’s a lot of variety out there, now it’s time to start sifting through it all.

The Air BnB website is very user friendly. I started browsing options immediately and only created a profile when I was starting to narrow down options and wanted to save them to my favourites.

Now, just why is a travel agent with access to thousands of hotels booking a product that she doesn’t even sell? Well, it’s pretty simple actually …

1. There are some places in the world that are very difficult to find hotels in.
2. I love to live locally and meet the people of the community. Hotels aren’t very social, usually. And, because I travel with so much equipment (camera / laptop etc), I can’t really stay comfortably in hostels for safety reasons.
3. Hotels can be incredibly expensive for a long term trip like my own, so for some parts of my trip, I’m doing Air BnB rentals to save money both on accommodation and on not eating every single meal at a restaurant.

Having said all of that, my fall trip is 80% hotel accommodations. I’m using Air BnB for my rental in Cinque Terre because it is a difficult location for hotels and I’ve chosen a rental in Dominican Republic that is an apartment with kitchen as I will be there more than a month. Doesn’t hurt to have a little variety throughout your travels!

Just in case you want to give Air BnB a try for somewhere you are planning to go, you can sign up with this special promotion link and we’ll both get a discount on our next booking! $27 off could be one free night for you AND for me!

Just keep in mind that Air BnB is not a product that I sell through the travel agency. We have no affiliation with it and take no responsibility if you have a bad experience. This is to be undertaken 100% at your own risk. This blog is purely from my personal perspective on traveling.

If private rentals just aren’t up your alley or you want a combination of hotels and private rentals, I’d be happy to help you out with finding great hotels / tours and packages for your next adventure!

MSI and Traveling

I’ve been wondering for awhile what the real deal is with MSI (Nova Scotia health coverage) when you travel. I did a little research on the internet and found a semi-useful link and then I called MSI to get a better explanation. I got through right away with no hold time and when one person couldn’t answer all of my questions, someone else got back to me right away!

Here’s the low-down on what I found out for Aug 1st, 2014 going forward.

• You can use a PO Box for mailing, but you must also provide a civic address WITHIN Nova Scotia. There are no exceptions for this, so be prepared to give a friend or family member’s residential address if you don’t actually have a home of your own. It cannot be a business address.
• You should call MSI to tell them of your travels outside of Province or Country any time you are leaving for 30 days or more. If there is a claim on your account, they will need to contact you before processing it if you haven’t already advised them of your travels.
• Everything is based on you being WITHIN Nova Scotia for a minimum of 152 days per calendar year.
• The 152 days do not have to be consecutive, just all within the same calendar year.
• You can email your travel details to them at any time: msi at medavie.ca. You can also use this if you need to contact MSI while you are traveling.
• You can be granted a one year (12 consecutive months) temporary absence for work / volunteer purposes. This is allowed only once every six years.
• In addition to the one-year temporary absence, you can get an additional one-year work absence, but does require a contract with MSI stating that you are returning to NS as your permanent residence.
• Without one of the above temporary absences, if you are out of province for more than 152 days in a calendar year, your MSI can be revoked and leave you with no provincial coverage. That means when you are in Nova Scotia, you will have to pay for everything – doctor visit, x-rays etc. Most of us take this for granted and we shouldn’t!

Travel Insurance companies require you to have provincial coverage before they sell you a travel medical policy. You don’t see it, but if you have a medical claim while you are away your Travel Insurance Company corresponds with MSI (or your provincial coverage) to figure out who pays what. MSI pays very little, but to an Insurance Company, that little is better than nothing!

If you do not have provincial coverage, then you have to get a different type of insurance depending on your circumstances. This could be Visitors to Canada insurance (if you are a permanent resident elsewhere and just visiting here for a period of time), or it might be expat’s insurance, for people who live and work abroad for longer than 12 – 18 months.

For my upcoming travels, it looks something like this.

2014 – Must be in Nova Scotia for total of 152 days (away = 213 days available)
January – 8 days – Mexico
April – 21 days – Asia
September / October – 40 days – Europe
November / December – 51 days – South America / Dominican Republic
Total out of province for 2014: 120 days (max is 213)
Total consecutive 2014 – 51 days (max is 213)

So, for 2014, I’m all-good!

Now, because I will be traveling into 2015, things get a little complicated. You can still only be away for a total of seven consecutive months, even if it spans two different calendar years. So, if I leave November 13, 2014 I must return to Nova Scotia within 213 days, which takes me to approximately June 10, 2015. This means that I MUST return to Nova Scotia on or before then in order to keep my provincial coverage active.

If I were away from Jan 1 – June 12, 2015 that will use up 163 of my 213 available ‘Away’ days. That means from June 13, 2015 until Dec 31, 2015 I can travel for an additional 50 days out of province. So, if I were to stay away until June 12, 2015, I wouldn’t be able to leave until November for another long trip, and that’s if I don’t leave the province between June and November!

What I think will likely happen is that I’ll come home to Nova Scotia sometime in late March or April, stay until May – do a few weeks away for a photo tour, then be home for June – October – Departing again in November for the next big adventure. This all depends on how well business goes while traveling in the next few months!

I hope this helps demystify how long you are able to be out of the country for. If not, I am not a guru, so I suggest you contact MSI to talk over your specific details with them for further clarification.

To Rome or not to Rome …

Over the last week or so I’ve started doing a little research for my own little adventure to Italy. I arrive in Venice on September 19th (OMG! That’s soon) and then do my Star Clippers sailing for seven days to Montenegro, Croatia and Slovenia before returning to Venice to really begin my Italian Adventure.

I’m thrilled to have one of my best friends, Stephanie, traveling with me for the sailing portion of the trip and then she’s staying in Venice with me for a couple of days to explore as well. After that, I venture out on my own. I must admit, it is a bit of a soft launch into my solo adventures because she’ll be on the plane with me when I leave Halifax.

Since Cinque Terre is top priority for me in Italy, it is the place that I want to make sure that I visit. Everything else is secondary. Cinque Terre is an area in the North west of Italy with five quaint little villages, each with their own charm. It is a national park and pedestrian only within the communities which are delicately balanced on the edge of cliffs facing the ocean. These communities are what dreams are made of. I just know that I’m going to love them! I will book a villa / apartment there for 4 – 5 days and then I will try to spend one day in each community, as well as walking between a couple of them. They are known for the beautiful hiking trails and stunning vistas. My camera is begging me to take it there!

After Cinque Terre, my second priority is Tuscany. It is an area in North-Central Italy with beautiful rolling hills, known for harvest time and wines. You may remember the movie ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’? Yes … yes… yes … That’s what it’s all about. I’ll likely stay close to Florence, but take a couple of day trips or tours through the countryside and maybe even just hop off the train in an unknown community along the way just to see what I can see. Florence, Siena, Pisa, Lucca are all in the Tuscany Region. I’m sure I could use a week in the area, but I just simply don’t have that much time.

Which brings me to the Rome dilemma. Can I go all the way to Italy and not visit Rome? Rome, the historically amazing Italian Capital … home to Vatican City, a country within a country and unlimited amazing well known attractions such as the Spainsh steps, Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum and so much more!

How could I possibly not visit Rome? I feel like I’m cheating if I go to Italy and don’t visit this amazing city.

I posted on my Facebook page one day to see if others thought I was crazy for leaving Rome out and I’d say it was almost 50/50 from the people who responded.

I did some soul searching … To Rome or not to Rome …

And I’ve decided …

Generally speaking I’ve never been a fan of big cities when I travel. Although they each have their own interesting attractions and vibe, I’ve never said WOW I want to go back to that city!

Instead, I get the warm fuzzies when I think about my local living and home stay experiences, interacting with the locals, learning a bit of the language, helping prepare food or photographing people in their homes or at work.

I tend to like peace and quiet in life and that overflows into my travels. Hectic cities are fun to see, but I find them a little stressful. Do I really want to be stressed during this trip? Let’s go with No.

I am also far far far from being a history buff. In fact, although I find history interesting in the moment that I’m learning about it, I rarely recall any of the facts the next day. I’ve been to many museums, but very few that really impacted me. (The Holocaust museum in Berlin, the Agent Orange section of the War Remnants museum in Ho Chi Minh City and S21 in Cambodia are the exceptions).

I don’t find pleasure in exploring old art either. So, while I don’t mind browsing an ancient art gallery, I tend to only need an hour, not three and I know for sure that I won’t want a whole day of museums and galleries.

Although I’ll be in Italy in late September / early October, which is shoulder season, I still don’t want to spend half of my time waiting in line to see any of these big tourist attractions that I’m really not that interested in. Even with the ‘skip the line’ tickets, you still end up in a line, just a sizeably smaller one. Instead of waiting 2 – 6 hours to enter, you might only wait one hour.

I feel like I’m being really negative here, but in the end it’s actually all positive! In making the decision not to see Rome this time around, I have made extra room for Cinque Terre and Tuscany which I think are more my style and size. There is still a tonne of history as well as museums and galleries to be seen throughout these areas if I choose to, but I think instead I’ll spend my time people watching, cycling through the rolling hills, wandering local markets, hiking cliff-side paths between fishing communities and watching the sun set each night.

My point here is that every traveller is different. For some people history and art are the draw. For others, they want to see the tourist attractions that ‘everyone is talking about’. People travel for all sorts of different reasons, with different interests and purposes.

For me, it isn’t so much about what statues, buildings, monuments attract people to an area, but rather the natural beauty, the way of life and the local community. There will be another trip to Italy, I’m sure of it. And, who knows … maybe at that time I’ll be craving a big city or some ancient history. For now, I need a little bit more of a slow pace.

Forward I go, bypassing Rome on this trip, in order to stay true to myself and the things that inspire me to travel more.

The Wind in her sails

When a good opportunity presents itself, you should just take it … You’ve all heard that advice before, right?
Grab all of the good opportunities that you can and be whisked away by what might be the most amazing journey of your life. Sometimes that is in the form of a job opportunity, a un-planned, but much anticipated child, a broken-hearted stray that finds it’s way to your home …

All of the love, learning and happiness that can come from these opportunities abounds, just be open to it.

And, funny how when you are looking for opportunities and put them out to the universe, sometimes the universe lifts you up and takes you along like the wind in her sails …

Ah yes … I’ve literally been talking to the universe. Now that you think I’m officially crazy, that’s ok. Being ‘Normal’ is overrated anyway.

Everyone knows about the law of attraction and surrounding yourself with positive thoughts and positive people. Not everyone believes in it, but most people know about it. For me, I’ve been busy planning my upcoming travels. Several times I’ve said ‘oh I wish this …’ … Then I take a moment, stop and think about it and then just put it out there. I don’t know how or why it works but sometimes those wishes come true.

When I originally made the decision to go travel this fall, my loose plan was Central and South America. However, I called it the Unplan because I wanted my plans to be fluid and be able to change. I didn’t want to be tied into any commitments too far in advance because I knew that while planning for approximately eight months, my thoughts would change. And, they have.

A friend and fellow photographer from Norway who I traveled with in Burma, is now living in Vietnam. When I was in Vietnam on my photo tour in April, we went for coffee and got caught up. A couple of months after that, he put me in touch with his ex-boss, an Australian fellow who was living in Turkey. Through various discussions, this little Canadian girl gets invited on a tour of Turkey. Now, I wouldn’t say that Turkey is top of my list for places to travel, but certainly in the top 20 countries. The problem was that the tour would only be available in October which is when my Peru: Through the Lens Photo tour was scheduled for. Flying from Europe to South America with one or two days leeway before leading a photography tour was do-able, but not ideal. None the less, I took the opportunity that presented itself. Can you not see how the universe was working for me?

My Unplan for Central / South America then evolved to unexpectedly include Europe. Not many people from Nova Scotia travel all the way to Europe for just seven days and I wasn’t planning to either! Again, my unplan evolved into covering some of my other top-list countries. Namely, Croatia and a little bit of Greece since I was in the area anyway.

I spent hours researching and trying to put together options for dates and tours that would fit into the timelines that were set out. I had my loose schedule and tours decided on and my flights on hold and then two things happened.

1. With only a few people signed up for the Peru tour and only a few days before the deposit deadline, I made the difficult decision to post-pone the photo tour and look at dates in Spring of 2015. This would give me more time to sell the trip. After all, there was lots of interest in the tour, but many people weren’t able to go on short notice either due to vacation time or finances.

2. The day that I put all of my flights on hold, I received a late afternoon phone call that changed the Captain’s course. The rep from Star Clippers was on the phone, so excited she could barely contain herself. The exact trip that I had previously inquired about, was being offered to a select few agents who had shown interest in their products and she was calling to invite me to be one of her special guests.

I didn’t even know what to say! Of course I had to *think* about it, because I’m not overly impulsive … but honestly, what was I thinking about? When an opportunity presents itself, you take it.

I hesitated a bit because I get sea sick very easily. I’ve been horribly ill on several big ferries, mildly ill on many others and inconsolably ill on a ferry crossing from Miquelon to Saint Pierre and also when I did a Norwegian Cruise from Boston to Bermuda. In all fairness though, Boston to Bermuda is a rough crossing at the best of times and we were riding the tail end of a hurricane in September 2006.

I love the water though! I love the wind in my hair and the raising of the sails. I go out on the calm Halifax harbour a couple of times every summer and occasionally out with friends in their boats and I never get sick. I’ve been on lots of 1/2 day boat tours in various countries and I always seem to be ok, although sometimes a little nauseous.

The thought of sailing intrigues me. The opportunity to climb to the top of the crow’s nest and see the view from that high scares me, but I can’t wait to do it! Maybe I’ll learn to tie some knots and assist in hoisting the sails. It’s an open-deck policy on board, so I can’t wait to chat with the staff and hear about life on the water.

I love vacations where you unpack once, but get to do lots of exploring. Cruises, sailing and river boats are great for this. With a big long journey and lots of moving around ahead of me, the thought of being home-base on a boat even for just a week makes me happy.

I also can’t wait to share my first time sailing experience with all of you! I’m excited to take pictures and uncover stories to blog about.

Now back to this whole big universe of ours … in March 2013 I wrote my Adventure & Travel Bucket list – Subject to Change. This is from just over a year ago. Here’s what I had on my list (and notes as to what I’ve accomplished).

1. Me to We Volunteer Trip (Kenya or India) – It is at the top of my list as it is extremely important to me, yet I don’t expect to go on this adventure until 2014. UPDATE – Still very interested in this, but Africa is not on my 2014 list.

2. Vietnam – including Sapa, Mui Ne, Halong Bay, taking part in the Full Moon Festival, cycling in the countryside.
UPDATE: I’ve now been to Halong Bay and participated in the Full Moon Festival in Hoi An.

3. Burma / Myanmar – I really want to go before it becomes an in demand destination. Cycling is on my to do list here as well as lodge at a monastery (not a hotel). UPDATE: Amazing destination. I visited in August 2013. I got to cycle and visit monasteries, but did not stay in one.

4. Croatia – including Split & Dubrovnik UPDATE: Will be visiting Dubrovnik and Hvar in September 2014. Split will have to wait for me.

5. Spanish school (Guatemala / Belize / Honduras / Nicaragua) UPDATE: This is still on the tentative list for Winter / Spring 2015. Or, I might just continue Spanish school in the Dominican Republic as I’ll be there in December 2014 / January 2015.

6. Gorilla Trek (likely in Rwanda)

7. African Safari (South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania or Botswana)

8. Cape Town, South Africa – because of Nelson Mandela

9. Hot Air Balloon ride – over Cappadocia, Turkey or the Maasai Mara, Kenya UPDATE: I will be doing a hot air balloon ride over Cappadocia, Turkey in October 2014. Super excited. Definitely one of highlights that I’m most looking forward to.

10. Bhutan – Because of the happiness factor

11. Celebrating New Year’s in another country UPDATE: I will be in Dominican Republic for New Year’s Eve 2014 & ringing in the new year!

12. Italy – Tuscany / Venice UPDATE: September 2014 I’ll be visiting Venice and Tuscany!

13. Greece – Cinque Terre UPDATE: Cinque Terre is not in Greece! Apparently a year ago I didn’t know that. It is five communities on the northwest coast of Italy. I had seen photos and want to see it in person. Apparently I just didn’t know where ‘there’ was! I’ll be visiting in September 2014.

14. Colombia UPDATE: I’ve decided not to go in 2014, but this is really high on my list and there is a good possibility I’ll be there in early 2015.

15. Morocco

So, a full year ago I was dreaming of these 15 places and now I’ve visited many of them and have many more of them on my fall travel schedule. This is not at all by chance though. I started looking at options, talking about wanting to go, asking questions, doing research and then things started coming together. I had decided that Turkey / Croatia and Greece would be my Europe travels for 2014, based on the opportunity in Turkey. Then that day when my rep from Star Clippers called, I added a couple more weeks and now my Italy travel dreams are coming true too! The universe is working in my favour. Let’s hope she’s kind on the sea-sickness front as well!

I feel like it is time for me to be the Captain of my ship and let the wind lift my sails.

Star Clippers – Royal Clipper
– The largest full-rigged sailing ship in the World.

PLANNED
Sep 18 – Depart Halifax (my flight is booked!!!)
Sep 19 – Arrive in Venice (9:05am)
Sep 19 – Explore Venice – activities TBD
Sep 20 – Embark on the Royal Clipper – My itinerary
Sep 21 – At Sea
Sep 22 – Kotor, Montenegro
Sep 23 – Dubrovnik, Croatia
Sep 24 – Hvar, Croatia
Sep 25 – Rovinij, Slovenia
Sep 26 – Piran, Slovenia
Sep 27 – Return to Venice
Sep 27 – 29 – Venice

UNCONFIRMED
Sep 29 – Oct 2 – Tuscany (Florence / Siena)
Oct 2 – 6 – Cinque Terre
Oct 6 – 7 – Rome

Feel free to leave comments with your favourite preventative tips for sea sickness. Believe me, I’m not going without taking something! I certainly don’t want to be ill and not able to enjoy this fabulous journey.

Starting to plan the Unplan

The Unplan has always been that I would get 100% debt free before making any decisions about where / when I would travel, with the ‘loose’ idea of Central / South America this coming fall / winter. As you can see, that’s not much of a plan at all, hence calling it the Unplan.

Now that I am officially debt free. (Can I get a whoop! whoop!?) It is really time for me to buckle down and start making some slightly more firm plans about my upcoming travels. So, here’s take one at my plans for the fall and how they came to be.

Before I went to Vietnam to lead the photo tour in April 2014 I found out about a FAM (familiarization) tour with Intrepid Travel for Chile and Argentina. These are trips sponsored by a supplier for travel agents only to experience a new destination and their products. This was a great fit for me. I was planning on heading to South America in the fall sometime, I’ve never travelled with Intrepid and I’ve never visited Chile and Argentina. BINGO!

I sent my application in to Intrepid, and sadly, was told that this particular trip was already full. boo. I was really disappointed, but I knew there would be more opportunities.

I went away to Asia for three weeks and lead my Vietnam: Through the Lens Photo Tour which was a great success. A few days after my return to work I noticed that Intrepid had posted on their internal Facebook group that there were still spots on the Chile & Argentina tour. I immediately wrote to our rep to ask if it was a mistake, or if someone had cancelled.

Sure enough, there had been one cancellation. My heart started racing and I got super excited. There was room for me and I was sure it was meant to be! So, I re-submitted my application, waited a couple of days and then received confirmation that I had been accepted on the trip.

Yipee! These were the only travel plans I was willing to commit to prior to the closing of my house. After all, it was a trip to Chile & Argentina for free (+ cost of flights). Even if something fell through with my house, I was pretty sure I could find the money I needed to cover my flights to get there. So very little risk in taking on this awesome opportunity.

So, Nov 16 – 23 I’ll be doing a tour similar to this one, with other Intrepid staff and travel agents.

That decision was made back in May (seems sooooo long ago) and since then, I’ve been flirting with all kinds of ideas around it.

Next up is my next Photo Tour. I decided as soon as I came back from Vietnam that is was time to do another PERU: Through the Lens trip. I immediately put plans in place, created an itinerary and got it off to marketing. Dates were decided for Oct 18 – 28th and I am currently looking for a minimum of eight people to take part, maximum 15. I already have a couple of spots sold on the trip and am looking forward to finding the last few that are required to guarantee it. Deposits are due by July 18th, so I’m down to about three weeks to find six more people. If you are interested in coming along for a great combination of photography and tourism, get in touch and book soon!

Now, with the photo tour up in the air (needing 8 people to guarantee departure), I can’t make any specific plans until after deposit date (July 18th). So, everything else at this time is tentative and I’ll do another update mid July to see what has changed.

Through connections, I have been introduced to a tour operator in Turkey. Through discussions, we’ve discovered that we have a lot in common. He is working on arts tours of Turkey; photography, painting, drawing, weaving, pottery etc. Of course, I’m interested in the photography section of it. So, he’s offered to host me for 7-9 days in Turkey this fall so that I can check out the products that he offers and see the great country. How could I possibly pass up that opportunity??

It definitely comes with a small hitch though … the only time he can host me is in October. And my Peru photo tour is also in October. What this means is that I will have to go to Turkey for a week and then almost immediately head to Lima, Peru for the beginning of my photo tour.

Yuck! I only say yuck because it is a 17 – 24 hour travel time from Europe to South America. I’m looking at a few other options though. And, with this whole fall travel thing I’ve been trying to make plans so that I have time to rest and continue my travel agency work. I don’t want to be on the go all the time or I’ll burn out. The last thing I want to do is burn out early on in the trip! I need some stamina to get through everything that I’m looking forward to.

I have decided that I will take the opportunity in Turkey. I can’t pass it up. It is just a matter of arranging carefully for travel so that I don’t have to rush or get too tired.

Having said that, who goes all the way to Turkey for one week? Not me! With a great opportunity in Turkey, all I can say is that since I have to pay for my flights there anyway, I might as well make it worth while. Which brings me to the next part of my plans.

With Turkey tentatively scheduled for the first two weeks of October, I’ve been thinking about heading to Europe in late September to take in some of the other countries that I want to see. Mainly, Croatia where I have been considering doing a photo tour. So, I’ve begun researching options for Croatia. Do I do it in a small group tour? By land? By sail boat? By small 7-8 person sail boat? By larger 100 person sail boat? Do I do JUST Croatia or do I tie it in to the Balkans including Croatia, Serbia, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia & Hertzagovina? And do I try to fit Greece in for a few days too seeing as it sits between Croatia and Turkey? Phew! How’s that for a lot of decisions to make?

I’m looking at the following tours for this section of my trip:

G Adventures
Western Balkans Adventure – Sept 19 – 30 – $2999 – Croatia / Bosnia / Montenegro

Sailing Croatia – Split to Dubrovnik – Sept 20 – 27 – $1499

Bamba
Croatia Ways – Zagreb to Dubrovnik – $494 USD – Hop on Hop off – This is a totally different experience than the others. It is transportation and a few activities included, but is independent travel and hotels are not included. Can start any day as long as my travel is complete by Sept 30th. And schedule is flexible so I can spend more time in some areas than others. Suggested 14 days.

Split to Athens – $989 USD – Suggested 18 days – Hop on Hop off

Dubrovnik to Athens – Podgorica Ways – $769 USD – Suggested 14 days – Hop on Hop Off

Croatia to Greece Road Trip - $925 USD – 6 day Adventure Trip – Departs Dubrovnik Saturdays only

Intrepid
Balkan Adventure – Sept 13 – 27 (1 spot left) – Bosnia & Herzegovina , Croatia , Hungary , Montenegro , Serbia – $2615

Dubrovnik to Santorini – Sept 13 – Oct 4 (1 spot left) – Croatia, Montenegro, Albania and Greece from Dubrovnik to Santorini

Sail Trogir to Dubrovnik – Sept 20 – 27 – Croatia – $1478

Dubrovnik to Athens – Sept 13 – 27 – $3225 – Albania , Croatia , Greece , Macedonia , Montenegro

Star Clippers
Croatia & Montenegro (Venice to Venice) – Sept 20 – 27 -Croatia, Montenegro, Slovenia. Sadly, I expect that this option is going to be too expensive for me to do on my own. If you want to be my travel partner … drop me a note!

Departing Halifax sometime between September 11 (at the earliest) and 19th ish – Seems kind of crazy. Don’t know I’m ready for that. It’s only 12 weeks away!

So here’s an overview of what I’m considering … tentatively ….

Sept 13 / 20 – October 1 – Croatia / The Balkans / Greece – undecided exactly where yet.

Oct 1 – 12 (ish) – Instanbul / Cappadocia, Turkey (possibly Gallipoli / Troy & the Mediterranean coast by Gulet boat)

Oct 12 / 13 – Fly from Istanbul to South America – possibly stopping back in Canada or US depending on flight routing.

Oct 14 – 17 – Relax in Lima, Peru prior to the start of the Peru: Through the Lens trip

Oct 18 – 28 – PERU: Through the Lens (Lima / Cuzco / Sacred Valley / Machu Picchu)

Oct 28 – Nov 15 – Not sure what to do in this time yet, but likely will be a combination of a few places that I haven’t seen in Peru + settling down for a week or more at an apartment somewhere new where I can relax, explore and concentrate a full week on working. I have to continue to sell travel while I’m away – that is my job. So, if you are planning to travel, you can support me by contacting me to book your travel. It will help me immensely!

Nov 15 – By this day, I need to be in Santiago, Chile where I will start my next tour on Nov 16th.

Nov 16 – 23 – Intrepid FAM (Santiago / Mendoza / Buenos Aires)

On Nov 23rd, I will end all of the organized portions of my trip and will be in Buenos Aires.

Nov 23 – Dec 15 (ish) – Undecided

Dec 15 (ish) – Jan 30 – Dominican Republic – In an apartment, not traveling around much, except that I want to get to Samana, as well as visiting friends in Punta Cana / Santo Domingo. Those are weekend trips though! And, if I find some friends to travel with, I might want to get to the lesser visited parks throughout the country. I’m photographing a friend’s wedding on Dec 28th near Cabarete in the Dominican. This is the same area where I studied Spanish for seven weeks in 2012 and I CANNOT wait to return!

Between Nov 23rd and approximately Dec 15 I have the following options (or combination of these):

Return home to Canada for a couple of weeks (although not sure where I would stay … parent’s in Fredericton? Maybe my sister’s?) And, flight wise, it is probably the most expensive option. South America to Dominican Republic should be much cheaper than South America to Halifax to Dominican Republic.
Settle down in Buenos Aires; many people have told me I will love it there.
Do a short trip to Iguazu Falls – on my bucket list.
Explore Patagonia (southern tip of Argentina & Chile) – this is the one I’m leaning toward.
Fly to Colombia and spend a few weeks exploring or studying Spanish, as it is an area I think I’d like to spend a longer period of time in.

Then, come the end of January I will have to decide if I want to stay longer in the Dominican or if I am ready to start moving around again. I love the Dominican and it feels like home to me, so staying is easy. It is a busy time of year for the travel industry so I will need to be somewhere with good internet and that I don’t feel the need to go out and explore every day. However, I am considering possibly heading to Nicaragua or Colombia for February and March.

Honestly … after traveling for four and a half months (mid-September to January), I don’t think there is any chance that I’m going to WANT to come back to Nova Scotia in the middle of winter. So, I might as well make the best of it and see a couple more places … Right?

Closing Day

Here it is, closing day (Wednesday, June 18, 2014). To me it seems like it has been a LONG LONG time coming, but yet in some ways it all came together too quickly. It is so hard to believe that I put this plan in place at the beginning of February and here it is June 18th and the planned part of my ‘Unplan’ has come together.

Now, things certainly didn’t just fall into place. Almost everything has been a challenge. Let’s not forget the pain of renovations, the frustrations of the kitchen cupboards being redone at least four times and having no livable space for weeks (felt like a year). Or, me doing last minute touch ups until midnight the night before I left for Asia for three weeks. And, don’t even get me started on the crazy week of packing, lifting things that were too heavy for me, 20+ trips to the storage unit and enough trips up and down stairs with heavy boxes that I should have a rock hard ass. (I don’t though … ha ha)

I had planned to have everything moved out and the place cleaned by Sunday. Wow! Did I ever mis-calculate the time needed to get everything done. The biggest challenge wasn’t physically packing items, but more so trying to figure out what to pack and what to throw away. Going through boxes / papers / CDs / clothing / kitchen supplies … You name it, I had to sort through it.

It is one thing when you are packing to move to a new house and take everything with you (unless it is broken). It is a whole new ball game when you are moving, considerably downsizing your life in an effort to simplify, travel and be happy.

Keep in mind I moved from a two bedroom condo – approximately 1100 sq ft to a 12 x 8 already furnished, bedroom. I downsized by about 1000 sq ft!

I hired Cheaper than the Rest movers (if you hire them, make sure you let me know & tell them I sent you – they have a referral bonus!). They were great and certainly gave me a good deal. They disassembled two beds and packed those up along with two dressers, a night stand, a bookcase, a tv, four SUV tires, photography backdrops some boxes and totes. They dropped one bed off at my sister’s house in Hammonds Plains and then everything else to the storage unit in Bayer’s Lake … All for about $175.

I have a storage unit that is 5 x 10 ft (about $100 per month) and if I hadn’t given my spare bed to my niece, I don’t think the unit would have been big enough. It is fine for now though and when I decide where / what I’m doing in the fall I may have to consider a larger unit in order to fit everything from my current room into storage.

Yesterday was a very difficult day for me. On top of underestimating the amount of time it would take me to pack and clean, I had a photo shoot scheduled for the evening and hadn’t even thought about the fact that leaving my condo for the last time, closing and locking the door would be very emotional. How did I miss that?

So, after packing and cleaning for a fourth day in a row, I finished up at around 3pm, dirty, exhausted and sore. I had everything out except for one bag of garbage and a vacuum that I simply couldn’t stuff into my SUV that was bursting with random items to go to friends, to storage, to my new ‘room’. I dropped stuff off at the storage unit (for the 2nd time that day), went home to clean up before my photo shoot and then at 8:30pm headed back to the condo for one last walk through to make sure there would be no hiccups with the final walk through.

I was getting close to the condo when it really hit me that I was going to leave my keys inside the condo, lock the door and never return again. By the time I unlocked the door to go in that one last time I was crying. It was completely overwhelming. I did it to myself, this was all part of the plan, but none-the-less, it was difficult to leave behind the first place that I had purchased on my own, the only place I’ve ever lived for more than two years. A place where I had many memories, many frustrations and really, a place that I loved. I sat down in the empty living room with my back against a wall and cried. Yup. I did.

Half way through 2014 I can easily say it has been one of the most chaotic years of my life.

From the beginning I’ve said that the first step of my whole Unplan was to get debt free. I refused to make any significant travel plans before making sure that I had full financial freedom so that I could move forward without any real commitments.

Today is that day everyone.

9am – the final walk-through of the condo by the buyers was complete.

9:07am – I had a message from my fantastic realtor, Richard Payne from Keller Williams telling me it is ‘time to celebrate’ as the buyers were happy and the documents were all signed and in the lawyers hands.

1:30pm – I received a call from my Mark Charles Law to let me know that the deal was fully complete and a cheque was waiting for me.

4:30pm – Funds were deposited in my bank account with no hold so I could start paying off debts right away.

Closing day was actually pretty calm for me in comparison to yesterday when I was still cleaning and packing. Today was just the cherry on top of all of the hard work.

Now comes the freedom part … that deserves a blog post all of it’s own (coming soon).