Dare to Dream

It’s approaching 2am and I’m awake.
My heart is beating faster than normal, I can’t calm my thoughts and they are bouncing around like pin ball in my brain.

No, I haven’t had a horrible nightmare!

Instead, I’ve come up with this crazy amazing dream for the next year of my life and I’m so excited about the potential it has that I can’t sleep. After an hour of trying, I decided that writing would be a better use of my time then laying in bed wide awake.

When I started this whole un-plan journey over a year ago, it was just that, unplanned. I didn’t know where it was going to take me, how I was going to get there or how long it would last. I didn’t know if I was doing the right thing or not, but I knew it would be the wrong thing not to try.

I’ve always said I’m more of a doer than a dreamer. Some people day dream their days away and never take action. Me, I get an idea in my head and I make it happen. Often though, I don’t really consider my ideas to be dreams. They are just the next step in my journey.

Tonight, I must admit, I feel differently.
The last time I remember having this strong, anxious-happy feeling was when I met Nora Gross and Brenda McAloney who inspired me to do my social awareness project – Young & Fearless – Inspiration of Cancer Survivors. The project started small and grew into two art shows and a published book. It gained a tonne of local media attention over the two years that I worked on the project, along with solidifying a strong connection with the Photosensitive project which gained me national exposure and publication in several other books. Now I feel like the time is right to follow this gut feeling again.

I’ve visited 11 countries in the last eight months. I’ve been on the road or in the skies more than I’ve been home. I’ve had so many amazing opportunities and experiences that many of them have never been told because I don’t have time to write about them all.

I feel like I have truly lived life in the last eight months. I’ve met amazing people. I’ve seen our beautiful world from boats, planes, trains, automobiles, bicycles, motoconchos and a hot air balloon. I’ve challenged myself and I’m sure I’ve challenged others (for better or worse!). I learned to surf. I can hold my own in Spanish. I’ve built life-long relationships with people I’ve met all around the world.

It’s not all roses though folks. I’ve been sick. I’ve dealt with the loss of important people in my life. I thought I found potential for love, but found out I was wrong (the hard way). All of this while being away from family and friends back home. Through all of the ups and downs though, I’ve learned an amazing amount and I have lived with my heart open.

After a short rough patch where I was feeling a little confined, sad and suffocated by the people and events surrounding me, I’ve emerged again. As I read about the devastation caused by the April 25th earthquake in Nepal, I was drawn to the images, the news, the search for survivors, the pain and the suffering of locals and volunteers who are living this horrible nightmare right now. I pondered if I could drop what I am doing in Argentina and head to Nepal to help out. However, two factors slowed me down. 1. I don’t do so well at altitude. 2. Nepal needs money not extra people at the moment. The thoughts of going to help these broken communities have been nagging at me, but I knew Nepal was not the best option.

I now feel like I’ve broken free from the confinement I had been experiencing and my brain has room to breathe. My mind went on overdrive in the opposite, but positive direction. After reading several articles about the Nepal earthquake, I found myself looking at volunteer options with a Canadian based organization Volunteer Abroad / Basecamp. I’ve worked with them before by sending travellers through their programs to work, including one girl to Nepal two years ago. I started meandering through the website and looking at placement opportunities.

There were two incredible volunteer opportunities (out of close to 100) that screamed for my help, my skill set and my attention.

The first one to catch my eye was the one that made the hair on my arms stand up and thoughts start jumping with excitement. It is a placement in Ghana, Africa to help educate women, children, and the community about the importance of education, to help stop the process of child and human trafficking and to discuss sexual health issues.

For quite some time women’s issues in Africa have caught my attention (from the missing girls in Nigeria to genital mutilation). I’ve often looked into various organizations or contacted people that I might be able to work with. Sadly, nothing has ever worked out, but maybe it just wasn’t the right time.

The second opportunity is in Tanzania, working with an orphanage to build a website / social media, including photography and writing. Then moving on to teaching local staff how to maintain it. This opportunity would give me hands on time with the local volunteers / teachers, as well as getting to know the children and their stories. Telling stories of people through photographs (and through blogging) is one of great passions. Here’s a chance!

Tonight as I chatted with a couple of friends on Facebook, my mind decided to dream …

What if I actually did decide to go to Africa and volunteer? What would that look like?
I’ll be in Nova Scotia this summer to get my yellow fever vaccine. I was already looking at the potential of staying away for a full year, just no solidified plans. And, I’ll already be in Europe for my Turkey Photo Tour come September / October which is a lot closer to Africa than I am right now!

Is this the year that I’ll see Africa and I’ll spend time making a real difference in people’s lives through a volunteer placement? Volunteering and travel together have been very important to me for quite some time, but somehow I haven’t made time recently to make it a priority. I’ve said for a long time that I should change this. Tonight the thought scurried out of the depths of my brain and had a little dance party.


NOTE: Initially this post was written at the end of April 2015 and I’ve revised it as of the beginning of June 2015 as I never got around to posting it. Shame on me!

Quick update: I have been in contact with Volunteer Abroad and am looking into several options for working with them later this year. I also have several new ideas that I am currently working on for potential projects with other Not for profit / Non-Government agencies.

Update coming very soon on my revised unplan for the next year of my life.

If you’ve been considering voluntourism, maybe this is your year too! Feel free to drop me a note to chat about your plans, or I’m happy to assist you in finding the right NGO/NPO to work with. Don’t be afraid to take the first step and get in touch.


My First Christmas Abroad – Part 3

After reading Part 1 & 2 about my beliefs on Christmas and how Dominican’s celebrate differently than North American’s, I hope you’ll appreciate how absolutely at peace I was with my decision to be abroad for Christmas in 2014. Of course I missed my family and friends. More than anything though, all I could wish for was that every single one of them was enjoying Christmas in whatever capacity brings them happiness and no stress. Christmas morning I slept in until about 9am. When I woke up, I immediately called my family to say Merry Christmas and chat for a bit. My apartment was ‘decorated’ with clothing hanging to dry on a drying rack after being at the beach the day before. My mind was rested from a good night’s sleep and the sun was shining (when I finally opened the curtains!). Amazingly it was just like any other day except fewer people in the community were working and stores were closed. And I felt … Happy. Later that day, with a handful of other students and friends from IIC Casa Goethe (my Spanish school), we hopped in a carro publico and made our way about 30 minutes outside of Sosua along the coast to a small community called Saboneta. On the outskirts of town we were met by our guide and her jeep, waiting to take us to her farm where we would meet the horses and begin our day. We all got saddled up and acquainted with our horses and then slowly set off through the streets of the little town toward the mountains. Locals were sitting on their porches chatting away as normal. Kids were playing in the streets. Bachata and Merengue music could be heard around every corner. And we clip clopped through waving and saying ‘Feliz Navidad’ to the locals.

Horseback Riding on Christmas

Horseback Riding on Christmas

Once we set off up the first hill, our guides checked in to make sure we were all doing ok in the saddles and then shortly after that we had our first opportunity to go fast, straight up a large hill. I’ve been horseback riding only about 10 times in my life and I’ve never gone any faster than a saunter, so this was particularly exciting for me. And off we went straight up the hill. How exhilarating! The strength, speed and agility of the horse, balanced with the concentration it took from me to stay on her … amazing! Do it again! Do it again! (it wasn’t time yet though) We climbed a fairly well-groomed dirt road for a good half hour and then headed down into the valley where we got the first glimpse of the river that we would be crossing with our horses. This was also the rest stop for the horses and a relaxing snack and dance break for us.

The beautiful river

The beautiful river.

Break time for the horses.

Break time for the horses.

Horseback Riding on Christmas

Dance break for the humans.

After a leisurely break, we mounted the horses and started our true adventure through the river and jungle of the Dominican’s beautiful mountains. The horses navigated their way down a short, slippery and rocky slope to the river and then in we went! No time to reconsider, the horses were following the leader and he was already on the other river bank! Each of the horses daintily waded into the water stumbling on rocks and regaining balance almost with every step, but never losing a passenger! The water was up to the horses’ tummies which meant our feet were fully submersed in the river and occasionally up to our knees. Don’t be fooled though, the rest of our bodies didn’t stay dry with the splashing from our own horse as well as whoever happened to be in front. As dainty as they may be when they are trying to choose the path of least resistance, they sure can make a splash as they clomp into a river. We quietly followed the leader along the sandy banks of the river for awhile and then criss-crossed back and forth down the river to follow the best pathways along the beaches, rocky banks and through the jungle. More than once I found myself drifting off into a relaxed day dream as I bumped methodically along the pathway surrounded by large leafy trees, the bubbling sound of the river passing by and birds singing in the distance. My mind completely relaxed and I was able to just enjoy the freshness and revitalizing spirit of nature. I’m not sure if others in my group felt the same or not, but they were equally quiet and there were times when no one in the group spoke for five or more minutes as we trotted along the trails. It was complete human silence, only broken by the sounds of nature. After traversing the river and riding through various different types of foliage, we reached an open field where we were allowed to run with our horses to the other side where we would meet our final path back to the main road. A couple of the others were seasoned riders and took off at the speed of light. Me and my horsey, Puerto Plata, started with a trot and then next thing I knew she was going full speed ahead. I was a little torn between fear of losing my balance and the exhilaration of going so fast. In the end, exhilaration won as I’ve decided that I love horseback riding and need to find more opportunities to improve my skills so that the fear of falling off doesn’t inhibit me from going as fast as the horse can take me. We all met up at the last trail and clip clopped our way slowly back through the little village to the farm. I can’t really put in to words how much I enjoyed the three hours we spent amidst nature with the horses, but I know that for Christmas 2014, I found my holiday happiness, my tranquility and my sanity on a horseback trip through the mountains and rivers near Saboneta, Dominican Republic.

My First Christmas Abroad – Part 2

Check out Part 1 for the background on my Christmas beliefs before delving into the following post.

*Beware, some sarcasm may ensue half way through this post. You have been forewarned.

Pretty much from the minute that I started making travel plans in the summer of 2014, I knew that I would be away over the holidays that year. My friend had asked me to photograph her wedding in the Dominican Republic on December 28, 2014 and by the end of summer I had confirmed that I would be there. I decided to fly into Dominican Republic on December 11th (before the Christmas rush and high prices) and leave at the beginning of February (after the Christmas rush). That gave me about seven and a half weeks to enjoy Dominican life. Keep in mind that I’m not on vacation while I’m traveling, I’m working as a travel agent, so I spend a good chunk of each day working, just like you. The big difference is that before work (or after), I can walk to the beach.

I was so busy traveling throughout the autumn of 2014, I didn’t really have time to think about what it would feel like to be abroad for Christmas. The thought crossed my mind occasionally and I wondered if I would be homesick. Would I miss my family? Would I miss the tree and the presents? Would I feel lonely on Christmas day? Would I be able to find turkey dinner? But, I was too busy living every single moment to think that far into the future.

Once I got to the Dominican Republic I settled in quickly, made new friends and reconnected with old ones. I immediately felt at home. I arrived on December 11th and went out dancing my first night. You could tell it was Christmas because there were a few decorations at restaurants and shops, but they weren’t very prominent. There was a small Christmas tree in the lobby of where I was renting and the bar that I went dancing at had a wrought iron tree / candle stand, but overall, just like Dominican in general, it was ‘tranquio’ (which translates to quiet).

A couple of days before Christmas one of the motoconcho drivers that I had met invited me to come spend Christmas with his family. I wanted to go sooooo badly, but I knew that it was a ploy to show me off as the ‘white girl trophy’. I contemplated going for the experience, but I didn’t know him very well and in the end I decided that as much as I wanted to see a real Dominican Christmas, I knew that I would just be annoyed if he acted like my boyfriend the entire day. So, in the end I said no.

Dominican Republic is a very poor country. They do not celebrate Christmas the American way and I’ve got to be honest, I think America could learn from them on this one. Generally speaking, Christmas Eve is spent attending church and then gathering with family and friends for lots of food (often pot-luck kind of style) and drinks. Everyone stays up late and it is all about spending time together with loved ones. Christmas day is spent being ‘tranquilo’ with friends and family. On Christmas night everyone goes out to dance and celebrate.

Most locals don’t have a Christmas tree, although you are likely to see some form of nativity scene as most families practice their faith. There will be random Christmas trinkets and old-style decorations hung throughout their tiny, basic homes from the oddest of places. Decorations are eclectic, they don’t match and you know what? None of that matters here.

Huh! Imagine that.

Shhhhh …. Don’t tell anyone ….

It actually does not matter if your tree lights are hung perfectly.
(Unless you are diagnosed with OCD and then I’ll agree that it could matter in that case)

In Dominican Republic, you will not be judged for your Christmas decorations or lack thereof.
You also have no need to put pressure on yourself because someone might be judging you. They just aren’t.
Woah! What a concept.

Sorry about my sarcasm, but one of my biggest problems with North American Christmas is the expectations that people put on themselves to impress their family and friends when really, none of that matters. It is all superficial.

Side Note – Thanks mum and papa for not ever judging me for how untidy my house was. I know I used to get in trouble for my messy bedroom as a teen, but I’m not THAT bad anymore.

Did you notice in my description of Christmas in Dominican Republic what was missing?

Dominican’s in general don’t celebrate Christmas with gift-giving.

WOAH! What is this concept? Is Christmas even Christmas without giving gifts?

Well folks … believe it or not, even though Jesus was welcomed into the world with gifts, in my humble opinion, God is not judging anyone based on what size Tonka truck they give their son or if their daughter would rather a tool set than a barbie.

Anyone care to argue that point? My comments section is open … open for nice, intelligent conversation, no bullying folks!

In Dominican (and lots of other countries) families don’t have the money to buy gifts to celebrate Christmas. Some families do, of course, but the majority do not. There are no long lineups. No one is stressed about having enough money to buy the best new shoes or most popular new toy for their kids because they are more stressed about putting food on the table (a problem for separate discussion). You don’t have to keep up with the Jones’ because the Jones’ are just normal people, struggling to get by. So, instead of giving gifts, they spend time with their friends and family.

WOAH! What if we all did that?

Nearly every day the week before Christmas I arranged my work day so that I could go to the beach for a few hours. Immediately I hear most of you thinking to yourself ‘Lucky girl. That must be nice.’ Followed by tinges of jealousy.

You know what? It was beautiful. It was relaxing, sunny, warm and not even remotely Christmas-like in Sosua on the beach. I did not hear Christmas music. I saw very few Christmas decorations. There were no extra long line ups, no stressed people, no complaints about not having money to buy gifts …. Hmmmmm … quite the concept! I bet most of you reading this would love to have a relaxing Christmas.

So, I ask you … What’s stopping you from having a relaxing, enjoyable Christmas (whatever that means to you)? Why are you letting family, friends and advertising dictate how you spend your time, money and sanity?

I understand that I’m not going to change the entire North American way of thinking about Christmas (after all, I’m not an advertising company). I know that I can’t single-handedly stop the huge influx of ridiculous advertising around the holidays, but what I can (and did) do is remove myself from the stress that burdens so many people around the holidays.

You can let yourself get caught up in the mob, or you can step aside and let it tumble on past you.

For my first ever Christmas abroad, I chose to do something on Christmas Day that would bring me joy. Something that would make me feel good and that would not cause me any stress. It was completely relaxing, enjoyable, peaceful and beautiful …

Check out Part 3 for how I spent my first Christmas abroad.

My first Christmas abroad – Part 1

(the back story on my Christmas beliefs)

Bah humbug.
Yeah, that’s what most of the world’s Christmas lovers would say about me.
I prefer to think of myself more as an advocate of less stressful holidays. That doesn’t mean that I hate Christmas (although I don’t particularly love it.) And, it doesn’t mean that I try to bring others down. It just means that I choose to avoid the chaos whenever possible. I stay away from the malls. I don’t do Christmas baking. I have very few Christmas parties to attend. I don’t listen to Christmas music. I don’t put up a tree or decorate. Some people love these things, but for me, they really all lead to more stress.

I think part of this is because I’m an introvert and chaotic situations drain me physically and emotionally. So, with a holiday as hectic and chaotic as Christmas, I feel tired and drained the whole season (which often starts before Rememberance day). That’s nearly two full months of exhaustion. And, let’s face it, if you live in the Americas it is impossible to avoid Christmas.

Even if you do your part to keep your own stress level to a minimum, it is still near impossible to avoid soaking up some of your friend’s stresses. Not to mention advertising on television, radio, buses, etc and post after post on Facebook about the long lines, the high prices, the ridiculousness of it all … but yet everyone still going crazy to meet the deadlines and high expectations that they have placed on themselves.

Over the past couple of years I’ve tried to explain to my family (who mostly understand) that I don’t really enjoy Christmas. I’m not interested in gifts. I don’t need anything and I don’t want to buy stuff for others that they don’t need or appreciate. The commercialization of Christmas and needing to buy gifts for everyone frustrates me to no end. All I want for Christmas is a turkey dinner with family. My expectation is that my mom or sister will cook the turkey because I don’t know that I could come anywhere close to doing it as well as them. However, should something happen and the turkey doesn’t turn out, I would hope we could all laugh about it rather than being upset because it wasn’t perfect.

Stress … Think of all the stresses that surround Christmas!

1. Deadline to buy the gifts, have them wrapped or sent by mail.

2. Having the money to buy ‘good enough’ gifts for whoever is on your list.

3. Buying gifts that your significant other will like.

4. Cooking turkey dinner with all of the fixings.

5. Having your tree decorated PERFECTLY.

6. Having your house clean enough for company.

7. Entertaining company (specifically the in-laws) over the holiday

Thankfully my family isn’t particularly wrapped up in material items, so it has never been about spending large ridiculous amounts of money. Of course my mom decorates for Christmas and I always appreciate how pretty it is, but I would never ever judge her if she one day decided not to decorate!

For the past few years, my mom, sister and I have tried to stick to exchanging hand-made gifts. These could be self-made, or they could be purchased from a local artist. Something interesting, not terribly expensive, but more about the thought and meaning of the gift rather than just buying for the sake of buying. Personally, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this and try to stick with it.

My mom has both made, and bought beautiful hand-made bracelets, necklaces and other jewelry. My sister made a donation in my name to the Planeterra Foundation and bought me a t-shirt from a not for profit. She also purchased a bracelet for me from Free the Children that gives water to a family for life.

For my family, I usually create a travel photo calendar of that year’s adventures. One year I also purchased garden baskets for African families to be able to start and maintain a garden, the way to a healthier and more prosperous future.

These things warm my heart because in all honesty no one in my family needs anything. We have everything we need (likely 10 times more) and if the spirit of Christmas is giving, I think it should be given to those who need it, not those who don’t!

Trying to keep this perspective alive is nearly impossible when you are bombarded with Christmas gift giving expectations and advertisements. Whether you believe in Christmas or not, you have no choice but to be subject to it because it is so commercialized.

So, in 2014 I ran away from it all and I’m not ashamed to admit it.

Stay tuned for How I celebrated Christmas 2014 and why I loved it so much.

Falling in love with Sailing – Part 1

Star Clippers

When the opportunity came for me to set sail on the Star Clipper’s Royal Clipper in the Mediterranean, I couldn’t believe it. I had almost booked my flights that day, but hadn’t finalized them yet, when the call came from my Star Clipper’s rep, Florentina. She had a space available for me on a 7-day sailing adventure departing from Venice, with stops in Croatia, Montenegro and Slovenia. I had been considering doing these areas (at minimum Croatia) by land and now, here she was, offering me the chance to do them by land and sea.

Taking the opportunity would mean leaving Canada a week earlier than I had planned and finding a way to deal with the sea-sickness that I’m prone to. I love the ocean. I love boats. I love sailing (and the cute sailors in white don’t hurt!). But, about 75% of the time I’ve been on boats, I’ve been horribly ill. Could I really go on a Mediterranean sailing and enjoy it? I was really worried about being sick the entire time.

In the end, my thirst for adventure and love of the ocean far outweighed my hatred of being sick. I researched some options and decided to get the ear patch and hope that it would work.

I’m a believer that when good opportunities throw themselves at your feet, you don’t walk away, you give it a try. So, I excitedly accepted the opportunity and a couple of days later I booked my flights for the European part of my epic adventure!

When the time came to depart, of course it wouldn’t be a Shari-Adventure without some difficulties getting off the ground! You can read about my experience with the Air France strike here. But, eventually, I landed in Venice, took a cab directly to the port and saw her sitting there … just waiting for me to meet her! (The boat that is!)

Royal Clipper

Royal Clipper docked in Venice

Before boarding, we filled out a tiny bit of paperwork and then streamed through security and walked to the gangway. Easey peasy! With only 200 people to board and only half of them there at beginning, wait times were non-existent.

Royal Clipper boarding

Royal Clipper boarding

We were greeted with a welcome drink, snacks and music and then I filed through the short line up and one of the staff members eagerly showed me to my cabin, gave me a quick overview and left me to settle in.


I was really quite impressed with the cabins. They are beautiful, clean, lots of storage space and have two port holes and lots of lighting. The beds were comfortable and everything you needed was there for you. I was especially impressed with the beautiful bathrooms. I felt right at home, except for the tiny corner shower, but that’s to be expected on a boat! There’s no room for a tub! The shower worked well, had lots of pressure and hot water. There were toiletries available and replaced daily just like a hotel would and the towels were fresh and clean (except of course when you ask for them not to be replaced to save water!)

Royal Clipper Cabins

Royal Clipper Cabins

Royal Clipper Cabins

Royal Clipper Cabins

Royal Clipper Cabins

Royal Clipper Cabins

Royal Clipper Cabins

Royal Clipper Cabins

Florentina had made arrangements for a group of us to meet for supper, so I took a few minutes and unpacked my entire suitcase. One of the best parts about a cruise is that you can unpack because you stay in the same room for the duration of your trip. I hung up my dresses, stored my shoes and put my toiletries in the bathroom. After cleaning myself up from a long day of travel, I got dressed up and headed up to the sun deck for our very first sail-away, from Venice, at 7pm.

Part 2, coming soon!

If you are interested in a sailing adventure, I highly recommend Star Clippers and would love to help you find the destinations that are perfect for you! We also have some current specials for 2 for 1 sailings or save the single supplement, but you’ll have to get in touch to get details! You can reach me at stucker@merittravel.com

I’ll be doing a FREE Travel Talk on Nov 10th – Exploring the Balkans by Land and Sea. If you’d like to hear more, please RSVP!

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.


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!

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:

500px – My online store for purchasing prints will be opening soon!

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.

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

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

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).


It’s 11pm on June 11th and I’m sitting on a blanket on my bed writing this post. I’ve removed the sheets to wash them so that I can pack them first thing tomorrow morning before the movers come, bright and early, at 8am. The windows are open with fresh are drifting in an I hear the clunk-swish-hum of the washer and dryer going.

It’s a reflective time for me and in that reflection I have gone through pretty close to every emotion you can imagine … except maybe anger … I don’t have much to be angry about.

Sad – Although this was not my first home, it was the first one that I purchased and maintained by myself. Previously I had owned a house in Truro with my ex husband, but this is the first one that I’ve had on my own. I’ve had good times and bad in this house. A lot of squeals of excitement and a lot of tears of sadness, frustration and just simply ‘because’ tears. I’m sad that I had to part with my beautiful kitty, Morgan in order to make this all happen. I’m sad that this will be my last night sleeping here … forever.

Tired (is that an emotion?) – I am simply drained from this whirlwind that has been my life for the past six months. 2014 has been constant turmoil for me. Self-inflicted, but none them less tumultuous. From the decision to start renos, through the whole process of deciding who to hire, what needed to be done and how I was going to pay for it … to the nightmare of living in a dismantled condo for many weeks with no actual livable space. Rushing to get my condo on the market, still finishing final touch ups at midnight, only a few hours before leaving for Asia to lead a photo tour. Coming home to a condo that I barely recognized, all cleaned up and putting on it’s best for show and then having an accepted offer on the condo in less than one month from it hitting the market. Next came the choosing where to live, all of the organizing that goes along with moving and for the past week, the packing.

Relieved – All of this chaos is almost over. I can see the end. My body, mind and spirit are relieved that the end of this tunnel is near and soon I will have more time to relax and enjoy a life that I have just begun to design myself instead of just going along for the ride.

Thankful – I am thankful that through all of this I have had great friends to call on to help me with many things from renos to cleaning to shopping and most importantly just a shoulder to lean on when it was all a little too much.

Happy – I am happy that I’ve had a great five years in this home and that now it will be a great home for someone new, who will have many emotions of their own that only the walls of this condo will see.

Proud – I am proud that I’ve survived these six months with my sanity. Honestly, it would be a feat for anyone, but I know that I can be easily affected mentally by stress and turmoil. I am proud that I’ve grown over the past few years and have learned to better handle the crazy situations that I get myself into.

I am beyond proud that I’m so close to accomplishing what I set out to do which is become debt free, simplify my life and travel the world (a little bit at a time). Officially the money won’t be in my hands for one more week, but all is in order from the lawyer’s perspective and right on track. There are no issues anticipated.

Excited – Besides being proud that I’m about to accomplish this huge debt-free goal, I am excited. I could jump for joy and do a little happy dance (if my back didn’t hurt from lifting boxes lol). I have so much to look forward to, so much life to live, so many places to see, so much to give! I’ve accomplished some pretty amazing things in my life so far and I’m excited to see what the ‘over 35’ years have in store for me.

What really happens when you put all of those emotions together though? You have a girl shedding probably more than a few tears as she lays down for her last night in her own bed for who knows how long. Tears of happiness, of sadness, of excitement and pure exhaustion.

One thing I can tell you for sure is that no matter how difficult it has been, I’m happy to say that I’ve done it and I will live life with no regrets.

Now, do me a little favour … Know someone who needs a little boost of motivation or inspiration? Or maybe you know someone else who on a get debt free to travel path? Take a second and share this post with them directly, or post it to your Facebook or twitter. I’d appreciate the love, and you never know who might see this and start to believe that they can do it too!