12 Most Fantastic Perks for Solo Travel

You are single. Maybe you haven’t found the “one” yet. Maybe you thought you did and then he/she broke your heart. Your vacation doesn’t match up with any of your friends or maybe you can’t agree on where to go.
Don’t let that stop you from seeing the world! Some say one is the loneliest number but I think that traveling solo is a dream all of its own.

Stand up. Look fear in the face. Go where everyone or no one has gone before and… do it YOUR way!

1. Flying solo
Whether it be the last available seat on a popular date for a flight or the airlines have over booked your flight — there is almost always room for one more! Business and priority classes have been loaded. And then the announcement comes that the flight is over-booked and they are looking for volunteers to move to the next flight. They’ll even offer you a bit of cash to entice you. You can take the cash and change your plans, or your can feel confidant that you are getting on the flight because there is almost always room for one more! That family of eight might not be so lucky.

Sitting alone on a bus or a plane? You have all the control you need! Pop your earphones in and watch a movie or listen to your iPod in order to not be disturbed, or be adventurous and strike up a conversation with the person beside you. Maybe you’ll make a new friend.

2. Do what you want
When you travel with a friend, you are either the leader or the follower. If you are the leader, you end up making all of the plans and your friend(s) just tag along for the ride and expect it to be fabulous, taking no responsibility for said plans. Or, you can be the follower who just does what someone else tells you to and you never really experience the journey or the destination because someone else is making all of your decisions for you.

When you travel solo, you are fully, 100% in command of doing what you want. Not sure what you want? It is up to you to figure it out and you’ll be amazed what you learn about yourself, others and the world by setting out on this journey of self discovery.

3. Change your mind
I don’t suggest changing your mind and deciding not to travel, but you have that option if you are traveling solo. No one else is depending on you to keep them company or to help keep their costs low so that they don’t have to pay a single supplement.

Planning to be in one city for three days? Love it? Stay for three more! Hate it? Leave on day two! You have no one else to worry about. Rejoice in the freedom of being able to change your mind!

4. Take your time
There’s nothing that I hate more than rushing to keep up with my friends on a hike. I’m inherently a slow walker and everyone is always ahead of me. Something I particularly love about traveling alone is that I can walk at my own pace (which is still 10 times faster than most people in other countries who just have a generally slower paced lifestyle than us North Americans).

Feel like stopping to smell the roses? Taking a million pictures from 10 different angles? Reading the history of the monument in the middle of the town square? Do it! Take your time. Your time is yours alone.

To read this article in its entirety, visit 12 Most

Shari Tucker
There’s never a dull moment in my life. I moved across Canada at 18, survived a plane crash at 19 and took back my life back at 28 with a desire to travel the world and to make a difference in other people’s lives. I have traveled 12 countries in the past four and a half years, created a self-funded project with a published book called Young & Fearless – Inspiration of Cancer Survivors, run my own successful photography business for 10 years and then poof, I changed careers and am now an adventure travel specialist with The Adventure Travel Company. I approach each new opportunity with excitement and wonderment and I strive to make the world a better place, one smile at a time.

Free flying

One of the best ways to travel is for free, don’t you agree?

I’ve done it. Earlier this year I used Aeroplan points to fly from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Quito, Ecuador and home from Lima, Peru … for almost free (I had to pay the taxes). The flights would have cost in the vicinity of $1500 and I paid less than $200. Not a bad deal!

On top of that, I was super impressed with the ease of booking my flights online with my points and had no trouble at all locating flight segments that worked for me. I had heard that you might be out of luck if you didn’t book far enough in advance, but I booked only 1-2 months in advance and had no trouble at all.

You can do it too!

I’ll admit, gathering 40 000 – 50 000 points in order to get a free flight out of the country seems a little bit daunting. It may even take years to get there, but don’t give up! For me, I got mine in less than two years which turned into me visiting the Galapagos Islands and Peru!

I signed up for CIBC business bank accounts and a CIBC Aeroplan Visa about two years ago when they were running a joint promotion, offering 20 000 Aeroplan points for a certain combination of CIBC products. It wasn’t without a struggle … but I made it work. I was in the market for a new bank because I was horribly discouraged with the customer service of my previous bank, I needed a new credit card specific for business expenses and I needed to fly to South America (don’t we all need that?).

Of course I was promised the world (meaning my points) and then, after they had all of my information and had set up accounts, they told me that I didn’t qualify because they wouldn’t approve me for a $10 000 line of credit which was one of the qualifiers (yet they continue to up my credit card limit regularly!). Well that wasn’t good enough for me. They had promised the points and I made them follow through … at least with most of them. After appealing the decision and a couple of customer service phone calls, I ended up with 15 000 points. I should have gotten the full 20 000, but I was tired of begging. And, honestly, my new banker wasn’t much better than the bank that I had just left .. but he’s no longer there. Man, I have crappy luck with banks! I just want a banker who cares about me and my business!

My next step was to ensure that every time I could, I collected Aeroplan points. There are loads of offers out there for double points on car rentals, hotels, gas and much more. Many of them don’t apply to me, but I diligently watch for the ones that do. Below are the ones that I found easiest to use, but here is the list from Aeroplan themselves.

– I used my Aeroplan Visa for everything I could that was business related. This included some new equipment purchases (like a new camera) which brought in some big miles!
– I used my Aeroplan Visa in conjunction with my Aeroplan points card while filling up at Esso and got double the points. And, I became a loyal Esso customer. I fill up at the Esso close to my house all the time and keep my eyes open for an Esso wherever I am. If I’m not quite on empty, but I’m close to an Esso, that’s great. I fill up in case I don’t find another one later. I might be a little anal about it, but it gets me double points and I drive an SUV, so that’s about 50 points per fill up! I used to travel out of town 2-3 times a week which meant I was earning 100-150 points each week from this tactic!
– I signed up for a Costco membership when they were offering 1000 Aeroplan points.
– I bought books online from Indigo / Chapters using my Aeroplan points and my Aeroplan Visa in order to double up on the points.
– Add a couple of flights in there – which I try to book with Air Canada and Star Alliance when possible and bam! I’m almost ready to fly again for free now. I have 33 000 miles. Just looking to get to 40 or 50 000 before my next free flight (to South America). Or, maybe I’ll save to 75 000 for free return flights to Hawaii. That might be worth the wait!

One of the best ways to get points is by signing up for a credit product because they often offer large chunks of points all at once. You have to be careful for the annual fees though and decide if it is worth it. For me, the business visa was a good choice despite the annual fee. It was a business expense and I needed a second credit card. It’s not the best choice for everyone.

My experience has fully been with Aeroplan. I decided to stick to one points product and try to get as many as possible rather than splitting them between two different rewards programs. For example, choosing to go for Esso for gas every single time I fill up rather than 1/2 the time at the one that let’s you collect Air Miles and 1/2 the time at Esso. I wanted the most points, the fastest. After all, I had South America as a goal in mind.

Aeroplan is running a deal right now as well where you can transfer your points to a friend (or a friend to you!) for just 1.5 cents per mile. This seems like an ok deal to me if you only need a few hundred miles to get you to a ‘free’ trip. So, you might pay $300 for your flight in the end, but if it was worth $2000 and makes the difference in you going on your dream vacation or not, then it might just be worth it.

Now, Aeroplan is not the only points plan out there, there are lots of them! Aeroplan is just the one that I decided to join.

I also joined West Jet rewards for the times when they have better deals or happen to have a better connecting flight. I figure if I’m flying, I might as well be collecting points somewhere! I always check Air Canada options first, but if I can find a flight that is cheaper by several hundred dollars, I’m still going to save money where I can! It’ll take me a really long time to get enough West Jet points, but someday maybe I’ll have enough for a free short-haul! In the end though, West Jet doesn’t fly as many places as Air Canada and I want to see the world!

If you have travel on your mind and you want to enjoy a free flight once in awhile, why not sign up for one of the million plans out there and start collecting to see how fast they add up! My suggestion is pick one and stay loyal! Your points will add up the fastest this way.

Cheers to Free Flying!

PS – This post is in no way endorsed, or paid for by any of the companies listed above. Solely my views and suggestions. Feel free to add your own views and suggestions in the comments section!

You gave it to me!

That’s right, I’m blaming you. Ya, you! You gave it to me. I didn’t want it and now I’m stuck with it and it’s all your fault! I’m stuck in bed and you are out doing … well, whatever it is you do every day …

“…is an infectious, widespread viral disease caused by the Epstein–Barr virus (EBV), one type of herpes virus, to which more than 90% of adults have been exposed. Occasionally, the symptoms can recur at a later period. Most people are exposed to the virus as children, when the disease produces no noticeable or only flu-like symptoms.” – Wikipedia

Little known fact:
“About 95% of the population has been exposed to this virus by the age of 40, but only 15-20% of teenagers and about 40% of exposed adults actually become infected.” – Wikipedia

hmmmm …. Do you know what I’m talking about? Take a guess … I dare you.

Less known fact:
“In every case, the person excretes the disease intermittently in saliva throughout their lives.” – Wikipedia

hmmm … that means that if you are one of the 95% of the population who has been exposed, then you continue to spread the virus throughout different times of your life whether or not you have ever been sick from it.

So, that’s right. YOU gave it to me! You may not have even known you had it, but now I have it and I’m one of the adults who actually become infected and it sucks.

Now, before I continue, let’s not freak out here.
I’m not dying. I’m alive. I’m not gross or disgusting. I’m not promiscuous. You don’t need to avoid me. And please please please don’t think poorly of me!

Let’s get to the point.

I am a 33 year old, single white female and I have Mono.
Yup, Mononucleosis, glandular fever or often known as ‘the kissing disease’.

Get all of your laughter out now. Think of all the crazy comments you can make about how many boys I must have been kissing. And ‘what were you doing in the Dominican?’ and ‘Oooohhh was it worth it?’

Ha ha ha have a laugh at my expense, but don’t you dare stop reading until I’ve explained! If you are going to laugh at me, the least you can do is listen to me. Ok? Do we have a deal here?

I’m going to tell you a few things that you might otherwise not know and I want you to know … so I’m going to talk about it just like I talk about having my period on vacation and using the diva cup, and about attacks of traveler’s diarrhea.

And ….. Go!

I had mono as a kid when I was around 12-14 years old. For a long time, we were told that if you got mono as a kid, you would build up the antibodies to fight it off when you were older. Therefore, most often, you would not get mono twice.

After talking to my family doctor today, she simply told me that maybe the antibodies wore off and the immunity to it was gone. Or, now, doctors know that many previous mono tests were actually false positives in children and teens, so it is possible that I didn’t have mono at all then and it was something different. Although, I’m pretty darn sure it was mono.

And, and, and … well, I guess we will never know for sure. But, in my non-professional opinion, I truly believe I had mono then and I believe that I have mono now. And, apparently I have had the ‘new’ blood test done … the one that doesn’t give false positives. So, it is confirmed to be mono. You know, until 20 years from now when this test is proven to be wrong as well.

I have been traveling a lot in the past seven months. I’ve been in other countries for a total of 11 weeks out of 28 (Ecuador, Peru and Dominican Republic). My mom would like me to believe that all this traveling is stressing me out and causing me to get sick. I think she just wants me to stay in Canada … But, truth is, other than a small cold and traveler’s diarrhea, I haven’t been sick while I was traveling, but magically when I hit Canadian soil I’m ill beyond belief! To me, that means I have better chances at being well in other countries than I do here. But, whatever, I’m not going to argue with my mom … for now.

My last trip was for seven weeks to the Dominican Republic.

The sad day (September 2nd) arrived when I had to return home from beautiful Dominican Republic to Halifax, Nova Scotia. I had already changed my flights and extended my stay by five days, so now it was really time to return. I left Santo Domingo on a 6am (7am Halifax time) flight and landed in Halifax, Nova Scotia that night at 8:30pm. 13 and a half hours in transit. Oh, why didn’t I go when there were direct flights? (4 hours total)

Fast forward to September 3rd, 7:30pm (23 hours after hitting Canadian soil), my throat was getting sore, I was tired and I knew this feeling. I knew that I was about to be hit with something bad. I knew that the next day I was going to be sick. And, I ‘knew’ it was strep throat. There’s a feeling. When you’ve had strep throat as many times as I have in my life, you know when it hits. (but I was wrong … and so were the doctors!)

Sure enough, I woke up the next morning and couldn’t move. Literally.

I went to the bathroom and barely made it back to my bed without falling down. I was weak. I couldn’t swallow because of the pain. My head felt like 500 pounds. I literally could not lift my head into upright position. I had the worst headache I have ever experienced in my whole entire life. I was nauseous. I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I couldn’t get comfortable. I couldn’t even roll over in bed because my head, back and neck were all in so much pain. I thought I was dying.

Now, I’ve had strep throat a lot and it does hit hard, but let me tell you, I have never been hit as hard as this.

At 8:30am, I delicately and very slowly rolled out of bed, balanced by leaning on my bed and tried to keep my eyes open. I knew I had to get to the doctor, but I had no idea if I could make it down my stairs!

Very very slowly, like a 90 year old woman, I descended the stairs with my eyes half closed, my head hung low and holding on to the wall and the railing for dear life. One step at a time. When I reached the bottom, I explained to my roommate that I needed a favour. I needed her to drive me to the walk-in clinic.

There was a two and a half hour wait at the walk in clinic. After not being able to hold my head up, sitting with tears in my eyes because of the pain, I finally went out to my SUV for an hour and laid down in the back seat so that I wouldn’t have to hold my head up.

Finally, when I saw the doctor, she took one look at my throat and said ‘Wow, that’s not good. How long have you had this?’ When I said ‘since yesterday’, she told me it was strep throat, I got a prescription and went on my way.

A couple of days later, I hadn’t improved at all. The pain was unbearable. Ibuprofen and Acetamenaphen were not even touching it. I was sleeping 16 – 18 hours a day and the other four to eight hours I was in bed moaning and wishing I could just go back to sleep. I couldn’t even hold my head up to use my computer for more than two minutes!

I went to my family doctor and although she agreed that it looked like strep, she did swabs and sent me for all kinds of blood work, just in case.

The first results I got back said that I did NOT have strep. hmmmmm … interesting … and scary! If it was not strep, what was it? And, no wonder it was so much worse that I remember strep ever being (and strep is bad!).

The next call I got from my doctor (at the end of the second week of being sick) was to say ‘Surprise! You have mono. And, by the way, you can stop taking the antibiotics, they aren’t doing you any good.’

Wow! 33 years old and I have mono … for the second time in my life.

So, here’s what you need to know about mono:
*Disclaimer – I am not a doctor, just a girl suffering with mono who has asked a lot of questions to find out ‘now what?’

1. Mono is a virus. This means that there is no drug you can take to get it out of your system. Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections, but they do nothing to fight a viral infection. The common cold is a virus – you cannot cure it with antibiotics. Strep throat is a bacterial infection – this, you take antibiotics to treat!

2. Mono is spread various ways, but always through saliva. This is how it got the name ‘The Kissing Disease’. Mono is most commonly found in teenagers and teenagers kiss a lot apparently!

3. Kissing is NOT the only way to get mono. Because mono is a virus and almost everyone carries it, it gets passed around everywhere all the time, but only ‘infects’ some people. It is passed the same ways as the common cold. (and you would never call that ‘the Kissing Disease’!) You can get it from improperly cleaned dishes and utensils, or from breathing the air after someone sneezes or coughs. The thing is, that most adults are immune to it, so it isn’t as prevalent as in teens.

4. It is contagious, but not quite as contagious as everyone thinks. My doctor told me that when someone gets mono, often their spouse or partner does not get it. This is probably because of the high prevalence of people who are immune to it. Where as, when you are a teenager if you come in contact with it you may not have built up the antibodies to fight it yet.

5. Many people who get mono also get strep throat. However, often strep throat is diagnosed and sometimes (like in my case), it is actually the mono virus. The two look much the same with white patchy spots on the back of your throat. Strep is more common in adults, so the doctor assumed that is what it was for me. But, when tested, it turned out to be the mono virus causing those white patchy spots, not the strep bacteria.

6. Mono is a crappy virus to get. Unlike the common cold that lasts 5-7 days, mono stays in your system for months. The initial outbreak of sore throat, extreme tiredness, fever, nausea etc lasts 2-4 weeks. And then, you are stuck with extreme tiredness and weakness for 3-6 months as the virus works its way through your body. On top of that, if you over work yourself (stress or physical labour), you can relapse and start all over again.

7. The only thing you can do to treat mono is to sleep. You can take pain medications and drink lots of fluids, but there are no pills that will help you get better faster. You just have to sleep, relax and not get stressed.

Now, after all of that explanation, I hope you will understand that I am sick, and tired … and I have a good reason to be sleeping A LOT. There is no way for me to know when or where I got the virus or why I am one of the adults who gets infected by it. Did I kiss someone who was infected? hmmm … maybe. But, more likely, I probably ate off of unclean utensils (in the not so clean countries I’ve been visiting) or breathed in the wrong air at the wrong time, maybe on one of my million plane rides. Or, maybe I got it right here in Nova Scotia during the time when I wasn’t traveling. The only thing we know is that a blood test confirmed I have it.

I have been sick for three full weeks with a painful sore throat. I have been sleeping 12-15 hours a day and avoiding people in general. The first week was unbearable, the second week I was mobile and then the third week was hit or miss depending on the day. Here we are at the beginning of the fourth week and I am happy to say my throat does not currently hurt, I am wide awake and actually feel like getting some work done. I suspect a mid-afternoon nap will still be required on a daily basis for the next few weeks and I will be being careful not to over work myself as I definitely do not want a relapse!

So, my dear business contacts and friends … it is ok. I am safe to be around. I will try not to slobber on you, make out with you, spit on your face or force you to eat after me. And, if all else fails, remember that you probably carry the virus anyway and are immune to being infected.

Notes to Self

So …. I went slightly over my planned budget (by $800) for my Dominican 2012 trip to learn Spanish. However, all things considered, not that bad seeing as I cancelled a flight without refund, stayed and extra week longer than planned and took two weeks more of Spanish classes than I had initially intended!

I already know that I want to do a similar trip again, so before I forget what I learned, I’m going to put it in this nice little ‘Notes to Self’ blog!

– To save money, plan ahead and get drives to the airport from a friend (save $100).

– Find a taxi at the airport in Santo Domingo (or wherever you land) and negotiate a price. If someone else books it for you (school or hotel), it is always more expensive. I could have gotten taxis to/from Santo Domingo for a regular price of $33 ($1300 RD). (save $15-30)

– Caribe tours is only slightly cheaper than Metro. Caribe = $350 RD from Sosua to Santo Domingo. Metro = $380 RD from Sosua to Santo Domingo. Always travel with Metro. Much cleaner and more comfortable. Fewer stops. For the $1-$2 extra per trip, it is well worth it!

– Moto Conchos – do not take them after dark or for long trips. Negociate price. In Cabarete they start at $250 RD for a trip to Sosua. I haggled down to $150 RD.

– A Taxi from Cabarete to Sosua at night usually starts at $500 RD. I haggled down to $400 RD. Much cheaper if you take one as a group, but I was alone at the time.

– Always have correct change for moto conchos because sometimes they don’t have (or try not to give you) change. This is there way to try and get more money from you. You can always go buy a bottle of water at a local store to get change if you need to. That’s much better than giving over $500 RD for a $150 ride!

– Don’t go to Santo Domingo – you hate it there. It is hot, dirty and uninspiring.

– Don’t go again until you have enough Aeroplan points to cover your flights. (save $1600!)

– Don’t go in July / August – it is too friggin’ hot! Also bad time of year for flights. Go when there are direct flights to Puerto Plata (likely December – April) – reduce stress and travel time by MANY hours!

– Spend more time in Jarabacoa and visit the city of Santiago. Do these at the same time because they are close to each other.

– Plan a few days to a week to travel to Rio San Juan, Las Teranas, Samana. They are all along the north coast and so many people told me how beautiful these areas are, but I didn’t get the opportunity to visit.

– Find a place to rent for 1-2 months. This will cost $200 – $500 US instead of $30-45 per night. (Savings over 8 weeks of $1200 – $2000)

– Buy groceries and cook at home. Don’t buy too many brand names, buy lots of local fruit (cheap) and don’t eat out or drink alcohol too much! Shop in the local communities instead of tourist districts if possible. $6-$10 per day for three meals instead of $15-$20 per day. (Savings over 8 weeks of $300 – $600)

– Look for a local person who teaches Spanish classes, not through a ‘branded’ school. (save $50-$100 per week of lessons)


– Don’t take your fancy heels or a nice dress, you will not need them! Sun dresses only!

– Take two to three weeks worth of underwear. Small, easy to pack and I appreciated never running out!

– Two pairs of jeans or pants. You will wear them more often than you think!

– Pack 3-4 pairs of light weight shorts – not jean shorts.

– sneakers, hiking sandals, flip flops, dress sandals – all necessary

– two swim suits and a beach towel (or buy one when you get there)

– rain jacket or good umbrella is nice to have

– leave hair dryer, straightener, curling iron at home. Too hot / humid to use them unless you have air conditioning in your apartment and still, once you go outside, the straightening would be ruined by humidity.

– Take only enough liquid toiletries to get you through the first week. Then buy them down there. Keeps your suitcase light.

Costs from my Dominican Trip

I’m writing this post to help me plan for my next trip or living experience abroad. Also great information for anyone else planning the same and who needs a little guidance!

Flights: $1620
United Airlines – San Juan, Puerto Rico to Halifax – $313.90 (I didn’t use this flight because I changed my dates. Lost my money on it.)
American Airlines – Halifax to Santo Domingo – $572.91
American Airlines – Santo Domingo to Halifax – $733.73

Airport Transportation: $188
Taxi Halifax Airport – $55 CAN
Taxi home from Halifax Airport – $50 CAN
Taxi from Santo Domingo airport to home stay – $45 US (paid for with my school fees, therefore much more expensive than doing it on my own)
Taxi from Hotel in Santo Domingo to airport – $38 (booked through the hotel – 3am, more expensive than day time)

Local Transportation: $260
3 weeks of buses, public cars and taxis in Santo Domingo – $135 US

4 weeks of buses, public cars, taxis, scooter rental and moto conchos in and around Sosua / Cabarete / Puerto Plata – $125

School and Accommodations for six weeks: $2598
Spanish Lessons – $200 / week
Accommodations – $230 / week – first three weeks included breakfast and supper at a home stay, last three weeks only included breakfast at a school apartment.

Hotel Accommodations for 13 nights: $473

Travel Insurance: $67
Tourist Card: $10
Extended Stay fee (up to 90 days): $21

Food / drinks: $780
49 days Total and very little was spent on alcohol (maybe $25 total for 4 or 5 Pina Colada’s and a couple of Santa Libres)
1 meal per day for 21 days – breakfast and supper were included in my school home stay package
2 meals per day for 15 days – weekdays while I was studying in Sosua
3 meals per day for 13 days – weekends when I traveled and extra days while not in school
On average lunches in Sosua cost $250 – $360 RD / $6.50 – $9 US
On average suppers in Sosua cost $400 – $500 RD / $10 – $12 US
As a tourist, I think I could easily get by with $20 US per day for three meals. If I had eaten at more local places and less touristy places, I could have probably survived on $10-$15 US per day for three meals. If I were to buy groceries and cook myself, I’m guessing $6-8 per day.

Cell Phone: $80
This was for purchasing a local cell phone and using it A LOT to keep in touch with friends locally, make plans, calls to hotels, excursions and taxis.

Toiletries: $53
Shampoo, conditioner, razors, face wipes, bug repellant

Pharmacy: $27
bug repellant, cold & flu pills, anti itch cream for bug bites

Tips (on excursions / extra special staff): $20
Nena at Sosua school for room cleaning
Julio at Caves in Cabarete
Two girls at Tubagua who took me for a long walk and visited their families

Excursions: $218
Caves in Cabarete – $15
Puerto Plata (1400 original, I cxld – 1/2 back) – $18
Cooking with Nena – $13
Rafting – $90 (worth every penny!)
Photo CD – Rafting – $18 (not worth every penny. Only about 10 photos)
Kayaking – $64

Laundry: $30
$20 US for two weeks worth of clothes at a laundromat – WAY too expensive!
$10 US for one to two weeks of clothes, twice at the school

Spending money: $33
Movies – $8
Earrings – $10
Gifts for nieces – $15

Bank fees: $30
$5 each withdrawal x 6 times

Grand Total for a seven week trip, including six weeks of Spanish classes, accommodations, food and spending: $6315

Look for an upcoming post on how I plan to do it MUCH cheaper next time!

Lost tourist card

Often when you travel to Carribean countries you pay a tourist fee when you enter and / or when you leave the country. Dominican Republic is one of these countries. I paid $10 US for a tourist card when I entered the country and then you pay a fee when you leave the country based on how long you stayed.

In many countries, you have to have your tourist card in order to leave the country. I remember it being very important in the Galapagos Islands!

So, about three days before I left Dominican Republic, when I realized I couldn’t find my tourist card, I started to look harder for it. I looked with my passport, through all of my luggage, in every pocket, in my secret hiding spots for money and with all of my receipts that I had collected. No luck.

I left for two more days in Sosua and put it out of my mind.

As soon as I returned back to Santo Domingo the hunt began again. At this point I only had 12 hours before leaving the country. What was I going to do if I didn’t find it? The panic set in!

I unpacked EVERYTHING from my suitcase and dug through all of the pockets of the suitcase and my clothing. Nothing.
I checked through all of my toiletries, including my cosmetic bag with feminine products where I had been hiding some money earlier in my trip. Figured not too many people would search through tampons to see if there was money there! I thought maybe I had put my tourist card there.
Then I checked through every single receipt / piece of paper and business card that I had collected over the past seven weeks.

Still nothing.

I called my mom on Skype in a panic because I had lost it.

Then I shed a few tears … annoyed at having lost the tourist card and overwhelmed because my time in the Dominican had come to an end.

I did a little internet research and found out that I might get charged a fee for having lost the tourist card. Someone suggested it would be $200 RD, equal to about $5 US. I thought if that’s all it is, I could handle that.

Then I decided there was nothing further I could do about it and I would just have to wait until I got to the airport to see what was going to happen.

I got everything packed and headed to bed at around 11pm, just to get up again at 2am to shower and be ready to leave the hotel at 3am.

Of course, you are supposed to be at the airport three hours early when you are taking international flights. My flight was at 6:25am, so I was supposed to be at the airport for 3:25am. Would the airport even be open? Would I be able to check in?

Of course not.

Well, the airport was open … that was a good thing! I went straight to immigration and used my newly learned Spanish skills to explain that I had lost my tourist card and ask how to get it replaced. The man explained that I would do that on the other side of immigration, but that I would have to check in through my airline first. So, I went and stood in line at American Airlines. It was about 3:40am. Of course no employees were there at 3am! Someone finally told the line up of people that employees start at 4am. Lovely! Sure enough at 4am, about ten employees filed in the the American Airlines area and proceeded to slowly get everything ready, turn monitors on, put out customs forms, stand and chat etc. It was 4:30am before the first person in line was checked in.

At this point I was a little annoyed and super tired! I got checked in around 4:40am, but was starting to worry about getting through the line ups at immigration and security and making it to my flight on time. I had only an hour and a half before boarding.

Getting through security was relatively easy, other than the fact that I forgot to take my shoes off (required), so I was sent back through. Then, once I took my shoes off and put them through the scanner, they got ‘lost’ on the other side. So I was standing waiting for my sandals to come through and they didn’t appear. Finally I asked one of the workers and she found them, they had slipped through the rungs and were on the floor waiting for me!

Next stop, the immigration area where I would find out the real deal about my lost tourist card. The man took my paperwork, did not ask for my tourist card, saw on my immigration form that I had been in the country for seven weeks and told me I would have to pay the extended stay fee. He sent me to another kiosk to pay and told me to come back and see him after as he was holding on to my paperwork. All of this in Spanish! Yay me!

So, off to the payment kiosk I went. I waited and waited and waited … there was no one at the desk and no one around for me to ask what was going on. So, I waited more.

Finally, an employee walked up with another customer. Took care of her fees and then got ready to help me. Very nice man who spoke to me in both English and Spanish. I paid $800 RD (about $20 US), he gave me a receipt and sent me on my way.

Imagine that, no one ever asked me for the tourist card that I had lost. Hmmmm … or had I lost it? Now I wonder if they actually gave me a tourist card when I arrived or if I just paid the fee for it? Or maybe I got one, but it got collected with the immigration paperwork on my way out of the airport? Regardless, I didn’t need the tourist card to leave the country. I didn’t end up paying a fine for it to be replaced. I simply paid the extended stay fee which I had to pay no matter what!

As for the fees they were something close to this:
1-30 days – $400 RD
30 days – 3 months – $800 RD
6 months – 9 months – $1000 RD
1 year – $2500 RD

In the end, after waiting in line up after line up, I arrived at my gate for around 5:30am and then only had to wait half an hour before we boarded. It ended up being perfect timing!

It’s so hot here that …

I’ve officially survived two weeks of crazy heat. Every day the temperatures are about 35 degrees, plus humidity which takes it up to feeling like 40 degrees. And, unfortunately you get no reprive at night. It drops by about 5 degrees. I thought I would do a quick post with things that you might not think of when it is hot all the time …

It is so hot here that ….

Sometimes a cold shower isn’t cold enough.
People carry hand towels around to dab their sweat all day long. (pack one with you or buy one when you arrive)
People carry umbrellas to shade themselves from the sun. (you’ll want one, for sure)
People walk slow because they don’t have the energy to walk fast and they would sweat more.
People sit outside at night, after dark because it is the only time when it is bearable. (bring a lot of bug repellant!)
Chocolate bars need to be kept in the fridge.
You need to grocery shop every couple of days for fresh fruit because it goes bad quickly.
My ear wax is soft! (Weird observation, I know, but it’s true!)
You sweat all day long, including in your sleep.
Ice melts before you can drink a glass of water.
After 5 minutes, air conditioning doesn’t feel cold.
You either stick to things or slide off of things really easily due to sweating all of the time.
Fingernail polish is always just a little soft. At least I found that mine didn’t harden completely.
Cream sun screen and cream insect repellant are useless because your skin is too busy spitting out sweat to absorb the cream! Bring spray not cream.

The Guagua

Guagua is the local term for a public bus here in Santo Domingo. They run throughout the city as public transportation, but also run from the city to various other destinations and cities. One day, my home stay sisters invited me to head out to Boca Chica beach with them, so off we went to find our way!

We took a carro publico to the bus station where we were immediately bombarded with men in red shirts demanding our attention and each trying to usher us to a different bus, but they were all saying Boca Chica, Boca Chica, Boca Chica. It was definitely the most overwhelmed I had felt in public.

We let a young man in a red company shirt quickly usher us to to the first bus on the right. You step inside the door and it is kind of like walking into That 70’s Show. It is a bus, but it kind of reminded me of a volkswagen van, with dirty, ugly, tattered patterned old curtains hanging from all of the windows. The bus seats were old vinyl and equally dirty. And, the aisle was made for hips the size of a 10 year old. All three of us had to turn sideways a little to walk down the aisle to the free seats near the back of the bus.

We all sat separately as there weren’t many people on the bus at this point. Amanda asked someone if we were on the correct bus, and then asked if the ‘Express bus’ we could see out the window was faster than the one we were on. When we discovered it was, we decided to switch buses … well, that didn’t go so well. We started to get off the bus and were greeted by the same young man in the red shirt who shoed us back into the bus telling us that we’d be leaving in three minutes. Of course, that’s three long Dominican minutes!

We sat back down feeling like we were prisoners and not being allowed off the bus. I remember saying to the girls … “if you really want to switch buses, we can get off, he won’t stop us.” But, instead, we agreed to just stay put as we were sure the bus would be leaving soon. And, the other passengers told us it was only about a 30 minute bus ride.

Sitting on the bus waiting was horrendously hot though. In 40 degree heat, on a small bus with no breeze … not fun.

About 15 minutes later a few more passengers had joined us, including one local lady who sat down with Christine even though there were other free seats available. This was odd, however, Christine chatted her up in Spanish and somehow ended up with a gifted mango from the girl, and a guide to help us get all the way straight to Boca Chica and off at the correct stop.

A couple of minutes after we left the bus stop, the young guy in the red shirt came to the back and told Christine that she needed to remove her hoop earrings because she was sitting beside the window. The young girl explained (in Spanish) that it would be easy for people on the street to reach in and grab them because they look expensive and were hoops, so easy to grab on to. I think they also closed her window at that point.

Moments later, there were vendors reaching in the windows offering up candy, sunglasses and snacks for purchase. I didn’t see anyone buying anything, so not sure how they ever make any money this way, but none the less they were relentless in their attempts!

All along the way, the bus stopped to pick people up. After a few people got on, I decided to move up and sit with Amanda. Seemed better than both of us sitting with strangers on a packed bus. Within about five stops, the bus was full. Once we got outside the city, the bus got fuller than full, with a few people standing. Luckily, not for long, as people were also getting off all along the way.

The young man in the red shirt came along to collect money from everyone, $50 Pesos each for us. He made sure to smile nicely, wink and deliberately hold on to each of our hands a little longer than necessary, just to be flirty. Actually, it was just kind of awkward … but I guess he liked it.

For the next 30 minutes or so, we sat on the bus as people hopped on and off at various towns along the way. Christine continued to chat up her new friend Theresa and finally, we got to our stop. Theresa motioned for us to get off and follow along with her, so we did. She walked us down along the beach and showed us a couple of places we could stop if we wanted to. We had mentioned being hungry, so she showed us to a restaurant, sat down for a few minutes and then, *poof* she said goodbye and disappeared, not to be seen again!

We think, aside from being friendly that she also brought us to this particular restaurant because she was friends with someone there, but we will never know!

We spent a lovely afternoon at the beach, then made our way back to the main highway to catch a cold, air conditioned Express guagua on the way home. For the extra .50c American, this bus was worth it! We had a short little chat with a friendly, yet slightly crazy man on this bus and then made it safely back to Parque Indepencia where we walked about 10 minutes to get home.

Overall, an interesting experience with local transportation. I’m certainly glad that my first time I went along with my two new friends who speak much better Spanish than I do! I haven’t done it again yet, but I suspect I’ll be heading that way again when I’m done school to visit some of the other beaches as well as the city of La Romana. I’ll be catching the air conditioned Express bus for sure though. I’m sure I can afford the .50cents for comfort!

Cost of Living in Santo Domingo

Just a quick post with a few details about costs in Santo Domingo.
It is hard to plan for a trip here for six weeks when you have no idea what things cost. Everyone says ‘stuff is cheap’, but that doesn’t give you numbers to budget on! So, here are a few things I’ve purchased in the last few days, their local cost and the translation into how much that is in US dollars.

$1 US = $39 Dominican Pesos

15 minute carror publico (taxi with many people) – $25 Pesos / Less than $1 US
15 minute taxi ride – $180 Pesos / $4.50 US
Public bus to Boca Chica (1 hour on bus) – $50 Pesos / $1.50 US
Public bus to Boca Chica with Air Conditioning (1 hour on bus) – $70 Pesos / less than $2 US
Lunch – rice (a lot), chicken stir fry, pasta salad, coke – $389.40 Pesos / $10 US
Dasani water – $14.95 Pesos / less than .50cents US
Ivory Body Wash – $159 Pesos / $4 US
Umbrella – $125 Pesos / $3 US
Hot dog, pop, chips – $200 Pesos / $5 US
4 large Presidente beer, 1 litre of coke, 1 litre of rum, 1 ‘rev’ type drink = $1300 Pesos / $35 US
Pina Colada – $200 Pesos / $5 US
Fried chicken & fried plantanes, chicken breast & french fries, Coke (meals for two people at a nice restaurant) – $970 Pesos / $25 US

Human Frogger

Generally speaking, traffic is always busy in Santo Domingo. It is a city of approximately three million people, so of course there are a lot of vehicles and a lot of people who need to get from place to place at every time of day!

There is no respect for transportation laws and pedestrians certainly do not have the right of way in any circumstance. The funniest thing is that people here are laid back and walk slowly and calmly, but yet, people behind the wheel are the exact opposite! It is like they are racing to get out of town before the apocalypse or something!

My first day in Santo Domingo, I travelled mostly by foot. It is funny that I don’t use these feet of mine more often at home, but when I’m in a new city there is nothing that I like more than to walk through the streets to get an understanding of where everything is without having to worry about moving fast, which way to turn when other cars are waiting and being able to easily backtrack if I feel I have gone the wrong way. But, really, is there a wrong way when you are exploring a new city? I mostly like to just go for a stroll, look at my surroundings and enjoy the exercise.

I did find, however that trying to cross the main streets, such as the Malecon, is much like playing frogger. You might step out and then step back a couple of times! And, you may have to go left and right around cars. And, yes, you may have to sprint across the street because drivers have no intentions of slowing down for you to get safely across! Having said this, occasionally a driver will stop to let me cross (likely so they can have a good long stare at the white girl and call out a few compliments or comments from their car window while you cross the street!)

On the really busy streets, sometimes, if you are lucky, you can find a police officer standing at a corner. If you ask, they will use their whistle and step out in traffic for you to then give you the right of way to cross the street. So far, I’ve only done this once. Most of the time if you wait a few minutes you can find a break in traffic to dodge across the street on your own. The funniest part though is that I have never seen a Dominican rush to get out of the way of the on coming traffic. Only us white folks sprint for the other side!