My summer adventure in Asia

Earlier this year on social media I spent some time talking about how much I wanted to do a cycling trip in Vietnam or Burma. I even joined the gym and started biking. Yay me! You know … until it wasn’t YAY me anymore and I fell off the work out train just like 75% of people who join in January.

Well, I’m still going once or twice a week … I guess that isn’t horrible. And, I’m trying really hard to get back in to it for the next 8 weeks before I head out on my first ever trip to Asia.

So, why Asia?

Initially it started with an interest in Vietnam. Funny enough, not the history which is what Vietnam is often noted for. I was interested in the amazing photo opportunities and I had heard that cycling through the countryside in Vietnam was breath taking. So, Vietnam went to the top of my wish list.

Then, through work at The Adventure Travel Company I began to take an interest in Burma. It’s a country that has only opened up it’s borders in the past few years to tourists and is just slowly gaining enough stability for people to want to travel there.

Near the end of March, I found out about a great opportunity to go Burma on an agent trip. It’s not free, but it is discounted and it sounded like an amazing adventure to a place that is little known and not well traveled. I put in my application and was immediately accepted and my place was held.

Then I took off to lead the Peru Through the Lens photo tour for two weeks and didn’t have time to think about my ‘next’ adventure because I was busy living an adventure. Tough problem to have don’t you think?

As soon as I returned from Peru, I confirmed my spot on the Agent trip to Burma with Tucan Travel and a few weeks later, booked my International flights. All the while, trying to figure out what else to do in Asia! There was NO WAY I was doing 24 hours of travel time in each direction just for a 9 day trip in Burma. Despite how fantastic those 9 days are going to be … I wanted to make the most out of my international air fare and excruciating travel time!

Since Vietnam was at the top of my list, I decided I would go there as well … and the hunt was on for the perfect trip that would fit within my dates.

I searched high and low … Tucan Travel, G Adventures, Intrepid, Travel Indochina … Nothing seemed to fit my dates and my desire for Vietnam. Through all of the searching, repeated trips including Cambodia came up and I started looking more closely at them because I wasn’t having much luck with just Vietnam. And then, I fell in love with the idea of visiting Angkor Wat. After a lot of searching through trips with different companies and trying to match them up with my dates, here is my itinerary for my super South East Asia trip this summer.

August 14 – Depart Halifax in the morning.
August 15 – Arrive Bangkok, Thailand close to midnight.
August 16 – Transfer from the International airport to the regional airport for my early morning flight to Yangon. Check into my hotel and sleep. Hopefully I’ll have enough energy to explore a little as well, but mostly, sleep.

August 17 – 25 – Blissful Burma – Tucan Travel – Agent Trip
August 17 – No planned activities – Explore at leisure.
August 18 – 19 – Shwedagon Pagoda / Overnight bus to Mandalay. Mingun / cruise up the river. Yadanabon market.
August 20 – 21 – Guided bike tour of the Temple ruins of Bagan. Optional hot air balloon ride at sunrise or sunset. (This is not optional for me … it is the part I am most excited about. I may even pay to do it at sunrise AND sunset!)
Aug 22 – Visit local villages and the Elephant Conservation Centre where I’ll get to wash and feed the elephants. EEEEEEEEKKKKKK! I’m super excited about this. There’s also opportunities to ride the elephants and trek into the jungle with them.
Aug 23 – Inle Lake visiting floating gardens and sampling local tea. Visit markets and a cheroot factory.
Aug 24 – We fly to Yangon and spend time exploring the markets, colonial buildings and the Yangon river. We also return to the Shwedagon Pagoda to see it illuminated at night.
Aug 25 – I will depart Yangon and fly to Bangkok. After several hours layover, I’ll be on my way to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam.

Aug 26 – 27 – Currently I have no specific plans. I suspect I will spend some time in my hotel blogging and catching up with friends and family back home as I expect to be without internet and cell service for most of my stay in Burma. Other than that, I might try to do a Mekong Delta home stay, a city tour or cycling tour in the countryside.

Aug 28 – Sept 5 – G Adventures – Cambodia Experience (this is for myself. I will simply be traveling with a group, not leading it, not responsible for anyone, just seeing the sites for me!)

Aug 28 – No planned activities. Sight seeing in Saigon.
Aug 29 – Mekong Delta, Vietnam
Aug 30 & 31 – Phnom Pen, Cambodia
Sept 1 – 3 – Siem Reap / Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Sept 4 – Bangkok, Thailand
Sept 5 – Departure day
Sept 5 – Arrive home in Halifax late at night.

Preparing for Adventures in South East Asia – 2

Hidden Fees with low cost carriers ….

With my international flights on hold for 24 hours I knew that I had to make a decision quickly. $1568 from Halifax to Bangkok was a super deal for August and I couldn’t let it slip through my fingers. But, funny enough, even though I love travel and I’m super excited about this trip … booking those international flights was one of the hardest things I had to do. I’m not joking when I say that I nearly had a panic attack before putting my credit card number in to secure them. And, I shed more than a few tears after I left work that day.

Why?

Likely a build up of stress, anxiety and excitement … but I wasn’t able to separate any of those emotions, I was just one big ball of nervousness. Too late now though, $1568 was paid and like it or not, I am set to fly to Bangkok.

I’m a travel agent now … and a seasoned traveler. I’m sure you all think that travel is just old hat for me, but I bet you didn’t know that every time I think about a new trip I immediately remember that I’ve been in a plane crash. I immediately remember that I really don’t like flying, but it is the only way to see the world. After I take the plunge and get all of my plans organized then I forget about it again for awhile … the anxiety about flying doesn’t creep up on my until about two weeks before I leave … and then the two nights before, well, I’m a big whiny baby.

So … I have six weeks before I start completely freaking out … that’s reassuring, right?

About three weeks after I booked my international flights, I finally found time to start booking my domestic fights. After all, the main part of my trip is Burma / Myanmar and I only had a plane ticket as far as Bangkok.

Having never traveled to Asia before, it is all new to me, so I had to start at the beginning by looking up airlines to see what my options were.

I leave Halifax in the morning of August 14th and I will land in Bangkok on August 15 close to midnight. I then need to make my way to Yangon, Myanmar. Where to start?

I pulled up Air Asia’s website and began having a look around. Phew! Return flights from Bangkok to Yangon are only about $45 US each way. That’s cheap! Let’s book those. Oh wait. I land at airport code BKK … these flights are all from DMK. Is that my only option? Looks like it! The flights to Yangon fly from the regional airport, not the international one. Ah well … it’s already a crazy long two days of travel, why not add another taxi ride and check in at a new airport to the mix?! Seems as I have no choice.

I start plugging in information and double checking that all of my dates are right. Then I get to the payment screen where it offers me the option of insurance, for additional cost of course … I try to bypass it, but I can’t seem to. I get frustrated and then find some small print that allows me to ignore the insurance and I move on.

Don’t forget taxes! Add another $23 US each way.

Then I get to the screen with prices for baggage. Add another $15 for up to 20kg of checked luggage (each way). I’d love to travel with carry on only, but seeing as my camera takes up most of a backpack, I don’t think I can fit three weeks clothes in. I’ll certainly have a couple of pairs of underwear in there though after my lost luggage incident in Lima!

Finally, I’m on to the payment screen and my price that started out as $90 US is already sitting at $166 US (return). Geeze!

Deep breath.
Go to the credit card screen.
More fees! This time it’s an additional $5.30 for a credit card processing fee.

All in all, my two $45 US tickets turned in to a grand total of $178.45 US.

And the moral of the story ……..

When you book your own flights online through a low -ost carrier, beware of all of the things that are not included because they add up!

At least when I went to book my flight from Bangkok to Saigon, I was aware of all the charges, so it didn’t surprise me. Still sucked to pay a final total of $97.71 US instead of $65.

And, it’s not just Air Asia that does this. When you think you are getting a really great deal through Ryan Air or one of the other European low-cost carriers … watch out! The fees will add up on you and are not always divulged in advance. Sometimes you get stuck paying for them when you check in!

Preparing for Adventures in South East Asia – 1

I’ve known since before I left for Peru that I would be going to South East Asia in August, but I’ve kept it fairly quiet and haven’t said much because I’ve been too busy to finalize the plans. I mean really, until flights are in place, a trip doesn’t really seem real!

All of a sudden, I’m only 2 months away from departure. Yikes! I just realized that this second and it totally freaked me out!

About a month ago, one of the superstars that I work with at The Adventure Travel Company found me a super deal on flights. Everything that I was finding was pricing at $2200 .. yuck. Mind you, I did have to get from Halifax (where we have crappy flight choices) to Yangon, Myanmar … which has even crappier flight choices. We wiggled the dates around a bit and worked with Bangkok instead of all the way to Yangon and there we have it.

In the end, I secured flights from Halifax to Bangkok, Thailand for under $1600. People keep asking me how long the flight is and what route I’m taking. Well … it was one of many options for routing and although not the shortest, it really isn’t that bad.

On August 14th I fly Halifax to Washington to Japan to Bangkok (arrive late at night August 15th).
Travel time over 27 hours.

Then I have to transfer from the Bangkok International airport to the regional one. This should be an adventure at midnight in a new country after 24 hours of travel. I’m sure I’ll be top of my game! ha ha ha

I fly out from the regional airport on August 16th early in the morning and land in Yangon, Myanmar a couple of hours later. I’ll either be totally wiped and barely awake, or excited beyond belief to see this amazing less discovered country.

A few weeks back I wrote a blog posted called I don’t want your tainted point of view … And, I completely stand by that. I have done very little research into where I am going, other than enough to know about safety, health and accommodations. I’m not by any means ‘winging’ the trip. I’m traveling with an organized group for almost the entire time I am away. However, I am being very careful about what I read and take in from others who have travelled to these areas. I really want to see it through my own eyes first. That’s what I love most about traveling to new destinations.

What I have done so far is the following:

Checked the Canadian Government website for visa requirements for Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.

I’ve contacted the embassies of Burma and Vietnam to get my visa application paperwork. Thailand doesn’t require a visa because I will only be there as a tourist for a few days. And, the Cambodian one I will get at the border when I enter the country.

I visited my family doctor and contacted Napier Travel Health to discuss if I need any new vaccines or medications for my travels.

I have booked all of my international flights (United), my domestic flights (Air Asia), my two group tours (Tucan & G Adventures) and three nights of hotel stays in Ho Chi Minh city when I will be on my own.

I’ll soon be posting blogs with information about each of those tasks as they are not as simple or as fast as you may think and I’ve discovered all kinds of interesting tid-bits along the way.

So, watch for posts coming shortly about the process for applying for visas, domestic flights and low cost carriers and my super exciting itineraries!

It’s my first time heading off to Asia and I’m super excited! A little scared too … my comfort zone is Latin America of which I still have much more to discover! But, no time like the present to get my adventures in. Young, child-less, not married and relatively healthy … I may never be all of those things at once again!

Here’s to my life being one big adventure. I hope you’ll tag along for the updates!

Peru Through the Lens 2013 Art Show

Join us for a Saturday afternoon Art Show opening in celebration of travel, photography & giving back!

While in Peru the group spent a day photographing street children at The House of the People of the Sun in Cuzco, a project supported by The Planeterra Foundation.

“House of the People of the Sun” acts as a haven for 80 children and adolescents who live in extreme poverty. The home is open during the day, and is run by a staff of teachers and social workers. Children are given the opportunity to drop-in to receive help with homework, a warm meal, and participate in classes and workshops that teach them valuable skills, including jewelry making, leather working, sewing, cooking, music and English.”

Last year we raised over $900 for the Planeterra Foundation and we look forward to giving back again this year, with money earmarked directly for the House of the People of the Sun project.

Join us Saturday, May 25th to view & buy photos from Peru Through the Lens participants and help support street kids in Cuzco, Peru and maybe win yourself a little something from Peru or a voucher for your next trip with G Adventures!

There is no fee to attend the opening, but donations for Planeterra Foundation are appreciated and will be accepted at the door.

Opening Remarks will be from approximately 1:30 – 2:00pm.

Drop in anytime between 1pm and 4pm.

Show will continue to be displayed until June 25th, 2013.

Presented in Partnership with:

Shari Tucker Photography

The Adventure Travel Company

Henry’s

PTL 2013 Art Show
PTL 2013 Art Show

Uros Islands Photo Essay

Uros Islands

The Uros Islands are truly one of the most unique and amazing places that I have ever visited. They are located in Lake Titicaca, approximately a 20 minute boat ride from Puno. Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in South America at approximately 13 000 feet.

The Uros islands are a group of approximately 79 floating islands hand-made of totora (reeds from Lake Titicaca). Totora is the staple of these islands. From actually building the islands on layers of reeds and blocks of roots, to eating the white part, to building all of their boats and homes from the reeds.

As the old layers of reeds begin to rot, new layers are added on top to keep the floor fresh and solid. Boats and houses are rebuilt approximately every six months for the same reason.

At one time the islands were moved amongst the reeds to hide from impending danger and strategically for war. Now, the islands are anchored in place with three to five families living on each island in small reed huts. There is a hospital, a school and a seventh day adventist church for the community.

One Sleep to Peru through the Lens 2013

For all of you out there who have been waiting for me to start blogging about my Peru trip this year, the time is here!
I was up before the sun this morning in an effort to get all of my last minute things done. On top of my list is clearing off my laptop and hard drive so I have room to store this year’s photos. As I write this, I’m transferring files from my hard drive to my desktop computer … multitasking! Yay me!

There’s been a whole lot of change and excitement over the last year in my life. I won’t go into great detail as I’ve written other posts about it, but here’s the nitty gritty …

In Feb 2012 I went on a three week adventure to Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands and then on to lead Peru Through the Lens 2012 … a photo tour that was so much more! I had no idea that when I embarked on the first photo tour that it would have such an impact on me. I spent 11 weeks traveling from February to September of that year (adding in Dominican Republic) … and then came home, got sick and changed careers. Whirlwind 2012!

What’s even more amazing to me is that I am not the only person from the Photo tour who had life changing affirmations! Maybe it was the magic of Machu Picchu, the wanderlust from traveling or just the demographic of people who participated last year … but many of us saw life A LOT differently on our return to Canada.

This year as I head off to Peru in just one sleep! Yikes! I feel like I’m looking at it with a brand new set of eyes. Last year I was stuck. I was complaining of being on a hamster wheel and just spinning without going forward in my life / career. This year I seem to have most of it together. A new career as an Adventure Travel Specialist, better health (knock on wood that continues) and just as much vision as I’ve always had, but I seem to be able to articulate it better.

So, here’s to my next adventure … starting in approximately 36 hours … I’ll try not to be such a klutz at the airport this year! (you should read it, you’ll have a good laugh!)

Oh yeah … I’ve also scheduled the 2013 Art Show & Fundraiser for May 25th. Details will be out soon, but put it in your calendar now! Come see all of the participants work from the 2013 trip and support community, artists and the Planeterra Foundation!

Pisac ruins, Peru
Pisac ruins, Peru

My Travel & Adventure Wish List – Subject to Change

In order to fully understand the depth and importance of my travel and adventure wish list. You need to understand a little about my past. Let me catch you up …

Up until 2008 I thought I was never going to explore anywhere outside of the US and Canada. I had been in a plane crash in 1997 and was afraid to fly. In July 2008, I took my first flight since the plane crash. I still regularly find myself anxious over flying and scared during take off and landing, but I have vowed to travel far and wide and see as many places as I can see in my lifetime. In the past six years, through these challenges, obstacles and achievements, I have become a new person.

From July 2008 until today, I have visited the following places (by plane).
July 2008 – Bermuda – my first flight after the plane crash
October 2008 – New York City – 30th birthday celebration
January 2009 – Costa Rica & Nicaragua
August 2009 – Newfoundland
October 2009 – Bermuda
April 2010 – Cuba
June 2010 – Ottawa
August 2010 – St. Pierre & Miquelon, France (although it is off the Coast of Newfoundland)
November 2010 – New Orleans
March 2011 – Mexico, Germany & Poland
February 2012 – Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands, Peru
April 2012 – Dominican Republic
July – August 2012 – Dominican Republic
January 2013 – Toronto

As much as my perception of life changed because of the plane crash in 1997, my perception and perspective on life changed again as I sat admiring Machu Picchu in Peru in February of 2012. I was slowly embarking on a change of thought process, a better way to live my life and a self-discovery journey.

A year ago, my travel and adventure wish list consisted of Central and South America. I love Spanish. I love Latin culture and I wanted to explore this region in depth. I didn’t even really know which countries were located where, just that I loved the culture. It was a pretty broad wish list, honestly, with very little depth.

I went to the Dominican Republic for the summer (2012) to learn Spanish so that I could communicate better while traveling in Central / South America. I loved it!

While I was away, my life continued to change and my perceptions and perspectives were regularly challenged.

When I came home in September (2012), life changed, as it often does and I embarked on a journey to change careers. The journey had really started in February 2012 at Machu Picchu, but the first seven months were me figuring it out. Then from September to November, it was about me taking action to make a big change.

Since I started working at The Adventure Travel Company in November 2012, my broad and shallow wish list has exploded with energy and curiosity about places I never even knew existed!

Below, I am sharing with you my travel and adventure wish list as of March 2013. I have limited the list to 15 items that are top priority for me at this time. I look forward to writing another wish list in March 2014 to see what has changed, what I have checked off my list and where my dreams have wandered!

Shari’s Travel and Adventure Wish List
Very important to me are: sustainable travel, supporting (not harming) communities during my travels, living with locals, volunteering when possible, practicing my Spanish language skills, getting off the beaten path and not spending a lot of time in large cities.
*In their current order of importance to me.

1. Me to We Volunteer Trip (Kenya or India) – It is at the top of my list as it is extremely important to me, yet I don’t expect to go on this adventure until 2014.
2. Vietnam – including Sapa, Mui Ne, Halong Bay, taking part in the Full Moon Festival, cycling in the countryside.
3. Burma / Myanmar – I really want to go before it becomes an in demand destination. Cycling is on my to do list here as well as lodge at a monastery (not a hotel).
4. Croatia – including Split & Dubrovnik
5. Spanish school (Guatemala / Belize / Honduras / Nicaragua)
6. Gorilla Trek (likely in Rwanda)
7. African Safari (South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania or Botswana)
8. Cape Town, South Africa – because of Nelson Mandela
9. Hot Air Balloon ride – over Cappadocia, Turkey or the Maasai Mara, Kenya
10. Bhutan – Because of the happiness factor
11. Celebrating New Year’s in another country
12. Italy – Tuscany / Venice
13. Greece – Cinque Terre
14. Colombia
15. Morocco

Care to share what’s on your travel & adventure list?

Travel like a diva … with a cup … Part 2

If you haven’t read Part 1 of this series, check it out here before you read part 2.

This post is all about women’s issues when traveling. That’s right vacation menstruation. The topic of periods, menstruation, that monthly visitor, being ‘on the rag’ …

NOTE: Some women may find this post too detailed. If you don’t want to read it, don’t read it. If you are curious, then read. If you read all the way to the end, despite it’s brutal honesty, please don’t complain to me about being too honest … after all, you decided to continue reading!

I’m going to travel like a diva … with a cup. What the hell does that mean, you ask?

Back in 2012 when I ran my very first photo tour, as soon as I had the minimum number of participants I was so excited that I started counting down the days! That also meant I started counting the weeks between periods to see if I’d be ‘on the rag’ during my adventure of a lifetime. To my dismay, I would be. So, what was I going to do about that?

Picture this …

I’m sitting at a travel agency picking my agent’s brain about all things Peru. I’m asking about the weather, about flight schedules, about adding on a trip to The Galapagos Islands … the questions are just pouring out in excitement and she’s answering each one of them with as much information as she can to help me out.

There are three agents in the office. It’s fairly small and both of the other agents were busy at the time … one with a client in person, the other on the phone.

I leaned across my agent’s desk and whispered something like ‘I can’t believe I’m asking this … I don’t want anyone to hear … but what is the bathroom situation like on the Peru trip? I mean, I’m going to be on my period. Will I have regular access to washrooms? Will our accommodations have washrooms or will I be going in the woods?’.

After all, this was an adventure travel trip, not a Caribbean resort! And we would be doing homestays for several nights and hotels for the others.

I felt a little silly, but thankfully I’m not easily embarrassed. We tried to quietly and discreetly have a conversation about ‘women’ issues while in the company of a man and a client!

I’m pretty sure our conversation went something like this …
Rose: Well, Shari, do I have the perfect thing for you! Have you ever heard of The Diva Cup?
Shari: The Diva Cup? Um, no. Not sure I want to know what that is … but ok.
Rose (goes to The Diva Cup website): It’s an alternative menstruation product, reusable and environmentally friendly. It will change your periods forever!

OK, from here on, this post gets detailed. Read at your own discretion! Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Of course at this point, I was intrigued and disgusted all at the same time. After all, it is a sort of cup that you insert instead of a tampon that catches your blood and then you empty it out. I didn’t even know there were such things as ‘alternative menstruation products’! I thought we had pads and tampons and that’s all there was to it.

We went on to have a detailed discussion and read information on the website about how it was going to change my periods forever! The lovely ladies at the agency spoke so highly about it for traveling women that I decided I’d give it a try for my next period. I wanted a test run with it before taking it to Peru!

So, when my next period came around, I decided to take the plunge (or plug)! At that time, The Diva Cup wasn’t sold at drug stores and pharmacies though. You couldn’t just go in and buy it instead of a box of tampons. You had to buy it at a health or sex store.

On the second day of my period, I went in to Super Natural Foods, found a nice female staff member and asked if they sold the Diva Cup. She pointed me in the right direction and then the adventure began!

First thought … It’s kind of like buying your first box of condoms! You really have no idea what you are doing, but know that you should be getting them, so you are going to do it, but it’s a little uncomfortable!

Second thought … ok, there are two sizes. How do you know what ‘size’ is right for your vagina? HA HA HA Ok, so who am I kidding? I just said vagina in a blog post and I was a little uncomfortable about buying the Diva Cup? Ok, I think I just got more uncomfortable … as did you, but remember, I’m the one writing this for all to see … no one knows you are reading it! And really, we should be de-stigmatizing all of this anyway! Women should not be embarrassed to talk about their periods which are a perfectly natural part of life!

The Diva cup makes the size choice fairly straight forward for you. Either you are over 30 and may or may not have delivered a child vaginally or by c-section. Or you are under 30 and have never had a child.

Simple enough right?

Unless you let your mind wander … In my mind I thought “Well, I’m over 30, but I’ve never given birth … doesn’t that make my vagina smaller?” Ok, in reality I know this isn’t really true, but I’ll admit that this thought went through my head! I bought the recommended size for those of us over 30, got in the car and said to my friend who was waiting for me, ‘but what if I have a small vagina?!’ … fits of laughter ensued.

Later that evening, I came home and decided I was ready to tackle using the cup for the first time. Obviously best to try it at home first where you are most comfortable. I was a good girl and read all of the instructions before doing anything. Mind you, I really wasn’t sure what I was going to do with this malleable silicone cup thing with an opening that looked way to large to ‘fit up there’. So, I guess I had to read the instructions.

As suggested, I washed the cup with warm, non-scented, soapy water.
And then, I gave myself another little pep talk that consisted of ‘Ok, so you’re going to have to touch yourself a little bit to get this to work, but all the ladies who use it say that it is worth it. So, get ready …. go for it!’

The instructions give you two ways of inserting the cup properly. I chose the second way, which is to push down on one side of the cup in to the middle, until it forms a bit of a V. This makes it much smaller to insert. Seems simple enough, right?

Well, maybe … or maybe not! I pushed my thumb down to the middle of the soft cup, held the sides and started to walk myself through the part where I was going to have to (paraphrased) ‘use your other hand to separate your labia’ and then …

POP!

The cup slips out of my grasp, hits the door with a dull little thud and bounces to the floor. “OMG I’m glad I’m at home, not in a public bathroom right now!” What if I had lost my grip, the cup hit the door, then the floor and rolled right out of the stall? I might just die!

Instead of the Seinfeld episode ‘Can you spare a square?’ it would be ‘Can you roll my alternative menstrual product back under the stall for me please? And then, can you leave the bathroom before I do, so you never see my face?’

Ok, I’ve recovered from my embarrassment with myself, I’ve rewashed the cup and I’m ready to try again … Concentrate this time!

I’ve made the cup smaller for insertion, I’m holding things ‘apart’ down there and using my other hand to gently insert the cup … and then …

It works! Phew. Wow was I glad when it was in and couldn’t go flying out of my grasp again.

(and I’ve just realized that this should be part of The Vagina Monologues that tours every year!)

Once the cup is inserted, you reach up and gently turn it 360 degrees to make sure that it fully opens rather than being smaller like the way you inserted it. Yup, you actually reach in there, grab on to the bottom of it and start turning. For me, this was the most awkward part. I originally tried to hold on to the little nubby end (so that it doesn’t go missing in there), but really, what you need to do is grab the bottom of the cup with your fingers, squeeze and turn. If it hasn’t already opened up fully, you’ll feel it when it does, but don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt! When it is open fully it lightly suctions, forming a seal so that it doesn’t leak or move.

So there, the cup is in and I’m good to go … for how long?

Well, you see, two of the really fantastic benefits of using the Diva Cup are:
1. You can leave it in for up to 12 hours
2. because it is made of sillicone, there’s no risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome, such as with tampons.

Just for ‘fun’, that first night, I left it in for a couple of hours, then tried my first attempt at removing it. The instructions tell you all kinds of tid bits such as (paraphrased), ‘don’t panic if you can’t reach it! This means you may have inserted it a little too far, but eventually the weight of the liquid and gravity will pull it back down.’ What you actually do is squeeze your vaginal muscles which pushes the cup closer to your fingers, then you reach up there … (yup, you have to be comfortable with yourself) … pinch the bottom of the cup and pull. Weird? Yes, it is weird, but it’s not all that bad.

It is a little bit like having a pap test when your doctor sticks his or her fingers inside to make sure everything is ok. It is an odd, uncomfortable sensation, as far from sexy or arousing as possible, but it only lasts for a few seconds, then it’s done. Once the cup is inserted, you really, honestly can’t feel it at all! You notice it even less than a tampon!

I can hear you all saying ‘ewwwwww! Gross! That’s gotta be messy.’

Actually, it isn’t messy. All of your menstrual fluid is captured inside the little cup and you just dump it out in the toilet (or on the ground if you are peeing in the woods!). There is very little blood on the outside of the cup because it has been pressed against your vaginal walls, directing everything inside. So, as gross as you may think it is, you don’t actually get much on your fingers (usually).

Something else I learned is that the average woman, during her entire one week period produces about an ounce of menstrual fluid. An ounce? That’s it? Well, apparently it is! The cup itself is made to hold an ounce. So, technically, that would be a week’s worth of fluid from your period. They recommend that you take it out and wash it 2-3 times per day (which is every 10-12 hours). Isn’t it cool that as long as it is inserted properly, you don’t have to worry about it for 10-12 hours?

I’m so excited! That means not only when I’m traveling and don’t have access to a suitable washroom, but overnight, when I’m on location working and don’t have access to a washroom, I don’t have to worry about overflow! That’s right. Unless something is horribly wrong, I’m not going to ‘overflow’ the cup in those 12 hours.

And I don’t think I mentioned that you can pee, or have a bowel movement with it still in place. You don’t have to take it out every time. Well, I don’t think you have to take a tampon out either, but I always do because it just doesn’t seem right. I always feel like a tampon gets shifted, moved and is uncomfortable if I leave it in while using the washroom. Ok, not to mention the fact that you then have a wet string hanging around with pee on it. EEEEEWWWW! See, THAT is disgusting!

I’ll admit to the world, I am converted. I used the Diva Cup for the last few days of that period and was thrilled with it’s efficiency. When I go to my boyfriend’s house (someday that’ll happen again) I don’t have to pack a bunch of bulky, embarrassing pads and tampons. When I go to a photo shoot, I don’t have to worry about running to the bathroom every couple of hours to remove my tampon, or trying to find a delicate way to get a tampon from my bag to my hand and carry it to the washroom without anyone seeing. I don’t always have to carry my purse everywhere with me with a stash of feminine products because I now have a reusable one!

So, I guess I’d better answer the last few questions that I know most of you have. How’s it going to work when you are in a public washroom or traveling?

Well, here’s the deal … you are supposed to wash the cup off with drinkable water (and non-scented soap) whenever you can. If you are in a one stall public bathroom in Canada or US, that’s no problem. If you are in a bigger washroom, you can’t just take your cup and wash it out in the sink in front of everyone, then run back to the bathroom and insert it. So, you can either wash it off in the stall with bottled water that you are carrying, or you can wipe it off with toilet paper and re-insert it, washing it the next time you have a chance.

They really stress how important it is to wash your hands before using it as well, as you don’t want any unknown bacteria causing problems!

When you are traveling, you aren’t always in suitable bathrooms or don’t always have drinkable water. So, it is just a matter of planning ahead to take good, drinkable bottled water with you, or you can wait until you are at your hotel to wash it off. Remember, you don’t have to remove it every time you go to the washroom, so you don’t have to worry about this all of the time!

Wash it before you insert it in the morning and then you will be good until you get to your hotel or a private washroom later in the day.

Doesn’t this make life so much easier when you travel?

I can’t imagine having to pack my rucksack with enough pads and tampons for a week. Not to mention trying to not squish them, have them become wet from rain or squished from being thrown around in the cargo area on the plane. Nor do I want the hassle of trying to find new pads and tampons in another country where I can’t speak the language! Instead, I just pack my little Diva Cup in a pretty little cotton bag, and I’m on my way!

Oh yeah, and it only costs around $40! With the money you’ll save on pads and tampons, in a few years you’ll have saved enough money for a trip! And you are making a huge impact on saving the environment! What’s not to like about all of this!

So, if you can’t control when you are going to have your period and it just happens to end up in the midst of your travel plans, you should consider the alternative .. Travel like a diva … with a cup!

‘Self, suck it up. Get over it. Be a woman. Get comfortable with yourself and enjoy your travels!’

Importance of travel vaccines

Back in 2009 when I decided at Christmas time that I couldn’t resist the urge any longer to travel to Costa Rica, the thought never even crossed my mind that there may be travel vaccines required before I went! It wasn’t until about two weeks before departure that someone mentioned it to me and I decided to look into it. Much to my surprise, I was already too late to have the full course of vaccines that were recommended, but at least I could get started on them.

Now, being a more seasoned traveler, I am much more aware of the need for medications and vaccines when traveling and I understand that each country is different. Each city, community, state or area within a country can have vastly different requirements. Now, I know that 4-8 weeks in advance of any travel, I need to book an appointment with the travel health clinic. These professionals research your trip in advance and talk to you about all of the diseases and issues that you might come in contact with. For the most part, it is up to you to decide what medications and vaccines you want to take, but sometimes proof of vaccination is required before entering or leaving specific countries, such as yellow fever.

Many vaccines are lifelong protection from illnesses that are present in Canada and US, but much more prominent in under developed countries.

Most importantly, no matter where you are traveling outside of Canada, it is extremely important to have your childhood needles up to date. When we are young and get vaccinated for measles, mumps, tetanus and many others, we often forget to get our booster shots when we are older … or maybe think that they aren’t important. And in some cases vaccines have been changed, updated or have additional protections added to them.

In 2004 I was chopping wood at my home in Truro, NS. I nearly cut off my thumb with a rusty old axe and guess what? When I went to the hospital, the first thing they wanted to know was if I was up to date on my tetanus shots. Seeing as I hadn’t specifically ever sought one out just for fun, I was given the proper shot. It was a pretty easy fix, here in Canada. Take that same situation to the Amazon, or Africa when you step on a rusty nail or cut yourself while cooking during a homestay and they might not have the tetanus vaccine available to give you.

The tetanus shot actually covers you for tetanus and diphtheria and is good for about 10 years. This particular vaccine is free in Canada .. or rather our tax dollars pay for it. Either way, there is no cost to keep your tetanus shot up to date. The downfall (albeit a small one) is that this is a vaccine that does make your arm pretty sore. Better than death by rusty nail though!

When I traveled to Costa Rica, my travel health professional strongly suggested that I be vaccinated for Hepatitus A and B. This is done through a vaccine called Twinrix which you get three doses of, at specific intervals. For me, I was able to get my first two shots in before leaving Canada, but had to wait until I returned to have the final booster shot. Now that I’ve had it taken care of though, it is good for life! This isn’t just a travel vaccine though. It is recommended to most young adults as it is protection against the sexually transmitted type of Hepatitus as well as from the form carried in water and ice cubes.

Even if you are traveling for a week’s vacation to Dominican, Cuba or Mexico you should be vaccinated for Hepatitus. Their cleanliness standards are just simply not the same as ours and whether on or off resort, you are at risk.

Of course for anyone who is going to party, do drugs or have sex, the risk increases greatly. Do you really want to live with a liver disease for the rest of your life because you got drunk and had sex with a random guy/girl just one night? Then, you can carry the disease and pass it on to others. If you simply don’t care, then you suck. I think the three vaccines cost me about $200 over the course of six months, but now I am protected for the rest of my life.

As I was doing a little extra research before writing this blog I discovered that the hepatitus that is carried in water, some shellfish and on raw food is contaminated by human waste. It could be food that has been handled by someone who is infected and doesn’t wash their hands before handling your food, from poor water purification practices or from raw sewage going into the ocean where your seafood comes from.

Now that you are sufficiently disgusted … go get your Twinrix shots from your family physician or travel health clinic (about $200). While you are there, make sure you are up to date on measles, mumps, tetanus, diphtheria and maybe even chicken pox too. All of those last ones are paid for by the government, so protect yourself!

DISCLAIMER: I AM NOT A TRAVEL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL. THE INFORMATION IN THIS POST IS FOR INFORMATION ONLY. SIX WEEKS PRIOR TO TRAVEL YOU SHOULD CONSULT A TRAVEL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL ABOUT YOUR OWN UNIQUE TRAVEL PLANS AND HEALTH CONCERNS.