Private Vacation Rental Risks – Cancellation

I know a lot of people who use Air BnB, VRBO and Home Away in their travels. I too, have used Air BnB lots of times, all over the world. My first rental was in Vernazza, Italy. My most recent was here in Wentworth, Nova Scotia. In between there have been many in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Bangkok, Thailand, Panama City, Panama, Istanbul, Turkey, Georgetown, Malaysia and many, many others. Most of my experiences have been good, but a couple have been bad.  Now that I’m better educated, I know some of them were also not legal. If you are using private vacation rentals for your travels you need to know the risks, the first one being potential cancellation.

With the recent news about vacation rentals in Oahu, Hawaii shutting down, I think it’s important to address some of the risks you are accepting when you choose to rent from short-term rental sites such as those listed above. You can read the article about Oahu here, for reference (12AUG2019).

While this is just one article about illegal vacation rentals in Hawaii, it is a very real problem that you MUST understand before booking any private rental. This is commonplace in many countries. Private vacation rentals can easily be illegal and still available for booking. It can also be legal and unsafe (not meeting fire code for that country, for example). And of course, it can be legal, safe and wonderful, but how do you know?

Here’s the risk you are taking …

Every time you book a private rental you are taking a risk that they could simply cancel on you with very short notice leaving you in the lurch. In the case of this article about Oahu, huge fines are being enforced as vacation rentals are breaking laws. These are not new laws, as the headline suggests, rather they are old laws, being newly enforced. Due to these fines, vacation rentals are shutting down and cancelling current bookings (on very short notice) in order to avoid HUGE fines which in turn leaves the incoming vacationers in a panic.

Don’t think for a second that even if the rental IS legal that the owner can’t cancel. They can, and they do, regularly. Maybe their septic system needs to be pumped, they have a leaky roof, their fridge went caput, the renters who were there a day before you trashed the place and it needs repairs, or their family is coming to town and they need the place … so they cancel your reservation. Some even list their rental on multiple sites and if someone offers a higher price after you have booked they’ll cancel you to accept the higher bidder from another site.

What are you going to do if your rental cancels the day before you stay there? What if you are in transit and don’t get the notification until you show up and there is no one there to greet you? What if you do get one or two weeks notice, but you can’t find any other rentals in the same price range that are still available? What if everything is sold out because it is high season?

Sure, in most cases you’ll get your money back, but where will you stay for the night and for the rest of your vacation? How much time will it take out of your precious vacation to find a new place? And, how much is that going to cost you on short notice?

Lots of private vacation rentals go perfectly. I’ve had many of those experiences and met many wonderful people around the world! Those are the ones you hear about … the perfect ones. They can be great, but you need to know there are two sides and you need to decide, is the risk worth it for you?

If you’d like to explore vacation rentals that are legal, safe and operated by management companies rather than individuals, get in touch. Sure, they are not quite as cheap, but they do come with more support, more peace of mind and often more charm!

You can reach me by email or by phone at 902 402 7646.

Note: The included photo is of one of my favorite Air BnB rentals in beautiful Buenos Aires when I lived there in 2015.

Stark Naked at a Turkish Bath

Turkish Tile Work

I had heard rumours that you had to be naked and that you’d be scrubbed so hard you would nearly bleed. Yet, I was curious what all of the fuss was about with hammams, or a Turkish Bath.

When I came to Turkey the first time in 2014, I had wanted to go but hadn’t found time. I was scared to go alone and vowed I would do it when I returned. Now I’ve experienced it and I lived to tell the tale.

The local family that I was staying with in Fatih, a local community within the overflowing metropolis of Istanbul, asked if I was interested in a Turkish Bath. They explained that their neighbour owned one and he would be happy to have me visit. I anxiously and tentatively said yes, and arranged to go the next day.

The owner of the hammam met me at the house with his two young grandchildren and we walked down the winding, narrow streets from near Molla Aski Terasi to the Tarihi Historical Hamami. With all of the twists and turns I thought I might never be able to find my way back home and it felt like a 10 minute walk, but I’m sure that it was only five.

As we arrived on the street where the Hamam was located, in broken english the man said “Men only,” and pointed to a door. About 20 steps later we turned a corner and there was a door immediately to our left with a curtain. He said “Women only. You go here.” He knocked and then spoke in Turkish from outside the doorway. Next thing I knew, a tall, thin woman came to greet me and introduced herself (in English) as Melitza, the owner’s daughter-in-law.

She welcomed me and invited me to sit in the main area. I looked around at the mixture of tile work that seemed to have no real rhyme or reason to it’s pattern, bordering the entrance to the bath which was surrounded by marble. There were small rooms with doors along the back wall that looked almost like Catholic confessional rooms, but clearly were not. Benches lined one wall and a small table with a drink and a pack of cigarettes were against the other wall, where Melitza took a seat.

It was slightly cooler in the main area than the midday sun outside which was still climbing and had already reached 25+ degrees. There was only one other lady at the hamam and she was introduced as Fatma. She was a short stout lady with an ample bosom who walked with her feet turned out as she scurried around in her night-gown like dress. I later found out that Fatma had been working at this hamam for 30+ years.

With a big smile, Melitza welcomed me again and began asking where I was from, how long I would be traveling for and if I had ever been to a hamam. I immediately felt comfortable with her friendly and open personality and concluded that I would be able to ask her anything I needed.

Come to find out, although she does work at the hamam sometimes, this day she just happened to be there for her own bath experience, but wanted to make sure I was comfortable.

We chatted for a few minutes about what the experience would entail and what services I would like to have. The Turkish Bath, peeling and massage would be 35 Turkish Lira (equivalent to less than $17 CAD). They also had a treatment with a combination of a coffee scrub and honey for 20 Lira. I was there to experience it all, so I said ‘Let’s go for it!’

Of course, with the thought of coffee and honey being spread all over my body, I thought it time to ask about dress code. Melitza explained to me that wearing underwear would be perfectly acceptable as many women do this, however, traditionally women would be completely naked, not just topless. I should do whatever made me comfortable. She explained how she was shy the first time, but now she really enjoys the experience. She was born and raised in Serbia, but had married a Turkish man. Now they live in Istanbul. She had her first hammam experience only a few years before.

I had asked the folks that I was living with about dress code they had told me I could wear a swimsuit if I wanted, so I had. It was a full swim suit as I don’t do bikinis. When I heard a better explanation of the peeling process and then about the coffee and honey treatment I decided that I did not want my swimsuit to be covered. So, just like that, it was decided that I would be going full monty. Why not? I was there for the real experience, I’m not ashamed of my body and it helped that I was the only one there at that particular time. However, I was well aware that others could arrive at any minute.

Melitza explained to me that they would give me everything I needed to enjoy my experience. Fatma then came over and handed me a small yellow basket with shampoo, a wash cloth and two large towels made of tea-towel-like material. I was given a key to one of the small changing rooms at the back and told to wrap the small towel around me and that the bigger one would be used for later.

Fatma then smiled a crooked, but uniquely charming smile, took me by the hand, led me up the stairs through the first marble doorway and then through the second doorway where I was enveloped in the humidity like a warm, but wet, blanket.

It was silent, although when you spoke you felt dwarfed by the size and stance of the great 400 year old building that seemed to talk back to you through it’s echo. The large room was about half the size of a high school gymnasium, with natural light trickling in through the carved holes in the beautiful, dome-shaped, marble ceiling. In the centre of the room, directly below the dome, was a large square marble slab about two feet thick and 8 feet by 8 feet in diameter. It demanded attention, but I wasn’t quite sure of it’s purpose. The walls were lined with ancient marble sinks, each with their own hot and cold water taps, about 15 separate washing stations in total.

Fatma led me to one of the stations, turned on the hot and cold water, hung my towel on a rod above the sink and there I was … stark naked in this large room where I was about to bathe myself, publicly!

Through words and hand motions, Fatma explained that I should pour water over myself, but not to use soap or shampoo yet, just water. For the next 30-45 minutes I breathed in hot, humid air and poured warm water over myself until my skin softened. I alternated between hot and cool water every once in awhile. The humidity was hard to get used to, so I found a bit of cool water helped me endure while still softening my skin to prepare for the peeling process.

At the 45 minute mark, Fatma returned and took me out to the front waiting area to cool off and get some fresh air. I sat and chatted with Melitza while other women and children began to arrive at the hammam for their Sunday cleaning ritual. Melitza prepared me for the next section of the process which would be the peeling, washing and massage part. She told me that I would know when to roll over as Fatma would slap my ass.

Yes. You read that right! This local woman was going to slap my naked ass to communicate with me that I needed to roll over. I won’t lie, I giggled …. slightly horrified!

When Fatma gathered me to go back into the sauna area, she motioned for me to lie down on my stomach on the large marble slab in the middle of the room. She threw some warm water over the marble slab so that I wouldn’t stick to it and I laid down near the edge, on my tummy, and tried to find a way to get my boobs comfortable while being smushed against warm marble. Before I could even find a half comfortable position, Fatma was busy ‘peeling’ away my dead skin with a rubber mit with rubber teeth. It is similar to being exfoliated, but with something soft and rubbery tugging at your skin instead of a loofah which is hard and scratchy. Somehow she balanced the pressure of her body and the pressure of her scrubbing so that my skin started to roll off in little packets. She scrubbed all over my back, neck, bum and legs and then slapped my ass and mumbled something in Turkish.

Time to roll over.

Now, being naked in public is one thing. Having another nearly naked woman peel dead skin off you is another. But really, the hardest part to get over is laying face up with your private areas exposed.

I awkwardly rolled over on the wet slab and laid face up while Fatma continued to scrub my legs, stomach and breasts. Sounds weird right? Well, I can’t lie, it is weird, at least for me! I just kept telling myself that she’s done this for 30+ years, she’s seen everything by now!

Coming from Western society where it seems like just about any same sex contact is ‘gay or lesbian,’ it was hard for me to let a stranger rub and scrub all over. I’m sure she could see my tension. I couldn’t open my eyes, as I couldn’t bare to look at her while she was scrubbing me.

She tugged gently on my arm and motioned for me to sit up where she held my arm against her body and methodically scrubbed everything clean.

By this time, an elder had entered the sauna area in her underwear and was sitting in the corner gingerly pouring warm water over her body. On the other side of the large room, two women and a young girl of about five years old, were frolicking and giggling as they bathed one another. The young girl’s enthusiasm for bath time made me smile. It was in that moment that I understood that the hammam was a tradition that was being passed down. It may have once been a necessity and a place for people to clean themselves once a week for lack of having access to water at their own homes. But now, it was more of a tradition and luxury which families would hopefully share with the younger generations. Occasionally I opened my eyes and saw the joy of this little girl and heard her squeals of laugher as her mom dumped buckets of water over her head. Each ear piercing squeal made the corners of my mouth turn up in a delicate little grin.

I had heard about the peeling process and people described it as being rubbed raw and then roughly pummelled with a massage. For me, although slightly uncomfortable, it really wasn’t anything at all like being rubbed raw or being pummelled!

The soft teeth of the rubber mit hitched slightly on my skin and then continued down my body taking a thin layer with it. It wasn’t painful. It wasn’t even uncomfortable. Mostly it just felt like being scrubbed super clean or having a massage with no oil. When Fatma was done scrubbing me down, she went to get water to clean the dead skin off me. I made the mistake of opening my eyes and seeing the rolls of greyish skin laying lifeless all over my body. Had I really been that dirty? I was almost sorry that I looked! But, before I could be too disgusted, a bucket of warm water hit my back, then each of my sides and my front. The dead skin washed away, down the drains, leaving me naked and one shade whiter than when I had arrived!

I was directed back to the wet marble slab and laid down on my front again. This time, Fatma rubbed a soft washcloth with soap all over my body and then gave me a soap massage. The massage lasted about 10 – 15 minutes and was concentrated on the knots in my back and neck, but also on my legs and feet. It was an ok massage, but nothing like the joys of going to a professional massage therapist for a treatment where they could actually help your body recover. It was more like a boyfriend giving me a massage that he felt obligated to provide. It wasn’t bad, but I’m not sure that it was great either. Another slap on the ass and I rolled over again to have my front soaped up.

The process of being bombarded with buckets of water continued until all of the soap was washed off. Fatma motioned to me to use the water to clean my lady bits and then back to the slab. This time my large tea-towel like coverup had been spread out on the slab drenched in water. I got uncomfortably comfortable on the towel, face down and then the sweet, delicious smell of coffee wafted past my nose. It was like a little slice of heaven as she covered my body with coffee grinds and began to use them to gently exfoliate my soft, tender skin.

Once both sides of my body were amply covered in fragrant coffee grinds, she gently exfoliated my face. The heavenly coffee aroma made me relax and smile, despite the fact that I was sitting naked in public covered in coffee grinds.

When she was done the coffee application, I opened my eyes and all of a sudden was shocked to see that I was now a dark shade of brown all over. I’m not sure why I hadn’t thought of it before, but it was interesting to see my skin as a different colour. After all, I already felt strange enough being naked in another country, why not try on a different skin colour too?!

Fatma washed the coffee off with buckets of water and then allowed me to wash it from my private areas where the water had carried the coffee grinds it on it’s way off my body. Then she sat me down, poured warm water over my head and washed and conditioned my hair.

I climbed back on the slab one last time for the application of the honey treatment. Pure, natural honey mixed with water was drizzled all over me and then spread around and left to melt into my skin for a few minutes before being washed away again.

Fatma slapped me on the ass one last time and drizzled honey over my front. The scent made my mouth water. Luckily with the honey mixed with water it was much less sticky than I expected and it washed away easily with one more quick soapy wash down. Fatma finished washing my hair and then motioned for me to cover up and head back to the waiting area.

Oops! I hadn’t brought my second towel in.  My first towel was soaked and covered with coffee and honey and there I was naked. Now what?

Fatma chuckled and shook her head at me and then asked Melitza to grab my towel from my changing room. I wrapped up and headed to the waiting area to sit, cool off and chat. There were a few ladies arriving and preparing to enter the sauna area, a couple women were cooling off  after their first 40 minutes or so and Melitza was there waiting to ask me all about my experience.

I sat for another hour, had a lemon drink and chatted with Melitza about Serbia, Turkey, why women choose to cover their heads and bodies and why not. She explained the challenges of being a Serbian, non-covering woman who married into a family where covering was expected and that she has always stood her ground explaining that they can wear what they wish and she will wear what she wishes. She told me about her psychology background and a school she had opened in Serbia to help special needs children learn better math skills through different teaching methods. What an interesting lady! I’m so glad that I met her and took time to hear her story.

Eventually, I decided that I needed to get lunch seeing as I had skipped breakfast and it was already 3pm. I put my swimsuit and clothes back on and Melitza’s mother-in-law walked up the hill with me, back to my apartment.

Now, as I think back on the experience and am so glad that I did it. Not only was it an interesting local experience, but also a freeing of my mind and liberation of my body. In a society where women spend their days covered, it was an interesting contrast to see them uncover completely as an indulgence in themselves.

If you are visiting Turkey, I highly recommend the experience. And, don’t go to one of the expensive touristy hammams in Sultanahment. Dig a little deeper and find a family run one that operates as they have for hundreds of years. Enjoy the true Turkish hammam experience!

I highly recommend visiting Tarihi Historical Hamami in the Fatih / Balat district for the full, original experience. They have not sponsored this post or asked me to promote them, I am just 100% pleased with the experience I had and would like to see them thrive.

As always, if you are planning a trip to Turkey (or anywhere), feel free to get in touch. I am a full-service travel agent and happy to help you plan your next great adventure!

Falling in love with Sailing – Part 1

Royal Clipper in Montenegro

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.

ROOMS

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.

Falling in Love with Sailing – Part 2

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! You can reach me at stucker@tpi.ca.

Do you love Canon?

My very first SLR camera was a Pentax film camera. It was a great start into the world of photography and served me well for many years. I bought it in 1998 at London Drugs in Grande Prairie, Alberta. Oh the memories!

When I decided to pursue photography further, as more than just a hobby, I switched to Canon and I have loved it ever since.

People ask me all the time … which is better? Canon or Nikon. My answer is always the same. Whichever you prefer to shoot with. Canon is better for some things, Nikon better for others. I’ve been a Canon-girl for at least 10 years now, so Canon is my preference, but only because I know it so well.

I met a photographer named Bob Davis at PartnerCon in New Orleans in 2010. He shot Eva Langoria’s wedding. At the time, a lot of Halifax photographers were in a big tizzy and had decided that Nikon was better than Canon so several of them were switching ALL of their gear over to Nikon. A huge undertaking and a huge investment. People were asking me if I was going to switch because so and so was switching. Hell no. If I were going to switch it would be for a good reason, not because so and so had decided to! Silly question.

In the back of my mind I’ve always said to myself … Bob Davis who shot Eva Langoria’s Wedding with Canon 5D gear gets phenomenal photos and works with celebrities, I think I can probably *suffer* through using the same equipment he does.

Just goes to show, although equipment is important in photography, it really is the brains and creativity behind the equipment that make or break a photo.

Cheers to Canon … I love you!

They are running a Fantasy Contest right now to win a fantasy dream kit. I’ve chosen the Adventure kit with a 70-300 mm lens. What will you choose?

It takes 1 minute to sign up and they really are just looking for new likes on their Facebook page. You can opt in to their newsletter, or not, up to you.

Hope you’ll sign up through this link below for your chance to win. Canon has always served me well and I don’t plan on giving up on them any time soon!

http://bit.ly/18pwB9n

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!

38 Days of Peruvian Photos

Appreciate the work of a photo enthusiast. Buy a print and decorate your home or office. Make a difference to under privileged kids in Peru.

It’s just that simple to make a difference.

Leading up to the Peru Through the Lens Art Show & Fundraiser on May 25th (and continuing after), I will be posting one or two photos each day from the art show.

The show is on display from May 25 – June 25th (now extended until July 10th). Prints are available for purchase for $30 (cash). If you see a photo you would like to purchase, drop by The Adventure Travel Company to purchase (or order) your copy between May 25th and July 10th.

Net proceeds from the art show are being donated to The Planeterra Foundation and the House of the People of the Sun where we spent a day photographing under privileged youth while in Cuzco, Peru. Your support will help them have a better education, a warm meal each day and learn new skills to work and help support their families.

Peru in Video

While we were in Peru, our G Adventures leader, Elard Aranibar captured some of our adventure on video. Although all of the moments in this video won’t mean something to the general public, it is still a really interesting look at the people and the culture and some fun memories for participants from the trip.

Check it out here:



A Picture is worth a thousand words

I was really excited to return to the community of Ccaccaccollo this year. Last year my photo group spent three days doing a home stay and portrait project for the Planeterra Foundation in this community. This year, we were returning only to visit the weaving community and have demonstrations on how the community operates.

Our G leader, Elard Aranibar, has been to the community many times and had taken a few photos of this elderly man while visiting in 2008. In 2011, the man passed away.

Ccaccaccollo elder
Ccaccaccollo elder
Photo by Elard Aranibar
Ccaccaccollo elder
Ccaccaccollo elder
Photo by Elard Aranibar

When we returned to the community this year, Elard was showing the photos to the man’s family. It was a very emotional moment and it reminded me of the power of photos, even more so for those who don’t have them as a regular part of their lives.

For us, photos are standard and help us remember our youth as well as the elderly in our lives. For many communities around the world, photos don’t exist and memories are only those in your mind. That is why the emotion behind these photos is so incredibly powerful.

Ccaccaccollo
Ccaccaccollo
Photo by Shari Tucker
Ccaccaccollo
Ccaccaccollo
Photo by Shari Tucker
Ccaccaccollo
Ccaccaccollo
Photo by Shari Tucker
Ccaccaccollo
Ccaccaccollo
Photo by Shari Tucker

2014 Photo Tour Possibilities

The results are in from lots of people who are interested in joining me for photo tours in 2014 & 2015. Thanks to everyone who responded to my quick survey.

As I am only 19 days away from Peru Through the Lens 2013 photo tour, you can imagine I’m very excited! I hope you will follow along with my adventures as I will be blogging regularly while on the photo tour! Sign up for blogs to come direct to your email on the right hand side of the screen where it says ‘Get my blog posts direct to your email’.

I am also in a place where I am starting to make plans for my 2014 adventure.

A LOT of people have expressed interest in a photo tour to Asia or Eastern Europe. Although not at all finalized, I am looking for a little bit more feedback from anyone who has a serious interest in joining me on one of my photo tours. I’d like to know how you feel about the following destinations and if you would be interested in visiting either of these destinations with me in 2014.

CROATIA

A country that is gaining popularity quickly, but is not yet main stream. Beautiful architecture, a Unesco World Heritage site (Old city of Dubrovnik) and stunning vistas, right on the Adriatic Sea. Lots of nature, possibility for visiting various islands and a home stay. Best to visit between May and October. I would likely look at May/June or September/October. If I decide on this option, it would likely be a 7-10 day photo tour, with the option, on an individual basis, to stay in Croatia or visit more of Europe on your own, or on another type of tour for additional time. Tour price is likely to be in the $2000 – $3000 range, depending on length of tour. Plus flights which will be in the $1600 – $2100 range, or you can fly on Avion / aeroplan etc to off set that cost. (and you have a year to save the money & build the points!)

I might also consider adding The Bay of Kotor in Montenegro and Sarajevo / Mostar in Bosnia & Herzegovnia. Or, I may simply arrange this as an add on tour that you can opt-in to for after the end of the photo tour.

VIETNAM

Well known for it’s beauty and history. Many a photographer has dreamed of visiting Vietnam to take photos of the rice fields, the friendly people, the food, the Mekong Delta and the floating markets. Not to mention OH SO BEAUTIFUL Halong Bay. And the vibrant Ho Chi Minh City. I would be looking at a 10 – 14 day tour here because it is further to go and so much area to cover. Price is likely to be close to the $3000 mark because several internal flights would be needed to ensure we could see everything (but hopefully not above $3000) + international flights which range from $1800 – $2300. Of course, we would certainly make a strong effort to get them as cheap as possible, or you can off set flights with Avion or Aeroplan points.

I might also consider adding Angkor Wat, Cambodia for 3 or 4 days as an optional add on at the end of the photo tour.

With either option, I will be looking into a home stay experience as well as some kind of volunteer photo project. I feel that these are two strong features that make my photo tours exceptional and unique instead of average and they are two parts that are close to my heart.

If you could kindly leave a comment below express your thoughts on if you would be interested in either of these locations for 2014, I would greatly appreciate it. Or, you can send an email to info@sharitucker.com.

If you would like to keep up to date on the latest photo tour news, as well as photo tips and tricks and destination information, you can sign up for the photo tour newsletter which comes out approximately once a month. Click here to sign up.

OTHER DESTINATIONS
For those who are curious, quite a few people expressed interest in other areas for photo tours. Below is an overview of what you can expect (or not expect) from my photo tours in the next few years.

AFRICA
People expressed interest in various areas of Africa, or African Safaris. At this time, I do not intend to do any photo tours for African Safaris. There are MANY companies who offer this and I don’t feel I need to reinvent the wheel. If you have your heart set on this, please contact me and I would be happy to help you find the right tour for you with a reputable company. Or, if you don’t want to travel alone, get 4 or 5 friends together and I can put together a custom group itinerary for you with local African companies and guides who will take you to the absolute best spots for wildlife viewing. Just because I am not planning to break into this market doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go! I would love to help you get there!

GALAPAGOS ISLANDS
Also high on the interest list is the fabulous Galapagos Islands, which I visited in February 2012. I DO plan to do a photo tour to the Galapagos, however, it will not be in 2014. I am looking at 2015 or 2016 for this destination, but likely won’t decide until sometime in 2014. I can tell you now, that the Galapagos tour will be more in the $4500 – 5000 range + flights which range in the $1500+ range. It will be well worth it for any animal lovers, bird lovers and budding nature photographers. It is an amazing destination!

AUSTRALIA & ANTARCTICA
Australia and Antarctica each came up several times. I’m not likely to organize a photo tour to either of these locations, but would be happy to help you get there or find another photo tour to join. Both of these would be fairly expensive. Australia isn’t really a place you visit for only 7 – 14 days and both are pricey to get to. The bulk of people who responded to my survey are looking for tours in the $2000 – $5000 price range. Antarctica trips start more in the $8000 – $10 000 range. If you are interested, I can certainly help you get there and will be completely jealous of all the amazing photo opportunities that you have!

IRELAND
Ireland was also highly requested. It is not on my immediate list, but I may consider this as an option at a later time.

In my ‘other’ life (not as a photographer, but as an Adventure Travel Specialist), I can help you find the perfect trip anywhere in the world … solo, in a group, a family … for photography or not. Or, if you are part of a photo club that would like to organize a photo tour for your members, I’d be happy to help you with any of this. If you have specific travel requests you can contact me at stucker@atcadventure.com.

I look forward to everyone’s feedback on the possibilities of Croatia or Vietnam for 2014! Both of which are destinations on my list of travels for the near future.