The Wind in her sails

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

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

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

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

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

When I originally made the decision to go travel this fall, my loose plan was Central and South America.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Gorilla Trek (likely in Rwanda)

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

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

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

10. Bhutan – Because of the happiness factor

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

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

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

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

15. Morocco

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Unplan – Life Changing Decisions – Part 10

For the last couple of years I’ve certainly had wanderlust. Since I first got back on a plane after surviving a plane crash in December 1997, I’ve gotten stronger and stronger and have wanted to explore further and further.

First, a trip to Bermuda to see if I would lose it completely on a plane. (2008)
I didn’t.

Then a trip to New York to celebrate turning 30 and that I didn’t lose it on a plane! (2008)

Then on to Costa Rica and Nicaragua – a whole new continent for me. Also the first time that I started thinking about studying Spanish.(2009)

Next thing I knew I was traveling to photograph destination weddings. (2010)

And then another new continent as I flew to Germany and Poland to photograph Coalition for Kids International, granting wishes to terminally ill children in Poland. (2011)

My little wings that had been weakened by 11 years of non-use, were getting stronger.

Why not take it further and create Photo Tours in far away places like Peru and Vietnam? (2012 – 2014)

With all of those great destinations under my belt, a lot of take offs and landings and no further plane crashes … I decided it was time to really take a leap and off to Southeast Asia I went with my longest flight being 12 hours and 50 minutes from Narita, Japan to Chicago, USA.

Looking back, it’s incredible to see that all of this (and much much more) has happened in the past seven years.

So, it really shouldn’t be any big surprise to anyone what I’m about to tell you …

I’m sure if you’ve been reading my series of Life Changing Decisions, you are starting to put it together.

1. Decision to get debt free.
2. Work at a job that can be done anywhere in the world (or confirm that your current job can)
3. Do renovations & put condo on the market
4. Dream of travel

What do you get when those things all come together?

You get the UNPLAN! (and a really happy Shari)

In my head, and to my close friends and family, my plan since the beginning of this was not really to have a plan at all, hence the UNPLAN.

What exactly does the UNPLAN look like?

Like a leaf in the wind (or a paper airplane), I can go wherever the wind takes me. Sounds crazy doesn’t it? Well, it’s a semi-calculated type of crazy if that makes it any better!

I am setting my life up to be debt free and with fewer commitments. This will allow me to travel when and where I want and discover our amazing world. I don’t want to live my life waiting 12 months for my next vacation. I don’t want to be on vacation all the time, but I do want to live my life to the fullest and for me, a big part of that is seeing this amazing, vast, beautiful world we live in.

The UNPLAN has always been somewhat calculated. I’m not jumping off a cliff without checking for a soft landing. From the beginning, although extremely hard for other people to understand, I have made very few decisions about where / when / how long I would travel for. I would tell people I’m getting debt free so I can travel and they would of course ask ‘Where are you going to go?’ Although I had narrowed it down to a starting point of Central and South America, that’s as much as I was willing to commit to. When they asked me ‘How long are you going for?’ My answer has always been ‘I’m not sure. An undetermined amount of time. I’m not debt free yet.’

I have flitted back and forth between ideas such as a year-long around the world trip, a SWAP working holiday in New Zealand, settling in for a couple (or several) months somewhere in Central or South America, or simply living in Nova Scotia and traveling whenever I possibly can. These are big, amazing options. Don’t you dare say I’m ‘lucky’ to have these choices. This has nothing to do with luck folks, I am making these choices, they aren’t just magically happening.

You see, there are doers and dreamers in this world. I’m a doer. Yes, I have big dreams but I don’t sit and daydream unless I’m actually going to make something happen. So, being realistic about it all, I absolutely, flat out refuse to make any travel decisions until I become debt free. (with one exception – see below)

Although I still dream of where I want to visit, where I might like to stay for a little while and what great adventures are out there waiting for me, until I achieve my first, and most important goal of being debt free, I can’t move forward with achieving this undetermined amount of travel. This is a calculated UNPLAN!

I’m designing my own life. I’m making choices for me, based on my passions, what’s important in my life and how I can find happiness. Isn’t the true meaning of life to live it to it’s fullest?

So, let me give you the big announcement(s) …

1. Knock on wood, my condo has sold. Barring any complications with the condo financials, it is a done deal with a mid-June closing date. It was on the market for less than one month. I got reasonably close to asking price. I got slightly more than I needed in order to get completely debt free, set aside my down payment for my next home purchase and set aside a bit of money for travel. I think the universe is encouraging me to continue with the UNPLAN!

2. I confirmed a long time ago that I would be able to continue to be a travel agent, but work from anywhere in the world with my current employer, The Adventure Travel Company. Today, May 15th is my last day working in the office and as of tomorrow I will be working remotely. I’ll post a blog about this transition in a couple of days, but for now, all you need to know is that I am still a full service travel agent, specializing in adventure travel. I am affiliated with the amazing Adventure Travel Company and I hope you’ll support me by trusting me to help you plan YOUR next adventure. You can email me at stucker@atcadventure.com

3. I have been accepted on a travel agent familiarization tour with Intrepid Travel for one week in Chile and Argentina in November. This is the one concrete travel plan that I allowed myself to make before all of my other plans came together. I knew that once the condo sold, I would likely head to Central or South America, so this was a natural fit and gave me dates to work with when I would already be in that part of the world. This trip is free (except airfare) and gives me the opportunity to experience these two countries with a great supplier. I knew that even if my condo did not sell, that I would be able to either find the money for the flights or I have enough Aeroplan points to get me there. There were too many benefits for me to pass up. I had originally applied but it was full. A couple of months later, someone had to cancel and one little spot opened up. It had my name all over it! I applied within minutes of finding out a spot had opened up.

4. Having confirmed that I would be heading to South America in November, I shortly thereafter made the decision to launch a new Peru: Through the Lens Photo Tour. I’ve just released details to my photo email list and full details will go public next week. On my first day to announce the new tour, I already have the first person signed up! Tour dates are Oct 18 – 28, 2014. If you’d like more information, please contact me, or sign up for my photo tour newsletter.

There it is folks …

My condo has sold.
I start work as a home-based travel agent on May 16th, but remain under the umbrella of The Adventure Travel Company.
I have a tour booked to Chile and Argentina in November, so if nothing else, I know where I’m headed in late fall.
I am about to go full force promoting my next Peru: Through the Lens photo tour for October 2014.

My UNPLAN is starting to shape up.

Now, of course, in the spirit of an UNPLAN, I have not decided how long I am going for or what other countries I will visit. And, as with everything else, those decisions all depend on many variables. My condo sale still needs to finalize and all of my debts must be completely cleared. I need to find a place to live for the summer and early fall. I must find at least eight people to travel with me on the Peru: Through the Lens photo tour. And, let’s not forget that nice man who walked into my life back in February (see Part 8 of this series). I can’t leave him behind for a year while I go gallivanting around. And no, sadly he can’t come gallivant around with me for a year due to commitments here! It’s still new and early, but it wouldn’t be fair to him or me ignore him in all of this!

Like I said … it is still an UNPLAN with many choices and decisions yet to be made and too many variables still lurking around. Don’t worry, I’ll be blogging about it all along the way!

Now that the big news is out there … let the questions begin! Feel free to post questions and comments below on this post … share with your friends … send it to other people you know who are currently on extended travels or those who dream of doing so …

I’ll be posting updates about my struggles, preparations, decisions and triumphs until departure day (whenever that may be). After that, I’ll transition into sharing my travel adventures of whatever fantastic countries I visit. Some will be exciting, inspirational and likely funny. Others will be boring and simply there for me to keep track of my thought process. I invite you to sign up for my blog updates (top right of my blog) and follow along as often (or not) as you wish.

The first five months of 2014 have certainly been filled with amazing challenges, laughter, tears and some of the biggest decisions of my life so far … but wait … at least all of those things are my choice … so really, how bad can it be?

Just like a leaf in the wind … I’m about to go on a crazy ride.

I hope its a warm, southern wind not a Nor easter!

Myanmar Highlights

Fishing on Inle Lake, Myanmar

In 2013 I visited South East Asia for the first time. I remember people asking what were my Myanmar highlights and it was impossible to narrow it down to one specific thing! The best answer I could come up with was ‘All of Myanmar’. It amazes me to realize that I have visited this beautiful, largely undiscovered country before the rest of the world got to it. The experiences and wonderment still feel fresh in my mind.

Take for example the morning that a small group of us did a little photo tour to an area just outside the downtown area of Yangon. We walked for about 15 minutes and were outside of the business district, watching the city wake up and begin bustling with locals preparing a small market. We were there before sunrise and saw the monks lining up for their morning rounds and collection. I’m really not sure who was more curious, them or us. It is so incredibly interesting to go to an area where tourists are so rare that they actually become an attraction in the place they’ve gone to visit. I’ll admit, I was a bit shy, not knowing how to approach or talk to the monks, but soon enough I came to understand that they were happy to see us and happy to practice their English skills.

I wandered around taking a few photographs and then one of the locals invited us in to the monastery to enjoy a local breakfast. A few minutes later the group of us were taking off our socks and shoes and following the kind man into a large dining area filled with locals. Barely with our bums in the seats, local men and women were coming out of the kitchen area with various dishes in hand and filling the table with typical breakfast consisting of rice, noodles, fish soup and then sweet sticky rice came along a little later. They filled our bowls and when we were done, they immediately appeared to fill them up again. They certainly didn’t want us to leave hungry. These were the community members who came together to cook food for the monks at this monastery, but the monks were all out on collection at the time. After we finished our meal, we were surprised as the locals gathered around and wanted their photos taken with us. It was only my second day in Myanmar and I was already learning that tourists were as much of an attraction as the attractions were to the tourists.

Yangon, Myanmar
Yangon, Myanmar

With an open mind, even the simplest of pleasures can turn out to be a highlight of the trip. I expected extreme poverty. After all it is one of the poorest countries in Asia. To my surprise, our overnight bus from Yangon to Mandalay was beautiful, high end and even had a hostess on board. It was comfortable, with reclining seats to a much better decline than standard buses. Each of us was given a thick warm, fuzzy blanket and a hostess was available for questions and assistance throughout the night. On top of that, the recently built divided highway was mostly smooth sailing and despite the rain, I didn’t feel fearful or uncomfortable at all throughout the night. I just laid back and slept.

Most of the tours that are offered to Burma / Myanmar, range from 12 – 17 days. Sadly, I was on a shortened version and had to pack as much as possible into only 10 spectacular days. Because of the shortened itinerary, we had only one full day to explore that wonders of beautiful Mandalay. Although the core of the city itself isn’t really a highlight, there are lots of beauties to enjoy on the outskirts. A few hours to half a day can be spent enjoying the beauty, history and culture of the ancient U Bein bridge in Amarapura. Just simply watching the way of life, traveling by boat across the lake and then returning by walking across the 1.2 km ancient teak wood bridge. Along the way you can stop and taste local delicacies, take in the spectacular views and meet a few new local friends selling souvenirs.

Snacks along the U Bein teak wood bridge
Snacks along the U Bein teak wood bridge

Don’t be put off though, despite the fact that they are there to make a living and sell their wares, I found the local kids particularly respectful, friendly and interesting. We only had about an hour to spend, which was far too rushed for this beautiful spot, but in that hour I managed to take a boat ride to the middle of the lake and then return on foot across the bridge. I met a young girl who walked back to the main land with me. We chatted about her family, her schooling and life on the lake. Her English was excellent, she was friendly and she didn’t ask me to buy anything until we were nearly back to the main land. It was at this time that I bargained with her a little and purchased two necklaces … one with jade elephants and the other with amber.

We spent the remainder of our day in Mandalay crossing the Irrawaddy river to Mingun, a small community with some big claims to fame. The tiny community hosts the world’s largest bell (over two tonnes of iron), the unfinished, Pahtodawgyi pagoda and the beautiful Hsinbyume pagoda. We spent a couple of hours wandering around, visiting the sites and dodging rain, which came and went in fits and spurts. Although the rain slowed us down a little as we waited for it to stop under the cover of a big leafy tree, it certainly didn’t ruin the experience and I wouldn’t change it for a second and replace it with a mass of tourists. I’d much rather travel in green season dodging a bit of rain than dodging hundreds of tourists. Having said that, it’ll be quite some time before Mingun sees hundreds of tourists at one time.

IMG_1071_ShariTucker

IMG_1147_ShariTucker

Possibly the largest and best known attraction in Burma is the community of Bagan where they boast over 2100 pagodas, temples and structures in 42 square kilometers. The desert landscape dotted with structures of all shapes and sizes is absolutely spectacular. Take the time to see it at sunrise and sunset; it is truly spectacular. You can spend hours biking amongst the structures on dirt roads winding through ancient old Bagan. But, beware of the heat. Make sure you have sunscreen, lots of water and a hat to keep the sun off your face. Although the land is nearly flat, the heat adds it’s own challenges to your physical abilities. Stop often and discover as many of the structures as you can. Each one is unique and the art and architecture will amaze you time and time again.

IMG_1337_ShariTucker

After enjoying the beauty of Bagan for a couple of days, we were off for a short visit to the Mt. Popa area. Mt. Popa is a volcano and an area that you can hike, but we simply passed over and twisted around the big mountain with a stop in the community to hear about the spiritual nats that are worshiped at the pagoda atop a mountain. Oh yes, and to meet the cheeky little Macque monkeys that scatter the town. If you have time, you can climb the 777 steps to the beautiful monastery at the top of the mountain, but beware as the monkeys live and play along the way, so I hear it is dirty and smelly.

Our next stop was a lovely lunch and visit to an elephant conservation camp. Hearing the story of how the organization started and how they have retired five or six elephants from the lumber industry to live peacefully and well taken care of until the end of their lives was inspirational. This organization has purchased these elephants, each of their handlers (Mahoot) and the Mahoot’s family. Not only have they given the elephants a respectful home, but also have created a community and schooling for the Mahoots and their families. We had the amazing opportunity to feed the elephants banana snacks and then help bathe them in the river. They are so large, yet so quiet and gentle. I stood mere inches from their mouths, which were big enough to swallow me whole, and I grinned ear to ear with excitement the entire time.

Last, but not least, we visited beautiful Inle Lake, which had different, yet incredible feel. As you can imagine, life on a lake is quite different from life on land. From the local market that we visited to the leg-rowing fisherman balancing on one leg on their flat boats, to the craft industry workshops – seeing the local way of life was eye-opening and incredible. And I bought two of the most beautiful hand-made fine silk scarves! We were a bit rushed as our trip was a condensed version, but we managed to see the highlights and even take in the largely undiscovered and quiet Indein where there was not another tourist to be seen amongst the many hundreds of stupas and structures. Magical is not a word strong enough to describe the experience.

Fishing on Inle Lake, Myanmar

At the end of the trip we asked if it was possible to visit an orphanage or monastery and arrangements were made for our last evening in Yangon. We made a donation to the orphanage and had a tour of where schooling takes place, where the children sleep and the communal areas. Then we had the amazing opportunity to dish out food as the young monks gathered for supper. Young boys as little as four years old walked up to the serving area perfectly mannered. If we gave them too much of something, they politely put a portion back. It was a great lesson in humility and understanding to only take what you need and leave the rest for someone else. Of course, the monks were allowed to come back for seconds, so no need to waste food! Take only what is needed and if they are still hungry come back for more.

It’s simple, every single activity, every single day was a highlight. There was something new, exciting and simply beautiful around every corner and I just couldn’t get enough. 10 days was a great overview and a taste for the amazing destination, but easily I could spend a month exploring just the nooks and crannies of the ‘tourist’ areas, not to mention the lesser visited areas. And, as tourism begins to grow, more and more areas will be open for exploration by foreigners. In my opinion, Myanmar is a destination to be visited now, before it explodes in popularity, and then visited again and again as the economy gets stronger and new areas open up. There’s nothing quite like seeing a destination that isn’t used to tourists and getting an authentic feel for the people, the culture, the food and the beauty without the corruption of the tourist traps. Go see this destination soon to get an authentic feeling for the country. Then, explore it again later as more destinations open up. You won’t be disappointed.

If you are interested in visiting Myanmar, please get in touch. I would love to help you plan your next adventure.

I don't want your tainted Point of View

Ever since I started working at The Adventure Travel Company back in November, I’ve had my eye on Burma / Myanmar. I’ll be honest. I know very little about it … and, it may surprise you to know that I plan to keep it that way until I travel there.

Can you imagine traveling to a place you’ve never been, on the other side of the world and knowing nothing about it?

So many people out there won’t even step out of their ‘Caribbean’ vacation comfort zone or off the resort, let alone go to a country that still has some civil unrest and is little known to the world.

Some of you may ask ‘How do you know you want to go there if you know nothing about it?’

Well, isn’t that the question of the day!

Here’s what I know about Burma:

It has not always been open to tourists.
Tourism is permitted, but is regulated. Some people agree with these regulations. Some don’t.
It is in Asia, just west of Thailand and south of China.
Some areas still regularly have civil unrest (but then again so does much of the world!)
It is hot and humid.

I look at that list and think, wow … that sounds like a pretty poor list.

And then I think about the possibilities!

The reason I want to go is because it is such a new destination for tourism and it isn’t popular yet. Lots of people have been to China, Thailand, Vietnam … but who do you know that has been to Burma? (In 3 months, you can say you know me … and at that time I will be on my way to Burma)

I can’t wait to be part of the chaos of tourism where all the bugs aren’t worked out yet. I can’t wait to be one of the few (relatively speaking) travellers in the world who have experienced Burma. I can’t wait to be surrounded by locals and not looking at the land being overrun by tourists. I can’t wait to take my camera everywhere with me and capture hundreds of photos.

I am picking away at some research about Burma as there are things I need to know before I go.

I’ll be making my appointment with Napier Travel Health soon to find out what vaccines are required or that I need updated before I go. I don’t know for sure if I need to get my yellow fever vaccine or not, but with much more travel to do in the next few years, it is probably about time that I just get it. It’s good for 10 years, so I can have it again when I’m 45 and be covered for another 10 years.

I’ll be starting my visa applications soon as I need them for Burma, Vietnam and Cambodia. That’s a lot of paperwork! And, for at least two of those I think I have to send my passport away. Don’t want to leave that until last minute!

As of yet, I haven’t gotten down to the nitty gritty of learning any of the language or even finding out what currency is used there, but I know that ATMs are hard to come by, so I’ll have to take a chunk of cash with me and pay for everything I can before I go.

I also know there is an optional activity to do hot air ballooning for sunrise or sunset on one of our days. I don’t care if sunrise is at 4am, I’m going to be on one of those balloons! And I can’t wait to write the blog post about it! Then, if it isn’t raining, I plan to pay the money to do it again for sunset (if I like the sun rise one!)

I also found out today that I’m going to be there during monsoon season. So, looks like I’m going to be looking for some waterproof things before I go!

Other than that, I know that Burma has a war-torn history and is still sorting things out. I know that it has an amazingly beautiful, but crazy Paper Balloon Festival where groups of people get together to decorate beautiful paper balloons, then they attach lights and fireworks to the basket and send it up in the air, unmanned! The fireworks then shoot out (and down) toward the crowd. I won’t be there for this festival, but watched several videos about it over the weekend. Most of the videos show balloons crashing, but this video showed a beautiful balloon rising up up and away, the way it is meant to!

Video 1

Video 2

Here’s a quick overview of what my tour will be covering … take a look at some of the activities and locations on line if you wish … for me, I’d rather see it with my own eyes than have it tainted by someone else’s opinion before I get there. I’ll form my own opinion, for better or worse and I can’t wait to share it (for those who do like tainted views and choose to read mine when I return).

Day 1 – Yangon (capital)
Day 2 – Shwedagon Pagoda. Overnight bus to Mandalay.
Day 3 – Mingun – cruising up the river. Yadanabon market.
Day 4 & 5 – Bagan temples guided bike tour, sunrise or sunset hot air balloon ride over Bagan (super excited about all of this!)
Day 6 – Visit local villages & Elephant conservation centre where I’ll get to wash and feed the elephants. (crazy excited about this too!) Ride the elephants and trek into the jungle.
Day 7 – Inle Lake visiting floating gardens and sampling local tea. Visit a local market & local cheroot factory. (I don’t know what cheroot is yet!)
Day 8 – Travel back to Yangon – visit local markets, view colonial buildings, enjoy the Yangon river. Visit the Shwedagon Pagoda, illuminated at night.
Day 9 – Depart Yangon & off to Vietnam (I think!)

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.

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.

Can I fan your flame?

Let me start by saying … Yes.

Yes, you are allowed to tell me I’m crazy and that I’ve lost my marbles.

OR

Yes, I believe in making a difference and I want to be part of the change.

No matter what you say at the end of this post, please just take a moment to read it. If you think I am crazy, tell me … maybe I need to be reminded sometimes … But, if this email hits you, ignites a light in you and you squirm with excitement … tell me! Shout it from the mountain tops. Call me. Email me. Send positive energy my way. Do whatever your heart desires, but don’t do nothing.

I am writing this because I know there are people out there (who I am connected to, or who I am not) that have a spark that needs to be fanned into a flame.

I am looking for a small group of people from anywhere in Canada (or possibly beyond) who believe there is more to life than work and money. Who believe that they can make a difference, but maybe aren’t quite sure how. Who truly, deeply believe that travel is a fantastic education and that the impact and experiences you have in other countries are ever-lasting.

I am going to make a difference … I continue to challenge myself on a daily basis and remind myself that I only have one life to live. I believe that I have it in me to make a difference in other people’s lives and I am not going to ignore that. I believe that you do too and I am hoping that you will feel as strongly about all of this as I do.

I am looking into taking a trip with Me to We in 2014. You may be familiar with the name Craig Keilburger (founder), the charity Free the Children or the ever popular We Day that will be coming up in April. Me to We is the organization tied to all of these great things. Craig Keilburger ignited a spark in me many years ago when I saw a We Day television show while sitting at my parents house in Fredericton, NB. Although it has taken years for that spark to fan into a flame … here I am …

I’m considering a volunteer vacation to either India or Kenya. This is not like any other volunteer vacation you have ever heard of, so check your perceptions at the door and come in with an open mind. Take a look at this video.

I’m going to put it right up front that the trips start at about $4400 + airfare (another let’s say $1200 – $2000 depending on location and time of year, although you could use aeroplan or avion points to off set this). This is not cheap. HOWEVER, this is an investment in yourself. It is paying for a vacation (which you would have done anyway) that makes a million differences to people in India and Kenya. It is taking your hard earned dollars, investing them in yourself, seeing the world, giving back and changing people’s lives.

(On a side note, if you feel bad about leaving your husband or family at home? Me to We has youth & family programs, so if you’d rather go as a family or think your teens or university sons and daughters would enjoy this, talk to me about that option as well! I’m 100% behind you!)

These trips incorporate 2-4 partial days of volunteer work with 6 – 10 days of site seeing (temples / safaris / local meals / markets), being fully immersed in the local communities, seeing first hand the difference that we are making by helping children get an education. Helping build SUSTAINABLE communities. That means that someday the communities will not need our help because they will have the education, the skills and knowledge to continue bringing their children up and out of poverty.

If you think for a second that I have $6000 burning a hole in my back pocket, you are wrong. But, I know that I have monetary riches far beyond what people in these countries have. And, more importantly, they have riches in happiness with their simple lifestyle that I know they will share with me.

I will likely be fundraising for my trip … as you can too. Spreading the word about the cause … about the movement and change that I believe people can create. Making a change in your life, educating your children about the luxuries they have compared to the happiness and richness in life that people in much poorer communities have. Helping people become humble and empathetic. Helping people mobilize and make a difference.

My Ask is simple … Do something! Not nothing!

If you are in a place in your life where you are searching for more … you believe you can make a difference and you truly want to challenge yourself, come talk to me about this opportunity. I would like to put a group of 4 – 15 women together to take this journey hand in hand and make a difference together. I would like to do this in the 2014 year. Dates and country to be determined by the interests of the women who are committed to investing in themselves. If I find out that 15 women are inspired by this post and interested, maybe I’ll go to both India AND Kenya!

If you are interested in the possibility of joining me on this journey, let me know. Just because you call or email me doesn’t mean I’m going to sign you up. That has to be ALL YOU! It just means that this email has pulled a string in your heart and I hope it will continue to vibrate until you make the choice to do something about it. I just want to have an open conversation and find the RIGHT people to take this powerful, life changing journey together.

Once I have heard from a few people, I will set up an information session (in Halifax) – likely in May (as I’m in Peru from April 5 – 20th). If you are interested, please message (or call me – 902 402 7646) right away before you forget about it and maybe let me know if day-time, evening or weekend is best for you to get together for a presentation and open conversation.

Not ready or not interested in a trip? That’s ok. It’s not the only way to be part of the change!

1. Let me know if you are willing to help with my fundraising efforts in some way once I get fully mobilized on this. A personal donation, a product to auction off, a donation from your company, help with organizing a fundraising event or simply your support in spreading the word about my efforts because you believe in making a change.

2. Know another strong, beautiful woman who may be interested in this trip? Forward them my blog or email address (info@sharitucker.com) and ask them to get in touch with me! Fan their flame!

3. Really easy (and affordable) … go to the Me to We website and buy a product that helps support this fantastic cause. Buy a t-shirt, a book, a card … buy one of the pieces of jewelry, a scarf or handbag that are hand made by the women of these communities. Support the community AND ensure that they are being paid fair wages and building stronger, sustainable communities. The next time you have to buy a birthday gift or Christmas gift, think about living ME TO WE and support a cause while you are giving a gift! They have inspirational adult books as well as amazing children’s books!

Have I fanned your flame? Even a little flicker?

Contact me at any time to discuss any of this … your interest, your desire … what else you may be doing to make a difference. I’m happy to hear it all!

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” – Gandhi

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

BIO:
Shari Tucker
http://sharitucker.com
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.

Galapagos Islands – Dare to Dream

One year ago today I was on my way for a three week adventure that would change my life significantly. I traveled to Quito, Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador and all over Peru. I had no idea what an impact each of these places would have on me for the rest of my life.

I arrived in the Galapagos Islands, embarking on an independent land-based tour to see the mystical, magical creatures that call this beautiful and unique place, home.

I had struggles, adventures, laughs (many laughs), great food, fantastic photos, broken camera equipment and life affirming moments while I was there. All of this in just five days. It was truly amazing.

I dreamed of visiting the Galapagos Islands, but I never dreamed I would love it so much.

Now, I dare you to dream.

I will be hosting a free travel talk about the Galapagos islands on Wednesday, February 20th at The Adventure Travel Company – 5552 Kaye Street, Halifax, NS from 7 – 8pm. I invite you to join me while I take your imagination to the islands via beautiful photos, personal experiences and give you lots of information on how you can get there too!

Please RSVP as space is limited and The Galapagos Islands is an in-demand destination!

Adventure Travel Specialist (that’s me!)

I know most of you already know my BIG NEWS, but here’s the official proof!

I am the newest Adventure Travel Specialist at The Adventure Travel Company here in Halifax. We are located at 5552 Kaye Street in the Hydrostone, right next to Starbucks.

I’m very excited about my new position and at just three weeks into my new role, I know that I’ve made a great life decision! I am still adjusting to regular hours and office life, but all is good.

Please feel free to drop in and say hello if you are in the area. Or, give me a call or email if you’d like to talk about upcoming travel plans! You’ll be amazed at all of the exciting places, ancient history, interesting people, sights, sounds and tastes that are just out there waiting for you to discover them!

My new contact information is:

(902) 482-8000 extension 2306
STucker@atcadventure.com

Shari ATC