Five Reasons Botswana is perfect for your Dream African Safari

If geography isn’t your forte and you don’t know a whole lot about the continent of Africa, then you might have no inkling as to why Botswana is an incredible destination for your dream safari experience or what makes it special! Let me share with you a little about the country itself and then we’ll get in to the reasons why it is perfect for your dream safari!

Botswana is a land-locked country bordered by Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia. Over 70% of the country is the semi-arid, Kalahari desert, but within that desert is one of Africa’s Seven Natural Wonders, the Okavango Delta which floods every year and then evaporates. Botswana is one of the least densely populated areas in the world and its economy and standard of living are one of the highest in Africa!

hmmm … Maybe it’s not the ‘Africa’ you’ve been picturing for Safari! It’s low human population and large number of protected areas is a perfect harmony for wildlife viewing. Some of the amazing animals you can see on safari in Botswana are: lions, leopards, cheetahs, caracals, rhinos, hippos, crocodiles, giraffes, zebras, monkeys, bat-eared foxes, wild dogs and various antelope such as the kudu, impala and lechwe. Not sure what all of those are? You’ll be well-educated about these and may other animals after a week on safari with your expert guides!

Check out these five amazing reasons you should enjoy your dream safari in Botswana!

1. If you are an elephant lover, you will not be disappointed in Botswana! This beautiful country is home to Africa’s highest concentration of elephants! Sure, you can see elephants in many African countries, but Botswana is special for the sheer number of them. There are estimated to be over 130,000 elephants in Botswana, although it is hard to get exact numbers as the ones who make their homes near borders, roam freely between countries.

Momma and baby elephant in Chobe National Park, Botswana.

2. If you are truly interested in the well-being of our earth, the land and the animals that you are dreaming of visiting, let me tell you that Botswana is top of class when it comes to conservation and anti-poaching measures. They take poaching so seriously that they have a ‘shoot-to-kill’ law that allows rangers to literally shoot to kill anyone, unauthorized, who makes their way into reserves, parks or protected areas after dark. For this reason, all game drives close down at dusk and boats no longer traverse the waters of the Chobe River and the Delta. Not to worry, you are perfectly safe at your camp. Poachers are doing their best to avoid camps and people so they make their way to the deepest parts of the bush. The roadways, waterways and bush are highly patrolled by skilled rangers and anti-poaching units to protect wildlife in general, but most specifically Elephants, Rhinos and Pangolins.

Elephant in the Okavango Delta Region, Botswana

3. If you are a photographer or birder, you’ll be particularly taken with the colorful sights and sounds of Botswana! Home to over 595 species of birds, you’ll just have to look a different direction to find something new. Your safari guides are adept at deciphering and sometimes even mocking, bird-calls, almost as if they were part bird themselves!

4. One of Africa’s Seven Wonders, the Okavango Delta is truly spectacular. In the middle of the Kalahari desert, each year the inundation arrives and the plains fill to the brim with water. This begins most years, in March and continues to swell until August, before receding. What most people don’t understand about the delta is that it does not rise because of rains in Botswana. The water comes from rains in Angola, in the north, and can take nearly six months to make its way south into the great delta panhandle. The Okavango Delta is home to an incredible and diverse variety of wildlife, some whom have adapted specifically to live in both the desert and water-filled delta conditions.

Sunset on the Okavango Delta.

5. One of the biggest reasons I loved traveling in Botswana and that I love recommending Botswana to clients looking for a safari is for the different activities and styles of safari. While your anticipated game drives in open vehicle trucks will take you through great game-viewing such as, Chobe National Park, you also have the opportunity to speed along the Chobe River in and out of the tributaries on small boats perfect for bird watching, a fishing experience and to get a water-level view of elephants basking in the waters, hippo, water buffalo taking a drink and so much more! Keep your eyes open for incredible birdlife who stick close to the water and incredible crocodiles!

You can take a river cruise on the Chobe River in various levels of luxury, from four to forty passenger boats, where you get the experience of sleeping on the boat each night and exploring in smaller boats during the day. Or you can stay in a unique houseboat deep within the Okavango Delta! If you have the chance to enjoy a mokoro ride, don’t miss out! The polers are particularly adept and moving you in and around the delta, through the reeds and lily pads.

By land, you can stay at lodges and do open-truck, safari game-drives, or you might stay at one where all the safaris are done by some form of boat. Then there is the adventure, education and excitement of heading out into the African bush with your ranger on foot to learn about the plants, trees, animal tracks and smaller, but equally important insects and amphibians that you don’t encounter from your truck.

Want something even more unique? How about a horseback safari, riding along side a herd of elephants or zebras, a hot air balloon ride to see the vastness from above or a light aircraft sight-seeing flight to take in the wonders of the inundation of the Okavango Delta?

You can take a safari in many countries in Africa and each have their own special, unique features, but I for one, am a fan of Botswana for its beauty, its waters and its unwavering commitment to protecting the flora and fauna, which in turn help protect our earth as a whole. It’s all intertwined. We only have one Mother Earth.

If you’d like to start the conversation about your dream safari in Botswana, or explore other option, reach out by email or phone 902 402 7646.

Airline Prices in a Crisis

Covid-19 has set the world into a frenzy that saw thousands of people in difficult situations, trying to get home on some of the last flights departing many destinations. I understand that people are frustrated by not being able to find flights at a reasonable cost, but I’d like to clear up a common misconception.

AIRLINES DO NOT RAISE PRICES DURING A CRISIS!

At any time of a ‘normal’ year, if you try to book a one way flight anywhere internationally, on short notice (1-5 days, maybe even up to 14 days), prices are going to be high, you’ve probably just rarely had to do that, so you are surprised when you see it. The airline is not out to get you. They haven’t raised their prices. They aren’t trying to gouge you, but yes, the ticket price could be five times higher than what you paid.

Here’s what’s happening.

There are a fixed number of seats on any plane. Each airline has a variety of options ranging from the most restrictive of fares in economy class to the most flexible of fares in Business Class. While you and your bestie may sit side by side on the plane, have the exact same size seat and get the same meals and service, you may have paid two very different prices. Sometimes they could be hundreds of dollars difference.

How can that be?

Most people just think of it as Economy, Premium Economy or Business class, each with their own section of the plane, but it’s far more complicated than that.

It’s not just about the physical location on the plane. The prices are based on a package of benefits. It includes the location of your seat on the plane, the leg room, if your luggage and seat selection are included, if your ticket is non-refundable, changeable or refundable for a fee and how many loyalty points you earn. Then it is also based on the level of service you receive on board, how many flight attendants per passenger there are, the quality of food and extra amenities like hot face cloths and champagne served before take off, just to name a few.

Each class of service has a different set of rules, and a different amount of flexibility. The cheaper the price, the fewer benefits you get and the more restrictive the fare is. If you pay for a business class flexible ticket, you can change or refund for no fee in some cases. If you pay for a cheap, basic economy ticket, if you need to change, you are SOL my friend. You get to buy a brand new ticket and you don’t get a refund for the cheap one you bought earlier.

Keeping in line with this, as you can imagine, the bulk of the seats on a plane fall into Economy Class. Within that, there are various pricing levels with different flexibility options when it comes to inclusions, refunds and cancellations. You might have paid $100, but have a fully non-refundable ticket, pay for your luggage separately and only collect 25% loyalty points. The person sitting to your left might have paid $300, have a change fee of $150 and be getting 50% loyalty points. The person on your right pay have paid $500, have a change fee of $50 and be getting 100% loyalty points. All of you are in Economy seating.

Woah! Did I just blow your mind?

Covid-19 Crisis

Now, let’s bring it back to Covid-19, or any crisis, really, where people for whatever reason need to buy flights on short notice.

Airline tickets are normally available for purchase somewhere about 10 – 11 months in advance. It varies a bit by airline and route, but that’s a general rule of thumb.

Most people buy their airline tickets three to nine months in advance. Of course there are always people who buy flights, especially domestically, one or two months in advance.

The majority of people book into the Economy Class category where they are looking for the cheapest flight to get them to their destination. Let’s just say, for ease of math, there are 100 seats on a plane. 10 are business class, 20 are Premium Economy and the remaining 70 are Economy. Break it down further now and of those 10 business class, you have five basic business class and five flexible business class. In Premium Economy you have 10 flexible and 10 more restricted. In Economy, there could be up to four variations and different prices, so 17-18 seats at each level. In this example alone, that gives you eight different price points.

To complicate things further, the prices on International flights fluctuate not just with the class of service, but with the exchange rate of the connecting flights that are going through different countries and the taxes of each separate airport, which also fluctuate with exchange rate. Sorry, there is no ‘fixed price’ for an international flight.

If you are flying Halifax – Toronto – Frankfurt – Addis Ababa – Johannesburg and then return, you are affected by the taxes at five airports in four countries and the exchange rates of four different currencies that fluctuate daily.

If the majority of people buy their flights six to nine months in advance and are looking for the cheapest prices, what do you think is the first to sell out? That’s right, the cheapest fares on the flight with the most restrictive rules and fewest inclusions.

And, at two months prior to take off, what do you think is left? The higher priced classes of service within Economy, with more inclusions and fewer restrictions. By this point, you’ll also often find that Premium Economy is sold out as many people choose to pay extra for the extra comfort and benefits offered. Then you are left with Business Class, if it’s not full, and the most flexible options of Economy class.

Fast forward to the plane being nearly sold out one month in advance. People who were late buying their tickets missed out on the cheapest level of service and paid more. They likely don’t understand that they have a more lax cancellation policy or that the cheaper price didn’t included luggage.

Let’s say there are five seats remaining on the plane, because 95% of the plane sold out more than one month in advance. Let’s say there are three Economy seats, one Premium Economy and one business class seat available.

All of a sudden on March 13th, 2020 you are already in destination and discover that you need to get home before the borders close on the 15th at midnight due to a crazy pandemic. Let’s call it Covid-19!

There is one flight left and it has five seats available but 100 people trying to get those five seats. The prices of the five seats don’t change, but once the three cheaper economy seats sell out, all that’s left is Premium and Business Class. To make it more complicated, if you are searching for two seats, for you and your partner, and two of the economy class seats have already sold, you’ll get an error saying there are no seats available.

Not quite true! I’ll tell you a secret; one of you could go in economy and one in Premium Economy, but an online system won’t tell you this, or allow you to book this easily or quickly enough when there is high demand. You could get one seat booked and then the other one is gone and one of you is staying behind. How’s that for scary?

Travel agents have ways around this … It might literally be the difference in both of you getting on the same plane or not. You might not pay the same price for both seats, but you might arrive home together!

It is the same reason that your travel agent will tell you not to wait until last minute to book flights for your vacation and that it is very unlikely there will be a ‘sale’ if you wait until one month prior to travel. The cheap seats will already be sold out, therefore you end up paying a higher price. The airlines did not raise the prices, you are just paying the rate of the day for the class of service that is available at that time.

In a crisis situation, where countries are restricting travel and closing borders, it is also important to note that there are many fewer routing options available and much higher demand for those last few seats. If you don’t get on them quickly, you might miss out. It’s good to have a professional watching for these things for you while you are on vacation!

There are lots of reasons to book with a good travel agent. The intricacies of airline bookings are just one of many. If you get stuck abroad due to a natural disaster, or pandemic, do you want to deal with it alone, spending hours on hold trying to reach each airline or would you rather have a professional taking care of the arrangements for you and telling you what you should do next?

If you’d like to work with a professional on your next trip, for peace of mind and so many other great benefits, I’d be happy to hear from you at stucker@tpi.ca or 902 402 7646.

Covid-19 – A Travel Agent’s Opinion

Coronavirus, or Covid-19, is top of everyone’s minds these days. It’s impossible to avoid the information overload through the news and social media. It is extremely important to make sure you are taking in reliable, factual information and not just the hype and fear that many media outlets are spewing.

My business
I am just one travel agent in Halifax, NS with a small, but mighty business. To date, I have not had one cancellation due to Covid-19. I’ve had to rearrange flights to avoid China, but not one of my clients has cancelled their trip.

It’s incredibly busy though. Airlines, cruise and tour companies are all fielding more calls than normal. This doesn’t always lead to cancellations though, just a lot of questions! Clients are calling with travel concerns and insurance sales are soaring as we are one of the few still protecting people if they purchase insurance before an Avoid Non Essential Travel Advisory goes out. Many companies have revised their policies to exclude pandemics, but as yet (March 6th, 11am AST), our policies remain the same.

I currently have clients traveling in Australia, New Zealand, Qatar, Thailand, Hawaii, just returned from Caribbean Cruising and Portugal, 17+ people heading to Italy in the next 2 – 6 months on various itineraries, River Cruise season is soon starting and my mom and I are heading to Australia at the end of April.

Despite mass media and panic, what seems like worldwide, folks here in Halifax, at least my clients, are taking it all in stride.

You are going to get sick. #SorryNotSorry
In case you didn’t know …. At any time, anywhere in the world, you can get sick. Comforting right? HAHA In fact, I’m sick with a cold right now as I write this. I got sick in November when I travelled to Nepal and I often get sick when I travel to the Caribbean. I’ve had stomach problems in various countries, I’ve gotten parasites, colds and who knows what else. If I stopped traveling because I ‘might’ get sick, I’d never go anywhere!

The truth is, there are a lot worse things out there than Covid-19 and you haven’t cancelled your trips for any of those … so why would you cancel for this?

You travel to the Caribbean all the time where there is risk of Malaria, Zika, Typhoid, traveller’s diarrhea or Africa where there is Ebola and Yellow Fever (although there is a vaccine for that!), along with other mosquito-bourne illnesses. You may or may not get your yearly flu vaccine; do you have your hepatitis shots? No?

I don’t say any of this to scare you, just to point out the hypocrisy in it all. If we aren’t scared enough of getting the flu to go get our flu shot … if we travel without our Hepatitis A & B shots, if we go to Malaria areas but don’t take medication, if we go anywhere without checking the health risks, if we eat fatty foods, smoke cigarettes, vape or drink too much, then why are we so scared of Covid-19? If you get it, you’ll likely be sick for 7 – 10 days and then you’ll be well again. Many of the things listed above do not have the same happy ending, but we don’t seem to be scare of those!

The flu is all around you right now. You are probably going to get the common cold if you haven’t already had it, and you might even get the flu as it goes around every year.

While I’m not saying that we should invite Covid-19 in and spread it around, I think it is truly impossible to stave it off forever and, quite honestly, maybe not even worth trying. If it doesn’t hit Halifax this year, what makes you think it won’t make an appearance next year? Hopefully vaccines will be tested and effective by then, but let’s be honest, if you didn’t get a flu shot this year, are you going to make time to get one next year? Or get the Covid-19 vaccine?

Should I cancel my travel plans?
For now, don’t cancel your travel plans. Don’t worry about the potential of getting sick. Just have better personal hygiene, wash your hands properly, stop picking your nose and biting your nails. Sneeze and cough into your elbow and if you are sick, just stay home. We will all thank you for it!

Getting the right information.
Last, but not least, follow credible health organizations like the CDC or WHO for your updates, check the Canadian Government Travel Site for health advisories and check your destination before your book! Work with a reputable travel agent who has access to the most up to date information, and can help you navigate your travel plans if cancellations are required. Stop listening to the bad news and surround yourself with the good news of the thousands of people who have survived Covid-19! We’ll soon have ‘I survived Covid-19’ T-Shirts, I’m sure!

Stay healthy everyone. Keep traveling. There are too many amazing things to see in this world to stay home because you ‘might’ get sick!

Disclaimer: Before anyone gets offended over my opinion … of course I understand that everyone’s health situation is different. People with compromised immune systems and respiratory problems have different concerns about Covid-19 and everyone has to look at their individual health situation. For the vast majority of people though, it’s time to just stay calm and wash your hands at home and abroad!

Orphanage Trafficking – It’s time to stop it!

In late 2019 I had the pleasure of traveling to Nepal with Intrepid Travel. What an incredible experience! Beyond the obvious education and excitement that comes with traveling to a new country; meeting the people, seeing the sights, tasting the food, there was a very specific “purpose” and educational component behind this particular trip with carefully selected agents from Canada and the USA.  Geoff Manchester, co-founder of Intrepid Travel would also be adventuring along with us in one of his favourite countries! Little did I know that one of the areas of education for us would be about orphanage trafficking.

Initially, I almost turned the invite down as I thought Everest and high altitude trekking weren’t for me. Then I discovered that Intrepid has this beautiful Experience Nepal itinerary that visits the cities, nature and cultural sites of the Kathmandu Valley. It had some great small hikes and everything was at low altitude. Even I, as a pretty savvy travel agent didn’t know this! Now I do. And now you do too!

Click these links if you’d like to read about my experience White Water Rafting on the Trisuli River or the story of Kumari, a living child Goddess in Nepal.

I accepted the invitation to go on this special agent-only trip and came out the other side, changed.

As a special inclusion, we got to visit Forget Me Not in Kathmandu, a project supported by the Intrepid Foundation.

Forget Me Not is not a tourist destination. It’s not a store. There’s nothing to buy. It doesn’t provide services to tourists. It’s an organization … a very powerful one … one that I truly will never forget.

Photo of travel agents from Canada & USA with Forget Me Not
Photo: Louise Booth

Years ago, The Intrepid Foundation partnered with an orphanage in Nepal called Twenty Girls.  These girls had been in the orphanage system for four to 18 years. Having done their research, the foundation was confident that this orphanage was well run and well equipped to support these young women with suitable living quarters, healthy meals and education. All checks were in place to make sure that this was a positive care facility, not one of the poorly run orphanages that were rampant in Nepal, Asia and Africa perpetuating the cycle of abuse to orphaned children. This orphanage needed funds and the Intrepid Foundation stepped in to help.

Not long after this, an orphanage in Uganda reached out to Twenty Girls for support in reorganizing and learning how to better operate. Throughout a long process of auditing, it came to light that many of the children at the Ugandan orphanage still had living parents or relatives. It was discovered that the children had been taken from their homes in various ways.

Around the same time, the girls in the Nepal orphanage had become their own close-knit family. They had begun to open up to one another and they were sharing their stories and feelings from what they remembered, if anything, of their families and their past communities. Some of the girls were having dreams, others had encountered people in Kathmandu, strangers, who seemed to know them.

Eventually one of the young women spoke out to staff at the orphanage in Kathmandu. Despite staff being threatened by organizations and government to stay quiet, they spoke up and began an investigation to learn where these twenty girls had come from.

With few paper records from their past orphanage stays, fading or non-existent memories of their families and often no information about their birth-homes because they were too young to remember anything when they were taken to their first orphanage, it was a struggle to retrace each girl’s history. Not only was it difficult from a paperwork perspective, as you can imagine it was also a delicate situation as the girls were remembering bits and pieces of a life that they believed no longer existed.  Most of them had been in the orphanage system for many years, suffering mental, physical and sexual abuse, living in deplorable conditions and being forced into child labor either at the orphanages or on the streets. For years they had been told they were orphans, that their parents and families no longer existed, that they were alone or unwanted.

Learning that the orphans they were supporting weren’t necessarily orphans, put the Intrepid Foundation in an awkward spot. They couldn’t simply pull their support and see these girls without funding or send them back into the corrupt orphanage system, but yet they couldn’t continue to support an orphanage where the children were victims of orphanage trafficking.

A large audit and investigation began into the operation of the orphanage, where the girls came from and what was really happening. Little by little, with funding from the Intrepid Foundation, cooperation from the Nepali Government and the incredible efforts of child welfare and social workers, the stories began to be revealed and families of these ‘orphaned’ girls were slowly, but surely being found. In the end, 18 of the 20 girls from this orphanage were reunited with their families after many years apart.

Through all of this, a new organization was born, called Forget Me Not. This new organization would never again operate as an orphanage, but instead would focus on child welfare and reunification of families.

At Forget me Not, they proudly have a Change Makers Squad made up of five teens and young adults who were part of the orphanage system, four girls from the original Twenty Girls and one young man who spent several years in orphanages. These young Change Makers are bravely sharing their stories, spreading the word, educating their communities, raising money and standing up to governments, pressuring them to make changes to child welfare acts and to shut down improperly run orphanages.

Each of the change makers stood in front of us to tell us their role in the squad and their dreams for their future. Anisha, only about 17 years old, shared part of her story and brought me to tears.

Anisha and her sisters were taken to an orphanage when she was very young. Her dad had decided to give her and her sisters up and paid for them to have a ‘better life’, because in reality, he had wanted boys, not girls. Boys were perceived as more valuable in society.

Her parents had paid a handler to give them a better education and better life. The parents were tricked, as millions are, into trafficking their children to the orphanage system. While the parents believed they were doing something good for their daughters, as soon as they were out of sight, the children were taken hundreds of miles away and placed in illegal orphanages where physical, mental and sexual abuse (still, today) run rampant. They lived in unclean conditions with little access to food or water and many children are forced into child labor or the sex trade.

It’s easy for us to judge and say ‘don’t give your kids to strangers’, but it can be compared to paying for your kids to go to boarding school. Traffickers are well-dressed, educated, well-spoken and professional. They are friendly and seem trustworthy. They are offering a better education and better life for these children. It is a professional operation. It’s easy to fall for their charm, but never an easy decision for parents to give their children up.

It’s easy to place blame on the parents, but let’s get real for a minute and talk about you and I, as tourists, and how this is our fault too. Unknowingly, tourists are helping grow the orphanage trafficking trade. The more donations that orphanages receive, the more orphanages open and traffickers need children to fill the beds. Children are being stolen from the streets and lured from their parents with promises of a better future. The money tourists donate to orphanages rarely trickles down to the children that it was meant to help. Instead, it just creates more demand from the traffickers who keep getting richer. It’s heartbreaking. We are part of the problem and we can be part of the solution!

Children from these illegal orphanages are also being sent into the streets to beg for money from tourists, never keeping a penny for themselves, for fear of further abuse. While it is so very hard not to give a begging child money, I can’t stress enough the importance of this in breaking the cycle. The only way for these children to get off the streets is if there is no money for them to earn there. We must stop giving money to children on the streets immediately. The traffickers have money to take care of the children, they are choosing not to. When you give money to a child on the streets, you are not helping to feed that child, you are helping continue the cycle of orphanage trafficking. Let this sink in.

After moving between orphanages, each of Anisha’s sisters were eventually adopted by two foreign families. Anisha continued to be moved from orphanage to orphanage until she was taken to the Twenty Girls orphanage, supported by the Intrepid Foundation, where she found a sisterhood of 19 other girls. The girls became family and began to talk about their dreams and memories.

Eventually one brave girl spoke up about her memories and despite the controversy, an investigation was started in to the history of each of the girls at the orphanage. Where did they come from and were they indeed orphans with no parents?

Most of the girls remembered very little of being taken from their homes as they were so young. They didn’t remember their parent’s names or their communities. It took considerable support from the Intrepid Foundation, social services and the Nepali Government to reunite 18 of the 20 girls with their immediate family members.

Anisha was reunited with her mom, dad and younger brothers whom she had never met. She also reunited with each of her sisters who were adopted and currently live abroad.

If hearing her tell the story of her difficult life, and the emotional rollercoaster of reuniting with her long lost family wasn’t enough … just one year after they were reunited, her dad fell ill and passed away. She choked up a little as she explained that she never got to tell him how she felt.

Not a year after her dad’s passing, her mom also passed away, now leaving her and her two brothers orphaned, with no able relatives to care for them. This time she was truly an orphan. Being underage and not able to legally care for her brothers, they were placed in a legal orphanage in Kathmandu, where she can visit them regularly while she continues to finish high school.

Anisha bravely told us not only her story, but her dreams of becoming a lawyer and reuniting with her brothers to all live in one house as a family, when she is able to support them.

My heart absolutely explodes with heartbreak and admiration for this strong girl who has endured so much emotional turmoil in her short life, yet presses forward to pursue her dreams and take care of her younger brothers.

The Intrepid Foundation supports the vision of Forget me Not to fund the long and arduous process of tracking children’s families and reuniting them when possible. This means supporting the Change Makers’ efforts to raise awareness, educate the public and influence change. It also supports the counselling services needed for the children while they are dealing with the emotional turmoil that trafficking has created. While research and hard work isn’t very sexy or instagram-worthy, it is the right thing to do and drives Intrepid’s mission, through their entire business, of Purpose Beyond Profit.

The visit to Forget me Not is a day that is etched into my heart. It has inspired me to look for ways to give back and to never underestimate the power that travel has to change lives; mine, my client’s and that of the communities we visit.

Each year I choose a travel charity to donate to instead of sending Christmas cards to my clients. I feel the money is better spent making a difference in the lives of women and children around the world rather than paper and stamps in Canada. In 2019, I donated to Forget Me Not.

If this story has touched your heart, you can contribute through the Intrepid Foundation where every dollar you donate is matched (up to $600 000 AUD / year) and 100% of the funds go directly to the organization as admin fees are covered by Intrepid.

NOTE: This post is not sponsored. Views and opinions are my own. While I talk about Intrepid Travel and the Intrepid Foundation, it is not because they have asked or paid me to do so. It is because they are a company that I whole heartedly support for the way they are making positive change in the Tourism Industry and the communities we, as travellers, want to visit.

If you are interested in making a positive impact when you travel, doing the right thing, all while having a great trip, I would love to help you book your next adventure! I can be reached at 902 402 7646 or by email.

Nepal – Not just for trekkers – Part 1 – Kathmandu

As a travel agent for the past few years I’ve chosen a career that not only allows me to make other people’s travel dreams come true, it also affords me the opportunity to see the world, and more important than everything an education far beyond what you can learn from hearing or reading it in a book. I get to choose when and where I go, how I see the world and I regularly remind myself to do so with open arms and an open mind. On occasion, I’m also rewarded with invitations to join exclusive travel-agent trips to experience a style of travel or a specific destination.

Sometimes though, I make assumptions and mistakes too. Despite all of the knowledge I have about geography, cultures and travel in general, sometimes I fall prey to stereotypes and misconceptions as well.

While I know in my mind that Nepal is a diverse country, I’ve only known people to travel to Nepal who want to trek to Everest base camp or who have lived in Kathmandu for work or volunteer purposes. While I know there are mountains and valleys, big cities and remote villages, Everest (and trekking) was still the only thing I could think of to ‘do’ in Nepal. Now, having spent 10 days in this unique, beautiful and welcoming country, I have experienced that Nepal is so much more than Everest. It’s not just for trekkers! Believe me, a trekker I am not.

I assumed that Kathmandu would be a large, hectic city. I had expectations that traffic would be bad, but having just arrived from Delhi, it couldn’t be THAT bad, right?

There are 29 million people in Nepal and one million live in the capital of Kathmandu. When you have that many people in a city, it is simply a given that the streets will be packed. There were cars and buses, motorbikes, people, dogs and the occasional cow wandering through the streets. Traffic moved at a snail’s pace and came to a stand still regularly. While motorcycles zipped in between traffic and people meandered in all directions, cars and buses simply couldn’t maneuver effectively around each other, many times because motorbikes had crammed themselves in the tiny spaces between autos. I had just seen this in Delhi, India; the traffic was the worst I had ever encountered.

Nepal was somehow different though. Almost instantly you realize that Nepalis are patient and kind. They beep to communicate rather than out of anger. They are careful not to run over dogs and pedestrians. They don’t road rage, yell or get frustrated, they just move forward little by little. This is vastly different from what I experienced in Delhi and was quite a welcome change from feeling like people in traffic hated everything, to people in traffic that was just part of their daily commute.

It took about an hour from the airport to my hotel, a total of 6.2 kms. Yes, you read that right. And so began this beautiful adventure into the patient chaos of Kathmandu.

Inside the city centre in the district of Thamel, the streets are narrow and winding and the buildings tall, blocking most of the sunlight from getting down to street level. Cars bump and crawl along in both directions, often on a street made for one vehicle, likely a horse and cart, after all the city was built over 1000 years ago.

Thamel is a hot spot for tourists, offering various types of accommodation, all of the services you need from ATMs to restaurants, souvenirs to top-quality trekking gear. It’s easy enough to get around here on your own if you have a good sense of direction and don’t mind getting lost in the winding streets without posted names. You can spend hours meandering through the narrow streets filled with prayer flags, decorative lights and (mostly) helpful storefront staff.

I was pleasantly surprised that once inside my hotel, on the other side of the lobby was a delightful courtyard garden. Other than the occasional car horn, you could completely forget about the chaos just 100 meters away. It was tranquil and just what I needed after the disorganization of the airport and the chaos of the traffic. It was a little reprieve from the real world outside. It was a moment of silence in an otherwise boisterous world.

That evening, I met with my travel group of six travel agents from Canada and the USA, two Intrepid Staff from the Toronto office, our local Guide and Geoff Manchester, co-founder of the Intrepid Travel Group from Australia who would be traveling with us for the next 10 days, which I must admit was an incredible opportunity.  Together, we would be enjoying the Experience Nepal itinerary, although ours ran backwards to the normal tour as it was a special departure date, rather than a regularly scheduled one.

First up for us was a day exploring Kathmandu and getting familiar with Buddhist culture. We headed off through the narrow, chaotic streets to the beautiful Boudhanath Stupa, best known and most important pilgrimage for Buddhists around the world and is a safe place for Tibetans to practice their religion freely. Many have immigrated to this area as they were ostracized from their own country.


The Stupa and surroundings are a large, circular complex surrounded by historic buildings, temples, monasteries and now, a variety of souvenir shops. Marked by the famous Buddha eyes on all four sides of the temple, we were reminded that Buddha is always watching and encouraging us to make the right choices. Locals and tourists alike wander clockwise around the complex spinning hundreds of prayer wheels that line the outside of the building. It is said that those who fully circle the complex with a pure heart create good karma, resulting in the fulfillment of all their wishes. Whether you believe in it or not, isn’t it nice to think that pure hearts and good karma exist in this world?

As we made our way around looking at the different prayer wheels and sculptures, we stopped to visit the Tibetan monastery (Guru Lhakhang Gompa), an important place of worship for pilgrims and visited inside to view the intricate design. No photos allowed inside.


On our way back to our hotel in Thamel we walked through Kathmandu’s Durbar square. Sadly, it was heavily damaged in the earthquake of 2015, reducing many of the centuries old buildings to ruble. Today, under Unesco supervision, many of the buildings are being reconstructed to their former glory, but the process is slow both from a construction aspect and I’m sure, due to the strict regulations of Unesco to ensure it is rebuilt the same as it was. Most of the buildings are covered with scaffolding, so I didn’t take photos, but peeking through the construction you could see the former beauty of the intricately carved wooden buildings. 3 – 5 years from now, there’s no doubt they’ll be returned to their former glory.


We also visited the Kumari’s palace. The story goes that Goddess Taleju  appeared to the king each night in human form to discuss important matters. If any other person saw her in human form, she would no longer appear. One night, the King’s wife followed him curiously as he stepped out every night after she went to bed. As she peered around the corner she saw Goddess Taleju in her human form. The Goddess was furious and instantly knew she had been seen. She disappeared forever from the King’s Palace. Later, she sent word to the King that in order to continue to worship her and partake in her guidance, the community would need to select a child to carry her spirit. This child would be the Kumari. This young child, pre-menstration, is chosen based on specific physical attributes (long dark hair, dark eyes, long fingers, unblemished or unscarred skin), as well as personality characteristics of fearlessness. She must never have lost a drop of blood from her body or she will be considered impure. It is believed that Goddess Taleju lives inside her and worshiping her provides power and protection. Still today, the Kumari lives in the palace and appears to the people to be worshipped, randomly, providing good fortune to those who lay eyes on her. On special occasions (13 times per year) she leaves the palace in a chariot pulled by many men and she is worshipped in the streets.

The current Kumari was chosen in 2017 at just three years old. We visited her palace in Kathmandu’s Durbar square and with good fortune, she appeared while we were inside. Before she was seen, the guards demanded silence and no photos. All cameras had to be set aside and they watched like hawks to ensure no one took photos. A young girl, just five years old, appeared for about one minute to be worshipped. The crowd stood in silence and then she was gone.

It’s hard to believe this ancient tradition is still upheld and we heard from our guide that child right activists are fighting to change the ancient tradition. They have made progress as the current Kumari has teachers who come to give her schooling. She has access to internet, books and magazines. Her parents are allowed to visit and she has playmates, the children of her caregivers. Otherwise she is not allowed to leave the palace except for the 13 special occasions throughout the year when she is worshipped publicly. There is pressure to end the tradition, but as it has been happening for so many years, it will take many years for the tradition to be abolished. It is hoped that this Kumari will be the final one of the tradition, once she is dethroned when menstruation starts and returns to peasant life with her family. Of course, she’ll never be a true ‘peasant’, as her family is compensated substantially during her reign as goddess and continuing through her life.

As you can see, Kathmandu has a lot to offer for tourists interested in culture, religion and history. Along with the locations mentioned above, you can also visit the Monkey temple, the Garden of Dreams, Pashupatinath Temple (Hindu), shop for incredibly cheap souvenirs in the markets or you can give back and make a positive impact by visiting and supporting social enterprises such as Seven Women Kathmandu by taking a crafting or cooking class.

You’ll need to be comfortable walking in busy streets, have an open mind for new religious beliefs and patience for the chaos. With that in mind you’ll likely feel as if you’ve stepped back hundreds of years in time and you’ll be won over quickly by the warm, friendly people, their incredible history and beliefs, different from your own.

If you’d like to visit Nepal I highly recommend considering a small group tour. I enjoy traveling this way because it gives me a chance to meet new people from around the world, share travel stories and bond over random adventures in new places. It also gives me a sense of safety and takes a load off my mind as activities are organized and I just have to follow along rather than plan and lead things! It’s much more relaxing to enjoy the best a country has to offer with the guidance of a local guide, rather than having to figure out each of your next moves on your own!

Take a look at the details of the Experience Nepal itinerary that I did with Intrepid Travel. I’d love to help you visit this amazing part our of world for a different view, with a company that not only gives you a great vacation experience, but also proudly supports women’s rights, animal rights, sustainable tourism, fair wages and giving back to the local communities.

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

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!