5 Common travel fears and how to overcome them

5 Common travel fears and how to overcome them

One of the most surprising reasons that people don’t travel isn’t a lack of money or time, it’s the fear and anxiety about all of the what-ifs? Even people who claim to have a strong desire to see the world have often never traveled more than a few states away from their homes because they just can’t seem to get over the idea that something bad will happen that will ruin their trip, or worse, put them in danger.

There are surely horror stories about terrible events happening to people traveling abroad in unfamiliar countries, but these are actually very rare events. You are statistically in more danger just driving to the grocery store in your home town. Read more to find out some of the most common travel anxieties, and how to overcome the fear of the unknown.

Going abroad is dangerous

Well, it can be, but so is getting in your car every day and fighting your way through rush hour traffic on the way to your mundane office job. You’re no more likely to encounter a dangerous situation abroad than you are staying right where you are, although how you deal with a crisis may need to be handled a bit differently.

Do a bit of research and educate yourself about the particular dangers at your destination, and take steps to avoid any known issues, like people that try to scam tourists. Get in touch with the local embassy when you arrive, and make sure you know who to call if you find yourself in need of assistance. Make sure you’ve researched the monetary system, so you know whether or not you’re getting a good deal when making a purchase. If you use common sense and plan ahead, there’s no more danger in traveling than there is in staying put.

I don’t speak the language

While it’s always intimidating to go to unfamiliar territory, going to a new place where you think you can’t communicate with the locals can be a terrifying prospect. English is becoming more and more common throughout the world, and most people in populated places will have a working knowledge of basic conversational phrases. People working specifically in tourism-related industries, such as hotels, airlines and tour guides will almost certainly have a higher level of English fluency.

Spend a few weeks prior to traveling learning some essential phrases, especially “please” and “thank you”. There are very few places in the world where you can travel that you will simply be unable to communicate, and as a novice traveler you should probably avoid venturing that far from populated cities. Begin your travel career in countries that are similar to your own. Enjoy European destinations or the UK. There is plenty to do without the inherent risks of culture shock or inadvertently offending the locals.

What if I get sick or hurt?

Most of the governments keep a travel advisory list for countries around the world. There you can find information about recommended vaccines, and what types of food and drink to avoid while traveling. Odds are if you do become ill, it will be a minor issue. For the record, diarrhea is the number one complaint of travelers. Make sure you bring some over the counter medications for common ailments and a small first aid kit, and you should be fine.

Prepare ahead of time and contact your insurance company about coverage for emergencies when you are abroad, as well as researching the hospital facilities available so that you can give some direction if you do wind up needing emergency medical care. In truth, most doctors and professional medical staff will likely be well versed in English no matter where you go, and there are good facilities that can be found even in the poorest of countries, as long as you know where to find them.

What if disaster strikes?

Disaster can mean many things to many people. Loss of identity papers, thieves, scam artists, terrorism, natural disasters, and the list goes on and on. This is where it’s important to remember that disaster can strike anywhere, even at home. You’re much more likely to have your credit card information stolen while sitting at your office than you are having your passport stolen while traveling.

If you’re truly concerned about violence or other political unrest, do your homework before you travel and avoid places with a higher risk. Stay in touch with family and friends, and have someone you trust back home keep some emergency funds for you – ready to wire to you instantly in the case of a theft or loss of critical documents. Again, remember that you can contact your embassy to assist you at any time when you are traveling abroad, but that incidents like these are truly very rare.

What if I get homesick?

It’s not really a “what-if?” It’s a what do I do when I get homesick?. It’s nearly impossible to make it through any journey without a longing to sleep in your own bed, or to curl up with your dog who is boarding at the vet’s office. Remember that it’s temporary and you’ll be home soon enough. Try to remember the reasons that you decided to take this journey, and consider the memories you’ve already made. Make appointments to regularly Skype with friends and family and stay in touch via social media. By the time you do return home, you’ll probably feel like it was over too soon, and wish you could have stayed longer.

If in the end you’re really unhappy, you can always cut your trip short and head home sooner, but you’ll probably find yourself wishing you hadn’t sometime in the future. Traveling is a wonderful way to bring excitement to your life, and once you get started you’ll most likely spend all of your free time looking forward to the next great adventure.

Feeling tropical in Costa Rica with beachs, adventure, hotels and food

Feeling tropical in Costa Rica with beachs, adventure, hotels and food

This small country is perhaps the best in Latin America for a tropical adventure, thanks to its misty jungles, incredible wildlife, active volcanoes and glorious deserted beaches.

The essential itinerary for Costa Rica was defined long ago: Manuel Antonio for the beach, Monteverde for cloud forest, Tortuguero for turtles, and Arenal volcano for outdoor adventure. Add in the area of sandy beachfront in Guanacaste that has also been set aside for large hotels and you have all the elements of most package tours to the country.

But the true beauty of Costa Rica lies in its smaller, emptier spaces. And though there is plenty of adventure on offer (when they say you can zipline from one end of the country to the other, they’re only half joking), it’s the V-formation of pelicans flying over your hammock, lightning over a silver sea, pink orchids against turquoise houses, a passing cowboy with silver stirrups, the white sand and deep blue sea that stay in the memory – along with the state of the roads.

Costa Rica has a mountainous spine, so crossing from Pacific to Caribbean coast takes forever. Resign yourself to loops in all directions out of the capital San José, which sits in the Central Valley, and remember that internal flights will save time and stress. What looks like a quick journey on a map will not be: the 65-mile drive from Arenal to Monteverde, say, can take six hours.

All prices are for the current high season (December-April) and include tax of 13%. In the low season, from May-November (less crowds, rainy mornings), there are substantial discounts if occupancy is low.

Feeling tropical in Costa Rica with beachs, adventure, hotels and food

San José, The Capital City

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the old capital has been left to rot while a replacement, made of condos and strip malls, is built around it. The gridlocked downtown blocks aren’t pretty, with their cracked pavements, stinking drains, seedy bars, pickpockets, rusting tin roofs and ocarina sellers. But old San José has its sights, from Museo de Jade (Plaza de la Democracía) and Museo del Oro (beneath Plaza de la Cultura), both with unrivalled but unsung pre-Colombian treasures, to the warren of the Mercado Central, and the pay-to-view grandeur of the Teatro Nacional.

Start at the city’s western edge with a visit to Museo de Arte Costarricense in the old air traffic control building of what used to be the airport, then head down Paseo Colon.

Where to stay

For San José’s airports and exits for Pacific highways, hotels in the western suburbs are best. For a quick stopover, white, clean, super-value Hotel Luisiana in Santa Ana (doubles from $62 room-only) is a good option, but for a treat try Xandari (doubles from $299), just 20 minutes from the international airport. This colourful gem, with thatched spa and pools in tranquil tropical gardens on the northern flanks of the Central Valley, offers spectacular views of the city. In San José itself, the boutique Hotel Grano de Oro (doubles from $186) is a luxurious, charming oasis filled with art and plants just off Paseo Colon.

Wealthy coffee barons built their homes in Barrio Amón, five blocks north of the Teatro Nacional. Hipster entrepreneurs have turned several of them into bars and restaurants. Try hole-in-the-wall Café Miel (Avenida 9, Calle 11 & 13) for great cake and coffee; atmospheric and arty Alma de Amón (Calle 5, Avenida 9 & 11) for cocktails, empanadas and ceviche; and coolly scruffy Stiefel Pub (near the INS building on Avenida 7) for lively crowds and craft beer. Near the top of Paseo Colon, stylish Aquí Es (Avenida 2 & Calle 38) has live jazz and big steaks.

Tiquicia (+506 2289 5839), above San Antonio de Escazú, offers city views and folk dancing. It’s cheesy and sentimental, but this is where Ticos go for a night of chicharrones (pork rinds), a casado of rice, steak and plantain, and loads of Nicaraguan Flor de Caña rum with Coke, limes and a bucket of ice.

Pompeii at the Montreal National Museum of Arts

Pompeii at the Montreal National Museum of Arts

“You can see how the Pompeians lived until the last minute,” says archaeologist Laura Vigo of her latest curated exhibit, Pompeii, which is now on at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts after a successful stint at the ROM. “You can see small pieces of carbonized bread left in the oven; people were just caught in the rush of trying to flee this incredible disaster …”

While aristocratic Pompeians are frequently the subject of exhibits on the ancient Italian city, Pompeii instead focuses on bringing exhibit attendees into the everyday lives of Pompeii’s common people before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. The 220 artifacts on display are organized in three central themes: public life, private life, and the science behind the eruption.

Pompeii at the Montreal National Museum of Arts

Visitors are invited to explore a series of rooms that seek to recreate a sense of an average life in Pompeii; the exhibit’s entrance is through the atrium of a traditional Pompeian house, with an open roof and a shallow pool which was used as a catchall for rainwater. By way of a projected video, water appears to drip into the pool and the faint sound of its descent can be heard through positioned speakers. “The exhibit is atmosphere,” Vigo explains. “We’re trying to show the context of where the artifacts were originally so people have a better understanding of how they were used.”

From the atrium, visitors can enter the banquet, which displays, among other artifacts, unearthed Pompeian musical instruments. The sounds of five different types can be heard in the dining hall, the result of researchers’ recent attempt to recreate ancient melodies. A traditional bed chamber can be explored, “which has all things related to the woman,” Vigo says. “We look at how they embellished themselves with jewellery and perfumes.”

Pompeii at the Montreal National Museum of Arts

The bed chamber leads out to a garden, where traditional marble statues are contextualized with projections of historically accurate flora and garden birds: “You hear the birds singing and the leaves shaking in the wind,” says Vigo. The last section of the exhibit describes the science behind Mount Vesuvius’s 19-hour eruption in detail, using both Montreal-based electronic media company Graphic eMotion’s immersive technology and textual explanations, followed by the display of 10 synthetic casts of bodies excavated from the city’s rubble (the original casts never travel).

The placement of the plaster casts near the end of the exhibit is deliberate; the entombed bodies gain resonance in the context of their former lives. It’s a powerful exhibit, and Vigo is ardent about its message: carpe diem, “because you really don’t know what’s going to come tomorrow.”

What to do in Montreal, Canada

What to do in Montreal, Canada

Montreal is the largest city in the Canadian province of Quebec. It is the second largest city in Canada, 18th largest in North America and the 26th largest in the Americas. Originally called Ville-Marie, or “City of Mary,” it is named after Mount Royal, the triple-peaked hill in the heart of the city. The city is on the Island of Montreal, which took its name from the same source as the city, and a few much smaller peripheral islands, the largest of which is Île Bizard. It has a distinct four-season continental climate with warm to hot summers and cold snowy winters.

Montreal, anyone can attest, is a dynamic city. It’s full of life, and constantly building upon itself, with new shops, cultural spaces, and restaurants sprouting up like dandelions in every nook and corner. Its particular sense of energy is inspiring for visitors from all over the world. Here’s an excellent city guide for Montreal.

Where to Go

I live in Plateau. It’s a neighbourhood full of artists, young families, and streets full of brick houses and colourful façades with complementing spiral staircases. It’s a very walkable area where you can easily meet with your friends for breakfast and go to a coffee shop 10 minutes after. You can then stop at the bakery to get a baguette, by the cheese shop to grab a slice of brie and park your Bixi bike in front of the depanneur to get something to drink before heading to a picnic in the park. People from all around the city come to Plateau to hang out in the coffee shops and high-quality bistros, and to spend time in the parks to just walk around and enjoy the surroundings.

What to do in Montreal, Canada

To me, Outremont always has a special place because of its architecture. Little Italy is also a very vibrant neighbourhood with Jean-Talon market right around the corner and all the amazing pizza places and coffee shops, and the sights of people chatting in front of stores. Griffintown and a walk by the Lachine Canal offer an amazing insight to Montreal’s history and the current direction in which the city is heading.

what to Do

My perfect day in Montreal probably starts with a good breakfast/brunch at either at a classic spot like Lawrence or a new restaurant like Petite Maison. After, I’ll walk around with my friends and probably go to Café Olimpico to hang out in the terrace and soak up the sun while enjoying a latte freddo. If you need a bite after all the caffeine, I’d stop by at St-Viateur Bagel to have a sesame bagel. Hop on your bike, go to Rue Bernard to check which new books and magazines have arrived at Drawn & Quarterly. I’d then spend the afternoon at Parc Laurier or shopping at Frank & Oak or visiting the Museum of Contemporary Art if the weather is chilly.

Where to Dine

The list of great restaurants in Montreal is constantly evolving. There are 24 restaurants from Montreal that made it on the Canada’s Top 100 list this year. From those I have tried I recommend: Joe Beef, Maison Publique, Lawrence, Damas, Impasto, and Satay Brothers. It’s hard to have little-known gems in Montreal as everybody seems to be in trying new spots. However, here are my recent favourites: Le Mousso, Petite Maison, Adamo, Foxy, Hoogan et Beaufort, and Trilogie.

I have tried almost all the independent coffee shops in Montreal and more new spots are opening up each month! From these it’s hard to pick a favourite, but there are different spots that serve different moods and needs. If you’re going to meet with an old friend, I’d recommend Pikolo. For an afternoon read soaking up the sun, Olimpico is your best choice. If you’d like to have lots of light, either Soupesoup on Wellington or Cafe Falco would do it. For great coffee, Myriade on St-Viateur, 8oz, Café Artiste Affamé, and September Surf Café are the places to go!

Tiger’s Nest in the mystical country Bhutan

Tiger’s Nest in the mystical country Bhutan

For the majority of travelers, the mystical country of Bhutan is not commonly a place that tops the list of places to visit, but this is certainly not because it lacks in feel or substance. This is truly one of those “hidden gems” that we so often hear about with much more to offer in terms of memories and experiences then your typical drop and flop all inclusive beach vacation to Cuba.

Why wouldn’t you want to visit a country where Gross National Happiness is deemed more important then Gross National Product? If you happen to be the type of traveler that revels in the unknown and relishes the exotic, then I highly recommend setting your radars on Bhutan, also known as the “Dragon Kingdom”.

Tucked away in the Eastern Himalayas, the mountain kingdom of Bhutan is a landlocked state in South Asia that is bordered to the South, East and West by the Republic of India and to the North by the People’s Republic of China. It derives its own distinct cultural flavour and vibe by combining elements of Indian and Chinese culture. Before delving into detail on specific activities and must see attractions comes the small detail of actually arriving in Bhutan from whatever country you reside in.

Tiger’s Nest in the mystical country Bhutan

The most convenient way to access the country is by Druk Air, the national carrier. Druk Air flies a few times each week from gateways in India, Nepal, Thailand and Bangladesh making it easy to connect with other major airlines around the world. Visitors to the country famously have to pay a minimum of US$200 per day, making it one of the world’s most expensive countries to visit, but this fee is all-inclusive, you don’t have to travel in a group and you can arrange your own itinerary if you wish. What you won’t find in Bhutan is backpacker-style independent travel so couch surfing hostel lovers will have to look elsewhere for their dream destination.

If the thought of tediously constructing a complex and satisfying travel itinerary for you or your companions is not exactly your idea of fun then why not leave it to the experts and choose one of the already available circuits created by the industry leader in adventure travel, G Adventures. With an intimate small group feel and over 22 years of experience you can trust that you are getting the vacation that you need and deserve.

Depending on the type of traveler that you are, you can choose between the two trips that are offered by G Adventures based on the service level and level of accommodation that you prefer. The “standard” level ten day “Bhutan Adventure” gives you the cultural immersion that you desire while giving you the best bang for your buck and the twelve day “Spirit of Bhutan” “comfort” option allows for a bit more of life’s luxuries for the discerning traveler who seeks a softer landing at the end of the day. In my opinion, the highlight of either one of these options being the expert local guide that will accompany you throughout the journey making the experience more authentic and consequently more meaningful.

Accommodations in Bhutan have no star ratings unlike in the West, however all tourist hotels, lodges and guesthouses are graded by the tourism council of Bhutan. The more traveled destinations such as Western and central Bhutan usually have higher standards on a par with star-rated properties. In the less traveled areas of eastern Bhutan, modest but adequate accommodations are the norm. It is not large chain hotels and pampering spas that attract visitors to the dragon kingdom each year it is the pristine and peaceful nature of the land and it’s people.

For lovers of Asian culture that want to dig deeper, Bhutan is riddled with monasteries and Buddhist temples to wander through and explore. Perhaps the most well known monastery worldwide is the Takstang Monastery also known as the “Tiger’s Nest” which is precariously perched on the rock towering 900 meters above the valley. After hiking to this particular monastery you are awarded with not only photographs and memories to last a lifetime but a feeling of inner serenity and peace that will peel away the hardened layers of stress caused by everyday life in the Western World. The effort of getting there is well worth the reward of being there.

The Bhutanese people have gone to endless lengths to preserve the way of life of the “last Shangri-La” and both the land and the people have been blessed with an invaluable and spiritual cultural legacy. Bhutan is a unique blend of the old and the new and it is currently straddling the ancient and the modern world. Those fortunate enough to visit this country describe it as a unique, deeply spiritual and mystical experience. Bhutan offers to the world a country packed with awe inspiring sights and unparalleled trekking routes, all served up with a dash of culture, history and religion.

Mexico: Bienvenido Sayulita – Welcome to Sayulita

Mexico: Bienvenido Sayulita - Welcome to Sayulita

If you have ever spent time in a small coastal surf town then you know just how relaxing and rewarding the experience can be. Some of my most fond travel memories come from finding unique hidden gems full of like minded individuals looking for zen. Sayulita in the state of Nayarit, Mexico struck a chord with me because of the relaxed vibe and the colourful little buildings serving up freshly made burritos and tacos accompanied by an ice cold Cerveza. Yes please!

Something else that is appealing about Sayulita is that it is not very hard to find but has managed to retain it’s authentic Mexican feel without becoming too touristy. It is hailed as an “off the beaten path” travel destination and is a mecca for surfers of all ages. I have spent a lot of time in Mexico in various areas but this particular town really stood out to me because of it’s proximity to a large tourist destination, Puerto Vallarta, and the fact that it still offers up a cultural experience.

Don’t get me wrong, there are no shortage of foreigners here looking for the same thing that you are but the general feel of the town and it’s visitors is one of detached relaxation. As I had mentioned getting there is fairly simple, you will need to fly into the Puerto Vallarta international airport which is about 25 miles North of Sayulita. Your best bet is to rent a car and drive down as then you will have access to a vehicle to further explore the surrounding areas. As I like to say, you never know what you can find until you start to look. There is also taxi service and a regular bus that runs from the Puerto Vallarta airport directly into the the town that costs approximately 25 pesos so if you are feeling reluctant to drive in a foreign country there are certainly other options.

Mexico: Bienvenido Sayulita - Welcome to Sayulita

One of the most popular options for accommodation in Sayulita is rental properties or condos. You can rent one bedroom right up to five or six bedroom properties directly from the owner by doing a little bit of online research prior to your trip. Most properties are beach front and also allow access to a private pool so you will have no shortage of options to cool down after spending the day enjoying the heat of Mexico.

Having a kitchen at your disposal will also permit you to take advantage of the small markets and vendors dotting the vibrant streets selling fresh local ingredients for you to sink your teeth into. Having an eclectic mix of restaurants, bars and nightclubs, Sayulita also offers up a delectable feast for both your palate and for your inner party animal. If your preference is a full service hotel, where your most difficult decision is what to order from the room service menu then not to fear, this small coastal town has a bit of everything from budget accommodation to luxury beachfront cabanas.

Activities are plentiful in this area and aside from the obvious choice of trying your hand at surfing, you can also find world class diving, fishing and snorkeling. For the more active traveller there are numerous golf and tennis courses and breathtaking hiking trails that wind along the coastline giving you a birds eye view of the sparkling Pacific Ocean. When you are ready to unwind you can wander along the streets visiting the local shops and art galleries or make a reservation at one of the nearby spa facilities.

Mexico: Bienvenido Sayulita - Welcome to Sayulita

Mexico has long been one of my most favourite culinary destinations and Sayulita did not disappoint. The dining experiences and restaurants are almost limitless. If you count taco/tortilla stands and small “hole-in-the-wall” cafes, Sayulita offers over 100 locations to grab a bite to eat. Award-winning fine dining restaurants will tempt you with their lavish menus while taco stands will easily fill you up for only a few pesos.

As I has mentioned before, I have had the pleasure of spending a significant amount of time throughout Mexico and it always pains me when I hear people discredit the country due to news reports and misguided safety concerns. Recent news reports regarding violence in Mexican border towns should not confuse vacation-goers about the easy-going peaceful founding families of Sayulita and other rural areas. Mexico is a massive country and there are certainly some cities that are safer then others but at no point during any of my time spent there did I feel unsafe or threatened and contrary to popular belief, some of the friendliest people I have met during my journeys have been in this particular country.

Use common sense when travelling to any foreign country and ask the experts. If you have never travelled to Mexico but know someone who has, ask them for their thoughts and advice. Try and find someone who has spent some time outside of the resorts as sitting at the pool bar with boatloads of other tourists does not classify as an authentic Mexican experience. Like I said finding Sayulita is the easy part, wanting to leave is another story.

A Perfect Day in Roatán Island, Honduras

A Perfect Day in Roatán Island, Honduras

When you’re itching for the waves the only lotion is the ocean. Summer beacons for sandy white beaches and a warm sun. Arguably there are many famous beach destinations where one can work on their summer glow this season. As summer is closing to an end there is one top destination that you can’t let go out of reach just yet. Grab your carry on and enjoy a long weekend getaway on the beautiful island of Roatán, Honduras.

Roatán, is located between the islands of Útila and Guanaja, is the largest of Honduras’ Bay Islands. Roatán is known worldwide as a top scuba diving and cruise ship destination. The reef surrounding the island attracts beautiful tropical fish and thousands of tourists each year. People here can enjoy Roatáns relaxed lifestyle, beautiful sea, mild climate, and friendly people.

Two of the more popular areas on the island of Roatán are West End and West Bay. West End caters to a younger crowd, with parties almost every night. Hostels and local eateries will be found here. West Bay is the ritzier area with all-inclusive resort and cruise ships that arrive to the island almost daily. West Bay is the location for snorkeling and scuba diving heaven.

If you have a few days to spend here there are many activities of things to do, see and eat. Here are a few recommendations you can do with 3 days on the island:

A Perfect Day in Roatán Island, Honduras


Breakfast: Cafe Escondido (West End)

Highly recommended: Tank Filler breakfast( eggs, bacon, toast, avocado, and juice/coffee). They also have some amazing smoothies (the Nutty Monkey & Chocolate banana milkshake) and cinnamon rolls. Most tourists will go there to eat every day as its prices are affordable and the food is really worth it.

You can get some tasty lunch after snorkeling, like black beans and maduro (plantains) for less than $6 USD.

Dinner: The Lighthouse & C-Level Pizza & Rotisserie Chicken (West End)

The Lighthouse is one of the more pricey restaurants on West End. Dishes range from $20-45 USD but it is by far one of the best restaurants on the island. Highly recommended is the Coconut Chicken or the Thai Seafood bowl.

Order a large 16 in. pizza at C-Level as you can easily share this with two people. Be weary of adding Jalapeños to your pizza, they are very spicy!

There is no real name for this Rotisserie Chicken stand other than, ‘the chicken place’. It’s the only Rotisserie Chicken food stand on the main road in West End. They have some amazing creole style chicken. The locals tend to order the ½ pound chicken alone with potatoes, black beans, and some fresh sweet bread.

Desert: Sweet Cakes Shop & Ice Cream at the Laundry Mat (West End)

Highly recommended: Tres Leches cake at the Sweet Cakes Shop ($4 USD).

Arguably one of the best ice creams you can have is at a laundry mat on the main road in West End. Hang out on their patio or their swings and hammocks overlooking the Caribbean while getting your laundry done.


Snorkeling at West Bay

On the main road in West End, walk to the Maritime conservatory and rent some snorkeling gear for $5 USD. Then take a water taxi in front of West End Divers to West Bay for about $3 USD. Walk to the coral wall in front of the Grand Roatán hotel. Absolutely the most beautiful and affordable day you can spend snorkeling here!

Swim Up Bar (West Bay)

In West Bay there is a swim-up bar in the middle of the ocean. Swim there and you get a free complimentary shot. Oh, and you have to jump off the 4-meter high deck.

Karaoke at Blue Marlin Restaurant (West End)

On Thurs., Karaoke at the Blue Marlin is the place to be! Sing and dance the night away here. It’s an open area, so you get the breeze from the sea to help with the hot humid island weather.

Jack’s Cigar & Bar Shop (West Bay)

If you want more of a slower night and want to beat the karaoke crowd, you can always head over to Jack’s. The bartender makes some pretty delicious daiquiris. They also have a TV where you can catch you favorite sport matches from back home.

Yalikavak: A Haven on The Turquoise Coast

Yalikavak: A Haven on The Turquoise Coast

Palm trees, pretty flowerbeds, dainty white villas, narrow cobblestoned streets, outdoor markets bursting with colour and aromatic herbs, rustic stone work, quaint little restaurants along the shore, majestic wooden sailboats, crystal-clear water, deep-blue skies, blissful tranquility, hot sunshine and a gentle sea breeze. You’d be forgiven for not guessing that this is Turkey—a rare blend of picturesque beauty and low-key living that is surely one of the Mediterranean’s best-kept secrets.

Unlike most of coastal Spain, France, Italy and Greece, the Turkish Riviera has retained its authentic personality, with almost no high-rise apartment blocks, no boom-boxes belting out loud music, no hawkers and no commercial sell-out to invading British tourists and expats. Here, on the Bodrum peninsula, Turks still rule. Many speak only rudimentary English, if any at all, but their friendliness and warmth are a language everyone understands. You want rent car? No problem; I have friend help you.

The small picturesque village of Yalikavak, on the westernmost tip of the Bodrum peninsula, is a prime example of this untainted paradise. There is none of the frantic commercialism that you’d expect in such a beautiful coastal resort, and the haunting strains of the muezzin are a regular reminder that this is a country still firmly rooted in Muslim culture and traditions. Respect, friendship and a dedication to service seem high on the list of Turkish values.

Yalikavak: A Haven on The Turquoise Coast

It is impossible to wander along the promenade without making at least half a dozen friends – restaurant owners who love to chat, cook whatever you want, and help in any way they can. They work seven days a week, 12 hours a day and still have a smile, quick wit and a warm handshake – whether you eat at their restaurant or not.

Masters at multi-tasking, the Turks are natural entrepreneurs. Like many of the restaurant owners, Halil seems to use his restaurant as a base for a whole series of other businesses—selling marble to the construction industry, finding homes for tourists and expats, renting cars and even offering to bargain on your behalf if you want a good deal on some purchase.

Omer will lend you his car ‘for a special price’ and, man to man, will give you invaluable tips on how to dress and shave for a more macho effect. While his staff serves dinner, Hazik will give you an expert deep-tissue massage, regaling you with his seemingly endless repertoire of Turkish jokes. His favourite is the one about kissing a woman’s hand—a common greeting in Turkey: “Ask a Frenchman why the Turks do this and they will reply that it’s a mark of respect for women; ask an Englishman why they do it and they’ll say that it’s a quaint romantic form of flirting; but ask the Turks why they kiss a woman’s hand and they will say, ‘Well, you have to start somewhere.’”

Yalikavak: A Haven on The Turquoise Coast

The Turks seem to have a deep appreciation for the natural environment, holding fast to the traditional style of housing, with painstakingly crafted stone work and crazy paving. The hillsides are dotted with white villas, brilliant blasts of bougainvillea spilling off their balconies and trailing lazily along wooden balustrades. At night, the only sounds in the villages are cows mooing, owls hooting and dogs barking at a passing car.

Refreshing though it is, there is a downside to this unyielding Turkishness; westerners who are used to being able to buy whatever they want, wherever they go, will not feel so well catered-to here. Many specialty products—such as gluten-free foods, natural supplements, and organic produce—are unavailable in many parts of Turkey. A ferry trip to the neighbouring Greek islands of Kos and Samos can remedy this, while providing a sobering reminder of the relatively high cost of living in Euro-currency countries. Turkey, though a hot contender for membership to the European Union, remains this side of the divide, with its own currency—the Turkish lira (roughly equivalent to CAD$0.50)—keeping prices lower than in most other European countries.

While the inefficiency and red tape involved in getting a phone line installed would try the patience of a saint, the Turks are surprisingly sophisticated in certain domains. In health care, for example, they leave other countries in the dust; most medications can be purchased for under TL10 (about CAD$4.50), and laboratory test results are delivered to you within 10 or 20 minutes—for a fraction of the price you’d pay in North America or other parts of Europe. If you need to get some bottled water or a gas tank delivered, you can expect it within 10 minutes of placing your order by phone. And if you’re worried about mosquitoes pestering you on hot, sweaty nights, you can relax in the knowledge that the local authorities regularly spray the area to keep the pesky whiners to a minimum.

Have you ever tried a solo travel?

Have you ever tried a solo travel?

I’ve said it a hundred times and I’ll say it again: traveling is the best education a girl can get. Period.

Traveling has taught me more in eight months than I ever learned in my twenty-three years of schooling. It was truly a crash course experience, for which I dived in head first with little to no preparation. I thought I was ready to take on the world after leaving my corporate job and packing away everything- including the coveted diploma that never did make it up on the wall.

I’m college educated and professionally experienced, but what did that actually teach me about the world we live in? How much did all of that prepare me for what I would experience while traveling to fifteen different countries the last eight months? Truthfully, not nearly enough. And even more truthfully, I don’t think anything could.

The Western World I grew up in prepares you to be a contributor- not a free thinking traveler. Myself, along with millions of others, were and are encouraged to finish school, get a degree and start working early. Work hard, save money and settle into a relationship with someone that will marry you “while you’re still of age.” That’s the plan society feeds us- and I bought into it until a year ago. I was knee deep into that plan until I realized I wanted more.

Have you ever tried a solo travel?

I wanted what I could only learn from breaking the mold I had created to fit into society. I wanted a world education and a global perspective. I wanted to understand our planet in all of its massiveness and its diverse people. Something told me that through doing this I would be learning more about myself, too- and what an understatement that was.

So many things I never could have known about the world, and myself, all unraveled as I kept traveling. To go out into the world and experience other cultures and foreign places, you need courage and open mindedness – something that is hard to teach and even more difficult to learn. You need patience and self-awareness.

You may think you know yourself…until you’re on a 36-hour journey through 3 countries with 4 flights, 2 trains and buses…just wait. You learn just how adaptable you are- or aren’t. Your inner dialogue displaying how you really feel about different cultures and uncomfortable situations. That’s when things get interesting.

Being that there is no other way to survive while traveling other than to grow and adapt, you are quickly forced into a crash course. Adapt or go home. It’s that simple.

Luckily, I caught onto this quickly. I learned how to move around and how to interact with all different kinds of people. I learned how to find peace in the unknown. I accepted that the more I thought I knew, the less I actually did. I learned to laugh instead of cry. And getting lost (something that I used to loath) became my favorite hobby.

Traveling forced me to grow thicker skin and to trust myself. The voice of my instincts became louder and louder, eventually making such internal noise I was unable to ignore them. I am now ruled by what I call my “internal compass,” and no longer by the expectations of the society around me.

I learned to appreciate the world and its diversity. Each culture so different from the next, giving me new insight into a place I used to only dream of or see in the movies.

Life became less about doing and more about being. Each day a new experience or adventure. Forever changed and forever grateful- I am now a big believer that everyone should travel solo at least once in their life. It’s going to teach you more than any Bachelors degree or certification, and (BONUS) it’s a lot cheaper.

Travel solo because you owe it yourself and the people you love. To go away and learn about life, and about yourself, is priceless and makes you a better version of yourself. Traveling will teach you how to be in a healthy relationship with yourself so that you can be in one with a partner later. And that is NOT something you will ever learn in school.

Travel, grow, live and love.

Kinsale: Colourful town by the bay in Ireland

Kinsale: Colourful town by the bay in Ireland

Have you ever been somewhere so charming, that the minute you arrived you knew that a little piece of you would be left there upon your departure? For me, that place was Kinsale, Ireland.

I backpacked across Ireland for three weeks a couple summers ago and of all the towns and cities that I visited while there, Kinsale was by far the most captivating.

Kinsale is a happy little fishing village along the coastline of the County Cork. The first thing I noticed upon arriving in the village was the picturesque view of the numerous boats and yachts sitting out over the water, and the bright, colourful buildings in every direction.

The narrow, winding streets provide endless shops, restaurants and lively pubs to be explored. With earthy green gift shops and deep blue eateries, every one of the buildings is painted a unique colour. I recall talking to my taxi driver about the many colours of the buildings and he said even the homes are painted this way, his was painted a bright yellow.

The engrossing atmosphere and friendly locals make it the perfect town to explore for the day, or even two. I was shocked to find out that the town also has a surprisingly vibrant nightlife. With the streets so quiet and peaceful during the day, that if a pin were to drop, I swear you’d hear it streets away, I didn’t expect it.

Kinsale: Colourful town by the bay in Ireland

There’s no question, the laid-back people of Ireland love to unwind and chat with close friends once the day is up, and Kinsale is no exception. The many pubs came to life after sunset with live traditional folk music and Guinness on tap, of course.

Another reason many travellers make it out to Kinsale is for the food. The village is self-styled as the gourmet capital of Ireland and has a wide variety of gourmet restaurants for such a little village. It’s a seafood lover’s heaven, and it certainly satisfied my inner foodie.

The place feels like a hidden gem, as its harbour is bordered in and seems almost protected from the chaos of the outside world by a 17th century fortress. Charles Fort is located across the bay, only a short drive from the village, and James Fort is located on the other side of the harbour. These historic forts can be spotted from the village. Their lush green pastures and preserved stone fortresses make for a breathtaking view.

I know it won’t be long before I return to Kinsale, even if only to get that little piece of me left there.