These are some of my travel experiences from 2003 until present day. I have picked several amazing experiences and I hope they inspire you to plan your next journey!
The year was 2003. I had traveled to a few countries at the time, but nothing all that adventuresome. Then, I got a call from an old friend saying "I'm getting married...in Australia" Could I come? Of course my answer was yes!!! So, I started planning. I wasn't going to fly all the way to Australia and only stay for a few days, so after begging and pleading with my boss I was able to take 5 weeks off from work. The world was my oyster or so the saying goes. I researched Tahiti, but decided that was a little too romantic of a location for a single woman on an independent trip. Next I looked into the Cook Islands--sounded wonderful. Next a stop in Fiji...then New Zealand and finally the wedding in Sydney, Australia. I learned a lot about planning travel...and traveling....on this journey.
My time in the Cook Islands was spent on the beach, in the hills hiking and eating lots of local food. One day as I was returning from a hike I saw a sign for an animal rescue. I have always been an animal lover so I peeked my head in to learn what I could do to help. I was able to spend time with some dogs and give a donation to help keep the operation running. This was my first lesson--travel opens doors to opportunities. Opportunities to help as well as opportunities to learn.
After a week or so, I moved on to Fiji. I was trying to get off the beaten path and succeeded. I enjoyed great conversations with a local family and enjoyed seeing rarely visited parks. However, I learned that off the beaten path is often shorthand for have to take 5 buses and a taxi to get where you are going. I felt like I was always traveling and not really in a good way. This lesson has helped me plan my time more wisely.
Next was New Zealand. I decided on the way to Christchurch from Fiji that I wanted to add a flight and explore another area of the country. The spontaneity paid off by me having a really fun experience at Cadbury World...a chocolate factory tour. This is not something I would normally do on my travels, but in the moment is sounded like the best idea in the world. New Zealand offered my a safe place to be spontaneous and I was rewarded in many other ways. One more example was instead of the typical experience of a cruise on Milford Sound (often crowded), I could learn from other travels that the nearby Doubtful Sound was so much less crowded and less touristy. This was my first chance to kayak in the ocean. Everything was so peaceful and still and I will hold this memory forever.
I like traveling by myself...even now that I'm married, but I can tell you I was so happy to see people I knew when I got to Sydney. Meeting new people is great, but sometimes you want the comfort of the known when traveling. I didn't have to plan everything--I could tag along with others to Bondi beach or for a tour of the Opera House. That took the weight off my shoulders. Of course my friends (Jeff and Liv) had a beautiful wedding ceremony and I'm glad I took the time to enjoy my journey getting there.
I already loved to travel, but I think this is when I was officially bitten by the travel bug and have been exploring often ever since.
My husband and I like to do different things when we travel. Sometimes we travel together and sometimes we travel apart. Costa Rica was a great place for us to travel together since there was so much to do that both of us enjoy. He was able to go scuba diving in the morning and be back in time for us to have a late lunch together. I was not yet very comfortable driving or taking a taxi alone for long distances, so I booked half-day trips with the hotel (this trip was in 2005). I enjoyed a boat ride near the rainforest and saw monkeys, crocodiles, and hundreds of birds and enjoyed a wonderful beach-side massage. We decided to spend one full day together and weighed our options. We decided it was worth the expense to hire a driver to take us to several places. Our day ended up being close to 14 hours long, but we saw the Monteverde Cloud Forest (and went on the...at the time...highest zip line), several beautiful lakes and ended the day at the Arenal volcano. We soaked in the thermal springs and had a wonderful dinner before we were driven several hours back to our hotel at the beach. It was such a memorable day! What started off as a package tour of hotel and airfare really turned into a very individualized trip. We saw the options available and were able to tailor our stay to meet our sometimes diverse needs.
In my previous post, I mentioned that sometimes my husband and I travel separately. While he was enjoying scuba diving on board a live aboard in the Galapagos Islands, I was exploring Beijing, China. The lesson learned even before leaving for this trip was jump on deals when they become available. We were living in Maryland at the time and there was a new non-stop flight going from Dulles to Beijing. The airline was offering introductory fares (this was 2006). I saw them posted somewhere I can't even remember--a travel newsletter or something--and all of a sudden I had visions of the Great Wall dancing in my brain. Something ridiculous like 3 weeks later, I was in Beijing. I used a visa expeditor to get me a Chinese visa quickly (well worth the cost) and off I went. I only had 8 days in China so I decided to stay only in Beijing, but split my time between a large, chain hotel and a smaller, more authentic, guest house in a hutong. Hutong refers to the old alleyways. This made me feel like I had switched cities and gave me a different perspective. I saw all of the famous sites, such as Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. I also roamed the city parks and learned to ride the subway. I learned the hard way that vegetarian food is not always readily available in China. Based on the Chinese restaurants in the States, I figured Happy Buddha or something similar would be on every menu. Not so. I got creative, I started looking at less touristy temples and found a wonderful all-you-can eat vegetarian restaurant near a Confucian temple. It was about 20 minutes away from my hotel by subway, but I was a frequent visitor.
I often notice that my inhibitions are lowered when I travel. I don't mean in a partying sense--I mean I give the world the benefit of the doubt when I travel. Everyone is good and I trust people. This memory from my trip to the Great Wall could have turned out horribly, but it didn't, and because I took a risk and believed everything would work out. I knew I wanted to go to a not as visited section of the Wall (Mutianyu). There was one organized travel group that went there, but based on the itinerary, just as much time would be spent "shopping for jade" as it was seeing the Wall. Not my thing. So, Mandarin phrase book in hand (English was generally not spoken by taxi drivers), I hailed a cab and proceeded to tell him where I wanted to go. Simple enough, right? Well, we agreed on a price and we were off. He was chatting quite a bit on his cell phone, but this was not very unusual. After an hour or so, he pulls off to the side of the road. I'm thinking...oh, this can't be good, but I stayed calm as the phrase book doesn't exactly specialize in phrases like "please don't hurt me" or "please don't leave me on the side of the road". A moment later another guy gets in and starts driving. I quickly look to get the phrases again for as you taking me to Mutianyu. I get a round of friendly head shakes yes. At this point, I decide staying in the car is better than jumping out :) I was calm and my gut told me all was well. Fortunately, all turned out well. I got to spend several uninterrupted hours at the Wall and the taxi driver was still there waiting when I returned. He took me to one or two other places I wanted to visit and then back to Beijing. So much better than hours shopping for jade. A little scarier, but all in all well worth it for me.
Tracey is the owner of Unraveled Travel and has traveled to every continent except Antarctica.