Tag Archives: Travel Advice

A Break in Samanà

It is cold in Toronto at the moment. Understand, though, that when I say cold, I don’t mean the stick-your-hand-in-the-fridge cold. I’m talking -30 degrees Celsius, boogers freezing to the inside of your nose, the air hurts your face kind of cold. For my American friends, -30 degrees Celsius is about -22 Fahrenheit. Stupid, terrible, f*ck-my-life cold.

But lucky for me, I was able to travel away from it for a while. After my huge backpacking trip to South Africa and Europe last Spring, it wasn’t long before I had my sights on my next destination. Given that last winter was brutal with this polar vortex nonsense, I knew that I wouldn’t survive another winter without being able to break away for a bit. I knew I needed to get away in mid-February and I needed to go somewhere HOT! So three friends and I booked our trip back in October and my backpack has been anxiously awaiting sun since.

Bahia Principe Cayacoa in Samanà, Dominican Republic.

Bahia Principe Cayacoa in Samanà, Dominican Republic.

Now, I’m not someone who normally enjoys the all-inclusive resort travel style. I like more intimate settings, accommodation that brings me closer to the culture and the people of a place. It’s nothing against the all-inclusive (who can say no to unlimited Piña Colada?), but I just prefer to immerse myself in a new place and make my experience as authentic as possible.

However, this all-inclusive at the Bahia Principe Cayacoa was exactly what I needed. My photos don’t do the resort much justice, but it was a medium-sized resort complete with three pools, bars, restaurants, and most importantly, a gorgeous beach!

Besides the endless days in the sun catching up on my reading and recharging my creative juices for a final 15,000 words on my work-in-progress, what really made this trip was the excursions.

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Our first excursion wasn’t much of an excursion at all since it was technically attached to the resort, though not owned by it. Three islands jut out from the beach at the resort (which I believe is called Los Cayos, but I’m not sure) and they are connected to the beach by bridges. It looked like the city of Samanà may have tried to build recreational buildings on the islands, but they have since fallen into disrepair, and it’s awesome. They are covered in graffiti and it gives the islands an almost post-apocalyptic feel as the jungle reclaims the structures and the fauna incorporates the stone into its growth. Considering my obsession with the jungle and with a post-human Earth, our mini-excursion-but-not-an-excursion led to a cool discussion about art and humanity.

I love jungles!

I love jungles!

I don’t yet have photos of our next excursion yet, but I’m hoping I will soon and then I’ll make a separate post about it. So, for now, I’ll just say that I went scuba diving! TWICE! It was terrifying and exhilarating and fantastic all at the same time. I have a fear of both heights and of depths, but despite this, I don’t allow my fears of stopping me from trying new things, especially when I know I’ll regret not trying something. So, in line with sitting on Leopard’s Rock  over Oribi Gorge in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa last May to counter my fear of heights, I decided that scuba diving would be an awesome way to face my fear of depths.

The first time we went, we didn’t see many fish because the ocean was choppy and our guide wasn’t able to bring us to the spot he intended. However, seeing the bottom of the ocean is something surreal and magical, so when he came to us again the next day and offered to take us to a shipwreck, we couldn’t refuse. It was amazing. I know words aren’t doing much for you right now, but once I get the photos and videos from my travelling companion’s GoPro, I will write a separate post. What I will say though is that scuba diving is a strange kind of peaceful, and as unnatural as breathing underwater is, the ocean floor is serene and calming. I can’t wait to do it again!

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Our last excursion of the trip was to El Limòn, a waterfall deep in the jungle. For me, this was the most anticipated part of the trip, but it ended up actually being the most disappointing — as the most anticipated things generally are! I adored the waterfall and the chance to get to it by horseback, but the amount of tourists made the experience a little unenjoyable and chaotic (yes, I know: I’m part of the problem!) But the number of tourists was only eclipsed the number of locals. Don’t get me wrong, I love meeting locals when I travel: it’s a cool way to enrich experiences and learn about other cultures. But no, I don’t want a parrot on my shoulder. No, I don’t want to buy anything. No, I don’t need you to hold my bag for me or take twelve photos of me with your fancy camera or give me a toy iguana. Frankly, it was annoying and took away from the serenity and tranquility I wanted to feel when I visited. I didn’t even feel like going swimming and that was the ONE thing I wanted to do there. Oh well, there will be more waterfalls to swim in, I guess.

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All in all, the trip was spectacular. It was a much needed break from the cold and from work, and I think it gave me just enough time to relax before I finish this WIP. The only issue now is that I want to travel again! Maybe this summer? Iceland? Turkey? Maybe a road trip to Calgary and the West Coast? Why not it all? I’ll take a hiatus from life and travel the entire world.

If only, right?

Stay warm!

Top 5 Lesser-Known Places You NEED to Backpack!

I haven’t done a travel post in a while and I’m not going to lie, the travel bug is biting again. So, while I’m planning my next backpacking trip, I’ve also found myself looking through photos and reading my travel journal and it’s making me pretty damn nostalgic. In doing so, I’ve realized that a lot of my favourite places have been the ones that not a lot of people have been to, let alone know about.

Here’s my top 5 lesser-known places that you need to visit RIGHT NOW!

5. Sint Maarten / Saint Martin

I went to Sint Maarten with my family when I was in my first year of university. To be honest, I had never heard of it before. In Canada, when we think Caribbean vacation, we generally stick to Cuba, Jamaica, Mexico or the Dominican Republic.

After going to Sint Maarten, I’m kind of glad we decided not to go to any of those places. While we were there, we didn’t stay in a resort — we rented a villa. Normally that would be considered risky, but the island is extremely safe. We even walked around at night in the city, without once being stopped. On top of that, the island is beautiful and relatively unspoiled by the resort vacation culture. I’ve never been a fan of resorts, so I was so excited to be able to experience the island like a local. And it’s an awesome thing too! We got to tour the old colonial Dutch and French forts in our own rented car!

Also, Maho Beach is definitely one of the oddest yet most exhilarating experiences the island has to offer. The beach is located behind the Princess Juliana International Airport and is known for the aircraft that fly in close proximity to the beach and beach-goers.

The photo below is not photoshopped.

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4. Durban and KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa

Never before in my life had I thought I’d be able to see and swim in the Indian Ocean. Well, on my trip to South Africa, I got to do it! And it was amazing. To be honest, I didn’t do much when I was in Durban, but I didn’t need to. I spent a great, lazy day lounging on the beach and stayed in a very affordable hotel that overlooked the ocean. The weather was hot and the beach was vacant when we went in May as it was the southern hemisphere’s autumn. The locals thought 25 degrees Celsius was chilly… Whaa?

Also, the Oribi Gorge is just an hour drive from Durban and it offers stunning views of KwaZulu-Natal and this terrifying, epic opportunity to sit on Leopard’s Rock.

3. Luxembourg City, Luxembourg

Inside the Bock Casemates!

Inside the Bock Casemates!

I’ve been to Paris and I loved it. And then I went to Luxembourg City. To me, Luxembourg has the same feel as Paris, except it has half the tourists. Its cobblestone centre is romantic and historic, and Luxembourg itself has a rich history of struggle and triumph. Furthermore, the city is built on a beautiful landscape of gorges that offers stunning views of the city and the Bock Casemates. The Casemates are a network of caves that once served as the city’s defense against its multiple invaders. For around 10 euros, you can explore them all on your own!

All in all, Luxembourg City is a little expensive, but if you’re looking for a romantic getaway and you’re tired of the crowds of Paris, definitely give it a try.

2. Piran, Slovenia

If you’re looking for somewhere semi-remote on the Mediterranean, then Piran is the place to go. Piran was once part of the Roman Empire and its car-free centre has narrow passageways that are very similar to Venice. The best part? It is inexpensive and relatively tourist-free! If you can handle going a little out of your way to get there (it took us two lengthy bus rides from Ljubljana and almost getting lost on the way back), then this is a great place to sail on the Mediterranean, enjoy amazing sunsets, and wander the narrow streets of the city centre. We spent an entire day exploring and swimming, and my only regret was that I didn’t stay there longer!

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1. Cape Town, South Africa

It’s funny, people always talk about how beautiful Cape Town is, but to be honest, I’ve met very few people who ACTUALLY have been there. I understand it is a little out of the way for the average North American backpacker, but seriously, it is worth the flight(s) and possible lay-over.

When I landed in Cape Town, I had one thought: beautiful. And I’d been backpacking through South Africa for a full week and a half previously. Seriously, the landscape is amazing. We spent a lot of time driving around and the only negative I can think of was that we didn’t have enough time to stop and get out of the car at every single gorgeous view. On top of that, Cape Town is home to a penguin colony at Betty’s Bay and there are various opportunities to go shark cage diving, two things that made my time in Cape Town unforgettable.

And the weather is perfect. Your average South African finds 22 degrees Celsius chilly on an autumn day, but I invite them to visit Canada in October.

This view, doe.

This view, doe.

10 Tips for Backpacking the World

Over my 40 day backpacking trip through South Africa and Europe, it’s safe to say I learned a lot. In fact, you can read about the major lessons I learned here. For this post though, I think I’ll touch on something more practical. This is for all the prospective backpackers or the ones who have just booked their adventure and are itching to go.

View of the Adriatic from Piran, Slovenia!

View of the Adriatic from Piran, Slovenia!

10. Book Early

I’m not a last minute person. If you are, that’s completely okay. However, if you already have a target destination, book as soon as you can. Waiting only drives up flight and accommodation prices. Example: I paid $1300 Canadian dollars for my round-trip flight to South Africa while booking 6 months in advance. If I had waited until the month before, I would have paid $2500.

9. Pack Duct Tape

Seriously. It fixes everything. And when your shampoo leaks all over your stuff from being knocked about while walking, flying, or catching a train, it is a life-saver.

8. Leave a Copy of your Documents at Home

My partner and I almost had a panic situation in South Africa when we thought we lost very important documents that would hinder our return home. Though we found them, it could have been disastrous and seriously put a damper on our trip. Make copies of your passport, travel insurance and other important documents and leave them at home. That way, should disaster strike, you can get someone to scan them to an embassy to save your behind.

7. Slow Down

I made the mistake of jam-packing my 40 days. I rarely stayed in a location longer than 3 nights. What I discovered though that this made for very hard travelling. I became very tired very quickly and found I was not quite processing everything. I found I wasn’t enjoying it as much as I wanted to, and all the moving around made it feel like a chore.

Do you see the exhaustion?

Do you see the exhaustion?

So, slow down. Relax your schedule. Take a day or two to just do nothing. In fact, you’ll need to just do nothing every once in a while, especially with long-term travel.

6. Don’t get too Photo-Happy

Photos are fine. Travelling behind your camera lens is not. Enjoy it, because living vicariously through your photos when you get home isn’t half as fun.

5. Check Visa and Travel Restrictions

This could seriously save you time and headaches. Find out all you can about entry into the countries that you would like to visit. Does your passport allow you to travel there? Do you need a visa? Some visa processes take MONTHS to complete.

4. Bring a Travel Journal

As a writer, this was a must for me. I wrote down everything I did and everything I felt. I also used it as a muse for long train and airplane rides. When I got home, I was surprised at the material I had written. It now serves as a great memory keepsake AND as inspiration for my writing.

3. Say “Yes”

Some of the best experiences I had were the times when I had no plan and I just went with the opportunities that presented themselves to me. That’s how I stayed with a host family in Cape Town instead of some dodgy hotel. That’s how I climbed the Alps in Austria.

I got to climb these! Okay, maybe not this one, but one of them!

I got to climb these! Okay, maybe not this one, but one of them!

Be safe, of course. If your gut says no, then pass. Be careful to avoid scams, but if it seems safe enough, what’s the harm? It could end up being the best moment of your trip.

2. Be a Minimalist Packer

There are probably a billion websites and videos and blogs telling you what you should and should not pack. My advice to you? Pack the essentials. No, you don’t need every article of clothing you own and the kitchen sink. I thought I did when I left, but trust me, I was wrong. All the things I thought could be useful or maybe I’d need, I never. even. touched.

Leave that at home. It’ll only weigh you down. And when you’re lugging your backpack through city streets, lost and just wanting to find your accommodation, you’ll thank me. Besides, if there’s anything you don’t have and you absolutely need, the reach of global capitalism has you covered.

1. Just Go… NOW!

What are you waiting for? Seriously. The longer you delay, the less likely it is to happen. There will be no perfect opportunity. No one will hand you a flight ticket and get your life in order for you. If you want to travel, the time is NOW. Everything else will work itself out. Trust me.

Here's a picture of a penguin I took in Betty's Bay, South Africa. How can you say no to travelling with a face like that?

Here’s a picture of a penguin I took in Betty’s Bay, South Africa. How can you say no to travelling with a face like that?

Where are you travelling to next?