Travel reading list…

I’m looking for books to download, bring or read while I’m travelling.Travelling solo will provide me with a lot of alone time and I enjoy a good afternoon break to either nap or quietly read a book on a balcony or terrace. I’d like a good combination of short novels, graphic novels, self-reflection/philosophy and satire.

I’m going to keep this as an ongoing list so please send any suggestions my way!

1.) The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt
2.) The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Anne Shaffer & Annie Barrows
3.)..

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Cruising

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Wide open seas

Cruises! Whether you think they’re for drunken yahoos or senior citizens, I’m here to tell you you’re wrong. I was just as prejudice as most people when it comes to cruises but as a lover of travel when I was offered a trip on a cruise from my Mum as part of my University graduation present who was I to turn it down?

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Small but well laid out rooms

Truthfully I was worried. I am claustrophobic and the thought of being crammed on a boat in a tiny room without windows was enough to make me nervous. Also with travel, I love getting out and seeing things, how fun would it be walking around in a floating shopping mall for a week? But again a nice Caribbean cruise was too much to pass up. A quick flight down to Miami and we jumped aboard. 7 days of sun and fun.

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Artificial boulevards?

Yes there were some aspects of cruising that aren’t ideal. Being limited to what’s available on the ship when at sea can get boring. It’s a bit like a big chain hotel or resort. Everything is cookie cutter but that also means you always know to expect a certain quality and service – there’s no guessing about it. Also depending on the ship, there can be a wide range of amenities. Rock walls, ice skating, wave machines, gyms/spas multiple restaurants, cafes and play areas for kids. Plus the food (although standardized) is excellent and fine dining quality.

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Not too shabby

What I failed to take into account before I had gone on a cruise is that it’s so convenient getting from one place to the next. Yes longer then a flight or a train but during transit it’s a vacation in itself. Days in port are filled with sightseeing, adventures, local culture and food. Evenings and days at sea are filled with sunshine by the pool, drinking and eating good food and kicking back and lounging. Also although the cabins were small on space I was lucky enough to have a suite with a private balcony which honestly made all the difference in the world. I don’t think I would have had the same positive experience with an internal or windowless room.

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Tailor the experience you want

Excursions can be expensive if going with ones provided by the cruise company. Independent travellers can take it upon themselves to make their own itinerary for much less cost. A day isn’t long time to visit a city and really explore but the upside of cruising is it can give you a short window into a handful of cities in a short amount of time. You can get a feel for a place and then decide if you’d like to go back and have a more in depth trip in the future.

Since my first cruise I have been on a second. A belated honeymoon with my husband who isn’t the best traveler. It was a great experience. I knew I wanted to visit Europe and hit up many cities. He wanted to kick back and not spend our whole trip toughing it out on trains and planes. A Mediterranean cruise was the perfect compromise and we had a lovely time. I planned out our time carefully. With less than a month we started out with a week in London England to visit family and friends. Getting on the ship we were able to port in: Vigo Spain, Lisbon Portgal, Gibralter UK, Cagliari, Rome and Florence in Italy, Nice and Cannes in France and ending in Barcelona. We loved ending in Barcelona and booked a nice apartment for our week stay there.

What a whirlwind but it really suited the type of trip we were after and combined our travelling styles while meeting in the middle and we both got the experience we wanted out of it.

Have you even been on a cruise? If so did you have preconceived notions of what it was like? Would love to hear your experiences in the comments!

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Travelling amongst political instability

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Rioting during the G20 Summit in Toronto June 2010

Now I can honestly say I have no experience with the title of this post. The most politically unstable situation I’ve been in was the 2010 G20 Summit right here in my hometown of Toronto. This topic popped into my head because of my plans to travel to Thailand. Listening to the news and catching up on current events over the last few months I read all  about the government instability and corruption, protesting and public outcries in the face of marshal law. Without being on the ground in Bangkok I can’t very well make a call on public safety. Yet everything I’ve been seeing, reading and hearing has been fairly tame for the circumstances.

Tahrir Square, Cairo Egypt, June 2013

I think back only to Egypt in 2011 and following the overthrowing of Hosni Mubarak to see the violence, chaos and intensity that is caused in a country during revolution. To see photos from Thailand and it’s military posing with tourists and yes the curfew is worrisome but the day to day dangers aren’t causing me stress.

I remember a time when I was back in University. I thought I was young the world was ahead of me and I wanted to travel. I started planning and researching a trip I wanted to take to Venezuela. The country has always appealed to me. Caracas, Maricaibo and Angel Falls, seemed like just what I needed!

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In 2014 Venezuela is still unstable..

Unfortunately it was 2004 and Hugo Chavez was being recalled in an election. Stories of protests and military killings and general political unrest ran rampant. At first I thought, that wouldn’t happen in major tourist areas. I’m sure I’ll be safe as long as I avoid anything sketchy. But the more I read reviews from citizens and tourists I got spooked and when I saw that Canada had a travel warning in place I nixed the idea all together.

This set me back in my travel goals immensely and as I look back I think if I had’ve gone anyways it might have changed me at a pivotal time in my life. I could be a completely different person with a totally different life then I have now. We’ll never know what could have been but next time I think I’d rather be sorry then safe :/

I’d love to hear from anyone who had travelled among political unrest, how it effected you and what you learned!

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Documenting vs. Experiencing

There are two sides to the coin.

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Heads – be present in the moment, focus on the experiences as you have them and get the most fulfilment out of it for a holistic experience. Letting go, taking a deep breath and being aware of everything around you. Immediate satisfaction and deeper level of enjoyment.

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Tails – Enjoy the experience by documenting it through photos and videos. You might not be fully present and immersed in the experience but you can savour the memories for years to come with all the photos/videos you capture. Longterm gain.

Where do you stand?

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Upcoming Itinerary

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So many places to go!

When I tried to narrow down where I wanted to travel I had a really difficult time. In reality I want to travel most places. My first thought – South America, but I wanted to branch out from a latin-based countries. I’ve visited Europe before. Africa – I have always wanted to visit Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa – I could go on a safari! But it’s a large continent to tackle and flights not the most affordable. Russia doesn’t really appeal and Australia is too much like Canada. I was left with Asia, I looked at the climate and the type of vacation I wanted. Not too urban, room for adventure and around nature but not remote and inexpensive for travellers. Well backpackers do well in Southeast Asia, so I made a list of countries I wanted to visit:

Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Burma, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines – yep all of them. I could spend a couple days in each and make it work yay! Oh how naive.

Thankfully booking so far in advance I had more then enough time to work out an itinerary. As I mapped out how I planned to visit 8 countries (and many more cities) in 6 weeks I slowly started to see that would mean spending nearly 20% of my trip in transit and not enjoying the places I visited getting only 3-4 days in each country (sometimes only a day in each city?!)

I had to cut it down through a process of elimination. I started cutting countries and as I did I noticed some I was ok with, others I was genuinely disappointed. That gave me a good barometer to gauge where my travel bug was leading me. Initially I paired it down to Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Indonesia. Burma, Malaysia and the Philippines would just have to wait until next time. I rejigged my itinerary.

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Narrowing it down

Still with 6 weeks and 5 countries (including travel days) it was less than a week in each country and many of the countries I had multiple cities I wanted to visit so it still felt cramped. Now was the time for some hard and fast decision making if I wanted to have the type of experience I was looking for.

I listed the cities I wanted to visit most and activities I wanted to do. Once it was all laid out it became clear. I couldn’t do what I wanted in 6 weeks. Best I could do was push it to 8 weeks and organize a flow to minimize distances travelled between cities. I narrowed it down to my top 5. Each place has something distinct to offer, a different vibe or challenge. If I cut anyone of these out of my itinerary I would be so upset and regretful and that’s what won out in the end.

I think as an intro trip this will give me a taste of what I’m looking for and will leave me with the flexibility to veer off this path and explore if I’m inclined.

My plan so far:

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1.) Start in Kata Beach Phuket Thailand where I can sleep off my jet lag (which I get fiercely) wander around the beach town which is busy but not crowded, once I get over the hump I can do speedboats and snorkelling and visit Phang Nga Bay. Rent a scooter and visit old Phuket Town, Wat Chalong and the Big Buddha.

2.) Head from the hot beach to the tempered mountains of Chiang Mai Thailand. Visit with Elephants and Tigers before taking a motorcycle tour through the province visiting hill tribes, plantations and many many temples. Then visit a night market and take a cooking class before moving on.

3.) Bangkok Thailand is hustle and bustle. So much to see and do, with the current government instability I’m leaving Bangkok up to chance.

4.) Off to Siem Reap Cambodia where I’ll hopefully get to spend my birthday watching the sunrise over Angkor Wat and days exploring the whole complex by quad bike. Cambodia is ripe with a lot of community work and I’m hoping to get a feel for the country from it’s people. If the mood strikes I can always visit Phnom Penh not far away.

5.) Heading from Cambodia my last leg will be in Bali Indonesia. Cliche I know but it’s new to me and has so many things that appeal. Most likely setting up in Ubud checking out the local artists and weavers, doing motorcycle tours of the whole island from the rice patties to the temples. I’ll be avoiding the club scene in Kuta and instead observing the Balinese holiday of Nyepi the “Day of Silence” and soaking up local festivals and culture.

On my way home I also managed to book a flight with a day long layover in Tokyo. It’s going to be culture shock after two months but I don’t know the next time I’ll be able to travel like this and I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity even for a few hours to get a crash course in this amazing city.

So although I know many things about this will change on the fly, and planning a trip like this has been a totally new experience for me, I’m happy to finally feel like I have a realistic itinerary.

Have you travelled to any of these locations? I’ve love to hear any tips or recommendations you have!

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The decision to travel solo

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Solo – get it?

The idea of solo travel isn’t for everyone. Is it for me? I’m not sure yet but I’m going to give it a go. My decision to travel solo came about a couple of different ways.

Firstly my partner has totally different preferences when it comes to travel. One namely that travel isn’t really for him. Me? I’ve dreamt of travelling the world since I was 6 years old reading National Geographic magazines. I’m a visual person and I want to see the whole world up close before I die.

So much of the world is changing, growing and urbanizing. I see it even in the city I live in. The Toronto of 2014 is such a different landscape than the Toronto of 2002 when I first moved here and even more so from Toronto’s past.

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Toronto Skyline 1930 v. 2014

All around the world it feels like progress has sped up. With technology advancing as quickly as it is so many rural and remote areas are being brought into the global community which is causing significant changes in such a short period of time. I don’t want to miss these fleeting moments and snapshots of places that, for some of them, will soon be lost forever.

All that to say, not everyone feels that pull like I do. Yes some of the places I am set to travel have been travelled by millions before me. Look up travel blogs and what you’ll see is “Oh Southeast Asia? Yea that’s so over” As if any value in it is trumped by other new trendy locations. But it’s new to me, it’s farther and more different then anywhere I have ever been and it’s exciting whether it’s currently trendy or not. I want to experience it and if no one else is on board with me, I’ll forge on alone.

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Cue cheesy Pinterest quote!

Secondly I’m at a point in my life where I am not really into making too many compromises. Getting married relatively early in life the biggest lessons you learn is about compromise and how the decisions you make are never just your own. Bullocks to that. I want to be free to make selfish decisions without anyone relying on me for their happiness or enjoyment. This view on traveling became clear to me over the past few years on our family vacations. With 6 adults there is always a pull and compromise to go with whatever the group wants, when I was usually the odd one out with my preferences being a little more off the beaten track. My family was great about compromising so I was able to do some of what I wanted as well and it pushed them out of their comfort zone a little but in the end it’s never the full experience it could have been. I’m not working three jobs, saving every cent I have, travelling to the other side of the globe to compromise on the experience that I want and I’m ok with that meaning I’ll be doing it alone.

Thirdly, I’ve been struggling with the idea of independence. In the pass few years I’ve really thought I’ve been growing into my independence but if I’m honest it’s total BS. Ever listen to the lyric to Common People by Pulp? It’s kinda like that. I come from a life of privilege and part of that is that I’ve always had a safety net. Now I’ve always been very prideful in not accepting help, support or assistance and wanting to stand on my own two feet (sometimes to my detriment) but there is always the idea that I could rely on it if I needed. I have a support system if I fall.

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Me, myself and I

This trip will be my first experience on my own. Hell, I’ve never been apart from my spouse for longer then 10 days in the near 15 years we’ve been together. Although there will be monetary support from afar if I really need it in an emergency, I am essentially there to completely take care of myself for two months. The more I think about it the more scary it seems but I need to be confident that I am capable in the real world and I think being able to prove that to myself over this time really will boost my self-esteem to a place it’s never been.

I love to read sites/blogs from other solo travellers, so if that’s you or you have a great recommendation please post it in the comment! 

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While I’m at it…

While I’m taking on tackling my travel dreams I thought I’d cross another off my list. I have wanted to learn to ride a motorcycle for a decade now. I don’t really know anyone who rides or when the idea popped into my head. What surprises me even more is having a pretty nasty history with car accidents (not my fault!) that I would even be interested in something so risky.

Shortly after a traumatic car accident while I was in high school, my (now) brother-in-law was in one as well. He rode a motorcycle back when we were in high school. He used to love working on cars, bikes etc. In the same intersection that I was hit in, he was hit as well within the same year. He was riding his motorcycle with his backpack on. His backpack contained a car battery. Cue your internal groaning. Yes, he was hit on his motorcycle, thrown from the bike and landed backwards. He was lucky the car battery only broke his ribs and not his back.

My (now) mother-in-law made me promise I’d never ride a bike. In the moment of course I said yes. It seemed like a crazy idea. As the years go on it’s become more and more appealing. I made up my mind. One day I would learn to ride.

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Ready for the open road!

Now travelling to South East Asia the idea of getting around by scooter seems only natural and when I was looking into staying in the North of Thailand motorcycle tours through the mountains looks heavenly. So what better time then now to saddle up and get it done.

I boned up on some facts, spent an afternoon at the MTO waiting in an incredibly long line in an abrasively slow queue, and got my M1. Next step to take a beginners course and test for my M2. I’m so excited I wish I hadn’t waited so long.

I’m happy that this trip is actually pushing me to accomplish other goals as well. I might not actually get a motorcycle for years to come but having my trip planned so far in advance leave a lot of anticipation but also opportunities like this that I’m eager to seize. So as I get ready to get on a bike I do it dreaming of riding the winding roads of the lush green Thai mountains.

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I’ll bring a GoPro don’t worry 🙂

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