Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Suck It Up Rant: Isis and Ebola Won't Get You On Your Next Holiday

There is a unique experience when you work with the public. You become a sounding board for the inner most thoughts of people you have never met. Things you didn't ask to hear and never wanted to hear. Detailed medical complaints, their opinions on why it is better to book travel online and how my entire professional is superfluous. Any manner of questions from where the toilets are located at any possible airport in the world to "do I need a passport to go to Tasmania" (the answer to that if you are an Australian is no, Tasmania although an island is a state of Australia which should indicate that you don't need a passport duh).

This all may sound very bitchy and yes it is. I can accept that I can be a bitch on occasion. Anyone who has ever worked with the public will relate to what I am saying here. Stupidity I can handle but with all the events happening around the world and with the media's tendency to fear monger there has been a common theme to recent dealings with the public. Ebola and Islamic State.

I am going to come out here and say it once and for all. Neither Ebola or IS will likely kill you or even cause you any issues on your next holiday....especially if you aren't going to West Africa, Syria or Iraq.  Ebola isn't going to chase you through the South Pacific and get you whilst you are laying by the pool in Fiji and IS  won't be secretly plotting to get you whilst you are swimming in the warm waters of Maui.

Of course this is all open to change, Ebola may spread it's claws across the globe but you know what, it hasn't yet so don't waste your energy on fearing it. IS may take over the world, unlikely but I  don't have a degree in world politics so I just don't know. I am no expert but again I don't waste one minute of my life letting it hold me back on what I want to do. That shit is for the future so leave it there.

I am also no psychologist, I don't understand why irrational fears consume the minds of humans. Why when the Flu kills hundreds of thousands of people every year around the world are people not afraid of it? Yet an outbreak of Ebola on the other side of the world has people trembling in terror? Why when you are statistically in great danger everyday on our roads are people so much more terrified of flying? I just don't know.

Why am I bringing this up? Because people need to suck it up, put on their big girl/boy pants and get out there and live their lives free from the fear that seems to bind them to their lounges. The world sucks, a  lot of horrible shit happens everyday but you need to find a way to rationalise it. Spend some time with compassionate thoughts for those affected, it is horrific and we should feel for them. We can donate some money to charity to assist and we can mourn the world we have perceived as lost but we need to move on, live our lives on our own terms and not let fear rule us.

I do find these fears are much more prevalent in older people. My mother will tell you it is because when you are older you are more aware of what COULD happen to you. She had little fear travelling the world alone at age 17, an amazing feat but now in her mid fifties she is far more cautious. I'm not buying it though. I think there is something in the way our brains develop that causes fear to grow as we age. If that is the case I shouldn't judge but I will admit I just want to slap some people. I can't help it.

There are legitimate things to be afraid of. I am not cracking down on all fears. Big hairy Huntsman spiders, that shit is scary. Amusement park rides assembled by toothless carny's, be afraid! Jumping out of a perfectly good plane, now that shits just dumb. But if you are going on a resort holiday on an isolated island populated by pacific islanders I don't want to hear it, get a grip!

I will conclude this rant in saying that I cannot guarantee your safety (although I have been asked to do exactly that before) and that this little monologue comes with a disclaimer that I will not be responsible if something shitty happens on your next travels. But you know what, that's life. It isn't meant to be all sunshine and roses. The unknown should be what lights that fire under your arse and gets you out of bed in the morning. I can't think of anything worse than being subjected to a "safe" existence. I'm gonna get all Oprah on you now. If you feel the fear, acknowledge it, embrace it and tell it to get F**cked cause you are gonna do it anyway.

I don't really have any relevant pictures to go with this blog post. I wish I had some photos of like a 90 year old backpacking in India, so instead I will just post some piccys that might inspire you to get out from under those sheets and go and see the world. Be Fearless.

Florence, Italy...currently Ebola free!

The Canadian Ebola here

Rarotonga, Cook Islands...What's that you said you saw an IS militant?

Milan, this dude on his horse running from Ebola?

Milan, Italy...Should be safe up here

Egypt...okay has it's risks I'll admit but bloody worth it!

The Cook Islands...still Ebola free
Okay that's enough I am done being a cheeky bitch now.

Originally posted on Wednesday, 29 October 2014 by

Monday, 27 October 2014

Unique Journeys: The Arctic

Being in the travel industry and talking travel all day gives me some unique insights. I am constantly surrounded by the latest travel trends, get first hand feedback from hundreds of travellers every year and am bombarded with industry reps touting their travel products and don’t forget the familiarisation and personal travel I undertake every year. 

All too often I see people fall into the trap of taking uninspired holidays. In this Series “Unique Journeys” I am focusing on bringing you unique experiences worldwide. One of a kind getaways and fascinating experiences to get you seeing travel from a new perspective. 

The experiences and properties you will see recommended here are not sponsored they are brought to you from my many years experience as a travel consultant. 

There is something about the Arctic I find fascinating and mystical. It is linked with the fact that geographically it is as far North from my home Australia as you can possibly get and that it is a world away from what is familiar. That kind of disconnection from everyday life is what I seek out when travelling. I crave an experience that is unfamiliar and Finland in the winter is certainly that. Images of Huskies, Reindeers, snow mobiles and ice breakers get my blood pumping and whilst I am certainly a warm weather lover there is something so enticing of the thought of rugging of in the winter woolies to explore the Arctic region.

Now my purpose of this Unique Journey’s section of my blog is to get people thinking outside of the ordinary and it would not normally involve anything bearing the name “Resort” but this is where I think a marketing faux pas has occured. My focus of this post is Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort and I really do feel the title of “resort” does not adequately describe the experience offered here. Yes it is a place where accommodation and activities come together for the purpose of tourism. Yes there may be more authentic experiences out there but from the perspective of an Australian heading to the Arctic, Kakslauttanen does offer so many varied and unique experiences that would enhance your stay in the region that it would be hard to miss.

Now I will be honest with you, when I peruse the Kakslauttanen website I go straight to the winter section. I haven’t even looked at what is on offer under the heading summer. I come from a nation full of summer and can easily get summer year round here in Australia within a relatively short drive from home so suffice to say give me the snow and cold baby.

 Whilst Kakslauttanen offers a wide range of accommodation styles and I do like the sounds of cosying up by the fire in a log cabin or burrowing into a down sleeping bag in a snow igloo what really piques my interest is the Glass Igloos. Seemingly buried in the ground and covered by a dome made of glass is your secluded home in the snowy woods. A base to seek out the elusive Aurora Borealis a phenomenon that has fascinated me most of my life. As elusive as the Borealis is, it won’t matter how long you have to wait when you are warm inside your private room staring hopefully up at the starry sky waiting for the magic.

The other beauty of a resort, even though it may be to the disdain of the adventurer is the easy accessibility to unique activities. Kakslauttanen is not short on these and so many of them fill me with wonder and bring back a childlike sense of of longing. What sun soaked Aussie wouldn't want to take a step out of reality and:

Ride with the Huskies

    Let Reindeer take you on Safari

Blast through the snowy woods on a snow mobile

 Seek out the Aurora Borealis

Catch fish hidden below the ice

Ski Cross Country

Visit Santa at his Arctic home

Bob around in a frozen bay

    Head out on a winter horse ride

Take a ride in an ice breaker

Photo's courtesy of Kaklauttanen Arctic Resort

I understand all of this may not seem as exciting to those from the Northern Hemisphere where snow in winter is the norm but to me it is a winter wonderland waiting to be tasted.

I would be very interested to hear about where my readers long to travel, Do you have a yearning for a tropical paradise or maybe to camp out with a nomadic tribe in Africa?
Originally posted on Monday, 27 October 2014 by

Friday, 24 October 2014

Why the Cook Islands Are Kick Arse

We are so lucky here on the east coast of Australia. We have some of the best beaches in the world, the rugged coastline is the setting for secluded bays, white sandy expanses and beaches with hardly a soul to disrupt the crashing of the waves. With all that glory who would need anything else but we Australians are a greedy bunch and in our backyard we are hiding the islands of the South Pacific, our own playground to escape to when the palm trees are calling.

I have had the privilege to travel to many of the South Pacific Nations, Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Norfolk Island (technically owned by Australia) and as far a field as Hawaii but in my opinion the Cook Islands kicks all their tropical little butts.

From the moment you fly into the main island of Rarotonga you know you are in for a treat. Looking down on the tiny island surrounded by turquoise blue lagoons the first thing that hits you is the mountains. The centre of the island is dominated by rugged jungle like mountains with multiple peaks. Their dense foliage and vines tumble down the steep mountain faces and abruptly stop very close to the coastline. Snuggled at the base of the mountains is two roads, one entirely circumnavigates the island and predominantly features tourist accommodations, restaurants and a small township. Set slightly back from this is the inner road which houses the local dwellings. Amongst all of this there are smatterings of local chickens darting across the road and lazy dogs playing catch with the fish in the shallow waters.

Once you are on the island and have been greeted by Jake Numanga who has been strumming his guitar at the airport to greet new arrivals for twenty years you will head off on the main road that winds it’s way along the coastline to your accommodation. The Cook Islands have managed to stave off all major chain resort development and the accommodation on offer varies from holiday houses rented out by the locals to small resorts and bungalow style accommodation offering the amenities expected by tourists but with none of the commercial trappings.

The lack of sprawling resorts and commercialism is what I love so much about the Cook Islands. Fiji can keep it’s kids clubs, monolithic cement blocks of rooms and vast pools, a private bungalow built on the sand overlooking the white beach and crystal blue waters is all I need to be in heaven.

I recommend hiring a little car whilst you are there. Whilst the island may not be large you cannot walk to the restaurants or town from most accommodations. There are two local buses that run in opposite directions around the main road but waiting out in the sweltering heat for a bus that comes once an hour is not my idea of fun. The restaurants and attractions of Rarotonga are scattered around the island and the car gives you the freedom to come and go as you please as well as explore the inner road and try out various snorkeling spots. The speed limit is 40 km per hour unless you are on a scooter or motorbike in which it is 30km/ph so with most of the locals riding motorbikes you will invariably be driving around at 30 so there is nothing to fear.

The culture is typically Polynesian but with a strong New Zealand Maori flavour to it. The locals are laid back and relaxed and with the island being so small you can really get a feel for local living. In no way are you isolated in a tourist resort like you may be on the coral coast of Fiji. You will be out and about each day, you can pop into the local supermarket for snacks and ice cream, head into the local markets selling food and clothes on Saturday morning. I like driving the inner road to get an insight into local life, whilst there is no space for large scale farming you can see how the locals grow their own vegetables and tend to their chickens, pigs and goats.

Rarotonga doesn’t offer endless day trips and excursions, it is too small to have an abundance for tourist activities but there is enough to satisfy most. The snorkeling is protected by the reef and available right off the beach round a large part of the island. Whilst some of the coral has been damaged by tropical storms there are still some impressive formations and colourful tropical fish. For the more adventurous you can hike through the lush jungle in the centre of the island. There are also diving and fishing trips, polynesian dance shows, quad biking, 4WD tours actually the more I think about it the more that I realise what is on offer. I have also felt in the few years between my first trip there in 2008 to my second trip there in 2013 there was quite a big advance in the tourist facilities. More restaurants had opened and more tour operators had set up and all run by locals so it doesn’t have that overly “touristy” feel. It seems the locals were taking advantage of the increase in tourism since direct flights had been introduced to & from Australia which was nice to see.

If you are going to stick to the main island of Rarotonga then I recommend a stay of 7-10 nights or if  you are going to include Aitutaki which I hear is stunning you may want to extend a little. It costs approximately $300-$500 on top of your international airfare to get out to Aitutaki and once there most of the accommodation is more expensive than on Raro as it is aimed at the luxury market. I didn’t head out there in either trip as it wasn’t in the budget and I did feel I was so satisfied by my stay on Raro that I didn’t need to go further afield.

I do really think the Cooks is a hidden jem in the South Pacific I love it so much that myself and my husband got married there right on the beach. We selfishly didn’t invite any guests, our resort “The Palm Grove Bungalows” arranged the licence, celebrant, flower arch and bouquet at very little cost and we booked a private beachfront dinner at the Crown Beach Resort for sunset. It was magical.

I won’t go into comparing it to the other islands in the South Pacific. I do think the various island nations offer different things for different people but if you are after a holiday with glorious beaches, a real local vibe, charming local culture, easily accessible facilities, good prices and a getaway that will make you long to leave it all behind and live the island life then the Cook Islands is for you.

Originally posted on Friday, 24 October 2014 by

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Why I'm Not Quitting It All To Travel

I have recently felt overwhelmed by the sheer number of travel bloggers encouraging others to quit their jobs, homes and lives to undertake a perpetual life of travel. Their blog posts are inspiring and compelling and quite a fun read to be honest. It is a wonderful thing to be able to do and their lives have been enriched to no end because of their choices.

My fear is that they are so compelling it will put people in a state of fear. The feeling that travel isn’t worthwhile unless it is paired with a life altering decision to leave it all behind may bind people to their comfort zones in knowing they will never truly be able to leave it all so why bother.

Travel is accessible to all and I want people to also be inspired by reality, the reality in which most of us live. Yes we toil at our jobs and we strive for career and family and despite what you are told these are valuable things and they can co-exist with travel and adventures. They are not limiting you, they should compel you.

I have worked a full time job, started my own business which I worked as well as my full time job and pretty much been career orientated my entire adult life. Whilst I momentarily feel the need to escape the grind especially when I read blog posts like this “Legal Nomads, Why I quit my job to travel the world” I know that it isn't realistic for all people to take a path like this and god forbid we all try because the global economy will grind to a halt.

Despite my focus on career and the sometimes mundane work life balance that I know we all manage day to day I have seen more of the world than most people would dream to see in their whole lives and I am only in my early 30’s. Of course that was helped greatly by my choice of career as a travel agent but much of my travelling has been undertaken under my own steam and my own dollar, it isn’t all free rides around here.

I think whilst people should be inspired by intrepid travellers who do leave it all behind to endlessly travel the world I also think that people should work with what is realistic for them. The beauty of the free world we live in is that we can all strive to live the life we choose for ourselves and if you do want to see the world and manage maybe career or family you can certainly do both.

I also believe people can travel no matter what they earn. I started in the travel industry on a very low traineeship wage of $16 000 per year which was close to half of minimum wage in Australia at the time. It seemed unfair at the time but I made the best of it. I even went of my first trip to Europe for a whole month on this wage whilst juggling rent and bills and all those things that life throws at you.

With a little ingenuity there are thousands of life changing trips you can take with 2-4 weeks leave a year and a little in savings. You can stretch your dollar a long way when you undertake backpacking style ventures or small group grassroots adventures like Geckos or Intrepid. I spent three weeks in China on a Geckos trip. The tour was $1500, the airfares under $1000 & I could have got away with spending a few hundred dollars on the ground (if I didn't throw a reasonably large amount of money to hold a baby Panda). If you can put away just $50 a week or even $50 a month if it is all you can afford it can take you a long way in this world. You just have to keep your goals in mind and work towards them.

Here are my top tips for seeing the world and managing real life:

Don’t forget to think outside the box

Get together a group of friends and split the costs of accommodation on your travels, the more the merrier on your pocket. Look at villa and apartment style accommodation that you can fill up with friends to reduce your per person rate.

 Don’t be afraid to get outside of your comfort zone 

Don a backpack and dive into the hostel for cheap prices. Take things outdoors, hiking and camping will save a tonne of money and extend the time you can afford to be overseas. I once met a minister in LA who had many kids. He didn’t own a TV and was frankly scarily non materialistic. Strangely he was working for LA Tourism which was a really odd mis-match but he told me how his family go camping around the world each year for their holidays and they buy postcards as souvenirs, all of his penny pinching and roughing it means the more of the world he and his family get to see. Now that’s inspiring.

Check out what is in your own backyard

You might be surprised what fantastic times are to be had close to home if you look around. Great adventures are not defined by getting on an aircraft.

Keep your eye on the dollar for the most bang for your buck

Monitoring your own currency against world currencies will give you an idea where you can head for a better deal. Aussie dollar down against the US dollar? check it out against the Yen though, maybe there is a bargain to be had.

Be inspired every day

Use all of the resources available to you to build your knowledge of world destinations. Blogs and podcasts are an amazing resource. I am currently really into the Amateur Traveller podcast. Despite being a travel agent all of my adult life I have learnt so much from this show, discovered fabulous blogs I did not know about and have been totally inspired by destinations I knew little about previously. I was so excited to hear about Soccotra in Yemen that I have stored it away in my memory for a future trip thanks to Chris from the Amateur Traveller and Earl from Wandering Earl.

Whilst we can all take inspiration from the lives of others don’t get bogged down in the dream of it all. You don’t have to give it all up for good. Whilst chucking in the job and ditching the mortgage might give you goosebumps and if that path suits you go for it but don’t forget you can fit travel into your lifestyle with minimal changes. You can see the world and come home at the end of the trip to the dog and cat you dearly love or show the kids new cultures and be back in time for school. It is all waiting for you you just have to grab it.

Oh man I am totally out of inspirational anecdotes. Tell me how travel fits in with your lifestyle or how you have changed your life to make it work?

Check out some of the adventures I have had and still maintained a 9-5 lifestyle.

Chasing the Mayans in Mexico and Guatemala

On Safari in South Africa

Tuk Tuking in Cambodia and Vietnam

Discovering majestic Canada

Ahh Europe, enough said

The wonders of Dubai

Finding myself in Chicago (couldn't resist that one at the Bean, Chicago)

Urban Safari in San Francisco

Seeking the Gods in glorious Egypt

Taking in the Grand Canyon

Making friends with the locals in Chengdu, China

Getting married in the Cook Islands

Top of the Rock, New York City Baby

Originally posted on Thursday, 23 October 2014 by

Friday, 17 October 2014

Grill the Foodie: Jodi Ettenberg

Our regular series “Grill the Foodie” is all about getting inside a country’s food and eating experiences from the perspective of travellers as well as expats living abroad. Why travellers and not locals? Well sometimes locals don’t know what makes their country’s cuisine so unique and wonderful they may not have any other points of reference as their own food is all they have experienced. We will delve into what makes world cuisine great and why travellers love to eat so much. We want you to be inspired by what is happening around the world, how others enjoy their food and how food can unite cultures.

I have to say I am really excited about this weeks Grill the Foodie Interview. Jodi Ettenberg is the mastermind behind the blog Legal Nomads, a great inspiration of mine. She is a one woman powerhouse quitting her career as a lawyer six years ago, embarking on an extended period of travel which has morphed into a lifestyle and career.

Reading her blog you will question your very existence, the 9-5 working lifestyle a majority of us lead and wonder if there is more out there. Jodi's writing style draws you into a destination and as her blog has evolved you can clearly see her evolution as a Foodie, although I suspect she may not strongly associate with that term it is an easy way out when talking about those who seek education and enlightenment through the food of a nation.

So let this impossibly petite Foodie, Blogger, Traveller, Lawyer, Public Speaker and all round awesome person take you on a little journey into her life and don't forget to subscribe to her blog to follow her wanderings

Your blog started out as a record of an extended trip you were taking and over the years has morphed into a food and travel blog. Have you always been a Foodie or did travelling turn you into one?

I always cared about food but I never sought to frame my experiences through the meals I ate. Travel definitely honed my focus on food exponentially.

How does the search for Foodie experiences affect the way in which you travel?

I don't search for foodie experiences. I travel and I use food as the most effective lens to learn as much as I can about a place -- its anthropology, its history, its people.

Has your Foodie lifestyle been greatly affected since your diagnosis of celiac disease?

As I said, I don't really consider my life a foodie lifestyle. Food is merely the best tool to learn from, and I try to tell stories with the things I eat. Learning is truly the focus. Yes, it's frustrating that I cannot eat much of what I want to but it doesn't prevent me from taking a food and digging into its history.

I was diagnosed way before I started travelling, so it has always been something I worked with / struggled with since I left my job.

If you could only eat one world cuisine for the rest of your life what would it be?

I love Vietnamese food because it is so varied but also quite light. You don't feel bloated or like you have eaten something heavy. It is balanced, delicious, and provides so many different options as the country's many areas have very different ways of eating.

Based on your T-Shirt line “Say No to Olives” is there any food you hate more than olives?

The t-shirt was a fun joke with readers who also disliked olives and olives are a divisive food -- people don't seem to have moderate feelings about them. So 'hate' is a strong word. Put it this way: I haven't yet found an olive I enjoyed.

I also don't love green peas but that's because I was fed mushy peas quite a bit as a child, even when I didn't want to eat them ;)

With more than 6 years on the road do you think you will ever settle back into a “normal” lifestyle?

I always find it funny that people ask. Normal is not really anything in a world where people can work where they want, in fields that did not even exist twenty-five years ago. The flexibility is there if we want it.

If I wanted to stay somewhere, I would! I've enjoyed this life, and if that changes well then I will change with it. I enjoy chasing summer and avoiding winter, and plenty to learn as I go.

How do family and friends view your lifestyle and is it more difficult to maintain bonds whilst travelling so much?

It is far easier to maintain bonds, both with family and friends. I've always had friends all around the world as I was born in Canada but lived in France, South America, and the USA. So travelling as I do enables me to meet up with old and new friends far more frequently. Technology fills in the blanks.

This lifestyle also affords me lots of time with family that is unencumbered by restrictions on vacation. For example, I used to have a week or weekend to rush back to Canada to see family, whereas now I can work from my parents' place for a few weeks at a time, taking leisurely hours to catch up.

The key is flexibility. It's what you make with that flexibility that dictates your relationships. Family and friends are important to me, and so I make sure I bake in time with them as much as I can. It's been really lovely, and I'm grateful for the prolonged time I get with people I love.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to people considering giving up their job and taking to the road on a permanent basis?

That few things ARE permanent. If it isn't for them, they can always return to something more stable. A life with a lot of uncertainty isn't for everyone, and there is no shame in realizing it's not for you.

Your blog has some world recipes on it, do you enjoy cooking food you have experienced around the world?

Yes, my mother is very happy I have learned all sorts of recipes, as when I visit her she gets to be my guinea pig!

Did your social media and blog following evolve naturally or is it something you had to work hard on and actively pursue? 

Both. It evolved naturally -- I've never pitched news coverage or media, nor bought followers -- but I do think about what I put online, and make sure it's something that I want to tie to my reputation. I've really enjoyed meeting readers via social media, and especially now using Instagram as a means of telling stories in real-time.

What country is next on your hit list for your next big food adventure?

I don't have a hit list, I just travel where opportunities arise. I'll be back in Vietnam shortly, happily reunited with my beloved pho.

Check out some of Jodi's stunning photography, to see more visit 

Originally posted on Friday, 17 October 2014 by