Wednesday, December 29, 2010

why i AM lucky

                   My last post was about how luck has nothing to do with the choice to travel. It has everything to do with having some balls and just doing it. You can check out that post here.

Now I am going to tell you why I AM lucky.

I am lucky to have a job that will take me back every summer, and allow me to travel all winter. If this were not the case, I would find another job. But I am lucky to have a job that allows me this freedom.

I am lucky to be healthy. I am young(ish), active and in fine health. This allows me to be adventurous, try anything, walk everywhere with a heavy backpack and go anywhere. I can travel off the beaten path where the beds aren’t so nice, the water not so clean and danger could lurk around any corner. I can climb a mountain, jump out of a plane, explore the depths of the ocean, run, walk, cartwheel and explore anything this world has to offer. I am grateful to be healthy, and do realize that maybe one day I will get old and this type of travel may no longer be an option. This is why I will do all that I can, while I can. I am not looking forward to ever be on a seniors tour bus. I am lucky I plan on staying 25 for life.

I am lucky to have such great friends at home. I may be gone for months or years at a time, with only short visits home, but when I am here I know I have some of the best friends in the world waiting to hear about the latest adventure. Although our lives are on very different paths, when I am at home I fit right back into the group. They support me and my lifestyle and are the first ones to reassure me of my life choices when the pressure to have a “regular” life is mounting. No matter where I am or how long I am gone, I am lucky to know that my best friends are thinking of me, waiting for me to come back and wishing me well all along the way.

I am lucky to have an amazing travel partner. Few people manage to find a friend to travel the world with for years and years. Our friendship becomes stronger with every continent we conquer. We fill in the gaps of each other’s personality. I cook, she cleans. I research places, she makes them happen. I get lost, she reads the map. I find the cheap deals, she books them. Together we are an amazing team. We never fight, and almost always have the same ideas about where we want to go, what we want to see and what we want to do. A great travel partner is rare, and I am luck to have the best one ever!

I am lucky to have a great family. When I am home, we have huge family dinners and everyone is excited to hear about my latest adventure. They cook my favourite foods, and listen as I describe the next adventure I have planned. You can’t pick your family, and I am lucky to be stuck with the one I have.

I am lucky to have great parents. Although I am sure they are still waiting for me to “grow up”, they have stopped asking me about it. I know they will never turn my bedroom into an office or a storage room. They will take me back home anytime I want, whether it is for the weekend or a couple of months. My Mom takes me shopping when I am home and buys me all kinds of things while I save my money for the next adventure. My Dad puts money in my account whenever I casually mention that I am poor or am surviving on only 10 euros a week. When I only have a ticket half way home and my credit card is more than maxed out, I know I can count on them to get me the rest of the way home. My mom always has my favourite foods cooking when I get home, as she knows it has probably been weeks since I had a good, wholesome meal. I know I can count on them for whatever I need, if I am ever stuck in a jam on the other side of the world. I am lucky and very thankful for Mommy and Daddy.

I am not lucky to travel, that is my choice. But I am lucky in a million other ways

Join me as I TRAVEL MY LIFE AWAY…..with departure less than 3 days away!!!!!

Sunday, December 26, 2010


I hear it again and again and again. “I wish I could do what you are doing”. “You are so lucky to be able to travel”. “You are so lucky to have seen so much of the world”. “You are so luck to have no commitments and so much freedom”.
So many people hear my story and tell me how lucky I am. I don’t really see it that way. Don't get me wrong, I am lucky in many ways, but being able to travel is not one of them.

The ability to travel the world is not luck or about wishing. It is about having the guts to do it. I am just like anyone else in the world. I am able to travel as much as I do because I CHOOSE to. It has nothing to do with luck. It has everything to do with having some balls, and just going. Anyone can buy a backpack and a plane ticket. That is all that you need!! Unless you have a criminal record, you are free to see the world. Any other limitations you set upon yourself. Everyone can get out of whatever “commitments” are holding them back. Partners will probably still be there when you get back, or they can come too. Rent your house out for a year, and have someone else pay the bills while you are gone. Quit your job…you probably don‘t love it anyway…. and why do something everyday if you don’t love it? Plus, you can always find another job. The new skills and experiences you gain while away will help you find an even better job. People always have an excuse, but they are just that - excuses.

Although I know people mean it as a compliment when they tell me how lucky I am to be able to travel, but it seems to accredit luck, rather than the choices I have made in my life. I do not come from a family of money who funds my trips around the world. I never travelled overseas as a child. I have yet to win the lottery. I have just made choices and sacrifices in my life that allow me to travel. Once upon a time I was just like everyone else. I had an education, a job, a serious relationship, bills, and expectations. So many people get sucked into that life just because it is what they are “supposed” to do. Instead of just going along with it, I veered off course and carved out my own way along a path not travelled. I am not “lucky” to have escaped. It took guts and willpower. It was not easy. It took balls. I left behind everything I knew and set off in search of anything I didn’t know. This was a conscious choice, not luck. Of course it is easier just to surrender yourself to the typical life of career, marriage and kids, but anything worth doing is not easy. Everything I have done and seen is more than worth everything I have given up. Sure I was scared and had no idea what the future would bring, but I left the world I knew anyway. And now my life has become all about travelling, passion and living my dreams everyday.

I think it’s mostly fear that holds people back from travelling the world. It is strange and different out there. You would have to get off that comfy couch with your perfectly sunken in butt grooves. You won’t have FOX and HBO at your finger tips. Bad things could happen to you far away from home. Let me tell you that strange and different are interesting and challenging. That comfy couch is killing you and that idiot box is killing your soul. Seeing and actually experiencing the world are FAR better than watching it on television. Bad things can and will happen to you at home. And when that something bad happens to you, would you rather know you have seen and experienced some amazing things, or that your ass print is permanently embedded in that couch? Break out of your slump, stand up to fear and go experience everything the world has to offer.

Material possessions are also a huge weight. People are so tied to their “things” that they cannot imagine not having “stuff“. I promise you won’t die if you only have 3 pairs of shoes, or 1 pair of jeans, or your purse is from 3 seasons ago. Most of the stuff you think you need is really just unnecessary luxury. Stuff is just stuff and in the long run it is nothing. Things go out of style, they break, they get lost or stolen and when you die you can’t take it with you. Memories, experiences and passion can never be taken away. Clean out everything unnecessary in your life and go experience something you have always dreamed of doing.

Most people think that it takes thousands and thousands of dollars to travel. I find my expenses out on the road are less than when I am at home. I spend hours searching for the cheapest plane tickets. I stay in clean but budget hostels. I eat only when I am actually hungry, and eat cheap, fresh, local foods. I am aware of every dollar I spend. Time is usually not an issue, so I will gladly take the $25 18 hour bus ride rather than the $300 2 hour flight. I work or volunteer for room and board while I am travelling. I avoid the tourist traps, and find out where the locals go, eat and shop. I am after the experience rather than the perfect souvenir. At home I think of everything I spend money on in terms of a plane ticket or as days in another country. I am able to travel for half the year, every year, as well as chip away at my student loan and I barely make 20 g’s a year. Sell your car, rent out your house for awhile, cut your closet in half and I can guarantee you can travel the world in style for 2 years. Maybe you will find your balls in your half empty closet.

I am not lucky, I just have big balls. You probably have big balls in you somewhere. Just buy a plane ticket to wherever you have always dreamed of going. And then go. It truly is that simple. You don’t have to be lucky, you just need to go.

“I’d rather have a memory than a dream” -Samanther

Join me as I TRAVEL MY LIFE AWAY…in just 5 days another adventure begins.
Up next, the reasons why I AM lucky.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Don't Leave Home Without It!!

With less than 3 weeks before departure and no job, I have been thinking about packing much earlier than usual. I often pack just hours before I leave and it tends to be a mess. This time I am going to be prepared. This trip also has other packing issues that I haven’t dealt with before; extreme temperatures. It will be about -5 C in Antarctica (but add in the crazy windchill it will feel much colder) and +40 C in Brazil.
I have vowed that this is going to be my lightest packing trip ever. After moving 7 times in less than 2 months in Amsterdam with a 60 lb backpack, I vowed to never pack more than I can EASILY carry again. This time all I am taking is a medium sized duffle back and a small day backpack. In order to get everything I need into that little bit of space, everything must be multi useful.

After years of travelling I have come up with a list of things that I would never ever leave home without.
Here is my list of multi functional can’t do without items:

1) A sarong

Beach towels are bulky, heavy and hold onto sand and water but you need something to lay on if there is a beach somewhere on your journey (and there always is on mine!). A thin lightweight sarong is a great substitute. You can wear it to the beach as a skirt or a dress as well as use it for a beach blanket and a towel. A sarong is also useful as a cover for your legs, shoulders or head when visiting religious venues or anywhere modesty is a virtue. A sarong can also be used as a blanket on long flights or bus trips, or can be balled up as a pillow. It can also be used to wrap up any fragile souvenirs for the journey home. A sarong bought at a destination can also be considered a souvenir!

2) Cheap, basic, unlocked cell phone

I bought mine in London for 7 GBP. It is not fancy, but it is unlocked and can be used with a sim card from anywhere in the world. Even if I don’t have a sim card in it, the clock, alarm and calculator functions still work. A cell phone gets rid of a wrist watch (often a target for pickpocket), an alarm clock (for those early morning departures), a calculator (no more botched currency conversions done in your head) and as a flashlight (for not waking the whole dorm when you stumble in at 4am). The best part, is at only around $10, I won’t be upset if I lose it or it gets stolen (can’t say that about an iPhone!).

3) Havaianas flip flops

Call them thongs, jandles or zories, there is nothing like a pair of Havaianas flip flops. You need to buy a pair to truly understand. I am not a brand shopper, and at $30 a pair, these are not cheap. But they are the best BY FAR. I don’t usually have such a strong opinion about shoes, but I will ONLY wear Havaianas. There are amazing. I cannot stress it enough…you MUST try them! I wear them everywhere and with every thing. Me and My Havis have climbed a mountain, walked 8 hours a day for 6 months selling electricity and danced in clubs until dawn. More comfortable than runners, enough support to walk me and my 50 lb pack anywhere, and fashionable enough to be worn with a cocktail dress, Havaianas are essential anywhere. Check out the best flip flops ever here:

4) Handheld Corkscrew

Well besides the obvious, this corkscrew has a lot of useful features. In addition to opening wine, it can open beer bottles and tin cans. It can also cut through tape, rope, clothes and can even be used to give yourself a little haircut (I’ve done it, but DO NOT recommend it!). A corkscrew can also be used as a weapon, if need be.
Check out the story where I was ready to use one to defend my life:

5) iPod

This is sometimes considered a luxury by true backpackers, but I think an iPod is essential. Especially with the kind of earphones that block out other noise. There is nothing worse than loud hostel roommates when you are exhausted, a crying baby on a long distance bus or a snoring seatmate on a plane. Block out those noises and zone out with whatever kind of music you are in the mood for! You can also download movies on to your iPod, which can make long distance travels fly by. Another great travelling use are language pod cast. For free you can learn another language, wherever you are! Music is also an international language, an expression of culture and some songs can bring back travel memories long after you have gone home. Swapping music with other travellers is a great way to make friends and broaden your musical horizons.

6) Quick Dry Travel Towel

Ok, so this one is not really multi functional, but it is one of the best ideas in the history of travel accessories. It weighs hardly anything and rolls up to the size of about 2 pairs of socks. Unrolled, it wraps completely around my body and leaves everything to the imagination. It will dry my whole body and my long hair, with plenty of absorbency left. It dries in minutes. If you put it away damp, it doesn’t smell funny later. Actually, I have used mine for weeks without washing, and it never smells bad. It is sturdy, no rips, tears or fraying. And did I mention it is the size of 2 pairs of socks??

From a weekend of snowboarding, to a week long family reunion to a half year trip around the world, these items will always be in my backpack.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The time I thought I was going to die in Mozambique

From December 2009
This is a true story about one of many adventurous journeys in Mozambique

They looked at us with disbelief. Every single one of them. Were we crazy? Had we gone mad? The local South Africans wondered what on earth we were thinking when we told them that we, three small Canadian girls, were headed to Mozambique with nothing but our backpacks, a bag of oatmeal and an appetite for adventure. We left our rental car at the border under a tree and the watchful eye of a man with a broom and a few chickens. We planned to travel like the locals, camp where we could and just see where our adventure would take us. A few days in, we finally got the adventure we were lusting after.

We were on an all day journey from Maputo to Chidenguele. Traveling like the locals entailed packing 27 people, 16 chickens, 142 pounds of flour and an entire flea market worth of bric-a-brac, into a 12 person van. From one van, to a boat, to another even more loaded van, we thought we were just a few hours from our destination. With the help of a local man, we had negotiated a fare that was much more than the locals paid, but guaranteed depositing us to the door of our campground.

Three hours stretched into five, adding up to over 10 hours of traveling that day. With my backpack on my lap and pins and needles in my legs I was sure we must be almost there. As the sun faded in the distance, the noisy Portuguese chatter slowly died down. No one spoke English on this bus…we spoke no Portuguese.
Now it was dark. And quite. I was sure we should have been there a long time ago. Highway signs were few and far between. Signs I did see on the road, I didn‘t see on the map. We tried asking the other passengers how much further to Chidenguele or what the next stop was. They just stared at us or shook their heads. We tried showing them the name of the town written on a piece of paper. They mumbled something in Portuguese and looked away.

Another hour passed . I had visions of being dropped off on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere with lions waiting in the tall grass or being driven far far away to be harvested for my organs. I was determined to keep my fear hidden from my two friends. We should have been there hours and hours ago. Inside, I was stricken with fear and my mind was going a mile a minute. I needed to shut off my brain. I made the conscious decision to close my eyes, fall asleep and just deal with whatever was going to happen when the bus stopped.

I had just started to doze, when my friend Shani tapped me on the arm and asked, “shouldn’t we be there by now?”. I could hear the fear and uncertainty in her voice and it echoed my own thoughts exactly. As I answered, “We should have been there a long time ago”, I opened my eyes for a second.
It flashed past the side of the bus in an instant. A sign for Chidenguele!!!! We jumped into action as the bus chugged right past the turn off. Yelling, pointing and making frantic gestures we were able to communicate that we had just passed our turn. As the bus turned around, I felt the weight of my backpack dissipate and breathed a sigh relieved. Finally we were here!!!

The bus pulled up to the town. We pointed to a sign for our campground, showing it was 8 km away from where we were. The bus driver shook his head and said something we didn’t understand. After a few minutes of “discussion”, each in our respective languages, we realized that the bus driver was refusing to drive us right to the campground. He wanted us to get off the bus right there, kilometres away from the destination that we had paid a premium to get right into. In the wee hours of the morning, after the long day we had endured and the extra cash we forked over, we were not walking 8 km into the dark sand dunes with our heavy packs. We refused to get off the bus. But they had a solution to that. Passengers began to grab our gear and toss it off the bus. We had no choice but to follow our bags. The bus took off, leaving us in a cloud of sand.

As the dust settled, we took in our surroundings. The “town” consisted of 3 haphazard sheet metal buildings. One was a grocery store, one was a general store and the other was the local bar. Of course only the bar was open. Local men were outside, drinking, smoking and doing who else knows what. Within seconds, we were surrounded. Three little Caucasian Canadian girls far off the beaten tourist path in Mozambique at 3 am, just having been abandoned by a bus. We were quite a spectacle.
Thankfully, one of the men spoke a little English. He was willing to drive us to our campground…for a price. Asking 5 times what we had just paid for 7 hours on the bus for an 8 km drive, we managed to talk him down to half price. No other options meant we had to go. The driver got into the van. We got in. Then two of his friends joined us.

Three huge men fuelled by alcohol, three little girls, strong but exhausted. I was scared. We could only hope that they would deliver us to our campground in one piece. A few silently tense minutes into the drive, the men started chattering away in Portuguese. I felt uneasy. What were they saying? Were they talking about us?

Suddenly, the van began to slow down. Cranking the wheel, the driver turned off the road into a clearing surrounded by trees. My uneasiness turned to pure terror. The man in the passenger seat got out. He walked around the van and opened up the back. I could hear him rummaging around. My active imagination was running a million miles an hour again. I had visions of duct tape, rope, gags and rusty torture devices. I was positive that we were about to be raped and killed. No one would ever know what had happened to me. My body would never be found. This was the end of me. I fumbled through my bag for anything I could use as a weapon. The best I came up with was a corkscrew. The man slammed the back door shut. He walked back toward the front of the van. He paused, his face looking directly into my window.

Then he waved. And ran through the trees. I exhaled the breath I didn’t even realize I was holding and my grip loosened on the corkscrew. We were just dropping him off at home!!!!!!!!
We made it to the campground and our thirst for adventure was quenched.