The importance of being a good traveler and 5 ways to do it

importance good traveler

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the importance of being a good traveler. It’s been hard to miss the news about the plague of over tourism striking Europe this year, to the point that several cities (Barcelona, Venice, Dubrovnik) staged protests against the number of visitors they received this summer.

Governments have been scrambling during the past couple of years to cope with the influx of travelers during peak seasons. It doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Budget airlines are so cheap, even more so if you’re already living in Europe. Technology makes it so easy to navigate and communicate that booking a trip is less intimidating than ever. Social media is doing its job by inspiring wanderlust galore. Of course, tourism isn’t going anywhere. It’s a necessary evil for many cities.

Of course, local governments have a role to play. So do the visitors. Just because a place needs your tourist dollars doesn’t give you license to have a “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” type attitude. If travelers want to keep visiting the most beautiful places in the world, we need to adopt a “leave it better than you found it” travel philosophy.

Here are five ways to do it.

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Musings from a reformed reluctant traveler

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I’ve done a decent bit of travel and have lived outside the U.S. for more than three years. Even so, I have a confession to make: I’ve never really loved traveling.

First, let me say that there’s a difference between vacation and travel. Vacation is the white sandy beach, a drink with an umbrella, and letting your skin take on the color and texture of a grape fruit roll-up. It’s a passive thing. Traveling, on the other hand, is going somewhere to see and do. It’s active. Along with this usually comes $7 hostel beds and lots of adventures that happen while getting lost and figuring things out.

People talk about traveling like it’s the only way to learn about the world and your innermost self. Listen, traveling isn’t when you do your deep soul searching. Although I suppose you have lots of time to think about what’s important when you’re curled in a sweaty ball, praying for an end to your food poisoning. And I agree that travel has big benefits—it does broaden your world view and teach you a lot about yourself. But C’mon, it’s not the only way to do that.

Still, I’m married to a traveler and have always been happy to go away. I’ve just never loved it like he does. Until now.

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Three reasons to reconsider a return visit

revisit or travel somewhere new

I want to do China next. I did London last year.

Living in a touristy city and traveling to other touristy cities, I hear things like this quite a bit.

It bothers me. A lot.

In fact, my biggest pet peeve is the way some travelers use the word “do” when referring to visiting a place. My concern with the word “do” is how talking about a place in this way turns a city or country or culture into a tick box. As if, by spending a long weekend zipping through a list of can’t-miss-it attractions, all that is to encounter and experience has been taken in.

Just because you visited the best museums, saw the most significant sights, and ate in the highest rated restaurant does not mean that a place is “done.” The world isn’t static. Been there, done that does not exist.

Don’t get me wrong—I’d love to visit every country in the world. And I know that there are all kinds of things to consider when planning a trip, time and money being the biggest factors. The new, however, already gets enough attention.

Today, I’m here to make a case for going back.

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How to become a “carry-on only” traveler

carry on travel packing tips

One of the things that struck me on my first trip abroad—as I hoisted my bag up the minuscule staircase of our Italian hotel—was that all the Europeans had small suitcases. I mean tiny. I didn’t think I could even fit my lunch in one of those things. How did they do that? It must be something they’re born with, like a French woman’s je ne sais quoi or the way Colombians make salsa dancing look effortless.

Well, that’s partly true. Your culture definitely plays a part in how you pack. As an American, I’m used to the idea of having a ton of choices. And when it comes to suitcases, bigger is better, right? But there’s something to be said for giving the other side a whirl.

Because once I traveled with only a carry-on, I realized that packing light is LIBERATING.

With only a carry-on you won’t break out in a nervous sweat waiting for your bag to plop onto the carousel—you’ll be breezing through the customs line. You won’t pull a muscle lugging your behemoth suitcase up and down metro station stairs. I feel safer having my things with me at all times. Checked bag fees? Nope! And probably best of all, you’ll discover that a few well-chosen items are better than sifting through a heap of ‘meh.’

I have a little bit of personal experience when it comes to doing “carry-on only,” but don’t worry because I’ll point you toward the pros. Keep reading for tips from me as well as two experts on packing light for your next trip.
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Four reasons to visit Europe in winter

They say the best time to visit Europe is May through September, which are the exact months we lived in Spain this year. In the past, we’ve always found ourselves on European vacations in those quiet weeks between Christmas and March, so I was thrilled at the chance to sightsee in gorgeous weather.

It’s hard to beat long days and the sunshine, but we quickly realized the best time to go somewhere also means the busiest. Everywhere we went, we were shoulder to shoulder with a million other tourists, waiting in lines and being charged premium prices.

If you’re not heading to a specifically summertime-only destination, consider bumping your itinerary to the off-season. Along with cheaper prices and smaller crowds, here are a few things that I think make winter the best bet for your European getaway.

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Is expatting better than long-term travel?

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If you are related to us, a good friend or just happened to have dinner with Cody and I anywhere between 2008 and 2014, then you know it was a dream of ours to somehow live overseas.  As we talked through the ways to do this, it seemed like the best option would be to quit our jobs and travel for a year. When we stumbled into an international assignment it seemed like a great way to have the best of both worlds—the security of a job with the excitement of living overseas.

But in the moment, I wondered if we were settling for something short of our full-fledged dream. We were afraid to leave our jobs behind, so wasn’t what we were doing kind of a cop-out?

Now that we’re wrapping up our first assignment, I realize that long term travel and expat life are two completely different animals, each with their own set of benefits. Keep reading to see how I think we got the better end of the deal.

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What not to wear in Bogota

what to wear in Bogota Colombia
Don’t. Just don’t.

When planning a trip anywhere new, I inevitably do some googling about what to wear. While I know there’s no way to completely avoid looking like a tourist, my goal is always to land somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between the locals and those wearing fanny packs and American flag t-shirts.

Recently I’ve gotten a couple of reader questions about what to wear while visiting Bogotá, which makes me think that you all think I know what I’m talking about…at least a little bit. Part of that is true: after about two years in this city I can pick out tourists in a snap and know how to dress based on an invite’s time and location.

When you think of Colombia, Bogotá is kind of in a category of its own. For one thing, it’s location at about 8,500 feet above sea level means that it’s much cooler than the rest of the country. Temperatures don’t vary greatly and for the most part, hover around the low fifties. That said, there are afternoons when the sun can bring the temps to the low seventies, and chilly evenings where it can sink as low as the forties. December and January are the warm, dry months and  April/May and October/November are quite wet. Another way that Bogotá differs is that as the capital and center of business, dressing seems more formal and sophisticated than the rest of the country.

Keep reading for a few of my ideas of what to bring—or leave behind—on a trip to Colombia’s capital city.

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Does tourism ruin everything? It doesn’t have to.

does tourism ruin everything
Same country, disparate destinations—you couldn’t get two more different beaches if you tried (Top: Baru Island off the coast of Cartagena; Below: Palomino, Colombia)

It’s a strange thing to fall in love with a place—you want to tell everyone, but you’re also aware that popularity may be the harbinger of death for the thing you love. Because, it’s inevitable that the more visitors a place has, the more it will change to accommodate those visitors and chances are, the quirky, charming bits that attracted you in the first place will be among the first to go.

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La Isla Baru: A few tips for a great trip

Isla Baru - Playa Blanca
Christmas morning off the coast of Cartagena, on Isla Baru

My mouth is saying no thanks, but my tone isn’t quite serious because this woman’s fingertips have somehow found a magic spot in my shoulder that is rendering me incapable of shooing her away.

Knowing better, I cave and ask how much.

Apparently, a half hour massage on Isla Baru will run you 150 000COP. At today’s exchange rate that’s about $45 USD,  the same price you’d pay at a fancy hotel spa—complete with ambiance and a legitimate massage oil—for an hour massage. Inwardly wagging a finger at myself, I try and negotiate a price more along the lines of those I’ve seen at the spa/salon combos lining the streets of Bogotá (around 30 000COP) before giving my no thanks more gusto and trying to untangle myself from her tranquilizing grip.

Baru is an island just off Cartagena’s coast and is touted as having some of the best beaches in the country. But—as you’ll find upon the teeniest bit of research—reports are polarizing.  I had heard it’s a must-visit in Colombia, beautiful with a stunning beach; I’d also heard that it was crowded, dirty, and filled with aggressive vendors. It would be one thing if it were just Cody and I making this decision, but we were in Cartagena for Christmas and were showing his parents a bit of Colombia outside of Bogotá.

In the end, it was street vendor Edgar Forever (yes, last name Forever) who convinced us that we should give Baru a chance. Edgar, as it turns out, was born and raised on Baru. According to him, Christmas morning is usually spent at home while the adults are recovering from the previous night’s festivities and would be a perfect time to enjoy the beaches, sans the masses.

Between the opinions of Cody (repeating suggestions from colleagues that we must visit) and myself (repeating every horror story I’d read on TripAdvisor), his poor parents were imparted with high hopes and low expectations. And so, the plan was set.

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A perfect wedding in paradise.

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As we were asked us to turn off our phones, tuck them away and simply be present in the moment, I thought oh dang—I sat up a little straighter as the light bulb flicked on and it really sunk in that I was about to witness something serious…that was immediately followed by an equal measure of wonder and gratitude that we had been included in such a special occasion.

Perhaps we weren’t the only ones marveling at our inclusion, as technically we’d spent only a handful of days with the bride and groom since having met at a language school in Antigua, Guatemala early last year. Our paths crossed again as they traveled through Bogotá a few months later, and then again when we all happened to be in San Diego last August. That was when they asked us if we’d like to come to Bali for their wedding.

The amazing thing about travel is that when you’re untethered and drifting, you’re opened up to connecting with people in ways you’d never do when you’re at home, hurrying to work with your nose buried in your iPhone. Traveling is also a kind of personality litmus test because it’s impossible not to form impressions of people based on their travel style: what kind of places they stay, if they prefer to do things on their own as opposed to tours or if they plan or fly by the seat of their pants. Sometimes you meet people that you’ll hang out with because you’re going in the same direction for a bit, and sometimes you meet people that you just click with and wished lived in your town because you know you’d be great friends. Rich and Carly are the latter.

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