The adventure began at Ecuador's Coca Airport, where Victor, our small group's guide, led us into taxis that would bring the five of us, myself, Ian and Catherine, a couple from Australia, David from the U.K. and his fellow-Brit friend Shom who now lives in Sydney, Australia, to a motorized canoe on the Napo River, a tributary to the Amazon River that rises in Ecuador on the flanks of the east Andean volcanoes.
It was a journey into the unknown, as none of us really knew what to expect, other than what we'd seen on television and in films anyway.
We flew across the wide expanse of the river, dodging sand banks and tree trunks, searching for a glimpse of wildlife along the banks.
While there was nothing to speak of, the ride felt surreal, as if we were heading into a dream. A dream that was hard to imagine was actually real life.
After two-and-a-half hours or so, we landed at the dock, welcomed by a Sani Lodge sign. From here, we'd take a 10-minute trek down the tree-lined wooden boardwalk where monkeys watched from above. Our eagle-eyed guide saw them first. We all stopped, gazing up into the trees trying to catch a glimpse until the animals' movements gave them away.
We'd make the same walk a number of times, learning that a number of different monkey species enjoyed hanging out in these trees, from squirrel monkeys and capuchins to dusky titis and more. Unfortunately, they weren't all that easy to capture on film, blending in with the lush greenery, though the red-hued dusky titi stood out a bit more.
We hopped into another canoe at the end of the boardwalk, gently floating down the calm, slow moving water as all sorts of colorful birds flittered about.
Was there a python lurking along the banks? A caiman ready to lunge out of the dark, almost black waters to enjoy a little human snack?
Of course, we all lived to tell the tale. Shom continued to be on the lookout for those snakes, but we never did catch a glimpse of even one, though caimans are another story. To date, our guide Victor said no tourists have been injured in all of the visits to Sani Lodge over the past 25 years since it's been open.
An incident did occur at another lodge, he pointed out, when two probably not-so-smart visitors decided to dangle their legs over a dock and into the water. Tourists going into the water was banned after that.
Upon our arrival to Sani Lodge, we were greeted by a delicious passion fruit and rum drink, an incredibly tasty beverage we went back to the bar for more than a few times.
The drink wasn't all that greeted us. We were also welcomed by the resident caiman Lucy, who had been lurking underneath the lodge deck in the water below, but ventured onto land after Victor offered her a bite to eat.
We didn't have much time to relax, however. Not long after heading to our cabins and unpacking our bags, dinner called, followed by a night hike.
Yes, a night hike, into the dark jungle, with only our flashlights, with our guide Victor leading the way. There were all sorts of interesting things to see - unfortunately, many of them blended in so well with the terrain, capturing many of them on film, like the fascinating stick bugs, proved difficult. Shom was relieved that there were no snakes waiting on the trail for a midnight snack, though Victor advised us they like to hang out up in the trees - a friend kindly pointed out that the only worse thing than accidentally stepping on a snake would be to have one fall out of the sky and land on you, something I hadn't really thought about until then. Thanks Steven.
Luckily, there were no snakes falling from the sky that night, or any other. We did see quite a few creatures, including two tarantulas, bats and a big frog. I managed to capture a couple of decent shots.
After making it through the night trek unscathed, we were all pretty worn out and made our way to the individual cabins on the property to sleep for the night. Breakfasts were very early - 5:30 a.m. as the wildlife is most active just after sunrise.
The possibilities that awaited that day filled us with excitement, and as Victor paddled the canoe across the calm water, we knew the early wake up call had been worth it. Stinky turkeys, parrots, parakeets, herons and other birds of all sorts could be seen soaring overhead and perched on branches.
We were on our way to the Sani Lodge observation tower, a 100-foot-tall tower built next to a massive Kapok tree, where you can look through the canopy of the rainforest and view some of the amazing Amazon biodiversity. (tower photo thanks to Ian and Catherine Cook)
From here, we heard the loud sounds of the red howler monkeys - which sound like very angry apes, or jet engines - and we saw numerous birds, including a sleeping owl that blended into the branches of the trees so well we wouldn't have known he was there had Victor not pointed him out, along with countless macaws, hummingbirds and a number of toucans who seemed to like posing for the camera, much to our delight.
Listen to the sounds of the birds - and in the background, you'll hear the incredibly loud grumblings of the howler monkeys in the distance:
Much of our time we spent walking the trails learning about the various plants and trees, like the Dragon's blood tree which has a rich, red sap known for its healing properties. It's been scientifically found to heal wounds, cuts, scrapes, insect bites, bacterial, viral and fungal infections of the skin, rashes, herpes, skin cancer, and much more. Something the natives to the region have known for years.
While paddling through the water, we had a discussion about whether or not the piranhas would instantly attack if one of us fell in, which ultimately led to another excursion - fishing for piranhas, although as Victor joked, it was more like feeding the piranhas.
We went out in the late afternoon, using a small piece of wood, fishing line, a hook and some chunks of meat to lure them in. Most of us were getting bites - the fish tend to nibble little bits off at a time, making them difficult to catch - but actually catching one seemed to be an impossible task. Victor decided to throw his line in and it was only a matter of minutes, maybe even seconds, before he pulled up a rat fish. We brought the fish back to the lodge and it was cooked up by the chefs to complement dinner that night. He landed a catfish too, but that was quickly released back into the water - Victor also finally managed to get a piranha on his line, but it got out of control and went straight back to where it came from. None of the rest of us had any luck, but the experience was something I don't think we'll ever forget.
Up early again the next day, we headed out to the macaw salt licks, a place where hundreds of the parrots come to gorge on the clay banks in order to augment their diet with important minerals.
After watching the parrots, we rode down the river in our canoe once again, this time, for a visit to a butterfly farm. We'd been lucky until this point not to get caught out in a rain storm. That luck ran out as we trekked through the jungle, but our trusty ponchos kept us mostly dry while we walked the trail, carefully crossing via makeshift bridges made from fallen trees.
Along the way, Victor broke off a branch and showed us the "lemon ants" inside. We all had a sample, and while our guide seemed to enjoy their sour flavor - something I usually love - most of us found that they unappetizingly stuck in the back of our throats.
We did very much enjoy our visit to Gustavo's butterfly farm, a Sani family-run project. We were shown the entire life cycle of the butterfly.
Next was a visit to the tribal community center for an insight into Kichwa life. We took a tour of the grounds and the school before watching our other guide, Cerillo, eat a live grub. He simply popped one of the rather gross looking, thick white creatures head first into his mouth and ate it like a delectable rare treat.
None of us took him up on the offer to try one for ourselves.
David and I both thought the white cocoa beans looked like little bird brains - and overhearing us, Victor told us that's just what they were. After everything we'd seen, we took him at his word, but they turned out to be white coca beans. We enjoyed a bite of those and even took a few sips of chicha, a chew-and-spit fermented alcoholic drink before dining on a tasty traditional meal cooked by the hard-working Sani women, who also make an impressive range of handmade crafts as well as coffee.
It was time for face painting and blowgun practice after that, something that brought a lot of laughs, and surprisingly, some rather accurate shots. Most of us hit the target on the second try, but if I believe it was Ian who was the real natural, managing to hit it both the first and second try.
On our last night we enjoyed time together, sipping a few too many beers and passion fruit/rum drinks, wishing we could stay a little longer.
We had to say goodbye to Ian and Catherine as their flight was arranged far too early, requiring a 4 a.m. trip for the four-hour journey back to Coca. Waking to the loud boom of thunder at 3:30 a.m., I can only imagine what traveling back in the canoe, in the pouring rain and darkness must have been like.
The three of us that remained, myself, David and Shom, wearily hopped in for our trip back that was thankfully minus the rain and the darkness, though still quite early. What were big smiles the night before, turned into quiet contemplation, and a rather heart-pounding scare when we nearly missed our flight.
Our time at Sani Lodge wasn't nearly long enough. But I did have Quito and a couple of tours from the capital to look forward to.
I landed in Quito, Ecuador late Tuesday night. I had no plans at all until Friday morning when I'd fly out to Sani Lodge in the Amazon (pictured to the left), and I really needed to catch up with work before going offline for nearly four days. Four days is the longest I've gone without Internet (and a cell signal) in years! I'm looking forward to it and also a little bit anxious about it, but I also know that it's a much needed break from work and an addiction to staring at a screen all the time.
But back to the point. That left me spending Thanksgiving working most of the day and pretty much stuck at my hotel as it's located near the airport and not close to much of anything else at all. While traveling is obviously one of my most favorite things to do, and I'm very grateful that I get to do it so often, it was just a little depressing knowing my family and friends were enjoying a big feast and time together while I was alone.
Still, I made the most of it, and, thankfully, the restaurant here at the San Jose de Puembo hotel is fantastic. It's so much fun to try new foods, and my Thanksgiving dinner definitely didn't disappoint. Yes, I missed my favorite dessert, pumpkin pie, but I had one of the most delicious meals. Ecuadorian food is diverse and highly underrated.
I started out with a homemade chicken soup - it was the best I've ever had, with lots of fresh veggies and huge chunks of chicken breast. My main dish was prawns with rice covered in a coconut sauce and fried plantains. If you never had plantains, they look like bananas, but they aren't sweet. I love them! The other day, I had ceviche and they brought out a little bowl with fried plantains, popcorn and Andean corn nuts - I wish I could bring a bunch of that back home!
Now, it's nearly time for me to leave once again, heading back to Quito Airport and into the Amazon where the real adventure awaits...parrots, monkeys, sloths...
No Internet until Monday afternoon., so I will see you all on the other side!
I'm overdue for a post. It's been nearly three weeks, but I've been busy catching up from my last trip, and getting ready for my next one: Ecuador. Why Ecuador you ask? Well, my first thought was to visit the Galapagos, a place that's been on my travel bucket list for awhile, and probably many others. But after doing some research, I decided that I needed to visit the Amazon first.
Ecuador's Yasuní National Park is considered one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, it’s home to more than 600 bird species, jaguars, pumas, monkeys, caimans and sloths, one of the most adorable creatures on Earth. The chance to see a sloth is what really got me.
Unfortunately this incredible region of the world is seriously threatened due to deforestation, climate change and a number of other factors, which is why it's so important to see it now before it's too late, and do it in a more eco-friendly way.
Many of the jungle lodges are a community initiative or operated with a view to helping the local indigenous communities, like Sani Lodge, which is where I'll be staying. It's run by the local Sani community deep within the Ecuadoran Amazon between the Cuyabeno Reserve and Yasuni National Park. Profits stays within the community which helps improve healthcare, education, and sustainable projects. The eco-lodge also uses pure solar energy, which not only helps limit the impact on the region, but tends to draw a greater abundance of wildlife due to the lack of noise.
Accommodation include meals as well as both day and night hikes, canoe excursions and more. While there is some limited Internet, I likely won't be able to do much more than check emails, so this will be an opportunity to truly relax and get back to nature, for 4 days and 3 nights, a longer period than I've had in years. But when I return to the capital city, Quito, the Monday after Thanksgiving, you can expect an update, and lots of pictures too.
ne of the questions I'm asked the most frequently is, "How do you find those low airfares?"
Unfortunately, there isn't an easy answer. There's no one magical way to always get the cheapest airfare every time. It takes a lot of time and effort, and there are no guarantees. Being flexible is really a must, as the cost can vary by hundreds of dollars from one day to the next. Usually, if you can avoid traveling on a Friday, Sunday or Monday, you'll get a better rate, but that's not always the case. And, if you have your heart set on flying around a major holiday, don't expect bargain prices (the exception is flying internationally over the Thanksgiving holiday, a time when airfares can be very low).
Check Google Flights
It's important to compare fares on a few third-party booking engines like Expedia or Travelocity, but one of the best places to start these days is on Google. Google Flights will let you pull up a calendar so you can choose the date with the lowest airfare, and it tends to be very reliable too. While you can't book it directly there, it will tell you where you can. You may want to check directly on the airline site as well.
Sign Up For Alerts
Many travel web sites offer to email airfare alerts, letting you know when an airfare goes below a certain price. Google Flights is one of them, but you may want to sign up for a few as they all work differently.
Low Cost U.S. to Europe Airlines
If you want to go to Europe, there are now two low-cost carriers flying between the U.S. and many locations throughout Europe, including Norwegian Air and Wow Air. Wow Air is based in Iceland, and it also offers the chance to spend a layover in Iceland without any extra cost. You will have to pay extra for baggage fees and other services, but most of the time, you'll still save big. Norwegian is very bare bones, but I paid just $149 for a one-way airfare from London to JFK recently.
Timing Your Purchase Right
Timing your airline ticket purchase right is essential, as rates change daily, and sometimes even hourly. Certain trends can help to increase your chances of getting the lowest airfare; the best deals are usually found between Tuesday and Thursday, while purchasing 11 to 12 weeks ahead of your anticipated travel dates is also considered optimal. As that's not always the case, your best bet is to check frequently - every day, and even more often, at various times of the day, if you're able.
On my return trip from Greece, I had a self-imposed 2-night layover in London as I hoped to visit my cousin and her husband who live about a two hour drive from Gatwick Airport, as well as explore a bit of the English countryside, perhaps visit Stonehenge and Salisbury and take a tour of the city as well.
As it turned out, the tour was cancelled for lack of participants, but that ended up being a good thing as that would have been way too much to cram into the time I had. When I learned the tour was a no go, I did some searching online and found a great deal for a stay in a castle in Thornbury, Gloucestershire, not far from where my cousin lives in Wiltshire. I've stayed in quite a few Irish castles, but never an English castle and I'd never even heard of this one. It looked spectacular. And it was.
Closely listening to my GPS, I made one turn after another through the winding lane that was framed by the vibrant colors of autumn. It was a residential neighborhood, and I questioned whether or not Siri was sending me on a goose chase. "You've arrived," Siri announced as I reached a stone gate and a long driveway with a sign posted Thornbury Castle. Just before the castle to the right was St. Mary's Church, the oldest surviving building in Thornbury, dating all the way back to the 12th century. As I made my way through the gate and the castle itself came into view, the exhaustion of the late night flight from Athens to London quickly faded away. I couldn't believe this was where I was actually going to spend the night.
Stepping in, I was treated like royalty from the start, with the front desk receptionist insisting on lugging my heavy suitcase up several flights of stairs up to my room, called the "deClare." If you've ever seen the movie "The Holiday," that scene where Kate Winslet runs through Cameron Diaz's Hollywood home jumping for joy, that's just how I felt. Especially when I saw the bed. The four-poster bed has a chandelier right above it, with silky draperies wrapped around. I had one of the best night's sleeps in recent memory. Good thing, because I had a long day ahead.
The plan was to drive through The Cotswolds, visit Salisbury Cathedral and at least try to see Stonehenge from a distance - all before 2 p.m., the time I had to be back at the airport for my flight to New York.
Just driving through the countryside was enjoyable, but The Cotswold District truly looked like something out of a fairy-tale. I had just enough time to walk around and take a few pictures before speeding off to Salisbury. Salisbury Cathedral's tall spire came into view well before I reached the city. It's the tallest church spire in the entire United Kingdom, at 404 feet, and it also boasts the oldest working clock in the world, dating to 1386.
Just driving by it isn't an option - you've got to park and walk, and the sand in that hour glass was quickly running out. I found a spot and ran, literally running through the streets of Salisbury in order to capture images of the 13th-century cathedral up close.
It was truly one of the most breathtaking things I've ever laid eyes on. For a few minutes I completely forgot about the time. When I finally looked, it was 12:15 p.m., and I was an hour and 45 minutes from Gatwick Airport.
I barely made it, returning my car at 2:01 p.m., making the decision on the journey back, that I will return next year.
When I got home, I dug through my huge box of ancestry papers and discovered that not only were a number of my ancestors from Gloucestershire, I have an ancestor with a connection to Berkeley Castle, just 8 miles from Thornbury.
On my next trip, I'm going to need a lot more than 2 days.
If you're interested in traveling to discover your roots, be sure to check out DNA Adventures!
With popular shows like "Who Do You Think You Are?" and "Finding Your Roots," a lot of people have been thinking about, or are already in the process of, discovering their roots. Many would love to travel to some of the places their ancestors are from, maybe visiting a magnificent castle that a great great grandfather once called home, or simply taking a walk through a farm where a great great grandmother once planted seeds to grow produce for the family's meals. Experiences like these are extraordinary, and can even be life changing.
But how do you find where these places are? And, if you don't know where your ancestors are from, it can be even trickier. While traveling to a far-off place like Ireland, Scotland, Germany or any foreign country can be an exciting prospect, if you hope to find out more about your family tree and enjoy a rewarding experience, you'll need to do some research before you get there.
Where to begin?
Understand that it's going to take a lot of time and effort, but the best place to start is with what you already know. Gather together all the information you can about your parents, grandparents and great grandparents, if possible, on both sides. Talk to older relatives, or perhaps you have a relative who's already done some research and can give you a good head start.
Sites like Ancestry.com, Familysearch.org and Genealogy.com can help get you on the right track. For example, Ancestry.com has literally billions of searchable, indexed records -- everything from passenger records to census data and more. Begin with one family member, such as a grandparent, and branch out from there. For each person, create a timeline of where and when they were born, where they lived, went to school, were married, and so on. This can help you discover gaps and help you determine what you need to look for.
Once you know the destinations you want to visit related to your family history, it can really help to get in touch with a few of the locals, like city clerks, museum staff, librarians and clergy.
If you can provide them with information, they may be able to flag potential documents that can maximize time on the ground while visiting. But don't stop there, when booking reservations at places like inns or bed and breakfasts, be sure to mention the reason for your stay. You might be surprised to learn that your host has information about your family, and there may even be relatives living in the area today. Once you've arrived, don't be shy about mentioning it during conversations either.
If you're short on time, and are anxious to visit your desired travel destination, you may want to consider getting some assistance. As exploring your DNA through travel can be such a rewarding experience, there are an increasing number of experts out there who can help at a relatively reasonable cost.
As both travel and genealogy are passions of mine, and I have extensive experience with both, I've partnered with another knowledgeable traveler/genealogy enthusiast, Patti Kelsey Nicklaw, to help put these types of trips together, in addition to offering travel planning itinerary services.
Nearly two decades ago, after extensive research and a couple of visits to Ireland, I found my Irish family and was able to walk through the very home that my great great grandparents, and great grandfather lived in, in addition to meeting countless extended family members. It changed my life, and I relish the opportunity to help do that for others through DNA Adventures, coming soon!
If this service is something you might be interested in - or, if you have any questions or comments, please don't hesitate to leave them here, or email me directly at KCDermody@gmail.com.
Having just returned from my trip to Greece, I can say without a doubt that it was one of my best travel experiences ever. My only regret is not having more time, which seems to be the case with most places I visit, though that's especially true when it comes to Naxos.
What I didn't expect was such incredibly warm, welcoming people. Everywhere I went, people were kind - they don't treat tourists like dollar signs (or euro in this case). While I'm sure there are exceptions, everyone I met was genuinely friendly, willing to help and offer advice. It was the opposite of the experience I had in Rome last year, where the goal seemed to be draining each and every visitor of their last euro, and there were countless scams and even the potential of being robbed just about everywhere you went.
In Greece, things seemed almost entirely stress-free. The only bump in the road, if you will, was taking a fall trying to get down a cove for a swim. My GPS worked perfectly, the rides I'd scheduled met me on time, in fact one of the drivers insisted on walking me directly to the ferry office to pick up my tickets and then took me directly to the ship and helped me with my luggage. I kept being surprised by little kindnesses like this everywhere I went.
While Athens is a large, sprawling city, the main sights are in a small, very walkable area, and easy to find. Seeing the Parthenon on the Athenian Acropolis and wandering through the National Archaeological Museum was absolutely mind blowing. You read about these things in school, and see them in documentaries, but there is really nothing like seeing a temple, statues, and countless other artifacts that date back so many centuries, in person. It brings those ancient times to life.
It wasn't easy choosing which island, or islands I would go to from Athens, but I decided on Naxos and Santorni, with 10 and 2 days respectively on each. It turns out, that was a very good decision.
I know, you've probably seen those stunning photos of Santorini for years, and have possibly even dreamed of going there. It's on practically every travelers' bucket list. And while it is worth visiting, I think 2 or 3 days is more than enough time. In fact, it may even be a bit overrated. I was there in late September, which is supposed to be the less busy time, but getting to places like the popular Red Beach and OIa village, there were so many people, it looked like the crowds at Disneyland. To me, that really detracts from the experience. I actually spent most of my time at my hotel there, enjoying a spectacular view of the caldera - it truly felt as if it was something out of a dream. I chose a quieter area of the island, Akrotiri, for my stay, which was at Kalestesia Suites, away from the majority of popular attractions. That was a wise decision, allowing me to soak up the atmosphere and just relax. And, the staff there make you feel like royalty!
Naxos is the island I fell in love with. It has everything - it's far less expensive than Santorini, there were few crowds, it has the most beautiful beaches in the Greek Islands, soaring mountains dotted with whitewashed villages, miles and miles of hiking trails, and numerous ancient ruins too. There is so much to see and do, 10 days was not enough, which means I will definitely have to go back. I hiked to the top of Mt. Zeus (or Zas as it's called there), I swam in crystal-clear waters that were a shade of aquamarine like I've never seen before, snorkeled in a cave, visited a castle, wandered through beautiful Old Town Naxos with its marble streets, and enjoyed some of the most breathtaking sunsets I've ever seen, right from the patio of my apartment at Iliada Suites.
And the food! Fresh seafood galore, including one of my favorites, mussels steamed in a garlic wine sauce and some of the biggest shrimp I've ever seen. Often times, the lavish yet very inexpensive meals came with a free dessert, usually fruit and a slice of baklava. Good thing I was getting a lot of exercise.
The next time I head to Greece, I'd like to visit some of the other islands, including Crete and Paros, and maybe even stay on the tiny island of Iraklia, a spot I visited on a sailing trip. But I will definitely be going back to Naxos.
While Santorini is worth visiting to see the caldera, I highly recommend staying on Naxos as long as you can. You won't regret it.
If you travel a lot like I do, when you don't make an effort to stick to a healthy diet, it's easy to pack on the pounds. Lots of fish 'n' chips and Guinness aren't exactly a good way to stay slim. After gaining 10+ pounds in a year or so of frequent travel, I finally managed to lose it and in the process have come up with a number of ways to prevent it from returning in the process.
I think a lot of us could use some travel therapy right now - a chance to truly escape the barrage of bad news, the natural disasters or even broken relationships.
Not sure what travel therapy is? Well, traveling is the therapy - it can soothe the soul and bring enlightenment, but mostly, it opens up an entirely new way of looking at the world. It can change your perspective on life, and sometimes even change your life entirely, in ways you never thought were possible.
While the destination in itself doesn't always matter, there are some that do truly provide the ultimate escape, allowing you to forget about your worries, break away from the daily grind and the chaos of the modern world. Perhaps you'll connect with nature, discover an unknown talent, or even find the meaning of true happiness.
Research has found that traveling actually boosts levels of perceived happiness, lifts one's mood, lowers the risk of depression, decreases stress hormones and even reduces blood pressure to help you live a longer, higher quality of life.
What does travel therapy mean to you?
Whatever the answer is, these destinations are likely to provide the getaway you've been desperately in need of.
There are many spirit-renewing places in Ireland to spend time in. Visit Newgrange, a short drive north of Dublin and you'll experience Europe's oldest megalithic site. It's at least a thousand years older than the Giza Pyramids. Venturing inside enlightens the soul, no matter what your faith.
Head to Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands, accessible by ferry or plane. It's home to one of the finest Celtic stone circle forts in all of Europe, Dun Aengus. Lie down on the soft grass at the edge of the nearly 330-foot-high cliffs and gaze out at the Atlantic - the dramatic cliffside location, the desolation, the ancient stones, all make this spot incredibly unique.
Visit the smallest of the Aran Islands, Inisheer, for an especially tranquil experience. Wander around the maze of paths that wind through old stone walls, with holy wells, castle ruins, rare plants and birds spotted along the way.
Isle of Islay, Scotland
The southernmost isle of Scotland’s Inner Hebrides offers an especially serene, magical beauty, as well as lush scenery that includes idyllic stretches of sand that sit at the edge of brilliant azure waters. An enchanting energy is often sensed here, by both locals and visitors, especially while walking over the hill to view Loch Finlaggan. There are also multiple spots that are known as “natural power places," along with numerous ancient relics spread across the picturesque landscape.
Machu Picchu, Peru
Machu Picchu has long been considered a place of power. This mysterious "lost city" is truly special - in fact, its original inhabitants believed it was the true center of the universe. Those who live in this region today emanate faith and wisdom that often leaves visitors with a profound sense of significance in the world.
Sedona, Arizona is known as a 'thin place,' where the veil between spirit and flesh, life and death, is believed to be more permeable. It's considered a spiritual power center as the power that emanates from the multiple vortexes in the area is said to produce some of the most remarkable energy on Earth. Some say that you can actually feel it, but whether or not you believe they actually exist, there is one thing that’s undeniable, people are drawn here for something more than just its incredibly stunning beauty
Todos Santos, Baja, Mexico
Officially designated a Pueblo Magico, or Magic Town, in 2006 by the Mexican Tourism Secretary, magical is most certainly the word that best describes it. Every time I've traveled here, I leave with a sense of feeling renewed. Located just off the Pacific coast, about 50 miles north of Cabo San Lucas, it boasts a natural oasis of palms and lush fruit trees along with endless stretches of golden sands that are often empty, even during the peak of the busy season.
In town are nearly an endless number of outstanding eateries, many serving dishes based on fresh, local ingredients like organic produce and seafood. Browse through the art galleries and small local shops tucked between old brick colonial buildings. The 1733 mission Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Todos Santos not only offers stunning views of the Valle de Pilar and the ocean, but if you time it right, you can take in the scene with a backdrop of beautiful song that carries from the church, floating through down the hill, across the palms and out to the sea.
We're told the world is a scary place. That there are terrorists or drug cartels waiting, just outside of airports, hotels and so on, ready to rob, kidnap or kill us in other countries. And when that's not the case, we might be told it's dirty, or people will be rude to you because you're an American.
Only a little over one-third of Americans have a passport, compared to nearly three-quarters of Australians and Brits. Much of the reason behind that is fear (and lack of funding, of course).
If fear has been holding you back, you should know that much of the world is quite safe to travel in. In fact, in rankings based on "crime/homicide rates and drugs and crime, likelihood of terrorism and terrorism casualties, police force effectiveness, costs of security within the country on business, reliability of protection services, rates of property crime and violence," as SafeDestinations.com notes, it's the U.S. that looks a lot more scary, ranking at No. 73 of the safest countries to travel, below Albania, Bahrain and Kazakhstan. View the entire list here: Safe Countries For Travel
Are there any surprises? Which countries did you think were probably safest, and which did you think would be more dangerous?
You also might be surprised to learn that many Europeans I've met are actually afraid to travel in the U.S. because of gun violence and other issues.
It's time to give up that notion that we can only travel safely at home - the key, no matter where you travel, and whether or not you travel alone, is to follow a few common sense safety tips.
The first thing you should do, even before purchasing those airline tickets, is to check for travel warnings, alerts and particular requirements in your desired destination by visiting travel.state.gov. Here you can also learn about local customs and laws, medical care and visa requirements. Some foreign destinations require you to have certain vaccinations, so you’ll want to be sure you have plenty of time to take care of that in advance, if necessary.
Make copies of important documents
Make electronic copies of all your important documents before you leave, including a copy of your passport, visas if necessary, driver’s license, medical insurance card, travel insurance and immunization record, if applicable. By scanning these items you can email the file to yourself so you can access it easily on the road should any of the paperwork become damaged or misplaced.
What not to bring
Although it’s a good idea to avoid bringing valuables no matter where you go, it’s especially important when heading to poorer countries where there may be a greater threat of having items stolen. There’s really no need to bring all of that shiny, sparkling jewelry with you anyway. While you may think you look like an icon of style, to con-artists and criminals, you’re a great target. If you must bring it, keep it in a hotel safe and take it out only for special occasions.
The key is to not look like a tourist, but to be confident, and fit in with the local crowd as much as you can – it makes for a more authentic experience too.
Research your destination
Before you go, take time to get to know your destination by doing some research online. Find out if there are any areas you should avoid. You may also want to review a map of the area to make it easier to get your bearings when you arrive. Take note of the nearest U.S. embassy and carry those contact details with you, in English as well as the local language in case of emergency.
Be aware of common scams and be prepared for pickpockets
Before you go, do some research into common scams – for example, in Rome thieves may try to distract you by offering to take your photo with a parakeet, once the bird is on your shoulder, they’ll make off with your purse or wallet. Pickpocketing is common in many big cities around the world, which means you should never keep anything in your back pocket, like your cell phone, hotel room keys or wallet. Women should keep their purses around their neck, and not over their shoulder.
Give Someone a Copy of Your Itinerary
At least one person back home should have a copy of your itinerary. Then be sure to update them by email, social media status updates, or phone, so that they know you're safe and happy. If for some reason they don't hear from you, they'll at least have an idea as to where you last were and where you're headed.
Get a Global Data Plan For Your Phone
Being able to use your phone while you're abroad is a great way to stay safe - you'll easily be able to use it if you get lost, for example - and you'll also be able to stay in touch with people back home easier too. These days staying connected is cheaper than ever before, so there's no reason not to have a working cell phone with you.
Listen to Your Gut
If it doesn't feel right don't do it. Your intuition is one of the best things you have when it comes to staying safe.
Following these tips and simply using common sense, can help ensure that you enjoy the best possible, incident-free experience.
After spending much of her life in a cubicle, at 40-something K.C. decided to finally LIVE. Today, she is always on some sort of adventure, or writing about it.
She hopes her journey will inspire you to do the same.