Have you ever seen the northern lights? Watching the aurora was something that was on my bucket list ever since I can remember. I was fascinated with stories about Alaska, with my grandparents frequently making the long drive to the state every year, telling me all about their encounters with moose, the incredible wilderness scenery and the aurora. In the early 1990s, the TV show 'Northern Exposure' was my favorite, and on one episode the mood induced by the lights caused dreaming among Cicely's residents to intensify, reminding me once again that I really needed to go someday.
It was another decade or so before I made it to Alaska, and as my visit was in July it was all about the Midnight Sun with no chance of witnessing the aurora. In 2015, I made my first trip to Iceland and instantly fell in love. One of the top spots for watching the lights, I made it my mission to find them. The odds are better close to or above the Arctic Circle in Finland, Norway and Sweden, all countries "on my list," but the fantasy-like scenery in Iceland makes for a fantastic adventure, aurora or not.
As part of the first-personal travel stories series by Trips To Discover, I chronicled my journey here in Chasing the Northern Lights in Iceland.
Have you ever witnessed the aurora? I'd love to hear about it, and, pictures if you have them, please!
In the spring of 2010, I started a new life chapter by packing up my little red Mitsubishi Mirage with camping gear and other necessities, with the goal to break out of cubicle life and live my dream. A decade later, while I may not be a famous travel writer, I've accomplished more than I ever imagined, breaking free from the 9-5 grind, visiting many countries around the world, and hopefully many more to come. It all began with six months of (mostly) car camping. While there's a lot more to this story, you can read about my journey here, Adventures on the Road: 6 Months Car Camping in the West.
With travel on hold, I've been doing a lot of reminscing lately. My schedule has been incredibly busy for many years now. Documenting all my trips is something I haven't had much time for, with much of it spent creating itineraries so that others could go and enjoy. But thanks to a new series with TripsToDiscover, I've been able to put together some of those stories for the site.
Tourist crowds just aren't my thing. When planning a trip to Italy, I wanted to go beyond the usual hot spots, and Puglia didn't disappoint. This area in the southeast often referred to as the "heel of the boot," is far less-visited, providing an authentic Italian experience that I won't soon forget. While it's worth visiting places like Florence and Rome, getting "lost" in Puglia was the highlight. You can read all about it here: Lost in Authentic Puglia – Exploring Italy’s Least Traveled Region
Have You Ever Spent the Night in a Haunted Castle? Here's a Look Back at My Night Alone in Ireland's Ross Castle
My Irish cousin thought I was crazy to want to spend the night in Ross Castle. In a place filled with reportedly haunted castles, Ross is said to be one of the most haunted, perhaps only behind the famously terrifying Leap Castle in County Offaly that's been featured in numerous paranormal shows. Plenty of paranormal investigators have stayed at Ross Castle, located virtually in the middle of nowhere in County Meath, reached through a maze of back roads which gives it even more an eerie, "should I really be doing this?" kind of feel.
Not one to shy away from an adventure like this and the opportunity to stay in an authentic historic castle, I left my cousin's house with little containers filled with what was marked as "holy salt" and "holy water" and I took off.
I recently wrote about my night there, which turned out to be a night spent all alone, in the castle's tower room at the top. You can read all about it here, 'A Night Alone in the Tower of Ireland's Ross Castle.'
Note: If you want to check out this castle, be aware that there are two Ross Castles in Ireland, the other one is located in Killarney National Park. This one is in County Meath, about 90 minutes northwest of Dublin.
Nihi Sumba offers the chance to stay in a slice of ultimate paradise overlooking the Indian Ocean - learn more about this incredible resort that's been name the first best in the world in my latest article here: Nimi Sumba A Lavish Retreat on the Edge of the Wilderness.
But know that it's not just about luxury. As James McBride, CEO, notes, and I witnessed firsthand, it's "become a philanthropic vehicle dedicated to supporting projects of the Sumba Foundation," a foundation that's been making life better for 27,000 Sumbanese every day, including water, health, education and economic iniaties. Owner Chris Burch covers all administrative costs of the foundation, including all staff salaries, so that donations go directly to fund these projects to help ease the burdens of poverty communities on the island were living under.
The resort has had to temporarily shutter its doors because of the Coronavirus, which means family's won't be able to pay for their children's education and even their most basic needs. They'll soon begin to run out of food, unable to afford to buy what they need due to consecuitve poor cropping seasons.
As I recently wrote about my time on Sumba Island, spending time with the local Sumbanese people was the highlight - their kindness, and the joy in their hearts, it was something almost tangible. I wanted to reach out, grab it and take it back home with me. While we're all hurting in one way or another, many of us financially and emotionally, being separated from the ones we love, and some physically too, for the majority, we are comparitively fortunate. If you are able, a Sumba Crisis Relief Fund has been set up here so that you can join Nihi Sumba and Sumba Foundation to help combat the spread of COVID-19 and provide relief to families affected by the economic impact of the pandemic.
Owner Chris Burch has pledged 1:1 matching for all donations, up to a cumulative total of $200,000, to The Sumba Foundation. All contributions will directly support The Sumba Foundation and the government's health services with medicines, medical equipment, personal protective equipment, testing, and monitoring equipment, virus education and prevention, tuition support, immediate food aid (rice, eggs, flour), and to directly support the Foundation's water and malnutrition projects.
If you can help at all, it would be a wonderful way to give back. and hopefully someday when this is all said and done, you can experience this magical place and its people for yourself.
The first half of my trip to Indonesia was incredible - I recently wrote about my time on Sumba Island staying at Nihi Sumba resort. It's a place I dream of going back to, and a place whose people I will never forget - every day, I worry and wonder how they are doing, how they will survive with tourism stopped. It was, as Nihi Sumba recently noted in an update, the "backbone of the budding Sumbanese economy. Families will no longer be able to pay for their children's education and basic needs. More pressingly, over the coming months, people will run out of food and will not be able to afford to buy what they need as a result of consecutive poor cropping seasons."
While I'll be supporting the Sumbanese in any way I can, the focus of this post is the story that a number of people have asked me to write. The day the monkey broke into my room on Bali, and the anxiety of trying to get back home. It was something I'll never forget. The article isn't like most that I write - it's a bit long, but I hope you will enjoy reading it.
Here is the link, written for Trips To Discover.
Lockdown in Bali with a Monkey Burglar and the Long Road Home
I knew that traveling to Sumba Island was an experience of a lifetime, but little did I know as I set out to embark on the 30+ hours of flights to Indonesia was how life-transforming it would be, and in more ways than one.
Sumba, and Nihi Resort particularly, was the reason I traveled so far, a decision not made lightly with the Coronavirus outbreak just starting to make waves. Little did I know how quickly things would change, but that's an entirely different story I'll be chronicling soon. For now check out my article on Trips to Discover: 12 Reasons to Visit Sumba Island, which reveals the best part of my arduous journey, and why I plan to go back as soon as I'm able.
Would love to hear your comments - have you had any life transforming trips? Where is the furthest and/or most remote place you've traveled?
I'm in Joshua Tree for a short visit before heading to Sedona and the Grand Canyon in Arizona. It's a magical place, even more so at sunrise and sunset when brilliant colors linger in the sky, making the landscape with its bizarre plants and ginormous boulders seem even more alien-like.
If you've never been, it's a place you'll want to put on your must-visit list only two hours from Los Angeles. It's popular with rock climbers, but my favorite thing to do here is to hike. There are short treks like the one-mile Hidden Valley loop trail that will bring you through a traquil valley encircled on all sides by towering rock formations, also passing a wide variety of desert plants and Joshua Trees - each one is unique and they all seem to have their own "personalities."
The 3-mile round trip Ryan Mountain trail ascends 1,075 feet in just 1.5 miles, culminating at an elevation of 5,457 feet. At the top you'll enjoy spectacular panoramic views of jumbled rock formations and Joshua Tree forests surrounding the peak through the Queen, Lost Horse and Pleasant Valleys.
49 Palms Oasis is 3-mile roundtrip hike where you'll find towering stands of fan palms at its end. They create a canopy over pools of water that are surrounded by large boulders, providing an especially scenic area for contemplation.
Another one of my favorite spots is the Cholla Cactus Garden. There's a short nature trail that winds through hundreds of different cacti of varying sizes, shapes and colors like the cholla cactus, or Teddy Bear cactus.
At the end of the day, one of the most popular things to do is watch the sunset from Keys View - a crowd gathers here every evening just before dusk. As you drive back to the western entrance of the park near Joshua Tree village, the sky continues to get even more brilliant until the colors finally fade away to reveal millions of stars. If you visit, you might want to check out my article on Trips To Discover for even more things to do here.
Have you ever thought about planning a trip around an Airbnb? Some are so unique, it can be a great way to discover a place you might never have thought about visiting anyway. And, for those who like an adventure, the world's most remote Airbnbs are sure to make for an unforgettable escape.
Check out some of these great options from fantasy-like islands to options in the dramatic Himalayas, the tranquil Faroe Islands and beyond in one of my recent articles for Trips To Discover here. They're all a perfect way to stray off the well beaten tourist path and enjoy something a little different.
Whether you travel overseas frequently, or are getting ready to head out on your first trip, international travel requires a good amount of planning along with an adventurous spirit that’s willing to go with the flow and adapt to unfamiliar conditions. Of course, too many bumps in the road can make things stressful, but these tips will help you avoid those hurdles for easier overseas travel.
Get a credit card with no foreign transaction fees
If you don’t have one already, be sure to get a credit card with no foreign transaction fees as those fees can add up quickly. Many banks will charge you a 1 to 3% foreign transaction fee when you use their cards overseas, and even if you’re earning miles, the cost tends to negate the value. A quick Google search will turn up a number of cards that waive those fees, such as Chase Sapphire Preferred, Bank of America Travel Rewards and Capital One Venture Rewards.
Notify your credit card companies and banks that you’ll be traveling
Be sure to notify all of your credit card companies and banks (at least of those you’ll be using overseas) that you’ll be traveling, or you could end up getting your transaction denied due to suspicious activity. Many banks automatically decline transactions when they take place in a foreign country (sometimes even just another state), if they haven’t been notified ahead of time. Oftentimes you can simply fill out a form online indicating the dates you’ll be gone and where you’re going.
Get some foreign cash and learn the currency conversions
While you don’t want to get a lot of foreign cash before you go, it is a good idea to exchange a small amount just to avoid the stress of looking for an ATM when you first arrive, fatigued and jet lagged. Afterwards, using your debit card to get cash at an ATM is typically the most convenient and the least expensive option.
Once you have a bit of foreign money in hand, get familiar with what it looks like and find out what the rough exchange rate is so that you’re more comfortable with the local currency before you arrive. It can also be helpful to get a smartphone app for real-time conversions.
Pay your bills ahead of time or set up automatic payments
You don’t want to have to worry about paying your bills while you’re on vacation. Try to pay as many as you can ahead of time, and for those you can’t, look into setting up automatic payments. That way you can forget all about them and enjoy a good time without concern over late payments and high interest rates.
Check your passport
While the U.S. will allow you to use your passport up to the date on the inside cover, many countries will deny you entry if it expires in less than six months, as they don’t want you to end up stuck there on an expired passport. You'll also need a blank page available for every country you visit - if you're running low or you run out completely you can't simply add pages, you'll have to pay for a renewal. Double check yours and renew if necessary.
Scan all your important documents
Scan all of your important documents and then email copies to yourself so that you can always access them should the originals get lost. That includes items like your passport, driver’s license, health insurance card and visa.
Proper packing can make traveling a whole lot easier – always think less is more, as lugging around heavy bags will literally drag you down. Research the weather of the area you’re visiting beforehand, and try to choose garments you can layer so that you’ll be prepared for temperature variations. Don’t bring items you’ve never worn – bring things you know you feel comfortable in, including shoes. Depending on your destination, you may want to do a little research on the culture, as for example, in some, women’s shoulders and legs need to remain covered, no matter how hot it might be.
You can make the most out of the space you have by rolling your clothes instead of folding them. You’ll be surprised to find how much room you can save. Make even more good use of space by rolling your underwear and socks and tucking them inside of your shoes or hats. Don’t forget to leave a little extra room for those souvenirs you’re going to want to bring back either. Taking along a laundry bag or even a trash bag for dirty clothes is a good way to keep them separated from the clean ones.
You’ll probably want your camera, memory card, necessary chargers and perhaps other electronic devices too. When you’re traveling overseas, you’re also likely to need a power adaptor in order to keep all of those electronics charged. All over the world, there are different types of electrical wall outlets. Unless you’re visiting a destination that has the same outlet configuration as your home country, you’ll need an adapter. Adapter plugs do not convert electricity, they simply allow your device’s plug to fit into the foreign outlet. Fortunately, they’re cheap and easy to find at online and brick-and-mortar stores.
Contact your cell phone carrier
The majority of the major cell phone carriers offer international roaming plans these days that can save you money on calling as well as data while you’re overseas. Some even provide unlimited global roaming that can really be helpful, as you can use your phone for GPS, and of course, access all of its other features too. Contact your carrier to find out what’s available to you, and be sure to inquire about all possible fees that could be incurred. If it’s too pricey, in many places you can pick up an inexpensive prepaid phone at the airport when you arrive.
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.