So, what’s happened to me in the past year since becoming a travel writer? Well, I’ve received the services of a butler…enjoyed a helicopter thrill ride…and called a best-selling author “neighbor.” Before travel writing, I thought these things only happened to people in the movies. Now, my dream-come-true is happening as we speak.
Someone once asked me the most ridiculous thing I ever did as a travel writer. The list is long—very long—but the notion that I could communicate in Chinese was pretty ridiculous. The day’s plan was to explore the 1,000-year-old town of Yangmei, not far from Nanning. It sounded fascinating—a place of temples, lotus ponds, and architecture dating back to the Ming dynasty. The hotel in Nanning arranged a taxi to get me there and back, so it didn’t matter that I’d left the phrase book in my room.
The place they now call home is a Cape Cod-style cottage on the hillside of a popular neighborhood. But this is a relatively recent development. For nearly two decades, they’ve been sailing around the world together. Years ago, they discovered that a sailing retirement was a lot easier (and cheaper) than they ever could have realized. And they didn’t need a vast amount of knowledge to get started.
Tripping over a tiger is a first for me. Thankfully, it didn’t seem perturbed. If you’ve been in Paris and done the same, I know where you were—up the stairs at Deyrolle. On Rue du Bac in the 7th arrondissement, this store—if store is quite the word—is extraordinary. In business since 1831, Deyrolle is a cabinet of curiosities on the grand and gothic scale. Bats hang from the ceiling. Exotic beasts stare at you from every nook and cranny. An ape perches nonchalantly on a desk.
For any intrepid traveler, finding great deals on airfares is one of the best ways to save money as you travel. And fortunately, there’s an app on the market that can help you do just that. Hopper is a smartphone app (available in the Apple app store) that can tell you the cheapest time to fly to locations all around the world and find you the cheapest deals on airfare. Knowing the right time to book can save you up to 40% on airfare alone.
Although living in Cuenca, Ecuador, seems like a year-round vacation for me, it’s still nice to get away for a few days to explore other parts of this beautiful country. And one spot that’s well worth a visit is the small coastal village of Puerto López.
Located right at the heart of South America, Bolivia is famous for amazing natural settings, stunning wildlife, and intriguing archeological sites. And in one very special town, you have all this right on the doorstep: Samaipata.
Advances in the internet have changed so much about living or working abroad. My wife, Suzan, and I have seen it happen before our eyes. When we first moved abroad in 2001, “instant” messaging was just taking off. If you could get a decent internet connection (which was a much bigger “if” back then than now) you could type a message to someone and get a reply in just a minute or two…which was pretty much “instant” at the time. It was truly amazing for us and for our family and friends back home.
There is no better way to celebrate island life than to step aboard a boat and cruise away from shore for stunning views and extraordinary experiences. Whether it’s in a luxury yacht, a spacious catamaran, a quaint sailboat, or a personal kayak… The Caribbean island of Roatán, off the northern coast of Honduras, is surrounded by clear turquoise water.
Slowly the walls rise above us, hemming us in as our vessel sinks into the depths. Barn-sized doors of riveted steel loom above us as valves open and siphon the water away. With a clank, the doors crack open, widening to reveal another chamber. We sail in, feeling as though we’re in a gigantic bathtub…
You have probably heard of Cuenca. It’s Ecuador’s most popular retirement haven, home to thousands of contented expats, colonial architecture, verdant parks, galleries, museums, and plenty of bars and restaurants. But that’s just the city itself. Since arriving, my work with a local tour company has helped me uncover some of the best day trips:
Because of its easy mix of the archaic and modern, the Malaysian island of Penang has been described by expats as stepping back in time with all the benefits of modern comforts. Here twenty-first century conveniences abound, but this multi-cultural island holds onto enough of its Old-World, Asian charm to make it a real haven for those eager to experience new cultures and traditions.
As fall arrives in the northern hemisphere, Nicaragua remains warm, with temperatures averaging 79 F. That makes it easy to enjoy the outdoor festivities that sweep the country. The San Jerónimo festival, in the city of Masaya, sees a statue of the country’s patron saint taken from its usual haunt, the church altar, and carried around the town, accompanied by traditional dancers. One of the procession’s highlights is the Mozote y Verga, in which dancers reenact great battles of Nicaragua’s past from the Filibuster War of 1856 to the ousting of the dictatorship in 1979. The event kicks off on September 30.
As I watch the sun setting on the little Korean ﬁshing village of Sinnam, the cicadas singing and a cool breeze blowing in from the sea, I can just about make out the silhouette of a giant penis on the horizon. Which makes sense, of course. Sinnam, in Gangwon province, is home to Haesindang Park (known as Penis Park to visitors), a sculpture park dedicated to sometimes crude, often hilarious, efﬁgies of the male genitalia.
September is a special time in the South African town of Hermanus. The end of this month heralds the arrival of giants just offshore, as the southern right whales return to mate and reproduce. You can get amazing views of these 50-ton behemoths from your hotel room, or catch one of the many chartered boats for an even closer look. Right whales are famously friendly and will often approach boats…a trait that made them an attractive target for the whalers of old. The waters off Hermanus are home to another, more terrifying denizen of the deep: the great white shark. And this is one of the best places in the world to get up close and personal with this awesome predator…from the safety of a cage, of course. For around $110, you can even get a cameraman to ﬁlm your dive for you.
It’s easy to succumb to the stereotype that Tokyo is a cold, concrete skyline with a 24-hour lifestyle dedicated to hard work. But I know it as one of the friendliest cities I have ever visited, with overwhelming personality and too many hidden cultural gems to count. The Imperial Palace is deﬁnitely worth a visit, with its immaculate gardens and history stretching back centuries. The palace was ﬁrst built in 1888 by Emperor Meiji the Great, who oversaw Japan’s transition from a feudal society to one of the world’s great powers.
Amsterdam is famed as a freewheeling city with a touch of the naughty. And it’s true that Amsterdam has its red-light district and cannabis coffee shops. But don’t let these distract you. Away from the shuffling crowds and overpriced tourist zones lies a quiet, charming city with a different—and more sophisticated—allure. The hidden Amsterdam is just waiting to be discovered.
Vivid colors, countless sizes, the smell of clean wool and the sound of clacking needles…at every turn is another gallery or store where local ladies sit stitching their carpets and tapestries. Nestled in the rolling hills of the Alentejo region of Portugal, Arraiolos is a medieval gem where you can observe an ancient art carried on since before the reconquest of the Iberian peninsula from the Moors.
Pets are a big concern for many potential expats. While the financial and personal advantages of retiring abroad are obvious, it’s not so obvious how to fit four-legged family members into the mix. The mechanics and paperwork for getting Fido or Fluffy from your old home to your new overseas location aren’t overwhelming, but they differ from country to country…and even from season to season.
If you remember your middle school geography you’ll know that Quito is the capital of Ecuador. It’s also a city rich with history, culture, and amazing features all around. Situated high in the Andes Mountains the weather is cool, the scenery sublime, and the people as friendly as they come. Quito though tends to be overlooked by visitors in favor of Ecuador’s big ticket tourist attractions like the Galapagos, the Amazon Basin, and the Otavalo Craft Market.
Something that we have grown to love after more than eight years of living in Asia is wide variety of street food that is always readily available in this part of the world. Whether strolling the chaotic back alleys of Chinese cities or browsing the numerous markets of Chiang Mai, we have always been able to find an infinite number of inexpensive dishes prepared and served within minutes by friendly street vendors. Each country and city has its own specialties that cater to the locals as well as more adventuresome tourists that are looking for new taste sensations.
And so I nearly always find myself choosing to explore Europe by train, even if it sometimes takes a couple more hours and a few more dollars. I’ve traveled this way for years, both when I lived in the States and visited Europe between jobs, and now that I live here in the Swiss Alps. And I’ve discovered that, even though I love nearly every train ride I’ve taken, a few routes stand a little taller than the rest… they unfold more beautifully and leave attentive passengers more breathless than the average ride through the countryside.
This train ride weaves its way along the coastline of Italy and then France, offering striking views of the ocean, the seaside cliffs and candy-colored towns of the Cinque Terre, tiny harbors, and hillside vineyards and olive groves. Towns seem to tumble down cliffsides into the Ligurian Sea where boats bob at anchor. En route watch out for the chiming towers of Riomaggiore and picture the sleek Genoan war galleys that plied this coast 500 years ago.
Climbing ever higher up the Poqueira Gorge, three of the loveliest Alpujarran villages are Pampaneira, Bubión and Capileira. They’re designated as a Site of Historical and Artistic Heritage, so for those day-tripping from Granada city, the trio make a good Alpujarran taster. Although they’re tourist-oriented, there’s nothing tacky about delights such as freshly-baked almond pastries, weaving studios, and jams made from mountain raspberries.
Jacques Cousteau once declared the Blue Hole in Belize to be one of the best diving spots in the world—and few would disagree. The Blue Hole, part of the Lighthouse Reef system, is an almost-perfect circular limestone sinkhole that is nearly 1,000 feet wide and more than 400 feet deep. This striking ocean feature sits like a giant blue pupil in a sea of turquoise.
I ’m now enjoying the glorious summer on Spain’s Mediterranean coast. Every morning, I start the day with a cup of coffee on the terrace overlooking Málaga Bay. I have a car to explore the area. Everything I need is close by: the grocery stores, vegetable market, shopping, and, of course, the world-class beaches of the Costa del Sol. And the best part about this? I don’t pay a cent for any of it.
When my husband Mark said, “Let’s go to the Galápagos for your birthday,” I couldn’t help but laugh. The Galápagos Islands, after all, are one of the ecological treasures of the world—and have a price tag to match. Or so I thought. But when we used my 58th birthday as an excuse for a ﬁve-day, four-night trip there I found out otherwise. The bill? $1,037 for the two of us, including airfare.
Neither Yvonne nor Michael Bauche qualiﬁed for a pension in Canada. And so the adventurous duo decided to embark on a round-the-world trip that has seen them visit Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Portugal, Italy, France, and the Caribbean. “We cut our expenses in half,” says Yvonne of their new life on the road. “Running two cars, paying for electricity, gas, phone, cell phone, internet, food, and eating out used to cost us almost $4,000 a month. Our average expenditure is now about $2,000, and we live and play very well on that.”
Take a short trip to the Port Honduras Marine Reserve to snorkel or fish. Or spend a few days in the sapodilla Cayes, near the barrier reef. If you time it right, you may encounter a majestic whale shark. ReefCI runs a marine research outpost at Tom Owen’s Caye. You can spend five days there, scuba diving and taking part in marine research, for less than $1,000.
Right now, my wife, Susan, and I are packing up our home and heading off on our travels—first on a road trip in the U.S. and then to Ecuador. We’re going to fly to Guayaquil and then catch a bus down to Loja, a university town known for music and colonial architecture. This will be our base from which to explore the south of this beautiful country.
The picturesque seaside town of Hua Hin, Thailand is known for its stunning beaches, burgeoning restaurant scene, and small-town feel. It’s famous as a royal resort, yet the sea breeze and stunning views come cheap in Hua Hin. You’ll find a low cost of living and good-value real estate.
The year was 1997, and my wife, Suzan, and I had just gotten married in a civil service at the Hotel Don Carlos in San Jose, Costa Rica. She remembers that it was my idea, and I remember that it was hers. But whoever thought of it turned out to be a genius, because it set the travel bar pretty high for the rest of our lives.
With summer in full swing, many parts of the world can get hot at this time of year. The Philippines is one of them, with average temperatures pushing above 80 F. So July is a perfect month to get a refreshing splash of water, and the Bocaue River Festival is a perfect opportunity to do just that. Taking place in the municipality of Bocaue on the main island, Luzon, on the ﬁrst Sunday in July, the festival commemorates the holy cross found in the river around 200 years ago. A pagoda—an ornately decorated barge—is set aﬂoat in the river, accompanied by small boats. Attendees douse themselves with water to mark the occasion.
Halong Bay is one of Vietnam’s most spectacular wonders. This 580-square-mile natural cove contains some 2,000 limestone islands—occupied only by trees, ferns, birds, and monkeys. Small ﬂoating villages and isolated sandy beaches also entice. The best—and perhaps the only—way to see Halong Bay in its entirety is by boat, or more speciﬁcally, by junk. A junk is an ancient Chinese sailing-ship design, and many junks still sail Halong Bay.
Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula has a lot more to offer visitors than just sun and sand. As well as miles of pristine beaches and Cancún’s modern conveniences, the region is dotted with cenotes (underground lakes formed from limestone sinkholes): portals into the mysterious Maya underworld. This part of Mexico is also home to some of the last remnants of Maya culture in the country. And with the Mayan Nature Experience Cenote Tour, from the Layla Guesthouse in the beach town of Puerto Morelos, you can now experience all of this. This intimate tour yielded memories worth far more than the 900 pesos (about $60 dollars) I paid for it.
Before moving to Belize, Polly Alford lived a cushy life in southeastern England. She had a lucrative job with an IBM partner company, drove a convertible Volvo, owned a comfortable home, and vacationed several times a year. But she wasn’t content…Whenever Polly returned home from an exotic diving vacation, she wondered what it would be like to live a different lifestyle…in an exotic location…where she could indulge her favorite passion, scuba diving. So in October 2003 she gave in to that yearning.
I ’d never seen a festival like it in my life, and I’d been living in Southeast Asia for 16 years: the massive procession of people winding its way through the streets, bearing aloft colorful offerings of fruit, flowers, and food, following a glowing chariot to the temple where they unburden themselves. Many of them adorn their bodies with ornate but painful-looking piercings and shave their heads as a sign of devotion.
Ecuador is a land of rainforests, breathtaking river gorges, and volcanic hot springs, where you can be pampered by affordable spa treatments or simply enjoy the beautiful landscapes. My life has changed over the last 10 years since I discovered how to fund my travels and spend more time there. I feel so fortunate to have had the experiences I’ve logged on my trips.
It took a trip to hell to show me all the heavenly delights Belize has to offer. It’s probably not the hell you’re thinking of, and I didn’t get there the way folks usually do. This particular hell is Xibalba, the Maya underworld. And I got there on a raft.
My wife, Suzan, and I love scuba diving, and Belize has always been a favorite destination. The second-longest reef on the planet runs along Belize’s Caribbean coast, and the diving is world class.
One of the things I love most about traveling is that it can be a metaphor for other parts of our life. Outside of familiar surroundings, we are apt to be more alert, more conscious. In such situations we frequently gain new skills—like learning how we respond to unexpected delays and distractions. It was a discovery I made after spending 10 days with my siblings in Lucca, Italy. I planned to take a train to Venice, spend a bonus afternoon in my favorite city, and fly home the next day.
I never thought of photography as a way to earn money. It was just too much fun as a hobby. So, you can imagine my elation when I sold my first framed travel photo for $600! And, then, sold two more on the same weekend. I had been a teacher and a programmer, back in the States. But when I began living out of a suitcase—accompanying my husband on his longer business trips—I started photographing my travels