Why you should ignore the doubters and book the trip

By Melissa LaCharity

Travellers know how it goes: a couple of trips under the belt and you’re not back home for long before the wanderlust creeps back in again. 

I started spending a lot of time browsing flights online. It was mostly daydreaming; what I might find, where I’d want to go. I had no actual travel intentions. But then, as always, an insanely good deal changes your mind. This time, an insanely good deal to Northern India.

Instantly pictures of chaos, overpopulation and the beautiful Taj Mahal flashed through my mind. Potentially I could be seeing my first world wonder! Who could pass that up?

I’ll admit I was nervous. I played with the idea in my mind for a few weeks. I mentally wrote pros and cons to this trip. It was a google search of the Himalayas that finally spared my thinking to doing. Who gets anywhere in life by only dreaming? Click!

In the spur of the moment, I bought my round trip ticket to India. Now to tell my mom.

I wasn’t going in totally blind. An old high school friend had since moved back to her home country with her family. I called her immediately to gush about my impulsive buy. She agreed to be my own personal guide to crowded, and from what I had heard, overwhelming India. I was set!

Before I left, everyone was scared for me. I didn’t get much encouragement. 

Excitedly I told anyone I crossed about my upcoming trip. I was honestly ecstatic. India would be my first taste of rich culture shock. But the reactions I got were all the same. A surprised face, a scared face, or the worst, disgusted.

“Why would you go there?”

“I can think of hundreds of places I would rather go”

“But it smells?”

Thanks for the support guys…

Their reactions scared me. What in the world was I doing? I started to freak out about getting kidnapped, getting shot; a million ways to not make it home alive. My excitement was slowly trickling down into the pit of my stomach, disguised as fear.

I had to remind myself of why I booked the flights in the first place.

India is home to billions of people who live out their daily lives in contented bliss. How rude of me to dismiss a full country because of what a few North Americans thought they knew. And since when did smell stop me from traveling? I was devoted to finding the beauty in this chaotic, colourful, and cultural country.

So did I make the right choice?

Everyday left me mentally exhausted. There is no rest between every situation you experience. This country is go – go – go. I cried. I laughed. I was frustrated. I was happy. No matter where you looked, you were confronted with crazy norms they see everyday. Some situations were laughable, like cows in the streets. Others broke my heart. Poverty like I’ve never seen before.

The streets are loud. I don’t think there was a second of my trip I spent in silence. Bustling through the narrow streets in a little Rickshaw, you pray for your safe arrival. You learn to go with the flow.

Instead of resisting the chaotic lifestyle you embrace it. 

I was warned to trust nobody. While this statement is quite true for your own safety, I found everyone to be kind and helpful. If we got lost down the streets, we’d ask the local shopkeepers for help. Not once were we turned away. I never experienced anyone with wrong intentions.

The family who cared for me were a blessing. The moment I walked in their doors I was greeted as one of their own. My friend’s younger sister called me “didi” without hesitation, which means older sister. This family gave me so much love.

Each day was jam-packed with temples, and activities arranged by her mom. She wanted to give me the best experience possible, and that she did. Within just a month I saw more than what many backpackers fit into two months.

Everyday I was left speechless at the beauty I saw. The vast change in landscape between desert and Himalayas, to the beautiful mess of colour that enriches the streets. I forgot instantly all the fears I had before leaving for this trip. I soaked up everything I possibly could in the time I had.

Coming home I tried my best to explain my trip. It’s hard to verbalise the mix of emotions I had. I resorted to one word, “extreme”. 

It described perfectly the spectrum of good and bad. I explained as best I could all that I saw. I wanted everyone at home to know how beautiful this country really was. I wanted all the doubters to know I really did enjoy myself, and that they were missing out.

If I had listened to all the negative comments and chosen not to go, I wouldn’t have experienced the wonderful hospitality India gave me. I wouldn’t have found my second family away from home.

I felt extremely satisfied that I went against the doubters here at home.

There is beauty everywhere in the world. India showed me just that, and I’m forever grateful.

24 hours in Harrison

In where you say? Harrison. A very small lakeside town an easy one and a half hour drive from Vancouver, and the perfect day trip or overnight getaway. Why is that? Honestly, because there’s just the right amount of not much to do. Make the most of your city escape with this 24 hour guide.

Eat

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Dinner has to be a pub affair. There’s nothing quite like the charm of small town pubs, and Harrison’s Old Settler Pub is no exception. Friendly service, decent beer and plenty of pub grub.

After dinner, wander the short distance back to Harrison’s main lakeside strip for dessert. For a place with limited options, you’re never short of choice with five ice-cream parlours.

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When you wake up in the morning (or frankly even if you sleep in), head over to the clear town favourite, Muddy Waters. Serving brunch, lunch and dinner with local ingredients and a London Fog that deserves the name. There is absolutely nothing wrong with views of the surrounding mountains and lagoon from its patio area either.

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Lunch you should pack yourself (fair warning, bring your groceries with you or make do from the one, limited, convenience store in town) and take it with you to enjoy at the top of the mountain you’re going to hike, right?

Party

There is one club in Harrison, and she’s a beaut. She doesn’t have the glamour or crowds of other clubs, she’s only ever open three hours once a week, but there is more fun in her simplicity than in anything city clubs have to offer.

Tourists to the are tend to be found families or elderly adults, so there will always be plenty of room on the dance floor, and most likely the crowd all know each other. So it’s the perfect place to practice those big, sweaty dance moves to bangers from the early 00s.

Adventure

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I’m obviously a little biased towards hiking, and Harrison offers some decent challenges to sweat out last nights toxins. With your 24 hours I strongly recommend the Harrison Grind (or the Campbell Lake Trail, as Ben the Barman pointed out to me, only posers call it the grind). It’s steep, but the five kilometres up this mountain reward you with sweeping views of Harrison Lake and the forested mountains surrounding it. Walk an extra 20 minutes to Campbell Lake to enjoy a picnic lunch before starting the trek back down again.

If you’re not a hiker, never fear. There’s a myriad of water activities on the lake, from paddle boarding to boat tours, to make sure all levels can get a great day adventure!

Swim

Ok, so there’s a great big lake in the centre of town. The thing about Canadian lakes is, they’re freezing, even if they’re not glacier fed like this one. Only Canadians are crazy enough to swim in these. Luckily, Harrison is most famous for its not-quite-natural hot springs. Go get a whiff of sulphur and relax those muscles. You deserved it, you hiked the Grind after all.

Shop

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Fun fact: Harrison is a place that has embraced Sasquatch sightings from the 60s. They’re so into it, its difficult to tell if it’s even a joke anymore. So while Harrison is not really a place to buy much other than dinner, you should definitely head to Harrison Village Gift Shop and buy yourself a Sasquatch memento.

 

6 Bucketlist Views From Around The World

Not all views are equal. Some hit you so hard they take your breath away and stay with you forever. Some are easy to come by and some you appreciate all the more for the hard work that went into finding them. Here are six natural sights that couldn’t be more different, but should all be on your bucket list:

1. Madikwe Game Reserve, South Africa

I can’t go passed the pure joy I felt looking out onto the South African desert in Madikwe Game Reserve. Sure there’s no hiking here (those are real lions out there guys), but I’ve never felt more of a rush then gazing upon scenes right out of a David Attenborough documentary. Sure it’s smaller than the more popular Kruger, but that means there’s more chance of spotting the animals, plus safari leaders do an amazing job of not overcrowding the animals which is better for the animal and for your view of it.

4. Stop anywhere that sounds interesting, even if it turns out not to be. You never know unless you go!

Read the rest here.

Your Ultimate Guide to Hiking The Canadian Rockies

The Canadian Rockies are a hikers paradise, particularly for summit chasers. With Canada opening the gates to its’ National Parks in 2017, now is the time to start planning. You can live there for months (six, in my case) and still not even come close to hiking them all, so I’m here to help you narrow it down.

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Few hikes end with panoramic mountain views that rival this one. The trail is steep, but the path is well defined, which makes the one and a half hour climb far easier to manage. The best part? The trailhead starts right next to Miette Hotsprings so once you’re back from soaking in the view, you can relax your tired muscles

2-berg-lake-trailBerg Lake Trail

Hands down, this was my favourite trail. It’s got everything: crystal-blue glacier fed lakes, dense forest, majestic waterfalls. Not only that, you can make it suit you. Are you a day tripper? Great! Make it to Kinney Lake (think Lake Louise without the crowds) or if you’re up for a challenge, to Emperor Falls. Love to camp? Perfect! Camp overnight, or two, and get all the way to Berg Lake. More of a mountain biker? Fantastic! Bikes are allowed along the first 7.2km, just passed Kinney Lake.

3-beauty-creekBeauty Creek

If you’re trying to shake other tourists, this one is for you. It’s just off the Icefields Parkway about 15 minutes drive south of Sunwapta Falls, but still pretty hard to find. The small roadside parking area is marked only by a small wooden post with a smaller picture of a hiking man on it, but when you do find it you won’t be disappointed. The path takes you beside a series of cataracts providing beauty every step of the way, until about an hour later it opens onto Stanley Falls.

 

Read more here.

9 steps to a perfect road trip

We Aussies are road-trippers. I grew up roading tripping up and down the East coast of Australia, and loved it so much I couldn’t wait to be the one behind the wheel. But if you’re a car trip newbie and the thought of weeks on the road makes you shudder, start small. Start at home, start with one day, start by yourself and follow these 9 steps:

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5 Things I’m loving

Ok sure, mostly I love travel because of the experiences and people…but I also have a weakness for travel gadgets. Sometimes, it’s like people reach into my brain, find the thing I’ve been complaining about, and invented a way to fix it. These are some of those things:

1. Fold-up travel day pack

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This is a functioning day pack, WITH space for your water bladder (you know, for those times you get lost and accidentally turn a 2 hour hike into an 8 hour one in the middle of the desert?). So what makes it so unique? IT FOLDS DOWN TO A NEAT LITTLE PACKAGE! Yet it’s still strong enough to hold all your day stuff! How cool is that? The fact that it’s Fair Trade and recycled materials friendly just adds to my love.

2. Scratch Map

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Ok so it’s not practical to carry around with you, but when I actually have a home again you’d better believe one of these bad boys will get a feature wall.

3. Sim-card holder

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Long-term travellers know the easiest way to stay in contact is to buy a local sim card. The long-term traveller who visits many localities knows how hard it is to keep track of each of these sim cards. And you loved that country, right? You’ll probably be back, right? So why would you throw the sim card away? You wouldn’t, you’d just buy one of these cheap sim card holders instead and throw it in your backpack.

4. The Travel bra

You probably wear a bra when you travel, or you at least wear undies. If you don’t then you’ll want to start because Australian company, The Travel Bra, has turned your comfy undergarments into handy-dandy, super secure, valuables holders. No more passport in the cleavage ladies, now there’s a pocket for it.

5. Canadian Rockies Trail Guide

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As you probably know I’m spending my summer at Sunwapta Falls in the middle of the largest National Park in The Canadian Rockies, Jasper. Honestly even with a full 6 months here I wasn’t sure how to fit all the trails in, but this brilliant guide is helping me narrow it down…now if only I had a car!

4 steps to salsa

I’m not much of a dancer. Don’t get me wrong, I do it enthusiastically and often. I’m also in time with the beat. It’s just that mostly my dancing looks like flying limbs…in time with the beat. So I faced a serious challenge on my month-long trip to Colombia: learn salsa or bust.

I was lucky enough to enlist some expert help: the entire extended family of my now cousin-in-law (I’m sure that’s a thing, right?). For the other salsa-challenged folks out there, I’ve attempted to narrow down their lessons to 4 basic steps.

1.Stick to 1, 2, 3

Forget about that fancy little step in the middle and stick to a basic 1, 2, 3 movement, at least until you’ve got the basics down.

2. Shoulder shimmy

A subtle shoulder shimmy is part of the salsa anyway. I found by making it slightly less subtle, it can help to distract from your failing footwork. Just don’t go too far overboard or you’ll start looking like you’re having a fit.

3. Find a partner to do the work for you

Ok this one’s just from me, not an expert. And it’s technically a cheat, but desperate times and all that. Young and old, man or woman, Colombians are better salsa dancers than you. It’s a fact. Use it to your advantage by pairing up with the most flamboyant dancer in the room, they’ll make you look good by association.

4. Have fun

More than anything, salsa is about passion and having fun. So, in theory, if you’re putting in a good effort and enjoying yourself, you’re already halfway there.

WIN a self-guided City Walks App to salsa around South America

Have you ever dreamed of salsa-ing your way around South America? I’m giving away a full version of the popular City Walking App from GPSmycity to help you find your way to the best salsa bars with one of these apps for iOS or Android! Entry details below.

I’m not much of a dancer. Don’t get me wrong, I do it enthusiastically and often. I’m also in time with the beat. It’s just that mostly my dancing looks like flying limbs…in time to the music. So I faced a serious challenge on my month-long trip to Colombia: learn salsa or bust.

I was lucky enough to enlist some expert help: the entire extended family of my now cousin-in-law (I’m sure that’s a thing, right?). For the other salsa-challenged folks out there, I’ve attempted to narrow down their lessons to 4 basic steps.

1.Stick to 1, 2, 3

Forget about that fancy little step in the middle and stick to a basic 1, 2, 3 movement, at least until you’ve got the basics down.

2. Shoulder shimmy

A subtle shoulder shimmy is part of the salsa anyway. I found by making it slightly less subtle, it can help to distract from your failing footwork. Just don’t go too far overboard or you’ll start looking like you’re having a fit.

3. Find a partner to do the work for you

Ok this one’s just from me, not an expert. And it’s technically a cheat, but desperate times and all that. Young and old, man or woman, Colombians are better salsa dancers than you. It’s a fact. Use it to your advantage by pairing up with the most flamboyant dancer in the room, they’ll make you look good by association.

4. Have fun

More than anything, salsa is about passion and having fun. So, in theory, if you’re putting in a good effort and enjoying yourself, you’re already halfway there.

Comment below and tell me which city you would love to learn salsa in for a chance to WIN a self-guided City Walks App (iOS and Android, usually $4.99)!

4 reasons looking like a tourist can actually be a good thing

The first piece of advice people will give you when you’re travelling is not to look like a tourist. A solid piece of advice to help keep you from becoming a target or getting ripped off. But when you’re a 6 foot white girl travelling around the very short heighted, olive to black skinned Colombia, that ship has sailed. So instead I learned to adapt in other ways, and actually found four distinct advantages of not fitting in.

1.Your friends can spot you a mile away

Seriously, you become the meeting point. At a club: ‘I’ll meet you back at Kassia at 2.30’. In a public space: ‘So we’ll meet in the square, at Kassia’.

2. You can see everything

Is that attraction chock-a-block with other people? No worries. You can see right over the top of their heads. This also means you’ll be need to be prepared to describe what’s happening to shorter companions and take their photos, but with great height comes great responsibility.

3. You become very good at making new friends

You can do it quickly and with minimal foreign language skills. Mostly because you love meeting new people, but also because no-one wants to rip off their new friend.

4. You always know when you’re being talked about

“Que gringo es hermosa” – Well everyone else around here looks like they belong, so mucho gracias fellas!

An ode to stop-travel days

I’m currently writing in a vegetarian cafe, fresh fruit smoothie in one hand, food menu open, using their free wifi. Earlier today, I was sitting with a book in my hostel pool. This day could be anywhere in the world, but today it happens to be in Santa Marta, Colombia.

I’ve previously written about not being a bad traveller: about getting out into culture, food and surroundings of a new place. And 99% of the time, I agree with me 100%. However, once in awhile during long-term travel, you might find yourself needing a break.

As a travel writer, I probably shouldn’t admit this, but after three weeks of non-stop travel and being social, I needed alone time in a cafe with an English menu that doesn’t require me asking for special vegetariano options.

Tomorrow I’m off to couchsurf in Medellin and find more adventure. Yesterday I returned from a 4-day hike through the Sierra Nevada to see Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City) with a group of about 10 amazing people. In the weeks before that I’ve followed friends and family to salt mines, desert beaches, churches 3,152 metres above sea level and had numerous Colombians attempt to teach me salsa.

But today, trying to communicate in a Spanish country with little to no grasp of Spanish, navigating public transport and meeting fellow travellers is beyond me. And that’s ok. In fact, giving myself permission to be lazy for a day already has me feeling rejuvenated.

I finally caught up on sleep, was able to plan for the next chapter of travel, and get some work done. But most of all, I owe my current peaceful mood to a short, friendly conversation with Brian, a local of Santa Marta. He spoke very little English, I have only a couple of words I’ve picked up of Spanish, but for the short five minutes we happened to be walking next to each other along the road, we managed to have a conversation about nothing in particular.

Language doesn’t have to be a barrier, I’m ready for more of the unexpectedly delicious bean/banana/egg traditional food combos, and I can’t wait to see who I’ll meet next.

Oh stop-travel day, how I love thee.