Travel Quotes: Sometimes You Just Need A Little Inspiration

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,


“Never refuse an invitation, never resist the unfamiliar, never fail to be polite and never outstay your welcome. Keep your mind open and suck in every experience. And if it hurts you know what? It’s probably worth it.”
—Richard from the movie The Beach

"People travel to far away places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home"
—Dagobert D. Runes

"A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step"
—Lao Tzu

I feel about travel the way a happy new mother feels about her impossible, colicky, newborn baby — I just don’t care what it puts me through. Because I adore it. Because it’s mine. Because it looks exactly like me. It can barf all over me if it wants to — I just don’t care.
— Elizabeth Gilbert, from Eat.Pray.Love

"Not all those who wander are lost" 
—J.R.R. Tolkien

"Travel is glamorous only in retrospect" 
—Paul Theroux

"Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable" 
—Cesar Cruz

"To awaken alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world” 
—Freya Stark

"A good traveller has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving"
—Lao Tzu

“The boy knew a lot of people in the city. That was what made traveling appeal to him — he always made new friends, and he didn’t need to spend all of his time with them [to keep them]”
—from The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho 

"Like all great travellers, I have seen more than I remember and remember more than I have seen" 
—Benjamin Disraeli

"Don't think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it's good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art."
—Andy Warhol

"If at some point you don't ask yourself 'What have I gotten myself into?' then you're not doing it right" 
—Roland Gau

“Twenty years from now you will more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
—Mark Twain

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22 Quirky, Unique, and Wonderful Things To Love About Thailand

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,


There are so many reasons to love Thailand — many more than the 22 listed here — but these are some of my most favourite things about the Thai culture, and should give you some insight into why so many people make this country their vacation destination!

1. Orchids, orchids and more orchids!  

These gorgeous flowers garnish almost ever drink, plate, and hotel pillow. They spill out of stalls in the flower markets and are the perfect accessory to throw in your hair when headed to the beach.

2.  Elephants

Used largely as tractors and tourist attractions, elephants can be found all over Thailand. Most are domesticated, and are quite small compared to their African ancestors. You can visit them at an Elephant Sanctuary, but try to avoid riding them at any old tourist attraction, as they are usually poorly treated. Learn more about how to interact with elephants ethically here.

3. Cheap, Fresh Seafood

Whether you are in the heart of Bangkok or sitting in the sand watching the sunset, you are going to be eating some of the freshest seafood you have ever had. Boats filled with ice display the catch of the day and beachside restaurants, and it will be barbecued right on the beach just the way you like it! Average price for a full meal? Around $6.

4.  Markets

Markets can be found all over the country selling everything and anything. Stalls are packed with souvenirs, clothing, furniture, jewellery, and bulk items that are shipped home and sold for ten times the price in North American stores.   

5. Buckets

This dangerous concoction is found in abundance on the islands, and is a mix of hard liquor, a way-to-sweet juice or soda, and ice all thrown into a child's sand pail. (It makes for easy clean-up after a big night on the beach and the locals reuse them — pretty smart actually). Warning: Drinking buckets may lead to skinny dipping and tattoos.

6. Bamboo Tattoos

A souvenir that I brought home with me, these traditional Thai tattoos are very painful, but take almost no time to heal! They are also fairly inexpensive compared to the cost of a tattoo at home, but can take a bit longer, as the ink is applied using a long stick of bamboo with a needle in the end, not a tattoo gun. 

7. Tuk-Tuks

Ya, you will probably pay a little more, almost die, and not really get there any faster, but nothing beats your first ride in these strange little vehicles. 

8. Hammocks

Need I say more?

9.  Thai Gas Stations

No need for a fancy 'pay-at-the-pump' system here! Just pull over and fill up your tank with whatever blend works best for you!  

10. REALLY Good Coffee

Thailand gets a lot of European visitors and what do Europeans like? Really good coffee of course. What does this mean? That in order to stay competitive, even the most ramshackle looking beachside restaurant has an espresso machine and someone who can make a fantastic cappuccino. I have had better coffee in Thailand then I have ever had in North America! 

11.  Street Food

It's cheap (only around $1-$2 for a meal), fresh, delicious and easy. What more could you want?! 

12.  Sense of Humor

There is nothing better than a culture that is aware of their stereotypes and embraces them. Whether it is a "Same Same But Different" t-shirt or a menu that states "We may have hot beer, stale food, and lousy service, but we never run out of it and we don't discriminate", it just makes me love this quirky country more! 

13.  Beer/Pop Machines

In my hotel in Bangkok there was more beer than pop in the machines. And it was between 25 baht and 30 baht, so less than $1, per can. 

14. The Beach

No, not the movie — though it is played on a loop at bars and restaurants all over the country — the miles of white, sandy beaches that are found all along the edges of the country and are the definition of paradise. 

 

15. Floating Markets

These centuries old traditional marketplaces can be found all over the country. Waterways lined with homes on stilts fill with beautiful wooden boats laden with fresh fruit, fully-cooked meals, art, and household items, creating colorful cultural traffic jams. 

16.  Khao San Road

This road that never sleeps seems to be where the world gathers when it comes to Bangkok. Travellers new to the country wander dazed down the street in search of a place to sleep passing sun-baked backpackers on their way out after months on an island. Bars and restaurants seem to never close their doors, rooms go for anywhere from $1/night to $300/night. You can grab a Starbucks, get a Thai Massage, buy a $2 t-shirt, have a full meal of street food, and grab a cheap beer from the 7-11 (yes, they have those there), without walking more than a block. It is a glorious, chaotic, international mish-mash. 

17.  Temples

Because Thailand was never colonized, their places of worship and Royal Family is still intact. This means that their temples and palaces are meticulously maintained and are stunning places to visit. They are also the best place to spot monks swathed in beautiful saffron robes (just make sure not to touch them if you are a girl!). Shoulders, knees, and cleavage have to be covered to visit, so make sure you are properly clothed! 

18. Drag Shows

There is a huge drag scene in Thailand and you will find drag shows everywhere. They are wildly entertaining, and a lot of fun to attended once the sun goes down!

19.  Scuba Diving

The water is warm and the reefs are colorful and full of fish. What else could you ask for in a place to dive?! Even better, the island of Koh Tao (off the north eastern coast), is full of hotels that offer PADI certification for dirt cheap. 

20. Fire Dancing

There are fire-dancers on every beach, and these incredibly talented men and women are very impressive to watch. Try and ignore the feeling of invincibility that will wash over you after a few drinks and don't give it a try yourself — fire burns. 

21. Songkran   

This incredible, annual water festival takes over the entire country and is SO much fun! 

22. Feeling Free!

There is something so incredibly freeing about travel in Thailand. There are fewer rules, fewer people watching you — and once you get used to how things work, it is easy to feel like you could stay there forever! 

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6 Reasons Why You (ladies) Should Stay In The Co-ed Room At A Hostel

by Lindsay Shapka in ,


As a solo female traveller, sleeping in a room with a bunch of male strangers might seem like the LAST thing you want to do. But trust me, it has its benefits. Here's why you should sleep in the co-ed room at a hostel.

1. Women are waaaaaay messier

True story ladies. Walk into the 'women only' room at the hostel and it will look like everyone's bag exploded. (Hey, I'm the first to admit that I end up pulling everything out of my bag when settling in). Guys seem to be able to keep their stuff neater, in their bag, or at least confined to their bunk and out of the way (don't ask me how). 

2. They cost less

Yup, the more 'exclusive' segregated rooms are often a few dollars more. It isn't a crazy amount, but is enough to make a difference if you are travelling long-term or on a budget.  

3. Men are protective

Not that I am saying you need protecting ladies! Hell, you are travelling solo! BUT, it is in the nature of the average male to look out for the average female. If nothing else, you will have a few people who notice when you are coming and going, and who might want to chat with you about your day.

4. In my experience, males staying in a room where there are women they don't know are extremely respectful

I stayed in a co-ed room in Paris with five guys — I was the only girl. All of them would get up and ready as quickly as possible in the morning to give me my space and full access to the bathroom. It was actually really sweet, and a trend that I have seen repeated over and over. 

5. Co-ed rooms are full of friendly couples!

Couples who opt out of private rooms, or cheap hotels, to stay in hostel dorms are the kind of couples who want to socialize and meet new people — especially the innocent solo female traveller in the bunk next to them. I have been asked to join these travellers on many occasions and have made some really great friends because of it. 

6. There is usually a bed available

The co-ed room is usually the last to fill up because most people automatically ask for a female only, male only, or private room. You are pretty much guaranteed a place to sleep in the mixed dorm.  




Singing, Laughing & Hanging On: A Travel Tale About My Eye-Opening First Foreign Adventure In Honduras

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,


The sky was streaked with pink and a gentle breeze — causing the tall, golden sugar cane to sway lazily from side to side — had replaced the heavy, relentless heat of the day. I carefully shifted my position, trying to get comfortable without falling out of the bed of the blue, battered truck I was wedged in that was driving at breakneck speed down the potholed filled road.

There were 22 of us crammed into the back of the truck, covered in dust and tired from clearing land and digging the foundation for a community center in the small village of Ojo de Agua, Honduras. There was no electricity in the town to run power tools (not that we had any) so all of our work had to be done the old fashioned way. After a full day of chopping down thick weeds with a machete and swinging a pickaxe at the dry, hard earth, I could barely lift my arms. I was looking forward to crawling under the safety of my mosquito net and passing out.

The Honduran girls, clinging to the edge of the truck beside me, had broken out in song the moment we lost sight of the town, the bad voices and the good, blending together in a free and careless harmony of a well-known melody.

Though it was my first visit to a country where I did not speak the language, I was surprised to find that I wasn’t having too much trouble communicating. Because I didn’t know a word of Spanish, I was forced to really pay attention and silent interactions suddenly conveyed more meaning to me than spoken words ever had. I felt that I understood my new friends more deeply through watching their subtle movements and looking into their eyes than I ever could have through their spoken language.

After a few verses of the song had gone by, Yolani, a vibrant girl about my age, turned from the group, grabbed my hand, looked me square in the eye, slowly sang a few foreign words and motioned for me to repeat after her. Self-conscious, I half talked, half-whispered the unfamiliar words back to her while she patiently nodded along, smiling and squeezing my hand when I managed to pronounce one close to correctly. She started to sing louder and faster, so I followed suit until my voice was just as loud, and blending in with hers. The other girls smiled at me as the words tumbled out of my mouth and were carried away by the wind.

*     *     *

Three days earlier, stuck in layover limbo in Texas, my friends and I were passing the time by discussing our individual expectations and goals for our volunteer adventure. We called ourselves the ‘youth in action’ and were a group of eight young adults traveling to Honduras to bring supplies to those still affected by Hurricane Mitch, and to help rebuild a community center.

Prior to this trip I had never traveled outside of North America and the only image I had of the developing world was what I had seen in infomercials — sad, destitute children, their bellies swollen or ribs protruding, and eyes full of tears that stared vacantly at the camera while an emotional Sarah McLachlan song played softly in the background. The children always looked lost and alone, waiting for someone to swoop in and save them. These images had motivated me to spend most of my free time fundraising for the trip, and that night in Texas, all I could think of was the flocks of poor, unloved children in Honduras who would finally feel hope when I, a representative of the developed world, showed them that I cared.

When it was my turn to share my expectations of our adventure, thinking only of the infomercial children, I told my friends that if nothing else — my goal was to make at least one child smile.

I was such an idiot.

Roger, our contact in Honduras, met us at the airport in Tegucigalpa, which was packed with people holding signs and chanting “Hon-DUR-as!!” at the top of their lungs. It turned out that we were on the same flight as the country’s national soccer team returning home from an international tournament.

Despite the chaos and commotion we moved quickly through the airport and after collecting our bags Roger led us outside to a couple of rusted, beat-up Ford trucks. I hopped into the back of the blue Ford with its paint peeling off, fender bent and windows cracked. I was surprised to see a faded “I LOVE TEXAS” sticker stuck to the bumper. Roger explained that many of the vehicles in the country were cast-offs from the United States.  

After a sweaty two hours of driving, we turned off the rough dirt road onto an even rougher dirt road that led into Correl Quemado, our home for the week. Small one room shacks with rusted, corrugated roofs lined the road, and half-naked children splashed each other in the brown river that’s water was used to wash, cook, and drink. We pulled up in front of the sturdiest looking building in sight and were told we had an hour to unpack and freshen up.

The girls, clinging to the edge of the truck beside me, had broken out in song the moment we lost sight of the town, the bad voices and the good, blending together in a free and careless harmony of a well-known melody.

Too excited to stay inside, after throwing my bag on a bunk, I emerged from the dark stone building and almost ran directly into a small group of curious children that had gathered just outside the door.

I couldn’t believe that the infomercial children I had been picturing for years were finally in front of me!

Except... they didn’t look anything like the infomercial children.

The children in front of me were fully clothed, their stomachs were definitely not bloated from hunger and there were no flies circling overhead. In fact, they all had rosy cheeks and looked happy and healthy, not sad and hopeless. I was suddenly painfully conscious of my own appearance, realizing that after a full day of travel I was probably more disheveled than they were.

Looking into their curious faces, it hit me that I was not a ‘bearer of hope’ to these little people — I was simply a curiosity, a visitor, a potential new friend.

I had foolishly been equating poverty with a lack of self, power, humanity, and hope, and in my ignorance I had believed that my presence would somehow affect their very existence.  

Feeling silly and a bit ashamed of the misconceptions I had been led to believe, I found myself unsure of how to interact. The kids and I stared at each other shyly for a few minutes until the smallest of the bunch, a little girl wearing a powder pink tank top, walked over to my side, looked up at me with big brown friendly eyes, slipped her hand into mine and smiled.  

*     *     *

I tilted my head towards the growing darkness to take better advantage of the breeze, that was turning into a wind as our driver continued to gain speed. He must have been able to smell the dinner of grilled plantains and fresh tortillas waiting for us at the bunkhouse.

The wind felt amazing on my sun-scorched face and it sent my hair swirling around my head. But, I didn’t care how I looked and none of my new friends did either — we were too busy singing, laughing, and hanging on.
 

The story of my first international adventure

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is the story of my first trip outside of North America, and the first time I went somewhere that completely shook up the way I viewed the world, my life, and myself. I went on this adventure in the winter of 2000, and can still feel how life changing it was for me. I hope you enjoyed the piece — thanks for reading!  

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Travel Tips: The Best Games to Play on Long Travel Days (these are also great Icebreakers!)

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,


There is, surprisingly, a lot of downtime when you travel.

There are those long train and bus rides, cramped flights, and hours after the sun goes down and the sights are closed, but you are not yet ready for bed.

What do you do to fill this time?

Well, there are the usual things — reading, writing, listening to music, watching that movie you put on your iPod for the millionth time. But, my favourite thing to do (and a great way to make new travel friends) is by playing a game that forces you to chat with the person across from you in the train or on the other side of the bar.

My first game suggestion, Would You Rather, is one that I am sure many of you have heard of (there are board games made out of it now), but things can get a bit crazy when you are on the road and forced to come up with (often inappropriate) questions of your own. I was introduced to this game in Italy, on a train from Venice to Rome, by a group of Aussies sitting across from me.

The first question they asked me was: “Would you rather have to wear a cardigan for the rest of your life OR listen to the annoying song by The Cardigans EVERY time a song was playing?”

Now, you may have an instant reaction to one choice or the other, but here is where the fun of this game comes in — asking questions.

Will it mean that if you get married you have to wear a cardigan over your wedding dress? Would you have to wear it swimming? Would the song come on in every bar you went to and just play over and over?

See, it's not as easy as you might think, and what the game really comes down to is that no matter which option you choose, they both suck! It took me about 20 minutes to answer the cardigan question alone (clearly a great way to pass the time) and, as you can imagine, they only got more complicated from there. One of those Aussie guys from that train and I kept in touch for years, emailing ridiculous Would You Rather questions to each other from opposite sides of the world!

I was introduced to another fun meet-people-travel-game while in a bar in Vietnam.

My friend and I had just grabbed a drink and were sitting together, hoping the half empty place we were in would fill up and become more of a party than it was at that moment. We had only been in the country for a few days and had left the people that we had met behind in Hanoi the night before, so we were in the mood to make some new friends.

As we were finishing our first drinks, a guy came and sat down at our table with us and said in an Australian accent; “Don’t say anything.” Then pointing at my friend he said; “You are Irish,” and then turning to me, “and you are from Denmark. Right?!”

We both laughed and said no, we were from Canada. As soon as he heard our voices he cringed and yelled over our heads, “They’re Canadians, we were all wrong!” Turning around, we noticed a group people standing over in the corner laughing.

Apparently, they were playing a game where they would pick a person in the bar, and make bets on where the person was from just by looking at them. You were not permitted to leave the group (at the risk of getting close enough to hear them talking) until all bets were made, and then someone was nominated to go and guess where they were from to their face.

The game had started with just two guys and by the time we joined to play, they had gathered three more. By the end of the night we had a group of about ten and ended up travelling together for the rest of our time in Vietnam, picking up people as we went thanks to our nationality guessing game. Best icebreaker ever!

What sorts of games to you play to fill the time on your adventures? Do you have any good Would You Rathers for me?

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Why Travel Friendships are Friendships On Steroids

by Lindsay Shapka in ,


A wise friend and fellow traveller once told me that "Friendships made while travelling are like friendships on steroids" — I couldn't agree more!  

Meeting someone when you are both completely out of your comfort zone, and thrown into an adrenaline pumping situation where you are both vibrating at the same level, at the same time, is a completely unique situation.

Add to that the fact that you are in the same mode as everyone around you — meaning that you are all focused on where you've been, where you are going, what to see, what to eat, and what to drink to get the most out of your experience. No one is stressed about meeting a deadline, impressing the boss, or their five-year plan. It is all about the moment — and everyone you meet is living in it. 

But, I have to say, that my all time favourite thing about travelling is the idea that you can start all over again whenever you want. Example: Drink too much one night and act like a fool? Jump on a train in the morning and head to a new town where nobody knows your name! (not that I have any experience in that... )  

This also gives you the freedom to be one hundred percent yourself all the time. To lay it ALL out there, because if someone doesn't like the real you, then you never have to see them again. But, if they do like this real you, then you have potentially made a life-long friend who knows you better than most people who have known you for years. 

I have some fantastic people in my life due to fast-friendships made on the tourist trail and hope to make many more in the future!

Cheers to friendships on steroids!  

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Hitchhiking: Where Is It Legal And Would You Do It?

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,


We've all seen them (or been them).

The scruffy looking traveller, overstuffed pack on their back, a bandana either on their head or around their neck, thumb out, and holding a sign to try and entice you to pull over and give them a ride.  

You can't deny that hitchhiking is an incredibly affordable, unique and adventurous way to travel. You meet some VERY interesting people, and end up in places that you have never even dreamed of heading before.

But you also can't deny that this form of travel comes with some pretty high risks.

I have only hitchhiked once (and I don't know that it even really counts as hitchhiking), in a small town just outside of Paris. My friend and I had just gotten off the train and were trying to get to her cousin's house, where we were going to crash for the night, and we approached a young looking couple loading things into their car for directions. Taking pity on the two of us (we were pretty scruffy looking at that point), they offered to take us to our destination. So, we jumped into the back of their large, windowless unmarked van (in retrospect, maybe not the smartest vehicle to catch a ride in) and hoped that they were actually taking us to our destination.

Luckily we trusted the right people and got there safely, but, after watching one too many crime shows where the hitchhiker turns out to be an axe murderer — or the person who picks up the hitchhiker keeps them captive in their basement for ten years — I was more than a little nervous! 

I have recently been following the progress of fellow travel blogger, the Expert Vagabond, who has been hitchhiking across the United States, documenting his travels (and all the creative signs that he used to snag a ride).

Where I live, picking up hitchhikers is illegal, and watching his progress has got me wondering where it is actually legal to embark on this form of travel. 

RABIES FREE (Since June)
— a sign held by the Expert Vegabond while hitchhiking in the USA

After a bit of quick research, I have discovered that in MOST of the world (other than North America) hitchhiking from the side of the road is not only legal, it's encouraged! Some countries (like the Netherlands) even have designated areas at the side of the road for hitchhikers to wait at.  

Being female, I would still be wary to jump into a car with a stranger unless I had a travel buddy with me, and the same goes for picking someone up. 

What do you think? Would you hitchhike? Would you pick up a hitchhiker? 

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