Choosing accommodation for your travel has gotten more complicated over the years. Often leaving folks confused and worried they will make the wrong decision. Especially with reports of travelers being attacked, personal items stolen, and even the rare occasion of someone being killed. So I put together a guide on things to look for when choosing accommodation for your travels.
From beginning to end, this will be the ultimate guide on getting started when choosing your adventure accommodation and staying safe when you do. Be sure to check out my other articles on Safety while solo traveling as well. It will give a more detailed view of tips on how to stay safe, as well as what to do if you feel you landed in an unsafe situation. So let’s dive in on choosing your perfect accommodation!
Your Destination – When Choosing Accommodation
Is it a third world country or a first world country?
When your choosing accommodations, look at what the place is made of. Maybe it is a wood/grass hut on the beach with opportunities for perfect pictures, but no hot shower – or the toilet is shared and across the village. Make sure you take note of what is included in the room before you book it. There are so many wannabe YouTubers out there – that you can get a general idea from videos on the area and accommodation. Even the poorest countries have a phone and Facebook so asking for a few photos or to confirm certain amenities is in your best interest.
Is it a remote small village or a bustling city?
If it is a remote village will you have a way to get there? Is that factored into your budget? If it is in a bustling city, how easy is it to find your way there and how costly. Is traffic going to be an issue? If it is then the taxi rates are going to be sky-high unless you can get them to agree on a set price before you get into the vehicle.
What type of activities are you going to be participating in?
If you are going to be visiting Macchu Picchu you will want to stay up near the entrance to get there before the crowds. Conversely, if you are only there for a short period of time, is it worth it to hotel/hostel jump from place to place? What if you are scuba diving out in Fort Lauderdale and it would be easier to get to the shop by staying on Singer Island rather than paying for a taxi multiple days to get back and forth. Are there activities at night and places to eat close to your accommodation. When you are fighting Jet Lag, you can often awake in the middle of the night with hunger pains that can have you chewing the arm of your travel companion off or eating the bar of soap.
Is the country conservative or are their citizens heavily restricted with rules?
When I was traveling with a Moroccan friend near southern Morocco, they are still ruled by strict social guidelines. So we had to pretend that he was my brother-in-law in order to be able to rent an apartment. Otherwise, they would have required to see a marriage document prior to renting the apartment. Several of them actually refused when they saw that he had a white American Female in the car. Given their point of view, I can see why several people refused (just in case he was kidnapping me – even though it wasn’t the case). Each place I stayed at also wanted a copy of my passport – which has ALL my personal information on it. So would you be comfortable letting them copy that information? Some places may refuse to rent to you if you are not comfortable giving that information. So these are just some things to think about, especially if you are a solo female traveler.
Are your comforts of home important to you?
It is important to remember that not every destination is going to have an air conditioner you can blast, fireplace you can light up, or even traditional heating. They may not even have a working toilet, or maybe you can sit on the toilet, shower, and brush your teeth all at the same time. We stayed in an apartment in Italy once as a family, where the smell of the sewer was so strong that we could barely shower. So be sure to read reviews and amenities of a location before going, so you can be well informed on what you will have to compromise and if you are willing to do that.
Time of Arrival or Departure – When Choosing Accommodation
Do you arrive at night or during the day?
I typically look for the best deal on Booking.com when I’m attempting to rent a place. I really like the filters you can choose from, and you can easily decide if a hotel/hostel/B&B is right for you all on the same platform.
As the years of travel have come and gone, I have gotten a lot more detailed in my approach when renting an Airbnb, Booking.com place. Sometimes it is the best deal because it is a remote part of the city that isn’t safe to lug my big suitcase and a backpack full of camera gear. So it is definitely something to consider. Another thing to consider is how accessible it is to catch a taxi, the cost of an Uber or Lyft to and from the transportation stations (airport, train, bus). There was one morning in Poland I counted on being able to catch a taxi to the train station and found that in Poland – in the center of Warsaw – no one is awake before 8 am. So I had to get access back into the building I had just deposited my room keys into, so I could get Wifi to call an Uber.
Your Budget When Choosing Accommodation
Does your budget include a fancy place to stay?
If this is going to be a relaxing vacation with lots of beach time, then maybe spending a little more on an all-inclusive resort would be worthwhile. If you are going to be out looking at historic sites in the center of the city, maybe it would be worthwhile to spend a little more of the budget to stay closer to those sites. If you are just looking to spend as little as possible, because you will be backpacking from one place to the next anyway, then maybe a hostel is your best bet.
Do you want to spend your vacation budget on your accommodation or on seeing the city?
The biggest beef I have with spending money on accommodation is that it takes away from my ability to spend money on tours, food and really experiencing the culture. So I tend to personally go for a cheaper (but comfortable) accommodation and then have loads left for tours and activities.
What type of vacation is this for you? Will you spend more time in a hotel (Honeymoon) or more time seeing the sites (on a group tour, or with a bunch of friends)?
If your vacation is going to be a romantic getaway, then I would tell you to spend a little more to have a cozy bed with a view and easy access to come back to the hotel frequently. If you will be in a tour group, they typically include the cost of the hotel, or I would get a hotel that will be close to the majority of your meeting spots.
Your Desire for Convenience When Choosing Accommodation
Does the destination have Taxies or Ubers?
Believe it or not, not every country/city has Taxies or Ubers. There are equivalents available in some countries (see my growing Worldwide Airport Transportation List) but sometimes it is just good old fashioned walking, horse and carriage or a Tuk Tuk. In certain cities in South America, if you are caught by the police taking an Uber/Lyft (like in Santiago) then you can get a $1000 fine. So I would definitely consider how you will get around the city, and to and from the airport when choosing accommodation.
Is there public transport? Is transportation able to handle your luggage?
Once you figure out your mode of transportation to and from the airport, also consider if they will be able to handle the amount of luggage you are planning on bringing. I can tell you right now, a Tuk Tuk will not be able to handle two people with their luggage. When I was in San Pedro La Laguna, near Lake Atitlan – the roads are too narrow for cars in most places, often get flooded in the rainy season. The Tuk Tuks there couldn’t hold 3 curvy women at once, so I had to squat and pray I didn’t break my ankle because my leg was hanging out of the Tuk Tuk.
If you are being picked up in a shared ride, or transfer service (often found on the airline websites when you book your flight) – they may have luggage restrictions to two per passenger or less.
If it is a shared Uber/Lyft or Taxi – you will have to be considerate of other passengers who may not be as prepared as you are – or pack as light as you do.
Your Travel Companions – Questions to Ask Before Booking
Do your travel companions have physical limitations? ie/ Wheelchair, bad knees, chronic pain
Americans are very lucky (and some countries in Europe), in that most everything is accessible to those with disabilities. Even in Scotland, there are things I took for granted in America that they do not have there due to the way the city has grown and morphed over the years. Working in the medical field it was eerie to me to not see elderly on the street – or those in wheelchairs or on crutches – there are seldom elevators unless specifically stated; Hostels, Airbnb, and B&Bs do not typically have elevators.
If you travel with Chronic pain and are stuck on an hour train ride in between the cars because you didn’t realize you had to reserve a seat and not just purchase a ticket – this could result in major pain that could result in a ruined vacation. So be aware of who you travel with, and have frank conversations about tolerance levels and ability to treat pain while vacationing.
What about those with bad joints, or those with heart or lung issues. Can they go up stairs, do they have elevators, what is the air pollution in the city like vs in the country? These are all things to consider and ask both the accommodation and your travel companions about. When I was in Edinburgh, and even in Marrakesh – I was grateful I had my inhaler because I have reactive asthma attacks. I get extremely fatigued, and a sore throat when the air quality is bad. Going up to high elevations quickly, like in Zermatt on the Little Matterhorn, at 15,000 feet – I nearly ended up in the hospital with an oxygen level of 85% because I discovered I was extremely prone to altitude sickness.
Do your travel companions travel light, or over pack with lots of bags?
Again, everything is a little bigger in America vs other countries. If you show up in Japan or China with 2 large bags and a big backpack – you may as well just buy an additional hotel room. Everything is small and jam-packed unless you know what you are getting into and can afford the larger hotel rooms.
Your Activities When Choosing Your Accommodation
Are you going to have a car?
If you are going to have a car, is there parking available at your accommodation? If there isn’t, then you have to look at costs for parking – and if you are good enough at parallel parking. In Morocco, if you decide to drive there, the parking spaces are very very tightly packed. There are certain meanings when you flash your brights or turn on your hazard lights. They even have parking assistants that you have to tip at least a dollar every time they help you, otherwise, you can get punched (saw a legit street brawl between a parking attendant and a local – lots of blood). In Edinburgh, there are no parking areas, unless you want to pay $45-$85 a night at a very limited parking center in the city. In the center of Boston, the parking at any location can be upwards of $60 a night (minimum). So be sure you check on parking availability if you choose to rent a car, otherwise, it can eat your budget rather quickly.
Is accommodation close to affordable public transportation?
If there are no parking areas, is the accommodation close enough to (and safe enough) utilize public transportation? In Guatemala, it would have been cheaper to take the 5-hour bus ride to Lake Atitlan sure. Yet hiring a private ride for $60 for the 3-hour car ride through mountain passes where falling rocks, flooded roads is much safer and more reliable at 2 am.
Your Eating Habits When Choosing Accommodation
Is breakfast important to you?
If you like to sleep in but love your breakfast, then I would make sure you click on the filter option where breakfast is included in the cost, or there is a continental breakfast available. I could eat breakfast food all day everyday if I could. Dinner I just eat Almonds or a protein bar – but in Europe, Lunch and Dinner are some of the most important meals.
Check Local Holidays/Religious Events
This is something I discovered after dating several Muslim men, when they described their countries during Ramadan. A local religious holiday that lasts a month, where stores, and local eateries often close during the day for religious reasons. If you don’t know about Ramadan, I put together a basic guide on Ramadan, and when and why they celebrate. For the purposes of this article though, you need to know that stores will open after sunset/evening prayer, and close in the AM after morning prayer. If you are ok eating all night, and sleeping during the day, there are some special dishes that come out during Ramadan, and are only made during Ramadan that would be worthwhile to check out for all my foodies.
Do you like to eat out?
Are there places nearby that you can eat? If there are places that you can eat near your accommodation, is it the type of food you can eat? Do you have any particular dietary restrictions? If so, then looking at different neighborhoods where those are more likely to be available and have more variety. If you are Vegan, Vegetarian, or have any particular allergy to certain foods – then I would recommend using Pinterest to plan out your eating excursions before you go.
Do you cook your own meals when vacationing?
If you do have severe dietary restrictions, or like to eat a little healthier while traveling – then choosing an accommodation near a supermarket may be worthwhile. Try your hand at local cuisine, or even eat with locals through EatWith.com where you can schedule a meal with a local and other travelers, take a food tour, or even learn how to cook like a local.
Will Your Personality Fit Your Accommodation
Are you a quiet hermit type? Are you outgoing and lazie faire? Are you refined and love that luxury life?
If you don’t like chaos, or can’t sleep through drunk people coming in and out at all hours of the night – then a Hostel is not for you. Do you like to be social, but still want your privacy and a relaxed environment? Then a Bed and Breakfast may be for you. Do you love luxurious surroundings, and value your sleep above all? Then a higher-end luxury hotel might be the best choice.
When staying in any location, it is important to know if you have the only key to the house, apartment, or room.
If you don’t, then I would suggest to my Solo Female Travelers that you demand this, or just look for another accommodation. If it is a Bed and Breakfast type home, where other people will be staying, this is fine, but you still want to ensure that you will be safe while you are sleeping – and there is lockbox for your passport.
Will you be alone or with other people?
If you will be alone in a dangerous neighborhood, then I would suggest getting a hotel closer to the city – and make sure there is good lighting on the street. Using Google maps street view is a good way to take a look at the neighborhood you will be going.
If you will be staying with other people, such as in a hostel, do they have lockers you can use? If so, are there locks you can rent, or do you need to bring your own lock?
Is the community gated/barb wire fencing?
When I was staying in Guatemala City, there were a lot of reports online that theft and muggings were common with tourists. Arriving late at night from San Pedro made me a bit nervous, as I didn’t properly scope out my accommodation. Driving into the complex though, provided a lot of ease of mind when I saw that there was a security guard, cement fencing with barbed wire on the top, and good lighting in the streets. So it really depends on the safety level of the country you are going to, how cautious you need to be, and how much research you need to do prior to finalizing your booking.
There are certain countries where tourists have to stay inside a compound for safety reasons. So for my adrenaline junkies out there, make sure that you understand the risks. If there is a safety advisory by your state/country department for that particular country – and you decide to go anyway; it could limit their ability and willingness to help you if you decide to ignore those warnings.
Do they have safety measures for fire hazards, flooding, earthquakes, hurricanes?
If you are staying in a wooden bungalow in the Maldives, and a hurricane blows through while you’re there – because the prices were cheaper in the rainy season – do they provide, or have a safe spot or emergency evacuation plan/supplies to aid their guests? This is something that happened to a friend when in Jamaica, and they had to fend for themselves until the communities were stabilized. Luckily they were in a hotel, not a bungalow, and had some granola bars to tide them over while electricity was restored in the kitchens.
Getting Travel Insurance is a great way to ease the mind.
I typically will use World Nomads as my Travel Insurance for medical evacuation or any emergency needs/delays/cancellations. Something you will have to ensure with medical, natural disaster, or political unrest evacuations – is that the fine writing often says ‘will evacuate you to the nearest USA location or airport’. Well that doesn’t help you much if you are vacationing in South America, and they send you to a hospital in Atlanta – but your house is in Oregon. Medical Transport on a ventilator from one area of the USA to another is done by helicopter with a specialized team and starts at $15,000 depending on the team needed and flight time. So if you are from the USA, or are purchasing the insurance through your own country – I highly suggest you read the fine print on this particular portion.
Will you need to get vaccines prior to going?
If you are a US Citizen, there are certain vaccines that are mandatory if you visit a country where a disease is prevalent.
Some of the vaccines can be out of stock or on back order – so it could take months until you receive it. Be sure to check with your local health department on these specialty vaccines.
Getting the vaccines within a certain time period PRIOR to your departure is imperative. Your immune system needs time to work, and what if you have a bad reaction? The earlier you can do it the better is what I highly suggest.
Are there animals or insects that could come in while sleeping? Do they carry diseases? Does the accommodation have mechanisms to prevent this?
If you are terrified of snakes or creepy crawlies coming into your room at night – then any tropical environment, even Australia may not be for you, unless you stay in a place where this can’t happen.
If you are in Africa, having a mosquito net is essential as many parasitic diseases including Malaria are transmitted there.
If you are staying in a grass hut in South American, there is a bug called the Kissing Bug (bites near nose/eyes/mouth at night), that transmits a parasite that can live in you for decades before showing up as a major heart issue.
In hostels, there is a growing issue with Bed Bugs. I was attacked by Bed Bugs in a Hostel in Prague a few years ago. I had 32 bites all up and down my arms, legs, chest and even a few on my face. Little did I know that I was allergic to the bites, and ended up swelling at each bite, felt like I was hit by a bus for the entire time I was backpacking through Europe.
It isn’t just hostels though, Bed Bug reports in New York City were up by 40% in 2018. If you bring those little bastards home with you, guess what….it can cost anywhere from $1600 to $5200 to get rid of them. Often it results in you having to replace furniture, beds, clothes and other items that they squeeze into and lay hundreds of eggs. So consider yourself warned, research how to spot bed bugs, and make a rule that you put your bags outside the room until your inspection is complete. It only took once, to learn this very painful and difficult lesson.
Are there restrictions on staying with those of the opposite sex?
I touched on this previously when I was traveling with a local in Morocco. But I bring it up again here because some countries do not allow you to stay with the opposite sex unless you are married or have the same last name. So just inquire, before you book if you are concerned.
Is the destination friendly to the LGBTQI community? Would you be allowed to stay in the same room as your partner?
This one, unfortunately, is still not accepted worldwide. While the courageous individuals who are traveling to the more close-minded countries, and are helping to try to educate on this particular point – I would advise you to research this extensively. While I don’t really feel it is necessary to call out specific countries, I wanted to put this in this guide – because it can pose a security risk to members of the LGBTQI community.
A good resource for those in the LGBTQI community that want to travel is ‘Dopes On The Road‘ – this website will give you Safety Tips to Consider, questions to ask, and how to plan a honeymoon as a LGBT.
What about racial discrimination?
While I am a white American female, I do have plenty of inspirational women of color that I highly admire and look up to. One such person is, Glo, from the Blog Abroad – who is very frank, honest and open about facing discrimination while traveling and how she handles it. Another great resource for what it is like to travel like a black man is Erik Prince from Minority Nomad. His goal is to be the first black man to travel to every country and would be a great resource because so far (as of August 2019) he has visited 90 countries. Because of my own ethnicity, I think it is a subject that I regrettably have been ignorant of for my readers. So to those who are concerned about this, hearing it from a white woman isn’t going to ease your mind – so look up Glo and Erik – you won’t regret it.
I know these are a lot of questions to process and take in, so it may feel like information overload. This is why I broke it down into bullet points because once you choose your destination, know your budget, and limitations or preferences of the people you travel with – it will be easy to skip over some of the questions.
I tried to include every question I ask when approaching a booking, or choosing an accommodation (traveling with my dog is a whole other article that I didn’t address). So if you are trying to book something luxurious, then you will have a guide – if you are finding accommodation in a busy city or a remote village in Africa then you will have a resource to remind you of how to best approach it and make the most informed decision possible.
Would you include any tips/tricks or advice to those who are just starting out booking their own accommodation?
The ancient city of Ephesus wasn’t actually civilized in the modern sense of the word until 850 BC when those from Egypt, Hittites, and Assyrians began to migrate here. This city has ties to significant people in the past including the Virgin Mary. I was able to visit Ephesus on a shore excursion when cruising the Eastern Mediterranean. My entire family thoroughly enjoyed this unique excursion in Turkey.
The Start of Civilized Life in Ephesus
Once these people began living civilized lives invention, innovation and scientific reasoning made this into a major trading city, port city and housed the largest collection of scrolls in the ancient world. These scrolls were filled with mathematics, philosophy, religious beliefs and superstitions, engineering, historical facts, geography, astronomy and many of the other sciences that we know today.
Entering Ancient Ephesus:
Entering through the Magnesia gate into the site you will see the State Agora and the Temple of Isis in the center of the Agora, with the Stoa on the North side. The Odeion (Bouletarion or Parliament) this building alone could hold up to 1,400 members of the community could attend the city council meetings. This is also where musical gatherings took place.
The State Agora and Temple of Isis (the Egyptian Goddess) were located in the center of the Agora. If you look on the east side of the Odeon (Council Building), you will find the Baths of Varius (Four Arched entries with Mosaics inside), the Monument of Memmius and the fountain of Sextilius Polio circa 93AD, and 1st century BC.
The Monument of Memmius is one of the few architectural monuments which has survived from the late Hellenistic Period. Built by Memmius (one of the prominent people of Ephesus) to honor the Roman Dictator Sulla.
The State Agora and Temple of Isis (the Egyptian Goddess) were located in the center of the Agora. If you look on the east side of the Odeon (Council Building), you will find the Baths of Varius (Four Arched entries with Mosaics inside), the Monument of Memmius and the fountain of Sextilius Polio circa 93AD, and 1st century BC.
The Monument of Memmius is one of the few architectural monuments which has survived from the late Hellenistic Period. Built by Memmius (one of the prominent people of Ephesus) to honor the Roman Dictator Sulla.
Fountain of Sextilius Polio:
The fountain of Sextilius Polio is hard to miss, a massive arch can be seen throughout different parts of the city. This fountain was covered with marble slabs over a rubble base. Two doorposts on either side merged with a grand niche. There were branching systems of clay baked pipes that provided water to this fountain. A number of statues decorated the facade of the fountain including the head of Zeus. The statues that once decorated this fountain are now exhibited at Ephesus Museum.
The Curetes Street in Ancient Ephesus:
The Curetes Street will start you down a relatively steep incline towards the main thoroughfare. You will notice how wide the street is, and columns sectioning the side portions into perfect partitions for shops. This is where local merchants would set up shop, and sell various items to politicians. After passing through the Curetes Street you will see the fountain of Trajan built in 112 AD, on the right-hand side of the road.
The Scholastica Baths (4th Century AD) are behind the Temple of Hadrian, the houses of all those rich people were built directly in front of it. These terrace houses filled with beautiful mosaics and decorative arts have been restored, protected and are now on display.
Traveler Tip: It is an extra fee and requires special permits to enter the Terrace Houses, to help preserve them so take some extra change with you.
The Corder of Curetes street and Marble Road you will find the House of Love (aka a Brothel). With the famous Celsus Library directly across from it, facing the Terrace houses.
The Celsus Library:
This Library held the remains of Tiberias Julius Celsus Polemaeanus who was the governor of Asia. The scrolls contained within this library were the crowning jewel of this city, with more than 12,000 scrolls contained in cupboards that were protected by double walls behind them to protect from humidity and the extreme temperatures in this area. This was the third wealthiest library in the world (after Alexandra and Pergamum).
If you stand back and look at the columns on the facade, the side columns are shorter columns. This gave it an appearance of being a larger building than it truly was. The statues that occupy the spaces within this facade all symbolize something. Wisdom (sophia), intelligence (ennoia), knowledge (episteme) and virtue (arete); these were all represented as these were the characteristics and virtues many believed Celsus exhibited.
This was by far my favorite part of the entire city, to think of how much knowledge was contained within those walls. How quickly their working knowledge was progressing, innovation, learning etc….. I could have stayed in there all day reading personally. Then I remembered….the limitations of women in that time period to hold rank. It made me grateful to be in the country, time and modern city that I live in today. Despite this line of thinking, it still broke my heart that in 262 AD the library was destroyed by fire during a Gothic invasion.
The Great Theater:
Imagine walking down the marble road, the street packed tightly with your friends and neighbors of the city and strangers from the surrounding area. The roads, lit by oil lamps, putting a warm glow around the city while the sea breeze blew into the city cooling down the marble, granite, and stone within the city.
What was playing at the Great Theater tonight? Was it a gladiator game? A dramatic play about the Emperor again? Was it a love story with a happy ending?
The Great Theater would have had the capacity for 24,000 people, with the port avenue extending out in front of it. Can you imagine trying to project your voice as an actor to that many people without a sound system?
The Story of Paul in Ephesus:
For my Christian friends, this is where Paul was dragged into the theater for sending a letter to the Ephesians (See Acts 18-20). His time in Ephesus was quite fruitful for the Christian religion a significant number of Jews and Greeks were converted, the Christian gospel was spread throughout Asia. There was a significant decrease in the purchasing of the silver Diana statues, which made the silver merchants go into a panic.
The mob gathered there to accuse Paul of hurting the Artemis and her temple. Paul continued to preach to them calmly, despite the peril to his life. Ephesians chapters one through four epistles are commonly known as the Prison Epistles. few hearts in the crowd changed and are the reason Paul survived that onslaught. Funny enough it was the security corps that rescued him from certain death.
Temple of Artemis:
Built in the 8th Century BC was another one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. To put the size of the building into perspective, it is double the size of the Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens. The massive columns reached 180 feet (55 meters) into the air, with the roof reaching 377 feet (115 meters) long. Two marble statues of the God Artemis can be seen in the archaeological museum near this site.
Who was Artemis? She is a lot more important than you would think, as she is the daughter of Zeus (or the CEO of all the Gods). Surprisingly she was the most respected of all the Greek Gods, even more so than her twin brother Apollo. She was considered to be the Goddess of the Hunt, Forests and Hills, protector of children and virginity, goddess of wild animals, the Moon and Archery — sooooo she was pretty busy, to say the least. The Bear is said to be the most sacred animal to her, and it remained so until Orion won her heart.
Artemis remained one of the patron Gods of this flourishing city, with dense forests that surrounded the area – perfect place for legends to be told. The Temple of Artemis was eventually destroyed by a deranged man called Herostratus who wanted to have his name written into history books, and believed destroying this building was the only way to do it.
The House of the Virgin Mary:
When Christianity took over, the House of the Virgin Mary, where it is believed that Mary spent the last years of her life is now worshiped still to this day. This sacred place is variously referred to as Meryem Ana Evi. It is said that she came to Ephesus with John around 37 AD in order to flee the persecutions of Christians in Jerusalem. Many Christian pilgrims believe that Mary died here, or near here and was taken up to heaven rather than experiencing a standard death around 45 CE.
While there are many arguments surrounding where the Virgin Mary died, this site has been declared a Shrine and visited several times by Catholic Popes. While some say it is a highly commercialized area, there is a quiet sense of reverence and peace when you come to this place. Not many Christians know of this Shrine to Mary in Turkey, but of those who do, it is regarded as a place of healing, miracles, and where many can tie kerchiefs with prayers on them to a wall near Mary’s home.
I was moved by the white kerchiefs that were hanging from the Wishing Wall. I thought of the Western Wall (aka the Wailing Wall) in Jerusalem, and a part of me could feel the pleading and grateful words written on those kerchiefs. As you make your way down the wall, and around the area surrounding Mary’s home, there is a small spring. Many pilgrims believe that this spring has healing powers and would splash the water on themselves as if being baptized again, or take a small drink of water and make the sign of the cross over themselves.
I am Christian, but I am not a worshiper of sacred sites – only to the point of, I enjoy the feeling of reverence that surrounds them. No matter what religion it is, there is something inspiring, moving, and triggers a soulful reflection of how I can be better — because of the example of their devotion to what they believe in.
The Final Verdict on Ephesus:
When I first came to visit Ephesus, I thought ‘oh brother, not another broken down ruined Romanesque overcharged place’. I was with my family, so it wasn’t really an option to NOT choose to visit. After getting an audio guide so I wouldn’t be completely bored, learning about the history of the place, seeing the Shrine to Mary, learning of the Goddess of the Hunt, and being able to walk up the Great Stadium Steps and going down Curates Street – I have to say I was quite impressed with this place. The Celsus Library was heartbreaking to hear of all that knowledge that was lost to the world at that time. Walking down Curates Street with all the other tourists, was one of the few times I was glad there were crowds because it helped me imagine what it would have been like in ancient times with hoards of people headed to the stadium.
So is it worth it to see and explore Ephesus? I will give a resounding YES, I am not that into ruins strewn about on the ground haphazardly – this is not that kind of place. I would say the awe that it inspired was close to the awe and wonder I felt the first time I stepped in the Coliseum. For my religious friends, witnessing the wall of kerchiefs, the feeling at Mary’s Shrine is well worth it. It is not just the shrine that will inspire you but imagining Paul in the Great Stadium. Go stand in the middle of the Great Stadium floor and imagine people jeering and calling for your death for writing a letter – it will send chills down your spine.
Ephesus certainly has a right to be on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list. With how well preserved the town is (compared to so many others), it will give you one of the best examples to imagine yourself in the time of the Ancient Greek/Roman life in one of the greatest cities of that time. If you happen to be on a cruise in this area, or in Turkey and can visit Ephesus – I would highly recommend you do so. Especially if you are an ancient civilization history lover like me, you will fall in love with this place.
This post may contain affiliate links, for more information read our full disclosure The travel industry is throwing around this term: Responsible Tourism or Sustainable Tourism. So what does Responsible Tourism mean? Each year we travel, consume, photograph and share on our social media channels, exposing friends and family to expand their knowledge of the cultures of the world.
Responsible Tourism is a multifaceted approach, which includes:
Minimizing negative social, economic and environmental impacts while traveling
Generating greater economic benefits for local people and enhancing the well-being of host communities
Improving working conditions and access to the worldwide industry
Involving local people in decisions, markets, and trade that affect their life and chances at life.
Making positive contributions to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage, embracing the diversity.
Providing more enjoyable experiences for tourists through more meaningful connections with local people and a greater understanding of local cultural, social and environmental issues.
Provides access for physically challenged people
Is being culturally sensitive, encourages respect between tourists and hosts, and builds local pride and confidence.
There are many different ways that this can be addressed and focused on. The Culture Trekking Community is one that focuses on numbers one, five, six and eight. Creating a community where ideas, religions, cultural idiosyncrasies are both shared, respected and embraced. As the Community grows I want to improve awareness on environmental impacts as well as fight the uphill battle of having more meaningful human connections. Today I will focus on the latter.
Where the idea started for my own Responsible Tourism:
The video was quite graphic when I saw this 2 years ago, but it really impacted me in so many different ways. The moral of the story is…..you don’t know what you don’t know until you educate yourself on how small choices like using single-use straws can impact the environment. I now carry a reusable metal straw in my purse at all times. This video is where responsible tourism started for me….watching this turtle in so much pain made me feel like I needed to do more for the environment.
It isn’t just the plastic straws, it is garbage that is left strewn about in all the different places that I visit. I remember walking behind someone in Yellowstone National park…..they dropped a wrapper on the ground (a large one). I was so frustrated by this because they had a bag they could have easily slipped that wrapper into. I picked it up and gave it back to the tourist, who naturally acted like they dropped it by accident (even though I watched them look around before dropping it). It is not that hard to slip those wrappers into a pocket, a bag, in your shoe….anything but on the ground. Taking a few more steps to ensure your rubbish gets into the proper receptacle is not as hard as you think…..as Nike says ‘JUST DO IT’!
Another video that truly impacted me was one man in India, who returned to his home to find the beach he loved filled with garbage. He knew he had to do something so he started knocking on doors and aims to be that change he wishes to see in the world. Take a look at the video & then I want to think about how much of a difference we could make if each of us committed to picking up 3 pieces of trash wherever we travel to. What about taking an extra garbage bag on a local hike in your hometown? We could all use a few more squats in our day, right?
Why am I showing you all these videos? A picture is worth a thousand words (or so they say), but I feel that videos are the way to make an impact that can create change. What is better than a video? Visiting a place like the Washed Ashore Gallery in Bandon Oregon (several displays are located throughout the United States, see the Washed Ashore Exhibit Locations for more information) can both teach our generation and the generations below us how to protect our earth and save our oceans.
Traveling can be an exotic thing full to the brim with activities that will make your friends envy your life & maybe even despise you a little. The more I travel the more I realize that I want to make a difference in the world, no matter how small it is. Ecotourism and Volunteering for cleanups and service can help connect our communities, open minds and hearts, and help start the change we wish to see in the world.
Supporting Companies with good causes:
Save the Baby Turtles!
A Blogger friend of mine in Fort Lauderdale Florida was able to participate in the nighttime protection of hatching baby turtles. These baby turtles get confused by the city lights and instead of going into the ocean (following the moon), they follow the city lights. This leads them to be run over or crushed by bikes, cars or fall into holes they cannot get out of. What these volunteers do is once the baby turtles hit their 10-foot periphery line, they gather them up in a bucket and take all the confused little fellas to the ocean where they set them free. They also move beach chairs and sandcastles to allow for the mothers to come to the beach easier and lay their eggs. Check out her post on Saving Baby Sea Turtles and how you can help or participate!
Soul Flower Clothing Company
As soon as I found this clothing company, I know I had found my tribe. Just look at their tagline:
Soul Flower is a natural clothing brand for kind souls and free spirits. Mindfully made with natural fibers and heartfelt art, we design our threads with kind vibes from start to finish. We seek inspiration in the simplicity of everyday life – in nature and in music, in free-spirited adventures and in like-minded souls. We create clothing in a way that supports our planet, spreads a positive message, and most importantly — helps you express yourself.”
To all my big headed ladies out there (I’m talking literal, not egotistical) – this is the place you should get your headbands! Every time I wear these headbands I feel a little better about myself, I read the inspirational message printed on it and cannot help but feel inspired to finish out the day with a bang! Plus, let’s be honest, sometimes a girl just needs a headband to decrease the stress of doin’ da hur….ya feel me? To get your headband:
The other items I have personally tried and fallen in love with so far are the yoga pants and shirts. If I’m being honest, I wear the pants EVERYWHERE! Not just because the pants are comfortable, but because they have the most adorable prints on them that inspire me to continue to be Eco-friendly in my day to day life & inspire me to live a simpler life to help have less of an impact on the environment. I wore the shirt for two days in a row people! I know that’s gross but it has been so hot over here, and it is so light, airy and cute with the little leaves on it… I couldn’t resist
Personal Note: It is sooooo hard to find cute and comfortable clothing as a curvy woman — so to find a company that caters to my desire to be eco-friendly and embraces those of all shapes and sizes really just gives me warm fuzzies and I want to shout out from the rooftops how much I appreciate and love them for this.
You don’t just have to participate in environmentally friendly activities at destinations you visit. You can start being environmentally friendly to companies just like Soul Flower. Check out Soul Flower Summer Specials today!
Other Ways to be a Responsible Tourist:
Be Respectful of Religions and Cultures:
Look at local customs and rules when entering churches across the world. Do not make derogatory jokes or compare those within the country to something you deem as ‘more sensible’ or ‘better practices’. Do not impose your beliefs on those within the country unless prompted to. Respect the cultural idiosyncrasies of what is considered ‘normal’ for that country.
The bottom line is, just because something, someone, or a country as a whole does something different than what you know to be normal — doesn’t mean that it is wrong. There are some exceptions where it endangers basic human rights, practices, or harms/mutilates any animal or human being (obviously). Even if you do see something wrong, intervening as a tourist could land you in jail – be careful, be cautious and if you have a concern about the country/destination use a guide that you can ask questions about what is appropriate or if you can do something/intervene without landing yourself in jail.
Be Respectful of Shop Owners Overseas:
Do not take photos of products, items, or anything in different countries that could affect their livelihood. Do not get offended if they ask you not to take photos, there is a reason! Unnamed countries citizens will visit these economically struggling countries and take photos of their products and produce them at a fraction of the cost, but they are not authentic products.
Moroccans, for example, rely on their skill and artistry of furniture, clothing, architecture, woodworking to profit from their craft and provide for their families. How many times have you visited a country and thought, ‘Oh I can get that back in my own country, I don’t need to buy it here’. This is why it is so important….so many countries rely on tourism and the money it brings in to put food on the table. So please….before you take a photo in a store, ASK the owner if it is ok.
Be Aware and Educate Yourself on Regional Issues:
Human trafficking, terrorism, and so many more unsavory things happen in this world. I have too much of a tender heart to focus in on the negative all the time, so rarely listen to the news – but I do search for those individuals who have the capacity to handle situations such as this. I support them, I share their stories and donate when I’m able to.
It is important to be sensitive to cultural and religious practices (as part of Responsible Tourism) that help to positively define a culture, but that never means we should tolerate those who continually violate the basic human rights of food, safety, and shelter.
With having experienced Rape and sexual assault myself, the topic of sex trafficking is a very passionate topic for me. Operation Underground Railroad is a team of individuals of highly specialized individuals who have years of experience in special forces, law enforcement working proactively since 2013 with local governments that I wholeheartedly support. This is a video that had me in tears for how grateful I was to the men & women who do this. Please support them in whatever way that you can…. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c_CgQcNkUlw&feature=youtu.be If you would like to Donate to O.U.R. please feel free to do so, if you are unable to donate, then try and Volunteer for O.U.R. to help aid in their efforts.
Small changes can make a big difference:
Wear environmentally friendly products:
Keep any soap while camping at any location away from runoff areas (at least 100 feet).
Bury or pack out your human waste. Look at the requirements for each camping spot you visit for their rules and regulations.
Wear environmentally and Ocean friendly sunscreen as this often washes off the ocean, causing damage to coral and marine life.
Bringing your own straws, skip the straw at Starbucks. If this doesn’t make sense, please keep watching the video of the Turtle above until it does.
Get a recycling bin or start a recycling group in your neighborhood. (More information below on recycling that could be available in your country).
Make a list of low-cost companies that produce Biodegradable Products and keep a list. Hand the list out to anyone who uses straws, show they alternatives. Don’t force it down their throat — educate with KINDNESS! Honey works better than vinegar when trying to entice people to change their daily habits or companies to change the status quo.
Utilize the Reusable Grocery Bags:
This is such a simple change that we can all do (especially those of us in the States). In most other countries they are charging for the plastic bags, yet when we implement it here to try and help support the environment….everyone loses their minds! They tried to do this when I lived in Texas and I would stand there and see with my own eyes, these grocery baggers get verbally assaulted for doing their job and charging for the plastic bags. Come on people…..be better than that……do better than that…….realize that this isn’t just about YOU and YOUR needs, but for the betterment of humanity and animals. If you still aren’t convinced that plastic bags are a big deal, watch this video of the whale found dead with hundreds of pounds of plastic bags in its stomach. If that doesn’t convince you, well…..I don’t know how to help you become a better human being.
I need some advice myself on this one….grrrhhh….. I have all the reusable bags I can handle. I start daydreaming on the way to the grocery store, then out of habit, forget to take the reusable grocery bags I brought off the garage wall where I put them so I wouldn’t forget them. If you have some advice on how to remember these things…..let a girl know in the comments below.
A Call to Action for Responsible Tourism:
Here is a great resource if you would like to participate in Ecotourism on your next trip: Ecotourism.org
Straws:The Last Plastic Straw is a great website for a list of all the different types of straws, where to get them and how they are better than the plastic straws. There is also a site completely dedicated to Living a life without plastic, this is where I get my reusable metal straws (bamboo and glass is also available).
Home, Pets, Cleaning supplies and more:Life Without Plastic gives you so many bamboo or steel options that can replace many of the household items that have or contain plastic. Gift certificates, gift registry, and points program are also available on this site to help you invite friends to the #noplastic movement.
Recycling throughout the world: Recycling in the States (contact your city councils to arrange this), Recycling in Australia, Recycling in Canada, Curbside Recycling available in New Zealand please check your local city councils, Recycling is also available in the United Kingdom for each household (mandatory supply of bins from government), Spain also has recycling available in some areas, and the Netherlands actually pays you to bring in your recyclable materials (typically at grocery stores).
IF YOU HAVE RECYCLING IN YOUR COUNTRY AND IT IS NOT LISTED HERE, PLEASE LIST THE RESOURCE OR WHO TO CONTACT BELOW 🙂
A Must Read Plastic Free Blogger: If you are like me and feel a little overwhelmed by how many things in your home contain plastic, visit Beth Terry: My Plastic Free Life Blogger. She will teach you, take you step by step through the process and show you how to live a plastic-free life.
Worldwide Plastic Pollution Coalition – Now NO ONE has an excuse to not participate in reducing their plastic use. This is a global alliance of individuals, organizations and businesses working together to stop plastic pollution.
How To Tour Responsibly:
We have such a duty to protect creatures who outlived the dinosaurs, are essential to our planet’s ecosystem – the Sea Turtles. We don’t have to start being Eco-friendly or participate in Responsible Tourism practices only when we are traveling. Get involved in the activities now, one goal or plastic straw at a time.
Be respectful of religions, people, cultures, and races as long as they do not infringe on basic human rights to live life peacefully, safely without fear of bodily harm and can provide for basic human needs of shelter, food, and water.
Get involved in volunteer programs locally where you can help end human trafficking, gang violence, opioid epidemics, and so much more. There seems to be an Instagram hashtag or Facebook group for everything these days. If you have any suggestions for local groups you are passionate about, please let it in the comments below with a link to their site. Teach those around you, share the information on your social media platforms….it just takes one rock in a pond to start a ripple that turns into a wave. Be that change you wish to see in the world.
How do you like to contribute to Responsible Tourism?
What is the most important thing to you regarding Responsible Tourism?
Deep in the remote mountains of northern Thailand, the peaceful retreat camping in Doi Angkhang, a world away from the bustling streets of Chiang Mai. The main attractions around this small town are the projects run by the Royal Agricultural Research Centre. Within the compound, colorful flower gardens showcase the technical expertise of scientists and gardeners. Further on, picturesque tea plantations and fruit farms welcome visitors to explore and buy the local produce.
Just a few decades ago, this region bordering Myanmar was lawless and inaccessible. Poppy plantations and opium factories dotted the landscape, as drug smugglers ran their business with impunity. In recent times, however, a determined drive by the Thai government to introduce agriculture reforms and improve infrastructure has driven the drug trade out of the area.Today, Doi Angkhang is popular with locals seeking refuge from the tropical humidity. With a temperate climate averaging between 20°c to 25°c, most visitors come here to hike, camp or just spend a night in the only resort for a short getaway.
It takes 3.5 hours to get here by car from Chiang Mai, with the last hour crawling up steep uphill slopes and navigating relentless hairpin turns. There is no public transport going up to Doi Angkhang, so you’ll need a private vehicle to make the trip up.
If you can find a group of travel companions, you can hire a private minivan or Songthaew for 2 days and share the cost. You can find plenty of tour operators in Chiang Mai, or take a bus to Fang and find a driver there for slightly less.
The Camping Experience
Accommodation in Doi Angkhang is very limited, with a single resort and several guesthouses in town. But the best way to spend the night here is in a tent, camping alongside locals in a forest clearing overlooking the valley below.
The Campsites in Doi Angkhang
While there are several campsites in the area, each with its own unique viewpoint. Occupying several strips of terraces directly facing east, the campsite managed by the National Parks is the prime spot for catching the sunrise. A tent here costs 200 Baht per night, which is affordable even for locals. In front of the rows of tents, the valley extends far into the distant mountain range.
On weekends and national holidays, there may be a lot more visitors to the campsite (I DID say that this was popular with locals!). Fret not, for just further down the road, to the left of the National Parks campsite, is another site run by the Thai army. A small army camp marks the entrance, and you can rent a tent and pay the pitching fees at a small booth nearby. Local families also rent out small plots of land around the area for overnight camping.
Equipment for Camping With Locals in Thailand
You don’t need to bring your own tent to pitch here. Everything can be rented at an affordable rate, and it’s all set up for you to crawl into. For security, you’ll just need a padlock to secure the tent while you’re out.If you’re renting from the National Park office, you may choose to rent a sleeping bag or a set consisting of a sleeping mat and a blanket. Temperatures may drop to single digits on the Celsius scale at night, so be prepared to tuck in for warmth.A row of shops across the road from the campsite sells other common camping equipment like gas stoves, bottled water, and toiletries. They stock pretty much everything you need for a comfortable outdoor camping experience, so you really need to lug them up the mountains.
Bathroom Facilities Available in Doi Angkhang
A short distance from the tents, shared bathrooms are available for all campers to use for free. Housed in two separate blocks for each gender, the bathrooms are relatively basic with no heated water and limited toilet paper. It’s cleaned daily before the bulk of campers congregate in the afternoon, but expect it to get progressively dirtier as night comes.
You can get hot water showers at the shops across the road for around 100 Baht each time. With the nice cool temperature though, most campers will just skip the shower for the night – it’s part of the outdoor experience after all!
Dining Available in Doi Angkhang
No camping trip is complete without cooking a meal over a campfire. In Doi Angkhang, locals do it with a twist, as the shops prepare a mookata feast to be delivered and cooked right in front of your tent. Mookata is a social dining experience, where food is either grilled on a metal plate or cooked in a broth that is collected in a shallow trough running along the side. In Doi Angkhang, 400 Baht will get you an earthen stove, the mookata hotplate, charcoal to last for 2 hours, and enough ingredients to make a meal for 2 people.
Choose a shop to purchase the set, and a shop assistant will carry everything down to your tent and prepare the fire. As the campsite gets dark at night, it’s best to prepare a headlamp to free your hands while cooking AND eating (remember to use separate pairs of chopsticks for handling raw and cooked food!). If all these sound too troublesome, the shops also sell cooked food at affordable prices. As these family-run establishments double up as their homes, you might even be invited to join them for a meal if you’re lucky!
Catching the Sunrise
One of the highlights of camping in Doi Angkhang is catching the sunrise from the front of your tent. All tents are pitched on a terrace with an unblocked view, so there’s really no excuse to miss it. At 6am, wake up and partially wiggle out of your sleeping bag to unzip the flap of the tent entrance.
From the comfortable confines of your tent, you can watch a magnificent sunrise without taking a single step out.If you’re feeling active or need a boost of energy to start the day, the cool air of Doi Angkhang is ideal for a morning jog or a short hike into the woods. Otherwise, roll back into your tent to catch a few more hours of sleep.
Packing and Moving On
Most campers pack up and head back down by 10am. Checking out is straightforward, as you return all your sleeping bags or mat to the office, and then collect your driver’s license or identity card from the park ranger.From the campsite, you can head towards the Royal Agricultural Research Centre to visit the gardens and plantations, and then further on to the army base at the Thai-Myanmar border.
Alternatively, head back down the mountain towards Fang, and return to Chiang Mai (3.5 hours) or Chiang Rai (2.5 hours).If you have an extra day to spare, do check out the Chinese village of Mae Salong (3 hours), which has picturesque tea plantations to visit and an interesting background story worthy of a Hollywood movie!
Guest Author:Gary is an avid backpacker and part-time geek. He started 2-Week Trips, a travel blog dedicated to independent backpacking vacations, as a resource for the gainfully employed to embark on exciting adventures around the world.
When visiting Ephesus during our Eastern Mediterranean Cruise, my family and I were able to stop by the Shrine of the Virgin Mary. I didn’t expect the place to be so humble, nor see all the prayers on the wall, or people drinking from what they believed to be a Holy Spring. So let me help educate you on this Christian Shrine, so you can enjoy it a little more when you visit on your Ephesus Excursion.
Is It Really The House Of the Virgin Mary?
There are several evidences that contribute to believers claiming this is truly the Home of the Virgin Mary
1- In nearby Ephesus, there is a presence of the tomb of St John of Ephesus. He was a known, and close, companion of the Virgin Mary.
2- The presence of the first Basilica of the world dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and the Ecumenical Council of 431 AD was held in Ephesus in this Basilica for the definition of the dogma of the Divine Motherhood of Mary. In this council they wrote, “….after his arrival to Ephesus, where John the Theologian and the Holy Virgin Mary, Mother of God….”
3- Lastly, the Orthodox villagers of nearby Kirkince were believed to be descendants of the Christians that lived in Ephesus. They passed from generation to generation the belief of the Dormition of Mary in this place. They have kept this tradition alive through the annual pilgrimage of the 15th of August.
History of the Shrine of Virgin Mary
The Christian Shrine of Virgin Mary, is believed to be the House of the Virgin Mary is actually in Turkey, its about 26 km (34 min drive) from Ephesus/Kusudasi Port, located on Mount Koressos (or Mount Nightingale).
Typically tour guides can take you from the port to the shrine, where hundreds of both Christian/Catholic & Islamic pilgrims alike come to see the house where Mary spent her last days.
Built in the 4th Century AD, a church, combining her house and grave have been built there. There are two areas within the church for both Christians to worship, and Muslims to worship as well. I thought this was very thoughtful, to allow two religions to worship in their own way and own time.
The Sacred Water
Just next to that you will find the Sacred Fountain of the “Water of Mary”, where some believe that this water has powerful healing properties, and can aid in fertility. Be forewarned it is quite salty, but all are welcome to drink it, make sure to bring your own cup or water bottle if you would like to try any.
The water at the Christian Shrine of Virgin Mary is actually to also have been a small stream that flowed into the home, like most traditional homes of that time, that is to believed to have flowed in the same room as where the Virgin Mary use to sleep within the home, which is why some believe in its healing properties.
Just outside this church you find a wall covered in cloth, I thought it was handkerchiefs to wipe tears away and for a moment mistook it for the Wailing Wall (which is actually in Israel). But this is actually called the ‘Wishing Wall’, where you can come and place a piece of cloth with a prayer on it, hoping that the Virgin Mary will supplicate your cause to God on your behalf.
I think seeing all the hopes, dreams, wishes, and prayers from pilgrims all over the world placed on this wall made me sad in a way. There is a lot going on in this world, and that which is most painful often happens inside the home.
To have an area like this, where I think even writing your wishes/hopes/prayers down, can be therapeutic in a way. I stared at this wall for quite some time, feeling like I was intruding on someone’s private life if I touched any of the prayer cloths. Instead just stood back and observed those putting their prayer cloths on the wishing wall, the way that you could feel the people here pouring their heart into it, it gives this place a very special feeling.
This Christian Shrine of Virgin Mary, although has never been pronounced as an official site of the Virgin Mary, has received 3 different Papal blessings.
Many times Christian pilgramage sites are passed down through generations by word of mouth. So if you ever visit Israel on a Pilgramage, you will hear ‘actual site’ vs ‘traditional site’ of events happening. But to have the heavily isolated villagers of Kirkince deem this place the Panaya Kapulu, or the “Doorway to the Virgin” does make you think that it could very well be a holy site.
Restoration of the Shrine
The Chapel we see today was rebuilt upon the original foundations of the home of the Virgin Mary and appears to date back to the 1st and 4th Centuries. The last restoration on this small dwelling took place in 1951.
The Feeling of This Christian Shrine
I let my mind wander and think that someone who lived during the time of Christ was here, and indeed may have been the Virgin Mary. There was a peaceful feeling inside, despite all the tourists, and a sense of reverance for a woman who has been revered and worshiped for thousands of years.
The drive to this place might take some time, but seeing all the worshipers, the quiet peace in this place combined to make a trip here well worth it to me.
Now a museum, but a building that stands as a religious journal to centuries of time and a witness to many wars. This impressive building is so large that the Empire State Building could actually fit underneath its massive dome. Once a church, later a mosque, and now a museum in Turkey. Over the Centuries it has been influenced mostly by both Ottoman and Byzantine influences and perfectly projects this onto those who enter its walls. Let me take you on a virtual Hagia Sophia Tour, and give you a brief summary of the old Hagia Sophia to the Hagia Sophia today.
A Structure of Contrasting Religions
With both gold Christian Mosaics that have been uncovered, and central Islamic spiritual messages that adorn the walls; it made me sad in a way, that this building could be given the title of being a ‘museum’, and yet Christians and extremists cannot seem to find any common ground. Our time is likely not unlike the wars that this building has seen in its time. Maybe one day, our time can be looked at with both sadness and enlightenment on the human condition of this war on extremism, we can only hope.
One of the reasons I loved this building, is because of the contrasts of having both Christian and Islamic emblems within the same walls. I appreciate the Turkish government for allowing such a museum to exist and maintaining the property; especially since it is directly across from a operating mosque, the Blue Mosque, with its gorgeous and intricate interior.
The Old Hagia Sophia
The Hagia Sophia built by brick and mortar, is 31, 24 mt (102 ft 6 in) diameters and is 55, 6 mt (182 ft 5 in) high. Originally it was a wooden structure used for Pagen rituals, then that was torn down, and a Byzantine church built by Constantine in 360 AD. It underwent fires, earthquakes and collapse in total 5 different times. It was in 1931 that Christian Mosaics, previously plastered over for Islamic religious preparations, were beginning to be uncovered. Then in 1934 was transformed into a museum.
Significant church leaders from many denominations, emperors, sultans and princes have all walked these halls. It was a little humbling to think that I was walking in the steps of men and women who made the history books. I like to imagine what the walls of the buildings had been witness to. I think the more history a certain historical building holds, the more magic it has because of that history, and the bigger impact it has on my heart.
Getting To Hagia Sophia
My family & I visited this building on an excursion from our Cruise, it was an easy train ride to the center of town. You will need to buy a train ticket, with cash, at the machines located next to the tracks. There is an option for English on the ticket machines.
When you get on the train men are expected to give up their seat for women, especially women with children; I really appreciated this as my sister was given a seat while she was holding her 9 month old sleeping daughter. The train is typically quite, out of respect for other passengers. The train ride into town took only about 20 minutes, and most of the major tourist attractions are within walking distance.
I suggest visiting the Blue Mosque early in the morning as it can get crowded on Fridays and around the time for calls to prayer, it opens before Hagia Sophia.
Entrance to Hagia Sophia
You will need to get in line for Hagia Sophia quite early, as it gets quite crowded later in the day. A donation as you leave any mosque or museum is appreciated, as these places need to be maintained and can be quite costly. Be sure to explore every corner of the Hagia Sophia, and if you are able to arrange for a guide, you could spend the whole day learning about the history of this place and all the layers of this building and when things were added & by what religious or cultural sect.
Hagia Sophia Today
Hagia Sophia, Turkish Ayasofya, Latin Sancta Sophia, Church of the Holy Wisdom, Church of the Divine Wisdom, no matter what you call it the transformations make this an incredible place of historical worship.
The most impressive parts about this building, is that despite being in a predominately Muslim country they still show the Christian heritage it holds. In a way it made me hopeful that an understanding could blossom between Christians and the Muslim community. That a mutual understanding and respect is still possible. Allowing things like this to be available to tourists, locals etc… and bridging that gap of cultural misunderstanding is the first step.
So take a visit to Turkey and see this amazing building, and experience their wonderful culture, and intricate history… you won’t regret it. I still consider Istanbul to be one of the top 5 places I have ever visited.
For more information on Traveling around Istanbul:
A country with world renown exports such as sushi, kimono girls and Anime, despite the popularity of their culture Japan still held a great sense of mystery for me, especially the people of Japan. In the far east with so much intrigue, Japan had been on my bucket list for a long time.
As a keen skier, I’ve always wanted to experience the famous Japanese powder and as an equally keen photographer and full-time artist, the bright lights of Tokyo, the minimalist design culture and the cherry blossom season had been pulling at my creative heart strings for a long time. Off we went to The Land of The Rising Sun, here are some of my favorite people we met along the way.
Skiing in Niseko was everything I expected AND MORE. Our first week in Japan was greatly enhanced by the hosts we were lucky enough to have in Hirafu village. Canadian Liz was in charge, she’d fallen in love with Japan before falling in love with a Japanese native, Gory.
They looked after us amazingly well, gave us daily language lessons over breakfast and an insight into Japanese culture including local etiquette. Etiquette whilst skiing in Japan is very different from my snow days in France, these pointers were great!
Our newly acquired language skills and knowledge went down well with the locals and our efforts seemed to be appreciated. Learning these golden nuggets of info that you can’t find in books or blogs, talking to local people who could be expats is the best way to find out these nuances. Meeting Liz, so enthralled with People in Japan and their culture was a perfect introduction to the next few weeks that we’d spend exploring for ourselves.
Following Niseko we stayed in the north of Japan and arranged a homestay in Sapporo. Our host Saori was the sweetest of ladies who was also hosting a Belgium couple at the same time she opened her house to Jim and I. Homestay’s are the perfect way to learn more about the culture of a country. Saori also loved to travel so we shared stories of places we’d been and you could tell she’d been to a few, her house was full of trinkets and mementoes from different countries, filling every shelf and wall space. We learned about the difficulties Saori faces as a young single woman who loves to travel. As a teacher with the expectation to be a reputable part of society and only two weeks of vacation per year she really has to make the most of her holiday time.
Generally, the Japanese don’t tolerate people moving from job to job and professional loyalty is paramount. Extended travel isn’t looked upon favorably and Saori seems to be stuck between a rock and hard place.
We discussed the differences of how the western world is adapting to employee satisfaction, flexible working and online arrangements. Really interesting to hear firsthand about the expectations from society and Japanese families.
Young at 65
After a tourist trip to Inuyama to see the oldest castle in Japan we headed into town to find an alcoholic refreshment to quench our thirst. There wasn’t much choice and the 4 of us were struggling to find a suitable location.
As a last resort and what seemed to be the only option in town, I popped my head into an empty, dingy looking pub which didn’t look very appealing at all. Stinking of cigarettes but with no other option we settled for this rather tired looking establishment. The bar man welcomed us in and was in fact the owner of this drab looking hangout. Rudi, the owner, was by no means a match for the aurora of his place. A 65-year-old retired corporate high flier, with a killer laugh who didn’t look a day over 50, despite smoking like a chimney.
Having lived in Chicago for many years his English was awesome and his American accent even better! Whilst keeping our glasses topped up and bar snacks flowing, Rudi told us stories of business dealings in America and reasons for returning to Japan, turning over a new leaf and opening a bar. With no experience in the hospitality industry Rudi took a risk and with the soul purpose of meeting new people and having a good time he took the plunge. Not a typical reason for opening your own pub- what a character! Rudi was the life and soul of his pub in Inuyama. He was a typical bar man, loved to chat and was also having a drink with us. After a few beers he started to multitask and transitioned into the role of DJ and karaoke master.
The Japanese LOVE their karaoke and once he started that was it! Mariah Carey, Michael Jackson and plenty of 80’s pop. The 5 of us from 4 different countries, sang, drank and talked travel as if we’d been friends for years. I’m not a big drinker any more but in my eyes you can’t beat bonding over a beer, it doesn’t matter what country you’re in.
When I look back at our time spent in Japan, memories of bar hopping in Tokyo, hiking in the Aichi prefecture and a long weekend in Kyoto were awesome. What I really connect to and what makes up the fabric of our time in japan and brings a smile to my face are the people we met. A safe place to travel and a warming culture, you will fall in love with japan just as Liz did 12years ago and just I have more recently. I guess its back on the old bucket list! Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo – Once recorded as the busiest crossing in the world
About the author: Kim is a nomadic artist who pulls inspiration from many aspects of the countries she explores. Currently using her background in photography as the foundation for her mixed media artwork she’s always been interested in art, culture and design. Photography Art Inspired by the natural landscape of Japan and seasonal kimono colors of traditional dress. See more at www.kimyoudan.com
**The purpose of ‘Ramadan Made Simple’ is to educate, not offend. To those who are of the Muslim faith, feel free to comment and help educate us all, and Rhamadan Kareem to you**
From all the movies I have watched of Muslims bombing Americans, treating women poorly & the mysterious secretive nature of the religion — to be honest I started to become afraid of Muslims & those who wore Hijab’s. So me, being who I am, set out to face my fears and educate myself on what the truth was. I don’t like to give into the mainstream media, and I’m not a ‘follow the crowd’ kind of personality.
As fate would have it, I started working for a Muslim doctor in Las Vegas, and ended up rubbing shoulder with his friends & colleagues who were also from the same religion. He was actually from Pakistan, and after 2 years of working for him & with a nurse who converted to the religion, I learned a lot & my perspective radically changed.
Bottom line, they are human beings, who find passion in their religion that gives them a sense of community – when many do not treat what they believe with much respect. No matter what religion you come from, there will always be the ‘few’, who skew the perspective of the ‘many’. Being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (aka: Mormon, as the public calls us- see LDS.org for more on this), we also have a problem with this aspect and many assuming we are part of the “Sister Wives” – which couldn’t be further from the truth. I think this is why I wanted to learn more, because I know how it feels to be misunderstood, and have people assume things about me that aren’t true.
Quiet frankly, it is hurtful & makes me feel more isolated when people don’t bother to ‘seek first to understand’ instead of just Ass-uming. So after several years of observing, learning, reading (yes, even read ‘The Koran for Dummies’ lol)
What I Learned About Rhamadan:
1- It Is Deeply Religious
It is a deeply religious time for them, which is celebrated as a family. And follows the Lunar Calendar, which means it is a few days earlier each year. This year it begins on 5/27/17
2- Preparation Is Extensive
Days of preparation happen beforehand, each country is different in what they prepare but typically involves special dishes rich in calories and electrolytes that help sustain them throughout the day. (Below is Harrira, a traditional soup made for Rhamadan that is a Tomato base with spices and is very very delicious)
3- Timed By The Sun
Rhamadan begins and ends with the phases of the Sun and coincides with their calls to prayer. The Morning prayer of Fajr (must eat & hydrate for the day BEFORE this prayer); and Maghrib (eat til you are sick, and celebrate the day with family & friends). For local times on call to prayer (for education, I found this App for Iphone and Samsung)
Fajr: it is a prayer & intention of the heart, you fast to show your obedience to Allah (God) and submit your will to his for your life.
4- Why is it required?
Rhamadan is one of the 5 pillars of Islam, or one of the 5 major lifetime commitments that they believe is required by God to be rewarded for in heaven. It is also the Lunar calendar month in which the Quran (their Holy Book) was revealed & in a way is a world-wide celebration for showing God how much the appreciate the direction it provided them.
Note: If you read about when their Prophet Mohammad was inspired to found this religion & belief system, it was in a time of a lot of turmoil – where women were sold, bought, killed. Pagan beliefs were rampant & it was a call to leave that aside and live life as a higher law and it ended up saving thousands of lives within the region because of its founding.
My Soap Box:
Whenever a life is saved, I am deeply grateful to whatever source helped to save it. Working in the medical field and seeing the frailty and emotional struggle with physical ailments; consoling those who have lost a loved one — it takes a lot out of me emotionally.
So realizing this bit of history, made me particularly grateful to their Prophet Mohammad for providing an avenue in which lives could be saved during its founding. While I know that their are lives lost in the current situation with terrorists and bombings, this is not the first time that lives have been lost in the name of religion. Christians have slaughtered those of the Jewish faith, Romans caught Christians and put them into gladiator pits and drug them behind chariots for sport and their are centuries of people doing this over and over and over….in the name of religion.
This does not diminish the pain or the loss experienced by those that have lost their lives in the battle against terrorism; it is a cruel, hateful & heart-breakingly evil thing that is happening in and to our world. But the best way to battle that, at least in my opinion, is by education, reaching across the isle and showing forgiveness, spreading understanding not spewing words of hate that further isolates us from our fellow human beings. History is going to keep repeating itself until we as the human race can stop labeling, self labeling, identifying others as ‘bad’ ‘wrong’ or ‘crazy’, just because they believe something different than us. #endofsoapbox
5- Practicing Discipline
They feel that abstaining from food is a way to practice discipline and restrain for the human desires of this life. Muslims believe (similar to Mormon beliefs) that the body is a vessel that was given to us by God to allow our spirits (or celestial bodies) come to Earth and be tested with all the associated trials that come with being human. (We are spiritual beings having an earthly experience, not the other way around). So in a way, it is their way of proving to God that they are focused on improving their spirituality & hope (if done correctly & with true intent of the heart) that he will accept their fast. In accepting their fast, they will be rewarded when their life is over. It is also a way for Muslims to appreciate all that God has given them, to feel what it is like to be hungry and thirsty all day; so as to soften their hearts to the hungry and sick. Which strengthens empathy, which in my opinion is something we definitely need more of in this world of ours.
6- Are There Exceptions During Rhamadan?
There are those who are exempt of course!
Children generally don’t participate until they hit puberty, but because most of them want to be ‘a grown-up’ they end up at least doing a meal or two with their family.
Those on menstrual cycles & women during childbirth
The elderly or those with health problems
My thoughts: totally reasonable, and glad there are exceptions honestly, and after researching it, these individuals have the option to just go and feed the poor one meal a day for each day of the fast to substitute for what they can’t do themselves.
7- There Are Six Things That Make Fasting Invalid
Intentional Eating or Drinking
If someone eats or drinks due to forgetfulness, a mistake, or coercion, then his fast is still valid and should continue to fast.
If you choose to eat or drink, for any reason, then your fast will become invalid.
My thought: reasonable, as a Mormon we fast once a month at the beginning of the week, with the same idea.
If one is overcome by the urge to vomit, and vomits unintentionally, then he should continue to fast.
My thought: well who would want to eat anyway if they are vomiting.
If someone chooses to vomit, for any reason, then his fast will become invalid.
My thought:if they are vomiting intentionally, well they likely need a lot more help and should get the reason for vomiting intentionally looked at (ie/ Binge and purging is a serious issue that should be addressed by a Psychologist and Nutritionist)
Intentional Sexual Intercourse
If one has sexual intercourse while fasting, then he must perform kaffaarah, expiation of the sin. (Fasting continuously for sixty days or if unable then one should feed sixty poor people).
My thought: women will love this idea, lol, but if you think about it, sex puts your mind into a dirty lustful place. So if the idea is to clear the mind and have it more in-line with the thoughts of God; well abstaining from sex is likely not the best thing to be doing during your Holy month.
Menstrual or Childbirth Bleeding
The fast becomes invalid during menstrual or post-childbirth bleeding. Even if such bleeding begins just before sunset, the fast of that day is invalid and the day must be made up at a later time.
My thought: this was a little irritating to me, mostly because I hate my menstrual cycle and don’t feel women should have to fast longer because they are on the cycle. But on the flip side of this thought, its likely better to not fast when you are on your menstrual cycle and just delay it, because you are likely to already be bitchy & then to add Hangry on top of that — well there would be no more Muslim men left if they had this deadly combination. Just my opinion, take it or leave it. Regarding Childbirth, I totally agree, no woman should be fasting when growing a human being in their belly; it would be harmful for the child.
8- The Three Day Festival Is Amazing
The Holy month of Rhamadan ends with a 3 day festival (massive amount of food and several parties) called Eid el-fatir. And who doesn’t love a party 😉 In the end I came to appreciate a small part of what makes up Islam and its people, and have learned so much from my friends who are part of this religion.
I haven’t met one Muslim yet who hasn’t been warm, kind, inviting, and patient with me and my questions (which at times I know were slightly rude and racist– my apologizes).
Taking Time To Understand
So as with anything in our lives, if you are afraid of it, seek first to understand — and in the end you will be able to make a very personal & educated decision on if those fears you had were founded or not. It is ok to disagree, it is ok to get angry at the attacks that are happening by these terrorists & protect your lives/livelihood and families; but its not ok to lump an entire religion into one package.
So my takeaway? Its a month of reflection, giving thanks, abstaining from our animalistic human natures & coming closer to our divine nature. Developing our spiritual selves, helping those that are less fortunate & remembering the history of how human kind was drastically changed by a book called the Quran.
I have tried the ‘give up something for lent’ & now after studying and reading all of this (ok and participating in some of the parties associated with this), I might just have to give it a try in my own way. Focusing on my spiritual side and realizing that I am a spiritual being having an earthly experience.
I hope that this article has been informative to those not of the Islamic faith, and I truly hope my Muslim friends feel I have given honest opinions in a way that has not offended them or what they believe, to you I say Rhamadan Murbarak & Rhamadan Kareem 🙂
Rhamadan Murbarak (Congratulations its Rhamadan, or congrats on the month of blessings for this month)
Rhamadan Kareem (Have a generous Rhamadan, or generous in the way of have generous blessings from God this month)