Travel Hacks for First Time Cruisers

Travel Hacks for First Time Cruisers

To be on a massive floating hotel, seeing the huge anchors for the first time, the wonder of seeing inside the cruise ship for the first time and the best part is how much the staff cater to their guests. Going on a cruise makes any traveler feel like they have hit the height of their financial glory! Yet there are a lot of fees that are tacked on, after you pay the initial fee for the trip that many first time cruisers don’t know about. There are also the rules on tenders, drinks, gratuities and so much more that I wish I would have known before taking my first cruise. After traveling all over the world on several different cruise lines, seven different cruises, and during different seasons and hemispheres – here are my travel hacks for first time cruisers.

Booking Your First Cruise

First step is booking your cruise. I would pick out the cruises that you want to go on, even if they are your dream cruise or they are super expensive. Write them down, and head over to Cruise Fair Monitor. This website will track your cruise prices for you, to search for the lowest possible fare. Simply put your destination, desired dates, length of cruise, and even the cruise line you wish to cruise with and emails will be sent with stellar discounts are available.

travel hacks for first time cruisers

If you book right around the holidays (Thanksgiving and Christmas) your cruise will be much cheaper.

If you have more than two people going with you, then your going to find that your total cost of the cruise will be significantly reduced. Just be sure to let the cruise ship know that there will be 4 people, or 3 people with you. Some rooms don’t have more than just the two beds for single person to fit. They would need to put you in a room that had the fold down bunk beds (for four people), or the rooms with a couch (three people).

Ships that are repositioning, going over the transatlantic and even last minute deals are going to be incredibly affordable. I have some friends that scored a transatlantic cruise for around $201 total! While that was several years ago, it is still possible to find incredible deals if you diligently look.

If you are trying to book a cruise right during the busy season, then call the cruise ship booking agent and ask for a “guaranteed stateroom” to get the absolute lowest price on whichever cabin type you’re interested in (inside, outside, balcony, suite). With this type of room you are guaranteed a room within that particular type of stateroom range or higher. What’s the catch? Well you don’t get to choose the cabin’s exact location on the ship. This could mean a balcony, but it could be under the dance floor, or have an obstructed view (aka life boats are in the way).

travel hacks for first time cruisers

I highly suggest calling the booking agent and asking them what side of the ship they would suggest for the best views on the way to the last destination. Also ask them which room has an unobstructed view, and the rooms that are further away from the elevators. When people drink too much, they get loud. If you can, get a balcony room. You can watch the wildlife of the ocean from the comfort of your room and don’t have to take photos through the window of the dining area, or the plexi glass put up to prevent people from climbing over the railing. Otherwise the few spots that are unobstructed, you are typically fighting all the other passengers for that perfect photo.

Travel Insurance For Your Cruise

There are a lot of reasons to get insurance for your airline flight, but why would you need travel insurance for your Cruise? Well with how frequently cruises have been in the news, let me just remind you of a few reasons as to why you SHOULD get travel insurance.

What if you get sick while on the ship, and need to see the ship’s doctor. What if break your ankle on land, but don’t want to miss the ship and end up going to the doctor on the ship – your going to end up with a massive medical bill.

If you miss your flight, and then miss your ship – travel insurance should fly you to the next port. It can also cover the cost of your cruise should you have to cancel it.

There was a couple that had their luggage taken from the cruise ship staging ground and it was taken to the wrong ship. So they went on a 2 week trip with just the clothes they had bought with the minimal clothing they were able to find in the cruise gift shop. The cruise did happen to provide a $100 gift card for the mistake, but trip insurance can reimburse you for the full cost of the clothing you had to purchase from lost luggage.

Culture Trekker Tip: Don’t book trip insurance with the cruise ship. They often have minimal coverage and is very expensive. It doesn’t cover your pre or post trip, nor your flights to or from the trip. You need to specifically ask the cruise ship to NOT include their trip insurance. I suggest using World Nomads Travel Insurance, because you can tailor make it to your trip and activities you plan to participate in.

travel hacks for first time cruisers

Solo Traveler Cruising

It is more expensive to travel as a solo cruiser, but more and more ships are realizing not everyone has a special someone or family that can afford to travel. There are also some hard core cruising Facebook groups that people are looking for someone to travel with. If you book a group tour cruise, then you can typically find someone to room with in those groups.

If not, then here are a few cruise ships starting to offer passage for solo travel crusiers.

  • Norwegian Cruise Line
  • Holland America
  • Royal Caribbean International
  • Silversea Cruises
  • Crystal Cruises
  • Seabourn Cruise Line
  • Cunard Line
travel hacks for first time cruisers

Packing for A Cruise

While there are amenities like laundry services available, if you are wanting to save a little money – bring laundry soap, color catcher sheets (temperatures aren’t reliable), clothesline and pins from the $1 store for hanging things in room. Get a balcony room so you can air out the room for drying things off and two swimming suits to trade off while . I would also ask a cruise agent if they use tokens or quarters for the laundry room. Getting tokens on our last cruise was the hardest part. The tokens often run out, and you are left to go fight the crowds at the concierge desk for more.

There is typically only one plug available in a cruise ship, so traditionally people would bring power strips. The power strips with surge protectors are now banned, but there are a few like this power strip that are Cruise ship approved. So be sure you bring this one otherwise your other power strip will be confiscated.

Some cruise ships are still working on allowing notifications being able to be delivered to the other members of your party through their app. Walkie talkies tend to not work, as the frequencies get lost between the metal floors and structure. So bringing a pen and sticky notes, or a small white board to leave notes for other people in your party in case they come back to the room and/or can’t find you is one of the best things you can do. Along with this, it is also a good idea to bring a watch, or a phone with a clock that you can all set to the ships clock. This will save you on missing the boat, missing shows, and more. The crew goes by the captains clock, so be sure you are back at least an hour before they say they will depart.

travel hacks for first time cruisers

Over the door organizer this is a life saver if you have more than a few people in your cruise cabin, especially kids. This gives each person 3-4 pockets they can store shampoo, toiletries, or extra shoes/flip flops in. You can over the door organizers on amazon, or at the dollar store.

Many people don’t realize the walls of the cruise cabin are actually made of metal. So bringing magnets to post up pictures of the dog at home, the daily schedule, or even hooks that you can string up an extra clothes line to let clothes/snorkel gear dry out. These are the metal hooks I use.

I wish I would have had binoculars on my last cruise, it would have made seeing the Manta Rays, jelly fish and all the other sea life on the cruise of South America so much easier to see from the 15th floor. I would also highly suggest bringing a reusable travel straw to save a few more non-recyclable plastic pieces going in the ocean. While your at it, stuffing a pair of reusable silverware (I suggest Bamboo silverware) for shore.

I used to bring Tupperware to take a roll or sandwich to shore, but they do not allow this any longer. Now I just bring protein bars for shore excursions if I’m tied up having an adventure, or can’t find something that doesn’t have peppers in it.

Beach and snorkel rentals from the ship or the shore can sometimes be as costly as taking a private tour. So I suggest bringing your own snorkel gear, reef safe defog and sunscreen a packable beach tent, and a few microfiber towels with you if you can fit it in your luggage.

Be sure to check out my basic packing list, and other cruise packing tidbits.

travel hacks for first time cruisers

Parking and Transport

You have to think of how much parking in an abandoned dock is going to cost you while your gone. Sometimes the parking can start at $140 for 7 day cruise. You also have to take into account the traffic in the area, on the way to the cruise ship. The ship will have 2000-4000 other people arriving at the same time. If there is more than one cruise ship going out that day, then there could be more people arriving all at the same time.

I suggest allowing at least 3-4 hours prior to the ship leaving to get in and to the port. I wouldn’t suggest getting a taxi at the port if you are disembarking, the taxi drivers know your desperate. This is for those cruise ships who are relocating, or will only be going one way and not round trip. Will you have to fly back to the airport you departed from, and then pay to make your way to the dock as well? It is definitely something to think about if you are looking for transportation to or from the dock, or will be parking near the port.

I would also consider the safety of your vehicle in a parking lot at a working port. These areas are commonly abandoned, and have cars broken into if they are not guarded 24/7 while your gone. These guarded areas are more expensive, but well worth the peace of mind.

travel hacks for first time cruisers

Drinks on a Cruise

Drinking while on a cruise is quite common, you will see loads of people doing it. The cruise ship will often give you a credit to use on board. What many people don’t realize, is that each and every time you buy a soda or alcoholic beverage – they will automatically add 15% gratuity to the bill.

Limit yourself to only having alcoholic beverages at night or every other night or just on the formal nights. You make the rules, and both your waistline and pocketbook will thank you. If you try to buy an unlimited alcoholic beverage package before the ship, everyone else listed in your room will have to buy one as well.

Regular coffee on the ship is typically free, but a speciality drink like a Latte is going to cost more.

Culture Trekker Tip: Buy the drink buckets with beer, which are far more affordable and come in a variety of packages. You can also brink one bottle of wine or 750ml champagne bottle per person on board.

You can also bring Starbucks insta-latte packets and just ask for hot water. If you are a soda drinker, then stop by a store on the way to your port and get a 12 pack of soda. Just ask your room porter for a bucket of ice if you like a cold drink.

Motion Sickness on a Cruise

I have an entire article on motion sickness and ways that you can treat it while traveling. You have to ensure that if you are prone to motion sickness while traveling, then it is imperative to treat yourself before you get on the ship.

There are some people who claim that getting in the pool if the waters aren’t too crazy, can help with the inner ear issue. It can help with calming the feeling of motion sickness. If the waves in the pool are too aggressive, then the cruise ships may close down the pool, so just keep this in mind.

Get Away From the Crowd

While vacations are great, I am one who likes to get away from the crowds and have some alone time. Just to unwind, be present in my own thoughts, and just enjoy the sound of the ocean lapping against the boat. Places I highly recommend going are the aft and bow of the ship. They tend to be two very overlooked places to relax onboard. The Library during mealtimes and/or the side of the anytime eating that is closed when the ship switches from lunch to dinner.

Get in the hot tub during movies to stay warm on the cold nights on the ship instead of snuggling under a blanket. Getting in the pool when it is raining, or going to the pool that isn’t the easiest one to get to is also a great option.

travel hacks for first time cruisers

Avoid the buffet on the first day, eat before you get on the ship. It is going to be a mad house of people gorging themselves on their first ship meal. I suggest going to a specialty restaurant for the first day instead as a way to celebrate your first cruise in style. Just make sure there is one that will be open on the first day of the cruise.

How to Not Gain Weight On a Cruise

Weigh yourself as soon as you get on board so you can keep tabs of any weight gain during the cruise. This a particularly good idea if you’re on a longer cruise, it gives you strict accountability. I also tend to wake up early on each day at sea to workout, and if we are docking/arriving in port later in the day I will typically workout as well.

Something else I love doing, is signing up for the cycle classes, you can burn up to 1000 calories in an hour participating in one of these. You can go as fast or as slow as you want, it is easy on the joints, and you won’t lose your balance if the ship is rocking.

The first day is always a freebie for me, but after that I make a rule to always use the stairs…no excuses.

Take your FitBit or bring along an inexpensive pedometer to track all your steps and calories burned. You may be surprised at just how much walking you can unconsciously do on a big ship! Make a goal of walking at least 10,000 steps a day. Typically there is a good track around the outside of the ship you can walk. Just be careful of the wet floor from the waves, especially on stormy nights.

Ask for the early dinner times, so you aren’t eating really late. Also ask your waiter to avoid bringing bread to your table, if your with a large party – then just make a rule you can only have it WITH your meal, not before.

Sign up for classes, take advantage of the massage discounts once you get on board – the days you have shore excursions will be cheaper than sea days.

DIY Shore Excursions

Always look at your itinerary and see if the ship requires you to tender to shore. Those who utilize the ships excursions are always the first ones allowed to get off the ship. So take that into account should you DIY your own excursions. I would suggest doing your own excursions as much as possible, unless it is an excursion that is a small group.

I have found when I do my own excursion, there are less people around, I enjoy it more, and I can go off the beaten path a little more.

Keep in mind that the port may not be close to town, and the ships may have paid the port authorities to block the transport you paid for from picking you up – or dropping you off at night. There have been several ports I have watched people RUN all the way down the dock, to make it just in time onto the ship, just as they were pulling in the loading ramp.

There are a few guidelines to doing my own shore excursions. I will look on Trip Advisor for “Shore excursions in ______”. If it says shore excursions, then I contact the company via email. Let them know what day I’m coming in, and what times we will be in port. I will typically give them a time that is 1.5 hours prior to when we are supposed to leave, that way I have a little time for souvenir shopping & know if we run into problems or traffic that I still have a small window to reach the ship.

When you are scanning yourself off the ship, be sure to check the time on your watch to the crews ship. I will bring a watch, because I take so many videos and photos that I end up with 2% battery. I do have an external battery on my phone, but the watch is a surefire way to keep good track of the time.

travel hacks for first time cruisers

Cutting Costs on a Cruise and Things You Need To Know

Unfortunately, your cruise fare doesn’t include every activity that happens on the ship, which can be disappointing for some people. There are things like the cycling classes, art classes, IMAX theater, BINGO, murder mystery dinners or wine tastings that will require an extra fee. So be sure to factor that into your budget, as each activity is designed by the cruise director, and could be confirmed with the cruise agent upon booking which activities will require a fee.

If you are bringing kids on the ship, and think you will want babysitting -it will cost you an hourly rate on some ships.

Specialty restaurants such as steakhouses, Italian restaurants, chefs table experiences, or Sushi will all cost you more money.

Cruise ships have now started to pre-authorize $200-$300 for each passenger on the ship. If you get below $200 then they will keep re-authorizing it at each port. So I suggest you go ahead and put the money on your account prior to boarding, that way you avoid any overspending of the budget while onboard where it is very easy to blow a lot of money. (They don’t call them floating piggy banks for nothing).

If you pay the porter $5-$6 and when you get to your room, your bags will be there so much faster than if you just waited for them. I have personally never had an issue with this, but if you see other bags showing up at a neighbors cabin and not yours – well…..I would start asking where you luggage is and if it got on the right ship.

Tips and Gratuities Quick Guide

Tips and gratuities will be automatically deducted from your card on file at the end of the trip, unless you tell the customer service desk otherwise. You can also tip the staff directly, because the tips are shared among the staff. It is pretty shocking to hear what they make, how many hours they spend working and who they are trying to support at home. Here is a quick guide on how much each person who helps you should be tipped.

Suite attendant: $7.25 USD a day per guest
Stateroom attendant: $5.00 USD a day per guest
Dining Room Waiter: $3.75 USD a day per guest
Assistant Waiter: $2.15 USD a day per guest
Headwaiter: $0.75 USD a day per guest

Wifi On Board a Cruiseship

WiFi packages on board are so incredibly expensive, it could easily add a couple of hundred dollars to your bill. There are a few tricks to minimize your usage and still keep in touch though.

You can use the internet for 30 seconds or less and it won’t deduct from your time. So quickly get online download your emails, then get offline and read them.

If you need to send an email, pre-write the email in your notes, then paste it into your email after you connect, quickly disconnect after the email is on its way.

Please keep in mind the internet on the ship is INCREDIBLY slow. I would also suggest to buy it beforehand for a 10-15% discount.

If you put your phone on airplane mode and turn on WiFi and you can still get push notifications — you just won’t be able to respond to messages, but at least your will still be able to see when someone messages you. That way you are still slightly connected, even if you don’t exactly pay for the WiFi.

Connect your computer through your phone when your in port, for free internet while in port. Just use your phones data plan, but keep in mind it may cost you more if you don’t have an international plan and are traveling into a different country.

You can also purchase a WiFi If your phone carrier doesn’t include free international plans. I am personally considering making the switch to the new Google Fi phone plan, which includes international roaming in nearly every country where cruises go. Google Fi plans typically are about $20 per month, plus just $10 for every gig of data used. And there’s no contract so you can use it just for a month or just for a cruise and cancel. It would be worth it to sign up, just for peace of mind – especially if you have little ones at home.

travel hacks for first time cruisers

Other First Time Cruiser Tidbits

Download the app for the cruise beforehand, so you don’t have to use the expensive WiFi to do so. Most ships have these apps, and even have in app messaging that you can use to contact other people in your party.

If you need cash, avoid the ATM costs ($15 to withdraw cash), buy your money you need in chips then take it over to the cashier and you will only be charged $3 instead of $15 to get the money out of your bank.

Bon Voyage!

These are all the tips and travel hacks for first time cruisers that I can think of right now. I will regularly update this post with each cruise I go on, to give you the most up to date and relevant information. So be sure to bookmark this page, and check back before your cruise for a refresher. If you have any cruise tips I missed, feel free to jot them down in the comment section below. Love having other Culture Trekkers contribute to a better travel experience for all. Cheers and Bon Voyage on your first Cruise!

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How to Communicate When Traveling in a Foreign Country

How to Communicate When Traveling in a Foreign Country

One of the most intimidating parts of traveling can be the language barrier. Especially if you don’t know how to communicate when traveling in a foreign country. Everything seems bigger, more urgent, and the confusion that ensues can snowball to the point that you are lost and crying in the middle of the train station being consoled by policemen who don’t understand. Not that I would know how that feels….ahem….moving on.

After a couple of decades of travel, I have put together a guide on how I have learned how to better communicate when traveling. Now I’m the one consoling and helping families, crying women, and even making locals laugh.

How to Communicate Over Wifi

While for some this can be costly, there are a lot of options for finding free Wifi in restaurants/shops, etc. I typically like to book a hotel/hostel that specifically has good wifi, so I can research questions in the local language I may need to ask before I leave.

how to communicate when traveling in a foreign country

What I Personally Use to Over Come the Language Barrier:

If you can afford a little portable Wifi device though, this will – by far – be the best investment on your trip. Personally, I use my phone, with AT&T as my carrier – they have an ‘International Passport’ option, where for $10 a day I can use my normal data, Wifi, minutes, and text messaging.

If you are going for longer than 7 days, then I recommend signing up for something a little more affordable like Tep Wireless. This pocket-sized device can be used in over 100 countries, is easily recharged (via MicroUSB Cable), you can pick the plan you want from 1GB/day for $5.95 per day all the way up to 5GB/day at $11.95/day. They also have a customer support chat available 24/7. The best part is that you can rent the Teppy Pocket, and don’t have to fork out $200 to buy it upfront.

how to communicate when traveling in a foreign country

Other Options:

Some other options you could consider if you are traveling for more than 8 days that are slightly more expensive but still relatively affordable; especially if you are a frequent international traveler.

  • Verizon Jetpack MiFi 8800L WiFi Hotspot (around $199 for device)
    • Verizon charges $80 per month for “unlimited” data, which includes 15 GB of 4G LTE. The battery lasts about 24 hours, is removable so you can just change it as needed. It can connect up to 16 devices at a time.
  • Skyroam Solis (Around $149 for device)
    • This one works in over 100 countries and data costs around $9 per day with a secure 4G LTE with download speeds of 500MB. It has a 16-hour battery life and can be connected to 5 devices.
  • Netgear Nighthawk LTE Mobile Hotspot ($199 for the device itself)
    • This device is more for AT&T users. It can connect up to 20 devices, has 2.4-5 GHZ Wifi. The battery lasts around 24 hours and can be used with Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0. What I really like about this one is that you can use an ethernet cord with it as well. It has a full-sized USB port, so you can share files between devices to the internet much quicker (ie/uploading videos etc..).
  • Coolpad SURF Mobile Hotspot (about $72 for the device)
    • Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n connectivity to up to 15 devices by utilizing T-Mobile’s 4G LTE network. So you are limited in certain countries, I would check the coverage map to ensure the device will work. It also only provides about 5 hours of use, and there is no signal strength display.
  • Huaawei E5770s Mobile Hotspot – ANY PROVIDER
    • This supports about 10 different devices, can be used with any service provider because it comes unlocked. It provides 4G LTE globally.
how to communicate when traveling in a foreign country

Use Social Media To Communicate While Traveling

Now you have several options for WiFi while traveling, you can utilize things like Facebook, Google Hangouts, Skype, WhatsApp to talk to friends at home without using your minutes or texting. Make sure you put your phone on airplane mode and then turn on the WiFi – so you don’t incur hidden fees on your telephone plan.

I think WhatsApp is one of the biggest apps used by those around the world. I used it to communicate with friends in Morocco and to coordinate my driver when going to Lake Atitlan (A very remote area) in Guatemala. So be sure to download that before you go. It does require you to give people your real telephone number, but also has a ‘block’ function if things get uncomfortable via messaging.

How To Communicate When Traveling, and Stay CALM

Whenever I start getting nervous, especially when meeting new people – I have a mantra, “We all poop on the same pot”. For some reason, it puts a smile on my face, breaks the ice inside my head and then I can proceed. If this doesn’t work, then I try my other techniques.

how to communicate when traveling in a foreign country

Make it a Game

Making it a game is the best way, for me personally, to remain calm when trying to communicate. I’m prone to anxiety, given my history, so tapping into my creative genius and making it a game is the best way for me to stay calm.

I will typically bring a pad of paper with me and if I don’t know how to pronounce the words, then I draw pictures. Most of the time, showing a picture does the trick. What if you can’t draw though?

There are cards or pre-made quick point cards that people use to communicate things they want. We use these cards all the time when we have a patient on a ventilator. There are certain human functions and needs that are very common and widely recognized. On one side of the card, there can be phrases or even an alphabet; while on the other side, there are photos of what the person needs/wants. So browse on Pinterest for quick point communication cards and I’m sure you will find exactly what you are looking for.

how to communicate when traveling in a foreign country

Be Polite

If you say the wrong thing, and they giggle – don’t be offended. For example, there are some languages like Portuguese, where ‘pickup’ can also mean ‘kill’ in a different country. So, anyone, this could be funny, or scary – and could elicit a giggle no matter what country it happened in. So take it in stride, make fun of yourself and thank them for being patient with you.

If they are not patient with you, I still thank them and politely tell them I will ask someone else, and sorry to bother them. I always try to remember that just because I am on vacation, with loads of time, the people I ask for help are taking time our of their day/vacation to help you. I have had people completely ignore me & I still offer a smile and wish them good-day. I have other locals, who walk with me from place to place, stand in line with me and get me on the right train – taking more than 45 minutes out of their day to help.

There are times you won’t be able to find help though. For my fellow Americans, DO NOT GET ANGRY NO ONE SPEAKS ENGLISH!!! There is nothing that will drive away help more, than standing at the hotel, restaurant or ticket line like an American putting their hands on their hips and loudly exclaiming, “Well this is just ridiculous, doesn’t anyone here speak English?” – no one will want to help you if you do. Saying things like this is what gives Americans a bad reputation as being, loud, rude, and snooty. Don’t be like them, please….

Don’t Be Embarrassed

There are so many other things that you could be embarrassed about – like when you think you need to fart, but it is actually a shart. If you don’t know what a shart is, consider yourself blessed – if you’re curious, use urban dictionary to look it up.

The point is, everyone expects you to not be fluent – so if you don’t get the words exactly right, don’t panic. Take a deep breath, laugh at yourself, know how to say sorry in their language. If you get too flustered, or your brain is fried from all the touring or the red-eye – revert to the Kwikpoint card (explained below) or drawing a picture.

how to communicate when traveling in a foreign country

Research Common Phrases

The number one thing to remember when beginning to learn a language is to not use big words or long phrases. Start small and use flashcards to memorize them so you aren’t fumbling and it comes second nature. If you aren’t sure how to pronounce something, Google and YouTube are going to work wonders for you. Here are a few phrases you will likely need to know when traveling, shopping, eating, meeting people, and if you run into an emergency.

  • How long (duration)?
  • What time does it leave?
  • How far?
  • I lost my…
  • I am going to…
  • I came from…
  • I leave on…
  • Where is…
  • Airport
  • Bus / train station
  • I am allergic to…
  • Where is a doctor?
  • Where is the pharmacy
  • Tampons / sanitary pads
  • Can I drink the tap water?
  • Bed bugs – or other words for dangerous bugs common to the area
  • Air conditioner/fan
  • I lost my key
  • Where is the bathroom?
  • Do I pay here, or can I have the bill?
  • Do you take credit cards or cash?
  • How much?
  • Too expensive
  • I’m not interested / No, thank you
  • Do you have change?
  • Can I try?
  • Hello, my name is…
  • Do you speak English?
  • Sorry
  • Slowly, please
  • I don’t understand
  • Goodbye!
  • Thank you and Thank You so much
  • Can I help you?
  • Where is the Embassy?

Use your Resources To Communicate While Traveling

We live in a world full of technology, and advanced communication devices. So it is so much easier to get past the language barrier than ever before. Here are a few resources I personally use to communicate in a different country.

how to communicate when traveling in a foreign country

Google Translate

My number one resource is Google Translate that I use on my phone, with the AT&T passport. The reason I like this so much is that you can do a voice to text with it. It also has a conversational function on it, where you can easily switch back and forth between languages and have them just speak into your phone. They check the text to make sure it is what they mean to say, edit what needs to be edited, and then you go back and forth.

This became very useful when I was trying to figure out what the safest way to get my friend to the airport was. It was in Santiago, I speak enough Spanish to get around, but when it comes to safety – you need details. So I was able to use Google translate, to understand how and who would take my friend to the airport. If you use Uber in the city, and the police catch you – you can get a $1000 fine. There were also reports of an unregistered Uber driver pick you up, and then take you to an obscure place in town – where they then rob you. S

I was also warned that I shouldn’t have bought the strawberries from the street vendors, because there was a big problem with diarrhea with travelers there. Apparently, turtles had invaded some of the water sources, and put Salmonella in the water systems – the locals were used to it, but travelers coming in – it was creating a big problem.

Kwikpoint

If you want something super affordable, can’t speak the language, and don’t draw pictures very well – then I would suggest a Kwikpoint card. This would be the bare minimum that I would take with you in order to communicate. You can get cards with small colorful photos on them, in specific groupings that visually can be easily recognized and understood throughout the world. If they don’t have it in their country, they will likely find someone who can explain it to you – or they can use their own phone/computer to use google translate to tell you.

how to communicate when traveling in a foreign country

Find A Common Ground

Let them know you are sorry you don’t speak their language but are trying to make things as easy as possible to have a good trip. This really breaks the ice and lets them know that you don’t think you are better than they are.

There are WAY too many times that I have heard people say, “Doesn’t anyone around here speaks English?” when traveling in a foreign country. This is absurd, and wouldn’t hold up in the USA if someone came and demanded someone spoke Spanish or French. So get off your high horse, realize it isn’t the USA – and so you should at least ATTEMPT to speak the primary language of the country you are visiting.

You have to remember you a VISITOR, not a foreign dignitary or some royalty that should be cow-towed to because you are an American. So check yourself, before you wreck yourself.

Now You Know How To Communicate In A Foreign Country

While you may not be fluent in the language of the country you will visit, now you have the resources to help put your mind at ease about the language barrier. Just don’t give up, be polite, stay calm and realize we are all humans. Invest in a good Kwikpoint card, Wifi, and make sure you can access Google Translate and I promise you will have no trouble navigating the world despite your language limitations.

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Things to Look For When Choosing Accommodation

Things to Look For When Choosing Accommodation

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!

Things to Look For When Choosing 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.
Things to Look For When Choosing Accommodation

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.
Things to Look For When Choosing Accommodation

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.
Things to Look For When Choosing Accommodation

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.
Things to Look For When Choosing Accommodation

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.
Things to Look For When Choosing Accommodation

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.
Things to Look For When Choosing Accommodation

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.
  • Do you like to live like a local?
Things to Look For When Choosing Accommodation

Safety Concerns To Be Aware Of

  • 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.

Information Overload?

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?

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What Does Responsible Tourism Mean?

What Does Responsible Tourism Mean?

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.

The world gets a little bit smaller, those in different countries can see your social media posts on Instagram and Facebook and may compare it to your lives. Animal rights, environmental responsibilities are becoming more and more talked about….especially the use of plastic. Stop and question what you think you know about plastic vs paper bags, look at the whole environmental impact. Look at how the production and use of plastic impacts and effects low-income households, did you know there is an actual place called ‘Cancer Alley’? In our ever-increasing virtual connection, what can we do as travel addicted wander lusting Instagram posting fiends to be more responsible when we travel? First things first….to understand what it is.

What does Eco-tourism mean

Responsible Tourism is a multifaceted approach, which includes:

  1. Minimizing negative social, economic and environmental impacts while traveling
  2. Generating greater economic benefits for local people and enhancing the well-being of host communities
  3. Improving working conditions and access to the worldwide industry
  4. Involving local people in decisions, markets, and trade that affect their life and chances at life.
  5. Making positive contributions to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage, embracing the diversity.
  6. Providing more enjoyable experiences for tourists through more meaningful connections with local people and a greater understanding of local cultural, social and environmental issues.
  7. Provides access for physically challenged people
  8. Is being culturally sensitive, encourages respect between tourists and hosts, and builds local pride and confidence.
What does Eco-tourism mean

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:

What does Eco-tourism mean

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.”

what does responsible tourism mean

Beyond the message of Freakos‘. When looking into building your eco-friendly and ethical wardrobe, look no further.
The inks they use have a low impact on the environment with citrus solvents being utilized. They reuse paper boxes and packing materials to ‘keep the story going’. All cotton that is used in their clothing is organic cotton, recycled fibers or hemp. Not only do they focus on the clothing, but they also decreased the catalog printing and now use recycled paper with soy-based inks. They are also green office certified (aka: energy wise usage of products and environmentally savvy).

Why is this important? Small companies like this are able to be more environmentally friendly and I support those who make an effort to do so whole-heartedly! I feel privileged to be able to collaborate with this company as I love their manifesto, Soul Flower’s practices, and policies and their clothing is SO COMFORTABLE!

What does responsible tourism mean?

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:

What is responsible tourism

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.

What is responsible tourism


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.

What is responsible tourism


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:

What is responsible tourism

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.
What is responsible tourism

Biodegradable products:

  • 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.
What is responsible tourism

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:

Ecotourism

  • Here is a great resource if you would like to participate in Ecotourism on your next trip: Ecotourism.org

Volunteering through worldwide programs/cleanups

Companies that Participate in Eco-friendly Product Production:

Clothing: Patagonia, Thought Clothing, Encircled Clothing

How to encourage clothing companies to not use plastic hangers

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.

Trash Bags: Biodegradable Trash Bags, Green Legacy Tall Kitchen Trash Bags

Grocery Bags: Reusable Grocery Bags

Sandwich Bags: Eco-Friendly Reusable Sandwich Bags

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.

what does responsible tourism mean

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?

What to See in Trinidad & Tobago (from a local)

What to See in Trinidad & Tobago (from a local)

Meet Suzanne Bhagan a fellow travel blogger extraordinaire from Hot Foot Trini. She gives you tips on what to see in Trinidad and Tobago, recipes, and how living there has been.

Hi Suzanne, I’m so glad you decided to be featured on Culture Trekking! I’m really excited to be able to connect with Trinidad and Tobago through you, its always such a pleasure for me to meet locals and get the inside scoop & learn about the culture and people. 
So let’s start by just asking some questions about you if that’s ok, and then we will move onto your country and what it has to offer visitors.
Me: What are some of your hobbies?

Suzanne: I like traveling (of course), reading, and hiking. When it comes to reading, I enjoy reading fiction or nonfiction set in different countries, particularly if written by authors that call those countries home. Regarding hiking, I like climbing hills and mountains. Nothing like Mount Everest though!

Me: What do you do for work?

Suzanne: I’m a freelance writer and editor. I’m also a Meaningful Travel Insider (MTI) for GoAbroad. As an MTI, I research and write blog posts on meaningful travel, work, and study abroad.

Me: Who are you closest to in your family and why?

Suzanne: I’m closest to my husband, Jesse. He’s my favorite travel buddy. He’s great because he’s very resourceful and solutions-oriented when we’re on the road.

Me: What is your biggest aspiration or dream right now?

Suzanne: My biggest aspiration (of all time) is to write a travel book. I don’t have a theme yet but I’m working on it!

Me: What is it that drives you to get up every morning and be disciplined to see that dream fulfilled?

Suzanne: I continue to write and blog as much as I can about traveling, studying, living, and working abroad. I also devour lots of travel fiction, nonfiction, blogs, and articles. I’m generally very self-motivated and deadline-oriented so getting the work done is not a problem. Plus, I love doing what I do and that’s enough motivation in itself!

Me: What is your most embarrassing moment?

Suzanne: Too many to mention. I tend to block out embarrassing moments. 

Me: That’s ok, I do too unless something reminds me of what I did that was embarrassing and then I end up laughing at myself at random which just adds to the embarrassment. Alright, next question: What is something you have personally done that you are really proud of?

Suzanne: I’m really proud of the fact that I was able to live in a country (Japan) where I didn’t even speak the language.

what to see in Trinidad and Tobago

So let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of Trinidad and Tobago. I first learned about you when you posted something on She’s Wanderful about how immigration officers didn’t believe your passport was real because they didn’t realize it was an actual country. How frustrating and anxiety-driven that situation must have been!

Me: What is it like for you to have people not realize it is an actual country?

Suzanne: It’s pretty annoying. Sometimes, I get tired of the blank faces and wish I had a map to show them that it actually exists. Without a map, it’s hard to explain where my country is because many people out there aren’t too clued up on world geography. For example, many people I’ve met thought Trinidad and Tobago was in Africa or the US! Go figure!

Me: Why do you think it is not well known to the world yet?

Suzanne: It’s not very famous because it’s not well-marketed in the global tourism industry. For example, it’s not the typical Caribbean country most people think of, like Jamaica or Barbados. However, travelers can learn more about my country because there are a lot of novels based in Trinidad and Tobago. I highly recommend A House for Mr. Biswas and Miguel Street by VS Naipaul and A Brighter Sun by Sam Selvon. These novels capture Trini culture very well.  

Me: Do you think that driving tourists there would be beneficial for the country/people?

Suzanne: Tourism is well established in Tobago, the smaller island. A lot of tourists also come to Trinidad, the bigger island, for Carnival (a huge festival similar to the one in Rio but with its unique flavor). However, tourism isn’t a big money spinner in my country because the economy is more energy-driven (oil and gas etc.).

Me: So tell me about the people there. How would you describe the people of the country compared to the rest of the world?

Suzanne: Trinidad and Tobago is very diverse. The population is made up of people who came from all corners of the world: Europe, Africa, India, China, and the Middle East. The native population, the First Peoples of Trinidad and Tobago, has also remained but is quite small.

Me: What is something you are proud of that your countrymen do that you find yourself often bragging to your friends about?

Suzanne: I’m pretty proud that the people of Trinidad and Tobago created the steelpan, the only acoustic musical instrument to be invented in the 20th century. Every Carnival, there’s a massive steel orchestra competition called Panorama. It’s a must-see for visitors. I’m also proud that Trinidadian-born fiction and travel writer, VS Naipaul, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001. We also have a fantastic literary festival for Caribbean literature, the Bocas Lit Fest.

Me: What types of religions are in Trinidad and Tobago?

Suzanne: There are so many religions in my country: Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Spiritual Shouter Baptist, Orisha, Rastafarianism, even Baha’i.

Me: Honestly, I haven’t even heard of some of those so I may have to go do some personal research before I can even think about asking more questions on that one. I really like the fact that there are in fact so many different religions in your country. I’m a big believer in that. Ok, so next question: 

Me: What is a spot you would frequent as a child?

Suzanne: As a child, I loved to go to the beach. In Trinidad, I loved Maracas, Las Cuevas, Mayaro, and Manzanilla beaches.

what to see in Trinidad and Tobago

Me: What are 3 hidden gems of Trinidad and Tobago that you wish people knew more about?

Suzanne: I wish more people knew that Trinidad and Tobago is a birder’s paradise. One of the best places to see them is Asa Wright Nature Center. I would also like tourists to visit the Temple in the Sea at Waterloo. This temple has a great story behind it. Trinidad and Tobago is also a chocolate powerhouse so visitors should check out the cocoa estates on both islands. Chocolate in Trinidad and Tobago is made from trinitario cocoa beans grown there, the highest grade of cocoa beans in the world. It’s the real stuff!

Me: What is your favorite food there that you can’t seem to get anywhere else?

Suzanne: Bake and shark, hands down!

Me: Food is always a great way to connect with people, I’m definitely going to look those up for sure. Do you have a favorite recipe that you would like to share with the Culture Trekking community to try?

Suzanne: One of the easiest things to make is Trinidadian corn soup

Me: Is it safe to travel in your country as a single female or with a family?

Suzanne: That’s a tough one. I would suggest that single females and other travelers be cautious when traveling alone in Trinidad and Tobago because there is a crime problem. Find a reputable tour operator or local guide to show you around.  

Me: What about racism? I know racism is a hot topic right now in the United States. How do those in Trinidad and Tobago handle that, or is it something not frequently thought of?

Suzanne: Although many locals claim “all ah we is one,” racism still affects everyday living in the country. It’s something that subtly permeates every level of society. Many people ignore it or pretend it doesn’t exist.

Me: Would those in the LGBTQ be welcome and safe there? If not what would be some suggestions you have for them when traveling?

Suzanne: Trinidad and Tobago, like many other Caribbean islands, still has a very conservative attitude when it comes to gender and sexuality. LGBTQ travelers are welcome but may get unwanted attention from some locals.

what to see in Trinidad and Tobago

Me: Are there areas you would suggest avoiding while there?

Suzanne: Avoid crime hot spots like Laventille, Enterprise, and Beetham.

Me: What are the major tourist traps?

Suzanne: I don’t think we have any tourist traps in Trinidad and Tobago!

Me: Do you have any favorite camping spots or hiking trails you would suggest?

Suzanne: Hiking is very popular on both islands. I would suggest going with a local guide or tour group because the trails are not signposted and you could get lost in some areas. I highly recommend hiking to Paria beach and Rio Seco waterfall.

Me: What about your favorite hidden beaches?

Suzanne: You can access hidden beaches by boat on both Trinidad and Tobago. You need to hire a local guide to get all the deets.

Me: When I say home, what does that picture look like in your mind?

Suzanne: In my mind, home is not a place. It’s the people who matter most to me.

Me: That is such a beautiful thought, I’m definitely going to remember that one. How do families there spend time together?

Suzanne: Different families do different things but in general, families spend time eating out, going to the cinema and malls, visiting relatives, going to the beach or river, and vacationing at beach houses across the two islands.

Me: What are marriages like there? Does the woman or the man propose? I need to find a country where the woman can propose myself, lol.

Suzanne: Marriages are generally love matches but there are a few arranged unions. Man or woman may propose although traditionally, men propose.

Me: Do you have any closing thoughts for my readers you would like them to know or take away from this?

Suzanne: I would love for your readers to learn more about Trinidad and Tobago and the rest of the Caribbean. We are so much more than beaches!

Me: Well Suzanne, it really has been a pleasure speaking with you and I hope one day to be able to meet you in person. You sound like a fascinating person, with loads of adventures awaiting you around the corner. I appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions and help my readers learn about your fascinating culture and connect with Trinidad and Tobago. I hope that they have been as enthralled as I have been in reading your answers. Thank you so much for your time and if my readers wanted to get in touch with you, how would they do that?

Suzanne: They can check out my blog: Hot Foot Trini or connect with me on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter.


Alright folks, that is it for today. I hope that you enjoyed this featured follower post. I want to sincerely thank Suzanne Bhagan for participating and being willing to answer all these questions. I love being able to connect with different cultures and communities throughout the world. 


For more posts like this, check out: 

7 Safety Tips When Hiking the Jungles of Jamaica

12 Things to Know Before Visiting the Island of Delos

A Jamaica Shore Excursion

Well, Jamaica changed me, at least it did with the people that I was able to encounter there. I am not one who likes to follow the herd. I wanted a unique and private Jamaica Shore Excursion where Patricia (my cruise mate) and I could bond, enjoy nature and take lots of cool pictures

Booking Our Jamaica Shore Excursion

We met up with Carolyn, from Barrett Adventures, and her tagline “off the beaten path” was literally like I found a kindred spirit a half a world away! I LOVED Jamaica, her, and the adventures she had in store for us. So I talked with Patricia who was very hesitant in doing anything that did not involve the overly priced shore excursion, with 80 other people photo bombing you throughout your expensive trip.

Through my negotiating powers, and begging and pleading, she agreed to do go with Barrett Adventures; but said I would be held personally responsible by her husband if anything should happen to her. She said she was only half joking (insert large gulp). Well we got to Jamaica, Carolyn was there waiting for us with a sign, and she quickly whisked us away from the main town center ahead of the crowd. We started winding up the hills, were taken through the small beach side towns, and would stop frequently to show us the different plants that were so abundant on the island for anyone to eat.

Jungles in Jamaica

I had no idea how much Cocoa plants look like acorn squash! Not only that but how tough the skin is to cut through, the sticky outer shell that has an incredibly slimy texture, but is so sweet you think you just ate a piece of candy, and then the slightly powdery bitter center that is the chocolate bean itself.

It was the part she said next that really got me, “now you see how it has that bitter taste? Think of how much sugar they are actually putting inside chocolate to make it taste so sweet. Something to think about”.

Travel Tip: Here is a guide everything you need to know about Jamaican Food

We continued on our journey, Carolyn told us about how she ended up in Jamaica. She was actually one of the only female divers that were able to be accepted into a diving school. When she told her parents, they nearly disowned her and chained her to her bed. But Carolyn’s adventurous and strong-willed nature propelled her to what she calls her life today. She left the East Coast, with all its stuffy over cramped buildings and headed to the ocean, where she was this young woman who was keeping company with…. well….. roughens of her time. Guys who were likely just let out of jail and a diving job is what they could get. She put up a good fight, learned how to swear like a sailor, sail like the best of them, got her own boat and toured around the islands of the Caribbean. She actually met her husband in Jamaica, as a chance meeting. He was so enamored with her that he came to the place where she was staying, knocked on the door and pronounced, “I would like to marry you, and I’m not leaving until you say yes”. Well, he stayed out there for about a week or so, and Carolyn decided that if he was that determined, why not. So they got hitched an started up, ‘Barrett Adventures’, which is now one of the top rated tours on Trip advisor.

We came to Mayfield Falls entrance, walked down the slippery entrance, while the locals were just walking down barefoot and fancy free— literally — yes this did include exuberant singing and conversations with all the strangers who were walking along the same path. One such fellow decided to befriend me, can’t think of his name at the moment because I was kind of crushing on him a little bit. So sue me, I have a thing for foreign guys, something about the accent makes me want to swoon……lest I digress.

He ended up being our guide, and was so fun! He would help us over the harder spots when we were hiking up the river, then sneak ahead and jump out right in front. Having worked at the Trauma 2 Hospital at night, I pictured one of the more terrible cases I had helped with & I was going to watch it happen right before me into this shallow riverbed. Well like all magic tricks, and to my shock…wonder….awe….there was no mangled body, he just disappeared below the water & came up smiling like a little kid at our shocked faces. At one point I even joined him, as afraid of heights as I am, I climbed up a very precariously built ladder onto a tree that had been cut in half as my landing pad. Patricia was yelling, “BE CAREFUL!” and then, “JUST DO IT!” while laughing the whole time. I was hyperventilating because I’m so scared of heights, well of what happens after you fall, as I have seen the worst of the worse in my day— but I did it. The feeling of being weightless for about 10 seconds, everyone holds their breath…hoping you jumped out far enough not to who everyone what the inside of your skull looks, then the rush of the water as it swallows your toes then legs then shoulders like a very hungry boa constrictor; only to emerge victorious & giddy with Adrenaline. Ahhhhh… I love the Adrenaline rush, and it is kind of like you won the talent show, as everyone claps & laughs. Bonding……isn’t it great. Well, on with our show, our guide showed us all the hidden caves where you could swim under the water and come up breath for a few & swim up river again.

Where are the pictures you ask of this amazing adventure? In a cruel twist of fate, my camera battery died about 20 minutes into the trip! Yes, you can all groan and cry a little for me…. I was devastated! How would everyone know how much fun I had?!?! Well, as they say, the show must go on— and I dare say, I enjoyed my time so much more than I possibly would have if I would have had that camera in proper working order. I actually looked around me, smelled the things around me, laughed a little more, stressed a little less about how I looked & who would notice my rolls and cottage cheese on my legs. Who cares! I think this is when I really started to appreciate that I had a body that was working, I could do the hiking, I could keep up (relatively well, lol) — and my memories and being able to connect with the people I was traveling with actually is what made it all so worth it. We got to Mayfield Falls & we were the only ones there, it was so BEAUTIFUL with 4 cascading waterfalls one after the other, gurgling, swirling and spinning like a dance under the bamboo canopy of the Jamaican Jungle with 4 unlikely people enjoying God’s green earth & this hidden gem, off the beaten path.

In order to keep schedule and not be stranded in Jamaica without our passports we quickly moved on to the hike through villages and the Jungle. This is where we met Harry, the mysterious man with the unspoken rough past, standing there in his tank top, phanny pack, shorts that were far to big for him & emblazoned with (what should be the countries official plant) Marijuana leaf. I was a little nervous at first seeing him, but as soon as he started speaking, I relaxed and his jovial infectious nature & positive vibes just had us all laughing and really enjoying our time.

He took us through the Jungle and pointed out all the plants. There was one plant that when Slavery was a still present was planted around fields — it has a special characteristic to it. That if you touch it, it will close its leaves rapidly for about 20 minutes & all that is required is a light touch. This way if the slaves tried to run, the ‘owners’ could catch them and know exactly where they had run to.  When I saw this, suddenly I became quiet and wanted to cry, its like the earth of this place testified of what he was saying, and its almost like I could feel a glimmer of how trapped these people had felt…..and for so long. The cruelty that humans are capable of, against their own species……it makes the strongest of us cry. People may think this sort of thing doesn’t happen today, or are just blind to it, just like they were in that time period, excusing it as a, “oh it’s just how the world works right now” — but thank God above for those who had the courage to stop the atrocities that happened on this beautiful island.

Next we literally bushwhacked our way through the thick vines, overhang, wet a slipping and a sliding over the humidity coated palm and banana leaves. Through a village, where Harry secretly showed us some Marijuana plants; how they grow etc….. Being a Physician Assistant, I have never actually tried the stuff, and care too much about my license to try it for recreational purposes; but again, was amazed at how humans fight over this small unique leafed plant that is only about 12 inches tall. I was beginning to feel the weight of how humanity is so backwards.

There is abundance in Jamaica, someone from the States may come to Jamaica and think, “look how poor they are with their tin roofs collecting the unsanitary water from the rain. Look at the terrible life they have”; but in reality….the people here have more opportunity and communal community than anything I have experienced within the USA. We may be the greatest nation in military and monetary value, but sometimes I feel we traded that for things that have far greater importance….I will let you think of your own opinion on what those things missing in the States could be.

In the end, this trip humbled me in ways that were very surprising…. I realized how selfish I was, how much beauty and quality of life is really in the eye of the beholder, how much the media contributes to skewed images of what the ‘perfect’ life is because of how lucrative commercialism is. I know some may disagree with me, but living a life of luxury and showing off my amazing trips became less important to me. The stories of the people I meet, their lives, their hopes, their fears and what drives them to get up everyday are the things that I vowed I would cherish the most from this trip.

7 important safety tips & good info for when hiking the Jungles of Jamaica

I didn’t really know what to expect when I was told we would be hiking up waterfalls and through the jungles in Jamaica. I guess I didn’t realize how thick the vegetation could be in Jamaica, or how slippery. So here are some tips that I wish I would have known before going, and other tid bits of fun I’m sure you are going to enjoy. 1- It’s very humid, this should be a ‘duh’ moment for me, your on an Island in the Caribbean….of course it is going to be humid. But when your base is in a desert you forget you have to prepare for this kind of environment. Be sure you drink water or have a beverage that has electrolytes in it. You tend to lose quite a bit of salt when you sweat. DSCN1246 2- Have moisture wicking clothing on you, with a swimming suit underneath, and some water shoes. I love my Keen shoes, the real ones, not the knock offs, one because they can go in the water & don’t give me blisters when I get out; two they have good air circulation which is nice when you aren’t wearing socks; three they have a rubber toe on them that protects you when you are clumsy like me and tend to stub your toes on every rock and branch in your path. Only draw back to this was that because there are open areas on the shoe, I finished the hike and found a tick embedded in my left foot. Our guide, who is from New York originally, had alcohol with her, and was able to remove it. She said that because they are on a more of an isolated Island, that the ticks don’t typically carry disease like they do in the States.

Lyme disease is typically associated with White tailed  deer, and other animals that typically do not reside in Jamaica, so the incidence is much less common. From one Medical Research article that I found, it appears that those who claim to have positive results for Lyme Disease, were actually false positives due to other cross reactive parasites that are found in Jamaica such as : Treponema pallidum which is typically given via Sexual Contact, and can pass to the fetus (baby).

article found here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7855925

3- If you have balance issues, I would suggest bringing some hiking poles. Hiking poles typically cost $16-$60,  depending on how much of an avid hiker you are. I typically place these in my check on luggage as the pointy ends found on many hiking poles, may be considered a safety hazard on most planes. I can usually fit them in after my suitcase is all packed and I place them at an angle.

                                            IMG_5482

4- Don’t be afraid to try the food picked up off the side of the trail. I drank water from the river when my guide said it was ok, I tried the Turmeric plant he pulled up off the side of the trail, I ate 2 seeds from a Cocao plant we stopped at along the side of the road, drank the water of a raw coconut, and chewed on a freshly picked sugar cane stick. All of it was delicious, and I didn’t get sick once.

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5-  The trails in the jungles of Jamaica are sometimes very difficult to find, and if you don’t know which way you are headed, it is easy to get lost. I am pretty good about following an established trail in and out, but the soil is so rich and the weather is optimum for plant growth; so the trails have plants that grow over them quickly, large Palm leaves that have fallen cover the trail making it almost impossible to know where to go unless you are a local. The good thing is that guides there are pretty reasonably priced, just make sure you arrange one prior to arriving to make good use of your time there. If you would like the guide that I used while there please email me at: gypsysouladventure@gmail.com & I can provide you with her information.

                           IMG_5391

6- There are 5 species of snakes on the island & none of them are poisonous, One that is the protected Yellow Boa. there is no need to fear this creature as it typically goes after the smaller animals, and typically goes out at night to hunt. It can grow up to 6.5 feet long, so likely if you see it, you aren’t going to miss the yellow monstrosity.  The other 4 include the Jamaican Blind Snake eats small insects, Thunder snakes that feed on small vertebrates, the Black racer that feeds on frogs, lizards and birds and is reportedly RARELY seen, and then Garden snakes and hunt fish, frogs and lizards. So really no snakes to really be worried about.

7-  Make sure you wear good Mosquito repellent as there are some things that can be transmitted through mosquito bites there. ie/ Zika is a concern there according to the CDC, and a case of local transmission of Chikungunya Virus (sx: fever/joint pain/rash).

For other health information recommended by the CDC before visiting Jamaica head here: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/jamaica

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5 Hidden Gems of Jamaica

Mayfield Falls

Just hiking up to these falls is amazing! You see, you actually have to hike, swim and climb up this river, with these little pools– that actually aren’t so little. You typically have a guide that you pay around $20 for near the entrance (which takes about an hour to drive to); and then at the entrance you have some great souvenirs & a place to change your clothes, some makeshift lockers (I recommend putting valuables in the car you came in, locked nice and tight). Make sure to bring some good water shoes, because the rocks can be a little bit slick. Our guide randomly would hike ahead of us, and surprise us by jumping into the hidden pools in front of us. It was so crazy! you are up to your ankles in water, and here he is jumping from trees 20 feet above you, and you think, “OMG! HE IS CRAZY AND IS GOING TO DIE!” But then he magically would disappear in these pools a few feet in front of us, and pop his head out grinning from ear to ear. He did this about 14 times with us, and it wasn’t until about the 10th time I actually started to join him. So If you have a chance to visit Mayfield falls, I highly suggest doing it!

H’evan Scent Zip

This Zipline is in Saint Ann’s Bay, and actually not only does it strap you in, you also have an option to go together whilst sitting on swing set seating. It takes you soaring past different areas of the Jungle, gives you REAL coconut water freshly picked from a coconut & has different options as far as Ziplines you can try. The best part is, its not as crowded as some of the other Zip-line areas throughout Jamaica, which is what I LOVE — I’m not one to be ‘a part of the herd’- so this is a perfect option.

Secret Falls

We didn’t end up having time to go to these falls because they were on the side of Ocho Rios & we had too much fun hiking through the Jungle, but this is one of the Falls our guide actually recommended. Who also happened to be from New York & had lived in Jamaica for over 25 years.

Rasta Highlands

I never thought I would be hiking through a REAL JUNGLE! It was really hot & humid, but I didn’t even care because of how amazing it was to see the abundance of natural resources in this place. From an outsider’s perspective you would think, ‘wow look at how terrible their living situation is’ but when you see how many resources they have, literally at their fingertips’ — that’s when I started to think that maybe we, in the developed countries, are the ones that are ‘poor’. For this journey, I would recommend a guide, as the underbrush requires you to use a machete, and those are not exactly good things to pack on an airplane, lol. Plus as you can see with the picture on the right, most of the trails are covered in thick discards of the vegetation; please note that this vegetation can get very thick & slippery due to the humidity– especially going down a hill. So this is another great reason to have a guide. We were also told that there are areas that you do not want to venture, that Marijuana is grown, and their Marijuana farm owners can get very protective and want to start a fight if you cross into their land, or try and pick their products without asking.

The Blue Mountains

The hike to get here I would say is easy to Moderate, but well worth the view and close to the Montego Bay and Mayfield Falls area. Very serene & quite, I loved our guide and how she gave us the history of Slavery in Jamaica and the different plants that were introduced there when Columbus came & all the spices that were available there naturally.

Contact Carolyn Barrett Adventures in Jamaica that for the hike up Mayfield Falls, through the Rasta Highlands, seeing the Blue Mountains and meeting locals and how they live their daily lives would only cost around $170 per person. This was WELL worth the money for this, especially since we were on a time constraint with our Cruise ship. She also offers snorkeling & scuba diving sites, as well as yacht trips around Jamaica and the different surrounding islands– as she has lived on many of them for throughout her life. Enjoy the Top 5 Hidden Gems of Jamaica and get the real Jungle adventure, I promise you won’t regret it!