Choosing accommodation for your travel has gotten more complicated over the years. Often leaving folks confused and worried they will make the wrong decision. Especially with reports of travelers being attacked, personal items stolen, and even the rare occasion of someone being killed. So I put together a guide on things to look for when choosing accommodation for your travels.
From beginning to end, this will be the ultimate guide on getting started when choosing your adventure accommodation and staying safe when you do. Be sure to check out my other articles on Safety while solo traveling as well. It will give a more detailed view of tips on how to stay safe, as well as what to do if you feel you landed in an unsafe situation. So let’s dive in on choosing your perfect accommodation!
Your Destination – When Choosing Accommodation
Is it a third world country or a first world country?
When your choosing accommodations, look at what the place is made of. Maybe it is a wood/grass hut on the beach with opportunities for perfect pictures, but no hot shower – or the toilet is shared and across the village. Make sure you take note of what is included in the room before you book it. There are so many wannabe YouTubers out there – that you can get a general idea from videos on the area and accommodation. Even the poorest countries have a phone and Facebook so asking for a few photos or to confirm certain amenities is in your best interest.
Is it a remote small village or a bustling city?
If it is a remote village will you have a way to get there? Is that factored into your budget? If it is in a bustling city, how easy is it to find your way there and how costly. Is traffic going to be an issue? If it is then the taxi rates are going to be sky-high unless you can get them to agree on a set price before you get into the vehicle.
What type of activities are you going to be participating in?
If you are going to be visiting Macchu Picchu you will want to stay up near the entrance to get there before the crowds. Conversely, if you are only there for a short period of time, is it worth it to hotel/hostel jump from place to place? What if you are scuba diving out in Fort Lauderdale and it would be easier to get to the shop by staying on Singer Island rather than paying for a taxi multiple days to get back and forth. Are there activities at night and places to eat close to your accommodation. When you are fighting Jet Lag, you can often awake in the middle of the night with hunger pains that can have you chewing the arm of your travel companion off or eating the bar of soap.
Is the country conservative or are their citizens heavily restricted with rules?
When I was traveling with a Moroccan friend near southern Morocco, they are still ruled by strict social guidelines. So we had to pretend that he was my brother-in-law in order to be able to rent an apartment. Otherwise, they would have required to see a marriage document prior to renting the apartment. Several of them actually refused when they saw that he had a white American Female in the car. Given their point of view, I can see why several people refused (just in case he was kidnapping me – even though it wasn’t the case). Each place I stayed at also wanted a copy of my passport – which has ALL my personal information on it. So would you be comfortable letting them copy that information? Some places may refuse to rent to you if you are not comfortable giving that information. So these are just some things to think about, especially if you are a solo female traveler.
Are your comforts of home important to you?
It is important to remember that not every destination is going to have an air conditioner you can blast, fireplace you can light up, or even traditional heating. They may not even have a working toilet, or maybe you can sit on the toilet, shower, and brush your teeth all at the same time. We stayed in an apartment in Italy once as a family, where the smell of the sewer was so strong that we could barely shower. So be sure to read reviews and amenities of a location before going, so you can be well informed on what you will have to compromise and if you are willing to do that.
Time of Arrival or Departure – When Choosing Accommodation
Do you arrive at night or during the day?
I typically look for the best deal on Booking.com when I’m attempting to rent a place. I really like the filters you can choose from, and you can easily decide if a hotel/hostel/B&B is right for you all on the same platform.
As the years of travel have come and gone, I have gotten a lot more detailed in my approach when renting an Airbnb, Booking.com place. Sometimes it is the best deal because it is a remote part of the city that isn’t safe to lug my big suitcase and a backpack full of camera gear. So it is definitely something to consider. Another thing to consider is how accessible it is to catch a taxi, the cost of an Uber or Lyft to and from the transportation stations (airport, train, bus). There was one morning in Poland I counted on being able to catch a taxi to the train station and found that in Poland – in the center of Warsaw – no one is awake before 8 am. So I had to get access back into the building I had just deposited my room keys into, so I could get Wifi to call an Uber.
Your Budget When Choosing Accommodation
Does your budget include a fancy place to stay?
If this is going to be a relaxing vacation with lots of beach time, then maybe spending a little more on an all-inclusive resort would be worthwhile. If you are going to be out looking at historic sites in the center of the city, maybe it would be worthwhile to spend a little more of the budget to stay closer to those sites. If you are just looking to spend as little as possible, because you will be backpacking from one place to the next anyway, then maybe a hostel is your best bet.
Do you want to spend your vacation budget on your accommodation or on seeing the city?
The biggest beef I have with spending money on accommodation is that it takes away from my ability to spend money on tours, food and really experiencing the culture. So I tend to personally go for a cheaper (but comfortable) accommodation and then have loads left for tours and activities.
What type of vacation is this for you? Will you spend more time in a hotel (Honeymoon) or more time seeing the sites (on a group tour, or with a bunch of friends)?
If your vacation is going to be a romantic getaway, then I would tell you to spend a little more to have a cozy bed with a view and easy access to come back to the hotel frequently. If you will be in a tour group, they typically include the cost of the hotel, or I would get a hotel that will be close to the majority of your meeting spots.
Your Desire for Convenience When Choosing Accommodation
Does the destination have Taxies or Ubers?
Believe it or not, not every country/city has Taxies or Ubers. There are equivalents available in some countries (see my growing Worldwide Airport Transportation List) but sometimes it is just good old fashioned walking, horse and carriage or a Tuk Tuk. In certain cities in South America, if you are caught by the police taking an Uber/Lyft (like in Santiago) then you can get a $1000 fine. So I would definitely consider how you will get around the city, and to and from the airport when choosing accommodation.
Is there public transport? Is transportation able to handle your luggage?
Once you figure out your mode of transportation to and from the airport, also consider if they will be able to handle the amount of luggage you are planning on bringing. I can tell you right now, a Tuk Tuk will not be able to handle two people with their luggage. When I was in San Pedro La Laguna, near Lake Atitlan – the roads are too narrow for cars in most places, often get flooded in the rainy season. The Tuk Tuks there couldn’t hold 3 curvy women at once, so I had to squat and pray I didn’t break my ankle because my leg was hanging out of the Tuk Tuk.
If you are being picked up in a shared ride, or transfer service (often found on the airline websites when you book your flight) – they may have luggage restrictions to two per passenger or less.
If it is a shared Uber/Lyft or Taxi – you will have to be considerate of other passengers who may not be as prepared as you are – or pack as light as you do.
Your Travel Companions – Questions to Ask Before Booking
Do your travel companions have physical limitations? ie/ Wheelchair, bad knees, chronic pain
Americans are very lucky (and some countries in Europe), in that most everything is accessible to those with disabilities. Even in Scotland, there are things I took for granted in America that they do not have there due to the way the city has grown and morphed over the years. Working in the medical field it was eerie to me to not see elderly on the street – or those in wheelchairs or on crutches – there are seldom elevators unless specifically stated; Hostels, Airbnb, and B&Bs do not typically have elevators.
If you travel with Chronic pain and are stuck on an hour train ride in between the cars because you didn’t realize you had to reserve a seat and not just purchase a ticket – this could result in major pain that could result in a ruined vacation. So be aware of who you travel with, and have frank conversations about tolerance levels and ability to treat pain while vacationing.
What about those with bad joints, or those with heart or lung issues. Can they go up stairs, do they have elevators, what is the air pollution in the city like vs in the country? These are all things to consider and ask both the accommodation and your travel companions about. When I was in Edinburgh, and even in Marrakesh – I was grateful I had my inhaler because I have reactive asthma attacks. I get extremely fatigued, and a sore throat when the air quality is bad. Going up to high elevations quickly, like in Zermatt on the Little Matterhorn, at 15,000 feet – I nearly ended up in the hospital with an oxygen level of 85% because I discovered I was extremely prone to altitude sickness.
Do your travel companions travel light, or over pack with lots of bags?
Again, everything is a little bigger in America vs other countries. If you show up in Japan or China with 2 large bags and a big backpack – you may as well just buy an additional hotel room. Everything is small and jam-packed unless you know what you are getting into and can afford the larger hotel rooms.
Your Activities When Choosing Your Accommodation
Are you going to have a car?
If you are going to have a car, is there parking available at your accommodation? If there isn’t, then you have to look at costs for parking – and if you are good enough at parallel parking. In Morocco, if you decide to drive there, the parking spaces are very very tightly packed. There are certain meanings when you flash your brights or turn on your hazard lights. They even have parking assistants that you have to tip at least a dollar every time they help you, otherwise, you can get punched (saw a legit street brawl between a parking attendant and a local – lots of blood). In Edinburgh, there are no parking areas, unless you want to pay $45-$85 a night at a very limited parking center in the city. In the center of Boston, the parking at any location can be upwards of $60 a night (minimum). So be sure you check on parking availability if you choose to rent a car, otherwise, it can eat your budget rather quickly.
Is accommodation close to affordable public transportation?
If there are no parking areas, is the accommodation close enough to (and safe enough) utilize public transportation? In Guatemala, it would have been cheaper to take the 5-hour bus ride to Lake Atitlan sure. Yet hiring a private ride for $60 for the 3-hour car ride through mountain passes where falling rocks, flooded roads is much safer and more reliable at 2 am.
Your Eating Habits When Choosing Accommodation
Is breakfast important to you?
If you like to sleep in but love your breakfast, then I would make sure you click on the filter option where breakfast is included in the cost, or there is a continental breakfast available. I could eat breakfast food all day everyday if I could. Dinner I just eat Almonds or a protein bar – but in Europe, Lunch and Dinner are some of the most important meals.
Check Local Holidays/Religious Events
This is something I discovered after dating several Muslim men, when they described their countries during Ramadan. A local religious holiday that lasts a month, where stores, and local eateries often close during the day for religious reasons. If you don’t know about Ramadan, I put together a basic guide on Ramadan, and when and why they celebrate. For the purposes of this article though, you need to know that stores will open after sunset/evening prayer, and close in the AM after morning prayer. If you are ok eating all night, and sleeping during the day, there are some special dishes that come out during Ramadan, and are only made during Ramadan that would be worthwhile to check out for all my foodies.
Do you like to eat out?
Are there places nearby that you can eat? If there are places that you can eat near your accommodation, is it the type of food you can eat? Do you have any particular dietary restrictions? If so, then looking at different neighborhoods where those are more likely to be available and have more variety. If you are Vegan, Vegetarian, or have any particular allergy to certain foods – then I would recommend using Pinterest to plan out your eating excursions before you go.
Do you cook your own meals when vacationing?
If you do have severe dietary restrictions, or like to eat a little healthier while traveling – then choosing an accommodation near a supermarket may be worthwhile. Try your hand at local cuisine, or even eat with locals through EatWith.com where you can schedule a meal with a local and other travelers, take a food tour, or even learn how to cook like a local.
Will Your Personality Fit Your Accommodation
Are you a quiet hermit type? Are you outgoing and lazie faire? Are you refined and love that luxury life?
If you don’t like chaos, or can’t sleep through drunk people coming in and out at all hours of the night – then a Hostel is not for you. Do you like to be social, but still want your privacy and a relaxed environment? Then a Bed and Breakfast may be for you. Do you love luxurious surroundings, and value your sleep above all? Then a higher-end luxury hotel might be the best choice.
When staying in any location, it is important to know if you have the only key to the house, apartment, or room.
If you don’t, then I would suggest to my Solo Female Travelers that you demand this, or just look for another accommodation. If it is a Bed and Breakfast type home, where other people will be staying, this is fine, but you still want to ensure that you will be safe while you are sleeping – and there is lockbox for your passport.
Will you be alone or with other people?
If you will be alone in a dangerous neighborhood, then I would suggest getting a hotel closer to the city – and make sure there is good lighting on the street. Using Google maps street view is a good way to take a look at the neighborhood you will be going.
If you will be staying with other people, such as in a hostel, do they have lockers you can use? If so, are there locks you can rent, or do you need to bring your own lock?
Is the community gated/barb wire fencing?
When I was staying in Guatemala City, there were a lot of reports online that theft and muggings were common with tourists. Arriving late at night from San Pedro made me a bit nervous, as I didn’t properly scope out my accommodation. Driving into the complex though, provided a lot of ease of mind when I saw that there was a security guard, cement fencing with barbed wire on the top, and good lighting in the streets. So it really depends on the safety level of the country you are going to, how cautious you need to be, and how much research you need to do prior to finalizing your booking.
There are certain countries where tourists have to stay inside a compound for safety reasons. So for my adrenaline junkies out there, make sure that you understand the risks. If there is a safety advisory by your state/country department for that particular country – and you decide to go anyway; it could limit their ability and willingness to help you if you decide to ignore those warnings.
Do they have safety measures for fire hazards, flooding, earthquakes, hurricanes?
If you are staying in a wooden bungalow in the Maldives, and a hurricane blows through while you’re there – because the prices were cheaper in the rainy season – do they provide, or have a safe spot or emergency evacuation plan/supplies to aid their guests? This is something that happened to a friend when in Jamaica, and they had to fend for themselves until the communities were stabilized. Luckily they were in a hotel, not a bungalow, and had some granola bars to tide them over while electricity was restored in the kitchens.
Getting Travel Insurance is a great way to ease the mind.
I typically will use World Nomads as my Travel Insurance for medical evacuation or any emergency needs/delays/cancellations. Something you will have to ensure with medical, natural disaster, or political unrest evacuations – is that the fine writing often says ‘will evacuate you to the nearest USA location or airport’. Well that doesn’t help you much if you are vacationing in South America, and they send you to a hospital in Atlanta – but your house is in Oregon. Medical Transport on a ventilator from one area of the USA to another is done by helicopter with a specialized team and starts at $15,000 depending on the team needed and flight time. So if you are from the USA, or are purchasing the insurance through your own country – I highly suggest you read the fine print on this particular portion.
Will you need to get vaccines prior to going?
If you are a US Citizen, there are certain vaccines that are mandatory if you visit a country where a disease is prevalent.
Some of the vaccines can be out of stock or on back order – so it could take months until you receive it. Be sure to check with your local health department on these specialty vaccines.
Getting the vaccines within a certain time period PRIOR to your departure is imperative. Your immune system needs time to work, and what if you have a bad reaction? The earlier you can do it the better is what I highly suggest.
Are there animals or insects that could come in while sleeping? Do they carry diseases? Does the accommodation have mechanisms to prevent this?
If you are terrified of snakes or creepy crawlies coming into your room at night – then any tropical environment, even Australia may not be for you, unless you stay in a place where this can’t happen.
If you are in Africa, having a mosquito net is essential as many parasitic diseases including Malaria are transmitted there.
If you are staying in a grass hut in South American, there is a bug called the Kissing Bug (bites near nose/eyes/mouth at night), that transmits a parasite that can live in you for decades before showing up as a major heart issue.
In hostels, there is a growing issue with Bed Bugs. I was attacked by Bed Bugs in a Hostel in Prague a few years ago. I had 32 bites all up and down my arms, legs, chest and even a few on my face. Little did I know that I was allergic to the bites, and ended up swelling at each bite, felt like I was hit by a bus for the entire time I was backpacking through Europe.
It isn’t just hostels though, Bed Bug reports in New York City were up by 40% in 2018. If you bring those little bastards home with you, guess what….it can cost anywhere from $1600 to $5200 to get rid of them. Often it results in you having to replace furniture, beds, clothes and other items that they squeeze into and lay hundreds of eggs. So consider yourself warned, research how to spot bed bugs, and make a rule that you put your bags outside the room until your inspection is complete. It only took once, to learn this very painful and difficult lesson.
Are there restrictions on staying with those of the opposite sex?
I touched on this previously when I was traveling with a local in Morocco. But I bring it up again here because some countries do not allow you to stay with the opposite sex unless you are married or have the same last name. So just inquire, before you book if you are concerned.
Is the destination friendly to the LGBTQI community? Would you be allowed to stay in the same room as your partner?
This one, unfortunately, is still not accepted worldwide. While the courageous individuals who are traveling to the more close-minded countries, and are helping to try to educate on this particular point – I would advise you to research this extensively. While I don’t really feel it is necessary to call out specific countries, I wanted to put this in this guide – because it can pose a security risk to members of the LGBTQI community.
A good resource for those in the LGBTQI community that want to travel is ‘Dopes On The Road‘ – this website will give you Safety Tips to Consider, questions to ask, and how to plan a honeymoon as a LGBT.
What about racial discrimination?
While I am a white American female, I do have plenty of inspirational women of color that I highly admire and look up to. One such person is, Glo, from the Blog Abroad – who is very frank, honest and open about facing discrimination while traveling and how she handles it. Another great resource for what it is like to travel like a black man is Erik Prince from Minority Nomad. His goal is to be the first black man to travel to every country and would be a great resource because so far (as of August 2019) he has visited 90 countries. Because of my own ethnicity, I think it is a subject that I regrettably have been ignorant of for my readers. So to those who are concerned about this, hearing it from a white woman isn’t going to ease your mind – so look up Glo and Erik – you won’t regret it.
I know these are a lot of questions to process and take in, so it may feel like information overload. This is why I broke it down into bullet points because once you choose your destination, know your budget, and limitations or preferences of the people you travel with – it will be easy to skip over some of the questions.
I tried to include every question I ask when approaching a booking, or choosing an accommodation (traveling with my dog is a whole other article that I didn’t address). So if you are trying to book something luxurious, then you will have a guide – if you are finding accommodation in a busy city or a remote village in Africa then you will have a resource to remind you of how to best approach it and make the most informed decision possible.
Would you include any tips/tricks or advice to those who are just starting out booking their own accommodation?
There are some things in life that worm their way into your heart, and start pulling heartstrings you didn’t even know existed. Sea Turtles, and especially baby sea turtles are one of these things for me. I didn’t really know much about the life cycle of turtles, what the biological reasons they were disappearing were – nor that a major issue was a threat to the nesting grounds. After visiting the Loggerhead Marine Life Center, and Gumbo Limbo, these educational facilities set the stage to saving sea turtles with the Sea Turtle Oversight Protection (STOP) in Fort Lauderdale Florida.
Different Types of Sea Turtles
There are several different types of Sea Turtles, some more endangered than others. There is the Loggerhead, Leatherback, Greenback, Hawksbill, and the very rare Kemp’s Ridley.
The most common type of Sea Turtle along the Florida Coastline is the Loggerhead Sea turtle. The main diet of this type of sea turtle is shellfish, they love the Conch shells. It is listed as a threatened species, due to the major coastal developments, coastal fishing, and pollution (both chemical and garbage).
The Less common is the Green Sea Turtle, likely because it is now listed as endangered. These eat mainly seagrass, seaweed, and algae. For the same reasons that the loggerhead sea turtle is endangered, so is this one.
The Leatherback Sea Turtle is considered a vulnerable species as its population is currently decreasing. It feeds primarily on Jellyfish, can weight up to 550 – 1,500 lbs! As a Scuba Diver, Jellyfish are not my friends, so I want to really see these Leatherback Sea Turtles flourish!
The incubation time for the Green and Loggerhead Turtle eggs is around 45-55 days, while the Leatherback Sea Turtle eggs can reach up to 70-90 days.
The Turtle Nesting Season
While visiting STOP I learned that each type of turtle has different times it likes to nest, and each female can lay multiple nests in a season with multiple different male partners. The Leatherback lays her eggs primarily in March to June, the Loggerhead from May to August, and the Green Turtle from June to September.
I happened to join Richard and his team at STOP near the end of June. We learned that each nest has about a 51-day gestational period, and there was one nest that was on day 54. I couldn’t stop smiling, I was taking part or at the very least contributing to spreading knowledge about these wonderful animals, and may just be able to see them be born. Being able to help in a small way to saving sea turtles is a pretty incredible responsibility.
The Perfect Conditions
When a female sea turtle comes ashore to lay her eggs there are a few things she looks for. She will typically come when the moon is full or nearly full, when it is high tide, and the waves are just right.
When the ocean conditions are right, the turtle then has to feel as if she is coming home. They are, in general, very shy creatures, and spook easily. If there are parties every night on the beaches, flashlights, Iphones, loud music, then the female won’t lay her eggs and will wait.
If you were coming to a hospital to give birth and your doctor was drinking alcohol, your husband was blasting Metallica in your ear, and the Nurse was snapping selfies. You wouldn’t want to give birth either or would give the entire room an earful about ruining the moment. It is the same idea with turtles if there is too much noise, fires, flashing lights, or large groups of people near the shore – it won’t come to shore. Eventually, it will just dump the eggs into the ocean, losing the precious and endangered cargo.
If she does come ashore, imagine dragging your pregnant body 300 yards, weighing 450-1000 lbs using only walking sticks to do it. It is dark, if there are sandcastles, holes dug in the sand, beach chairs, or anything that they can get stuck under – this kills the mama sea turtles folks.
Saving Sea Turtles, and the Mama
Richard told us about how people on the beach dig holes, and a turtle came up, laid her eggs, and on her way back to shore, fell into a hole dug into the sand, breaking her neck and killing her.
He also told us there was a mama turtle that came ashore the night before I arrived. She became stuck under a stack of beach chairs. The hotels along Fort Lauderdale Beach rammed metal poles into the ground, chained the beach chairs – and thought to leave them on their side was ‘good enough’. Well, the turtle made her way up the beach, got stuck under a stack of chairs, the chain wrapped around her neck. Luckily STOP was there to rescue her or she would have died. They were able to calm her enough for him to go and ask the hotel for a key to unlock the beach chairs and free her. The night crew didn’t know where it was, so he used a chain cutter and let the turtle free.
What the most amazing part of this story was, is that the turtle ended up laying her eggs anyway! Despite all of the trauma from getting stuck and nearly being suffocated to death. I think, in a way, she knew Richard and his team were there trying to do whatever they could to help her.
Location of the Nests
Did you know that turtles are able to map out beaches based on magnets? They are able to navigate their way back to the same beach where they were born from to lay their own eggs!
There are many facets that go into making a beach feel like a good nesting ground; that turtles will return to over and over again.
What scientists have observed, is that the turtles will go and seek dark objects to lay their eggs under. The temperature of the nest determines the gender of the baby turtles. Nests than incubate below 81.86F (27.7C) then they will be male. Nests that incubate at 87.8F (31C).
The turtles who are born from warm nests, end up being much slower swimmers, they can’t make it past the break line of waves. Gumbo Limbo and the Loggerhead Marine life center help to rehab these baby turtles so that they can make it out in the ocean. They do this by tying tethers to the baby turtles who then, when strong enough, are released back into the wild.
The problem that is being faced with warmer nests, especially in places like Australia, is that only females are being born. Australia has one of the largest Green Sea Turtle populations, but 99% of the turtles being born are female. There needs to be enough genetic diversity within a species so that deformities and susceptibility to disease are less likely.
There are certain measures Australia is implementing to help more males being born. They are using artificial shade over the nest or spraying artificial rain to cool the temperature of the nests. There is a lot of fear, that when the people who are implementing these measures leave. What if Administration positions change, then funding could be lost and these measures will stop – this could cause this species of turtles to become extinct.
Barriers for Sea Turtles on the Beaches
When the mothers seek the shade, they often encounter barriers. Things like large sandcastles can appear as adequate shade, umbrellas or life guardhouses. Other barriers for turtles that are commonly found on beaches are cabanas, umbrellas, Hobie cats, canoes, small boats, and beach cycles.
Some beaches even rake their sand, to create a nice flat beach. This creates a ledge at the end of the beach that the mothers are unable to get up over because the tide bites at the edge of the beach over and over again.
The mothers think they have gone far enough, and end up laying their eggs right in the grip of the tide line. These nests have to then be dug up, replanted in an area that is safely away from the tide so that the eggs don’t suffocate in the water before they hatch.
Predators on the Beach
Then there are new invasive species onto the beaches because of increased housing developments. Pet dogs and cats eat the eggs and hatchlings and even attack nesting turtles.
Those that leave trash behind lure animals that typically reside inland migrate to the beaches for that food. They may encounter mama turtles and/or hatchlings and kill them. So think of picking up after yourself when you are on the beach or visit the beach as a way in doing your part to save sea turtles.
Major Nesting Beaches Around the World
There are lots of nesting sites around the world, but as coastal development remains ever coveted and popular – the areas that turtles can lay their eggs is shrinking rapidly.
SWOT is a global database that allows volunteers to input different nest sites, sea turtle spotting etc… They have interactive maps of the sea turtle nesting sites, and how you can contribute to helping save even just one turtle.
If you visit Florida, there is a major conservation effort through mass volunteering and even city ordinances to help contribute to the cause of protecting the nests. Each nest is taped off (at least in Florida) with bright pink tape. A sign is posted stating that disturbing the nest will result in a massive fine and/or imprisonment.
As the eggs incubate, it is important to not shoot off fireworks near them, nor stomp or jump on or around them. The baby turtles have a biological ability to sense vibration as a trigger to break free from the egg. Having just a few eggs hatch won’t be enough vibration to make the whole nest hatch, there has to be many. Once there are enough vibrations, then the race is on.
The baby turtles, wriggle their way through the sand that causes other eggs to hatch. Once enough of the little ones are free it causes the center of the sandy nest to drop. The turtles then climb over each other up the sloping edges of the sand and then follow the brightest lights.
Confusing Bright Lights
The problem with this is that they often end up following the bright lights of the hotels, and cars near the beach. They get lost under beach chairs, stuck behind garbage cans, make their way to the car lights and ultimately are smashed in the road.
Something fascinating about Sea Turtles is that they are unable to see Orange or Red Lights. So driving along with certain coastal areas in Florida, you will see hotels beaming the orange lights (after a long fight with them to do so).
There are still certain shops, restaurants, and people who refuse to not use orange lights – so there will continue to be baby sea turtles that die. This is tragic and unfortunate that these humans refuse to do small things to help preserve these endangered animals.
Richard explained that there are people, businesses and hotels he has offered to pay to switch the lights out. He even offered to go and install the lights himself. The people, shops, and owners down-right refuse to take him up on his offer.
While this is aggravating and selfish; the only thing that we can continue to do as the Culture Trekking Community is to share, educate, and spread awareness. If enough people write emails, letters, or voice their opinion – we truly can create change that will save lives.
Richard and his team of Volunteers decided that if the hotels and businesses will not do their part, then they will pick up the slack. While the government supplies protection during the day, Richard and his handful of volunteers provide protection at night.
These volunteers spend countless nights sitting on the beach next to nests protecting and waiting for when they hatch. These volunteers and those who sign up for their turtle treks help guide the baby sea turtles away from the deadly road, and back to the ocean.
Each nest and the expected due date is charted in the new database STOP created. The nests are then color-coded by the number of days of gestation, and those in red are due soon. The nests that are nearing their 45-55 day window, are then guarded and babysat until the turtle’s hatch. Sometimes there are stragglers, and the nests are seen as ‘active’ and not to be disturbed, for at least 3 days after the initial hatching.
Once the Active period has ended, the nest is then evaluated, and eggs that are remaining or baby turtles that didn’t make it are counted. Unfortunately, the eggs at the bottom of the nest don’t get the necessary oxygen, or can be crushed by the weight of the other eggs – so there will always be some that do not survive.
Saving Sea Turtles
Richard and the STOP volunteers, along with those like me who signed up for the Turtle Trek will comb the beach looking for sandcastles to knockdown. They pick up garbage and items that could impede a mama turtle or a baby turtle from completing their biological tasks. They remind and educate party-goers on the beach to not use phones, flashlights, yell, or play loud music.
During nesting season, they allow people to sign up for Turtle Treks for a fee of $25 or more to help guard, and maybe save baby sea turtles from wandering into the road.
There is a circle around the nest that is drawn to keep the Turtle Trekkers at a safe distance to not create vibrations. Then there is a 10-foot perimeter drawn around the circle. This perimeter is drawn so that scientists can draw conclusions and collect data on the progress they are making in saving the turtles. The marine biologists also want to give the turtles a chance to turn around if they get confused. Volunteers are advised to not pick up the baby turtles until they reach the 10 Foot perimeter.
Once the baby turtles hatch and they reach the perimeter, they are then put into buckets, and placed back into the ocean.
Volunteering to Save Sea Turtles
Being able to be a part of this Turtle Trek is something I will never forget. There are many nights the volunteers see amazing things. As Richard said, “Each time we see these tiny turtles emerge from the nest, it is a new experience. Each one has his/her own personality and you can see it by how they interact”.
The night I was there we were able to fill in a few holes in the sand. We listened to the stories Richard has collected through the years. Unfortunately, the nest they had anticipated hatching, hatched at 7 pm, just the time we were meeting at the gathering place. This was likely due to the cooler than normal weather, and the cloud cover from the rain making it a little darker a little earlier than normal.
We sat around another nest all night, it was on day 49, and sometimes they are known to hatch a little early. Blessedly the little turtles stayed tucked in their sand bed, and it just gives me another reason to come back and participate again.
Anyone can volunteer, anyone can go on a Turtle Trek. While it does have a fee associated with it, please know that all proceeds go towards protecting the animals.
Richard and his STOP volunteers work tirelessly to protect the nests, fight for the rights of the turtles against the big hotel chains that run along Broward County coastline. The work they do today, will help protect these animals for your children’s, children’s, children – they don’t get paid to do this – they volunteer to be on-call, out late at night. They have been spit at, yelled at, and even stalked because of their efforts – so $25 is not a lot to ask for the experience and education provided.
What Can You Do At Home To Save Sea Turtles?
Living in Utah, there aren’t a whole lot of oceans around. Yet there are things that I can personally do to help with the cause. The first being, use less plastic as much as possible.
There is nearly 8 million tons of garbage that end up in the ocean each year. Each item of garbage has different rates of decomposition, plastic is the longest of all of them. Hundreds of thousands of sea life die each year from garbage that is consumed.
It isn’t just Sea Turtles, it is whales, seals, and fish. I’m sure we have all seen at least one article about garbage being found in a dead whale – or a plastic straw lodged into a sea turtles nose. So hang those reusable bags near your door, take one with you on your vacation, buy a few for a friend.
Choose the milk in the paper carton, instead of the plastic carton, get reusable straws (they even have portable ones), use bamboo forks/spoons and keep one in your purse. Email locations, theaters or even local coffee shops that don’t offer more environmentally friendly container options. If you go out to eat, bring a glass Tupperware to bring home leftovers.
Pay attention to the chemicals that you use. What kind of chemicals do you use in your laundry detergent, what about your dish soap, shampoo, conditioner, or body wash. Think about those items you use the most frequently and make better choices. Sometimes that is all it takes, is a better choice, not a drastic change. Each month you can commit to making a better choice than last month. Eventually, it will become second nature to you.
Staying on Coastlines
If you are staying at any coastline hotel near the regions highlighted above – close your curtains after the sun goes down. Ask the hotel why they don’t have orange lighting to help protect against sea turtles getting confused. Send emails, be a voice, be a force.
If you decide to go out on the beach at night, do not use your phone on the beach nor near nesting turtles. Don’t play loud music, or light a fire that could deter turtles from coming ashore to lay their eggs.
Other Ideas for Doing Our Part At Home
Replace your light bulbs with compact fluorescent ones, this can decrease your carbon footprint by 150 pounds per year. Driving less, taking a bike to the store instead of driving can save one pound of carbon for every mile you don’t drive.
Recycling can potentially save you up to 2400 pounds of carbon dioxide per year by recycling just half of what you use in your daily life.
Checking the tires on your car so your gas mileage is more efficient saves 20 pounds of carbon per gallon per year. Use less hot water, by taking shorter showers can save 500 pounds of carbon per year. This can also apply to washing your clothes in cooler water as well.
Planting one tree can absorb one ton of carbon dioxide over the lifetime of the tree.
If you aren’t using your computer, television, DVD player, stereo or computer then turn them off. You can save yourself thousands of pounds of Carbon Dioxide a year by doing this.
These are just a few ways that you can reduce your carbon footprint while you are in this world. What we do today can impact our descendants for decades to come.
A Duty to Save Baby Sea Turtles
We as a human race, are the biggest threat to Sea Turtles becoming extinct. Imagine your Grandchildren watching Finding Nemo, and then they ask ‘Are Sea Turtles Real?’ – I for one, hope I never have to answer, ‘Well….they were real, but they all died’.
We have a duty to protect, save, and educate not just ourselves but spread the news in a positive and constructive way to those who may just not know any better. Get involved with a volunteer group, go on a Scuba Diving Ocean extravaganza, pick up trash, move those beach chairs.
***Please note that all photos of turtles taken at night and hatching from the nests were taken by Richard Whitecloud who is licensed by the State of Florida to do so. Lights of any kind are not allowed on beaches as listed above. Please do not attempt to film, or photograph any nests during the evening***
Sweat dripped down my forehead, my mouth was slightly dry and I turned to my diving buddy Jen, “Do you still get nervous before you go diving?”. We were Scuba Diving off of Singer Island and West Palm Beach in Florida with Pura Vida Divers in June. She gave a knowing smile, and replied, “It has only been within the last year that I haven’t been nervous before a dive. It took diving on a regular basis to get to this point. You will become more confidant in your diving and things won’t seem as scary because you will know what to do”.
Our dive masters, one a tall hulk of a former Navy man who briefed us on diving in the Trench. A drop in open water with depths of 50 – 60 feet (15 – 18 meters), and a moderate current. He was a bit on the camera shy end, but detailed us in an efficient and well dictated manner. The two things I remembered, ‘Stay in the trench’ and ‘if you get lost, go to the right’.
A Feeling Of Unease
We got our gear ready, flippers on, mask on, regulators checked, and waited for the call to giant walk into the deep blue. I was sitting by the end of the boat, so would be the first one to follow the Dive Master. Then just as is characteristic of military fashion, we were ushered quickly to the end of the boat, looking like penguins with massive flippers flopping awkwardly to the walk off point. I grabbed my mask and took that giant step into the ocean.
I turned and my diving partner was caught on something, the current was sweeping me and the dive master further and further from the boat. I waited til she was in the water, then we signaled to go down. This was the first moment that I felt the unease of this dive. I have a natural ability when it comes to predicting bad events, I wouldn’t say I’m a psychic, but know when things aren’t quite going to go well. I can’t really explain it, but I would soon find out why I felt this way.
Diving into the Trench off Singer Island Florida
The visibility was about 40-50 feet near the top, a strong current was sweeping us all towards the dive master. We followed the bouy down behind him, and Jen and I corrected our distance from each other. It was hard to see the dive master below, as it takes me a bit longer to descend than others due to my Asthma. I tend to get nervous and hold my breath a bit more than I should.
Practicing some of my own self-calming measures, I exhaled the fear, and dropped more easily down next to Jen. We slowly neared the bottom and that is when I was surrounded by an aquatic forest of barrel coral and fishy friends.
Avoiding the Current
I never want to be the person that sits and ruins coral because I’m not as adept at keeping my bouyancy as I should be. So I tried to hover a bit higher than the rest of the group so as to not bump into anyone, or ruin the coral. This wasn’t quite working out though, the current was quite strong and I remembered the instructor telling us to stay low.
I was so grateful I had brought my photo stick so that I could gently push away from coral with minimal impact should I have drifted too close.
Soft Bottom Surrounded by Color
I was enamored by all the fish hiding in the nooks and crannies here. Since I was in the front of the group and slowly drifted breathing slowly with minimal movements of my arms the fish became curious. Swimming right up to my camera, until the bubbles from my regulator scared them away. I would periodically check back to see Jen, just as enamored as I was at the abundance of healthy coral here.
It made my heart sad that there weren’t more places in the world that the coral was this healthy. Committing to show the Culture Trekking Community what healthy Coral should look like & the abundance of life that can come from responsible tourism.
The bottom of the trench is white sand, with a few coral bits here and there. It was created when an oil company decided to drill a trench for a pipeline they were going to place here. Luckily that was stopped by environmental activists that got wind of it, and now I was reaping the benefits of this beautiful area. The reef was covered with both soft and hard corals. I didn’t see any moray eels rumored to be living there but I’m still not great at spotting them. They said that there is an abundance of green, spotted purplemouth, and goldentail eels said to hide out often in the nooks and crannies here.
Losing Time and Our Group:
After getting lost in my own thoughts, and capturing as much of this wonderful area as I could – I turned around and didn’t see anyone else but me and Jen. I signaled behind us, and she agreed to take the lead to try and find our group.
We made our way back along the trench where we had entered, still not seeing anyone. The current had really picked up, and visibility had dropped by about 10 feet. We tried to turn to the left and the current was so strong, even for an advanced diver like Jen to swim against (and she is an extremely experienced diver). I knew I wouldn’t be able to last the day if I wasted all my energy trying to fight the current. So I tapped Jen and signaled to go to the right.
Riding the Current
We drifted for about 4-5 minutes, and didn’t see anyone. So Jen stopped us, checked both of our air, and just enjoyed the rest of the dive. We both had our inflatable bright orange signaling devices, and decided to get some footage and pictures and enjoy the rest of the air that was in our tank in this watery wonderland.
Ending the First Dive off Singer Island
We surfaced around 800 psi, doing a safety stop along the way. The captain saw our signal, and picked us up promptly. The rest of the group looked like they were just out of our visibility range, only 30-40 feet away from us. It made me feel better we hadn’t drifted into the middle of nowhere like it felt that we had.
We waited for the other members of the group to pop up one by one. The Dive Master surfacing last, with only a few members here and there that had drifted a bit too far.
We all felt a little disjointed because of how strong the current had become within the last few minutes. It scattered us like the sand on the beach, but luckily we all had enough training to know not to fight the current, stay with our dive buddy and enjoy the time.
Dive Interval with Pura Vida Divers
The dive interval was relaxing and seamless. Our captain took us to an area, where we could snorkel around and orange slices and chips were passed around.
Cannonballs off the back of the boat were a must, and music played for the people on board to enjoy while waiting the appropriate time for our next dive.
There was a hose to wash off the salt from the ocean, a fresh water bucket I dunked my camera into, and a toilet in the hull of the boat for those who needed it.
Dive Dive Dive! A Briefing On 4th Street
Watching the second dive master draw out the little animals we might see while diving along 4th street, my smile just grew and grew til my cheeks hurt in celebratory anticipation.
I was going to see a Sea Turtle in real life! You can’t come to Singer Island or West Palm Beach without running into some Sea Turtles. There were also rumored to be a few moray eels lurking about, a few sharks, and our dive master even said there was a hammerhead shark hanging around in the area too.
Riding the High:
Jen and I made an agreement to get off the boat closer together this time, and to stick right with the Dive Master no matter what. So we took the leap to see what underwater creature lottery we were about to win. Riding the high of seeing all the healthy coral on the last dive, I followed the Dive master right down. We were immediately greeted with a Sea Turtle swimming away from us.
While slightly disappointed it was swimming away from us, I was hopeful I would see one again. The dive master pointed out the sea anemone, and the tiny spider lobsters. Apparently there was a Lemon shark behind me, but I missed it because I had just spotted a moray eel. I know….not as exciting as a Lemon shark, but it was the first creature I had found on my own without needing aid.
There is a certain ‘eye’ you have to develop when you are underwater, as these creatures have evolved to camouflage and hide from predators. We are one of their greatest threats, so it takes a lot of practice to have the ‘underwater eye’ as I call it. Although, missing the Lemon Shark and even the Massive Leatherback Turtle tucked underneath the rock, was very disappointing. I’m sure that the more I go scuba diving, the more I will be able to spot these creatures, and recognize them by name.
Seeing Sea Turtles
Swimming a head a little, the Sea Turtle came back! It swam right in front of me, looking around the barrel coral. It even stuck its snout inside of one, looking for anything scrumptious that would have gotten stuck inside. It made me so happy to see this wonderful, yet endangered creature that has survived since the age of the dinosaurs swimming right in front of me like I was part of the turtle family.
There were only one or two of us who saw the turtle foraging for food. It was an incredibly intimate moment with this creature that I have grown to love over the years. This beautiful loggerhead turtle was in this environment of wonder and beauty. It made me so happy to see that there was no plastic wrapped around its neck, no straws shoved into the nostrils, no propeller scars on its back. Maybe the small steps we are making in saving these creatures was starting to pay off? I know it is just one turtle, but I never discount the power of hope from seeing one of these incredible turtles survive.
Baby Shark….Oh Wait….WHAT!?!
A frantic banging noise on the dive masters tank made me turn quickly as the turtle swam away. I turned and saw a nurse shark laying on the sand about 50 feet away. The characteristic shark was snuggled into its sandy bed, disturbed by the noise, it lazily swam away into a more private location.
HOW IS THIS REAL LIFE!?!?! I felt like crying! A Shark, an Eel, a Sea Turtle, and not just that, the shark left and we were graced by four more sea turtles! There was coral all around, colorful fish, too many to really focus in any one spot. My heart felt as if it was going to burst from joy. All the fear, all the worry, all of the effort to get my Scuba Diving license and here I was – witnessing animals in a way that I thought I would only see on a TV screen.
It is like Robin Williams said in Good Will Hunting, you can see all the photos of the Sistine Chapel in a book – but you won’t know how it feels, smells or the memories it will create by seeing the real thing. This is exactly how I felt when I spent my afternoon among my aquatic mammal friends.
Thank You Florida & Pura Vida Divers
The Coral along 4th Street and the Trench is (reportedly) better than what you would find in the Maldives and the Caribbean. Not many people know about these areas, and it is very well protected from over tourism. The amount of education given to the public on how to protect the beaches, turtles, and marine life in these areas is definitely creating a positive impact.
Working with Pura Vida Divers to promote West Palm Beach and Singer Island Scuba Diving, was a pleasure and an honor beyond belief. They were kind, informative, and friendly – they certainly pushed my comfort zone with the current that we faced; yet I feel these moments have to happen in order for you to grow as a diver. Not only are they informative and efficient at what they do, they also are only the second dive shop in Florida to earn the PADI Green Star Award.
From our dive center to the boat, we demonstrate a dedication to conservation across a wide range of business functions, including: recycling, our 100% AWARE Program, conservation leadership, paperless programs, use of sustainable materials, conservation fundraisers, and many other proactive actions.
– from the Pura Vida Divers Website
Other Areas Available to Dive Near Singer Island & West Palm Beach
Cable Crossing 16 to 22 feet deep (4 to 6 meters) great for snorkeling, it is a shallow reef with Manta rays, sea turtles and nurse sharks visiting throughout the year.
Jolly Jacks 87 feet (26 meters) deep there is a wide variety of tropical fish and plenty of sea turtles, moray eels, Lobsters and rays.
Spearman’s Barge 70 feet deep (21 meters), Turtles take up refuge here including hawksbill and loggerhead turtles with the elusive green moray eels.
Double Ledges 70 to 90 feet depth (21 to 27 meters) double reef. This is a perfect drift diving spot, with game fish, turtles and soft corals.
Governor’s Riverwalk Shasha Boekanier shipwreck (since 2002) the site is 184 feet (56 meters) freighter and a bonus of 2 more ships are located in this same area houses tropical fish, coral and algae. Gilbert Reef is also considered a part of the Governer’s Riverwalk as well.
Juno Ledge 65 to 90 feet depth (19 to27 meters) with fabulous cave formations as well as a wide variety sharks, Goliath groupers and large moray eels
West Palm Beach
Amarilys was purposefully sunk to be part of Palm Beach artificial reef program. Lying in 70 – 90 feet (21 – 27 meters) of water. Now covered in coral it is home to jacks, snapper, cobia, snook, and sailfish.
Bath & Tennis is a colorful site at a depth of 50 – 65 feet (15 – 20 meters). Schools of fish and lobsters inhabit the broken edges and stretches of ridges.
Breaker’s Shallow located 3 miles (5 km) south from the Palm Beach Inlet 30 – 35 feet (9 – 11 meters). This site in known for vertical wall rises from 30 to 20 (9 to 6 meters).
Cable Crossing 20 – 30 foot depth (6 – 9 meters). There is a plethora of mini caves and sea life and is perfect for beginner divers & Snorklers
Eidsvag & Owens – these sunken wrecks from 1985 became artificial reefs covered by algae, small sponges, tiny gorgonians. You can swim through ship holes here as well. The Eidsvag & Owens are 150-foot (45 meters) and 125 foot (38 meters) freighters at a depth of 80 – 90 feet (24 – 27 meters).
Flower Gardens at a depth of 50 – 70 feet (15 – 21 meters) this beautiful area has large amounts of sea life, sponges, corals and schools of grunts
Paul’s Reef a fabulous drift dive with a depth of 45 – 55 feet (14 – 17 meters). This ledge is covered in gorgonians, sponges, and coral home to many kinds of tropical fish. This is also a great night dive for parrot fish, turtles, and sharks that sleep near this area.
Princess Anne is considered one of the best dive sites in the United States. This vessel sunk in 1993 in 80-100 feet (24-30 meters) now crawling with schools of jacks, barracuda, and shark. It is a great opportunity for multi-level dives.
Technical Aspects of Diving Near West Palm Beach & Singer Island
There are more places to dive than just the Florida keys. Did you know that Scuba diving magazine actually rated Singer Island higher than the Florida Keys on 8/9 categories.
Best Time to Dive: The best time to dive off of Singer Island and West Palm Beach would be during the Turtle Nesting season, which runs from late May to the end of July depending on the season.
Visibility: Can be anywhere from 60 to 100 feet depending on the current and time of year
Current: Diving off of Singer Island, is considered to be the drift capital of the world. With the average current running about 1 knot that runs parallel to the reef lines.
Average Temperatures Year Round: Between 21°C and 27°C. (70° F and 82° F). The coldest month is typically January, and the warmest month is in July.
Hello Matt! I almost feel wrong saying Matt, I have always known you from your Superstar Blogging Course as Nomadic Matt. I have learned a lot from your courses, and have read a lot about you and your work, but my readers may or may not know you. Would you mind giving a brief background for them on how you got started in blogging, and how long you have been doing it?
Matt: Thanks for having me, Janiel! For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Nomadic Matt. For the past decade, I’ve been traveling the world and blogging about budget travel at nomadicmatt.com. My goal is to help make travel accessible by showing people how to travel cheaper, better, and longer. I started blogging back in 2008 as a way to showcase my writing. I wanted to be a travel writer, and I figured creating my own website would be a good way to highlight my abilities.
While that didn’t exactly work out, my website became popular in its own right, and I actually write my own budget travel guides these days. So, while things didn’t work out as I planned, they definitely still worked out! In addition to running a blog, I also manage a media school, a charity, an online community of 20,000 travelers from around the world, and the world’s biggest travel conference. Oh, and I somehow still find time to travel too!
Let’s get into the meat of what I wanted to ask you about, how to find meaning behind the destination. In one of your articles, you suggested Viz eats, where you can go and eat with locals. How else do you connect with locals in a country or city that you may or may not speak the language? What would you suggest for those who are introverted vs extroverted?
Matt: We’re living in the golden age of budget travel, with cheap flights and the sharing economy giving us an infinite amount of choice when it comes to travel experiences. If you don’t speak the language in the destination you’re visiting, there are still plenty of websites and apps you can use to have unique, local experiences. Some of my favorites are:
Couchsurfing.com: where you can meet with or stay with locals.
Meetup.com: a great platform for finding people who share similar interests.
Vayable.com: a website that offers unique tours and travel experiences.
Blablacar.com: a rideshare program where you can share a ride with locals.
By embracing these non-traditional platforms you’ll be able to have an experience that is unique and centered around local interactions. The best thing about these platforms is that you can enjoy them even if you’re an introvert. You’ll need to push your limits a little bit, but both introverts and extroverts will be able to take advantage of the sharing economy. You’ve just got to be willing to take the plunge!
When you make the effort to connect with the locals, do you find that you remember these trips more than others, or are these the trips that hold more meaning for you?
Matt: Not only does connecting with locals make the trips more memorable, but it adds depth to your travels as well. You’ll find out new tidbits about the culture, discover hidden restaurants or attractions, and see the destination from a more nuanced perspective. At the end of the day, it’s the people you meet that really make your travels the incredible experiences that they are. But it doesn’t always have to be locals — meeting other travelers can be just as insightful and rewarding. So always be willing to meet new people when you’re traveling. You never know just what opportunities will come your way because of it!
Do you have any volunteering groups, organizations that you know of that could make travel more meaningful? I’m thinking of those who want to give back, have skills, but in some areas may not be as welcome as others. For example, I work in the medical field and when I asked a friend in Jordan if they needed medical aid for the refugee camps. The response was, ‘We can help ourselves, these are people not some animals in a barn that you can come take photos with to feel better about yourself’. So I would ask you, in your professional opinion, what is the best way to volunteer for a few days, weeks or years? Do you have any organizations you would recommend?
Matt: Volunteering abroad can be tricky, as you want to make sure you’re working with a group or agency that is helping make real change as opposed to just offering tourists a chance for a photo op. There are plenty of travel scams out there that offer shady “volunteer” experiences to tourists that actually do more harm than good. So when it comes to volunteering, research is vital. I would also encourage people to look for opportunities that last weeks (or more) instead of days. Volunteering anywhere for just a couple of days, I would say, isn’t really going to make a huge difference; that’s the kind of experience that is there to just make travelers feel better. If you want to make a lasting difference somewhere, spend a few weeks volunteering. That will give you time to fully learn your role and make a lasting contribution.
I know you have your own non-profit you have started. Can you tell me a little bit about that and what made you want to pursue establishing FLYTE?
Matt: The Foundation for Learning and Youth Travel Education (FLYTE) is a non-profit that helps high school students in underserved communities travel abroad with their classmates. Every year, we send a group of students abroad to a country of their choosing. So far, we’ve sent students to Mexico, Cuba, Ecuador, and Guatemala. Many of these students have never left the USA, so these trips open the world to them and show them just how transformative travel can be. As travelers ourselves, we’re all aware of the amazing and eye-opening experiences that travel can offer. These experiences are a privilege not everyone has the opportunity to enjoy, so I wanted to create a project that enables everyone to see the world with their own eyes with the hope that these experiences will encourage them to travel more in their personal life. The more we travel, the more cultural bridges we build and the more understanding we create. And I think the world needs a lot more of those two things these days!
Being a person who has traveled so extensively, having books, websites, non-profit program, and now Travel Conferences. Do you ever find yourself feeling isolated or lonely? If so, who is the go-to person that helps you out of that feeling? If not, what do you do to combat this loneliness or are you just too busy to think about it?
Matt: I’ve always been more introverted than extroverted, so I actually enjoy those rare moments when I’m alone. It gives me time to catch up on things like reading and writing and gives me more mental space and freedom to relax. While I love meeting new people, both at home and abroad, I also value my personal time so whenever I feel the need to connect I’ll make sure to reach out to my friends and make plans. Whether it’s dinner, drinks, or going to see some music, I think having a community is what helps keeps me sane when I need a break from work.
As an entrepreneur, there is always more work to be done so I could easily spend my days and nights hunched over my laptop. Having friends I can escape to not only gives me a reason to take a break from work but it gives me time to refresh and recover, and it gives my brain a chance to digest everything that I’m working on. So, while I am always comfortable being alone, I think it’s important to have people you can turn to whenever you feel the need to connect.
I always feel like laughter is the best medicine, there is nothing like endorphins coursing through the veins. So my last question is this…what is the funniest travel story you have?
Matt: I think the best stories are always funny in hindsight, though at the time they might not seem so funny. The best example of this from my travels happened when I was backpacking around Spain. I awoke to the noise of one of my dorm roommates banging on the door as he had locked himself out.
I reluctantly rolled out of bed to let him in before plopping back down into my bunk. But then I noticed something: a terrible smell. The smell, it turns out, was coming from my hand. It was shit. I immediately got up and rushed to the bathroom to find shit all over my hands, as well as the doorknob and trailing back to the bed of the backpacker who I just let in. He had shit himself. I confronted him about it, but he tried to say it wasn’t him…even though the evidence clearly proved otherwise. Later that day I checked out and went to a hotel. I figured some privacy was worth the extra cost — especially if it meant no one shitting in my room!
Well Mr. Nomadic Matt, it has been a real pleasure getting to know you on a more human level. I appreciate you taking your time out of your schedule to do this. I wanted to also say thank you, from the bottom of my heart for always being upfront, open and honest about all of your work, courses, and conferences; and thank you for being open and honest about your answers today. If anyone had questions, where can they reach you or your team?
This post may contain affiliate links, for more information read our full disclosure The travel industry is throwing around this term: Responsible Tourism or Sustainable Tourism. So what does Responsible Tourism mean? Each year we travel, consume, photograph and share on our social media channels, exposing friends and family to expand their knowledge of the cultures of the world.
Responsible Tourism is a multifaceted approach, which includes:
Minimizing negative social, economic and environmental impacts while traveling
Generating greater economic benefits for local people and enhancing the well-being of host communities
Improving working conditions and access to the worldwide industry
Involving local people in decisions, markets, and trade that affect their life and chances at life.
Making positive contributions to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage, embracing the diversity.
Providing more enjoyable experiences for tourists through more meaningful connections with local people and a greater understanding of local cultural, social and environmental issues.
Provides access for physically challenged people
Is being culturally sensitive, encourages respect between tourists and hosts, and builds local pride and confidence.
There are many different ways that this can be addressed and focused on. The Culture Trekking Community is one that focuses on numbers one, five, six and eight. Creating a community where ideas, religions, cultural idiosyncrasies are both shared, respected and embraced. As the Community grows I want to improve awareness on environmental impacts as well as fight the uphill battle of having more meaningful human connections. Today I will focus on the latter.
Where the idea started for my own Responsible Tourism:
The video was quite graphic when I saw this 2 years ago, but it really impacted me in so many different ways. The moral of the story is…..you don’t know what you don’t know until you educate yourself on how small choices like using single-use straws can impact the environment. I now carry a reusable metal straw in my purse at all times. This video is where responsible tourism started for me….watching this turtle in so much pain made me feel like I needed to do more for the environment.
It isn’t just the plastic straws, it is garbage that is left strewn about in all the different places that I visit. I remember walking behind someone in Yellowstone National park…..they dropped a wrapper on the ground (a large one). I was so frustrated by this because they had a bag they could have easily slipped that wrapper into. I picked it up and gave it back to the tourist, who naturally acted like they dropped it by accident (even though I watched them look around before dropping it). It is not that hard to slip those wrappers into a pocket, a bag, in your shoe….anything but on the ground. Taking a few more steps to ensure your rubbish gets into the proper receptacle is not as hard as you think…..as Nike says ‘JUST DO IT’!
Another video that truly impacted me was one man in India, who returned to his home to find the beach he loved filled with garbage. He knew he had to do something so he started knocking on doors and aims to be that change he wishes to see in the world. Take a look at the video & then I want to think about how much of a difference we could make if each of us committed to picking up 3 pieces of trash wherever we travel to. What about taking an extra garbage bag on a local hike in your hometown? We could all use a few more squats in our day, right?
Why am I showing you all these videos? A picture is worth a thousand words (or so they say), but I feel that videos are the way to make an impact that can create change. What is better than a video? Visiting a place like the Washed Ashore Gallery in Bandon Oregon (several displays are located throughout the United States, see the Washed Ashore Exhibit Locations for more information) can both teach our generation and the generations below us how to protect our earth and save our oceans.
Traveling can be an exotic thing full to the brim with activities that will make your friends envy your life & maybe even despise you a little. The more I travel the more I realize that I want to make a difference in the world, no matter how small it is. Ecotourism and Volunteering for cleanups and service can help connect our communities, open minds and hearts, and help start the change we wish to see in the world.
Supporting Companies with good causes:
Save the Baby Turtles!
A Blogger friend of mine in Fort Lauderdale Florida was able to participate in the nighttime protection of hatching baby turtles. These baby turtles get confused by the city lights and instead of going into the ocean (following the moon), they follow the city lights. This leads them to be run over or crushed by bikes, cars or fall into holes they cannot get out of. What these volunteers do is once the baby turtles hit their 10-foot periphery line, they gather them up in a bucket and take all the confused little fellas to the ocean where they set them free. They also move beach chairs and sandcastles to allow for the mothers to come to the beach easier and lay their eggs. Check out her post on Saving Baby Sea Turtles and how you can help or participate!
Soul Flower Clothing Company
As soon as I found this clothing company, I know I had found my tribe. Just look at their tagline:
Soul Flower is a natural clothing brand for kind souls and free spirits. Mindfully made with natural fibers and heartfelt art, we design our threads with kind vibes from start to finish. We seek inspiration in the simplicity of everyday life – in nature and in music, in free-spirited adventures and in like-minded souls. We create clothing in a way that supports our planet, spreads a positive message, and most importantly — helps you express yourself.”
To all my big headed ladies out there (I’m talking literal, not egotistical) – this is the place you should get your headbands! Every time I wear these headbands I feel a little better about myself, I read the inspirational message printed on it and cannot help but feel inspired to finish out the day with a bang! Plus, let’s be honest, sometimes a girl just needs a headband to decrease the stress of doin’ da hur….ya feel me? To get your headband:
The other items I have personally tried and fallen in love with so far are the yoga pants and shirts. If I’m being honest, I wear the pants EVERYWHERE! Not just because the pants are comfortable, but because they have the most adorable prints on them that inspire me to continue to be Eco-friendly in my day to day life & inspire me to live a simpler life to help have less of an impact on the environment. I wore the shirt for two days in a row people! I know that’s gross but it has been so hot over here, and it is so light, airy and cute with the little leaves on it… I couldn’t resist
Personal Note: It is sooooo hard to find cute and comfortable clothing as a curvy woman — so to find a company that caters to my desire to be eco-friendly and embraces those of all shapes and sizes really just gives me warm fuzzies and I want to shout out from the rooftops how much I appreciate and love them for this.
You don’t just have to participate in environmentally friendly activities at destinations you visit. You can start being environmentally friendly to companies just like Soul Flower. Check out Soul Flower Summer Specials today!
Other Ways to be a Responsible Tourist:
Be Respectful of Religions and Cultures:
Look at local customs and rules when entering churches across the world. Do not make derogatory jokes or compare those within the country to something you deem as ‘more sensible’ or ‘better practices’. Do not impose your beliefs on those within the country unless prompted to. Respect the cultural idiosyncrasies of what is considered ‘normal’ for that country.
The bottom line is, just because something, someone, or a country as a whole does something different than what you know to be normal — doesn’t mean that it is wrong. There are some exceptions where it endangers basic human rights, practices, or harms/mutilates any animal or human being (obviously). Even if you do see something wrong, intervening as a tourist could land you in jail – be careful, be cautious and if you have a concern about the country/destination use a guide that you can ask questions about what is appropriate or if you can do something/intervene without landing yourself in jail.
Be Respectful of Shop Owners Overseas:
Do not take photos of products, items, or anything in different countries that could affect their livelihood. Do not get offended if they ask you not to take photos, there is a reason! Unnamed countries citizens will visit these economically struggling countries and take photos of their products and produce them at a fraction of the cost, but they are not authentic products.
Moroccans, for example, rely on their skill and artistry of furniture, clothing, architecture, woodworking to profit from their craft and provide for their families. How many times have you visited a country and thought, ‘Oh I can get that back in my own country, I don’t need to buy it here’. This is why it is so important….so many countries rely on tourism and the money it brings in to put food on the table. So please….before you take a photo in a store, ASK the owner if it is ok.
Be Aware and Educate Yourself on Regional Issues:
Human trafficking, terrorism, and so many more unsavory things happen in this world. I have too much of a tender heart to focus in on the negative all the time, so rarely listen to the news – but I do search for those individuals who have the capacity to handle situations such as this. I support them, I share their stories and donate when I’m able to.
It is important to be sensitive to cultural and religious practices (as part of Responsible Tourism) that help to positively define a culture, but that never means we should tolerate those who continually violate the basic human rights of food, safety, and shelter.
With having experienced Rape and sexual assault myself, the topic of sex trafficking is a very passionate topic for me. Operation Underground Railroad is a team of individuals of highly specialized individuals who have years of experience in special forces, law enforcement working proactively since 2013 with local governments that I wholeheartedly support. This is a video that had me in tears for how grateful I was to the men & women who do this. Please support them in whatever way that you can…. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c_CgQcNkUlw&feature=youtu.be If you would like to Donate to O.U.R. please feel free to do so, if you are unable to donate, then try and Volunteer for O.U.R. to help aid in their efforts.
Small changes can make a big difference:
Wear environmentally friendly products:
Keep any soap while camping at any location away from runoff areas (at least 100 feet).
Bury or pack out your human waste. Look at the requirements for each camping spot you visit for their rules and regulations.
Wear environmentally and Ocean friendly sunscreen as this often washes off the ocean, causing damage to coral and marine life.
Bringing your own straws, skip the straw at Starbucks. If this doesn’t make sense, please keep watching the video of the Turtle above until it does.
Get a recycling bin or start a recycling group in your neighborhood. (More information below on recycling that could be available in your country).
Make a list of low-cost companies that produce Biodegradable Products and keep a list. Hand the list out to anyone who uses straws, show they alternatives. Don’t force it down their throat — educate with KINDNESS! Honey works better than vinegar when trying to entice people to change their daily habits or companies to change the status quo.
Utilize the Reusable Grocery Bags:
This is such a simple change that we can all do (especially those of us in the States). In most other countries they are charging for the plastic bags, yet when we implement it here to try and help support the environment….everyone loses their minds! They tried to do this when I lived in Texas and I would stand there and see with my own eyes, these grocery baggers get verbally assaulted for doing their job and charging for the plastic bags. Come on people…..be better than that……do better than that…….realize that this isn’t just about YOU and YOUR needs, but for the betterment of humanity and animals. If you still aren’t convinced that plastic bags are a big deal, watch this video of the whale found dead with hundreds of pounds of plastic bags in its stomach. If that doesn’t convince you, well…..I don’t know how to help you become a better human being.
I need some advice myself on this one….grrrhhh….. I have all the reusable bags I can handle. I start daydreaming on the way to the grocery store, then out of habit, forget to take the reusable grocery bags I brought off the garage wall where I put them so I wouldn’t forget them. If you have some advice on how to remember these things…..let a girl know in the comments below.
A Call to Action for Responsible Tourism:
Here is a great resource if you would like to participate in Ecotourism on your next trip: Ecotourism.org
Straws:The Last Plastic Straw is a great website for a list of all the different types of straws, where to get them and how they are better than the plastic straws. There is also a site completely dedicated to Living a life without plastic, this is where I get my reusable metal straws (bamboo and glass is also available).
Home, Pets, Cleaning supplies and more:Life Without Plastic gives you so many bamboo or steel options that can replace many of the household items that have or contain plastic. Gift certificates, gift registry, and points program are also available on this site to help you invite friends to the #noplastic movement.
Recycling throughout the world: Recycling in the States (contact your city councils to arrange this), Recycling in Australia, Recycling in Canada, Curbside Recycling available in New Zealand please check your local city councils, Recycling is also available in the United Kingdom for each household (mandatory supply of bins from government), Spain also has recycling available in some areas, and the Netherlands actually pays you to bring in your recyclable materials (typically at grocery stores).
IF YOU HAVE RECYCLING IN YOUR COUNTRY AND IT IS NOT LISTED HERE, PLEASE LIST THE RESOURCE OR WHO TO CONTACT BELOW 🙂
A Must Read Plastic Free Blogger: If you are like me and feel a little overwhelmed by how many things in your home contain plastic, visit Beth Terry: My Plastic Free Life Blogger. She will teach you, take you step by step through the process and show you how to live a plastic-free life.
Worldwide Plastic Pollution Coalition – Now NO ONE has an excuse to not participate in reducing their plastic use. This is a global alliance of individuals, organizations and businesses working together to stop plastic pollution.
How To Tour Responsibly:
We have such a duty to protect creatures who outlived the dinosaurs, are essential to our planet’s ecosystem – the Sea Turtles. We don’t have to start being Eco-friendly or participate in Responsible Tourism practices only when we are traveling. Get involved in the activities now, one goal or plastic straw at a time.
Be respectful of religions, people, cultures, and races as long as they do not infringe on basic human rights to live life peacefully, safely without fear of bodily harm and can provide for basic human needs of shelter, food, and water.
Get involved in volunteer programs locally where you can help end human trafficking, gang violence, opioid epidemics, and so much more. There seems to be an Instagram hashtag or Facebook group for everything these days. If you have any suggestions for local groups you are passionate about, please let it in the comments below with a link to their site. Teach those around you, share the information on your social media platforms….it just takes one rock in a pond to start a ripple that turns into a wave. Be that change you wish to see in the world.
How do you like to contribute to Responsible Tourism?
What is the most important thing to you regarding Responsible Tourism?
The History of the Berber People The Berbers have been in North Africa since at least 3000 BC according to scholars. Morocco is made up with the majority of Berbers, 10.4 million (40%) of the population. These can be divided into three main groups with different dilects: the Riffians, the Chleuh and Central Moroccan Amazigh; 2/3 of the Berber people actually live in rural and mountainous areas, most being farmers. Traditionally, Berbers raise sheep, cattle and goats; some work in flourmills, do woodcarving, quarry millstones, and make pottery or jewelry. Women generally do the cooking and caring for the home and children, weaving, and pottery. Today many Berber people work in Spain or France as migrant workers and send money home to their families.
Family and Culture of the Berber People
A traditional word used in the Berber language is ‘Fard’, a word which literally means “The individual is nothing without the tribe”. The immediate family comes first and they are the most important thing to these wonderful people. Most of the time family members live together and most stay close to home, women children and extended family actually end up working together closely in their own homes.
If you ever visit one of these families, be prepared to eat more food than you will ever want to eat your life (ie/bring a walker because your belly will be so full it will become difficult to walk afterward). The Moroccan culture, and especially the Berber people hold their guests in very high esteem, hospitality here is taken VERY seriously.
If you look into some of the religious beliefs of the Berber people, interestingly they actually believe in a spiritual dimension, or ‘Baraka’ or the positive power of the saints. It is a major source of what has inspired most artisans in Morocco and often is what helps to create the traditional designs of the Berber people.
Baraka can infuse itself into all things, at different levels, such as jewelry, talismans, ceramics, textiles; it can also be in artistic vocabulary (like song & dance), suffuse itself in plants like henna and oleander, sandalwood, saffron, and myrrh. So what is Baraka exactly and why is it so prominent in this culture? Baraka traditionally thought and used to deal with the darker forces of life, curing illnesses and protecting oneself against the evil jnoun (spirits) and the evil eye.
For example, I say an adorable little boy on the street in Marrakech, and told the mother ‘oh he is sooooo cute’ and smiled and motioned that I wanted to pinch his cheeks. The guide I was with told me to say Baraka, which would deter the evil eye, because it is very common for mothers to be superstitious that you will jinx their children by doing this — so saying this word can avoid the curse of the evil eye. Another example is of a Berber woman dancing in Jamma el-fna with a certain colored scarve over her head to get rid of a certain demon or bad spirit that could be plaguing her life. (See video above)
Symbols of the Berber People
The Berber people commonly wear different symbols and say different words to help protect them from the evil eye. Berber women commonly would wear tattoos, jewelry and henna with different patterns to help protect themselves; now with many converted to Islam where tattoos are forbidden, they weave the symbols into the textiles, jewelry and henna even to this day. So if you see the designs of henna drawn on the hands and the feet of a bride, this is something that is both protecting and nurturing for the marriage that has been used and evolved throughout the centuries of use.
If you see photos of the Amazigh women/Berber women, you may find some with the tattoos I previously mentioned. These tattoos were traditionally placed by the family on the face as a sort of rite of passage (usually around the time of her menstrual cycle) signifying her transition into womanhood.
This would typically happen in groups, with several girls being tattooed at once, making it a very social activity. Now that Islam is so prominent, you typically do not see tattoos on the faces of any Berber woman under the age of 30.
There is actually a museum in Marrakech called, ‘The Tiskiwin Museum’ – where you can see some of the preserved arts of the Saharan people, and Berber people of Morocco. There is also a book to help you see what the different designs of the Berber people actually mean by -Cynthia Becker Phd called ‘Amazigh Arts in Morocco + Women Shaping the Berber Identity’, such as circular motifs in pink and red, colors categorized as light, resembling the sunlight, are embroidered over other motifs. They hover like the sun above the other designs, creating a composition that resembles the natural world and its plentifulness, connecting women to fertility.
Traditional Berber carpets contain distinctive patterns and colors and are woven from sheep wool or camel hair.
The materials are hand washed and naturally dyed from saffron yellow to wild mint green and from pomegranate and henna. These carpets are known for their strong geometric designs, and have been dated as far back as the Marinid era (Berber dynasty). Carpets in the middle Atlas generally have a traditional diamond grid. Even the wool itself is thought to have a protective power.
Berber weaving is highly dependent on the female culture, and is passed down traditionally within the home. The young learn from the old, and are expected to learn all the different ways to weave & loop, and the different patterns, color ranges, and symbols. Historically women wove carpets for their families, and the men traditionally produced carpets that were more specialized as professional master weavers. Each tribe has a signature pattern and commonly tells a story, revealing acts of ceremony, or designs that related to fertility and protection.
The Music of the Berber People
You may hear Chaabi Music while you are in Morocco, and this is actually a common folk or ‘pop’ music that is very common at celebrations and markets. Typically an instrument known as a gimbri (sinter or hajhuj) a guitar with three strings and 4 chords typically played. The gimbri has a low bas like tone, and was borrowed from the popular Gnawa traditional music that is typically known as mystical and used in healing rituals commonly.
Gnawa music was brought up from Sub-Sahara African areas and is common in Morocco amongst the Berber people, especially in Southern Morocco. Other instruments used are the Lira (a flute made of bamboo),
a Bendir (a drum played with the fingers) which has a snare stretched across the back that produces a buzzing sound when played,
a Darbouka (single head drum held under one arm),
and the Qraqeb (or karkabas)– this is a set of Metallic castanets or a type of symbol, originating from when the slaves would clang their chains together to make music & now has been adopted into traditional Gnawa music.
Overall I find the Berber people to be kind, intelligent, family oriented, hospitable, positive, vibrant people full of life that I think most of the Western World has forgotten how to live. So if you have the privilege to meet someone who is Berber, ask them of their heritage and be sure to visit them on a Friday when the family gets together for some Couscous 😉
As Always….Happy Travels, Happy Tales and See you on the Flip Side.
Kinderdijk Windmills, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is situated in the Alblasserwaard dry land between the juncture of the Lek and Noord River. This peaceful fast-moving Waterland was the perfect place for creating the first clean energy machines. Built to drain water from these low lying lands that would often flood when tides came in too strong. During the middle ages, this land would frequently flood.
The Deadly Flood of 1421 In the Netherlands:
Many people migrated into this area due to the fertile lands, and the fast-growing trade city. It was November of 1421 when anywhere from 2,000 to 10,000 people died in one of the worst floods in world history. A combination of a storm, strong tidal surge, with a harsh Northernly wind – pushed the water upriver causing the dikes to break.
It took several days to be able to get help into the area due to the severity of the flooding. When help did arrive, there were men, women, children, animals and all sorts of debri floating in the waters of this ancient city. If you visit the Rijksmuseum you will find a fantastic art piece depicting the deadly scene.
With trade and the East India Company on the rise, the Dutch did what they do best….invented the Windmill. These massive engineering wonders were utilized to pump water from the low lying fields to the higher ground allowing it to drain back into the ocean.
How they work:
Wind hydraulics, power these clean energy plants keeping their caretakers on their toes. They were required to man the sails, run the mills when the wind blew….which could be any time of day or night. Imagine if your work schedule would rely on the wind. It gives a whole new meaning to ‘where ever the wind blows’. If you visit one of the mills, be sure to ask a staff member of a tour of the place.
Here you will see all the inner workings of how the Dutch keep dry by utilizing: polders, high and low-lying drainage and transport channels for superfluous polder water, embankments and dikes, 19 drainage mills, 3 pumping stations, 2 discharge sluices and 2 Water Board Assembly Houses..and small boats to ferry between it all to say hello to the neighbors.
An Abandoned Masterpiece:
In the 1950’s they fell into disrepair as steam started to replace the wind energy. Then the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science who provided 2.5 million Euros to help restore and repair 11 of the 19 windmills in 2008.
It costs about $15,000 per year to maintain these windmills, and those who live in them have committed to doing this. Each Kinderdijk Windmill resident has to pass a rigorous exam on weather patterns and specific windmill engineering.
Don’t miss out on this:
Be sure to visit the Mill Museums, where one of the mills still holds the unique furniture and belongings of one of the families that occupied it.
If you take the Ferry between the Mills, the cute volunteers will let you know when they will be coming back to pick you up. I really think these cute old guys just like driving the boat back and forth and meeting all the different visitors. While on the Ferry, if you look down the largest canal you may spot a baby basket.
The legend is, that when the flood back in the 17th century happened, the people went to look for survivors. What they found was a large baby basket with a cat running back and forth on the top keeping it stable. (Insert Awwweee!) After the baby was found inside the basket, and the cat saved from an unwanted bath – the area was named Kinderdijk…. it means ‘children’s dike’
The Oldest City in the Netherlands:
Dordrecht is nearby and a must see if you love imagining how people use to live. You can see the city and how old it is with houses tilting sideways. Very few tourists here with some of the loveliest scenes. My camera was hungry to fill it’s SD card to save and cherish these images.
Entrance fees, costs, and other tidbits:
Be careful where you buy your ticket and make sure it is from a reputable site. I made the mistake of going for a cheaper option, and then when I arrived at the museums, it was counterfeit off the internet.
Getting to the Kinderdijk Windmills:
The trip here is not too daunting, and only a one hour 16 min train and bus ride. This is starting from Amsterdam Centraal Train Station to the quaint bus stop in the little town of Kinderdijk right between Dordrecht and Rotterdam.
This trip will cost you roughly $14 American Dollars unless you get an EURail pass, then you will just need to pay for the bus ride from the train station to Dordrecht. For specific times and ways to get to Kinderdijk, visit Rome2Rio.com and enter your location.
Being of Dutch Heritage myself, knowing my Great Grandfather helped build the first Flour Mill in Utah, gave me so much pride seeing these Windmills. I love supporting anything that can provide clean energy and protect our air and oceans. Having the UNESCO Heritage Foundation name Kinderdijk a place worth preserving is reason enough to visit.
Don’t forget to take the Ferry to each of the informative and detailed Mill Museums. If I were to choose between Zannse Schans and Kinderdijk, I would likely choose Kinderdijk. The reason behind this is you get to see the Windmills as they were meant to be used, and not just as a tourist trap to take pretty pictures. So if you have an extra hour to take a bus/train ride to Kinderdijk, I would highly suggest it.
Who are the Jordanian People? I was able to interview a Jordanian friend of mine Mohammad and ask him some very poignant questions about what it is to be Muslim and Jordanian, how to tour Jordan, scams to be aware of and customs that are very unique in their society.
Me:How to the people in Jordan identify themselves? Kind, stoic, helpful, funny, laid back?
Mohammad: Jordanians are known for hospitality. If you are my guest, I should give you food and sometimes a place to stay for free. Hospitality is like you are my guest. Like I should serve you some food.
Me: How would the people describe where they are geographically in relation to the surrounding countries?
Mohammad: Jordan is next to Palestine or what you know as Jerusalem. It is middle east. The common and well-known thing about Jordan is its safety.
Me:Do you feel that your culture and traditions have changed in any way in the last 10 years?
Mohammad: Yes, back in the day. If you came like a guest, you have to stay at least 3 days, with me providing your stay and food. Now it is a – you can be my guest for one day or a few hours, but it is only because of the financial situation there. It is considered a big shame if you cannot provide for your guest everything that they need and want.
The Right Way to Tour Jordan:
Me: How can we as tourists and visitors help to maintain your culture?
Mohammad: Since you are foreigners, and they don’t know about anything, you should just ask someone & they will explain. Jordanians can talk for hours. Most of them don’t have anything to do, so they like talking.
Me: What are some Festivals that you think are worthwhile for people to visit in Jordan while touring?
Mohammad: Jerash festival – it is Arabic singers and dancing, but you won’t understand anything. We also have the royal car museum in Amman. This is the King’s collection of all kinds of rare and classic race cars. You could come during Ramadan, but most people will be with their families and the shops are all closed during the day.
Me:What about towns that are not well known?
Mohammad:If you go to Irbid, my hometown. My hometown is in the genius book of world records for the town for the littlest villages & quantity of villages – compared to the rest of the world. There are 497 villages in Irbid. The reason is that it is a countryside.
Me: What are the biggest tourist traps you have noticed here?
Mohammad: The tourists get charged waaaayyy more than it costs. Like a taxi costs $2-3 max, but they will charge you $200-$300 for the ride.
Me: If I were to move to Jordan how would you suggest I assimilate to this culture? Are there facebook/Instagram or other internet apps/groups that I could use to integrate myself?
Mohammad:People are nosy, they will be your friend without you trying. They come and ask you all sorts of questions. This is by default, they treat you like family
Me:What is the Language spoken here?
Mohammad: Arabic and some people speak a little English, but everyone is educated. About 80% of Jordan speaks English.
Me: Can you give me some useful words all tourists or those recently moved here should know?
La = is no
Nam = yes
Assalam Alaikum = Means greetings
Me: What is the best mode of transportation here?
Mohammad: Buses, taxis, or you can rent a car if you are coming as a tourist or if you are a local.
Me: How do you cross the street?
Mohammad: You have to worry about cars, because they will run over your @##.
Me:What would you pay for a cab from the airport to the city centre?
Me: Best places to get Coffee, Breakfast, or Nightcap? Mohammad:
Coffee- At home.
Breakfast- Commonly people don’t eat much in restaurants, everyone makes their own food every day. Most of the time you eat with the family at home. If you are coming as a tourist, then you eat Schwarma or Falafal Sandwich.
Nightcap (can you buy alcohol from a store?) Yes
Me:What is your favorite local hangout?
Mohammad: Café’s, smoking Hookah, Playstation, Pool for the men. The women go and smoke Hookah together, they visit each other and go to the mall and go to the mall and eat something.
Me:How do you order?
Mohammad:You have the menu in Arabic and English in most cases. The waiter will come to you and you ask for an English menu, it is the same system as here.
Me:How do you tip?
Mohammad: They do not usually tip waiters, but if you want to do it, then 5 Jordanian Dinars is good.
Me: How do you know if service was good?
Mohammad: If he coming and asking if you are ok and keeps checking on you all the time.
Me: Do they typically charge for water or a table?
Mohammad: Yeah, they usually have a bottle of water. They tell you it is free, but they will charge you 1 JD and might even try and charge you for 5 JD. You can ask them about it if you want and see if they will take it off.
Me:If I had a food allergy, are they helpful in telling me about how to order and would they be willing to take it out of my meal?
Mohammad:No, they won’t cook it special for you. Unless you are ordering a sandwich. Most of the food is already cooked and is like a buffet.
Me: What are the Best Hidden gems of Jordan?
Mohammad: Villages and the countryside, go to Irbid, Irbid will always be the best place for me. Everything is green there. Jerash is a good place to go, Ajloun Castle is really nice too.
Me: What are the best historical places to visit in Jordan?
Mohammad: Most tourists go to Petra, Aqaba, and Amman and then they leave. Me: What are the most romantic places to visit?
Mohammad: You can go to a Café or a Park and hang out.
Me:What is nightlife like in Jordan?
Mohammad: Most people go buy Schwarma and eat in the car on the side of the street. You have nice clubs in Amman in hotels, there are even strip clubs there. I don’t know of any places to go dancing.
Me: What are the best places for outdoor adventures and hiking?
Mohammad: They do activities, there are adventure companies that can take you on those things. Most of the time I was working so I don’t know.
Traveler Tip: There are loads of camping spots, rock climbing, and other places to go in both Wadi Rum and near Petra. Please email me at email@example.com and I can provide you with some contacts in Jordan that I trust and are reputable.
Me:How to get help should you get in trouble/hurt?
Mohammad: Call 911, same as in the USA
Me: What are a few things you would like to tell anyone who visits Jordan?
Mohammad: It is beautiful, what the f#%* (insert laugh). There is a company, like, Jordan tourism board you know. They have a website visitJordan.com, you have everything you need to know right there. The few places I have heard are really nice are hiking in Mujib preserve area, go to the hot springs, the pink desert, Madaba is the Christian treasure, Mt Nebo and things like this.
Me: Would I be safe traveling as a single woman there?
Mohammad: You might not be single for long if you were over there, but if you covered up properly, you would be safe for sure.
Education Systems in Jordan:
Me: What are the school systems like here?
Mohammad: Elementary we have grades, after KG-1 KG-2, you have the grades when you are 6 years old you go to the real school which is the 1st grade. It is the 1st to the 10th grade. After that, you graduate and go to the next school, High school which is 2 years. After the second year, you have a comprehensive exam which is called the General Secondary Education Certificate Examination. This is after you finish the two years of High School and 10 years of school. Only those who pass the exam with good marks can proceed to a University. We have different majors like if you want to be an engineer or a doctor and you must pass that certificate. My certificate was in Information Technology. If you want to be a doctor, you must pass the Scientific Stream with a score of 95%. That is why the doctors in Jordan are Bad Ass!
Me: Does it cost anything to go to lower level schooling?
Mohammad:No, you just need your birth certificate and your ID. You have to pass each grade otherwise you have to stay in the same grade until you pass it. If your friends pass it, then you have to stay in that grade while your friends move forward. Most likely if you are in Elementry school you will pass through.
The Families of Jordan:
Me:How is the family unit work here?
Mohammad: The Family is a father a mother and children. The family is different. Everyone is family in the city and they visit each other daily if you miss a day your mom will call you. If she calls and you don’t answer she thinks you are dead. (Insert Laugh). Back in the day, they use to have 14-15 kids but now they just have 5-6 because of the financial situation. There are still some like this that can have 27 kids, sometimes it’s the same wife sometimes not.
Me:You can have more than one wife right?
Mohammad: Yeah, you can have up to 4 wives according to Islam. This is a solution for us because of too many single ladies. But the man has to have good health and a good financial situation.
Me:How common is it for someone to have more than one wife?
Mohammad: Now it is only 10-15%, because of the financial situation you know. No money, No honey.
Me: Who wears the pants in the family?
Mohammad: The father, if he is dead then the mother, if neither of them then it is the uncle, then if not then it is the grandpa, if not then the oldest son. For guys and girls, we stay with our parents until we get married, it does not matter how old you are.
Me: Where do the elderly go when they can no longer walk? Who takes care of them?
Mohammad: They stay in the home and EVERY PERSON in the family helps take care of them.
Me: What is the view on feminism, gay, or minorities here? Are they treated equally or do you notice a societal difference in how they are treated?
Mohammad: The transsexual and gay people? It is totally unacceptable, they kick you out and ask you to go back home. They will likely start harassing you and making fun of you. If you want to be a girl and you are the guy then do it by yourself. If you drink then go and hide.
Me: Is having children common here?
Mohammad: If you are married you should have kids. If you don’t and you are a man, then people start asking if something is wrong with you or wrong with your *$%*. If it is the girl that can’t have kids then he can go get another wife, but he will not divorce her unless she asks for it, then she can go do what she needs to.
Me: Do people get maternity leave? How long is it?
Mohammad: Oh yeah, if you are a school teacher, and you are pregnant and give birth then you get 3 months paid vacation.
Me: How many days off a year to people here get?
Mohammad: In the government, they work 5 days and 2 days off. You can take up to 1 month of vacation. You can take 2-3-5 years of vacation unpaid if you want.
Me: Is it common to have one night stands?
Mohammad: No, the man who does that will probably get killed by the girls family. (Laughs)
Me: Are people faithful in general faithful to their spouses?
Mohammad:Well if they have a Sharmuta they will, but no, they are faithful.
Me: Do people commonly show affection for their wife other in public spaces here?
Mohammad: Yes you can, but you aren’t supposed to. It just isn’t a good thing.
Marriage Customs in Jordan:
Me: What age do people here get married?
Mohammad:Until he is done with the University, so usually 25-26, but even then it is only if you have money. So now, due to the financial situation, they are getting married around 30.
Me:Are there customs associated with marriage you would like to share?
Wear clean good clothes, the guy wears a tuxedo and the girl wears a nice dress. But for those coming for the wedding, you just wear the best you have. You can’t wear shorts though.
If you are interested in a girl, you go and ask the father for her phone number, or whoever is in charge. You must ask her are you single or married. Tell her you would like her phone number. If she says that is ok, then you start spying on her. You ask about her family, who her Parents, her family, her Uncles, and everyone in her family. If you think the family is good, and you like the girl. Then you ask your Dad, and he calls her Dad. Your Dad says “Hey, we are part of this village, we would like to come and drink coffee with you”. The girls Dad says, sure and must say, “You are welcome”. Then the guy must dress good and goes over with his parents. Then they introduce themselves to the girl’s family. The father of the guy should do the talking, the guy shouldn’t do the talking unless he is asked to. This is a tradition to be respectful and listen to the man in charge or try to talk over with him. Then my father says, “We are interested in my son’s hand to your girl’s hand. It is an honor for us to be a part of your family. Here is our phone number, I’m going to call you next week about this. No matter what happens we are still friends”.
When you leave, now this one week gives this time for the family to do an investigation into the man. The main answer will come from the girl. No one can force you or convince you to marry him, it will be up to you. So your family comes back and tells you all the information. Then it is up to the girl if she wants to marry you or not.
If the girl agrees, then her father calls and says come over for coffee. Then I bring my sisters over and then we all talk for real.
Then the girls family starts saying, (for example) “We want a car, we want a house, we want $4,000 gold for the girl”.
Then my family says, “Oh that is too much, we don’t have that, help us out”
Then once conditions are reached and agreed. Then the guy has to set up a blood test to see if our genetics will cause diseases or not (genealogy is too close). If it is not a good result then the family says, “No you can’t marry or you will f*&% the whole family”
If the answer is good, then we do an engagement party. Then they have a party with her friends throw a party for her as a goodbye party.
The wedding is the biggest event. You can go to the house, the tent in front of the house. At the wedding the dance what is called the Dabka. Back in the day they use to shoot guns, and now the laws are changed, and you can’t do that in public. When they are done with the wedding, they drive their cars to the guy’s house. Then they might shoot a couple of AK-47’s and then go inside and lock the house…..Then you know what is going to happen….hehehehe.
Me:Is it common to live together prior to getting married?
Mohammad: No, you aren’t supposed to touch her, kiss her or even hang out with you. If we are engaged, the most I can do is take you out with your brother or sister with you. You can’t be alone. Once the wedding happens, yeah, you can go do whatever.
Me: What is the classic place that people get married here? Why is that culturally significant for the people here?
Mohammad: They get married in a special wedding place, it is a big hall and a lot of people will be there. There will be 500-600 people coming at the very least.
The Politics and Military of Jordan:
Me: What are the common stereotypes that are encountered in Jordan?
Mohammad: Jordanians they say everyone else has a better life than us, lol.
Me: What do they think about Americans?
Mohammad: They think they are smart people and the USA supports their country, and they want to let them know that they are funny, not terrorists, peaceful and very hospitable. They are also very generous with what they have. They also think that if they marry a foreigner then they can get out of the financial situation. They think that people overseas will appreciate the family orientation of Jordanians.
Me: How are refugee’s viewed here and why? What are the major benefits of them being here? What are the major drawbacks?
Mohammad: Refugee’s are welcome anytime anywhere in Jordan. It is a safe place so anyone can come in. They need to live and get jobs, but there are no jobs, not even for Jordanians. This is the thing that killed the financial situation in Jordan.
Me:What are two of the major Political conversations going on right now?
Mohammad: It is all about how high prices are going up.
Me: What are the political parties here?
Mohammad: No, we have a king, we don’t vote for him.
Me: Can you vote and how would you vote?
Mohammad: We vote for representatives that make up the Senate.
Me: Are the citizens allowed to do demonstrations? Who are the people/ages of those that typically do this?
Mohammad:They do all the time, they go burn tires and f*&% up the streets. Usually, it is when the government raises the price of a product and they go and do this.
Me:Is it dangerous for tourists to be a part of these or taking photos of these demonstrations?
Mohammad:No, not at all. It is a peaceful demonstration. (Me: doesn’t sound peaceful..) – That is Arab style, but it is peaceful.
Me: What are the Police and the Military system like here? Do you have confidence that they would protect its citizens in the event of a terrorist attack?
Mohammad: Oh yeah. Well if the terrorist attacks, the local people will defend. The citizens actually have more guns than the police do. They want to help the military, it is not Arab style to just sit and do nothing. Remember in Kerak, there was a problem and the local people had it taken care of before the police even arrived.
Healthcare in Jordan:
Me: How is Healthcare there?
Mohammad:Everyone has Health insurance. You have hospitals and clinics all over the villages, towns, it is everywhere.
Me: If you were sick, how much would it cost you to be treated?
Mohammad: Almost for free.
Me: What could someone expect a local to say if it is not common?
Mohammad: If you are a tourist, they will stare like crazy at you, and say it is ok for your culture.
Me: Is there a class system here?
Mohammad: We have 2 classes, rich and poor, that’s it. If you are rich you generally end up staying rich and your family does too. If you are poor you end up staying poor.
Me: How many languages does the typical Jordanian Person speak?
Mohammad: One, Arabic
Me: What type of calendar system do you use?
Mohammad:Same as the USA
Me:Do you have daylight savings?
Religion in Jordan:
Me: Major Religions here? How has that changed over the years?
Mohammad: Islam has been in Jordan forever. We have a lot of Christian people in Jordan. We are a family. Most of my best friends are Christian in Jordan.
Me: Are people generally open to talking about religion or do they just not want to hear anything about it?
Mohammad: Yeah, people in Islam have converted to Christianity, and visa versa & each time they end up getting killed by their families.
Me:How devoted are people here to their religion?
Mohammad:They f#%* around. Most people who drink and smoke and f#%* around are Muslim.
Me: What are the biggest misconceptions people have about Jordanian?
Mohammad: They are serious people who don’t like to laugh, but they are really funny people.
Me: What are your favorite memories in this city?
Mohammad: I dunno, I was born and raised there so everything is exciting for me.
Me:How do you say Thank you in Arabic?
Me: Well then, Shukran Mohammad and thank you for the entertaining interview. I have known you for quite some time now, and I have to agree that Jordanians are both funny and infuriating at times.
Mohammad: That is Arab style, what can I tell you.
How many times has your Mom told you that you need to be careful? Well in this case she is right, Hiking in any terrain can be hazardous if you don’t have at least a basic knowledge of safety tips for hiking. Here are my own top 15 safety tips for hiking that I personally utilize when I go out on an adventure.
Tell Someone Where You Plan To Hike
Tell someone where you intend to go with a map of stops you plan to make and where you plan to park. Leave some dirty laundry for the dogs to sniff should you get lost. I know this sounds really silly, but living so close to the Wasatch Front Mountains in Utah, we hear about people being lost, falling off trails all the time. Despite avalanche warnings, the high river swells, and inclement weather – there is always the ONE person who doesn’t listen or thinks it does not apply to them.
Wear Bright Colors When Hiking
Wear bright colors so you can easily be spotted, for winter avoid light colors as it can blend in with the snow. Summertime wear a reflective vest. If you haven’t seen the movie 127 hours, you should. It takes place in Utah, and the guy made all the wrong choices when it came to safety. The only thing he had going for him was to cut off his arm after being pinned in a crevice.
Stay On the Trail and Set A ‘Turn Back Time’
Stay on the trail and set a time limit for your final destination or turn back spot. Even if you don’t make it to the final destination it is better to be safe rather than sorry! I get lost incredibly easy due to my inability to tell if I’m headed North or South etc… I always stay on a known trail that has a name and try to stick to the well worn or trampled trail as I know I will always be able to turn around and go back.
Bring Water and/or a Water Filtration System With You
Bring a Lifestraw or a camelback with the water you will need, a snack and an emergency blanket should you find yourself lost overnight. A flashlight can also serve as a beacon should a helicopter be flying overhead at night. I like to bring flashlights that are manually charged in addition to my headlamp. This way if your batteries on your headlamp were to go out, you could still manually charge the handheld flashlight.
Bring a First Aid Kit
Bring a small first aid kit complete with Band-Aids and a sling. The classic triangle sling or even a bandana can be used to create a tourniquet. This will account for the more serious injuries and small cuts or blisters. Band-Aids for the blisters and minor cuts, a snake venom kit should you be hiking in the bush or the desert. Check local hospitals if snake bites are common and where the nearest facility is with anti-venom. I know that in Utah, we have to be careful in the summertime when the snakes are more active. Do not bring your pets on trails that warn of snakes on the trail as this can make them more defensive and likely to attack. I also like to bring along my trusty Swiss Army Pocket Knife…..I always say, “You can never go wrong with a bandana, pocket knife, and duct tape”.
Wear Sun Protection
Wear Sunscreen, especially at higher elevations as Sunburns are often more likely to happen. I have seen skin cancer cases that have left my patients disfigured and debilitated, some even that have progressed to melanoma. So do yourself and your loved ones a favor, wear at least an SPF rating of 30 with a hat. If you have a bald head, don’t forget to cover that up & put sunscreen on your ears, neck, and chest. Wear sunglasses that have full coverage of UV rays.
Heat Stroke And Dehydration Precautions
Know what Heat Stroke and Dehydration look like, and what the best way to treat it in the wilderness is. Check weather patterns and never start a hike that looks like there will be lightening, when you are on the side of the mountain, you may as well put a target on your back that says, ‘hit here first’.
Wear Supportive Shoes
Wear shoes that are supportive and slightly above the ankle joint. I have seen so many broken ankles over the years, and not from just missing the curb. You can be hiking along, hit a rock in just the wrong way. Your balance can be thrown off, you try and catch yourself, and *SNAP*, 4-6 months on crutches. Depending on where you break your bone will determine if you need to have surgical intervention. So be careful people, as much as I like doing ORIF’s of the Ankle, it is miserable for the one getting it done to them.
Wear Proper Clothing
Moisture-wicking clothing and cotton clothing that is UV resistant. A good rule of thumb is that if you can see light through your clothing, so can the sun. Even in the Summer months, a fleece sweater stuffed in the bottom of your rucksack is a good rule of thumb. If someone was to sustain a bad fall and go into shock, having an extra layer around can save someone’s life.
Use Common Sense
Don’t take people up on dares of ‘Who can climb that shale 80% grade to the top of the mountain the fastest and not fall off the sheer cliff’. I feel this is more common sense than an actual safety tip. However, my six years in the operating room taught me one thing, common sense is not so common.
Have a Contingency Plan for if You Get Lost
If your situation is really dire, start making signs pointing to where you are with twigs or rocks along the trail. This way if someone is coming to look for you they have a way to track you down.
Remember that the Sun rises in the East and sets in the West. This can give you a little more direction.
If you find a river or a water source, it will typically lead to civilization. This is my personal observation because of how most of the towns we know today are centered around a water source. It may be difficult to follow the water source directly, but following the sound of the stream or river to the collection pools/lakes is also a good idea. This will also provide a large open area for people to more easily spot you.
Know Your Limitations
Know your physical limitations! When hiking with other people, I have had to teach myself to listen to my body and what it is telling me. Only the best hikers and climbers in the world can make it to the top. You have to listen to your body, pace yourself and enjoy the hike, you don’t have to sprint up the trail! STOP when you feel like you have run out of half of your energy stores.
Pack a Snack
Keep plenty of water and energy supplying snacks in your bag. Your body needs nourishment, not junk food. I always keep dried fruit in my bag along with some carrots. These do not need to be refrigerated, don’t get smashed in my bag and are lightweight. If you feel yourself start to get tired (I’m not talking muscle burn) snack on the energy supplies you brought. I always know when I need a snack because I suddenly feel like I need to lay down under the nearest tree and take a nap.
Make sure to check yourself and your dogs for ticks and any creatures that may want to hitch a ride home with you.
So there you have it! These are my Top 15 Safety Tips for Hiking. If all else fails, just remember that panicking never helped anyone. My Grandma always tells me that, “worrying is like sitting in a rocking chair, rocking back and forth all the time, but never really going anywhere”. Most of all, have fun and enjoy nature, but please don’t try to conquer it. Mother nature is both a beast and a beauty, she will always win and bites hard with a sure finality if you try and challenge her.
Do you have any tips on how to hike without GPS?
What about if your GPS fails in the middle of a hike?
Leave a comment below and let me know your thoughts!
Happy Travels, Happy Trails, and see you on the Flip Side 😉
Disclaimer: Please consult your Primary Care Physician before attempting any strenuous activity. Train properly for each trail you are attempting to hike. Check AllTrails.com for GPS coordinates, difficulty level for each trail and the conditions of the trail. If you are hiking in a national park, check with the local ranger station on trail conditions or warnings for the area.