Roamer Roamer BACKPACKERS MAGAZINE
ISSUE NO. 3
WITH AN ENVIRONMENTALLY CONCIOUS MIND
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CONTENT 03 SWIMMING FORESTS
08 A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A MARINE CONSERVATIONISTS
WELCOME WELCOME Let's roam the world consciously together! The Ocean. Serene and captivating. So full of life and yet vulnerable to exploitation. Parts still untouched and species undiscovered. Its vast ecosystem so precious and yet tainted by human exploration. According to WWF, 93% of all fisheries are overfished. "1.5 million tonnes of fish are caught every year, and 83% of tuna and swordfish catches are undersized", which completely disrupts not only their habitat but their life cycles.
12 MADIHA BEACH 18 7 WAYS TO LEAVE A POSITIVE IMPACT ON YOUR TRAVEL DESTINATIONS 22 JUAN DE FUCA TRAIL
25 THINGS I DO ON EVERY SOLO TRIP
More than 90% of coral reef is said to be dead by 2050, and that gloomy prospects is already going unnoticed by us. Bleaching of coral is happening right under our noses and marine life is under threat. Only 4% of the ocean is protected.Â Can you believe that? It hurts to accept that an area so large and vital to life on Earth is only just about getting protected. In this issue, we want to highlight the beauty of that underworld.
Let's dive in.
CONTRIBUTORS Hannah Knighton, Jess Buchan, Angela Maschio, Sophie van der Meulen, Jono Leonard, Jack and Becky
SWIMMING THROUGH FORESTS Part Two: Extract from Contrasting Landscapes.
We departed from where we were staying in Cape Town at dawn to traverse a new South African landscape. We were headed about 45 minutes south down the cape peninsula to Simon’s Town, where our snorkel safari was set to take place. The drive was nothing short of stunning, the landscape epitomized the image of where mountains meet the sea. We arrived with a good amount of free time before we were scheduled to meet our snorkel guide. We had no trouble killing the time on the beach, especially since this particular beach, known as Seaforth Beach, is home to a colony of endangered South African penguins. It was early, but Seaforth was already littered with people. Tori and I weaved our way past towels, umbrellas, and the beginning of sandcastles, venturing towards the far end of the beach where the colony sat on a large boulder, presumably sunbathing. They were behind a roped off section, no doubt for their own protection. As we were scoping out the penguin population, we also noticed a middle-aged man donning a bucket hat and carrying a sign, stopping occasionally to pick up trash along the beach. He came close to us, reaching the perimeters of the roped off area and planting the sign in the sand.
Thinking about the loss of preferred nesting sites, I was suddenly saddened by the number of tourist that filled the beach. I looked from the crowded beach to the quiet penguins who had hardly even moved in the time we’d been watching them. They seemed at peace with the reality of their circumstance, accepting of the intrusion of their beach. Terry shared some are surprised to see penguins on the beach, surprised they can even be found in South Africa. But it’s a fact, penguins can be found anywhere south of the equator. “Some people think the penguins are lost.” Terry said, “but this is their home.”
The sign warned against touching, feeding, or harassing the marine birds in any way. Earlier in the parking lot, we had even seen a sign to check under your car for penguins before pulling away. As selftitled conservationists and naturalists, we decided to greet him, mentioning that it was nice that someone was giving a voice to the birds. “What else are we supposed to do on this planet? We must be of use,” he said. Terry Corr introduced himself as the director of the Shark Warrior Adventure Centre. It turns out Terry is rather passionate about conservation, not just of the penguins but of marine species as a whole. Not only do the penguin colonies of South Africa face numerous natural predators, but they are also victims to habitat loss and perhaps more significantly, loss of preferred nesting sites. Other than Terry, there are organizations such as the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) that aid in chick rearing, rescue, rehabilitation, and education about these marine birds.
Before we knew it, it was time to meet for our excursion. Funny enough, Terry turned out to be the director of the center where we booked our snorkel tour. He greeted us again warmly as we entered the Shark Warrior Adventure Center, introducing us to Jon, who would be our snorkel guide that afternoon. Jon claimed the water would be cold, so we geared up, wearing form fitting wetsuits, booties, gloves, and fins. We were all set. Upon leaving the adventure center, the heat of the day immediately caused beads of sweat to prick at my skin. We were hoping to enter the cool water quickly and as experienced snorkelers we relayed to Jon that we felt comfortable without any refreshers before diving in. We followed him down to the beach, through sand dunes, and over a set of boulders to a more secluded portion of the beach. We waded our way into the water off the beach, and soon we were swimming through thick patches of kelp. Kelp forests tend to indicate the ecological health of an area, as they’re typically teaming with biodiversity. Jon informed us we should expect to see a range of invertebrates and fishes, and perhaps we’d encounter sharks or seals.
The water consumed my senses as my ears filled with the muted sound of the underwater world. Despite my mouth being plugged by the snorkel, I could still taste salt. Around me all I could see were the vast stretches of kelp. Some patches were so dense; it was difficult to see anything below. Jon had also warned us not to be spooked by a gully shark, as they favor swimming through the safety and seclusion of the kelp. We weren’t spooked by the sharks, but we did spot two of the gully sharks, also known as sharp toothed houndsharks, swimming low to the ground, navigating smoothly through a patches of kelp. Jon also informed us to keep an eye out for shy sharks too, a species of catshark that tends to cover its face with its tail when spotted.
Sharks fall into the taxonomic category known as elasmobranches, which classifies not only sharks, but stingrays. Swimming along closer to a rocky portion of the shoreline, we reached an area with a sandy bottom. Hardly distinguishable below a thin layer of sand was a giant Southern stingray, it’s wing span reaching around six feet. We moved delicately around the ray, careful not to spook it but awed by its sheer size and ability to hide so well. Jon shared that he had yet to spot a southern ray in his time working with the Shark Warrior Project; our second safari and the second time our guide told us we’d experienced something rare. It was as if the wildlife of South Africa was as open to us as we were to it.
As we made our way back to shore, I took pause, popping my head above water. I was happy to be greeted by penguins pondering on the boulders. The temperature of the air was so hot it seemed as if it lingered above the water. I took a final look at the reflective turquoise up against the mountainous backdrop, a final reminder of the cohesion and coexistence of the seemingly different scenery. In its entirety, the experience of being in Africa was humbling. As our plane left the continent behind in the distance, I was left feeling grateful for investing in myself through travel. The country left us in awe of its natural habitats and at the same time concerned over the threats this landscape faces. These species and ecosystems are attempting to take shape alongside a world that is developing and modernizing. While the experiences the country gave to Tori and I will leave a permanent mark on us, we hope we only left behind footprints in return.
Instagram is @hannahnicoleknighton Blog is www.hannahnknighton.com
"IT IS IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER THAT THIS WORLD, THIS LIFE, IS TRULY EXPANSIVE. THE HUMAN EXPERIENCE IS SO INCREDIBLY DIVERSE, AND THERE’S NO ONE WAY TO NAVIGATE THROUGH IT ALL. BUT IF YOU KEEP YOUR VALUES CLOSE, LIVING THIS LIFE AS AN EXAMPLE TO OTHERS, BEING KIND TO PEOPLE, THIS EARTH, AND YOURSELF, THAT’S ALL YOU REALLY NEED."
EDITOR'S LETTER Looking after our oceans should be a priority. Its vastness may seem too big for us to make an impact on, but we do. As only 4% of the ocean is protected, it's vital that we look after it completely. Just because we don't usually see the life in its waters, does not mean that life under the sea should go unnoticed. There's always small changes we can all take to make a difference. No matter how big or small, those changes count. Our actions always make an impact. These are some of the things you can do on your travels to maintain our oceans safe. Don't leave rubbish behind. If you see rubbish that isn't yours, pick it and make an example rather than ignore it. Refuse all plastic. Bring reusables instead. Don't disrupt nesting spots. If you see wildlife, see if from a distance. Use reef-safe suncream. Remember that it all counts. It is believed that by 2050 there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish. Let's not make that happen.
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A MARINE CONSERVATIONIST Being a seasonal Field Assistant for Wildlife Sense is the most rewarding thing we have ever done in our lives. For the two summers previous, I was a volunteer with Jack, spending a total of six weeks with the project. This year we are back to dedicate ourselves further to conservation efforts and learn more about marine ecology. I woke up to the excited murmur of phone calls and delegation so sprang out of bed joined the core team, when we got another phone call. The newest call was from a volunteer, stuck on the furthest beach with a flat tyre and ready to come home after a night of checking nests on hatchling rescue. With Jack, the main bike fixer and all-round handy man of the Field Assistants, as designated driver for the day he was dispatched to Avithos to swap the bike-patient with a healthy one. After that, he went back to the harbour to oversee the harbour shift, one that surveys adult turtle behaviours and watches out for any turtles caught in fishing lines or nets. The other excitement in the air, and slight anxiousness, was from two mass hatchings on Megali Amos last night, and a nest that was dipping from movement under the sand. To prevent hatchlings dying from being trampled, we do a partial nest inventory to make sure there are none stuck at the bottom and then help them to sea. I had a ten minute turnaround as I was notified Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d be leading at least one of the three inventories, so I shovelled down my cereal and hopped on a bike. The beach is only five minutes away, but thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s more than enough time for us to feel the rush of excitement. As we arrived, the knowledge that we had a huge responsibility made us roll back our shoulders and roll up our non-existent sleeves.
Mine went smoothly, with two volunteers to help our fifteen hatchlings make it safely to sea. My absolute favourite part of the job will always be seeing their miniature heads come above the surface of a wave to take their first breath. After bathing in the magic of our first inventory, we turned around to the other side of the beach and started walking towards the ongoing inventory. Wow. Volunteers were shading hatchlings from the increasingly harsh sun and beachgoers were either excitedly asking questions about how nests are laid or how turtles sleep or they were leaning in, ignoring personal space to get a great picture. We rushed over and filled in gaps, knowing our places and what needed doing.Â Twenty-one hatchlings had emerged and looked like they were racing each other, making their way through the man-made built trench designed to give them an advantage as they start their treacherous journeys. We grinned from ear to ear while watching them start the biggest adventure of their lives, following their instincts, wakening the ocean with a unique energy. However, one turtle struggled but we werenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t surprised. A toddler had trodden on it while running between her parents despite our worried protests that they were running over the trench. However, after a little disorientation and a minute to wake up, they swam directly through the waves. I waded in at a distance, concerned about them, but the breaths were even and strong so the hatchling eventually out-swims me. A collective group sigh of relief.
TWO NESTS DOWN ONE TO GO
This last one we only investigated due to the conical crater on the surface, an indicator of an inevitable mass hatching, soon. The chances of a day hatching with a nest like this is always high, so we gently scooped the sand and found twenty-six extremely lively, extremely cute hatchlings above the egg chamber. We didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t go any further as the tiny heads poking out between the unhatched eggs were sleepy, so we reburied them to come out naturally in the night. By late morning the groups of beachgoers had turned into crowds, meaning our team had to really weave between them to ensure hatchlingsâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; safety. The solution was simple; we asked everyone to bring towels to shade the turtles.
Not only does this really help the turtles in the morning heat, it keeps the crowds at a safe distance but still allows them to feel like they are really included in the magic. As the hatchlings got closer to sea, cameras and pointed fingers dropped away from them as the amazement of the hatchlings took over. I always have incredible conversations with locals, travellers and expats. As I teach them about what I know, the world of turtles and marine ecology, they feel like they need to tell me about what they know. It ranges from other animals they’ve seen on their travels to (honestly) the invention of antibiotics and books they recommend. The connection to strangers over a passion for science and the environment is unbelievable, conversations neither of you will forget, but it’s rare you even know each other’s names. With all of the excitement over, the hunger and sleepiness kicked in as we headed back to base. I took the opportunity to catch up with Jack, back from a morning harbour shift drive and ready for another. Once Jack got back, he told me of his ideas for a van conversion, a dream of ours that we want to turn into a reality when we get back home. We talked through the sunny haze in the garden until our heavy eyelids won the battle, the idea of the end of season just a dot on the horizon we choose to ignore.
BY JACK AND BECKY Instagram is @a.couple.of.conservationists Blog is www.acoupleofconservationists.wordpress.com
There’s no denying the beaches in Sri Lanka are amazing. From the popular surfer’s beaches on the east coast around Arugam Bay to the busy white sands of Mirissa, there is no shortage of salty goodness to go around. If you’re looking for a beach without the hordes of tourists, with quiet bays that are favoured by the locals head to Madiha Beach for your ocean fix. Madiha Beach is about a 10-minute tuk-tuk ride from Mirissa. The jagged coastline doesn’t have the long stretch of white sand like Mirissa but instead, pockets of small bays are scattered down the coast and you can pick and choose where you want to swim. Local fishermen sit astride their rickety wooden poles and catch whatever’s floating about and they make you wonder how the heck they can balance on a singular pole with waves constantly crashing upon them. Scruffy dogs cruise about like they own the place and there’s always a little puppy to fall in love with!
We arrived at Madiha Beach and instantly fell in love. The laidback, island vibe was contagious and within hours of our arrival, we began to move just a little bit slower. Our accommodation for our time at Madiha Beach was this fantastic AirBnb right near an area called The Point. Tucked in between palm trees and dense rainforest was this little jungle oasis complete with hammocks and an outdoor shower. We even had our own private beach! It was a simple set up but just what we needed. We spent our days riding bikes around, drinking fresh coconuts and exploring the beaches and our nights eating delicious Sri Lankan curries, playing cards and listening to the ocean. It wasÂ delightful The excellent surf is a well-kept secret by Madiha locals and the swell is good all year around. Most of the people staying in Madiha Beach are surfies so thankfully we had Dadâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s old surfing past to fall back on to make the cut.
For meals, there are plenty of places to choose from, but I have two that I wholly recommend. The Doctors House is worth a visit to Madiha Beach alone. The rundown beach shacks have been taken over by a couple of Aussies and they have created their own little oasis complete with wood-fired pizzas, lounges and excellent coffee. For some Sri Lankan staples, you must visit Bob’s Roti House which is tucked in down a dirt track opposite the beach. We devoured kotu roti, which is almost like a Sri Lankan version of Pad Thai and coconut and chocolate roti until we were stuffed. Washed down with the local Elephant ginger beer and you have yourself a bloody delicious lunch. We did duck into Mirissa one day but the busy streets and beaches full of tourists weren’t really what we were after. It’s good for a visit but if you’re looking for a laidback and relaxing stay in Sri Lanka, Madiha Beach is where you need to be!
GET THERE: Beach Road, Madiha, Matara, Sri Lanka., Matara 81000, Sri Lanka Madiha Beach is about 150 kilometres south of Colombo, located in the Matara District. It’s easiest to get to Mirissa by train or car and then catch a tuk-tuk to Madiha Beach. As it’s a long stretch of sand, I recommend hiring a bicycle to get around. Saves your energy for important things like swimming and sunbaking. STAY: Dikwatta House I couldn’t recommend Dikwatta House enough! Eranga was so hospitable and helped us with all our needs and requests. He even delivered new coconuts to us because the ones around the house weren’t as sweet. The first night we arrived they cooked us a traditional Sri Lankan meal which was absolutely mouth-watering. 10/10 recommend!
BY JESS BUCHAN Instagram is @ablondeandherpassport Blog is www.ablondeandherpassport.wordpress.com/
7 WAYS TO LEAVE A POSITIVE IMPACT ON YOUR TRAVEL DESTINATIONS
BY ANGELA MASCHIO Traveling is a fantastic way to learn about new cultures and experience different perspectives in the world. However, traveling can be hard on the planet and have negative impacts on locations around the world. Even though tourism is a great source of income for many destinations, it also comes with environmental and cultural decline.
Here are a few ways you can travel consciously while preserving the environment and thinking locally.
ONE: DONATE TO LOCAL CAUSES
THREE: TEACH A LANGUAGE
Before, after, or even during your trip, do some research on your destination and find a local cause you believe in. This could be a way to advance education in the area, create change on social issues or help rescue animals. Whatever the cause, there is always a way to donate.
Make your time abroad enriching, and donate some time and effort to teaching a language. Many countries (especially in Europe) are wellknown for their plentiful au pair programs.
You can donate money if you have it, or many organizations accept item donations like clothing or food. If you want to decrease the weight of your suitcase for your returning flight, this is a good way to purge the nonessentials.
Even if you don’t participate in a formal program, there are ways to educate and share your knowledge with other people. I taught English during my semester abroad in college, and even though it wasn’t my favourite experience, I learned so much from it. Plus, it’s a good way to bond with other people and increase some of your foreign language skills. FOUR: EAT & DRINK LOCAL
Plan a day on your trip or even just a few hours to give back some of your time. This can be an incredible cultural experience depending on your destination, as well. For example, elephant sanctuaries are becoming increasingly popular as more and more tourists are coming to realize the treatment that these animals face at other parks or tourist hotspots. Sanctuaries give you the opportunity to interact with these creatures, but you’re also contributing to their wellbeing.
Eating and drinking local cuisines is a great way to experience your destination to its fullest potential and support local business owners. Doing so is also a fantastic way to reduce your carbon footprint since transporting food and beverages can be costly on the environment. Get a taste of local flavors, and do good in the process.
Giving back some of your time while traveling is a good way to connect with people, learn about local customs and contribute to worldwide causes.
FIVE: BIKE AROUND TOWN
To reduce pollution, public transportation is a great option. An even better alternative is biking! Riding a bicycle around a city is a good way to get to know your surroundings, get some exercise and do some good for the planet. SIX: CHOOSE ACCOMMODATIONS
Many hostels and hotel chains are moving toward eco-friendly services. Everything from reducing water waste to using only recycled paper, there are big changes happening. These hostels and hotels are typically boutique places rather than chain hotels, so you’ll get an even more unique experience staying there. When you’re searching for accommodations for a trip, do a quick search on sustainable or eco-friendly hostels and hotels. You might be pleasantly surprised by what you find!
Most airlines have awesome programs to give to charities or partner with impactful organizations around the world. You can find this information on their websites under company information most of the time. So even as you browse for cheap flights, do your research on what your ticket is actually paying for. Additionally, flying coach is the cost effective and environmentally friendly way to travel. It’s less expensive and means your ride on a plane is using up less fuel per capita than passengers in first class. Finally, offsetting your flight emissions means more pricey tickets, but some peace of mind. Offsetting is a way to pay for carbon offsets so that in addition to the cost of your flight, you also pay to remove carbon dioxide (which warms the planet) from the atmosphere. This can take shape in many forms like buying land in an endangered forest or paying to plant trees, for example. JetBlue , Delta and United have great offsetting programs!
SEVEN: FLY RESPONSIBLY
Preferably, to give back to the greater good of planet Earth, flying would be eliminated because of the pollution it creates. But, while exploring the world, flying is often the only way to get somewhere.
Instagram is @anzawose Blog is www.bohobackpackerblog.wordpress.com
To reduce the impact that flying has on the environment, fly responsibly. That means choosing airlines that give back to communities, flying coach and even offsetting your flight emissions.
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JUAN DE FUCA TRAIL A shack in the mountains and a shack by the sea. That’s the dream. I am so split in my imaginary ‘dream life’ that I have to have some kind of timeshare between the two. It was this indecisiveness that led me to a making a decision at a Tim Horton’s on a dreary April morning in British Columbia. We had driven from one side of the province to the other to do a ski tour across the glaciers that sit above Whistler.
The pictures looked amazing. Deep blue skies bounded on all sides by striking peaks and a sea of ice underneath. The reality was of course far different when we woke up to low cloud and drizzle. The guidebook warned of how easy it is to get lost in inclement weather: think of walking in a thick cream soup with no way to tell between the snow you’re walking on and the cloud you’re walking in. So, we decided to cancel. I pretended I was disappointed. Truthfully I was hugely relieved. I’d only just started getting into backcountry skiing a couple months before. The last time I’d done it, a short 2-hour side country trip, I barely managed to navigate the few switch turns needed to get up a small hill. A 10-day, glacier-to-glacier tour was incredibly inappropriate. Besides, I’d spent like 6 months in the mountains. It was time to visit the ocean.
We decided on the Juan de Fuca trail. A four-day hike on Vancouver Island starting outside of Victoria heading North by the Pacific Coast. The official opening was in May but considering the skiing endeavour we very nearly foolishly embarked on, we weren’t phased about doing the hike a little early. “I’m sure we’ll be able to do it now, there won’t be snow on the trail”. “Look it starts on the coast and ends on the coast, there’s no elevation gain, should be easy.” So off we went, across the ferry, onto Vancouver Island, a few days of suburban luxury at my mate’s aunt and uncle’s place in Victoria, then off to the trail head. At first it was easier than expected. Nicely maintained board walks all the way down to a rugged, pebbly beach. However, it quickly became apparent that it wasn’t going to be as easy as we thought. The thing about the north-west Pacific coast of Canada and America is it’s rainy. And over winter, not only is it as rainy as ever, but the short winter days means the water that doesn’t run into the oceans, sits on the forest floor and becomes mud. Lots of mud. Furthermore, we discovered that even though the net elevation gain is zero, the coastline is cut by many streams and gullies. The result is about three nice beach walks. The rest, walking up a muddy path, down, cross a stream, then repeat. We tried to avoid getting wet feet but there was no point. Walking around a big puddle would still result in some water getting in and doing this over and over again for hours on end all but guaranteed soggy feet. I found myself dreaming of some incredibly hard trail like the PCT. “Those bastards don’t have to deal with this shit, they just plug in a podcast and put one foot in front of the other.” Instead our days consisted of constantly, carefully watching our feet, lest we submerge ourselves in mud and make ourselves even more miserable.
IT WAS AS MENTALLY DRAINING AS IT WAS PHYSICALLY.
Among this shit show there was one thing keeping us moving. It was bloody beautiful. Although much of the forest was regrowth (as much of the Pacific Northwest unfortunately is), there were remnants of the magnificent old growth forest that once stood. Gigantic spruce and cedar trees that stood proudly on cliffâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s edges looking out over the ocean. In fact, apart from the mud and hilly terrain, the ocean was the one constant we could rely on. It was almost the opposite of the mountains that I had been living in. One jutting towers of rock, the other a big, flat, blue blanket. And after a gruelling day walking, drinking cheap whiskey and watching the waves crash on shore as the sun set somehow didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t make it so bad. In the end, the memory of the pain fades, but those peaceful moments never do. Jono Leonard Instagram is @jontsy
THINGS I DO ON EVERY SOLO TRIP SOPHIE VAN DER MEULEN We all have different travel styles. Some people enjoy meticulously planning their whole trip and crafting a detailed itinerary. Others, like me, like to plan as little as possible. I’m a huge fan of “winging it” and seeing where life leads me. For most of my long solo trips, all I booked in advance were a flight and accommodation for the first couple of nights. For short trips, I would sort out accommodation and transportation for the whole trip, but nothing else. I like to keep my itinerary as open as possible to allow for maximum spontaneity. Because in my experience, the best adventures happen unplanned.
I don’t believe in running down a check list of “must sees”, but would rather let the advice of locals and plain chance lead me. There is nothing like getting lost in a foreign city and stumbling upon hidden gems. This doesn’t mean I don’t do any research or don’t plan anything. I always look up a few can’t miss highlights, save them in my phone, and read up on local customs and culture. And there are a few things I like to do in every place that I visit. Even if I miss out on most of the main tourist attractions, by doing these things I know I’ll have an amazing solo trip.
ASK THE LOCALS FOR ADVICE Imagine you’re in a new place and you have no idea what’s good. Sure, you can ask Siri for “fun things to do near me” and rely on TripAdvisor top 10 but that will only get you so far. For me, travel is about experiencing local cultures. So instead of relying on the recommendations of other tourists, I ask the locals what to do and where to go. A great place to start is the tourist information desk of the reception of your accommodation. I usually stay in hostels and the staff there is always full of tips and recommendations. And they often organize their own fun activities! Not to mention other travelers who have the inside scoop on what’s worth seeing. Of course, hostels aren’t the only place to meet people and get good advice. There are several ways to get in touch with locals beyond approaching random people on the street. Social media can be a great tool, I’m in several women’s travel groups on Facebook where you can ask for advice and recommendations or arrange to meet up with locals. Instagram could also work, I’ve never used it myself to talk to locals but have been approached by others before. Another good network specifically for women is She’s Wanderful. It’s a community of female travelers, aimed at content creators and travel bloggers. My favorite way of meeting locals, however, is Couchsurfing. The Couchsurfing community is made up of travel lovers (and admittedly, a few creeps) that invite you stay with them on your trip.
I’ve met so many amazing people through Couchsurfing and had really cool adventures. Including being invited to birthday parties, pubcrawls and roadtrips. It’s definitely the best way to get off the beaten track and have a truly local experience. JOIN A FREE WALKING TOUR Of course, you want to go out and explore this new city you’re in. Although I’m a huge fan of getting lost and aimless wandering, I also see the added value of a tour. That way you can get your bearings and a quick overview of the city with the main highlights. It also provides some muchneeded context to the things you’re seeing. Looking at important landmarks is a lot more fun when you know the history behind them. Tours are a great, interactive way to learn about the history and culture of the place you are visiting. Now, I’m not a hop-on hop-off bus person (it’s fine if you are). No, I like to stretch my legs and my tour of choice is a Free Walking Tour. These type of tours started a few years ago and you can now find them in almost every big city. The way they work is this: instead of booking a tour and paying in advance, you tip the guide at the end of the tour. The amount is up to you, basically what you thought the tour was worth. I usually tip somewhere around 510 euro, depending on how long and good the tour was. So although Free Walking Tours aren’t completely free (unless you’re a jerk who doesn’t tip at all), but they are accessible to people on a budget.
But the main reason I love Free Walking Tours is because of the quality. The guides know that the better they are, the more they earn. So they are super motivated to make it the most fun and informative tour you’ve ever been on. And pretty much every one of these tours that I’ve been on were amazing. The tour guides are always licensed and can also give great recommendations, especially for places to eat! Free Walking Tours are also especially great for solo travelers. They often draw a younger crowd than paid tours, making it a great way to meet other travelers. Feeling a bit shy? Just ask them what they think of the tour or the city, how long they’ve been there, if they want to grab lunch after and you’re set. I always google “Free Walking Tour in X” to see what’s available and what tour fits my schedule and interest. That being said, Sandeman’s New Europe is always a good pick. VISIT A MUSEUM I used to hate museums as a kid. I found them so tedious and boring. But just like hiking, I now love them! I’m an especially big fan of national history museums, quirky little niche museums and art museums. A museum is probably the least awkward place to go as a solo traveler, other than a library. And there is really nothing better than strolling through at your own pace, without having to wait for someone else to catch up. Museum hopping is the perfect activity for a rainy afternoon, or before catching a flight or waiting for check-in as they often have luggage storage (score!).
Museums can be a bit pricey, but it really depends. Smaller, more niche museums are usually cheaper, some are free on the first Sunday of the month (or always, like in Washington D.C.) and sometimes it’s worth investing in a City Pass that gives you discounts on museums and tourist attractions. Is a regular museum too stuffy for you? There’s plenty of art outside as well! Take in the beautiful architecture and the street art that adorns it. Many cities have gorgeous, colorful murals hidden in plain sight, all you have to do is keep your eyes open as you walk around. TRY THE LOCAL CUISINE The best way to learn about a culture is by learning about their cuisine. The food of a country says so much about their history, geography and lifestyle. Dishes speak of common ingredients, trading routes, social structures and foreign occupations. But also of cooking methods, available tools and preferences for the preservation and preparation of food. Most of all, food is emotional and nostalgic. What we eat is deeply linked with our culture and a vital part of life.
And it’s delicious! Food has always been one of the great loves of my life. It’s in a three-way tie for first place with travel and music. So, of course, I always try as many local dishes as I can while I travel. I’ve had some incredible meals while traveling that I still dream off now. The best thing about trying delicious local dishes is recreating them at home. That’s why I always try to take cooking classes on my trips. I love to cook and it is so interesting to learn to cook with new produce and cooking techniques. It’s a great and interactive way to learn more about a countries’ cuisine. Although I usually follow a plant-based diet, I’m not strictly vegan and I occasionally make an exception to try typical local dishes. For me, it’s just such a significant part of the cultural experience. I never want to miss out on an icnonic or interesting dish, simply because it contains animal products. After all, it’s a choice, I don’t have any allergies. I also love trying “weird” foods, like bugs, strange fruits and organ meat. You never know, it might taste delicious! Don’t be afraid to try something new, because if it’s bad, you never have to eat it again. But luckily, it’s getting easier and easier to find vegetarian and vegan food everywhere I go. And I make a conscious effort to find traditional dishes or versions of traditional dishes without animal products. I’m not one for fancy restaurants and prefer hole in the wall eateries and street food. I want to eat what the locals eat and have been eating for centuries. In my experience, the shabbier the restaurant, the better the food!
Sure, you can use Tripadvisor and Google to find nice places to eat, but they will likely direct you to the main tourist spots, rather than hidden gems (although some can be found online!). But again, it is better to rely on the recommendations of locals. After all, they know the cuisine and the city best. So ask your tour guide, the hostel staff, your Couchsurfing host or anyone else you meet. Once you’re at a bar or restaurant, always ask the staff for recommendations, they know what’s good. Don’t worry if you have no one to eat out with. There is absolutely no reason to let flying solo keep you from enjoying good food and a night out. If anything, you won’t have to consult anyone about which restaurant to choose or what to order: you’re free to do as you please. Craving gelato at 10 am, go get gelato! A third slice of pizza al taglio, why not? And if you still feel awkward about eating by yourself, bring a book! Books are the perfect way to pass the time while traveling (there’s a lot of waiting around involved) and it immediately makes you feel less self-conscious about being solo. I always bring a book (or ereader) with me on solo trips and read on transportation, in parks, on beaches, in restaurants, in museums etc. Pretty much anytime I want some down time, I take out a book. SHOP AT A LOCAL MARKET I often cook several of my own meals while traveling, to save money. But that doesn’t mean you can’t taste local food! Farmer markets and even supermarkets abroad are a treasure trove of delicious food. From crazy snacks to interesting fresh produce, this is the place to discover it all.
I’ll go to a local supermarket and just buy anything that looks interesting, picking stuff that’s advertised as a regional or national specialty. So even if you’re making your own sandwiches for lunch, you’re doing it with typical bread and cheese from the area. Farmers markets are even more fun as everything sold there is even more local and seasonal. It’s also a great place to go for free samples and many markets have street food stalls as well. And local markets are not just great for buying lunch, but also souvenirs. I tend to bring food related souvenirs for myself and my family, rather than ornaments. Stuff like spices, sauces, liquor and other typical local products. That way you can recreate some of the magic of your trip at home. If you don’t want to bring food items as souvenirs, consider buying typical arts and crafts from small vendors instead of big souvenir stores. The quality is usually a lot higher, the items more unique and you’re supporting local small businesses. Supporting the local economy is an easy and powerful way to travel more sustainably and make a positive impact as a tourist. So, there you have it: my basic guide to building an itinerary for a solo trip. As you can see, traveling solo is in no way boring or hard. The key to a great solo trip is to rely on the advice of locals and go with the flow.
Instagram is @justheadingout Blog is www.justheadingout.com
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