Why I Travel- Part Two

One of my first blog posts was titled simply enough Why I travel. More recently, a couple of things prompted me to write this post now. One, I read a blog post that was basically bashing people for traveling, saying they’re just trying to escape their lives or tick off a box when they visit a place. The blogger said people should appreciate where they live more and insinuated that people who love to travel don’t appreciate their current lives and where they live.

Perhaps some people do travel to escape problems they’re currently dealing with and others may travel to a place simply to get that “perfect” Instagram shot, but that’s never been why I travel. I love where I live and while it’s far from perfect, it’s filled with natural beauty and interesting things to do. We have greenways, parks, and other outdoor spaces as well as music venues, museums, and restaurants with chefs that could compete with chefs at plenty of other well-known foodie cities. However, I’ll freely admit that traveling the world has shown me this isn’t where I want to live for the rest of my life. When I retire, I certainly won’t stay in the same area where I am now. I’ve thoroughly explored the area around where I live and will be ready to explore other areas when I retire.

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Admiring the view with my daughter in Austria

Another thing that prompted this blog post is I recently read a quote by Anthony Bourdain that I found interesting. He said, “It seems that the more places I see and experience, the bigger I realize the world to be. The more I become aware of, the more I realize how relatively little I know of it, how many places I have still to go, how much more there is to learn.” This sums up my feelings on travel pretty well. The world is a big place and I feel like the more I see, the more I want to see.

I’m a huge proponent of traveling with children and my daughter has traveled with my husband and me to places she doesn’t even remember because she was so young. By the time she turned two, she had flown to Vermont, Florida, and Hawaii. There isn’t a single place my husband and I have traveled to since she’s been born that she didn’t go with us. Never once did I question if she was too young to appreciate a place. She’s been to museums of all kinds, she’s hiked in more states and countries than most adults have, she’s eaten food from multiple other countries, and experienced more than I could possibly write here.

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Sure my daughter can read about ruins in Greece but she’s actually seen them in person, which is much more meaningful

As a parent, I’ve been able to see places through my daughter’s eyes, and see her reaction to places she’s seeing for the first time. I’ve seen her awe-struck and speechless more than once. When we’ve gone to a place that she really likes and has asked, “Can we go back there?” Usually the answer has been, “Probably not. There’s a whole world out there to see,” although there are certainly places we’ve returned with her. My daughter’s views have undoubtedly been shaped by traveling the world. She’s seen the kindness of strangers time and time again when we’ve been traveling. More than just looking at photos online or in a book, she’s seen things first-hand. This is undoubtedly a big part of why I travel as well- to show my daughter the world.

Travel has also boosted my self-confidence. Not everything has gone perfectly as planned when I’ve been traveling. I remember showing up at the place where my family and I were supposed to be staying for a part of our time in Chile, fully expecting there to be someone to greet us at the entrance to the property and help us get checked in. However, the guard at the front gate spoke no English. Finally with my husband’s limited Spanish and my broken Spanish, we convinced the guard to call someone else who spoke some English. She ended up driving to the resort, if you can call it that, and she is the one who showed us the apartment where we’d be staying and gave us her card with the instructions to call her if we had any problems because as she told us, she was the only person in the entire town who spoke English. Apparently we were there during the off-season, which means we pretty much had the entire resort to ourselves. By the end of that week, my Spanish had improved because of all of our interactions with the locals, but more importantly, I had been shown that even after a rocky start, we ended up having a great time and everything had worked out in the end. Over the years I’ve learned that gestures and just trying to speak the language go a long way. You can read about my adventures in Chile here: 15 Lessons Learned by an American in Chile and here: Las Cabras in the O’Higgins Region, Chile- A Test of Resilience and here: An American in Chile- Getting Outside My Comfort Zone.

Also, the more you travel to more remote areas, the more you want to travel to lesser known places. If you would have told me 20 years ago that one of my favorite places in the world would be the salt pans in Gozo, I would have said 1) I have no idea where Gozo is and 2) What exactly are salt pans? But I didn’t start out traveling to places like Malta (Gozo is one of three Maltese islands, which are off the coast of Italy; see my blog post here:  I Almost Missed a Bucket List Item in Malta- Gozo Salt Pans).

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The Salt Pans in Gozo

I started out like everyone else when I started traveling as an adult, going to places like the Bahamas, Cancun, New York City, and California. Costa Rica was one of the more exotic first places I traveled as an adult. More and more I began to branch out and went to little towns in Austria like Maria Alm, Zell am See, and Bad Gastein. We drove around Crete and got lost in numerous little towns and even had a restaurant owner open up for breakfast just for my family one morning. We went to New Zealand and fell in love with the country and the people’s laid-back attitudes. Beyond international travel, we’ve also traveled to 44 states so far in the United States and discovered the beauty in some less-traveled places like Rhode Island and Arkansas.

So why do I travel? I travel to have those moments where I’m stopped dead in my tracks and am speechless because of the beauty in front of me. I travel to eat new foods and drink new drinks. I travel to meet different people and hear their perspective on things. I travel to get out of my comfort zone. I travel to show my daughter the world and what an enormous place it is full of diverse people but deep down most people are caring, kind human beings.

Why do you travel? I’d love to hear your thoughts on how travel has changed you or how you travel has changed over time.

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

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My Top 5 Favorite Places Outside the United States and Why I Love Them

Similar to my list of top 10 favorite places in the United States and Why I Love Them, I decided to write up a list of my favorite places outside the United States. Since I’ve traveled more extensively inside the US than outside, I limited it to my top 5 international places, only I felt the need for an honorable mention since I couldn’t limit it to just 5 places. I wanted to choose one city for each pick, but was unable to in most cases, so I limited the choices to a region or small area. I hope you enjoy my list! It was a lot of fun to make the list and reminisce about places I’ve been to over the years.

Honorable Mention:  Rethymno, Crete, Greece. As I’ve said many times on my blog, when my family and I travel, we often veer off the beaten path a bit. We don’t always go where the crowds go. So when we went to Greece, while we did go to the popular destination of Athens, we skipped the tourist-flooded islands of Santorini and Mykonos and opted for Crete instead. We may eventually go to some of the aforementioned islands, but we’re in no rush. Crete was absolutely everything we love in a vacation spot- there were beautiful hiking areas and some of the most stunning beaches I’ve ever seen. I especially enjoyed the Venetian harbor and fortress in Rethymno. Within driving distance are ruins (such as Knossos), caves, gorges, and many quaint small villages to keep you busy and in awe. My favorite beach on Crete is Elafonisi, with its pink sand and clear water, but there are many other beautiful beaches in Crete as well.

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Number 5:  St. Kitts and Nevis. These tiny islands in the Caribbean are only about 65 and 36 square miles each, respectively. My husband and I got married on the island of St. Kitts and took a ferry to Nevis for our honeymoon. We stayed at Nisbet Plantation Beach Club on Nevis and it is still to this day one of the nicest places I have ever stayed. It is the Caribbean’s only historic plantation on the beach. The service at Nisbet Plantation is unparalleled, the food top-notch, and the accommodations amazing. While there isn’t a ton to do on the island, it’s the perfect place to get away from it all and just relax and be pampered. St. Kitts has a bit more to do on the island than Nevis, and there are many options for outdoor enthusiasts. The day before our wedding, my fiancé and I climbed up to the top of one of the volcanic peaks on St. Kitts, even though our tour guide thought we were crazy given the timing. Other than our wedding, it was the highlight of our trip to St. Kitts so I was very glad we did it. St. Kitts and Nevis are both the perfect places to go if you enjoy outdoor activities and water sports.

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I loved the black volcanic rocks in St. Kitts
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One of many beautiful views in St. Kitts

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Number 4:  St. Johann im Pongau district, Austria. Two places are of mention here: Bad Gastein and Werfen. When I read an article about Austria and saw a photo of Bad Gasteiner Wasserfall (waterfall) I immediately wanted to go. You could say the whole reason I went to Austria at all was because of that photo of a waterfall and the travel article written about the area.

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I finally got to take my own photo of Gasteiner Wasserfall!

We went to Austria in the spring and there were more waterfalls here than anywhere else I have ever been. Bad Gastein is a spa town in the district of St. Johann im Pongau, in the Hohe Tauern mountain range, in the state of Salzburg. Other than the city of Salzburg, this area is full of tiny towns great for hiking and exploring. I found the people here very friendly, the food good, and the scenery outstanding. Werfen is famous for the Eisriesenwelt Ice Cave, one of the highlights of our vacation in Austria. Cameras aren’t allowed inside the cave, but here are a couple of photos from their website.

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Also in Werfen is the Burg Hohenwerfen, a castle that’s over 900 years old. There are extensive weaponry displays and an impressive falconry flight display. The castle is surrounded by the Salzachtal Valley so it’s beautiful just to walk the grounds.

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Number 3:  Banff, Canada. A few years ago we went to Missoula, Montana where I ran a half marathon and we followed up the race with a visit to Glacier National Park, which I thought was pretty amazing, but then we went to Banff, Canada and the scenery just kept getting better the further north we went. As majestic as the Rocky Mountains are in the United States, I think the Canadian Rocky Mountains are even more so. The glacier-fed waters in the area are such a beautiful hue of greenish-blue and the mountains are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. Banff National Park, about 70 miles west of Calgary, is the oldest national park in Canada. I found the town of Banff to be pretty touristy but it is full of restaurants, shops, museums, and art galleries so you can find plenty to do here when you’re not hiking. There are many, many tours including glacier tours, boat tours, and general sightseeing tours if that interests you. We took a boat tour on Lake Minnewanka, the only lake in Banff National Park open to public motorized boating, and it was definitely a highlight of our time there.

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Number 2:  Florence, Italy. Since I wanted to limit my choices to one city whenever possible, this one was tough to choose just one city we went to in Italy. I loved Rome almost as much as Florence, but in the end I’d have to say Florence may have the edge, but just slightly. I was surprised I loved Florence as much as I did, honestly. Before I went to Italy, I expected Venice or Rome to be my favorites (we also went to Naples and Pompeii), but Florence won my heart. I think it must have been the art that did it. While I was in Florence, I felt like I was immersed in art. You could go to just an ordinary little shop and there would be the most beautiful mosaic, or at a small cafe and find gorgeous statues or paintings just kind of tucked away, obviously not for ostentatious display but just part of the cafe. There are of course the famous museums such as Uffizi Gallery, Accademia Gallery, and the small but still stunning Museo Nazionale del Bargello. Then there are the many beautiful piazzas, cathedrals, and other archeological sites. All of these places are so out of this world beautiful just one place alone would make for an incredible visit to the city, but the fact that there are so many stunningly beautiful places in one city make it almost surreal. With some of the best food and wine in the world on top of the artwork everywhere, what more could you ask for?

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Number 1:  Whitianga, New Zealand. This one was also a tough one. I knew somewhere in New Zealand would be my top choice, but to limit it to just one place was really difficult. The North Island of New Zealand is so diverse with its Redwood Forests, sandy beaches, geysers, wine country, and rolling hills. I loved touring Hobbiton and found the countryside there beautiful. Seeing the glow worms of Waitomo Caves was incredible. Walking around the geysers and thermal mud pools at Wai-O-Tapu in Rotorua was like being on another planet. Walking through the redwoods forest was so quiet and serene. But our boat ride through the sea caves in Whitianga was something impossible to ever top. The water was such a gorgeous color of blue-green and being able to go inside some of the caves was so much fun. I felt like I had a smile plastered across my face from beginning to end of the tour. This is a place that has seriously ruined other boat tours for me because nothing will ever be able to compare. Besides the boat tour here, the beaches are also some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. Whitianga also has wineries, a fun museum, and hiking trails, all things I love. I almost didn’t include this area as part of our North Island tour because I didn’t think we’d have time. I’m so glad that didn’t happen because we would have missed the best part!

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Being in this small boat made it easy to go in the caves and explore

Has anyone else been to these places? Does anyone want to go now?