Category Archives: Around the World Travel

The Dangers of Coming Home – and other Travel Dangers

From 1998 to 2013 – I was pretty well on the road. From 1998 to 2001 I was exploring the USA from North Carolina to Florida to California to Alaska and loosely based in Seattle and Bellingham – with brief periods of stable employment (which wasn’t so stable actually and hence, brief.)  There were a few adventurous trips to Canada, Puerto Rico, the United Kingdom and domestically – but for the most part – I was exploring without fear by thumb, vehicle, and whatever means I could find – I lived in vehicles for extended periods, had rough permanent camps in the forest, and dreamed of jumping to Asia, the Middle East, South America, and Europe.

In 2001, I made that jump – first backpacking and roughing it through China and Southeast Asia and then after the devastating events and effects of September 11th, 2001 – I made the leap to Hawaii – without a doubt, my best move ever.  I lived in Hawaii longer than I’ve ever lived anywhere – and while there took the time to explore the islands, take an extended trip to the Philippines, and thanks to the generosity of my partner at the time, to see a bit of the South Pacific around Tahiti. I also began to feel like I wanted more from life and followed the rather overesteemed course of earning a degree from the University of Hawaii – and in the process borrowing around $28,000 U.S. dollars.  About the time I graduated in 2008, the economy crashed and burned – the destinations I had really wanted to go – Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, the Punjab, Iraq – they were mired in war and terrorism and seemed like they would never emerge as a place where a guy could just wander around and check things out – so I crossed them off my list – which really sucks – but was the right decision – which is why you haven’t seen a youtube video of me getting my head cut off – absolutely not worth it.

So, with worthless degree in Anthropology in hand – I set out to explore the rest of the world.  Here’s a funny side note – a big part of the reason I pursued a degree was because I wanted to teach English in Japan and it required a BA in any field – the great recession pushed so many college grads into looking for teaching jobs in Japan that the requirements increased so that only those who majored in education or TEFL or English really had a shot at the jobs – by the time I earned my degree it was worthless for the purpose I’d wanted it for…

With no plan and not much money – I visited family and friends in the USA and caught the first flight to Europe I could afford – bringing me to Barcelona, Spain – I had no intention of returning. None. Zero. Not a bit. Of course, that changed when I met my future wife in Morocco and realized I had to return to the USA to fulfill the paperwork needed to marry her – I chose a girl in a country where there was no option to forego marriage and run away together and where marriage was a paperwork nightmare – so there I was – I came home and gathered my documents – again not intending to return.

Oh, here’s something else – I married a person from a country that most countries don’t want immigrants from and from which many illegal immigrants migrate – so , since by that time I was earning my income from a combination of travel writing, blogging, and off the books hotel and tourism consulting – I wasn’t able to provide the necessary ‘sponsorship’ guarantees or financial records to bring my wife with me to the countries we both wanted to visit – our one attempt to go to Paris ws stymied by the French Authorities despite the fact that we had return flights, reservations at hotels, and a verifiable amount of income in the bank – mainly because my wife was Moroccan and I didn’t have an employer – self didn’t count. So, I travelled on my own…which is kind of a bummer when you are married.

We were limited to a few countries – Turkey being one of them – where we went and lived until the birth of our daughter – I busted balls to ensure my daughter got a US Passport and US Citizenship – but we still had the issue of my wife’s nationality – so, after much thought and discussion and an astounding years worth of paperwork, documentation, and interviews – we returned to the USA to put her on the path to US Citizenship (I returned, she emigrated for the first time) – and here we’ve been since –

And – at this point – about a year and a half in – it feels like we may never be able to escape.  As a family, we couldn’t afford to return to Hawaii – $9 a gallon milk and rents that start at $1500 for mediocre apartments and then go up rapidly – maybe I should have taken the leap right away while we had some savings…instead I thought I would be able to parlay my experience in travel and tourism into a job with a San Francisco startup – since the economy was improving – yeah – haha – the job market never picked up for 40-something year old guys embarking from long periods of self-employment – we couldn’t even afford to rent a house or apartment in California with landlords ignoring our housing references from Turkey and Morocco and demanding first, last, and deposit on living spaces that started at $1800-$2000 – yeah right – $6000 to move in, then the utility deposits, then the other expenses of moving in – and all of that on the heels of moving my family from the other side of the world – it would have left us with nothing – nada- zip – but maybe I should have done it.

Cross that Bridge when you come to it

Instead I moved us to a dying town on the beautiful Oregon coast where we have a nice little 3 bedroom house with big yards, garage, and have managed to open a little antique shop- all for less than a month’s rent in a crappy apartment in Hawaii or San Francisco – but, on the downside – we live in a dying town and making ends meet is not as easy as it was several years ago when single ads on this blog would bring in $400-$800 a year – those days died with all the Google updates and penalties – at one point – Vagobond went from a pagerank 4 to a pagerank 3 – which took my prices down more than 50% – the changing SEO environment took prices down further and most companies stopped paying for ads or sponsored content – I stopped accepting offers when they dropped to $100 or less per annum – not worth the risk – especially when the ads were for finance or casino sites – no thank you.  Travel blogging is pretty much dead for me – it was great to spend four hours a day on content when I was earning money for it, but without the cash – I can’t justify it any longer – which is why there has been so little new content over the past year and a half…Google killed travel blogging, as far as I can see.

But, back to the title of this post – the dangers of coming home. Aside from Google – it’s become very hard to get back on the road – every penny we have gets sucked out – whether by our vehicle (approx $400 per month for gas and insurance and routine maintenance – without major repairs) health insurance, groceries, rent, utilities, and incidentals – we’d love to take a trip to Morocco and see my wife’s family but there is no way we can afford the $6k-$10k it would cost – not to mention the cost of shutting our business for a month…that’s the big danger of coming home – it’s very easy to get stuck – we are stuck with a capital S and every month feels like it could suck us down into a whirlpool of destruction – and that $28,000 I borrowed to pay for my worthless degree? Somehow it has become $40k and I’m on the verge of defaulting – I have no idea what will happen then…

It would be great to just chuck it all and split – but it’s no longer a possibility – our daughter is getting close to school age and we are seeing a huge number of reasons not to put her in public schools – but we have to figure something out – we just don’t want her to turn into one of the cellphone toting zombie girls we see American schools turning out – her vocabulary is already larger than most 16 year olds and she is 3. Oh yeah, let’s send our smart nice kid into a school system that is dumbing down the tests instead of improving the teaching…no way.

Then there is the stuff we see in the news – Turkey – which we love, by the way – is totally screwed with the Islamic State on two borders and violence reviving among it’s own Kurdish population because of the insane policies of Erdogan – then there is the war across the Black Sea from Istanbul in Crimea, Ukraine, and Russia – whoa – way too much going on in Turkey for us to go back right now – WAAAAY TOO MUCH!

Then there is Morocco where they are increasing persecution of foreigners – yeah, maybe it’s just one homosexual who has been arrested but I don’t think so – it’s a broader conservatism which is sweeping the Muslim world and making it dangerous to be a foreigner in Muslim countries – dangerous to be there and then dangerous to come home – and then there’s Ebola which oddly enough landed in the USA before it landed in North Africa – or maybe it did anyway…it’s too early to tell what the disease has done in Africa where reporting is anything but instant…

What about Europe? Same issues as before – my wife is still a Moroccan National – we’re here for that citizenship – we want her to get that blue passport but by the time we get hers, I won’t be surprised if my own gets revoked for defaulting on my student loans- do they do that?

And that, my friends, is the danger of coming home – you might not be able to leave again…be very careful!

Top 5 South African Cities

Planning a city break in South Africa and not sure where to head to? Never fear, help is at hand! I was in much the same boat as you when organising my first urban adventure in South Africa, but after buckets of research I struck upon the ultimate list of top five cities to visit. To help save you time on sorting out your travel plans, I’ve written out my suggestions of the top 5 South African Cities below – I hope you find them useful!

Cape Town

Before I dive into my top five, I’d like to point out that all of the below are great candidates for luxury breaks in South Africa, thanks to their combinations of attractions and simply stunning hotels. So, this list is perfect for anyone hoping for a high-end holiday.

1) Johannesburg

Let’s begin with one of SA’s most vibrant and well-known cities – Johannesburg. For me, this is one of the ultimate city break destinations in the country, largely because it offers that classic mix of diversity, important cultural attractions and an amazing nightlife. Things not to miss in Johannesburg include the Apartheid Museum, Museum Africa and the Mandela Museum, as well as slick bars like Rock. It’s also worth checking out the fascinating local markets; Rosebank Flea Market is one of my favourites, since it’s where you can pick up some impressive African art.

2) Cape Town

Next up is Cape Town, which I think is probably just as famous as Johannesburg – if not more so. Cape Town has a special place in my heart because it’s got a great selection of attractions that really cannot fail to appeal to you – particularly Table Mountain, which forms the backdrop of the city.

It’s well worth ascending its summit (at 1,085 m) on the Table Mountain Cableway to see the amazing views. I also recommend going penguin spotting on Boulders Beach and exploring the cobbled streets of Bo-Kaap.

3) Durban

Half sophisticated city and half luxury beach resort, Durban is the place to go if you’re keen to enjoy utter indulgence on your holiday. This destination sits on the edge of a coastline lapped by the warm waves of the Indian Ocean, so it’s not hard to understand why this is such an amazing place for sunseekers.

When you’re not stretched out on the sand feeling decadent, you can slip into something slinky or sharp and head over to Wilson’s Wharf, which in the summer months puts on theatrical performances and concerts. It’s also worth remembering that Durban is home to some impressive colonial architecture; visit Durban City Hall to see this at its best.

4) Hermanus

The ultimate place to go whale watching not just in SA but in the whole world, Hermanus is an absolute must for wildlife lovers. Now, technically this is a town rather than a city, but it’s such an exciting and important spot that I’m hoping you’ll let me off!

If you do want to spot whales, come here between June and December, when they flock to Walker Bay. The beauty of whale watching here is that you don’t even need to step on to a boat for great views (though you can if you want) since these majestic creatures are visible from the shore.

5) Sun City

The final metropolis to make my top five is Sun City – and I should probably admit right now that this is another place that is technically not a city! This sprawling destination is in fact a very large resort, but for travellers like you and me it feels very much like a city – hence why I’ve included it.

This is a good place to choose if you’re travelling with your family, since it’s home to attractions like the Valley of the Waves water park. It’s by no means a resort only suitable for families, though, with luxurious touches like two 18-hole golf courses and stunning hotels making it perfect for couples too. As a quick tip, because Sun City is next to the Pilansberg Game Reserve, it’s easy to combine a city break with a classic South African safari here.

 

3 Premier Beaches in Phuket, Thailand

best beaches in Phuket
cc Image Courtesy of Shelby PDX via Flickr

Phuket is one of Thailand’s top destinations, and not without reason. It has a rich natural heritage in the form of the surrounding sea, long white beaches, mangrove swamps, canopied jungle forests, and a wealth of world-famous dive sites. In addition, it has a rich cultural history and is populated by a diverse selection of ethnic groups, bringing with them a wide choice of fine cuisine.

Phuket, which is only about an hour’s flight from either Bangkok or Singapore, is about the same size as Singapore (about 335 square miles or 540 square km in extent), and the largest island in Thailand. Those traveling to Phuket from overseas should arrange travel insurance to ensure they have access to emergency assistance and are covered for medical expenses.

There are only two seasons on Phuket, the hot season (from November to April) and the rainy “green” monsoon season (from May to October). While you will find people on the beaches all year round, the hot season is the ultimate beach season. The only issue is deciding which beach to spend time on.
Three of Phuket’s Premier Beaches.

If you’re looking for solitude, you may not be heading for one of Phuket’s most popular beaches, although if you know where to go, there are some surprisingly remote spots to be found. If you want to be near people, and you are keen to dive, snorkel, wind surf, jet-ski or sail, you will find that all the island’s major beaches have outlets that hire equipment and offer instruction. Here are three favorites:

Patong Beach

Best Thai Beaches
Patong Beach cc Image Courtesy of SoulSoup on Flickr

One of the best-known, most loved beach resorts, Patong boasts an unspoilt, 2 km (more than a mile) beach that is usually lined with deck loungers, sunbeds and colorful umbrellas.

At the northern end of the beach you’ll find a gorgeous little sandy creek with shallow, clear water where you can paddle, swim and snorkel. At the southern end there’s a small fisherman’s village near to a river mouth where they launch their picturesque fishing boats in search of the catch of the day. The best place to surf is at the north end, just before you get to the creek.

The facilities along Patong Beach are excellent, from public toilets to restaurants and cafés. In addition, vendors are always on hand with offers of snacks, drinks and a cold, welcome ice cream. Some also sell silk, henna tattoos, costume jewelry and ornaments you might like to take home as a keepsake.

A major attraction of Patong is the fact that after a day on the beach, it’s party time. This little town has an enviable night life, offering hundreds of restaurants, open-air beer bars, and adults-only go-go bars where scantily-clad girls dance and perform for the crowds.

Karon Beach

Best beaches in Thailand
Karon Beach cc Image courtesy of TeachingSagitarrian on Flickr

Karon Beach is located 3 km (not quite 2 miles) south of Patong, and a few minutes drive from the Bay of Kata, in the south west of Phuket. It is an upmarket part of the world, where the coast is lined with prestigious, high-rise hotels, although the beach itself is not as crowded as Patong Beach usually is.

At 5 km (a little more than 3 miles) this beautifully pristine beach is one of the longest on the island. While you can hire sunbeds and umbrellas, there is so much space, these are usually well spaced out, unlike those found on some of Phuket’s other major beaches. If you’re in the mood for a massage, you’ll find masseuses and reflexologists in the shaded areas at the top of the beach.

Unlike Patong Beach, there are no public toilet facilities here, but many of the restaurants are willing to let beachgoers use their facilities – sometimes for a fee. There are the same familiar vendors, though, as well as food stalls close to the beach where you can pick up a great Thai meal.

Surfing is not favored at this location, because the sea is very open all round, and the sandbanks are constantly shifting. But most other water sports are available, including windsurfing and waterskiing.
If you want to snorkel, head for the rocks at the southern end of the beach. At the northern end of Karon Beach you’ll find a stunning lake alongside a section of white sandy beach that is very often deserted (possibly because there are no loungers for hire). Sea turtles sometimes lay their eggs in the sand on this beach. So report any turtles or tracks that could have been left by turtles, to the staff at the hotel where you are staying, and they will notify the Phuket Marine Biological Centre to keep them safe.

Bang Thao Beach

Bang Tao Beach, Phuket, Thailand
Packed her trunk and said goodbye! cc Image courtesy of Canolais/ on Flickr

Further north than both Patong and Karon beaches, Bang Thao mixes luxury with the relatively primitive living of the local fishermen and farmers who reside in this area, in a quaint town called Cherng Talay.

While you will find lavish (and expensive) resorts and villas along the coastline, the way of life of these locals hasn’t changed in centuries.

Bang Thao Beach is long and varied, stretching some 6 km (not quite 4 miles). If you want to be alone, head north, because the northern tip of the beach is, as yet, untouched by any form of development.

In fact much of this beach is largely unoccupied, probably because there is no beach road straddling the coast. Instead, hotels and other establishments make use of the beach areas that are close to them, and it is the hotels that provide the bulk of facilities. The implications of this are that sunbeds and loungers are restricted to hotel guests, as too are windsurfers and hobie cats hired out by the hotels.

This also means that if you want to reach a remote spot, you’re going to have to walk.

There are no public toilets available anywhere at Bang Thao Beach, but like Karon, you can ask to use restaurant and hotel facilities.