Have you turned on your tap today and had a quick drink of pure delicious water? Do you spend your days thinking about clean water and the issue of single use plastic?
I can count on both hands how many countries and regions we have visited where we can safely drink the tap water; New Zealand, Japan, most of Western Europe, most of the USA, Canada, Scandinavia.
Even here in Mauritius, a fairly progressive and well run welfare state country, visitors are advised not to drink unfiltered tap water. Even though the locals drink it, a visitor will likely have issues due to microorganisms that could cause diarrhea if you don’t have a tolerance built up.
Water borne illnesses can cause a lot of trouble for travelers, including some serious and potentially fatal diseases. Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Cholera, Giardias are some of the serious diseases that are transferred to humans through water. So thinking about clean water and the issue of single use plastic is something that occupies my mind a great deal.
Unfortunately you should avoid tap water in all of Africa, South America, most of Asia and Eastern Europe, according to the United States Center for Disease Control (CDC).
We always research this issue before arrival and then on arrival reiterate the question of tap water with locals we can trust. Even if the question of water purity is a bit on the fence, we always side with safety first. We have both experienced the results of extreme dehydration and diarrhea and that’s not fun for anybody.
And so what to do? Here in Mauritius like so many other countries, there is but one answer – bottled water.
As a full-time traveler who REALLY wants to make less of an environmental impact and leave as small of a footprint as possible, the issue of water confounds me.
We have yet to purchase and carry a filtration system with us, but I think we will be doing that soon, because we are really conflicted about the single-use plastic. We have two reusable water bottles that we fill frequently with filtered water, but it still calls for us to use plastic bottles way more often than I am comfortable with.
Here in Mauritius we are purchasing large plastic bottles of water at the grocery store and using it for washing all our fruits and vegetables, making coffee, drinking and brushing our teeth. The good news here on Mauritius is they have a well organized system for plastic bottle recycling. Strategically placed (and loyally used by locals and visitors alike) plastic bottle recycling stations are found around the island. We have seen very little trash here. As a side note they also have a glass bottle deposit system.
We have been really excited to find some countries recently making a huge effort in this area. For instance in Antigua Guatemala the city has instigated a system of clay filtered water stations throughout the city. Free for public use. We also had a clay system filter in our Antigua Airbnb.
Our hotel on Inle Lake (Myanmar Treasure Resort) installed a water refill station for guests while we were staying there. As soon as that was installed we began using it several times a day, even though housekeeping continued to stock our room with single-use plastic water bottles.
Our Airbnb in Cenang Beach Langkawi Malaysia had a wonderful filtration system hooked up to the tap in the kitchen. All water was run through the filtrataion system and we did not need to purchase any bottled water during our month there.
In Hua Hin Thailand you could purchase a large five gallon jug of water, then refill it over and over again at a station on the sidewalk near the store for about .25 cents (USD).
Yet in other places beaches are littered with plastic (Thailand, Vietnam) and children play in piles of plastic trash (Burkina Faso, Ethiopia), and locals burn plastic along side the road (Kenya).
I’ve been doing a lot of research on water filtration options for travelers, and I think I am leaning towards the Steripen, although there are many versions available. We will be adding this to our collection of things we don’t leave home with soon…and I regret we haven’t done so yet. Here is a blog with great information about this.
Meanwhile, more than half the world doesn’t have good, clean drinking water, while others never think twice about the availability of safe and abundant water to quench our thirst and go about our daily tasks.
It’s one of a copious number of things our planet is lacking for the health and welfare of the people of the world.
Do you use a travel water filter? I’d love to hear your comments about what you like and why.
If you’ve been following My Fab Fifties Life for awhile you will remember our 2017 World Travel Awards and our 2018 World Travel Awards from previous Januarys. I definitely feel with all of our travels in 2019 (covering 40,000 miles and 12 countries) we are well positioned to once again deliver our World Travel Awards 2019 on many people, places and travel experiences that have touched us this past year. Just like the Oscar movie awards, we have seen a world of real life drama, fantasy, comedy, mystery, nature and animation. Enough to last a lifetime. This annual blog is one of our favorites to write and one we always create together. And in past years it has also been one of our best read – so we really hope you enjoy it once again.
This is a long blog. But I believe it offers some valuable travel insight to the world. I hope you will find it informative and entertaining. Please enjoy our third annual World Travel Awards, Best and Worst of 2019 – My Fab Fifties Life.
For reference – our 2019 countries visited were; Costa Rica, Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, USA, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Myanmar, Oman and Kenya.Due to our efforts for much slower travel, this is half as many countries as 2018.
Favorite Overall Country – Guatemala with honorable mention to Myanmar (title photo above, Lake Atitlan Guatemala)
You’ll find a clear pattern through out the awards this year with Guatemala winning several awards. It is just a very unique and special country, with few tourists, fantastic food, gorgeous scenery, amazing history and quiet and hard working people. And it’s cheap.
This all can be said for Myanmar as well. We hope to return to both of these countries in the future.
Favorite City – Antigua
Well there it is again – Guatemala. Antigua is a remarkable city of ancient history in the shadow of a live volcano and for us visiting the weekend of Semana Santa gave us the most unique and incredible experience we could ever hope for.
Most Beautiful City – Shanghai China
Shanghai is the antithesis to Beijing – brand new, sparkling clean, stunningly beautiful (especially at night), easy to maneuver and very pedestrian friendly, Shangahi was our favorite beautiful city of the year.
Cutest Town – Big Fork Montana USA
We spent four months in the USA this year, getting out to visit some new places and some old favorites. Big Fork Montana was a new addition to our travels and it is just so quintisential America; cowboys, artists, wildlife and good food too. We hope to visit again.
Most Expensive Country – Oman and the USA
Oman and the USA tie for most expensive, although neither was outrageously expensive and should not deter anyone from visiting.
Least Expensive Country – Malaysia
Malaysia doesn’t feel poor like some African countries, but the cost of visiting there is dirt cheap. One of the least expensive destinations per day we have visited and we enjoyed all four of the Malaysian areas we visited.
Most Disappointing City – Mandalay Myanmar
Although Myanmar lands at the top of our list this year for many things, the city of Mandalay was a disappointment and I would skip it when recommending a Myanmar tour.
15 Airbnbs, 19 hotels, 1 boat
Best Airbnb Overall –Mal Pais Costa Rica. We spent two weeks with our friends Randy and Sue in this gorgeous beach front Airbnb on the southwest coast of Costa Rica far from the crowds. We were well cared for by an onsite staff person, we witnessed the most incredible wildlife right in our own front yard, and had the most perfect nightly sunset show I’ve seen anywhere in the world. See it here.
Best Airbnb for Service – Diani Beach Kenya. Our lovely little cottage in Diani Beach Kenya came with daily maid service (she even washed the dishes), laundry service (a tiny additional cost), wonderful onsite owners who helped with tours and questions. We spent Christmas with these people and enjoyed having them around us for the holidays. See it here.
Best Airbnb for Authenticity –Antigua Guatemala
Our one-room loft with small kitchen in a historic Antigua home included an outdoor patio that overlooked the traditional inner courtyard as well as the ACTIVE volcano which at night we could see shooting lava into the sky. Wow. Unforgettable. See it here.
Least Expensive Airbnb – Diani Beach Kenya (see above for Best Service Airbnb) at $65 a night. We spent three weeks in a darling cottage with pool. It was an incredible value for everything we got and we felt right at home.
Most Unique Airbnb – Lake Atitlan Guatemala. Hands down one of the most beautiful yet also somewhat strange accommodations I have ever stayed in. We lived for 8 days in a cave basically, with the kitchen, living area and deck built in and around the boulders of the cave, a bathroom one level below in another cave and the bedroom, another level below that. Unforgettable. It was 270 steps to access the cave house from the road below. But oh what a view. See it here.
Favorite Hotel – Inle Lake Myanmar, The Myanmar Treasure Resort. Far and away above any other hotel we stayed in this year, the beauty and uniqueness of the Myanmar Treasure Resort had us giddy with joy during our two week stay in our over-the-water bungalow. And the staff and service was impeccable. See it here.
Worst Hotel – Crooked Tree Resort Belize. I’ve tried to block the one horrible night we spent in this dirty and rodent infested house with broken furniture and mold, from my mind. We were supposed to be there for four nights. We packed up at first light and disappeared.
Favorite Country Cuisine –Guatemala
Healthy use of local and fresh vegetables and beans with just enough protein I fell hard for the unique spices and flavors of the Guatemalan people’s cuisine.
Best Meal –Myanmar Treasure Resort offered a wonderful menu of local specialties and the local “Butterfish” was my favorite meal of 2019.
Best Cooking Class – Antigua Guatemala and Hopkins Belize. We couldn’t decide between these wonderful experiences. In Antigua I had a private class at La Tortilla Cooking School from a Mayan woman with an English interpreter. We made at lease 8 dishes and all were spectacular. In Hopkins my entire family enjoyed an afternoon with Garifuna Chef Gloria where we learned so much about the local Garifuna traditions, local produce and fish and gorged ourselves on the delicious cuisine.
Best Beer – USA all the way on this one, particularly since we didn’t spend any time in Europe, the beer of the USA is hands down the best.
Best Coffee – Guatemala. There is Guatemala again (I bet you really want to go there now dontcha?). I loved the coffee in Guatemala where they produce the best from the America’s – a deep rich and almost chocolaty brew. Kenya rivals it with their mountain grown beans that are often touted as the best in the world. For me though I preferred the dark beans of Guatemala over the lighter somewhat fruity Kenyan roasts. Both however got the job done and the smell was heaven on earth.
Best Food Experience/Tour – Taipei and Kuala Lumpur Two of the all-time best food tours we have ever taken happened this year, the first in Taipei Taiwan with Taipei Eats and the second in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia with Food Tour Malaysia . For both these tours the food was beyond abundant but it was the guides who really made sure our experience was remarkable and unique.
CULTURAL AND NATURAL EXPERIENCES
Best Sunset – Mal Pais Costa Rica. For fourteen glorious nights in a row we sat on a log on the beach, gin and tonic in hand, and watched the show…a fiery blend of orange, pink and purple as each day in Mal Pais came to an end. It was truly remarkable.
Most Authentic Cultural Experience – Muscat Oman dining with a local family. We were lucky to stumble onto the Website of Zayr, a local organization who brings visitors together with local Omani’s. Our experience dining in the home of a lovely local family included delicious food, but more importantly wonderful conversation and cultural exchange. We enjoyed it immensely. Shukran to our new friends.
Best Beach – It’s a tie! Cenang Beach Lankawi Malaysia and the greater Diani Beach area of Kenya both deserve the gold statue this year. Diani’s baby powder fine white sand and turquoise blue water is one of the reasons it shows up so often on lists of the most beautiful beaches in the world. But Langkawi’s Cenang Beach, is a clean, long expansive golden beach with incredibly warm waters all with easy access and lots of restaurants and services to make your beach visit comfortable. We loved them both.
Best Driver – Alehandro in Guatemala was our favorite driver who was not only a safe and exceptional driver, but was a great tour guide, passionate about his country and understanding when I was dealing with severe motion sickness. We became friends. If you need a driver in Guatemala let me know and I can get you in touch with him.
Best Tour Company – China Connections China we don’t use many tour operators, but for our time in China we were taken great care of by several operators and guides secured for us by China Connections, who also booked and organized our Yangtze River Cruise. Everything done without a hitch.
Best Bucket List Historic Site – Bagan Myanmar. I had read so much about Bagan and the unique and ancient temples there but I still was not prepared for it’s ancient religious beauty and the reverent and dedicated Buddhists who come to this place.
Best Natural Site – Glacier National Park, Montana USA. For wildlife spotting in the United States you can’t beat big and beautiful Montana and our visit to Glacier National Park did not disappoint. A top site in the USA you should not miss.
Best Waterfall – Mayan King Waterfall Belize. When our two adult sons visited us in Belize this waterfall was one of the unexpected and fun things we did just outside of Hopkins Belize.
Best Manmade Site – Tikal Guatemala. When I first started researching visiting Guatemala it was because I had heard so much about this remarkable Mayan site. And it was very remarkable. And we were surprised by all of Guatemala but the fascinating Mayan history here was the cherry on the sundae.
Best Mosque– Muscat Oman, Honorable Mention Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is one of the most beautiful if not the most beautiful (better than the Blue Mosque in Turkey even??) I have ever seen. Only a few years old the tiles, hand-knoted carpet and astonishing chandeliers are phenomenal. Our honorable mention goes to the Wilayah Mosque in Kuala Lumpur for the incredible customer service provided visitors there. Where we had a private tour for free and an opportunity to watch the mid-day prayers.
Best Day Hike – Wadi Shab Oman. After not being able to do this on our first try because of a big flood and mudslide the day before, we are so glad we returned a few days later to try again. I think most people would be pretty surprised at the rugged yet beautiful terrain of Oman, and it makes for exceptionally challenging and beautiful hiking.
Best Multi-Day Hike – Hiking from Inle Lake to Kalaw. This two day hike was longer and harder than I thought it would be (I should read the fine print) but the experience was amazing. Our guide was great, the food was surprisingly abundant and delicious and even sleeping on the floor in the home of a local Myanmar family with no electricity or running water was a memorable experience.
Most Unique Outdoor Experience – Learning to Goeduck Even though I was born and raised in Goeduck country, I had my first experience this year in Gig Harbor Washington USA.
Expensive but Worth it – Sunrise Hot Air Balloon Ride over Bagan Myanmar $700. Ridiculously expensive. Once in a lifetime memorable.
Best Wildlife Experience Orangutan watching in Borneo Malaysia with Honorable Mention to seeing sloths and toucans in Costa Rica. We love it when we can see wildlife in its natural habitat. Our time in Borneo was all and more than I ever could have dreamed of seeing up close and personal the endangered orangutans as well as proboscis monkeys. In Costa Rica a lifetime goal of seeing sloths in the wild was fulfilled.
Most Moving Experience – Journey for Purpose Kayak Trip Belize. If you have a chance, you should do this experience. It was such a wonderful way to stop and appreciate my own self-worth, while getting to know and rejoice together with a group of women I had never met before. The kayaking was hard but the scenery was beautiful with weather that challenged us. And such wonderful memories were made with these women as we held each other up when a family tragedy back home for one women gave us a unique opportunity to show our female nurturing strength and come together as one. I will never forget it. This trip happens annually, learn more here.
Best Performance Marionette Show Mandalay Myanmar. Although Mandalay was not my favorite place, the best thing we did there was attend the Myanmar Puppet Theater and enjoyed exceptionally talented puppeteers who have kept this Myanmar art form alive. Who knew marionettes’ could be so lifelike?
Least English Spoken – Guatemala wins again. Although we were always able to find people who spoke English when necessary, a large portion of the Mayan population in Guatemala who are older than a teenager do not speak any English. English has only been taught in the schools for the past ten years.
Hottest Day: Diani Beach Kenya 91 degrees F and 77 degree dew point. We swooned.
Coldest Day: Port Orchard Washington USA. During our time in the USA we had a couple of very chilly and wet weeks in June that kept us decidedly indoors
Wettest Day: Waking up in Placencia Belize to water all over the floor of our Airbnb and sewer bubbling up out of the holding tank after a torrential downpour all night long.
Best Yoga – Balance Yoga Retreat El Tunco El Salvador. I enjoyed a lot of great yoga around the world this past year with memorable moments in Kota Kinabalu Malaysia (where I did sound healing for the first time) and in La Fortuna Costa Rica, and Punta Cana Dominican Republic but my favorite of possibly all time was the ten days I enjoyed yoga both morning and evening at Balance Yoga Retreat in the tiny paradise of El Tunco El Salvador. Who would have thought?
Best Place to Run – Cenang Beach Langkawi. Getting up early before the heat of the day and running on the safe, flat and fabulous ring road and along the beach boardwalk of the small town of Cenang Beach gave us an entire month to really get back in running shape.
28 flights, 1 train ride, 2 small boat rides, one river cruise
Smallest Airport – Punta Gorda Belize. I am not joking when I say the terminal was a shack about 10’x10′.
Worst Flight Experience – Getting sever motion sickness on a tiny plane from Florez to Guatemala City and then needing to do a three hour drive on winding roads to our final destination of Antigua.
Airport Most in Need of Upgrade – Heho Airport outside of Inle Lake Myanmar. It’s actually pretty busy, but very rundown. The check-in counter looked like something used as a ticket booth at a carnival.
Best Airport – Muscat Oman was shiny and new and very comfortable.
Worst Day of Travel – We had to spend one night in Nairobi before flying on to Mombassa where we would go by car for the 40km trip to Diani Beach. We didn’t know that due to a ferry, that 40km trip usually took 4 hours and on the day we were doing it took 6 and half because of high traffic from the Kenyan holiday of Jamhuri the day before. Not sure how we missed that information in all of our research but it made for a very long and exhausting travel day indeed.
Just Because It’s Unusual Category – Dental Work in San Jose Costa Rica. I didn’t have a category to fit this in but I needed to mention it because it was quit unusual. But I had a wonderful experience at Meza Dental having an extraction and implant done for a third of the cost of doing this in the USA. A year later it is perfectly healed and I would do it again in a heart beat.
Sad But True Category – Photographer Death in Belize While our sons came to visit us in Belize we did some family photos of all of us on the beach with a female photographer I found online. She did a wonderful job and she was creative and nice. We received all the photos via email about a week later. Tragically just a few days after that, she died of a stroke. Rest in peace Marian.
So there you have it. The winner of the Fab Fifties version of the Oscars for 2019. What a great year full of incredible experiences around the world. We are the luckiest people on the planet. Who needs a little gold statue when you have a Fab Fifties Life?
What a fabulous life it is. WATCH OUT! 27 countries planned for 2020!
Please comment and share. We appreciate your love.
Why do we travel? I get many, many questions about our travel life, everything from how do I make coffee in my French Press to how do we afford a life of travel? Some people find it hard – making sense of it all – my travel life.
But the questions I like the best are when someone asks me to describe the way a place smells? Or what are the sounds I hear when alone sipping coffee in the morning? I love it when someone is astute enough or interested enough to ask a meaningful question like how does travel make me feel? What are the sensory elements of travel? How does a handshake feel from a Masai warrior, a Mayan weaver or a Chinese fisherman?
Because as we tumble into 2020 and our fourth year of travel these are the moments that linger for me. I am long past being impressed by tourism kitsch, fancy restaurants or hotels and shopping deals. Travel is now about the senses and mine are more alive than at any time before in my life.
A Sense of Adventure
Adventure is a key part of our travel life. In fact we are much more adventurous in our fifties and sixties than we ever were in our twenties or thirties. Living a life with a sense of adventure creates remarkable moments – moments that are often difficult to describe – but are part of this person I have become through travel. This reality of being someone different than who I was before is part of our grand adventure, a part I never planned or expected and yet, here it is. And it makes sense.
A Sense of Space
No one is more surprised than myself about how I have become a minimalist. Learning that I can, quit easily, live with very little has created a sense in me of openness. A sense of space. And I like that space. It feels good. It feels healthy. I feel lighter and more free. I don’t want to fill that space with anything more than moments. For now that is what makes sense.
A Sense of Time
Starting 2020 I also make the transition into my Fabulous Sixties (more about this in a couple of weeks). And this monumental birthday brings with it a lot of feelings, most significantly the feeling of waning time. I am accepting of the fact that there is a lot more territory in my rearview mirror than in my windshield ahead. As I have mourned several dear friends these past few months my sense of time has been sharpened. Each individual approaches this sense of time differently, but for me and my husband filling our lives with a travel life of memorable moments brings us joy and a sense of happiness. This makes sense to us.
You might think that travel and the frequent stress it can create would make me high-strung and irritable. But it’s actually the opposite. Travel has instilled in me more common sense than I have ever possessed before. Learning to navigate the world while loving the experience and just going with the flow is a learned skill – one you cannot do without common sense. Serving as a self-appointed ambassador for my home country – showing a big and beautiful world that Americans can be nice, thoughtful, tolerant and understanding has provided me a greater sense of being…and a well rounded repertoire of common sense. Nothing could make more sense.
A Sixth Sense
Maturity more than travel is what I credit for my own awareness. A sort of sixth sense has developed in me as I have aged. I’ve learned to read my own intuition and act on it, rather than regret it later. I’ve learned awareness of my surroundings, and my place in it, and my impact on it. I have tried to be a better steward for our planet, a better representative for my generation and a better American towards other cultures. In my own little way, I am here. This is how I make sense of it all.
So here we go again. We look forward to another travel year. Our travels in 2020 will take us from Armenia to Zimbabwe. From oceans to mountaintops. From jungles to cities. From beaches to glaciers. It’s all there. Waiting to fulfill us and our thirst for sensing how the world turns and what makes it’s people tick. A full and fabulous experience. A Fabulous Fifties Life.
Next Friday I will have a blog about beautiful Oman, but today I hope you enjoy our first video blog.
Are you stumped for a gift for someone on your holiday list who loves to travel? Check out our video below, with our favorite travel items, sure to be a hit for any traveler you know. Lot’s of gift ideas for the traveler on your list.
We hope our video helped you think of new ideas and we wish you happy shopping and a very Merry Christmas!
PLEASE NOTE – these opinions are my own and I have received no compensation for mentioning these products in my blog.
This is not a blog about everything you should do when visiting Bagan. There are no recommendations on hotels or restaurants or which temples are the most austere. There are plenty of those blogs already written.
There is an old women. She looks 80 but a life of labor probably means she is closer to my age of 59. She rolls cigars for a living…rolled from corn husks and filled with a mixture of tobacco and chunks of palm wood.
This is a blog about the way Bagan Myanmar makes me feel. A feeling I find difficult to describe or explain. Nonetheless this is me reflecting on Bagan.
The more I travel the more I find myself conflicted about travel…all the while also finding myself needing to travel more. It’s an addiction plain and simple. This insatiable desire to get at the nerve of a place and really feel it’s soul.
Hunched over a loom she makes cloth from cotton she has grown, dyed and spun into thread. She spends her days weaving to sell to the tourists and to provide the traditional skirts both men and women wear.
I’m conflicted because I don’t want to contribute to “over-tourism” – one of our current catch words of the decade. Though I practice conscientious travel my nomad life has me often seated in a jet airplane, frequently drinking plastic bottled water when no other options present themselves and participating in a growing global tourism culture in places few people have ever been until recently.
Thus here I am reflecting on Bagan.
Since before puberty she has worn the brass rings around her neck as one of the unique women of the Kayan tribe. Now later in her life, removing the rings could kill her. She has spent 50 years bound this way and even when the tourists stare she is proud.
I stand at a temple (a place where you worship Buddha inside) or a stupa (a usually dome topped monument to worship from the outside) and I find myself thinking much more about human life than about ancient structures. As I have gazed on the pyramids at Giza (Egypt 4500 years), the Mayan Temples of Guatemala (3000 years), the white marble Taj Mahal (India 400 years) and the Roman Road of the Camino de Santiago (Spain 2000 years) I see people more than structures.
In my reflection I’m less inclined to convince more visitors to come here than I am to search for meaning as to why I have been called to be here? Why has my life led me to witness.
I want to remember and honor and understand the remarkable human beings who walked this same ground I’m on, yet thousand of years before. Who were they? Young or old? Did they have families? Were they hungry? Happy? Whole?
I am fascinated at the thought of workers and slaves who by force or by faith built the great structures of our world. The precise stone monument of Machu Picchu (Peru 600 year), the precariously placed mountain top Sri Lankan fort of Sigiriya (1500 year) , the astonishing stone carved temple of Lalibela (Ethiopia 1500 years) or the massive and sprawling city of Angor Wat (Cambodia 900 years).
Beyond this curiosity about these ancient societies I also find myself drawn to more recent history. Meeting a tiny little cigar puffing 80-year old Burmese woman and wondering what she feels about the changes here over her lifetime. Eighty years ago Burma was a British Colony and the native people were suppressed under British rule. They cultivated the fields all around these more than 4000 ancient temples with little knowledge or awareness to understand the history that happened here. Making sure they knew where their next meal was coming from was more important.
Twenty years ago tourists began to come to the newly named country of Myanmar. Seven years ago a new government began to really push Bagan as a tourist destination and four-months ago Bagan became the newest UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A lot of changes in a few years. And though a UNESCO designation will breath new life into conservation and preservation efforts it will also bring a vast number of more tourists and continue to change the ancient way of life.
For me I find people and their cultures more fascinating than structures. The history of life. The culture of 4000 years ago and the culture of 100 years ago hold the same fascination for me. I think about the farmer who for generations planted his fields around the giant stones laying on the ground that we now know as Stonehenge (England 5000 years). Or the farmer in China just out digging a new well less than sixty years ago who discovered the incredible archeological site we now know as the Terracotta Warriors (2000 years). Or a British explorer looking for one thing and stumbling upon the ancient buried city of Ephesus (Turkey 1000 years). Just real everyday people discovering remarkable antiquities in a world fascinated with ancient ruins.
A beautiful young woman wearing the traditional thanaka paste on her face sells fans and postcards outside the temple. She uses her English to engage with visitors and her smile to enchant.
As I am reflecting on Bagan I want to embrace and honor the culture of the place, all while knowing much of it is gone or going with the influx of visitors like myself.
An old woman invites a stranger into her courtyard and serves them tea – expecting no donation or payment. This is her culture and she preserves it. She chats away in a language we don’t know and puffs on her cigar. She cackles loudly showing cigar stained teeth. She firmly grasps my hand as we depart with a well worn paw that has seen decades of labor. Her gesture is genuine, lovely, and will disappear likely in the next generation.
I don’t know where this leaves me, except in a quandary to do my best to show respect and reverence to the remarkable cultures I am so very blessed to touch, if only briefly.
Conflicted in Bagan. Beautiful, precarious, real Bagan. Reflecting on Bagan.
After three weeks on Malaysia’s island of Langkawi, I’ve been thinking a lot about all the islands we have visited around the world. It’s a lot of islands. My favorite islands around the world are usually remote and small. But I have also loved some larger, populated and sometimes touristy islands. We are headed in January to the island of Mauritius – I’m looking forward to six whole weeks there! Just call me Island Girl.
We have been working on our travel plans for the rest of the Grand Adventure 3.0 and have just booked two weeks on the island of Cyprus in April and more than three weeks on the island of Malta in May. There are several other favorite islands around the world that are high on our bucket list we hope to visit over the next few years including Madagascar, Sao Tome, Cuba, Jamaica and Guernsey…to name a few. Ahh my bucket list never seems to get any shorter.
So in today’s blog I thought I would share some of my favorite islands around the world, and a brief description of why they make my fav list. There are several other islands we have visited I don’t mention here…I had to narrow it down. But if you have ever considered traveling to any of these – here are my recommendations;
Very quiet but also expensive. Beaches are nice but having a car at least part of the time is a must if you need to shop. Groceries are very expensive and produce is difficult to get. The people are quiet but nice and it is just beautiful. Boats available to visit other islands.
Don’t miss swimming at Gold Beach Anse Volbert-Côte D’Or,
In October Antiparos was really quiet as the season ends in September. But we had exceptional weather. Some restaurants and businesses in the tiny town were closed for the season but we found everything we needed at reasonable prices. Ferries available to surrounding islands.
By far the tiniest island we have been on, this very low lying Maldivian island is actually an atoll, made up of coral. The weather was incredible and we had the most relaxing three weeks of our life here. Best one day snorkeling of my life off of Huraa. Very little to do, and nearly no shopping. Note that there is no alcohol on this Muslim island!
Size 150 X 500 miles (12th largest island in the world)
Population 1.3 million
Best time to visit December to May
Where we stayed – we rented a caravan and traveled around
New Zealand is downright amazing. We loved both the North and South Island and we would really love to go back and visit again. This is not a laying in the sun island. Rather it is an island for all things recreational: hiking, walking, cycling, bird watching and more. Absolutely stunning. And ridiculously expensive.
It’s been a long time since I visited magical Mackinac and I sure would love to go again. It is so unique, especially in the USA, to find a place with no motor vehicles. Both times I was there in the summer with beautiful weather. Renting bikes and riding around the island is a highlight.
I’m lucky to count myself as one who has visited every Hawaiian Island that isn’t privately owned, and hands down Maui is the best. It is expensive but beyond that everything about it is perfect – the weather, the water, the beach, the food, the activities and the fact for people who live on the west coast of the USA, it’s really easy to get to.
Don’t miss whale watching for humpback whales in the winter months
We loved our time on both of these beautiful islands. Bali is very popular with tourists for its beauty, beaches and vibe. Lombok on the other hand is a unique, tiny and non-touristy island where we spent six glorious days doing nothing but laying in a hammock.
Don’t miss an authentic Balinese Cultural performance in Ubud
I visited Zanzibar with my sister after spending a week on a safari in mainland Tanzania. It remains one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. It is also the second worst sunburn I have got. The white sand beaches are amazing. The people are quiet and kind. The seafood delicious.
Don’t miss a ride in an authentic Zanzibar Dhow Boat
Definitely one of the most interesting places I have ever been. This tiny island out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean is difficult to get to and expensive but worth it. We loved our time here learning about the Moai and the history of Rapa Nui. I highly recommend.
Don’t miss touring with an authorized tour guide to understand the amazing statues and history of this island
We did a five day tour with a guide around the major sites of Sri Lanka seeing some of the most amazing things including the astonishing Sigiriya ancient mountain fortress. Then we kicked back for more than two weeks in a tiny hut on the beach in Hikkadua, which ended up being “interesting” but super fun and the weather and the beach were perfect. The Sri Lankan people are some of the kindest on the planet.
Don’t miss Sigiriya Fortress one of the most incredible things I have ever seen
Size 50 x 80 miles (Isla Isabela, the largest of the archipelago)
Best time to visit January to June
Where we stayed – we were on a small 12 person cruise
My first dip into my bucket list was this trip to the Galapagos Islands to celebrate my 50th birthday. Living on a boat for five nights we saw many islands and the most amazing collection of wildlife and sea life. We loved every minute of it and although it’s expensive, we recommend it to anyone!
We only had a couple of days in Singapore, the teeny island city/state that is one of the most expensive places in the world. It is also one of the cleanest and most colorful, particularly at night. I hope to return.
Don’t miss the Singapore Gardens by the Bay at night and the amazing Singapore Botanic Garden
We only had a couple of day on Nantucket but we were traveling with our young children at the time and it was a great little place for a family vacation. We were there in spring before the hoard of tourists descend in the summer and it was peaceful and beautiful and historic.
Don’t miss a Clam Bake and riding bikes around the island
We drove up to the Maritimes from Boston and enjoyed the drive as much as the islands. Prince Edward Island was still at that time very quiet and we enjoyed riding bikes, eating lobster and learning about history.
Don’t miss searching for sea glass at Souris Beaches
Average temperature – Honshu is a big island with multiple climates but Tokyo average summer high is 80 F
Size 150 x 500 miles
Population 104 million (2nd most populous island after Java Indonesia)
Best time to visit – March to May and September to November
We spent five weeks exploring the island of Honshu. Our kids were little and it was a magical time for us as a family. Japan is one of the most unique and beautiful places in the world. I hope to go back some day.
I have visited these islands many times as they are in the backyard of where I grew up
Average Temperature 55 F
Size – there are nine islands in varying sizes. The two largest are Orcas and San Juan
Best time to visit – Summer months
We have traveled to nearly all of the islands over my lifetime growing up in the Pacific Northwest. The islands are a great place for family camping or romantic getaways. Hiking, cycling and kayaking are popular.
Don’t miss getting up close and personal with the famous J-Pod of Orca Whales on a whale watching tour.
Even after all the flights I have taken, I still don’t enjoy it. And our flight to Shanghai is 13 hours – one of the longest we have had. We will fly from Seattle to Shanghai non-stop on Delta Airlines. How to prepare for a long flight? With all the flights I’ve taken, I have a system.
I don’t like taking sleeping pills, because I am just too drowsy throughout the following days, so I have developed a a long-flight preparation plan. Even when the flight is not 13 hours (most of our flights are 3-6 hours) I practice the following flight preparation plan:
Two-Three days before;
No alcohol and no spicy foods. Eat healthy, low sodium and easy to digest foods.
Drink lots of water
Moisturize my skin
One day before;
Make sure my carry-on is well organized and includes the following; passport, earplugs, headphones, eyemask, water bottle, Ibuprofen, motion sickness medicine, chapstick, moisturizer, neck support, wet wipes, toothbrush and toothpaste
Get a good night’s sleep – limit late day screen time
Do all of the above from two-days before
Day of Flight;
All of the above
Get up as early as I can but limit caffeine
Drink a lot of water in the hours before boarding
Set my watch to the destination time
Dress in non-binding clothes including shoes and socks or be sure to pack a pair of socks. Wear a sweater that can be easily put on and off and used as a blanket.
I never wear my contacts on the flight. I always wear my glasses.
Greet my flight attendant and be kind to them. Not only do they deserve it they might be more inclined to help if I need something during the flight.
After I board;
Organize my space before take off so I know where my things are including earplugs, water, headphones, neck pillow etc. I also use wet wipes or sanitizer and wipe down my tray table and armrests as soon as I sit down.
I like to support my feet and either do that with an inflatable foot rest or my backpack.
Take two ibuprofen with water
Look at my watch and visualize the place I’m going and the time of day it is there…see myself there.
Find a meditation station on the in-flight audio or iTunes and begin listening to the calming voice and music.
If I want to eat before sleeping, I choose a light, non-spicy meal and have a non-caffeinated non-alcoholic drink. I never drink wine because it dries me out.
After the meal I go to the toilet, moisturize in the bathroom, brush my teeth and use my chapstick too.
Back at my seat I settle in. Get cozy and warm. Check my watch and think about what time it is where I’m going. Find my meditation music and sit back. Clear my mind of everything or think about fun things I want to do when I arrive. Think about my breathing – like in yoga breath deep from the belly. Relax my jaw. Relax my shoulders. Think about restful sleep.
If I wake up, I drink water. I take a walk to stretch. I take more ibuprofen. I moisturize and use chapstick. Then I settle back in again with the restful music.
This is my best advice for long haul flights. Sometimes I watch a movie if I’m having trouble falling asleep. I never sleep soundly, but I do arrive relaxed and not too disheveled. On arrival I always try to stay awake until a normal bedtime for my destination. Luckily for us, we arrive in Shanghai in the early evening. We should be able to go to bed and hopefully wake up ready to go on our first full-day in China.
I have purchased some compression socks to try this flight. This is the first time I have done that but I know many people swear by them. So I’ll give it a try.
I welcome your suggestions for making a long flight tolerable. Please comment below. If you like our blog, please pin and share. Thanks!