Guest Post: Three sage pieces of advice from seasoned traveller – Candace Dawn!

Through her background in Geology and mineral exploration, as well as her many years in the SCUBA diving industry, not to mention her intensive studies of yoga – Candace has certainly seen some of the world.

Places such as the Yukon Territory and Northern British Colombia, the Tibetan Plateau, Thailand, Vancouver/Vancouver Island, Nicaragua, Nova Scotia, the Cayman Islands, Jordan, Australia, and Indonesiaand these are just where she has lived and worked! The list of places that she has travelled goes on!

For those who enjoyed reading my ‘Ten Lessons Learned in Ten Years‘ post will certainly enjoy her take on my popular post.

Here are her three pieces of advice that have helped her to get more out of her experiences – and she believes may help you too!

Three more tips, you say? Hold my beer. I got this! 

Through all the blunders and successes that accompany travel, most people will end up learning a few essential guidelines regarding how to get the most out of being abroad. Although the most valued discoveries while travelling are typically the lessons learned about oneself, a few general life lessons for the road ahead are also worth considering. The following are three lessons which I’ve unearthed from working and travelling across the globe for the better part of the last thirteen years. They may not be for everyone, but hey, nothing is.

1. Taste the local cuisine – Even if it’s hard to swallow! 

Whether you’re digging into a rack of tender moose ribs in Canada or chewing on curly pig’s tails in China, there will always be something unique to a country that’s worth tasting. Try crunching on crispy chicken feet in Tibet, slurping up the slimy insides of a cow’s textured intestinal tract in France, or simply drinking a pint of honey-coloured local ale in England. Whatever you choose to sample, attempt to get out of your comfort zone when it comes to food, especially if you think you won’t like it. – You’ll thank yourself later!

I respect wisely choosing what you eat, perhaps it’s in support of your morals or considering the environmental impact; maybe you are looking to promote your health, avoiding allergens, or just being picky out of personal preference. While I appreciate adjusting your diet (I certainly do), years of living on the road has taught me that with food (as in life), there must always be a balance. My current approach to everyday living is – at ‘home,’ eat the way you want 90% of the time, but let go of your rules and restrictions as much as possible while travelling – you probably won’t die! When an opportunity arises to immerse yourself in a once-in-a-lifetime culinary experience, grab it by the fork, chopsticks, or eco-friendly paper straw – it doesn’t matter, just grab it! 

Relax! You don’t have to bite into a scorpion on Koh San Road or have your mouth go numb from drinking kava in Fiji if you don’t want to. And whatever you do muster up the courage to try, you don’t ever have to swallow again (unless you wish to). I’ve learned it’s not about trying everything but trying something; and remember whatever your dietary restrictions are, you never have to be left out! Ask for bean pupusas in El Salvador in lieu of cheese, sip on horchata (sweet rice milk) in Mexico as an alternative to getting tipsy off of mezcal, opt for marmite on toast in place of a full English breakfast in the UK, order the falafel in Jordan rather than the mansaf (lamb cooked in fermented yoghurt), or pick the lentil dahl instead of the butter chicken in India. No matter how much you’re willing (or not willing) to let your food ideals go (or what your mind tells you your stomach can’t handle without puking), there’s always a way to taste a bit of the culture. Find a balance that works for you, and don’t let your taste buds miss out!

I also came to realize that consuming the culinary culture doesn’t mean only eating it. Consider taking a cooking class in Thailand, practice eating with your fingers in Indonesia, learn the technique of pouring mint tea in Morocco, or get your hands into a sticky mess making tamarind paste in the Caribbean. Take what you enjoy home with you and integrate it into your life. If you do it right, chances are you’ll find yourself a little more ‘off the beaten path,’ and engaged in unique and memorable experiences that you may have otherwise missed.

Be brave with food, but perhaps leave the raw bats off the menu, shall we? 

2. See a Tourist Attraction – But don’t be another sheep!  

There is no denying that many attractions these days have become highly commercialized. I can’t tell you how many places of interest I’ve missed out on simply because I didn’t want to deal with overpriced entry fees, swarming crowds, and the harassment of pushy vendors. I’m not proud of this. Thus, I have tailored a way that I can enjoy the popular, ‘must-see’ sites and still keep a smile on my face.

If you prefer to appreciate the wonder and awe of iconic sites without feeling like a sheep who’s being herded around a corral, then pay attention to the following three points:

Choose your timing. Broadly speaking, consider the time of year or day of the week you plan to go. Narrowing it down further, you may want to select the time of day or even wait to be in the right mindset to go. Do your best to avoid holidays and high-seasons if possible as they are busier and the prices are usually inflated. Remember, tourist attractions are not only for foreigners but also for locals who may live in a different area of the country and who are just as much on holiday as you are; thus, it may be best to avoid long-weekends, for example. If you can get your ass out of bed to arrive at opening, the crowds will often be reduced. Also, depending on where you are in the world, mornings may be a more tolerable temperature, have optimal lighting for photographs, or simply have a more pleasurable ambience.

If you’re not concerned about high-quality photos, choose a dreary looking or rainy day, the place will likely seem abandoned, or if you’re lucky, that eerie mist may even give your photos more character. If it’s an indoor attraction you’re planning to visit, then perhaps the opposite applies as most people will prefer to be outdoors on a beautiful sunny day.

Avoid scams. Do your research to prevent overpaying. Buy food and drink outside of the grounds and bring it in if allowed. Take photos instead of buying useless souvenir trinkets; they will bring you more joy in the future! Only pay for a tour guide if you need one, or they are exceedingly knowledgeable and offer a pleasantly small group size. Often guides are not essential if you are willing to do a bit of reading and gazing at a map, speak to the locals about the hidden secrets, and can crack a few jokes between yourselves along the way. Get used to tactical bartering (where customary), but make it fun! Don’t get carried away arguing over what will end up costing you the equivalent of 50 cents in your home currency – whoever you’re buying it from will likely need those cents more than you! 

Get off the beaten track. My experience in Petra, Jordan sums this up perfectly. For those of you who have visited the famous Treasury (Al-Khazneh) carved into the red sandstone face, you should know full well what kind of atmosphere standing at its base offers – chaos! It is busy and loud, and nearly impossible to feel like Indiana Jones while surrounded by vendors pestering you to buy the same postcard or fridge magnet a hundred times over. It would also be a miracle to take a photo without about a dozen other people starring in the shot. My solution was to hike up to a viewpoint to see the treasury from a different perspective. The walk was not overly strenuous, it just took a bit of time and energy to get to, but the result was spectacular and was well worth the detour! 

See the Great Wall while in China, the Mayan ruins of Chichen-Itza in Mexico, and the Louvre in France. Visit all Seven Wonders of the World and the hundreds more out there. Just see them a way to ensure you enjoy your experience!

3. Stray animals need love too – No, they’re not all diseased!

Everyone knows that most people have a soft spot for cute, furry faces – when you know where they’ve been, that is. However, anyone who knows me is fully aware that I’m a sucker for giving special attention to scrawny, ragged, underprivileged animals. While abroad, I encourage everyone to get to know some of the local wildlife, but this can be as simple as giving a little pat to the random, dread-locked dog curled up under your table.

Let’s get real, I’m not suggesting you should stick your hands where they don’t belong, and I’m certainly not promoting feeding any living thing you see roaming the streets. I do believe, though, that many stray animals are as sweet, affectionate, and disease-free as your pets at home. Sure, maybe they are a tad dirtier, with matted fur, missing teeth, and a gimpy leg, but that doesn’t mean they are harmful to you. It certainly doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a little TLC, so go on – pet one! 

I understand that some animals may not be friendly and things like rabies could be a consideration when getting close to a shabby looking animal. I would like to say that my approach to this has been to keep updated on my immunizations, but being the exemplary travel-bum I am, I never wanted to spend the money so instead just took the risk (but you can get the shot!). Rather, I have learned to use my experience with animals and their ‘normal’ behaviour to judge how close I want to get. One thing that has become clear while caring for homeless animals abroad is that most of the issues strays are facing won’t harm you; it only hurts them. Whatever disease it appears they may have, is probably not contagious to humans! 

Many ‘stray’ animals aren’t truly stray. They are fed and cared for by the community of people around them; whether that be the locals in the area or the tourists who pass through. Firstly, decide if they need food before offering it, maybe they will benefit more from a bowl of water or a scratch behind the ear. If they hang out near a business, ask around to see if anyone regularly feeds them before thinking that you’re saving a life by tossing fried chicken over to a meowing cat, you may be encouraging bad habits! I’ll let you in on a little secret, well-fed animals typically whine for scraps more than the starving ones, but they know your weakness and how to get what they want!

The dark side of opening your heart to animals is getting too attached, something I have been guilty of many times before. Over the years, I’ve adopted the following rule – only go in as deep as you are ready to take responsibility for; i.e. are you willing to take it home with you? If you don’t have a home to bring it to, the answer is no!

So, don’t be stupid, use common sense and a bit of caution, but make an animal’s day by sharing a little love when you can. Just be sure to wash your hands after! 

Fun facts:

  • I devoured each food listed above… except for the bat of course; and the scorpion (bleh), that was James.
  • One regret of mine was not seeing the Terracotta Warriors while in China. I felt that I missed out so much that later in life while living in Australia I went to a museum which had a few of them on exhibit solely to see what I missed out on. 
  • Yes, I got myself in too deep with a dog once and chose to take him back to Canada to live out a better life, and that he is!

Thanks for reading. Happy Travels! 

Candace Dawn

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4 thoughts on “Guest Post: Three sage pieces of advice from seasoned traveller – Candace Dawn!

  1. Great advice Candace, I particularly want to comment on the first topic – that of the local food. For many of the locals it is also a sign of respect to them, their culture and their country if visitors are willing to give their cuisine a try and relationships can be made or forged more strongly through the sharing of food.

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  2. Thank you Heather! That is a great point and I couldn’t agree with you more, and some of the best bonding experiences I have had were over a meal.

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  3. Candace if you ever get back to Xian- there is a mausoleum on the way to the airport that was opened as a number of trenches with glass covering that you can walk over. One can almost feel -touch what is below

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