Michael Carter’s Travels in West Africa

Africa calls to many people. It is where our earliest ancestors were born, after all. That has earned the continent its nickname: Mother Africa. It’s also known as the Dark Continent. There is magic and mystery associated with Africa. We want to tap into it. This explains in some part why a young Canadian, our very own Michael Carter, chose to venture to West Africa back in the last millennium. For our latest interview, we jogged his memory with some questions about his epic trip.

What made you want to visit West Africa?”

Curiosity. Other than a brief visit to Morocco, I had never traveled anywhere in West Africa, much less the rest of the continent. To this day, I have only been to five African nations. There are just 49 left to go.

How much planning went into the trip?”

Virtually none. I had no idea where I was going, but I chose Dakar, Senegal as my starting point. How I decided felt like throwing a dart at a map and seeing where it landed. If I had known where I’d be going, I would likely have made an open-jaw trip by flying into one destination and out of another.

All I knew is that I had about six months to travel, but a budget that would limit my time considerably. The trip in its entirety, which included a handful of days in Paris, France at the end, lasted about four months. My only preparation was booking an open return ticket that took me from Toronto to Paris, and then to Dakar.

West Africa on a globe

What was it like to set foot on African soil?”

Setting foot on soil in West Africa was interesting since I arrived about 11:00-11:30 at night. I had no idea where I might lay my head for the first night. As fate would have it, I had met a German woman at Charles de Gaulle Airport during my Paris layover. She had a place picked out and a driver collecting her at the airport. I tagged along and this kicked off my African adventure.

Dakar is noted for its jazz music clubs. What are your memories of the Senegalese capital’s nightlife scene?”

I didn’t spend long in Dakar. I wouldn’t say I liked it much, to be honest. The exception was taking a boat to Gorée Island. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was the place where slave traders detained many slaves before shipping them off to the ‘new world.’ Although I didn’t visit any nightclubs, I did attend a music festival and fell in love with the rhythmic sounds of West Africa.

A street in Dakar, Senegal in West Africa

Tell us more about the festival.”

Youssou N’Dour was what I remember most about the festival. He was known as a griot,  which is a storyteller, poet, and musician. Youssou went on to international acclaim after touring as an opening act for Peter Gabriel.

The Gambia is less than 31 miles wide at its broadest point. Despite being so narrow, how did traveling there open your mind?”

The Gambia is a former British colony, so English is widely used along with Wolof and Fulani. What I remember most about The Gambia is the fun-loving people. However, this is the same for anyone who has travelled to the laid-back Caribbean islands, where people seemingly do nothing because there is nothing to do.  I consumed copious quantities of palm wine while lazing away the days.

Guinea-Bissau is noted for its natural beauty and wildlife, such as saltwater hippos. What was the most amazing thing you saw there?”

Well, I was only in Guinea-Bissau for eight or nine days. I met some interesting people in this former Portuguese colony — locals, travellers, and expats alike. The one thing I witnessed that was really intriguing to me was grave robbing.

It was almost twilight, and I was having a conversation, and a few beers, with a Brit whose wife worked at the Angolan Embassy in Guinea-Bissau. He told me that across the road was the main hospital. To the side and behind it was the cemetery. ‘You go in the front entrance and out the back,’ the Brit quipped.

There were groups of people rifling through the gravesites and stealing what they could — mostly clothes and shoes from the corpses. I guess you should be wary of those deals you find at second-hand markets.

Many people don’t realize that Timbuktu is an actual place in Mali. How much did the reality of the city match your preconceptions?”

I had no preconceived idea what the place would be like other than a lot of sand. It did not disappoint. The thrill, if you will, was in getting there. I left the city of Mopti — which is at the confluence of the Bani and Niger rivers — in an overloaded Land Rover. The only other foreigners were a French woman and a young Swiss couple.

There were no roads most of the way. It was truly overland. I was told the trip would take about 24 hours, so I purchased adequate provisions and water for this time frame.

We had mechanical problems, fuel shortages, and various other quirks. We slept under the stars of the surprisingly brisk desert night sky. 

A lone tree in Kebemer, Senegal.

By the time we reached the city of Diré, it had been three days of travel and surviving on one day’s worth of snacks and water. Diré is only about three hours — if I remember correctly — by a paved road to Timbuktu. By this time, it was early evening, and only us four foreigners left, including me. The journey halted until the following morning as the driver wanted to pick up more paying customers before continuing to Timbuktu.

I was parched, but at least I could purchase provisions in Diré. Sleeping indoors at a rustic guest house seemed rather luxurious that night. I finally reached my destination and checked my passport with the Commissariat de Police. This was a requirement for foreigners in every Malian city at the time.

Mali’s musicians are some of Africa’s most famous performers. What do you remember listening to there?”

Oumou Sangaré’s songs seemed to be playing endlessly, particularly in the capital, Bamako. She sang with a hauntingly attractive voice. Alas, like all overplayed music, it became like listening to The Eagles Hotel California for the millionth time. If I ever hear her again, it will be too soon.

What was your favorite dish you tried while journeying around West Africa?”

West Africa is no paradise for gourmands. Of the four countries I visited, Senegal had the best food over all. Poulet yassa — which is chicken with a flavourful lime and onion sauce — comes to mind. Mali was pretty much a choice of rice and fish or rice and rubbery chicken. There was one good Lebanese restaurant in Bamako, and I ate there exclusively during my tenure in the capital.

The Gambia was often a ‘meal of the day’ served from a large cauldron. Usually tasty, it’s just that I had no clue what I was eating most of the time. I spent a lot of time based in the village of Latrikunda, and my favourite go-to eatery was a place called ‘No Flies Restaurant.’ Very much a misnomer.

A tree in the prairieland of Senegal

I think my tastiest restaurant meal was in Bissau. Javelli — gazelle in a wine sauce sits high on my list. Guinea-Bissau also provided me with my most interesting food choice not from a restaurant — monkey. It was bush meat as it had been freshly shot by a police officer. What did it taste like? It was extremely rich, tasty, and boney as hell. My insatiable sense of curiosity lured me to try it. It is crossed off of my bucket list permanently.

Michael clearly developed a taste for Africa, monkey notwithstanding. When restrictions are lifted, we hope he can get back to discover some of the other 49 countries on the continent. It will be so interesting to talk to him after he has done that. Michael really is the most engaging of interviewees: well-traveled, educated, and irreverent in equal measure.

Morgan Yearout Shares Her Five Year Update

Morgan YearoutSo much has happened in the past five years for
Morgan Yearout. In fact, a lot has happened since her last article in 2020, which reflected on her return home to the United States. Morgan also mentioned that before diving deep into the last five years, it’s still insane for her to fathom that her hop across the pond was that long ago! She uses the moving abroad milestone to benchmark other events in her life and often thinks it was just three years ago… Time sure does fly when living out your dreams!

First, let’s rewind to 2016. What was the most significant thing that you learned?”

The most significant thing I learned in 2016 is we can’t believe all the lies we tell ourselves. In my case, the lie I kept telling myself as I prepared to quit my reliable and engaging corporate role to be a language assistant was: “I will never be gainfully employed doing what I love again.” 

Our brain likes to play tricks on us and magnify the risk tenfold. I’ve learned over time that the more we subject ourselves to “fear-inducing” things, the better equipped we are to challenge our thoughts because we have a personal history of success. I like to call it micro-dosing on my fears. It gets me out of my comfort zone and expands my realm of understanding in many facets of life. Had I trusted those thoughts, I wouldn’t be where I am today with five years of incredible experiences while being gainfully employed doing what I love!

What caused a shift in your thinking in 2017?”

The most significant thing that shifted my thinking is when I started to have grace for myself. I know it’s such a cliché, but honestly, I used to be incredibly critical of myself. I’m naturally a high achiever, and if I missed the mark on something, I’d dwell on it. However, if other people underperformed or let me down, I would rationalize and justify it in their favor. 

The time abroad gave me space from everything I knew to be “true.”  It enabled me to reevaluate my life and the key drivers behind why I was so hyper-critical of myself. I have learned to see the beauty in the messy and be joyful because I’m not ruminating on past transgressions. I now evaluate my snafus for learning with a much kinder lense and move on quickly. 

How will you best remember 2018?” 

I experienced the whole gamut of emotions, from the high highs to the grief-filled lows. My mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer again; a death sentence. I expedited my pop-up wedding in San Diego so that our immediate family could have a vacation together. Despite knowing that this year would be her last, our time was filled with love, and we made beautiful memories. Soon after, I was approved to work remotely. I spent 70% of my first year married back home in WA, tending to mumsie. 

My mom passed away in September, and the support I received from family and friends was immense. I was grateful to have my husband jump on a flight the next day to help me through the grief by being present. I’m not much of a talker when it comes to deep emotions. I mainly just need hugs, time in Mother Nature, and to run. There were many tears shed on the treadmill. 

In 2018, I also celebrated the pregnancy of a friend and my own. I drove cross-country; reuniting with friends and family along the way. I spread my mom’s ashes in Oahu, surrounded by immediate family, and planned her Celebration of Life. I scuba-dived for a second time since becoming Open Water certified. And, I subsequently broke the record for revenue highs at the hotel that I was revenue managing, landing us in the Top 10 of all Texas hotels. See, high highs, and low lows. Life is crazy beautiful, and I always look for the silver lining, especially since I’ve experienced quite a few devastations in my life. 

What was your major personal/professional development of 2019?” 

I grew a baby! That’s a big deal I hear. Professionally, I toyed with the idea of leaving a perfectly fine role to open a newly built Marriott hotel upon returning from FMLA. I reflected on my life with the current property and where I wanted to go long-term. It was a lot of deep contemplation because the team I worked with was incredible, true experts, and great humans! 

It would have been easy to rest on my laurels, but I really didn’t want to keep living the same day on repeat for the next 20-30 years, and I was up for a new challenge. I interviewed a couple of times for the Director of Revenue position at Hotel Drover, an Autograph Collection by Marriott, in the historic Fort Worth Stockyards, and officially started in February 2020.  

Where did 2020 take you?”

I officially started the role of Director of Revenue at Hotel Drover in February of 2020! In retrospect, it was divine timing since COVID-19 hit Texas hard in mid-March. The new hotel was still under construction with limited staff, and plenty of operational planning, budgeting, sales, and system configuration required to prepare for our 2021 Grand Opening. I remained gainfully employed throughout 2020, despite so much hardship in the hospitality industry. 

A central American pyramid

When COVID-19 first hit, our offices closed for a month, allowing me to work from home, an environment I thrive in. I even started taking a daily lunch break, something I rarely do when in an office. This time allowed me to walk my sweet little baby, listen to podcasts, and enjoy nature more frequently. I even found myself logging overtime because of the flexible work environment. It’s easy for me to get carried away on projects and lose track of time when working at home. I become so engrossed with projects that I lose all track of time as a result of interruptions being rare and there not being a looming commute. 

A photo of a swimming pond in Vallodolid, one of the highlights of Morgan's last five years.

We also had friends move in for a few months. We often drove to Houston to visit the in-laws. Constantly surrounding ourselves with company resulted in daily entertainment and a deeper sense of connection than in a typical year. It really makes me think that having multiple generations and/or quality roommates later in adult life isn’t such a bad idea. Another plus was to have extra hands to love our child.

How would you sum up how your life has gone so far in 2021?”

Revenge travel is definitely a thing these days, and I’ve been making up for “lost” time celebrating life and adventuring! I have been to four weddings this year (three domestic and one in Mexico). I jumped on a flight to visit a former language assistant in Arkansas, ventured to Washington to visit friends and family, and celebrated the hubby’s birthday with friends in Fort Lauderdale. Finally, I had a former language assistant and roommate from Madrid visit me, had a childhood best friend visit from WA, attended three baby showers, and welcomed children from dear friends and family into the world! On this personal level, I am so incredibly grateful to be healthy and participate in all these things!

Professionally, we successfully opened Hotel Drover in March 2021! It was no small feat attempting to open a hotel amidst the pandemic, but we did it, and we are honored to welcome many guests each and every day. I shared this labor of love with friends and family during the pre-opening celebration. These types of accomplishments can’t be done without a strong support system, and I am so thankful for those that rallied behind me because heavens knows the past year wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies. 

Taking the time to slow down and reflect deeply on the last five years has been insightful for Morgan. This interview allowed her to look in from the outside. Reviewing her thoughts at length for pivotal decision times and visualizing the “most” impactful scenes, as if in real-time, has been hard on occasion. However, Morgan still finds herself smiling with gratitude because she is so proud of the evolution of her mind and the strength of her heart over the past five years. The journey has been a wild one and Morgan will continue to dream big dreams and challenge her fears with proof of success from lived experiences. They say “proof is in the pudding” and Morgan couldn’t agree more. 

by Dreams Abroad

Meet Marcos González the Picture Perfect Traveler

Marcos González and I have a lot in common. We’ve made reverse journeys across the Pond. While away from our home countries, we have lost loved ones. I founded Dreams Abroad while teaching in Spain. In my latest interview, I speak with Marcos, a traveler who swapped the North Coast of Spain for the West Coast of the States.

“Come home to paradise, come to Asturias.” This is the slogan of the principality’s tourist board. A green and pleasant land, this is northwest Spain. A rugged coast and majestic mountain range crown Asturias. The fare is of the hearty variety, made to satisfy the appetites of those accustomed to working outdoors. It’s Marcos González’s native terrain and while pandemic-enforced absence makes the heart grow fonder, he has embraced a new life in California as a hospitality professional.

You come from Asturias, land of fabada asturiana and sidra. What dish or drink do you miss most from your home?

I miss many, but mackerel is one of my favorite ones! Undeniably, I do love cabracho cake too. It’s like a paté made with rockfish and it’s delicious. I am lucky to be from a country and a location with a rich, delicious, and varied gastronomy.

“If somebody is planning a Spanish road trip, what are the unmissable things to see and do in Asturias?”

First, they need to hire me as a guide… kidding! Asturias is small but you will be surprised by the number of beautiful places that we have. Definitely, Oviedo is a must. Covadonga, Llanes, Somiedo… everywhere there is something beautiful to visit, from waterfalls, lakes, castles, caves, and beaches.

Which country have you enjoyed exploring the most?

I must say that I have loved exploring all of them, but I think France is my number one! I love France. As I used to live in Andorra, I was in France all the time! 

“On your Instagram page, you describe yourself as a traveler, explorer, adventurer. Where was the first place you traveled to both in and outside of Spain?”

Good question… the first time that I went out of Spain was to Ireland. I loved it. In Spain… I would say Barcelona, I think it was the first city out of Asturias that I visited as a traveler.

What has been your favorite individual adventure?

I would say my trip to Hawaii. It was somewhere that I went by myself as a traveler and I had so much fun! Visiting Hawaii was a beautiful experience full of adventure. Kauai conquered my heart!

“You work in hospitality. How did your accommodation react to the pandemic?”

Now I am a food and beverage manager, but I was a hotel manager in the past. We have followed all the protocols and we have been open and busy all the time. I haven’t taken any vacations since March 2020 and it doesn’t seem that I am traveling any time soon. Despite there being a pandemic, I have been working more than ever. I just wished that certain guests could have been more understanding and easier with us. Some people have been extremely rude and aggressive toward us during all this time, forgetting that we are doing our job and putting our lives at risk.

“How much does being based in California (where over a quarter of the population speaks Spanish as a primary language) help you with adjusting to your relocation?”

Well, it’s nice to be able to speak my language. Nonetheless, I am fluent in English, so I don’t mind speaking one or the other language. I have lived in the UK and even in Ireland before, so the language is not a problem for me. The problem is for the poor Californians who have to understand my accent!

What advice would you give to those looking to work in the hospitality industry?

I love the industry. My advice is to be ambitious and enjoy what you do. You should take advantage of the industry to live in different countries as I did. 

“Which one photo that you have taken do you like looking at and why?”

There is a photo with my dog in Asturias that I love. First, because I love my dog and Asturias. Second, I took it when I started getting interested in the photography world.

“When will you return to Asturias to see your family?”

I don’t have plans yet. I am vaccinated and they are too, but I think that it’s risky. With everything that has been going on, I won’t put my family at risk. I can wait until I feel it’s safe. Sometimes, deciding not to visit someone is the greatest proof of love, don’t you think so?

While Marcos is committed to securing residency in the United States for work purposes, his heart remains in Spain. Marcos looks forward to the day he can fly back to Asturias to reunite with his family. In the meantime, Marcos is traveling locally around California. He particularly likes visiting beaches and national parks such as Big Sur and Bodie State Historic Park.

Planning to explore north of California? If there’s one thing the Pacific Northwest is famous for, it’s their coffee culture. Check out our guide to find the best coffee in Portland, Oregon.

Justin Hughes-Coleman Shares His Five Year Updates

August 2021 has arrived. It has been five years since the events that lead to the birth of
Dreams Abroad at a Spanish language school, TANDEM. To recognize this anniversary, we have asked founding members to look back at each year in turn. What have they learned? Where has their life taken them? Do they still work abroad or work remotely?

I remember meeting Justin Hughes-Coleman for the first time in Madrid, on a sweltering day in the Spanish capital. My initial impression of his character was of a reserved but, at the same time, happy-go-lucky individual. He exuded a warm, bubbly personality with a lust for life and a smile that bounced off every wall in a room. Getting to know him better, I discovered more complexities webbed throughout Justin. He is an intricately layered professional who has known his fair share of pain as much (if not more) as pleasure.

Let’s rewind to 2016 first. What was the most significant thing you learned that year?”

During 2016 I learned that if I shift my focus to my goals and break down those goals into smaller achievements, I could live the life I want. Getting to Spain required so many little and big things to be in place, from finances to storing my belongings. Actually, living in Spain opened up another world of goals. My passion has been to travel and explore the world. Now I am focused on making that a long-term, sustainable lifestyle. 

What caused a shift in your thinking in 2017?”

During my second year in Spain, I tried to focus on both maximizing my limited time left in Spain while also planning for the future. I knew I wanted to have a career I could work remotely in so that I had the option to travel. During 2017 I networked with many technology professionals to find a career path that suits my desired lifestyle. 

How do you best remember 2018?”

Bittersweet! In June 2018 I left Spain. I ended a chapter of my life that I never thought I would experience and that changed me forever. In Spain, I made incredible friends that are still close to me to this day. My students and teachers sending me off in style is something I won’t ever forget. I will also remember 2018 as the year I realized I really need to put my goals first or else I will never achieve them. 

Justin in 2018 with friends

What was your major professional development of 2019?”

I enrolled in a professional technology program that was supposed to lead to a job in the tech industry. It was meant to be the first step to living abroad long term. The boot camp was in Data Science and I was instantly immersed in a new world. I’ve really enjoyed the field so far. Not only is it challenging and innovative, but it also has a real-world impact. 

A photo of computer code.

Where did 2020 take you?”

My boot camp concluded a mere month before the pandemic so I really struggled to find a job. I was offered two positions that were later rescinded. Eventually, I took a step back and started doing more freelance projects just to keep my skills up to date. 

How would you sum up how your life has gone so far in 2021? Have you begun to work remotely?”

First and foremost, I am very fortunate. No one in my life suffered from COVID and I had the financial means to not need to worry about money during the pandemic. At the moment I do feel a little lost as I am still looking for a permanent full-time position in my field. However, I am committed to moving this year and my area of specialty allows me to work remotely. I am exploring American cities that will make a good home base for my travels. Right now I’m looking at Atlanta, GA, Miami, FL, and New Orleans, LA. Any feedback on any of these places is greatly appreciated!

Justin sitting outside during sunset, ready to start work remotely

Justin left Spain three years ago. However, his Iberian memories still burn bright. Moving forward, Justin has plans to discover his native country more by securing a position that allows him to work remotely. We wish him the best of luck and look forward to hearing about his next five years and beyond. Dreams Abroad is honored that Justin was one of our first members and we appreciate all his contributions.

by Leesa Truesdell

My 5 Favorite Things About Hoi An, Vietnam

The City of Hoi An is a UNESCO World Heritage site on Vietnam’s central coast. Known for its well-preserved Ancient Town, the whole city is cut through with canals. Its small population and compact size make it easily explorable by bicycle or on foot. Being a four-hour bus ride from Hanoi, I’d only heard of Hoi An from fellow travellers once I had arrived in-country. Since it was near other places I wanted to see, I headed south.

When I visited Hoi An, the word was just getting out among the backpacking crowd. My current research shows that the city has become a tourist mecca. 

Old Town

Old Town is in an incredible state of preservation, with narrow streets that are closed to traffic. You can wander and admire the ancient houses, pagodas and temples, wells, and tombs without navigating cars, motorcycles, and scooters. The lichen-stained patina of pastel-colored walls immediately caught my attention, especially the ones splashed with vibrant red or purple bougainvillea. In the morning and evening light, fellow shutterbugs were in awe.

I stayed in Old Town, choosing a hotel with a pool for relief from the tropical heat. It was there that I learned Hoi An was the place to go for custom-made clothing. One of the main streets is lined with tailors and dress shops, the storefront windows crammed with colorful reams of material. I bumped into a guy who I met at Hạ Long Bay at a restaurant near my hotel. He was in town, waiting on his custom-made suit. 

There are plenty of authentic Vietnamese restaurants in Old Town. I fell in love with a local dumpling specialty called White Rose. I felt so impressed with another appetizer, stuffed squid, that I took a cooking class to learn how to make the delicacy. Despite how delicious the dish was, I was the only student and I mostly sat with cold beer in hand watching the barefoot chef cook on an old hot plate. I felt like I was in an episode of The Flintstones

Hoi An Night Market

This is not your average fruit and vegetable market. It has all the fresh produce you can imagine, along with local artisans who create and sell their wares on-site. Shopkeepers have set up the market stalls along the river, across the street from a row of restaurants and specialty shops. They’ve strung up colorful lamps and paper lanterns in front of the vendor booths like distant planets glowing in the twilight. 

One of my favorite pastimes while travelling is people watching. After learning that ‘fresh beer’ actually meant draft beer, I perched myself on a restaurant patio to sip and slurp my cold brew and White Rose dumplings. I watched the busy little people shopping and selling their wares, some wearing the traditional rice hat. I couldn’t have felt any further from home and that was just fine by me. 

An Bang Beach

An Bang Beach is about a 10-minute scooter ride, or a 25-minute scenic and leisurely bicycle ride along the river from Old Town. Stepping out from the row of shady palm trees that lined the white sand beach on the South China Sea, I felt blown away by the unobstructed views for miles in either direction. I spotted an Australian woman from my hotel and asked if I could share her blanket to get off the hot sand. 

We chatted, comparing previous trips and our lives at home. She was staying in town, waiting on a custom-made bridesmaid dress for a friend’s wedding. I borrowed sunscreen to stop my pale skin from burning to a crisp, one reason I don’t spend much time at the beach. The pleasant company and nearly deserted beach made for a nice afternoon. 

The beach in Vietnam

Mỹ Sơn 

Mỹ Sơn is a cluster of abandoned and partially ruined Hindu temples in central Vietnam. These gorgeous structures were constructed between the 4th and 14th century by the Kings of Champa, an Indianized kingdom of the Cham people. About 25 kilometers away from Hoi An, this awesome ruin site was nearly decimated by American bombing during the Vietnam War. The government is doing its best to restore Mỹ Sơn which was once more glorious than Angkor Wat. 

I took the bus there, feeding pills to my food-poisoned Aussie friend along the way. Many of the temples suffered severe damage from the bombing. Those that survived are truly magnificent. The guided tour is a must if you’re interested in knowing the history of what you’re looking at. Bring along a hat or umbrella if you arrive in the midday heat. There is no shade from the hot sun. 

Marble Mountain & Da Nang

These authentic hotspots are also close by. I rented a scooter for a short trip and enjoyed the scenery along the shoreline of the South China Sea. The City of Da Nang was once the location for a huge US military base. Although I didn’t visit the city, I checked out two of the concrete bunkers along the beach. Across the highway, Marble Mountain was much more impressive. It has an interesting history to boot. 

During the war, North Vietnamese soldiers took refuge and set up a military hospital inside mountain caves. The US bombed the mountain so severely, they eventually blew a hole in the top. Natural sunlight now streams through the hole, lighting up the altar and shrine below. I climbed to the top of Marble Mountain and took in amazing views of the sea and Da Nang. 

Unexpected Friends

On the way to the mountain, two young girls on a scooter befriended me and said I could park across the street at their uncle’s shop. I knew I’d have to pay in some way later on. One of the smiley young ladies was waiting when I returned. She told me I qualified for a discount in the store because we were friends. In fairness, she was the one who showed me the bunkers. The store was filled with amazing marble sculptures; I took home two hand-carved candle holders. 

I’d originally planned to only spend three days in Hoi An, but after falling in love with the place I extended my stay to five. It is a great place to explore or kick back, relax, and soak up the exotic culture.

If you enjoyed my story and would like to read more about my travels in Vietnam and Southeast Asia, please check out my book, A Casual Traveler, or visit the travel section of my website.

A Rainy Day at the Leaning Tower of Pisa

Catch up on our visit to Italy’s Cinque Terre before checking out the latest installment in my European road trip series where we take in the Leaning Tower of Pisa. For those of you who have been following my adventure over the last few years, my next few posts may not be as detailed! Unfortunately, I have not been able to finish my travel journal so I am piecing my adventures together based on rogue memory and a few video clips I uploaded to Facebook.

Pit Stop at the Leaning Tower of Pisa

Nonetheless, our pit stop at the Leaning Tower of Pisa will stay with me for the rest of my life. Not because it was a gorgeous piece of Italy’s architectural history, but because it is one moment that I really can take pride in myself.

Picture this: our shoes still drying from the rains at Cinque Terre, we stop at the parking lot of the Piazza del Duomo. It is full-blown Florida monsooning outside the bus. Despite being in the early afternoon, it looks near dusk, and the wind is whipping up. It is by far the worst weather we had experienced the whole trip. We waited for about a half-hour to see if it let up. When rains failed to relent, Nikos gave us the option to either stay on the bus or brave the enormous, fat drops pelting the side of the bus.

Lessons from the Past

Almost everyone elected to stay on the bus. I was almost part of that party. But as I sat in my seat looking across the puddles towards the piazza, I remembered something my mom had told me before I left. She recalled her own experiences backpacking in Europe as a young adult. She had somehow wound up on an overnight ferry. My mom hadn’t bathed in three days and she didn’t know a single person. She asked two French girls (who didn’t know English) to watch her stuff. Meanwhile, she tried to wash up in a hidden employee bathroom the size of a small closet. Her travel journal was full of swearing and how miserable she was. To this day, she says the trip was the best of her life and she’d do it again in a heartbeat.

This was going to be my ONLY chance — maybe for my entire life — to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa. As incredible as travel is, it’s not without its uncomfortable moments. Compared to stealing away into an employee bathroom on an overnight ferry with no access to indoor seating, this was a walk in the park. I’d be damned if I let a little bit (well, a lot) of rain stop me.

A Soggy Reality

In the end, only me, Yennifer, and Dounia followed Nikos out into the storm. With nothing but my thin and not-waterproof raincoat on, we darted between crowds huddled under the few awnings leading up to the square before we were spat out in front of the soggy greenway. We took the obligatory pictures and took it in for all of 10 minutes before scrambling back towards the bus.

Was it worth it? Absolutely. Sure, the view definitely would have been better in the sun. We probably would have had a picnic with an incredible backdrop. I probably could have spent a little more time lining up my classic Leaning Tower of Pisa shot. But I didn’t back down, and that’s what makes this one of my favorite memories from the trip. My gut instinct was to give up. I actively decided that that wasn’t going to be the kind of traveler I was. It was incredibly liberating, and I still got the reward of seeing the tower.

Towards the French Riviera

Once back on the bus, I shrugged off my sopping wet raincoat. I tried to dry off with my hoodie as best I could (which wasn’t much). We finished out the bus ride and I felt elated the whole time. I did it. Once we finally arrived at the hotel in Antibes, I finally got to shower. I quickly changed into some drier clothes, appreciating the step up from a ferry’s employee bathroom (sorry Mom). Although I can’t remember the name, I know that we were sandwiched somewhere near the coast between le Fort Carré and the Grande Roue d’Antibes near the Promenade de l’Amiral de Grasse. That night, we explored the downtown area and had dinner at an outdoor café. Ambling along the coast, I knew great adventures were to come the next day as we explored Antibes and its azure coastline.

Adam Rogers is Taking Action Online

Adam RogersAdam Rogers and Leesa Truesdell have been communicating and taking action online since the spring of 2019. Adam mailed Leesa a copy of his book, The Intrepid Traveler. Leesa had just moved back to the United States and had not met Adam or even interacted with him. Leesa thumbed through it and got back to work. Later that week, she reached out to contact Adam after gleaning his details from the sleeve of the book. 

“You’ve never been to a country until you’ve shared a meal with a person from that country.” — Adam Rogers 

Adam’s intrepid travels intrigued Leesa and he became one of #GlobalFoodieFriends’ first guest hosts. Leesa felt fascinated by the importance Adam put on eating with locals. He spoke about his years and years of travel, of hitchhiking through Syria, and breaking bread with countless strangers turned friends.

Leesa recalls writing the 32-character bio for Adam’s Twitter introduction almost two years ago. She feels pleased to share his current interview about his fifth, and certainly not last, book covering social media strategy and connection. They created a friendship in cyberspace and recently had the chance to meet in person. 

Introducing Adam Rogers: Adam specializes in providing strategic communication for results. Before celebrating a 25th anniversary with the UN where he held a variety of positions, he was an environmental journalist. Adam’s green outlook continues to color his output. He feels happiest occupying the moral high ground, aiming to follow Dr. Martin Luther King who insisted “the time is always right, to do what is right.”

Taking Action: an Environmental Guide for You and Your Community came out in 1995, and its sequel last year. Why the quarter-of-a-century gap?”

The first Taking Action was written to inspire individuals and community organizations to localize Agenda 21, the landmark United Nations framework for action that came out of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Also, the first Taking Action was commissioned for, and published, by the UN Environment Program. It segued neatly from my 1993 book, The Earth Summit: A Planetary Reckoning. This book documented the Summit through the perspectives of business, youth, indigenous communities, and governments. 

As you may know, the guiding frameworks for environmental and sustainable development evolved into the Millennium Development Goals at the turn of the century. From there, to Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals after 2015. Concurrent to that process, the world experienced the digital and social media revolutions. These lowered the costs of connection and barriers to entry. Billions of people around the world suddenly started accessing information and interacting with one another.

This is what inspired me to write Taking Action Online for the Environment, Social Justice, and Sustainable Development. I see that the Internet in general, and social media in particular, can help or hinder the betterment of humanity, depending on how it is used. In Taking Action Online, I present a positive view of social media and how it can be used to support efforts to end poverty, support social justice, and protect the planet so that the planet can then protect us.

taking action online

Helen Clark, the former prime minister of New Zealand, wrote the foreword to your latest book. The UN also employed Helen. So where and when did you meet for the first time?”

I first started at the UN as a staff member in 1996, joining the team at the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF). The UNCDF is an organization that works through both the public and private sectors to support local communities to put an end to poverty. At that time, Helen was still the Prime Minister of New Zealand. In 2008 I went to work for the UN Development Programme (UNDP) as their regional communications chief for Europe, based in Geneva.  Helen joined UNDP a year later in 2010. We met for the first time when she came to Geneva, and I organized interviews for her with European journalists. 

A UN vehicle in Uganda

In the preface, you quote Everett M. Rogers and his categorization of users of new technology, specifically: 1) innovators, 2) early adopters, 3) early majority, 4) late majority, and 5) laggards. You’re clearly a 1 or 2, but what if we all were? To what extent would it accelerate technological advances?”

The theoretical framework of Diffusion of Innovations explains how, over time, an idea or product gains momentum and diffuses (or spreads) through a population or social system.  According to the theory, which is rooted in behavioral science, there will always be those who love trying new things. And, on the other hand, those who prefer to wait until their trust level rises in the innovation. This is probably a good thing because not all innovations that enter the market end up working. Not everyone has the time, money, or patience to invest in new gadgets. I remember getting the first smartphone in the early 1990s — the Apple Newton, which was a complete flop and a waste of money. Then came the Palm OS, which was a bit better. I now feel magnetically attached to my Android device.

How alarmed do you feel about the Burmese and Chinese social media bans?”

On the one hand, banning social media is a way to control the flow of information. It keeps people in the dark and uninformed so that government authorities can force their will. On the other hand, social media channels like Parler can also become echo chambers and platforms for misinformation. These may inspire the impressionable to refuse to wear masks, to rally against vaccinations, or to attack democratic institutions like the US Congress. Given the two extremes, however, I would prefer the American system that embraces the freedoms of association and information. The US trusts the public to develop a higher intelligence that questions communication and triangulates the sources rather than only listening to those that agree with their own views.

taking action online via social media

You emphasize how positive social media can be in promoting world peace, which is a world away from the Internet’s roots as a US military tool. But what about the negatives? The Internet Research Agency in Russia? Black and Asian athletes being sent racist DMs? Trolling in general?”

The ignorant and uneducated people who spew vitriolic hate have always been there. However, the Internet just gives them a platform to find others of like mind to reach and attack more people. These idiots will otherwise be burning crosses in public spaces, painting ignorant graffiti on walls, or yelling odious rhetoric at passersby. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater is not the best approach to deal with them. Instead, platforms like Twitter and Facebook can filter, control and condemn such hate through the use of AI, and governments can regulate hate speech that persecutes people. Some governments are aware that hateful speech can lead to violent actions.

In most of Europe, for example, it is illegal to display any form of the Nazi swastika. While the United States, for example, protects the right of neo-Nazis, white supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan, and other hate groups to express their views openly on and offline, Germany has strict laws banning Nazi symbols and what’s called Volksverhetzung — incitement of the people, or hate speech. In the US, hate speech is protected. We should realize that hate speech often leads to hate crimes and criminalize it accordingly.

Your 2018 publication, The Intrepid Traveler, draws on 40 years of visiting 100+ countries. What’s your favorite tip from it and why?”

My favorite tip is probably to never leave home without an open mind. You can forget everything else, but that is the most important (well, a passport and some money are also important). Yet if you don’t have an open mind, there is no point in leaving the country.

In terms of ecotourism, which region or country is leading the way?”

I would say that Costa Rica is probably the leader when it comes to ecotourism. With coastlines on both the Caribbean and Pacific, and with almost one-fourth of the country covered in protected rainforest, CR is a natural destination. It also has an infrastructure that caters to travelers who are there for ecotourism. That said, I believe you can connect with nature in any country if you are motivated to do so. I have always asserted that to really experience a country, your travel should be three dimensional: 

1) see and visit the things you can see on a postcard, like the Egyptian pyramids, the Eiffel Tower, or the Great Wall of China

2) meet the descendants of the people who built them, and who live in their midst. Then really connect with them by learning some of their languages, appreciating their food, and reasoning with their religion; and 

3) resonate with their natural surroundings by going for a long walk on a beach alone, listening to the waves and feeling the wind, sleeping out in the desert, or hugging their trees. 

the great wall of china

Only when you have done all three of these things can you really say that you have experienced a country. If you catch yourself saying you have “done” a country (Oh yeah, I’ve done Italy…) then in my view you have not even been there.

How has the pandemic shifted your conception of traveling?”

The pandemic has made it difficult to really connect with people, which is one of the three important dimensions of traveling, but it has not made it impossible. Travel has become more difficult of course, and if you choose to travel there are additional precautions one must take. However, being careful when traveling has always been important. To avoid malaria, dysentery, dengue fever, etc. etc., there are always important rules to keep in mind. Many of these are in The Intrepid Traveler. The next edition will no doubt include advice on avoiding SARS-like diseases. I spent most of the pandemic exploring ski resorts across Switzerland and Colorado. The ski poles make for perfect social-distancing enforcers. I never liked the apres-ski scene anyway, always preferring to pack a meal and a beer to enjoy on a perch somewhere with a spectacular view. 

Adam Rogers on a motorcycle in Switzerland before he was able to start taking action online

Sustainable Development Goals, which you have advocated, plan to eliminate poverty worldwide by 2030. What needs to be done to achieve this?”

The 17 SDGs, also known as the Global Goals, are about much more than ending poverty — they are about building a world of shared prosperity where everyone, regardless of race, religion or gender, can fully pursue his or her full potential as a human being. They were created through a widespread global and inclusive consultation process with more than two million people in a campaign known as The World We Want. These goals were then formulated into a time-bound plan of action with 169 targets and 232 unique indicators. These were then all adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, with a deadline of 2030. 

One of the first things for the SDGs to be realized is for everyone to know about them. Then, citizens can both hold their governments accountable. Plus they can learn how they can each contribute to making them happen. I believe we each possess a unique and specific talent that we can use to make the world a better place for everyone, everywhere. No one can tell you what your talent is; you must discover it for yourself. I like to call this your “#SDGTalent.”

In my book Taking Action Online for the Environment, Social Justice and Sustainable Development, I refer to my favorite Mark Twain quote when he said the two most important days of your life “are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” 

Use What You Have

I believe the “why” is connected to a “how” — your gift, what you are good at, how you can make your contribution to achieving the SDGs. Most talents are best used locally, perhaps improving the life of just one person or small group of people. Sometimes you can take your local experiences and contribute to global solutions through social media and the Internet. Sometimes you can reach out and inspire someone halfway around the globe to take the same actions you did to reach out and improve a life or situation locally. We each hold a piece of a giant puzzle, a puzzle that will never be solved or complete until each of us knows where we fit into the big picture.

You took early retirement in 2018. What’s next for Adam Rogers?”

Although I retired from the United Nations in 2018, I continue to support the organization as a consultant on projects I can wrap my passion around. I also plan to continue writing, traveling, exploring, and climbing mountains. One project I am presently excited about is the Kilimanjaro Initiative. We take a small group of marginalized kids from poor communities in Africa. We teach them leadership skills while climbing the continent’s highest mountain. This year, in October 2021, we are expanding the climb. We are trying to raise global awareness of, and resources for, the equitable and complete distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to every community on Earth. 

We hope you enjoyed this insight into the lively mind of Adam Rogers. For more engaging entertainment, be sure to watch our Facebook Live with Adam. If you have any ideas for future events, do let us know. We look forward to hearing from you.

How to Find the Best Food in Town

Chef DeniseIf you are like me, whether you are traveling to a new city or relocating to a new country, one of your top priorities will be finding the best food in town. That does not necessarily mean high-end gourmet cuisine; those places are usually easy enough to find. To me, it means discovering great food at an affordable price. For example, traditional cuisine at neighborhood haunts, local street foods, hidden-gem restaurants, and authentic sources for regional ingredients. 

I realize that, as a chef, food may be more important to me than to others. However, no matter where you are, you have to eat, right? Depending on your destination, finding affordable local food can be surprisingly overwhelming. You can certainly Google “best food in town near me” and take your chances. Or, you can try some of these tips that will help you find good, affordable food no matter where you are.

How to Find the Best Food in Town

Talk to Strangers

Talking to strangers can sometimes lead to the best memories. While traveling in Croatia, my husband and I began chatting with a man on the funicular in Zagreb, the shortest funicular in the world. He wound up inviting us to a wedding that night, and it was one of the highlights of our trip. 

While going to a Croatian wedding was not our primary goal, getting information was. We were asking if he could suggest something for us to do that wasn’t very touristy. Ask the locals for recommendations and you will find almost anything. 

If you’re not apt to flag someone down on the street for a recommendation, you will be in many situations where striking up a conversation is easy. For example, if you are waiting in line someplace, you can ask someone for a good place for lunch. Or ask if they have tried the café on the corner, or maybe where the best place is for the local dish. Maybe if you take a cab or rideshare, ask the driver. Do not pass up opportunities to learn from the locals.

Visit Local Food Markets

Local food markets can be your best source of regional ingredients from herbs and spices, to meats and cheeses. Usually frequented by locals, these markets offer staples for home meals, restaurateurs and chefs, and, of course, tourists. Ask the vendors about restaurants: they know what the chefs are buying.

Sometimes called farmer’s markets, depending on where you are, the market may be something that gets set up and torn down once a week or more. They may have food trucks or food vendors selling prepared foods and snacks. It will quickly become obvious which ones are the most popular. 

Many cities have markets in permanent structures that bustle daily with locals eating a quick meal or grabbing what they need for dinner. If your city has one of these markets, go there as soon as you can! You may even find it has everything you need. For example, Mercato di Mezzo in Bologna, Italy has a great selection of regional products, prepared meals, and plenty of snacks. I could have easily spent all day there. 

Some of these food markets are even famous for their street snacks, like the Taipei night markets which light up evenings in Taiwan’s capital. These have stalls that run into triple figures. With hundreds of food stalls to choose from, you can satiate yourself on local specialties pretty cheaply. 

Buy from Street Food Vendors

It can be nice to have hundreds of street food options under one market roof. However, that’s not always the case. Sometimes you’ll find street food sold from mobile trucks or carts, like the ones in Mexico, Turkey, and Thailand. Or from the open, street-facing windows from more permanent stalls often seen in China and Japan. Wherever you are, there is probably some sort of street food that will make for a good meal, provide good value, and offer a good representation of regional fare. 

Attend Festivals

They don’t have to be a food festival per se. While listening to music, dancing, or exploring arts and crafts, attending festivals gives a glimpse into the culture of its people. Yet it also usually offers insight into the food culture as well. 

I spent a month in the South of Spain. It seemed every week one of the small towns was jubilantly celebrating the grape harvest with a Fiesta de la Vendimia. It felt like I attended them all. In between the traditional flamenco dances, I discovered a few foods I otherwise wouldn’t have, like Málaga grapes. They were plump, juicy, sweet green grapes like I never had before. Food stalls selling everything from home-baked goodies to restaurant meals can provide a wealth of information on what to eat in the area. And it’s a good place to talk to locals and possibly make a new friend.

Search for Group Meals

All over the world there are opportunities to pay to eat a home-cooked meal in a group setting. These are a little controversial depending on the city, but they are enjoyable and afford interaction with others who may be like-minded about good food. Another way to have a group meal is to take a food tour or cooking class if you can. Sometimes you can find tours at the local food markets. These will help you more quickly identify ingredients and the famous foods of the area.

Do Your Research

My website, Chef Denise, offers information about global foods: regional specialties, street foods, restaurant recommendations, and even some recipes for some of the dishes. And even I use other online sources when I write about food. For me, the most reliable is the Michelin Guide. Not for the three-star fancy fine dining, but for their Bib Gourmand recommendations. Some of the street food stalls at the Taipei night markets are even listed. These are places Michelin considers good value, pretty much the essence of the best food in town. 

Final Thoughts

Chef Denise takes a break to enjoy the best food in town.

Whether you’re moving to a foreign country or traveling to a new city, finding the best food in town can be a fun adventure. Keep in mind that you may be exposed to things you are not used to consuming. If this is the case, and you’re not willing to eat something, you do not need to give a reason (no insulting words like gross or disgusting needed), just politely decline. But if you are feeling adventurous, try as many new foods as you can.

by Denise Macuk of Chef Denise

Green Life: Meet Moshe, the Vegan Travel Expert

Vegan signMoshe, also known as The Top Ten Traveler, traveled for the first time to Paris at the age of ten. His passion has always been about travel but at that age, he wasn’t aware that he would later find another passion in life — veganism. Born in Israel, Moshe explains why his home country has become a firm favorite as a vegan travel destination. Moshe has been living a happy vegan lifestyle with his partner, another follower of a plant-based diet, in Brooklyn. 

Moshe’s fondness for vegan travel involves planning trips abroad that include choosing which plant-based restaurants are on the itinerary. He enjoys mapping out his trip according to the exciting places to eat out. Madrid’s varied vegan eateries are one of the examples he shared. In between meals, he fitted in seeing the sights of the Spanish capital. It’s a pleasure to introduce Moshe Huberman.

How old were you when you became a vegan?

I became a vegan about three-and-a-half years ago at the age of 34. 

Why did you make the switch?

All my life I was a carnist, and enjoyed eating everything and anything. Even when my partner turned vegan, I continued eating whatever I wanted. We had both vegan products and non-vegan products at home until one day I saw a short movie. This talked about how milk is so bad for our body and that was my trigger. We already had all the vegan stuff (cheese, milk, and meat alternatives) so I decided to go for it. Just like that, on one summer day, I cut out all animal products and switched to veganism.

Israel food is the best way to vegan travel

When did you become aware of veganism? 

In 2014 a vegan activist was on the Israeli Big Brother show. Tal Gilboa talked about animal cruelty and the meat/dairy industry for the first time on prime time in Israel. Eventually, she won, and that made this topic become even more popular. I was touched by that, but at that point in time, it didn’t make me change my lifestyle.

A few years later, while living in New York, we met up with old friends who had also moved to the city. When they invited us over for dinner, we realized they were new vegans and that was a major part of what we talked about that night. They raised many legitimate arguments in favor of veganism. Unfortunately, I pushed them all away, as most people do when they first engage in such conversation. A few months after I made the switch for health reasons. Nonetheless, I believe that the only reason I am still vegan today is feeling compassion for animals. 

When did you first hear about Veganuary? What role does it play in increasing the popularity of veganism?

When I turned vegan, I didn’t know that there are so many trends that promote veganism, such as Meatless Monday, Veganuary, Challenge 22, and many more. For people who struggle to make the switch, I think it is an amazing community to join. This is especially the case for community support, which is so important. During these challenges, people learn about all the vegan products that exist out in the world, how to cook vegan at home, the best vegan travel destinations, and which restaurants in their area offer vegan food. However, in order to make it last for a long time, it must come from within you, from the heart. 

Try vegan travel and grab some breakfast in Israel

Which steps would you recommend that those who switched to a plant-based diet in January follow to continue being vegan?

Find vegan communities to be part of — it can be either friends, group chats on Twitter, vegan inspiration on Instagram, vegan Facebook groups, etc. It’s really important to be surrounded by people in the same mindset, as they can support you when it feels hard, share tips, and inspire you to continue.

Then I would say, keep on trying. There are millions of recipes out there for cooking vegan. Plus, supermarkets add more and more vegan products (and prices go down) while restaurants keep updating their menus with vegan options. It does require a little bit of research at first, but after a while, it becomes your norm.

What effect has veganism had on your body and mind?

Not long after I made the switch I started feeling so much better. I felt fresh, I slept better at night, and woke up more easily in the morning. My body was lighter during the day and I was more energetic. I wasn’t expecting that, and it was amazing to feel it.

Is vegan travel different in Israel? For example, are products easier to find?

Israel is one of the best countries for vegans in the world. I wasn’t vegan when I left Israel, but I am a member of several Facebook groups of Israeli vegans. Every time I return to visit, I am thrilled to see vegan food everywhere. There’s something about the culture there that makes it easier to absorb veganism. First, for Kashrut (kosher) reasons, dairy is not mixed with meat, so many products that might contain dairy by default elsewhere, do not contain dairy in Israel (for example, cooking in oil and not in butter). Second, like in many other Mediterranean cuisines, Israeli food is prepared with lots of vegetables and legumes. 

While the vegan food scene in New York is amazing with many 100% vegan restaurants and growing options in non-vegan restaurants, in Israel it’s easier to find vegan options almost in every non-vegan restaurant and nationwide cafe. It already goes beyond the big cities and can be found everywhere. 

To what extent have family and friends followed your lead?

Amongst my family and friends (except for the close vegan circle that I mentioned before) I was the first one to go vegan, so I was “catching all the fire” about that. When my brother-in-law, who is an athlete, moved to veganism to improve his performances, nobody asked him why or criticized the move. Then, my sister became a vegetarian, and my friends started sending me pics when they cooked something with tofu instead of meat. My mom constantly searches for vegan recipes and proudly shares pictures with me when she makes them. Even if they are not fully vegans, the awareness of what they eat is constantly on their minds.

Where do you stand on lab-created meat?

I think it is the future of meat production and something that can significantly change our world. The suffering of farm animals will be over and there will be no need to artificially create animals, just for killing them later. So much land will be freed so we can grow more crops for human consumption, rather than animal consumption. It will help to feed more people on the planet. People will not be afraid to be labeled “vegan” as they continue to eat “meat”. It will be easier for the masses to adopt, unlike using meat alternatives. If the price is right, and it is easily distributed, especially in larger nations like China and India, it will help to save the lives of billions of animals.

cows grazing

And what about fast-food chains: do they have flexitarians more in mind than vegans?

Some fast-food chains add 100% vegan items to their menus while others are on the flexitarian scale. I don’t necessarily understand why they choose to sell plant-based patties with dairy cheese on them, but it doesn’t really matter to me. If someone goes to Dunkin’ or Burger King and orders their plant-based patty, it’s one less meat patty that is sold and it’s already a good thing. 

Down the road, the vegan audience is strong, and if big chains want to reach that audience and not just flexitarians, selling a plant-based patty with dairy cheese or a non-vegan bun is not enough. Businesses exist to make money, and catering to vegans will attract more people and make them more money. 

A vegan burger in Madrid

Moshe is looking forward to traveling again. He is especially excited about returning to Israel to see family when travel is not restricted. For more vegan travel top tips, be sure to catch up with the Top Ten Traveler in our upcoming resources section.

by Leesa Truesdell

Meet Lisa Mallett: Niagara Falls Travel Advisor

Lisa Mallett has a passion for travel and exploring new places. She decided it was time to take this passion further by creating a travel blog and becoming a travel advisor based in Niagara Falls, Canada. Due to the pandemic, she’s discovering more about her home and sharing her discoveries with her readers. Once traveling can begin in earnest again, her goal is to build custom travel itineraries for private or group trips to explore Ontario’s Niagara Region. 

Wander, explore, and discover to fuel your soul with travel” — Lisa Mallett 

Meet Glamma Travel, aka Lisa. She is a fifty-something Canadian grandmother who loves being a travel advisor. But don’t judge Lisa by her age or the fact she has grandchildren, as she is not your average grandma. 

You mentioned in Living in a Tourist Destination that you reside in Niagara Falls, on the Canadian side. How would an American visitor reach Canada’s Falls area?”

Getting to Niagara Falls is relatively easy; if you are flying we have two international airports within a two-hour distance of the Falls. Toronto Pearson Airport is the closest to Ontario, Canada. There are many transport companies that can provide travel to Niagara. If you live in the USA, you can fly domestic to Buffalo Niagara International Airport. Then, either rent a car and cross the border in Buffalo to get to Niagara Falls. Alternatively, you can arrange a car service to transport you over. Of course, if you happen to live within driving distance, you can use your own vehicle to cross over one of our three international border bridges.

US and Canada Border Bridge

When is the best time to visit and why?”

As a travel advisor and local, Niagara is an ideal location any time of the year, depending on what you are looking to experience. Our most popular tourist season is in the summer. During the months of June through September, the temperatures are warm and you can try out outdoor activities in comfort. If you are looking for a quieter time to visit, you may enjoy the shoulder seasons of spring and fall. You can take advantage of more reasonable prices and fewer crowds. We have plenty of activities that you can take advantage of during these seasons and you may find more reasonable prices and less crowding. Winter is cold in Niagara, but if you love snow, it is very beautiful to see.

What seasonal differences are there in terms of things to do in and around Niagara?”

If you are visiting during the summer season, you will be able to experience all the major attractions in Niagara Falls and the surrounding area. There are land and water options, wine tours, and all of the beautiful floral displays will be in full bloom in Niagara Parks. The shoulder seasons offer similar activities to summer. However, the weather may be more of an issue with a wider spectrum of conditions depending on Mother Nature’s mood. During winter, there will be limited outdoor activities. Nonetheless, it is ice wine harvest time and there is a local Winter Festival of Lights.

Niagara Falls in winter

If people plan to spend more time in the area than a day trip, what would you recommend checking out close to Niagara?”

Niagara Falls is right next door to Niagara-on-the-Lake, which is where many of our wineries are located. The small village itself is so picturesque, you will feel as if you have stepped back into the Victorian era. The Niagara Parkway is the route between Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake, and it is a beautiful scenic drive as well as a must-see in my humble opinion. Toronto is only about one-and-a-half to two hours north and can easily be driven to by following our QEW highway. The largest city in Ontario, Toronto rests on the shore of one of our Great Lakes, Lake Ontario. It is an international centre of business, finance, arts, and culture. If you have the time, it is worth spending a couple of days or more visiting. As a travel advisor, I recommend it!

A nighttime photo of Toronto

Foreign tourists are conspicuous by their absence in the Falls at the moment. However, to what extent has the shortfall been made up by those on staycations?”

Niagara Falls generally counts on about 50% of the tourism revenue to come from American citizens. With the international border being closed since March 2020, Niagara Falls has tried very hard to promote itself as a close-to-home staycation option during the months that our pandemic numbers were more under control. Ontario citizens actually do makeup about 70% of the 14 million tourists who visit Niagara Falls in a typical year. However, they only provide about 25% of the tourism revenue. I am not aware of how much revenue Niagara Falls was able to produce in the 2020 season as of yet, but it was most definitely less than a typical year. Until the border reopens, I assume that this trend will continue.

How much is Niagara a victim of its own success? What environmental damage has been done by the mass of visitors rocking up on a daily basis?”

Sadly, tourism definitely has had some negative effects on our environment mostly due to pollution emitted from so many vehicles. Wildlife is rare except in green areas. At one time, there was toxic chemical waste as well as sewage generated from tourists being legally dumped into the Niagara River. I am not completely sure if this practice has been stopped or lessened but I do know there has been an awareness of it made public in recent years.

Niagara Falls Rainbow

How have the Falls adapted to becoming more ecologically sustainable?”

The environment has become a much bigger focus in recent years. Niagara is trying to do its part to help. The role of the City now is to “maintain, preserve, and promote good stewardship of the natural resources within the City for existing and future needs and to protect the diversity and interdependence of these natural areas to maintain and improve their natural functions,” (City of Niagara Falls Official Plan, Section 3).

You mentioned you live in Wine Country. What dishes would you recommend accompanying these vintages? Are there many local gastronomic specialties?”

We have many vintages in Niagara, so this would be difficult to cover in just one paragraph.  Any winery host that you visit for tastings will be happy to suggest food pairings for the individual wines. We actually have a couple of times a year where the wineries all offer wine and food pairing tours. Many of the wineries also have restaurants where they offer a complete food and wine pairing menu. 

Food and wine pairing

What are some of the most outrageous questions tourists ask?”

As Niagara Falls residents, we have heard some pretty outrageous questions. Here are some of the best:

“Do you ever turn the Falls off?”

“Are we in Canada?”

How would you describe the people who live in Canada? What distinguishes them from other countries?”

I would describe the people in Canada as friendly, respectful, and accommodating for the most part. Many would also call us apologetic. Canadians are unique people, especially when compared to our closest neighbor, the USA.

Our government is very different. We are a Commonwealth country led by a Prime Minister, meaning we are friendlier and more accepting of outsiders. On the whole, I believe that Canadians are more educated about the US than US visitors are about Canada, sometimes embarrassingly so. We have a different currency, our national languages are English and French, we have entirely different healthcare and school systems, and even the foods we have in common are not that similar. So even though we border the USA, Canada is a very unique country of its own.

You can find more information and book future travel to Niagara through Lisa Mallett’s travel advisor website. She is ready to help plan the perfect itinerary for Niagara, Ontario, Canada and their stunning wine country.

by Leesa Truesdell