Today’s guest post is from James Bell of Turquoise Holidays, covering an area still high on our bucket list – Barbados!
If challenged to select your ultimate destination for a once in a lifetime luxury holiday, most people would opt for one of the Caribbean islands as a starting point. For those that have visited before, Barbados will almost certainly be high up on that list. Barbados may not have the rhythm of Jamaica or the lush tropical beauty of St Lucia but there is something about the island that keeps you coming back. For a start, Barbados is well established on the gourmet food map. I would challenge anyone to suggest any other islands that are home to so many top restaurants. From the Cliff to Daphne’s (with its sister restaurant in Chelsea), you can enjoy such delights as mouth-watering snapper, spinach and sweet potato mash whilst the waves break along the shore. Along with the fine dining, Barbados would win a Caribbean competition for having the greatest number of covetable hotels. Ranging from private villas ideal for honeymooners to garden cottages or the super luxurious plantation suites, there is something for everyone in Barbados many resorts. My personal top three would certainly feature the following:
Whilst not the swankiest place on the island, it has plenty of character and overall delivers fantastic service that the Caribbean is generally known for. With 40 rooms ranging up to the Colleton suite with its white four poster bed and sun terrace with a fantastic plunge pool, this is a truly a remarkable resort. There is a large freshwater swimming pool and a fantastic bar in the main house where you will be welcomed by the friendly bar staff at any point during the day or night. Cobblers cove overlooks a golden stretch of sand offering free water sports although forget noisy banana boats and jet skis, you will only find kayaking or surfing here. If fine dining is your thing, you may be pleased to know the hotels Terrace Restaurant is one of only five restaurants in the Caribbean invited to join Relais & Chateaux. Pride of the menu is the catch of the day which is supplied by local fisherman and always goes down fantastically.
Coral Reef Club
Along the shoreline and overlooking the same blissful sands and turquoise waters as the Cobblers Cove you will find the renowned Coral Reef Club. The club has a larger, grander feel that welcomes you with its sweeping palm-lined driveway though its 12 acres of tropical grounds. Its 88 rooms are artfully positioned throughout the gardens and along the beach with options from the more basic garden cottages, leading up to a luxury plantation suite that features its own sundeck and private pool. Whilst not generally renowned for its Spas, the Caribbean has delivered a gem at the Coral Reef Club. Housed in its own separate colonial-style building, there’s a lovely swimming pool and four separate treatment rooms where you can experience delights such as lemongrass and ginger massage rub.
Certainly one of the most exclusive hotels in Barbados! This small family run hotel is situated on a glamorous white sandy beach surrounded by crystal clear waters. Much of the appeal of the hotel has to be attributed to Wayne and Karen Capaldi who run it with careful attention to detail but keep the charm and relaxed feel of the island at the forefront of all their activity. Spanning over 48 rooms, ranging from more basic one bedroom suites right up to treetop suites that are housed in 7 acres of beautiful landscaped gardens, the hotel caters for a range of tastes. As with the other great hotels on the island, the food at the Sandpiper is exceptional. With Chef Christophe Poupardin offering delightful food with a Caribbean flair from dinner menus which change many times in the week, the food at the Sandpiper is renowned across the island. The resort also caters for a range of laid back sporting activity, perfect to enjoy during the day before the steel drums and cocktails pull you in. With two championship golf courses nearby, tennis, gym and water sports activities all available, there is something for all the family. The best time to visit Barbados is between December and February where temperatures are warm with a minimal risk of showers. If extreme heat and humidity is not your thing, certainly avoid the summer months from June to August and be aware the hurricane season lasts until October. In short get your timing right and Barbados certainly will be one of the most memorable holidays you will ever experience.
As parents who travel with a toddler, we find that we have to bridge the gap between straight up budget travelers and big spenders. The (literally) cold hard fact is, Cole loves sleeping in a bed that has to be colder than most places that we travel. He doesn’t love clothes, and he doesn’t handle the heat well.
We tried, honestly. There were AC-less bungalows in India and one unfortunate evening in Koh Tao, Thailand. The result is the same – nobody sleeps. We’ve tried fans, we’ve tried no sheets, but without a little bite in the air, Cole just won’t put himself down for very long. It’s not worth the money savings for us to get no sleep, so we pay extra.
The budgets you read about backpackers traveling through the world? We pay a bit more. It’s cool, we don’t mind, but we’re about to undertake a road trip through the US, which is more expensive overall than more well traveled backpack locations. Granted, whatever lodging we find will have standard amenities that are a cut above what you may find in many developing nations, but what if we want to experience a little more? Can we find comfortable hotels for cheap?
Cheap is relative to where you are, of course, but it is possible if you look hard enough. A smart traveler can stretch their US dollars farther if they want, or they can choose to spend those dollars on upgrades others can’t find. Given all of those wise words, I will state that we are not always the smartest travelers.
We might be, however, the most comfortable.
photo by johanohrling
If you’re like me, you have a curiosity for the different. After attending a family wedding and vacation combo on Maui, most of our group departed for home and two of us decided to take a trip to Molokai, the least visited island in the state. Considering Hawaii has over seven million visitors each year, and only about 1% of them make it over to Molokai, this sounded like an interesting adventure. But why do so few people go there, I wondered. I began to ask around and the general consensus was that it wasn’t glam enough. No big hotels with swim-up bars and water slides. No expensive luaus tailor made for tourist palates. It’s a little bit dusty and rough at the edges. And it is the last place where old Hawaii flavor still exists. Oh, and the Molokai residents are against big business invading their island way of life. We immediately decided it was for us so off we went.
The ferry from Maui landed at Molokai’s Kaunakakai Harbor, a little slice of paradise far from the hustle and bustle of the Lahaina waterfront we’d just departed. The ferry itself has seen better days, and is rusty, smells of diesel and is not exactly a smooth ride. It was just what the doctor ordered and we were thrilled at what might lie ahead.
Lodging was at Hotel Molokai, the island’s only official hotel. It was comfortable and clean and welcoming, and it gave us all we needed. But it definitely didn’t feel like the rest of Hawaii. The locals’ openness toward us made it clear why Molokai is called the Friendly Island, and at night over some beers and local Hawaiian music, we began to understand why Molokai doesn’t get very many visitors. Their fierce independent spirit became apparent, possibly bolstered by a beer or two. The island represents the last of old Hawaii and they want to protect it. And they are very happy with their life, thank you very much. They just don’t want fancy tourist boats and high rise hotels. They don’t want the crowded roads. And they don’t own gift shops or tour vans or luncheonettes. Tourists are welcome as long as they respect the island and its people. And so it is for Molokai’s 7000 hardy residents, and we got along just fine.
We had pristine beaches all to ourselves with beachcombing treasures aplenty. We did see a few obligatory sights while there including Purdy’s, a working macadamia nut farm where we discovered our snack of choice for the duration of the trip. And we stopped by the local post office where they supplied us with markers and paints to decorate a coconut we mailed back home to the rest of the family.
But the highlight of the trip was a visit to Kalaupapa, the isolated colony where sufferers of leprosy (now called Hansen’s Disease) were tossed off boats and quarantined for over 100 years until 1969. Amazingly, a few of the senior residents are still living there today. The little village is situated at the bottom of a rugged 1700 foot cliff, making it inescapable by its ill inhabitants. Today there’s a tiny airstrip that brings in supplies and a few tourists. And though it’s now possible to hike down the cliff, we chose to cough up the cash for the mule ride down the 26 steep switchbacks to the bottom. Great fun, amazing views, and the visit to Kalaupapa was capped with a short informational tour led by a few of the residents. It is a beautiful place with a story I’ll never forget.
The visit to Molokai provided a poignant view of a lifestyle far away from booming tourism on the rest of the Hawaiian islands. The people were among the most gentle, welcoming you’d ever want to find. And although the big tour operators are anxious to get a foothold there, so far the locals have managed to keep them at bay. Who knows how long it will be before it is infiltrated with private jet charter Las Vegas style visitors. Let’s hope it’s not soon.
There are an infinite number of articles online that will instruct the soon-to-be world traveler how to strip their lives down to the essential bits, eliminate debt and start saving money in preparation for the big leap. Selling all of your belongings and taking that leap are a big stinking deal – one that most people never muster the nerve to do.
Less common though, are the realities behind stretching that dollar out while you are actually on the road. If you follow independent travel blogs, you have probably read endless accounts of South East Asia and Central and South America. There is a good reason for this – they are the best places to go where your dollar will stretch out much, much further than in other developed nations. But what about the rest of the world? Europe and North America are prohibitively expensive, while Africa to many seems too potentially volatile – a generalization that is not particularly fare given the size of the continent and it’s 54(ish) countries. Still, there are some ways to save no matter where you are traveling, which might give you the opportunity to be more adventurous than most of the people you are reading about online.
Savings on a Plane
Many people endorse getting a credit card that rewards purchases with miles. I am not a credit card holder myself because I lack the discipline needed to be a responsible adult with one, but for those who can, it can be a huge source for building up additional rewards, and therefore more free travel. In addition, join AAdvantage, Delta Sky Miles, any and all programs involving accruing travel miles. This is not possible with many hyper-budget airlines like Ryan Air and Air Asia, but for the extra few dollars you might spend by going with a higher end airline, the net benefit to you can be substantial.
These are not widely talked about – tons of huge brands making savings available on a regular basis for those mart enough to dig around to find them. You could save on lodging with a Hotels.com discount code, take a discounted holiday with a Thomson discount code, or a Low cost holiday discount code. The possibilities with these don’t end in travel, you could refresh your wardrobe on the cheap without much effort and even get pizzas for a discount from Pizza Hut in some instances.
If you happen to have a travel blog that doesn’t look like it was put together by a five year old, you can ask the person checking you in for a media rate – a discounted rate given to press who are theoretically researching the place to cover it in some sort of publication, like say, a website. This sort of move takes some balls, and it would probably be a benefit to have at least a business card to share with the employee you talk to. These are long shots, but like a high school dance, eventually someone will say yes.
To travel outside the current backpacker trail, you have to be mindful of each penny spent, not merely in the lead up to leaving your job, but throughout the process, leaving enough to return if you need to. The best way to do that is to travel smart and keep informed. SO GET TO IT!
As a family, we have unwittingly become experts at moving slowly through the world. After a mammoth travel year that spanned 2010 into 2011, our travel instincts took a dramatic turn. Burned out, we spent a much longer amount of time in my beloved Thailand, as I write this, we are deep into month four of our time in Beirut.
Clearly, a shift has been made. Three months was our previous record, done twice in Madrid, our first travel location, and then again in India. Having a toddler is the main culprit, though if I am being honest, Christine is the one who gets restless first in the family. I am perfectly content in this routine. I like the play acting of “becoming a local”, being part of the neighborhood tapestry that people know. It’s nice to walk alone around Gietawi here in Beirut and have strangers ask me “Where is the baby?” This is my speed of travel.
The next couple of years of our lives are currently much more planned out and structured than they ever have been, but still, my mind wanders to where I might go under this new low-and-slow technique.
Christine and I have both made separate trips to the UK, she went to Ireland, I took a train around the mainland. We haven’t experienced any of the country together, let alone as a growing family. I can easily envision a few months of country living, renting a cottage, living like a local, this time for once in an area where the locals actually speak our native tongue. Maybe renting a small place from Sykes Cottages, or something equally convenient that would give us the flexibility to live with nature all around us without the limitations of a year long lease. Christine is a city person, but with a little nudge I might be able to convince her to spend time in the Lake District, getting a Cottage in the Lake District from Sykes.
I continue to hear about places like Latvia, Bulgaria, Romania, reading posts from friends and acquaintances with some jealousy. Other than spending a small amount of time in Croatia, Christine is the only one of us who have been to this part of the world. Before our plans took us to Thailand for our last journey and now Beirut, we had plans to spend a summer on a ski slope in Sophia, Bulgaria, and there’s a part of me that wonders how fantastic that might have been. I have heard that prices in some of these parts of the world are not far off from the fantastically cheap areas of South East Asia. For this reason alone, the cheapskate in me is willing to see how much we might enjoy the beautiful architecture and history of Eastern Europe with SEA prices. The mind reels.
Okay, it’s a long shot. But give me a yurt, a couple of yaks, a motorcycle and a satellite internet connection that doesn’t even have to be all that strong, and by god, I would absolutely give that a try.
I’m sure there will be days ahead where we resume the act of bombing through countries in a matter of days, and that’s fine with me. I know that lifestyle needs extended breaks now and then, and for now, am content to breathe, and enjoy this current break, and look forward to the ones that will eventually follow.
Life has a funny way of making our decisions for us. Most people’s ambitions include having a stable career with a steady pay package and the security to pay the mortgage and provide for a family — when one arrives. But there’s a big, wide world out there, with so many countries and cultures to explore. Is it possible to do both?
Travelling and having a career is a difficult balance to strike. Many people have jobs that prevent them from taking holidays longer than two — or at the most three — weeks at a time. This is fine for a holiday in the sun, a cruise, or even a short driving holiday, but it’s hard to fully explore one country — much less more than one — in such a short space of time. From the UK, long haul flights to destinations such as Australia eat up several days of holiday just sitting on a plane.
What Sort of Careers
But the good news is that it’s possible to travel and have a career at the same time — with a bit of forward thinking. Many jobs allow for longer holidays — teaching, freelancing, writing — while other skills such as medicine and IT can be easily transferred to other countries. Even if your place of employment restricts holiday time to a couple of weeks there are still plenty of options for the restless traveller; budget airlines make it easy to explore Europe on long weekends — search out cheap flights to destinations such as Krakow, Paris, Madrid, Helsinki and Berlin. This allows you to save longer holidays for countries that are farther away.
Learn a Language
If you love to travel think about how you might juggle it with your career before setting off down that particular career path. It can be useful to learn a language, such as French, Spanish or Arabic, as this will make it easier to secure work in another country. British citizens are European nationals, meaning they have the right to work in any EU country. Other countries such as Australia, Japan, New Zealand and Canada offer short-term working visas to people under the age of 30. If you can find a job in your chosen career, a spell working abroad is an excellent addition to the CV as many employers value oversees experience as an indication of creativity and risk-taking.
A Young Person’s Game
Many people go travelling when they are still young and not yet committed to a particular job, but if you’re already well into a career then consider taking a sabbatical. Many companies offer paid or unpaid sabbaticals to their employees with the understanding and hope that they return revived and refreshed at the end of their dream trip. If money is tight, don’t despair: travelling can be cheap if you stick to a budget. In many countries, particularly in parts of Central and South America and in South East Asia, it’s possible to get by on less than £1,000 a month. Book flights through budget airlines to keep costs low.
Finding the money and time to go travelling can seem like a daunting prospect when you are in a full-time job with career commitments to take into consideration. But with a little creative thinking, there are many different ways to have a career and see the world at the same time.
I may have mentioned our honeymoon was a cruise that took us all around the Mediterranean Sea, starting in Barcelona. It was my first time outside of the US, and while it is not my style of travel these days, I appreciate it for getting my feet wet abroad at my own tentative, neurotic pace. I got to see Spain, Italy and Malta over the course of a week,
every day a different destination. Rome was frantic and lovely, Naples was sort of a
shithole. We never did find the Leaning Tower of Piza before having to make haste back to
On board, we were treated to a tame and odd sampling of entertainment, my first
introduction to any sort of formal gathering, and the true gem for me – karaoke, where I
happily accepted my 15 minutes of on-board fame for my rendition of Guns N’ Roses “Paradise
City.” I can be a bit of an attention whore, something you would learn quickly if we ever
met in person (my apologies in advance).
Among long term travelers and hard core backpackers, there is a real element of superiority
where this mode of jet setting is looked down upon, much the same way it is for the all-
inclusive resort (Which we have also done, btw. I don’t recommend all inclusive tequila
well-drinks btw, FYI). The problem with this in my mind, is that not all of us have the
adventure gene. There is some part of us that want to go exploring, but the idea of going
somewhere where the people don’t speak your language is too big a hurdle to get over for
many. Taking cruise vacations are a gateway drug for some, and for others with enough
disposable income, it’s their favorite way to unwind during the two weeks of vacation they
get each year. I was in the first group, thankfully. I don’t know for sure if Christine was
dipping my feet into the travel baby pool intentionally with an eye for whisking me across
the globe, but as I type this sitting on the stairs up to the roof of the house we rent in
Beirut, it sure as hell seems that way.
Travel snobbery is a bit like talking politics. All sides know for sure that they are right
and that anyone who doesn’t share their idea of what travel “really” is about, is an idiot.
What some of these snobs don’t realize is that occasionally, a traveler can outgrow the
confines of the safe all-inclusive experience and move on to much greater, amazing things.
I’m talking about me there, in case you missed that. I am awesome.
photo by Jess (Girl from a Rock)
Picture in yur minds eye a portly American with a shaved head walking with his lovely wife
while pushing a stroller through a more-crowded-by-the-minute Moroccan market. Orange juice
vendors are yelling at us in French, who knows what about, I guess they want to sell me
some juice or some nonsense, maybe tell me their opinions on how Obama is doing so far in
his presidency. I am unphased.
I’m a bit horrified at the guy with the leashed monkey who is insisting he place the monkey
on the shoulders of passers-by, then INSISTING he be compensated for having done so. Still,
he’s not throwing the monkey on OUR shoulders, thanks to Christine’s pre-emptive finger
thrusting at him, informing him that under no circumstances will THAT be happening thank
you very much.
I don’t have a camera out, which means no touts are giving me the stink eye if I even
casually glance at their wares. I am now aware that if I take a photo of goods without
offering some compensation or buying something, I am a “theif”. I had to explain that there
is no logic to keeping me from sharing how beautiful their market is with other people.
Don’t they know how influential I am? I can send you business, *sshole!
No, what has my delicates in a bunch is the little boy with the wooden snake toy who has
just handed Cole one of the toys. This is a ploy to get the child to freak out over the
item so that the parent is pressured to buy it. Thankfully, Cole’s little baby brain
doesn’t have time to process what it is in his hand before I whisk it away. BUT WAIT. In a
counter move so cunning and swift I didn’t even know it was happening, he places another
snake in his hands as I hand the boy the first snake.
I am fairly shocked at this point. In India, I would hand the snake back, we would both
laugh knowingly at what he had tried, and then he would have spent the next five minutes
playing near Cole with the toy trying to intice him from afar. Not in Morocco. In Morocco,
where the touts will take your hat and play monkey-in-the-middle as if it is a good sales
technique, the boy will produce an unending river of snake toys and BY GOD I WILL PUNCH YOU
IN YOUR LITTLE MOROCCAN FACE, KID.
See what I did there? I made “Moroccan” into a curse word. Anyway, I didn’t say that. When
I handed him the third toy, what I did say is “I will break this and I will not pay you a
thing.” which lacks style, but did the trick.
Christine was much more diplomatic when it came to our experience in Morocco. We just
didn’t take to it like we hoped that we would. It had long been on my short list of places
I HAD TO VISIT. Looking back, we were near the end of such a long travel slog that we were
getting very burned out by that point. The fact is, there is nothing really like Morocco,
and it does deserve to be seen. There seems to be a “no yelling at customers” rule with the
snails vendors, and they sell some of the tastiest escargot I have ever eaten. The visual
aesthetic is like being taken back in time, and the mint tea completely stole the show for
me. I had been a die-hard chai drinker in India, where chai is cheap and always wonderful.
Mint tea in morocco is about 1000% more expensive, but so fantastic, even on hot days.
It will be awhile before I book a holiday in Morocco, but it will definitely happen. Morocco is a stunningly beautiful country and at some point I will have completely forgotten that road weariness we had going in and will be jonesing for that mint tea again. When I finally do return, I will be ready for that snake peddling little boy BY GOD.
Photo by ActiveSteve
When I was out gathering B-roll footage for Christine’s last Mandarin video, I took the subway to the Royal Garden in Beijing. The weather was just beginning to turn, though to me, it was still abysmally, bracingly cold. The slightly warmer weather got many people out that day, dancing, doing tai-chi, or just going for a stroll. The affect this weather has had on my photography has been pretty stark. I think anyone who has seen my iPhone pics in the past would agree that I lean towards looking “over processed” and I can’t disagree with that. My excuse is that I am trying to fall somewhere between what I saw and an artistic impression of what I felt while I was taking the photo.
These last images from Beijing are (I think) beautiful, but like someone with PTSD, they bring me back viscerally to early this year when I was taking them. I feel the cold that I felt then, and the anxiety of being in a place that I felt we shouldn’t be. While these images don’t represent literally what my eyes saw, they definitely look the way I feel when I think about that time. Cold and distant.
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Two years ago I made one of the most satisfying trips of my life through the UK, a week long train ride circumnavigating the big island by train. I had a Britrail Pass, a beat up old 1st Gen iPhone, a flip video camera (RIP) and my laptop, and I was headed to the Tough Guy Race in Wolverhampton, documenting the trip as I went.
A big part of my pride in this trip was that for once, I was going solo. Christine had done a TON of planning for me, which made it much easier for the anxious traveler that I have always tended to be. In each location she would give me names and numbers for two hostels at each location I be going each night. And where did I go? I thought you would never ask.
LONDON: Night one was spent at a cheapish hostel not far from the London Eye, a landmark that I never got around to seeing, much to Christine’s frustration, I could not follow her directions there, and while I could see the lights source in the night sky, no street I took got me there, and I fled back to the hostel once the area seemed a little too dicey.
YORK: Charming town that I was able to walk around in a matter of a few hours, though it probably made the least impression on me of any location throughout the trip.
EDINBURGH: I loved this city, even in the drizzling rain that covered the place while I was there. There was far more than I could see in one day, so I hoofed it to the Scotch Whiskey Appreciation Society and took their tour. And then drank whiskey. It was a good day.
INVERNESS: I only spent the afternoon here, at the northernmost point I could reach on the island conveniently. Expecting a blisteringly cold winter wasteland on that January afternoon, I was greeted with mild climate and a perfectly charming little town. I would have liked to spend more time there, but it was off to:
GLASGOW: When I found out that the Britrail pass wouldn’t cover my overnight berth to London, and that a ticket was about three times my nightly budget, I was really put out and overwhelmed by Glasgow, which looks like Madrid covered in soot. Christine calmed me down via email and told me which hostel to head to. The next morning I had half a mind to head south and take the Liverpool to Dublin, but as much as I desperately wanted to see Ireland, it wasn’t in the cards. I headed south anyway, but to Wales. The train quality in this area was awful, so I turned around and headed to:
BATH: The town is amazingly clean and beautiful, and I treated myself to some steamy spa time while I was there. Taking a “bath” in Bath meant several different options for what sort of steam bath I could take. Eucalyptus was one option, Mint and Lavender were others. In all, I believe I sampled eight separate scents in Bath. It was a relaxing lead-up to having to head back to:
LONDON: Repeat! I had to stopover here briefly as there was no train headed directly to my final destination. No, it wasn’t a ferry to France, after going all the way around the big island, I took another train to the center of it.
BIRMINGHAM: It’s in the Midlands, in a town called Wolverhampton, where the Tough Guy race is held each year. If you have heard of the Tough Mudder or Spartan races in the US, these are poor copycats to this, the original mud run for Tough Guys. I would give you an account of this area, but the truth is, I was a little wrapped up in trying to get over the fact that I was there at all, and trying to mentally prepare for the hardest physical challenge I have ever had the opportunity to partake in.
I haven’t been back to the UK since, but I regularly think back on this time as one of the greatest adventures of my life. I’m truly thankful I had an opportunity to not only do the race, but see most of the UK using my favorite mode of transportation.