Officially on the Road – En Route to Hanoi

Packed up and ready to ROCK!

Packed up and ready to ROCK!

It’s finally happening! The South East Asia trip of 2015 is finally here – we fly out tomorrow morning from Pearson at 7:55 am. Our first stop? Hanoi.

It’s been a whirlwind couple of days, finishing up

– last minute packing and purchases

All of this fits into the two packs in the back corner! It doesn't look like much for two weeks to me.. but I bet a seasoned traveler could see lot's of things that don't need to be here!

All of this fits into the two packs in the back corner! It doesn’t look like much for two weeks to me.. but I bet a seasoned traveler could see lot’s of things that don’t need to be here!

– last minute medications and prescriptions

– and last minute travel insurance.

When you’re me, everything is last minute! I work best under pressure.

Although I have ‘left home’ before, it’s never been like this. Never before have I left for so long, into such a great unknown, with the feeling that I am leaving so much behind! However, all of these sad/scared feelings of leaving have put into perspective just how fortunate I am to have a home life that I am reluctant to say goodbye to.

The cat thought she was coming, too.

The cat thought she was coming, too.

Anyways, the hardest part is over now: saying good bye to everyone and leaving home! Bring on the adventure. Meeting up with the boys tonight before heading to the airport tomorrow!

So look forward to some brand spanking new photos from Vietnam sometime over the next couple of weeks guys! Since I am not taking a tablet or laptop with me, my postings may be a bit sporadic but there is nothing new there. 😉

Wish me luck! xo

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One week until departure: Travel anxiety is real! And how to deal with it.

It’s less than two weeks until departure for Hanoi, Vietnam! And the number one question people are asking me right now is, “Are you getting excited for your trip?” Well, yes, but mostly I’m nervous.

And that’s the truth. Travel anxiety is real! I’ve been experiencing it big time for the past two weeks. This what I meant when I said the Travel Years is “a blog about anxiety”. In all of our eight months of planning, I never expected to feel this right before departure, but here it is. Loud and clear and glaring me in the face at 5:21 am as I sit here typing this out. No one warned me about this when I first started planning for South East Asia.

Would you believe me if I told you I haven’t been doing any destination research or reading? I haven’t been blogging either. When I should be the most excited person, about to leave on an adventure, I am nervous, second guessing myself, and anxious. I am reminded of Bilbo Baggins, who lived in his hobbit hole, reluctant and clinging to the comforts of home before heading off to the Lonely Mountain.

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>>> I wrote that down a couple of mornings ago, after waking up in the middle of the night and failing to fall back asleep. Today however, excitement is finally winning out over anxiety!! Emphasis on finally. This I believe is in part due to

  • Some useful articles and tips found around the internet (World Nomads, Nomadic Matt)
  • The persistence of the snow storms currently sweeping through Ontario
  • The support (a.k.a. patience) of my friends and family.

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So if you’re a first time traveler, what are some of the best ways to deal with nerves or anxiousness before leaving on a trip? Here’s what is working for me

  • Educate yourself about the risks! Having never been to Vietnam, or Indonesia before – I have no idea what to imagine. What I do know is that some of the people I meet have their own set of pre-conceived notions or opinions about the countries we plan on visiting, whether they are correct or not. Instead of getting worked up, do your research. Look for honest websites designed by travelers for travelers! Know the risks so you can be aware and prevent problems before they arise. The travel insurance provider, World Nomads, was a good resource for me in relaxing.
  • Plan ahead! But I’m not talking about planning every minute of every day. Just be prepared. Take a first aid kit, stocked with some basic medical supplies. Be aware that tourists are natural targets for crime such as pickpocketing, and take precautions to protect your valuables. Book accommodations for at least your first night or two in a new place while you (hopefully) familiarize yourself with your surroundings, and deal with your culture shock. Taking the time to prepare and anticipating problems means less stress now, and down the road.
  • Do yourself a favor and don’t scramble. I’m finally getting everything together that I need for my pack – a week before. A little too close for my personal comfort zone. I have been amazed at how much more relaxed I am about the trip now that my basic gear and paperwork needs are taken care of. The Visa is in, I’ve decided on travel insurance and I have (most) of the medications and vaccinations that I have decided I need. The silliest thing I have been worrying about? What pants to bring. Yes, I realize that is slightly ridiculous but there it is. Anyways, determine what your key issues are (pants and travel insurance in my case) and deal with it! Don’t put stuff off just because you are nervous.

So what’s my final verdict as a long time worry-wart and first time international traveler? Ignore all of those people who tell you that automobile accidents are statistically more likely than airplane crashes – even if they’re right – and take matters into your own hands! Be prepared, know the risks, and don’t leave the details until the last minute because there are a lot of them. A lot of them. You will (hopefully) be better equipped to experience a new culture, and handle your culture shock!

Help! – Obtaining Visas and the Importance of Travel Insurance

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Six weeks out and these are two of the most important things left to finalize on our SEA 2015 trip To Do list. So I thought I would turn to the blogosphere. I have stalled a bit in the Travel Visa department (briefly) and it’s time to get moving!

The embassy websites can be confusing – at times the same website seems to contradict itself. However, E. finally saved us all and decided to call the embassy, learning that we have two options for entering Vietnam through a major airport.

  1. Visa On Arrival – available to citizens of certain specified nationalities. Requires you to get a letter of approval through a third party agency for ~$15 US. At the gate, you present the letter of approval, passport, proof of onward or return flight, evidence of hotel accommodations and $45 US.
  1. Pre-Approved Visa – Send your passport, passport photos, Visa application and $90 by priority post mail to the Vietnamese embassy in Ottawa. In return, you get one, pre-approved visa.

It seems like the option to choose is the VOA, because it costs a heck of a lot less and I don’t have to send my passport away. But I’m wondering if anyone with experience traveling in Vietnam or South East Asia in general can offer advice on the best way to proceed?

The same applies for Indonesia, although the requirements for obtaining a VOA on arrival for Canadian and Chinese citizens seems less strict. You do still need proof of onward flight. Can anyone clarify that you can obtain a 30-day VOA, and then extend it to a 60-day Visa?

Conveniently, Malaysia does not require Canadians to have a visa to enter the country for up to three months, with option for a two month extension. Hopefully, we are able to see a slice of Kuala Lumpur and Malaysia before heading onward to Indonesia.

Travel Insurance

Besides obtaining the necessary travel Visas, I am also on the hunt for proper travel insurance. Who do you all use? I need someone that also covers in case of diving accidents. I have been looking at the insurance provided as part of PADI (DAN?) While the credit card I use for travel does have some travel coverage, it only covers for the first 26 days, which is less than half of our anticipated travel time in SEA. I also anticipate doing most of the scuba diving that we do in Indonesia, the second leg of our trip. Good coverage for the entire travel period is important. Accidents happen.

If anyone doubts the need for travel insurance, this story about Dave of The Planet D (a travel blog) breaking his back while on a simple errand is telling enough. Imagine being in that situation and not having insurance. Luckily, it looks as though he is going to pull through. For many of us, travel is about pushing ourselves, exploring and taking risks. Not the frame of mind to be in without insurance!

The countdown to departure is fast approaching – January 18th! With Christmas in the middle I know it is going to come VERY quickly. Getting Visas and travel insurance taken care of means only a few things are left – mainly picking up a few essential items, finalizing our itinerary and packing up! After months of saving, talk, research and planning things are really coming together. Can’t wait!

Monday Photos – The Inco Superstack

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Good afternoon, my fellow bloggers and readers! As I continue posting a new photo each Monday, I find myself getting into the habit, and enjoying the process of finding just the right photograph to post for you all. Thanks for following along and motivating me.

This is a photograph of the iconic Sudbury ‘Super Stack‘ at sunset (I am starting to see a pattern) – the second tallest free-standing chimney in the world. It is also the site of the largest nickle mining operation in the world. Despite being a eternally smoking blight on the landscape… there is something to be said for looking upon the Stack at sunset. It use it as a weather vane each morning unless it is too foggy.

2.5 months until Departure: Flights are BOOKED! And the snow is here.

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On Monday night, the trip became that much more real. My travel companions and I sat down, found a flight to Hanoi, and booked three one-way tickets!

One Way to Hanoi

I won’t lie, I was feeling pretty nervous at the time. I have since gotten over that, waking up to this (v v v) this morning! It looks like Ontario winter is setting in early again this year. I can hear a snow blower outside of my window as I write.

With flights booked, time is hopefully going to fly and we can leave all of this snow behind.

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It’s time to send away for a Vietnamese travel Visa and contact the health clinic to see if I need anything special for travel. There is also health and travel insurance to consider. So many things to think about that I had no idea about before deciding to travel!

Since the snow is here, it’s alright to say that Christmas is coming! Which means doing a little shopping for the few things that I will need on the road. Mainly, a pack. Keep your eyes open for a post – I am going to start to stress/think about what to pack in the near future!

Developing my travel blog – a journal, a magazine and a ‘get your hands dirty’ guide.

This past week I have been overwhelmed with the kindness of both ‘strangers’ and friends of family, in response to this post. I use the term strangers in quotes because I feel that I am beginning to develop a familiarity with some of these bloggers through their blogs each week. Thank you everyone.

Also taking place this week is the start of the Daily Post Blogging 201 Challenge. The Challenge combine with a positive response from the social networking community has influenced me to think in a more detailed manner about this blog and what direction I would like to take it in.

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So, briefly about the Theme…

1) I envision Year 24 as a travel diary/magazine that functions to relate, educate, inform, entertain and/or inspire anyone who is passionate about or interested in similar things as me! That is to say – photography, diving, food, writing, travel and the great outdoors (to name a few).

– A travel diary because my content is mostly personal, and coming from my own experiences. The blog doubles as a personal writing space and a developing writing portfolio. Year 24 is a working title, since it only applies for a limited time only.

2) Any future theme developments will find new and better ways to feature images and photography. Less white space.

– I enjoy a magazine-style feel with blogs that post a lot of images because they feature strong photos next to strong words – equal parts. Pictures can say a lot about a situation or a story.

3) The blog is intended as a way to develop and grow my personal brand, through connections and communications with others who share my passions.

– bloggers, photographers, writers, divers

– backpackers, first-time trippers and other travelers

– friends and family

So in light of these general blog ‘themes’, what are some basic goals?

1) A Regular Feature: I want to get into the habit of posting a regular feature. Just a simple, Sunday or Monday 3-photo post each week (example). This shouldn’t be a problem since I always have a camera out and about. The beauty of this being that the content kind of generates itself, as long as I’m not being lazy.

2) Traffic: I would like to see Year 24 getting 20+ visitors each day by the time I leave for Vietnam in January! I have a few ideas of how to achieve this, including the implementation of a regular weekly feature!

3) Portfolio Content: This doubles as a personal goal, but I want to add three more publications by departure time for Vietnam. Since we’re setting goals.


So wish me luck! This is the direction I had planned on taking Year 24 in since I finally decided on a name for the blog back in July. I’m glad these blogging challenges are here to give me the kick I need in the right direction.

It’s here! My new passport just arrived in the mail.

I could not have been more excited yesterday when I checked the mailbox and saw a Delivery Notice card from the Post Office! My new, 10 year Canadian Passport is here. Big news for 2015 travel plans, as I wouldn’t be traveling very far without it! Who knew that a small notice could evoke so much excitement?

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So I am slowly working my way down the check list of documentation/approval type things that need to be accomplished before departure can happen.

Next up is the application for a Vietnamese tourist Visa from the Vietnamese Embassy in Toronto. However, I have added a trip to the local health clinic, and acquiring special scuba diving insurance to the list. The diving insurance will be useful in Asia, but also in Central America! More on that adventure later!

In possession of my passport, we are also able to purchase our flights! One-way to Hanoi, please. This is exciting, and slightly nerve wracking at the same time. Can’t wait!

Travel update: 3.5 months until departure – getting stuff in the mail!!

Trip-relevant stuff is starting arrive in the mail! The days until departure date are passing quickly, so time is starting to run out to get any required documentation in order. We have finally decided that January 10th-20th as a target range to purchase our one-way flights to Hanoi, Vietnam! The goal is to do this ASAP – just waiting for my new 10 year passport to arrive in the mail

P.S. Sorry for a wordy, picture-lite post. xo

SO, as someone who is planning to leave the country, what are the basics that you will need?

You aren’t going anywhere without your international passport…

If you’re planning on leaving your native country in 2014, you are going to need an international passport. Make this one of the first things you do, not the last!! Although it’s possible to rush this process, this is not something you want to leave until the last minute. This is especially true during the holiday seasons, when a higher number of people are traveling abroad.

The Canadian Passport Application looks big, but don’t despair! Half of the pages are instructional, and bulk everything out. The most complicated part of the application might be finding an individual that fits your requirements for a guarantor who lives close enough to sign it.

Passport photos also have to fit within a specific set of guidelines. The easiest way to ensure your passport photos will pass inspection is to get someone else to do them for you! I chose Shopper’s Drugmart, but the Post Office, Black’s Photography and any other photography shop are also good options.

When submitting the application, I opted for the safe route, and paid the extra $20 to have someone at the Post Office review my application to ensure it would be accepted the first time. This turned out to be a good thing, because my photos were denied at the Post Office and I had to go back and get new ones. Better to find out before I had sent it away, than having to wait for it to come back and send it out again.

That being said, I am still anxiously awaiting the arrival of my new passport in the mail! Should be sometime next week or the week after… you will definitely be hearing about it when it gets here! Looking forward to getting some stamps in there.

A first-time traveler concern? Maybe, but for me funds and access to those funds is a top priority…

My travel American Express arrived in the mail 3 days ago! Cash is good and necessary, but you will still need a credit card or bank card to access and withdraw it. A credit card with a reasonable credit limit is also going to be useful in case you need to purchase multiple international flights, or who knows what else.

Unfortunately, your student Visa with a $1000 credit limit isn’t the best option, although it might do in a pinch. These cards don’t having the benefit of earning you any rewards points or travel vouchers. You might as well take advantage of these offers.

Reward cards often come pre-loaded with bonus points and have the ability to earn points on purchases like tickets, restaurants and fuel. Points can be exchanged for travel vouchers, gift cards, or other promotional products. Other benefits can include travel insurance, a wide variety of member discounts and access to travel agency services.

It makes sense to get your hands on a travel rewards credit card if you are planning major travel – just don’t miss the payments! The interest rates can and do jump noticeably. It is possible to set up automatic payments so this doesn’t become an issue when you’re on the road.

I originally thought I was out of luck in this particular department! I applied for a credit card through my bank way back in May or June, and was denied. I’m not going to go into major details about that – but I was NOT impressed. However, I do believe that things happen for a reason or in being in the right place at the right time. On an unplanned trip to the bank one day, the teller mentioned that I had been pre-approved for a $5000 travel rewards card. I’m taking it as a sign that I am doing the right thing by traveling and exploring the world around me.

Where are you traveling? Acquiring a Vietnamese Travel Visa…

Depending on where you are traveling and your nationality, you may have to apply for a travel visa before leaving your home country. Again, depending on the particular circumstances, you may qualify for a visa on arrival at the airport. Because we are planning on spending time in Vietnam, we need to acquire approval to enter the country before we leave Canada. This can be done in one of two ways

  • Pre-approved 30-day visa from the Vietnamese Embassy before we leave
  • Pre-issues visa letter of entry from the Vietnamese Embassy, to be stamped and finalized upon entry at a Vietnamese international airport

We are choosing the first option, because we have enough time to do so, and it seems like the more thorough way to get our visas. The downsides being that it costs more to get the visa in Canada, and having to send our passports physically to the Embassy. However, they are supposed to be very fast, guaranteeing processing within 5 business days!

Flights – making the trip real

The purchasing of flights is both important and exciting! Having never left the country before on a trip such as this one, purchasing the first flight is the major clincher for me. With a flight purchased, there can be no doubt that the trip is happening and that I am not dreaming. Honestly, until we are leaving I think the whole thing is going to seem a bit surreal. Part of me feels guilty for being 24 years old and jetting off into the sunset to dive, take pictures and see the world. My mom would be proud – I am sounding more like a hippy every day.

Flight prices also seem to increase in the last couple months before they depart, so purchasing earlier might mean finding a better deal. Now just waiting for the passport to get here! More on these developments as they develop.

Gear – the last thing you and I need to be worrying about.

If you are a planner like I am, and just starting to plan your trip, gear should probably be the last thing you need to be worried about. We are leaving in January, so I would like to start picking up a couple of things from the summer on clearance – including a pack.

This packing list is my favorite that I have come across so far. It is succinct and reflects pretty much what I was thinking I should have in my pack. You want to travel as light as possible for a number of reasons. Keep an eye out for a more detailed on packing and travel gear as I actually start to pull things together.

So this is how things stand right now in trip and travel preparations! Thanks for reading 🙂

Re-blogged: about leaving

I am re-blogging this post because the second paragraph hits the nail so exactly on the head – I think about a lot of this “stupid stuff” when thinking about leaving for SE Asia in January! What to do with money and how to access it, navigating transportation, and getting through the airport without major incident. Although I am still in the planning stage of our backpacking trip, these are the things I think about. This blog is cool because the author started the journey before departure, so we get the full spectrum of the travel experience. Awesome! 🙂

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imageIt was hard. To take that first step. To actually say goodbye to the ones I love the most. To walk through that door knowing that from here on out I’m on my own. That I’m going to have to take care of myself. That I’m going to be the only one I can rely on.

And it’s all the stupid stuff that I’m worried about. Like how will I know where to go. What bus to catch. How to access my money. How to manage it. Where I will sleep. Where will I eat. Will I make friends. How will I tell the good from the bad. How will I do all this on my own. But most of all, am i too young and stupid to be doing this?
I hope not. Because I’m here now, half way to the start of my adventure. And I’m so excited…

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What have I been reading to prepare for Vietnam and Indonesia? A lot of blogs.

Non-fiction. But mostly blogs. They have quickly become the best way I know to do research for our upcoming backpacking trip to South East Asia! I alluded to this in an earlier post, when I uploaded a couple of images of my current book stacks and discussed the void formal education has left in my life. As I said, I miss learning and school.

To remedy this, I have been soaking up books – natural histories, biographies, narratives, a variety of magazines, a number of outdoor guides and my PADI training manual. I will also confess to having a number of fiction and fantasy series “on the go”, but they are all currently on the back burner. But the form of media I have been really focusing on and devouring? BLOGS!

Since deciding to plan a trip in April of 2014, I have become more aware of the art that is blogging, and the online community blogging community that exists to support it.

All of these sites I have found myself returning to again and again. I have laughed, gasped and cried because of some of the things I have read on these blogs. Many have inspired me to believe that an alternative lifestyle centered on travel and adventure is not only highly desirable, but entirely possible.

Without further ado, here are some of the fantastic blogs I have been keeping up with since starting to consider international travel from a backpack. Some are directly related to the South East Asia trip planning, although the vast majority are not!

Please comment below with some of your favorite blogs and links – I want to know what you’re reading. Thanks!

Some snapshots of 2015 travel planning, including Vietnam, Indonesia and a Central America trip

Legal Nomads – check out this amazing post about Vietnamese street food by Jodi Ettenberg, a foodie traveler diagnosed with celiac disease. Complete with vibrant photos and a list of destinations to checkout. Then check out the rest of her informative and beautifully laid out site.

Nomadic Matt – I found Matt’s website when I first started doing some SEA trip research, and have kept coming back because he offers advice about a wide range of destinations. Ideal for beginner backpackers on budgets!

All Indonesia Travel Guide – as the name implies, this blog focuses exclusively on the wonders that Indonesia has to offer and is my first stop when thinking about the time we are going to spend there

The Panama Adventure – I stumbled upon Kris’ blog, and it immediately made me 1) want to visit Panama and 2) see more of her amazing volcano photography. Follow as they live and travel in Central America.

Sites that inspire you to get out there and dive…

Pink Tank Scuba – this blog tells the story of a diving obsessed, cancer survivor complete with an inspirational story and amazing photographs. She is also the first person to ever like my blog! J

Scuba Diver Life – tons of interesting and informative videos and blog posts concerning scuba diving today, the state of the oceans and other interesting diving facts. Very cool video below, which was originally re-posted by Scuba Diver Life before it came to me

Dive Zone – another diving blog, with more posts about popular diving destinations and sites. The draw for me is the steadily updating international diving job board hosted by the website.

Having a lifestyle built around travel is possible…

Alex in Wanderland – Alex’s blog was the first blog that made me truly believe a lifestyle built on travel, writing, diving and photography might actually be possible with enough determination and hard work. If that alone isn’t reason enough to check out her site, she covers a wide range of destinations with refreshingly honest and clear opinions about all of them.

Around the World in 80 Jobs – I have been asking myself how I can have a lifestyle that supports both travel and work, and Turner Barr’s website really helps answer that question. Anything from teaching English in China, WOOFing or volunteering with rescue dogs in Thailand.

Be My Travel Muse – lots of tips for me about writing, blogging and freelancing as well as a wide range of travel tips and resources

Globe Trotter Girls – plenty of inspiration and advice to be found here from Dani about a wide span of global destinations and activities. Her blog introduced me to the idea that you can pet/house sit in exchange for complimentary board around the world! With proper references and set up of course.

Amazing photography, with a little something special…

Through Open Lens – Besides the beautiful photographs, I like following this blogger because I learn from it. The artist posts their shutter speed, aperture and ISO settings which I am learning to manipulate better on my own camera.

Jim’s Pic of the Day – eye-catching photography and some amazing macro shots which I am trying to get better at. Inspiration!

Markovich Universe – beautiful images, that you can also purchase in postcard format! I am fascinated by Russia and enjoy looking at this blog on the daily.

Three more blogs you should be checking out…

Hannah Brencher – this a link to a humorous reading list on Hannah’s website with fantastic titles on it! I have found myself referring back to it a number of times, marking down a few of the books on it for reading at a later time

Hike Bike Travel – online travel blog/magazine with the lens focused on North America. Stunning photography, regularly updated and a talented author who gives the site a personal touch.

Parks Blogger Ontario – a magazine style travel blog that acts as a one-stop resource for hikers, campers, paddlers and other outdoors enthusiasts in Ontario. Contributions are made by a wide variety of writers.

As I said, please comment below and share your favorite links! I am new to the blogging community so I have lots of catching up to do.