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!


Before the dive

I adore this photograph. I annoyed my dive instructor and dive mates to get it so I’m glad it was worth it. Running late one Sunday morning, I snapped this picture looking across Lake Ramsey towards Laurentian University (Sudbury, Ontario). The lighting, color and peacefulness of the shot is everything I could have hoped for.

Worth getting up early for.

Worth getting up early for.

What’s so great about scuba diving?

Early, wet, and sometimes cold mornings. Long drives and overly enthusiastic morning people. A crushing need to look under the dock now, beyond just lying on top of it. These are some of the harder parts to take about scuba diving (Scuba Diver Life dispels more myths about diving here). But I got back in tanks after 10 years as a regular swimmer – so what’s the draw?


This may sound silly but one thing only got me off of the couch and on my way to the Scuba Shop on Notre Dame one afternoon in July. It is one of the most beautiful sights to turn over on your back while under the water, and see the sunlight filtering down on a clear day. I was watching a television show about scuba diving (ever watched Descending?) and the camera person flipped over on their back to give the viewers a glimpse. I picked up the phone and called Mike in that instant, before I could hesitate, because I knew I had to see that again for myself. Soon.

There is so much beauty to be observed under the water! Saltwater, freshwater, warm water, cold water – it makes no difference to me. I first learned to dive as a teenager in 2005, surrounded by three of my cousins. The Open Water certification for recreational divers by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) consists of an in-class portion, pool classes, and open-water dives. It was a hell of a way to spend March break, but by the end of it we were all ready to jump in the pool – tank, fins and all.

While many memories fade, or are just forgotten about, my time spent in the Dominican Republic with them is crystal. It was the first time I was ever able to swim in the ocean, and the place where I learned to dive! I recall being nervous at first, but once you’re in that blue, blue water with visibility for days that all melts away. We were tested on our basic skills – things like regulator recovery and clearing, clearing a flooded mask, and the tired diver tow. My diving buddy quickly earned a nickname – Glowstick Panter – for the way his legs glowed white under the water, and how quickly he went through his air supply. Hope you’re reading this!! Scuba diving has always been something I have done with my family.

Some mornings, getting up early is worth it.

A father helps his son gear-up on Open Water testing day.

Our trip to the Dominican Republic sparked something in me – the travel bug. Since then I have completed a lot of school, scoured the internet planning my own trips and appreciatively/enviously looked at their travel photos. It was time to get traveling and back in the water myself!

Planning the trip to Vietnam and Indonesia, and advancing my diving education has moved in lock-step. The idea of traveling to Indonesia and not scuba diving there is inconceivable! And something I learned this summer? Scuba diving is similar to riding a bicycle – you never forget, and it comes back to you after a few kicks. So everything I learn now will continue to be useful, as long as I travel and dive. Costa Rica 2015… Yes please. More on that later!!

The point here? Diving and travel go hand in hand. When I first started considering the idea of scuba diving again, my travel companions and I were asking ourselves the question, “What jobs can we do that allow us to make a living, and travel at the same time?” One of the jobs on my list was Scuba Instructor, and so I started looking into that. Then we committed to going to Asia. I figured there was no better time to start the PADI Advanced Open Water certification. I found the blog of Astrid Fischer to be particularly inspiring – she just completed her instructor levels on Tioman Island and blogged about it here.

One more great thing? Besides being fun and awe inspiring, scuba diving is a hobby that is good for your health. Leg and core muscles are working, you are getting active (usually early in the morning), and there are benefits associated with swimming and being in water. This is true, no matter where you go.

So give diving a shot! Your certification never expires. It’s good for your health, your sense of beauty, your travel addiction, and your family life. Plus, being up early in the morning means some amazing pictures you wouldn’t have been able to take otherwise, and maybe some new friends that you wouldn’t have made otherwise.


A sunrise I caught walking to the dive shop one morning.

Monday is for photos

After a very busy two weeks, I am more than ready to get back into the regular habit of posting!

So Monday’s are for photos, because no one is ready for heavy reading this early in the work week. But keep your eyes peeled this week people! I am working with a company called RelayRides, and planning a dream vacation to Hawaii. New place to go diving? Hello!

This is what "picking apples" looks like when you go with your Dad, and bring your camera.

This is what “picking apples” looks like when you go with your Dad, and bring your camera.

My photogenic hound dog.

My photogenic hound dog.

Some mornings, getting up early is worth it.

Some mornings, getting up early is worth it.

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.

Post-Dive #1: Deep Diving at Moose Mountain Quarry

Sunday was reserved for an early morning trip to what Mike – the head diving instructor – calls ‘Moose Mountain’. The dive site is an out-of use quarry north of Capreol filled with clear, blue, tropical-esque water and little ledges that you can drop down and explore. Today we were descending to 96 feet, among other things. “Just so I could get used to it”, Mike said. What did that mean? But he’s the kind of guy that doesn’t give you a lot of time to over-think it. As everyone is suiting up, he hands me an underwater slate with a column of numbers – “How’s your math?”. He times me as I add the numbers together – 40 seconds. Then under the surface we go.

Amanda and I - one of the Divemasters that dives with the Scuba Shop. The gear flatters.

Amanda and I – one of the Divemasters that dives with the Scuba Shop. The gear flatters.

Diving at deeper depths is different for a number of reasons. At 96 feet, the water around you and in your wet suit is cold. About 42 degrees Fahrenheit, or 5.6 degrees Celsius. I repeat – it is cold. The pressure of the water on your body at greater depths compresses your wet suit and your air supply, so cold water is rushing in and it feels like I’m gasping for air. For once, my arms are tucked tight in to my body, not floating out beside me – “like a starfish”. Despite having air in my buoyancy control device (BCD), I still feel like there is a danger of sinking, dropping too far. So much for the graceful diver, calmly gliding through the water. Even the color is starting to change; blues start to fade away while my yellow fins and snorkel begin to look pink more than anything. Most of all, it’s dark. I feel myself start to breathe faster, gasping at my air supply. I see what Mike meant about “getting used to it”.

At just the right time, my guide turns back up the ledge we had come down and we slowly ascend to the relative warmth of 60 feet. I had never imagined I would call 60 feet warm, but after my first time at almost 100 feet it felt like bathwater. Later on I learned that the temperature at 96 feet was comparable to diving under the ice in the winter – without the ability to ascend to warmer water at shallower depths. Intense.

The math exercise is repeated and I am grateful for it. For whatever reason, I couldn’t slow my breathing and calm down after coming up from the deep, and I feel myself really starting to freak out a bit. At first I was having a tough time even holding on to the pencil, but as I started to add my brain was forced to focus and I was able to relax. Slower this time – 45 seconds. This touch of anxiety at 60 feet really put into perspective how important it is to remain calm and not panic under the water. You can’t just quickly rise to the surface if you are panicking, or out of air, or whatever the scenario may be. Too quick of an ascent can do internal damage due to nitrogen build up and expansion in the blood, and so must be controlled.

We rejoined the rest of the group and headed for the beach where we had entered the quarry. We start to speak again in English – not the combination of recognized and made up hand-signals that divers use to communicate with each other when under. Numbers are exchanged; depths, temperatures, times and remaining air supply. While no one is in a hurry to return to that depth anytime soon, you can feel the excitement from the divers about the accomplishment. As for me – I am thrilled. I am one step closer to diving in the ocean again!