Traveling Completes Us
We met a long time ago and have spent much of our lives together. We grew up in The Netherlands and traveling was in our blood. As teenagers we each explored European countries, by train, and on bicycles, while camping. We left with a backpack to go to school in California and we’ve been best travel buddies ever since.
Eventually, we immigrated to Canada. We traveled across Canada by train and settled in Alberta where we lived and worked in several different provincial parks.
Then we moved to the Yukon where Kees worked as the first director of Yukon Parks.
As a writer, I could work anywhere from home. We moved about 27 times, lived in different parts of British Columbia, and eventually settled on a small, artsy island on the coast of the Pacific Ocean.
Traveling, and moving, to new places taught us to be adaptable, and has shown us much of both natural beauty and human resilience. It helped us to make friends in many places and to stay curious about our environment.
How We Decide On Our Next Destination
Our travels are always different. As young adults, we hiked and camped. When our children were small, we had different needs and wishes. Once, we packed up and traveled with them for a whole year in a van with a trailer. We traveled the circumference of the USA and much of Canada with them. Later, we backpacked across Asia and nowadays our travels are mostly dictated by the schools that invited me, as a writer, to come and speak about my books and conduct writing workshops for students.
Once we have been invited, we read up about the country and plan our time after my work in school, to see as much as we can. We don’t like cities too much. We don’t go much to museums or urban attractions but try to find hidden gems, long-distance hikes, or beautiful beaches.
We book accommodations online, often after getting advice from locals (for instance in Myanmar we learned to book non-government-run hotels).
Our Remarkable Adventures
We’ve traveled throughout the Gobi Desert in a van with singing Mongolians.
We crossed the Nullabor in Australia.
Kees walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain twice.
We sampled muktuk (whale blubber) in Iqaluit, Nunavut, and saw blue-footed boobies in the Galapagos. One huge highlight was being part of the annual Tapati Rapa Nui, a cultural festival on Easter island. We also loved seeing elephants and lions in their natural habitat in Tanzania and meeting the Maasai people.
Still on our bucket list are long distances hikes in Japan and in England, a drive around Ireland, and much more!
Read more: Anda And Laszlo Have Been Traveling For Over 30 Years As A Couple And Embracing Adventures Hands On
We've Made A Lot Of Friends Along The Way
We’ve been to over 60 countries and hope to keep exploring new places.
One of the best parts of travel is meeting new friends and learning about different cultures and customs.
Travel helps you to realize that people have more in common than you think - everyone wants to live in peace, have enough to eat, and have a roof over their heads.
We’ve made Muslim friends in Pakistan, Hindu friends in Laos, and much more.
We traveled with The Book Bus in Zambia as volunteers. We got to help children to have access to books and read stories and did crafts with them. This way we got to visit out-of-the-way places that we would not normally have seen.
We talked to leg rowers in Myanmar and slept in a Bedouin tent in Jordan.
These experiences have all enriched our lives. They also inspired nonfiction picture books for children that I wrote including Families Around The World, The Elephant Keeper, Where We Live and My Librarian is a Camel. I also wrote an award-winning picture book called Stepping Stones about Syrian refugees, illustrated by an artist in Syria whom I’ve never met yet.
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Best Memories Of Hanging Out With Locals
Not necessarily a favorite moment, but definitely a memorable one was driving into Granada.
We had booked a room online. After driving in Gibraltar and Seville, we had sworn not to drive a car in these ancient cities with their narrow streets. I thought I had booked a place on the outskirts of Granada where we wanted to see the Alhambra. But our GPS sent us deeper and deeper into the labyrinth of tiny cobblestone streets until we had to fold in the side mirrors on our small car. These roads were built for donkey carts, not cars. A local on a motorbike offered to find the address for us. We followed him for over an hour. He stopped every ten minutes and we watched him and others do lots of head-shaking and shoulder-shrugging. By the time we finally found the place I was ready to cancel our room and go to the outskirts. But one look at the large bed and the view of the Alhambra was enough to convince us to stay right there in the old city.
Another favorite memory is when I walked through old Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. I was told, “not to talk to the locals.” But as soon as I rounded a corner, a group of older men sat on the sidewalk, playing checkers and drinking tea. They laughed and waved and gestured for me to join them. We had a great visit with just hand gestures. Meeting those locals enriched my life. You can read the details of these and other adventures on our blog.
Inspiration For Starting Our Blog
When Covid hit, I had to cancel an upcoming trip to China. Suddenly, we were not packing and planning. This gave me time to start writing down the adventures we’d had. It’s more fun to share your writing so for my birthday I asked for a website. I created our site from scratch and loved being able to combine my passions: writing and the photos I had taken during our many travels.
I also combine this with our favorite books about the places we visit. The site has a blog with stories and photos but also a long list of recommended books, information on service travel, and more.
Once our site went live, with a weekly blog that comes in your mailbox when you subscribe, we started getting wonderful reactions from people who could no longer travel because of Covid but who now love armchair journeys through our blog. We also often hear from people that they follow our advice and book the same trips we made.
Read more: Following His Retirement From 35 Years Of Teaching Howard Launched A New Career As A Full-Time Adventurer & Travel Blogger
Traveling On A Budget
Yes, we very much travel on a budget. We like staying in a cottage or a place that gives us access to a kitchen, no matter how small, so that we can make our own meals.
We buy local foods and often fresh fruits and veggies at the market. We never use our Canadian cell phones abroad because the cost is prohibitive. We buy SIM cards that give us data so we can use maps and search for nearby places.
It is also helpful to figure out how locals get around.
For instance, in some countries, you can buy a public transit pass which is much cheaper than paying for individual bus or train rides.
In The Netherlands, you can rent a bicycle at most train stations which is much cheaper than renting from a specialty store. The Netherlands also has a network of private B&Bs for those who are hiking or biking where a bed and breakfast cost 22 euros p.p.
Along trails like the Camino in Spain, we stayed in hostels. All these details are part of my blog and I always list ‘resources’ at the end with links to helpful sites.
How We Manage Work & Travel
I am lucky that my work is what enables me to travel. My books are used in libraries and schools. Many have been translated into different languages.
International Schools invite me as an author to speak about my books or to do writing workshops for staff and students.
Once I finish work in a school, say in Tanzania, I can stay on and we plan our own travels like going on a safari. We always try to leave as small a footprint as possible by using public transit, by using resources that locals use.
One thing I always do to reuse and recycle is take clothes on a trip that I am ready to part with. I don’t take brand-new pants or shorts but take comfy, well-used ones and then, at the end of the trip, I give almost all of my clothes to someone who needs it.
This makes people in need happy - I have given away shoes, bras, shirts, hats, and much more. But it also allows me to travel back with almost no luggage. A win-win situation.
We’ve also taken many boxes of books, school supplies, and baby clothes to places in need. And, when we can afford it, we try to make a difference.
In Myanmar, we paid for the construction of a toilet building at an elementary school that had no facilities.
In Kenya, we sponsor a child we met. We try not to support people who exploit animals, like riding an elephant in India. But also NOT buying postcards from children in Petra, Jordan, children who should be in schools but are being used to make money.
We’ve also helped to pay to combat poaching in Africa and be able to help in other ways.
Much of our travel involves long-distance hiking. We walked in Spain, in Italy, hiked across Holland, did a long-distance trail in southern Australia, and walked across Israel. Nothing is more environmentally friendly than walking!
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GAFFL In Our Words
Finding someone to share the experiences and the costs with can be very beneficial. And it’s always good to make use of local knowledge when you get to your destination and connect with a local to show you the best things to see and do.
Apps & Websites That We Use While Traveling
I usually start research on Google Maps and try to get a sense of a location by using street view. I often end up booking flights through Orbitz.com but always compare airlines and travel sites.
Using an incognito window during research helps to keep fares down. I often use Airbnb to book accommodations but also look for local alternatives first.
There are so many useful apps and also apps that make you smile. During a recent long-distance hike in Europe, we found an app that shows you where public toilets are. Handy!
I check national tourism websites for advice on sites to see and learn handy tips for travel in that specific country. For instance, in Hong Kong, you get an Octopus Pass right at the airport. You put money onto it and use it for all trains and buses but also to pay in some shops. When you leave, they give you back any remaining balance. A great way to make travel easy.
One favorite global app is Rome2Rio with transit details anywhere. Each blog on our site has links to our favorite apps, places, and more.
Biggest Travel Challenges
While we are traveling we find that language can make things more difficult. If you are lost or sick in a village in China or Turkey where no one speaks English, it can be difficult. We speak fluent Dutch and English and enough German, French, and Spanish to find what we need. But we don’t speak Arabic or Greek so sometimes that’s hard. But here’s where Google Translate comes in handy. Plus a good sense of humor.
Read more: 6 Years Ago Ros & Alan Took A Step Into The Unknown By Quitting Their Jobs & Traveling Around The World
Tips We Can Share
My best advice would be the Nike slogan: Just do it! Go and explore the world. Don’t fret too much. The best-laid plans… and all that. Go with the flow and be open to new experiences. Things always work out.
Once we know what our next destination is, we read history books about that place or interesting biographies of people. We skim through travel guides and learn much from nonfiction books that tell us about history.
For instance, we learned to comprehend more of the complex situation in Palestine by reading a book called The Lemon Tree. That was more informative than a travel guide. That’s why our site combines books with travel stories.
Don’t take too much stuff with you. You don’t need many clothes if you wash them out at night. Take quick dry clothes. You can always buy what you need as you go but don’t lug too much with you. Take gifts - handing out a small keychain or pen from your country to a kid in Jordan can lead to whole new friendships.
Things We Wish We’d Known When We First Started Traveling
I’m not sure there’s much I should have known before we started traveling - I think learning from your own experiences is very valuable. What I have learned though is that it is good to say ‘hello’ and ’thank you' in any language of the places you will visit. Making that effort can really be helpful. It is important to always respect others and not make fun of different cultural habits. And do not expect everyone else to speak your language… Remember you are a guest in their country. I have also learned that there is much truth in a little poem called ’Serenity Prayer’ - whether it’s missing a flight connection or getting lost, these words are helpful:
"Give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
the courage to change the things I can;
and the wisdom to know the difference.”