Hornbill Festival – India – Why not come with me?

Every year, The Travel Writers offers an opportunity for likeminded photographers to join us in traveling to interesting and “off the beaten track” destinations.
This year we are heading to the Hornbill Festival and North-East India from Dec 02-10, 2017 with photographer Shankar Subramanian and Mirza Zulfiqur Rahman (North-East India Expert & Tour Lead) The Hornbill festival celebrates the gathering of 16 tribes for a week of traditional dance, crafts, sports, food fairs, games and ceremonies. The tour, from Darter Photography, includes visits to the most colourful festival of the North East in Nagaland, interaction and photography with aboriginal people, witnessing and photographing Vaishnavite monastic culture at Majuli and a stopover at Kaziranga National Park.
The tour price for the trip is:
“Land Only” Rs.68,850. (which is approx.USD $1,000) A single room supplement is available at an extra cost.
If you are interested in traveling to Nagaland and North East India then check out the itinerary and contact Darter Photography via their website.

Photography in North-East India and Hornbill Festival


Regards
Penny

Categories: Adventure Travel, Asia, India, Photography | Leave a comment

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My Thoughts for 2017 – Let Conscious Be Your Guide but Beware of Manipulation and Guilt

Many of us set goals where we hope to improve ourselves both physically and emotionally in the hope that the new year will somehow be an improvement on the previous. We reflect on conversations which could have been handled with more respect and consideration and feel shame by our behaviour. Basically, we all want to be better people and a good rule of thumb is to listen to our inner voice before we open our mouth or type that email. Often we strike out at something or someone because we feel threatened.
Pause, and take a while to think about your reaction and ask yourself, “Is this the right thing to do?”
Unfortunately, there are people within our society who operate on another level entirely, and they rely on your guilt to manipulate a reaction from you in their favour. When it comes to these people, I tend to believe, “What Goes Around Comes Around”

Categories: Advice | 1 Comment

Please Take Me Out To The Ball Game…and I Promise Not To Mention the Goat!

Now let’s get this out in the open – my knowledge of baseball was limited until my daughter and I were invited to fly to Chicago to attend a Cubs game. My old friend, Jerry Cohen from Ebbets Field Flannels, Seattle, did his best to advise me on the finer points of the game and warned that the Cubs had  a history with a certain farm animal.  Jerry even arranged a vintage jersey for our host  but with the gentle reminder, not to mention the word, “goat.”
Goat or no goat, I was secretly hoping baseball would not be as boring as cricket! However,  I reminded myself I could easily occupy my time by taking photos of this legendary animal if baseball turned out to be  just as tedious and uninteresting as the “gentlemen’s game.”

Most Australian men love cricket and spend countless hours watching the game during long, hot summer days when clearly they should be doing something more productive than drinking beer and occupying the sofa.  A cricket game can go on for days and is about as interesting as watching paint dry.  Even if someone famous invited me to attend a game and watch it from in his private box, I would gracefully decline. Yes, that is how much I adore the game of cricket – NOT!
But here we were in Chicago, sitting in a private box and cheering on the Cubs while eating bison hot dogs and  sauerkraut with a ‘dash” of mustard.  For the next 3 days, we fronted up to games, at historic Wrigley Field and ate more hot dogs and sampled every variety of cake on the dessert trolley.  However, I soon realised how fortunate I was to be witnessing these exciting, nail biting games. Baseball was clearly a “thinking man’s game” and I was having a great time.  I did not need to occupy  myself by trying to find this elusive goat but instead just watched the game and savoured the moment.  The pace was fast, the players used strategy and the outcome was unpredictable. I enjoyed the replays on the big board and also learning the ice-cream preference of star players!  More importantly,  I noted when singing that famous, unofficial anthem “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”, the people  came together as one, – just ordinary mums, dads and kids who were out to watch and enjoy a  game no matter which side they hoped would win. Wrigley Field felt intimate, homely and safe in a time when there is an underlying sense of  fear for many Americans.  The game of baseball was clearly a unifier and a winner. Celebrating all things American on July 4th could not have been better for this Australian farmer.

Last time the Chicago Cubs won the World Series was back in 1908. As I did not see or smell any goats at Wrigley Field I tend to lay claim that two Australians brought  some luck to the team who along  with resilience and hard work went onto the claim  the 2016 series.

So if  you are ever visiting Chicago and want a uniquely American  experience then head to Wrigley Field and take in a baseball game.Make sure you eat a hot dog, soak up the atmosphere and sing along with the people who have supported their team through thick and thin.  And as for that goat – he is long gone!

Congratulations Cubs and thank you Mr C.

Categories: Advice, Animals, Cities, Destination | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

What Lies Over the Wall? – A Profound Sense of Hope

Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.” Thich Nhat Hanh.

His small, chubby, brown hands were dirty and he smiled a cheeky grin, as he wiped them quickly on his red T-shirt, which was not much cleaner. The dirt was not “new” dirt, but an accumulation of years of poverty passed down from generations. His family, like many farmers throughout history, had moved to the shanty towns on the riverbank, hoping for a better life.

I had spent the morning photographing the children of this small community who played and swam in the muddy waters of the great Irrawaddy River which rises from Himalayan glaciers and flows for 2,170 km, bisecting Myanmar. According to The World Bank, Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, estimate 37.5 percent of the population live in poverty and this figure doubles in rural areas. The settlement beside the river was certainly not one promoted on the front page of glossy travel magazines, featuring maroon dressed Buddhist monks and the Golden Temple of Yangon.

With my camera SD cards now full, I searched for a way back through the maze of shacks to a high stone wall which divided the township.  Despite not speaking English, the little boy in the red shirt instinctually recognised I would have a problem retracing my footsteps and extended his hand to show me the way. Barely 5 years old, his smile revealed rotting, front teeth as he quickly pointed in the direction we should take. I was hesitant at first, not because I was afraid of stepping in more mud, animal manure or on lean, lazy, Asian, dogs warming themselves in the sunshine, but rather, I felt I was now over-stepping my presence in this community;  the unspoken agreement between a tourist and the village.  I had been accepted as I sat quietly and photographed the women and children going about their daily life, but now the direction we were heading was clearly very close to the houses and gardens of this community. At any moment, I was also expecting to hear a protesting mother allege I was kidnapping her child! The little boy tugged my hand to go “faster” as we made our way between a maze of bamboo, green plastic and thatched buildings and small, newly planted seedlings which were struggling for survival. In the distance, I could make out a high, stone wall where large, green, ceramic garden pots had been placed strategically to enable small children and now a western woman, with a camera slung around her neck, to climb up and over a wall; a wall that provided a clear distinction between his world and mine.

I thanked the little boy as he flashed a black, toothy smile and turned to run back to his friends. I watched as they continued to make mud pies and play with fat pigs and mangy, yellow dogs. My thoughts turned to my own children, who not so many years ago, also loved to “cook” and decorate mud pies. How different their lives would have been if they were born here in the slums of Mandalay without healthcare, education and a better than equal chance of succeeding and achieving their hopes and dreams.

Standing on the high stone wall, I took one last photograph of the great, brown Irrawaddy River and the community below. I had now left that world physically, the riverside slums of Mandalay, but this chance meeting with a small boy in a red shirt would not leave my thoughts for many months to come.

I have struggled with what I saw and experienced that day. My photographs did not record violence, abuse or death but I did see poverty in its rawest form. Like many communities in Myanmar, the people through birth and circumstance scratch for a living, trying to provide for their families in any way possible. My photographs cannot describe the smell of rotting, dead animals, garbage, pig, human and chicken manure together with the petrol fumes from outboard motorboats. My photographs captured women elegantly carrying huge baskets of dirty clothing on their heads to the water’s edge where they scrubbed them clean with sweet smelling soap to cover the stench of putrid, brown water.  Farmers delivered fat pigs on long boats which were then “encouraged” to jump overboard and swim ashore. Food scraps and sewerage from riverboats were emptied over the side, hoping to avoid those who worked below them; washing, and fishing.  Small children laughed and joked as I showed them their photographs in my camera’s viewfinder as their mother prepared a midday meal of green greens and rice, cooked with the muddy water bucketed from the river. Plastic bags, Styrofoam cups, timber, oil and the occasional dead animal bobbed up and down on the current which would eventually wash ashore, maybe not here but somewhere on its journey downstream to the ocean. Bullock carts and ox-ploughs are as much as common today as centuries ago, while tourists like me, carry cameras which probably amount more in value than these people earn in two whole years.

Like many farming families in Myanmar, this community is living on the edge, struggling to maintain a delicate balance between life and death. The little boy in the red shirt and his friends were lucky to be alive considering the conditions they were living in. Health care is unaffordable to the vast majority of the population where acute respiratory infections, diarrhoea, and septicaemia claim many lives each day.

“It is what it is” – a slum, with a continuum of birth, struggle, highs and lows and eventually one day, death. For the families who live in the  rural areas of Myanmar and the Irrawaddy shanty towns, there seems to be more struggle and lows than we could ever imagine.

For many of us we complain about the small things; a bad hair day, being cut-off in traffic, or our chai latte is not hot enough.

But does that really matter?

With the life challenges that this one small Burmese boy, in a grubby red t-shirt, has faced already, was it so surprising he took the time to invest in true goodness, without even a thought of payment, to show me the way out of his close-knit community?  No, not really. From my travels throughout rural Myanmar, I found the Burmese people, despite their extreme poverty, kind, caring, trustworthy and extremely compassionate. Maybe, these wonderful human traits could have something to do with their devout following of Buddhism?

Hopefully, one day in the not too distant future, this little boy and his friends will be afforded the same opportunities as those who live on the other side of the wall, without the loss of some of the greatest qualities humans can possess.

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Adventure Travel, Anthropology, Asia, Asia, Destination, Health, Myanmar, Myanmar, Myanmar (Burma), Myanmar (Burma), Spiritual, Uncategorized, Women solo travel | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

Why Donald Trump’s Words & Actions Affect Us All.

Isn’t it interesting that so many women have suddenly come forward, after all these years, to tell their stories and in just the last few weeks of the US election?
I hear people asking:
“Why now?”
“What do these women hope to gain from digging up something which “supposedly” happened in the past?”

Whether you support Donald Trump or not, it is the issue of touching someone without consent which should be addressed.

I am now 58 years old, and this week realised that I should have made a complaint about the primary school teacher who touched me, and probably most of the girls in our one-teacher, bush school back in the 1960’s.
I should have told my mother about older, male cousins who did much worse things to me when I was 5 years old

I should have told my father that the “good lad” who lived up the road, was known as, “Roman Hands & Russian Fingers.”
I should have told the teachers at high school about the boys in my class who would corner me and the other girls and then drag us individually into the art room cupboard and lock the door.
I should have told the flight attendant about the young, Australian man who rubbed up against me and suggested I meet him in the bathroom on a long haul flight back from Thailand when I was barely 20 years old.
I should have told my friend about her boyfriend and his unwanted advances before she married him.
I should have told my boss about his partner, who repeatedly asked me to stay back and help him catch up on “important” work… Wink wink, nudge nudge!
Yes, I should have told someone about the abusive and predatory males who touched me in the most intimate ways from a very young age but I was scared, humiliated and embarrassed. I thought I would be blamed and accused of lying. I felt that maybe I had done something which encouraged these boys, who then became men, to behave in this manner.
It seems even now, at my age, some males think I should be flattered by their inappropriate, sexual behaviour.
In India, I obeyed the cultural rules by dressing conservatively and not walking alone but was still touched from behind in crowded streets.
In Turkey, a tour guide decided I should not leave the country without experiencing a little “afternoon delight” – Turkish style!
I learnt I had to be tactful and often use humour when dealing with certain men as there was always a very real threat of violation. In an effort to stay safe, I attached myself to males who would provide some sort of physical protection because I was too afraid to speak up for myself.
Well, guess what, NOT anymore!
The bottom line is, touching anyone without consent is not acceptable and it doesn’t matter how much money, fame, position or success goes with the person who is doing the touching.
By speaking out now, I want every male on this planet to understand you have been put on notice.
‘Hear me now, hear me loud, and hear me roar’
Speak up girls…it is never too late to make a complaint. We need to put a stop to this disgusting, predatory, male behaviour.

Chances are your mother, sister, girlfriend, or daughter have all experienced some of the same things I have. Chances are, they did not make a complaint either. It’s time to make a change and no matter who wins the US election, Donald Trump has managed to highlight an issue which should be acknowledged and challenged, as totally unacceptable. Touching without consent is just not on!
And in response to the man, who I thought would understand when I confided in him about the incident with the Turkish guide – you will never know how much it hurt me when you said,

“Isn’t that the way Aussie women give a good tip!” Ha! Ha!

NO, it was not funny at all.

Categories: Advice, Rant, Women solo travel | Tags: | Leave a comment

Don’t Delay – Make Myanmar Your Next Travel Destination.

Four years ago, in 2012, my travel partner suggested we start planning a photographic trip to Myanmar. He sent me endless newspaper articles regarding civil unrest and the impact of the military government which suggested the need for caution in planning our travel itinerary. I booked my ticket but unfortunately, my travel partner changed his mind!
With trepidation, I ventured alone to this country which had only recently opened its doors to tourism. I could not have been more surprised by the relative ease of travel and the welcome I received from the Burmese people. The ancient Buddhist sites and ethnic cultures make this country a must-see for travellers who think outside traditional tourist destinations.

 

As a solo “older” female traveller, there has to be a reason why I am now booking flights for my third adventure back to this wonderful country. Not only are there endless photographic opportunities in Myanmar, (formally Burma) but it would have to be the safest country I have travelled. For the record, I did not witness Buddhist monks rioting in the streets or any civil unrest. Being prominently Buddhist, the Burmese people are welcoming, friendly and helpful to tourists.

I felt safe and secure with the knowledge that there always seemed to be a friendly local willing to help me find the bus station or someone who could speak a little English.

 

Yangon is home to the magnificent, 2500-year-old, golden Shwedagon Pagoda and a hot air balloon flight over the ancient temples of Bagan is something which you should not miss. Don’t forget to include a day trip out on Inle Lake to visit one of the small markets where colourful, ethnic minority groups trade their fruit and vegetables. 

Despite many tour operators advising the need to book accommodation ahead of departure, I found there are plenty of small hotels and guest houses with available rooms starting at $30.00(Aus) a double, where breakfast is included in the tariff.

Bus travel is often long and rough but it provides a wonderful opportunity to see the passing countryside and meet other travellers.

Travelling in Myanmar is not expensive but it does take time and a little patience. Relax and learn about the Burmese culture which is fast changing and eager to catch up with the rest of the world.

 

Don’t delay, make Myanmar your next travel destination!

Categories: Advice, Asia, Myanmar, Women solo travel | 1 Comment

“Stepping Outside My Comfort Zone”

Recently I was interviewed by the editor of Battleface –  WORDS AND IMAGES FOR PEOPLE WHO GO TO DANGEROUS PLACES.https://www.battleface.com/blog/traveller-and-explorer-penny-frederiksen/

My name is Penny Frederiksen and I live on a cattle property in Australia. I am a farmer, school teacher, travel-writer and photographer. I am in my 50s with four independent children who live and work all over the world. I am fortunate to really enjoy my job as a teacher and the added bonus is the ability to travel every 10 weeks, so I take full advantage of the holidays.

I have a lovely balance of a quiet, comfortable life at home on the farm in Queensland but in the background, I am planning my next travel adventure to countries which are a little off the beaten track. I was hugely influenced by reading and seeing the photographs in National Geographic magazine as a child, and subsequently dreamed of doing something really adventurous when I ‘grew up.’

After my children left home, I decided to resume my love of travel and take up photography. This time, however, I would focus on the type of travel I wanted to experience: rural communities, homestays, hiking and getting out of the large cities, where my love of photography and meeting locals could take center stage.

Travel makes me step outside my comfort zone, where I can learn and understand other cultures and customs. I also want to impart the knowledge to my students at school, that travel has the ability to not only open their eyes but their hearts, to the many challenges which they will face in their lives.

You wrote: ‘I know people and situations change, but I will not let the bad memories make me resentful and afraid to make choices about moving on and creating new experiences with people and places unknown.’ How do you approach these challenges?

I wrote that article during an ‘Adele’ moment and at the time, was dealing with some personal issues.  Adele is an English singer and writes songs which we can all relate to in one way or another.

I was writing about a friendship which no longer held truth or honesty but I was prepared to forgive and move on without being angry or resentful.

Firstly, I had to acknowledge and accept what had happened and then adapt to the new circumstances of the ‘friendship.’ There is an old saying, and it goes something like this: ‘not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then expecting the rat to die.’

There is too much to see and do in this world and every sunset means it is one day less to make experiences count and create wonderful memories. I do not want my life to revolve around being angry or resentful and even the rats of this earth have a reason for being here!

What specific challenges do mature women face when travelling?

Firstly, there is the challenge placed on us by a society which views mature women as grey haired old ladies who should be sitting at home, watching the afternoon soapy, ‘The Bold and The Beautiful’ and knitting booties for grandchildren, rather than going off to photograph the Long Neck Women of Myanmar.  I am fortunate that my family have always encouraged me to do the things which I love but many of my ‘at home’ friends, think I am a bit crazy. Secretly, I think they would really like to come with me on my travels but their husbands consider I would instigate some rebellion within their marriages!

In general, there is the ‘fear factor’ when it comes to travel. There are plenty of people who will tell you that because you are a woman it is far too dangerous to travel alone. Then they will quote some article they have read about a woman being drugged, robbed, mugged, raped and murdered in Tibet or they mention the recent terrorist bombings. Bad things happen all over the world each day, but that should not stop anyone from seeing the Eiffel Tower, Grand Canyon or the Great Barrier Reef at whatever age or gender.

Secondly, let’s face it; our bodies are not as young as what we think we are and we have to be realistic about what we can actually do when planning a trip.

Fitness and health are a challenge. Traveling can be really exhausting, the food is different and the sanity conditions are sometimes questionable. It is important to have an exercise regime and to stick to it so that you are going to be in the best condition before the trip. Also health care is not always as easy as ringing up your local GP and getting antibiotics when you are as sick as a dog in a backwater in Vietnam.

Personal safety is important especially when traveling solo. There are some countries I feel much safer in than others and I have found many Asian countries are wonderful in this respect even with a language barrier.

On the most, people are kind, generous and caring. I tend to gravitate to markets, where there are plenty of other women and children and of course, this is my area of interest for photography.

I don’t have any safety training. Ultimately, I just follow the Penny Frederiksen Gut Rule: if it feels wrong, then get the hell out of there!

I have had one unpleasant experience in Turkey with a guide I had traveled with for two weeks. On the last night of the group tour, he told me that hotel management had asked him to check the leaking toilet in my room. You might say, my guide had other intentions when he returned from my bathroom with his trousers off! I appealed to his conscience and suggested his wife and 10 year old son would be delighted to get a call from him as he was obviously missing them dreadfully.

I learnt a valuable lesson from that experience – never let anyone into your room on the pretext of checking a leaking toilet and some guides expect a ‘tip!’

I always adhere to our Australian government’s travel warnings and also register with Smart Traveler before I leave home. While traveling in Sri Lanka I was notified of a tsunami and advised to head for higher ground, so it is good to know the notification works.

You’ve volunteered at an animal shelter in Thailand and visited an orphanage in Nepal. How does the voluntravel experience differ from the regular tourist experience?

Many organized tours offer tourists a trip to an orphanage, especially in Asia. After half an hour of nursing babies and playing peek-a-boo with small children, the tourists leave a nice donation and go back to their 5 Star Hotels. Travelers feel they have contributed to those in need in some small way and hopefully, the donation will be used for the benefit of the children. Not all travelers have the desire to become volunteers, but for me, I wanted to actually do something more than just give a donation. I wanted to offer the skills I had in teaching English and helping educators in developing countries, as it was really an extension of what I do in my job at home in Australia. I also wanted the opportunity to connect with the local people and also to understand the problems which faced children learning English as a second language. For many children, it is the only way out of poverty as they will be able to find work in the service industry where speaking English will be an advantage for an employable future. I gained so much from volunteering, both personally and professionally.  As with any industry, there are unscrupulous people which have made voluntravel a very contentious issue of late. It is important to understand the skills you have and then check out the agency you are dealing with. Don’t be afraid to ask questions as you are paying for the opportunity to donate your time and labor.

How do you prepare for a trip?

I am always planning 6 to 12 months in advance for each trip. I save everywhere possible towards my goal so that I will have enough money to do the trip without stressing that I will not be able to see the sights and pay for the activities I want to do. I figure that “next year” is always unknown so I treat each trip as if it were my last. After I have booked my flight, (I always use my travel agent) I make sure my yearly travel insurance is up to date and I focus on maintaining my fitness program, and taking care of my body by eating a balanced diet. This includes regular medical and dental checkups and making sure my vaccinations are up to date.

I contact other travel writers and read up as much as possible about where I am traveling and also research the history and culture of the country. I always follow the news services in Asia so that I am aware of any potential problems.

I lead a pretty busy life so I have to find a good balance but love the idea that as soon as the bell rings on the last day of school, I have my camera packed and I am heading to the airport. Once on the plane, I sit back, relax and enjoy the trip.

Your favourite gear and why.

When traveling in Asia, I am packing for comfort, convenience and consideration. The places I travel are certainly not on the fashion trail but I do need to look professional and not like a teenage backpacker. You might say, I have learnt from experience what works and what doesn’t.

I wear travel clothing by the outdoor and adventure company Kathmandu, which I find great for comfort and convenience. As most Asian countries are located in hot zones, I only take a couple of changes of clothing and wash them out in the shower each night and they are dry by morning. My clothing is light and has plenty of hidden pockets for security (like money, passport and credit cards) I have to also take into consideration that most Asian countries are Buddhist and therefore, I must be respectful in covering up and not exposing shoulders or knees. I also pack a light down jacket which can double as a pillow on those long bus rides if the a/c is not turned down to zero!

I have a backpack by Kathmandu (with wheels –as I am too old to carry a pack on my back these days!) which is narrow enough for the train passage aisles in Asia.

Aging takes its toll on your feet as it does with the rest of your body, so it is really important to travel with comfortable shoes.

I take two pairs of shoes; rubber Crocs and I wear my Merrell hiking shoes. It is really important to keep my feet covered while traveling in Asia so that I minimize the risk of infections around animals on farms or stubbing my toes on uneven footpaths.

Of course, I would be lost without my cameras. I actually pack two cameras, just in case there is a problem as there are not too many camera shops in some of the locations I travel.

My favorite camera is a Lumix FX150 for portraits, which I have had for 4 years now. I have taken thousands of photos and that camera is one tough little lady! She has been overland from India to Nepal, canoed down the Irrawaddy River, been on safari in Sri Lanka as well as backpacked in the mountains of Washington State and Alaska, USA.

My other camera is an Olympus OM-D which is my backup and can do some pretty fancy things.

I always take my mobile phone and buy a sim card in the country I am traveling in, which lets me keep in touch with my family back home. Most Asian countries provide free Wi-Fi even at the smallest guesthouses and my phone has an added bonus of taking really good photos.

Have you ever faced an ethical challenge in the course of your work? How did you handle it?

I faced an ethical challenge in Nepal while I visiting an area known as The Ghats; it is where funerals are held and people are cremated. As I approached the historic area, an old lady was lying on a small grassy patch surrounded by her family.  About a dozen family members, dressed in rags, were visibly upset and crying over the body.  My guide told me the family were very poor and could not afford to buy the wood for their grandmother’s cremation, however, donations of wood from other mourners, would enable them to have the funeral by the end of the day. I saw western tourists begin to  gather around the family and start to take photos of them. I had to draw the line and walked by to leave the family to grieve in peace. Tourists post YouTube clips of cremations and write in detail about seeing corpses burning on social media all the time but I wonder how they would react if a person visiting from Nepal turned up at their mother’s funeral and started to take photos? There are plenty of opportunities to capture memories of experiences in foreign countries, but ethically I thought this was far too intrusive and I did not need to photograph a grieving family.

What keeps you shooting?

Photography is like an addiction and I’m always on the search for a wonderful face which shows a journey; etched by hard work and wrinkles.

I really like interacting with the people I photograph; especially the women and children and those who work in agriculture in developing countries. There have been times where I have only communicated through sign language and symbols in the dirt but each photograph tells its own story and each story is important.

When I approach older women and ask if I can photograph them, they often gesture they are not pretty enough and they have far too many wrinkles for an attractive picture. .

Sometimes, all it takes is for someone else to value beauty for it to be acknowledged by the owner.

I want to record the stories and photograph women from cultures which are fast disappearing in these developing nations.

A common misconception about solo female travellers is….

Oh goodness, this is a good question. That we are desperate and dateless.

What’s something every solo female traveller should take on the road?

A ‘pretend’ wedding ring. I know it plays into the hands of the ‘fear factor’ but it is an easy way of excluding a few people who think you are desperate and dateless.

Most importantly, for every traveler,“always pack a smile. A smile has the ability to cross cultural boundaries and does not need a translator.

Got any advice for budding photographers?

Get to know your subject (the person) and don’t miss what is going on around you by always having a camera pushed up against your face.

The other piece of advice I would suggest is to at least know how to turn on your new camera before you head out. My first experience was in Sri Lanka where I was given a brand new camera and did not even know how to take the lens cap off – that is, after I had learned how to turn it on!

Don’t be afraid to do what works best for you.

I use AUTO and get bagged about using that camera function by “real” photographers a lot.

I take thousands of photos each time I travel and just delete the ones which I don’t like. I hate post processing and I usually don’t do very much to make my photographs look more appealing. I just like the actual process of finding a subject, getting to know them and then taking their photograph.

The most important aspect for me is that my subject is happy with their photograph and I get to hear their unique story: who they are, what they do in life and what they think.

Tell us about your most recent project.

Last year, I traveled to Myanmar twice to take photographs for a book which is in the process of being published by a Canadian author. The book is about women, children and spiritualism, so it fits well within my area of interest.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Advice, Asia, Asia, Destination, Photography, Planning, Women solo travel | Tags: | Leave a comment

Time is a Traveller – Choices and Remembering With Kindness

“We can let the circumstances of our lives harden us so that we become increasingly resentful and afraid, or we can let them soften us, and make us kinder. We always have the choice.” Dalai Lama

Penny with kids Myanmar

Remember that “time is a traveler” so value the  special moments as you live them

We have all been there at some stage in our lives when we finally make the decision to move on, either in a personal relationship, job or traveling. It’s hard at first to even consider such a decision and you try to remind yourself of all the great times you had, sharing, exploring and creating wonderful memories which you felt would last forever; new countries, cultures and cities with photographs to go with them.  But after a while you begin to realize those experiences are now just that… memories, which have the ability to make you smile but also shed a warm, salty tear.

People and places don’t always stay the same and we cannot expect them to either. I cannot expect someone, who I considered to be my best friend and confident, to still value our relationship, just as much as I cannot expect those wonderful people from a small village in Sri Lanka to be always so open and friendly and invite every photographer who happens to stumble out of the jungle and interrupt their morning prayers, to share breakfast with them.  I cannot expect that kind Buddhist monk, who took me home while in Myanmar, to do the same for every hurt, lost and frightened female he happens to find on Mandalay Hill, just as I cannot expect the country itself to remain in some ways, naive and innocent when the bus loads of tourists converge on this “hot” new destination. 

Time is also traveller and it should be used wisely. People make choices everyday which impact on the lives of others. How they feel today does not necessarily mean they will act or feel that way forever. I cannot hold back time and I cannot expect it of others. All I have now are my photographs to recall special times – when it stood still and perfect for me.

I know people and situations change, but I will not let the bad memories make me resentful and afraid to make choices about moving on and creating new experiences with people and places unknown. I will  strive to value and fully appreciate the moments of my life as I live them. I will do my best to accept the changes that are unavoidable. I will resolve to move forward with hope and enthusiasm. Above all, I remember with kindness those important, special people I met along life’s journey and know I have made the right choice. 

Categories: Advice, Destination, Myanmar, Spiritual | 22 Comments

Postcard from Penny – Putting On A Face In Myanmar

Like women all over the world, cosmetic makeup plays an important part in preparing for my day whether I am heading off to work in the city, traveling internationally or just gardening at home. Let’s face it – none of us want to look one day older than we already are! With the use of a little foundation to even out my tone and especially with the addition of an SP factor, I am also protecting my skin against the hash effects of the sun.

We think we have the cosmetic market cornered in the western world with the use of the latest BB cream, with claims of anti- aging, miracle wrinkle workers but this is nothing compared to Myanmar! From the bustling city streets of Yangon to the small rural villages, you will see the use of Thanaka  (pronounced tha-na-KA) which is a yellowish-white paste made from ground wood,  applied to the face and sometimes to the arms of women and girls.  I have also seen it used by men and boys, but to a lesser extent.

The cream is produced from the wood of several trees which grow in Myanmar and they must be at least 35 years old before they can be harvested. The bark, wood and roots are ground with a small amount of water and then applied to the face.

Thanaka acts as sunblock, is believed to help with treating acne, has anti-fungal properties and also has a sweet perfume.

The cream is applied in large circles on the cheeks, however designs of flowers and leaves can also be added using a small wooden pencil.

I asked one young Burmese girl why she had decided on a leaf design and if it had any special meaning.

“I saw it on the internet and it just looks pretty” she replied.

Yes, I put on my face each morning because I hope it makes me look pretty as well…Same Same But Different!

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Categories: Asia, Asia, Cosmetics, Destination, Myanmar, Myanmar (Burma), Photography, Women solo travel | 2 Comments

Does Size Matter? Yep, it does when it comes to choosing luggage.

When it comes to selecting new luggage, “Yes, size does matter!”

A few years ago, I remember purchasing the largest suitcase possible for my travels and I was never stopped at any airport check- in counter (luckily!) I did however, feel sorry for the porters who had to deliver my bag to my hotel room door, especially if the elevators were not working. There is no way I would even try that these days with the weight and size restrictions placed on travelers by airlines. Often there is also the issue of filling up that extra space with “just in case” clothes and shoes. Those “just in case” items, may end up being very expensive when you are asked to pay for the extra weight at the airline check-in counter.

There is a reason why airlines have limits on the size and weight of luggage and this is in accordance with local health and safety regulations for both baggage handlers and the load a plane can safely fly with. All airlines are cracking down on the size, weight and the amount of bags you can travel with and you only have to look at the trash cans at the airport to understand the enormity of this problem. Too many times I have seen women crying, throwing clothes and toiletries into the trash at the airport, after being told that they have too much luggage! Airlines vary their rules and regulations, so check out their individual websites for both checked-in and carryon luggage for your domestic and international flights before you book your ticket. You could be in for a few surprises! Also, when traveling in Europe, many airlines have very small overhead lockers and your idea of “carry on” is not carry on at all.

Luggage is something you need to compare before you buy, so take your time and do your research for which is best for you and your family.

I have checked out the stores, compared the wheels, handles, stitching, zips and general appearance and this is what I have come up with… NO PIECE OF LUGGAGE IS GOING TO BE PERFECT FOR ALL TYPES OF TRAVEL.

Luggage sets, which also look great, are the most cost effective purchase and provide a variety of different sizes you may need for your next trip. The trick is in selecting a bag which is going to tick as many boxes as possible.

Consider the mode of transport, type of travel you are will be doing, activities you have planned, length of your trip and how much you want to take with you. eg. Domestic air travel, care hire, beach resort, swimming, snorkelling, 10 days, resort day and night wear.

These three factors should be considered before purchasing your ideal luggage…

1. WEIGHT

Consider the initial weight of the bag without all your gear. You can easily perform your own weight comparison in the department or luggage store. I have some beautiful matching vintage leather luggage and the first time I used it, I felt like Audrey Hepburn on a movie set! The reality is, although my vintage bags look wonderful and smell great, they weigh a ton and are not practical if they get wet.  Also, you should consider that you may not be able to do any shopping on your trip if your bags are heavy to begin with.

2. FUNCTIONALITY

Shape. Did you know a “rectangle shape” is the best? Selecting luggage that is “round” means 27% less space for your gear.

Width. While many travellers would not consider width an issue, this is playing a big part in the selection of my new luggage. Many trains in Asia have narrow aisles and my present bag is too wide to fit down them comfortably.

Hard Side or Softy Traditional Luggage. Hard sides may protect your gear, but a soft shell is more likely to fit into a confined space. Another great feature of soft-sided luggage is they are often expandable – some up to 25% extra space.

Accessibility and Compartments. Luggage which allows for easy packing and access to your gear is a must. Internal and external zippered compartments help with organization and some of the brands I have looked at also include a bonus day pack. This feature allows you to enjoy a convenient and stylish matching backpack for day tours, but can also be attached to your primary travel luggage when not required. Remember that any zippered compartment on the outside of your bag will need locks!

Wheels – 2 or 4 wheels? Bags with 4 wheels can be easily maneuvered in small hotel rooms and are more stable standing upright. Look for wheels that are rubberized, widely spaced, enclosed and swivel 360 degrees.

Zippers. Large, self-healing sippers are the best. Check the manufacturer’s warranty, as this will determine the quality of the zipper used by the company.

Fabric. Look for the words, “water repelling,” “ballistic nylon” and “denier.” The higher the denier, the better.

Color. Bright yellow may be easy to spot on the carousel, but please consider your luggage may not look bright and clean for very long. There is a reason why most luggage is black! If colour is your thing and you want baby pink, then individualize your black bag with pink ribbons and tags, which makes finding your bag on the carousel much easier. This way, you can just replace the ribbons when your partner or teenage son needs to use your suitcase! If you are really into customizing your luggage, then check out coverlugg.com.

Handle. Retractile and preferably adjustable, with one handed operation. Also, see if the handle works well both pushing and pulling the bag.

Backpack Straps. Some duffle style luggage do provide hidden backpack straps. While I don’t want to look like a backpacker, these would be handy for carrying my bag up flights of stairs in railway stations and guest houses, which do not have elevators. Make the sure straps have the ability to be secured, as they can easily get caught on conveyor belts. Multi-grab fabric handles are an extra bonus.

3. COST

Consider your budget before you shop. The more expensive brands will have a warranty, but from experience, this has “grey areas.” Often the fine print excludes “excessive wear and tear” and “transport damage”.  After my recent trip to India and Nepal, I can tell you that “nice” luggage does not stay “nice” for very long. By the time my trip finished, my luggage resembled the ball tossed around in a local elephant polo match! My two year old luggage has a 15 year warranty and it will be interesting to see if that warranty is worth the paper it is written on. The good news is that there are a few brands out there that offer “no matter what” warranties. Ask the sales assistant for advice about what you should look for when it comes to buying good functional luggage and which bags are least returned for replacement. If you don’t travel very much, then a less expensive piece could suit you best.

My last bit of advice is fill up your bag with your clothes, shoes and toiletries and take it for a test spin around the block BEFORE your intended trip. It is always a good idea to “live out of your bag” for the last couple of days before departure. This way, there will be no surprises and you might just throw out some of those “just in case” accessories.

These days, many companies manufacture a range of matching luggage that not only looks great, but is functional, sturdy and durable. I can still pretend to be Audrey Hepburn, without the stress of worrying about the welfare of my luggage on my next exotic travel adventure.

 

Categories: Advice, Planning, Research | Leave a comment

Strangers Now Sleep In My Bed – How My Travels Influenced My Decision To Become A Home-Stay Host

 

I travel for pleasure…a lot.

I travel to new cities, countries and continents each year. When people ask me about my experiences, I tell them about the wonderful people I have met and connected with, not the man-made structures I have photographed or climbed over. The same goes for accommodation. I have stayed in more hotel rooms than I care to remember with only a few which I could say were “unique.”  I would much rather stay with a rice farmer and his family in a Sri Lankan village than the 5 Star, Buri Al Arab Jumeirah in Dubai! Don’t get me wrong, I like a little bit of luxury every now and again and would not pass up the opportunity if someone wants to spoil me rotten with a complimentary stay, however, hotel rooms are often expensive, lonely and impersonal for the solo traveller. When you find yourself waiting for the housemaid to come so you can make conversation, you know you have problems!

Buckingham Place

Hotel rooms are often expensive, lonely and impersonal for the solo traveller. Photo By Nathan Lake OMG Photo

Increasingly, like many international travellers, I want the opportunity to stay in someone’s house, where I can have a unique and meaningful experience by connecting with a local and get to know the culture first hand. When someone welcomes you into their home and treats you as family, you come away with everlasting memories which cannot be measured in monetary terms.

Capitalizing on my own experiences while using bed and breakfast and home-stay accommodations in Asia, I decided to explore the possibility of starting my own business. The extra income would help offset my travelling addiction but more importantly enable me to meet like- minded people who enjoyed travelling. I felt there must be travelers, both domestic and international, to my part of Australia who would like to experience “real” hospitality and not find themselves in just another king-sized bed, in a nondescript, lonely hotel room.

 

Deciding to open up my house to strangers was not something to be taken lightly and my decision was met with apprehension by family members who were concerned about my safety. My grown children were certainly not impressed with the idea I would be soon renting out their childhood bedrooms even though they had long since left home.

There are a variety of important factors to consider before deciding to rent out the spare bedroom.  These are my top two tips.

1 Like People.

You have to actually really like people. You must be prepared to welcome strangers into your home and treat them like royalty. The money is nice but it will not make up for someone sharing your house, using your bathroom and sleeping in your spare bed  no matter how much you are charging  for the privilege.  If you don’t think you can do that then maybe you should give the whole idea of being a B & B host a miss. Remember, your business will rely on good reviews and word of mouth so it ultimately it is up to you to make sure you give your guests the best experience they have ever had.

2. Research

Take your time to research and talk to different operators and customers about their experiences.  Recently, I had guests who specifically booked to stay with me to “take notes” as they were considering starting their own businesses.

I had previously used a well-known international organization (Airbnb) on my travels for accommodation and with this knowledge, decided to list the spare bedroom in my home. Within two days I received a booking and the rest is history. My business, as a B & B host became not just a way of making some extra cash but it has also enabled me to meet some wonderful people and learn about their lives and travels.

My family’s fears of dubious guests stealing our cats, or other valuables, have been unfounded. I have hosted some amazing international visitors from Asia, Europe and North America, who want a unique Australian country experience complete with kangaroos in the top paddock and a thousand bush flies on the kitchen screen door. Most importantly, it is my responsibility to make sure my guests feel safe, comfortable and relaxed within my home. As one guest from Switzerland recently told me,

“I am looking for an experience, with real people, not just a bed to sleep in.”

Most of my guests are just like me – they are tired of lonely hotel rooms. They are looking for connections with locals, whether it be in a large city or on a farm in the Australian outback. They desire a unique and meaningful accommodation experience.

And yes, I decided to move out of the master bedroom and turn it over to my guests, so now strangers do actually sleep in my bed.

What is the best part about sharing my home with strangers? Those strangers now depart as new found friends.

Categories: Advice, Australia, Australia, Destination, Home Stay, Women solo travel | 2 Comments

Not Just Another Tourist – Volunteering with Animals

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead.

Could you imagine your life without the love and companionships of animals? I couldn’t.

Animals have always played a huge part in my life; best friend, companion, accomplice and confident. Growing up, I roamed the Australian outback on my horse, chased imaginary kangaroos with my dog and curled up at night with a cat, secure in the knowledge that their love was unconditional. Even now, there is nothing like the greeting from a wagging tail after a long day dealing with humans, or being woken each morning by a furry friend, with “tuna breath” wanting his breakfast. I am sure my values and beliefs have been shaped by the addition of the animals in my life and like many others, I try to treat animals with the respect and dignity they deserve. Being a responsible pet owner also includes sterilization and vaccination whilst providing a safe and loving environment. However, there are animals which do not have a loving family to belong to, health care, a safe place to sleep or a belly full of warm food each night and sadly, every year thousands of pets find themselves on the streets, abandoned. Unnamed and unloved they roam and scavenge for food in their endless bid to feed their offspring or sustain their own survival. In western countries there are both governmental and non-governmental organisations devoted to animal welfare and the lost and abandoned animals who are lucky enough to end up in shelters are then spayed or neutered, vaccinated and adopted. Despite these organisations best efforts through social awareness, it is estimated that over a quarter of a million healthy dogs and cats in Australia are euthanized each year so our streets can remain free from homeless animals – out of sight, out of mind! It is not hard to notice the stray and abandoned dogs, puppies, cats and kittens which inhabit the streets and especially the temples of Asia. Many of these animals are malnourished, suffer from diseases and even end up as victims of the meat trade. Not a pretty picture for the tourist industry! It is easy to criticise and offer suggestions of euthanatizing all these stray animals, however it must be remembered that in many Asian countries Buddhism is practiced, which has a basic concept of non-harm directly or indirectly. There are also not the finances to sterilize and vaccinate all the dogs and cats without the help from philanthropic organisations. Volunteer tourists who have a genuine love of animals can choose from any number of projects to support.

Kitten at the monastery. It is not hard to notice the stray and abandoned dogs, puppies, cats and kittens which inhabit the streets and especially the temples of Asia.

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit and meet the staff and volunteers of one such organisation while in Thailand. Care for Dogs Foundation (CfD) founded by Karin Hawelka, nearly 9 years ago, has made a significant impact in the Chiang Mai area through its work with dog welfare and the population of stray street dogs. By working closely with monks and nuns from the nearby temples, the foundation also facilitates a program of sterilizing, rescuing and rehoming dumped puppies. Care for Dogs Foundation and Worldwide Veterinary Service (WVS) have recently joined forces for the benefit of animals in Thailand and around the South East Asia region and offer a “fee free” volunteer program, although donations are always appreciated. This is the perfect opportunity for traveler animal lovers to “give back” to the Chiang Mai community. Volunteers are asked to make a minimum 4-day commitment, beginning with Wednesday training, and running through to Saturday. If you are unable to volunteer for 4 days minimum, you are still welcome to schedule an appointment for a ‘socialization tour’ which  allow visitors to learn first-hand about the work of CfD, while giving some extra “TLC” to the puppies. This socialisation by volunteers greatly increases their chance for a successful adoption within the Chiang Mai community.

Puppy TTW Travelers are encouraged to visit Care for Dogs Foundation and spend time with the puppies. Socialisation by volunteers greatly increases their chance for a successful adoption.

On my visit to the shelter I met up with Roger, from Connecticut, who in a previous life, was as a dog handler and trainer in the US Military. Roger, clearly had great skills and knowledge and showed me around the facility. His volunteer work while on holidays, gave him a chance to work with the dogs who had been mistreated and abused.  The dogs loved him! Roger TTW

        Roger, a volunteer from Connecticut, USA showed me around the Care for Dogs Foundation in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Kataleen, a lawyer from The Netherlands was on her third visit to Chiang Mai and always included volunteer work with CfD in her vacation plans. As we took the dogs for a walk in the newly established walking park, she told me how she looked forward to spending time each day, walking, washing and grooming her charges. Volunteering also gave Kataleen a chance to meet other volunteers from all over the world who shared a common love – dogs.

 Lady TTW   Kataleen from The Netherlands, takes the dogs for a walk.

Two vibrant young women from South Africa arrived to select a companion for their dog.  They were working as school teachers in Chang Mai and were past customers of the CfD and appreciated the efforts of the staff and volunteers who care for the dogs.  A small white terrier would soon be finding a new home with these compassionate young women. If you have a few spare days and want to make an important difference in the lives of street and temple dogs in Chiang Mai, then don’t hesitate to contact Care for Dogs Foundation. There is certainly plenty of unconditional love to go around. For more information about volunteering or donating to Care for Dogs Foundation visit their website  http://www.carefordogs.org/  

Categories: Animals, Asia, Chiang Mai, Destination, Philanthropy, Thailand, Volunteerism, Women solo travel | 7 Comments

Saying Goodbye – Final Farewells

From a distance I could see the tears welling up in her eyes, and as they began to roll down her cheeks he leant closer and stroked her hair, whispering softly, “I love you, mum. Be strong. Remember, it’s not a final goodbye, goodbye. I will miss you, but have a wonderful time.”

As mother and son listened for the final call over the airport loud speaker, I heard her say, “I love you too” and then she was gone – her first journey as a solo traveller. It’s a scenario which happens every day around the world, saying goodbye to loved ones as they set out on journeys.

Airports are emotionally charged places, just like hospitals with departures and arrivals; sadness and joy. Emotions can run the whole spectrum: people weeping as someone leaves, people jumping for joy when someone arrives. Travelers bleary eyed because of boredom and jet lag. Old ladies and newbies wringing their hands worried if they have the correct gate. Airports are great places for people watching and I often think back to the times when my family would turn up at the airport to see me off. On my first trip to Asia, my mother, who was very emotional, cried and said I would have my kidney stolen by a ‘foreign’ person and she would never see me again. My ‘then’ boyfriend was convinced I would meet a handsome young man and never come back. (Note, I did meet a handsome young American man and dumped the old boyfriend on my return.) I was on an emotional roller coaster until I landed in a new city, country and continent to begin my vacation which I had scrimped and saved for. Saying goodbye as you depart for a much anticipated holiday should not be attached to someone else’s insecurity!

Times have changed where international travel is more accessible to a larger slice of the population and, like dressing up for the occasion, the big family send off at the airport is not so important. Now with age and experience, I do things a little more differently when departing for a vacation.

I am now one of those people who would rather arrive at the airport three hours early, grab a chai latte and relax, knowing I only have to wait until my flight is called without worrying about my family taking time off work (and the cost of airport parking) to put me safely on the plane. I also can do without the emotional manipulation. That might sound ungrateful, but you see, I hate public goodbyes and farewells. I much prefer to be in the background and slip quietly into the airport and start to prepare myself for the next four weeks of adventure. I also need time to quiet that inner voice of doubt who continually asks if I have ticked everything on that check-list: passport; credit cards; phone; SD cards; batteries; – and are you really sure, the cat was out before you locked the back door? That inner voice needs to understand I am the one in control and it has to “get a life” and leave me alone to get on with my adventure.

I am now one of those people who would rather have a passionate kiss on the curb in the “no waiting zone”, than have a drawn out farewell in the departure lounge, where small chit chat can become exhausting and lead to silly arguments and spats about nothing. Believe me, you don’t want to have a misunderstanding with your better half at the airport, just before boarding a 9 hour QANTAS flight to Bangkok!

Finally, I have also become one of those people who believes you should tell the people you love, how important they are to you whenever possible and not just before the “final call” is made and this doesn’t necessarily refer to saying goodbye before you leave on vacation. If you cannot say “I love you” face to face, then send a text, email or do it the old fashioned way, write a letter. It’s a two way street, you need say it and they need to hear it. Don’t wait until you are giving a eulogy.

“Traveling solo,” means I have to be confident and resilient enough to cope with life’s little twists and turns and the best place for me to start is when I arrive at the airport to begin my journey. Don’t leave the goodbyes and final farewells too late, tell the people who are important to you that they matter and you care and love them.

And by the way, I much prefer to say, “See yah, I love you”, rather than “goodbye”, because just like Peter Pan said, “Goodbye means going away and going away, means forgetting.” and I don’t ever want to forget those important people and wonderful moments in my life.

Categories: Advice, Airports, Planning, relaxation, Women solo travel | 12 Comments

Are You Up To The Challenge of Being a Tourist? – Consider Your Personal Fitness

You have found the type of vacation you want, researched the tours, booked the flights and hotels  but have you thought about your personal fitness level? Are you really up to the challenge of being a tourist?

Travel can be hard work and very stressful. Long flights, jet lag, disrupted sleep, a tropical climate, unfamiliar food, standing on your feet for long periods of time and carting your luggage around, all places stress on your body.

Personal fitness, like all investments needs research, planning and regular contributions to make the outcome worthwhile.

In this case, you need to be fit enough to take advantage of all the activities on offer while you are on vacation.

If you are thinking of joining a professional adventure racing group or trekking to Mt Everest, then you really need to hire a personal trainer, do some serious gym work-outs and get into shape – months before the trip. For most of us however, a moderate fitness level is good enough to scale the ruins of Ankor Wat, snorkel The Great Barrier Reef or do some serious shopping in LA.

If you do not already have a regular fitness program in place then now is the time to start, not tomorrow but TODAY, as it is important for beginners to start a regular habit. A thirty minute walk around the block  each day will not only start to do wonders for your personal fitness but also your wellbeing.

Are you traveling overseas or have a pre-existing medical condition? Then you really should consult a medical practitioner and dentist at least 6 weeks before departure.

Safe Travels.

Categories: Advice, Fittness, Health, Planning, Research | 2 Comments