This tightly compacted city holds some of Cambodia’s best food and most tragic history. Without knowing its past of civil war and genocide, you would think Cambodians and Phnom Penhers in particular were just really friendly people. Once you learn their history and realize that everyone you see was affected by the notorious Khmer Rouge in the 1970s in one way or another, then you know they’re more than just friendly; they’re admirable. Visiting Phnom Penh is easy if you’re already in Southeast Asia. Cambodia can be overlooked and a lot of visitors only see Siem Reap in the north to visit the temples of Angkor Wat then move on, but Phnom Penh is the heart of the country and merits a visit all its own.
“Once globalization and development have homogenized and sanitized the world – quite often for the best – it will no longer be possible for even the most self-indulgent and romantic among us to maintain the illusion that what we are doing is anything other than not-particularly-glorified tourism. If all the classic elements of backpacker stories have gradually become clichés, we might as well pause to acknowledge that they were surprisingly fun clichés while they lasted. And if we now insist that all these clichés fetishize a certain impossible notion of authenticity, while coming dangerously close to essentializing foreign countries as premodern, we should also pause to confess that we enjoyed them anyway.”
–Nicholas Danforth, World travel can be all about timing, San Francisco Chronicle, September 20, 2012
Capetown, in the Republic of South Africa, is a beautiful city. Filled with natural beauty, a booming waterfront and access to all things penguin, Capetown quickly draws you in. Whether you’re looking to hike Table Mountain, shop at local markets, cavort with Boulder Beach’s penguin colonies or take in a history lesson of Africa’s Apartheid, Capetown is a special city.
Not everything about travel is happy. Those who have visited concentration camps in Europe, walked through gravesites of Cambodian genocide or listened to survivor’s stories after some of history’s most gruesome atrocities know first hand that travel often yields tears, rips off rose-coloured glasses and forces its visitors to see the world through different eyes. Robben Island is well worth the visit. For anyone into world schooling or choosing other alternative educational strategies, this visit is one for the history books.
Remnants of South Africa’s checkered past are palpable throughout many parts of the country. In the mid-twentieth century, South Africa was ripe with Apartheid. Backed by earlier beliefs of racism, Apartheid’s practices made segregation, law. Apartheid forcibly separated people while providing those in power with a platform to punish those vehemently opposed to it. Nelson Mandela had been active in civil actions, protests and movements from his youth. Later, he became a campaign leader and spokesperson for a civil disobedience campaign against injustice, persecution and racism. He was imprisoned on Robben Island for his actions and beliefs, yet, in 1994, became the Republic of South Africa’s first democratically elected president.
A day on Robben Island is rather telling of the times of Apartheid. Although not uplifting, it’s an experience necessary to continue to share the story and teachings of South Africa’s history to be sure it is not again repeated. Depending on the season, it’s best to make a booking ahead of time. The ferry from the Nelson Mandela terminal at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront takes guests out to the island. After watching a short twenty-five minute video, guests disembark and board awaiting busses. “Driven by freedom’ and ‘We’re on this journey together’ cover the sides of the vehicles already denoting the positive energy, determination and struggle guests are about to see.
Originally designed as a Leper Colony, the island was used to house political prisoners of the anti-Apartheid movement over a period of time in South Africa’s history. Narrating as the bus moves, a guide describes the houses and buildings of those who helped to start the anti-government movement, such as Robert Sebukwe. The era’s injustices are palpable. Focusing on the narrator’s words, the passengers quietly focus as the bus traverses the seaside coastline of this island that housed pain, struggle, strength, wisdom and endless fortitude. Exiting the bus after the forty-five minute journey, guests are laughed at since they actually paid for an opportunity to be ‘sent to prison’. Although understandable, it is quite ironic.
Former political prisoners are guides for the walking portion of the tour. My guide was Glen. Having been housed in Robben Island, his sentence was cut short at the official end of Apartheid. Through struggle and triumph, Glen chose to return to the island after he was released. He and his family are today part of the one hundred-person community still living on the island. Regaling us with stories of his life and what prisoners were forced to do, we followed him throughout the prison. It wasn’t easy. In front of us was Mandela’s tiny cell. We even took a trip to the lime quarry where Mandela and others were forced to work for long hours over the course of many days. While using one infinitesimal cave for learning, teaching, shade and bathroom purposes, they struggled through the tragic times.
As we walked, we felt them right beside us. This is one of those solemn places to stop and take a look around. Here, staring inhumanity in the face, they prevailed. Here we learn from history and continue to share their stories with others to remember, to endure and to continue their work. Here where others saw strife, Mandela saw triumph. Here where others saw detainment, Mandela saw vision and a chance to teach. Here, where others saw despair, Mandela saw hope.
As there was often discussion taking place in the prison, Mandela renamed it, the ‘university’. We learned how prisoners got news, which was or wasn’t allowed to meet with a priest and about Mandela’s garden. Mandela’s garden was his sacred spot. Buried deep in the ground was Mandela’s manuscript. Piece by piece, through hollowed out heels in shoes and sliced pages in photo albums, courageous individuals risked inhumane punishment to bring Mandela’s message to the world. Bold choices and great risks were taken by many – all daring to dream for a brighter future and a more equal South Africa. Mandela’s strength is a lesson to us all.
Robben Island is definitely worth the visit. With its natural surrounding beauty, history of all kinds and struggle for people’s rights, Capetown’s Robben Island is a lesson in just one visit. Exuding indomitable spirit, perseverance, dedication to a cause and conviction beyond measure, Mandela continues to teach all visitors through his continued journey.
For more of Stacey’s musings of life and travel, check out her website.
If there is one thing about long-term travel that is underestimated, it is the challenges that come with it. Living indefinitely on the road is not always wonderful. Sometimes it requires choices that are painful and challenging. Do not get me wrong. I love long-term travel, but in all honesty it is not a lifestyle made for everyone.
I have talked to dozens of writers, travelers, and bloggers all over the world.
Many of these people love traveling equally if not more than me, but even so many have told me that long-term travel is not for them, and there is no shame in that fact.
However, for those of us that pursue this lifestyle, the rewards are great. Let’s delve into some of the challenges and rewards that come from living on the road long-term.
I want to tread carefully here because I don’t want to discredit or insult the hundreds of friendships I have made while traveling. All of the friendships I have made are meaningful and unique. I have met up with some of these friends time and again in different countries. Some of the most meaningful relationships that have impacted my life in irreversible ways have been made while traveling. I cherish these deep friendships and always look forward to when the road brings us back together.
However, most relationships made while traveling are normally the product of random encounters or out of convenience. Unless you are staying in the same place for a long period of time, many of these friendships are brief, yet intense. Basically, bonds of friendship are formed quickly but before you know it, that person is on the other side of the planet and you have to start again.
Another aspect that is encountered while traveling long-term is growing apart from childhood friends. Staying in touch is difficult because of hectic routines and different time zones. Due to the brevity of on the road friendships and growing apart from your lifelong friends sometimes makes you feel completely alone. It can almost be overwhelming as if not a soul in the world truly knows or understands you.
Long-term travelers watch every penny they spend. This means that they are likely to be living in hostel dorm rooms and taking overnight buses.
Therefore, privacy is something that is rare and many times in order to be polite, you have to talk to people when you would just rather read a book, write in your journal, or close your eyes and take a nap.
It can be very frustrating when people turn on the lights at 3 A.M. or use your shoulder as a comfortable pillow on an overnight bus ride.
The reward of no privacy is that you meet interesting people from all over the world. You learn about different cultures and customs first hand and with vivid details. You are also forced to break out of your shell and talk to anyone about almost anything for hours.
Plus, waking up in a new place is an exhilarating feeling. One of my favorite travel quotes states “To awaken alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.” – Freya Stark
There are many long-term travel couples out there; I am just not one of them. For me dating is something from the past. When you are constantly on the move, having a relationship is not just tough, it is practically impossible.
Honestly, I have ended great relationships with girls I really care about, and vice versa, because our lives were headed in different directions. I did not expect them to change their lives for me and I knew I could not change my life for them.
I’m not going to lie; there have been times where I have accomplished a goal, got to a destination I have dreamed about, or have been watching a sunset, and in the back of my mind I wished someone was there to share it with me.
This challenge varies from person to person, however, I know for me to accomplish the goals I have set, I need to be alone. The benefit is that I can focus on my goals, go where I want, and when I want. Every new adventure, every foreign country, and every fulfilled dream leads me closer to my goals and vision.
Long-term travel is not easy. It is a lifestyle that demands as much as it gives.
For me the rewards out way the challenges. The simplicity and beauty of this life gives me fulfillment and peace. I never grow tired of seeing other countries, interacting with other cultures, and exploring this wonderful planet.
If it is a life-style that appeals to you, I urge you to take the leap.
Stephen Schreck has conquered the challenges of long-term traveler, and has experienced its grand rewards. You can follow his travels around the world on A Backpackers Tale.
After the teacher asked if anyone had
a sacred place
and the students fidgeted and shrank
in their chairs, the most serious of them all
said it was his car,
being in it alone, his tape deck playing
things he’d chosen, and others knew the truth
had been spoken
and began speaking about their rooms,
their hiding places, but the car kept coming up,
the car in motion,
music filling it, and sometimes one other person
who understood the bright altar of the dashboard
and how far away
a car could take him from the need
to speak, or to answer, the key
in having a key
and putting it in, and going.
“Many travelers seek out this high. We seek out what is different from what we behold in our daily lives, whether it is language, fashion, standards of behavior, architecture, climate, or animal species, because beholding what is different has the quality of being unreal. If our brains resist the realness of something, but this thing is before our eyes, we’re accompanied by little sparks of excitement just by moving through the world. While tourists spend their time away from home seeking our the comforts of home, travelers risk — even cultivate — discomfort, because what they want is the thrill of a new perspective.”
–Alden Jones, The Blind Masseuse: A Traveler’s Memoir from Costa Rica to Cambodia (2013)
Melbourne, Australia has become my second home. Known for its café culture, four seasons in a day and city of all things sport, this special place has a lot to offer. In the city, there’s the hubbub of business, culture, life, eateries, endless laneways and riverfront activities. Just a short tram ride away gets you the seaside feel of the Docklands, Chapel Street’s boutique shopping and the drool-worthy dessert shop delights of St. Kilda’s Ackland Street. However, there’s a world of adventure beyond Melbourne’s CBD. In only a short amount of time, all sorts of modes of transport take you to exciting destinations around Victoria. Within a day you can dip your toes in the sand of beautiful beaches, explore the Great Ocean Road, eat fish and chips near the Little Penguins of Phillip Island or get up close and personal with native wildlife at Healesville Sanctuary. Be it beach or adventure, koala cuddles or penguin kisses, seaside retreats or gold mining treasures, restaurants or road trips or all of the above- Melbourne’s surrounds have you covered.
Hike and Discover
Adventures await in Melbourne. A short trip by train or two-hour journey by car finds you in Ballarat. Sovereign Hill, Ballarat’s interactive outdoor museum appeals to visitors of all ages. Pan for gold, dip a candle, visit the blacksmith and spend your day reliving the city’s gold rush period. There are underground tours, hands-on experiences and a gem museum that adds extra sparkle to the trip. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy Mt. Dandenong. Less than an hour’s car ride outside of the city sit quaint mountain towns, hiking trails, fresh mountain air and artistry unlike any other. You can hike up the Kokoda Track Memorial Walk’s thousand steps to happily earn sweet treats in one of the many adorable cafes. Areas of Sassafrass and Olinda are filled with cafes (my favourite: Miss Marple’s Tea Room) lolly shops, toy shops, tea shops and more that delight your fancy.
Artists, dreamers, believers, creatives and naturalists can wile away the hours at the William Rickets Sanctuary. Meander through the trees to find incredible carvings and artistry all made by one man. Revering native Aboriginal culture and believing strongly in the lives, stories and message of its people, William Rickets creates unimaginable artwork through tree sculpting. Both the poetry and design exude the magic, trust, wonder, reverence and beauty that is nature.
Journey to the Seaside
Melbourne’s Yarra River flows through the center of the city. Festivals, fireworks and fun happen along the water daily. Searching for a greater view, that specific scent, picturesque coastline, sailboat sightings or just an expedition all your own-Melbourne has that, too. A quick ferry ride away lies the charming seaside town of Williamstown. With its laid back vibe, quaint boutiques, quirky cafes and ice cream shoppes, Williamstown offers a perfect retreat from the buzz of the city. Explorers for a day or a week can experience the rush of life alongside the Great Ocean Road. Deliriously daunting cliffside views halt drivers in their tracks, forcing a stop, look and photo session at each of its thousand twists and turns. Go for a day, stay for a night or ride all the way to Adelaide-no matter the distance, the Great Ocean Road doesn’t disappoint. Gorgeous beaches line the roadside as seaside towns invite you to taste their splendid fish and chips or take part in their endless outdoor activities.
If you’re visiting and missing the roar of the ocean, Melbourne’s beaches are for you. Whichever direction you choose to head, there are waves just waiting to wash over wiggling, happy sand-laden toes. Visit Portsea and Sorrento on the Mornington Peninsula to take in the main streets of the towns while hiking down to local beaches to watch surfers find the sweet spots on the many waves. Want a fun train trip and colourful backdrop to stunning white capped waves, hit Brighton for the day where the iconic Beach Boxes are just as much the draw as the sun and the sea. Looking to add a little wildlife adventure to your day on the sand? Take the two-hour drive to Phillip Island to experience the fish and chips, endless scenic views and the Little Penguin Parade. Channel your inner penguin as you wait patiently for some of the world’s cutest creatures to pop out of the water at dusk and waddle their way past your camera lens and back to their burrows for their evening slumber.
Nature, Wildlife, Wine and Cheese
Whether you’re in it for the wine, cheese, or kangaroo cuddles, the Yarra Valley is for you. Filled with lush eye-catching scenery, wineries by the dozen and cafes galore, this bucolic area lies a short distance from the hustle and bustle of one of Australia’s busy cities. If you’re interested in getting up close and personal to native wildlife, spend a day at Healesville Sanctuary. This interactive nature sanctuary is home to heaps of Australian wildlife. Whether you fancy feeding a wallaby, chatting with a kangaroo, counting the quills of an echidna or just relishing time spent with the friendly animals; a day at Healesville will put a smile on the faces of guests both young and old.
For more of Stacey’s musings visit her website.
As far as European cities, Paris isn’t the cheapest, but there are some simple tricks and strategies that can keep your Paris budget to around $60 a day within the city. For instance, I stay in hostel dorms, walk whenever I can, and alternate between eating out and cooking my meals.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
I went to a French film in Paris. It was a very odd experience. I didn’t understand the plot and unfortunately, they had no English subtitles so I found myself guessing throughout the movie. In truth, French Cinema is very strange compared to what I am used to. Even the atmosphere of a theater in Paris has a strange feel to it.
Describe a typical day
Today I woke up with the number one goal of walking to the Eiffel Tower, a formidable feat from my hostel on Crimée Street. Now, I realize that you are probably asking, “Why walk?”. The answer is simple. There is no better way to get a feel for a city and culture than by walking it.
So I wake up early and begin my leisurely stroll through the quiet cobblestone streets and tiny alleyways. The scent of world-renowned fresh bread and doughy pastries fills the air, instantly sending hunger pains into my stomach.
I step into the first open cafe and order a frothy cappuccino and delicious chocolate filled croissant; a breakfast meant for savoring. Eventually, the urge to beat the massive crowds spurs my feet into action, and I start walking until I reach the river, Seine.
Following the river, I am soon greeted by one of my favorite sights in Paris: Notre Dame. This gothic cathedral is a marvel, towering over every building in the area. Every time I am in Paris, I happily get stuck at this wonderful monument.
Each time I visit, my mind travels back in time to centuries past and all the history that happened here. Although I’m eager to get to the Eiffel tower, there are two more stops I can’t pass up on the way.
The first is the Shakespeare and Company bookstore, where personal literary heroes of mine including legendary Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce would often gather to sip brandy and discuss life.
The next stop is the Louvre and the gorgeous gardens surrounding it. Every time I look at the Pyramide du Louvre, I imagine future travelers visiting this glass pyramid and standing in awe, much the same way I do today as I fly around the globe looking at historical sights such as the Collosuem.
The gardens surrounding the Louvre are filled with Greek statues and modern art.
It is a beautiful clash of the ancient with the modern and appeals to the history buff inside of me. I could stay here all day, but I know it is time to move on so I start on the last leg of my journey, an hour walk to the Eiffel Tower.
Although I don’t have any other major stops along the way, I do briefly pause to browse the wares in the stalls along the river.
Approaching the Eiffel Tower, I can’t help but be impressed once again by its size and beauty.
It is the middle of the afternoon now, and while I didn’t make it to the Eiffel tower as early as I planned, I still can’t resist the urge to wait in line to take the elevator to the top. You see, from the top of this beautiful metal wonder, you get an overwhelming view of this grand city.
Paris is a city that holds a lot of charm and romance even if you are traveling solo, and I can’t help but visit the city over and over again. It has become like meeting an old friend that I embrace with great fondness every time I visit.
Conversing with locals.
Most of the magic that happens while traveling is in the unexpected conversations. Some of the best use no or very little common language and is conducted simply by body motions. Personally, I like eating at hole-in-the-wall diners, shopping at local street stands, and getting off the tourist track. I soon discovered how important it was to know how to communicate without words.
The last interesting conversation I had with a local was in a small restaurant in France trying to ask directions.
The older gentleman didn’t speak any English and shamefully, I don’t speak any French. Thus, we had about a ten minute conversation that involved me trying to explain where I wanted to go and him drawing me a map covered with French writing.
Believe it or not, he was more than willing to help. He laughed a lot, made a few jokes, and wished me well all through body language.
I love communicating this way because it shows that language doesn’t have to be a barrier. Locals want you to enjoy their country and even though this man knew I did not understand his words, he found a way to communicate. I walked away smiling; humanity did not disappoint.
I cannot tell you how many friends I’ve made in countries all over the globe where I do not know a person’s name. I do not know if they are married, have kids, or what they do for a living; however, I do know their kindness and their character because they have helped me when I needed it the most without a second thought. Traveling shows you the goodness of people despite language barriers and culture differences.
What do you like about where you are? Dislike?
Paris isn’t about the sights. It is about the food, the people, and the wine. Things I like about Paris are strolling the streets, shopping at the stands, sitting in coffee houses, and kicking back with the locals.
One thing I hated at first, but now enjoy, is the rude waiters. Paris is known for its rude waiters, something I didn’t know at first and found rather confusing. Soon though, I realized that it is just part of the culture and now I just smile when I experience it.
What was your latest challenge?
This wasn’t my latest challenge but one worth mentioning since it involves Paris. In all honesty, the first time I visited Paris was horrible. I showed up on a late night bus in a bad part of town with no place to sleep and nowhere to go during one of the most chaotic times for the city. Luckily it all worked out, but the first few days where rough. Plus, it was my birthday and after the first night, I felt like I wanted to be anywhere but Paris.
It took me a while to feel out what the city was about. Of course, once I did, I fell in love.
What new lessons has Paris taught you?
Paris has taught me a few things. One being to always book accommodations ahead of time as it is a massive travel hub for the UK and Europe. Many hostels are booked out all year round. Travelers should book accommodations a least a month in advance or might risk taking a train to the airport just to get a safe night’s sleep.
Take my advice; I have done that on more than one occasion and it is an experience I don’t want to repeat.
Next I am headed to my all time favorite country in the world, Italy. I am a history buff and what better place to visit than a country that was the center of the world for two thousand years.
Hometown: I come from an average size city in Northern Poland. Name won’t ring a bell to anybody.
Quote: “Traveling is like flirting with life. It’s like saying, ‘I would stay and love you, but I have to go; this is my station.” – Lisa St Aubin de Teran