Saturday, February 1, 2014

Interview (18) - let me introduce you to Travelling Book Junkie

I might answer to the name Tam but when I started blogging Travelling Book Junkie seemed to be quite an apt name – you see I love two things travelling and books; if I am not doing one I am doing the other. I am part of a duo, my husband Paul, takes all of the photographs you see on my posts and is my sidekick on most adventures, although I do have to travel frequently for work (nothing exotic though unfortunately!). We live in the UK and have made a decision to explore our own country as much as the world around us, so in-between working full time jobs we are either booking our next trip abroad or loading the car up for a break away in England.
So far we have visited countries in Europe, the Caribbean and Africa and hope to explore Asia in the near future. We have been travelling together for the last 16 years and hope to one day be able to travel full-time. Whenever I get completely despondent with my working life I remember why I do it; to be able to explore the world around us.
A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” – Lao Tzu
Until we can travel full time, we are taking the single steps!

This is us in Mexico

  1. How / when did you catch the travel bug?
If I think back I knew from an extremely early age that travel was going to be important to me. My father frequently reminds me of the times I got upset when a holiday was over. The first time however, that I truly felt at home in a different country was on a family holiday to Italy – from that point on I knew that exploring the world was important to me.
  1. What’s your preferred type of travel- destinations, type of accommodation, activities, length of trip, and so on? Why the preference?
At present, due to work commitments, a few weeks is the maximum we can travel at any one time. Having said that we are frequent travellers and I always make sure that we have a few trips booked, if only for long weekends. Each year we aim to see at least one new city, although this year many have been added to the list, have a break somewhere warm (the UK after all is not favoured by sun worshippers) and a new country always features. For us, we do not have a preference on accommodation, of course we love the luxury hotels but there is also something very relaxing about camping – we love taking the tent away and exploring the countryside.
(Our tent is the small green one under the shade of a tree)

  1. What was your first travel experience?
Camping at 18 months old was my first ever trip away and I still have the photos to prove it. However, the one that I truly remember was a family camping holiday to the Isle of Wight. This is one place in the UK everyone should visit at least once, you will find nowhere else like it. When you get off of the ferry it is like you have stepped back in time to the 1960’s as nothing has really changed since my parents were children apparently. The quaint little villages all have something unique about them – chocolate box houses have become tea rooms and you can still stumble across a tradition pub with an open fire and fantastic food to warm you up. I remember two weeks of running around the countryside, climbing hills to see the magnificent views across the island and enjoying finding routes that were less populated. We spent hours on the beach building sand castles and making friends. The friends part is one thing that has stuck with me – when travelling everyone seems happy to talk unlike when you are home competing in the rat race.
  1. What do you like best about your traveling life?
I love exploring a new place for the first time. The expectation of what you are going to find when you turn off of the tourist routes, the people you are going to meet and the sights you are going to see.
  1.  Could you please tell us about one or two of your very best trips and what made them so great?
We have just completed a tour of Morocco which was memorable for the variety of activities we undertook and the places we visited. Starting in Fes, exploring a city that is still relatively untouched by tourism, to an overnight desert camp and a three hour camel ride (yes it was painful!!!) where we went back to basics and saw the most glorious sunrise, to quad biking and relaxing in an Oasis of Almond trees and finally haggling in the souks of Marrakech – in one holiday we saw so many different sides to a country and fell in love with every element of it! We would go back tomorrow and do it all again if we could!

  1. Are there any places in the world or special trips that you’re just dying to visit / take?
At the very top of my list is a trip to India – I would love to see the sunrise whilst sitting on the River Ganges. It is a country that has intrigued me since I was 15. I love the idea of exploring a country that is so uniquely different to your own and the only reason it is still on the list is because we cannot decide where to start and what would be a must for a trip that would last for maybe only three weeks – realistically if we were to include everything on the list we need 6 months! Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai are also on the list along with many other areas of Thailand and Malaysia – one day we will achieve all of these!
  1. How do you fund your travels?
In order to be able to travel we need to work and at the moment that is full time – ideally we would love to travel and work at the same time but we do not want to do something we would not enjoy as this could dampen the experiences. If we could travel whilst writing and taking photos we would be on the road tomorrow.
  1. What are your 3 favorite countries, and why do you love them so much?
Top of the list is Italy – it is a country that I have visited almost yearly since I was 13 and holds special memories of experiences with my family. It is the one country that I would love to live in and fully immerse myself in daily life.
Cuba comes in a close second. This was our honeymoon destination and was my first experience of the Carribean. The mixture of relaxing on a beach, spending time with the locals away from other tourists and enjoying an evening of entertainment at Club Tropicana in Havana highlighted just how diverse this Island is.
Thirdly, is Morocco – our first experience this year will not be our last. The people of Morocco as so friendly, making you want to spend more time in their company. From the food, which is amazing, to the sights, the smells and the scenery no country we have visited to date has such variety. One day you can be in the desert and the next in the mountains. This is a country that everyone should visit at least once.

  1. Are there any places you hate/ never want to visit again / do not recommend to other travelers? If so, where and what’s the turn off?
I don’t think that there is anywhere I truly hated – I had a bad experience in Mexico years ago and vowed never to return however, a few years back I did return and loved every minute (the first hurricane in 15 years may have ruined the trip for me first time round!). It is difficult to say to a traveller “never go here” because we all like different things so whilst I would never spend time in Benidorm others may relish a two week holiday there.
  1. What are your 3 favorite things to do out in the world?
Exploring the sights – whilst touristy this is what each country is remembered for and there is a wealth of history behind each monument or building you visit.
Get off the beaten track – see what the locals see, experience the country as they do themselves. This is often where we find the best restaurants and meet the most interesting people. If you are looking to save money, especially in the more expensive cities this is also a top tip – locals will not pay tourist rates!
Tasting the local cuisine – food is a big part of our experience. When in Spain Tapas and Paella should be tried; coffee and pasta in Italy is a must and in Morocco if you don’t try a Tagine you are definitely missing out.
  1. Have you been in any seriously scary, dangerous, nerve-wracking situations when you feared for your health, safety, or your lives? If so, please tell us about one of them.
I very rarely use travel agents, opting to book the trip myself and I think this is partly because of the bad experience we had on our first trip to Mexico. In 2005, we headed off to Mexico, 8 adults and 2 children (this in itself will never be repeated again!) with a very well-known travel agent. This was the year that hurricane Emily hit and we were there to experience it. Now whilst you cannot predict the weather you would hope that the company you are travelling with would make sure your basic needs are met during such times – not this one!!! We ended up being moved from an all-inclusive hotel at the last moment with no money and no provisions to a filthy B & B that really should not be allowed to operate. We were told we were on a room only basis and would need to supply our own food, however they could neither cook it for us nor allow us to cook on the premises. Now when everything is closed down due to the imminent heavy winds this is quite impossible. When we complained to our travel rep his response was “well what can I do?” Coping with a category 4 hurricane is an experience I would never like to undertake again and neither is going on holiday with that company.
  1. What are your favorite foreign cuisines and why do you love them?
Italian food is always a winner, being a vegetarian I never have to worry about what is on the menu – I will always find something! Tapas is also a strong favourite as I love picking a selection of smaller, different nibbles. This year we visited Madrid and stumbled across the most fantastic market with the largest array of Tapas we have ever experienced, hence to say we visited several times.
  1. Is there anything you would have done differently/ any regrets, if you could do it over again?
The only regret is that we never have long enough in most countries we visit to see everything and would love longer.
  1. What’s the strangest situation you have found yourself in?

Probably been in a few but struggling to answer this one right now!

  1. What are your top three tips for other travelers?

    • Research before you go – that way you won’t have regrets about missing things you really wanted to see and chances are if you book trips in advance they are cheaper.
    • Get away from the tourist hot spots and experience the true nature of the country you are visiting – the locals are very accommodating and will tell you about fantastic places to see and eat if you ask them.
    • Be open minded.
16.    Couchsurfing..what do you think about that?

We have never tried it but would always give it a go before commenting.

  1. Tell us about the best food you have ever eaten on your travels?

Food is an important part of our travels and is something I spend a great deal of time researching but some of the best food we have had is when we have been camping; taking a local product and adding you own spin. During a recent trip to Luxembourg I uncovered several new vegetarian products that were probably the best I have ever tasted – the flavours were wonderful.

If you are a fan of stews, a Tagine in Morocco is a must. This was one country that, before visiting we were concerned about the food we would find however, this was completely unfounded. Staying in small Riads meant we were often the only ones eating from the kitchen that evening so it was lovingly cooked, as if they were cooking for their families. On one evening we had Sardine Balls in a Tomato Sauce which has to be one of the best meals I have ever had.
  1. What is the most breathtaking view you have ever witnessed on your travels

Sunrise in the Sahara Desert. The Sand Dunes went on for miles; Erg Chebbi is renowned for having some of the highest dunes in the Sahara, climbing up them at 5am in the morning in the pitch black to find a vantage point for the sunrise was an epic task but well worth it.

  1. What do you miss about your home when you go traveling?
My own bed – we have stayed in some very luxurious beds but none compare to our own.

  1. What item will you always carry in your backpack?
Always make sure you have wet wipes and hand sanitizer with you, you never know when you might need them.

  1. What have you learned from travelling?

We hear the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover” frequently and this really is true. If you are not open minded when travelling don’t travel. The media does a fantastic job at misrepresenting people and places and if you choose to believe this hype you will struggle to feel welcomed in any country.

We have also learnt that if you try and learn just a few key words of the local language you will gain more respect from locals, who will be far more willing to help you. On one of our trips to Italy we found a little restaurant full of locals, us and another couple were the only tables who spoke English – it was one of the best restaurants we have ever visited. However, I have never been more embarrassed of my fellow countrymen – we had been practicing our Italian for weeks and due to our frequent visits to the country can now hold a pretty good, although basic conversation with people. We were willing to try conversing in Italian so when we did get stuck our waiter was more than happy to help us in English. Our fellow diners however had the belief that English is the only language that should be spoken so were put out when they didn’t receive the same level of service. To make matters worse the guy thought that by pulling out his Gold American Express card his service would improve and got very irate when that didn’t work either.

Just simply knowing how to say hi, bye, please and thank you goes such a long way!

  1. Who inspires you? What other travellers do you look up to?

It’s difficult to say that just one person inspires me; thanks to the internet you find many travellers will to share their experiences and give tips for travel to unique and unusual places. Anyone that takes the time to explore the world inspires me to want to do more.

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