Where are the Tourists in Central Asia?

It’s been a few weeks since our return from Central Asia, and I think I’ve had ample time to process our amazing experience there. One of the things we noticed throughout our time there was the near complete lack of tourists. With the exception of the odd Dutch or Israeli traveler, we met very few other travelers on the road. With all Central Asia has to offer, from crumbling modernist concrete to majestic scenery to extremely inexpensive transportation and cost of living, we were constantly wondering, “Why are we the only ones here?”

So I went about gathering opinions about why Central Asia (granted, we were only in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan) seems to fly under the radar when it comes to travel destinations. To be fair, this is not a statistical study, as my sample size was about five, including my parents and others who might have some trouble identifying the stans on a map. Hey, I never claimed to be a mathematician.img_1958 img_2092 img_2222 Read more

Visiting the Dancing Bears Sanctuary in Belitsa, Bulgaria

Of all of the things that define me as a person, not even just a traveler, but a person in general, animal lover is right near the top.  In fact, in my day to day life, animal lover would probably outrank travel luster on most days.  I am a dog dad to two loveable jerk-ass senior rescue Dachshunds, and a step dog dad to the world’s sweetest Golden Retriever.  For our wedding, instead of having a registry, David and I directed people to donate money to Old Dog Haven, our favorite local nonprofit dedicated to rehoming senior shelter dogs, instead of bringing us gifts.  So, without too much hand wringing, it’s safe to say that we’re certifiable animal whack-jobs.Dog Halloween 2014-53

So, how is this relevant to our time in Bulgaria, you may ask?  I’m getting there – on the day we left Sofia on leg one of our self-drive road trip we had originally planned to drive south to visit Rila Monastery, then through Plovdiv to Kalofer, where we would spend the night before hitting up Buzludzha the next morning.  This was a great plan, and we were both content with it.  But, knowing my past with and David’s PTSD surrounding monastery visits, we were less than enthused about visiting Rila Monastery, despite its status as Bulgaria’s number one tourist attraction.Jpegs-265 Jpegs-266 Read more

5 Reasons to Travel in the Off Season

When one thinks of a vacation, usually it’s very much associated with the summertime, when good weather is almost assured and families with children are able to take time off to jaunt to exotic locations around the country and the world.  This said, of the three big trips we’ve taken over the past year, two have been in the off season, and one in the almost off season.  

And we certainly wouldn’t have it any other way.  Traveling in the off season is, for us, a much better alternative than traveling in peak season.  Here are the reasons why:Jpegs-470Jpegs-460 Read more

Desperately Seeking Trinkets at Sofia’s Bitaka Flea Market

I am a shopper.  When David and I go on vacation, one of our best practices is to arrive in our destination with only carry on luggage, and then check luggage (full of trinkets, naturally) on the way home.  I have some hoarder-type tendencies (it ranges from tchotchke to canines) that are very real, and perhaps they most strongly manifest in my accumulation of things when I travel.IMG_20151017_090328510 IMG_20151017_094034835

Read more

Road Tripping Kosovo: From Pristina to Pec to Prizren

As I’ve said before, the spontaneity of our Balkan adventure this October made me get out of my comfort zone while planning.  So, when I knew we’d have two nights in Kosovo – one in Pristina, and the next in Prizren – before heading to Macedonia, I wanted to make the day in between really count.  I had lofty goals of seeing the Patriarchy of Pec on that day, which would require either bussing between all three cities, or hiring a car.

My typical MO when planning trips to places with less developed tourist infrastructures is almost always to hop on Tripadvisor forums first to see what is possible.  This was especially useful this trip as my other main source of information, other travel blogs, are a bit scanty on information about Kosovo outside of Pristina and Prizren.  So off to the forums it was, and even then, information wasn’t readily available.  No problem, I just started my own thread, and waited for replies to arrive. Read more

Confession: I am NOT a Backpacker

There is a lot of talk in the travel blogger community that glorifies frugal travel.  And I get it – the more cheaply one is able to travel, the more time one is able to spend on the road.  Short term travel is more mainstream and often times more expensive.  Cheaper travel also allows for slower travel – often times with accommodation getting cheaper the longer one stays in a single place.  These strategies are great for the long term traveler.   For many travel bloggers, whose bread and butter relies on traveling and writing about new places prolifically and in real time, frugality and finding ways to cut corners on costs is a great strategy for maintaining that lifestyle.  I totally get it.

I wouldn't mind taking things slowly here, on Little Corn Island, Nicaragua.
I wouldn’t mind taking things slowly here, on Little Corn Island, Nicaragua.

But that’s not for me.  And, I would argue, the majority of people traveling in the world – especially those holding down 9-5’s.  For my family and almost all of my peers, life only allows for short term travel – a fact that doesn’t have to be as reviled as it is in the travel blogging community today.

Read more

An Istanbul to Tbilisi to Kazbegi Odyssey – Christmas 2014, Part 2

And now, the continuation (and conclusion) of the story of the longest travel day of my life… (for Part 1, click here)

Scene 5: Didube Marshrutka Depot, 9am, Christmas Day.  We stumble into Didube metro stop and light is just breaking.  With our bags, we trudge across the dirt lot that is Tbilisi’s largest marshrutka stop.  In Georgia and Armenia, marshrutkas quickly became my favorite method of transportation – egalitarian shared buses or minivans that depart for their destination only when enough passengers board to turn the driver a profit.


Read more

An Istanbul to Tbilisi to Kazbegi Odyssey – Christmas 2014, Part 1

There’s always time for postcard hunting.

I like to make travel difficult as possible.  While I wouldn’t typically openly admit to this, the behavioral patterns I engage in leading up to and while on trips says otherwise.  I like really involved, complicated travel plans that often leave me tired, hungry, whiny, or some combination of the three.  I wasn’t thinking about my propensity for tantrums when I made my plans to travel from Istanbul to Tbilisi during Christmas Eve night, followed by another trip leg to Kazbegi on the following Christmas day.

Read more

Church and Monastery Fatigue in Armenia – Sevan and Dilijan

By our final day in Armenia, David and I were sick and tired.  I don’t mean that figuratively.  We were both actually sick and developing a tolerance for expired Russian Theraflu, and tired from sleeping on 1 thread count sheets in our “hotel” (a generous assessment if there ever was one) in Yerevan.

Ts'tesutyoon, Yerevan.
Ts’tesutyoon, Yerevan.

Read more

Squid and Sand – Korea’s Remote Ulleung-do

During graduate school, I made several trips back to Korea, where I lived between 2006 and 2007. As opposed to just staying in Seoul the entire time (because TV and delivery Korean food is tempting), I tried to get out of the city at least once on each trip to visit a part of Korea I hadn’t seen while I lived there.

That’s how I made my way to Ulleung-do in the summer of 2010.

Read more