Money Talk: How much did my 2013 Epic Journey cost!?!

Picture of foreign currency

Money, Budgets, Financial Talk

Whenever someone talks about going on a trip / vacation / holiday / escape / getaway / journey / pilgrimage – whatever it is labeled as, the BURNING question in the back of everyone’s mind… HOW do they afford it?! How much did it cost!?!

If you’ve been reading along on my blog, I tend to talk about anything but money. It’s a cliche thing for a Canadian or a Chinese descendent or in the general global society to be up front about financial matters.

Well today, I feel like sharing and talking numbers – as one of my intention for this blog is to motivate more people to travel – solo or not. So I do not want people to use $$ as an excuse or reason for them to deter from traveling and exploring this beautiful world of ours. Continue reading

Weekly Photo Challenge: On Top (World)

With this week’s photo challenge, it is emphasizing and reminding me how much I enjoy hiking to the top of a mountain or a higher elevation. I do get affected by altitude sickness though, as realized on the Inca Trail. With this effort though, I have gained experiences along the way and am allowed to enjoy the view from a different perspective.

Here are some views from the 7 continents:


View of Neko Harbour, Antarctica

View of Neko Harbour, Antarctica

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Learning to trust my gut, my intuition

A year ago today was one of those pivotal days that signified a new beginning.

View of Ushuaia Argentina Mountains landscape town

View of Ushuaia, Argentina as seen from bow of ship returning from Antarctica with a range of snow-covered mountains serving as backdrop.

January 14, 2013 was the day I landed back on the continent of South America, after an 18 day cruise to the Falklands, South Georgia islands and landing on the 7th continent – Antarctica. With the view of Ushuaia from the bow of the ship, in sight, it was a bitter-sweet moment.

Traveling as a Single Woman and sharing a ship with 183 other passengers and 92 crew members was such a wonderful experience. All the newly formed friendships, the camaraderie that came with sharing such a special journey added to the experience. Continue reading

What’s to come…

A year ago today, I was on the brink of something extremely significant and a bit mind-blowing. It would be the final full day and night that I would spend in Toronto, Canada – in my home before embarking on 7+ months of travel to 3 different continents. Prior to this, I had never in my  life traveled for more than 2 months, continuously – alone or accompanied. Also, I had never traveled with such a blank slate of an ‘itinerary’ before. See this post, for a short explanation of that blank itinerary.
A photo says a 1000 words??

A photo says a 1000 words??

People who knows me know and still don’t understand how I do not bounce off the walls with excitement over such events. They also do not understand that I do not realize it’s a ‘scary’ thing to go on trips by myself. To the same degree, I do not understand why people think I am courageous or brave for thinking, let alone traveling anywhere on my own. It almost seems like I get the idea in my head and figure out how to accomplish it on the fly.
For me, travel is not for escapism. Even on a day-to-day basis, I do not go about my day with headphones on, music to block out city noise or mobile phone in-hand 24/7. I do not read books on buses or subways – I tend to get some type of motion sickness. But there’s the odd day that I’ll skim over the daily paper on a long subway ride. I enjoy absorbing the sounds of my surrounding. I enjoy overhearing random conversations. However, I still get spooked by unexpected pedestrians or cyclists or dogs who zooms past me when I zone out.
I prefer to be present in my daily life and not have it breeze by. I still do not have the memory capacity to remember everything that occurred but I try to enjoy the full experience while it’s happening.
What unfolded in my 2013 Epic Journey would change me and help me grow to the extent that I still do not fully understand or comprehend today. With a pair of judgmental eyes, a few words comes to mind: crazy, dumb, idiotic, insane, brilliant, amazing, unfathomable, relaxing, spiritual, nurturing, adventurous, mind-blowing, memorable!
In the evening of December 23, 2012 all I could do was look at my infamous “To Do List” and hope I’ve dealt with the most important items…
Rent out my home for 6 months – to help pay for the journey
Pack up and store all my personal belongings after much purging
Fit all that I can into 1 medium sized suitcase and my 35L daypack (with camera, phone & laptop in tow)
Make sure my bills and mail are in order
Share a few more laughs with my dear friends – in person
Attempt to research the countries I intend to visit (the Lonely Planet book became dead weights in my bags!!)
Hope my broken Spanish would miraculously make a comeback as soon as I step foot onto Latin American soil
… the list actually gets more and more detailed and specific but I don’t want to bore you with logistics
What resulted amplifies my desire to motivate more people to start traveling if they have not already. Just think… Christmas Day in Buenos Aires, NYE on a ship heading towards Antarctica, birthday celebration in Buenos Aires with my tour guide / friend from a trip I took back in 2007,…
Do not wait for life to come knocking on your door.
Open the door and invite life into you – explore and have fun!

2013 in Hindsight

Today is the last Friday the 13th for 2013, the 13th year of the 21st century, no less. With the last month of the year almost half over, I can’t help but to think of all that has happened and all that I’ve accomplished this past year. And let me say it’s been quite the year for me – EVER!

Let me elaborate a bit…

I started the year by ringing in 2013 on a ship (Quark’s Ocean Diamond), with 183 other travelers from around the world, in the middle of the waters between South America and Antarctica. After reaching my 7th Continent, I knew I will head back to South America, explore Chile, Argentina and Brazil, then head over to Asia and due to return back to Canada by end of July.

This is the framework I gave myself to work with this time last year. With these 3 return flights in hand:


Epic Journey 2013 - Plan for South America and Antarctica

Epic Journey 2013 – Plan for South America and Antarctica

Epic Journey 2013 - Plan for Asia

Epic Journey 2013 – Plan for Asia (a friend I must visit in Singapore!!)

In the end, I finally returned to my home to ‘stay’ at the end of August. My 2013 Epic Journey took me to 14 countries, by all modes of transportation; airplane, ship, boat, subways, buses (lots of buses), ferries, mopeds, trains, etc. If I had a pedometer, that would be one impressive record!!

By mid-April, this was my accomplishments in South America + Antarctica

By mid-April, this was my accomplishments in South America + Antarctica

By end of July, I conquered a bit of Asia.

By end of July, I conquered a bit of Asia.

My intention in the coming weeks and months is to share with you my experiences (spiritual and otherwise) while exploring these 3 continents on my own, as a Single Woman. The people I met are incredible and so are the stories we created together!

From this I hope to create a travel-loving community that will join me and explore other locales together (physically and vicariously) – intuitively, curiously while having lots of fun.

Let’s create memories together!!

Choices in Life

Tonight I will embark on my first overnight bus since this past April. Back then I was half way through my 2013 Epic Journey. I had stepped onto my 7th continent, Antarctica, drank water from a crevasse Perito Moreno glacier, sailed up the coast of Chile and ‘showered’ at the grand Iguassu falls. My life = Bliss.

That night in early April gave me an experience I don’t wish upon any other. Luckily no one on board was physically harmed but I believe most of us returned home with a bit of emotional and/or mental scar.

A few minutes before midnight I jolted awake from my deep slumber, remembered that I’m on a double decker bus, traveling from Brasilia to Rio de Janeiro. I just have a few more days left in Brazil before heading to Asia. I have thoroughly enjoyed taking long distance buses in South America as it’s very affordable and the top of the line buses offer leather bound seats that resembles those found in a First Class compartment on an airplane. Some bus lines in Argentina even have an attendant to offer up personal TV, champagne and full 3 course meal. Continue reading

She did What!?! ~ with Serena

Single Woman Travels! (SWT) is a place to inspire and motivate women (and men) around the world to travel. She did What?! is a monthly series of Q&A – asking women around the world to share their past travel experience. From this, I hope a few more women who are on the brink of expanding their world will be inspired and motivated to turn their dreams into reality.

Bio…    Serena Jaye, Melbourne, Australia – HR at Monash University – This is my dream job! I love working with people 🙂

SWT:    Where was the destination of your first solo trip?

SJ:        Africa and Egypt

SWT:    How old were you?

SJ:        27

SWT:    Were you single or attached at the time?

SJ:        Technically single but as it always happens, I had just met a guy and we were dating for about 3 weeks prior to my departure.

SWT:    What inspired the idea?

SJ:        When I was a child, I used to play with a stone carving of the Sphinx my great grandmother brought home from her trip there years earlier. It was passed down to my grandmother and then me when I was 25. After hearing about the pyramids and the history of them it became my dream holiday. Naturally, my love of the African continent grew the more research I did, so my desire expanded to wanting to do a safari as well.

The dream became a reality when I came into a large sum of money from a work bonus. I had a mortgage at the time and thought this was the last opportunity for me to make this dream a reality!

SWT:    What was your trip style? (backpack, tour group, comfort, meetup with family/friends)

SJ:        I have backpacked around Europe and Asia previously and prefer the rough style of travel. It’s cost effective but I think you get more to the nitty gritty of the country and heart of the people traveling this way. However, being safety conscious I decided to see Egypt and Africa predominantly on low budget tours.

SWT:    What type of accommodations? (family owned, B&B, tents, if a hotel, how many stars)

SJ:        The accommodation was arranged through the tour companies. Mostly hostels or low star hotels.

SWT:    How long was your trip?

SJ:        3 weeks

SWT:    Who looked after the logistics?

SJ:        I looked after the logistics. I basically wrote down the tourist sites and places I wanted to visit and then reviewed the tours available within my budget and time frame.

SWT:    If you planned and/or booked the itinerary, did you enjoy the process?

SJ:        I loved this part of the process. It builds excitement for the places you want to see and also opens you up to other places of interest you may not have been aware of. It can however be quite heartbreaking if there is something that logistically you can’t make work in your time frame or budget. For example, something not on a particular tour but everything else is, or tour dates don’t match up, flights are not available when you need them! Then there is the decision making process of what you will have to miss. I usually find there is one of these things on every trip. In Egypt, it was Mount Sinai and Cape Town in Africa.

SWT:    If you worked with a travel agent, how was the experience?

SJ:        Once I had a rough idea of my plans, I handed them over to STA Travel. I worked completely via email with a fantastic travel agent who booked everything perfectly for me. She got me some great flight deals and the overall price for flights and tours were well under my budget.

SWT:    Would you / have you booked subsequent trips yourself?

SJ:       I have booked other trips myself around Asia and found this to be really easy. I always ensure I research the local transport systems before departing and have a copy of a Lonely Planet handy.

SWT:    What would you do different – in hindsight?

SJ:        Nothing – loved everything and met fabulous people!

SWT:    Did you feel comfortable traveling solo?

SJ:        I did feel comfortable to be honest. I recall walking through a market in Luxor late at night and feeling completely safe. Sure, the men call out to you and ask to marry you but the attention was not harmful. It was actually quite funny and part of the atmosphere of these places.

SWT:    How much research did you do in advance?

SJ:        I spent about 6 months researching before I left. Reading online and Lonely Planet guides in particular.

SWT:    What was the biggest surprise on the trip?

SJ:        Getting sick from the water in Egypt! I managed to go nearly the entire trip without drinking their tap water but one morning, I had an orange juice at my hotel. Little did I know they fill juice with half water there, so within 2 hours, I was sick as a dog and bedridden for 4 days.

SWT:    What did you learn about yourself during the trip that you weren’t totally aware of beforehand?

SJ:        I learned that I can do anything. That I can get from A to B alone and without a man. That as long as I have my wits about me and don’t do anything silly, I can enjoy the world and meet new people. Traveling alone for the first time single handily changed how I saw my independence.

SWT:    Was there any close calls or run-ins?

SJ:        When I flew from Egypt to Africa, I flew into Zambia. The Zambian airport was quite small and remote so I organised a transfer from my hotel before I left Australia. As it turns out, my transfer didn’t arrive. Within a few minutes, a lovely local asked me where I needed to go and directed me to another driver who was passing my hotel. I had a moment of panic but generally people do try to help you.

SWT:    Where is your next dream destination?

SJ:        My next dream holiday is South America. But I think it will be a few years away yet!

Next time, we’ll hear from Alison who chose to travel on her own…

If you’d like to share your story, contact me! 🙂

Bolivia – Why Not?!

Photo and Post by Karen Sze

Bolivia, a beautiful land locked country in South America – surrounded by Peru, Chile, Argentina, Paraguay and Brasil.

In 2007, when I told my friends this will be my first “adventure” vacation destination in S.A., the reactions weren’t pretty!! I felt like I was being interrogated and had to defend my decision… I noticed my Argentinian friends were the most “offended” of the bunch. One round of “questioning” went something like this… “Why WOULD you go there?? There’s no beach!” “What were you thinking??” “What’s there to do?” “How do you spend 2 whole weeks there??”

It was really a spur of the moment decision, I saw my friend’s friend’s travel photos. They were beautiful, breath-taking and simply captured my heart. Photos hardly does Nature justice but they help to interpret the moment that inspired the photographer.

Bolivia turned out to be a friendly country with lots of well preserved traditions. The ladies with the Bowler hats selling fresh fruits in the markets and weaving various soft items with alpaca wool. Stepping 500 metres below surface at a silver mine in Potosi was life changing, it definitely shifted my perspective with money and the current materialistic lifestyles. The Dali Desert helps one to understand and relate what inspired Salvador Dali. The Bolivian Salt Flats (Salar d’Uyuni) lets you think the Earth is flat.

The Lesson: Don’t judge a book by it’s cover 😉

p.s. I spoke only 3 of Spanish words before this trip: Hola. Ciao. Gracias.



My first time… Hiking up a Volcano!

Photos and posted by Karen Sze

On April 28, 2008 – I scaled my first Volcano!!! Okay, okay – I exaggerate I didn’t reach the peak but still, it’s something of significance for me. I signed up for a day hike with G adventures up Cotopaxi, a dormant stratovolcano that’s about 28 km South of Quito in Ecuador. Standing at 5897 m, it’s the second highest summit in Ecuador, visible from the capital.

Cotopaxi volcano,  the second highest summit in Ecuador

View of Cotopaxi volcano

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