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SEEKING ENLIGHTENMENT – THE ADVANTAGES OF TRAVELING LIGHT

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When I took my first-round-the-world trip back in the eighties, my backpack was ridiculous. And by that, I mean enormous. Looking back, I am not sure what it contained, but whatever it was, not only was it huge, but it had too much in it. I recall waiting for a boat to take me from a Malaysian island back to the mainland when my pack split open at the seams, pouring the contents onto the dock.

On reflection, I can’t believe I hauled so much stuff around. Surely the object of travel is to free ourselves of the material objects that we surround ourselves with at home. Nowadays, whether I am traveling for a weekend or six months, I only carry a thirty-five-litre backpack and I never check luggage.

The (very minimal) disadvantages….

I admit that there are one or two disadvantages to traveling light, but the advantages outweigh them by far.

First the cons. Having a daypack means that you are limited to buying only very small souvenirs. This could either be a good thing or not, depending on your viewpoint. If you are a hard-core backpacker, you won’t be purchasing too many souvenirs anyway.

If camping forms a substantial part of your trip, it’s going to be difficult to get away with carrying a daypack. I have got around this by borrowing camping gear from local friends or hiring it. In many of the popular trekking areas of the world, there are plenty of companies from whom you can hire tents and sleeping bags. Likewise, I love to snorkel and it is generally easy to hire snorkelling equipment.

And the many advantages….

The pros – where do I begin? Physically, schlepping around an oversize pack is hard work. When you arrive in town and you are looking for somewhere to stay, hauling a large pack is cumbersome, especially in a hot climate. A heavy pack also puts a strain on your back and joints. Not having to handle a heavy/bulky pack generally makes life easier and gives you a sense of freedom and enlightenment.

Whilst traveling on buses and trains, handling a small pack is so much easier. Usually, it can be stored under your seat or in the overhead luggage rack. You can keep it within your sights, eliminating the security risks. I recall taking local buses in Sri Lanka, none of which had luggage compartments. I spotted more than one backpacker who had a major problem attempting to balance an over-sized pack on their lap on the crowded buses. I must admit to a small degree of smugness, as I sat with my comparatively tiny backpack stored neatly at my feet.

Imagine the scenario…..you have just got off a bus in India after a long and arduous journey and you are waiting for the luggage to be unpacked from the hold. As you wait, you are besieged by touts and beggars all trying to get your attention. If you were just carrying a small pack, you could have walked straight through them all and be checking in at your guest house by now!

At airports, there is no need to wait for checked bags, saving time and potential lost luggage. Anyone who has ever had a bag go missing will surely appreciate the wisdom in taking only carry-on.

Top Tips for traveling light

After many years of tweaking my packing list, here are a few tips:

Wash what you wear daily. If that sounds like a chore, don’t worry – it will soon become part of your routine. If you are traveling somewhere hot, you can wash it before bed and it’s usually dry by the morning. Some countries, especially in Asia, sell tiny packets of washing powder which are perfect for life on the road.

Technology has made life easier. Back in the day, I would carry a Walkman along with a case of tapes. Now all my music is on my phone. Instead of books, I have a Kindle.

Instead of taking a full-size towel, take a compact travel towel which will barely take up any space.

A lightweight foldaway backpack is a necessity when only taking a small pack. This can be used for daily excursions and your main pack can be left at your accommodation.

Take a mini size in everything you possibly can – hairbrush, hairdryer, mini sewing kit and pack of cards.

If you are traveling with a friend or partner, share anything that you both use.

No turning back

My first light-weight excursion was a month-long trip to Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. I was apprehensive to start with. How would I possibly cope without all those unnecessary items?!  Now, I couldn’t travel any other way.

Originally posted 2017-06-15 02:07:26.

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TRAVEL AGENT VS. DO-IT-YOURSELF

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Technology and the Internet have become the best thing since sliced bread.  The use of the internet has made it easier for us to do the jobs that other professionals have done for years. Nowadays you can find a YouTube video for just about anything you can think of. Do-it-yourself has become a trademark. However, when it comes to travel, should you really do it yourself?  

Internet sites like Priceline, Expedia, and Travelocity, advertise hotels and vacation packages that are easy to book by yourself. But should you?  It really depends on where you are going and what your budget is.  

Below is a list of the pros and cons of using a travel agent:

PROS

Personal Service

Travel agents provide the human connection that makes the planning and travel experience pleasant and meaningful. They are your advocate when you need them. What if you feel overwhelmed because your flight was cancelled or something happens that you have no control over?  Call them and they will handle everything on your behalf. They know the ins and outs of the travel world and can help in ways you may not know.  

Budget

Most trips require only a deposit paid when booked through an agent. If you are unable to prepay for your travel in full, having a travel agent will greatly benefit you. They are able to price flights from low budget airlines like Southwest and Jet Blue which are unavailable on those other sites.  

Knowledgeable

Travel Agents are very knowledgeable about all things concerning travel.  They will know the passport requirements as well as the best resorts.  They can tell you which cruise companies will better suite your needs or desires.  They are the experts of their field.  They can customize and offer things you may not know to think about.

CONS

Price

While you may be able to budget and have a payment plan with a travel agent, if you can afford to prepay the full amount, you may able to find a cheaper deal on your own- butcheaper does not necessarily mean better.

Find a Reliable Agent

You must find a reliable agent with a good reputation.  In other words, do your homework.  Word of mouth is your best seller.  Ask your friends or co-workers for recommendations.  Truly good travel agents form lasting relationships with their customers.  One good agent is all you really need.

There is a risk when booking on your own. My advice when booking a special trip is to call an agent and then compare it with what you have found online. You don’t have to book with them but it never hurts to have a second opinion.

These are the times when you MUST use an agent:

  • When booking a group trip
  • When booking a cruise (especially your first cruise)
  • When traveling during holiday and peak travel seasons
  • When booking a destination wedding or honeymoon
  • When booking a trip to Disney World (especially your first time)

If you are unsure about making travel plans, call the experts. It’s their job to worry for you  If you are making small travel plans (hotel, car), then try the travel websites and see if they work for you.  It’s all about what your comfort. Do you like using a travel agent? Comment below, and Happy Travels!

Originally posted 2017-10-01 10:03:58.

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48 Hours In...

48 Hours in Kuala Lumpur

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Why Go?

Kuala Lumpur is a major stopover city and many people break their journey there en route to a final destination. It’s a city that is well-suited to a forty-eight-hour visit and there is more than enough to keep the visitor busy for a couple of days. Kuala Lumpur is truly multicultural. Although distinctly Malaysian, it is also greatly influenced by the Chinese and Indian immigrants who have made the city their home. A variety of other minorities add to the unique character of the city.

Skyscrapers sit next to crumbling traditional buildings. The aroma of delicious street foods tempt passersby. The muezzin’s call to prayer echoes through the streets, while incense wafts from Buddhist temples. In contrast to its spiritual side, Kuala Lumpur is a shopper’s paradise. The city’s commitment to consumerism is evident in its bustling street markets and modern malls, which can be found throughout the city.

Getting There

Kuala Lumpur’s airport is one of the largest in South-East Asia. Opened in 1993, the airport is 45 miles south of the city center. It takes 30 minutes to reach Sentral Station, Kuala Lumpur’s downtown transport terminal by train. By taxi, it takes an hour.

A monorail connects many of the major tourist attractions and the transit network is the most cost-effective and efficient way to get around the city.

Checking In

Kuala Lumpur offers accommodation to suit all budgets. From five dollar dorm beds to five-star hotels and an excellent choice of good value mid-range hotel options in between, finding a crash-pad for a couple of nights shouldn’t be a problem.

Day One

Start your city adventure with a tasty breakfast at the Antipodean Café (20 Jalan Telawi 2, Bangsar Baru). Check out the pumpkin and sweetcorn fritters accompanied by bacon – it’s awesome. The coffee is pretty good too. It’s a contemporary café, with cool red and black décor.

The Petronas Twin Towers are the city’s showpiece http://www.petronastwintowers.com.my. At 451 metres high with 88 storeys, it was the highest building in the world until 2003, when it was overtaken by Tapei 101 in Taiwan. Walk across the sky bridge between the 41st and 42nd storeys and then head up to the 86th floor for incredible cityscape views. Whilst in the building, have a wander around the KLCC Shopping Mall, which is at the base of the towers.

The Petronas Towers, Malaysia’s most iconic building

Next up, head over to Chinatown and take a stroll down Petaling Street. If you are looking for a bargain, you are likely to find it here. From electrical goods to t-shirts and souvenirs, the street is also well known for its wide selection of imitation brands. It’s also an ideal place to sample some mouth-watering street food including the locally popular salted roast duck.

Petaling Street in Chinatown

Just around the corner, you will find Sri Mahamariamman (Jalan Tun H S Lee), the city’s oldest Hindu temple. Intricately designed in South Indian style, it has three shrines and is the main place of worship for Kuala Lumpur’s Hindu population.

Sri Mahamariamman Hindu Temple

Also in the vicinity, Central Market http://www.centralmarket.com.my is chock-a-block with stalls selling Malaysian handicrafts, batiks and artwork. Adjacent to the market is an arts center, where you can watch artists at work. Frequent traditional music and dance shows can also be seen at the center.

For dinner, why not try some authentic Malay cuisine? The award-winning Bijan Bar and Restaurant http://www.bijanrestaurant.com is a slick, chic venue, where you can choose from a range of  Malaysian food. Vegetarian options are available and it is also one of the few restaurants in the city that serves alcohol. The wine list is impressive.

For those wishing to partake in some Kuala Lumpur nightlife, there is a discreet, but fairly active LGBTQ scene. Check out http://www.utopia-asia.com/tipsmala.htm for events and venues.

Day Two

The dramatic Batu caves are situated thirty minutes by train from downtown and easy to reach from KL Sentral. The complex consist of four caves. The main cave has 272 steps leading up to it and is guarded by a giant Shiva statue. Monkeys hang out on the steps, waiting for any scraps which pilgrims may throw their way. Colorful shrines are hidden in the nooks and crannies of the caves. At the entrance, restaurants do a roaring trade in vegetable curries, rice and poppadoms served on a banana leaf.

Hanuman the Monkey God – Statue at Batu Caves

Back in town, The Islamic Arts Museum is a bright modern building, exuding a calm and peaceful aura. There are both permanent and temporary exhibits and Islamic culture worldwide is well-presented. It would be easy to spend a couple of hours appreciating the intricate designs and learning about the art and culture of Islam (Jalan Lembah, Perdana).

Nearby, The National Mosque has a capacity for 15,000 people. The architecture is impressive with soaring minarets and a star-shaped concrete ceiling. A number of reflecting pools and fountains in the grounds are surrounded by lush foliage.

The Lake Gardens are also close to both the museum and mosque, a sprawling area consisting of five different gardens and parks. It’s an oasis in the heart of the city and includes a deer park, a bird park with over 3,000 species as well as butterfly and orchid gardens. Due to the huge size of the area, it rarely becomes too crowded and serves as an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city streets.

Little India of Brickfields, transports the visitor to the sub-continent minus the madness of Mumbai. It’s a vibrant and colorful area and a great place to buy sparkly bangles or even a sari!  Restoran Sri Kortumalai (215 Jalan Tun, Sanbanthan, Jalan Brickfields) serves cheap, but mouth-watering South Indian food.

Little India

After trekking all over the city, it’s time to chill. Head to Sky Bar for a cocktail or two. Situated on the 33rd floor of Traders Hotel http://www.shangri-la.com/kualalumpur/traders/dining/bars-lounges/sky-bar, the view of the Petronas Towers is spectacular and it’s a perfect way to relax and round off your two-day jaunt to Kuala Lumpur.

Originally posted 2017-09-23 21:04:48.

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Entertainment

Letters From Abu Ghraib: Visiting the Middle East

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THE MIDDLE EAST – AUGUST, 29TH 2017 – Most of us know how horrible certain areas of this region can be to our community.  To say that the temperament towards LGBTQ+ people is hostile would be a severe understatement. Unfortunately, this is causing us to miss out on a myriad of fun and magical experiences. This article will share some top attractions from the Middle East (predominantly Dubai ) and give advice on how to remain undetected while visiting the region.  It will also detail the horrors that could happen to our community at any moment if we are not careful.

 

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

 

Boasting a very modern feel for a hot spot most people think is nothing more than picking sand out of your trunks, Dubai houses only the top destinations.  

If you love to shop and play all at the same time there is the legendary Dubai Mall, one of the largest shopping malls on Earth. It is home to some of the top name brands such as Armani, Versace, and Alexander McQueen. There are children’s parks and gourmet restaurants attached, too. The mall even houses its own aquarium containing over thirty thousand species of marine life1.

On the flip side, some may prefer relaxation and leisure over activity. Certainly then, you must check out the JW Marriott Marquis Dubai. JW is a Five-Star hotel in the heart of the city and sports cutting edge technology in its business center and a legendary spa. Bars and a top of the line fitness wing complete the hotel’s elegance2. Interesting trivia: You might remember Tom Cruise climbing up one of the towers in a certain film… from the outside!

 

Cairo, Egypt

 

Perhaps you are one of the people that yearn for a more rugged experience. Look no further than Egypt.  The nightlife may be fantastic, but even more impressive is the Great Pyramid of Giza, only a short distance away. The impressive, massive structure is actually a burial tomb of the ancient pharaohs and is one of the world’s seven wonders3. Be sure to pose by the guardian sphinx for some memorable snapshots. To cool off, take a stroll by the Nile River that runs past the city. Careful though: You must show respect for the Nile’s bounty lest you upset it’s protecting deities Isis and Sebek.

 

Warnings from the Author

 

Low key is the key. With countless news stories showing beheadings, stonings, and even ISIS casting helpless victims off tall buildings, many people ask why no one has stepped in to end these atrocities. The answer is simple: Homosexuality is illegal in most of the Middle East. This is not just a government law, but a religious one, too. If you are still planning a trip to this region, please pay attention to the next section of this article and seek outside resources and/or protection. For more information on what it is like to be LGBTQ+ in this region, it may be beneficial to read Brian Whitaker and Anna Wilson’s book, “Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East” or another similar text4. I know many of us hate hiding who we are and if that is you, there is nothing wrong with that – but I encourage you to rethink your plans. I have a special word of caution for women: If you are travelling with men and they should happen to offend you in any way, do not let native Arabic men/women see any signs of an altercation. Address matters privately and quietly in the safety of your hotel room or living quarters.

 

Conclusion

Again, I urge you to seek additional help from others both inside and outside of the Community.  It only adds to your benefit.  Most importantly, though, enjoy your trip!

 

  1. “Revel In Retail At The Dubai Mall.”  Dubai Corporation of Tourism & Commerce Marketing.  29 Aug 2017.  https://www.visitdubai.com/en/pois/dubai-mall.
  2. “JW Marriott Marquis Hotel Dubai.”  Marriott International Inc.  2017.  http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/dxbjw-jw-marriott-marquis-hotel-dubai/
  3. Encyclopaedia Britannica.  “Pyramids of Giza.”   Encyclopaedia Britannica.  26 June 2017.  https://www.britannica.com/topic/Pyramids-of-Giza
  4. Whitaker, Brian & Anna Wilson.  “Unspeakable Love:  Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East.”  Amazon.com.  2006.  https://www.amazon.com/Unspeakable-Love-Lesbian-Life-Middle/dp/0520250176/ref=sr_1_12?ie=UTF8&qid=1504028713&sr=8-12&keywords=gays+in+the+middle+east+books

Originally posted 2017-09-22 12:50:33.

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