“The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” – Saint Augustine
Join us on a journey that takes us to a tropical island to cobblestone streets and a few places in between, this week on The Chatting Compass we speak to Liz Wegerer about her three favorite places she has visited in the world. When Liz contacted ScaleSimple with a interest in sharing her knowledge and her adventures with The Chatting Compass readers, we jumped at the opportunity.
So come along, lets gain some new perspectives on some very interesting places and hear of the lessons that have been learned along the way. Thank you Liz Wegerer for writing in such detail for our readers.
The Accidental Adventurer
Growing up in a small Midwestern town in the U.S., I never ventured further than my own backyard. At least until I was 23 and got my first passport for an art study abroad trip to Spain. At most, I was expecting to tour some famous museums and view famous paintings. I got much, much more.
Once my feet hit foreign soil and I experienced, first-hand, another culture and country, my life was never the same. That first trip to Europe shook awake the dormant travel bug in me, and I spent the better part of the next two decades pursuing adventure wherever I could find it.
Finally, in 2011 I made the monumental decision to trade the comfort and predictability of my settled life in the States for the uncertainty of moving abroad. Periodic holidays just were not enough to satisfy my curiosity of the world. So I sold everything I owned, packed a backpack and headed off without a plan. Since then, I’ve lived and worked in several different countries and traveled to places I never dreamed of during my childhood in the bucolic Midwest.
Along the way I’ve learned a lot and transformed into a totally different person. Which is, I think, the true benefit of immersing yourself in different cultures. So is sharing what you’ve learned. It is always more fun to explore a new land armed with a bit of knowledge gleaned from those who went before you.
So, without further ado, let me share my favorite things and a few tips about three of the most memorable places I’ve visited.
CHINA – Beijing & Shanghai
China was my first true adventure. It was the first time I went someplace where I felt like a complete fish out of water. At 5’9” tall, I literally stood out from the crowd. Plus, it was absolutely, positively impossible to figure out the local language. Often, even if you don’t speak the local language, your knowledge of the Roman alphabet allows you to muddle your way through a foreign language like Spanish, Italian or French.They are sort of similar. Not the case in China, as they use a totally different alphabet.
It was also one of the few places I’ve been where it was not unusual to encounter taxi drivers or shop keepers in major cities who speak absolutely no English. None.Zero. Zilch. This absolute lack of communication makes for some stressful situations.You also get great stories to tell later on.
The culture, architecture and art! The culture is so old and rich with diversity that you could spend years exploring and still not experience it all. The Forbidden City in Beijing and Yu Gardens in Shanghai are two of my best places.Also, the Shanghai Museum is a great place to spend a day just wandering through the exhibits that cover all major dynasties of the Chinese empire.
Most major hotels will provide small business cards for you to carry and present to your taxi driver when you want a lift back to your hotel. Do NOT forget to take a card with you when you leave for your day’s adventures! Without it, it is unlikely you will be able to tell the driver where you want to go.Also, if you have a few of these cards that you’ve accumulated during your travels,be sure to present the correct one to the driver. I spent a frantic 30 minutes or so trying to hail a cab in Shanghai, only to have driver after driver shake his head and speed off after I handed him my card. Turns out, I was giving him the card for my previous hotel – In Beijing!
Even when you face an absolute language barrier, you can still enjoy a place and have a successful trip
Oh….Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, the River Thames, the Queen’s Corgis…what’s not to love about London? I had the chance to work in central London for a time, and it was much more interesting than I anticipated. As an American, I (wrongly)assumed London would be just a stuffier older cousin to the U.S. I will gladly admit that I was wrong, wrong, wrong.London quickly moved up to the top of my Favorite European Cities list…it is now in a three-way tie with Amsterdam and Barcelona for first place.
Going to traditional English pubs for a pint, shopping on Bond, Oxford or Regent Streets, meandering through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens.Central London is one of the most walkable major cities, in my opinion. Every tree-lined street offers a visual explosion of amazing architecture and history that you just can’t find in most places. Plus, I always felt quite safe walking through Marlyebone, Mayfair and St. James by myself, even after dark.
Give yourself plenty of time to explore on foot. Some of my favorite discoveries of London’s hidden gems happened when I was walking to or from work or on my lunch break. Little shops off the beaten path, a secret garden tucked away among residential buildings, and cafés offering tasty snacks were among my finds.
Always be open-minded and try not to have too many pre-conceived notions about a place. London was never on my radar of “must visit”places. It just seemed too much like the U.S. to be of interest to me. Unexpectedly, I landed a job in London and was able to experience all that this amazing city has to offer. It makes me wonder how many other places I’ve eliminated from my travel plans simply because of what I imagined the place to be like.
This tiny Dutch island is an undiscovered gem in the southern Caribbean. Famous for its scuba diving and steady trade winds, the island is popular with divers,windsurfers and kite surfers. It is also the place I called home for four wonderful years living on a tropical island is not for everyone. Yes, there are amazing days to be had(think palm trees, white sand and swaying hammocks), but there are also challenges. If you are a fan of styling your hair, wearing makeup or living free from insects or beady-eyed critters, a Caribbean island is probably not for you. It takes a hearty soul to embrace island life, but the sacrifices are worth it in so many ways.
Kite surfing, scuba diving and playing in the ocean – every single day! A totally active, outdoor lifestyle is what Bonaire living is all about. All you need is a bikini, sunscreen and a minimal amount of coordination to fully embrace everything the island has to offer. Also, it is perfectly acceptable to enjoy the adult beverage of your choice at any time of day. No shame there. In fact, it is encouraged. After all, it’s always five o’clock somewhere.
If you venture to this island (and you should!), leave your high heels at home. This island is very different from most other “touristy” Caribbean islands in that super-casual (think board shorts and flip flops) are perfectly acceptable attire for virtually every social situation on Bonaire. There are no fashion police here!
You are never too old to learn a new trick. After taking up scuba diving when I turned 40, I learned to kite surf a few years later. I’m still enjoying both.
About the Author: Liz Wegerer is a writer, wanderer and self-professed citizen of the world. After growing up and pursuing a traditional life in the U.S., she gave it all up to travel and experience life outside her comfort zone. After four years kite surfing and scuba diving in the Southern Caribbean, she headed north to a tiny rock off the coast of France to test the waters there – she discovered they are…cold. Not content to stay in one place too long, her backpack and passport are always ready for the next challenge. After all, as long as she has her trusty Macbook, she can write from anywhere.
You can follow her adventures at www.islandgirlwriting.com.
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