Interviews

Interview with Dame Traveler Alaa Razoky

Thanks so much for chatting with us today! Could you tell us a little about your story and what you do, for anyone who doesn’t know you yet!

Hi there, my name is Alaa Razoky. I was born in Baghdad, Iraq and before the age of five, I had already lived in three continents and four countries. Maybe my love for the world started even before I knew it. I am 44 (as of August 29th). I was a teacher for 14 years, then a real estate broker and now I do a little bit of both remotely. I wasn’t always a traveler. In my 20’s, I saved for three years to take a big international trip (about three weeks of travel). As I became more financially stable, the trips increased. The turning point was when I was 33 years old and living my best life in New York City. I told myself that if I wasn’t married by 33 and looking to start a family, I was going to truly enjoy my life and really TRAVEL THE WORLD. I left NYC, moved to CA, where my family is, and started to plan. In the fall of 2010, I went to Belize for a week, came back home for 36 hours and turned around and headed to Australia, New Zealand and Fiji for five weeks. That was the beginning of my crazy travel life. Then I decided to set a goal: seven continents before I turn 40. Even though I had hit North America, Europe and Asia already, I had to touchdown on all seven in the seven years until my 40th birthday. Let me tell you this, there hasn’t been a goal I have set that I haven’t met. Two weeks before I turned 40, I touched down in the US after spending a month in Africa. That was continent #7.

Tell us a bit more about the trip that changed your life

Africa. I love that continent so much. I spent a month in Tanzania, Zanzibar (Tanzania), Zambia, Botswana, and South Africa. Aside from the amazing safaris, it was the people and their lives that touched my heart the most. I was in the land of extreme poverty and the highest rate of disease but yet I encountered the kindest, bighearted and happiest people in all my travels. It confirmed that you don’t need much to be at peace, to be content. I know they struggle daily but they smile, they enjoy barefooted dances in the streets and small gatherings among those they love and cherish the most. The farthest thing from a spoiled society but yet they know how to find a little happiness in everything that they do. They have a special gift and I don’t think this is something you can encounter unless you step foot onto this continent.

What has been your favorite destination so far and why?

This is one of the hardest questions to answer. How about a list my favorite city and /or country in every continent? Obviously that’s hard for Antarctica but I can do the rest. Here goes:

North America-New York City, USA: I have loved this city ever since I was in high school. I’m sure a lot of people fall in love with NYC even before stepping foot so I was no different than most. However, I spent my early 30’s living in the Big Apple when I was financially stable and could truly live it up in NYC. Anything you want to do you can do in New York. Best years of my life. I would not rule out moving back there sometime in the future.

South America-Buenos Aires, Argentina, known as the Paris of South America, BA has its own charm. The food is unbelievable, the people are kind, the city is beautiful and very fun. One thing you won’t see a ton of in BA is designer stores because of a tax placed on imported goods. It makes it more authentic than most cities. c) Africa-Serengeti, Tanzania-Animals, animals, animals. The number of animals you see in the Serengeti National Park is unbelievable. What’s even more wonderful is how protected this land and its inhabitants are. It’s a different side of Africa and it is amazing!

Australia-Whitsunday Islands, Australia-Imagine sailing for three days in the Great Barrier Reef amongst the Whitsunday Islands. We saw so much daily but the most spectacular sight, other than an abundance of coral underwater, was the stop we made to Whitehaven Beach. It is the WHITEST and SOFEST sand you will ever step foot on. It was pure heaven.  

Europe-Paris, France-I mean, it’s the city of love. It oozes romance, beauty, love, style and class. Yes, the French have a reputation for being rude but they’re not all like that. I have been there three times and I never get bored or sick of it. I love the language (studied nine years when I was schooled in Canada but far from fluent), the food (escargot and beef tartare), French wine and seeing a metropolitan city light up at night. I just love everything about Paris!

Asia-Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam-It’s hard to imagine that this city in a communist country that endured such brutality in the Vietnam War is as amazing as it is (be sure to learn about the war when you’re there). The food will blow you away, the city has views that are beautiful from many directions, it’s a bustling city, lots of markets and shopping but most importantly, the kindness of the Vietnamese people just warms your heart.

Through your experiences, what has travel taught you? What lessons does travel bring to those who experience it?

Travel has taught me that we are incredibly lucky and blessed in the US. When you see how others live, how little they need to get by and how they truly survive on the necessities, it is quite amazing. It has caused me to not live lavishly and constantly purchase things I don’t necessarily need. I am more humble because of this and I have chosen to help people around the world.

Have you ever faced any hard circumstances or issues as a female traveler? 

Once I was followed by a man in Italy. It was in a busy area so initially I didn’t know if it was just a coincidence or if he was really following me. I kept looking back and he was still there. I would dip into a store and as I walked out, I saw him waiting and then continue to follow me. It wasn’t until I ran into a store and pointed the guy out that the man took off running and I never saw him again. Another time La Paz, Bolivia, I was told never to hail a taxi on the street and never to walk at night. I followed those rules. Recently in Quito, Ecuador, I knew two people who had been mugged. Having this information, I decided to get rid of my purse and put my ID, credit card and money in one pocket and my cell phone in another pocket. If they didn’t see me physically carrying anything, I wasn’t of interest to them.

 Other than that, I follow warnings and guidelines while traveling in all countries.

What piece of advice would you give to women who would like to travel but are afraid to? 

It’s one of the best things I have ever done in my life. I have met tons of friends who I see occasionally, have met men that could have been potential mates, learned so much, more than a textbook could teach me, and can do what I want when I want without having to worry about someone else. If you worry about being lonely, you won’t be. The people you meet along the way will be more than happy to do things with you.

Why do you think it’s important for women, specifically, to explore the world?

I am a very independent woman and I believe that’s an important characteristic in females. If we follow the traditional path in life such as school, marriage, kids, we get so wrapped up in working and taking care of our family that we rarely have time for ourselves. I see it a lot in women who took this path. How wonderful would it be to have the freedom to travel, see the world, experience the globe for yourself before you settle into domestic life. To me, you’ll look back and be glad you did that before you made the huge commitment to do the other life events.

Fun fact

One thing I have been doing is buying gems from locations that mine them. So far, I have a tanzanite from Tanzania, a ruby from Vietnam and an emerald from Colombia. I then have them set when I return home and the result is amazing. I will send you pictures of those as well.

Also, I take all my own photos. I don’t have any formal training. Sometimes I get lucky with great shots and sometimes I don’t. I don’t journal when I travel as I feel my photos tell the stories I want to tell. With that said, I started an Instagram account @missworldwide that showcases my photos, gives a brief description and certain posts are connected to some travel writing I do for a lifestyle magazine, Nspire Magazine, located in the Pacific Northwest. I don’t know where this will take me but I wanted to share my joy of traveling with others around the world and hopefully inspire women to travel solo to find themselves, find happiness and true contentment.

 

Europe

Tips for a First-Timer Visiting the United Kingdom

The UK is among the world’s most popular tourist destinations. English-speaking, prosperous and full of history, it has a great deal to offer. But what should first-time visitors do to prepare for their arrival?

What is the UK?

This is one of those countries, like the Netherlands, which presents a few opportunities for confusion. Indeed, many of the natives might struggle to tell you exactly what the difference is.  There are actually three countries which comprise Great Britain: namely England, Scotland and Wales. A fourth comes in the form of Northern Ireland, to create The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The British Isles isn’t a country; it’s just the name for the landmass.

Public Transport

While the trains and buses don’t meet quite the same standard as set on mainland Europe, they’re still the easiest way for a new arrival to get from one place to another. Car rentals and taxis can be extremely expensive, especially if you’re traveling frequently. For example, the train from Eastbourne is a safe bet for those looking to head to Hastings to check out the battlefield and the beach.

Etiquette

When visiting any new country, it’s worth getting to grips with the local customs concerning etiquette. To begin with, the British know how to form an orderly line, and will take a pretty dim view of anyone attempting to push in. In the UK, the chance of any new arrival causing a serious commotion are fairly small; at worst, you’ll probably get a pointed tutting, or an “excuse me.”

The Currency

The currency is sterling. Notes come in fives, tens and twenties (and, very occasionally, fifties). You might find different sorts of notes if you’re in Scotland. These notes are legal tender everywhere, as Scottish people will never tire of telling you.

The Weather

The UK has a famously temperate climate, being surrounded by water. You won’t get extremes of heat or cold, and you can expect to be rained on at least once, even if you’re heading there at the height of summer.

City or Country?

The UK is quite a small country, especially compared to the United States. As such, you’ll find quite a lot of variety crammed into just a small area. You might use a city as a base of operations, and from there venture out into the countryside. London tends to take the lion’s share of the tourist traffic, but there are other places in the country worth visiting – and you may find that the cost of things in smaller towns is markedly lower.

When to Go

The UK provides plenty of distraction throughout the year. If you’re travelling in summer, then you’ll benefit from the traditional seaside and city breaks – though you should be aware that the prices will rise accordingly. At winter time, there’s more of an emphasis on indoor attractions. Some of the country’s outdoor adventures are best undertaken during autumn and spring. The countryside looks its best at this time of year, but you’ll still get a full day of sunshine.

Trips

Far Out Destinations to Get Your Imagination Running

The pandemic has influenced different sectors in significant ways. Perhaps one of the most affected sectors in the tourism industry. The world is packed with exciting destinations that you may want to experience as soon as the pandemic is over. Many of us have been dreaming and desiring to go to some far flung destination, especially while we were all in lockdown. With hopes the pandemic may be over by next summer, here’s some ideas of destinations you can start looking into for your first big post pandemic travel.

Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi is the capital and the second-largest city in Vietnam. There are numerous amazing destinations in Hanoi, which are split into old and the French quarter. The old quarter is home to a more traditional Vietnamese vibe and atmosphere. The city has a lot to offer from lakes like lake Hanoi to the imperial sites, mountains, museums, and other landmarks. You could also try to rent a car and explore the outskirts of Hanoi or other areas! The government has been working to improve the Vietnam infrastructure to make the country more attractive and modern. The suburbs of Hanoi also provide several important religious places that you can enjoy.

Photo by Nastasia Yakoub / @nastasiaspassport

Kavkhan, Mongolia

Kavkhan is one of the 21 provinces of Mongolia. Located in the west of the country, Kavkhan is one of the best locations to visit because of its calm environment, climate, and wildlife. The province in Mongolia is home to massive populations of livestock and a diverse wildlife population. It also hosts several forests, mountains, birds in migration, and other rare animal and bird species. Kavkhan is home to hundreds of small rivers and lakes where you can enjoy a swim! I’d highly recommend to continue onto see other parts of Mongolia, it’s just so full of nature and culture that you will never get anywhere else in the world.

Perth

Perth is the capital (fun fact for you if you didn’t already know that) of Australia, and one of its largest cities. It is home to some of the most significant pieces of art, cultural and educational institutions in Australia like the Art Gallery of Western Australia, WA Museum, and the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts for any art lovers out there! Even if you aren’t into art or design, these museums are definitely worth seeing. The city has also inspired a lot of artistic and cultural work in cinema. Perth’s main tourist destinations are focused around the city center, the coast, and the swan river.

Crete

Crete is the largest, the most populated, and considered by some to be the most beautiful island in Greece. It is surrounded by a myriad of islets that make up the Region of Crete. It is an extremely mountainous island crossing from the east to the west of the region, making it great for mountain activities with

sweeping ocean views that can be found almost everywhere. Crete is significant in cultural heritage for Greece, known for such elements as ancient literature, poetry and music! Not but least, the beaches. The water in Crete possess a beautiful, Poseidon blue color that changes from super clear to a bit darker shade of blue as you move throughout the island’s beaches and water.

Galapagos Islands

Galapagos Islands is a significant part of the Republic of Ecuador. It is an archipelago of volcanic islands that are distributed on each side of the Pacific Ocean equator. The Spanish islands feature an incredible climate, historical landmarks, and a beautiful and calm atmosphere. Here, you can find a seemingly uninhabited part of the world that you may not even have known to be real!

Each of the destinations mentioned above is an incredible place to visit. They are all far out from the average place, and a visit to any of them could be the most beautiful and exciting experience in your life. They have so much to offer that you are guaranteed to have an incredible experience.

Lifestyle What to Pack

Guide to Choosing the Perfect Travel Bag

Finding the perfect travel bag can be a challenge. You want your bag to be functional and practical for traveling, but not have to compromise on how stylish it is.

So, for when you need to consider form and function for your perfect travel bag, here are some tips on how to choose a cute handbag for travelling:

Style

When travelling comfort is key- no one wants a bag that keeps slipping out of place or too small to fit everything. Luckily there are many types of travel bags out there so we can opt for a practical bag that is still cute. Some of the best designs for travelling are totes, backpacks, crossbody bags and shoulder bags.

Material

There are many material options for travel bags, such as leather, water-resistant nylon and more. Leather is by far one of the best materials for a travel bag because while beautiful and super durable, it is also slash proof. You can find some gorgeous handmade travel bags online, on websites like Mirta for example, that carries authentic made in Italy leather goods.

Size

The size of a travel bag bag is extremely important because you want to be able to fit what is needed during your travel days, but you don’t want it to be too big that it is uncomfortable to carry. You’ll want your travel essentials such as your phone, wallet, documents and passport, as well as any personal essentials at all times and not have to leave anything behind because your bag is too small!

Security measures

Security measures are an important aspect of your travel bag. Two things you’ll want to consider are RFID and zippers. Many travel bags come with RFID blocking card and passport slots, which make it difficult for your information to be stolen electronically. As for zippers, you’ll want your bag to close well and stay closed well while you’re traveling. Inside zippers also give another layer of safety.

A crossbody travel bag is arguably one of the most secure travel bags because they are less targeted by purse thieves since you wear it across your body and it also makes it easier on travelers because it ensures you are hands-free (though wearing it on your front and placing a hand on it in crowded places is recommended).

Good quality and durability

Traveling isn’t always easy on a handbag, so want to choose a bag that is durable and good quality. That way, it won’t show too much wear and tear after only some use and you can continue to use it for future trips as well. Plus, you want your bag to withstand its use while on your travels and not have to deal with a broken bag.

As long as you choose something you like and that will withstand your travels, a travel bag will be worth the investment as it will last years and many trips to come.

Interviews Mental Health

Interview with Dame Traveler Desiree Thomas on Mental Health and Travel

Thank you so much for chatting with us today! Could you tell us a little about your story and what you do, for anyone who doesn’t know you yet?

My name is Desiree Thomas. I was born and raised in Canada but my background is Jamaican/Chinese. I am an internationally published photographer, marketer, and brand strategist. Some of my work has been seen on Vogue Italia, Schon Magazine, Chloe Magazine, and more. I am also the founder of “A Desired Journey”, an inspirational designation for millennial female entrepreneurs with a bout of wanderlust.

 

We know you’re here to talk about mental health but we want to ask you, how are you right now, really?

Right now I’m in an interesting place. The last couple of months have been the most transformational, both physically and mentally. With most of Canada still closed, most time is spent with my family and most importantly myself. I think the biggest thing our generation fears is being left alone with our thoughts because we are then forced to face the reality of our lives, but the best thing about the pandemic is a lot of us had to do just that because we were left with no other choice.
 
Through my thought process I found my strengths and weaknesses, I challenged myself in ways I never thought was possible and I also broke in ways I’ve never seen myself break before. Through this process, I also sought a therapist, went back to school learned who my true circle was, learned to never take things like travelling for granted and started falling in love with me.  So that’s where I am right now.
 

What are some things that have impacted your mental health both good and bad?

I think just navigating life and wanting to be successful while meeting certain societal standards has impacted my mental health both good and bad without even really realizing. As I get older I find myself pressing the reset button on a lot of things I once thought was the “right” way, and now relearning it my way.
 

What piece of advice would you give for those who are seeking to heal themselves? And any resources you recommend?

Do not be afraid to be transparent and to admit you are not okay. Seeking help and guidance does not make you weak, it actually makes you stronger. The most powerful thing any individual can do is acknowledge their emotions, acknowledge something is wrong and address it head-on.
 
I read a lot of self-help/personal growth books. My all-time favourite is The Alchemist by Paulo Coelo, followed by, Think & Grow Rich, The Secret and As A Man Thinketh. These four books have helped me tremendously, each in their own way. I also listen to a lot of positive/valuable podcasts and use an online platform called Talkspace for therapy.
 

Piece of advice to give to travelers who experience a lot of anxiety when traveling?

One of the best ways to find yourself is through travel. Figure out what is making you anxious about travelling, seek support from your friends and don’t be afraid of what’s on the other side. Travelling is a beautiful thing. It allows you to experience worlds outside your postal code, meet new people, try new things and just see how much the world truly has to offer. Being anxious is okay, especially when entering the unknown and taking new risks. Just don’t let it stop you from going because that may be the journey you need to take.
 

What are some states or countries that have been kind to you?

Barcelona, Thailand and Atlanta were very kind to me and made me feel at home. In each of these places, I found a part of me. It was as though I had been there before and I was returning. There was no fear, or anxiousness, just peace, excitement and a feeling you’d have to experience to understand.

What are some states or countries that haven’t been so kind?

Some countries that have not been so kind, unintentionally, would have to be Morocco and China. When I travelled to Morocco, the community thought I was Moroccan and yelled at me for most of the time I spent outside because they thought I was trying to disrespect the culture by not covering my face. In China, walking on the streets was like being in a zoo. I had never had my photo taken by so many strangers; and not because I was famous but because I was black. Though both experiences were unpleasant, the unknown, the cultural differences and being seen in such a different light from what you are used to when you are home is what makes travelling so interesting.

Tell us what you’re up to next and where we can find you

I’m currently working on the relaunch of my blog A Desired Journey. I took a bit of a break in order to reset and realign my goals to ensure my journey and experience were being translated with meaning and not just seen as another form of noise. I am also working on a few new projects and creating often so follow the journey at @adesiredjourney on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook and come say hello at www.desireethomas.ca

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