this is how the dive briefing began for my second day of diving in little corn island.
"...jake is a friendly nurse shark."
a friendly shark? friendly and shark are two words not usually used in the same sentence, at least outside of the diving community.
this dive was actually my second time seeing sharks underwater, so i had a small idea of what to expect since we had seen a few nurse sharks on our dives the day before.
the first time i saw a shark while diving, it was sitting still under a coral shelf. lying on the ocean floor, it looked calm, resting and waiting for night to come.
i expected to see jake in the same way.
as i handed my fins and weights onto the boat, i casually asked my dive master how big jake was.
"about 7 feet."
when our boat arrived out in the middle of the choppy waters, i wondered if jake would be resting under his chosen coral shelf. securing my mask and air, i rolled back off the boat and into jake's place.
as soon as we got down to the coral, our dive master turned to us and gave the shark signal (a hand gesturing a shark fin on your forehead). within moments, just feet below my fins, jake swam through.
we stayed still to watch him, and he had no interest in our group. he swam out of sight and we kept going along the coral. after a few minutes, other divers signaled the shark hand gesture. jake swam by again in the other direction, close to the coral. he kept on appearing and disappearing throughout our dive.
i was not scared, but more amazed to see this creature moving peacefully through the water below us. the shark appeared perfectly in balance with all of the other fish and life we were seeing under the sea, and accordingly didn't feel threatening. there were even two foot-length blue fish following the shark around, as little ones might follow around their older siblings.
the underwater social hierarchy in balance, right before our eyes.
upon surfacing, everyone commented how good the dive was. how lucky we were to see a shark.
and i feel lucky too.
how special to witness a moment of life for a creature so misunderstood, to the tune of my own breath. i felt no fear, but rather peacefulness and a longing for the underwater dream never to end.
but like sleeping dreams, all dives have to come to an end.
i believe any man could be the right man for me, at any given moment in my life. i also believe that people come into our lives for a reason, be it to teach us something, to help us through something, or to just enjoy the great times together.
in all of my past relationships, something hasn't quite been in line to keep us in love for the long run. accordingly, i have spent a lot of time looking back on what i consider my most successful relationships. i examine which parts of the relationship were fully satisfying for me, and which parts could have been improved.
now at 27, i think i've finally got a theory that seems to hold water for me, as well my friends who i've explained it to.
love has three elements: mind love, heart love, and sex love: for lasting love, all three of these elements must be in line.
first, mind love. mind love is having stimulating conversations, and being able to make each other laugh. it also means being able to understand each other, and be patient when things aren't alright. mind love is the insatiable adoration that you have for your partner's brain. you want to hear that person's thoughts, and you enjoy the way the express themself. of course, your partner should also be as interested and crazy about the way you think, which gives you the energy for those amazing into the night conversations that just make life feel so worth it. think before sunrise.
next comes heart love. heart love is missing your partner, and the happiness and enjoyment that comes simply from being near that person. wanting to spend more time with them, having a hard time saying goodbye, and staring at your partner's photos are all signs of heart love. it's also that feeling inside you when you hear those three magic words. heart love can lead us to do silly things, like midnight drives in the rain, and it's probably what romeo and juliet were feeling when they snuck away together.
now we come to sex love. sex love shows itself after a long day out in the world, coming home and embracing as soon as the door is closed. sex love is the throw down, the i-need-you-now, the groceries-in-hand kisses. the passion, when you stare at your partner and just admire the little idiosyncrasies that make them yours. when the hedonists in you both find paradise in one another's arms, and never feel it is enough. sex love is exclusive, primal, and absolutely worth losing sleep over.
so what happens when one of these loves is out of line? the relationship is so close to perfect, but part of you is left a little unsatisfied.
if mind love is out of line, you might end up fighting where understanding is needed, or resenting the logic of your partner's decisions.
if heart love is out of line, someone might be too busy to make the "goodnight" call, or you might start wondering if your partner still has feelings for a former fling.
if sex love is out of line, your once passionate kisses could turn into pecks.
i realize this is a grand simplification of relationships, and that there will be many people who could disagree with my three concepts. However, when I look back on my own life, I see relationships which start out with two loves strong enough to overpower the missing link. As time goes on, though, the third missing love starts to show itself, and by the end of the relationship, it comes to overshadow the other two loves.
i like to think of them as the chakras of love, three glowing hot spots that everyone has in them.
it just takes the right person to light them all up.
Just two days into Granada, Nicaragua with my beautiful travel partner Brenna, I can't help but feel we're at the beginning of something amazing, something life altering, something unforgettable, something big.
This morning over breakfast, we discussed an idea I've wondered about before. Whether you travel for a week or a month or a year, after the travels are over you feel a specific range of feelings when reviewing your photos.
It's easy to think of the pictures from early on in the trip as being less informed and lacking the worldly wisdom of later pictures - your clothes tidy and clean, your skin unworn and not yet blazed by the sun.
Around the middle of the trip, the photos are happy and care-free: the mark of a traveler truly amid the journey, thinking neither of the beginning or the end of the travels. For me, this is where I usually find my favourite travel photos.
When it comes to the final pictures of the trip, they seem to hold the knowledge, sadness, and already nostalgic feeling of a trip coming to an end. Sometimes you even stop taking pictures for days at a time.
Every trip has a beginning, a middle, and an end. And though this trip through central and south America together begins now for us, it's hardly the beginning of our journey as travelers together: we've traveled Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Japan, Thailand, Burma, and South Korea together.
My first extended backpacking trip was around Europe back in 2006, where I managed to see 22 countries in 4 months. I began the trip hopeful and naive with a bag weighing 12kgs (not including my carry-on), and I came home with a full heart and a dirty bag weighing in at a hefty 17kgs. It was getting hard to lift near the end of the trip, with gifts and ticket stubs and moments of life all fighting for space in my bag.
Here in 2012, I begin my second extensive backpacking trip, as I head off to Nicaragua to meet up with my friend to navigate our way through central and south America until we get to Rio de Janeiro. We're planning to be on the road for a few months (but it could end up being longer if we love a certain somewhere). I vowed to myself not to bring too much stuff, and in particular not too many clothes.
Having recently moved out of my apartment in Jinju, Korea - where I had lived comfortably for 2 years - I parted with a lot of clothes. Some were old vintage items I just wasn't wearing, some were new items that I hadn't quite worked into my wardrobe, and there were lots of colourful scarves and pretty skirts that just fell somewhere in between. With the simplicity of fewer things in my apartment in Korea, I also seem to have adopted a bit more of a simpler wardrobe in the past month. Fewer costume changes, and more well-liked clothes on repeat. It is with this principle that I packed my backpack for my upcoming travels.
What clothes did I pack? A pair of jean shorts, a black skirt, a white skirt, a blue button up collared shirt, 3 pretty tops, a longsleeved shirt, a cardigan, a short dress and a pair of leggings. Just one dress, and this is odd for me, since my four-season wardrobe consists of at least 50% dresses. The reason is that I know I will find dresses I love down south.
Yes, there are other items in my bag, and that's what makes up the other 6kgs. I have a netbook and terabyte of storage for videos, a 1068 page guidebook, a GoPro camera plus the user guide (since I have yet to memorize it), a silk bed liner, a pair of blunnies and a bunch of other little things which I want to have with me. Of course I want to have dresses with me too...
But, when I'm traveling in a new city, and I find a dress that I love, I buy it. These clothing items are my souvenirs, and when I wear them I'm filled with the memories of the music, food, and the city where I bought it. Going to the land of floral dresses and handstitched patterns only makes my heart pine for beautiful dresses, and I know I'll find ones that suit me perfectly. This way, the dresses I wear on my trip will be of that area, and I can create memories and take photos wearing items from that region.
At the airport en route to Managua, Nicaragua, my backpack weighed 8.8kgs (with a carry-on at 4kgs). Here I have a much more organized and well-prepared backpack than the one I carried in Europe, and as a bonus I'm starting at a lighter weight. Remember, my first backpacking trip was 6 years ago, and I was pretty much as novice as a backpacker can get (I'd been to Paris and London for 2 weeks each on a high school exchange, but high school exchanges are far different from solo traveling, oh and that one trip to Barbados when I was 16 with my family...). I've picked up a lot of tips and tricks throughout my other travels to places including Turkey, China, Burma, Vietnam, and Thailand.
My very first time leaving Korea in 2007, I rode by boat past this bridge while it was under construction. The bridge stuck its half-contructed spine out into the sea then, weak and unready. Leaving Korea most recently in 2012, we rode along the very same bridge, now confidently providing commuters a more convenient road to reach the airport.
No umbrella, wearing my heaviest shoes instead of keeping them in the bag, using air compressing plastic bags to organize clothes, and carrying fewer liquids are some of my current strategies keeping my bag lighter. But another strategy is just simply having fewer clothes. When traveling Europe in 2006, some clothes in my bag would go a month or more without being worn, which is too long to simply be carrying clothing on the road. This time, I plan to wear everything in my bag in the span of a week, and just wash what I wear every other day in the sinks (with my handy traveler's laundry soap sheets).
It's a new strategy in practise for me, but an old concept. I remember reading of the legend of the traveling woman in the black dress who carried no backpack. They say she washed her dress and underwear every night to have it ready and clean for a new day. Sounds pretty amazing to me, and I'd love to try that on my next adventure - after I stock up on Peruvian alpaca sweaters.
Now, to you dear reader, what's your strategy when packing your travel bag? Are you a notorious overpacker, prepared for every rift of inclement weather? Or do you bring less and adopt a more frequent washing cycle, as I'm going to try? Please share your tips and ideas as a comment here on the blog, or tweet your tips and ideas to me on twitter @expatkerri.
I'm already imagining all the beautiful things I will find in Granada and beyond. I guess I'm not ready to be a legend in a black dress just yet.
So I consider myself a kind of cheap flight finding guru, and I'm often asked by my friends how much a certain flight should cost, or how to know when you're getting a good deal. They ask what sites I use, and how far in advance to book flights. Here I'll share some of my flight booking philosophies, as well as some of my favourite websites for booking flights.
First, I remember reading something a while ago that said when you get on a flight, it's unlikely that anyone else paid the exact same price for their ticket as you did. That being said, there is always flexibility when it comes to buying plane tickets. It's important to browse early for flights you want to take. I also advise you to click the "my dates are flexible" button when checking flights, because sometimes there can be a large change in price just a day or two around your chosen date. Also remember that flights on weekends are usually much more expensive than weekday flights.
If you can handle the geeky details - which I love - check out this interesting article by Fare Compare which thoroughly explains why Wendesday is the cheapest day to fly for domestic flights in Canada and the USA.
Before you book your ticket, it's important to check more than one site. It's easy to just type your desired destination into Google and hope for the best, but you'll probably have more luck looking for flights directly on a few good sites. Browsing a few sites can show you a great variety in price and help you find a better flight.
Here are my personal choices:
1. Hipmunk - I haven't been using this site for long, but I fell in love at my first search. This site easily calculates all of the flights for your destination in seconds, without opening annoying new tabs or windows. You can easily browse through the flights to find the cheapest and most comfortable flight for you. I am currently booking a flight to Nicaragua to meet my dear friend Brenna, and I'm not looking to arrive too late in the evening, so I've organized the flights according to arrival time. The best part of this site is that all of your browsing and comparing and clicking happens in one page which helps keep your flight options organized and easy to compare.
Organizing flights by "agony" is one of the best features of Hipmunk: price, flight time, and stopovers are all calculated together into overall convenience.
2. Skyscanner - I like using this site more for browsing than for booking, because of one special feature. This site, unlike others, allows you to search for flights going "everywhere", which really opens up travel possibilities for someone like me. I have vacation time here in Korea, and many cities and countries appeal to me, so sometimes the best way to choose where to go is to see where the cheap flights are.
It seems right now, the cheapest place I'd be interested in visiting
from Seoul would be Philippines. Not bad at under $300 round trip...
3. FlightAware - Here is another site that I like to use to get ideas for where to fly. It's also a good site for learning all the destinations your favourite airlines fly to. My personal favourite airline is Korean Air (though I have an Asiana flight coming up on Tuesday about which I've heard only wonderful things). I've clicked "Live Flight Tracking" for all current Korean Air flights, and right now there are 55 flights operating.
I didn't realize Korean Air flew to Auckland. Good to know for the next winter break!
4. Expedia - I've been using this site since I started flying regularly, way back in 2002 when I went away for university. It was one of the most useful sites for me back then, as I could compare flights and book all within the same site. Upon logging in, all of your details and cards are automatically filled in, which helps when you fly frequently. I've now used this site for domestic flights in Canada, overseas flights to Europe, as well as for booking flights in Asia.
The option to search for flights in "nearby cities" can be helpful when your travels are open, as mine usually are.
5. Air Asia - This site and I have a good relationship, most of the time. I can usually book flights easily, but sometimes the site has internal errors which cause the page to close while waiting for a purchased flight to be confirmed, which is suuuper frustrating. This happened once when I was booking a ticket from Bangkok to Yangon, and after an hour of sweating and screaming I was able to book my desired flight. For booking flights in Asia, this site does offer some of the best deals I've seen, so I'm willing to put up with the occasional site errors to get a better deal.
One good point about Air Asia's site is that it shows you the flight differences for the dates surrounding your chosen date automatically, to help you tailor your dates to the best rates.
There you have it kids! My favourite sites and favourite ways to search for good flight deals. I hope I've given you some good ideas for sites to browse.
Now I want to hear from you. What site do you visit first when you need to book a flight? Post your answers as a comment here, or directly tweet them to me on Twitter!
Now that I've started to pack up my apartment here in Jinju, trying to minimize items for storage and sort through books and shoes, I am finding a lot of hidden treasures. Today I found an old copy of Gwangju News from this time last year. I wrote an article about packing light with appeared in that issue, and I have posted my article here for your perusal. Light packers unite!
Why Lighten up?
Packing light is the best gift you can give
yourself when you travel. A light
backpack or suitcase is easy to walk with and easy to lift. It also makes your
journey more relaxing and less stressful.
souvenirs carefully – Instead of buying a fridge
magnet – which was probably not made in the country you’re visiting anyway –
opt instead for a handmade piece of clothing or something else that you can use
while you travel.
bring an umbrella – Though planning for inclement
weather may make you feel well prepared, it’s not necessary. In most places
you’ll visit, it’s easy to find a shop where you can pick up a cheap umbrella
if the need arises. Don’t even bother with those little plastic excuses for
raincoats, cause you can always use a garbage bag instead. And plus – you’re
pieces carefully – You really only need a few key
items: a few shirts, a pair of trousers, two pairs of socks, and maybe a hat.
As a woman, bring a long skirt. It can be worn with a t-shirt for attending
temples during the day, but then can also be hiked up to become a strapless
dress for nights out. And remember that bikinis or swimming trunks also double
laptop – Use internet cafes and internet at hostels
instead of lugging your laptop. You won’t have to worry about it being stolen,
and laptops add a lot of weight to your bag. Enjoy being
disconnected from your internet life on days when you can’t get to a computer.
your guidebook – If you have the guidebook to
India, but only plan on visiting the north, cut out the information about the
south, and places you definitely aren’t going to visit. Otherwise, you could
easily carry around a lot of dead weight that ends up dragging you down –which
is just as useful as carrying a jar of pennies in your pack.
Bibliophiles fear not – a cut-up guidebook
is the best kind.
toiletries – Take the opportunity to be a bit lazy
with your grooming. You’re not going to a job interview, so let yourself go,
and enjoy the frizzy hair and overall unkempt style. You’ll probably fit in
better with other travelers if you look disheveled anyway. Things like bug
spray and sunscreen are necessary in certain places, but just buy these items
clothes – You meet new people everyday, and new
friends move on, so no one will notice if you wear the same clothes for a whole
honest - If you’re not a hiker in your regular life,
leave your hiking boots at home and admit that you’re probably not going to be
hiking on your trip. If you do want to bring hiking boots, wear them on the
plane, rather than packing them in your bag. Boots can weigh a lot, and take up
a lot of space in your bag. The only shoes you really need are a good pair of
walking shoes, and maybe a pair of sandals if you’re hitting up the beach.
*This article was originally published on 29 May 2011 in Gwangju News