Flashpacker Collette Simmons travels to Chiang Mai, Thailand to visit the Maesa Elephant Camp, a refuge for the dwindling population of Asian elephants in the world. Check out how wonderfully talented these beautiful and enormous animals are! Also learn about the Maesa Elephant Camp and how they use their resources for sustainable tourism.
It seems like I have been doing more FlashUNpacking than flashpacking lately. I have recently moved to San Antonio, Texas to start a new more-settled lifestyle for the time being in a very new city. I have been extremely preoccupied with UNpacking my entire life and ruthlessly ridding myself of the things that aren’t important to me anymore. Old photos, old love letters, old decorative pieces that now cramp my style, old papers with old information, etc. It’s out with the old and in with the new these days.
Although I like this part of moving and being a tourist in a new city very much, I don’t particularly like the settling down or looking for employment. So far, I have been here two weeks and I am already itching to make my next travel plans. I suppose the sooner I can accept that my flashpacking travels for the next chunk of time will have to be tailored to the sprawling state of Texas, the better off I will be. So, with all of this news and some dusty cowboy boots on, get ready for some Texan adventures and blog posts. They’ll be coming soon…beginning with my new downtown San Antonio.
My goodness! I just bought a flight to Paris for the end of the month. I can’t wait to visit this magnificent city for a second time. I don’t always enjoy vacationing in the same place year after year like some people do, but I am certain that I will enjoy visiting this city for a second time…and possibly hope for a third visit too. Anyway, the wonderful high I’m feeling comes from simply clicking the “confirm” button on my flight. For me, there’s nothing more satisfying than having travel plans to day dream about. Travel plans are nearly a requirement for my sense of happiness and well-being as having something to look forward to in the future makes the harder day-to-day stuff go by much easier. Even though my trip takes place in a couple weeks, I’m already considering where I’ll go next…you know…for my happiness factor.
There is rarely a bad time to bust a move whenever and wherever you want. I was feeling my groove in Tokyo and made the famous entrance of Yoyogi Park my stage. Any flashpacker knows that traveling is about having fun, being spontaneous, acting bold and living life full of zest and vigor. Remember to take this flashpacker mentality with you everywhere you go. It’s the lightest thing you’ll pack.
As one of my favorite quotes from Harold and Maude reminds me: “Everyone has the right to make an ass out of themselves. You just can’t let the world judge you too much.”
Go enjoy your day wherever you are – and bust a move with me!
I’m having to get a haircut tomorrow because I thought it was a good idea to trim my own bangs. Boy, was I wrong! Anyway, I’ve been living freely for over eight months and have circled the globe. Now, I sit here for one more week in the lovely Hillsborough, North Carolina surviving natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes; dodging copperhead snakes and sly foxes; burying dead possums and toads; and doing things like cutting my own hair, filing my nails into daggers, talking to cats and dogs, meditating, cooking, dancing around the house and wearing the most outrageous outfits that I can put together.
Through doing these things, I am reminded of how important it is to have quality down time to help get the creative juices flowing and re-energize your purpose in life. As a traveler, a lot of what we do is absorb and learn. I have found that it is in the longer stretches of silence after moving that the real growth occurs.
I think this sums up the way I prefer to travel. Everyone has to find their own kind of travel groove. Mine is something closer to three weeks of continuous stimulation, absorption, and steady travel; then three weeks of rest, relaxation, contemplation and personal growth. It is different for everyone, but this is what I have found works well for me. Fortunately or unfortunately, anything else while on the road kind of gets me into trouble…like thinking it’s a good idea to cut my own hair, engaging in arguments with intolerant bible thumpers, nearly buying an old MG and putting a new engine in it… Oh well, I suppose the traveler in me is just acting out! It’s time to keep moving.
If you are heading to Asia for any substantial amount of time and you LOVE good coffee, be sure to pack your own beans and some sort of coffee maker or portable espresso device. I can honestly say that Asia does not do coffee well.
After four months on the road traveling from Southeast Asia to northern China, I tasted enough bad cups of coffee to keep me from ever going back without my own personal coffee supply. I’m not a huge coffee snob (just a little one), but I do like to have a small cup of joe in the morning to get my day going. Unfortunately, “joe” all over Asia was either “cowboy coffee” with hot water poured over coarse coffee grounds or instant Nescaf. Unacceptable!
Anyway, another reason for preparing your own coffee is knowing where your water comes from…or at least how properly clean/boiled it is. I am certain a few tummy aches could have been diverted if I had made my own cup. Even though I don’t plan on learning this lesson again, I have not purchased a portable espresso machine just yet. I have my eye on two: the mypressiand handpresso. I’m still open for suggestions though…
Packing the extra weight will be a pain, but this one topic is fairly important to my daily happiness wherever I am. Asia might not get our fascination with caffeine, but the thing that got me through it all is something Asia does do extremely well…tea!
Note: This picture on the is a teapucchino found in Chiang Mai, Thailand! Delish!
As a flashpacker, I’ve been traveling for months carrying only what is in my backpack. People are asking me what backpack do I use? The deal is: I’m totally in LOVE with Osprey! The Talon 33 has been light, easy and super durable. This multi-use backpack is the most comfortable I’ve ever carried. I can’t imagine any other backpack as wonderful as this one. It’s been time tested for several months on the road and has won 1st place in my book.
Why do I like it so much? Because it fits! I’m a petite, barely five foot tall woman with an hour-glass figure. I’ve got hips, teeny waist and narrow shoulders. My torso is compact just like the rest of me too. I’m just little – so I need a pack that’s also little without resorting to the children section.
The Tallon 33 is completely adjustable in all the right places. It has a little room for air on the back without the bag pushing too far away from the body and therefore becoming unsteady. It hugs you tight, but not in an uncomfortable way. The arm and belt straps are thin without cumbersome bulky cushioning. They aren’t too flimsy either and don’t dig into your skin. I could sport a racerback tank top with my backpack on for hours without any shoulder rubbing. The top opening is great if you’re accustomed to using stuff sacks. In my opinion, letting your things flop around loose in any backpack is a terrible idea. The 33 liter is perfect for either a weekend trip or six months of non-stop traveling. Packing this thing has become so routine for me that I can be packed and ready to roll within five minutes tops. Everything I pack has its place. Also, I like that I can pack it a couple different ways if I want to…fat & compact or long & lean, but packing a backpack is always personal preference.
When on the road, I see countless backpackers with oversized packs on their backs and carrying way too much stuff. A few don’t even carry as much stuff as the backpack holds, but they still have to lug around the extra weight. A good rule of thumb is that if you buy a smaller bag, you’ll carry less stuff… or at least smaller stuff. I found that picking a bag that fits your body well is the most important thing. The size of the main compartment doesn’t really matter as much as how much weight you carry. Anyway, personally, I don’t haul more than 25 lbs. It hurts me. The size of the Tallon 33 keeps me under that amount while allowing enough room for the things I really need. Even my Mom picked up an Opsrey Sirrus 36 pack for a trip through Italy. She didn’t complain once about her bag being uncomfortable, difficult or heavy. In fact, her backpacker enthusiasm just sealed the deal for my love of Osprey and I was so pleased my Mom could keep up with ease.
Recently, I had to send my backpack to Osprey for repair. Their All Mighty Guarantee is one of the many reasons that make the Osprey company so dang special. They keep their customers happy and returning for more products. Hands down, their warranty is the best out there! I packed something sharp in my bag that punctured through the top all the way through the top flap pouch. Also, from much wear shoving things in and out of the bag, the weatherproof lining started to peel off. I knew I’d be going through a rainy season soon, so I wanted to make sure my bag was in tip-top shape for another several month adventure. Contacting Osprey’s customer service was easy. I was given a reference number to mark on the box that I shipped my bag to them in. And, few days later, I got an email with the option to have them put a new kind of weatherproof waxing on my bag or pick a brand new Talon 33 in the color of my choice since my orange color was discontinued. I chose a color I liked even better…purple (or what they call Iris). They shipped a new bag out to me that day. I’m such a happy customer that I had to blog about my experience with the company and their products. I highly recommend anyone shopping for gear to check out their stuff. I don’t think you’d be disappointed.
Early one morning in March, a small group of hikers from all around the globe and I crammed ourselves in the back of this specially designed truck (donning antlers on the hood and animal fur lining the dash of the front window) to begin our adventurous day in Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands and a chance to get a glimpse of the world’s largest flower. We were not guaranteed to see this very rare and endangered flower, but we all traveled to the hills of Malaysia for a chance to view this unique flower. The name of the flower is Rafflesia and it is commonly refereed to as the “corpse flower” for its awful odor. It was first discovered on an expedition by Sir Thomas Raffles. Hence the name Rafflesia. He was also the same man who founded the country of Singapore! Boy, was he awesome or what!!!
Anyway, if our bumpy and muddy ride wasn’t adventurous enough, we quickly realized our day was only going to get a lot more interesting after our driver attempted to drive up a very muddy hill and got the truck stuck in the mud. We were left with the only thing we could do…get out and walk the rest of the way. The mud must have been three feet deep or more in places, so we made our way up the hill by hopping from one dryish looking patch to another in hopes that we wouldn’t slip or make a bad step. One girl in front of me wasn’t so lucky and bit it halfway up the hill. I’m certain she ruined her shoes, but at least her camera was safe! Still to this day though, I don’t know how our guides hiked wearing only flip flops on their feet. Unbelievable!
About 30 to 40 minutes later we arrived at the starting point for our hike. Believe me, the look on our faces when we were told we were at the entrance to the jungle was priceless. I thought we were already there! The entire group was already sweating, panting and in need of a long water break. Our guide, taking our exhaustion cue, gave us a nice introduction to the Cameron Highland’s jungle by briefly warning us to be careful on the trail (as no accident or responsibility wavers were ever signed beforehand) and to not touch the wild life. Once refreshed, we began our way towards what we hoped would be the coolest flower on earth with the help of knowledgeable guides familiar with the trails. We could not have managed this hike on our own. The trail wasn’t marked anywhere and we crossed streams, waterfalls, over and under trees trunks, rocks and more. The forks in the path alone would have maddened any person attempting to go it alone. Plus, we were told to be careful of natives who lurk about the woods with blow pipes killing anything that moves to eat for dinner. No one wanted to hang far from the pack.
Our first spotting of the Rafflesia was a young bulb that had not yet bloomed. The guides were very excited by this discovery and looked forward to watching it open up over the coming weeks. They seemed to be greatly relieved that they would be able to lead tours to this flower soon. Like I mentioned before, the flower is at risk of becoming endangered. Any spotting is great!
The next sighting was of a decomposing and very rotten Rafflesia. I don’t need to say much about this one except, plug your nose! It was not exactly a pleasant smell. Nor did you want to step in it either. At this point, it was hard to believe that the blooming version of the Rafflesia, if ever found, was anything worth viewing at all. But, we continued on with a sense of nervous anticipation.
After about three hours of hiking, we took a break at a nearby waterfall to cool off a bit. We were supposedly close to the last rumored flower in bloom, but with so much climbing, trekking, slipping and getting filthy behind us, we were completely stinky, sweaty and worn out. The stop at the waterfall offered us a reward that’s hard to find anywhere else. The icy water cleaned us off, eased our feet and inflamed muscles and lifted our morale so we could continue on towards the largest flower on earth. The moments shared stripping down to our skivvies and splish-slashing about renewed our sense of freedom and love of nature too.
Once revived, the flower was all that was left to behold. Luckily, we had the opportunity to see one in full bloom. It wasn’t the size of the largest one recorded in history, but it was one worth admiring and contemplating its magnificence. In other words, it was big enough to impress all of us and worth the vigorous hike to glimpse it.
The discovery, history and specifics of the Rafflesia flower is incredibly interesting. People travel from all over the world just to see this flower first hand. The Rafflesia is not something you can just pick up and transport to anywhere on earth. It only grows in a couple places. You have to actually GO there (and maybe even hike a while) to see the thing. Once you do though, you will never forget your time in the presence of the largest flower on earth!
If you rent a car abroad, get a GPS!
Seriously, we printed out Google Maps and had fairly new road maps, but we still got lost in the Reggio-Emilio area of Italy. All turned out fine, but if we had paid a few extra bucks for a GPS in our rental car, getting to our destination would have been much much easier. The biggest problem with facing the road without being GPS equipped is that the others sources we used were out-of-date nearly the day after they were created. We discovered so many extra roundabouts, street direction changes and tiny unreadable signage that getting from point A to B was nearly impossible. Plus, in Italy, you have to know the name of all the towns in-between two points to know which direction to go. Rarely would there be a general sign indicating you are going in the direction of one large city or another.
Upon arriving to our destination, we were told by a native to the area that he never drives without one…AND HE LIVES THERE! He mentioned that roundabouts seemed to pop up overnight and even confessed he got lost driving to Parma the week before because he followed signs to a highway that eventually led him back home to the nearest highway entrance. He went 20 minutes out of the way only to be led back to Reggio-Emilio to get on the highway from there. Very funny. The point of this story is this travel tip: be sure to ask for a GPS!