6 Things No One Tells You About Caye Caulker, Belize

Caye Caulker is becoming one of the most popular destinations in Belize for people heading down the  Central American “gringo trail.” Its location on the coral reef make it an amazing destination for diving, snorkeling, and sailing.

IMG_20160330_165213582

I came there on a sailboat and we anchored in the harbor for almost a week, taking in the scene, amazed by the friendliness of the people and the laid-back island vibes along the main drag, enjoying rum punches from Margarita Mike’s, jerk chicken from Belizean Flava and deep-fried Snickers bars from Best of the Fair.

IMG_20160330_135657200_HDR

But a couple of things surprised me, too. Here’s what you must know before visiting Caye Caulker:

  1. It’s only 10 minutes away by boat from the larger city of San Pedro. I met locals who said they had been able to jetski or windsurf there.
  2. It’s surprisingly easy to get to Yucatan, Mexico. You can catch the once-a-day Water Jets Ferry to Chetumal, Mexico, and from there get an ADO bus to Cancun.IMG_20160331_115223651
  3. Like a lot of the Caribbean resort towns (Utila specifically) there isn’t enough nightlife to pack every club every night, so the bars in town have an an unspoken agreement that they each get a specific night of the week to be the “place to go.” The first night we were there, it was Barrier Reef Sports Bar, the next night, I&I Reggae Bar. All you have to do is ask around to find “the scene”–or it may just find you.
  4. Although there’s no real “beach” to speak of, it’s a popular destination for kiteboarders, who launch off the split on the north end of the main drag. We went to a BBQ and met people from all over the world to come to Belize to try this thrilling extreme sport. The flat conditions make it an excellent place to learn I’m told. There are at least two companies who offer lessons, but be sure to get up early for the best wind!
  5. That “street food” you see may not actually be street food. On the main drag, a couple of guys stood outside near two huge grills, calling to passersby, saying “follow your nose!” We did, and ended up a short flight of stairs at Belizean Flava (right next to the Sports Bar) enjoying the best BBQ and jerk chicken in town for $15 Belize ($7.50 US) complete with two sides (I chose coconut rice and salad; my friends had garlic mashed potatoes) and two rum punches. It’s a family affair–the cook was the waiter’s mother, who’s lent her secret spices in top restaurants all over Belize, and she was back in the kitchen. (The guys outside were just grilling and yelling!)
  6. IMG_20160330_214434743
  7. It’s dusty! The roads aren’t paved, and the sand and dust from the beach gets everywhere, including on every product in the supermarket, making everything seem much older than it is. After walking around all day, my feet and flip-flops were practically white with dust. You’ll want to rinse off every time you get back to your hotel (or in my case, boat).IMG_20160329_161539208_HDR

La Villa de Soledad: A Peaceful Oasis in the Cangrejal River Valley in Honduras

IMG_20160222_145746485 The epic mountains of Pico Bonito National Park rising out of the mist like prehistoric beasts are the first things you see as you touch down in the city of La Ceiba. When you hop in a car and follow the source of the Rio Cangrejal (River of Crabs) up into the hills, you’ll be further transported back in time, invigorated by the sound of the thunderous river, with rocks the size of houses looking like marbles dropped from a beanstalk by a giant.

For my stay in the Cangrejal River Valley, I was invited to experience La Villa de Soledad B&B, where everything seems engineered for maximum relaxation. Situated on the hillside above the river, you’ll be lulled into peace by the sound of the rushing river, even at night, when it’s joined by the chorus of clucking birds, frogs, and insects from the canopy. There are few spots I’ve traveled to that have that effect of instant peace, and Villa de Soledad is one of them.

IMG_20160222_151055586

Utter Relaxation

Everyone gets a personal hammock built into custom wood frames lining the lusciously-landscaped property. They seemed to speak to me: “You are here to relax, so relax already!”

Naturally, I jumped into one as soon as I could, and in a matter of seconds, I had a companion–wait, make that two! Two of the friendliest terriers I’ve ever met call La Villa de Soledad home, and when they arrive, they will instantly declare you their new favorite person.

Inside the rooms, you’ll feel like you’re living inside a particularly luxurious Spanish mission–appropriate, since not far away was the site of the first Catholic Mass said in mainland America. Decorated with colonial-style art, my room, complete with two double beds, was cavernous, with an exposed-beam roof made of local hardwood, tile flooring, and a private porch accessed through two pairs of French doors. Both singles and doubles are available. Potable water is delivered whenever you need it. The rooms are TV-free, but there’s no need to spend a lot of time holed up when the property has plenty of nooks and crannies waiting to be discovered, where you can read a book, surf the net, or just relax.

IMG_20160222_153443951IMG_20160222_164729486_HDR

The grounds are bursting with lush tropical flora. Within hours of my arrival, I’d saw dozens of different species of butterflies flitting through, in all different colors, and hummingbirds flitted around the overhanging vines.

The WiFi is fast and reliable, but you might be tempted to just tune out for an afternoon or a whole weekend. There’s no onsite restaurant, but the nearby lodge at Omega Tours is 5-10 minutes away on foot, serving up Flora de Cana rum, local Honduran brews, and specialties like pastelitos–small filled pies similar to samosas, stuffed with veggies and cheese. You can eat and drink well for around 120 to 150 LP.

The Pico Bonito area is famous for the fresh fruits they grow, particularly banana and pineapple, and the plate my hostess Soledad served me at breakfast had mango, melon, kiwi, and watermelon thrown in for good measure–all farm-fresh and bursting with flavor.

Who needs a pool? Villa de Soledad has private bathing area across the road at the river, complete with gazebo. Here, the pups were back in action, acting like little tour guides, bounding over the rocks like mountain goats, as if to say “Check this out! Here’s another cool place!” They’re protective critters, too–I bathed alone on the riverbank, but there was no need to feel nervous–every time someone came to say “Hola,” they’d bark to raise the alarm. One dip in the cool, rushing water left me feeling renewed and invigorated as I spread myself out on one of the warm rocks to air-dry. That said, though Honduras gets a bad rap, the area is unbelievably safe, even after dark. Walking short distances alone, I was stopped by friendly locals several times to ask if I was okay or needed directions.

IMG_20160222_165034155IMG_20160223_084227001

Gateway to Adventure

One of the biggest draws is the proximity to Pico Bonito National Park, a spot teeming with wildlife you’ve only seen in nature documentaries, including leaf-cutter ants trooping back and forth to their hills. I chose an excursion across a precarious (yet perfectly safe) rope bridge (think Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom!) to visit the waterfall. I was huffing and puffing at the peak of the 1 1/2 hour climb, led by my Spanish-speaking guide Christian ($25 USD) but my reward was the delicious, clean water spraying down on me from the towering, lush cascade, so refreshing I jumped in with all my clothes on and refilled my water bottle to boot. The area is packed with other possibilities for adventures, including ziplining over the river, horseback riding, kayak trips to a nature preserve at nearby Cacao Lagoon, and of course, whitewater rafting, all of which friendly host John Dupuis can easily arrange for you.

Most people quickly pass through La Ceiba on their way to dive or relax on the beach in Utila or Roatan (the Bay Islands). Just as the Bay Islands have their own appeal–white-sand beaches, packed bars, and scuba diving foremost–the Rio Cangrejal does, too. And it is real, authentic Honduras at its best.

With Villa de Soledad also offering airport pickup and dropoff, as well as transport to the La Ceiba ferry terminal if you’re continuing your journey to the Bay Islands, this place is an absolute must-stop.

IMG_20160223_104045097

If You Go

La Villa de Soledad is located at Km. 8 Carretera – Rio Cangrejal, La Ceiba. Call (504) 9967-4548 / 9967-4260 for reservations or email  info@lavilladesoledad.com. Peak season rates start at $100 for single occupancy or $110 for double.

Web

Facebook

Twitter

IMG_20160222_151448151
Thanks to Villa de Soledad for inviting me to experience the B&B. As always, my opinion is my own!

Ile a Vache, Haiti: The Caribbean Paradise Where Poverty and Luxury Collide

Île-à-Vache (literally “Cow Island”) is a roughly eight-mile island off the southwest coast of Haiti. Its pirate credentials are solid, having once been a hideout for Captain Morgan (yes, that Captain Morgan), and it’s difficult to get to. It’s home to at least two luxury hotels, plenty of shipwrecks, a few small lodgings, sailboat cruisers, charities and most importantly, lots of brave people with an enterprising spirit who are just looking for a chance after a ton of bad luck.

It was here where I joined the crew of the cruising yacht Tandemeer, who, in partnership with the International Rescue Group (IRG), had already spent a month in Haiti delivering goods and supplies to the people of Île-à-Vache and the surrounding regions in partnership with a number of aid organizations in the area. I’ll detail some of the trip in future posts and articles, but I wanted to get this post out here now and describe the nature of the work we were doing and what the organization has accomplished, as well as my impressions on my first trip to a Third World country.

The four-hour bus ride from Port-au-Prince to the port city of Les Cayes (the jumping off point to Île-à-Vache) takes you over some of the most stunning rolling landscapes in the interior of Haiti. Marinated goat, rice and peas, and pickled vegetables served at a pit stop was some of the best — and cheapest — food I ate in Haiti. Seemingly on every corner along the way were New York lottery ticket stands — evidence of the country’s big dreams, if few of them are ever likely to pan out.

I wasn’t alone for this journey, thankfully. My guide to Île-à-Vache, Fedrique Tarjette, is living proof of what these organizations can do. Now 33, he was burned in an accident as a child and transported for treatment to the United States, where he was raised in various foster homes throughout his teenage years before returning to his family in Haiti, whom he had to had to get to know all over again. He’s basically raised himself, and his competence shows. He now works as a guide on Île-à-Vache and knows every trail (and goat, and place to buy Prestige beer) on the island.

He also speaks flawless English and has the talent to draw out the truth from people (even if they don’t necessarily want to share it). Within an hour of meeting him, I was sharing my deepest hopes, dreams and desires, including my fears about what to expect on the upcoming trip, diving (as I always do) in the unknown headfirst. He asked me: “If you could have anything without worrying about money, what would you want?” Coming from a Haitian, this question seemed to take on a whole new meaning.

IMG_20160131_104343836

When the bus let us off at Les Cayes, Fedrique led me past the sea of enterprising cabbies and we hopped onto the back of a speeding moto-taxi — I’d never gripped harder onto the back of a guy who I’d only met mere moments before. But the primitive motorboats available to take you to the island are even more precarious. We got there late so we were afraid we were out of luck. Thanks to Fedrique, we were able to catch the last boat speeding across the channel. The captain passed out a tarp that we all joined together in holding up to shield ourselves from the spray, along with a handful of other hardy souls (including a new friend with Urkel glasses who passed out caramels to everybody in the boat to welcome us.)

“Is he an old friend of yours?” I asked Freddy after they’d been engaged in conversation in Creole for 15 minutes.

“Nope, we just met,” he said with a laugh.

IMG_20160130_173005066

We arrived in absolute darkness — the island has no electricity and is lit only with occasional solar lights. This is a resort island? I wondered as we groped our way up the hill to Port Morgan. I spent the night at the Port Morgan Hotel, which will also get a separate post. The hotel’s French-born proprietor, Didier Boulard, a spry and wiry man in his 70s, moved to Île-à-Vache decades ago after falling in love with the place. He and his black Lab warmly welcomed me into Room 1, then later to the elegant palapa-roofed patio to enjoy a meal of gigantic prawns by the swimming pool. He told me it was high season at the hotel, but there weren’t too many guests. Given the challenges of transportation, it’s not hard to see why.

 

IMG_20160131_081259316

 

Later that night, I met the crew of the boat I’d be sailing on for the next two weeks. Tandemeer is a 57-foot cruiser whose well-weathered captain, Sequoia Sun, has been coming to Haiti since 2010. He’s noticed a lot of changes on the island — from a completely rural backwater to the beginnings of a viable tourist industry, both of which seem to have made an uneasy peace. When he first came, the island had neither electricity nor any motorized transportation to speak of. In the rural areas, people still get around on donkey and horseback. I was later given an ATV tour of the interior of the island, but even these ATVs didn’t exist when he first came.

 

12654315_10205436396018322_7964608030465575119_n

Madame Bernard’s is the only market on the island, and was unfortunately closed when I was there, but the crew was able to buy products from local farmers, including coconut macaroons that I was lucky enough to sample — the local way, according to crew member Sanne, is to boil them with coffee grounds and lots and lots of sugar.  Tandemeer’s first mate Anne Ostlund encountered one of the most wizened old women I’ve ever seen, and gave her jellybeans when she asked for food. “What are these?” she asked in Creole. Apparently jellybeans don’t count as food in Haiti. Do they anywhere?

There is enterprise on the island, including a fish farm and a sailmaking business which was founded with the help of Sequoia Sun’s longtime colleague Bruce Leeming, another cruiser who’s a veteran of Île-à-Vache.

12650961_10205436392778241_6862273081718329328_n
The produce is abundant and rich, but the lack of a functioning economy makes the locals unable to really glean any income from it, unfortunately. During mango season, “everybody sells mangoes to everybody else,” said Sequoia.

 

IMG_20160131_084653479

Thanks to the Haitian tourist board, I was taken by ATV for a tour of Sister Flora’s orphanage on Île-à-Vache, where Tandemeer distributed medical supplies and sporting goods. There, I was greeted by Sister Flora and three dedicated nuns. The sister was a tiny little person with a big, big heart, who gave me a kiss on the cheek and, through a translator, explained how the corruption of the failed Haitian government has unfortunately screwed over their organization again and again.

Every year politicians arrive, take photo ops and make promises they don’t keep. Sister Flora has been here since the 1970s, dedicating her life to the least, the last and the lost. The Tandemeer was able to deliver badly needed medical supplies for the disabled children who call the orphanage home. The knowledge that there are people out there who eat, sleep and breathe charity was truly humbling, and I was wiping tears from my eyes as we sped away to the next portion of our journey.

The children were all fascinated by technology and eager to have their pictures taken, especially to turn the camera around and see how they turned out! One particularly friendly little girl named Beatrice was a real camera hog. Some of the shyer kids hung back, and having been a shy kid myself, I would have loved to get to know them better, but as it turned out, the orphanage had a “no pictures” policy so I had to shut it down.

IMG_20160131_112812708

Conditions here are stark for such a beautiful place, but the French-Canadian nuns never wavered from their work, especially with the constant attention demanded by the special-needs children. In the U.S. children with special needs are educated in public schools right alongside typical kids, but we forget that for kids in poorer countries, that option isn’t there — and most of the time, their parents can’t afford to care for them, either. So they end up in places like this. I couldn’t stay here long because of the bleakness, with children housed in a single room with two overworked caretakers. It did hearten me that most of the wheelchairs, changing tables and other equipment were in good condition, which means that donations were eventually getting there, no matter how sporadic their arrival.

During my whirlwind Polaris ATV journey, courtesy of the Haitian tourist board that is doing what it can to promote this lovely place, locals paused on the side of the road to watch us with interest. Many children waved eagerly; women stared suspiciously. I could tell they weren’t sure what to make me of me, frantically snapping pictures with my camera phone, but a smile and wave seemed to warm things up, as it does everywhere.

At last, it was time to meet the boat. The Tandemeer’s dinghy, operated by young crewman Cal Dodge, who’d been on the boat since it left New England months ago, picked me up on the beach in front of the hotel, and we sped over the shockingly clear water to the boat anchored in the harbor. There, I met Sanne van der Meusen, an adventurous, effusive and outgoing Dutch backpacker and ship’s cook who would be my cabin mate for the next few weeks. Has there ever been a Dutch seafarer I didn’t like? She’d already been in Haiti for weeks and had been awed by the connection she’d made with the locals, talking about the amazing moment she’d made with a little girl in the orphanage. She was moved and sad that she’d had to leave so soon, though she’d gotten to know the locals intimately. She’d love to come back to Haiti and engage in even more intense charity work.

 

IMG_20160131_110210735

It’s hard to imagine anyone who wouldn’t enjoy this island — whether for sailing, snorkeling, beaches or cultural tourism. But it’s going to be a challenge. The island is also building an airport to try to attract more tourists, an idea that Sequoia thinks is probably premature. “The locals don’t have clean drinking water,” he said. How does anyone expect to get water for airports, luxury hotels and golf courses?

A few years ago, the government drilled wells to help provide water to residents — which were soon made useless when another large hotel on the island (one I didn’t stay in) actually diverted the water for its own use, illustrating the precarious push-pull between survival and progress in this place.

When people donate money to charity organizations, the organizations can buy supplies they need, but the supplies still need to get there. Due to the limited infrastructure in Haiti (which was further damaged by the 2010 earthquake) that’s not always an easy proposition. We forget that not everywhere has a FedEx and USPS that can deliver anything, anywhere in a limited time. That’s where small cruisers like Tandemeer, working with IRG, can come in and help.

Sanne in particular, given that she was in the country longer than I was, told me she’d grown disillusioned with charity work after learning that funds don’t often go where they’re intended and charity doesn’t always benefit who it’s supposed to.

But this illustrates the importance of IRG’s work — when boats can deliver supplies to these organizations directly, they can bypass a lot of the red tape, corruption and monetary costs that it takes to ship supplies.

IMG_20160131_111111686

Before our departure from Ile a Vache, the crew gave me a briefing on some of the work they had done prior to my arrival and that donations helped fund.

They brought a large cargo of supplies to the city of Deschapelles: books for the new library being built there in French and Creole, musical instruments for the band, tennis rackets, balls and strings for the tennis program. The crew played tennis with them each morning, ping pong at night and attended the grand opening dedication ceremony of the new library being built their thanks to philanthropist Jennifer Grant, who grew up in Haiti and now works with the Albert Schweitzer Hospital, which was founded by her mother Gwen Grant Mellon.

12417625_10153924208128944_4388302653508094504_n

12631350_10153924425808944_5113858045274942883_n

Their second stop in Haiti was the small fishing village of Soulette on Ile a Vache, where they unloaded donated sails for local boats, soccer balls and shoes for the organization run by Pastor Raymond Bideaux and his Islander Evangelic Ministries, then onto Ka Kok (Caille Coq) where they unloaded 22 boxes of medical supplies for the Citi Lumiere hospital there, plus shoes, clothes, soccer balls and jugs of water along with more sails.

12621971_10153924374288944_8789286704247301520_o1

In the port city of Les Cayes, where you catch the boat to Ile a Vache, the boat unloaded many large boxes bound for Little Footprints, Big Steps (LFBS) brought from Florida and hand delivered to LFBS Director Morgan Weinberg.

LFBS, as the director explained to me, is not an orphanage but rather an organization dedicated to getting kids off the streets, putting them in school, and reuniting them with their families, if possible. The equipment they are using to give these kids extracurricular activities–the kind we take for granted in the U.S.–will really help enrich these kids in ways we can’t imagine.

On the boat, Sanne introduced me to Samedy Louisson (Haitians have the wildest, most mellifluous names ever), a local woodworker with an infectious smile, whose skills refitting the Tandemeer earned money for his family and possible future employment with other cruisers, thanks to a recommendation letter from Sequoia, safely put in one of my two-gallon plastic bags for safekeeping (glad I could help!) Since we were departing that day, he seemed sad to see us leave. We exchanged email addresses and promised to keep in touch, even though he’d known Sanne for weeks and me for only minutes. When you make a lifelong friend in 10 minutes, that says something about a place, don’t you think?

 

IMG_20160131_170915087

My last glimpse of Louisson was as he paddled off to shore on his brand-new stand-up paddleboard — which could have been ours to enjoy on the boat if we hadn’t donated it to him. Nuts! But of course, we only wanted it to have fun — he needed it to make a living, and that’s all that matters.

My introduction to the unique island of Île-à-Vache and the people we met there in particular — their friendliness, their openness and bravery — will stay with me for a long time. This is the first trip I’ve ever done that was even remotely like this — I’m an anxious and cautious person, but here, I threw caution to the wind and went for it. The rewards I reaped will stay with me always.

As you all know I partially crowdfunded the volunteer fee for this trip, and these photos and tales illustrate that your help is not in vain. Merci, merci beaucoup à tout!

Also thanks to Sequoia Sun for providing some of the photos for this post.

I’m sailing to Haiti on a relief boat. Here’s why.

UPDATE: Guys, I wrote this post before I knew that the trip was going to be $1000 more than I had budgeted. Fuel is expensive and boats are incredibly pricey to maintain, so I know this happens, but it means I’m kind, of um, desperate.

I leave in seven days, my flight is already booked, and the awesome folks at the Haiti tourism board has been incredible in arranging a tour program for me. They need all the help I can give them in spreading the word about the great things that are going in this country. I’ve set up a Go Fund Me page. I have never done crowdfunding before and I didn’t intend to start now, but it’s my last resort before canceling the trip.

As a travel writer and blogger, I’m supposed to be requesting press trips to try out new hotels and asking for sponsored posts. Instead I’m hopping on a relief yacht sponsored by the International Rescue Group and sailing into the poorest country of the world to hand out medical supplies, clothing, toys, and water–which I can’t even afford.

Why?

Haiti and the Caribbean Still Need Help–and it’s Our Fault. Here’s why:
1. It’s been five years since the devastating earthquake hit Haiti, one of the world’s poorest countries, killing 200,000 people. A disaster of such magnitude would be hard-hit for any country, but for an already-impoverished nation, it’s going to take much longer than that.

2. The media has forgotten Haiti–which is why we can’t. The media tends to report on the latest disaster of the moment, turning their attention away from those that dominated the headlines just a year ago. Just because you don’t hear about something anymore, doesn’t mean it goes away.

3. Although the physical rebuilding has begun, disease is still rampant. Haiti is one of the few countries in the world that still suffers from cholera, According to CNN, it has now infected upward of 700,000 people, and has claimed the lives of nearly 10,000. And it may be that we’re to blame.

According to the AP, peacekeeping troops from Nepal carried strains of the disease with them, contaminating a large portion of Haiti’s drinking water. The U.N has denied any wrongdoing, and in January, a U.S. judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by human rights groups seeking compensation for the victims.

This is the last thing this country needs is for the U.N to dodge responsibility for this mess. While there may be no legal redress for this anytime soon, our crew on the Tandemeer is bringing clean drinking water and medical supplies to do what we can to combat this.

4. Even when people get their basic needs met, their emotional needs are still there. Toys, books and other supplies are needed for children. These kids need a chance to be kids, and sailing on Tandemeer we can help them do that! For example,  in Haiti, IRG partnerned with organization Zoe’s Dolls to distribute dolls to 40 girls.

unnamed (1)

5. Education! Kids can’t learn if they’re struggling with basic needs, let alone afford school books or uniforms. IRG has partnered with Little Footprints, Big Steps to help the neediest children in Haiti get a good education and a chance at life.

6. As someone who writes about travel, I don’t always have to be the one who’s running off to the it-destination of the moment to party with the beautiful people and tell you where to drink sophisticated cocktails and be seen. Of course, that’s where the money is, so I tend to forget that.

But the truth, greatest travel experience of all time was on a 100-square mile island in the middle of the Atlantic with no tourist industry to speak of–and it was because of the people. The guy at the bar who saw me across the room and beckoned me in and made me feel at home.

While I’m there, I’ll also be in contact with the Haiti tourism board in order to hopefully see the brighter future of Haiti, one where economic prosperity will attract people from around the world, because they want to be there.

There are people in these regions who struggle with issues I can never hope to understand, but I will watch and listen and try. And that’s why I’m sailing to Haiti

 

Due to a last-minute price increase (and the sudden loss of another source of funding) I need to raise $1400 to go on this trip, so I’m turning to Go Fund Me. I will be so grateful for anything you can offer me. Continue to follow along here as I set off on my trip!

Thank you so much!

5 tips for publishing your travel writing on major sites

Recently, I was chatting on a message board with a fellow travel blogger, who had come across my site and saw all the badges on the the side of my blog. “I’d love to write for some of those,” she said. “But I don’t know where to start!” I was surprised, because she’s a successful blogger who’s got slick concept and a great-looking site. But, like most bloggers, she’d love more exposure for her writing and the perks that brings–traffic, more paid assignments. Hmmm, that gave me an idea for a new post!

I’ve been a professional freelance writer for almost a decade, long before I started this blog (although I had other blogs, a long time ago in another life!) I know there are a lot of bloggers who’ve yet to do any freelancing, but would love to gain a bigger audience by publishing their work beyond their blog, but may not know where to start. I’m here to help!

Weirdly, I found one of my biggest travel writing clients, Matador Network, by accident, when they syndicated my post on XOJane, which was an article that arose out of my book, Princess of Pirates: How I Ran Away to Sea. But if they aren’t coming to you yet, go to them!

How To Get Started Writing for Travel Sites in 5 Short Steps

  1. Decide where to pitch. Don’t know where to start? Start at the easiest place–with the blogs you already read and love. Chances are you might have an idea for a post on a subject they haven’t covered and are looking to cover. Don’t be afraid to think big–even if a blog has a lot of traffic, that doesn’t mean they aren’t looking for a subject matter you might be an expert in–like working a yacht, for example, or train travel, or luxury hotels in Singapore, or…
  2. Do your research. Log onto the site, browse it thoroughly to make sure you get their tone down and get a sense of what they seem to publish most often. You don’t want to waste your time pitching “10 tips for solo travel in India” when they just published “What I learned from traveling alone in India” two days ago. (At least you know there’s an audience for it, so save that piece for somewhere else!) Be sure your concept is fresh, but still falls within the scope of what they publish. For instance, Matador had published pieces on yachties, but nothing on tall ships. Cha-ching! Found my niche. The subject doesn’t have to be brand-new, either. You can also adapt one of your previous posts (generally they don’t want a complete duplicate, so you will have to change it a little).
  3. Craft the pitch. Offer to write about something that they haven’t covered, and convince them why you should be the one to do it. What are your qualifications? give them a link to your blog and/or portfolio. Remember don’t bore them with a bland, predictable pitch: “This is what I’m going to write about…” You’re writing, so write the pitch the way you would write the post. Make it sing!
  4. Send your pitch. Make sure to check out their submission guidelines to see whether they accept pitches or want you to submit the entire piece, or have any policies you should know about. Sometimes they’ll give you a generic email address (e.g. info@bigtravelsite.com.) If you can try to find the name and email address of an actual PERSON. If you can greet them by name, it helps shape personal connection that makes them less likely to ignore you.
  5. Follow up. Editors are busy–don’t be afraid to nudge! If you don’t hear back right away, don’t throw up your hands and give up. I can’t tell you how often editors have gotten back to me and said “Oops, I never saw this. It fell through the cracks, but we’d love to publish it!”
  6.  Don’t give up. Rejection SUCKS. Believe me, I hate it more than I hate just about anything in the world–which as a writer, is quite unfortunate for me! (The only thing I hate more than being rejected is being ignored altogether, which also happens). But I grit my teeth and keep going, because this is my business; this is my life. Rejection is NOT a referendum on you as a human being, and it doesn’t mean your story is worthless. It just means “not here.” Maybe you’ll get accepted right away. Maybe you won’t. Find another market who does want it (see below). Remember, as long you think it’s going to take to get accepted, it will most likely take 100 times that, or longer. But if you keep pitching, brainstorming, and sending great ideas, it will happen. Take it from me, the Rejection Queen.

6947051813_07e29a2a93_z

Here are some great resources I’ve found for finding new places to submit your work, tips on submissions, and all around support:

  • Facebook Groups for Travel Blogging. Once you request to join, these are incredibly useful in networking with other bloggers, sharing ideas and (sob) stories, getting advice, and spreading word of mouth about sites who are looking for writers/pitches! Plus, helping other writers makes you feel fuzzy inside! The ones I belong to:
  • Next Level Travel Blogging
  • Female Travel Bloggers
  • Girls vs. Globe
  • Drifters Unite
  • Pitch Travel Write. Veteran travel writer Roy Stevenson has written literally thousands of articles for travel sites, and has dozens of valuable tips for how to pitch, what to pitch, and the business of travel writing.
  • Make a Living WritingThis site isn’t specifically about travel writing, but it is covered in several posts, as well as hugely use list of sites paying $50 and up, including a long list of travel-related sites. Carol Tice is a rock star when it comes to offering tips to chase big sites and clients, and more importantly make $$$!
  • Matador Network. The site actually offers a class on travel writing called Travel U. I haven’t tried it, but it’s got great testimonials and it’s something to think about if you’re serious about getting more work. But they also have a great free how-to series on travel writing by editor David Miller that are just as valuable (e.g., “Why lists are killing travel writing!”)

What about you? Any techniques that have worked particularly well for you in getting your writing published? Any that haven’t? Share below!

It’s been almost two years, and I miss it every single day (VIDEO)

oosterschelde-337-b-kopie

Dutch TV has now aired four different video installments of the Oosterschelde’s round-the-world voyage of 2014, which I’ve been watching with awe and a little trepidation. I’ve seen most of the videos, so I figured it wouldn’t be that earth-shattering. But I was a delighted to see that a lot of this astonishing footage–of dolphin pods, of hauling lines in gales, of the beautiful sun-hardened faces of the crew–was new to me, too.

In particular, I recommend watching the last one. Not all of these people I met in person–my leg of the voyage unfortunately isn’t featured at all, because two months straight at sea proved too much for even the most intrepid documentarian. The focus here is on the shorter Antarctic  journeys and the Cape Horn voyage that took place before I boarded, as well as the trip from the Azores (where I got off) to Rotterdam. However you will see many of the crew members who were onboard my leg.

It’s also a chance for you to see some extremely familiar faces to me (without naming any names of course).

But I’m just going to say it–going back can be painful. The other day, the longing to go back was almost unbearable. Images flit through my brain: as if I were back sitting on the wooden deck box, the rain pattering on my face on midnight watch. Watching the sun rise out of the gray mist, the drowned world reformed anew each day.  Unfiltered sunlight on weathered rope. The flip of the tail of an Ascension blackfish. The drunken ecstasy of dancing in the middle of the world with people who, for that moment, at least, are beautiful, inside and out , and who think you are beautiful, too. I felt…blessed. And even though some of those good feelings eventually crumbled, as they always do, our community of pirates has dispersed and moved on, our connections broken or lost, their etchings remain on me, unerasable.

csm_oosterschelde-s-odyssee-boeg_c95997c8a3

What I’ve written on this blog and elsewhere has only scratched the surface of what it was really like. So few people get a chance to experience something that is so far removed from everday existence that it’s like almost literally traveling to another universe. I look around my house now and I have to pinch myself to remind me that it was actually real. How do you ever move on after that? How do you engage yourself in the normal rhythms of 21st century life? Honestly, I still haven’t quite figured it out. I’m not the same person as I was before that trip, and I don’t know if I ever will be.

This isn’t “an oh, wasn’t that a great trip.” It’s so far beyond that it scares me–the fact that it’s almost two years later and this longing is as powerful as ever. And the knowledge that I will never get that feeling back–and I may never do anything in my life that makes me feel that way again– sometimes scares me.  I can try to recreate it (I have tried to recreate it) but it would never be the same. I don’t want it to be the same.

All I can hope is that someday I’ll be able to do something again that will mean as much to me as this trip did, that I’ll be embraced by a group of people in the same way I was embraced by them. I had hopes that it would continue, that this could somehow be the new normal. But I was naive. But if it’s possible for anyone to simply run away to sea forever and never come back, I’ve yet to meet them. There are always obligations, always yokes, always links to land.

As 2015 comes to a close, I’m feeling reflective. The readers of this blog have helped me along the journey, and I am thankful for you, too! The chance to share my adventures with you is a true gift. I hope there are lot more adventures ahead of me, no matter what they may be, and I hope you’re along to experience them, too.

1898658_422352317867302_473377379_o

In the New Year, I have big plans for this blog. The number one question I get when I tell people about my adventures is, how? How did you sail on a tall ship? And how can I do it too?

In 2016, I hope to do a post, or series of posts, that answers that question.

And still I keep dreaming.

Check me out in The Huffington Post

 

DSCN1734

Or you could just see the whole country in miniature at Madurodam in The Hague.

Thanks to incredibly inspiring blogger Anamika Ohja, I’m featured in The Huffington Post travel section alongside other 24 other fearless female travel bloggers, talking about our favorite trips of 2015. Can you guess what mine was? (I’ll give you a minute!) The Hague, Netherlands. Reading about these girls and their journeys has definitely given me some inspiration for 2016, and I hope it gives you some, too!