A Trusty Travel Companion

dsc_0176I’ll never forget my first trip abroad.  I had just turned 18, and although I had wanted to get out and see the world my entire life, I really had no clue what to expect.  I packed a huge suitcase full of ridiculous outfits that were hardly suitable for any of our plans and two travel journals (in which to chronicle my adventures in broken French and Spanish).  To be honest, I didn’t love that trip.  I was culture shocked by the overly forward French men, didn’t love the people in my group, and realized very quickly that carefully structured group tours  were not my jam.  Still, I learned a lot of unexpected lessons on that trip and my thirst for travel remained intact.

Fast forward to now, and I am still learning and growing with each trip we take.  One thing that has definitely improved is my packing skills.  I still would not consider myself an expert, but I’ve gotten better and better at knowing what to take along and what to leave behind.  This year especially, I’ve stumbled onto one handy little item that has been a life saver on multiple trips now:  the blanket scarf.

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These babies go for 10 lira (roughly $2.50) on the streets of Istanbul and are worth every penny (kuruş?).  I initially bought one because I was freezing one afternoon in Kadıköy and they looked really warm (which they are).  However, I’ve discovered that these bargain accessories are so much more than what meets the eye.

First of all, they’re great for plane rides.  We’ve been on many red eye flights, most of which have not provided blankets…and even when they do, they usually pale in comparison to my blanket scarves.  They are generally pretty water-resistant, so they have been great as makeshift towels or covers to protect things from getting wet in the rain.  I even used one to protect my 3rd degree sunburn from the heat in the Maldives.  Rain, shine,  or snow, these cheap rectangles of fabric have become my best friends.

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What strange things do you swear by on your travels?  I’d love to hear.

Hulhumale – my kind of layover

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We had about 24 hours back in the Maldives before having to catch our flight back to Turkey (and back to reality!)  We wanted to make the most of our time there, but we also needed to catch up on sleep after spending all night in the Colombo airport.

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There really couldn’t be a better place to spend a long layover, considering the whole country is full of beautiful beaches.  The main conundrum people run into is the ferry schedules.  Not all of the ferries  run at convenient times, and if you have an early morning flight, you don’t want to risk going very far.

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After asking around, we determined that the best choice was the island of Hulhumale, which is right across the bridge from the airport.  Buses run every 30 minutes from the airport and are very cheap and comfortable.  We did not book in advance, but were lucky to find a reasonable hotel with a room available.  Our only agenda was to soak up the sun one last time and enjoy the beach (and our last day of vacation!)

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While I certainly hope anyone traveling to the Maldives goes for more than just a layover, there are certainly worse places to be stuck for 24 hours!

Maafushi Island: A Few Days in Paradise

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Can we all just agree that this winter has been absolute shit? Cold, miserable, and full of vomit-worthy headlines.  I knew early on that I needed to feel far away from everything on this vacation.

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The Maldives had been on my radar for a few years, having seen a slew of impossibly beautiful photos from all over the internet.  When I did my usual Skyscanner search for flights, I decided to turn a blind eye to Europe and really seek out Asia for the first time. As fate would have it, the cheapest flights into Asia from Istanbul were to Male.  A few days on the beach with my love, sans stress and schedules (and with an extra dose of sunshine) sounded perfect to me.

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We landed in Male early in the morning, greeted by the sight of sparkling turquoise waters that were somehow ten different shades of blue at the same time.  We decided to head to one of the closest islands – Maafushi- to make the most of our limited time there.  It was only a 30 minute journey by speedboat and we enjoyed every second of the warm weather and sea breeze.

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An employee from our hotel was waiting by the docks to greet us and then walk us over to where we would be staying for the next few days.  As soon as we set down our bags, he rushed to the kitchen and came back clutching two glasses of fresh mango juice.  We knew right then that we’d made the right choice.  We spent our first day getting to know the island (you can walk from end to end in about 10 minutes), playing in the sand, and consuming papaya milkshakes.

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Day two was beach day (actually, every day was beach day…but especially day two).  After a fabulous breakfast of pineapple juice next to the Indian Ocean, we walked over to the bikini beach for a morning of swimming in the most beautiful water I have ever seen in my life.  This was also the day that I got the most epic sunburn I have ever had in my life, despite liberally applying sunscreen all over my entire body three times.  That equatorial sun is no joke.  After a few hours, we headed back to our hotel so I could nurse my wounds and only reemerged after the sun had set to spy on baby sharks and sting rays by torchlight.

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Day three was the indisputable highlight:  the snorkeling tour.  Keep in mind that my husband and I are certified land creatures, born and raised in the landlocked Land of Oz…this was a big deal!  Neither of us had ever been on a proper water tour and we were super stoked to see the coral reefs and some tropical creatures.

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Photo c/o Naabe @ KSAEYS

The tour did not disappoint in the slightest.  After a breezy ride on a speedboat to what seemed like the middle of nowhere, we jumped into the mouthwash-colored water (I’m not kidding) to see what we could see.  At the first point, we saw several large mantas.  I wanted so badly to swim down and touch one, but I couldn’t hold my breath long enough; I guess I need to take some diving lessons.  At the second point, we saw turtles, eels, more sting rays, and all kinds of incredible tropical fish…it was hard to breathe, and not because I was underwater.  Point number three was the fish feeding and my personal favorite.  It was so fun to toss the crumbs into the water and see all the fish suddenly swarming around me!

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Photo c/o Naabe @ KSAEYS

After the snorkeling, they took us out to a sand bank for a picnic lunch of tuna fried rice and oranges.  The views were truly surreal.

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When it was time for us to go on day four, we packed our bags with heavy hearts.  We were excited for our next destination, but also sad to leave the beautiful island behind.

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In his natural state

Some things to know about the Maldives:

  1. It is a conservative Muslim country.  Most of the islands do not allow alcohol (outside of the super expensive private resorts) and many of the beaches do not allow men or women to enter without at least a t-shirt and shorts.  If you want to go to the beach to party, this is not the place.  Personally, I kind of appreciated being able to enjoy the beach without a bunch of obnoxious drunk people around.  It was not terribly crowded and very relaxing.
  2. Despite its reputation for being super expensive, it can be done on a budget.  If you stay away from the pricey luxury resorts, you can find good accommodation (even right on the beach!) for $30-40 a night.  Food is not very expensive and some of the tours are as low as $10 and are well worth what they cost.
  3. It is extremely safe and friendly.  It seemed like everyone was ready to greet us with a smile!  One of the most eye-opening moments of the trip was when we were on the ferry to head back to the airport and the captain noticed a stray swimmer struggling in a current  well past the swimming area.  He turned the boat around and saved her and then took her back to shore.  Needless to say, my faith in humanity was temporarily restored.

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I can fully recommend the Maldives as a fantastic beach destination.  Despite its recent notoriety, it is much less touristy than I was expecting (even in high season) and comes with a much different flavor than a lot of other islands.  Both of us fell head over heels with this tiny island nation and have already daydreamed about going back someday.  At least now I have some photos of that beautiful blue water to help me escape on difficult days.

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