I love interviewing members of our female travel community. I got the pleasure to interview Alicja from Just Adventures She is an inspiration. From travelling off the beaten track to standing over volcanos, to completing pilgramages. There is no shortage of travel inspiration in this interview with Alicja.
You are an inspiration to many! You have been to so many places and done so many very cool things. Tell us a little about yourself? What inspires your destinations? What was it that made you make the decision to travel alone at over 50?
My wanderlust for travel started at a very young age – 3 ½ to be exact. My mom took me on my first trip, an international flight to visit my grandparents in Poland. I don't remember very much but I know that I enjoyed the adventure, the chance to see unfamiliar places and to meet people for the first time.
My love of travel and photography has been fueled by many years of travelling in Canada and internationally with the Polish Girl Guides, cruising with my parents as well as travelling with the Polish Folk Dancing group. The inspirations for my destinations come from most of these places as well as the serious want to explore parts of the world that may be out to the way for most people. My love of discovering new cultures, meeting people, experiencing not only the "tourist places" but also tucking into some off the beaten path places that present a once in a lifetime experience.
The decision to travel alone at 50 + years of age was solely because as a single, divorced woman, I wasn't able to find friends to travel with. Most of my friends had husbands / wives and they travel together and really didn't want to have that "third" wheel along on their trips. My mission was to find destinations and travel opportunities to travel on my own that were exciting and safe for solo travelers.
It seems to me that you really manage to get off the beaten path. What is your research approach when travelling?
My research – oh boy! Sometimes people say that I do too much research about my destinations! I take the approach that the more I know about my destinations, the better prepared I am to travel. I like to read about the culture, the destinations – whether they are difficult to travel to and around, the accommodations, the transportations and most of all what I should look forward to seeing. Sometimes I choose the destinations based on my friends' recommendations, sometimes because I'm curious and that no one has been there before. At times, I've just thrown a dart at a world map and let destiny direct my travel destination!
Talk to us about what it is like travelling in your 20s/30s in comparison to over 50s (apart from being so much wiser and more responsible, im sure).
In my 20/30s I travelled with a group of people, with friends to places that I thought I needed to see – Europe, Canada, parts of the US. There's nothing wrong with that – actually it fueled my passion for photography and travel as I saw all the great countries and experienced it from a youthful perspective! Now in my 50s, I'm more about the connections I make with the people in the countries I visit. My most recent trip to Indonesia, in a chance encounter, I met a woman in Ende, Flores that was the head of a woman's cooperative in the city of Maumere. She invited me to spend a day at the cooperative with the local women which was an incredible experience in understanding the struggles of the local women trying to make a living in this country.
What are your top 5 bucket list destinations at the moment?
My top five bucket list destinations - OH MY ! One of my bucket list destinations is the Galapagos Islands, and Easter Island. I'm trying to plan a trip that would combine both of these desolate destinations in one trip possibly addition Manchu Pichu. The other four would be an extended trip to South Africa to explore the Big Five migration and the Maasi as well as working / volunteering in some of the local projects, exploring more of South East Asia and possibly doing the northern ½ of South America.
What is your traveling style? Are you a budget traveller in hostels, travel for business, luxury etc… what are your values when you travel?
My travelling style is all about comfort – Not into hostels but more about booking.com or air bnb type with an occasional splurge in a 4-5 star hotel. I like to ensure that the places that I book have at least a 4-4.5 star rating on Booking.com (my favourite site). I look for opportunities to engage with the local people and tend to book into family run accommodations. I also look for activities that will provide me with a mix of local well-known attractions as well as things like bike riding through the country side or cooking classes. I support organizations like G Adventures that have set up organizations that train young disadvantaged youth in sustainable careers (Oodles of Noodles in Vietnam for example).
Out of all of your adventures, what is the most memorable and life changing and why?
My most memorable adventure was the last one that I took to South East Asia. I've always been very curious about Asia and as I live in Vancouver which is very cosmopolitan with a large S.E. Asian community, I wanted to explore the culture and the countries. I wanted to choose somewhere that was safe, easy to travel, economical, as well as giving me the variety of seeing as much as I could within 69 days. I was not prepared for all the beauty as well as all the history that I experienced in Vietnam and Cambodia. My heart and head where filled with the horrors of the Vietnam and Cambodia wars yet the beauty and resiliency of the people and country was a direct contradiction. Even being back home for over 4 months, I'm still reeling from the experience. Some of my blog posts will be very difficult to write, but need to be written and read by all.
Talk to us about your pilgrimage to the holy land? Was it planned? What was the reasoning behind it? What were your fears, triumphs etc
The pilgrimage to the Holy Land was a spiritual journey for me. I was in a point of my life where after a very painful divorce and having to raise my children on my own, I needed to connect more deeply with my Catholic faith. The opportunity arose when my travel agent suggested a last minute spot in a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with the group they were leading as one of the participants couldn't travel.
My fear of travelling with a group I didn't know, to being the youngest one on the trip, to daily masses, to sharing a room with someone that I didn't know were just some of the issues I was wrestling with. I had about two weeks to prepare for the trip and I just read everything that I could about the itinerary and the places we were going to see. The rest I said "let God and let go" ! Ten days of the trip were the most amazing, life changing, faith building and a little bit of a miracle for me. I would do this pilgrimage in a heart beat again.
Do you think a pilgrimage can change your life?
YES YES YES, I strongly believe that this and any pilgrimage can change your life. You get this sense of peace, clarity and strengthen your faith. My son was struggling with drug addiction and this pilgrimage was completed in part to ask for blessings for him – he's now 5 years clean, happy, healthy and I'm forever changed. I'm planning a trip to do another pilgrimage – walking the Camino de Santiago, in a year or two.
The cook islands are simply a dream for many, one that you have managed to realise. Talk to us about your time in the islands, was it as much of a dream as one could imagine
The Cook Islands....wow! I'm very fortunate to be able to have gone the first time and now in November 2018, I'm returning there with my mom. I was on a cruise with Paul Gauguine a few years ago, when the Cook Islands were added as one of the stops. I still cannot get over the utter beauty of these beautiful islands – from the tens of hues of blue to green waters, to the incredible ocean life snorkeling the reefs (better than the Great Barrier reef in Australia which I have also snorkeled), to the stunning scenery from the very peaks of the islands overlooking the ocean. I'm excited to be returning there and taking my mom along – although she doesn't snorkel, I know that she'll enjoy the beauty of the "above the water" scenery!
Out of all the crazy things you have done, standing on the edge of a volcano crater sends shivers down my spine. What did it feel like?
Yes, standing on the edge of an erupting volcano crater is the top of the ULTIMATE adventures especially when you hear about the devastating eruptions in Hawaii and Guatemala. The opportunity to travel to Tanna Island in the South Pacific came on a cruise with Paul Gauguin (Amazing small ship) back a few years ago when the cruise was returning from Singapore drydock. Tanna island was one of the islands that were devastated in a cyclone a few months before the cruise and we were not sure if we would be able to anchor and visit the island. Not only were we visiting but also bringing many supplies to the people and children on the island. As we approached the island, I notice these plumes / clouds which seemed to be getting larger quickly and thought there's no way that we would be stopping.
The captain mentioned that although the volcano had been spewing ash all morning, he was given permission to anchor in the harbour. The island community had prepared a welcome for the passengers and had gathered from the whole island – some of the people walking for hours to come to the culture centre. The captain also stated that those that wished to go on the excursion to the island would also be going up to the volcano although it may not be possible to hike to the top. Have faith is my motto and within a few hours we were travelling to the centre of the island. Equiped with face masks and bandanas, about 20 of us made the trek to the top of the crater. Safety in numbers, right?? We were treated to the most unforgettable, scary, earth shaking (literally felt the ground shake under my feet with every eruption) experience. Unlike the eruptions in Hawaii and Guatemala, there was no lava erupting along with the ash and we never in danger of being engulfed in the smoke/ ash as the winds were blowing away from us. I have a video and many photos of this experience – call me brave YES but sooooo worth it!
Soooo whats next? (your next big hope/challenges/destination)
My next big trips (this year!) are a trip to Nicaragua to visit friends in San Juan Del Sur (on the Pacific side), a cruise with my mom from Montreal to Tampa Bay in October to experience the fall colours and then the cruise with Paul Gauguine with my mom to the Cooks Islands including Bora Bora, Moorea and Tahiti in November. I'm also in the planning stages for another trip to S.E. Asia – the west side of Malaysia, maybe Borneo, Sumatra, and Java and 3-4 weeks in Sri Lanka from mid-January to the end of March 2019. Who knows where else I'll end up in next year. I'm also looking forward to being an Olympic and Paralympic volunteer in Japan in 2020 !!
How to get in contact with Alicja and read more of her adventures on justadventures.ca or social media below: