Why You Should Travel While You Are Young.

I have been extremely fortunate to have grown up with a family who has traveled together to parts of Venezuela, Cuba, Jamaica, Mexico, Dominican Republic, United States of America (RIP), Italy, and our home country of Canada.

Now as a young woman I’ve been given the amazing opportunity to work and live in the country of Taiwan, and since have traveled to Hong Kong, South Korea, and most recently the Philippines.

The traveling I’ve been able to accomplish since living in Taiwan has definitely altered the way I think about and see the world and has only made me want to explore more of it. I strongly believe every young person should travel and spend some time away from home, now let me tell you why:

  1. Travel teaches you about the world in ways a textbook can’t.
  • Sure you’ve read about other countries in one of your global studies or international relations classes in school, but when you actually have the chance to speak and interact with people of the country you are visiting, you learn authentic truths that are often contrary to popular belief. Forming a unique and individual opinion is much more character building then assuming what you’ve read or heard from the news is the complete truth.
  • These experiences abroad become imprinted into your brain and this newfound knowledge provides you with a basic understanding of another culture. The town I was raised in is not abundant in diversity, which until this trip helped to further my cultural ignorance. Traveling has helped me become aware of the distinctness of many ethnicities I once naively assumed were similar, something that I believe is so important. Ignorance is NOT bliss people. 
  • Learning also occurs as you meet the most interesting fellow travellers.  Did you know they speak Luxembourgish in Luxembourg? I would have never guessed that until meeting somebody from there! When you travel with new people you meet you exchange valuable cultural knowledge through your conversations. You begin to understand each others cultural norms and customs, which then allows you to see why they react to situations either similarly or differently then yourself. You now understand that what might seem rude to you is simply average behaviour in that person’s country of origin. And you learn about their home and the countries they’ve visited, which makes you realize that…
  • There is SO much of the world you never thought of visiting because you’ve never really thought about all there is to see on this fascinating planet. This has made me realize that if I don’t travel now, while I’m young, and begin to discover it, I’ll be far less likely to want to do so once I am older.

2. Travel rewards you with the most unique experiences.

  • When you travel to different countries you experience things you could never see or engage in at home. I would have never been able to observe the traditions that take place during the month of Taiwan’s Ghost Festival had I not been here. I likely would have never cared to learn a thing about Hong Kong’s politics had I not been visiting during the time of an important election. Not to mention all of the amazing foods and drinks you never knew you were missing out on!
  • The experiences you have often push you to go outside of what you previously considered your norm. In Taiwan they have a delicacy called, “stinky tofu” and my Taiwanese friends told me that if I did not try it, it would be as if I never lived here. So I tried a food I would normally never would. Did I enjoy the taste? Not exactly… but will I remember the time I tried this local cuisine in an authentic Taiwanese restaurant? Absolutely.

3. Travel gives you perspective.

  • Often as youth we say the phrase “I’m too poor for that” but we really don’t know what it’s like to be poor compared to say young people in the Philippines, where 26 million Filipinos are considered poor, and 12 million below the poverty line.
  • I received a dose of first hand perspective after speaking with local Filipinos (who are the friendliest people) on an island hopping tour. They  were so excited and felt so lucky to be there that day as they explained they’d been saving for 6 months to take part in it. The cost of the tour was 1,200 Philippine Pesos, approximately $30 CAD… Have you ever saved so long for something worth so little? I know I haven’t.
  • Once you pass through a rural village in this country and see the structures people call their homes, and the conditions they live in every day, you realize calling yourself poor is not acceptable. And once you see what other people go through, it makes you want to find real ways to help poor communities around the world. You wonder how people with so little can be so happy, and you self reflect because of it.

4. Travel makes you more responsible and resourceful

  • When visiting a new country I have been surprised with how helpful locals often are with providing directions to tourists. That being said, when traveling you ultimately need to look out for yourself. Traveling has helped me realize the world in fact does not revolve around me. It doesn’t matter if you need to get somewhere to catch a flight, if all of the train tickets are booked, they’re booked. 
  • Meaning you need to find a solution and plan better for next time. Whether thats downloading a map of the area you know you will be in, or formulating a plan A or B in case things go horribly wrong (because odds are, at some point, they will). In this sense, you learn from your mistakes and you learn QUICKLY.

5. Travel makes you more appreciative

  • Vacationing on a budget means staying in hostels aka a room of bunkbeds with complete strangers sharing a small number of bathrooms. Its amazing how inexpensive these places can be (anywhere from $7 to $15 CAD a night) but of course there is a reason as to why.
  • It is in these situations, where the accommodation is not luxurious but enough for you to get by, that you grasp how fortunate you are to live the way you do when you’re at home. If there’s one thing that’s for sure, I will do my best to never take hot showers and toilets you can flush with a button for granted again.
  • The bittersweet aspect of travel is that at the end of your amazing experience you get to return to your regular lifestyle, and although that place remains the same, you will have grown in some way. For me this place currently is Taipei, Taiwan and I feel extremely fortuitous to have chosen a city that has become my second home. While I travel I miss the clean and busy streets filled with kind people and yummy foods.

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One travel lesson that especially resonates with me is not to assume I am guaranteed anything. This principle carries true to many aspects in life but serves as a reminder that we are never guaranteed old age. This begs the question: why wait until you’re older to travel? Why wait until you have more serious obligations and responsibilities to deal with? Maybe you’ll retire later than the average person, but you also will have seen and experienced so many different things!

Taking time off for travel seems to have a negative connotation in North American society. Whether we’d like to admit it or not, a stigma does exist, as often people are perceived to be lazy or crazy. I don’t believe this reaction to be valid because by traveling you are making the effort to learn so much more than you could ever learn from studying, working, or remaining in one place. You also become a person of higher global understanding, something our world needs now more than ever.

Of course we have responsibilities in life, we have to complete our education, pay off our debts, take care of sick family and friends, but when the time in your life allows for it, traveling needs to be at the top of your priority list.

And so fellow millennials (yes I’m looking at you),  instead of buying the newest sports jersey, or Kylie Jenner lip kit, I urge you to save your money. Put it towards something that will continue to repay you for the rest of your life, and develop you into a wiser, happier, more resourceful, and more grateful individual.

I don’t know about you but I refuse to live a life that I reflect upon and wish that I had seen more, done more, and ultimately LIVED more.

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PSA: The definition of young in this article is not unilateral, if you are in good health to travel, and aren’t bound to one location, who cares what your age in physical years may be, I say it’s never too late to get out there and explore!

 

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Climbing the Dragon’s Back

One of my favourite adventures during my trip to Hong Kong had to be a hike called the Dragon’s Back. This duration of this hike depends on two factors: how fast you walk and how many pictures you take.

IF you’re the traveller who needs to capture every angle in their photos (me) I’d give it 3.5 hours, BUT it can be done in up to 2.5 if you move quickly.

What I find amazing about Hong Kong is that it’s city centre of impressively tall buildings is surrounded by mountains that not only offer a calm escape, but also incredible views.

The Dragon’s Back hike is well known. You can find reviews on TripAdvisor, that may suggest you book a tour or take a bus. And you can also learn more about the trail from LonelyPlanet, but if you’d like an inexpensive method, tried and true by yours truly, keep reading.

My friend Adalia and I woke up early one morning, grabbed the freshest take out sushi I have ever had, and headed to MTR station Chai Wan, located on the end of the Island line. Like many countries in South Asia, transportation cards for the subway, buses and street cars, can be purchased and reloaded at 7-11 locations; they take convenience store to a whole new level over here.

So if you’re visiting, grab an Octopus Card, it will definitely be worth your while!

Next I recommend taking Exit A from Chai Wan MTR station, where you will walk through a mall. Keep to the right and exit at the first outdoor walkway, also located on your right. Take the outdoor walk way and continue straight, perhaps 2 minutes, until you find a set of stairs to take you down.

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Once you reach the bottom, walk across the street towards Wan Tsui Road, you should see the sign no problem.

Next walk straight on Wan Tsui for approximately 200 metres

Then take a left on Lin Shing Road. After turning left you have an incline walk, for roughly 350 metres. Once you reach the top of a small hill you’ll find an intersection and see the entrance for the Cape Collinson Catholic Cemetery across from you.

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This sounds strange, and at first looks strange, but go through the entrance and walk up the first set of stairs towards your left.

Again it’s a tad odd, and you’ll think “Are these really the right stairs?” “Am I being punked?” But they are, and you’re not. Once you’re there you can’t miss them!

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Continue straight up these stairs, up to the very top, until you are out of the cemetery and into the nature! This part of the climb is steep so take your time, use the railing, and remember: the view IS worth it.

Keep walking up the steps until you come to a clearing. To your right you should see the wooden sign pictured here, walk towards the direction of Tam Tam Gap.

From here on out it’s essentially a straight shot! Just follow the road to the trail, which will eventually head left, and don’t stress, sign posts will indicate the way.

The first bit of the trail is shaded, and not much of an incline so it’s really nice. It is a bit rocky so make sure to watch your step.

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Next you will see a sign indicating the Dragons Back! It might be a little tricky to see at first so be on the look out for a point where the path diverges. Follow that sign and start walking up towards the left. And then keep walking. And then walk some more…

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Right about now is when you can start to get really excited because at this point you are CLOSE. If the sign’s aren’t enough, you should be able to gage it from the amount of sweat on your body, gotta love that Hong Kong humidity. 

Here I wasn’t even at the top of the peak and I was literally speechless!

Once we reached the summit, we not only felt super accomplished, but we were blown away by the scenery. On a good day, you can clearly see the nearby Shek-o Beach, as well as the area of Hong Kong called Stanley behind you.

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Instead of going back the way you came from, I suggest you continue down the other side of the Dragon’s Back for some more amazing viewage. This direction is towards Shek-O Village, where you can have amazing Thai food and relax by the beach.

Once you’re back on flat ground, take a left out of the trail and wait for the #9 bus on the left side of the road to Shek-o Village! After Shek-O you can take the #9 back to the original MTR station you came from.

This hike has inspired me to attempt to climb Teapot Mountain 茶壺山 located near Jinguashi in northern Taiwan. This trail is much more difficult than Elephant Mountain, located in Taipei. Unlike the city views of Elephant Mountain, (20 minutes to climb), Teapot Mountain (4-5 hours to climb) lies in the heart of the wilderness on the northern coast, boasting views of the Pacific Ocean and even involving rock climbing at points.

Okay, so it’s ambitious, but after the Dragon’s Back I feel ready to tame another mountain!

Happy Hiking Friends! 

Dragon’s Back Route

More Hong Kong Hikes

Fear Not Food Lovers

When I talk to people about life in Taiwan I am often bombarded with questions about food.

“But…. what’s the food like over there?”

“What do you eat everyday?!” 

“Is it mainly just rice??”

It’s true that I eat a lot of rice and noodle based dishes, (which I am more than okay with because frankly they are delicious) but I have also found plenty of alternative meal options, that are healthy, scrumptious, and most importantly, diverse!

Taipei is a city with a population of 2.7 million people, so naturally there are restaurants of almost any cuisine one could possibly desire! I’m talking Spanish, Italian, Indian, Thai, Mediterranean, Vietnamese you name it, this city has it.

Recently I decided to try a German restaurant called Oma Ursel’s and it was one of the best meals I have had in a long time!

Oma Ursel’s German Restaurant and Bakery has operated in Taipei since 2004. It’s safe to say they definitely know what they’re doing when it comes to serving freshly cooked food.

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The exterior of the building has an old fairy-tale feel to it and the outdoor patio is extremely quaint and makes you feel as if you are visiting your grandmother’s home. Waitresses dressed in traditional German outfits add to the cultural experience.

Their menu is filled with authentic dishes, with lunch and dinner specials ranging from approximately $300-600 NTD ($13-$25 CAD). Oma Ursel’s offers great value for the freshness, high quality, and accompaniments of their dishes see for yourself and check out their menu here!

When I visited I had fresh fish and spaetzle noodles for dinner; it was delectable.

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The restaurant has homemade vegetable and chicken soups, in addition to fresh salads for appetizers.

For myself, and my fellow dessert lovers out there, the real winner is their dessert selection.

With fresh pastries and pies made each day, your choice of dessert is included in most lunch/ dinner specials and they are all to die for. Don’t forget tea or coffee is also included!

Apple pie and caramel ice coffee. Is there a better way to end a meal? Maybe. But this way is pretty darn good. 

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Coming from an Italian background, most of my family and even many of my friends always have food on the brain. Some firmly believe that they could not survive over here because they believe the food is so “different.”

What they have yet to see is that there are SO many fantastic food options to choose from, even for the pickiest of eaters. So to help debunk this myth I’m going to start writing more about the meals I have and the new foods I indulge in.

Hopefully I’ll provide some knowledge about how delicious authentic Taiwanese cuisine can be while showcasing how diverse the restaurants of Taipei are!

Stay tuned for updates on traditional Taiwanese restaurants, and look out (be glad you are nowhere near my kitchen) for a personal attempt at making a few authentic recipes!

Until then, stay hungry friends!

Oma Ursel’s Restaurant and Bakery Taipei

Menu

Facebook Page

Review by The Taipei Times