Traveler Experiences

Kevin Fritz | Casino de Monte-Carlo

“After being told countless times that I have a keen resemblance to Daniel Craig, I couldn’t wait to visit the Casino de Monte-Carlo in Monaco that has been featured in two James Bond movies, Never Say Never Again and GoldenEye.  And since my wife and I were already spending a few days on the French Riviera in the small hamlet of Villefranche-sur-Mer exquisitely perched on the aqua-colored Mediterranean Sea, the tiny little country was only a short train ride away.

If you are traveling in May, note that the Monaco Grand Prix is held that month and many of the streets are blocked off. Stay on foot. We followed the crowds, maneuvering through town to find our destination.

Adjacent to the iconic Hotel de Paris, the Casino de Monte-Carlo is indeed luxurious and opulent, living up to both its name and lore. Admission is 17 Euros apiece, you must be at least 18 years old and have your passport scanned. Proper attire is expected. After being permitted to proceed, we were handed printed tickets bearing our names to show another employee before entering the actual casino. We felt safe and important.

Much of the casino consists of private (privé) rooms, which we could not enter, but there were plenty of slot machines to pique our interest and take our Euros. The bright gold and velvety décor is something out a movie set, a feast for eyes. We eventually took solace at the bar, sipping champagne, enjoying a laugh or too, and soaking in the fabled casino and all its drippings.

And while nobody mentioned that I looked like James Bond, I still channeled my inner Daniel Craig and crafted a memory that will last a lifetime.”

Beverly Peterson | Serving at a Clinic in Uganda

“The donations help pay for the clinic that we go to. We actually help with the clinic so you are paying for the supplies which are very meager, I mean I used to be a nurse and this is the most non-sterile place I have ever been and then you are soaking these kids, scrubbing them and then the nurses take either a safety pin or little razor or both to dig out this pocks, I mean it is like a little under the skin blisters is what it looks like, but once you pop that and bring it out, it leaves a divet in the foot where it was. They are a live parasite that will continue to lay eggs and spread in their feet if you don’t get them out. And as we were washing their feet, I am sitting next to a local woman who helps at the clinic and I said ‘how did these kids get these, why can’t we prevent this?’ She said it is because their parents don’t care. These are little kids, elementary age and they are basically having surgery on their foot and there’s no parent around and I am like ‘You know, if my kids had a problem and I take him to the doctor, I don’t just send them’ and she said it is because their parent don’t care. I asked ‘what do you mean?’ she said if their parent cared they wouldn’t even get jiggers. Their parents don’t bathe them, they don’t take care of them and that’s why they get these jiggers.

But they are so poor and most of them don’t have shoes. So this is the kicker, part of the money that we pay, it’s $12 a kid to have this done. They get a pair of socks and a pair of shoes. But they’re like the school uniform pair of socks, the big, long, grey kneehigh that would drown most of the little kids like they don’t have the little kids’ sizes, I guess all you get is like the size that would fit me and then you give them these shoes that they’ve never been wearing because they’ve always been barefoot and you put them in a tight paten-leather black shoe. Before the day was over we went back outside as we had finished up and we couldn’t even do them all, there were still over 100 of them waiting to be done but we were just out of time and out of shoes and so they told them they’d have to come back the next time they were doing another clinic and there is a lady there that does them weekly. We just help her when we go. Anyway none of them have the shoes on anymore, they were barefoot again and I said ‘what the crap, where did all the shoes go that we gave them?’ and she said ‘They went home and take them off and then they’ll come back hoping we’ll give them more.’ She said most of them won’t wear them, they need them for school but they won’t wear them except when they go to school.”

Maddie Baker | Experiencing Cultures

“The first time I left my home country was to travel to Belize. I still remember just how green everything was there compared to my gray and brown surroundings I’m used to back in Utah. I’m sure my memory has faded the brilliant green at this point, but that feeling never changes every time I visit a new place. The awe that such a place exists, the need to explore, and how much I miss it every time I return home. I love to travel because there is always something new to learn, even when you’ve been somewhere over and over again. We can learn so much from those living in other countries because we all see life through a different perspective, and as much people say that, I don’t think you can really understand that until you’ve been to and really experienced other cultures.”

Benjamin Baker | Spain Gothic Quarter

“My wife and I went to Barcelona for a day trip. One of the best things we did that day was explore the Gothic Quarter. It’s a section of the city that was preserved and remodeled to resemble how it did back in medieval times. Gothic cathedral, historic buildings, cobblestone walkways, the works.

It was very surreal walking into that part of the city and being completely surrounded by gothic architecture. There were no cars, no modern businesses, nothing to indicate it was modern other than other tourists. Standing under the shadow of a historic church that had been built in the mid-1400’s listening to two locals play music on a bowl drum and a lyre really allowed us to step into the past and experience the culture of a bygone age.”

Madeline Baker | Bamboo Farm in Belize

“My first time out of my home country was to Belize. As part of that trip, my husband and I volunteered at a bamboo farm about an hour outside of Belize City. We began by taking a bus to our destination where we were dropped off at the end of a dirt road. As this was my first time in Belize, I obviously didn’t understand what road conditions would be like or what to expect because I packed a 50lb hard shell suitcase, which I was sorely regretting once we stepped off the bus. I looked down the 2-mile road in horror as I began to realize how we were expected to reach the bamboo farm from there… and night was coming. We began walking, and dragging our suitcases behind us over the unpaved, pothole infested road, trying desperately to beat the dark. Thankfully, we had a guide, a young woman who had been volunteering at the bamboo farm for a few days who already knew the way. She rushed ahead of our pour naïve souls and sent someone back with a truck once we had reached about a mile in. I love having experiences like this to look back on. It showed me that while things don’t go as planned, we learn to adapt and grow from our experiences. It was my first time out of the country, and no unfortunate accidents like it have dissuaded me from travel yet.”

Maddie Baker | From the United States, Living in Cozumel, Mexico

“Our first stay in Mexico was a month-long venture in Cozumel, a small island in the south-east end of the country. We had the opportunity to rent an Airbnb while staying there for the full month in a small residential area of the island, not too far from the shops and beach access. While we were there, Ben and I both worked part-time and explored the island in our spare time. Our favorite place to go was a shack on the beach called Skyreef. They had the best food, beach access, and some great snorkeling. One of the times we were there we saw a massive school of fish, all moving in sync with each other around objects, including us, and other swimmers. There were probably hundreds of them, it’s something that’s hard to describe how incredible it was.”

Benjamin Baker | Learning to Quit in Puerto Vallarta

“My wife and I coordinated with my dad and his family to go on a weeklong cruise to Central America out of California. It was an absolute blast and I’ve been jonesing for another cruise ever since.

There was a unique experience I had when we got off in Puerto Vallarta for a day trip that taught me an interesting lesson in the importance of quitting. We took a ferry to a more private part of the beach where they had shops, restaurants and a bunch of activities set up to do there. My wife and I decided it would be fun to give paddleboarding a try as we’d never done it before. My wife hopped up on her board and immediately started paddling around and having a good time.

Yet every time I tried to get on the paddleboard I would immediately be dumped off. I would get on, the board would wobble, and I’d end up in the water. I think the longest I was on the board was about six seconds. I fell off over and over again, getting in other people’s way, getting swept ashore by the waves, and the whole time my wife and people on shore were shouting tips and words of encouragement. I was getting incredibly frustrated, tired, and a little embarrassed, to the point I was getting angry with myself for not being able to figure it out.

But then I realized that I was letting one little activity I was struggling with ruin my entire experience there, so instead of sticking to my stubbornness and ego, I gave up. I went ashore, switched the paddleboard for a kayak and had a lot of fun chasing my wife around in a kayak.

That experience in Puerto Vallarta taught me that while you should never give up on important things in life, sometimes letting the little things go for the bigger picture is one of the best things you can do.”

Ryan Melling | Memorable Experiences

“The most memorable experience is going to be the November 15th [Paris] attacks, because it shaped the rest of our trip. We did all stay and continue going to school, but it did change the atmosphere of the city, the university, the people. So that was the most memorable thing because it was a whole new adjustment to living under the Vigipirate (National Security Alert System) because that was something I never even had to consider living in Cedar City. So that was most memorable, but it was kind of a negative one.

My most memorable positive one was finding myself while traveling, learning to be comfortable traveling by myself alone. So, it’s not really a specific experience, more of just what happened to me while I was there, it’s changed me, and I feel like I’m a completely different person now from when I was just a high schooler. I’m more comfortable being by myself, more comfortable doing things that are outside my comfort box, not necessarily a risk taker, just more spontaneous with things. I just enjoy life a lot more.”

Ryan Melling | Day 1 in a New Country

“So you (Maddie and Ben) were fresh off the plane and I was fresh off a forty-hour nap so we were in very different moods because you guys were tired and I was ready to go. I remember we were a little stressed getting onto the train itself because we thought it would say the Poitiers destination which is where we were going, but it didn’t so we kept asking people when the train was going to show up. They kept saying, ‘oh it’ll show up a couple minutes before and you need to be on the platform’. I think as Americans that was very last minute in our books because we’re used to having flights posted three hours in advance, trains are posted like a day in advance. Eventually, we found out it says Bordeaux destination and we needed to get on that train and then have a layover. We got on the right train with like three minutes to spare so that was good. We asked like fourteen people a lot of times and then we finally hopped on with our luggage, got our seats and that part went really smoothly. Our stopover was the first experience of me needing to roll with the books because we got off in the middle of nowhere and our train was supposed to be there in a half hour and we waited for thirty minutes and no train came. Then one came at like forty minutes, so it was late and I thought it had said it stops in Poitiers so we got on, but come to find out it actually said does not stop in Poitiers. We quickly realized this as we watched the city go by the window and we were on the train for another hour and a half and we ended up in Angouleme which was much further south than we needed to be and we were standing the whole time. That was definitely not a fun experience. We had experiences with rude people, it was hot and uncomfortable, and it was the middle of the summer. I think a lot of people would have taken that as a bad omen, but we got back to our town, took showers, took naps, and the next day we were ready to explore, and the moment was already behind us.”

Camille on the Go | From the United States, Traveling in Europe

“We were in Scotland for 11 days, then we took a train to York, England and we were there for 24 hours. It was just kind of something we wanted to add in, but then we got there, and I was like ‘oh my gosh, I absolutely love this.’ I think I probably even loved York over London. We were then in London for barely three days. The trip was mainly for Scotland, but he wanted to see more of the UK.

When my husband realized Normandy was so close to England he insisted on doing a Normandy tour. So, London got really cut down to three days because we added a day or two to Normandy and it was like a day and a half or two days in Paris.

But you know even if we never go back at least he got his Normandy tour, if we never go back to France I’ve seen the Eiffel Tower. I would love to go to Paris again, but if I never do I felt like I got enough out of it.”

Ryan Melling | Cultural Interactions

“[Travel has] definitely given me more of an open world view with an open mind to things. It’s changed my patience level, because it helped me realize all the different paths people could be coming from and what they’re doing could have a million different reasons. It’s also changed my views on politics quite a bit as well, since I’ve traveled more I can see where different people’s political situations have affected their life. So it’s really changed my view on politics and how open I’d like the country to be versus how open it is and other things like that. It’s especially opened my mind to all the different possibilities and backgrounds people have. 

Somewhat, I think when I was a kid I believed a lot more stereotypes than I should have. Just ‘cause I grew up in a really conservative city that doesn’t have a lot of international travelers. Now I know that I should take stereotypes with a grain of salt, because they all have some basic truth but they’re mostly false. 

I don’t know if it’s made me seen my home country in a better light unfortunately. On one hand it gives me a lot of respect for the way that we do some things, because I like the way we do some things better in the US than abroad, but then vice versa I feel like there’s a lot of things that I like a lot better abroad. Like I think a lot of the models in Europe are much more efficient then how we run things here, then again the political climate changed drastically during my study abroad so that also shaped how I viewed my home country and its’ residents, especially how they view outsiders and world travel. It seems like people have polarized on one side of the spectrum or the other now, whereas before it didn’t use to be like that. So it’s given me a different outlook for sure.”

Camille on the Go | From the United States Traveling in Haiti

“I went to Haiti a month and a half or two months before Scotland. I did a humanitarian trip to Haiti and I loved that, if I could afford it I would probably go every year. I still want to go back, but we’re planning other trips so my husband keeps saying, ‘you can’t go there again if we’re going to go here.’ So Haiti is still on my ‘to go back and do again list’. It was because of the people and the humanitarian aid was awesome.”

Ryan Melling | Local vs Tourism

“My favorite is probably the Republic of Ireland because coming this October [2018] it’ll be my fifth trip there. I’m traveling with my mom and it’ll be her third. She’s a good travel buddy to have because we don’t have to compromise on anything, we want to do the same things. So it’s just really easy to travel. 

We try not to do touristy things because we feel the touristy things will just be a face mask of what the actual culture is like it’s just showing you like the most flashy parts of the culture but not the true culture. Of course, if it’s our first time to a city, like Paris, we see all the big sights that the tourists go see which is usually around other tourists and not locals. But we really try to make it a goal of ours to do what the locals do for fun in the cities, like what a local would do as a vacation in their city. Like in Dublin we like to go off the main path and find the local restaurants, do some of the local sightseeing away from the tourists to get a real knowledge of the culture.”

Benjamin Baker | From the United States, Traveling in Rome

“The Colosseum in Rome was one of my favorite places to see while we were in Italy. The structure was much larger then what I thought it would be considering how long ago it was built. It was mind-blowing to think how long it would have taken to construct a monument larger than a modern college football stadium using mostly manpower and whatever technology was available to the ancient Romans.

I found myself alternating between two states of mind as we climbed the steps, wandered through the pillars, and peered into the elaborate construction below the arena. Part of me could imagine the thrill of attending a show, seeing the death-defying performances, hear the roar of the crowd, and feeling the heart-pounding terror of watching a man succumb to the blade of another or meet his end in the jaws of a fierce beast.

It was like the attraction I feel when watching a horror movie, but so much more surreal considering these shows actually happened in antiquity.

Another part of me was ashamed to find myself fantasizing about witnessing such events knowing they often resulted in the deaths of people and some were forced to battle because they were prisoners or slaves.

But to me that was the attraction of the Colosseum, it was an inspiring monument of what mankind can accomplish with great power and vast resources, yet it’s also a sinister reminder of our darkest thrills and guilty pleasures. It’s a unique feeling and I would go again in a heartbeat.”

Benjamin Baker | Night Snorkeling in San Pedro, Belize

“One of the sketchiest things I’ve ever done abroad was night snorkeling in Belize. My wife and I paid these two guys we’ve never met from a local company to take us out at the middle of the night into a distant part of the ocean where no other boats were and way beyond my ability to swim to shore. Needless to say, I was already nervous about hopping in the water with my wife and trusting these two guys to stick around.

Once one of them was in the water and I could potentially take him hostage if his friend tried anything I felt better about our hosts. But then I had to wrap my head around the idea that I was in the middle of the ocean surrounded by black inky water and whatever creatures come out at night to hunt.

The cherry on top, the guide tells us to turn our lights off if the bloodworm swarms get too large, bloodworms are little parasites that bite into your flesh while you’re swimming, like ocean mosquitos.

In spite of the anxiety and nervousness, this ended up being one of my favorite experiences abroad. Seeing the large parrot fish swimming in the dark, the stingray swooping out of the shadows, or the little octopus undulating in front of our flashlight were some of the coolest memories I’ve ever had. Admittedly the bloodworms were a little annoying, but it was kind of cool watching them slowly amass in the beam of the flashlight.”

Madeline Baker | From the United States, Living in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

“We were living and working in Puerto Vallarta for a month in 2017. Each weekend we would spend the days on the Playa Los Muertos beach at one of the many restaurants. Every day we were there, we would see people parasailing over the ocean being towed by an old looking motorboat. We had never done that before and decided we were going to try it before we left Puerto Vallarta. We did our research, mostly to make myself feel better about it, and eventually became comfortable with the idea. It helped see dozens other tourists participating week after week. When the day came to finally take our turn, we let them hook us up and drag us behind the boat, well above the ocean, buildings and massive hotels. It’s something we won’t forget. It was incredible to get a completely different perspective of this beautiful place we were living in. It may have been crowded down on the beach and in the water, but up in the sky, I could take in the beautiful green hills, the buildings built into them, and the blue water. My husband swears he saw a turtle in the water on his turn, I wasn’t quite so lucky.”

Cayce McCarthy | From the United States, Traveling in Ireland

“Last Summer my family and I were lucky enough to travel to our ancestral home in Ireland. My family and I flew out of JFK airport in Washington D.C. and flew Air France into Paris and then took a smaller flight to Ireland. Once I saw the Emerald Isle for the first time I couldn’t help but feel like I was home. The country is breathtaking with its rolling hills, mountains, valleys, sea-shores, cliffs, and countryside. My family and I traveled the Atlantic Way for our trip, so we went from Dublin to Galway to Bantry, with a few other towns in between.
We stayed in several Airbnb places which is a unique place to stay when one is traveling. My favorite one we stayed in had to be the castle that was in Cork. The castle was a tower with several floors of bedrooms, bathrooms, a kitchen, an entertainment room, a loft, and a rooftop patio. To climb up the stairs we had to constantly cling to the guard rope that went from the bottom to the top of the stairs right before the loft. We got used to using the rope and soon we could run up and down the steps with ease.
Ireland has a lot of fun places to see. There’s the Guinness Factory, the Aran Islands, the Cliffs of Moore, and the Circle of Kerry. The people of Ireland were welcoming to travelers which made the trip wonderful. I highly recommend vacationing to this country.”

Linda W. | From the United States, Traveling in Belize

“In the mornings Ben always got up before me and we stayed in this little hotel. The people lived downstairs and then you’d go around the back of the building and up the stairs and then there were like five rooms around the top of this building, they called it a hotel. He’d get up before me and he’d walk down the road to the coffee shop and he’d just walk barefoot. So I could see in the dust on the road his footprints, because he just had a kind of a strange shaped foot, so I knew they were his footprints. I’d get up and I knew right where he’d been because you could just see his footprints in the dust on the road going right up to the coffee shop.”