Mark and Elizabeth are empty nesters travelling world exploring the local culture. One of the best ways to do this is through food. Everyone eats! They share fascinating stories, recipes, people and places associated with local food and culture on their blog Compass & Fork.
Mark and Elizabeth were kind enough to answer a few of our questions below.
TA: How many years have you been traveling and what got you hooked?
Mark & Elizabeth: Over 40 years of traveling for both of us. A natural curiosity about the world and other places was the catalyst. We both traveled extensively for work in our corporate roles as well. After the kids were older, we decided it was time to travel more and see some of those places we had always dreamed of visiting.
TA: Do you specialize in a particular type of travel?
Mark & Elizabeth: We tend to be independent, active travelers. We love hiking and eating, so there is quite a bit of both on Compass & Fork. Our travel style is affordable luxury. You won't find hostels or budget travel, but you'll find great value, unique accommodation and experiences.
TA: What is the best vacation you've ever taken?
Mark & Elizabeth: This is a hard one! One of our best vacations was to Bhutan. It is so unlike anywhere else we have been. A small country working hard to maintain their traditional culture while also finding its way in the modern world. A difficult balancing act.
Bhutan does not allow independent travel so were escorted by a guide and driver on this trip. It was very relaxing not having to organize anything, and very educational with a guide the entire trip explaining the temples, statues, food and culture.
Patagonia and Turkey were also fantastic trips. You can find all three of these destinations on Compass & Fork.
TA: What's one place you've always wanted to visit?
Mark & Elizabeth: Scandinavia, and we would love to travel the Silk Route.
TA: What's one thing you ALWAYS pack when you travel?
Mark & Elizabeth: A small medical kit with all the basics.
TA: If you could only give a traveler one piece of advice, what would it be?
Mark & Elizabeth: Be open to new experiences. If everything was like it is at home, there would be no point traveling.
TA: What are some of your favorite travel blogs and communities?
Mark & Elizabeth: #foodtravelchats is a great Twitter chat for travelers. Thorn Tree (Lonely Planet) travel forums are great if you have a question. AFAR and Gourmet Traveler have great sites and there are a lot of great travel blogs to match any interest or destination. We use a lot of them when researching our own travels.
TA: What would be your #1 recommendation for a place to travel in 2019?
Mark & Elizabeth: Romania. Over the last few years, Romania has worked to build and develop their tourism infrastructure. It is a large country with a diverse range of experiences -- skiing, beaches, castles, wildlife and wetlands (the Danube Delta). It truly has something for any interest. Romania is affordable and not crowded as many places in Europe can be during peak season. The wine industry is growing rapidly and the people are proud of their country and welcoming toward tourists. Unlike some places in Eastern Europe, they use the Roman alphabet and English is widely spoken, making it easier for tourists.
TA: What are the top 3 websites you use for research/inspiration when planning a trip?
Mark & Elizabeth: For accommodation we often use Booking.com or AirBnB. To figure out how to get places, Rome2Rio is a helpful site. Kayak.com is a great place to start researching flights.
TA: Do you have any good airport or flight hacks for people traveling by plane?
Mark & Elizabeth: Book your international flights between major airports. Then use local airlines or alternative means of transport (i.e. train) internally within a country. Don't try and book all your internal flights on your international itinerary it can be very expensive.
TA: What is the best piece of travel advice you've ever been given?
Mark & Elizabeth: Finding out about the auto lease program in Europe. (We have a article explaining the program in detail which you can read here). If you want to take an extended road trip across Europe, this program can save you a lot of money compared to renting a car.
TA: Is there something you think most travelers worry too much about?
Mark & Elizabeth: Not being able to speak the language! You will be fine. Be friendly, learn the basic words, and make an effort. And smile! (More of the world speaks English than ever before -- it is much easier traveling today than it used to be.)
TA: Which country has surprisingly good food?
Mark & Elizabeth: Australia is one of the most underrated food destinations. A lot of food is produced by small producers and the quality of the food is very high.
Seafood, beef, and lamb are all local favorites. Mangos, grown in tropical Northern Australia are not to be missed in season. And coffee is an obsession in Melbourne. We have yet to find better coffee anywhere in the world.
As a multicultural society, you can find any type of cuisine. Native foods and spices can also be found -- try emu, kangaroos, bush tomatoes, and lemon myrtle to name just a few.
Interestingly, in a survey of overseas visitors, many were unaware of the food before they visited, but ranked it very highly upon departure. It might be Australia's best kept secret. There are many world-class restaurants and wineries (there are more than 60 wine regions), and many food and wine festivals throughout the year. If you are looking for a place to enjoy fantastic food and wine, Australia is our recommendation.
TA: What was the most romantic place you ever visited with a partner?
Mark & Elizabeth: The island of Syros in the Greek Islands. It is blissfully uncrowded, has great food and wine, beautiful white sand beaches and is very affordable. Unlike much of Europe, Syros was undamaged during both the World Wars. Enjoy a romantic stroll through the beautiful marble streets and buildings. It's like something out of a fairy tale. Dining in one of the small Greek tavernas along the sea is an experience you will remember forever.
TA: What is the most beautiful and affordable city you've ever visited?
Mark & Elizabeth: Istanbul is one of our favorite cities, and it's surprisingly affordable for such a large city. April is the perfect time to visit. Turkey is the home of the tulip, and Istanbul hosts a month-long tulip festival in April. The parks and streets are full of tulips. The weather is good, and it is before peak tourist season -- making it less crowded and more affordable.
The famous tourist sites, the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, the Grand Bazaar, and Hagia Sophia are musts for first time visitors. After that, just wander the streets and around every corner awaits a new discovery! Oh, and did we mention the food! We could still be there eating!
TA: What's one way people can get the most out of their cruise experience?
Mark & Elizabeth: Research your ports and/or stops ahead of time. Know what you want to do to make the most of your time. Check what is included, extra charges on a cruise can add up quickly!
TA: What are the best places to travel solo and why?
Mark & Elizabeth: The USA or Europe/UK are great solo travel destinations. Tourism infrastructure is well-developed and travel is easy. Most hotels cater for singles (saving you some money). In Europe, budget airlines or using the train make travel affordable for solo travelers.
TA: What's something that other tourists do when traveling that drives you crazy and why?
Mark & Elizabeth: Tourists walking around looking at their phone and taking selfies drives me crazy. I could go on, (and on) but I think many people can relate to this one!
TA: Which underrated destination deserves to be more famous?
Mark & Elizabeth: Guatemala. It is a beautiful country with a lot of Mayan culture. In the mountain villages women still wear traditional dress and make beautiful handicrafts. It also has beautiful beaches, alpine lakes and volcanoes. The food is good, with much of their traditional food still made by hand using traditional methods. And it is very affordable. Unfortunately, Guatemala is not very good at marketing themselves as a tourist destination. We hear much more about the neighboring countries of Panama and Costa Rica.