For the 50+ Traveler

Danila and Chris decided to stop the 8-6 grind in 2013, sell the house and contents, and travel. NotDunRoamin showcases some of their travels and is a labour of love for Danila that acts like an online diary. They've done a fair amount of conservation volunteering, explored a great deal of Australia, parts of SE Asia, fallen in love with scuba diving in Komodo, eaten fried rat in Vietnam, and are now trying to work out what's next!

Danila was kind enough to answer our questions below.

Red Dao homestay dinner, Sapa area, Vietnam.
Red Dao homestay dinner, Sapa area, Vietnam. Photo Courtesy of Danila Mansfield.

TA: How many years have you been traveling and what got you hooked?

Danila: We've both been travelling, somewhat, most of our lives, but work got in the way of full-time travels. Now we can explore more fully! I really enjoy being surprised by the differences I find in other places, but more importantly, I love seeing the similarities: most people want the same out of life: water, food, shelter, education for their children, and it's startling to see the challenges that some people have to face, to achieve those things.

TA: Do you specialize in a particular type of travel?

Danila: "Oldies flashpacker" perhaps -- with a good dash of foodiness!

TA: What is the best vacation you've ever taken?

Danila: The first time I went scuba diving in Belize (1996) because that opened up a whole new world. Under the ocean is truly my happy place.

TA: What's one place you've always wanted to visit?

Danila: Oh that's impossible to say! Spain (I'm there now as we speak! Middle East -- on the list!) And I must say, I'm intrigued by the Silk Road and the "stans".

TA: What's one thing you ALWAYS pack when you travel?

Danila: Apart from the obvious: passport, camera, laptop. I'm trying really hard to be a responsible traveller, and use less single-use plastic. Water bottles are a huge contributor to this problem. So now I'm packing a collapsible water bottle, FinalStraw collapsible straw, and Steripen water purifier. I believe we can all do something to improve the situation!

TA: If you could only give a traveler one piece of advice, what would it be?

Danila: Seek out the local experiences. Go to markets, spend money with locals, try to connect with the locals. Your experiences will be so much richer.

TA: What are some of your favorite travel blogs and communities?

Danila: Girls that Scuba is a great resource, and their FB group is a supportive community for women divers. Travel Fish is a must-read for SE Asia travellers. Roads and Kingdoms is fun and informative. I tend to dip around blogs, depending on which destination I'm heading for.

Boy on the beach, Atauro Island, Timor-Leste.
Boy on the beach, Atauro Island, Timor-Leste. Photo Courtesy of Danila Mansfield.

TA: What's the strangest thing you've ever eaten overseas?

Danila: In Vietnam we ate deep-fried rat, which was actually delicious, but the funniest foodie story was the chicken beak drinking game, in a homestay in the mountains outside of Sapa, in northern Vietnam. We had booked a 2 day motorcycle tour through Sapa O'Chau, a tour company that I highly recommend, as it was started by a local ethnic minority woman, who supports the locals, and sends local children to school, through her profits. There were just Chris and myself, with a couple of local guys, on small Honda motorbikes. One of the guys spoke passable English, and a couple of the local dialects (of which there are many!) The other guy was still in training, and was working on his English. We stayed overnight, with incidentally a few other western visitors, in a local homestay, in a Red Dao village.

Our host couple were hugely welcoming, smiling and chatting all the time, while granny washed and chopped up the chicken, and their teenage daughter had to be cajoled away from playing games on her phone to help prep dinner. Dinner was a delicious spread of soup, rice, vegetables, and ALL the chicken, with some choice morsels presented to us guests. Along with dinner, we were served "rice wine" which is actually a distilled spirit, rather than wine (the local hooch!).

When we had all eaten our fill, Mr. Host started playing with the chicken beak (remember, we've just eaten ALL the chicken!), and he caught his wife's eye. She grinned and nodded at him. They then demonstrated the game, that we were all encouraged to join in with: toss the chicken beak, whoever it faces towards when it lands, has to down their glass in one! Mr. & Mrs. Host were obviously well-practiced at this game, and very much enjoyed re-filling our glasses, as the rest of us were definitely not used to tossing the chicken beak! Our guide got very giggly, translating from the local dialect, to Vietnamese and then to English, while tossing the beak. We finally called a halt in the wee hours, and stumbled off to bed, to be woken early, by the chicken's cousins crowing! That was a night to remember!

TA: Do you have any good airport or flight hacks for people traveling by plane?

Danila: If you have a long layover, with long flights, it's worth paying for premium lounge access, even if you're flying coach. Some credit cards will give you this, or there are apps where you can buy one-time use. Also, I always check out Premium Economy flight prices. For long-haul flights, it's often a not too expensive option. And patience, endless amounts of patience -- it's been a hard thing for me to achieve, but I'm getting there!

TA: What is the best piece of travel advice you've ever been given?

Danila: Back up everything, everywhere! I'm really well organized with documents. Photograph everything: passport, birth certificate, drivers license, visas, tickets, etc. Keep them in the cloud (Google drive or similar), keep on your phone, keep on an external hard drive that you keep separately from your laptop. Email them to a family member or trusted friend. But I forgot my own advice in my haste to tidy up a huge amount of photos. I thought I had them backed up externally, and ended up deleting the majority of my photos from northern India. Not a terminal disaster, but very sad for me!

TA: Is there something you think most travelers worry too much about?

Danila: Terrorism and illness! Be sensible, don't go to an active warzone, but on the other hand, many places are much safer than "news" reports, and travel warnings would have you believe. As for illness, I make sure that my vaccinations are up to date, I have travel insurance, and I remind myself that many people live safely and happily in many parts of the world.

TA: Which country has surprisingly good food?

Danila: Not really surprising, but the food in India just blew me away! I've eaten Indian food in many places, and growing up in London, where there is some excellent Indian food, I thought I knew what it was about. The food in India just has so many layers of flavour, it was endlessly surprising for me. I loved having masala dosa for breakfast. And roadside chai stalls, where they add the spices, and boil the tea, and pour it from a height, are always fun to stop at. I never got sick eating street food in India, I think the trick is to go where there's plenty of people, so that there's a good turnover of food, and it's freshly cooked. Plus if you see lots of locals eating there, it's always a good sign.

TA: What's something that other tourists do when traveling that drives you crazy and why?

Danila: Selfies -- I just don't get it! I know what I look like, I don't need to take pictures of me. I travel to try to see and learn more about other cultures, and I love taking photos that remind me of the places I've visited.

TA: Which underrated destination deserves to be more famous?

Danila: I think people often dismiss SE Asia, as it has been travelled to, and written about, so extensively. I really enjoyed Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City, as it's now known. The place is vibrant and exciting, the people are friendly, and the food is simply amazing! The War Remnants Museum is a poignant reminder of the price the country paid during the long years of the American war, as it's known there, and is well worth a visit. A communist country, it might well surprise many anti-communists with its wealth of small, privately-run businesses, and a plethora of temples and holy places for several religions.

Learn more about Danila:

Visit her website NotDunRoamin.
Follow her on Twitter here.
Find her on Facebook here.
See her photos on Instagram here.