Donna is a writer for Empty Nestopia, a website dedicated to empty nesters that want to discover adventure in travel, cocktails, and cuisine after the kids have flown the coop. When she is not giving advice about how or where to explore, how to recreate a recipe, or what drink pairs with grilled pineapple — she is dreaming about adventure on the high seas.
Donna generously answered a few of our questions below.
TA: How many years have you been traveling and what got you hooked?
Donna: The first time I traveled I was 17 years old. I went to Scotland with a small group of teens. It was my first time out of the country, my first time out of my home state of Alaska, and my first time on a plane. That was over thirty years ago. At the time it did not occur to me the magnitude of the adventure I was embarking on. It broadened my narrow vision that people get when they do not travel and experience different cultures. It taught me to be tolerant and that there are a multitude of ways to experience life. That epiphany is what got me hooked on travel.
TA: Do you specialize in a particular type of travel?
Donna: I specialize in a wide range of travel. Sometimes it is encouraging people to push their comfort boundary, sometimes it is using travel to reconnect with the person you fell in love with, and then other times it is how travel can teach you who you are.
TA: What is the best vacation you’ve ever taken?
Donna: I have two favorite vacations. The first one was to England when our kids were eight and ten. I loved it because they were able to experience and see that kids who lived in other countries were just like them. My other favorite vacation was when my husband and I rented a catamaran in La Paz, Mexico. We saw natural beaches that were not spoiled with litter, vibrant ochre red cliffs stark against deep blue skies, and we snorkeled with sea lions in the wild.
TA: What’s one place you’ve always wanted to visit?
Donna: Timbuktu. It is a childhood thing, ‘from here to Timbuktu.’ I did not realize it was a real destination until I became an adult.
TA: What’s one thing you ALWAYS pack when you travel?
Donna: That is a tough one. Aside from my laptop and camera, I have replaced backup batteries with a solar charger. I never have to worry about having the right adapter for the country I am in.
TA: If you could only give a traveler one piece of advice, what would it be?
Donna: Don’t let your fear dictate how you will live your life. Life is short; have fun and explore.
TA: What are some of your favorite travel blogs and communities?
TA: What would be your #1 recommendation for a place to travel in 2019?
Donna: Cuba — before it changes too much or travel restrictions are put back in place.
TA: What are the top 3 websites you use for research/inspiration when planning a trip?
Donna: For really hyper-local information I use Yelp. You get tips on hole-in-the-wall places run by families. For tours that I want to line up I use Viator. Sometimes I find more unusual tours. When I am scouting airfare I use airfarewatchdog.
TA: Do you have any good airport or flight hacks for people traveling by plane?
Donna: Plan your layovers. If you have a layover longer than four hours, see what is near the airport to do. Many airports have lockers to store your carryon so you can leave the airport and explore the city, or at the very least, have a decent dinner with a glass of wine. If your layover is longer than five hours, consider making it a 24-hour layover. You usually get a reduced air rate for longer layovers. If you pick up a cheap room, you can explore the city a bit and feel refreshed for the remainder of travel legs. It really helps with jet lag.
TA: What is the best piece of travel advice you’ve ever been given?
Donna: Stop saying some day. Book it and it forces you to follow through. There will always be work, bills, or something else that stops you. Traveling makes people more well rounded and interesting to talk to.
TA: Is there something you think most travelers worry too much about?
Donna: Not being fluent in the country’s language. Yes, it can be difficult not being fluent in the other language, but most of the time by knowing a couple of words and hand signals you can get the information you are looking for. You will also pick up additional words or phrases while you are visiting.
TA: What’s a travel scam travelers should be wary of?
Donna: Street vendors offering to tell you about a local hot spot for a price. That usually leads to a wild goose chase down a deserted alley.
TA: Which country has surprisingly good food?
Donna: Italy, not really surprising that they have good food. We did have black linguine made from squid ink and that was surprisingly good.
TA: What was the most romantic place you ever visited with a partner?
Donna: Venice was beautiful and charming. We loved getting lost to discover charming cafes and shops.
TA: What is the most beautiful and affordable city you’ve ever visited?
Donna: La Paz, Mexico. It still had much of the old Mexico charm.
TA: What’s one way people can get the most out of their cruise experience?
Donna: Go to the late night shows. At home if you want to see a Broadway type show the tickets can be quite pricey. Also, eat dinner at a different table each night in the main dining room. You will meet a diverse group of people. You never know where an important contact might be made.
TA: Have you ever met someone while traveling who changed your life? Who were they?
Donna: I was exploring a cemetery in Quebec City, taking pictures of headstones and cleaning off others (it is just something I do when I travel) when a man walked up to me asking me what I was doing. I explained it to him and he just looked at me for a minute. Then he said, “I have something to show you.” He then proceeded to give me a personal walking tour of places that only locals knew about. He taught me that adventure can find you at anytime, you just have to be open to it.
TA: What are the best places to travel solo and why?
Donna: I love traveling in Spain and Great Britain. The people are very friendly, welcoming, and helpful. I felt safe exploring alleys and asking for directions. Quebec City is another great place to travel solo for the same reasons.
TA: What’s something that other tourists do when traveling that drives you crazy and why?
Donna: Being overly proud of the country you are from and not being gracious about the country you are visiting and their customs. I have traveled with people who incessantly complained about the food, the language, or customs ending most sentences with “that’s not how we do it in [name of country].”