A sought-after freelance writer, Betsi resides in South Florida. Along with her husband Jim, Betsi shares her passion for travel through her writing and photography at Betsi’s World. Along with their 10 year Maltese rescue, Zach, this couple travels frequently onboard Saltwater Gypsea, their 35′ boat searching for adventure in the islands of the Bahamas, the Caribbean, and at home in Florida.
Betsi was kind enough to answer our questions below.
TA: How many years have you been traveling and what got you hooked?
Betsi: I began traveling at age 18 when my parents sent me on a cultural exploration of Europe. But I was truly hooked when I explored Russia on a college cultural trip. That trip ignited a passion in me to learn about other cultures, and the uniqueness that sets them apart. It also inspired a love of architecture, particularly doors. Wherever we travel, I find myself drawn to doors.
TA: Do you specialize in a particular type of travel?
Betsi: We specialize in travel throughout Florida, the South, The Bahamas, and the Caribbean. This travel niche has been a result of our love of boating. As life long sailboaters, we’ve recently converted to what we jokingly call the “dark side” and now travel onboard Saltwater Gypsea, our 35′ power catamaran.
I love pulling into a new destination, and taking the dingy in to the nearest bar. You can learn so much about a place by chatting with the bartenders — they are truly the “coconut telegraph” of a waterfront community.
We also write about luxury travel — not the out of reach $1000 a night stays, but affordable luxury. We love to stay throughout the Caribbean and experience the different islands. A favorite luxury resort for us is Sandals — they do luxury well.
TA: What is the best vacation you’ve ever taken?
Betsi: This is such a hard question to answer because we’ve had such amazing trips. The top vacation we’ve taken would have to be our trip to the Florida Keys in the summer of 2018. We explored the Keys from the Florida Capes to the Dry Tortugas. We were there for five weeks onboard Saltwater Gypsea, and we had a lot of downtime to just rest and recover. A day trip to the Dry Tortugas was on our list, and rather than going by boat, we chose to go by seaplane. This was by far the coolest trip we have taken. The plane is no more than 500 feet off the water, and as you fly over you can see sharks, stingrays, sea turtles, and more! We are avid writers about treasure and treasure hunters and we were ground zero for the famed treasure hunting family: the Fishers. Fisher was the hunter who found the Atocha off Key West. His son Dirk was drowned when the Northwind capsized in the Gulf of Mexico. As we crossed from Key West to the Dry Tortugas, you can actually see the wreck of the Northwind from the seaplane.
Arriving at Fort Jefferson we decided to explore the fort and then snorkel the fort. You cannot imagine my excitement at being in the water, up close and personal with an entire school of tarpon, and seeing a Goliath grouper just swimming along. If you find yourself in the Keys, a trip to the Dry Tortugas is a must! We are headed back to the Keys for Christmas this year and are hopeful we can make the trip out again — maybe onboard Saltwater Gypsea if the weather is not contrary.
TA: What’s one place you’ve always wanted to visit?
Betsi: I have always wanted to visit Granada, Spain and see the Alhambra. I have a fabulous traveling partner in Jim, and when we saw a trip that included Granada and the Alhambra this year, we jumped on it. Seeing the Alhambra was a dream come true for me. The innovation, the architecture, the location — it was amazing!
TA: What’s one thing you ALWAYS pack when you travel?
Betsi: Several phone chargers, my phone, my mirrorless camera, and a shawl for the flight. Onboard Saltwater Gypsea I always take my Turkish towels — they are a must! They dry quickly and don’t take up much room!
TA: If you could only give a traveler one piece of advice, what would it be?
Betsi: Even if it is your own backyard, get out there and explore! There is so much to see and do.
TA: What are some of your favorite travel blogs and communities?
TA: What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten overseas?
Betsi: Jim and I took a group of 10 teenagers with us to Panama on a missions trip. During this trip we performed in a variety of locales, one of which was in the midst of the jungle with a tribe of indigenous people. I’m a pretty adventurous eater, but was a bit freaked out at the thought of eating parts of chickens that we in the US consider inedible. One of those parts, the chicken feet, are considered a delicacy in Panama, and were reserved as special treat for honored guests. Can you imagine what we ate? Yep, chicken feet mixed into a stew. And because we were the guests of honor, we definitely had to eat them. I was pleasantly surprised; they were relatively tender and tasty.
TA: What is the best piece of travel advice you’ve ever been given?
Betsi: To get off the beaten path and meet and mingle with locals! This advice has paid off. We’ve been sailing The Bahamas for 10+ years, and during that time have been intentional about meeting locals, going to church where the locals go, and adding to the community. One of our favorite destinations is in the Abacos, and every time we pull into Marsh Harbor we head over to our favorite restaurant Wally’s. The wait staff all know us, and we know all about them, and have met their children. We’ve spent time and poured into them, and now when they come to Florida, they call us and we meet them and have a meal with them, and we’ve even had a couple of them come and stay with us for a day or two. Relationships matter, and the locals know you are contributing to their economy, and that’s important as well.
TA: Which country has surprisingly good food?
Betsi: Barbados has excellent food, but the flying fish is phenomenal! Flying fish sandwiches, or the national dish, Coo-Coo, which is a a polenta-like cornmeal and okra porridge, is often served with flying fish. The fish is either steam with lime juice and spices and veggies or it’s fried and served with a spicy sauce – delicious!
TA: What was the most romantic place you ever visited with a partner?
Betsi: Venice, Italy wins this without question! We were cruising the Adriatic, and we took a day off the ship and wandered the streets, and got lost. We found a tiny little trattoria tucked in a small alleyway and had the most delightful early dinner together. We laughed, drank wine, laughed some more, held hands as if it were our first date, and had the most incredible meal together.
Walking back to the ship, with our hands entwined together, Jim winked at me and said we were taking a gondola ride. Finding the perfect gondola and gondolier, he welcomed us aboard with a grin that split his face and in a robust voice welcomed us to his gondola. Handing us aboard we sat snuggled together. Now as anyone who has ever been to Venice knows, you will have enduring love and happiness if they kiss going under the Bridge of Sighs. It was sunset and the bells of St. Marks could be heard all over the city. I believe this myth might just be true…
TA: What’s something that other tourists do when traveling that drives you crazy and why?
Betsi: There are so many! One thing that drives me crazy is not paying attention to the way the locals dress. On one visit to The Bahamas, which is a very conservative country, there was a boat load of people who had been drinking. They thought it was great fun to strip down, shake their junk, and then jump in the water. However, the last laugh was on them, as they taunted an off duty police officer who promptly arrested them and they spent the night in the local jail.
As boaters, we are hyper sensitive about protecting our marine environment. We don’t use plastic straws (yes, I am that person who totes her own straws with her), and we don’t use sunscreen that is toxic in a marine environment. So much of the reef system in The Bahamas has been destroyed, it’s vital to protect what is left.
TA: What’s one piece of advice you’d give to travelers your age?
Betsi: Get out and Go! Don’t let physical limitations limit your ability to travel! I have back and neck issues, but I’m still doing what I love despite the issues. The more I travel the more I fall in love with travel. And there is so much to see, so much I want to do, and so much more of the world and the tropics to explore!