Sustainable Watersports: Diving without Destruction – Zafigo.com, April 20 2018

Even while adventuring in new places, many of us are keen to see what’s literally below the surface. Recent research shows that marine tourism is one of the most rapidly growing tourism sectors globally, and with some of the world’s most beautiful reefs situated in Asia, you’re missing out if you don’t take a closer look.

It has to be said, however, that scuba diving and snorkelling come with a high price, and I’m not just talking about the cost of a PADI licence. There’s a growing awareness of how human activities impact our marine ecosystems, and these popular hobbies are certainly not exempt from the conversation.

Thankfully, several organisations and individuals worldwide have made it their goal to protect what remains of these precious underwater worlds. Established by the United Nations Environmental Programme and currently supported by The Reef-World Foundation, Green Fins is an ever-expanding network that focuses on improving the marine tourism industry through liaising with governments, NGOs, dive centres and individuals in their established countries.

“The overall aim of Green Fins is to protect and conserve coral reefs by establishing and implementing environmentally-friendly guidelines to promote a sustainable diving and snorkelling tourism industry,” explains Green Fins assessor for the Green Fins Malaysia network Nadhirah Mohd. Rifai.

Along with educating industry players on best practice, Green Fins aims to encourage tourists to take heed when taking the plunge. Here’s a summary of their suggestions:

Support positive change

Green Fins is working to ensure that all of its members serve as guardians to marine life by adopting eco-friendly and sustainable practices. The environmental standards of all dive and snorkel centres who have adopted the Green Fins Code of Conductare assessed annually.

“We recommend visiting Green Fins certified dive operators that can be found in Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia, The Maldives and Palau,” says Nadhirah.

For the ultimate eco-friendly dive centres, Nadhirah recommends choosing from their top 10 Green Fins Members on this list; these centres are ranked the best among other Green Fins-certified dive operators.

Look with your eyes

While the rainbow of coral and seashells in our oceans may tie in perfectly with your household colour scheme, you must remember that the natural world is not a free-for-all gift shop. Whether dead or alive, don’t remove any coral or other marine life while diving or snorkelling. Besides causing environmental damage, removing coral from the ocean is illegal in many places. So why risk it? Let your memories will serve as the best souvenir. Additionally, be sure not to touch or step on coral, which is very fragile and takes a long time to grow.

Capture moments with care

It’s understandable to be eager to capture moments so you can share with loved ones back home. While underwater photography is certainly permissible, it’s important to take steps to prevent harm. Green Fins recommends that divers take care not to drag photography equipment against the reef as this can cause irreparable damage.

It’s also recommended that you practice your underwater photography skills prior to venturing out on a diving or snorkelling trip. This will ensure you are confident in carrying the equipment underwater and so, are less likely to cause an accident. Finally, as tempting as it can be, photographers are urged not to touch, move, chase or disturb any marine life in the quest for the perfect shot.

Leave no trace

You wouldn’t carelessly dump trash in your friend’s home so why do it to our underwater neighbours? We’re becoming increasingly aware of the impact that plastic is having on our oceans’ ecosystems and while the problem won’t be resolved overnight, you can play your part by ensuring that you don’t add to it. Make sure to bring any plastic bottles, food packaging and other waste home with you after the trip. What only takes a few moments to gather up can have long-term consequences for the ocean if left behind.

Additionally, while it is perfectly acceptable to feed yourself (a day at sea can leave you famished!), share leftovers only with fellow land-dwelling divers. Marine creatures have plenty of grub to keep them satisfied and eating human food could result in illness, aggression towards divers and an imbalance in ecosystems should fish choose to eat human food over algae.

Practice

It’s important to ensure that you know what you’re doing before taking to the water, both for your own safety and the safety of marine life. “Bad buoyancy may cause coral damage when divers kick the corals, as well as coral mortality due to sediments being stirred and then landing on nearby corals, choking them and blocking the sunlight,” says Nadhirah. The best way to practice? Keep diving! Just be sure to keep yourself, and the environment, safe from harm.

(First published on Zafigo.com on April 20 2018. Available online at: http://zafigo.com/tips/diving-without-destruction/ )

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Tips for victims of theft while travelling – Zafigo.com, April 15 2018

There was a time, 10 months into the trip of the lifetime, I sat in Kuala Lumpur (KL) munching on steaming chapati (Indian flatbread) with friends, uttering famous last words, “Nothing has gone wrong yet.” It was true. Besides the odd dodgy stomach – which was inevitable considering I’d just exposed my Irish belly to rich, spicy foods for the first time – our travels around Southeast Asia had run completely smoothly.

It wouldn’t be long before I was no longer eating delicious Indian food, but instead, eating my words. That same evening, I was deep in conversation with a friend in the city when a guy on a bike swerved in behind me, yanked my bag from my shoulder, and sped away before I even had a chance to yell out an expletive.

My phone, money, and bank card had been taken before my own eyes, along with some sentimental items such as a bracelet from two friends in Vietnam. I’m sure you can imagine the kaleidoscope of colourful language that came from my mouth in the following few minutes. As much as I endeavour to become a crime-fighting queen who rids the world of handbag theft, I realise this is unachievable. However, I can offer a few titbits of advice for those who find themselves in the same situation.

Accept it

Regardless of how little cash you had in your purse or how dishevelled your phone is, it’s highly unlikely you’ll get your stuff back. A thief won’t feel a sudden tinge of regret and return your items to you, and chasing somebody down could be dangerous. Take the few minutes you need to vent that anger; cry, swear, scream, whatever you need. After that, accept that your things are gone and get on with your travels. Losing things, regardless of how sentimental or valuable, is not the worst case scenario. Your own safety is key.

File a police report

Telling my hotel receptionist that I’d become a victim of snatch theft, I was met with little more than a shrug of the shoulders. They told me not to bother reporting the event to the police, which, considering I had very little details on the thief, made sense. I also had to catch a bus soon after and knew that I had a roomful of clothes to shove into a backpack before getting on the road.

However, I later learned that reporting could have proven beneficial. I had taken travel insurance in my home country and upon informing the company of the incident, was told that they could offer compensation only if I had a police report. Too late! I was already in the Cameron Highlands eating away my sorrows with scones and strawberries.

Cancel everything

After my 10-minute temper tantrum, the first thing I did was contact my bank and cancel my card. This may sound obvious, but it’s a task that’s easily forgotten when emotions are running high. I also alerted my network provider about my phone and noted down any other cards that I’d need to replace when I returned home.

Don’t let it ruin your trip

I certainly had plenty of “woe-is-me” moments as I went through the tedious task of cancelling cards and forking out good money for a new phone. However, though the enviable Instagram posts don’t show it, petty theft is unfortunately quite a common part of travelling; just like food poisoning, jellyfish stings and bike accidents. That’s not to say it’s acceptable, but if you do fall victim to theft, do what you have to do and get back to your travels.

With only a few weeks of my adventure left, I decided not to let this experience ruin my trip. It’s also important not to let such an event taint your impression of a place. Bag theft is probably just as likely to happen in my home city. Every other experience I had in KL and Malaysia overall was fantastic and there was no way one person was going to tarnish my love for the country.

Be prepared

Hindsight is a great thing, and I don’t want to sound like a lecturing aunty. However, in order to prevent becoming the victim of theft, I recommend you learn from my mistakes. Here are some tips on how you can be more mindful wherever you are:

  • Try to remain alert of what is going on around you when walking about a new city at night.
  • Don’t walk with your handbag facing the road as this will make it easier for a driver to snatch it.
  • If your bag has a long shoulder strap, make sure it hangs across your body and is underneath your clothes (like a jacket) if possible. Otherwise, it’s quite easy for somebody to grab it or cut it loose.
  • Never flash cash or valuables in a public place and avoid bringing out unnecessary items such as passports.
  • Finally, have an emergency bank card in your backpack if you can. This will be a saviour if your main one is stolen.

(First published on Zafigo.com on April 15 2018. Available online at: http://zafigo.com/tips/tips-victims-travel-theft/)

The definitive guide to avoiding Penang’s tourist traps – Zafigo.com, February 8 2018

colour-1298862_1280 (1)As a cultural melting pot, foodie hub and historical hotspot, Penang has become a major tourist destination for both Malaysian and international tourists. However, with so much to do here, it comes as no surprise that the island’s main landmarks can be crowded 365 days of the year. If you’re staying a while and are sick of the hustle and bustle, try this list of alternative activities:

BEST VIEW

Skip Penang Hill

See Muka Head Lighthouse

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The stunning views of Penang’s coastline. (Photo Credit: Amy Lewis)

Gazing down at the twinkling lights of George Town from the peak of Penang Hill is certainly worth ticking off the list. However, if you’re seeking something a bit more tranquil and wish to avoid the crowds, head to Muka Head Lighthouse at Penang’s National Park. It’s not easy to get to – prepare for a sweaty hike through the forest! – but the stunning views of Penang’s coastline will revitalise a tired body and mind. Climb up the twisting staircase to the top and perch yourself on the balcony to watch white-tailed sea eagles soar and be soothed by the sound of the crashing waves below.

BEST BEACH

Skip Batu Ferringhi

See Gertak Sanggul

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This small fishing village is the epitome of a lazy afternoon. (Photo Credit: Amy Lewis)

When you have eaten double your weight in Penang’s famous hawker food, what better place for an afternoon doze than the beach? Batu Ferringhi is Penang’s most popular beach and while it’s beautiful, you will likely have to battle for towel space on a busy day. Head to Gertak Sanggul instead. I stumbled across this beach during a drive around the island and found it to be the perfect place to digest both my thoughts and my food. Nestled along the southern coast of Penang at the edge of a quaint fishing village, it’s rarely frequented by tourists and so, is the epitome of calm. Come here with a good book and watch the boats and your worries float away.

BEST MARKET

Skip Batu Ferringhi Night Market

See Hin Sunday Pop-Up Market

Support the local artists and craftspeople at Hin's Pop Up Market. (Photo Credit Hin's PopUP Facebook)

Support the local artists and craftspeople at Hin Pop Up Market. (Photo Credit Hin Pop Up Market)

Every Sunday, the grounds of Hin Bus Depot spring to life with a small artisan market brimming with local crafts and trinkets. Handmade batik garments, natural cosmetics, mouth-watering food and statement jewellery are just some of the treasures on offer at this weekly affair, which sees new stalls springing up each week. While you won’t find the same offering of cheap clothes available in Batu Ferringhi, you will come across plenty of unique gems unavailable anywhere else. What’s more, by buying something here, you are supporting local artists and craftspeople. For the perfect Sunday, take a yoga class at nearby Wholey Wonder and peruse the market stalls before crashing on the grass at Hin Bus Depot to tuck into a tasty lunch.

BEST FOR A COFFEE AND CATCHUP

Skip Starbucks

See The Alley

Skip the staple branded coffee houses and spend an evening at a local shop instead. (Photo Credit: The Alley Penang)

Why go Starbucks when you can have churros at The Alley? (Photo Credit: The Alley Penang)

Let’s face it: I can go to Starbucks anytime. Despite having a three-letter name, they can never get mine right! If I’m in need of an afternoon energy boost or want somewhere to chill with friends, The Alley at Stewart Lane is my top pick. Why? One word: Churros! The small and simple café is famous for the warm doughy delights, which offer crispy skins and fluffy centres in good, equal measure. Paired with a selection of sauces (try the salted caramel) and a steaming mug of coffee, it makes for the perfect afternoon pick-me-up. The only downside of going with friends? Having to share.

BEST BAR

Skip Love Lane

See Magazine 63

(Photo Credit: SM Butler)

A true speakeasy bar, Magazine 63 is quite a challenge to find, but oh so worth it once you do. (Photo Credit: SM Butler)

Walking through Love Lane at night feels a bit like being in a bizarre video game – you have to dodge and leap over dozens of pushy bar promo staff to get to the power up i.e. a refreshing cocktail or mocktail at the end of a busy day. On top of that, the crowds and noise continue to swell as the night goes on. Ditch the hectic nightlife and head to Magazine 63 on Jalan Magazine instead. Nestled behind an inconspicuous doorway, it’s quite a challenge to find; but trust me, it’s worth it. Behind its shabby exterior sits a trendy speakeasy dripping in vintage class, with a unique cocktail menu to boot. Add to that cosy seating, regular live bands and DJ sets and you’ve got yourself the perfect watering hole. A word of warning: at bars this trendy, drinks don’t come cheap.

BEST UNIQUE PHOTO SPOT

Skip 3D Trick Art Museum

See Penang Avatar Secret Garden

(Photo Credit: Flickr / ShangChieh )

The mini forest comes to life with dazzlig lights. (Photo Credit: Flickr / ShangChieh)

Trick art museums have seen a surge in popularity in recent years, but once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. If you’re hoping to get some unusual snaps for the ‘gram, head to Avatar Secret Garden at Tanjung Tokong before sunset instead. When the daylight fades, the mini forest is transformed into an enchanted land that is alive with dazzling lights in myriad hue. A near replica of the mystical land of Pandora in Avatar, this hidden gem is sure to take your breath away.

BEST CAFE WORKSPACE

Skip Co-workingspaces

See BEAN Sprout Cafe

Fancy working out  of a quaint little heritage building? (Photo Credit: Nomadic Notes)

Fancy working out of a quaint little heritage building? (Photo Credit: Nomadic Notes)

Co-working spaces certainly have their place and I’d be the first to praise them for their reliable Wi-Fi and endless networking opportunities. However, when in Penang, you might as well soak in the atmosphere while getting some work done. Enter BEAN Sprout Café. Set in a beautiful two-storey heritage building, this relaxed coffee shop is a good spot to escape to when you need to get stuff done and dusted. If the rustic décor and chilled music fail to inspire, sit and work from the balcony which offers great views of the hustle and bustle of George Town. Failing that, their delicious coffee or tasty brunches should be enough to set the brain cogs into motion.

BEST CITY CENTRE OASIS

Skip Armenian Park

See Garden at 23 Love Lane

Who knew such a serene little corner existed on Love Lane? (Photo Credit 23 Love Lane)

Who knew such a serene little corner existed on Love Lane? (Photo Credit: 23 Love Lane)

Who knew that such a serene oasis existed along hectic Love Lane? Well, it does, and it’s in the form of this boutique hotel’s stunning garden courtyard. It’s the ideal place to escape the mid-afternoon sun and catch up on some reading over a refreshing drink. Non-staying guests are welcome to enjoy the garden courtyard provided they purchase something from the hotel bar. Coffee al fresco amid restful settings? Who can say ‘no’ to that?

(First published on Zafigo.com on February 8 2018. Available online at: http://zafigo.com/stories/zafigo-stories/guide-avoiding-penangs-tourist-traps/)

 

7 Dos And Dont’s To Help You Succeed As A Digital Nomad – Zafigo.com, January 28 2018

The idea of working remotely is growing in popularity by the day as people long to cut ties with their nine-to-five schedule and explore the globe. But there’s more to being a digital nomad than sitting blissfully on a laptop by the beach. Making the transition to a remote lifestyle requires lots of careful planning, which can begin with a read of these simple tips.

DO your research

Oxygen, water and food are key to life. For digital nomads, a solid Wi-Fi connection can definitely be added to this list. Without the internet, it’s likely that you’ll struggle to do much work, if at all, so it’s vital that you research this factor before making a move to your next destination. Failing to do so may result in you being stuck on a remote Thai island where it’s virtually impossible to get anything done – I learned this the hard way.

Other factors worth looking into before planting your roots are the cost of accommodation, seasonal weather changes, visa requirements and community life. Most digital nomad hubs have expat/nomad Facebook pages where you can get all of your questions answered.

DO structure your work days

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There’s a saying that goes, “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Well, all play and no work can be equally as detrimental for digital nomads. When transitioning from a regular work structure to remote employment, it can be difficult to strike the right balance between work and relaxation time. Some people end up working 24/7, while others spend more time immersed in the crystal-clear ocean than in their workload. Plan out work and leisure time from the get-go to prevent your brain or bank balance from getting burned out.

DO seek out others

While working remotely definitely has its perks, admittedly, it can become isolating. It’s easy to take your colleagues for granted when you’re working in a typical nine-to-five job, but after you leave, you’ll begin to miss the work banter, Friday afternoon excitement and even your colleague’s extremely distracting whistling. Let’s face it, a pet cat or the odd Skype call to your parents are no substitute for true social contact.

Whether you’ve been thinking of joining a club or starting a new hobby, this new chapter in your life is the perfect opportunity to do so. Co-working spaces also serve a double purpose for digital nomads in that they give you a place to be productive while providing an opportunity to meet like-minded people.

DO be financially secure

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If you’re reading this from a stuffy grey office somewhere on a Monday morning, by now you’ve probably already decided to pack all your belongings and begin your new digital nomad life. Before you hand in your resignation, hear me out! The early days of your remote lifestyle are bound to be unpredictable, so it is really crucial to build up your savings before taking the plunge. Not only will this offer you some security should your work be slow to take off, it’ll also mean that you can allow yourself time to relax and enjoy your new base during those initial few weeks.

DON’T work with friends

Working with another digital nomad friend from a café sounds like the ideal situation. Two brains are better than one, right? While it may appear to be the recipe for productivity, the reality is that you’ll spend more time sharing cake and discussing the latest episode of Stranger Things in great detail than doing actual work. Before you know it, it’s four hours later, you’ve spent your daily budget on three coffees and you have only three words of your article written. Unless you’re working on a project together or can trust one another to keep the chit chat to a minimum, it’s probably best to tell your friend you’ll catch them later.

DON’T travel too much

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It can be tempting to pinpoint dozens of places on the map when you switch to the digital nomad lifestyle. However, with no boss at home telling you to be back in a fortnight, it’s important to remind yourself that you aren’t in any rush. Working remotely is much easier when you travel slowly.

Yes, working from airports, trains and planes is doable, but if you are hopping to a new country every week while simultaneously trying to meet deadlines, your energy and motivation are sure to wane. Plant your roots in your first destination and get to know the place and its people. You have all the time in the world to tick off that bucket list.

DON’T give up

Unless you secure remote work before moving, chances are that finding jobs online can be a slow and tedious process. You may have a rake of experience and the best degree in your field and still be met with constant rejection from employers, or worse, no responses at all. It’s hard, but the most important thing is to remain patient and persistent.

Instead of crying into your keyboard when nobody is getting back to you, use your free time to push forward. Research other opportunities, expand your skillset with an online course, network with potential employers… keep your goal in sight and things will eventually work out.

(First published on Zafigo.com on January 28 2018. Available online at: http://zafigo.com/stories/zafigo-stories/dos-donts-succeed-digital-nomad/)

5 ways to make friends in a new city – Zafigo.com, September 12 2017

The initial stages of moving to a new city can be incredibly exciting as you get to explore a new place and all that it has to offer. Then, reality kicks in and you may find yourself feeling lonely and missing things back home. The first few weeks of living in a new city can be particularly lonely, especially when flying solo. While it’s easy enough to pack up your clothes, books and even furniture during a move, there are some things you just can’t load into a suitcase, namely friends and family.

A new group of friends won’t be handed to you on a silver platter, and forming new friendships at an adult stage in life is certainly not as easy as during your playground days. But it doesn’t have to be difficult – so long as you’re willing to make an effort and lean outside your comfort zone.

#1 Join a social group

No matter how lonely you feel, you are certainly never alone. Regardless of where you go, there are plenty of like-minded women seeking a friend to share a coffee and a chat with. It’s just a case of finding them! Thankfully, there are several platforms that have been established to help you do just that.

On moving to a new town in Ireland, I joined the local GirlCrew branch and it was one of the best decisions I made. This women-only social network, which now has 46 branches worldwide and over 90,000 members, allows women in the same area to link up online and organise meet-ups and events.

While the first meeting was a bit daunting (and felt a bit like online dating!), once I got to chatting with people, I realised that there are so many other women out there in the same boat as me. Bowling nights, lunch dates and nights out ensued, and I can definitely say that I formed a few lasting friendships as a result.

Girl Gone International is a similar organisation for women worldwide. I am a member of the local group in Da Nang, Vietnam and love meeting both local women and expatriates alike at the fun monthly meet-ups. Not only has GGI brought me brilliant new friends; it has also given me some memorable experiences (such as a movie night on the beach and a Vietnamese cooking class).

#2 Find a new hobby

Have you always wanted to try yoga? Or perhaps you fancy yourself as a guitarist? Whatever your interest, moving to a new place is the perfect opportunity to start something different and in the process, meet new people. Striking up conversations with strangers doesn’t come easy to everybody, but joining a class that interests you ensures that you will always have a conversation starter.

Personally, I find signing up for a full-term course to be the best option. Once your money is handed over, you are more likely to stick with your new hobby and hopefully, continue to develop new friendships along the way. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t the most talented person in the class; I recently joined a Zumba group in Da Nang and am certain that my moves are more akin to Bigfoot’s than Beyoncé’s! As long as you’re having fun and socialising with other people, that’s what matters.

#3 Work from a co-working space or cafe

Working on my laptop at home can feel pretty isolating. But I’ve found that it doesn’t have to be this way. If you’re lucky enough to work for yourself or as a freelancer, you can turn your work days into social opportunities by working in a public space. Many large cities and small towns have established co-working spaces where you can rent a spot to work and rub shoulders with others throughout the work day. Some of these spaces also organise social activities and events to allow people to get to know their ‘co-workers’ and share ideas.

A cheaper and easier alternative is to work from a local cafe. Find out where the most popular spots are (in my case, anywhere with strong WiFi, strong coffee and good air-conditioning) and prop yourself up with your laptop and a cafe latte. Stir up a conversation with the person at the table next to you if the opportunity arises. Chatting with the café staff could also turn into a chance to make a new friend. At the very least, working from a cafe will allow you to enjoy a change of scenery and some delicious coffee. Who can argue with that?

#4 Be a volunteer

There’s no point in wasting your free and alone time feeling sorry for yourself or pining for home. No matter where you are in the world, there is always an organisation or cause that is crying out for helping hands. Why not offer to do some work at a local animal shelter or get involved in a weekly soup run?

If you find yourself unable to commit to a weekly volunteer position, seek out one-off events such as beach clean-ups or charity fundraisers. Such admirable causes attract people from all walks of life, so you are guaranteed to meet a diverse range of people.

If you find someone that you click with, don’t be afraid to ask them out for a coffee afterwards. What’s the worst that could happen? Chances are they will only be delighted to wind down and chat after a busy day.

#5 Keep an open mind

Sometimes new friends can be found in the most unlikely places. For this reason, it is so important to keep an open mind and remain patient when you move abroad. That girl you’re chatting with on a long bus journey home could become a firm friend. During a stint living in Paris, I met one of my best friends there completely by chance when she approached me to ask for directions.

While asking me how to get anywhere is a grave mistake (navigation isn’t my strong suit), her decision to approach me certainly was not. It turned out that we have a lot in common. Not only were we both going to the same place and equally as lost as the other, we were also living away from home and enjoyed many of the same activities.

When we finally reached our destination, we swapped phone numbers and arranged to meet up for a drink the following week. Soon, a strong friendship blossomed, and over the next few months we explored the beautiful streets and sights of Paris together. Fast forward four years later and we live elsewhere, but we still remain in touch. And that’s how I know that each time I move some place new, I’ll always be able to find new friends.

(First published on Zafigo.com on September 12 2017. Available online at: http://zafigo.com/tips/make-friends-when-move-new-city/)