Category Archives: Columns

Travel Advice Dr. J Wishes Someone Had Given Her

As I slide closer to my 60th birthday on January 24th, 2013 there are a few travel-type things I wish I had known when I was the age of the M.L.T.S. readers. That said, it is still likely that you will have to figure it out the finer details as you develop your own travel style.


Dr. J: Guard your passport with your life!

Guard your passport with your life. Watching my friend go through the hassle of having her passport replaced in Nairobi after she had her handbag snatched was a very long and very dull experience. The best option is an over-the-body document pouch that you wear under your clothes. The round-the-neck ones are okay, but the pouch is sturdier and makes it harder for thieves to rob you. Stash a photocopy of your passport in your suitcase. And, as a further back-up, scan a copy to an email address you can download from anywhere. Continue reading


Learning to Travel as “Other”

M.L.T.S. Contributing Editor – Travel

Forget being kidnapped in Pakistan, almost dying from cerebral malaria in Nigeria or crossing the High Atlas Mountains in Morocco. The most terrifying experience of my life involved walking into the Grade 9 classroom in Watrous — a small town of two thousand people — in central Canada. It happened in January 1968, when the second term began, a few days short of my 14th birthday. The chilly reception rivaled the outside temperatures of minus 30C.

In this conservative, provincial town, strangers rated in the same league as door-to-door salespeople  — dodgy. And anyone who hadn’t started kindergarten with the class didn’t really count. My initial reaction included temper tantrums and screaming fits that I wanted to go back to the even smaller town where my family lived before the move. Eventually, I settled in and started to carve out a niche of friends. Some had been born there and others, like me, moved to town later. By the time I graduated three and a half years later, a pattern of living as “other” — the outsider who never quite fits — developed and it served me well in my live of travels.

Those of us who suffered the new-kids-on-the-block syndrome  — and there will be M.L.T.S. readers who fit into this group  — shared memories of difficulty, battle-fatigue and isolation. It shaped our lives and characters, forever, for better or worse, as do so many early experiences. For some, like me, it proved the best thing that ever happened; for others it bordered on soul-destroying. Rather than chose the path less travelled, it became my nature to grab a machete and hack my way through the jungle. Ordained perhaps, but the move at 14 sealed my fate.

The introspective experience of the acceptance-by-peers struggle turned into a determination to play by my own rules. To coordinate my own game plan and to control my hedonistic destiny.  Consequently, I often quip that I “forgot” to get married, have children or save any money. But it wasn’t until I started to reflect on my life that I realized how pivotal a point the move played. According to my mother, I was the only one affected by the relocation. My younger siblings adjusted.

In my early 20s I bumped into some of my classmates who expressed concern about my choices. I taught on Indian reserves in northern Canada and took university classes during the summer. By their estimation, the only thing that counted was to get married and have children. I shrugged my shoulders and went back to the reserve. Then, when I got tired of the cold, set out for West Africa for two years. The next time I became bored with life in northern Canada, I did a stint in China. It was in 1986-87 when people still wore blue Mao suits. In 1992-93 I headed out on a round-the-world trip through 29 countries, a present to myself for finishing my PhD.

When visiting my parents 20 years after the encounter with my classmates, I ran into the same women and they asked for an update. I told them I planned to stop in Tahiti to do a bit of scuba diving on my way back to teach at the University of Waikato in New Zealand. The looks they shot me sent a clear messages: Bitch!

It started on the reserve, where I’d quickly discovered that if you lived and worked in other cultures it cut you a wide swath – such a lovely prairie expression – as you aren’t judged by the same values and standards. So, with the Cree nobody said much about my iconoclastic behavior. In Nigeria  —after being socially reconstructed as the daughter of the Chief of Qua to help explain why I fit into a bush village  — I roared around on my motorcycle and frequented the village bar. A local woman would have been totally ostracized for even considering it. In China, the wei goren (foreigners) attracted attention for their expert status. Traipsing through Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe on the global jaunt further enhanced the perks of living outside the culture into which I’d been born.

The closest I ever came to leading the “white middle-class lifestyle” happened when teaching at the university in New Zealand. I hated it. I gagged and got claustrophobia. But I escaped  — conveniently timed with when I got my New Zealand passport  — to head off to pursue creative self-employment. Subsequently, I ended up in Australia. My loudly declared objective in life involves never having a “real” job again.

At the end of 2008, during the financial meltdown, I decided to liquidate and move from Sydney to Casablanca, Morocco, with two suitcases and a carry-on. People questioned my sanity. How could I consider landing in a country I’d never visited, didn’t know anyone, didn’t speak the language and hadn’t have a job lined up? I snorted and said that if I could move to Watrous and survive at 14, it would be easy. And, by comparison, the move to Morocco was a cake-walk.

Meet Dr. J, M.L.T.S.’s New Contributing Travel Editor

I’m Dr. J (I actually have a PhD in adult education) — as I’m known to my advice-seeking friends — and I grew up to be one insufferable travel junkie. To date I’ve visited 102 countries, lived in eight — Canada, Nigeria, China, New Zealand, Australia, Morocco, Chile and Argentina — and hold passports in three.

My usual formula is to hunker down in a spot, use it as a base and get to know the locals. This embracing let’s-see-what-happens-next approach led to my becoming a princess in Nigeria, a godmother in China and a full-time writer/editor in Chile.

As I get older, however, my attention span for any one place is atrophying. It could be that I am becoming increasingly eccentric and want to see as many places as possible. Then again, it could be some sort of neurotic disorder. Either way, I really don’t care as the only things I collect is passport stamp after passport stamp. Space is a major consideration for me and I make sure everything I own fits into one suitcase, a carry-on and a diaper bag (more on that in another post). Nothing in storage for this bag-lady.

Returning to the topic of age, I turned 30 in Nigeria, 40 in Ethiopia and 50 in Mali. Although I invited over 500 people to my 50th in Timbuktu, only one showed up. What does that say about my social network?  Wimps!

I’m about to celebrate my 60th birthday at Victoria Falls, Zambia on January 24th, 2013. And, of course, you are all invited. After the sparse attendance at my 50th, the list of attendees has already sky-rocketed to five at this natural-wonder-of-the-world, so you will be in good company.

When I head out to southern Africa at the end of December, my plan is not to spend more than 90 days in a single country. That way, I don’t have to renew my tourist visa. And let’s face it, since I don’t need a trolley when I arrive at the airport, to move on is not a major undertaking. In fact, I require less luggage to live than the average person takes to go on holiday for two weeks.

So stay tuned to this regular blog spot. I promise to regale M.L.T.S. readers with stories of my travels, accounts of interesting people and tips on how to be a traveler, as opposed to a tourist.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Arctic Ice Melt

Arctic sea ice coverage hit a low this year, which means the polar ice caps are melting decades ahead of schedule.

I’m a hypochondriac and I totally panic at every mention of our impending planetary doom. So things like this don’t make it easy to believe in the future health and well-being of our planet.

And this reflects my attitude about post-graduation unemployment: It’s coming. I’m doomed. No matter what I do, it’ll happen (or, er, not happen). Why would I get a job in the media field, which is ever tinier, when so many others that have gone before me find themselves wallowing away in food service and retail jobs?

Now, you. Are you worried about finding a job? Do you have a pep talk you give yourself to get past the fears? How do you deal?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Woman in Charge

Women have trouble at work; we all know it. They pay us less than they’ll pay a man doing the same job. They let fewer of us into positions of power.

Being a woman is considered, by some, to be a handicap. And we definitely get treated differently, no matter how up the ladder we’ve climbed. Check out what Mindy Kaling has to say about the effect her gender has on her ability to be the boss:

“One thing I have noticed — and this is really the first time I’ve noticed how being a woman has affected my job — is that sometimes, after I’ve made a decision about something, there’s a level of discussion that people think I am willing to entertain that probably wouldn’t happen if I were a man. I have learned that when I make a decision, sometimes I just need to leave the room.”

Do you take advantage of a female boss thinking that she’ll understand you better or be more open to cajoling? Do you expect your female professors to be more empathetic to you?

And if so, do you think those qualities make for a better boss? I don’t think so. I’d rather have a firm boss; it’s too easy to be wishy-washy when you don’t know what’s expected of you. And as Editor-in-Chief, I’ve seen how people will take advantage of you if they’re think you’re kind and understanding. We need to stop giving ourselves excuses and just get done what needs to get done.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Should Ann Romney Shut It?

“This is hard. You want to try it? Get in the ring.”

Such were Ann Romney’s words in response to criticism of her husband’s presidential campaign. She was on Radio Iowa a few days ago when she said these words, which have potential to really harm her husband’s campaign. But should we be so harsh? I know I’ve faced moments when things were really tough and while others judged me, I just wanted to cry, “You don’t know what it’s like!”

Every one of us faces endless challenges in our lives (even, apparently, rich white men like Mitt Romney), and sometimes we hit our breaking points, as apparently has Mrs. Romney. It can feel an impossible feat, facing down criticism from people who you really feel are unfair for leveling it against you. And even when there’s nobody criticizing you, but things just seem insurmountable on their own, it can be hard not to whine in the manner of Mrs. Romney.

Take running this magazine, for instance. It’s a really hard thing to do. Sure, I love it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have moments where I want to say, “This is really hard and I don’t know what to do anymore!” But generally, I hold my tongue.

Because my readers and my writers don’t want to hear this. They want a fearless leader (or “Fearless Editor,” as sometime-contributor and friend Michele Elaine Hannon has called me on multiple occasions), and I’d really like to oblige. I don’t want to seem weak or weepy.

The only person I try to tell this stuff to is my boyfriend and one or two other close friends/mentors.

And honestly, it’s a little gratifying to hear an admirer praise all your hard work  after months or years of keeping your mouth shut about just how hard you’ve got it.

Do you think all women should keep their mouths shut when they’re going through something tough? Or just Ann Romney? Or should we all be open and honest about the difficulties we face?

On that note, sorry it’s been a while since we’ve had a new issue out. Our writers get swamped with schoolwork and such and don’t always turn stuff in on time. We’re working hard to figure this thing out…

LOVE LESSON: Say Those Three Little(BIG) Words

This is our “Love Lessons” column. Every week, we publish a mini-essay (100-250 words) about a single thing that can make or break a relationship. To submit your own entry, email

I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I loveses you. I luz you.

There are a million ways to say it. A million ways to express the deep care, respect and attraction you feel for your significant other.

My boyfriend and I say, “I love you,” a lot. Sometimes we say it five times in an hour. With grins on our faces, we take a second or two to express our love every fairly often.

Sure, there are days when we don’t say it as often. Maybe because we’re tired or lost in our own respective hobbies. But when we say it, we mean it. And it has played a part, I’m sure, in helping us forge the incredible bond we have.

[Text & Picture by Rosella Eleanor LaFevre]