There is something to be said about misadventures abroad – while these may present themselves as misfortune at the time, it’s generally the misadventures which make for the most memorable travel experiences, and one traveler who certainly agrees is Heather Cole.
She started traveling on a bet and a bribe, and her teenage years centered around an obsession for travel rather than boys. She studied Geography and Archaeology, though spent most of her university years, and the majority of her student loans, on cheap flights elsewhere abroad.
She has wound up embarrassed in the red light district in Tunisia (who knew prostitutes and a devout Muslim community went together), once fell off a chair-lift on a ski trip and was rescued by a dashing Italian Olympic skier, and nearly lost her husband on their honeymoon due to a suspected drug smuggling incident in the Galapagos!
If misadventures are memories, Heather Cole has experienced it all!
What do you love the most about travelling?
I love learning, and each trip opens my eyes to something new, whether it’s a new culinary delight (putrefied shark in Iceland is a once only experience) or dealing with religious customs (the only time hubbie will ever be seen wearing a skirt!).
What inspired you to start travelling?
A bet and a bribe! When I was 13 my dad bet me £50 that by the time I was 16 I would have replaced the Antarctica and Amazon posters adorning my bedroom walls with pop stars and teenage heart-throbs.
So in true teenage fashion, just to prove my parents wrong, I stuck rigidly to my palm trees and penguins (well almost) and was rewarded with my first pay-cheque on my 16th birthday.
No doubt this was a clever ploy to steer me away from boys, but it certainly focused my obsession on the wider world!
What is ‘Conversant Traveller” all about?
Honesty is truly the best policy, and that’s what my experiences are all about, misadventures and all.
Conversant Traveller is all about unique experiences, landscape exploration and cultural adventure. I organise holidays for people in my spare time and decided a central focus of information would help get them thinking about travel, show them that anyone can do it, and hopefully give people a few laughs along the way.
You studied Geography and Archaeology at university – does this passion affect your choice of travel destinations?
It certainly opened my eyes to appreciate the spectacular landscapes and civilisations of the world, although since I spent much of my time and student loan sneaking off on cheap flights I’m not sure I was the model student.
At least now I can pretend to understand what I’m looking at when I’m travelling!
How do you afford to travel – are you rich?!
I may be rich in experience, but it’s certainly not due to a healthy bank balance, rather a ‘live now worry later’ kind of attitude.
We spend very little on entertainment and nights out at home, preferring to save up for the things in life that really matter – travel and chocolate hobnobs!
One thing which you don’t like about travelling?
The act of travelling in itself. I hate long cramped bus journeys, the inevitability of sharing germs with fellow airline passengers and being ripped off by taxi drivers.
Someone really needs to invent a ‘beam me up Scottie’ to bypass this tedium.
You don’t do hostels or resorts – why is that? What kind of accommodation do you prefer?
I’ve earned my backpacker stripes along with the best of them in a previous life, but now that I work full time I can afford to avoid the $1 a night dorms and treat myself a little.
I love high quality, unique local accommodation, with particular favourites being a Javanese bridal teak bungalow in Bali, a dung beetle guest farm in South Africa, and a tent in the Sahara!
As for resorts, being cooped up with hundreds of other tourists in an anonymous concrete box, lounging by the pool and queueing for the dinner buffet just isn’t my cup of tea.
Tell us more about your travel style.
Hubbie and I are independent travelers and rarely go on tours, unless we feel we’ll really benefit from the local knowledge.
We like to travel at our own pace and stop for a zillion photos along the way. We’ll always have our sexy suitcases in tow, and can often be found pretending to be posh on a rooftop bar or at the theatre.
Yet what our fellow patrons don’t know is that the day before we were bivvying out in the desert without a toilet for 50 miles and just a couple of camels for company.
The strangest foods you’ve eaten abroad?
I’ve eaten guinea pig on a few occasions in Peru, really tasty but a lot of effort for just a few morsels.
The best was presented spread-eagled with a tomato crown, and attached claws to be used as toothpicks later.
I heard a rumour you were once embarrassed in the red light district in Tunisia; can you tell us about that?!
Being a geography graduate you’d think I’d have a pretty decent sense of direction, yet during a visit to Sousse we ended up doing a ‘walk of shame’ after getting totally lost in the medina.
Call me naïve but I wouldn’t have put prostitutes and a devout Muslim community together on the same page. Yet there they were, scantily clad girls flaunting their wares in doorways, and furtive-looking blokes scurrying inside to enjoy a tumble on the rows of matrasses on the floors inside.
We got a lot of strange looks (I was the only female walking the streets) and to our intense embarrassment, realised the street was in fact a dead end and we had to walk back the same way past all those smirks.
I also heard that you nearly lost your husband on your honeymoon due to a smuggling incident in the Galapagos?
Yeah, he was marched out of the airport by armed police who had spotted a suspicious package in his backpack. They refused to allow me to come and translate, so poor hubbie (who doesn’t speak Spanish unless it involves ‘hamburger and chips’) didn’t have a clue what was happening.
I was left alone for ages, thinking he’d been arrested. Perhaps someone had slipped cocaine into his bag at our last hotel in Quito. Or even worse, maybe it was some Galapagos sand (probably a greater offence to smuggle than drugs!).
It turned out to be neither. It was in fact a kilo of salt that we’d bought at Salineras in Peru and forgotten about. Never have I been so relieved!!
Needless to say that 7 years later, the salt sits in our kitchen cupboard and remains totally untouched!!
One more rumour to confirm: You once fell off a Chair-lift on a school ski trip and were rescued by a dashing Italian Olympic skier?
Basically in my enthusiasm at my very first red run I jumped too soon and went tumbling backwards down the hill.
Not my finest moment, but I’ll admit my 17 year old self certainly didn’t mind being carried back up the hill by the sexy signor!
Unfortunately my graphics teacher soon arrived to cut short the liaison, though I got my own back the next day when I accidently dropped one of my ski poles off the very same chair lift and he had to go and retrieve it for me. Sorry Mr B!
Would you change anything to avoid your previous misadventures?
Nope! Because it’s the misadventures that make the memories!
Three things you can’t travel without?
A buff for soaking up the sweat, a plug for washing stuff in the sink, and a hubbie for providing hours of amusement when I’m feeling low.
Which destinations are at the top of your bucket list?
I don’t have a bucket list, instead I have an experience list, at the top of which are being up close and personal with molten lava, seeing the curvature of the earth, and going ice-caving.
Most practical piece of advice for those planning travel?
Never underestimate the power of prior research. I’m a sucker for itineraries rather than spontaneity because I want to know I’m getting the most out of my experience.
I’d be gutted to return home to discover if I’d just looked a little further around the corner I’d have had the experience of a lifetime.
Travel blogs are a great place to start looking!
Why should people travel?
Because there is simply no other earthly experience that can compete with exploring and experiencing more of our world.
And if I can do it, so can you!