Lenin Pik, Kyrgyzstan
©All Submitted photos courtesy of Mark Ballard
Mark Ballard has a map on his wall with pins pushed into every place he’s been— 78 countries and counting.
His plan is to visit all seven continents before the age of 30. The 29-year-old engineer has only one remaining: Antarctica. It’s on his list of places to try and reach this year.
“I think in Newfoundland and Canada even, in general, a lot of people are stuck on this travel to ‘down South’ and stay on a resort … and there’s just so many other things you can see,” he said, when asked for any tips for people making travel plans.
He takes a casual approach to travel abroad. That doesn’t mean wandering into an unfamiliar area completely uninformed, he said. It does mean including some time and space in your schedule to alter course, squeeze in a recommended activity, or take in that one restaurant all of the locals seem to love.
Ballard said he doesn’t have a favourite destination himself, because it’s generally about experiences and memories. Travel is a bit different every time.
But there was that time he was in Sochi, Russia, in 2014, in the stadium to watch the Canadian men’s hockey team win Olympic gold; or in Tahrir Square seeing clashes in the early days of the Egypt uprising (the next day he was at the pyramids with not a sign of the troubles, he said).
His travels began with family and friends, but his launch into regular, international travel really started with a high school trip to Italy. From there, he embarked on quick trips to some of the Europe’s largest cities, then longer trips, as he could manage, around Europe and North America. Then he ventured into Asia, South America and Africa, more and more with new friends met along the way.
He says he’s been blessed by the time offered in scheduled breaks during his engineering studies. Later, he travelled during turnarounds from his work offshore (he was based in Norway since 2011, with a stretch traveling to offshore Newfoundland and Labrador).
When it comes to costs, he said travellers should not assume a resort or package is a best deal. Consider if things like ground transportation are included, tipping expected, costs for alcoholic drinks, and general quality of the experience. What do you want out of the trip? Maybe it suits, but maybe it doesn’t.
At the Travel Bug on Water Street in St. John’s, owner Peg Norman said while you may hear a lot about trips to Florida and “down South,”plenty of other destinations draw in people from this province. She also recommended considering your options.
“Newfoundlanders travel everywhere. That’s been true from the day (the store) opened almost 11 years ago until now. And, in fact, I think Newfoundlanders travel even further and are travelling more to different places, not just doing the resort in Cuba, Mexico, the Dominican, Florida,” she said.
The Travel Bug caters to the “soft traveller” (enjoying a comfortable bed in a nice hotel), she said, even more than the backpacking adventurer not afraid of roughing it. The shop stocks travel guides for all over — Africa, the Middle East, the U.S. and Asia.
“We’ve got customers who are just doing all kinds of travel. From river boat cruises in the Mediterranean, to hiking across Scotland, to going to Cambodia and hanging out for a couple of months, or the Philippines, or even Burma (Myanmar). Just places you wouldn’t expect that there would be an appetite from here,” she said. She said the shop has evolved into a place for sharing experiences and picking up tips and recommendations.
Norman doesn’t travel internationally as much as she would like to. She’s constrained by commitments with her business, not to mention the standard time and financial considerations. But she has made a point of trying to see some of the world up close.
“We grew up dirt poor, so we didn’t travel. Travel for us was going to Terra Nova National Park,” she laughed.
She’s made it further afield since, with the latest being a visit to part of Portugal in October.
When she does get away, she said she tries to go to places she’s never been before, even if it’s a different region of a country previously visited.
She said it generally helps to be prepared. Consider talking to people more familiar with the area. You can pick up, for example, what areas might be prone to pickpockets.
As for Ballard, he doesn’t have the Antarctic adventure booked yet, but he’s anxious to make the journey.
He’s actually becoming more adventurous over time and travels with specific activities — diving, skiing, climbing — and other challenges in mind. In 2013, he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and has since hiked the Inca Trail in Machu Picchu, climbed Island Peak in Nepal, attempted Lenin Peak in Kyrgyzstan (he picked up a stomach virus and was forced to turn back), but plans to hike Baruntse in Nepal in the not-too-distant future.
He is also eyeing an attempt at Mount Everest.