On the road with Monica Dart -Travel Interview

Cape Town based wedding photographer, Monica Dart,  is a seasoned traveller and have been to no fewer than 25 countries, visiting 84 major cities. She has called London, Singapore, Israel and Los Angeles home. So it’s safe to say Monica knows how to navigate her way through almost any destination. Her experiences abroad has enriched her life immensely, making her more grateful and tolerant, and quite frankly super interesting to talk to.

Monica is a warm, bubbly, free-spirited person with a smile as big as her heart. She takes the same free-spirited approach to travelling, “winging it” 9 times out of 10, preferring to discover little hidden gems off the beaten track, where she’s able to meet and spend time with the locals.

She remembers very clearly when she first became mesmerized by the idea of travelling, “I was in Std 9 and I heard a travel talk by a man called Hylton Ross, who now owns the company with the same name. I remember him speaking with such enthusiasm about Europe, he had everyone on the edge of their seats…”

Inspired by Hylton’s talk, Monica made it her life’s mission to get on a plane to explore the big wide world. Monica shares some of her very valuable travel tips  and advice with us.


What is your best piece of advice for other travellers visiting a foreign country for the first time?


Go with a completely open mind and friendly, approachable attitude. Taste and try everything you have time for. Especially take time to relax at a café and ‘people watch’. You can learn a lot about a new place and the culture just by observing with a tea or coffee in hand. And remember…you are the visitor, so respect the culture and the way they do things.  The locals really appreciate it if you know a few words in their language – so learn the basics. Speaking really slowly to them in English in the hope they’ll understand, is not going to help. If you can travel with just three things….let them be patience, open-mindedness, and kindness…and your experiences will be far fuller and richer.

What is your secret to “stress-free travels”, if indeed there is such a thing?


Things like bus, train or plane delays are quite normal when travelling…I use it as a time to talk to other travellers, make new friends and swop travel experiences.  It’s all part of the adventure.

Do you have a favourite destination?


Cuba is my ultimate destination….the place that inspires me so much because of the energy, people, colour and history. It has a sense of being set in a time warp…and one of the few places without Starbucks and McDonald’s! The mere thought of being back there makes my heart race. The first time I was there was in the summer of 2008…and I was hooked!  I’m currently working on a documentary photo book on Cuba which has been on hold…. I’ll be venturing back there in a few months to finish it, so squeezing in a quick crash-course in Spanish before then.

 

And which countries are still on your bucket-list?


Zanzibar and Morocco have been on my mind for a while.  I want to understand and explore more of Africa.

 

What is in your overnight bag on long haul flights?


A small throw or scarf (aeroplane air conditioner can get too cold), toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, earphones, ‘Oh-lief’ hand wax (aeroplanes can dry out skin), a good book to tuck into, some snacks…and of course red lipstick!  On the topic of packing…I’ve learned that investing in a medium sized suitcase with decent wheels will save your back, besides, you’ll never wear everything you pack into a large suitcase. Ever!

Do you have any rituals/ a routine during a long flight?


The first thing I order is tomato juice, which is weird because I don’t even like tomatoes.  But there’s something about switching off from the life I know, and stepping into my life as a traveller….I instantly feel free and completely anonymous. I get to re-invent myself every time. Emirates is my favourite airline…and they do the best food…so I always stay awake to eat. After dinner I have a whisky which puts me straight to sleep, and I wake up in a new country

Travelling has made me a kinder and more generous person because I’ve seen a lot of poverty, and met many people that have so little and are still smiling.  It has given me an appreciation and gratitude for what I have, and as a result I really don’t ‘sweat the small stuff’ anymore.  It has made me a better listener because everyone I’ve met wants to be validated, and has a ‘story’ about their life that they want to share.  It has opened my mind and my life to opportunities beyond my wildest imagination, and made me realise that no dream is too big, or too far out of reach.  There is magic out there…

 

What are your best tips for travelling on a budget?


Eat a big breakfast as you then won’t need lunch (if you’re staying at a B&B this is ideal as it’s then included). Ask around to see if busses and trains are cheaper before or after a certain time. And travel 2nd class on trains, like in countries like Sweden and Norway, as they are totally clean and comfortable, but cost less than 1st class. If you pass a supermarket, pop in and buy a few snacks to keep in your bag for those times you’re not near a café or restaurant.

How do you keep important documents organised ?


I photocopy documents like air tickets, passport, ID and keep a copy in my suitcase and hand luggage. A good tip is to take photos of all these documents with your phone.

 

What gadgets can’t you travel without?


My ipad comes in handy especially for long transfers…my iphone for music, and my kindle. I especially recommend a kindle as you can download travel books before you arrive in a new city…and it doesn’t have the weight of a book!. My brother recently gave me an iwalk Extreme portable phone charger which gives up to 5 full battery charges to iphone and ipad (due out in stores in SA in September). That’s really usually when you see your battery is on 5% and there is nowhere to charge it.

 

Do you have any handy apps that you would be lost without?


Airbnb is a great choice for economical accommodation, Tripadvisor for restaurants in more of the bigger cities. In places like Vietnam, I prefer to just enjoy street food, so I go ‘app-less’.

How do you keep all your important documents organised and safe?


I photocopy documents like air tickets, passport, ID and keep a copy in my suitcase and hand luggage. A good tip is to take photos of all these documents with your phone.

Items you wouldn’t think of packing, but that will come in very handy…


Definitely a tiny bottle of antibacterial hand gel or hand wipes, headache pills and plasters.  I always get blisters from walking a new place flat!