The Favourites of Kate McCulley

Kate McCulley is a professional travel blogger at AdventurousKate.com, specializing in solo and independent travel for women. She has travelled to 83 countries and all 7 continents. In this interview, she shares some of her favourites and best stories.

What are three of your favourite countries and why? (You really like Italy, if I’m not mistaken)

Italy
Italy, far and away, is my favourite! I never get tired of Italy. The food, the art, beautiful landscapes and beautiful people. And it’s surprisingly diverse. I’ve visited 17 of Italy’s 20 regions, and I appreciate that I’ve gotten to know so many different parts of the country. My first post-vaccine trip will be to the Aeolian Islands of Sicily.

Mexico
Mexico is just pure joy. That might be my favourite winter destination in the world! Mexicans are some of the most kind, fun, and hospitable people I’ve ever met, and like Italy, it’s another diverse country full of culinary adventures. Oaxaca, Mérida, Mexico City, and Bacalar are favorite spots.

Croatia
Croatia is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, both in natural beauty as well as man-made beauty, and I think it has the world’s most spectacular coastline. Croatia’s islands are my favourite summer escape in the world. Vis and Korčula are two of my favourites. 

Bonus: Antarctica
And no, it’s technically not a country, but Antarctica. The best place I’ve ever been. The most beautiful place I’ve ever been. No place has ever made me feel so small and insignificant. It killed my ego and changed me forever.

Are there any countries you don’t like visiting?

Honestly, I won’t be heartbroken if I never return to Brunei or Moldova. Brunei because it’s simultaneously a totalitarian regime and one of the most boring places I’ve ever visited. Moldova because it was one of the bleakest places I’ve visited. 

I should mention that Moldova has excellent red wine, though! At one point in Chisinau, I came across two Mormon missionaries and thought to myself, “Poor them, they can’t even enjoy the one good thing about this place.”

What are three of your favourite cities, and why?

New York
I lived there for four years, and I miss it every day. Just being able to live here feels like an achievement. What I love most about New York is that it lets you be whoever you want to be! And if you want to try on a different personality for a weekend or completely start over, there are so many ways you can do that.

Edinburgh
Edinburgh is a city that feels like a hug. There’s magic in the air in Edinburgh, with the castle on the hill, the winding streets, and the excellent pubs.

Bangkok
Bangkok is always a rollicking good time. It was the first place that kicked off my long-term travels, and I love returning for the amazing food, the fun shopping, the nightlife, and the cheap foot massages that I get several times a week.

What are three of the worst places you’ve stayed? 

Airbnb in the Philippines
One of the first Airbnbs I ever stayed in was a normal-seeming apartment in Boracay in the Philippines — and when you turned the lights out, cockroaches scurried across the room. Eek! I didn’t spend another night there.

Hostel in London
There was also the time I needed to stay in the cheapest hostel I could find in London. I ended up on the bottom of a triple-decker bunk bed. Fun times. Funnily enough, the next day, I flew to the Faroe Islands for a press trip, and they hosted me in the same hotel that hosted Bill Clinton!

Monkey Republic in Cambodia
I kind of hold fond memories for Monkey Republic in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. Every morning you would wake up, and there would be different couples paired up, playing musical beds each night. Ha! Memorable in my early twenties, but no way I could stay somewhere like that now.

Do you have any favourite hotels or restaurants? 

Park Hyatt Tokyo
Lost in Translation is one of my all-time favourite movies, so I’ve always wanted to stay at the Park Hyatt Tokyo. I finally got my wish in 2018. The views knock your socks off. The luxury is outstanding. And you can’t beat that bar — sipping cocktails and listening to jazz as the red lights of Tokyo’s rooftops twinkle around you.

Maslina Resort, Hvar, Croatia
More recently, I stayed at Maslina Resort in Hvar, Croatia, and I was deeply inspired by the intention of the creators. Responsibility was their core value, and they built an absolutely stunning resort while taking good care of their employees, their community, and the planet. And the front desk is a hunk of Brač stone roughly the size of Saskatchewan.

Grand Daddy Hotel, Cape Town
And the Grand Daddy Hotel in Cape Town! This boutique hotel has an actual Airstream park on the roof! Each of the vintage silver trailers is decked out in its own theme. Mine was Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Such a fun and unique place to stay in the middle of the city.

What are three of your favourite travel moments, and why?

Festival in the Shetland Islands
In 2012 attended Up Helly Aa in the Shetland Islands, a festival that involves Vikings, torches, a costumed parade, lighting a traditional boat on fire, then dancing to traditional Shetland music and watching the squads perform dance routines to pop songs. I will never forget swirling around on the dance floor with kilted Shetlanders until 8:00 in the morning!

Penguins in Antarctica
Antarctica was full of magical moments, but the best one was when my fellow kayakers and I were exploring a still bay. Suddenly hundreds upon hundreds of penguins began porpoising (jumping out of the water like dolphins) over and over in our direction — then as soon as they got close, they turned around and porpoised back, as if to say, “Nope, nope, nope, nope!”

Readers followed an advice
A few years ago, I hosted tours of my readers in El Salvador and Guatemala. I always talk about how my Pacsafe portable safe is the most important thing I pack. On the first day of the tour, I went into their bathroom and saw three of the safes locked to the base of the sink! It nearly made me cry. My readers listened to me!

What are three of your worst travel moments, and why?

The shipwreck
In 2011 I was on a sailing trip from Lombok to Komodo Island in Indonesia, and the boat went down in the middle of the night. The lifeboats couldn’t be used, and we had to leave our belongings on board and jump off, swimming to shore. We all survived with minimal injuries, but it was scary, and on top of that, the crew robbed us. I was so lucky I had a dry bag with my phone and ATM card. It took about five years for me to get over my fear of boats after that.

Allergic reaction in Korea
I had an allergic reaction to something in Korea, and for weeks it would resurface at random times, my lips and face suddenly swelling up. I was in Australia after Korea and saw so many doctors who had no answers. To this day, I have no clue what it was; after nine months or so, the hives stopped.

Pickpocketed in Buenos Aires
I was actually pickpocketed on the first day of my first solo trip ever — in Buenos Aires in 2008! My wallet, credit cards, and money were all gone; all I had was my passport. But I got Amex to wire money to Western Union, and I picked it up and enjoyed the rest of my trip. Looking back, that was insane — that would have ruined so many other travellers, but I just picked up and moved on.

What are three of your best travel tips? 

Don’t get currency converted before your trip
It’s unnecessary and a waste of money 99% of the time. Just use the ATM at the airport once you arrive. Always choose the rate of the local currency, not the option of your home country. There have been two occasions when no ATMs in the airport were working — in Bologna and Cartagena — and both times, I had the cab stop at an ATM on the way to my accommodation.

Mini getaway before travelling solo
If you’ve never travelled solo before, try a mini getaway! Spend an overnight or a weekend somewhere within a few hours from your home. Keep the stakes low; you don’t need to take a long trip somewhere exotic for a solo trip to be worthwhile.

Don’t take boats after dark in developing countries
That’s the number one tip I’ve given people after my shipwreck. Stick to day boats.

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  The Favourites of Harold Smith-Franzen

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