The Favourites of Teodor Mihail

Teodor Mihail is the founder of Unravel World Travel, a full-service travel agency in Toronto, Canada. He founded the company while in his last year of university and enjoys sharing his 20+ years of worldwide travel experience to inspire continuous love of travel through unravelling the world as one’s endless destination. You can check out his travel blog at Travelwithnoregrets.net.

What are three of your favourite countries, and why?

Mexico
I cannot stress enough how breathtaking Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is. I’ve gone there nine times so far and can never get enough of it. Other than archaeological sites and parks where travellers can discover the culture, you’ll find their unique cenotes. A cenote is an underwater sinkhole that, in ancient times was the only source of water. There are more than 6000 of them. And adventurous travellers will find anything to suit what they’d dare to do, from zip-lining to skydiving! Meanwhile, the rest of Mexico is full of culture and history that is waiting to be discovered. Mexico will leave you breathless, and I like to refer to it as “the place you thought you knew.

Japan
Until 2016, I would always travel to Europe or the Caribbean. In 2016, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and booked a tour in Japan. The country’s lovely and interesting culture is one that I had never discovered before, and after seeing the temples and castles in Japan, as well as the warm hospitality and cultural differences, I was motivated to discover the rest of Asia. Since then, I have visited eight countries in Southeast Asia, and cannot wait to discover the rest of them. Japan made me open my mind to discovering new cultures and learning about them, which is essential to any traveller. Also, the people of Japan always do things early, because for them, being on time is late and being late is unacceptable. They must always be early. The tour guide made us be early, and as a result, this trip made me a punctual person. It was a life-changing trip.

Switzerland 
Out of all the mountains I have seen in the world, I cannot remember any mountains more breathtaking than those of Switzerland. I travelled by train, which is the most affordable, as well as the most scenic way, to discover this country. With one rail pass, travellers have unlimited rides on trains, as well as public transit and also ferries in cities. The only exception is tourist trains. Taking a boat from Luzern to Fluelen to catch the Gotthard-Panorama Express, as well as the ride on that train, made my heart stop. The scenery changes every 2 minutes. Mountain buffs have a paradise of options, from hiking to even camping in the mountains. Switzerland will take your breath away and make you want to come back over and over!

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

Riding the Gotthard Panorama Express in Switzerland from Fluelen to Lugano, August 2020
I love discovering new countries by train. While road trips are fun, I believe that in order to take in the scenery, the best way is to travel by train. When I was backpacking in Europe in August 2020 – during the COVID-19 pandemic, I was in Switzerland and rode the touristic Gotthard Panorama Express train. It is a 100% business class train with glass domes to allow travellers to view the mountains. First, it was a 3-hour boat ride from Lucerne to Fluelen.

The breathtaking scenery along Lake Lucerne would change every 5 minutes, if not less than that. As boring as 3 hours on a boat may sound, I was on my toes every minute admiring the mountains. Upon arrival in Fluelen, the train station was across the street from the boat. I boarded the train for a journey that passed through some of the most beautiful mountainous scenery I’ve ever seen, to the point that I had a few tears come down my eyes! I would be lying if I didn’t say that this was the most beautiful train journey I’ve ever experienced. 

Arriving at a local village in Laos after hiking 40 kilometres
I had four full days to spend in Luang Prabang. A tour agency introduced me to a hiking tour where travellers hike to a local village in the jungle, then canoe a bit back to town. Being an adventurous person, I accepted the challenge and was the only one on tour. The tour started with a ride to a remote area, with a stop where the tour guide bought a few sandwiches and water. The hike started around 8:30 AM, and shortly, I found out that it was a total of 45 kilometres, split by 40 kilometres on the first day and 5 kilometres on the second day. I was shocked and had no idea how I would survive that hike in the humidity of 40 degrees Celsius. I told myself to go with the flow and enjoy every moment because this too shall pass. There were numerous moments when I needed a break, and I would be panting from how much walking was involved, sometimes on steep slopes.

I asked the tour guide what lunch would be like, and he said that the sandwiches and water he bought were for lunch, and we could eat anytime we wanted. I went with the flow and said to myself that as much as I’d be starving and not have cold water, nothing bad could happen. This would be a one-time experience. By 3:30–4:00 PM, we made it to a village that looked like the man village in Disney’s The Jungle Book. The accommodation that night was in a local house built of mostly wood, nicely set up, in a room big enough to fit no more than two people by width.

In the morning, the bathroom didn’t have a shower. I would need to take water from the sink in a bowl and splash myself. This is how local life is in Asia. I passed on the shower. The village had one convenience store which didn’t have a fridge for the drinks. This was a moment of culture shock, but what can you expect when you’re in the middle of a local village far in the jungle? The next day, I was surprised that scrambled eggs were served for breakfast. Meanwhile, the tour guide ate chicken and sticky rice. In the village, that is their breakfast, lunch and dinner. We hiked 5 km, then went canoeing for 2-3 hours, and then a car took me to my hostel. Upon arrival at the hostel, I showered for 40 minutes after the adventure I went through.

I must say it was a truly unique experience. While it may sound awful, it was not. This was an amazing way to experience local life in Laos and moreover across Asia. I would definitely recommend it! I could not believe that I made it to hike 40 km, and this hike made me realize I have much more potential in doing complex tasks than I thought.

Skydiving in New Zealand, January 2014
I did a Contiki tour in New Zealand, and one of my travel mates told me he did skydiving there. Until then, I was terrified of skydiving, as most people are when they hear the word. I took a breath and said to myself, “you know what, let’s do it! If many people on Contiki tours do it, who says I cannot? Worst case scenario, I’ll say it was awful and never do it again”. From the moment I left the hotel, I was starting to feel nervous. When the staff told me to “sign my life away”, which releases them from liability, I was even more terrified. The higher the plane went, the more my nerves were building, and my heart was racing while attached to the skydiver (it was tandem skydiving).

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The time eventually came, and all it took was 10 seconds from when the plane door opened until I was out, and another 45 seconds of freefall, during which time I felt like I was short of breath. Once the parachute opened, I felt relieved. Meanwhile, my nerves had been too high for me to take a breath and feel the air. Before you know it, we were back on land, and it was over. The highlight of skydiving was, after returning to earth, to think about what I just did.

I could not believe how much courage I had, and it totally transformed my mentality within a minute, from very conscious to a more daring personality that says “let’s do it!” (in the travel language, it’s called that it transformed me from a psychometric to an allocentric traveller). In the end, I regretted the amount of nerves that came into me, and I could still feel some of them up to an hour after finishing the activity. But every person has that fear when doing adventurous things, especially for the first time.

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

Walking through Toronto Pearson International Airport during the COVID-19 pandemic, July & August 2020
As we all know, 2020 was “the year that travel stood still”. Being a travel agent, I live and breathe off travelling to different countries and having a history filled with experiences. After three months of lockdown, I was desperate to get on a plane and go somewhere, so I took a trip to Mexico, the first destination that announced its reopening. The Air Canada check-in area had all counters open, but the airport was almost empty. It was June 28, 2020, and there were 57 flights departing all day. Seven of them were international, and the rest were domestic and transborder flights (to the USA). Many currency exchange desks, restaurants and stores in the airport were closed, and it felt like a ghost town. At the gate, when boarding started, I counted 48 people in the boarding area. Overall, it was a heartbreaking moment to see what our industry had come to and thinking that no one knew when we were going to see it rebound.

Being breakfast for mosquitoes in Cuba, January 2016
I enjoy watching sunrises and sunsets. I was on the beach by 5:30 AM, when it was still dark. I stayed on the beach until around 7:15 AM when the sun had fully risen and took a lot of beautiful pictures of the breathtaking sunrise. A few hours later, I started feeling itchy on my legs and then realized that I had at least 30 mosquito bites on each leg! I bought After Bite from the resort, and the upcoming night, I could not sleep due to how much itchiness I had on my legs. Once one bite would stop feeling itchy, another one or two would start, and so on. By the end of the trip, I had used all the After Bite that I had bought. All I can say is, thank God I wore my shirt that morning. Otherwise, my belly and back would have also been breakfast for the mosquitoes! 

Getting lost while skiing in Hopfgarten, Austria, December 2012
I did a ski tour to Austria with Contiki Holidays. Until then, I had gone skiing each winter when I was a kid. However, only on small hills, so I wanted to challenge myself to ski in the Alps. The day after arrival, I participated in a “ski safari”, which requires skiers to be comfortable with black slopes. This was a huge mistake! It was hard for me to keep up, and I even told the tour guide that he was going way too fast. This was because mountain skiing does not compare to skiing on hills, yet I did not think of taking lessons because I knew how to ski.

Around 4:00 PM, I fell and then lost track of the group. I tried looking for them, but there was no sight of anyone from the group. I then thought that I would return to the land and simply go back to the hostel. Before you know it, it was sunset, there were fewer skiers on the hill, and I was exhausted to the maximum. I didn’t know what to do. Luckily, I ran into 3 German ladies who approached me and asked me if I was okay. I told them that I was lost and needed to return to land.

Then it happened that a snow-grooming trailer was coming, and they waved and spoke in German to the driver, telling him the situation. In the end, the trailer took me down the mountain to the cable car, which was going back to town. I was relieved, but at the same time, embarrassed that this had to happen. I didn’t want to tell any of my Contiki travel mates about this. The next day, I opted for beginner ski lessons, even though I was not a first-time skier because I realized that I should have taken lessons before going on such daring adventures. 

What are three of your best travel tips?

Travel while you are young and able
Spend all your years after high school travelling as much as you can. In university, take the summers to travel. If you need work hours, find a way to work abroad. Because one day, the time to “hit the brake” will come, and you will miss travelling more than anything in the world. If you find a destination or trip that you would like to take, do not hold back from hitting the “book” button due to worries about money. Simply hit the button, and things will work out in the end.

Always step out of your comfort zone
If you see an activity, or perhaps someone tells you about a certain activity which your brain says that there is no way you would do it, try to think twice. If it is a public activity offered and the reviews are good, then it means people are doing it. So the question is if others can do it, why can’t you? The nerves and fear will build, but simply tell yourself, “I got this! And the company has the proper equipment!” Be adventurous and face your ultimate fears doing any activity that is popular. Because in the end, you will be proud of yourself for doing it and realize that you are actually able to do more than you think. Examples of such activities could be zip-lining, ATVing, mountaineering, bungee jumping. An example in my experience is the most extreme one: skydiving! If many people do it and it is a popular activity, then it is safe. 

Set your expectations according to what you’re buying
Many travellers tend to have bad experiences because of what I call expectation management. I personally love luxury experiences; however, I am not rich, and I also like making friends while on my trips. So once in a while, I will opt for luxury. Other times I go to hostels where social butterflies can enjoy making new friends. Or if I want my own time, I will get a decent hotel. Here are a few examples of expectations management:

  1. If you are going to a hostel, do not have high expectations. It’s a hostel where you’re paying around $10-30 per night. 
  2. If you’re going to a two or 3-star hotel, this means all you need is a roof over your head. So do not expect room service or even a restaurant in the hotel.
  3. If you’re flying Economy Class, you’re only buying a seat. Do not have high expectations of a relaxing flight with plenty of legroom unless you upgrade the seat.
  4. If you’re paying $600+ per night to stay at the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, then you can have the highest expectations.

Last but not least, learn from your experiences. For example, if you expected decent legroom on a plane (as in point 3) and it was not, well, you experienced it. Take it, learn from it, and in the future, you will know what to expect.

Do you have any favourite hotels or restaurants? 

Favourite hotels:

  • Hilton Niagara Fallsview Hotel and Suites – Niagara Falls, Canada
  • El Dorado Seaside Suites – Riviera Maya, Mexico
  • Majestic Elegance Costa Mujeres – Cancun, Mexico
  • SS Rotterdam ship – Rotterdam, Netherlands
  • Ludhiana Resort – Bali, Indonesia
  • Phi Phi Island Village Beach Resort – Koh Phi Phi, Thailand
  • Marina Bay Sands, Singapore
  • Shangri-La Hotel Dubai

Do you have any favourite cities?

  • Montreal, Canada
  • Quebec City, Canada
  • Paris, France
  • Bucharest, Romania

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

  • Jolly Roger Inn & Resort – Parry Sound, Canada
  • Pearl Vista de Coron Resort Hotel – Coron, Philippines
  • Loft Hostel – Reykjavik, Iceland
  • Brisas Santa Lucia – Camaguey province, Cuba
  • Monarch of the Seas cruise ship (formerly Royal Caribbean International, now sold to Pullman Cruises)

Additional favourites

If you can only choose one:

  The Favourites of Maria Sørensen

Favourite airline: KLM Royal Dutch Airlines.
Favourite airport: Cancun, Mexico.
Favourite city: Paris, France.
Favourite island: Turks and Caicos.
Favourite small town: Sinaia, Romania.
Favourite travel movie: EuroTrip.

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