theBubbleBuster has moved

15 Dec

Dear loyal readers,

I have been overwhelmed with the support of my blog and have genuinely appreciated all of your input and feedback that have made it a success. For these reasons I have decided to upgrade, expand and transfer theBubbleBuster blog to its own new web address: www.thebubblebusterproject.com

I hope you will continue enjoying theBubbleBuster on its new and improved platform.

You can also now receive updates and join discussions with me via www.facebook.com/thebubblebusterproject and www.twitter.com/thebubblebuster.

Sincerely,

Marissa Toohey

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The destination dilemma, solved

28 Nov

I choose my travel destinations in the same way a wino selects a bottle of red: I browse options available, seek informed reviews, develop a shortlist to compare types, values and prices, and then proceed with the option that best suites my taste at the time.

It's time to get back to the drawing board to plan for your trip of a lifetime!

Considering the current high value of the Australian dollar and frequent flight sales by budget airlines, we have access to more holiday destinations than ever before. Seasoned backpackers and first-time tour goers alike are taking advantage of this opportunity as if it’s a once-in-a-lifetime scenario because, really, it might be the best chance many of us get to tick off some big items on our bucket lists. In times like this, how do you approach and plan for travel?

Do you indulge in fancy accommodation and premium dining experiences rather than backpacking?

Do you take longer holidays and spend more time getting to intimately know the places you visit?

Do you check out as many places as you possibly can via an organised tour because it might be the only time you’ll ever venture abroad?

Do you buy more nic nacs and gifts for family?

Several different factors contributed to my recent decision to book flights to Bhutan for the upcoming Christmas break. I initially considered the country because I was craving a taste of Asia again but wanted to avoid known tourist hot spots; Bhutan has a reputation for being the country with the least tourists on the planet!

The concept of holidaying in Bhutan was strengthened when I was reminded that the country has no traffic lights, has banned advertising billboards and measures growth of its economy in line with Gross National Happiness. Yes, yes, yes!

The deciding factor was the realisation that Bhutan will now cost me around half as much as it would have five years ago. That’s right, as a result of the current favourable exchange rate, it will cost me almost 50 percent less than when I have considered the holiday in the past. I know this because travellers can only access the country by paying a daily tariff communicated in US dollars – it includes all accommodation, transport, entry to sights and even meals – enabling me to fairly accurately calculate the total costs relative to time and exchange rates. For me the current exchange savings translate into spending twice the time getting to know the last shangri-la, Bhutan.

I later realised that this decision means I will be going to the Himalayas during winter. Rather than purchasing a fine red wine, I think I’ve grabbed a chilled bottle of bubbly straight off the ice. I’ll toast to that!

By Marissa Toohey

Byron Bay: One of the best diving sites in Australia

22 Nov

The only way to enter the open water from Byron Bay is by launching off the beach. It makes for peaceful waterways with few fisherman and lots of big fish.

The highlight of diving at Julian Rocks in Byron Bay is getting up close to these guys: grey nurse sharks.

Click the image for more of Shea's photos of diving at Julian Rocks.

Click the image for more of Shea's photos of diving at Julian Rocks.

Click the image for more of Shea's photos of diving at Julian Rocks.

Read about my encounter with a whale while diving at Byron Bay.

5 top experiences abroad

20 Nov

1. Paragliding at Hopfgarten in Austria.

If you look really closely you will see the paraglider in the sky. The views of the alps were stunning.

 2. The gibbon zip-line experience in Laos.

The Gibbon Experience is an ecotourism adventure; a system of zip lines that soar high above the jungle. Click the image to watch my video.

 3. Motorcycle ride around the Mekong Delta in Vietnam.

This photo was taken while riding with my friend Jess who was living in Soc Trang, Vietnam. It's worthwhile taking your own time to explore this area.

 4. Climbing to the summit of Mount Fuji in Japan.

The difficulty of the climb to this summit should not be underestimated. Click the image to read my blog post on the Mount Fuji climb.

 5. Feeding elephants at Chiang Mai in Thailand.

Volunteering at the Elephant Nature Park in northern Thailand allows you to care for injured elephants. Click the image to watch my video.

By Marissa Toohey

Experience and protect the whale’s echo

19 Nov

Whales are amongst the most intelligent and fascinating creatures on Earth. Just consider the way a pod of whales passing near a coast summons the attention of hundreds of people – boats, kayakers and swimmers all surrender their activities in anticipation of catching a glimpse of these magnificent creatures breaching the surface. I’m one of few people who have also experienced the echo of a whale from under the surface while diving at Byron Bay recently and I was in awe. Like millions of people across the world, I had been dreaming and hoping to encounter a whale in the open water for many years.

I was thrilled to get my opportunity to dive in the presence of a pod of whales but was also saddened by the realisation that the chances of it ever happening again were incredibly slim. These thoughts culminated during the week when I met Captain Paul Watson who is preparing to lead the Sea Shepherds through their most daring campaign ever: Operation Divine Wind, aiming to stop Japanese whaling in the Antarctic region for good.

Watch The Captain’s talk about the upcoming Divine Wind anti-whaling campaign which I enjoyed during the week. Video by Sea Shepherds Brisbane.

Last year the Sea Shepherds obstructed the course of Japanese ships so severely that they only achieved 17 percent of their kill quota and were forced to turn around and go back home. This made whaling completely economically unviable for Japan. Despite this serious outcome last year, the Japanese Government has still committed to go ahead whaling over the next few months and The Captain said they have even dedicated almost $30 million just to stop the Sea Shepherds. To make matters worse, the Australian Government continues to let these ships refuel in our territory and has rejected all requests by the Sea Shepherds for a boat to standby incase of an emergency. Considering the hostility demonstrated by Japanese ships last year and the fact that the majority of Sea Shepherds crew members will be Australian and New Zealand volunteers, it is disappointing that the actions of our leaders don’t reflect the population’s love for these animals.

The recent announcements that two species of rhinos became extinct – one in Africa and the other in Vietnam – highlighted the fact that the world needs to act faster to protect its animals. If whaling continues in the way that poaching has, the next generation of children will never hear the spectacular echo of a whale.

Please watch the above video of The Captain’s talk in Brisbane during the week and see why the Sea Shepherds are a cause worth busting your bubble for.

By Marissa Toohey

theBubbleBuster recommends: The Third Wave book

15 Nov

The Third Wave book motivated me to volunteer again. Click the image to read more about the book.

Alison Thompson was living in New York City when the Boxing Day Tsunami devastated Asia. Instead of watching developments on television or donating small sums of money to assist with aid efforts like many of us did back in 2004, Alison packed her possessions and flew to Sri Lanka to help in any way she could.

The Third Wave tells the story of an Australian volunteer who intended to work for two weeks and ended up dedicating the rest of her life to helping others. Despite the physical and emotional challenges that Alison outlined throughout her story, it’s easy to understand why she has committed to working in development for the long term. The Third Wave demonstrates the real power of individual efforts in generating positive change.

I strongly recommend this book if you are interested in learning more about disaster recovery or meaningful volunteering abroad, in addition to those people simply seeking inspiration again like myself.

By Marissa Toohey

City with abseiling right at its doorstep

1 Nov

How many cities offer outdoor rock climbing and abseiling within walking distance? I recently popped out of home for just a couple of hours during a Sunday evening for a session of sunset abseiling with exquisite views of Brisbane city. How cool is that?!

Shea takes his first steps over the edge of the cliff at Kangaroo Point.

I went abseiling down a cliff at Kangaroo Point, along Brisbane River.

I'm enjoying abseiling for the very first time and just minutes from my apartment in Brisbane city.

We enjoyed watching the sun lower behind the city and finished abseiling right on dark.

The first steps were the scariest but, after leaning over the edge, I quickly trusted the ropes. Bunny hopping down the wall was hilarious and I even started racing to get to the bottom before others. I’m now looking forward to another Sunday session of abseiling and I’ve set my sights on the Glasshouse Mountains for next time, which are only around an hour north of Brisbane.

Check out Adventures Around Brisbane for details on abseiling at Kangaroo Point and bust your bubble with abseiling too!

By Marissa Toohey

Introducing iBuild, my post on volunteering in Vietnam

31 Oct

Habitat Vietnam has launched a new blog to share the stories of their volunteers and it features a post from me. Check it out as the blog develops to see if volunteering in Vietnam could be for you. Spread the word!

This photograph was taken during my first afternoon at My Tho in the Mekong Delta during my very first volunteer build. Click the photograph to read my post on iBuild, Habitat Vietnam's brand new volunteer blog.

By Marissa Toohey

I’ve seen how a simple investment in development pays dividends forever

23 Oct

In Vietnam I saw that individual cash donations provided bricks and mortar to build homes for people in need, which protected them from typhoons and severe illnesses like malaria, and even improved their education and livelihoods through stability.

I’ve seen firsthand how simple contributions play a part in creating better lives and futures for marginalised households.

Here is a short video that inspires me and demonstrates how you can also do something as simple as investing in a single girl to produce positive impacts for families, communities, women and even the world: it’s called The Girl Effect.

By Marissa Toohey

Travelling for less is more

23 Oct

I’m not ashamed to admit that travelling is all about quantity rather than quality for me. I’d share a dorm room with a sasquatch and eat nothing but haggis if it meant that I could afford to spend a few extra days on the road. That’s how much I love travelling.

Considering my success in exploring nearly 30 countries over just the past few years and with no more than an average salary, I’ve realised a number of good tricks to minimise costs. These are my top tips for getting the most bang out of your buck:

Liaise directly with service providers
Plan and manage your trip directly with service providers to avoid higher prices due to handling fees. I always book my own flights through airline websites, unless I need assistance coordinating a complicated stop-over involving more than one airline.

Shea enjoyed authentic Japanese accommodation. This bed 'n breakfast was attached to a temple at Takayama in the Japan Alps.

Swap Hilton for homely
Popular hotel chains are enjoyable but they’re generally expensive and don’t offer a real taste of the countries they are in. I use hostelworld.com to identify authentic guest houses or bed ‘n breakfasts that cost only a fraction of the price and usually come with hospitable local operators and cultural quirks.

Capsule hotel accommodation in Tokyo, Japan - it was affordable and fun to experience.

Take advantage of last minute deals
Depending on your destination, it’s sometimes possible to negotiate cheaper rates for accommodation on arrival. This is particularly true in Asia and it’s all part of the fun of bargaining within many Asian cultures. Similarly, tour operators sometimes offer lower prices to fill remaining seats.

Don’t buy a new “holiday wardrobe”
Is it really worth spending a few hundred dollars just so you can wear a couple of new outfits in your photographs? Unless you will be hiking above 3,000 metres or white water rafting for several days, I guarantee you already have appropriate clothes for your upcoming journey. If you insist on jazzing up your wardrobe, buy some accessories while you’re on the road.

Only invest in gifts that really matter
Too often I see tourists spending large sums on silly gadgets and items which they can buy at home anyway. Save your spending money for things that are unique to your destination or buy goods from locals in need to make a small difference in their lives.

By Marissa Toohey

I enjoyed the world’s only dive rig

25 Sep

My scuba diving hobby has taken me to many exciting places and the greatest, so far, was Seaventures Dive Rig – an old oil rig that was converted into a diving platform and hotel, located just minutes from one of the hottest diving destinations in the world, Sipadan.

Seaventures Dive Rig at Sipadan in Malaysian Borneo.

The idea of staying out to sea on an oil rig intrigued me. It was fully fitted out for convenient diving, with several rooms up top and a large bottom deck that had diving gear for grabs and a lift straight to the water below.

The Seaventures operators also arranged daily diving trips to nearby Mabul Island and Sipadan, which lived up to the hype created by famous Jacques Cousteau’s top review. The dramatic wall, large schools of fish, reef sharks, turtles and anemones were even better than those I’ve seen on television.

Me diving under the Seaventures Dive Rig.

Diving along the wall of Sipadan Island.

A giant school of Barracuda at Sipadan.

A Whitetip reef shark at Sipadan.

Visit the Seaventures website for more information on oil rig accommodation and diving at Sipadan.

By Marissa Toohey

Walking the Bridge to Brisbane

12 Sep

Me and my team after the Bridge to Brisbane race.

The Bridge to Brisbane race was a simple way to enjoy a sunny day and contributed to a good cause. Every entry helped to raise funds for Legacy Queensland which is an organisation that cares for the spouses and dependants of Australian veterans through pension advocacy, safety and security, financial security and social and medical care.

There are a number of other fitness and fundraising events held across Australia throughout the year, including the long running Cancer Council Relay for Life at several locations, the extreme Simpson Desert Multimarathon and, one of my favourite ideas, the Pub2Pub Charity Fun Run and Walk which is an annual Sydney event that starts at Dee Why Surf Club and ends at The Newport Arms Hotel.

By Marissa Toohey

theBubbleBuster reaches 18 months

9 Sep

It’s been 18 months since I posted my first words as theBubbleBuster.

I've shared a few embarrassing moments and photos! Pictured is my sunburn from the Mount Fuji climb - ouch!

During those months I’ve climbed Mount Fuji in Japan, photographed “Mount Doom” in New Zealand, scuba dived in Fiji, partied on Sentosa Island, lived in Vietnam, convinced my parents to join me on their first overseas journey, explored a township devastated by volcanic eruptions in Indonesia, and also explored many emotional and physical changes as a result of some of these activities.

I have shared intimate thoughts and honest perspectives through many of these posts, which were always received by my readers with warmth and with encouragement. To each of you, I express sincere thanks.

To celebrate my success in continuing theBubbleBuster and with followers who actually enjoy reading it(!), I’ve collated the most honest and popular posts for your enjoyment. Here it goes:

You can browse all past blog posts via the Archive page. Do you have another favourite? Please share it with me in the comment box below.

By Marissa Toohey

For the love of diving

6 Sep

Despite popular belief, scuba diving is not generally about getting a rush of adrenalin. It’s about the feeling of weightlessness, the soothing rhythm of blowing bubbles, the stunning topography and fascinating interactions with underwater creatures. If you don’t believe me, just see for yourself …

This is the Great Barrier Reef which has over 1,500 species of fish.

I never get tired of diving with green sea turtles.

During a certain time of the year, you can dive with manta rays at North Stradbroke Island in Queensland.

If you study underwater landscapes closely, you find creatures that blend in with their surroundings, like this spotted porcupine fish.

Most people are afraid of grey nurse sharks but the species is not life-threatening to humans. They move slow and steady and often swim up nice and close.

You can now keep up to date with my diving expeditions around Australia and overseas through my partner’s website. Shea goes diving almost every single week so the website will be updated regularly. In addition, he recently bought an impressive new underwater photography kit so it’s about to get even better!

By Marissa Toohey

From a long journey to a single piece of paper

30 Aug

During the weekend I caught up with several members of my “Vietnam family” in Melbourne to reminisce and provide feedback to the organisers of our overseas assignments. As a reflection exercise, the event organisers asked us to illustrate significant moments throughout our time abroad.

An illustration of significant challenges and milestones during my assignment in Vietnam

I’m no Monet, so let me break it down for you: it was a bloody big year! It started like a party (represented by a karaoke microphone at the top of the drawing that looks like an ice cream) and there was plenty of time on the toilet as a result of my bad reaction to seafood and, well, stress from culture shock. I threw in a couple of computers to demonstrate that I actually worked when I wasn’t socialising or travelling. Really, I did.

In contrast, the bottom half of my drawing only signals a few of the challenges and questions I experienced as I removed the rose-coloured glasses and my understanding of Vietnam deepened. Flooding, poverty, censorship and language frustrations were just a few of the issues that caused me to question my position and future plans.

The problem was, I needed a larger piece of paper than I planned …

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