On Saying Good-bye: Making a Memorable Last Day

There’s something very bittersweet about the last day of travel.   You executed your planned vacation.  You’ve been to all the hotspots.  You’ve bought your souvenirs.  You’ve met people, eaten delicious meals, and had amazing experiences along the way.  And tomorrow you leave.

Part of you is probably happy to be going home.  Routine, cooking your own meals, seeing friends, sleeping in your own bed, not living out of a suitcase…

But the joy of traveling is coming to a close, the community, the country you’ve been experiencing is soon to be a memory rather than your reality.

Enjoying a last avocado smoothie while enjoying life pass us by below...our last day in Sri Lanka.
Enjoying a last avocado smoothie while enjoying life pass us by below…our last day in Sri Lanka.

So what do you do? How do you spend your last day and night in a place you’ve been journeying as an experiential traveler?  Here are my tips for making the most out of your last day.

1) Make it calm. Don’t try to pack in a day’s worth of running around.  Instead, try a pleasurable walk, a luxurious lunch, or an afternoon at the beach or park. Be slow and intentional.

2) Listen and smell.  By now, the sights, sounds, and smells are no longer new.  But make a point of really embracing your five senses to make them a lasting memory.

3) Take time to reflect. Whether it’s writing or sketching or photography or whatever it is that you do, connect with your artistic side to think back on your entire trip. See my post on Debriefing for reflection points.

4) Have a list of last minute souvenirs. I don’t advise spending your entire day shopping, but do take note in the morning before venturing out about any souvenirs you wanted to buy.  In my experience, if you feel rushed on your last day  you’ll buy too much and things you might not use.  Or, you’ll forget something or someone and end up spending an arm and a leg at the airport souvenir store.

5) Get into the weather. Whether it’s sunny or cloudy, rainy or snowy, spend at least a few moments outside.  Anywhere – a patio, a park bench, on a walk…somewhere where you can see the beautiful connection been nature and people.  Somewhere where you can experience the purity of the outdoors, even away from home.

Our last sunset in Italy. Such a special moment. After capturing this picture, I went back to my journaling...how I like to reflect on my last night.
Our last sunset in Italy. Such a special moment. After capturing this picture, I went back to my journaling…how I like to reflect on my last night.

6) Have a conversation with a local. A shopkeeper. A waiter. A passerby. Doesn’t matter who, but use the language you’ve picked up. Smile a lot. Take pleasure in the wonderful way that humanity connects, superceding cultures, timezones, and languages.

7) Don’t worry about the weightscale. Eat all those meals you won’t be able to for a while. Enjoy life through the culinary culture of your host country.

8) If you’re in a country that uses a different currency from your own, make a plan:  Do you have enough for the rest of your payments (i.e. taxi ride to the airport) or do you need more? Is there a certain limit to the amount of local currency you can take out of the country? If yes you have excess, make a plan (i.e. exchanging at a bureau, giving to a local charity, buying more souvenirs). Will you be returning soon? Should you bring some currency with you to make your arrival easier next time to enter this land?

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Seriously…it’s the last day! Eat! Eat! Eat! Look at all this deliciousness… (from Italy)

9) Enjoy the last sunset. Make time for it. Whether it’s 4:30 pm in the Canadian winter or 6:30 pm somewhere along the Equator, the sunset represents your last travel day turning into your last travel evening. There’s something so beautiful, humbling, and peaceful about that moment.  Embrace it!

And finally, and most annoyingly…

10) Pack! Especially if you have an early flight. Your tired-cranky-it’s too early in the morning for a flight-self will thank you for it!

That last day and night traveling…may you make it memorable so that you have memories to last a lifetime!

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Your Travel Purse: How to Pack It

Having something in which to carry your money, travel documents, and other essentials is necessary when travelling, especially when you’re between accommodation and need to keep those personal items closest to you.

I’ve never been a fan of money belts.  For one, thieves know about money belts.  I’ve had friends had these belts knifed off of them.  And though they’re great for storing your personals close to you, they’re hot, they’re bulky, and I find they make my lower abdomen look really bizarre.  They’re also smaller than a purse when going through airport security which means that when it’s going through the conveyer belt, it’s much easier for someone to quickly snatch than my larger bag.

For me, I love my shoulder strap purse.  LOVE it. Here’s my list of what I always pack in my purse.

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On the train to Pompeii, enjoying the scene out the window. Don’t have to worry about much because everything I need is safely and securely in my bag!

WHAT TO PACK IN YOUR PURSE:

Here are the essential items that I always keep in my purse when travelling.  I don’t even have to think when I get up in the morning about what I need – these items are always there.  Please note that this is once you’ve checked into where you’re staying and have important documents like passport, money, hidden away at the hotel.

1. One piece of ID

2. Photocopy of your passport (original safely at the hotel; another photocopy with a family member back home)

3. Hand sanitizer

4. Package of Kleenexes (for nose blowing, no toilet paper washrooms, wiping wet seating areas, etc. etc.)

5. Business card/information for your hotel/guesthouse 

6. Your personal business card (you never know who you’ll run into)

7. Your phone, with a downloaded language dictionary in case you need a quick translation

8. Map of city

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Pushing Pisa (hey, everyone needs the stereotypical tourist picture sometimes!) with my bag flopping infront of me. Shortly after this picture was taken, we ate lunch…which was all being carried in my bag!!!

9. Small notebook & pen

10. Small money in case taxi/small shops can’t change large amounts.

11. Some large bills separated from my small money, just in case.

12. A small snack (what if I can’t find anything gluten free? What if it’s 1:30 in Italy and everything is closed?)

13. Small sunscreen.

14. Small bugspray bottle, if necessary where you are.

15. A scarf: which becomes a blanket, a pillow, a warm shawl, or a cover if I’m entering a church, mosque or other area where it’s necessary to be more conservative.

16. Lipchap/lipstick (with SPF!)

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Hiked to “Caesar’s Waterfall” in the little village of Albori, Italy. A lovely one hour hike was helped by water and biscuits…all of which were in my bag! And what better way to ensure that the biscuits are eaten cleanly by using sanitizer first! We were also allergic to something in the forest, which meant the Kleenex came in handy!

17. A book/sketchpad or whatever you do if you’re stuck somewhere and need some entertainment…or if you just get inspired

18. An umbrella, if the weather necessitates

This might seem like a big list, but invest in small-size things: a travel umbrella, travel packs of Kleenex and hand sanitizer, etc.  You don’t want to be walking around with a pound of bricks, and you always want extra room in case you buy something.

Letting Go Of Vanity to Travel Better

Some blogs are like journals.  As much as I don’t intend for this blog to be completely “Dear Diary, Today I…” in its prose, there are two things that you should know about me to fully understand this post.

Number one: I am a girl.

Number two: A lot to do with number one, I can be self-conscious.

Now here’s where number two and experiential travelling don’t always mix well:  When you’re travelling you’re supposed to be free and relaxed and loving life and just enjoying being in the moment.

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Don’t look too much into mirrors when travelling. We judge ourselves too critically and it inhibits our ability to just be free. You are beautiful. Believe it!

But when you’re travelling, you’re living out of a suitcase, wearing the same clothes day in and day out, not always making time for that hair ritual, and often ending the day (when travelling in the summer at least) in a sweaty mess that feels as though a heated sauna has suffocated your entire body.

Today I was touring the lovely island of Capri in Italy.  It was fairly annoying with the number of tourists, but we found some beautiful hiking trails where we could be alone and take in the beautiful views.

But it was also extraordinarily hot.  By the end of the day, I had hat head, was sweating buckets, and felt like I was the complete opposite of ‘a sweet smelling woman.’

And then I looked in the mirror and discovered that under the heat of the UV rays my melasma had poked its lovely head from under my skin to reveal that thing I always try to hide…dark spots all over my skin!

So I started to clam up.  I felt ugly and horrible and evidently started not enjoying myself.

And then I realized what I was doing:  I was letting my own feelings of being self-conscious ruin my journey that day.

I remember a very similar experience when I was 22.  I was on a year abroad programme in Ghana.  My skin was hating the African heat (read: major acne!) and my friend’s Swiss Army knife haircut on me left my head essentially looking like a triangle.

I was a mess.

And for 4 days I remember not wanting to come out of my compound.  I went to work and then came home.  I was so embarrassed and feared that others were looking at me.

How is it that ten years have passed and still, as a woman, I find myself being overcome with the same feelings of self-consciousness?

I know that men, too, face pressures and uncertainties, but I can only speak from my own gender.

So here is my advice to you:

1) When you look in the mirror, look for your beauty.  This is true anytime, but especially when travelling.  Your makeup will have worn off, your favourite conditioner might have not made it through the airport security…but look in that mirror and look for your beauty.

2) Bring one thing that instantly makes you feel beautiful.  I have this Boots’ B&B for lips that adds just a hint of colour and moisture to my lips.  Even when I have no other makeup on and my melasma is at its worst, this just cheers me up.

3) Focus on what’s around you.  Sometimes you just feel self-conscious.  Deciding not to go out isn’t the answer.  Instead, focus on what’s around you.  Focus on the best parts of the day.

4) Imagine yourself noticing these “horrible traits” on other people.  Would you really notice the thing you’re noticing about yourself on someone else?  Often the answer is no.  As much as I feel that the big brown spot above my lips is horrendous, chances are most people are looking into my eyes when they see me.  Remember we are usually our worst critics.

5) And finally, but especially importantly…if you are looking for someone to love, make sure he (or she) thinks you’re beautiful always.  Despite my best attempts today at saying how ugly I was with my melasma, my husband Ken kept reminding me that I was the most beautiful girl in the world.  If you have someone like this, treasure him/her.  If you don’t, don’t settle for anyone who won’t make you feel like a princess when you feel your worst.

TOP TEN THINGS TO DO IN AND AROUND KATA BAY

Kata Bay is a lovely community in southern Phuket.  It’s very close to Nai Harn, Rawai, and Patong and about an hour from Phuket International Airport.  It has a small and relaxed feel with all the amenities you’d need, without the party feel of Patong in particular.  It’s a great place to stay if you want easy access to all the fun of the southern part of the island without the constant bustle that is Patong (we’ve also stayed in Nai Harn and would say similar things – it’s a great, relaxed place.  Rawai seems similar!)

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Kim’s Massage in Rawai was definitely the best massage of the entire trip!

Massage

Ahhh…the blissful relaxation of the Thai massage parlour. They’re not hard to miss – you hear “massage?!” down most roads you turn, beckoning you in.  The same parlours offer pedicures and manicures as well.  Use your own judgement for non-sketchy places to ensure cleanliness and professionalism.  As with any spa visit, watch their handling of tools to ensure sanitation.

Massages on the beach are always a highlight!

2) The beach

the stunning Hua Beach which we shared with only 5 other people
the stunning Hua Beach which we shared with only 5 other people

Too many beaches…too little time.  That basically sums up Phuket!  The main beaches are lovely, but don’t be afraid to venture to unpopular territory.  Visit www.phuket.com for tips on off-the-beaten-track beaches. We enjoyed Hua Beach, Kamala Beach, and a small inlet beach just 5 minutes from Nai Harn.  These 3 were very close to Kata Bay without the swarms of tourists.  In fact, at Kamala Beach we were on our own.

3) Motorbiking around to the viewpoints

Scootering our way through the beautiful hills and views of Phuket
Scootering our way through the beautiful hills and views of Phuket

For less than the price of a taxi ride to one viewpoint you can rent a scooter for the day and see many!  And when on a scooter you will discover less known viewpoints that ‘just happen’ to be on the side of the road.  Definitely make sure you are out to enjoy the sunset!

4) Cooking Class

See post on how to choose a cooking class for advice on deciding on the right class for you!

5) Eating local

Thailand is known for its delicious cuisine and your only challenge will be waiting long enough to be hungry again for another meal.  Pad thai…patong curry…green curry chicken…fried rice…chicken satay…tom yum soup…

Remember the rules of eating local: look for freshly prepared food, proper refrigeration practices, and places filled with other customers.

On the main road in Kata Bay is this amazing little locally-owned and local food restaurant, the Thai Food Restaurant (very fitting name!)  Delicious with some very cool arrangements, like curries served in a coconut or rice brought to you in a carved out pineapple.
On the main road in Kata Bay is this amazing little locally-owned and local food restaurant, the Thai Food Restaurant (very fitting name!) Delicious with some very cool arrangements, like curries served in a coconut or rice brought to you in a carved out pineapple.

6) Bar hopping

Phuket is a fun place to be at night! There are no shortage of bars, whether you like the clubbing scene, billiards, or relaxed pubs with boardgames to play.  The best advice is to just wander along.  Bars are extremely close together so you can see what suits your style and what definitely doesn’t (there will be just as many in the latter, so let your senses be your guide for where you’ll have fun!)

Other tip: get there or get home using a party tuk-tuk – you’ll know them when you see them and hear them (big flashing lights playing disco music).  Unless you have a headache, they’re brilliantly fun!

7) Smoothie shakes

Fresh fruit shaken into smoothie bliss.  Need I say more?!  Look for the little carts on the side of the road with fruit on display for the cheapest, freshest, and most local version!

8) Yoga classes

See my review of Kata Bay yoga for tips.

That time I sweat myself silly at Kata Yoga
That time I sweat myself silly at Kata Yoga

9) Snorkelling or scuba diving

Kata Bay is a snorkeller and diver’s paradise.  There are no shortage of companies to choose from and lots of places offer PADI courses and even free introduction sessions.  Check tripadvisor.com for advice on best places to go based on your travelling schedule.

10) Biking

Just like motorbiking, bicycling is a great way to see the country.  Though a bit slower than the motorbike, it does offer the opportunity to stay healthy while enjoying those spectacular views.  So hop on, hop off, and see the country side in style!

a stunning sunset along the road back to Kata Bay...so many amazing viewpoints along the coast.  Rent a motorbike or a bicycle for an awesome chance to go at your own pace and see what you want!
a stunning sunset along the road back to Kata Bay…so many amazing viewpoints along the coast. Rent a motorbike or a bicycle for an awesome chance to go at your own pace and see what you want!

Yoga & Travel: Classes in Kata Bay, Thailand

Exercise is a fantastic way to stay healthy, engage in local community, overcome jet lag, and alleviate the symptoms of culture shock.  Yoga classes were a highlight of my time in Kata Bay on Phuket Island in Thailand this past week.  If you’re traveling there, here are some places worth a visit…

KATA YOGA STUDIO

A very challenging class but a wonderful instructor at Kata Yoga Studio
A very challenging class but a wonderful instructor at Kata Yoga Studio

Don’t be thrown off by the lack of “hot” or “bikram” in their name.  This is a HOT yoga studio, practicing the traditional 26 moves of Bikram.  Although I realized that Bikram yoga is not for me after attending this class, that is no fault to the class itself.  If you love hot yoga, or have always wanted to try it, this is a a great place to start.

When you arrive, there’s water for sale (and regularly not over-priced) and a safe place to keep your personal belongings.  The class is full of travellers, expatriate residents, and local Thai people.  There are often the elitist not-so-friendly yogis in classes, but this class was definitely a friendlier one.  People were very encouraging and respectful, with regulars welcoming you to the class.

The best part about the class is the instructor.  Directions were extremely clear.  If you’re new to the class, he asks your name at the beginning and uses it to direct you if needed, albeit in a friendly and encouraging manner. It’s a tough 90 minutes, but with the supportive instructor and silent encouragement of the other yogis, you can definitely manage. And if you need a break, there is no one reprimanding you (which I’ve heard can be an issue in other Bikram classes).

This is a fabulous location, just across from a main entrance to Kata Beach.

Check their website www.katahotyoga.com or write to katayoga@hotmail.com for updated schedule and prices for when you’re going.  Feel free to ask about a special rate based on your travel times – they were willing to give me a discount for the amount of time I’d be going.

BELOVE YOGA

The beautiful view from C.C.'s Hideaway.  Just one floor above this is Belove Yoga
The beautiful view from C.C.’s Hideaway. Just one floor above this is Belove Yoga

Belove Yoga is the studio part of C.C.’s Hideaway – a small lodge that acts like a yoga holiday for guests.  C.C.’s Hideaway will pick you up and bring you to the class for free, or it’s easily accessible via a short taxi ride or on a rented scooter.  The best thing about this place is the amazing view – it’s a steep climb to the hotel, but it means the views are SPECTACULAR!

The yoga studio itself is outside, overlooking the beautiful Thai vegetation and going straight down to the sea.  Facing west, it offers amazing views of the sun setting over the ocean – and they take advantage of this with their sunset yoga classes.

I did a private ashtanga class which allowed excellent one on one direction from the instructor.  I was scheduled for an hour and 15 minutes, but he took almost two hours. Luis, my instructor, made me really feel like he cared that I improved my practice – the fact that he took the extra time with me really reflects this.

The instruction itself was superb.  He came and corrected my positioning when needed, encouraging and praising when I was doing things well.  At the same time, he allowed for peaceful serenity.  The class was silent many times, giving the opportunity to embrace the wonderment of doing yoga in such a stunning location.  He advised that if I were to return, I should do a group class.  Apparently group classes are only about six people, meaning the instructors will also assist you and correct you where needed.

The class was excellent.  The only thing needing changing is the mat – it was extremely slippery.  Under the heat of the Thai weather, especially given that the class is outside, these mats are ill-performing.  I would definitely recommend taking your own mat if you have!

Relaxing at the beautiful pool post-yoga: a really great place to continue serenity!  They also have a great cafe where you can order food and drinks to come to the pool.
Relaxing at the beautiful pool post-yoga: a really great place to continue serenity! They also have a great cafe where you can order food and drinks to come to the pool.

After the class you can use their salt swimming pool or have a homemade shake or healthy curry from their small cafe.  These also offer the same stunning view and are a very pleasant way to continue the post-yoga relaxed state. 

For information on schedules and prices contact wellness@ccshideaway.com or ccshideaway.com

THE LITTLE YOGA ROOM

I unfortunately couldn’t visit the Little Yoga Room because the schedules didn’t fit my own, but it’s gotten great reviews so shouldn’t go unmentioned!  The owner and instructor, Becky, moved to Thailand to teach English and ended up teaching yoga instead, after realizing it was her true passion.  She has trained in India and has been recommended by Jamie’s Phuket Blog as a first rate yoga choice when traveling to the country.

Becky was extremely friendly and communicative when I wrote her and I’ll definitely pay her a trip the next time I’m on the island because it sounds like an excellent class.

Contact yogawithbeckyphuket@hotmail.com to verify class times and prices.  The website seemed to not be updated in a while, so I’d email instead.  She’ll also include a handy map.

How to Barter

If you come from a ‘fixed price’ country, you’re used to walking into a store, seeing the price on the package, and knowing that when you go to the cash register, that will be the price.  No questions asked.  No bargaining optional.

Many countries operate on a bartering system.  Perhaps in larger malls or hotels fixed prices are the norm, but when you venture into the markets, smaller retail shops, or road stalls, or arrange for a taxi, it will be expected that you bargain to reach an agreeable price.

beautiful Persian plates from the Bur Dubai souks...definitely a place where you need to barter!
beautiful Persian plates from the Bur Dubai souks…definitely a place where you need to barter!

Bartering can be fun. But it can also be daunting.  Here are tips to enjoy the process and not completely lose all your money while bartering:

Always split the price in half.

You’re a tourist.  You look like a tourist.  You dress like a tourist.  The shop owner knows you’re a tourist.  And (s)he will use this to her/his advantage, making you pay a premium.  If that shop owner starts at 100, you should start at 50.  If she starts at 50, start your bidding at 25.  Always go by half.  You might think this ridiculous, but trust me, that shop owner is giving you a completely exaggerated price because she knows you’re new to the country!

2) Find out the approximate price before you begin the bargaining

For example, before you step onto the road to negotiate with a taxi, find out from your hotel what the normal price is for that route.  Before you go to the market, find out the normal price for your desired purchase.  This information will help you know the good bid.

3) Be prepared to walk away

Sometimes all that’s needed is for you to put down the object you were debating and start walking away.  The shop owner may decide that your price is better than receiving no money at all – and finally give in!

4) Use local language

Any words you know in the local language will make you look as though you know the country and therefore the prices.  Also, the shop owner will be more inclined to offer you a deal because he/she saw that you tried to speak the local language.

5) Use a calculator or a pen and paper

There’s not much worse than thinking you’ve agreed on a price, only to realize that the shop owner thinks you said a higher number than you actually did.  If clarity is needed, especially where language is concerned, use a pen and paper or a calculator to make sure both parties understand.

the Africa section of Global Village, Dubai...definitely a place where bartering is a useful skill!
the Africa section of Global Village, Dubai…definitely a place where bartering is a useful skill!

6) Know when to stop bargaining

Sometimes when you do the currency exchange, you realize that you are arguing over 20 cents – an amount that means nothing to you but could genuinely be needed for your shopkeeper’s family that day.  One of the saddest days in my traveling memory was in Zimbabwe.  The economic situation was so dire that shopkeepers were selling everything for a dollar.  Beautiful handwoven artefacts that took hours to create were going for one dollar only!  To bargain even further down for people who were obviously so in need of a day’s wage did not seem moral.

Sometimes travellers get upset that the locals are inflating prices.  Remember, if you’re in a community that is in poverty, you are their means for economic survival.  It’s good business for them to be asking for a slightly raised price of the tourist who could afford the luxury of travel. 

this lady and her delicious donuts (which I can't eat) in Kata Bay Market, Thailand.  You'll definitely need to barter with her!
this lady and her delicious donuts (which I can’t eat) in Kata Bay Market, Thailand. You’ll definitely need to barter with her!

7) Have fun!

Bartering is a challenge, but one that can lead to smiles, laughter, and stories shared between locals and yourself.

Yoga & Travel: Review of Jade Yoga Mat

In my last post, I spoke of the importance of sport to keep you healthy and to help you engage with your new community when traveling.

But my tip for ensuring that you stay active while on holiday? Find something that travels!

Many people love jogging while traveling because all they need is running shoes.

If you’re on a beach holiday, doing some actual swimming (rather than plopping about in the water) is an easy and effective way to stay in shape.

I just bought myself a fabulous Jade Yoga Travel Mat and was very excited to test it out on our trip to Kata Bay in Phuket, Thailand.

My awesome Jade Yoga Travel Mat.  I LOVE the purple! A definite recommended purchase.  Visit www.jadeyoga.com for more info and places to purchase
My awesome Jade Yoga Travel Mat. I LOVE the purple! A definite recommended purchase. Visit http://www.jadeyoga.com for more info and places to purchase

THE JADE YOGA TRAVEL MAT

This product is amazing. For starters, their company is a family-run business, American-owned and based, committed to using quality materials that are locally-sourced and sustainable. Jade is committed to good rights and wages for their workers, and to committed themselves to a number of sustainable NGOs.  You can read more about their values and principles at www.jadeyoga.com.

Besides the company’s values, the Jade travel yoga mat is excellent in that it does what it says it will.

It travels well

The Jade Yoga Travel Mat is just over 3 pounds, making it light enough for even a carry-on!  Secondly, this baby either rolls or folds, making it possible to fit into any size or shape of luggage. I folded this onto the bottom of my carry on making it a breeze to add the rest of my items on top.

2) It is comfortable on the body

The Jade Yoga Travel Mat is slightly heavier than other yoga mats on the market.  Some reviews see this as a flaw. For me, if you are going to do yoga while traveling, it’s worth the extra pound to make sure your practice is comfortable. It doesn’t matter what position I was in – on my back, on my ribs, lying in savasana…the Jade Yoga travel mat is thick enough to provide cushion and support.  To me, I wouldn’t really notice a measly extra pound of storage but I would notice painful ribs.

this is what you're looking for...the Jade TRAVEL yoga mat!
this is what you’re looking for…the Jade TRAVEL yoga mat!

3) It’s so unbelievably non-slippery

This mat is made of rubber. You will not slip out of your pose, even if your hands are sweaty!

4) The colours are so fun!

They have lots of great colours so you can be happy on teal or purple.

5) It’s long enough

My regular yoga mat for at home is extra long so that my 5’9 self can easily go from pose to pose without having to shift myself back onto the mat.  While the Jade Yoga Travel Mat is slightly shorter than what I have at home, it’s still long enough so that I don’t feel the need to shimmy around that much.  If you’re a bit taller or shorter than me, you’d have no problem on this mat!

6) the price reflects the company principles

Yes, it is a bit more expensive than the average yoga mat, but this means you’re paying for quality, worker wages, and the renewing of the rubber tree they use for their product.

Want to practice yoga on the road?  Buy the Jade Yoga Travel Mat…it will not disappoint!