The Weirdly Wonderful Austin

The Weirdly Wonderful Austin

Before I visited Austin, I knew just a few things about the Texas capital. I’d heard that it had good food, good music, and was just a little bit strange. After spending nearly a week  in the live music capital of the world I can clearly say that Austin is weird in all of the best ways.

The Bat Bridge

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When I casually mentioned to a colleague that I was heading to Austin, her first question was “are you going to see the bats?” Not exactly what I was expecting to hear but I’m glad I didn’t miss this major tourist attraction. Every evening from March to October, 1.5 million bats emerge from the underside of the Congress Avenue Bridge. We got to see this phenomenon for ourselves from our perch on that very bridge and marvelled at the sight of the bats rapidly migrating east, devouring ten to twenty thousand pounds of insects on their way. I can think of a few cities (ahem… Winnipeg) who could use their own bat colony.

The Cathedral of Junk

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In very atypical Whitney style, I didn’t really research the Cathedral of Junk before heading to the location on my GPS. I fully expected to find a paid attraction and quickly realized that I was very wrong after walking down a residential street to find said attraction was really just in some guy’s backyard. We hadn’t made an appointment but lucked out that the owner/artist was home and willing to let us explore his backyard for a five dollar donation. What we discovered beyond the fence was a three-story structure of the most random things you can imagine, including a BC license plate (pictured below). If it wasn’t so scorching hot (summer in Texas is no joke) we could have stayed for hours, checking out all the hidden gems. I can honestly say that in all my travels, I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

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The Broken Spoke

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It’s no secret that I’m a city girl with a cosmopolitan lifestyle. But, when in Texas, it only seems appropriate to embrace a little southern comfort. For me that meant checking out the most famous honky tonk in Texas. The Broken Spoke hasn’t changed in 50 years and remains one of the last truly authentic dance halls in the state. I had the privilege of getting a two-step lesson from the owner’s 60 year old daughter Terri, a fire-cracker of a woman. With daisy duke shorts, platinum blonde extensions, and no filter, Terri made the evening highly entertaining even for a non-country fan like me.

Street Art

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Austin has a great street art scene, including the famous Graffiti Park where you can leave your own mark on the city. But, the one tag that I really needed to find was the Greeting from Austin sign. The photo is as basic as it comes but I really don’t care.

Duck Adventures

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Mindy and I have a history with big bus tours. We were bored one day while visiting Zagreb, Croatia and ended up spending the whole afternoon on a hop-on hop-off bus. The tour guide wasn’t very interesting and our bus was practically empty so we ended up making our own fun by waving at the locals who gave us hilarious reactions. Ever since then, we’ve had a soft bus for the overly touristy tours. So when we saw that Austin had one of those Duck Adventure tours where the bus also turns into a boat, we knew we had to give it a try. We got our very own duck whistles, which felt very Austin as we quacked our way around town. Unfortunately, the relentless humidity was also very Austin and made it nearly impossible to pay attention to anything but our sweaty bodies. Have I mentioned that Texas in the summer is not for the faint of heart?

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Austin has a lot to offer and I would highly recommend it. We accomplished so much in a long weekend of sightseeing. We ate voodoo donuts, listened to live jazz, drank $1 mimosas, toured the state capital, stayed in a haunted hotel from the 1800s and ate a lot of fried food. I would definitely make a repeat visit in the future… just not in August.

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20 photos from 12 days touring New Zealand

20 photos from 12 days touring New Zealand

How do I begin to write about a trip that was a non-stop highlight reel? I can’t pick a favourite. I can’t sum it up in a quick, casual, water cooler conversation. This past March I spent 12 days touring New Zealand’s South Island with Haka Tours and the Young Adventuress, Liz Carlson. It was both everything and nothing like I thought it would be. While on one hand, it reminded me so much of my beloved British Columbia, it still felt new and exciting and unknown.

It’s taken me months to get around to writing this post because I want to do it justice. I want my words to somehow translate how epic and amazing and beautiful New Zealand is… but I can’t. The words don’t fit the picture.

So here is my attempt to caption my way through the archives of my photo library.

Christchurch

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Our tour started in Christchurch, the largest city on the South Island. This photo showcases an art installation memorializing the tragic earthquake of 2011 that took 185 lives. Six years later the city is still rebuilding. Even though actual ruins still take up portions of downtown, the people continue to preserver. They are resilient and creative – hope is alive and well.

Lake Tekapo

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The Church of the Good Shepherd

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I don’t have the skills to take a photo like the one above, but I needed you to see what the stars looked like that night in Lake Tekapo. Seeing the milky way for the first time is a moment that I will never forget. This is what zero light pollution looks like and I want so much more of that in my life.

Lake Pukaki

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Another lovely lake where our group took a few moments to marvel and throw stones. It also just so happens to be the filming location for Laketown of the Hobbit trilogy. No big deal… Middle Earth is just everywhere. Casual.

Waitiri Creek Wines, Central Otago

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I knew this trip was going to be a raging success when we made an impromptu stop at a winery for an afternoon tasting on our way into Queenstown. That’s what’s so great about Haka Tours – we had the ability to tailor our day by the weather and the interests of the group. Wine is definitely one of my number one interests. This is me in my happy place!

Queenstown

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We rocked into Queenstown in the late afternoon with just enough late summer daylight to take a quick trip up the gondola to see the view. This ski town / adventure capital reminded me a lot of Whistler and that is a very good thing. Whistler has always been one of my favourite local spots and Queenstown did not disappoint.

Milford Sound

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It rains over 300 days a year in Milford Sound, a fiord on the South Island’s wild, west coast. So colour me surprised when we ended up with a stunning blue bird day for our afternoon boat cruise. The weather worked overtime to cooperate with our late summer travel itinerary – how lucky am I?

Te Anau

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We made a brief stop in Te Anau on our way back from Fiordland National Park and I was delighted to find these adorable shiraffes (err… llamas) hanging out right beside our bus. I could have watched them all day.

Shotover Canyon

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It’s no secret that I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie. I’ve already checked the big ticket items off my bucket list – bungee jumping, paragliding, skydiving. So when I got to Queenstown – The Adventure Capital of the World – I was looking for something new to try. Enter the Canyon Swing, a 200m swing with a 60m vertical freefall. Sure, why not launch myself off a cliff? I opted to use the slide and these crazy guys in the photo did their very best to psych me out. It was exhilarating and I even considered jumping again right away.

Wanaka

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A quick search of #thatwanakatree on social media will reveal thousands upon thousands of photos of a very famous willow tree. New Zealand’s most photographed tree rose in popularity over the past few years thanks to instagram, of course. It’s become a bit of a cliche over the years but you have to admit, it looks pretty cool.

Tauparikaka Marine Reserve

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Our first glimpse of the ocean after a week in the mountains felt like coming home. Back in Vancouver, I live by the sea and don’t go a single day without it. Call me spoiled, but now that I know salty air and crashing waves, I can’t be away from it for long.

Fox Glacier

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Driving into the village of Fox Glacier reminded me so much of my hometown in the Fraser Valley. Green farmland surrounded by snowy mountains – that’s where I grew up. Again the weather couldn’t have possibly been better – we knew we were lucky when our guides were freaking out at the views.

Franz Josef

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The coolest thing I did in New Zealand was heli hiking on the Franz Josef Glacier. Just six kilometres from the village centre, this glacier descends from the top of the Southern Alps into the rainforest close to sea level. It was a completely surreal experience to be enjoying hot, subtropical temperatures one moment and walking on a glacier just a short helicopter ride later.

Hokitika Gorge

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My favourite “rest stop” of the trip was at the Hokitika Gorge. My jaw dropped when I saw the turquoise waters. Special thanks to my photographer, Shannon Sproul, and the rest of my haka crew for patiently waiting for me to get this solo shot on the rock. I think I maybe yelled at a few of you… #sorrynotsorry

Punakaiki Valley

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I was mildly obsessed with horses for a solid three years in elementary school so when I had the chance to do some riding in Punakaiki, I didn’t let a little rain slow me down. My horse Appy always had to be in front of the pack, which suited me just fine. I loved that we got to ride through the river and along the beach – basically fulfilling all my girlhood fantasies!

Pancake Rocks

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For a town of 100 people, Punakaiki has a surprising amount to offer. The major attraction is this limestone landscape of pancake-shaped rock formations, blowholes and surge pools. I’ve never seen anything quite like it and would probably have never made it here if it wasn’t for Haka Tours. Have I mentioned how much I loved this tour?

Cape Foulwind

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An awful name for a place with such incredible scenery. During our hourlong walk along the Tasman Sea, we marvelled at the epic waves crashing on the rocks and the adorable seal colony playing in the surf. Not a bad spot to stretch our legs.

Abel Tasman National Park

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New Zealand has nine Great Walks and I got to do one of them – the Abel Tasman Coast Track. Great Walks are premier tracks that pass through diverse and spectacular scenery – and bonus, they are well formed and easy to follow. I opted to travel by boat to Anchorage and walk the 12.4 km back to our campsite in Marahau. Along the way I experienced crescent-shaped coves of golden sand and turquoise waters of the Tasman Bay.

Marahau

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We had a mostly overcast day of tramping in Abel Tasman but the sky finally started to clear back in Marahau, which provided some lovely views at low tide. The sunset that appeared shortly after this photo was taken was one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen and I didn’t have my camera. Rookie move! You’ll have to take my word for it.

Nelson

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Nelson is an odd little city on the tip top of the South Island, but I really liked this part with cobblestone streets and palm trees because it reminded me of Spain. This was my view as we drank aperol spritz at 11:00am… don’t judge me, I take vacations very seriously.

Cloudy Bay Vineyards, Blenheim

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And because day drinking is like a part-time job for me, we visited yet another winery, this time in the Marlborough region. We enjoyed a tasting and a leisurely afternoon lazing around on the gorgeous grounds. They absolutely had to force me back on the bus after this one.

There are so many more stories and photos that I’d love to share from my time in NZ but I’ll restrain myself so that this post can actually go live this decade.

The Quest for Rohan

The Quest for Rohan

Okay lovely readers, if you’re not a Lord of the Rings fan like me, then it’s quite possible that you won’t fully appreciate the magnitude of this post.

But for me, this place… this is why I went to New Zealand.

My favourite film in the LOTR trilogy is The Two Towers which heavily features a fort city called Edoras in the kingdom of Rohan, which is known for being a culture of horsemen. I was spellbound every time the story came back to this magical location and knew that someday I had to see it for myself.

When I started planning my trip, I knew that I was going to try and visit my cousin Dale who happens to live in a small town in Canterbury on the South Island. When I started researching the area I soon realized that Edoras (or Mount Sunday in real life) was located only an hour’s drive away. I didn’t want to put all my hope in actually getting to make it there in person, but to be so close and miss it would have broken my heart.

Fast forward to the day I arrived at the Christchurch Airport… and queue the dreariest, rainiest day you can imagine. I only had a short window (two days) to make the trip to Edoras and I knew that the weather could be a major factor in its success. We waited all day for the rain to subside and it didn’t. I woke up the next morning hoping to see a glimmer of sun, and… nope, still raining. We decided to go for it anyway and wish for the best.

The rain continued for the first half of the drive until we veered off the main highway onto a long, gravel road. To my absolute glee, the clouds started to lift. The drive became a stunning journey into the middle of nowhere (or Middle Earth!). Seriously, we passed some campgrounds and sheep stations and that was about it. I couldn’t even see any power lines.

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And then out of the clouds… I spotted it. EDORAS!!!!

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Is this real life?

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We drove up to the convenient car park and crossed over a series of streams and rivers to reach the base of the mountain. It was an easy 30 minute hike to the top and as soon as we saw the views we wished we had packed a picnic lunch so that we could’ve stayed up there all afternoon. Simply stunning!

IMG_7931IMG_3507IMG_3515IMG_3522At this point in my trip, a mere four days in, I was content. This is what I came to see and everything else would just be icing on the cake. And trust me, there was a lot of icing!

Have you ever travelled to visit a film location?

Are you an LOTR nerd like me?

A Real Life Fairytale in Hobbiton

A Real Life Fairytale in Hobbiton

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

 

Dreams really do come true!

For 15 years I’ve been telling everyone who would listen to me about my desire to visit the real life Middle EarthNew Zealand. As a lifelong Lord of the Rings and Hobbit fan, there was only one top spot on my bucket list and it was firmly reserved for the home of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins.

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Bag End – The door where it began

Almost immediately after landing in Auckland International Airport, I was on my way to the rolling green pastures of Matamata where the Alexander family sheep farm has been transformed into Hobbiton. Cue major fangirling!

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From re-watching the films and countless hours of behind the scenes footage, I knew that the director of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies, Peter Jackson, paid very close attention to Tolkien’s source material in re-creating the world of Middle Earth and specifically the beloved Shire. But, it still blew me away to see real vegetables growing in the gardens and hobbit holes staged as if their tiny owner’s could arrive at any moment. You don’t even need to use your imagination to picture what life in Hobbiton would be like.

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It was evident from the very start of my set tour that love and passion was poured into each intricate detail of the 12 acre movie set. Our guide pointed out the locations of famous scenes, described the filming process, and allowed us heaps of time to take photographs.

The last stop on the tour was the world-famous Green Dragon Inn where we were all invited to sample a specially brewed beverage. Of course I chose beer and eagerly found a spot by the fire to soak in the culmination of such a long awaited dream.

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Before I knew it, we were being ushered out to make room for the next wave of eager tourists but this was really just the start of my Lord of the Rings adventures. I had more locations on my wish list but for that I had to head South… to Edoras.

An Introduction to Bangkok

An Introduction to Bangkok

Of all the cities in the world that I had yet to visit, I’d probably heard the most about Bangkok. Friends, family, and bloggers a plenty had told stories, shared photos, and broken down all the do’s and don’ts of visiting the Big Mango. Although I’d never set foot in Thailand before, I felt prepared.

  • I was ready for the suffocating humidity thanks to a previous trip to Vietnam.
  • I was armed with a pocketful of Thai currency.
  • Our accommodations were meticulously researched.

But, no amount of research or pre-trip planning can ever truly replace first-hand experience. Especially, since we were visiting during a very unique and tragic time. Just a few weeks prior, the highly beloved King Bhumibol passed away leaving the people of Thailand in a state of mourning. Grieving their king like a family member, the locals were clothed entirely in black, many even traveling far distances to pay their respects.

Upon arrival in Bangkok, my sister-in-law Faith and I queued for a taxi and soon afterwards arrived at our River District digs for the next two nights.

We loved our vantage point on the river because it meant we got to take longboats and ferries on our full day of temple touring. Similarly dressed in black, we set off to visit the newly re-opened Grand Palace.

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We showed up at the palace in a bit of confusion. Everyone was gathering on the sides of the street as if a parade was about to happen. We weren’t sure if we should wait around or not but ultimately we decided to just get our tickets because nobody seemed to know what was going on. And it was at that moment that the skies opened and we experienced a classic Southeast Asian downpour. The rain was so heavy that it bounced off the pavement. We opted to hide and wait, hoping that this would be a short storm. But, after about 45 minutes we gave in and joined the few brave souls slopping around in the puddles.

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We wandered the grounds in eerie solitude, getting a unique opportunity to experience the grandeur and cultural significance of the Grand Palace without the masses. And then as we rounded the corner, we saw hundreds of people huddled under cover in silence, paying their respects. We did our best to enjoy our time but after about an hour of trudging around like a couple of drowned rats, we gave up and high-tailed it into one of the only open buildings we could find – The Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles. It was actually really cool to see the queen’s wardrobe, which seemed like something you’d picture the British royals wearing. On our way out we almost missed the Activity Room, which would have been a tragedy because they let us play dress up!!

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That was definitely the turning point for the day because from there it just got better. We sought refuge in a restaurant serving up beautifully plated dishes. And I finally got to check eating Pad Thai in Thailand off my bucket list.

We relaxed by the riverfront for a little while longer so that I could enjoy a dessert popsicle inspired by the Thai flag – delicious and very instagrammable :)

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After refilling our tanks we set out for temple #2 and the one that I was most looking forward to seeing – Wat Arun.

We arrived just in time for magic hour and the dreamy light that travel photography dreams are made from. I was absolutely blown away by the immaculate grounds.

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We ended the day back at our hotel with free welcome cocktails by the pool while watching the sunset over the river… oh and an authentic thai massage. I could sure get used to this whole vacation thing. The affordable luxury is one of my favourite things about Bangkok.

Bangkok is a big, noisy, chaotic, exciting city, which is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea. But after one full day of barely scratching the surface, I knew that I wanted more. I could easily envision myself coming back again and again with all of the diverse experiences awaiting me.

And with that, we were off to Koh Chang for some much needed R&R but we’d be back again in a few days to take in a totally different neighbourhood, Sukhumvit. There’s nothing like a roof top pool to make you never want to go back to work.

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Our time in Bangkok was brief, but it was enough for me to know that this is my kind of city. I’ll be back… I couldn’t leave if I didn’t believe that.

Have you been to Bangkok? What cities have you visited where you needed more time?

 

 

Departure Lounge: New Zealand

Departure Lounge: New Zealand

I’m over-the-top excited about my next big travel adventure.

In just 6 weeks I finally get to visit my #1 Dream Destination – N E W  Z E A L A N D !

I am a huge Lord of the Rings nerd and have been obsessed with New Zealand ever since I first saw The Fellowship of the Ring back in 2002. Since then, I’ve learned more about the country through friends, family, and strangers on the Internet and my fascination has only grown. I’ve been told that it is very similar to my beloved BC, which is fantastic because I think I live in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

With all the traveling that I’ve done over the past 15 years, it’s hard to believe that I haven’t been to New Zealand before. It seems that the two-month window that I’ve been waiting to find in my calendar has yet to appear. So, I’m making the most of the 2.5 weeks available to see as much as possible. I just can’t wait any longer!

I have a jam packed itinerary, which includes visiting friends and family and taking in a tour of the South Island with travel blogger extraordinaire and NZ resident, Liz Carlson, of Young Adventuress. I’m so excited to experience this country with locals and to maybe even pick up some photography tricks from Liz.

I know I won’t be able to check everything off my bucket list this time, so hopefully this is just the beginning.

Itinerary

March 19: Auckland

March 20: Matamata & Rotorua

March 21-22: Orari

March 23: Christchurch & Lake Tekapo

March 24-25: Queenstown

March 26-27: Wanaka

March 28-29: Franz Josef

March 30-31: Punakaiki

April 1-2: Abel Tasman National Park

April 3-4: Wellington

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These are the activities I am most looking forward to:

  • Channeling my inner Baggins in Hobbiton.
  • Zorbing in Rotorua
  • Glacier Hiking at Franz Josef
  • Cruising the awe-inspiring Milford Sound
  • Visiting the WETA studios in Wellington where LOTR came to life!

 

Have you ever been to New Zealand? Any recommendations or travel tips?

2016: A Year in Review

2016: A Year in Review

Let’s all breathe a collect sigh of relief that 2016 is over. Although, this year wasn’t so terrible for me personally, I know that it was pretty rough for many others. Health scares, miscarriages, terrorist attacks, school stabbings, the fentanyl epidemic, record breaking rain, devastating natural disasters, skyrocketing real estate, the ongoing crisis in Syria, a relentless string of celebrity deaths, and an election season that sucked the life out of everyone. I think I speak for us all when I say, 2016 – good riddance.

But, all that being said, there is still so much of the past 12 months to be grateful for. I made so many new friends and was able to both visit and host friends from far away. It was a transition year for me professionally as I started a fantastic new job in February. As my priorities shifted to spending more time focused on work, this in turn caused a slight dip in my world travels. However, I still managed to maximize weekend getaways and finally hit my milestone 30th country.

As I look back on 2016, I want to remember the good and carry forward a message of hope. There’s still a lot of love and light in the world and nothing teaches that better than travel. So with that being said, here is a look back on my travel adventures during the past 365 days.

1. Seattle, Washington (January)

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I successfully continued my streak of celebrating the new year in a different city for the 3rd year in a row. After a night of feting and fireworks at the Experience Music Project, we began 2016 by exploring Seattle’s Underground City and the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum. We lucked out with bright blue skies and although I’ve been to Seattle more times than I can remember, this visit was probably my favourite.

2. San Diego, California (February)

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There are few things that I cherish more than my annual trip to San Diego. It is one of my top 10 favourite cities and home to my dear friend Jennie. This trip was extra special as I got to meet her daughter Maggie for the first time. Baby in tow we visited old favourites like La Jolla and Pacific Beach and finally got around to visiting Balboa Park.

3. Victoria, BC (February)

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As I mentioned, I started a new job in February (woo!) and gave myself a week break in between (something I highly recommend). This was the perfect opportunity to tag along with my travel buddy Mindy on a couple of hotel site-visits in our provincial capital. We split our two nights between the Fairmont Empress and the Delta Grand. I got a horrible cold on the way over and it poured rain almost the entire time. But fortunately, I had a great friend and a lovely city to cheer me up.

4. Nanaimo, BC (March)

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I took off for my first business trip with my new job after merely 10 days. With just a 20 minute Harbour Air flight I was in Nanaimo, a commute that would become familiar as I made three additional trips in 2016. I haven’t got the chance to fully explore the area as a tourist but I do love any time I can get on the island. And, I’m a sucker for a seaplane ride, especially when I get to sit up front with the pilot!

5. Calgary / Banff, Alberta (March)

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For Easter weekend, my extended family descended upon Calgary for my cousin Jordan’s wedding. Essentially everybody attending was from out of province, which made it a family reunion of sorts. The wedding itself was at an incredibly picturesque spot in the foothills and it was great to catch up with all my relatives. The trip highlight was definitely when a pack of my cousins and I hit up Mt. Norquay in Banff for a day of skiing. I was thrilled to be back on the slopes after a five year hiatus (how did that happen?) and relieved to know that I hadn’t forgotten how to ski.

6. Bowen Island, BC (April)

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Our third annual girls getaway was yet another huge success. This year we went to nearby Bowen Island, which is quite possibly the easiest and most relaxing city escape for Vancouverites. Just a short half hour ferry ride landed us on a beautiful little island in a quaint cottage with lakes and hiking at our door step. We once again lucked into perfect spring weather and spent most of our time drinking wine and catching up with Rachel, freshly back from 9 months in Quebec. Four years post-university and we’re still going strong.

7. Montreal, Quebec (May)

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This year I decided to see more of my home country. That may have had something to do with the exchange rate, but mostly because Canada is amazing. On the top of my list was Montreal, where I wouldn’t have to break out my grade school French but could still get a major dose of culture. I met up with my friend Katie, who recently moved to Ontario, and checked ourselves into an adorable apartment near Le Plateau. The summer temperatures and festival atmosphere made for a super fun weekend. We ate poutine and bagels and watched Cirque de Soleil and rode bikes through the Old Town at night. It was a great intro to Quebec and I look forward to exploring more of the province in the future.

8. North Cascades National Park, Washington (July)

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This year’s annual camping trip occurred over the Canada Day long weekend at a super secret camp ground in the states. Thanks to my expert camper friends we enjoyed a quiet weekend floating on a mostly deserted lake with warm but not hot weather. Basically just eating and playing board games and sitting around a camp fire. We also may or may not have decorated our tents with Canadian flags and paraded through the campground with face tattoos. Yup – we are those people.

9. Whistler, BC (July)

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It wouldn’t be summer in the Pacific Northwest if I didn’t take a trip to Whistler, and lucky for my bank account, this time it was for work. The sunny weather only lasted one evening but it was still fun to run around in the forest with our senior manager group – who knew accountants were so competitive? It also didn’t hurt that we were staying at the Westin. #workperks

10. Kelowna, BC (August)


One of my favourite summer traditions is heading to Kelowna with all my extended family. I have several Aunt’s and Uncle’s who have places on the Lake and between them we have two boats. So this past August I spent 2 days wakeboarding and wine tasting with my pack of 20 something cousins. It was fantastic! I’m continually thankful for a family that I actually really like to hang out with.

11. Chicago, Illinois (September)

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I cannot for the life of me figure out why Chicago doesn’t get more buzz. It’s such a fantastic city. Great food and entertainment in a gorgeous setting on Lake Michigan. My first trip to the windy city was with my perennial travel buddy Mindy. We took a red eye flight and made the most of the Labour Day long weekend. We crammed in everything from deep dish pizza to the famed architecture boat tour to comedy at Second City. If it wasn’t for the winters, I could totally see myself living in Chi-town one day.

12. New York City, New York (October)

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After nearly nine years, I finally made it back to New York City. This time in early autumn, which I think is probably the most perfect time to visit the Big Apple. Once again accompanied by Mindy, we conquered a giant portion of our NYC bucket list. My most memorable activities were visiting the 9/11 Museum and attending the off-broadway show Sleep No More. Seriously, you must experience this show! But what surprised me the most was how overwhelmed I felt by the crowds. I’m a total city girl and usually love the hustle and bustle, but NYC took it out of me. I found myself craving nature and some quiet time in the park. I guess that’s why Vancouver is the perfect city for me.

13. Taiwan (November)

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Taiwan was an unexpected surprise stopover on route to Thailand. We had a full day to explore, which was made even easier by the free half-day tours offered at the Taipei airport. We visited a temple, and made pastries, and attempted to chat with the locals. It was such a low stress way to kick start our vacation.

14. Thailand (November)

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My 30th country! I was so deliriously happy to be on vacation in a warm, tropical destination. It was made even better by the fact that my sister-in-law tagged along to help me enjoy all the affordable luxuries available in Southeast Asia. Cheap massages and tailors and beer, oh my! I was slightly concerned about visiting Thailand in the wake of their beloved king’s death, but even in mourning, the Thai people blew me away with their kindness and generosity. I know this won’t be my last trip to the Land of Smiles.

15. Portland, Oregon (December)

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Another annual tradition is forming, where I  make the 5 hour drive down the I-5 to visit my cousins in Portland. My only goals for this particular trip were beer and brunch, both easily accomplished within hours of my arrival. Fortunately, the weather gods smiled upon us and we were able to spend the entire day on Sunday adventuring in the Columbia River Gorge, one of the Seven Wonders of Oregon. We stopped for a panorama view at Vista House and at the famous Multnomah Falls for a photo-op and then hiked to Wahclella Falls (pictured above) nearly in solitude. We even had time to drive over the Bridge of the Gods into Washington to stop at the Panther Creek Falls (yes, more waterfalls!) before we ran out of daylight (take that TLC). It’s no wonder that US Congress recognized this area as the largest National Scenic area in America.

16. Vernon, BC (December)

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My final getaway of 2016 was to the stunning Sparkling Hill Resort & Spa in Vernon, BC. My family Christmas celebrations got moved earlier in the month so I was free to grab my girl Erica for a spa getaway that has ruined me for all future spas. The sprawling hotel is perched on a hill overlooking Lake Okanagan and lavished with Swarovski crystal decor. It was luxurious and relaxing and definitely worth the slightly harrowing drive up the Coquihalla highway.

2016: By the Numbers

Countries Visited: 3 (2 new ones) –  USA / TaiwanThailand

States Visited: 5 (1 new one) – Washington / California / Illinois / New York / Oregon

Provinces Visited: 3 (1 new one) – British Columbia / Alberta / Quebec

Plane Rides Taken: 15 one way flights (I count a flight as a flight regardless of how many segments or layovers it has).

Other Modes of Transportation: 8 ferries, 2 buses, and more vehicles than I care to count.

Airports Visited: 12 (YVR, YXX, YYC, YOW, YUL, YYZ, BLI, SAN, ORD, EWR, BKK, TPE)

Kilometres Flown in 2016: 44, 542

Beds Slept In: 21. Of those, 11 were hotels, 5 were crashing with family or friends, 3 were Airbnb rentals, one was a tent, and one was my own bed!

Blog Posts: 14 (eek… I was really lazy on the blogging front this year)

Most Popular Posts:

An Ode to Brisbane

Hello Seattle, Hello 2016!

Montreal Memoire: 3 Days in Canada’s Cultural Capital

The Most Beautiful Beaches in Australia

What are your favourite travel memories of 2016?

What are you looking forward to most in the new year?

Sweet Simplicity on Koh Chang

Sweet Simplicity on Koh Chang

When I chose Thailand for a weeklong vacation, my only goal was relaxation. I knew that I wouldn’t have enough time to see everything on my wish list so I didn’t even try. Someday when I have more time, I will return to the Land of Smiles to explore all the jungles, beaches, and temples that my heart desires.

In the meantime, I set my sights on Lonely Beach. After a couple of nights in bustling Bangkok, my sister-in-law Faith and I journeyed to the most Eastern edge of Thailand to its second biggest island, Koh Chang.

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Koh Chang is one of the lesser known tourist destinations in Thailand, which was exactly what appealed to me. Quiet. Beautiful. Secluded. The perfect spot for our “sistermoon” and perhaps one of the best kept secrets in Southeast Asia.

Upon arrival at the 3 star Warapura Resort we quickly fell into a blissfully relaxing daily routine. Each morning we woke at our leisure in our private waterfront villa and enjoyed breakfast by the ocean. After sipping on Americanos and lazying around in hammocks, we walked down to the white sand beach.

Once we got to the beach, we rented beach chairs and an umbrella and set up camp for the day. The aptly named Lonely beach was sparsely populated with soft white sand and crystal clear turquoise water as warm as a bath. It was pure heaven and I never wanted to leave. We spent most of our time in the water, taking breaks to quench our thirst with the local Chang beer. It’s a tough life.

 

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After we had our daily fill of Vitamin D we walked back to our home away from home to shower off the salt water and catch up on wifi time. Our location on the western side of the island was ideal for coupling happy hour cocktails with sunset watching each evening. I’ll never tire of fiery skies.

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One of the best things about Thailand is the affordable luxury. Each evening we ordered authentic Thai dishes like pad thai, papaya salad and mango sticky rice for just a few dollars and pampered ourselves with pedicures and massages that would cost 5 times more at home.

I can’t say enough good things about this little slice of paradise and the opportunity to get a week of quality time with my sis. It was short and sweet and simply the best! I’m so glad that I opted for an untraditional vacation destination. It was definitely worth the long flight.

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 What’s the most relaxing vacation you’ve taken? Where should I go next?

Photo Essay: Visiting Taiwan for Free!

Photo Essay: Visiting Taiwan for Free!

I’ll be honest – Taiwan wasn’t on the top of my travel bucket list but when the cheapest flight to Thailand involved a 15 hour layover in Taipei, we decided to make the most of it.

Lucky for us, the Taoyuan International Airport offers FREE half day tours. That’s right – 100% free. After disembarking and breezing through customs we signed up for the daily morning tour. The itinerary included a stop at the Shou Sin Fang Creativity Wagashi and Cultural Centre, which is essentially a pastry factory (yes please!). We got to make our own pastries (which we quickly devoured) and then roamed the factory sampling as many local cakes and pastries as possible.

Our second stop was at the Zushi Temple in the bustling town of Sanxia, just 22km southwest of Taipei. There we learned about the Taoist religion and participated in some of the religious practices like lighting incense and learning our fortunes (my future looks pretty excellent!). We also got to wander around the beautiful  surroundings, soaking up the sunshine and striking up friendships with the locals.

Although, it was just a taste of what Taiwan has to offer, it was enough to entice me to return some day for a longer visit. Thanks for the memories TPE.

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The Best Things I Ate in NYC

The Best Things I Ate in NYC

When thinking about travel, food is often a major influencer in where I go. This year has been filled with foodie trips to cities like Montreal and Chicago, but surprisingly my stomach was not a major player in my NYC planning. That was until a few days before departure, when I booked a food tour of Chinatown and Little Italy (more on that to come). That set the tone for the rest of the trip which was all about sampling the local cuisine.

Bagel & Cream Cheese: Absolute Bagels

My favourite bite of the trip was a complete surprise to me. Although, cream cheese icing is one of my guilty pleasures, I have ranked plain cream cheese at the top of my ultimate dislike list. Totally bizarre, I know. But, I was adamant that I would try the top rated Absolute bagels with cream cheese in true New York fashion regardless of my taste buds. My bagel of choice was sesame with a garlic and chive cream cheese and it was BEYOND! I am fully converted now and I can happily enjoy both the sweet and savoury varieties.

Pizza: Lombardi’s

We knew that pizza was a must-eat in NYC, and when we learned that Little Italy was home to the oldest pizzeria in America, we set our sights on Lombardi’s. I can’t say that it was the best pizza of my life but it was certainly tasty and a cool experience too.

Milkshakes: Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer

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I saw a blog post about Black Tap’s crazy shakes a few months ago and I really hoped we’d be able to squeeze in a visit. We almost didn’t make it due to the hour long wait (at 2pm on a Wednesday) but we were sure glad we did. This monstrous cookie shake was the perfect send off to fuel us for the flight home. Or at least that’s what I told myself to ignore the sugar coma.

Pork Dumpling: Tasty Dumpling

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 I’m not a huge Chinese food fan. It’s not that I dislike the food, I just like pretty much everything else more. But, I’m always game to try new things and I surprised myself with how much I ended up enjoying these pork dumplings in Chinatown. They are also super cheap so if anyone ever challenges you to eat for under $5 in NYC, this is your spot.

Cannoli: Ferrara Cafe

The way to my heart is surely through the bakery. That’s probably why I’m so fond of Peeta from the Hunger Games. Or something. Well, my happiness metre was off the charts with the cannoli from family-run Ferrara Cafe. The century old pasticceria was so delicious that we came back again a couple days later. Just doing my part to eat local.

Cheesecake: Junior’s

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One of my all-time favourite desserts is cheesecake so you know I had to make a trip to the NYC restaurant claiming to serve the The World’s Most Fabulous Cheesecake. Upon review, it was definitely an excellent cheesecake but I could have done without the strawberry “goop” on top. Due to the popularity, the cheesecake did have a manufactured feel that I could have done without. I prefer a cake that looks and tastes like it was made by my grandmother.

I know that I missed so many amazing New York restaurants.
What should I add to my list for the next trip?
The Best Free Things to do in New York

The Best Free Things to do in New York

It’s no secret that New York is one of the most expensive cities in the world. But, on my recent trip to the Empire State, I was pleasantly surprised by all the fantastic and FREE activities to enjoy in the Big Apple.

Central Park

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Central Park is undoubtedly the most famous park in the entire world, and an important check on every NYC bucket list. Countless movies and TV shows have been filmed in this iconic spot which makes it all the more exhilarating to explore. It was surreal to see the Bow Bridge (pictured above) in real life. It felt oddly familiar from all the times I’d seen it before on the screen. New York is like that, familiar and foreign all at once.

Staten Island Ferry

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The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of hope and freedom to many immigrants who moved to America throughout the centuries. Tourists can pay to tour both Liberty Island and Ellis Island but the ferry to Staten Island is 100% free. The quick 25 minute ride through the harbour offers a perfect viewing point to get that coveted photograph of Lady Liberty in all her splendour as well as scenic shots of downtown Manhattan from the water.

The High Line

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The High Line is a 1.45-mile-long park built on an historic freight rail line elevated above the streets of Manhattan’s West Side. It is also one of the newer additions to NYC and wasn’t around on my inaugural trip back in 2007, which put it at the top of my list this time around. It’s the perfect place for a Sunday stroll with gardens, city views, and little restaurants along the way.

Grand Central Station

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Grand Central is the largest railway station in the world and the 6th most visited tourist attraction in the world according to Travel + Leisure magazine. After experiencing the size and grandeur of this historic building for myself, it’s no wonder so many choose to spend their precious New York minutes here.

The Brooklyn Bridge

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This NYC trip was dedicated to Manhattan but I’ve decided that my next trip will be based in Brooklyn. So as a teaser of coming attractions, we walked from Battery Park along the East River to the famed Brooklyn bridge. I love that the architects planned for an elevated pedestrian walkway to truly enjoy the experience.

New York Public Library

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I’ve always loved libraries. It completely blows my mind that there can be so many books in the world and I will read such a small fraction. When I heard that the Rose Reading Room in the NYPL was finally re-opening to the public after over two years of restorations, I was thrilled with my trip timing. This particular room is the length of two city blocks and holds about 52,000 books. Words really can’t describe it.

9/11 Memorial

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September 11, 2001 is a day that I and the majority of people around the world will never forget. It was my 14th birthday. I was wearing a blue skirt and a yellow shirt and I heard the news from my carpool on the way to school. I remember sitting in shock during Social Studies as footage of the planes crashing played on repeat. It was horrifying and surreal and a life changing day in history. I am not American but I too felt violated that day. I have many American friends and family members so this tragedy felt personal to me too. If it could happen in New York, it could happen anywhere.

I was finally able to visit the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero and the emotional 9/11 Museum last week. I was on the brink of tears for the better part of two hours while I re-watched the footage and listened to the testimonies of survivors. I was most affected by the voice mail recordings of the plane passengers in the moments before they lost their lives. The words of love for their family members were so beautiful and heart-wrenching. I cannot fathom the depth of that pain. But rather than living in fear or anger, I want to commemorate the lives lost by choosing peace, and hope, and love.

Take the time to visit the 9/11 Memorial and pay the extra to visit the museum. It’s worth it.

Riverside Park

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I am a self-delcared city girl and not one to shy away from crowds. But, after a few chaotic days in New York City, I was ready to retreat. Enter – Riverside Park. This lovely oasis on the Upper West Side was a convenient spot to savour our breakfast bagels and to enjoy some peace and quiet. You can tell that this is a local haunt and not somewhere frequented by tourists. I could have happily wandered for hours.

Charging Bull

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The Charging Bull, more commonly known as the Wall Street bull is the photographed art piece in the city and a symbol of the Financial District. Good luck getting a shot without strangers photo-bombing in the background.

Now what did I miss? What is your favourite free activity in New York?

 

A Weekenders Guide to Chicago

A Weekenders Guide to Chicago

“My first day in Chicago, September 4, 1983. I set foot in this city, and just walking down the street, it was like roots, like the motherland. I knew I belonged here.” — Oprah Winfrey

I’ve had the Windy City in my sights for several years now. When I announced that I had finally booked a trip to the architectural mecca, friends, colleagues, and casual acquaintances couldn’t stop singing its praises. As my wish list of food, sights and shows continued to grow with every passing conversation my only concern was how to fit it all in.

With merely a long weekend to spare, my trusty travel partner, Mindy, and I wasted no time in hitting as many of the cultural and foodie hot spots as possible. Good thing I’m basically an expert at the weekend getaway by now.

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We landed at O’Hare International on Saturday morning after a red-eye flight and made a bee-line for the famed Millennium Park with a brief detour past Navy Pier. On our way we passed by Giordano’s and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to finally try the much anticipated Chicago-style deep dish pizza.

We ordered a small cheese and pepperoni stuffed deep dish, which was intended to serve 1-2 people. We were hungry and barely finished half. This stuff is no joke. It was delicious but also not something I’m prepared to eat again anytime soon. Sorry Chicago, but I still prefer New York style.

Next on our agenda was the world-famous Chicago Bean. I’ve been to my fair share of monuments and tourist sites over the years and I was dumb-struck by the sheer magnitude of the crowd. In retrospect, visiting on a sunny, Saturday afternoon on a long weekend in summer probably wasn’t the best strategy for people-free photos. The public sculpture is actually titled Cloud Gate and certainly earns its popularity with its very cool reflective and distorting abilities.

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After visiting the bean, we decided to continue exploring Millenium park. We ended up stumbling across Buckingham fountain which I had never heard of before but turned out to be one of the most impressive fountains I’ve seen. And unlike the bean, it was nearly devoid of crowds while offering both stunning lake views and skyline vistas. My favourite surprise of the trip!

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From there the only place to top what we’d already seen was to shoot for the sky. So that’s exactly what we did at the Observation deck on the 94th Floor of 360 Chicago. The adrenaline junkie in me couldn’t resist trying out the TILT which essentially involves standing in a window that tilts outwards over the skyline. It wasn’t nearly as scary as the squealing girls riding beside would have you believe. But, if heights aren’t your thing then consider yourself warned.

We also made sure to time our visit so that we would be able to take in golden hour and sunset and even splurged for cocktails – now that’s what I call Happy Hour!

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Believe it or not, we managed to fit all of those activities into Day 1 after a red-eye flight. Needless to say, we were ready to call it a night by 9:00pm. We woke up well-rested and ready to take on another jam-packed day.

We kicked off round two with the much touted Architecture Boat Tour. Nearly every single person I spoke with about my upcoming trip to Chicago recommended this tour specifically so we knew that it needed to happen. The people were not wrong. After boarding our open air vessel and toasting with a morning mimosa, we spent the next 90 minutes in the very good hands of the Chicago Architecture Foundation. The tour expertly guided us down all three branches of the Chicago river showcasing more than 50 skyscrapers, bascule bridges, and historic sites along the way. Informative and stunning – this was a trip highlight.

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Our next foodie goal was sampling an authentic Chicago-style hot dog. Our vendor of choice was Portillo’s which is known for the local delicacy. This “restaurant” could not be more American if it was located in the White House itself. The americana memorabilia and frenzy of calorie consumption was almost too much to handle but we soldiered on. I wasn’t sure if I could truly enjoy a hot dog without ketchup but the Chicago-original delivered.

In case you’re curious, the ingredients of this particular style dog include yellow mustard, chopped white onions, relish, dill pickle spear, sliced tomato, pickled peppers, a dash of celery salt on a poppy seed bun.

We had just enough time to Uber from downtown to Old Town to see a show by the legendary improv company – Second City. This is the same place where famed comedians Bill Murray, Tina Fey, and Steve Carrell got their starts. The performers we saw had some very big shoes to fill and they delivered a fantastic show of sketch and improv that lived up to its title Fast, Loud, and Funny. 

We took the scenic way home along the beach to dip our toes in Lake Michigan. I still can’t believe that it’s a lake and not the ocean. This is a seriously photogenic city and so much more than just the home of Oprah and Obama.

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As the weekend drew to a close we knew we hadn’t seen it all. With more time I would have loved to check out a jazz club and taken in a Cubs game at Wrigley field. But, I always like to leave a few activities still on the table because then I know I’ll have to come back again. I’m not finished with the Windy City yet.

 

Bowen Island: The Perfect VanCity Escape

Bowen Island: The Perfect VanCity Escape

I’ve made it a personal mission to visit as many of the lovely islands off the coast of Vancouver as humanly possible. So far that list includes Galiano, Keats, Salt Spring, Thetis, Vancouver Island and most recently Bowen. Each island offers something similar and at the same time unique.

And of all the islands I’ve visited so far, the one that is the obvious choice for best day trip from Vancouver is… Bowen Island.

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A couple of months back, I organized my third annual spring getaway with my university girlfriends. Now that we are all settled with careers and busy lives, I know that we all look forward to our quiet weekends away to relax and refresh.

What makes Bowen Island the perfect retreat from city life?

Proximity

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Bowen is conveniently located in the Howe Sound just a short 30-minute ferry ride from Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver. Many people even make a daily commute to the mainland for work or school. We were all able to put in a full-day of work before heading to the ferry terminal, knowing that departures left nearly every hour. Exactly the type of stress-free travel that I’m looking for after a busy week.

Serenity

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Within seconds of disembarking at Snug Cove, I could feel the calmness settling in. The Sunshine Coast is quiet and tranquil and full of natural beauty. It’s almost hard to believe that a place like this exists merely an hour away (door to door) from my big city life.

Our itinerary for the weekend was pretty simple: Spend time outdoors, enjoy good food, and be together. We chose an adorable cottage in the woods off of Airbnb and opted to make all of our meals at home. Even though the island is quite populated and definitely no hidden gem, it still felt at times like we were on our own. Stillness can be hard to come by in our tech-filled world, so I seek nature to ground me as often as possible.

Activity

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Although I keep touting relaxation and the “lack” of activity, there actually are quite a few things to do on the island. Our group enjoyed visiting the shops in the small town of Snug Cove (so adorable!) and wandering along the seaside boardwalk. The stunning views of Howe Sound always remind me of the fjords in Norway (or at least what I imagine they would like… that one is still on the bucket list for now).

We also did a short hike right from the main ferry dock to Dorman Point where we admired the arbutus-strewn plateau and tried to sneak a peak of the mainland. We wrapped up the day with a leisurely stroll around Killarney Lake, which is another popular area within reasonable walking distance from the main pier.

 

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We ended up spending two nights on Bowen Island but we all agreed that it would be just as easy to do a day trip if you want to save on accommodation expenses. I’m glad we took our time to savour the delicious spring weather and island vibes, but sometimes a day away is all you need to recharge your batteries.

Montreal Memoire: 3 Days in Canada’s Cultural Capital

Montreal Memoire: 3 Days in Canada’s Cultural Capital

For someone who has visited over 300 cities across 6 continents, I’ve sadly seen very little of my own country by comparison. When the Canadian dollar started to tank towards the end of last year, I decided that 2016 would be the year of Canada. I called up my friend Katie in Toronto and organized a long weekend in Montreal, a city I’ve wanted to visit for years. It would be the first time in Quebec for us both. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but as it turns out, I couldn’t have asked for a better weekend.

I took a red-eye flight, arriving in Montreal early Saturday morning. After waking Katie up in our adorable Airbnb apartment and enjoying a wake-up coffee on our lovely terrace, we set off to to explore.

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Feeling fresh on no sleep – Take that jet lag!

Lachine Canal

We didn’t intentionally go looking for the canal but somehow I’m always drawn to the water. When we stumbled across the Lachine Canal we decided to take advantage of the warm weather and stroll along the path to the Old Port. Along the way we discovered that the park is also a National Historic Site and the third most beautiful urban circuit in the world as ranked by Time magazine in 2009.

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Vieux Port

After walking the canal we ended up in the Old Port which is by far the most touristy part of Montreal. We strolled the cobblestone streets, visited the stunning Notre Dame cathedral, and spontaneously bought tickets to the latest Cirque du Soleil show, Luzia. We simply couldn’t pass the opportunity to see Cirque in the place where it originated. It was a fantastic Mexican inspired production that wowed me even as a long-time fan. We even had the privilege of running into several of the star performers later the next day when they were casually doing back flips in the street. When in Montreal…

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I’ve already written about all the delicious food that we ate in Montreal but my favourite location was certainly Chez Suzette. We had a lovely spot in the window where we could enjoy our crepes and some epic people watching. Basically the perfect setting for our 10 year friendaversary celebration!

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Mont Royal

On Day 2 my main objective was to visit the Mont Royal park, which I didn’t realize is actually a large volcanic hill/small mountain. I heard that there was a great viewpoint, which should have tipped me off that we would have a climb ahead of us to reach the Chalet. It was well worth the effort for the views and subsequent relaxing in the park.

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Parc Jean Drapeau

The rest of our day was a bit haphazard. We had a plan to check out the first day of the Piknic Électronik, an EDM festival that happens every Sunday throughout the summer at Parc Jean Drapeau. However, by the time we got there, the line to buy tickets was so long that we figured we wouldn’t make it inside by closing. So, instead we opted to try out the much touted bike share and get ourselves some Bixis. We rode around the park and then ultimately decided to find our way back to the Old Port. A lot easier said than done considering the lack of bike lanes and the steep incline to the bridge. We made it across though and were rewarded again with some lovely views of the city.

Along the way we made friends with Samantha from LA and the three of us spent the rest of the evening riding through the city, searching for night life, and making friends with locals. It was one of those spontaneous nights that made me feel fully alive, like this is what it means to be young and adventurous and free.

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We ended our trip on Monday with a relaxing walk through our neighbourhood to a local Polish bakery.

Montreal is completely unique to any city I’ve ever been before. The history and language made it feel slightly European, while still maintaining a distinctly Canadian feel. The people were so friendly and the city was notably vibrant and energetic.

At the end of any trip, I’m always wishing for at least one more day. But, even though I didn’t scratch every item off my wish-list, I had a truly memorable starter weekend in Montreal. I have a feeling that I’ll be back. Until next time… À bientôt Montréal! 

 

The Best Food I ate in Montreal

The Best Food I ate in Montreal

One weekend in Montreal was in no way enough time to experience all of the culinary delicacies and amazing restaurants in this city. But… I did the best that I could and these are some of the dishes that topped my list.

Caution: Photos below may induce hunger.

Poutine: La Banquise and Les Folies

When I mentioned to friends in conversation that I was planning a trip to Montreal, the first thing they recommended was poutine. And La Banquise came up again and again as the go-to spot. This place has been creating legendary poutine creations since the 1980’s and offers no less than 30 different types. We struggled to decide but eventually opted to share two: (1) La Reggae: ground beef, guacamole, diced tomatoes & hot peppers and (2) L’Astérix: smoked meat, mushrooms, sour cream & pepper sauce (both pictured above left).

 

And no weekend getaway would be complete without brunch so in true Montreal form, I ordered La Voisine de Poutine at Les Folies, basically breakfast poutine. Mais oui!

 

Crêpes: Chez Suzette

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Since Montreal is in the French speaking part of Canada, it is also a great place to try French-inspired cuisine. I indulged my sweet tooth with La Rougemont, which is a sweet crêpe with apples, cinnamon, ice cream, and almonds served with 100% pure Quebec maple sirop. This may have been my dinner and I’m not mad about it.

Avo Yo Toast: Buck 15 Espresso Bar

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 I’m pretty sure that the Avocado Toast craze is not a “Montreal thing” but I was plenty delighted to see it on the menu at Buck 15. This unassuming coffee shop had a beautifully curated breakfast menu that made me want to return every day just so I could try them all.

Bagels: Fairmount 

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I didn’t know this before I visited Montreal, but apparently the city has its own critically acclaimed style. In contrast to the New York-style bagel, the Montreal bagel is smaller, thinner, sweeter and denser, with a larger hole, and is always baked in a wood-fired oven. I was under strict orders to head to Fairmount, which claims to have the best bagels in the world. I don’t know that I’ve sampled enough bagels in my life to have a firm opinion but I definitely liked what I tasted. I recommend the Chocolate Chip and the Sesame Seed.

 

On this trip we also enjoyed Sangria, Smoked Meat sandwiches, and delicious French pastries. I can’t wait to return so that I can add to my list – what do you recommend?

 

Mastering the Weekend Getaway

Mastering the Weekend Getaway

Things have been quieter than usual on the blogging front these days… mostly because I started a new job (yeah!!) and am focusing on my home life. But that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been traveling. Since February, I’ve squeezed in trips to San Diego, Victoria, Calgary, Bowen Island, and this weekend I’m flying to Montreal for my first-ever trip to Quebec!

I know that I’ll never have as many vacation days as I would like but I’m not going to let that stop me from achieving my travel goals. And my key to success is the Weekend Getaway. I’ve briefly written about this before when I explained How I Travel the World with a Full-time Job but I feel like it’s time for a more detailed analysis.

Here are my tips for Mastering the Weekend Getaway

1. Explore your Own Backyard

I am spoiled because I live in the ridiculously good-looking Pacific Northwest with a plethora of gorgeous islands, lakes, and mountains to explore. But no matter where you live, I’m certain that there are places worth exploring nearby. I am slowly working my way through a lengthy list of local wonders and weekends are the perfect way to start checking them off. It doesn’t even feel like a sacrifice to spend time close to home rather than in more exotic destinations. I want to see the world and that includes my home province. It’s also SO easy to pack a small bag for two nights and scoot out of the city on a Friday evening.

Vancouver Skyline

From City…

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To relaxation in an hour

2. Don’t be afraid of the Red Eye

I may not suffer from jet lag when I travel, but sleeping on planes is not one of my strengths. For this reason, I’ve always been intimidated by the red-eye flight. But, I tried one back in 2014 on route to Boston for a long weekend and it was really great. Not only did I avoid a night of accommodation expenses, but I gained an entire day in the city. It was so successful that I used it again in 2015 to fly home from Maui, heading straight from the airport to work to save a vacation day. Might seem extreme but it’s a small price to pay for a weekend in paradise!

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Hello Paradise!

3. Have a Plan but Don’t Plan too Much

I’m a planner by nature so coming up with a detailed trip itinerary actually brings me joy. However, restrained planning is actually key to making a weekend getaway successful. If you jam pack too much activity into a short amount of time, it can leave you exhausted. On the flip side, no planning can mean that you end up in a town where everything closes at 5pm and you have nothing but bad cable TV for company.

I like to do my research and then come up with a couple of things that I really want to do while factoring in relaxation and exploration time. There is nothing worse then returning to work on Monday morning, needing a weekend to recover from your weekend. Have a goal for your trip and make choices that will help you achieve it. If the goal is relaxation, choose a location that is easy to get to and a little bit off the grid. If your goal is adventure, plan a road trip or visit an action-packed city.

 

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Lazy days in Snug Cove

 

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Always something new to see in Seattle

 

Getting out of town for a long weekend or even a mere two nights may not seem like enough time to see much, but that hasn’t been my experience at all. Every weekend away has been worth the effort and has truly made it possible for me to travel the world while maintaining a full-time job.

My office is closing early and I’m off on yet another red-eye flight tonight. Tomorrow I will wake up in Montreal! Bring on the poutine!

Where are you going to explore on a weekend getaway?

 

Back to California: The San Diego Obsession

Back to California: The San Diego Obsession

Contrary to popular belief… I am not moving to San Diego, as much as I may wish otherwise. After my annual pilgrimage to America’s Finest City last month, I reflected once again on why I fall more in love with California living each time I visit.

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There are some very obvious advantages: Near constant sunshine, + 25 ºC weather in February, an abundance of delicious Mexican food (mmm… fish tacos!), palm trees and beaches as far as the eye can see… I could go on and on.

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I love the laid back lifestyle and I love that after six visits, I am still discovering (and re-discovering) favourite places, eateries, and activities.

Balboa Park

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I can’t believe that it’s taken me this long to finally explore Balboa Park. If you want to get technical, I did visit the famous San Diego Zoo back in 2009 which is located in the area of Balboa Park. But, I have never spent time touring the park itself, which is gigantic and lovely. I could have easily spent the entire day marveling at the Spanish architecture, watching street performers, and admiring the manicured gardens. I’m already itching to return.

Pacific Beach Boardwalk

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There is something so lovely about returning to the same familiar spot year after year. My best friend Jennie just so happens to live in Pacific Beach, and the first thing we do every time I visit is take a walk down to the PB Boardwalk. This area is quintessential California. You’ve got surfers, roller skaters, cyclists, and everyone from retirees to families on vacation. I love the endless beach, the waves crashing on the outstretched pier, the palm tree lined sidewalks… This never gets old.

La Jolla

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No trip to San Diego would be complete without brunch and a stroll along the cliffs in La Jolla. There’s always a new place to sample or an angle that I haven’t photographed yet (although that seems impossible!). There’s just something soothing and revitalizing about this seaside community that instantly relaxes me. These are the moments that I store up and savour to keep me going long after I’ve returned home.

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 Do you have a favourite state?

Do you ever return to the same place again and again?

 

 

The Most Beautiful Beaches in Australia

The Most Beautiful Beaches in Australia

With more than 10,000 beaches around its shores, Australia leads the way when it comes to incredible sand and surf. Now in my all too brief three weeks down under, I didn’t see nearly enough of them to formulate a comprehensive review. But, I was so blown away by both the quantity and quality of the beaches I did see that I had to share some of my favourites.

Wategos Beach, Byron Bay, NSW

IMG_5132This isn’t the main beach in Byron Bay but it is quite a lovely little slice of paradise. I stumbled upon this spot on my walk to the Cape Byron Lighthouse and I couldn’t help taking a pit stop. Surfers and sun worshippers alike could be spotted frolicking in the waves – the relaxing vibes were contagious!

Tugun Beach, Gold Coast, NSW

IMG_5157There is nothing I love more than beach photography and I always get a twinge of excitement when I spot a lifeguard tower. This massive, pristine, and virtually deserted beach was not on my itinerary. In fact, this was really just a bathroom break on our way from Byron Bay to Brisbane… not too shabby.

Noosa North Shore, Sunshine Coast, QLD

IMG_5181When I hear the word “camping” this view is not what immediately springs to mind. But THIS is camping in Australia! Across the river from Noosa Heads and Noosaville is Noosa North Shore – a long stretch of white sand, dunes and beautiful coastline, and the gateway to World Heritage-listed Fraser Island and Great Sandy National Park. Only accessible by a short two minute ferry this site is most suitable for experienced campers… so clearly not me. Good thing I had a crew of Aussies to show me the ropes!

Rainbow Beach, Wide Bay, QLD

IMG_5242Ahhh Rainbow Beach!!!! Doing the Great Beach Drive was the coolest thing I did in Australia. It was an adrenaline filled ride mixing one part terror (at getting stuck or swept into the ocean) and two parts amazing! Why don’t the highways at home look like this?!

Bondi Beach, Sydney, NSW

IMG_5471This may have been the most crowded beach I saw in Australia but it is certainly popular for a reason. Just minutes away from downtown Sydney, this gorgeous stretch of beach is the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. If I ever move here this would be my Saturday hangout for sure!

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island, QLD

IMG_2620And last, but CERTAINLY not least… Whitehaven Beach! This is the #1 rated beach in Australia and frequently rated in the top five beaches in the WORLD!! This immaculate stretch of heaven on Whitsunday Island was the highlight of my time in the Great Barrier Reef. The water was like a bath, the sand was silky smooth, squeaking between my toes, and as you can tell, not crowded in the slightest. It was like a dream! Take me back please!

I’m always on the hunt for fantastic beaches… Where are some of your favourites?

Leave a Comment Below.

 

There’s Something about Sydney

There’s Something about Sydney

It’s always an interesting experience to visit a city that is super famous. The first time that I visited both Paris and New York I kept feeling like somehow I’d been there before. This isn’t surprising considering how many movies are filmed in both cities, yet still the familiarity was surreal.

I’ve been hearing about Sydney for years and especially how much I was going to love it. Often compared to my beloved Vancouver, I had high expectations for my first visit. And although many of the sites were exactly how I imagined, the city as a whole was completely different.

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Sydney from above

For starters, Sydney is BIG. Think NYC big. With a population of over 4 million people, the CBD was always buzzing with activity. Instantly I decided that Sydney was no Vancouver. The comparisons do make sense of course – harbour city, new city, multicultural city… but the vibe is 100% Australian.

I think I hit the nail on the head when I decided that Sydney is New York on vacation. If NYC could just absorb some of the Aussie chill and spend more time at the beach, then they’d be on the same page. That’s my theory anyways.

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The ever busy Circular Quay

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Bondi Beach

I was able to spend six full days in Sydney and opted to stay in an Airbnb rental in the convenient suburb of Waterloo. My hosts were fantastic (Hi Wayne & Sasha!) and I got a real sense of what life would be like if I lived in Sydney (read: Expensive).

I am not kidding. I thought that rent in Vancouver was pricey but Sydney is next-level ridiculous. Just check out this cost of living analysis noting that renting a 900 sq ft furnished place in a “normal” area would cost AU $3,328 per month (essentially the equivalent in CAD). Now I understand why expat friends of mine had 6 room mates in a 2 bedroom apartment. Yikes! And that’s not the only thing that’s expensive… pretty much everything costs more: coffee, alcohol, gelato… only my travel/life essentials!

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Views like this don’t come cheap (Sydney Harbour Bridge)

Cost aside, I loved my time in Sydney. I bought an OPAL card and figured out the transit system with ease. I walked a ton. I visited beaches and museums. Climbed bridges and rode ferries. I went on a free, 3 hour walking tour of the city with a tour guide that looked like a petite version of Jessica Jones. It was FANTASTIC! Probably the best tour I’ve ever done, and I’ve done a lot of tours in my travels so that’s saying something.

I never got tired of wandering around Circular Quay or Hyde Park or The Rocks. I could easily spend countless hours listening to the street buskers or people watching on the Opera House steps or photographing this city from every angle. It’s magical.

 

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The Rocks (oldest part of Sydney)

I got to soak up many of the activities that are especially lovely during the summer months, like enjoying refreshing drinks at the most epic beer garden in the world (The Opera Bar), wandering through outdoor markets, and  reveling in the Saturday night Firework spectacular in Darling Harbour.

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Check out these crowds – The Opera Bar is the place to be any night of the week!

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Darling Harbour

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Fireworks and a Ferris Wheel

Even though Sydney is conceivably the furthest destination I could possibly visit, I know that I will be back someday. Australia will not and can not be a one-time trip for me. There’s just something about the land down under that has captured my heart.

Have you ever been to Sydney? What were your impressions of this world-class city?

Leave a comment below.

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An Ode to Brisbane

An Ode to Brisbane

Summer. The high point of the entire year. A magical time when the weight of winter evaporates with the smell of barbecued meat and the emergence of freckled tans.

I always feel lighter in the summer. Floating through the streets in sun dresses and flip flops. Making my best effort to live off ice cream cones and watermelon wedges.

It’s the time of year when social butterflies are in top form. Organizing camping trips, firework viewing parties, patio drinks, and late night beach walks. Summer brings everyone out of hiding.

I dream of summer. I savour the memories and store them up for the dark days of January.

But last year, I skipped summer. Not intentionally. OF COURSE! Circumstance took hold of those all-too-brief months and I sadly watched the days slip by, paralyzed to stop them.

When the leaves started to change colour and I realized that summer had passed me by…  I panicked. The stress and frustration of an uprooted and chaos-filled season had left me beaten down and tired. I wasn’t prepared for autumn, for winter, for any of it.

So instead of succumbing to the gloom, I chased summer. I traveled to the opposite corner of the globe and found exactly what my soul needed most.

In Brisbane, I found contentment.

In riverside walks with no destination.

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By lounging poolside on a weekday morning.

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During giggle filled hikes and quick dips in watering holes.

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On top of lookouts with the sun slowing setting.

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When my two favourite seasons collided like a dream.

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When I couldn’t be sure if it was the exercise or the view stealing my breath.

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It was in the little moments of sweet nothingness. In the camaraderie of new and old friends. In the relaxed vibe of the locals.

In a city often skipped over, I found everything I was looking for. Brisbane you brought me back to life. I will forever be grateful.

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Hello Seattle, Hello 2016!

Hello Seattle, Hello 2016!

Happy New Year! I couldn’t be more thrilled to be writing these words in 2016. It just sounds good to say, doesn’t it? 2015 was a wild year but it ended on a beautiful high that has carried me blissfully into yet another January.

For the third year in a row, I have continued my favourite travel tradition of celebrating the start of the year in a new city. In 2014, I set the bar high with a fun-filled night on the streets of New Orleans. In 2015, I partied Catalan style at the Plaza de España in Barcelona. And this year, I welcomed 2016 in Seattle, a city that is near and dear to my heart.

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My partner in crime for this edition of NYE is a regular on the blog – my good friend Mindy. Neither of us had ever gone to a fancy New Years party so we decided to go all out this year. We got tickets to the largest bash in the city at the Experience Music Project (EMP) museum and a room at an adorable boutique hotel downtown.

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The event was fantastic! Not only did we get to tour the exhibits of the museum (which included set pieces from LOTR, Star Wars, Princess Bride, and beyond) but it also included amazing cover bands, a live comedy theatre, and prime viewing of the Space Needle’s fireworks show. It was so much fun that I almost want to break my rule and celebrate there again next year… almost.

 

But the good times didn’t stop after the clock struck midnight.

Outside of the lower mainland where I was born and raised, Seattle is the city that I’ve visited the most frequently. But, I rarely get to be a tourist as I’m usually in town for something specific: cheering on my Seahawks, attending a concert, shopping, or heading to the airport. So, this time I made a conscious effort to soak up a different side of Seattle.

 

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EMP Museum

Underground City Tour

Several friends had recently raved about the Seattle Underground City Tour and I have to echo their praise. The comical beginnings of the “Emerald City” lend itself perfectly for a joke-filled tour of the subterranean passages that once made up the main streets of pioneer square. We learned a lot more than we ever wanted to know about early sewage systems and how The Great Seattle Fire of 1889 was maybe the best thing to ever happen to the city. I won’t spoil it all here, but I definitely recommend you take the tour yourself.

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Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum

I’ve never thought too much about how glass was made. Well, except for that scene in Sweet Home Alabama with the lightning. But, honestly, I had no idea what to expect when we decided to visit the Chihuly Garden and Glass museum located in the Seattle Center. I was completely blown away by the truly incredible works of art created by glass blowing (see what I did there?). Inspired by the Venetians and created by Dave Chihuly, the exhibits were whimsical, vibrant, stunning, and awe-inspiring. We even got to watch a live demo from a couple of professional glass blowers and I was seriously impressed by their skill and patience. Usually I am intimidated by this sort of thing, but glass blowing is so cool that it makes me want to pick up a new hobby. Good thing I don’t make New Year’s resolutions…

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Boeing Factory Tour – The Future of Flight

I love everything to do with aviation. I love airports. I love airplanes. I love flying (even when I hate it, I love it). I’ve not-so-secretly always wanted to be a flight attendant. So when I found out that you could actually tour the factory where these dream machines come to life – I was sold. And while it was definitely cool to see the largest building in the world by volume, the tour left me a bit underwhelmed.

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The factory is actually located just 30 minutes north of Seattle in Everett, Washington, which made it a logical pit stop on our journey home. Perhaps it had something to do with visiting the site on a holiday weekend when less action was happening (a whopping 35,000 work at this location) or maybe we just got a below-average tour guide but the whole thing was kind of whomp whomp. I was hoping to hear some stories or get more up close and personal with the planes when really all I heard was a lot of statistics which flew in one ear and out the other. The one thing I do remember is that you could fit all of Disneyland and a 12 acre parking lot inside the factory. So there’s that.

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All in all, I had an amazing three days in Seattle. After dozens of visits, I still have more to explore, which is a tried and true sign of a world-class city in my opinion. 2016 is off to a fantastic start!

How did you celebrate the new year? Have you ever found a city that continues to excite after multiple visits?

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2015: A Year in Review

2015: A Year in Review

How do I even begin to describe the past year? Chaotic. Exhausting. Incredible. It was chock-a-block full of highs and lows. I rode the wave of awesome that was 2014 through the first few months until things took a turn in April when work stress started to take a toll on me. Then when an apartment flood hit in July – my life felt like it was spiraling out of control. The one constant in my roller coaster year was travel, in epic proportions. Travel is my source of inspiration, energy, excitement, and joy. So I squeezed more travel into 12 months than I thought was humanly possible. And you know what… it saved me. I closed out 2015 with a self-care trip to Australia and now as 2016 approaches… I feel rejuvenated and completely at peace. Here’s a look back at my crazy year!

1. Barcelona, Spain (January)

I couldn’t have been more delighted to kick off 2015 in one of my new favourite cities, Barcelona! This wasn’t my first time in the Catalonian capital but it was certainly my best. Gaudi, tapas, magical fountains… What’s not to love? My travel BFF Megan and I celebrated in true spanish style with Cava, a dozen grapes, and thousands of new friends at the Plaça d’Espanya! Feliz Ano Nuevo!

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Park Guell

2. Amsterdam, Netherlands (January)

On my way home from Spain I ended up with a 5-hour layover in Amsterdam… just enough time to get out of the airport and take a Sunday morning stroll through the quiet cobblestone streets and picturesque canals. It was the perfect way to stretch my legs and re-visit a city that I quite enjoy!

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3. San Diego, California (February)

One of my favourite winter haunts is Southern California. And the city that calls me back time and time again is San Diego. This visit took me back to some favourite spots like Coronado Island and introduced me to some new neighbourhoods like the Gaslamp District. I can’t wait to return again next winter!

Gaslamp Quarter: The Historic Heart of San Diego

Gaslamp Quarter: The Historic Heart of San Diego

4. Portland, Oregon (March)

When my cousin Jordan and his wife Emily relocated to Portland last year, I knew that many trips were in my future. After all, it’s only a 6 hour drive from Vancouver. I had mixed feelings after my first visit in 2014 but my second trip convinced me that Portland really is worth the hype. I’m a firm believer in the weekend getaway and now I’ve got PDX fixed in my GPS. This trip was made even better by yet another reunion with my friend Megan. We just keep meeting up all over the world – and I love it!

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5. Maui, Hawaii (April)

This year I convinced my best friend Katie to do something a little bit crazy… Go to Maui for the weekend! The Easter long weekend to be more specific. I had both Good Friday and Easter Monday off work so we flew out Thursday evening and took the red-eye back on Monday night. I came straight to work from the airport and didn’t use even one vacation day for my island escape. Now, that’s how you travel the world with a full time job! I had been to Oahu before but this was my first time to Maui – a place that I have quickly dubbed PARADISE ON EARTH! I will be back, that I know for sure.

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6. Cultus Lake, BC (April)

This spring I spent a weekend revisiting one of my favourite childhood haunts. Cultus Lake was a frequent stomping ground for my family back in the day and also the spot where I attended summer camp as a kid. It holds so many wonderful memories of learning to canoe and building sand castles and playing capture the flag in the forest. And on a weekend retreat with friends, it was a calming and restorative respite from the city life.

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7. Halfmoon Bay, BC (May)

Our second annual girls weekend was a roaring success. Last year we visited the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival in Northwest Washington and had a really lovely time. This year we ventured to my new favourite local getaway – the Sunshine Coast. We rented a gorgeous cabin from Airbnb right on Secret Cove in Halfmoon Bay and spent a blissful spring weekend of tranquility and quality girl time. Everything about this weekend was perfection!

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8. Salt Spring Island, BC (May)

At the last minute I decided to join in on a surprise birthday trip to Salt Spring Island to celebrate my friend Sarah. Her husband rented a house for a group of friends and we had a very relaxing weekend visiting breweries, wineries, cheese farms, and beaches. I already had a second trip planned for later in the summer so it was really just a teaser of coming attractions. I just can’t get enough of the Gulf Islands!

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9. Greece (June)

Me and #TeamTravel kickstarted our European summer adventure in Athens, Greece before checking into a villa on Santorini for the island escape that dreams are made of. I could use every superlative in the dictionary and still fall short of describing how much I love Santorini. It’s ridiculous and y’all just need to go. Now.

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10. Turkey (June/July)

With just over a week in Turkey we were able to visit some of the most impressive natural wonders and ancient ruins I’ve ever seen from Ephesus to Pamukkale to my trip highlight – Riding a Hot Air Balloon in Cappadocia! I sincerely hope I get to return someday because this country has so much more to offer.

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11. Whistler, BC (July)

This year, my annual summer retreat to beautiful Whistler village was a little different than usual. Instead of calm walks by the lake and shopping in the village, I joined a group of 11 ladies to celebrate my friend Crystal’s upcoming marriage. No matter the season or the occasion, Whistler never disappoints and this was no exception. Hands down, the best Bachelorette party I’ve ever attended.

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12. Oregon Coast (July)

In mid-July I ended up having a major personal crisis when an apartment leak forced me to temporary relocate for 3 months. I won’t get into the painful saga here but know that it was rough. Mere days after the initial destruction, I was fortunately able to escape the chaos with some of my favourite people (read: cousins) and hideaway in the sleepy town of Gearhart on the Oregon Coast… something that has been on my bucket list for far too long. It was exactly what I needed in that moment and I’m so glad I have such an amazing family that I get to call friends.

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13. Golden Ears Provincial Park, BC (August)

I’m a self-proclaimed city girl. I like civilization, amenities, and the hustle, bustle of crowded streets. It’s so exciting to me! That being said, I definitely enjoy nature A LOT. I’m just not going to win any outdoor woman of the year contests any time soon. Camping doesn’t sit near the top of my to-do list pretty much ever, but if it is well organized and with great people, then I do enjoy the experience. This year, I even agreed to camp on a rainy, chilly weekend so feel free to praise me in the comments. Really, it was just an excuse to play games, drink wine, and listen to all the Taylor Swift.

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14. Salt Spring Island, BC (August)

My second trip to Salt Spring Island (this year!) occurred on the very same weekend as a massive windstorm. Fortunately the Gulf islands didn’t get hit quite as bad as Metro Vancouver where over 500,000 people lost power. We rode out the storm by touring the local wineries, visiting a pretty fantastic farmer’s market, and even testing out some paddle boats (not to be confused with SUP – I’m talking old-school, peddle-with-your-feet boats). This weekend was so much more than the activities though. It was quality time with the most important women in my life: my mom, my sister-in-law, and my cousin/BFF who came all the way from Winnipeg to join in on our annual girls weekend. Thanks ladies – Let’s do it again next year!

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15. Alaska (September)

This was the most relaxing vacation of my entire life and couldn’t have come at a better time! I was completely mentally and physically burned out from a ridiculously stressful summer when my parents offered to take my siblings and I on an Alaskan cruise. YES PLEASE! While cruising isn’t exactly my preferred way of travel, in this situation, it was exactly what the doctor ordered. I wasn’t bothered by the higher than average age demographic or the less than stimulating onboard activities because all I wanted to do was eat good food and nap as much as humanly possible. And during the few hours each day that I could muster up the energy, we planned some awesome adventures in the incredible Alaskan wilderness: Dog sledding, helicopters, mountain biking, train riding, bear watching, glaciers, and so much more! Thanks Mom and Dad!

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16. Keats Island, BC (September)

I still wasn’t back to normal as September came to a close. And even though binge watching HGTV was the only activity of any interest to me; I knew that a dose of travel could be just the thing to snap me back to life. So I joined some lovely friends for a quiet and reflective weekend on the incredibly beautiful Keats Island just off the Sunshine Coast. There was nothing much to do and that was perfect. Just panoramic sea views and forest walks. Time slowed down and the important things came into focus.

IMG_469017. Greensboro, North Carolina (October)

I had no idea what to expect when I decided to spend a long weekend in North Carolina. Thanks to a couple of perfect weather days and peak autumn foliage, I was pleasantly surprised by just how beautiful this part of the world truly is. It didn’t hurt that I was once again reunited with my travel bestie Megan. She is always a fantastic host!

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18. Australia (December)

Australia… how much do I love thee? Let me count the ways! I still have so much to write about my time down under but for now just know that it was the BEST! This trip was somewhat spontaneous (for me) and came about after some soul searching. I realized that I was completely depleted and really needed to take a step back from my life. I requested a leave of absence from my 9-5 and booked a flight to the other side of the world. I split my time between visiting an old friend and embarking on my first true solo travel adventure and it was EVERYTHING! I fell truly, madly, deeply in love with Australia. It is different enough to be interesting, yet similar enough to be comfortable. And those beaches… I mean… the rest of the world should just give up. Now that I’m back home and feeling like a new and improved version of myself, I have a brand new dilemma too… how do I return down under? And for longer?!!

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19. Seattle, Washington (December)

To cap off this crazy year, I am continuing with my goal of celebrating New Year’s in a new city each year: 2014 started in New Orleans, I kicked off 2015 in Barcelona, and now I am about to ring in the start of 2016 in Seattle. My friend Mindy and I are going all out with fancy party tickets and a couple nights in a boutique hotel. I can’t wait to get dressed up and be a tourist in a city that feels a lot like home to me. I hope you follow my adventures into the new year!

 

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2015 By the Numbers:

Countries Visited: 6 (2 new ones) –  Spain / Netherlands / USA / Greece / TurkeyAustralia

States Visited: 6 (2 new ones) – California / Oregon / Hawaii / Alaska / Washington / North Carolina

Plane Rides Taken: 15 one way flights (I count a flight as a flight regardless of how many segments or layovers it has).

Other Modes of Transportation: 11 ferries, 1 cruise ship, and more vehicles than I care to count.

Airports Visited: 18 (YVR, BCN, AMS, SAN, LAX, ORD, GSO, OGG, ZRH, ATH, BJV, ASR, IST, YYZ, SYD, BNE, PPP, HTI)

Kilometres Flown in 2015: 71,324

Beds Slept In: 28. Of those, 7 were hotels, 6 were Airbnb apartment rentals, 5 were house rentals, 4 were crashing with family or friends, 2 were in a lodge, one was a cruise ship cabin, one was a tent, and one was my own bed!

Blog Posts: 51

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What are your favourite moments of 2015? What are you looking forward to most in the new year?

Sailing Adventure in the Whitsundays

Sailing Adventure in the Whitsundays

When I was researching where I wanted to visit during my all too short 3 weeks in Australia, I came across a destination that I’d never heard about before… the Whitsunday islands. Now you can imagine my excitement when I discovered that this tropical paradise was not only the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, but also home to Australia’s #1 rated (and top 5 in the world) beach. Sign me up!

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I decided to spend three nights in Airlie Beach, a backpacker resort town that serves as a launching pad for all the water excursions you could ask for. I had heard amazing things about the full day sailing trip offered by Cruise Whitsundays so I booked it and crossed my fingers for good weather. And I lucked out big time. I really couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day.

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I have always loved sailing and spending time on the water, but this was my first full day of real, solo travel and I worried… Would I have fun all by myself? Well, it turns out that I didn’t even have to cross that bridge. Before I boarded my vessel for the day, I made fast friends with a Scottish girl named Lorna who was also travelling solo. Yeah!

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Introducing the Camira… purple enough for you?

Our itinerary for the day included sailing aboard the Camira, one of the world’s fastest commercial sailing catamarans, snorkelling at Dumbell reef, a leisurely afternoon at Whitehaven Beach, and a gourmet BBQ lunch with open bar. Hello Heaven!

I happened to be traveling during stinger season (Nov – May) so in order to prevent painful stings from the prevalent Box Jellyfish and Irakanji stingers we all wore stinger suits when snorkelling. I didn’t mind. I kind of felt like Cat Woman. The coral was quite colourful and I got to see a few Dory’s swimming around. Lorna even spotted a turtle.

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And then finally it was time for the main event: Whitehaven Beach!!!!! We knew it was going to be good when we could see the glistening white sand sparkling way off in the distance. The crystal clear waters and pristine silica sand stretch over 7km along Whitsunday Island, the largest of the 74 islands in the Whitsundays. The sand is so white that it never gets hot and so fine that it actually squeaks when you walk. You can even use the sand to polish your jewellery… trust me, we tested it.

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It’s easy to see why it is the most photographed beach in Australia and has been named the South Pacific’s Best Beach by the 2015 TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards. I think it’s time for me to update my list of favourite beaches.

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Everything about this day was perfect, well almost everything. I made a new friend. The crew were incredibly efficient yet highly personable (that’s a killer combo). I got to snorkel, sail, and suntan and finally set foot on my namesake (Whitney means White Island). The only downside was that despite my very best efforts to reapply and cover-up early, I burnt. I knew I would but still hoped I wouldn’t. That Australian sun is no joke.

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Blissfully unaware of my scorched flesh.

Australia has been completely knocking my socks off. I wish I had so many more months left to explore all of the awe-inspiring sights that this country has to offer. One thing is for certain, I will be back.

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City Girl Goes Camping: The Australian Edition

City Girl Goes Camping: The Australian Edition

Camping is such an odd experience. If aliens were to visit earth and observe people vacating their perfectly comfortable and amenity filled houses to temporarily sleep in canvas sacks in the wilderness, I’m going to bet that they would be confused. I do it and I don’t even get it. Clearly, I am a city girl.

Even so, when my Australian hostess suggested that we spend a weekend camping on the Sunshine Coast – I agreed. I wanted to experience an authentic summer in Queensland… and the locals go camping.

Kyle, Veronica, and I left the creature comforts of Brisbane before noon on Friday to make the two hour drive to Noosa North Shore before peak hour (read: rush hour). We had booked a campsite right on the beach because Australia.

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This is camping in Queensland.

The weather forecast for the weekend wasn’t looking ideal but rainy camping can be fun right? Sure, except that we hadn’t exactly planned for a windstorm too, which is what greeted us upon arrival. We should have known we were in for a rough night when all the other camping parties were set up in massive trailers with tarps secured. Then we realized that one of our tents was completely busted. Excellent.

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It took us ages us to set up our ridiculous make-shift tent village as we began getting pelted with rain from every angle. Another friend showed up later to provide a much needed tarp. We made do. And fortunately we had a full esky (read: cooler) of alcohol and Settlers of Catan to pass the time. Just before bed our whole tent structure gave up. The boys assured me it would be fine… or in Australian… She be right mate. I was skeptical.

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The next morning we woke to light drizzle and decided to move our campsite to a more sheltered forest section – this was a very good decision. We moved our gear and then ditched camp life for Noosaville where I got to try SUP for the first time. Then we wandered around Noosa for a bit, visited the beach area, and went searching for koalas to no avail. I guess I’ll have to settle for the heaps of wild kangaroos back at camp. They really are as prevalent as deer in Canada.

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Our evening consisted of more relaxing and eating and drinking and Catan. Lots of Catan. On our final day the sun finally returned as we were packing up. But, we had one more adventure in store – The Great Beach Drive.

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If you happen to find yourself in Queensland any you are able to hook yourself up with a 4 wheel drive then I highly recommend that you try driving on the 50km stretch of beach from Noosa to Rainbow Beach. I have never done anything quite like this before and I probably never will again. If you can manage a high clearance vehicle that would also be a wise idea because we definitely got stuck, twice. Fortunately, Aussies are super friendly and helpful and we quickly got towed out on both occasions. The journey was exhilarating and terrifying and just plain cool. Thanks for driving Kyle – you’re a champ!

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Rainbow Beach is also just a stunning stretch of coastline with gorgeous cliffs and the Carlo Sand Blow. Named by Captain Cook after one of his deck crew named Carlo, the unique “moonscape” sand mass covers over 15 hectares and overlooks the towering coloured sands. If you don’t go camping or do the beach drive, then you should find another reason to visit. Australia has so much to offer.

 

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I’m incredibly grateful that I was able to travel with locals for part of my Australian adventure. I was able to do things and see things that I never would have known about or had the guts to do on my own. I may not be the best camper in the world but I love having friends that push me outside my comfort zone. I will never stop needing that.

What is one of your most unique travel experiences? Leave a comment below.

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The Great Beach Drive

Postcards from Byron Bay

Postcards from Byron Bay

In my parent’s dining room is a framed photograph from their visit to Australia back in 2012. The photo is of a lighthouse in Byron Bay and I was instructed, in no uncertain terms, that I HAD to go there myself. Today I did just that.

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Byron Bay is a laid back, hippie mecca on the Eastern coast of Australia. It has beautiful beaches, but then, that isn’t a very distinguishing feature in this part of the world. The main standout in BB is the flourishing surf culture and the chill vibe. You can’t help but feel relaxed with all the barefooted backpackers hanging about. It’s a wonder how anyone actually gets any work done in a town so easy going.

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After some mandatory pool and beach time, my hostess extraordinaire, Veronica, and I made sure to follow my parent’s orders – to the lighthouse.

 

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The century-old Cape Byron Light House is located on the Eastern most point of mainland Australia. We walked the popular 3.7km loop through rainforest and across cliff tops with views that had us stopping at every lookout. It was everything my parents promised it would be.

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I was able to fill my camera with souvenirs to keep me warm during the rainy winters. As per usual, I’m glad I listened to my travel expert mother’s advice.

Have you ever visited a place that fully lived up to the hype?

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Byron Bay Light House

How to Survive Long-Haul Air Travel

How to Survive Long-Haul Air Travel

I’ve taken a lot of International flights over the years, some of them, very long. I’ve already documented the best flight of my life when I got upgraded to business class on British Airways from London to Seattle. But, that was definitely a once in a lifetime experience. Every other time, I’ve flown in economy, which can sometimes feel like a cattle car in the 1860s. But, even still, I love air travel.

I’m posting this just as I’m about to head to YVR International airport (aka the happiest place on earth!) where I am about to board the longest nonstop flight that I’ve ever taken – 15 hours and 40 minutes! This got me to thinking about the ways in which a fresh air loving, long-walk taking, yoga practicing person manages to make this experience bearable, and dare I say it, enjoyable.

Here are my survival tips for Long-Haul Air Travel

1.Plan Your Entertainment

International travel is definitely easier because most planes these days provide a personal TV with dozens of movies, TV series, and games to get you through the sleepless hours in the middle of the night. I for one, LOVE movies and see this as the perfect opportunity to catch up on films that I missed throughout the year. But even a binge watcher like me, may need a break from 15 hours of constant streaming.

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So, I also make sure to curate my iPhone music to include my go-to travel playlists and load a few e-books onto my Kobo Aura (my new must-have travel accessory). I often treat myself to a magazine as well, which pretty much only happens when I fly these days.

2.Prepare Your Snacks

Now this is going to go against all of my previous advice on How to Avoid Jet Lag but seriously, you cannot depend on airplane food. Nobody wants to be stuck in a little box in the sky with your hunger needs left in the complete control of a cost-cutting airline. I’ve been so thankful in the past for my stash of snacks on many an overnight flight when I had no idea when the next meal was being served. I also love using air travel as an excuse to dig into some of my favourite treats… it doesn’t count when you’re on vacation right?!

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3.Dress for Success

When I travel domestically, I usually dress exactly the same way that I would at home. Sometimes I even kick it up a notch because I just love the 1960s era when air travel was this glamourous, special occasion where people brought out their finest fashions. But, when it comes to international travel, I dress as comfortably as humanly possible short of wearing my pajamas. Some key wardrobe staples are long scarves that can also serve as blankets and wearing LAYERS. I find that most airplanes are sweltering hot during boarding and freezing cold during mid-flight. No matter what my destination, I pack extra socks and a warm sweater. Extra clothes can also turn into make-shift pillows in a pinch.

Scarf or Blanket?

Scarf or Blanket?

4. Reserve Your Preferred Seat

Maybe you’re a crazy person who enjoys sitting in the middle seat of the middle row of a 3 – 4- 3 formation, but I am not. I scored a window seat for this flight, which is absolutely necessary if I’m going to get any sleep at all.

We are smiling but we really wish we were not in the middle row.

We are smiling but we really wish we were not in the middle row.

5. Drink Water

It’s so important to take care of yourself while travelling. Your body is going to be confused and your immune system is going to be put through the ringer. The best thing that you can do during a long travel day is stay hydrated with clear fluids and avoid alcohol and caffeine. That glass of wine at take-off might help you nod off quickly but it can seriously interfere with your crucial REM sleep. And I don’t think I have to tell you why coffee is a bad idea. I’m guilty of enjoying a pre-trip Americano on the regular but then I have travel super powers. For those of you who struggle with jet lag, avoid the stimulants and stick to water.

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6. Take Preemptive Cold Remedies

Unfortunately, I often get sick on airplanes. All of those germs being recirculated endlessly just breaks me down, even though I like to think that I have a pretty solid immune system. My cold remedy of choice is Oil of Oregano. I pop these suckers like candy before, during, and after all air travel to prevent or lessen the potential cold symptoms. Whatever you find helpful is what I recommend… but don’t mess around. Nothing ruins a trip more than being sick.

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What did I miss? How do you prepare for a long-haul flight?

Why I didn’t Quit my Job to Travel the World… (yet)

Why I didn’t Quit my Job to Travel the World… (yet)

Spoiler Alert: I am obsessed with travel.

I spend most of my waking hours planning and plotting future travel and while I am unconscious, my dreams are filled with far flung and exotic locales. I have a giant scratch map of the world above my office computer so while I am answering calls about training programs, career progression, e-learning software, and what to expect at an upcoming conference – you can be sure that I am simultaneously memorizing the layout of Africa.

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Uganda – photo credit: Katie Smith

I do my very best to travel as much as possible. However, there is a defined limit to my adventures. I have a full-time, fixed location job. So then, one may wonder Why don’t you quit your job to travel? That’s a fair question. Many travel bloggers do travel full-time and live a mostly nomadic existence. They find ways to make money online through freelance work, blogging, or virtual employment. While this is immensely appealing for obvious reasons, it is something that I have considered, and decided against.

Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An, Vietnam

I have dipped my toes into the pool of long-term travel once before. I spent 8 months in Europe from September 2005 to May 2006. It was a dream come true! I fell madly in-love with Europe and I keep going back. But, even during those months abroad, I made a home-base, twice in fact. I spent 3 months in a sleepy mountain village in Austria and 3 months on the beach in Spain. Even though I am a go-go person who finds it exhilarating to wake up in a new bed every few days, I also find it exhausting.

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Schladming, Austria

I know that perpetual motion would get me so much closer to my travel goals but I worry that it might suck the life out of me along the way. You see, I never want to take travel for granted. I want to be able to savour each experience for what it is and not let comparison or fatigue steal my joy. During my prior forays into long-term travel, I found it near impossible to be wonderstruck every day, even in the presence of greatness. I was unable to maintain the energy and travel stamina required to truly appreciate the incredible things I was seeing every day. My solution to this issue has been taking shorter trips more frequently. Yes, this way of travel does cost more money. I deal.

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Athens, Greece

I’ve also managed to create quite a beautiful and inspiring home base in a city that has become my favourite place on earth. I love my neighborhood, my apartment, my social network… and most of the time I cannot imagine ever moving away for good. I love throwing together a quick duffel and taking off for a weekend getaway. I love the tingly feeling I get when I land at YVR airport. I love the familiarity of a city that fits me like a glove. This is home for me and I really like having a home.

Vancouver Skyline

Vancouver Skyline

All that being said… I never say never. I have fallen in love with several cities that I absolutely could see myself living in one day – I’m looking at you Barcelona, Paris, San Diego and Vienna. And if I fall in love with Australia next month… I may try to take advantage of some youth visa opportunities that are expiring shortly. Who knows?

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Barcelona, Spain

The fact of the matter is that there is no right or wrong way to travel. I have tried out many different strategies over the years and this is what works for me right now. That could change tomorrow but the one thing that remains the same is that I travel. I do it because I don’t know how not to.

What’s your preferred way of travel?

Do you have insatiable wanderlust like me?

Leave a comment below.

When travel isn’t so glamourous…

When travel isn’t so glamourous…

I write for many reasons and sometimes no reason at all. I’ve always written. I guess that makes me a writer. On this particular blog, I most often describe my travels in a positive, if not downright glorious, light. I love it and I want others to love it too. So it makes complete sense to wax poetic and shine a spotlight on the absolute joy that is travel.

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Goreme, Turkey

Except that travel isn’t always glamourous, or fun, or life changing…

I recently had a conversation with a friend and fellow traveller where I brought up the idea of authenticity. I questioned my habits and wondered if I am doing the world (ie. my readers) a disservice by filtering my experiences? Is it disingenuous to only paint part of the picture?

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Pilot Mountain State Park, North Carolina

I recently wrote about North Carolina, which was surprisingly beautiful. A very underrated state in my opinion. At least in autumn. In the Appalachians. But, what I didn’t write about was the 18 hour travel debacle that ensued when my flight home was delayed two hours, resulting in a multitude of missed connections, frantic rescheduling, lengthy layovers, and very little sleep. Oh… and I was late for work. Is that how I want to remember my trip? Of course not. But, it is the very real possibility when traveling. Things can go epically wrong and ruin even the best laid plans.

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Bogota, Colombia

I have on occasion written about past travel disasters because they often make for some pretty good stories. But, most of the time I try to highlight the positives. I am so very grateful for my life and the choices and good fortune that have enabled me to live so many of my dreams. So then, I wonder, where is the line?

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Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

To truly live honestly, I want to refocus my efforts on storytelling. As much as I love top ten lists or quick guides to 48 hours in a new hip city… really anyone can write about that stuff. But, no one can tell my story like me. No one can write about the people that I meet on the road or my feelings about a new culture. Only I can tell my story. And for better or worse, I am going to tell it.

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Dubrovnik, Croatia

I don’t want to remember my life through rose coloured glasses when my eyes see 20/20 just fine. I know that travel can handle the truth. The struggle is real and it’s worth it.

Departure Lounge: Australia

Departure Lounge: Australia

I have a very exciting travel announcement that I just couldn’t wait any longer to share.

In just 6 weeks I will be flying to my 6th continent – A U S T R A L I A !

I’m pretty over the moon about it especially considering I only booked my flight 2 weeks ago. This is about as last minute as I get. Australia has always been somewhere I wanted to visit but it became a MUST-SEE destination after I watched that weeklong Oprah special back in 2010. Now, granted, I won’t be traveling like Oprah (although I am incorporating a bit of business class air travel… teehee!) but I still have some epic plans in the works.

It’s taken me a lot longer than I expected to finally get around to visiting the land down under. I was waiting for a huge chunk of time off to make the 12,400 km journey worthwhile. But, with a longstanding invite from my high school friend and recent Aussie citizen, Veronica, and an approved leave of absence from work – the timing was just about perfect. I know that it will be impossible to see and do everything on my Australian bucket list in just 3 weeks… So I’m not even going to try. This continent is nearly the size of the continental USA – a country that will take my entire life to explore thoroughly. In the same way, Australia will definitely require some repeat visits.

So for my first adventure in OZ, I’m basing my travels on the East Coast and focusing mainly on Queensland where my friend lives. After some time exploring the greater Brisbane area, I will venture onward (solo) to the Whitsunday islands (I mean, it’s basically named after me) before ending up in Sydney – a city, I’m told, is quite reminiscent of my beloved Vancouver. It’s going to be good!

Itinerary

Dec 6 – 15: Brisbane, Queensland

Dec 15-18: Whitsunday Islands, Queensland

Dec 18-24: Sydney, New South Wales

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These are the activities I am most looking forward to:

  • Learning to Surf at Manly Beach
  • Wine tasting in the Hunter Valley
  • Sailing, Snorkeling, and Sunbathing at Australia’s #1 rated Whitehaven Beach
  • Getting up close and personal with koalas, kangaroos, and dingos… Oh my!
  • Seeing the famed sights of Sydney and pretending to be in an episode of Dance Academy (lol)

Have you ever been to Australia? Any recommendations or travel tips?

Hello Autumn: Hiking the Blue Ridge Parkway

Hello Autumn: Hiking the Blue Ridge Parkway

Living on the West Coast is the best. I love our mild winters, idyllic summers, and laid back style. But, one thing the Pacific Northwest is lacking in a big way is fall colours. I’ve never really understood the autumn obsession and that is likely because it’s not really a thing in my part of the world. I started to understand it better when I travelled to New England last November and got to enjoy the tale end of the beautiful red, orange, and gold.

So, this year I decided to make a return trip to the East Coast but this time to North Carolina. The main purpose of my visit was to visit my travel bestie Megan who recently relocated to Greensboro. But, the breathtaking Blue Ridge Parkway was a close second. We spent two days exploring the area and I was blown away by the incredible pastoral landscapes of the Appalachian Highlands. Who knew North Carolina was such a stunner!

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We lucked out with picture perfect blue skies, warm but not too hot weather, and PEAK FOLIAGE! The hiking couldn’t have been better, well, except for the crowded trails. It seems like everybody else at the same idea for their Sunday afternoons. But can you blame them?

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We spent about 6 hours driving, stopping, and hiking on the parkway. The highlight was definitely our scramble up the muddy trail on Rough Ridge where we saw the best colours of the day and found many rocky summits to perch on.

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We also pulled off to enjoy the overlook of the Linn Cove Viaduct, which was built to protect the fragile slopes of Grandfather Mountain.

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And we ended our day at the Linville Falls. We hiked to several vantage points in the Gorge where we were able to get some very impressive views of the two cascading falls descending nearly 2,000 feet.

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After such a wildly successful day, we definitely weren’t done exploring. So on a much quieter Monday, we ventured out to a different, but equally majestic spot, Pilot Mountain State Park. The foliage wasn’t quite as vibrant but the views were just as epic and it often felt like we were the only two people on the trails. We viewed the big pinnacle and even got to circle under the cliffs.

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I wasn’t sure what to expect when I committed myself to a weekend in North Carolina but I was very impressed by the natural beauty. Nature lovers take note. This state is not to be overlooked.

Keats Island: The most beautiful place you’ve never heard of

Keats Island: The most beautiful place you’ve never heard of

This past weekend I took a much needed break from the rat race and retreated to the deliciously isolated and epically beautiful Keats Island. Where you ask? Well don’t feel bad if you haven’t heard of it before. Keats is a teeny tiny island sandwiched between Gibsons and Bowen Island in the Howe Sound off Vancouver’s coast. In fact, you can’t even access it by ferry. My group chartered a small water taxi to get there. Now that may sound like a lot of work but like hiking, most things that take effort have a pay off.

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See what I mean?

I could not have asked for better weather for this first weekend of fall. And the panoramic views from our hideaway at Barnabus Landing had me swooning.

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Now if you’re looking for loads of activities or shopping or restaurants then you’ve come to the wrong island. Keats is a residential community and aside from a few cleared fields, it’s mostly forest. But, if you’re looking for solitude and relaxation (like me) then it couldn’t be more perfect. I went for a lovely hike in the woods and even found a sandy beach piled with driftwood but other than that… it was a reading and journaling and lounging in the sun kind of Saturday.

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Whenever I find a place this beautiful, I wonder, could I live here? Part of me never wants to leave. But then I think of the long, wet winters with nothing to do and I remember that I’m a city girl at heart. The few locals who live on the island year round will most definitely own their own boat, and fortunately the town of Gibsons on the mainland is very close, but that’s still quite a stretch for me.

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Fortunately, I can have the best of both worlds. Travel is a way to visit these places and try on a different way of life, even if only for a weekend. I get to explore a new destination and then return home, to a place that always fits me like a glove.

Could you live on a remote island or go off the grid?

Into the Wild: Bear Spotting at the Alaskan Rainforest Sanctuary

Into the Wild: Bear Spotting at the Alaskan Rainforest Sanctuary

For the better part of a week in the notoriously wet coast of Alaska, we had enjoyed cloudy but dry skies. All of our guides told us that we had really lucked out with the weather, which can throw a wrench in even the best laid plans. So, when we arrived in our final port of call, Ketchikan, I had a moment of dread when I saw that our luck had finally run out. It wasn’t really unexpected though as Ketchikan is one of the wettest places on earth with 150-200 inches of annual rainfall.

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And in truth, wouldn’t you be a bit disappointed to visit one of the largest temperate rainforests in the world and NOT experience some rain. That’s what I told myself anyway. So, we disembarked from our ship and eagerly explored the bustling town with so many claims to fame. Ketchikan is Alaska’s first city, the totem pole capital of the world, and the salmon capital of the world. That last one is very important because where there are salmon, you will find BEARS. And bears is what we were looking for.

Ketchikan is located on Revillagigedo Island which boasts a population of nearly 15,000 black bears. That’s a ratio of 2 bears for every one human inhabitant. With stats like that, I was really liking our odds of getting up close and personal with our furry friends. To give us the best possible chance, we drove about 20 minutes outside the city to the 40 acre Alaskan Rainforest Sanctuary where our bear guide Zoe led us into the picturesque Herring Cove. They don’t guarantee you will see bears but we timed our visit at the end of the annual salmon run so our chances were pretty good. We certainly didn’t expect to spot our first bears within MINUTES of starting down the one-mile trail.

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There was almost no point in our two hour visit that we were not watching female black bears and their cubs fishing for salmon or climbing through the Tongass forest. It was unbelievable! I’m not certain of how many bears we saw but it was in the double digits for sure!

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It’s important to note that these bears are completely wild and living in their natural habitat. We were able to observe these creatures safely from elevated viewing platforms and suspension bridges that leave a minimal impact on the environment. What a thrill to see these bears outside of the confines of a cage! It may be more expensive and difficult but viewing animals in the wild is worth every penny. I have made a personal choice to prioritize animal welfare by supporting sanctuaries and rehabilitation centres, while avoiding institutions that exploit animals for entertainment. I just don’t believe in captivity unless it’s absolutely necessary.

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In addition to viewing the bears (which was more than enough!), we also got to visit the Alaska Raptor Center’s aviary exhibits which included a hawk, bald eagle, and peregrine falcon. Each of the birds at the centre is unable to survive in the wild or being rehabilitated so that they can be released.

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We ended our day with a walkthrough an historic sawmill where a Native master totem-pole carver was putting the final touches on his latest creation. Nature, History, and Culture of Alaska all in one afternoon!

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Oh and remember that rain I was complaining about… well the rain stopped right about the time we arrived at the Herring Cove. And it turns out black bears tend to hide when the sun comes out so the misty skies were actually a blessing in disguise.

What’s the coolest animal experience you’ve ever had? Leave a comment below.

A Tale of Two Rides: Touring Skagway by Train and Bike

A Tale of Two Rides: Touring Skagway by Train and Bike

I didn’t really know what to expect when it came to the coastal towns of the Alaskan Panhandle. In fact, I barely did any research before I set sail for the great white North (so unlike me). It did, however, make for a very exciting week of adventures as I discovered each town first with my eyes instead of through a screen.

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Port of Skagway – so pretty!

Our second port was historic Skagway. This gold rush town looks straight out of a Western movie complete with a restored boardwalk, saloons, and brothels. We were soon to find out that for a town with a permanent population of less than 1000 people, it sure has a lot going on.

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Back in time to the Gold Rush era!

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The one thing that I did know about Skagway before I got there was that it had a railroad. And if there’s one thing that I love… it’s sightseeing by train. So of course it was a complete no-brainer in my books to join Sockeye Cycle for the White Pass Train and Bike Tour.

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We met our guides straight off the cruise ship and had a quick spin around the town before boarding the White Pass Rail. I was instantly in my happy place, thoroughly enjoying the beautiful scenery and fascinating gold rush trivia from the comfort of our vintage passenger car, complete with wood burning stove.

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All Aboard!

Our 20 mile journey took us from sea-level to nearly 3000 ft and across the Canadian border to Fraser, BC. On our way we passed through tunnels, over sky-high trestles and beside cascading waterfalls.

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One of two tunnels we passed through. I even rode through this one on the outside balcony!

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Old Wooden Trestle Bridge

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But, this trip was not about the destination – it was time for the return journey – this time by bike! Another guide met us at the summit with our bicycles and after a safety orientation we bundled up for the windy ride down. We glided 15 scenic miles downhill, stopping multiple times along the Klondike Highway to enjoy Alaska with all of our senses fully engaged. We coasted down the mountain at speeds of 15-25 mph – definitely the fastest I’ve ever gone on a bicycle and far more exhilarating then the way up. We even got to ride our bikes back across the US border – how many people have done that?!

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A small portion of the Bridal Veil Falls

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Possibly not the proper way to wear a helmet – but I kept my ears warm!

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Built in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush, this narrow gauge railroad is an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. Thought it’s only used for tourism now, it played a very important piece in the life of the early settlers. My whole family had a great time on both the train and bike ride despite the initially chilly temperatures. It’s a great way to check out the scenery, get some fresh air, and learn a bit more about the fascinating history of this wild land. No wonder it’s the most popular shore excursion for cruisers!

What’s the best train route you’ve been on?

Dog Sledding on the Mendenhall Glacier

Dog Sledding on the Mendenhall Glacier

Alaska is somewhere that I’ve always wanted to visit but was sort of saving for when I’m older. It’s certainly not your typical backpacker destination as most visitors arrive by cruise ship. For this reason, it tends to draw a more senior crowd and I was perfectly content to wait for my golden years. But, when my parents suggested Alaska for a family vacation I was more than happy to oblige. After all, who knows how many of its glaciers will still be there in thirty or forty years? The sad truth is that the time to see Alaska could be right now.

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Our first stop of the cruise was the capital city of Juneau. The town is on the small side and while it has its charm, I was more intrigued by the more extreme sights. So we promptly ditched the shopping scene for glacier boots and loaded into a helicopter. That’s right you heard me. My first ever helicopter ride took me 3000 ft above sea level to land on the expansive Mendenhall Glacier.

Downtown Juneau

Downtown Juneau

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The helicopter ride could have easily been enough excitement in itself but it was actually just a means to an end. We landed at the only remaining dog camp in Alaska where 250-300 sled dogs are trained for racing. We were divided into small groups where we were allowed to take turns mushing our own sled as we raced across the snowy trails. How cool is that?

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All of the dogs are Alaskian huskies and purposely bred for racing. Our dogs were very energetic and friendly but the cutest moment of all came at the end when we got to meet the camp’s current litter of puppies all named after metal bands. I got in some snuggles with the adorable Motorhead and promptly started negotiating how I could take him home with me. Apparently they are not for sale.

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The dog trainers spend four months from May to September living up on the glacier in several not-so-insulated tents with no running water. They return to Juneau once a week to shower and do laundry. They do have a gourmet chef at camp, which definitely enhances the experience but even still, I don’t think I could spend more than one night up there. It may be beautiful but even in summer, it’s too cold for this sun worshipper.

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After returning to Juneau once again by helicopter we all agreed that our first Alaskan adventure had been one for the books. It’s going to be hard to top but I’m always up for the challenge.

My Top 5 Favourite Islands

My Top 5 Favourite Islands

Last summer I wrote a series on some of my Favourite destinations. But one of these lists needed some serious updating after my travel adventures over the past 12 months. So without any further ado, here is my updated list of favourite island escapes.

Spanning five unique countries, all of the islands on my list have one important thing in common: stunning natural beauty.

Top 5 Favourite Islands

Galiano Island, BC

This lovely little gem in the Gulf Islands is the nearest to Vancouver making it a perfect weekend getaway or even day-trip from the mainland. Very few people live here year round, but those that do love it’s laid back vibe and tight knit community. Galiano is the only place where I’ve ever felt safe enough to hitch hike or leave my bike unattended. They even have a free store and a free book store where you are welcome to take whatever you like – no donations required. With stunning views from the top of Mt Galiano, lovely trails near Montague harbour, and the friendliest locals around – It’s no wonder I have come to consider Galiano my second home.

Mt Galiano Viewpoint

Hvar, Croatia

If you are looking for an intoxicating blend of old world charm, exhilarating night life, and ruggedly beautiful coastline, then look no further than Hvar. Touted as the sunniest spot in Europe, this beautiful island on the Dalmatian Coast convinced me that it would make a perfect Honeymoon destination. A consistent contender on many top 10 lists – it’s no surprise that Hvar easily holds its own among the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.

Hvar

Capri, Italy

I just can’t get enough of the Amalfi Coast and especially my favourite little piece of la dolce vita – Capri! Twice I’ve visited this lovely island off the coast of Naples and twice is not nearly enough time to soak it all up. Famous for its dazzling Blue Grotto and beloved for its majestic Cliffside vistas, Capri is the perfect place to soak up luxurious Italian living.

Capri, Italy

Maui, Hawaii

Oh Maui… how do I love thee? Let me count the ways! Before I first visited Maui, I had previously been to Oahu twice. And I thought it was great. Then, I went to Maui and now I wonder why anyone even bothers going to Honolulu because Maui is E V E R Y T H I N G ! Less crowded than bustling Waikiki, Maui offers a