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)

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An Ode to Brisbane

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What are your favourite travel memories of 2016?

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

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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?

 

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?

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.

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.

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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.

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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 more laid back vibe but still delivers a ton of activity if you want it. In my four day escape I lay on gorgeous beaches, snorkeled with sea turtles, drove the winding and scenic road to Hana, summited a volcano, and ate my heart out. I still look forward to visiting the other islands in the future but for now I am content with my version of paradise!

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Santorini, Greece

Located in the Aegean Sea, about 200 km southeast of mainland Greece is Santorini, one of the most popular islands in the world – and for good reason! I fell head over flip flops for the spectacular caldera views, beautiful beaches, cliff-side villages, amazing restaurants, and friendly local hospitality. Santorini was a dream destination for me and it absolutely lived up to all the hype. I had one of my favourite travel days of all time while riding an ATV around the island and touring the nearby wineries. It was so unbelievably gorgeous that it almost pained me to leave. I will definitely be back someday!

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What’s your favourite island escape?

Three Vibrant Years in Vancity

Three Vibrant Years in Vancity

“The past is like an anchor holding us back; You have to let go of who you are to become who you will be.”

(Carrie Bradshaw, Sex in the City)

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Three years ago, I moved to Vancouver: new apartment, new job, new life. After 24 years stuck in suburbia, living at my parent’s house to save money and finishing up my baccalaureate in business, I was ready to make a change.

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In my wildest dreams, I could never have imagined that my life could look like this. I often take for granted all of the amazing experiences I’ve had in this city that I love: Volunteering at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival, watching fireworks over English Bay from a rooftop apartment, sending paper lanterns into the night sky at Diner en Blanc, and most recently meeting Colin Mochorie at a VIP gala with Vancouver Theatre Sports. My routine is unpredictable at best. I have a pub trivia crew and a well-worn transit pass and an apartment right beside the beach, incredible friends with whom to enjoy happy hour and Saturday brunch and enough savings to travel the world. I get to attend amazing events, concerts, festivals, shows and spend Friday nights doing self-guided brewery tours. I’ve fallen hard for a city that often gets a bad rap.

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There are certainly mornings when the bus is sufficatingly crowded or when the rain seems to last for weeks. There are days when I feel disconnected and alone in a city full of strangers. Sometimes the cost of living makes me question if the price is worth it. But, then I take a look at the majestic mountains and the glass skyline and I pinch myself because I GET to live in one of the most beautiful cities on earth. For every day that I am frustrated, I have a dozen more that make up for it with excitement and energy and joy.

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I am a different person here than I was before. I feel like I’m thriving and alive and the best possible version of myself. Vancouver fits me like a favourite pair of jeans that you just want to wear every day. This city life is a dream come true and I don’t expect that I’ll get tired of it any time soon. I can’t wait for another year (or ten) of living in Vancouver. It’s home to me.

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Happy 3 Year Anniversary Vancity! 

My 100th Post: The Evolution of a Blog

My 100th Post: The Evolution of a Blog

I am most definitely a celebrator. I love to go to parties. I am big on birthdays (including half birthdays!). And I try not to let major milestones (or minor ones) go by without paying some sort of homage.

Today I am celebrating a mini landmark here on Wandering with Whit. After 5 years of travel blogging I’ve finally hit my 100th post!

For those of you who are new to this site, here’s a bit of a refresher. I actually started this blog way back in 2010 to document my inaugural trip to South America. Back then I was writing under Musings of a Travelista and had only a few lone followers (thanks Mom!). After that trip, I posted sporadically but didn’t really take this whole travel writing thing seriously until last year when I rebranded as Wandering with Whit. Coincidently, 2014 was also my fullest year of travel since my 8-month European backpacking trip in 2005/2006.

Cartagena, Colombia - May 2010

Cartagena, Colombia – May 2010

Writing and Travelling have both been lifelong passions of mine so combining the two here has been more joy than work. However, sometimes I think about all of the unpaid hours that I spend building a blog that I’m not sure anyone wants to read but me. It certainly doesn’t come easily. I struggle with writer’s block and how to continually think of creative, new content. I compare my success to others and wonder if this is all just a waste of my time. I mean, does the world really need another travel blogger? But at the end of the day, I know that I do this for me. I love this little blog and that’s really all that matters. If it is entertaining or helpful or inspiring to others in any capacity, then that truly is icing on the cake (or bacon on the doughnut).

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But, this post is supposed to be a celebration and so I thought I would share some of my favourite posts from the past 5 years. These are subjective so maybe I really liked the photos or I was proud of my writing or maybe the place was just incredible and brings back fantastic memories. It’s my list so I make up the rules :)

Here are some of my favourite blog posts (in no particular order)

The one that started it all

“Jesus Meets the Holly Mother” Posted in: Colombia, South America

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The one with the best/worst stories

“My Top 6 Worst Travel Moments” Posted in: Musings

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The one that was the hardest to write… Seriously, how do you decide?!?

“My Top 10 Favourite Cities” Posted in: Musings, Favourites, Europe, North America, South America

Rome

The one that I refer most frequently

“The Lares Trek to Machu Picchu” Posted in: Peru, South America

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The one that I was the most nervous to post

“The Truth about Portland: Is it Really that Cool?” Posted in: Oregon, USA, North America

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The one that was surprisingly popular

“Packing Hacks: 10 Items I Always Bring Travelling” Posted in: Travel Advice, Packing, Musings

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The one with the photos that warm my heart #westcoastbestcoast

“Photo Essay: Summer in the Pacific Northwest” Posted in: British Columbia, Canada, North America

Sunset over English Bay, Vancouver

Sunset over English Bay, Vancouver

The one about my favourite way to travel

“Leisure vs. Adventure Travel” Posted in: Musings

Camel Time

The one that answers my most frequently asked question

“How to Travel the World when you have a Full-time Job” Posted in: Travel Advice, Musings

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Thanks for reading and for taking a moment out of your day to celebrate with me!

My Top 6 Favourite Travel Moments

My Top 6 Favourite Travel Moments

I’m someone that uses a lot of hyperbole. What can I say? My life is a roller coaster of emotions and as an extroverted, chronic over-sharer I just can’t seem to help myself.

Back in December I wrote about my top 6 worst travel moments… because (a) the disaster stories are usually pretty entertaining after the fact, (b) to show people that even the best laid plans sometimes fall short of the mark, and (c) there just has to be a silver lining to my little tragedies.

But, I think it’s finally time to provide the positive yins to the unfortunate yangs in my travel past with my top 6 favourite travel moments! These were all pinch-me, isthisreallyhappening, I’m SO happy right now moments of pure bliss that I wish I could re-live over and over again!

Walking the Walls of Dubrovnik

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I’ve waxed poetic about Dubrovnik, Croatia quite a few times on this blog and for good reason. It is a stunningly gorgeous city. I can even pinpoint the exact moment I knew I was in love and it was while strolling around the old city walls at golden hour. The views were incredibly breathtaking. The lighting was magic. The crowds were sparse. And the temperature was finally comfortable. It was the perfect storm of elements combining to show me once again why I am so obsessed with Europe.

Trekking to Machu Picchu

Doing the Lares Trek in the Andes.

Doing the Lares Trek in the Andes.

Where to even begin with Peru. Let’s start with the fact that I was slightly terrified of a three day trek in the Andes Mountains. Factor in my lack of physical fitness, abismal hiking record, lifelong struggle with asthma, and high potential for altitude sickness and this could have easily ended up on my worst travel moments list. Instead it was an unforgettable experience, topped off with the most impressive sight I’ve ever laid eyes on. Machu Picchu absolutely lives up to the hype and then some. I will never ever forget the moment when I got my first glimpse of those misty mountain peaks with llamas dotting the horizon. Spellbound.

Getting Upgraded to Business Class

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Air travel is one of those necessary evils that most people merely tolerate. I am one of the few people that actually kind of enjoys airplanes (say what?!)…probably because I have short legs and love any excuse to watch movies all day. So when I was boarding my flight from London to Seattle and was MIRACULOUSLY upgraded to business class (on British Airways!!) I was beyond giddy. I can’t even describe how exciting it was to have a fully reclining bed (in a pod!) on an airplane! I got to use real dishes and order from a menu and drink champagne and eat/drink pretty much constantly and sleep and watch movies and And AND!!! It was the BEST and I’m forever ruined because no flight will ever compare.

Paragliding in Lima

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I was feeling a bit sad on my last day in Lima, Peru. After a full month of amazing travels in South America, I wasn’t quite ready to return home, find a summer job, and finish off my degree. I needed one last adventure before boarding the plane. Laura and I had been reading flyers about paragliding all over the place and finally called a place that our hostel recommended. But, the company sadly informed us that they weren’t flying that day due to weather concerns. We were disappointed but not deterred so we headed down to the nearby cliffs anyways hoping the winds would change. And as luck would have it, we immediately saw that the skies were full of paragliders so we jumped at the chance to sign our lives away. To this day paragliding is my all-time, favourite extreme sport. It is the perfect mixture of thrilling, exciting, and relaxing. I was able to sit back, take pictures, and enjoy the view while my hot Peruvian guide did all the work. I would do it again in a heart beat.

Skiing in the Swiss Alps

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My most memorable Christmas was spent in Frutigen, Switzerland. I awoke in the home of the incredibly generous Schmid family to learn that they had gifted me and my friend Diana with lift tickets. I had met Diana’s family friends just a few days prior but they welcomed me into their home with open arms and made sure my first trip to Switzerland was unforgettable. We had a delicious breakfast of my home-made Swiss Musli (my fave!!), spent the whole day on the slopes, and capped it off with a 3-course family dinner and more presents! If you can’t spend Christmas with your family, I can’t think of a better place than skiing in the Alps.

The Sound of Music Tour

IMGP1272When I decided to spend 3 months living in a little town in Austria about an hour outside of Salzburg I knew that I had to see the birthplace of my all-time favourite movie, The Sound of Music. I was only a couple months into my 8 month European adventure and knew that my budget was going to be tight. But, I never questioned for a second my decision to break the bank on the official Sound of Music tour. I was able to visit many of the filming locations including the famous gazebo (pictured above), the church from the wedding scene, the Mirabell gardens (Do Re Mi), and the exteriors of the mansion. I even got the Trivia question right when no one else knew the answer. Yup, I’m a nerd! It was a perfect day in a country that will always have a very special place in my heart.

What are your favourite travel moments? Leave a comment below.

How to Travel the World when you have a Full-time Job

How to Travel the World when you have a Full-time Job

One of the most common questions I get asked these days is “Where’s your next trip?” Those around me know that I’m always planning my next escape and I love that they want to hear about it (or at least they do a great job of pretending). Travel is without a doubt my favourite topic of discussion.

The question that typically follows is almost always some variation of “How do you do it?” I understand the curiosity. I work a totally normal 9-5, Monday to Friday, office job and live in the 2nd most unaffordable housing market in the world. I’m not a high powered business executive with access to a corporate jet and I’m certainly not a backpack toting nomad on a round-the-world adventure. Some days I’m not even sure how I do it. I usually stumble my way through some sort of reply but I know that I can do better.

Here are my Top 7 Tips for Traveling the World when you have a full-time job:

1. Utilize Long Weekends

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As a Canadian, I am fortunate to be given 12 statutory holidays in my place of employment. I rarely let a long weekend pass me by without getting out of town. Sometimes I even go one step further by taking an extra day, and turning a 4-day weekend into a fantastic trip. If you’re always waiting for big chunks of time to take a vacation then they are going to be few and far between. You’d be surprised by how much you can see and experience in just a few days. In 2014 my favourite long weekend getaways were to Boston, Las Vegas, and Tofino.

2. Add-on to a Business Trip

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Travel is not a big part of my job, but when something comes up, you know I’m making the most of it. This past September I had to travel to Prince George for work and made sure to head up a day early to enjoy the unseasonably warm weather with my friend Melanie who was living there at the time. I was able to get a local tour of the town and even spend the afternoon hiking in the Ancient Forest instead of simply going straight from the airport to the hotel and back. I was pleasantly surprised by my first trip to Northern BC and the best part – the flight and accommodations were totally free. Many people have to travel for work and adding on a couple of days is a great way to save money since the flights are already a business expense.

3. Go Away for the Holidays

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Christmas is one of my favourite times of year and I absolutely love spending it with my family. But I also know that we can see each other whenever we want since we live so close together. So when I get a big chunk of time off work over the holidays I choose to get away. It may not be the cheapest time of year to travel but it is about making the most of the time you have and choosing wisely. I spent this past New Years in Spain where I was able to take advantage of the low season crowds and prices. The flight may have been expensive but everything was fairly cheap once I got there. In fact, it’s a goal of mine to celebrate the first day of the year in a new city every year!

4. Stay with Friends & Family

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A major money saving tip is to visit people you know. In the past 12 months, I was able to get free accommodations in Boston, Kelowna, Portland, Prince George, San Diego, Victoria, and Winnipeg just by staying with friends and family. And in the past, I’ve visited friends in such far flung destinations as Bogota, Colombia; Marseille, France; and Frutigen, Switzerland. Many of my friends also have a serious case of the travel bug, and I am always happy to join them on their adventures. At present I have open invites to Australia, Brazil, Colombia, Hungary, Israel, New Zealand, and South Africa just to name a few. Sometimes I even make new friends abroad who end up hosting me and traveling with me in the future.

5. Explore your own Backyard

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Okay so I don’t literally mean your backyard because if you’re me that would be a back alley. But, I do mean explore destinations near your home. I am outrageously fortunate to live in the Pacific Northwest which is a real-life playground in the summer months. This summer I was busy every weekend either camping, or hiking, or festival hopping. I travelled to the Central Interior, Coastal Mountains, Okanagan Valley, Sunshine Coast, and Vancouver Island. These are all popular vacation spots that I was able to visit on the weekends, making my summer feel like one nonstop party!

6. Think outside the Hotel

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Accommodations are often one of the most expensive parts of travel, especially in North America. I have stayed in my fair share of luxury and budget hotels over the years but it just isn’t feasible anymore for the amount of traveling I do. I’ve saved a lot of money in the past by staying in hostels or guest houses while backpacking around Europe and South America. This was such a fun way to travel and a great option for young people but the older I get the more my travel-style has shifted. Now I prefer a calmer, more private place to crash after a long day of sightseeing. Enter THE VACATION RENTAL! I’m sure some of you have tried this before but for those of you who haven’t… you are missing out. I almost exclusively stay in house or apartment rentals when I travel now. Not only are they cheaper than hotels but you can stay in some great neighbourhoods and really get a feel for the local experience. I stayed in a 3 bedroom apartment in Barcelona with my friend Megan and we each paid only $25 per night. Great location. Free WiFi. Full Kitchen. All the amenities of home. We booked through Airbnb and if you are curious you can get $31 off your first stay if you use this link. I have also stayed in great places in Rome and Lake Whatcom booking through VRBO. I’ve already booked a couple more rentals for upcoming trips and I can’t wait!

7. Don’t Buy Stuff

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Okay so I’m kind of kidding on this one but also kind of not. The motto that I try to live by is Collect Memories, Not Things. I prioritize spending my money on experiences (read: travel) rather than material possessions. I still have to buy “stuff” from time to time but you won’t often hear me talking about my latest shopping splurge. I’m human and I do want things but most of the time I want travel more. I don’t own a home. I don’t have debt. I don’t have children. I live below my means so that I have leftover money to spend on travel. Nothing makes me happier than travel so I’m quite content to put my money there for now. I realize that my priorities might change someday but for now this is what makes me happy.

I wish that I had some magic formula to increase the amount of travel in your life but when it really comes down to it… you just have to want it. You have to want it more than all the other stuff. If you’re waiting for more time or more money then you might be waiting a lot longer than you’d like. My someday is today because we aren’t guaranteed a lengthy retirement or even tomorrow. I have never regretted one dime that I spent on travel and I’m not going to start now. What are you waiting for?

Packing Hacks: 10 Items I Always Bring Traveling

Last night I was busy packing for my next quick trip to the States and it got me to thinking about items that I like to bring traveling. I actually really enjoy packing (I know… CRAZY!) and I have acquired some knowledge in this department over the years… so since I also love oversharing… here are 10 items that I always bring with me on a trip.

(Note: I will not be including super obvious choices such as camera, swimsuit, flip flops… because I’m hoping everyone knows that by now)

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Ear Plugs

I have heard some mixed reviews about ear plugs over the years. Trust me, I know they are uncomfortable. But, do you know what’s more uncomfortable? Not sleeping because your dorm mates are snoring as loud as humanly possible. All. Night. Long. Ever since I backpacked around Europe in 2005/2006, I have never travelled without ear plugs. And although I may have more money these days to elevate my accommodations from crowded hostel dorms to private rooms or apartment rentals,  noise can still be an issue. For example, in many parts of the world, the only form of air conditioning is opening a window. And if your room is on the ground floor in a busy neighbourhood, you can be sure that the street noise will get to you. Or what about when you’re trying to get some rest on a long flight surrounded by screaming infants. Forget sleeping. In that moment, I just want to avoid going insane. I’ve lost count of the number of nights I have slept with ear plugs while traveling but I never forget how grateful I am.

Journal

I am sporadic at best when it comes to recounting my life’s adventures. Lately, I can’t be bothered to write much on paper when I’m pre-occupied with keeping up a travel blog. But, there is something SO beautiful about a journal. In fact, I have a drawer full of them (some full, some half-full, and some waiting to be filled) at home that always bring a smile to my face. Even though I’m not great at daily diary entries… when it comes to travel, I always make it a priority. I actually do go back and look at my travel journals from time to time and I’m sure I will be glad I wrote it all down when I’m 80 years old.

Packing Cubes

Have you heard of packing cubes? If you haven’t then you are missing out because they are my new best friends. It’s no secret to those that know me that I’m a bit OCD when it comes to organization. But, it is such a challenge to stay that way on the road. I hate living out of a suitcase – and worse a backpack! – so when I discovered these amazing, light weight travel accessories, I knew I had found my perfect solution. Packing cubes are an incredible way to keep your clothes organized and reduce the amount of space they take up in your suitcase. They come in all different shapes and sizes so they fit into just about any size bag. By rolling and compressing your clothes into packing cubes you can squeeze in so much more! And with checked bag fees on the rise – this is a major cost saver! I am a huge proponent of carry on only travel and packing cubes make it so easy.

Plastic / Ziploc Bags

You just never know when you are going to need a plastic bag. Your clothes didn’t dry in time – plastic bag! Your shoes are covered in mud after a sudden rain storm – plastic bag! You shampoo exploded in your suitcase – plastic bag! I could go on but I think you get the idea… it never hurts to be prepared.

Long Scarf

Disclaimer: I am generally obsessed with scarves and wear them pretty much all year long (even in summer). But, mild addiction aside, I truly believe that they are an important travel accessory. They do SO much more than keeping your neck warm and looking gorgeous. When the air conditioning starts blasting during a flight, a long scarf becomes a warm blanket. When touring a mosque on a hot summer day, a long scarf becomes a modesty robe for your exposed shoulders. When spending a day at the beach, a long scarf becomes an easy cover-up. Winter, spring, summer or fall – there is always a reason to carry a scarf.

Luggage Lock

Knock on wood… but I have never been robbed or pick pocketed. I have, however, heard enough horror stories to make me carry a combination lock wherever I go. Peace of mind is priceless and if having a lock on my bag can take my worries away (or at least one of my worries) then I’m sold.

Costume Jewelry

So this may not apply to my gentleman readers as much, but ladies… what are your thoughts on traveling with jewelry? Personally, I don’t travel with my most prized jewels or anything incredibly sentimental but I always bring jewelry. I refuse to believe that just because you are traveling, you have to dress like a traveler. You know what I’m talking about… fanny packs, cargo pants, running shoes. Jewelry is an extremely practical way to change your look when traveling with a limited wardrobe. A couple of funky earrings and a cool necklace barely take up any space in a bag and can totally reinvent that white t-shirt you’ve been wearing for the past three days. Or, if you really don’t want to bring your favourites from home, then consider buying some on your trip. Jewelry is one of the cheapest souvenirs you can buy and will be a great reminder of your amazing trip back at home.

Smart Phone

This may seem obvious to iPhone addicts like me, but I actually get this question a lot. Should I bring a phone? My answer is yes. Even if you aren’t planning to buy a SIM card you can still use your smart phone to connect to WiFi which is something I cannot even fathom traveling without. Not only do I like staying in touch while I’m away but I often need to look up important info. And… TRAVEL HACK: When you are in a new city and have access to WiFi, open up your map app on your phone and preload the city. When you inevitably lose your WiFi again during the day, your new city will stay loaded on the map so you can use it to guide you throughout the day. My phone even tracks my exact location (without WiFi!) so that I know exactly where I am on the map. I cannot tell you how many times this feature has saved the day! There are also so many fun apps to use for travel. Try using a step counter to track how much walking you’ve done or share your adventures on a great travel app like Trover. I am also eager to try out Triposo which my friend highly recommended. It is also an app that you can preload and provides maps and sightseeing tips for the city of your choice.

Washcloth

I don’t always travel with a  towel but I never forget my Norwex Antibacterial Microfiber washcloth. For starters, it takes off make-up and dirt with only water and does a better job than any wipe or solution I have ever tried. It dries super fast so I can repack the next morning and it doesn’t create any waste. That’s me… clean and green! In my experience, most accommodations will provide a bath towel but washcloths are not guaranteed (I often stay in apartment rentals or guest houses). Plus, there are many times I have been on an overnight train or a bus or a long flight and the ability to wash my face made me feel like a new woman.

Ereader

Okay, I am cheating a bit with this one. I only just got a Kobo Aura in December. But, I plan to bring it on every trip from this moment forward. I was far from an early adopter on this one but I am fully converted now. Even though I will always love the look and feel of reading a real book, e-readers just make travel so much easier. For example, my Kobo is so small and lightweight that I can easily toss it in my cross-body bag. While traveling in Spain last month, I carried it with me during the day so that I could read on the train or during a lovely afternoon in the park. The battery lasts for weeks and can carry an endless stream of entertainment. I even take it with me to work everyday because I can read on the bus to and from the office. My e-reader has restored my appetite for reading… in short, it is making me a smarter human or at least hopefully better at trivia ;)

What items do you always bring when you travel?

2014: A Year in Review

2014: A Year in Review

W h a t.  A.  Y e a r !  I can’t believe that it’s actually time to say goodbye to 2014 and what has been my best travel year since 2006. I somehow managed to squeeze 18 trips into the past 12 months and I did it all while holding down a full-time office job. That’s right people… you CAN travel the world without quitting your day job. To celebrate the end of an absolutely incredible year, here’s a review of my 2014 travel adventures.

1. New Orleans (January)

I began 2014 with a bang and a kiss (teehee) while watching fireworks over the Mississippi River in New Orleans! This is definitely one for the record books and redeemed a holiday that I had pretty much given up on. Now it’s my new mission to celebrate NYE in a new city every year! photo-3 2. Victoria (February)

One of many weekend trips to Vancouver Island to visit my best friend (guest blogger Katie Smith) – it was cold. So cold that the fountains in front of parliament froze over. You don’t see that everyday.

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A less cold weekend back in Victoria to visit same friend… yeah, I’m awesome that way ;)

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4. Lake Whatcom (April)

Only the single best girls weekend ever! Okay, that might have been the wine talking but seriously, we had a great time checking out the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival and relaxing by a very lovely lake.  IMG_0652 5. Winnipeg (May)

At long last, I made my first trip back to Winnipeg in nearly four years. I used to go all the time (to visit family) but with domestic flight prices soaring, it’s a rare occurrence these days. Lucky for me I have connections and when my WestJetter friend hooked me up with 40% off – I couldn’t say no to the opportunity to catch my dear cousin (the actress!) on closing night of her musical. IMG_0932 6. Las Vegas (May)

VEGAS BABY!! Okay, so maybe my long weekend in Sin City wasn’t exactly what movies are made about… but it was fun! I hadn’t been since I was a teenager so the adult version was a whole new experience. IMG_0829 7. Vietnam (June)

My first trip to Asia and I chose Vietnam (by way of China) and decided to go all by myself too. Well, I didn’t end up being alone for long as I made a lot of great friends on the road. Two weeks went by all too fast as I sweat (holy hot batman!) my way up the coast enjoying beautiful beaches, amazing food, and fascinating cities. IMG_1144 8. Lac Le Jeune (July)

My first (real) camping trip was a roaring success! My expert camper friends planned a perfect two days in the Central Interior where we basically just lazed around the lake and ate. Summer in BC = Bliss! Lac Le Jeune 9. Kelowna (August)

Last year’s annual mother/daughter(s) weekend took us to Whistler Village where my sister-in-law and I took the plunge by bungee jumping for our first times. This year we headed to wine country for a perfect weekend of boating, drinking, touring… basically living the good life! IMG_1616 10. Whistler (August)

When my friend Katie casually mentioned that she’d never been to Whistler before, I hung up on her and called a hotel immediately. Whistler is an annual summer retreat for me and I’ve been at least 15 times. So, I was thrilled to show off this little resort town and all of the off-season activities it has to offer. IMG_1801 11. Tofino (August)

This trip! The trip that I never thought was actually going to happen. First we were going to Alaska. Then we were going to Hawaii. Then we ditched the idea completely. Then we were back to Alaska. But, by the end of it all, we settled on Tofino/Ucluelet for our first family vacation since 2007.

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12. Sunshine Coast (September)

When my friend Kendra got a job in the seaside town of Gibsons, I knew that it was finally  time to take a trip to the beautiful Sunshine Coast. We spent a perfect final weekend of summer driving up the coast and feasting our eyes on the impressive Skookumchuck Narrows!

Sechelt, Sunshine Coast

Sechelt, Sunshine Coast

13. Prince George (September)

Not the most glamourous destination on the list but it was travel and a new city. This work trip took me the furthest north that I’ve ever been in Canada and I got to squeeze in a quick visit with my friend Mel. I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised to find impressive old growth forests nearby and a lot more activity than I would have initially guessed in such a remote community. This really is Beautiful British Columbia from top to bottom.IMG_2156 14. Boston (November)

One of my favourite benefits of traveling is the great people you meet along the way. Megan and I became fast friends while visiting Vietnam earlier this year and we were already googling flight prices between Vancouver and Boston before we even went our separate ways. I knew right away that I wanted to see New England in the autumn and I lucked out with an absolutely glorious weekend of blue skies and radiant fall colours. The Northeast is definitely a region I am eager to explore in more depth.IMG_2484 15. Seattle (November)

A frequent stomping ground for concerts, shopping trips, cruise departures, and cheap flights over the years, Seattle has become a second home in many ways. And now, with my family’s recent obsession with the Seattle Seahawks, we have more excuses to go and more love than ever for our sister city on the West Coast.  IMG_2506 16. Victoria again (November)

Back to Vancouver Island again… this time for some pre-Christmas festivities in sub-zero temperatures. Note to self… start visiting in summer from now on. Brr…

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17. Portland (December)

When I found out that my cousin Jordan and his wife Emily were moving from the mid-West to the weirdest coolest city in America… I couldn’t start scheming fast enough. One weekend was barely enough time to get a taste of what the city has to offer so expect many more adventures in Oregon in the months and years to come!

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18. Lisbon (December)

When the office shuts down over the holidays, why not celebrate in… P O R T U G A L ! This quick Euro trip reunites me (once again!!) with my Boston Bestie, Megan. We are spending the final four days of 2014 in beautiful Lisbon… and the travels don’t stop there! Follow my adventures into 2015 and see how (and where!) I ring in the new year!

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2014 By the Numbers:

Countries Visited: 3 (2 new ones): USA / VietnamPortugal

States Visited: 5 (2 new ones): Louisiana / Washington / Nevada / Massachusetts / Oregon

Plane Rides Taken: 12 (I count a flight as a flight regardless of how many segments or layovers it has). Of those flights, four were heavily discounted by family/friend discounts, two were paid for by work, two were almost covered entirely by points, and the remaining four inspire me to keep looking for great deals.

Other Modes of Transportation: 10 ferries, 3 overnight trains, 3 buses (long-haul), 1 motorcycle, and more vehicles than I care to count.

Airports Visited: 16 (YVR, MSY, SEA, YWG, YXS, LAX, BOS, AMS, LIS, BCN, BLI, LAS, CAN, SGN, HAN, MCI)

Beds Slept In: 26. Of those, 10 were hotels, 7 were crashing with family or friends, 3 were sleeper trains,  2 were house rentals, one was an Airbnb apartment rental, one was a bed & breakfast, one was a tent, and one was my own bed!

My Top 6 Worst Travel Moments

My Top 6 Worst Travel Moments

If there is one thing that I’m sure about… it’s my unquenchable love of travel. I love (almost) everything about travel: airplanes, packing, researching new destinations, walking until my feet hurt.

But if truth be told, travel is often more glamorous in retrospect. I have an uncanny knack for forgetting about the stress, the misconnections, and the little disasters when it’s all said and done. Especially when recounting the tales to friends and family. It’s all hyperbole about the most stunning sunsets, most delicious food, and best time of my life.

Now, I’m a planner by nature and most of the time, my plans are executed to perfection. But travel is an unpredictable beast and the unexpected is bound to happen when navigating foreign cultures and languages. In the moment, I tend to have a colossal meltdown when things go wrong but the payoff is usually a great story. Yeah for silver linings!

So, in the spirit of keeping it real… here is a list of the top 6 worst travel moments that have happened to me in the recent past.

Getting stranded in Bologna

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I didn’t know much about Bologna until I saw it appear in my book of the Top 100 Most Beautiful Cities in the World. I am a sucker for recommendations like that so I added it to my itinerary. It was the perfect midway point between Venice and Florence so why not? Well, to this day it is one of my least favourite cities of all time. Why you ask?

Well, for starters, we arrived there on some random Italian holiday that we knew nothing of, meaning that the very few buses that were actually running were few and far between. I’m pretty sure my friend Diana and I waited two hours for a bus from our remote hostel on the outskirts of the city (the only one we could find sadly) into the centre. So our day got off to a lack luster start but little did we know that the worst was yet to come. After walking around all day in search of something interesting (we didn’t find much) we finally decided to head home after a very disappointing dinner of Spaghetti Bolognese. How can you have bad pasta in Italy? Clearly luck was not on our side.

Unfortunately, the early morning bus predicament continued when we realized that the only bus that would take us to our hostel had stopped running for the night. To make matters worse… our hostel had a curfew (lame) so we would be locked out for the night if we didn’t make it home by 9pm. We started rushing from stop to stop hoping that the schedule was wrong but alas our bus was done for the day. In fact, there was nary a bus to be found. Our meager backpacker budgets could not afford a pricey taxi ride and I was distraught. I had all but given up hope when we stumbled across the bus depot. We saw a flurry of buses and hoped to flag one down. One saintly bus driver stopped for us but was out of service for the night. He clearly didn’t speak English but observed our frantic hand gestures and calmly replied in Italian. We eventually got the message that we were to wait. He drove away and once again we were convinced that hope was lost.

But, then, out of nowhere comes our guardian angel bus driver in his personal car. He motions for us to get in and miraculously drives us to a bus stop where a bus would soon be able to pick us up and take us exactly where we needed to go. We made it to our hostel just in the nick of time. As horrendous as the whole ordeal was at the time, I’m still blown away by the kindness of this man. I may not be Bologna’s biggest fan but I’ll always have a warm place in my heart when I think of this story.

Missing the train in Rome

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Knock on wood. WHY DIDN’T I KNOCK ON WOOD? I’m not usually a superstitious person but sometimes I wonder… like on my 2013 visit to Rome. My friend, Mindy, and I were on our way to the train station and no sooner had I uttered the words, “I’ve never missed a train before” and the unspeakable actually happened.

After five days in the eternal city, we were headed to the Rome train station to catch our 2:50pm train to Bari, Italy where we were scheduled to board an overnight ferry to Dubrovnik, Croatia. This of course had been carefully researched and booked in advance to secure the cheapest and best way of getting there. After our 20 minute city bus ride we were watching the giant train screens to see from which track our train would be departing.

The number finally came up on the screen about 20 minutes before our train was scheduled to depart: Track 18. Great! It was right in front of us. This was very good news since Rome boasts the second largest train station in Europe. Unfortunately Track 18 was actually 400 metres further down. We started walking but then quickly began to feel uneasy as we thought we heard that our train had been switched to another track. This happens quite often and they announce the changes over the speaker in Italian and English if you are able to catch it. We stopped and I stayed with the bags while Mindy went ahead to check. Nothing was showing on the sign so we gambled and decided to stay. Wrong decision. It was not our train but since we were 400m away from the main screen and now only had 5 minutes we knew we weren’t going to make it.

We started running and calling for help like hopeless idiots. The police, customer service, other passengers, and a poor travel agent named Marina couldn’t help us. We had missed the only train that could get us to Bari in time to catch our ferry. The next ferry didn’t leave for 2 days. After switching our train tickets twice, going to an Internet cafe, talking to a travel agent for about an hour, and waiting in line for customer service for about an hour we had a new game plan. We called our landlord Sergio and were able to get another night in our same apartment in Rome. We also had new train tickets (this time to Ancona, Italy) and a new ferry ticket from Ancona to Split, Croatia for the next day. We would still make it to Dubrovnik but it just meant a lost day, a 5 hour bus ride down the coast, and a lot of extra money.

Being sexually harassed in Egypt

Happier Times

Happier Times

So, I’ve received quite a bit of unwanted attention while travelling abroad over the years.

  • The classic pickup lines in Italy: You look like Jennifer Lopez. Really? Do I?
  • Marriage proposals in France.
  • Cat calls (sounds like hissing) in Spain

But the absolute worst thing that a stranger ever said to me happened in Egypt while visiting the city of Luxor.

It was a hot day (really, all the days were hot), so my friend, Stef, and I ventured out on our own (stupid perhaps) to find ice cream. We were in port for the afternoon on a Nile River cruise and for some strange reason there were no snacks or refreshments on board. The harassment and crude comments came within seconds of leaving the ship as some older gentlemen nearby noticed us passing by. We ignored them and sped forward only to be followed by a young Nubian man. We tried to ignore him but he really wouldn’t leave us alone with the questions. It seemed harmless at first. Where are you from? The basics. But, when we refused to come with him to his Nubian village the conversation took a turn for disgusting. We had already decided to head back at this point (ice creamless) but we still had a ways to go. He asked if we wanted to BE with an Egyptian man. We told him we were both married (lies) and our husbands were on the ship (more lies). This did not deter him though. Do you want to kiss an Egyptian man? Um… let me think about that… no thanks. At this point we were practically running when we were asked this gem. What about BUM SEX? Excuse me WHAT?!?! That is so not okay. NOT OKAY! Ew… What was his thought process? Oh, so they are married and said no to a kiss, but bum sex, oh yeah, they will totally go for that… Ugh. We made it back to our ship in one piece but I will absolutely never forget that walk.

Crossing the Border from Ecuador to Peru

Flee Market Village?

Flee Market Village?

While researching my options to get from Ecuador to Peru, I learned that the cheapest way was an international bus from Guayaquil to Lima. The cost to fly was over $400 more so it was an easy decision even if it meant a 28 hour overnight bus. How bad could it be?

We left Guayaquil at 11:30am and we were actually pleasantly surprised that the bus was much nicer than we expected. It was not, however, without its medley of quirks. The lights occasionally flickered as if we were in a lightning storm. It rattled and creaked like the roof could’ve flown off at any moment. And, the bathroom was wretched. I mean so terribly disgusting that it was not even an option. Give me a hole in the floor over the state of that toilet seat any day.

Our first “excitement” of the trip occurred at our first petrol stop. The women all rushed off the bus to use a real bathroom and then I decided to grab a bottle of water as well. I was just about to pay, when my friend Laura cried out… Our bus… it´s leaving! The water suddenly became insignificant and we ran after the moving vehicle. We were screaming WAIT but that was fairly useless since our driver didn’t speak English. We both leapt onto the moving vehicle and breathed a sigh of relief. Apparently, this bus waits for no one. Although we did make him stop for the fellow passengers we had almost left behind.

The next major adventure was crossing the border itself. We arrived at the Tumbes crossing and were told to take our passports and get off. We lined up and everyone got through quickly until Laura. The computer system magically stopped working… and we had to wait for about 15 minutes. At least the border official found a use for Laura´s passport, which he used to fan himself while we waited. But, we were not home free yet. This was just permission to exit Ecuador. We still had to go through customs again 3 miles down the road. We continued on and drove through a flee market village until we were told to get out again. This time Laura and I were first in line and luckily experienced no technical difficulties.

Back on the road, it was getting late and we were watching another terrible movie, when suddenly the bus stopped and the lights went out. We assumed this meant bed time even though we hadn´t eaten dinner and it wasn´t even 8pm. Then everyone at the back of the bus started getting off… we had no idea what was going on. Were we entering yet another country? We were then told to take all our belongings and get off the bus. So we frantically gathered our stuff and got off. We then walked through a small building and ended up outside again. Minutes later our bus pulled up and we all got back on. We still have no idea what that was even about. They didn´t even check our bags or ask to see our passports.

The rest of the trip was uneventful but excruciating. We made no legitimate stops for the next 15 hours and since I couldn’t enter the toilet room without gagging… that meant dehydrating myself and holding my blatter the entire rest of the trip. We did have reclining seats but I could not get comfortable and I was afraid to relax for fear of… well you get the idea… so I spent a sleepless night staring at the dark desert counting the minutes until we could get off the bus.

Dropping my camera in Lucerne

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I received my first digital camera back in 2005 as a going away present before embarking on an 8-month European odyssey. Can you believe that I had actually planned to bring my film camera on a trip that long? Needless to say I quickly learned to love my little Panasonic and couldn’t fathom traveling without it.

Three months later, while gallivanting around Switzerland in chilly December, I fumbled with my camera as I tried to take a photo with my gloves still on. The lens was open and it landed with a crack on the icy ground. DISASTER! My travelling companion had partially broken her own digital camera two days prior and now mine was rendered completely useless. What was I going to do? I had 5 more months of travel ahead of me… I needed a camera.

My meager backpacker budget was incredibly insufficient to cover the cost of a camera replacement. Not to mention the fact that I was in SWITZERLAND! The most expensive country ever! But, I had no choice. After a tearful call home (because sometimes you just need your mom) and a mug of hot chocolate (because chocolate is always a good idea) I decided to bite the bullet and buy a new camera. My Swiss hosts took me to their local shop and made sure I didn’t get ripped off. It was a tough pill to swallow but I definitely learned my lesson when it comes to handling equipment. The photo of Chapel Bridge (above) in Lucerne was the photo I took right before dropping my camera.

Getting Home from Lima

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You know that saying When it rains… it pours. Well I got caught in a figurative hurricane on my trip home from a month in South America. It was just one thing after another after another… almost laughable if I wasn’t so frustrated. It all started at our hostel in Miraflores.

My friend Laura and I had ordered a taxi to take us to the airport. We made sure to leave lots of extra time and it was a good thing we did because our taxi was at least an hour late. We were a bit anxious as we arrived at the airport but we still had enough time. Then began the arduous ordeal of getting to our gate. First they had passport control outside the airport, which of course meant we had to queue. Then we had to wait in a seemingly endless line to check our bags. After that we rushed to security but before we could go through we had to pay the airport fee. Once again we got in the queue but it turned out that they only accepted cash. Since we were on our way home we had conveniently spent all our remaining soles so we got out of the line and scurried off to find an ATM. We took out just enough money for the fee and got back in line. Once we reached the front, the agent rejected our Peruvian money and informed us that we must pay in US dollars. WHAT? It didn’t occur to us to check the currency since WE ARE IN PERU! Why would they want US dollars in Peru? So back out of the line we go to exchange our currency but of course we didn’t have enough soles to reach the US fee so we had to take out more money at the ATM. Just ridiculous. All of it. At this point (if you’re counting) we had already waited in 5 lines.

After our third attempt to pay the airport fee, we succeeded! Not my finest travel moment. We hurried through security, quickly bought bottles of water and arrived at our gate minutes before boarding. Phewth. Home free we thought. Wrong! They then proceeded to inform us that they would be screening our carry-on baggage prior to boarding and no liquids were allowed. Oh good… I’m glad I just bought a bottle of water. We chugged our waters and got in line again… feeling a bit queasy.

We finally took our seats on the plane and were ready to relax. That’s when the show began. One of the flight attendants was having a heated discussion with a passenger who didn’t seem to have a boarding pass. They argued and shuffled around for a solid 45 minutes before the passenger was allowed to sit down. It was all fine but now we were late. Very late. And now I was in for an anxious plane ride to Newark airport where we already had a tight connection that had just got a lot tighter.

I was trying to rest my weary mind when all of a sudden Laura grabs her barf bag and starts throwing up. What is happening? Did someone put a voodoo curse on us? We landed in Newark, tired, sick, and apparently ready to run. We moved through customs as quickly as possible but got stuck again at baggage claim. We had to retrieve and recheck our luggage. This is why only taking carry-on is the best strategy. My bag came after what seemed like an eternity but Laura’s bag did not. I decided to run ahead and try to hold the plane for her. With only 15 minutes to go I threw my bag on the conveyor belt and asked if my luggage would get on the plane or if I could wait for my friend. The agent said I had to go right then or my bag wouldn’t make it. I decided to go for it… sorry Laura. I rushed back through security and to my gate which was of course at the very end of the terminal. But once I got to my gate, it had a different departure city on the sign. Had I read the sign wrong? I turned around to find a screen when I saw Laura running up… and yelling that they had moved our gate. We ran up to the gate just as they were closing the doors. Breathless. Sweaty. And completely drained both physically and mentally. But we made it. My bag made it. Laura’s did not. What a gong show!

What is the worst thing that has ever happened to you while travelling?

Vancouver: The Best Place on Earth

Vancouver: The Best Place on Earth

Another Vancouver-centered blog post? That’s right people… just because I love to travel doesn’t mean I don’t love the place I call home.

Today is my 2nd anniversary of living in Vancouver and to celebrate I thought I would share a few of my favourite things about my favourite place on earth!

1. The Skyline

Vancouver was recently ranked 9th in the world for most number of ‘highrises’ – defined as a multi-storey building with at least 12 floors or a height of 35 metres (115 feet). But, it’s not simply the numbers that impress me… it’s the combination of the mountains, ocean, green space, and glass buildings. Just look at that view!

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2. The Beaches

It is no secret that I love beaches (see some of my favourites here). And lucky for me, Vancouver has SO MANY!!!

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3. The Mountains

Living minutes from multiple ski hills (Grouse, Seymour, Cypress) and world-class hiking is a huge draw for many Vancouverites that move here to play in our mountains year round. They aren’t so bad to look at either.

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4. Seawall

When I say that I’m going for a walk or a bike ride, you should just assume that I’m talking about the Seawall. This scenic 22 km path that lines Vancouver’s waterfront could not be more perfect for a walk, cycle, or jog and is by far the most popular recreational spot in the city. Just make sure that you stay in your designated lane (walking/jogging vs. cycling/skating) or you might just get knocked into the sea.

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5. Nightlife

Vancouver sometimes gets a bad rap for being a ‘no fun city.’ Say what?! You will quickly see from this list, that that is definitely not the case. In fact, it could easily be called a ‘more fun city!’ Now I can see how some of the legislation may seem uptight but lucky for us locals it is loosening quite a bit (hello happy hour!). But, the best part of the Vancity nightlife has to be the cool bars in historic Gastown. Several of my favourite spots remind me of the unspeakably cool Speak Easy culture of the 1920s, such as Pourhouse, Guilt & Co, and Revel Room. Cheers!

Gastown

6. Food

From Street Food Trucks to Top-chef restaurants and award-winning gelato to sushi on every corner… Vancouver cuisine is diverse, local, probably organic, and always delicious.

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7. Events

Long before I lived in Vancouver, I had been coming here each summer to enjoy many of the spectacular events. If you like theatre then we have Bard on the Beach and Theatre Under the Stars. If you like movies then we have the Vancouver International Film Festival and the Summer Cinema Series featuring outdoor movies in Stanley Park. We have one of the largest Pride Parades in North America and the always popular Pacific National Exhibition(aka really big summer fair). But of all these events, my favourite has to be the Celebration of Light. Not only is it Vancouver’s biggest event, but it’s also the largest offshore fireworks competition in the world and attracts up to 400,000 spectators along English Bay. I’ve been coming for years and now I can even enjoy the show from the comfort of my couch.

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8. Culture

Vancouver is still a relatively young city by the world’s standards having just celebrated it’s 128th birthday. But even still the city is rich in history and culture. Whether it be the legend and deep-rooted history of the First Nations people or the kaleidoscope of diversity brought through immigration, Vancouver is a place where you can experience the new and different. Sometimes I catch myself on the bus and no one around me is even speaking English. I love that! I hope my city always remains a place where people from all over the world feel welcome. Our differences are what make us stronger.

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9. Parks

Not only does Vancouver have the largest and top rated city park in the entire world (Stanley Park), it also has 750 hectares devoted to forest research at Pacific Spirit Regional Park. From small neighbourhood community gardens to large destination parks and feature gardens, the Vancouver Park Board maintains more than 220 parks that make up 11% of Vancouver’s land mass. We are well on our way to becoming the greenest city in the world in more ways than one.

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10. Architecture

It is so hard to choose a favourite building in the city when you have options like Science World and the Vancouver Convention Centre in the running. But, the one that never ceases to amaze and impress is the Vancouver Central Library, which was recently ranked as the 6th most beautiful library in the world. Inspired by the Colosseum, this architectural gem combines the old and new with such perfection. The words certainly don’t fit the picture.

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Dîner en Blanc Vancouver

Since this is primarily a travel blog, I rarely write about my life at home. However, I just attended an event in my city that was too extraordinary not to include.

What do you get when you combine 3,500 classy Vancouverites dressed all in white with a French-themed picnic in a waterfront city park? The answer of course is le Dîner en Blanc (Dinner in White).

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I was so incredibly fortunate to get invited to attend the third annual installation of this “chic picnic” which occurs in a new secret location every summer. It’s always last minute. Always in a public space. And always glamourous.

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Over the course of one dream-like evening in David Lam Park, we diners arrived en mass, set up our all-white dinner party, and enjoyed music, dancing, and good company.

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This event was started in Paris 25 years ago and has now spread to over 40 countries worldwide.

Most participants bring their own meals and table spread… and let me tell you… these people do not hold back. I was blown away by the elaborate displays around me. The entire evening dripped of elegance and beauty. After everyone was done eating and enjoying opera music from the upcoming production of Carmen… we all lit sparklers to kick off the beginning of the dance.

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It was such an incredibly cool experience and something you definitely don’t see every day. Apparently over 30,000 people were on the wait list for this event… making it the toughest ticket in town.

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I have such love for my city and this was the perfect way to celebrate another fantastic summer!

My 7 Wonders of the World

This is a special edition of my Favourites series.

It seems like there are so many variations of the Seven Wonders of the World floating around that I decided I would create my own from places that I’ve actually been.

My 7 Wonders of the World

Machu Picchu, Peru

Without a doubt, Machu Picchu is the most spectacular, awe-inspiring site that my eyes have ever seen. It absolutely lives up to all the hype! I trekked 33 kilometres over three days from Lares to Ollantaytambo before finally taking a train to Aguas Calientes and making the early morning trip to Machu Picchu. From touring the ancient capital of the Incas to hiking Wayna Picchu, the whole experience was incredible from start to finish. These Incan ruins need to be on every person’s bucket list.

Machu Picchu

Pyramids of Giza, Egypt

While I was planning my trip to Egypt, people were constantly asking me Why Egypt? This question seriously puzzled me. Don’t people understand that to see the pyramids one would have to go to Egypt? Well this original wonder of the world certainly earned its place. Riding camels around the site didn’t hurt either…

Camel Time

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

The most recent wonder on my list is the magical Halong Bay. Even on a mostly cloudy day this place had a mystical hold on me. With nearly 2000 limestone islets and floating fishing villages creating a tropical kaleidiscope above the green waters, this place is more than worthy of a spot on the new 7 wonders of the world list… and mine too!

Fishing Village

The Colosseum, Italy

I’ve visited this famous amphitheatre twice now and both times it transported me back in time. I’ve read so many stories and seen so many films (Gladiator anyone?) from the era of the Roman Empire and it is always haunting and humbling to be standing in a place so rich in history and tragedy. I can only imagine how impressive it would have been back in its glory days.

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The Eiffel Tower, France

Paris je t’aime! Sometimes I still can’t believe that I’m not living in a chic apartment in the Cinquième (5e) arrondissement splitting my time between the cafe culture and long walks along the Seine. But, I digress. There is no building on earth that I was more excited to see than the Eiffel Tower. After studying French for 8 years, this was the place that I most wanted to see when I went to France and the place that I would most like to re-visit… and soon!

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Alhambra, Spain

This palace/fortress, originally constructed in 889 and reconstructed in the mid-11th century by the Moors was a major highlight of my 3 months in Spain. It might not be as popular as some of the other wonders on this list but it is every bit as beautiful. My only regret is that I didn’t take more pictures… I was too busy experiencing in the present tense.

Alhambra

Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

Croatia, Croatia, Croatia. The country that won my heart in one, all-to-brief week. And the crowning jewel is this absolutely stunning national park filled with turquoise lakes and magnificent waterfalls. This was the perfect day trip from Zagreb and a must-see stop for any trip to the Balkans. I can’t wait to go back!

Plitvice Lakes

 

My Top 10 Favourite Cities

According to my Trip Advisor travel map, I’ve been to 265 cities and counting! I believe that this stat gives me a bit of credibility in listing some of my favourites thus far. I wholeheartedly recommend all of these cities and have visited half of them more than once. As always, I reserve the right to update this list whenever I like because I’m constantly visiting fabulous new destinations. But, for now at least, here are my top 10 favourite cities.

My Top 10 Favourite Cities

San Diego, California

La Jolla

I first visited San Diego on a family vacation when I was 10 years old. We did the typical touristy activities like SeaWorld and the San Diego Zoo. I loved them both and even got called up on stage during two of the shows (my 15 minutes of fame). Flash forward a decade and my views have certainly changed. I may no longer support animal captivity but fortunately SD still has a plethora of amazing (cruelty free) things to do – try whale watching or surfing instead. When one of my best friends moved to the city in 2012 I was beyond excited about frequently visiting (and I have!). With blissful temperatures year-round, stunning cliffs and beaches, and amazing restaurants, San Diego is my favourite winter getaway. I could even see myself living here someday – Hello Vitamin D!

Paris, France

Paris

A wise woman once said, “Paris is always a good idea” and I couldn’t agree more. If you were to visit my apartment, one thing would quickly become apparent, and that is that J’adore Paris! I can’t possibly think of a city with more class and culture. Just imagine perusing the markets in Montmartre, strolling the grounds of les Jardins du Luxembourg, or savouring a crepe on the Champs-Élysées. An exemplary model of urban planning, this world-class city has so many unique neighbourhoods to explore. Not to mention being home to some of the world’s most famous sights; L’arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, Le Louvre, and La Tour Eifel, to name a few. Now if only I could remember my 8 years of French lessons…

Rome, Italy

Rome

Ah Roma… a textbook example of why you sometimes need to revisit a city to truly appreciate it. Ten years after my first visit, I went back to the eternal city to discover what I had missed back in my teenage years. Yes, I remembered that the monuments were impressive and that the gelato was tasty but I couldn’t seem to understand what the fuss was all about. Well, let me tell you – Rome is simply magical. The entire city is like an open air museum with rich history spanning more than 2,500 years and amazing architecture around every corner. You could easily spend years in Rome and still not discover it all. I’ve thrown my coin in the Trevi Fountain twice and I’m sure I’ll be back again!

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Dubrovnik

My inaugural trip to the pearl of the Adriatic was almost ruined by a missed train and a spiral of lost connections. Fortunately, I pushed passed the roadblocks with the lovely premonition that I was about to fall in love. Most of the cities on this list are places that I’ve courted over several trips but Dubrovnik is my only one night stand. So, you can imagine how intoxicating a city it must be to have such power over me so quickly. Well let me tell you that one walk around the old city walls is all it took to have me spouting off grand declarations and adding Croatia to every list in my book. Dubrovnik is quite simply the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen and even though our time together was brief, it left a lasting impression on me. I hope I won’t have to call her The One that Got Away for long.

Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh

Edinburgh was one of the very last stops on my 8 month European backpacking adventure in 2005/2006. I arrived there feeling a bit of travel burnout and was definitely looking forward to heading home. Fortunately I arrived to perfect spring weather and a gorgeous city dripping with classic European charm. Edinburgh has a distinctly medieval feel with cobblestone streets, Gothic architecture, and a castle resting on an extinct volcano. But, it’s also a great city for young people and maybe even a place to find love… I mean if it worked for Will & Kate! I have yet to hear a negative review of this Scottish gem so if it isn’t on your bucket list yet… you know what to do.

Bogota, Colombia

bogota

This is one that may raise some eyebrows. Bogota is a very unconventional choice and probably won’t make many top ten lists (unless you’re looking at the negative side). But, I don’t care what the critics say – I have my own opinions and my own experiences and Bogota won me over big time. It likely had a lot to do with my personal tour guide / travel agent friend who hosted and entertained me the entire 5 days, but that also proves that there is plenty to love about Colombia’s capital. The historic district La Candelaria (pictured above) has lovely Spanish Colonial and Baroque architecture with a wealth of churches and squares to fill your camera. The city has great shopping and dining options plus Monserrate, one of the most beautiful mountain top attractions I’ve ever seen – the funicular ride to the top is a must-do for all tourists. Transportation may not be super easy (although I was kind of taxi fairy) and English still isn’t widely spoken (if at all) but the effort was definitely worth it to discover the inner beauty of this very misunderstood city.

Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg

Visiting Salzburg was the realization of a childhood dream – to step into the world of Fräulein Maria and the Von Trapp children. After growing up with an obsessive passion for the Sound of Music I knew I had to do the official SOM tour when I finally made it to the famous city – and it did not disappoint. Even in the fall, the Mirabell Gardens (pictured above) with views of Hohensalzburg Castle were enchanting. The nearby palaces, abbey, and Lake District easily appeased the fan girl in me and proved that my adoration of Austria was well deserved. But, the city has even more to offer. As the birth place of Mozart, culture in the way of museums and music is at a premium and the lovely riverside hosts one of my favourite little Christmas markets in the winter. Although it is much smaller than Vienna and harder to avoid tourist groups (sorry – that was me), it is worth your time and will always hold a very special place in my heart.

Florence, Italy

Florence

Tuscany. That’s probably the only descriptive word that I need to use to explain why I love Florence so much, but this is a blog, so I will elaborate. Firenze is another city with a medieval feel. Often considered the birthplace of the Renaissance, it is so easy to get swept away with the impressive art (Michelangelo’s statue of David), gorgeous churches (Duomo and Santa Croce), and unique bridges (Ponte Vecchio). I loved exploring the winding streets and discovering epic views (see above) from the Piazzale Michelangelo. And to top it all off, Florence is where I first discovered gelato (Tiramisu flavoured nonetheless)! There’s something dreamlike about this part of the world and it’s orange roof tops – it easily makes my list.

New Orleans, Louisiana

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Welcome to Nawlins y’all! There is just something special about the South that makes me want to slow my speech and eat something fried… but maybe that’s just the Bourban talking. Joking aside, New Orleans is a truly amazing city that in many ways doesn’t even feel like part of America. With buildings dating back to the 1700s and a unique French influence, Louisiana is easily one of the most interesting of the 50 states. Known for its delicious Cajun food, amazing jazz music, beautiful colonial architecture, and the wild and crazy Mardi Gras – NOLA has something for everyone. You can party in the street all night long or step back in time on a beautiful antebellum or creole plantation. The city has faced a lot of adversity with its history of slavery and recent tragedies like the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. But, what I saw here was beautiful resilience, hope, and a whole lot of fun! Do your part to help and make New Orleans your next vacation stop.

Vancouver, BC, Canada

Vancouver

My city. My home. My happy place! The past two years of living in Vancouver have been some of the very best of my life. I still pinch myself every time I cross the Burrard Street Bridge (which is usually twice per day) because I can’t believe that this is my real life. Vancouver is by far my favourite place on earth. Wherever you look you see water or mountains or both! You can ski, golf, bike, sail and kayak– all on the same day. Not only is this city breathtakingly beautiful but it is bursting with activity, diversity, and general awesomeness (that’s a technical term)! In Vancity we know all about living well – we are clean and green. We love yoga and craft beer and playing outside all year long. If you’re not planning a visit to the magnificent Pacific Northwest – then you should be!

Honourable Mention:

My Top 5 Favourite Countries

I’ve been having so much fun with this Favourites series… let’s keep the ball rolling with my favourite countries.

The criteria I used to make my decision are as follows:

  • Natural Beauty
  • Rich Culture
  • Interesting History
  • Liveability
  • People (i.e. friendly? interesting? etc.)
  • Overall Experience (i.e. weather? ease of travel?)
  • Intangible – Wow Factor

Top 5 Favourite Countries

Croatia

This country knocked my socks off! Not only is it one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever been, but the locals were incredibly helpful (and basically all spoke English), the history is fascinating (was there really a war here just 20 years ago?) and the cities were dripping with old world charm and romance. After my first trip in 2013, the Balkans region has climbed to the top of my dream trips list. I hope to be back again by 2016.

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Italy

Where do I even begin with Italy? In some ways I don’t want to put Italy on my list because it seems too obvious, but three trips later and I still can’t get enough. Italy was the first European country I ever visited (way back in 2003) and since then I have covered Western Europe on 4 separate trips (one that lasted nearly 9 months). I have visited many of the big ticket attractions but there is still so much to explore. I constantly feel drawn here – to the place that made me fall head over heels for Europe. I can’t dream up a better afternoon than sipping a glass of red wine in a beautiful square while listening to the musical language of the locals. Italy, I love you!

Venice

Switzerland

People always ask me which place has been my favourite? That’s partly what motivated me to write this series. For years, my default answer was always Switzerland. And, for good reason: Swiss Alps, Swiss Chocolate, and Swiss Cheese. Because it’s such a small country I was able to see quite a lot of it by train, car, and gondola! I met some truly beautiful people who are like family and got the thrill of a lifetime when I went skiing on Christmas day 2005. Some may find it stuffy and expensive, but I love the clean streets and polite drivers. It also doesn’t hurt that it is spectacularly beautiful!

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Austria

I was blessed to call this country home for about three months in fall 2005 but that isn’t when it first stole my heart. I first discovered Austria through Julie Andrews’ voice in the magical film…The Sound of Music. I can’t remember when I first saw it and I can’t remember how many times I’ve seen it (clue: A LOT!) but I do know every song by heart and I can tell you that the hills definitely are alive! From sleepy alpine villages to vibrant world-class cities , Austria has everything this city girl / nature lover / history enthusiast could want, except for maybe an ocean, but the lakes are a lovely substitute.

Hallstatt

Colombia

Have you ever been travelling, and for no apparent reason, you just felt like you were somewhere special? It doesn’t happen to me very often (anymore) but it definitely hit me as I was boarding the plane from Cartagena; I knew that I had to come back someday. Colombia is the least touristy country I have ever been. The violent history. The language barrier. The difficult terrain. All of these things should have deterred me, but I couldn’t be stopped. What a thrill to go somewhere where I had absolutely no expectations. After spending time in the capital, Bogota, I proclaimed (probably foolishly) that I could totally live here (and I don’t say that very often). Maybe it was the rainy weather. Maybe it was the mind-blowing coffee. Or maybe it was being reunited with my friend Beatrice and meeting her amazing family. I’m not sure exactly… but something felt right and oddly familiar while being completely different at the same time. Tropical. Cosmopolitan. Diverse. Colombia had me at Hola!

Cartagena

 

My Top 5 Favourite Beaches

I decided to finally take the time to reflect on my travel past and document some of my absolute favourite finds over the past twenty-something years.

This is the first post in a new series on my travel Favourites (yes – I am Canadian, and this is how we spell favourite!)

Since it is summer, I thought it would be apropos to begin with the best beaches I’ve been blessed to sink my toes into.

 

Top 5 Favourite Beaches

 

Bai Dai Beach, Nha Trang, Vietnam

This gorgeous beach on the South China Sea had everything: White Sand, Warm Waters, and No one around. Touted as the best beach in a country with over 3000 km of coastline… it is easy to see why people love Southeast Asia.

Bai Dai Beach

Muchavista Beach, El Campello, Spain

I was incredibly lucky to spend 3 months living just a mere 5 minutes from this expansive beach north of Alicante. The entire length of the beach is lined with a boardwalk and a tram so that even getting groceries became an exciting event.

El Campello

Lanikai Beach, Kailua, Oahu

On my second trip to Oahu, I decided to do my research and find a beach, ANY BEACH, other than Waikiki. My search landed me on lovely Lanikai in the sleepy town of Kailua where public access is restricted to pedestrians only, making it the perfect island escape. It’s also made quite a few top 10 lists so this one is a no-brainer.

lanikai

Coronado Beach, San Diego, California

Whenever I go to San Diego (which is fortunately quite often) I always look forward to spending time on the island of Coronado. I can’t believe that people actually live there all the time because it is almost too lovely to be real.

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Kitsilano Beach, Vancouver, BC

No top 5 list would be complete without the place that makes me happier than any other. I live about 1 minute from the Pacific Ocean and it is a frequent stomping ground for me all year long. Vancouver has a lot of great beaches that I could include on this list (English Bay, Jericho Beach, Spanish Banks, Wreck Beach) but Kits beach is home. With breathtaking views of the North Shore mountains, Stanley Park, and the Vancouver skyline, it’s my favourite walk in the city! Our version of Venice Beach is also great for people watching, dog walking, bike riding, or playing some beach volleyball all year long.

Kits

 

What is your favourite beach?

Leisure vs. Adventure Travel

A great debate has been stirring within me these past few months.

I have had opportunities to travel in almost every conceivable way:

Cruise √ Backpacking √ Group Tour √ Luxury Resort √ Camping √ Mission Trip √ Bus Tour √ Road Trip √

And… on a full spectrum of budgets, all the way from shoestring to first class. I’ve travelled with friends, family, big groups, small groups, strangers, classmates, and I’m even going on my first solo trip this month.

So after all of my travel experiences… what is my favourite way to travel? On a cold, rainy, winter night… where do I dream of going? And maybe more importantly… how do I want to travel once I get there?

Most of the people I’ve spoken with would probably say something about a tropical beach where they could lay back and sip margaritas with not a care in the world… and up until now, I would probably have said the same thing. However, when I put my money where my mouth is that theory doesn’t exactly line up. Even though I love a good beach vacation… if I’m honest… (please don’t shoot me)… it gets boring after a couple days. I mean of course I’d prefer lying on a beach as opposed to going to work, but if I could do anything, what would energize me the most?

Before I go any further, I need to lay out a couple of definitions that will come into play here. Keep in mind that these are my interpretations of the words.

Leisure travel is travel in which the primary motivation is to take a vacation from everyday life. Leisure travel is often characterized by staying in nice hotels or resorts, relaxing on beaches, or going on guided tours and experiencing local tourist attractions.

Adventure travel is a type of tourism, involving exploration or travel with perceived (and possibly actual) risk, and potentially requiring specialized skills and physical exertion. According to the Adventure Travel Trade Association, adventure travel may be any tourist activity, including two of the following three components: (1) a physical activity, (2) a cultural exchange or interaction, and (3) engagement with nature.

My main interest in the distinction between these two travel styles came up after my recent trip to Las Vegas. There really wasn’t anything to complain about. The trip was perfectly planned, executed and exactly what I expected. But, I came home feeling kind of… meh (if that’s even a real feeling). It was a good time but could it have been great?

No, actually. I don’t think it could have been great. Well, at least not for me. And the reason is that although I enjoy leisure travel, I am wired for adventure. I still like to have a game plan (that is never going to change) but I love going to exotic places. I love seeing natural wonders. I love going somewhere that’s only accessible on foot. I love seeing the way that locals live – first hand! I love activities that are challenging or intricate. I love that I need to tag on a couple days at home at the end of my trip… just to recuperate. The destinations that send a chill down my spine and truly speak to my soul are rich with culture and adventure. If I’ve done it right… I will NEED a vacation at the end of my trip.

What is your favourite way to travel?

"Camels & Pyramids"

Riding Camels around the Pyramids at Giza