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.

IMG_0472 3. Victoria again (April)

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!

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

Top 10 Activities to do in Vegas

I managed to squeeze a lot of activity into three days in Las Vegas this past May. Here’s my summary of what not to miss in Sin City (in no particular order).

1. FREE Entertainment

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Bellagio Fountains

 

Vegas might be one of the most over-priced cities I’ve ever visited… and that’s saying a lot with my resume (I’m looking at you London). But, that being said, it does have a plethora of free activities to enjoy that are actually many of the most iconic. Let’s start with the infamous Welcome to Las Vegas sign at the beginning of the strip. Visitors can pull off Las Vegas Boulevard and snap a pic under the famous sign absolutely free. Now… the same can’t be said for photos with the countless street performers you will find dressed as everything from Spiderman to Minnie Mouse… but still the sign is free. Then you absolutely cannot miss the Bellagio Fountains! The choreographed music and fountain show is always a highlight – I just love pretending to be a part of the Ocean’s 11 gang! And to give you a top 3, I would also recommend checking out the evening Mirage Volcano eruption… that’s as close as I ever want to get to a real eruption… you could really feel the heat!

2. Thrill Rides

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View from the Top of the Stratosphere

I love heights. I love jumping from heights. I love the view from the top of tall buildings. I love roller coasters. So basically what I’m saying is that the Stratosphere was built with me in mind. If you are also a thrill seeker then I would definitely recommend checking out the rides atop the Stratosphere hotel. You can shoot into the air on the Big Shot (think Tower of Terror in reverse). You can launch off the edge of the building on X-Scream. Or you can spin in the air on a mechanical arm on Insanity (think Toy Story’s the Claw on steroids). And if you’ve got some extra cash then you can even Sky Jump off the building!

3. See a Show

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I want to go ahead and throw out a statistic that might be entirely false but I think is probably true. Vegas has to have more hotel rooms per capita than any other place on earth. And each of these monstrous hotels has a theatre with a show, which means that the toughest decision of your trip might be narrowing down which amazing show to see. On my most recent trip, I couldn’t choose just one and was able to see Cirque du Soleil’s O as well as Jersey Boys. Both were incredibly well done and worth every penny.

4. Pool Party!

One thing you learn tout de suite upon touching down in Vegas is that it’s a desert. And if you are visiting anytime between March and November that also means it is H O T! It was 100 + degrees every day of my last trip, which meant that the pools were packed and for good reason. There’s no better way to beat the heat then with a cold drink in hand while sitting in the pool. Some hotels even throw lavish and exclusive pool parties with DJs and celebrity guests. I prefer a more relaxing environment but that’s the beauty of Vegas, there really is something for everyone.

5. Shop Till you Drop

I don’t know why this surprised me but Vegas has gooooood shopping. Not only does it have high end designers and boutiques in every hotel, but it also has huge malls and outlets on either end of the strip. You will also find very unique shopping, such as the 4-story M&M store with it’s own 3D movie. If you need to escape the heat, then there is probably a mall a few steps away that can entertain you for as long as your credit limit allows.

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The Venetian

 

6. Cruise the Strip

Dealing with traffic jams and getting stuck at painfully long lights is not my idea of a vacation so my preferred way to cruise the strip is on foot. But, beware; Las Vegas Boulevard is deceptively long. It doesn’t look that far on the map but trust me; you will need comfortable walking shoes to make the trek. But, it is worth your while to take in the city from below. The streets are filled with street performers and it’s the best way to get your fill of people watching. If walking isn’t your cup of tea or the heat gets to be too much then try out the monorail or walk through the hotels instead.

7. Gamble

Whether you like to gamble or not… everyone should toss at least a few coins into a Vegas slot machine (or feed a few bills as it turns out). I didn’t end up a big winner but at least I could cross this one off my bucket list. Plus, if you catch a servers attention, you can get free drinks while you play! My advice… play slow. Drink Fast!

8. Eat somewhere famous!

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Vegas is known for so many things and food is definitely one of them. It seems like all the famous chefs have opened at least one, if not several, restaurants in Sin City. Do your research and fulfill your fantasy feast by splurging on a good meal.

9. Enjoy the Night Life

Most of my friends know that I’m not really into the club scene but if you are going to go out… Vegas is the place to do it. With many of the top night clubs in the world it’s no wonder that so many bachelor and bachelorette parties make their way to Sin City. Best of all – ladies can jump the line and get free cover (and often free drinks) by getting on a VIP list earlier that day. Promoters are everywhere! If you’re like me and don’t love the club scene then Vegas still has great bars, including some fun karaoke and dueling piano bars. We checked out the one at Harrah’s but I hear that the New York New York has a good one too.

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10. High Roller

Las Vegas’ newest attraction is the world’s largest ferris wheel at a staggering 550 feet tall. Take the 30 minute ride in an air conditioned capsule by day or night to see panoramic views of the strip. I prefer to ride at night to see the city lights. This is fun to do with groups or a special someone and of course, drinks are allowed!