20 photos from 12 days touring New Zealand

20 photos from 12 days touring New Zealand

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

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

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

Christchurch

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

Lake Tekapo

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The Church of the Good Shepherd

Photo Source

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

Lake Pukaki

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

Waitiri Creek Wines, Central Otago

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

Queenstown

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

Milford Sound

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

Te Anau

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

Shotover Canyon

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

Wanaka

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

Tauparikaka Marine Reserve

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

Fox Glacier

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

Franz Josef

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

Hokitika Gorge

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

Punakaiki Valley

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

Pancake Rocks

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

Cape Foulwind

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

Abel Tasman National Park

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

Marahau

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

Nelson

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

Cloudy Bay Vineyards, Blenheim

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

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

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The Quest for Rohan

The Quest for Rohan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Is this real life?

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

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

Have you ever travelled to visit a film location?

Are you an LOTR nerd like me?

An Introduction to Bangkok

An Introduction to Bangkok

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Departure Lounge: New Zealand

Departure Lounge: New Zealand

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

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

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

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

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

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

Itinerary

March 19: Auckland

March 20: Matamata & Rotorua

March 21-22: Orari

March 23: Christchurch & Lake Tekapo

March 24-25: Queenstown

March 26-27: Wanaka

March 28-29: Franz Josef

March 30-31: Punakaiki

April 1-2: Abel Tasman National Park

April 3-4: Wellington

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These are the activities I am most looking forward to:

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

 

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

2016: A Year in Review

2016: A Year in Review

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

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

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

1. Seattle, Washington (January)

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

2. San Diego, California (February)

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

3. Victoria, BC (February)

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

4. Nanaimo, BC (March)

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

5. Calgary / Banff, Alberta (March)

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

6. Bowen Island, BC (April)

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

7. Montreal, Quebec (May)

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

8. North Cascades National Park, Washington (July)

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

9. Whistler, BC (July)

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

10. Kelowna, BC (August)


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

11. Chicago, Illinois (September)

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

12. New York City, New York (October)

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

13. Taiwan (November)

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

14. Thailand (November)

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

15. Portland, Oregon (December)

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

16. Vernon, BC (December)

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

2016: By the Numbers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kilometres Flown in 2016: 44, 542

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

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

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An Ode to Brisbane

Hello Seattle, Hello 2016!

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What are your favourite travel memories of 2016?

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

Sweet Simplicity on Koh Chang

Sweet Simplicity on Koh Chang

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Photo Essay: Visiting Taiwan for Free!

Photo Essay: Visiting Taiwan for Free!

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

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

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

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

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The Best Things I Ate in NYC

The Best Things I Ate in NYC

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

Bagel & Cream Cheese: Absolute Bagels

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

Pizza: Lombardi’s

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

Milkshakes: Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer

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

Pork Dumpling: Tasty Dumpling

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

Cannoli: Ferrara Cafe

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

Cheesecake: Junior’s

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

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

The Best Free Things to do in New York

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

Central Park

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

Staten Island Ferry

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

The High Line

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

Grand Central Station

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

The Brooklyn Bridge

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

New York Public Library

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

9/11 Memorial

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

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

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

Riverside Park

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

Charging Bull

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

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

 

A Weekenders Guide to Chicago

A Weekenders Guide to Chicago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Bowen Island: The Perfect VanCity Escape

Bowen Island: The Perfect VanCity Escape

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

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

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

What makes Bowen Island the perfect retreat from city life?

Proximity

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

Serenity

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

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

Activity

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

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

 

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

Montreal Memoire: 3 Days in Canada’s Cultural Capital

Montreal Memoire: 3 Days in Canada’s Cultural Capital

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

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

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Feeling fresh on no sleep – Take that jet lag!

Lachine Canal

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

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Vieux Port

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

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

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Mont Royal

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

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Parc Jean Drapeau

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Best Food I ate in Montreal

The Best Food I ate in Montreal

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

Caution: Photos below may induce hunger.

Poutine: La Banquise and Les Folies

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

 

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

 

Crêpes: Chez Suzette

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

Avo Yo Toast: Buck 15 Espresso Bar

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

Bagels: Fairmount 

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

 

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

 

Mastering the Weekend Getaway

Mastering the Weekend Getaway

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

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

Here are my tips for Mastering the Weekend Getaway

1. Explore your Own Backyard

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

Vancouver Skyline

From City…

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To relaxation in an hour

2. Don’t be afraid of the Red Eye

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

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Hello Paradise!

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

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

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

 

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Lazy days in Snug Cove

 

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Always something new to see in Seattle

 

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

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

Where are you going to explore on a weekend getaway?

 

Back to California: The San Diego Obsession

Back to California: The San Diego Obsession

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

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

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

Balboa Park

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

Pacific Beach Boardwalk

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

La Jolla

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

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 Do you have a favourite state?

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

 

 

The Most Beautiful Beaches in Australia

The Most Beautiful Beaches in Australia

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

Wategos Beach, Byron Bay, NSW

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

Tugun Beach, Gold Coast, NSW

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

Noosa North Shore, Sunshine Coast, QLD

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

Rainbow Beach, Wide Bay, QLD

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

Bondi Beach, Sydney, NSW

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

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island, QLD

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

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

Leave a Comment Below.

 

There’s Something about Sydney

There’s Something about Sydney

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

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

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Sydney from above

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

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

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The ever busy Circular Quay

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Bondi Beach

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

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

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

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

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

 

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The Rocks (oldest part of Sydney)

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

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

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Darling Harbour

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Fireworks and a Ferris Wheel

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

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

Leave a comment below.

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Hello Seattle, Hello 2016!

Hello Seattle, Hello 2016!

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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EMP Museum

Underground City Tour

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

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Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum

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

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Boeing Factory Tour – The Future of Flight

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

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

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

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

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Seattle

 

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

Most Popular:

Packing Hacks: The 10 Items I Always Bring Traveling

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

Everything you need to know about Packing Cubes

My Top 6 Favourite Travel Moments

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

Sailing Adventure in the Whitsundays

Sailing Adventure in the Whitsundays

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

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

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

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Introducing the Camira… purple enough for you?

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

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

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

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

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

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Blissfully unaware of my scorched flesh.

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

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City Girl Goes Camping: The Australian Edition

City Girl Goes Camping: The Australian Edition

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

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

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

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This is camping in Queensland.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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The Great Beach Drive

When travel isn’t so glamourous…

When travel isn’t so glamourous…

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

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Goreme, Turkey

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

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

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Pilot Mountain State Park, North Carolina

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

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Bogota, Colombia

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

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Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

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

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Dubrovnik, Croatia

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

Departure Lounge: Australia

Departure Lounge: Australia

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

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

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

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

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

Itinerary

Dec 6 – 15: Brisbane, Queensland

Dec 15-18: Whitsunday Islands, Queensland

Dec 18-24: Sydney, New South Wales

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These are the activities I am most looking forward to:

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

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

Introducing Istanbul: Touring the Top Sites in 48 hours

Introducing Istanbul: Touring the Top Sites in 48 hours

If you’re planning a trip to Turkey, then you will undoubtedly pass through the fascinating city of Istanbul. Not only is it the largest city in Europe with a population of nearly 14 million people, but it is also the only city in the world to straddle two continents. The Asian side of Istanbul, which I regrettably didn’t have time to visit, is separated from the more famous and touristed European side by the Bosphorus strait – a beautiful waterway that I fortunately did take the time to sail across.

In a city that has served as an imperial capital for the Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman empires over the past 1600 years, it would be impossible to see it all in just 48 hours. But, we sure did our best to tackle the medley of Christian and Islamic historical sights – a truly intoxicating mix of East meets West.

These are the top sights I would recommend if you only have 48 hours to explore Istanbul.

The Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque)

Named for the blue tiles adorning the walls of its interior,  this is one of the two mosques in Turkey that has six minarets (tall towers used for the call to prayer). Visitors are welcome free of charge but must abide by a few important rules. There is a strict dress code (women must cover their hair, shoulders, and knees), every one must cover their shoes with plastic bags, and you should avoid entering at prayer times. Our group were eager to take on the challenge of being culturally respectful – and I think I would have loved wearing a scarf on my head if it wasn’t so hot.

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Unfortunately my experience was a bit frustrating as I became increasingly annoyed by other tourists who were incredibly disrespectful and ignored the clear signs and instructions about proper dress. It was a strange feeling inside the blue mosque because although I was grateful to see such an important and beautiful building up close, I felt like we visitors shouldn’t have been allowed inside. It felt like a place that was too sacred and special to be a spectator. I wonder… Where do we draw the line between respect and tourism?

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Hagia Sophia

What a history! Right next door to the blue mosque is this ancient structure with quite the varied past. Beginning as a Greek Orthodox Cathedral in 537 AD, the Hagia Sophia transitioned into a Roman Catholic Cathedral, then back to Greek Orthodox, to an Imperial Mosque, and finally to the museum it is today. It’s quite something to see the fragments of various religions peeking through the cover-up attempts.

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Basilica Cistern

One of our favourite stops of day one turned out to be the Basilica Cistern – but not for the reason you may think. The  largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city of Istanbul, the basilica provided a water filtration system for many palaces over the centuries. Okay, so yeah that’s impressive. And, we very much enjoyed the cool underground location as a way to beat the heat. But, what really made it our favourite stop of the day was the ridiculously cheesy photo shoot that we happily forked over 20 lira in which to participate. The four of us dressed up like a sultan and his wives and were taken through a series of hilarious poses with props and everything. The final product is simply priceless.

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Topkapi Palace

Topkapi palace was one of the major residences of the Ottoman sultans for almost 400 years and one of the best examples of palaces from that period. It also contains important holy relics of the Muslim world, including Muhammed’s cloak and sword. We spent a couple hours wandering about the grounds and visiting various museums. The crowds, heat, and sheer size of this compound definitely wore us down so come prepared with water and snacks.

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Grand Bazaar

I’ve never been much of a shopper when I travel. I prefer to spend my money on experiences rather than tangible souvenirs but I have to admit that the Grand Bazaar won me over. It’s one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with 61 covered streets and over 3,000 shops – the word overkill comes to mind. I still didn’t make any purchases but I really enjoyed the incredible variety of products and labyrinth like maze of shops. It’s definitely worth a visit even if you don’t like shopping.

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Dolmabahçe Palace

Dolmabahçe is the largest palace in Turkey and the most opulent place I’ve ever seen up close. My travel partner, Mindy, has been to Versailles and even she agrees that this place takes the top spot. It definitely had a different feel than the other sights in the city as it was built in the mid-1800s and evoked a much more contemporary and luxurious style similar to that of other European monarchs. We took a 45 minute guided tour of the inside and we were gutted that we couldn’t take photographs. However, I couldn’t resist sneaking a pic of the world’s largest Bohemian crystal chandelier that we came across at the end of our tour in the Ceremonial Hall. A gift from Queen Victoria, it has 750 lamps and weighs 4.5 tonnes!

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Fortunately, the grounds were equally gorgeous so we took plenty outside to make up for the lack of indoor footage.

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Bosphorus Cruise

I love water. I love lakes. I love the ocean. I love rivers. So it was a no-brainer when I learned that you could take a two-hour round-trip ferry cruise (one of my favourite forms of travel) on the Bosphorus for only 12 Turkish lira (less than $6 CAD). It was a very relaxing way to take in the sights from a completely different vantage point.

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Istanbul has a ton to offer. And even though I was impressed by many of the world-class sights I saw during my stay, I left feeling a bit disappointed. I don’t think Istanbul quite lived up to my expectations.

I blame the majority of this on the fact that Istanbul was our last stop of the trip and followed our time in Cappadocia which was nothing short of magical. Our apartment was probably the least favourite accommodation of the trip and we were all getting a bit tired of being together 24/7.

Honestly, I don’t think Istanbul got a fair shot. I would LOVE to go back and spend a whole week. Without the pressure of needing to see all of the famous sights, I imagine myself getting lost in some of the local neighbourhoods and indulging in more of the delicious street food. I would revisit some of the places I really loved, spacing out the visits so that I could stay longer. Overall, this was a great introduction but not enough for me to fall in love. I guess I’ll just have to come back again someday. Aww shucks!

Travel Highlight: Hot Air Ballooning in Cappadocia

Travel Highlight: Hot Air Ballooning in Cappadocia

This is what $100 million dollars looks like. IMG_4259 Do I have your attention? This is without a doubt the best thing that I did in Turkey. Not only was riding a hot air balloon a giant check off of my travel bucket list, but it was the reason I wanted to go to Turkey in the first place. That’s a dangerously high mark to live up to. Fortunately, Cappadocia and it’s famed hot air balloons delivered one of my favourite travel moments ever!

But, it almost didn’t happen at all…

Everyone knows that things can go wrong when you’re travelling. And unfortunately, Murphy’s Law often comes into play at the most inopportune times.

When I started organizing this trip, I wanted to leave very little to chance. Not only did I have some newbie travellers joining me but I had some major travel dreams that needed to come true. So, I used my expert planning skills to secure our flights WAY in advance with a top notch balloon company in Goreme. The best flying weather is from April through October when the skies are clear and the winds are light at dawn. We booked our flight smack dab in the middle on June 30th. I triple confirmed our dates with the hotel and was ready for the experience of a lifetime. But, as we got closer and closer to the designated date my weather app stalking revealed a blip in our weeks of sunshine-filled Mediterranean bliss. I started to get very nervous. What happens if they cancel our flight? We were only spending two nights in Cappadocia and had a flight to Istanbul scheduled on our second morning. We only had one shot.

On the morning of our flight we woke up before dawn for our 4:40am hotel pick up. It was at this point that my friend Mindy informed me that she had been sick all night and after taking one look at her I knew she wouldn’t be joining our group. With strict orders to stay in bed and drink lots of water, I left with Caleb & Rachel. We arrived at the balloon office to a light buffet breakfast and a waiting game. The weather forecast was not promising. After repeatedly being informed that they would decide in 20 minutes and then again in 20 minutes, we got the news. What CAN happen DID happen. Our balloon ride was cancelled.

I had mentally prepared myself for this disappointment and had already begun working on a back-up plan. We would simply rebook for the next day and if necessary push our flight to Istanbul back a few hours – it only cost €15 anyway. What I was not prepared for was the news that they were fully booked for the next day. WHAT!!!! For those of you who know me, I’m sure you can imagine my reaction and the full scale meltdown that proceeded. Not my finest hour.

Rachel and I tore back up the hill to our hotel reception and begged the night manager to help us. Keep in mind that it’s still before 6am. We asked if we could call the other balloon companies in town to check for other openings. He politely informed us that reservations at all the balloon companies would be closed until 8am and that we should come back later. We all decided to go our separate ways – Rachel & Caleb to get some more sleep and me, to sulk alone on the breakfast terrace. I ended up making friends with some of the kitchen staff and had a long leisurely breakfast with bottomless coffee and apple tea – so I guess there are worse places to be disappointed. Did I mention that we stayed in a cave hotel? IMG_1634 IMG_1633 When 8am rolled around – Rachel & I were back at the reception. We hijacked the front desk and basically demanded that the receptionist call every balloon company in town, which he did. We are quite a convincing pair. Unfortunately, he got the same response from every single company. Full. At this point we had to get ready for our History and Adventure tour (more on that later) that was departing at 10am and I needed to tend to my sick room-mate. But, not to be deterred, I went back to the front desk at 9am to speak with the daytime agent. She promised to call around while we were on our tour and sounded quite optimistic.

And what do you know… she came through with a confirmed booking on Deluxe Balloons and an earlier pick-up time that would allow us to still make our original flight to Istanbul! I couldn’t have been more thrilled to find out that I had to wake up before dawn yet another morning.

So early on Canada Day, my travel crew with a mostly recovered Mindy, woke up to clear skies and minimal wind. We were a go! IMG_4255 IMG_4254 IMG_1821

This is what happiness looks like :)

This is what happiness looks like :)

After a chilly dawn launch in our 16 passenger basket, we floated for one hour over the Cappadocian moonscape dotted with villages, vineyards, and the show-stopping Rose Valley. Our pilot informed us that no two flights are the same because we go wherever the wind takes us. We watched the sunrise over the mountains cast the most picture-perfect lighting over the dozens of balloons that joined us in the skies. It’s crazy to think that this is an everyday occurrence here. Each balloon costs roughly a million dollars and with approximately 100 balloons launched each day, we helped fund a 100 million dollar view. And we were happy to do it!IMG_1839 IMG_1864 IMG_1904 IMG_1908 IMG_1848 IMG_1866 IMG_1898 IMG_1935 IMG_1938 IMG_1912 IMG_1852 IMG_9896 IMG_1927 IMG_1943 IMG_1948 IMG_1874 After taking approximately a trillion photos and videos we proceeded to land in a nearby farmer’s field, narrowly missing some fruit trees and a vineyard. The ground team that had been chasing our balloon from below arrived within minutes to help guide the basket onto the truck and return us to our hotel.

But first, some bubbly for a traditional champagne toast to a successful aeronautical adventure! IMG_4250 Have you ever been on a hot air balloon ride? What’s on your travel bucket list? Leave a comment below.

Second Time is the Charm in Ancient Athens!

Second Time is the Charm in Ancient Athens!

I had incredibly low expectations for my two nights in Athens.

I first visited this Grecian capital back in March 2003 as part of a 10-day Art & History tour with my high school. I did not love it. Far from it. In fact, I have spent the last decade telling people that it is my least favourite city in Europe. Ouch!

So when I decided to return to Greece my heart was set on the islands. But, since Athens still made the most logical starting point, I relented to the wishes of my travel companions and spent a full day touring many of the same famous sites that failed to wow me the first time. And… what do you know. Athens was NOTHING like I remembered it.

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This is not the first time that a city has improved upon its initial impressions. Barcelona, Rome, and Portland are just a few names that won me over on the SECOND visit and now are some of my favourite cities ever! This is why I absolutely NEVER SAY NEVER. I am so glad I was willing to go back to all of these places because the memories I made the second time around are worth every bit of letdown on the first run through.

So, what changed my mind about Athens? Better weather. Better company. Low Expectations. More Freedom. Open Mind.

But enough preamble… here’s what we got into!

The Acropolis

The most important site in Athens is without-a-doubt The Acropolis – an ancient citadel perched high on a rocky outcrop above the city. It contains the remains of several ancient buildings, most famously the Parthenon, a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena (patron and namesake of Athens).

Knowing this was a must-see and with only a short stay in the city, we opted to stay in a very well-located apartment just minutes away. This made our early start time much more manageable. We were waiting at the ticket entrance before it opened at 8:00am to beat the crowds and I’m so glad that we did. It wasn’t difficult to get photos and we had plenty of time to soak of the panoramic city views. We even had time to climb neighbouring Mars Hill sans spectators.

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Parliament Buildings – Changing of the Guard

Every Sunday at 11:00am there is an elaborate changing of the guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier outside the Presidential Mansion in Syntagma Square. And what do you know… our one day in Athens just so happened to be on a Sunday. I didn’t even plan that! So we made sure to get there early to nab a spot on the street and gleefully watched the impressive procession of synchronized guardsmen in all their skirted, pom pom tossing glory. I think I enjoyed it even more than the UK variety at Buckingham Palace.

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The Temple of Olympian Zeus

Not too far down the road we came across yet another ancient ruin. This time the Temple of Zeus! The entrance fee was included in our Acropolis ticket and we only stayed long enough to marvel at the sheer size of it. How did people build these monstrosities 2500 years ago?

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Panathenaic Stadium

Okay – this one I did remember and was definitely excited to revisit. It probably has to do with my Olympic obsession but seriously, how could you not be impressed by a 50,000 seat stadium built entirely out of MARBLE! The site of the very first modern Olympic games in 1896 even dates back to ancient times. Mindy and I couldn’t help getting cheesy with a sporty photo shoot.

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The Acropolis Museum

This new museum opened to the public back in 2009 to house the artifacts found on the Acropolis. It was even built overtop of an archaeological site with glass walkways allowing you to view the ruins below – how cool! I loved the juxtaposition of this modern building amidst the surrounding ancient architecture. I’m only a casual fan of museums but it was a nice air-conditioned break from the summer heat and an interesting walk through. Plus it has miniatures! I’m such a sucker for those.

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The Ancient Agora

The Agora was the heart of ancient Athens, the focus of political, commercial, administrative and social activity, the religious and cultural centre, and the seat of justice. This one also happens to be the best-known example of an ancient Greek agora. Honestly, by the time we got here I was a bit tuckered out from our full day of sightseeing. Even though it was approaching golden hour (my favourite time of day for photos!) I couldn’t muster up a lot of energy. But the grounds are extensive and beautifully nestled in below the Acropolis. It’s definitely worth a visit!

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So by the end of my two nights in Athens, I was actually wishing I had a couple more. I could have happily dined and strolled in the Plaka neighbourhood for another evening, soaking up the European café culture that I have become so insanely fond of. But, alas, the Greek Islands were calling and I didn’t want to miss one second of my time in the Cyclades… not even Zeus could stop me.

Next up: Santorini at last!!!

In My Bag: Packing for Summer in Europe

In My Bag: Packing for Summer in Europe

While I’m currently gallivanting around Europe, I thought it might be apropos to provide another dose of packing advice.

It is my travel mission to pack as light as possible (hello carry-on!) while still managing to look stylish. I look back at the photos from my 8-month back packing trip to Europe in 2005/2006 and I cringe at the outfits I put together. I wore a ski jacket in 80% of my photos and couldn’t have looked more like a tourist if I tried. Since then, I’ve learned that comfort and efficiency does not have to sacrifice style. With some strategic choices and some handy tools (read: packing cubes!) I am travelling in Europe for 2 weeks with less than 20 lbs on my back!

Here is the breakdown of what I packed in my bag:

CLOTHING AND SHOES

  • 1 pair of walking shoes (BOBS with memory foam)
  • 1 pair of dressier sandals (Clarks)
  • 1 pair of flip flops (Flojos with arch support)
Three is the perfect number for travel shoes.

Three is the perfect number for travel shoes.

  • 1 pair of jeans (for the plane and chilly evenings)
  • 1 pair of loose fitting hippie pants
  • 2 pairs of shorts
  • 3 dresses
  • 1 skirt/dress (convertible)

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  • 8 tops (3 t-shirts, 5 sleeveless)
  • 2-3 cardigans (for the plane, chilling evenings, hot air balloon)

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  • 1 bikini
  • 1 set of sleepwear
  • 12 pairs of underwear + 3 bras (excessive maybe)
  • 3 pairs of socks
  • 1 pair of bandelettes
  • 1 belt
  • 1-2 scarves (for the plane or to use as a shawl)

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Note: Packing Cubes!

All of my clothing easily fits inside three small packing cubes. The larger blue one is for all of my bottoms and dresses, the medium red is for tops, and the small red is for underwear. These packing cubes make it insanely easy to pack and repack quickly when living out of a backpack. Read more about my packing cube obsession here.

TOILETRIES & ACCESSORIES

  • Stella & Dot Hang On Travel Case (toiletries/make-up/jewelry/sunscreen)
  • Norwex Cloth
  • Small Medicine Bag (Kleenex, band-aids, medication, hand sanitizer, wet wipes)
  • Travel Flat Iron
  • 1 Pair of Sunglasses
  • Tote Bag (for beach use/extra stuff for airplane)
  • Cross-body Bag (Lug – Moped Day Pack) – The best travel day bag that I’ve found!

ELECTRONICS

  • iPhone 5C
  • Headphones
  • iPhone Charger
  • Camera + Charger (Canon Powershot SX700)
  • Spare Memory Card
  • Portable Charger
  • E-reader (Kobo Aura)
  • Voltage Converter
  • Adapters

DOCUMENTS & MISCELLANEOUS

  • Passport & Visa
  • Wallet
  • Travel Documents & Insurance
  • Sleep Sheet
  • Pillow Case
  • Ear Plugs
  • Travel Journal / Pen
  • Travel Umbrella
  • Luggage Locks

This was my first time bringing only a carry-on to Europe. Do you find it difficult to travel light?

7 Tips to Avoid Jet Lag

7 Tips to Avoid Jet Lag

If I could have any super power I would choose teleportation. The ability to instantaneously transport myself to anywhere in the world is a wanderluster’s dream come true! Unfortunately, I do not have a genetic mutation and I do have to take planes, trains, and automobiles just like everyone else. BUT, I do have a super power: I never get jet lag! And, I’m going to let you in on my top tips and tricks to help you avoid the cursed time zone tailspin.

1. Book the Best Itinerary

I know that most people are simply looking for rock-bottom prices when booking air travel. But that often means a milk run set of flights with horrible stopovers and ungodly departure/arrival times. Who wants to start their long awaited vacation with a 4am wake up call? My solution… do your research and spend a few extra dollars. Look for non-stop flights or itineraries with only one layover. Try to avoid long layovers wherever possible (1.5 hours is perfect!). If you can cut down your total travel time that will be a huge benefit. But the absolute most important aspect of your flight is the arrival time. I always try to book flights that arrive in the late afternoon/early evening. This means that I won’t be arriving in the dark and will have time to get through customs and to my final destination at a decent hour. AND, it means that I can pretty much go to bed as soon as I get to my accommodation. There is nothing worse than arriving in a new city after being awake for 30 hours and it’s only 10:00am local time. TORTURE! If you arrive in the evening then you can spare yourself so much pain and suffering and significantly reduce your risk of jet lag.

2. Pre-Trip Preparation (Work on your Sleep Schedule)

Again, if you can manage to book a flight that doesn’t leave at the crack of dawn, then you can give yourself the gift of a really good night’s sleep in your own bed. I know that sometimes the excitement can get the best of you making it hard to sleep the night before a big trip. That’s what sleeping pills are for :) If you’re only crossing a couple of time zones then it’s also worth trying to adjust BEFORE you leave. For example, if you’re flying east (like from Los Angeles to New York City) then start going to bed an hour earlier. Similarly, if you’re heading west then going to bed a bit later on the days leading up to your trip can make the transition a breeze.

3. Take a Nap on the Plane (if you can)

Personally, I can’t nap on planes. I can sometimes get a few winks in if I have a window seat or get upgraded to business class (!!!) but otherwise I just tough it out. That being said, a brief nap on a long flight can give you the extra boost you need to make it to your final destination. Just be careful not to sleep too much and risk not being able to get some shut eye when bedtime rolls around.

4. Stay Hydrated (Skip the Booze/Caffeine)

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

5. Eat Healthy

Vacation and traveling is often about indulgence. Exercise routines are suspended and healthy eating is completely abandoned in favor of a week (or more!) of overeating. It’s important to remember that while your mind may be on vacation, your body still needs proper fuel. This is not the time to start carb-loading like you’re running a full marathon. I am all in favor of sampling the local cuisine and enjoying yourself (A gelato a day keeps the doctor away – right?). The key here is balance. To have a great vacation it truly helps to feel good and all that junk food is going to make you feel sluggish and irritable. Now I don’t need to tell you that airplane food is the worst. So, instead of relying on some corporation to give you what you need – plan ahead. Your first defense is to bring food from home: bananas, apples, nuts, carrots, and energy bars are all great airplane snacks. Once you get to your destination, try to incorporate local fruits and vegetables into the frenzy. Personally, I am looking forward to many fresh and delicious Greek salads on my upcoming trip to Greece. Just remember the old adage… you are what you eat!

6. Don’t Fall Asleep at Your Destination

If you heeded my advice in Tip #1 and booked a great itinerary, this shouldn’t be a problem for you. But, if your options are limited (like when the only return options from Hawaii are red eye flights with 7am arrivals) then your will power needs to kick into overdrive. I know it’s hard. Trust me. I’ve had to stay awake for nearly 40 hours before to avoid jet lag. I cannot stress this enough. It is so important not to sleep if it isn’t night time. The only way to save yourself from spending the next few days (or weeks!) waking up at 3am is to tough it out for one day. Avoid dark spaces and plan something fun to do that will keep you awake. Get some fresh air, go for a walk, and avoid operating heavy machinery or making any important life decisions. Then, go to bed at a normal time (9pm) and get a good night of sleep. You will wake up refreshed and jet lag free!

7. Plan an Active First Day

If you’re still feeling groggy when you wake up, I suggest jumping right in. Resist the urge to laze around all day napping. Plan a first day with heaps of activity and fresh air. Don’t let your body realize that it’s tired… you know… fake it till you make it! This might seem counter-intuitive but you’re going to have to get used to it sooner or later. Don’t waste any time. You’ll thank me later :)

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Do you have any other tips or tricks for avoiding jet lag? Leave a comment below.

What I love most about Europe

What I love most about Europe

Guys, I have a confession. This may not come as a surprise to you but I’m completely smitten by Europe.

I am a total Europhile: A person who is fond of, admires, or even loves European culture, society, history, food, etc. I know that it’s ridiculously expensive compared to popular backpacker trails in Southeast Asia and South America, but I don’t care. It’s like something magnetic keeps pulling me back to the cobblestone streets and fairy-tale castles that first intrigued me as a child. I just can’t get enough.

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Carcassone, France

Next week I’ll be traveling back to one of the first European countries I ever visited, Greece! Since my inaugural visit back in 2003 I have traveled in 16 European countries on 6 separate trips and spent nearly one year of my life on European soil. I’m no Rick Steves but I’ve certainly seen my fair share.

And while I’m off collecting beautiful photographs, hilarious stories, and moments that I’ll cherish for a lifetime… I thought it fitting to reflect on just a few of the reasons why I love this part of the world so much.

Train Travel

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Excited for our train at Roma Termini

There is something so romantic about train travel. And even though I’ve had some less than glamourous overnight journeys on sleeper trains… I still get giddy at the thought of it. Maybe it’s the click clack of the station flip boards or the way the gentle rocking always lulls me to sleep. Maybe it’s all the famous film farewell scenes with lovers blowing kisses from the caboose. Something about train travel (and especially in Europe) feels magical and always transports me to days gone by. It’s efficient. It’s affordable. And the scenery doesn’t suck either.

Walk-able Cities

Visiting Edinburgh Castle

Visiting Edinburgh Castle

I love that so many of the great European cities have a completely walkable city centre, often anchored by a beautiful river. I rarely have to use public transit during my European travels. Perusing major tourist sites on foot and casually wandering through nearby neighbourhoods is without-a-doubt my favourite way to see a city. Often as a broke backpacker, transit and even entrance fees were too much for my meager pocket book – but fortunately walking around is completely FREE! I love that! Some personal favourites – Amsterdam, Bruges, Edinburgh, Florence, Munich, Paris, Salzburg, and Venice.

Accessible Alcohol

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Enjoying a glass of wine with my gnocchi

Cheap. Plentiful. Unrestricted. I don’t think Europeans know how good they have it. We here in North America pay a not-so-pretty premium for alcohol in all its forms and face steep fines if we’re caught drinking in public spaces. In Canada, we are very behind the ball and can only buy liquor in designated stores although apparently select wine and spirits are coming to grocery stores in the never near enough future. Europe just does it better. I cannot tell you how lovely it is to sip a glass of wine with dinner without stressing about blowing my budget. They say the beer is cheaper than water… and they are usually right!

Street Food

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I had no idea that guy was going to do that…

North America has definitely caught on to the street food appeal with its plethora of trendy (and pricey) food trucks in most urban cities. However, once again, Europe does this way better! Not only is their street food delicious and iconic but it’s also super cheap. I cannot even fathom visiting Turkey and NOT eating a doner kebab from a street vendor or going to Paris and not ordering a Nutella-Banana crepe from the side window of a café. I’m already salivating.

History

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The Roman Forum

I live in a young city that is really still a baby at 129 years old, especially when compared with ancient greats like Rome and Athens. When I travel in Europe I get to walk where 2000 years of former generations have stood. I get to see the ruins of ancient civilizations and visit the most famous monuments of all time. These cities are steeped in a rich history with fascinating stories just waiting to be uncovered. I don’t know about you… but I think that is pretty cool.

Do you love Europe as much as I do? What do you enjoy most?

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!

From Sea to Summit: The Haleakala Volcano

From Sea to Summit: The Haleakala Volcano

With only four full days in Maui – it was extra important to prioritize the activities that we most wanted to see. And one place that I didn’t feel right about skipping was the massive Haleakala volcano. Maui’s highest peak makes up approximately 75% of the island’s landmass, so in many ways Haleakala IS Maui.

After checking out of our Airbnb condo rental and loading up our trusty rental car, we set off for our last major Maui adventure. The drive from our base in Kihei to the summit took approximately two hours. It’s a 37 mile drive from sea level to the 10023 foot summit – the world’s highest elevation gain in the shortest distance. With that kind of elevation gain happening, altitude sickness was a mild concern. However we didn’t plan to do any major hiking so we ended up just fine.

At one point we were completely engulfed in dense clouds and wondered if we would even be able to see anything from the summit. Fortunately, we soon emerged from the clouds and were delighted by the view from the lookouts on the way up. The scenery was dramatically different from everything we had previously seen on Maui.

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Can you believe that on the drive to the summit, we passed through just as many ecosystems as you would if you drove from Mexico to Canada! At times the landscape was so foreign that it appeared as if we had taken a wrong turn and ended up on the moon!

We decided to head up mid-day to avoid the crazy crowds at sunrise and sunset. Although I’m sure the views are stunning at those times of day, we weren’t disappointed with our view at all. We lucked out and had a beautiful, sunny, clear day. From the summit we could even see neighbouring Moana Loa over on the Big Island.

IMG_3523 IMG_0717The summit of Haleakala is above one third of the Earth’s atmosphere and has excellent astronomical seeing conditions. The limited light pollution combines to make one of the most sought-after locations in the world for ground-based telescopes.

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There are so many ways to explore the Haleakala National Park. This trip was really just a teaser of what’s to come. Next time that I visit Maui, I want to try (1) a cycle tour from the summit, (2) paragliding!!, (3) hiking down into the crater, and (4) checking out the famous sunrise!

It’s easy to see what people love about Maui and why it truly is paradise. I’m clearly smitten and I know I’ll be back!

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Maui’s Famous Road to Hana

Maui’s Famous Road to Hana

When I was initially looking into this trip to Maui, there was only one thing that I HAD to do. Ok – maybe I had to go to a beach, and eat pancakes with coconut syrup, and eat fish tacos, and drink Mai Tai’s, and photograph palm trees but really the most important activity on my radar was the famous (and sometimes infamous) Road to Hana.

The Road to Hana is really just the Hana Highway, which is a 64.4-mile long stretch connecting Kahului with the town of Hana in east Maui. But don’t be mistaken, this is not your average highway. Although, Hana is less than 100km from Kahului, it takes about 2.5 hours to drive when no stops are made as the “highway” is very winding and narrow and passes over 59 bridges, 46 of which are only one lane wide. You heard me – ONE lane! This means that every few minutes you may be required to pull off to the side to let a vehicle, that is coming straight towards you, pass.

This winding road is definitely not for the faint of heart. Many people experience extreme car sickness or anxiety due to the 620 curves along Route 360. Fortunately, I did not experience any of the negative side effects on my own trip to Hana. I was deliriously happy to be driving through lush, tropical, rain forest, snaking along the coast, and passing by beautiful waterfalls. Simply put, Maui is paradise!

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With so many potential stops and view points along the way, I enlisted my friend Natasha (a Maui expert) to help me nail down a kick-ass itinerary. With only one day, we needed to make it count.

These are the 5 main stops we recommend on a one day return trip to Hana:

Stop #1: Twin Falls Farm Stand

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The Road to Hana starts near the town of Paia. After following highway 36 for about 20 minutes you should come across this easy to spot Farmstand with a small parking lot. We got there bright and early (8:30am) so we easily found a spot to park. We spent an hour strolling along the path and enjoying the jungle-like atmosphere. This is also a great spot to buy fresh local fruit (although you will pass tons of vendors along the way) and sample some coconut candy on your way out.

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Stop #2: Aunty Sandy’s Banana Bread in Ke’anae / Halfway to Hana

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We were eagerly anticipating our second stop because BANADA BREAD! Maui is famous for the stuff and I was told that Aunty Sandy makes the best. After another 45 minutes of driving we pulled off in Ke’anae and our jaws hit the floor. The view was so spectacular that we were barely phased by the unfortunate closed sign on the store front (it was Easter Sunday). We had a mini photo shoot and then continued on our way before quickly running into a giant Halfway to Hana sign. We pulled over and discovered that we could still purchase banana bread at this snack shack instead. And it even turned out to be home of “the original” banana bread. Our lucky day!

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Stop #3: Waianapanapa State Park

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Yet another 40 minutes down the road was Wai’anapanapa State Park where we were excited to see our very first black sand beach! While the hot sun beat down on us, we enjoyed photographing the blowholes and climbing over the volcanic rock. I especially loved the colour contrast of the black rock and the vibrant green plant life against the blue sea and sky.

The park is a great rest stop; It’s set up for camping, picnic lunches, or just a relaxing day at the beach. We could easily have spent the entire day here but we soldiered on.

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Stop #4: Hana & Red Sand Beach

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Following our leisurely stop at Wai’anapanapa, it was only another 10 minutes to our excursion’s namesake. We reached Hana Bay and found the town a bit small and underwhelming. Many people decide to stay in Hana overnight or camp nearby but we needed to get back to the other side of the island by nightfall. We originally planned to visit the Red Sand Beach here, but opted to skip it in order to spend more time at our final major stop of the day. We’d been warned that the best stops were past Hana.

Stop #5: Kipahulu Area of Haleakala National Park

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You can’t miss Kipahulu – It’s a very obvious stop and has something for everyone. Upon arrival, I quickly darted into the visitor’s center to seek shelter from the sudden rainstorm. The weather on the eastern side of the island is milder and wetter, prone to sudden heavy rains and winds. Unfortunately, the Seven Sacred Pools at the Oheo Gulch were not open for swimming during our visit. So instead I opted to hike the Pipiwai Trail in search of Waimoku Falls (pictured above), the great Banyan Tree (below) and the Bamboo Forest.

I began the hike knowing full well that I was going to be completely drenched by the end and that flip flops (the only footwear I had with me) would not be ideal. I was mildly concerned that I wouldn’t be able to make it all the way when I saw everyone coming down decked out in proper hiking gear. But I surprised myself and managed the 2 mile trail and 800 ft elevation gain with relative ease, although I wouldn’t recommend it. Check out Go Visit Hawaii for detailed tips on hiking the Pipiwai Trail.

Even though I was soaking wet and covered in mud by the end of it, I felt elated. This is what it means to be alive! I loved how it felt to be alone in nature with the elements and nothing to think about but where to put my feet next. I returned to the car rejuvenated and thankful for a body that can move and for the opportunity to travel to places like Maui.

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The Way Back

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Most people return from Hana by going back the same way they came.

If you continue on past Kipahulu around the backside of Haleakala and around, the road gets really rough. Not only is it one lane for a major section but it is unpaved and rocky with blind turns and drop offs. We had been warned about the road conditions but were promised that the road does get better and that the view is worth it. And it was!

My photos do not do justice to the awe-inspiring landscape we drove through in near isolation for the 2 hour return trip. The road did get better and the landscape was completely different from the tropical rain forest we had passed through on the other side. We drove through rolling fields of long grass, seemingly untouched by civilization. We presume that tourists are told not to travel this way so that the locals can hoard this place to themselves.

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