Thursday, November 10, 2011

Cuzco featured in Anthropologie's November 2011 Catalogue

Call me a dork, but as soon as I saw the cover of November's Anthropologie catalogue in my mailbox, I got excited. (It was the equivalent of when you see familiar landmarks from your home city in a movie. I'm sure every resident of Edmonton has watched the Chevy Chase film Snow Day for this reason alone. Some may even go so far as to watch Patrick Swayze in Christmas in Wonderland.)

I immediately recognized the backdrop:

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

My Flight Memory: July 2010 - November 2011

After finally working off the fondue from my Swiss adventure, I've started another contract with Verge Magazine, this time writing and editing. Opportunities like these are amazing, because it gives me the chance to legitimately (well, almost) squander my time scouring the Internet for interesting travel blogs.

Today's procrastination activity: inputting my flight data from July 2010 to November 2011 into Flight Memory, a site that allows users to generate flight-related data. Travellers can track how many hours they've spent flying, their most common routes and even the seat that they were assigned most frequently. (I'm a window seat gal, myself.) The website also aggregates maps of the journeys taken.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Part Two: A Londoner in London

By the time we arrived in London, we were hitting the one-week vacation hump. We were tired. Sasha had successfully managed to cram amazing activities into every single day we were in Switzerland, making the most of our week there.

But with only three full days to spend in London, we didn't want to overextend ourselves by visiting every single tourist site. "I don't feel the same pressure to see everything in London," I told Jay and Court, "because somehow, I have this feeling that I'll be back again."

Part One: Sasha in Switzerland

It's been over a week since we returned home from our European mini-adventure. Since then, I've been grappling with what to write about. Usually, the themes evolve and expose themselves naturally. But there was nothing unique about this particular trip. Switzerland and London? Both are well-situated directly on the beaten path. It's been done before.

Yet after looking through our photos and thinking about the 10 days we spent in Europe, I'm beginning to realize that sometimes it's less about where you are than who you're with.

So, let's start at the start. There were two specific reasons for this particular trip:

1) To visit Sasha in Geneva. 

For those who don't know Sasha, she's a former roommate and one of my closest friends. In 2009, she decided to move to Rwanda for a couple of months to work with a non-profit organization. Two years later, she is finally returning to Canada with her boyfriend Nicholas (who she met in Rwanda, naturally) in tow. 

First though, she went back to her parent's house in Geneva. Sasha's dad, John, works at the WTO in Geneva, while her mom Joanne works at the WHO. John also just happens to be one of the ambassadors to Canada in Switzerland. They live in a beautiful home on the edge of Lake Geneva, complete with a wine cellar, a room used exclusively for eating cheese and a framed picture of Stephen Harper in the entry.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

How to get paid to travel: advice from a non-expert

Over the last week, I've been getting paid to travel again. I'll admit that the Oshawa-Kingston-Ottawa-Montréal route is a little less exotic than an all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean, but there's a reason Canada tops the list of "Countries I've Been To." Travelling throughout my home country and home province (as much as it pains my Albertan heart to type those words) is a privilege--especially when I'm getting paid to do it.

Yesterday we wrapped up the final Go Global Expo in Montréal (success!) and as I type this, I'm sitting on VIA Rail (sooooo much better than the Greyhound), watching the last gasps of summer green rush past and reflecting on all of the conversations I've had with students, professionals and travel enthusiasts in the last six weeks.

In particular, yesterday's "Careers for Globetrotters Networking Cafe" at the Montréal expo (where I was invited to participate as a speaker) is at the front of my mind. Putting aside my extreme embarrassment at my inability to speak French, it was a really good opportunity to reflect on the last year of my life as a freelance writer, destination staffer, non-profit grant writer and traveller.

I'll admit that I felt a little out of place and doubted my own expertise, but the questions posed were familiar ones. I've been asked them in every city and every campus from York University to UOIT.

So for those who weren't able to make it to the Go Global Expos, here are answers to some of the most common questions I've received:

Thursday, September 22, 2011

International Volunteering Grows Up

From the latest issue of Verge Magazine:

International Volunteering Grows Up 
As volunteering overseas takes off, growing pains lead to new challenges for the field and for volunteers. by Jessica Lockhart.

"'There have been questions about the actual impact that voluntourists are making,' says Ezaki. 'Is it really for the community--or is it to satisfy the needs of volunteers?'

The concerns raised by the influx of short-term 'poverty tourists' seem endless: Children's rights groups warn travellers that visits to orgphanages are a literal guilt trip; abandoned children form bonds with volunteers, who in turn abandon them by returning home. On online message boards, volunteers complain of 'make busy' work projects. (In one scenario, volunteers were asked to repaint a wall that had been painted by a previous group of volunteers--and the one before that.)" 

Monday, September 19, 2011

"30 Under 30"

My goal is to travel to 30 countries before I turn 30. 

But, how do you determine if you've been to a country?

My travel partner in Australia, Jo, had a solid and indisputable formula for determining if you've visited a country.

"If you've eaten a meal there, you've been there," she advised, "but it doesn't count if you don't leave the train station or the airport."

Makes sense to me.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Mapping it Out

The other day Court told me that she's excited to travel with me because she knows I'll plan everything. With only a month (!) left to go until our departure, here's an inside look into at just how thoroughly I plan my travels:

Excerpt from a Skype conversation with Sasha, who we'll be staying with in Geneva

Monday, August 22, 2011

Let's Go Global!

I'm excited to announce that for the next six weeks, I'm working with Verge Magazine on their Go Global Expos in Toronto, Montréal and Vancouver

Why so excited? Well, there's a couple of reasons:

1) I first found out about Youth Challenge International at the Go Global fair way back in 2005 (this was prior to Verge running the show in its current incarnation). After returning home completely overwhelmed with pamphlets, information and opportunities, I realized that my first overseas volunteer experience was going to become a reality. It was an amazing feeling.

Friday, August 05, 2011

How to Travel for Cheap: 12 Steps to the Gypsy Life

One of the reasons I first started blogging (again) was because I was obsessed with I Keep A Diary's Brian Battjer's travels. But one of the things that baffled me the most, like other readers, was how he managed to maintain his lifestyle and travel all the time.
Hard at work in Guyana, October 2010
Fast forward seven years and I'm getting the same question. There have been endless books written on shoestring travel budgets, so I’m not going to try and steal Rick Steves' thunder. I've written about this before, but based on popular demand, here's how I manage to make all my trips possible:

Friday, July 08, 2011

Trekking in Peru: Game for Anything

To witness Machu Picchu at sunrise on the Winter Solstice is to witness people at their rawest: competitive, unable to resist group mentality, and dare I even say it--primal.

I'm not sure what exactly first piqued my interest in going to Peru, but perpetuated rumours about the closing of the Inca Trail created a sense of urgency. I needed to go there and it needed to happen soon.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Thievery: Pick-pocketed in Peru

I felt the hand in my bag the moment it happened. Adrenaline kicked in and I spun around. ¨Who was it?¨ I screamed into the crowd. I was angry and there had been witnesses. A woman pointed and we began to run. The crowd was moving quickly in both directions. It was useless.

I didn´t start to cry until 10 minutes later. My passport and wallet were safe in my bag. It could have been worse. But still, my camera and all my pictures of our trek--one of the best experiences of my life--were gone. I didn´t even care about the camera--it was just the memory card I wanted.

But it was just pictures. The camera can be replaced and the memories can´t be stolen.

And yet, I feel violated and unsafe. (I´m usually so careful, so vigilant. I mean, I´ve travelled to over 20 countries. I´ve worked in the developing world. In hostels, I sleep with my purse in my arms. I carry minimal amounts of cash. I lock my backpack in crowds. I always walk with my purse in front of me with a hand on top. Except for that one moment, the one I wish I could have back.)

I still can´t shake the feeling of the phantom hand. I´ve been reminded that yes, it can happen to even me.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Peru: Packing the Essentials

I love travelling, but I despise packing. In fact, writing this blog post is just another excuse to procrastinate from acknowledging the mess of bungee cords, clothespins, clothes and toiletries that are strewn across my bed.

There's a couple of packing challenges specific to my upcoming Peruvian adventure; I'm bringing a sleeping bag and Therm-a-Rest, my bag can't exceed 20lbs (we've hired a porter for our trek) and I'm going to be experiencing a range of weather conditions between Cusco and Lima. Luckily, in preparation for my Guyana trips last fall, I invested in some quality backpacking equipment, which makes things a bit easier.

After 10 year of travelling I finally have packing down to a bit of science. Regardless of the final destination, here's what you can always find in my bag:

Friday, June 10, 2011

Chic Savvy Travels

When I first moved to Toronto, Vawn Himmelsbach was a huge inspiration to me. Ten years before I did it, she did it first. Originally from Cold Lake, Vawn moved to Toronto to study journalism in 1995 at Ryerson. Like me, she wrote for McClung's Magazine and the Ryerson Review of Journalism. And like me, she is an avid traveller.

In 2004, I interviewed her for a first-year newspaper reporting assignment. Here's what she told me then:

“I’m just going to be incredibly persistent. I'm going to do more travel writing and writing about women’s issues.”

Vawn's followed through on this promise. In January 2011, along with fellow adventurer Tanya Enberg, she launched Chic Savvy Travels: A Backpackers Guide for Grown-Ups. Check it out and don't forget to take a look at their amazing contests.

As for me, it's only been a couple of months since I returned from my Louisiana and Texas roadtrip, but I'm already packing my bag again. Peru, here I come!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Altruistic Heroes

"I think that we’re reaching a point in the field [of international service] where we recognize that it’s in our best interests—not only practically but ethically—to generate the resources and focus on community outcomes. It’s self-service if we don’t. We’re just looking then at how working with communities is changing us as individuals. We shouldn’t be engaging in volunteerism if it's not contributing to positive change in the communities."
-Dr. Amanda Moore McBride, Associate Professor at the University of Washington, shares her thoughts on volunteering overseas. As the fastest growing market in the tourism industry, volunteer travel has the potential to become a market based on profit--not on assistance.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Do you believe in magick? A road-trip through Louisiana.

At the age of 13, my bookshelf contained the following items:
  • "Gone With the Wind" on VHS
  • A Scarlett O'Hara Christmas ornament
  • Tarot cards illustrated by Salvador Dali, a Book of Shadows, and various books on Wicca and the occult
  • "Interview with the Vampire" on VHS
  • The entire Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice, including a copy of "the Vampire Lestat" signed by Sarah Michelle Gellar
It was a collection curated with love and displayed with pride.

To say that my teenage self was obsessed with the American South would be an understatement. (Also worth mentioning: at the age of 13, I had an ongoing Internet relationship with a guy I met on Cpt. Schmuck claimed to be a 14-year-old born-again Christian from New Orleans. To this day, I refuse to believe he was anything but.) It was everything Cold Lake was not and therefore, it was my idea of utopia: a land of vampires, hoop skirts, voodoo and magnolias. I vowed that when I finally graduated from high school, I would take a road trip across the states to New Orleans. Maybe I'd even meet Cpt. Schmuck.

It never happened. But the obsession didn't really fade, either. (During my undergrad, I was the only journalism student who elected to take History of the Civil War.) So in a lot of ways, buying my ticket to New Orleans was an act of fulfilling all my teenage fantasies.

Friday, April 22, 2011

A Freeway Runs Through It: Beaumont, Texas

There are only two places that I can honestly say that I have no imminent desire to return to: Dresden, Germany and Beaumont, Texas.

But let me begin with a quick disclaimer: I really like small towns and cities. I like them enough that I actively seek them out in my travels. Nothing excites me more than a visit to the general store in Goodsoil, Saskatchewan or a roadside sign beckoning me to the Gopher Hole Museum in Torrington, Alberta. The dingier, the better.

And I'm from a small town. I understand small towns and cities. I'm certain Beaumont has a ton of redeeming qualities for the folks who live there--affordable (and beautiful) housing, nearby nature areas and preserves, tons of amenities and a good university.

But for the tourist, Beaumont offers little--unless you're really into box-store complexes that are only accessible via a series of confusing one-way service roads off the freeway that runs through it all.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Queen of the Nerds

Last week, I was paid to go to the Dominican Republic, so I figured this was worth reposting on my travel blog. (Originally posted on Premature Nostalgia.)

It was the kind of spur of the moment decision that only teenagers have the luxury of making.

Over homemade cinnamon buns and hot lattes, Janet told me that I would love it--it being the Seminar for United Nations and International Affairs (SUNIA). She had been a camp counsellor there once. It would be a week of intellectual stimulation and flirtations with politically savvy peers. It would be an escape from the monotony of slow nights at the Harbour House and slower days spent with Kenny sucking on popsicles outside the 7-11.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The second best part: planning the trip

Sometime last month, I came home to a very excited Jay. "Let's not talk about the money part yet," he said (a foreboding start to a conversation), "but it turns out my cousin's wedding in Texas is in April. If we went, where else would you want to go?"

I was absolutely livid. (In retrospect, I will admit that I was being a bit ridiculous. Of all people, I should probably never get mad when my partner proposes we go on vacation. But I'm poor and his suggestion that we should discuss a multiple state road trip vacation without touching on the financial implications was borderline rude.)

"Look up the airfare to Houston and then we'll discuss it," I told him, annoyed. After a quick search, we discovered that even with Air Canada and Westjet's respective seat sales, it was going to cost us between $500 and $600 each to fly to Houston on a non-direct flight. Add to that the cost of a car rental to drive to the wedding, which is two hours outside of Houston. And Jay wanted to go someplace else, too? Um. Right.

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