Thursday, December 27, 2012

Asia Adventure Part IV: Cambodia

With a 5:55 am train to catch, I slept fitfully on my last night in Bangkok, waking up every 20 minutes to check the time and trying to shake the sense of foreboding that consumed me. 

Mike and I had parted ways less than 24 hours earlier, but I was uneasy. Why hadn't I just returned with Alicia and Dayn to Koh Phangan for the Full Moon Party? It would have been easy and it would have been fun. I would have been in the company of friends, instead of here, alone in a hostel room, heading into the unknown. 

But it was too late to turn around. So at 4:30 am, I hauled myself out of bed and into the sticky Bangkok night to catch my train.

I didn't know what was propelling me towards Cambodia. But I did know this; the journey to Siem Reap wasn't going to be an easy one.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Asia Adventure Part III: Thailand

After five days in Tokyo, Mike and I were giddy with excitement to finally leave for Thailand. 

In the airport lounge, exhausted businessmen stared at us in confusion over their beers as we ate dinner and laughed loudly while taking iPad photos. Thailand was going to be good. 

We caught a taxi to Khaosan Road upon arrival. Pushing through the hoards of drunk backpackers in singlets, sticky with sweat, Mike and I walked in near silence. After nearly a week spent wandering Tokyo's quiet, clean streets, arriving in Bangkok was like getting punched in the face. 

Getting to the ocean couldn't come soon enough. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Asia Adventure Part II: Four Days in Tokyo

In 2006, after landing briefly in Hawaii enroute to Sydney, I swore that I'd never again book flights without extensively researching layovers first.

So when it came time to book our tickets to Bangkok, I was prepared; I already knew that the flight stopped in Tokyo and this time, I would be stopping with it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Asia Adventure Part 1: A Disclaimer

I've been back from my trip to Asia for nearly a month now. This is, quite shamefully, the longest that it's ever taken me to blog about a trip. But with good reason.

Before I left, I met with Natty for drinks to talk Thailand. And while she provided me with some great advice, it was something that she had written on her blog that I carried with me throughout my travels.

“Travelling is a funny thing," she wrote. "Every experience will be completely different depending on your company, on where you go, on where and what you choose to eat, and beyond that, it depends heavily on your state of mind and the energy you exude to others.”

This is part of the reason why it's taken me so long to write this—because in the case of my own Asia adventure, there were four key factors that affected my experience. So before I can write anything else about my trip, I need to get these out of the way:

Monday, November 19, 2012

Best places to visit in Old Strathcona, Edmonton

Earlier this year, I got to write about all my favourite Edmonton haunts for Chatelaine. Not a bad way to spend a day.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Thailand: Great Expectations

Overall, Thailand has been an exercise in expectation management.

Even the week before I left, I refused to think about it much.

"Are you going to Krabi?" Mark asked, flipping through my requisite guidebook. I'd barely cracked the spine, even though it had been purchased a month before.

"I don't know, I'll figure it out when I get there," I muttered stubbornly. Although I'd booked accommodation in Tokyo and Bangkok, I was happy to leave the rest to be determined. My work schedule hadn't allowed for much rumination on my trip, let alone any intensive planning. "I really don't want to talk about it."

And I didn't. I didn't want to talk about it or to think about it. I didn't want to enter into this vacation with any set of expectations. I simply wanted to go to the beach and to write words for myself and to have some time off work. ("You're not going to be able to not work," teased Jonathan in the weeks leading up to my departure. He was right, in more ways than I want to admit.)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Flashpacking in Thailand

What original thought can I begin to write about this place--Thailand, the last hackeyened vacation destination on the backpacker hit list? It's all been done before we were here. We're directly on the beaten path.

Against our better judgement, we even stayed on Khaosan Road in Bangkok. (Unlike Tokyo, it was exactly what I had envisioned. "I have a feeling I'm going to hate exactly 83 per cent of people that we meet here," I said to Mike, as we navigated with our bags through the throngs towards our hostel.)

So instead, there's this: a realization.

I am no longer, by definition, a backpacker. I'm hesitant to refer to myself as a "flashpacker," partially because I don't think my bank account balance matches that description. However, the choices that I've made on this trip so far are reflective of how I'm slowly beginning to change my approach to travel.

As I write this, I'm flying to Koh Samui on Bangkok Airways. Yes, you read that right--flying. When our initial plan to take the train to Chumphon fell through because it was fully booked, I was tempted to brave the 12-hour overnight bus journey for $15. But it only took Mike about two seconds to convince me that was a terrible idea and that the extra $110 for the one-hour plane ride directly to the islands was a worthwhile investment. So far, we've eschewed public transit and tuk-tuks in favour of taxis. (Except in Tokyo, where we learned to love the massively confusing subway system.)  

Likewise, I don't think I'll give up on hostels in the near future--they're too dear to my heart and my capacity to withstand the shadiest of conditions is a point of pride. But this afternoon we're checking into a hotel that costs $50 a night and has an infinity pool. (!) It's a far cry from the squats and $3/night rooms that Helka and I frequented on my first backpacking trip nearly 10 years ago.

The one thing that hasn't changed? I'm still willing to go into debt for this; for this one thing that makes me feel whole again. Because regardless if whether I'm flying or hitchhiking, it's still the journey that counts.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Schools help students make the world their oyster.

Martha Perry graduated from St. Clement’s School in Toronto less than two decades ago, but in that time, there’s been a world of change.

“In my day, we weren’t even encouraged to go out on field trips,” she says. Today, Perry, now the principal of St. Clement’s, not only allows her students to leave the school grounds — she encourages them to leave the country.

As a member of Round Square, an international organization of about 80 schools worldwide, St. Clement’s gives students the opportunity to volunteer overseas, participate in international exchanges and attend global conferences. Since beginning their membership 10 years ago, the school has sent 279 students overseas to participate in international programs.

“Schools are looking into creating opportunities for students to really look beyond their own environment. Over time there’s been a broadening of the understanding of global learning,” says Perry.

Read more on the Toronto Star website>>

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Yup, this happened.

I am now accepting all recommendations for Thailand and Vietnam, because quite frankly, I'm too lazy to research this stuff myself.

Friday, June 01, 2012

New Brunswick Voices: Come and get it. . .au fricot!

No byline, but this is part of an advertising series I worked on for the Toronto Star and New Brunswick Tourism.

Monday, May 28, 2012

New Brunswick Voices: Poling the River

No byline, but I still wanted to share. (Originally published in the Toronto Star as part of a New Brunswick Tourism advertising series.)

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

New Brunswick Voices

Over the last couple of weeks, I've been working on advertising features for New Brunswick Tourism that have been running in the Toronto Star.

I'm in love with this assignment. After writing about New Brunswick's Lower River Passage, the Miramichi Region and the Acadian Peninsula, I'm totally sold on visiting the province. I'm also dying to meet my interview subjects, including Frank Scott, who has collected over 700 bottles of whisky.

If you live in the Toronto area, you can find the features in the Saturday Star's travel section. If not, check out the clipping below:

How to take and share photos in the age of social media.

If you Google, “travel photography tips,” you’ll get endless advice on how to centre your photos, the best kind of equipment to use and what makes for interesting subjects.

In fact, you can find a ton of these tips on the Verge website. But what about the most important travel photography guidelines—like how to treat your subjects with respect, use your photos to cross cultural boundaries and share your story?

Read more on the Verge Magazine website»

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

How far in advance should I apply to volunteer overseas?

Your dorm is packed and you’re ready to go. Exams are finally over. But what do you do if you haven’t scored that perfect summer job yet? The good news is that it’s not too late to apply to volunteer overseas this summer.

While some programs have hard deadlines, many organizations accept volunteers on a rolling basis, with summer being the most common time for departures. Although six to nine months is an ideal length of time to prepare to volunteer overseas, it’s not out of the question to be on a plane and on your way within two weeks of submitting a volunteer application.

To help you get going, we’ve compiled a list of the most common items you’ll find on your pre-project preparation checklist and tips on how you can fast track the process:

Read more on the Verge Magazine website»

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Make It Good

"Sometimes when you come back after a trip, you fall into a routine. You forget to find that astonishment or new way of looking at things within your city. . .It’s triggered automatically when we’re in that travel mode, but what I find fascinating is that each of us can find that newness in our everyday lives. It’s one of those things that spurs creativity or can bring on new ideas. You need to go away or into that space where you’re actually alone to make sense of it all." 
 -Dev Aujla,  co-author of Making Good: Finding meaning, money and community in a changing world, shares his thoughts on why travel is important to find a sense of purpose. Read my full interview with Dev here.

Monday, April 16, 2012

I Got Hurt Feelings

Hi friends (and fans?),

After much deliberation, I've begrudgingly set up a Facebook fanpage for this blog. You should probably like it, because only two people have so far. (One being me and one being my brother. I'm sure my Dad will probably like it at some point, too, so then I'll have at least four followers.)

Otherwise, I'm going to have to listen to this song on repeat for the next two weeks:

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Hiking to Machu Picchu: My Top 5 Tips

1. Book Early

Although more than 70,000 tourists visit Machu Picchu every year, only 500 permits are issued for hikers on the Inca Trail each day—two-thirds of which are reserved for porters and guides. Don’t show up in Cusco expecting to book your trek a few days before you leave; this is the kind of trip that is going to take booking four to six months in advance.

Hiking with a local company should cost around $500 (cost breakdown here), while North American companies will charge up to $1200 for the same service.

Monday, April 09, 2012

5 Greenest Hostels in North America

Countless hostels claim to be environmentally-friendly, but soon Hostelling International’s Boston location will have the paperwork to prove it. This June, the hostel will open its doors as the first LEED-certified hostel in North America.

“We decided to go for the LEED certification because we felt that it was a recognized indicator of how green you are,” explains Deborah Ruhe, Executive Director of Hostelling International New England. “LEED certification holds you accountable.”

Using integrated design philosophies, the hostel was renovated to meet LEED Gold standard requirements. Originally built in the 1880s, the historic building will boast countless eco-friendly features, ranging from the basic (low-flow toilets and showerheads) to the high-tech (elevators that recapture energy as the descend).

Read more on the Verge Magazine website»

Friday, April 06, 2012

Backpacking Beauty for Dummies (that means me).

I find it endlessly entertaining that my travel blog pops up in Google when people search for "backpacking makeup."

Granted, I was once an award-winning beauty queen (and by once, I mean for one night). But I've never been what we'll call the most "put-together" girl. In fact, when I go travelling, my face usually approximates something like this:

Um, if anyone knows Matthew Craig Cool (also known as MC Cool), can you ask him to get in touch with me? He was pretty much my favourite person that I've met at a hostel ever. 

No, seriously. Even when I'm not drunk on a train in Eastern Europe circa 2003, I have a difficult time pulling off any sort of sexy lady look when I'm backpacking.

Monday, April 02, 2012

10 Eco-Friendly and Community-Focused Trips: Tread Lightly

“Take only photos and leave only footprints,” goes the backpacking mantra—but not all footprints are good ones. Those left by tourists, including backpackers, can sometimes be detrimental to a country’s socio-economic, environmental and cultural preservation.

Now is not the time to stop travelling—it’s simply the time to be more conscious of how we travel. And the good news is that more and more travellers are starting to do just that. By choosing adventures and activities that are good for the heart, the spirit, the environment and the mind, tourists can contribute to the development of communities—all while minimizing negative environmental impacts.

Read more on the Verge Magazine website»

"Tread Lightly" is an excerpt from a feature that I co-authored for Verge's Winter 2012 issue.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Gift-Giving Tips for Overseas Volunteers

Four months after Angela McKay returned from her volunteer placement in Fiji, she decided to send a Christmas package to her host family.

She wanted to say thanks, in some small way. While she was overseas, they had shared meals with her, helped her navigate cultural differences and most importantly, given her with a sense of family in a foreign place. Sending a care package was the very least that she could do.

After boxing up some maple sugar candies and school supplies, McKay slipped some leftover currency in the card. She was unlikely to return to the South Pacific in the near future, so she figured that it was better off in the hands of her host family.

 The late night phone calls started shortly afterwards.

 Read more on the Verge Magazine website»

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Why I love Seattle best. (Sorry, New York.)

Despite the rainbow heralding our arrival as the ferry sailed closer to Seattle's shoreline, I couldn’t help but think about how much I loathe city-based vacations.

I live in a city. Why would I want to relax in a city? Cities are crowded. They're polluted. There's crime. And city people are mean.

But in less than two days, Seattle managed to defy all my expectations.

Here are the top three reasons why every vacation I take from here on out will be in Seattle:

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Twiharding: A Road Trip to Forks, Washington

The night before we left Victoria for Seattle, Mike’s cousin made the unfortunate mistake of asking me if I was going to order the mushroom ravioli in Port Angeles.

“What?” I asked, confused. The reference was initially lost on me. “I think it’s in those Twilight movies,” she said, off-handedly.

For a moment, everything stopped. Port Angeles? Twilight? Could it be that Forks was also on the Olympic Peninsula, where Mike and I were planning to drive the next day?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Girls' ice-fishing weekend in Georgina, Ontario

It takes Andrew Emsley less than a minute to catch his first fish — but you’ll never find him eating it. “I don’t like the texture,” he explains. “If you want a fish, I’ll catch and fillet it for you, but I won’t eat it.” 

These wouldn’t be such surprising words if they weren’t coming from the owner of Dave’s Fish Huts, an ice-fishing rental business located in Georgina, Ontario, the “ice-fishing capital of Canada.” 

My friend Chloé and I ended up in Emsley’s care after deciding to embark on a somewhat unusual weekend excursion for two twenty-something city women — a night of ice-fishing on Lake Simcoe. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Finding a volunteer abroad placement: why KONY2012 matters

Chances are, if you have a Facebook account, you’ve probably heard of Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 campaign by now. And without a doubt, you’ve probably also read the resulting criticism, which spread faster than perhaps the video itself. Invisible Children were accused of over-simplifying their message, conveying neo-Colonist ideas and reinforcing stereotypes of developing countries.

While the Kony 2012 controversy is this week's hot topic, NGOs using stereotypes and over-simplified messages is old news. In a 2011 Columbia Journalism Review article about “why NGOs prefer bad news,” the head of one organization sums up the problem: “When you’re fundraising you have to prove there is a need. Children starving, mothers dying. If you’re not negative enough, you won’t get funding.”

Read more on the Verge Magazine website»

Friday, March 09, 2012

I'm attending TBEX '12!

I'm attending TBEX '12 in ColoradoToday, I took a giant leap of faith and purchased a ticket for TBEX '12 in Colorado.

I call it a leap of faith, because I'm well aware that my travel blog is nowhere near the caliber of 99 per cent of the attendees. (Heck, up until four months ago I didn't even know TBEX existed until I started researching upcoming events for a travel article that I was writing.)But hey, that could all change in a couple of months' time, right?

But instead of excitement, I can't help but feel the little flutters in the centre of my chest. The hesitations. The social anxieties that make me think a little too hard, a little too long. (Will I be accepted? Who will I talk to? Who will I eat with? Will I feel out of place? Will I feel left out?)

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Why I hate writing about travel.

Hands-down, the worst part of my job is writing about travel.

I know, I know. I'm a horrible human being. Who could hate writing about travel. . .for pay? For regular pay? And ethical travel, at that? I mean, what is wrong with me?

Best part of my job? Drinking hot chocolate in the middle of the afternoon, every day. Sadly, I do not get paid for this activity.

Here's the thing: Every day, I read through pitches and stories from contributors about teaching English in Bahrain, racing taxi cabs through Mongolia and stopping deforestation in Antarctica. (You caught that? Just checking to see if you're still reading.) They're inspiring and amazing tales of personal discovery and adventure of exotic locales.

But while I'm reading these pitches, I'm sitting in my little home office (also known as "the kitchen counter") in Toronto, wearing pajamas and the exact same hoodie I've worn for the last five days. My dog is sitting at my feet whining for me to feed him and I'm surviving on lukewarm coffee alone. Basically, writing about travel is a constant reminder that I'm not travelling.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

How to Write a Complaint Letter

The wedding was beautiful, the weekend was lovely, but the hotel was awful.

When I checked in to the Ottawa Travelodge on Carling two weeks ago, I was excited to have been assigned a “pool view” room. But as soon as I opened the door, my excitement faded. The room had all the disadvantages of facing the adjoining water park—the constant sound of screaming children during the day; the echos of parents partying on their balconies at night; the smell of chlorine hanging in the air—but none of the benefits. In fact, instead of a “pool view,” our window faced a concrete wall, which effectively blocked any natural or artificial light from entering our room.

Monday, February 27, 2012

5 Steps to an Alternative Spring Break

Regardless of whether you’re a high school student, a university undergraduate or a family, planning an Alternative Spring Break (ASB) is the perfect opportunity to escape from the predictable trap of the all-inclusive vacation. 

If you want a spring break that’s far from pedestrian, here’s how you can organize your own ASB:

1. Choose your own adventure: The brilliant thing about ASBs is that unlike all-inclusive vacations at cookie-cutter resorts, you can plan a completely unique and unforgettable week-long experience. Regardless of whether you’re coming from a high school, a university faculty or a community sports league, there are countless options available. Read more on the Verge Magazine website»

Thursday, February 23, 2012

How to Travel in Canada with Your Dog

When our Boston Terrier, Brockton, first joined our little family, I had just one nagging concern about dog ownership: how can I travel and own a dog? Gone, it seemed, were the carefree month-long trips  to foreign locales.

But as it turns out, there was a simple solution to a simple problem; sometimes I'd just have to bring the pup with me. Last summer, Brock made the first of what will likely be many journeys throughout his lifetime across the country.

Here's what I learned about travelling across Canada with a dog:

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Changing Landscape

Six years after the fact, there’s no shame in admitting that when I decided to volunteer overseas, I had no clue what I wanted to do. Destination was little more than a passing thought (when I was eventually placed in Vanuatu, I had to look it up on a map) and I didn’t really care what I’d be doing. (Building stuff? Sure, that sounded like a good idea.)

Without a background in international development, concepts related to sustainable development were foreign to me. I was your typical idealistic undergraduate student— just like the estimated 1.6 million people who volunteer overseas every year, I just wanted to help.

In fact, I only had one “must” on my list when it came to finding a volunteer-sending organization—it had to be a registered charity. I wanted to know exactly where my money was going and ensure that it wasn’t lining someone’s pocket. (It’s hard enough to wrap your mind around the concept of paying to volunteer—for me, it was even harder to swallow the idea of someone profiting from my hard-fundraised dollars.)

Six years later, I’m not sure that my criteria today would remain the same—or even if I would have the same options available to me. Continue reading on the Verge Magazine website →

Monday, January 23, 2012

Alberta: She's really something to me.

The truth is that even after all this time, I still think it's the most beautiful place in the world.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Snow Dogs: Dogsledding in Haliburton, Ontario

In my lifetime, exactly two gifts have brought me to tears. The first was two years ago, when Jay presented me with my KitchenAid stand mixer. As soon as I realized what it was, I was a blubbering mess. ("Guess what Jay got me for my birthday?" I eagerly prompted my mom later that night. "A ring?" she guessed, dubious.)

The second time was this year at Christmas, when Jay told me that he was taking me dogsledding.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Tread Softly: 20 Mindful Trips That Will Change the Way You Travel

"Now is not the time to stop travelling—it’s simply the time to change how we travel. By choosing adventures and activities that are good for the heart, the spirit, the environment and the mind, tourists can contribute to the development of communities—all while minimizing negative environmental impacts. . ."

The Winter 2012 issue of Verge Magazine is on newsstands this month. 

Pick up a copy to read my feature (co-written by Arden Jobling-Hey and Jemma Young) on 20 eco-friendly and community-focused vacations that will help lighten your footstep. (For more of my work, check out the events and reviews sections.)

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Top 5 Adventures for 2012

For nearly 10 years, the little scrap of paper sat folded deep in the recesses of my wallet, ready to be referenced in moments of doubt. Worn with creases and marked with faded ink, it was a list that I first started writing in 2003, on the plane ride home from Finland. Like most gap year travelers, I’d gone overseas to “find myself” and after three months travelling, only one question remained—where should I go next?

The scrap of paper detailed just that. Morocco and Egypt. Thailand. The Greek Islands. I was certain that the next time my bank account had a surplus (which, as it turned out, would be never), I’d reference the list and away I’d go.

It wasn’t until this past year in one of my purges that the little scrap of paper was discarded. Reviewing it, I realized that the only place on the list that I'd actually travelled to was Croatia. If I’ve learned anything from 2011, it’s that I lack little, if any, capacity to plan my travels in advance. There are greater forces at work and I’m more interested in the unexpected.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t keep a mental list. NASA scientists have predicted that this year the northern lights will appear the strongest that they have in over 50 years. Coupled with my 2012 Resolution (Year of the Physical Fitness Challenge), it should be no surprise that the north features predominantly on my list.

Here are my top five picks for where I’d like to go in 2012:

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