Monday, December 08, 2014

Chickening Out in Leon, Nicaragua

Photo: Chloé Fedio

The ennui that sometimes accompanies weeks of travel had set in.

We sat listlessly around a table in our hostel, barely talking. Reflexively, I refreshed my Facebook newsfeed while Canice pawed through her guidebook. Chloé sat across from me, studying a laminated binder of bus schedules, planning the next leg of her trip.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Take the "Gap" Out of "Gap Year"

When Monica Arora decided to pursue her MBA, she wasn’t willing to settle for becoming just another business graduate.

“I felt like I needed to differentiate myself,” she says. Having spent a semester in Norway during her undergrad, Arora already knew the transformative power that studying abroad could have. That’s why she chose to enroll in Schulich School of Business’s International MBA program, where she completed a mandatory work term in India and a semester in Thailand.

“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to work internationally, but I knew that an IMBA would teach me how to thrive, be more open-minded and work with a diverse group of stakeholders,” Arora explains. Her decision paid off—after graduating, she was hired by Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children. “One of the major reasons they hired me was because I had international experience,” she says.

Arora, like many students, is part of a cohort that is realizing that time spent overseas is no longer a chronological gap on a resume—it’s value-added experience for students and prospective employers alike.

Read more on Verge Magazine »

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Contest: Win 2 Tickets to the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair

Steph at the Donkey Sanctuary near Guelph, Ontario
Now that the grey of autumn is setting in, it's a little bit harder to get out of the city for weekend excursions. (Or maybe not harder, but perhaps a bit less pleasant.) 

But the good news is that the country is coming to the city this week!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

RTW Backpacking Beauty Secrets

Fran (left) and Gemma ring in the New Year in Thailand.
I met Fran and her girlfriend Gemma in Ecuador this May. Their 10-day tour of the Galapagos was a much-needed splurge at the tail end of a year-long round-the-world trip that had taken them from their home in the UK, to Asia, and throughout South America. 

Fran is perhaps most notably one of the co-founders (along with myself, Gemma and Katherine) of the Commonwealth Candy Club (because clearly that is what grown adults do while on vacation; form international candy clubs). However, she also holds one other claim to fameshe may be the only self-described "beauty product-obsessed backpacker" that I've ever met in my travels.

I mean, it seems almost oxymoronic. How can you backpack and be obsessed with beauty products?

The question has been plaguing me, so as I prepare for my very first long-distance cycling trip (!), in which I want to a) pack the bare minimum and b) look like less of a "mess" and more like a "hot mess," I decided that it was time to ask Fran for her best beauty backpacking tips. 

Saturday, October 04, 2014

The Price of Travel

Last weekend, I was a speaker on a panel discussion at the Toronto Go Global Expo. Afterwards, I had a couple of students approach me. They wanted to ask me what it was like to like to have a mobile office, to have the ability to pick up and freelance from anywhere in the world.

“It must be amazing,” they enthused. And it is.

But in a lot of ways, it’s also very lonely.

Midway through June, I boarded a plane from Sydney to LAX, on route back to Toronto. On only the 26th week of the year, it was already my 21st flight.

That's why I vowed that it would be my last.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Q & A with Daniel Baylis, Author of "The Traveller"

When I call Daniel Baylis at our scheduled interview time, he’s just finished breakfast.

“I’ve had some coffee and some eggs, so that’s provided me with some fuel,” he tells me, sounding pleased.

“It sounds like you have everything that you need,” I tease.

He laughs and agrees with me. “Everything,” he laments, “except a plane ticket.”

It’s hardly a surprise that Baylis considers plane tickets to be a basic need. The self-published author of The Traveller: Notes from an imperfect journey around the world, Baylis became a poster boy for adult gap years after he spent a year travelling around the world. At 30, he was early into his career when he decided to take a break. Although he enjoyed his job, he also lived with a constant yearning for travel—and to travel with purpose. So he decided that he would start out on his yearlong journey with only one real goal: to “engage in reciprocal relationships.”

Over 12 months, Baylis would visit 12 different countries on a limited budget, exchanging labour in return for room and board. He had previously backpacked through Australia and New Zealand, but his destinations (including Africa, South American and Europe) were new, as was his method of travel (through work exchange placements).

I wanted to speak with Baylis, now settled back in Montréal, to learn more about his gap year changed his life—and his career.

Read more on Verge Magazine »

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

5 Things to Do in Calgary That Aren't Stampede

Every so often, even the nearest and dearest of friends will accidentally introduce me as being from Calgary. It’s not entirely inaccurate—despite living in Toronto for nearly a third of my life, I stubbornly insist on calling myself Albertan.

But being from Alberta and being from Calgary are far from synonymous. In fact, as any good northern Albertan knows, this isn’t just a minor mistake—it borderlines on a grievous error. Northern and Southern Alberta are two worlds apart (or in the case of my hometown and Calgary, 600 kilometres apart). They’re not in the same biome and as a result, they don’t look geographically similar and have distinct climates. Northern and Southern Alberta even cheer for different hockey teams. When someone introduces me as being from Calgary, it’s like introducing someone who is from Timmins as being from Toronto.

In fact, apart from some hazy roadtrips in my early 20s (thankfully, the memories of Stampede-inspired pseudo cowgirl outfits, fake bachelorette parties and early-noughties screamo concerts have been pleasantly blurred by the alcohol I consumed during that period of time), I’ve actually spent very little time in Cowtown. (I’ve also never willingly referred to it as Cowtown before this moment. There’s a first for everything, I suppose.)

That’s why I jumped at the opportunity to visit when Tourism Calgary invited me to join a press trip in March. I hadn’t been in nearly 10 years and it turns out that in that period of time, I’m not the only one who grew up. Calgary is a lot more mature than I remember. It has a heck of a lot more to offer than just 17th Avenue and Stampede. 

Here are my top five suggestions for how to get to know a grown-up Calgary:  

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Cheap Travel Insurance for Young Canadians

Greetings from Ecuador! Nothing exciting to write about Quito yet (I just flew in today) but I wanted to write a quick post, since I've been asked for this information a lot over the past month:

Travel Insurance: Regardless of where I'm going outside of Canada, I always purchase travel insurance. Even if you have coverage through your workplace benefits or credit card, I suggest purchasing additional coverage to make sure you're protected for the unexpected, including theft and baggage loss.

My go-to travel insurance provider is TIPS Travel Insurance. If you're under 30, their Youth Premier Non-USA Package will cover you for a really reasonable cost. (I don't think I've ever paid more than $40.) The one time I had to make a claim, they were efficient at processing it. I'm turning 30 this month, so will report back after I'm no longer eligible for the youth package.

Travel Agent: If you're looking for a great flight or vacation package, my go-to travel agent is Jane Hart from Medallion Travel.

Travel Doctors: If you have a good relationship with your family physician, don't need any special immunizations (ie-Yellow Fever) and can do a bit of legwork yourself (DFAIT's Travel Advice is the best place to start), in my opinion there's no need to go to a special travel doctor.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

#DiscoverON: Abandoned Places Ontario

On Tuesday morning, I woke up to a foreboding text from my neighbour Nick:

“It is both beautiful and disgusting outside.”

I crawled out of bed and towards the kitchen to make coffee. Looking out the window, my gaze settled on the vines on our back fence. Overnight, they had become completely covered in a thick layer of fresh white snow. Only two days earlier I had been sitting in the backyard with friends, barbecuing and enjoying the first truly warm day of the year.

I sighed and put the kettle on to perk.

Nick, Courtney and I had planned to spend the day taking advantage of AutoShare’s #discoverON program. We were going to go hiking in Forks of the Credit Provincial Park and exploring ghost hamlets around Caledon. It just figured that the world was once again reduced to the grey misery of winter on the day that we were scheduled to drive north.

Court showed up at my apartment wrapped in layers of scarves and clinging to her coffee.

“So, what’s the plan?” she asked me, peering out from under her tuque.

“I actually don’t know,” I shrugged as we waited in the lobby for Nick to appear. Although exploring ghost towns was still part of the plan, hiking was clearly off the table. Spending the day outdoors suddenly seemed considerably less appealing than it had when we planned the trip.

“So you’re telling me that we’re driving up north, in a snowstorm and you don’t know where we’re going?” Court asked with a laugh.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

My Good Thing: Road Trips with #DiscoverON

It's only the start of April and I've already taken eight flights this year. But as much as I love jetting off to foreign destinations, I can authoritatively say that nothing will ever replace the excitement of a road trip for me.

My love of long drives started at the roots. My hometown of Cold Lake, Alberta isn't a city, really. While it may hold that legal title, it's actually three small towns (Cold Lake, Grand Centre and Medley) that amalgamated 20 years ago to become the "City" of Cold Lake.

I grew up in Cold Lake proper (now known as "Cold Lake North," although locals still stubbornly omit the "north"), which was separated from the closest town of Grand Centre ("Cold Lake South") by more than six kilometres of farmland and woods. Six kilometres may not seem that far, but black ice made what should have been a 10-minute drive treacherous during the long winters. As for the closest "real" city? That was Edmonton, which is nearly 300 kilometres away.

So when I was granted a driver's permit at 16, it was my license to freedom. Granted, for any teenager getting a driver's license signifies freedom. But in isolated northern Alberta, it meant so much more.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Frequently Asked Questions


What do you do for a living that allows you to travel all the time? 

I’m a freelance journalist and a contributing editor for Verge Magazine, a publication devoted to travel with purpose. Since Verge’s head office is in Peterborough, I telecommute for work—which means that I can work literally anywhere that has a reliable Internet connection.

You get paid to travel? That’s awesome! 

No. This is almost never the case. Yes, I work for a travel magazine, and yes, I freelance for other publications as a travel writer. But for the most part, I pay for nearly all of my trips out of pocket. However while I never get paid to travel, I’m always getting paid while I travel. I very rarely take “vacations.” Instead, my office is just mobile.

With that being said, I am occasionally invited to participate in press trips, which are paid for by tourism commissions. I also sometimes travel for work with the Go Global Expos.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

You Can Never Go Back

I love rules with a fierce veracity—they’re the guiding principles that dictate our lives—government, legal or self-imposed. But when it comes to travel, I only follow three:

1. Leave while you’re still having fun. 

2. Holidays romances should remain as such. Nothing destroys the magic of a holiday romance faster than creating unnecessary opportunities to see your lover settled into the mundane tedium of their everyday life, sorting their recycling and buying toilet paper. 
3. And above all else, you can never go back—places only exist as a moment in time. 
I broke all of these rules when I decided to return to Sydney this February. It had been less than a year since I’d been there last and as soon as I booked my tickets, I knew it was a mistake.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Deltiologically Speaking: Eilean Donan Castle

Clutching a hot coffee and screwing my face up against the cold wind, I scurried back across the empty parking lot to our rental car, tossing my bag in the backseat. It contained the only souvenirs that I'd purchase throughout my week in Scotland; a clan Cameron keychain for my brother and a postcard.

"The postcard is for my Great Aunt Mary," I explained to Jules, pulling away from Eilean Donan Castle and back onto the road. "I don't see her very often, but I try to write whenever I can."

As we drove on, towards the Isle of Skye, I told Jules about how even though Mary is now in her 80s, she still travels regularly. The last time we visited, I informed Aunt Mary about my plans to going trap shooting. In turn, she told me about how she'd been a sharpshot in her day, hunting grouse for dinner. And when she asked me about my plans to have a family or get married, I told her that exploring was my priority for the time being. She responded by nodding in approval.

"She's kind of my hero," I told him.

But as it turns out, I wasn't the only one to be holding Mary in my thoughts at Eilean Donan castle.

Last month, I received this email from Mary's son, Bob:

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Tips for Bringing Your Dog to the Cottage

When I brought my Boston Terrier, Brockton, to the cottage for the first time, I was shocked when my house-trained pup had an accident inside. It was only the start of many problems that would follow throughout the weekend—Brock developed a rash from rolling in wet sand, he ran away during a fireworks show and at one point, he nearly drowned.

Stories like this don’t come as any surprise to professional dog trainer Caryn Charlie Liles. “In cottage country we have different health concerns than in the city,” explains Liles, a trainer at Whatta Pup. “There’s toxic plants, ticks that carry lyme disease, wild animals—you name it. Without careful planning and supervision the trip to the cottage could be a minefield. Preparation and awareness is key in order to make it a wonderful week for everyone.”

Here are some ways that you can ease a dog’s first trip to the cottage—regardless of whether it’s a new puppy or an old rescue that’s out of the city for the first time. 

Read more on Cottage Life»

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Art Galleries Worth Checking Out in Toronto

Baldwin Beach by Carl Yoshihara.
Every time I travel, I moan inwardly whenever someone suggests visiting an art gallery.

That’s not to say that I’m not an art gallery kind of gal. In fact, my memories of Europe are a blur of galleries as Helka was studying for her admissions exams to art school in Finland at the time. And on my first trip to New York, I let Chloé drag me into and out of numerous museums, including MOMA and the Guggenheim (which, amongst other things, houses a collection of Mark Rothko’s prints).

What I am saying is that cities often have unique art galleries that visitors might bypass in favour of the bigger, better advertised brands. The easiest way to find out about different museums and art galleries in your destination city is to check out local listing--or if you're researching in advance, Wikipedia is also a surprisingly good place to start.

Best part? Often these museums aren't as busy, have a "pay what you can" scale and may help contribute to a unique understanding of wherever you're visiting.

Here’s some examples in Toronto that aren’t the AGO:

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Top 5 Activities on Roatan, Honduras

Court and I were the last of the group to arrive; along with my cousin Katherine and three other friends, we'd rented a condo in West End. It had been just over six months since I'd last been to Roatan. But as soon as the plane landed, I knew that I was ready to be back.

While most people go to Roatan to learn to scuba dive, I've never been very good at meeting the status quo. In fact, I've actively avoided even snorkelling in scuba hotspots like Australia and Thailand. My second trip to Honduras was going to be no exception.

The truth is, I was tempted to just hang out on the porch of Frank's Cigar Bar all week, which is admittedly my favourite island activity. (If you’ve visited West End more than once, you’ll quickly know how the area earned its “Roatan Shore” nickname.)

But Sophie insisted that Roatan had way more to offer. And she's kind of an authoritative source—in addition to living in Honduras for over two years, she also now works for West Bay Tours, a company that specializes in boat and island tours.

So I put my vacation in her hands and I wasn't disappointed. Here are the five must-do activities for any girls' trip to Roatan:

Monday, January 27, 2014

7 Travel Resolutions for 2014

1. To do a better job of working while I travel. 

On drab grey afternoon last winter, I was sitting in my favourite Toronto coffee shop transcribing interviews when I had a sudden realization—I could be doing this anywhere.

The realization that my office could be relocated—obvious as it may have been—literally changed my life. A holdover from my former life as a nine-to-fiver, up until that point I had still viewed "travel" and "vacation" as synonymous. Within 24 hours, I booked tickets to Roatan. 

Since then, I’ve worked from Honduras (twice), Australia, New York, Montréal, Scotland, England, the Northwest Territories and Alberta. It hasn’t been without challenges—sometimes the Internet doesn’t work, sometimes it’s difficult to coordinate phone interviews across time zones, and sometimes poolside mojitos seem far more appealing than staring at my laptop. (Actually, make that always. Poolside mojitos are always more appealing than work.)

This year, I need to learn how to carve out adequate work time as well as ensure that I don't take on too much work while I'm away. (That one time that I filed six stories in four days from Honduras? Considerably less than fun you would assume.)

Friday, January 24, 2014

"What Do You Find So Appealing About Travel?"

In a local's backyard in Terezin, Czech Republic, May 2003.

I know it has been over a decade since we have had a proper conversation, and that many things have changed since those days; but I come to you seeking a bit of advice/enlightenment. 

What I want to know is what is it that you get out of travelling all over the place? 

I, as a sailor with a good bit of time in, have often taken a cynical view of travel such as is the nature of my occupation, but things are changing and I'm starting to become more and more curious about travelling places and seeing things. Thus I have become curious of some of my travelling friends: What do you find so appealing about travel? 



Sunday, January 19, 2014

Safety as a Solo Woman Traveller

Copan, Honduras, October 2013.

It sounds like by travelling you've had the best of both worlds: a life filled with adventure and a familiar place to go back to. I checked out Verge and your article on the value of volunteers to NGOs abroad: the interview questions were engaging and the article was an interesting read. I've thought of volunteering myself and had many of these questions, too.

I'm going to go on my first trip abroad since high school: I'll be traveling to Sri Lanka for six weeks in February and March. I'm excited. I'm terrified. I'm likely under-prepared. I think often of how wonderful it would be if we saw each other regularly still and all the questions I'd have for you, my travel-savvy friend. 

Since I'm a first time (read: solo, female) traveller (read also: to Asia), I'm anxious about so many things, some rational and some totally irrational. Would you be interested in counseling me on a few lingering, somewhat abstract questions? I would be so grateful. 


Thursday, January 09, 2014

Best Places to Visit on 124th Street, Edmonton

Jacob tries to decide which pastry to tackle first at the Duchess Bake Shop.
Earlier this year, I wrote my second Edmonton "Hot Hood" for Chatelaine, this time focusing on all my favourite places in the 124th Street neighbourhood.

Read more »
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