travel

Maximizing Your Solo Travel Experience

Solo travel is amazing for so many reasons. (I know, I know, I've said as much before.) But beyond the incredible sights and self-selected journeys, travelling alone is really one of the best ways to know yourself. I know it sounds a little corny, but solo travel has provided me with the opportunity to explore various sides of my personality and understand myself better through new and challenging experiences.

It's also an excellent way to further develop your gut instincts. When I'm travelling, I try to be a "yes" person as much as possible. It's a strategy that's helped me to accumulate a lot of crazy stories, but it's also helped me to learn when and how to say no. No one way is going to work for everyone, but this is a general guideline I use to make decisions when I'm travelling solo. To me, maximizing your travel experience means taking advantage of great opportunities while staying safe.
Say "yes" if...

it scares you (just a little bit).

Sometimes fear is a warning to stop and get out immediately. Sometimes that nervous fear is what lets you know that you're on to something incredible. Knowing the difference between the two is a skill worth cultivating.

it will significantly add to your travel experience.

it's something you've always wanted to try.

it doesn't sound like something you'd normally do.

When I decided to take a little break from teaching and spend a month in Guatemala building houses, there was a good half of my brain that told me I was insane. I was used to working with my mind to make money, and my most physically demanding job up until that point was serving. I wasn't a labourer by any means. But doing something physical like that helped me discover something I truly love. It made me feel strong, powerful and confident. It's helped me realize how adaptable and capable I am, and that's definitely something I've carried forward into my work life.
Say "no" if...

you feel genuinely uncomfortable or unsafe.

While I was in Antigua, a group of the girls I was staying with really wanted to go to a house party a guy they knew (although not well) was throwing after the salsa bar let out for the night. It didn't sound like something I'd normally do, but there was a large group of us and we'd hung around with these people before, so I said yes. We climbed up these insane, winding stone steps to this cute condo with next to no furniture inside. For a while we made polite and giggly conversation, and then the drugs started coming out. As I looked around at the girls I was with (a number of whom were crossing over into the sleepy drunk phase) I knew it was time to go. I felt uncomfortable. So I rounded everyone up and we all stumbled home together. Does the fact that I went to this party at all make a cool story? Sure. Am I glad I left when I did? Definitely.

it's going to bust your budget.

If saying yes to this means not being able to afford anything else, decline: plain and simple.

it seems too good to be true.

In my experience, if it seems too good to be true, that's because it probably is. When Chris and got time-shared in Vegas, it seemed almost too easy. Listen to a presentation for a while = get a bunch of free tickets. Yay! Hours later, after explaining to people of various levels of authority, that "No, we weren't interested in making a major financial decision on the spot while on vacation," we finally got our "free" stuff. It turned out that pretty much all of the tickets required some sort of charge or fee that we were responsible for covering. Lesson learned.

So, what about you? Do you have any strategies for maximizing your own travel experiences? Funny stories from times when you were still learning to trust your gut? I'd love to hear them!

This post is part of a collaboration with creditcardinsider.com, a great resource for finding the best credit card to meet your travel needs. They have some great pointers on their website, so if you're shopping around for a card, check them out! The content of this post is original to me, and this is not a sponsored post.

Overcoming Jet Lag

Jet lag is a real pain. I've been curious about trying out this fasting method the next time I fly overseas.

Another way I'm able to shift to a new schedule is by following a morning and night routine. (I burrowed this one from a yoga magazine I was looking through in a waiting room at some point. Of course, remembering the name of the magazine would just be waaaay too convenient.) Regardless of the source, this routine makes it so much easier to get down to sleep at night and ease out from under those covers in the morning. A few of these tips require a fridge and stove. If you can't access one during your travels, you can always skip or adjust those steps.

In the evening, I warm up a mug of organic whole milk with honey and add a pinch of cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg. After brushing my teeth and washing up, I rub a minty foot cream onto my feet and give myself a quick, soothing foot massage. I spend a few minutes unwinding with a good book, and before I know it, I'm drifting off.
The following morning, I use a brush to clean and scrape my tongue and stimulate digestion, then I use a neti pot to clear out my nostrils. Next, I drink a mug of warm water with fresh squeezed lemon juice, a touch of honey and some salt. Finally, I massage baby oil with a drop of peppermint essential oil into my neck and shoulders. Afterwards, I feel invigorated and ready to start the day.

If you're adjusting to a new time zone, or even just having trouble sleeping well, establishing a wake and sleep routine is a good way to help reset things. Do you have any tips for beating jet lag?

Budgeting for Travel Part 2: Spreading Out the Trip Budget

Last week, I offered advice on how to save money for travel, and today I want to offer you some tips on how to spread out the budget while you're away.

Pay for Some of the Bigger Expenses Before You Leave
Unless the trip is a spontaneous one, this is generally the easiest to do with flights. I also try to make sure hotel or AirBnB costs are already paid off by the time the trip arrives. In addition, I sometimes purchase tickets to museums or shows before the trip. By spreading out the expenses over a few months, I don't have to dread the gigantic credit card bill after I return, because the big expenses were paid off before I left.

Try to Operate on a Cash Budget for Some of Your Spending
Generally, I do this with food and admission fees to museums or attractions. It enables me to set a reasonable budget before I leave, and because I have physical money in my hands, it keeps the spending in check. When the wad is getting thin, I know to ease up on expensive meals or frivolous spending. I still use cards for most of my shopping and often one big, blow out meal at a restaurant I've been dying to try toward the end of the trip.

Be Aware of International Fees on Your Cards
Typically the fees are small, only 3 or 4%, but I resent the extra charge on principal. Why am I paying a tax on my spending in the States (for example) when the credit card company is an American one in the first place? It bugs me. Earlier this year, I applied for an Amazon Visa specifically because they don't charge surplus fees for international spending.

Have a General Plan in Mind and Know Rough Prices in Advance
When I create an itinerary for my trips (hello, type A!), I always include prices. If it's a restaurant, I put the price range of a main dish, for attractions, the price of an adult ticket. Sometimes I have a list of various options for a day rather than a strictly-followed itinerary, but regardless, I have a pretty good gauge on what something is going to cost me before I dive in.

Don't Feel You Can't Be Spontaneous
As long as I'm responsible with my budgeting for the most part, and spontaneous spending isn't a daily or hourly occurrence, I feel it's more than fine to spend money on something without meticulously planning in advance. The whole point of being responsible with my money is getting to be irresponsible every once and awhile without feeling guilty about it ;)

If you have any other tips or techniques when it comes to money and travel, feel free to add them in the comments! I always love to hear from you!

Money and Travel Part 1: Budgeting for Travel

Let's get one thing straight. Although I'm certainly fortunate when it comes to money, I'm not rich by any stretch of the imagination (at least not by North-American standards). I'm able to travel frequently for two main reasons: one, it's a priority for me and I'll skimp on other luxury items (fancy dinners, a flashy car, expensive haircuts, bejewelled Katy-Perry teeth?) to make it happen; and two, I'm one half of a d.i.n.k. Before I begin, I feel it's important to acknowledge that having two incomes and no children not only frees up a lot of money for travel, but also makes finding the time to do so a hell of a lot easier. However, this is not a guide on how not to have children and party every night in exotic locations (or whatever it is you assume child-free adults do), but one on how to put aside money for travel, whatever your current financial and offspring situation.

First, set aside actual money for those trips. This is simple and obvious, but many people don't, and it cushions the bank account blow when you're checking your statement the month after a trip. Chris and I have various savings accounts - general, retirement, emergency, home and travel. Every month, money is automatically transferred from our chequing into these various accounts. How much you allocate to travel will depend on your income and cost of living, but you'd be surprised to see how quickly the money adds up. Because the money is transferred automatically, it's pretty painless, and suddenly you have the money for a plane ticket, hotel stay, souvenirs, whatever. Then, when the time comes to pay for trip expenses, you transfer the money back into your main account to balance things out. This reduces the post-trip bank-balance nose dive.

Second, use credit cards, Airmiles, Aeroplan and the like strategically to help meet your travel goals. This is one you have to be careful about, since it really only makes sense to gain rewards on things you actually need and already buy, but if you can be honest with yourself and are diligent about watching for sales and promotions, the points can really add up. And again, it requires only a little effort and mindfulness, then bam! (seems like a) free trip! And seeming is the same as reality, right? ;)

Finding Unlikely Travel Inspiration Online

I'm the kind of nerd who takes out travel books from the library and reads them for fun, but I also pull a lot of inspiration from online sources. While I follow a few travel blogs intermittently, today I'd like to share some of my favourite unlikely online sources for travel inspiration.

Geneva Vanderzeil of A Pair & A Spare is an Australian living in Hong Kong. While she mostly features fashion DIYs, she sometimes shares recommendations from her travels around the world. It's because of her guide to Hanoi that I recently added Vietnam to my (already way too long) must-visit list.
I am obsessed with the Sneak Peek feature on Design Sponge (as are most rational, design-loving humans). Although most of the spaces are in the United States, occasionally they'll feature an international home. Recently, they posted photos of The Efendi Hotel in Acre. Like Vietnam, Israel is a country I'd never given much thought to visiting before, but the airy Ottoman romance and Mediterranean breezes of this port city have me hooked. I'd wake up sandwiched between those white sheets tomorrow if I could.

And finally, Instagram is a huge source of travel inspiration for me. In particular, Mike and Megan Gilger have me wanting to follow them all around the world (would that be creepy?) from Raleigh to New Orleans to Capetown, and Paul Octavious and Hide Obara have me psyched to re-visit Chicago in the spring.

What are your favourite internet sources for travel inspiration? I'm always happy to find new travel distractions.

(Photos from A Pair & A Spare and Design Sponge, respectively.)

How to Eat at the Best Restaurants in Your Travels

I don't eat at restaurants often, so when I do, I want it to be worth my while. This feeling is heightened when I'm travelling. Sure we all scarf down the odd heat-lamp-warmed, microwaved egg sandwich from time to time (and by we, I mean I), but in my travels, I try to eat delicious food as often as I can.

Here are two approaches to doing just that.

Research at Home
Prepare before you leave by asking friends, scouring your favourite blogs for recommendations and reading reviews published by sources you trust. When in doubt, Google "best restaurants in ____________" and see what comes up. 

Depending on the popularity of the restaurant, make a reservation before you leave (many now let you do this through their website), or ask your hotel concierge to reserve for you. 

Seek out spots at different price points - a convenient spot to grab a cheap and quick bite, a great brunch place, a splurgy dinner joint - so that you have a few options when you're on the go.

Discover New Places When You're Out
I've found some of my favourite spots while I'm already on the trip. If a restaurant catches your eye and actual humans with taste appear to be eating and drinking at it, gamble; you may discover something great. 

A more reliable method is this, when you're at a restaurant/bar/whathaveyou that you enjoy and you get a good rapport going with the server, bartender, barista, ask them for their recommendations. I ate some of the most delicious and unique pizza of my life off a recommendation from a Vancouver bartender

The above photo is from a recent visit to Deseo; full review to follow Monday.

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Non-Fiction Travel Literature

I've written about my love for travel guides before, but I also love writing (fictional or otherwise) that features travel. So today I want to share with you some of my favourite non-fiction travel literature. If you come down with a relentless case of the travel bug after reading these books, I claim no responsibility!
Jack Kerouac's On the Road is perhaps the quintessential road trip book. I read it during my trip to New York this summer and it filled me with a romantic longing for the road. The narrative jumps around a lot, but it's filled with fascinating people, interesting stories and an unabashed love of freedom and adventure. This is one of those books that makes you want to quit your day job and follow the call of the open road. (At least for a moment.)
Lucy Knisley's graphic novel French Milk is filled with tantalizing descriptions of French food and culture. It's a quick read. You can start and finish the whole thing in an afternoon. I loved every minute with this book and found the main character's fresh-out-of-college unsureness about life highly relatable. While reading it, I wanted nothing more than to live in a tiny Parisian apartment, shop at the market every day and wander lazily around museums.
I was inspired to read Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast because of its mention in French Milk. This book definitely does not disappoint. One of my favourite passages reads as follows:

"Let's walk down the rue de Seine and look in all the galleries and in the windows of the shops."
"Sure. We can walk anywhere and we can stop at some new cafe where we don't know anyone and nobody knows us and have a drink."
"We can have two drinks."
"Then we can eat somewhere."
"No. Don't forget we have to pay the library."
"We'll come home and eat here and we'll have a lovely meal and drink Beaune from the co-operative you can see right out of the window there with the price of the Beaune on the window. And afterwards we'll read and then go to bed and make love."
"And we'll never love anyone else but each other."
"No. Never."
"What a lovely afternoon and evening. Now we'd better have lunch."

Isn't that delightful? This book revels in beautiful moments that come from the joy of simply living. You'll also get a decent dose of advice on writing from the likes of Hemingway and Gertrude Stein and some hilarious stories about American ex-pat writers living in Paris in the 20's. If you've seen the movie Midnight in Paris, Hemingway wrote Feast about his life during the time period that Gil (Owen Wilson) dreams about and travels to in the film.

These are just a few of my favourites. If you're able to recommend others, please do so in the comments!
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Travel Inspiration

NIGHTVISION from Luke Shepard on Vimeo.


From time to time I'll read a book or watch a movie that really gives me the travel itch. (No, I don't mean bed bugs.) And this little time-lapsed video of European architecture has me jonesing to cross the Atlantic again like nobody's business. Although I've been fortunate enough to explore four different European countries, I still feel like I've barely grazed the surface.

Which of these beauties have you been lucky enough to see? Live near? Be haunted by in your dreams?

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The One-Sentence Travel Journal

Gone are the days where I'll spend hours writing furiously in my journal about the mundane details of my teenage life. It's fun (and pretty embarrassing) to read my old angsty scribbles, but I just can't make daily journaling a priority anymore. Still, it's nice to be able to look back on a trip and get a tiny glimpse into what it was actually like, rather than the romanticized version created by my back-at-work memory. 

So, back in June I bought this teensy notebook and started a one-sentence(ish) travel journal. The time commitment's minuscule, and already I look back at the pages and go "Oh yeah, I forgot about that." It's also a nice place to keep little mementos like tickets from a show or my New York Metro card. I'm already glad I started the journal this summer, and look forward to filling it with the adventures and mishaps that come with travel

Detox, Retox

At home, I do my best to live a balanced lifestyle. I eat well (most of the time) and exercise a few times a week. But on vacation, my good habits tend to fall by the wayside a bit. And in the short term, that's okay. I don't consider it a good vacation if I don't come back a pound or two heavier ;)

At the same time, after days of rich, heavy food, alcohol and daily desserts, I start to feel a little sluggish. So generally, I try to balance out all that indulgence with some healthy options. I jokingly refer to this practice as "Detox, Retox." So, based on my recent trip Vancouver, here are some suggestions for indulgence and balance.
Indulge
Savour gelato from Granville Island Public market while looking out over the water toward downtown Vancouver

Enjoy perfectly balanced cocktails at West Restaurant 

Sample from decadent chocolates at Thomas Haas 

Bite into the perfect crust and some unusual toppings (like pistachio) at Pizzeria Farina in Vancouver 
Balance
Stuff yourself with vegetable-heavy dishes any time of day at The Naam Restaurant or grab a vegetarian rice wrap at the food court in Granville Island Public Market

Take a free introductory yoga class (mat and towel included) at Y Yoga Studio 

Go for a swim in the English Bay 

Jog, bike or walk around The Seawall 

And if you're feeling adventurous, head over to Grouse Mountain and challenge yourself to The Grouse Grind. Wear good shoes and if you're a less experienced hiker, give yourself two hours to get up the mountain and take the gondola back down.

Finally, walk. Take your time, explore the streets and get a real feel for the place. And in the end, don't worry about indulging. Good food and drink are some of life's greatest pleasures; they're there to be enjoyed (in moderation) :)