Travelling is my passion. I have been through over 20 different countries - I lost count after my fourth trip to Europe. As long as the number exceeds my age, I'm satisfied.

I'm an avid backpacker. I don't just want to see the world. I want to experience it.

I travel in a unique way. I have climbed the Great Wall of China in snow, worked on a farm in Normandy, France, and volunteered at an orphanage in Bali, Indonesia.

Backpackers are constantly sharing information, stories, and advice. I'm not doing this because I make money off of it (which I don't) or because I think I know it all (which I definitely don't).

I am simply doing this because it's what I love to do. Enjoy!

Friday, 1 March 2013

It's time for something new.

Hello, folks!
Thank you for tuning in to my travel blog.  I'm not done writing and publishing - I'm just moving URL's!
My new blog has a cleaner, more professional look to it.  It's easier to follow and share.
Happy travels!

Sunday, 10 February 2013

My Top Five Must-See's

People are always asking me what my favourite place I’ve traveled to is.  It’s a difficult question because everywhere is different. 
You won't find these five places in a travel guide or tourist brochure - because they're not tourist destinations. 
They are truly authentic places - they are my top five.

#1. Tasmania, Australia

                Tassie is a small island at the bottom right-corner of Australia.  Often forgotten by tourists and Aussies alike - even left off many souvenir maps - Tasmania offers secluded beaches, forest-canopy hikes, and some of Australia’s coldest temperatures.
The Bay of Fires, Tassie's West Coast

Personal experience:  I traveled Tasmania in a convoy of campervans.  Campervans offer flexibility and accessibility whilst saving money.  We undertook several hikes, cooked dinner on deserted beaches, and wove our way through some of the most beautiful scenery in Australia.  I highly recommend traveling by campervan at some point on your trip through Oz.

#2. Fulpmes, Austria

                Just a ten-minute drive (or hour-long bus ride) outside of Innsbruck, Fulmpes is a tiny town nestled in the Austrian Alps.  With a turreted church and lake for swimming, Fulmpes offers peaceful streets overflowing with natural spring water spouts and wooden Christ statues.  In winter Fulmpes offers some of the most popular skiing in Europe.  In summer travelers can take advantage of the landscape on incredible hikes.  It is possible to paraglide in any season.  Just a few bus stops away is one of the highest bungee jumps in the world at 192 meters!

Personal experience:  I was lucky enough to find the best hostel I’ve ever stayed at in Fulpmes.  Dave’s Mountain Chalet is run by a young Brit named (you guessed it) Dave, who will do everything in his power to make your stay memorable.  The small house-turned-hostel has one beautiful four-bed dorm, a cozy kitchen, a wooden sauna, a backyard barbeque, a pool-table hang-out room, a living room with a giant movie screen, a poker room, a self-serve bar, and an abundance of friends that turn quickly to family.

#3. Singaraja, Bali

                North of the tourist hot-spot Kuta Beach, the district of Singaraja offers you a unique Indonesia experience.  Overflowing with layered rice fields, crumbling stone temples, and winding mountain roads, Singaraja is the real thing.  There are no other white people within a 3-hour radius.  It is raw—the poverty, the people, the impression.  This is an experience you do not want to miss.
Personal experience:  For two weeks I lived and volunteered at an orphanage.  Narayan Seva is the home of over 40 children between the ages of 1 and 18.  I used a bucket shower, washed my clothes on the pavement, and gardened in 45 degree heat without any sort of fan or air conditioning.  Working at the orphanage didn’t just change my perspective—it changed my life.

#4. Beijing, China

                Beijing is not only one of the largest cities I have ever visited—it is also the least multicultural.  As a tall, white, young girl, I stuck out like a sore thumb.  The tourist attractions of Beijing are all interesting enough (ie. Tianaman Square, the Great Wall, the Summer Palace) but for me the real experience came with the culture.  China is still under a communist regime.  I had never before been banned from Facebook, google, and my own blog.

 Personal experience:  My family and I went to China on an educational exchange, granting us access into a high school.  A soothing voice came over the intercom twice a day while the children massaged their temples.  The children were incredibly intelligent.  They studied long and hard.  What really impressed me was their basketball skills--man, those guys could jump!

#5. Miltenburg, Germany

                A small, quiet, cobblestoned-town, Miltenburg houses the oldest hotel in Germany.  Miltenburg is a blast from the past with silent  Sunday streets and friendly townsfolk  I felt as if I was walking through a postcard from the 1950’s, and when I found one to purchase, the shopkeeper gave it to me for free as an early Christmas present.  Such is the attitude of German people—and they are the sole reason why I love their country.

Personal experience:  Although Miltenburg’s Weihnartmakrt was the smallest I experienced, it was also the first, creating a special attachment for me.  Just like any other small town in Germany, it boasts wooden stalls selling small crafts, hot wine, and homemade alcohol.  Walking down the stone streets as snow dusted my footprints was a surreal experience.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

The Safe Way to Travel Solo

In the shadow of the tragedy that took place in Istanbul last week, there has been a lot of discrepancy and a sudden onset of fear and hesitancy in regards to females traveling alone.

I see the attempted resolve of this issue (ie. saying females should not travel alone) in the same way I see the United States blaming gun control for the Connecticut murders: absurd and inaccurate.

Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.

Travel doesn't kill women.  People do.

It doesn’t matter where you go—you could wrap yourself in bubble wrap and lock yourself in your bedroom closet—in today’s world, you face risk simply by breathing. What you need to decide is what is worth the risk.

Traveling alone is safe—when you travel smart. Man or woman, young or old, here are three simple rules I have learned to keep myself safe while traveling.
1) Dress for the attention you want.
I have been particularly guilty of this on nights out. In any new city, you are out of your element. Different cultures regard certain styles of dress—even eye contact—as an invitation for unwanted attention. When in doubt, cover up and wear a smile. Looking cool and confident can dissuade potiential danger. Although you may be excited to represent your home country, wearing a large flag across your shoulders can be the same as placing a target on your back in certain situations. Whenever you dress, think.
2) Let someone you trust know where you are and where you’re going.
This may sound juvenile, but it is extremely important. Whenever I plan on staying in a country for longer than a week, I purchase a pay-as-you-go phone. It’s a cheap way to stay in contact when I don’t have access to wifi or find myself in a sketchy situation. If I ever feel uncomfortable, I text my immediate location to a friend or relative.
I also purchased an electronic rape whistle—a small keychain to hang off your purse, you simply pull the dangling end of a pin to commence a ten-minute female scream. You can shut off the piercing scream by replacing the pin. This emergency device is available at most outdoor stores for around CAD$20.
3) Exercise street smarts and common sense.
The more you travel, the better you become at reading people. Whenever you go out, stay in public places.  Personally, I won't go out at night alone.  If you go out and get plastered, you are making yourself more vunerable.  Remeber: You are the only one looking out for yourself. You can't just call your dad to come pick you up when something goes wrong. (I learned this the hard way - I sincerely hope you don't have to.)
If you hear about an offer that sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t simply google the hostels, volunteer opportunities, and workplaces you intend to go to - travel blogging is huge nowadays. Find someone else who has already done what you want to do and read about their experience.


Life is not life without risk. When you travel, you may find yourself in unpleasant and even terrifying situations. But that’s the risk you take traveling alone. All you have to decide is whether or not the consequences are worth the risk.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Golden Circles.

The sunset from Rendez-Vous' backdeck

“I don’t think I’ll ever get used to this,” Frankie admitted, beckoning to the striking blue mountains that surrounded us in every direction.  The sun cast golden circles across the snow-covered wooden rooftops that made up our adorable resort village.

I never adjusted.  Then again, I never really got the chance to.

The two of us walked back to Rendez-Vous, the cute log-cabin restaurant where we had secured employment for the ski season.  I glanced at my watch.  “I’m going to hit the slopes before work.”  Frankie nodded and silently adjusted her broken collar-bone back into her sling.

I met my other co-workers at the top of the board park.  I knew the conditions were risky and my snowboarding skills were still growing, but Christian convinced me I was ready for jumps.  “Humps,” as he called them, because they were really just small green bumps that gave me an adrenaline rush similar to cliff-diving. 

The first jump was terrifying.  I straight-lined my board, bent my knees, and hoppped up into the warm, light breeze.  I landed perfectly in complete shock, staring back at Christian with a mix of surprise and joy fueling my impenetrable grin.

Without hesitation, I did it again. Five more times.

I instantly became a park junkie.  I loved being aerial.  I had always wanted to fly, and I finally could.

I headed back to work—if you could call it that—and wasted a few hours practising French with the diners.  At 11pm, the other Seasonaires rolled in for an après-ski bevy.  I fidgeted with the dangling bracelets on my thin wrists and combed my fingers through my fiery red hair until my bosses released me into the wild nightlife that accompanies every good ski resort.

I fell into bed at 6am with ringing ears, a phone full of photographs, and sore legs, knowing that I could wake up each morning for the next 4 months and do it all over again.


It still completely blows me away how I managed to throw it all away in a few rash seconds.


I wasn’t feeling too good on January 9th.  I had been in Alpe d’Huez for two weeks and away from home for exactly 6 months.  It hadn’t snowed in days, making the hill a dangerous, icy place to be.  I considered staying in but was reluctant to waste the day.
I met up with Clarissa at the Beau.  On the descent of our first run, I turned into the board park—like usual.  My iPod was pumping dub-step into my left ear that fused straight into my veins, giving me a strong sense of self confidence.  I carved onto my toes and steered towards the first green jump.  I picked up speed in order to avoid colliding with another skier.  I went over the “hump”, bent my knees, and landed on my toes flawlessly.  I nearly “WHOOPED” out loud.
And then I fell.

I slammed down onto the hard-packed earth in a quick shock of motion.  Thrown to my back, I immediately began screaming incomprehensible nothingness.

Some passer-bys stopped to help.  I could overhear Clarissa on the phone.  “Simon, Alison fell...  No, I’m being serious... She’s going to have to be taken off the mountain... No, really... I’m not kidding.”

My iPod headphones were still blaring.  “Turn off my music,” I pleaded, aggravated by the fuel that had launched me way past my limit.

Three sexy, unshaven, French paramedics pulled me down the hill in a stretcher at an alarming pace.  I felt every bump in my screaming back.  When people stared, I stuck out my tongue and made a funny face. 

It was weird to see my surroundings by the sky.  I didn’t care where I was going.  “Make it stop hurting!” I begged.  “I need—I need—“

“You have fractured a vertebra in your spine.  It is a grande fracture.  It affects two other vertebras.  You must go to Grenoble Hospital for surgery tout de suite.

“Morphine,” I replied, ignoring the doctor's diagnosis.

Frankie showed up with my green backpack.  She had thrown my sweatpants, laptop, and contact solution inside.  “Should I call your parents?” she asked hesitantly.  Her eyes revealed the fear she felt.

For the first time, I realised exactly how serious my situation was.  I was being transported to a hospital for surgery in a foreign country after breaking a major bone in my body that could potentially paralyse me for life.

And I was going to have to go through it all alone.

I let a few tears leak out.  I nodded, smiled, and signaled for the medics to wheel me away.

I wiggled my toes as we drove down the hill.  Ouvert tes yeux,” the French ambulance driver requested.  I consented and blinked up at him.  He smiled at me softly, brown eyes full of concern.  Tu ne peux pas dormir,” he explained, forcing me to spend the next hour and a half engaged in a roughly-translated conversation.

He started filling out my paperwork and asked for my mobile number.  I arched an eyebrow.  Tu veux mon number,” I joked.  A few days later, my cell phone buzzed.  Turns out I was right.  He wanted my number, too.

I got into Grenoble and was manhandled onto various stretchers for CT scans and X-rays.  The ambulance driver tickled my toes as he pushed me down endless white hallways.  I giggled.  I felt.  I wiggled my toes.  Relief mixed into pain.

A nurse shoved an IV into my arm and cranked up the painkillers.  It was nowhere near enough.

“Water,” was my next request, but it was ignored.  I was ignored.  L’eau,” I tried again, groaning in pain, but I was left alone for the night in a hallway packed with other beds being shuffled around because there were no rooms available.

I drifted in and out of consciousness for the next two hours.  Every sensation was dulled by flaming pain.  I woke to the soft crying of the patient next to me.  “Are you alright?” I asked her.

“I’m in so much pain,” whispered the Welsh girl.  “And none of the nurses will help.”

“Here.” I offered her my hand through the metal bars of our beds.  “Take my hand, and every time you feel pain, squeeze as hard as it hurts.”

I lifted my heavy, aching head and began searching for a nurse.  The strain in my spine made me bite my lip.  Madam!” I yelled into the dim corridor, as a white-clad employee stuck on night-duty floated by.  “Aidez-moi!  Elle est très mal!”  Reluctantly, she came over, and wheeled the girl away.  I lay back, satisfied.

A new bed was rolled into her place beside me.  “Hey,” said a smiling British boy.  “I’m Tom.  What happened to you?”

“Broke my back,” I replied casually, as I would grow accustomed to do.  “And you?”

“Fractured my femur.  I wish they’d give me some pain killers,” he admitted.

“You haven’t had any morphine yet?”

“Nah, but it’s not so bad.”  He turned away.  Yeah, I wasn’t looking my best.

Around 6am, I was taken into a separate room.  I couldn’t stop moaning.  My roommate didn’t try to hide her glares.  The nurse handed me a call button that didn’t work.

“We do the surgery in a few hours,” I was told.  I was not allowed to eat or drink.

“We do the surgery at 5,” was the next decision, “the doctor’s last of the day.”  The pain outweighed my hunger a thousand times over, but my thirst was growing with each passing second.

I begged for the wifi code to contact my parents.  Someone had to know where I was.  Someone had to care.

I emailed my mom and sent my dad a message.  There was no reply.  I posted a status on Facebook and immediately received a Skype call.  “What do you mean you broke your back?” my daddy’s voice crackled through the long line of communication.  Tears pricked my eyes.  Someone cared.

“We do the surgery tomorrow morning,” the nurse said later.  “First of the day.”  I was too weak to open my eyes.  I was given a wet cloth to chew.

I woke up in the night to a rush of commotion.  My roommate was retching and screaming, retching and screaming.  Suddenly, her body dropped backwards with a dull thud.  “I can’t find a pulse,” a nurse said bluntly.  I heard electric shocks and the whizzing of an oxygen machine and the bed’s wheels rolling across the plastic floor.  And then, silence.

I huddled under my stained-white sheet, body shaking in fear.  Shaking hurt my back but I couldn’t stop.  I was traumatised.  Reality hit me hard.  For the first time since my accident, I felt lucky.

They put me under the next morning.  The anesthesia was strange.  They didn’t even ask me to count to ten.  My entire body felt heavy.  My blood felt warm.  I began swimming through a mess of golden circles and wondering with mild carelessness whether or not I was going to die, too.

I don’t remember the next 8 hours, making them the best 8 hours I ever spent in that hospital.  I wish they could have sedated me every day.

My next comprehensible memory is shoveling a thick, green, luke-warm liquid (supposed to be some sort of soup) down my dry throat before chugging 1 litre of water.  I realised I hadn’t used the toilet, consumed any food, or drank any water for an entire 56 hours.

As the fogginess began to clear, the pain came back.  This time in full-forced waves.  I wasted all of my energy breathing. 

My new roommate was the Welsh girl I had encountered on my first night.  She had broken her knee skiing.  Her sister, Victoria, brought us McDonalds in replace of the inedible hospital grub.  Tom sauntered in on crutches one day.  He and another Brit, Aaron, became our regular visitors.

My favourite visitor was my mom.  I could hear her voice down the hallway before she arrived.  We both immediately started crying when she entered the room.  For the next two weeks she regularly brought me Subway, coffees, and simply sat with me so I didn’t feel so alone.

The doctor glanced at my X-rays the day after my mom arrived and told me I could go home.  I hadn’t even sat up yet.

I did, though, eventually.  At first, the light-headedness and headaches were nearly unbearable.  J’ai mal de tet,” I explained, laying back down.  The physio didn't accept my excuses.  She had me walking the next day.

A few days later, I nearly blacked-out in the shower.  Instead of losing consciousness I lost my sight.  Terrified, I began screaming “Je ne peux pas voir!”  The nurses rushed my bed to me and my vision returned once I lay down, but the trauma remained.

The nights were the worst.  I was left in the most degrading states, forgotten in pain, ignored in humiliation.  I was treated worse than an animal in a zoo.  My stomach churns at the memory.

My British friends were all released before me.  I was a prisoner in my own body.  The mental and emotion trauma was worse than the physical pain at this point.  I didn’t want to leave Rendez-Vous, or Alpe d’Huez, or Europe.  I wasn’t planning on returning home for another year and a half.  The concept of going back to Northern Alberta was not an enticing one for me.  All that I could think of was everything I lost.

I don’t know how I made it through the 20 hour plane journey.  Everything went wrong-from the time I awoke to the moment I arrived.  The ambulance nearly took us to the wrong airport.  Every airport promised to have a stretcher ready and none of them did.  Wheelchairs were of little use.  Sitting hurt more than walking.  Most of the airplane chairs didn't even recline.  I was drunk with pain.
Eventually, we made it home.
I'm still struggling with accepting my injury, but it is a comfort to be in my own house, surrounded by balloons and flowers and far too much chocolate. 
I cannot stand feeling helpless.  I want to run and jump and play and board but I can’t.  I have to take it easy for the next 6 weeks.  I probably won’t heal until summer.  I will probably never perform sports as well as I did.  I highly doubt that I will ever be able to carry a backpack again.  It's safe to say that I will never be the same. 

This is a huge loss of identity for me.  I’m not going to lie and say I’m okay with it.  I’m not.  But I am doing my best to stay positive and focus on healing.  I am extremely thankful for the last six and a half months that I spent abroad.  I did, saw, and experienced more than most people do in a lifetime.  I lived, loved, and learned with no regrets.  I had countless adventures with amazing friends.  I love those who have been there for me, even just to talk to, more than I could ever express.  Thank you.

This isn’t the end of my backpacking days.  My adventure isn’t over.  It’s just on pause.  Things will be different when I start traveling again, but that’s okay.  Maybe they’ll be better.
I'm already planning my next adventure.  I’m taking this time at home to relax and write and recover. 
After all, like my mom always says, this is just another story.


Sunday, 6 January 2013

Christmas in the EU

Christmas in Europe was nothing like I expected.
It was much, much better.

I spent a little time in three beautiful countries.  I lived with the locals who were my friends, family, and previous travel companions.  They showed me all of the secret spots for the best medieval markets, late-night pubs, and traditional festivities. 

The German Christmas markets, or “Deutsch Weihnachtsmarkts”, were by far my favorite experience.  Streets wafting with the aroma of cinnamon-apple Gluhwein led me down the lightly snow-covered cobblestone alleyways through a maze of wooden stalls offering everything from candles and decorations to leather jewellery.   I wasted days and evenings sampling bratwursts, home-made schnapps, and roasted almonds before cuddling up with a locally-brewed German beer in one of the countless packed pubs. 
            I guess I always had a negative view of Germany.  It’s really not fair: it all goes back to Hitler and WW2.  My German friends were open to discussing the past with me, but I could feel hesitant guilt edge every word.  German people today take responsibility for a dark past that many foreigners find it difficult to ignore.  The majority of German’s suffer from extreme discrimination—even if it is carried out subconsciously or discreetly. 

                In spite of a global negative image (or perhaps because of it) I have found Germans to be exceptionally warm, welcoming, and charismatic.  The landscape itself is nothing spectacular, but the brown-trimmed white houses and cobblestone streets scream “Deutchland” in a majestic, powerful fashion.  German food is dense, warm, and thoroughly enjoyable.  German’s work hard and rest happily.  Every local I have met has been quick to share every provision with me—from food to shelter from friends all the way to a free souvenir from a proud shopkeeper.

                I can’t help but wonder how different my life might have been if Hitler had been born in Canada.  Everything would have been different if this one man had been North American—perhaps the war never would have happened, perhaps the outcome would have been completely different, perhaps we would all be Nazis today.  Of course, everyone is quick to deny that they would have ever joined his torturous reign.  We will never know what might have been because it is extremely easy to say you would have done the right thing when you are not in the moment that requires it.

                After a short stop in Sweden, I was welcomed back into Norway where I tried something new every day: from kiting to riding in an English saddle to being pulled up a mountain behind a car in a toboggan (sorry mom).  I partook in Norwegian Christmas traditions such as tree-decorating with flags and fake candles, and indulging in a sweet porridge in search of a special almond to claim a prize.  The majority of the customs were quite similar to Denmark’s, where I spent Christmas day with my cousins.  The five of us enjoyed a dinner of duck with all the trimmings before dancing around the Christmas tree singing carols and finally ripping through some wrapping paper.
                My European adventure has proved successful in many ways, and although there have been ups and downs—as there is to any story—I am no where near ready to kiss this continent goodbye.

So, instead I’ll say “Bonjour”, and settle myself in to the French alps :)

Monday, 24 December 2012

A Canadian Conquers Caledonia

Part One: the people make the place

 After three full months of travel, work, and far too much play in Caledonia; I think it’s safe to say that I  have thoroughly experienced Scotland.  I spent two months living up in the small town of Wick  The beauty of the black cliffs is contrasted by the lack of activities for young adults; however, I found it quite easy and enjoyable to waste my time drinking pints of cider at Weatherspoons with mates, dancing at the Waterfront nightclub, and watching mindless reality TV shows such as Gordie Shore and the Valleys.

I spent three days in the Granite City (also known as Aberdeen) where I lived with a mate I had met on previous travels.  The oilfield city boasts expensive shopping streets and bland architecture that appears damp and gloomy on overcast days, yet shines like silver in the sun’s rays.  Even on weeknights, the city crawls with drunken nightlife.  Countless churches have been transformed into bars—that, if anything, describes my experience in Aberdeen.
Scotland’s most famous city, Glasgow, is spread along the stunning West Coast.  I didn’t see much of the city beyond its steaming nightlife.  It seems that every pub, no matter the size, is always crowded.  I partook in Pub Golf with my Scottish friends: a British tradition similar to Albertan drinking games in the sense that it exists solely to get you drunk.
A solid month in Edinburgh taught me the importance of carefully selecting a place to rent.  I probably spent twice as much time inside Caledonian Backpackers, drinking tea, reading, and chatting with foreigners, than I did on Princes Street right outside the door, simply because I was happy there.  It is the only place to stay in Edinburgh, in my opinion.  The city lacks nightlife compairable to Glasgow or Aberdeen, but the hostel kitchen is always a friendly place to play guitar, meet new friends, or bake a cake (they actually have an oven!)

Part Two: what you give is what you get

                Being nice almost always pays off.  I flew to Scotland with Ryan Air—a company notorious for applying hidden fees wherever possible.  After a few minutes of harmless flirting with a male flight attendant, I managed to skip the 40 euro fee generally applied to overweight baggage and boarded the plane with a beaming smile.
                I felt warmly welcomed by the locals in the UK.  Scottish people are extremely generous with their food, homes, and time.  I spent two months living in a large house rent-free in Wick.  Not to mention the countless coffees, Sunday roasts, complimentary snowboard pants, and free iPhone that I received from my friends.  Everyone  thatI have met on my travels has been eager to share whatever knowledge and provisions they have.
                Although some Scottish accents are nearly impossible to understand (like Glasweigans), I absolutely adore the way that locals acknowledge one another—with a fond “hiya!” or a simple nod and smile on the streets.  These friendly interactions explain why I preferred the small villages to the large cities.



When in Scotland, don’t forget to try an Irn Bru and mince pie (amazing hangover cure).  You will most likely hear the bagpipes at some point (hopefully outside, because they are bloody loud) and if you’re around during a national rugby or footie match you will see men in kilts sporting their clan tartan.  It’s probably not a good idea to mention your English heritage or mock the men in skirts, that is unless you want to witness ruthless Scottish patriotism first-hand and see far too much of a Scottish man’s skin.


Part Three: the must-see’s and the have-been’s

                First off, I don’t care what any tour guide might say, if you stick below Inverness, you are not seeing the real Highlands.  The western point of Durness was my personal favorite.  The views are absolutely fantastic.  There is also an incredible chocolate shop that I accidently by-passed.  Unfortunately, buses don’t run that far north, so trekking up past Ullapool requires commitment and access to a vehicle.  My advice is to do what I did: make a friend who will take you!
                Aberdeen’s Art Gallery was amazing.  I usually have a hard time comprehending the implied meaning behind modern art, but each work of art came with a plaque explaining the motivation behind the piece.

                The Orkney Islands are wild and wonderful.  Kirkwall and Stromness are two quaint cities surrounded by landscape bursting with nature, but besides that, there isn’t much going on.  The same can be said for Lochness—besides an excellent exhibit center and crumbled castle that is very easily (and illegally) accessed for free at night, there isn’t much to do or see.
                I walked up to Edinburgh Castle at night, but I didn’t fork over the fee to get inside.  From what I hear, it isn’t worth the 16 pounds.  The free walking tour is, however, worth the three hours it takes to complete.  The city itself is gorgeous and the mock-German Christmas market isn’t half bad, either.

                Scotland has an overwhelming abundance of second-hand shops.  I stray away from the Hospice stores, because the thought of climbing into a dead person’s clothes gives me the heebie-jeebies.  I have gotten into the habit of purchasing inexpensive second-hand clothing, wearing them for awhile, and then re-donating them when I plan to travel on.  It’s a great way to freshen up my wardrobe while saving money.    
                If, like me, you can’t wake up without a good coffee, you probably shouldn’t go to Scotland at all.  The locals sip watery, bitter instant coffee or pride themselves on foam-less cappuccinos.  At least the English make amazing tea (I try to steep it the exact same way but it tastes like shit.  I think there’s tea in the British blood).  It’s best to do like the locals and stick to whisky.


All in all, I loved Scotland—partially because it was a part of my heritage, but mostly because now it’s a part of my life.


Wednesday, 14 November 2012

My Top Ten Tips for Backpackers

Everyone is instilled with a deep desire to explore.  The purpose of this blog is to offer some guidelines to new backpackers.  I have done several things right—and wrong—while exploring the world.  Please feel free to share your advice or counter mine.  I’m always looking to learn more!

Step One: Get up and GO!

Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  You can’t get anywhere if you don’t move.
Despite the obvious necessity, so many people struggle with this first step.  I’ve heard every excuse.  “I would love to do what you do,” they tell me, “but I don’t have the money.”  Trust me folks, I’m not rich.  I just budget.  “I will one day.  I’m not ready.”  Guess what?  You will never be 100% ready.  If you plan on waiting until the time is “right”, you are going to be waiting a long, long time.  So stop offering up excuses like bad break-up lines, man up, and just do it.
Quit your job, buy a one-way ticket, and go alone if no one else will come.  You’ll make friends everywhere you go, trust me—in fact, it is way easier to meet people when you are alone, because others see you as more approachable. 
However, wherever, and with whomever you choose to go—the most important thing is that you stop delaying and just GO.

Step Two: Budget
Now it’s time to be realistic.
Saving money while abroad is extremely difficult and equally as important. 
If you have a student or hostel card, it is considered ‘concession’ and often grants you a hearty discount—but it’s up to you to ask for it!  Tours, stores, gyms, and even grocery stores around the world may offer these discounts.
Remember to inform your credit card company and bank that you will be traveling.  There is nothing worse than being stuck in a foreign country all alone with no money to your name.  It’s a good idea to take a bit of cash in each currency that you will need, so that you’re ready to cough up a bus or metro fare once you arrive.
 he longer you are gone and the more places you go, the more it will cost.  This is YOUR trip—what do you want to save on, and where do you want to splurge?  Make sure that you have enough money to support yourself if you don’t want to work or for a rush flight home if the unexpected occurs.  When it doubt, it is always more comforting to have a surplus saved up rather than a limited amount.
Step Three: Planes, Trains, and Endless Days
Transportation can drain a backpacker’s budget faster than Usain Bolt can sprint.  In this modern age of high-speed wifi and countless internet cafes, there really is no excuse for paying more than necessary for transportation.  Whenever I book flights, I always use   It is simple, effective, and almost always leads me to the cheapest flight.  It’s a good idea to an unheard of airline company to figure out exactly why their flights are so cheap, especially if you’re a bit nervous about flying.
Trains are a luxury that I reserve for European travel. has several different passes to suit your itinerary.  I waited to purchase my pass until I was in Europe, and therefore paid a slight fee for postage—believe it or not, delivery to Canada is free! 
The pass I bought allowed me to travel 5 days within 2 months.  It sounds confusing, but it’s really just a simple pain in the butt.  Basically, you can choose 5 non-consecutive periods of 24 hours in which you can jump on and off as many trains as you would like throughout the countries that you have chosen.  Some trains, such as overnight carriers and high-speed trains, require an additional reservation which must be purchased beforehand at the station.  I saved a lot of money traveling with the pass because I went on long journeys for my 5 days.
I bused my way around New Zealand and Australia.  I bought a bus pass at  That way, I never had to worry about transport—I simply went online the day before I left and booked a ticket.  Nakedbus worked well for me because I was traveling without a laptop or printer.  All I had to do was write down the reservation number and show it to the bus driver.
The buses around Australia were slightly more expensive.  I bused my way down the East Coast from Cairns to Brisbane with Premier.  It was half the price of Greyhound travel.
For the rest of Australia, I was restricted to planes due to the sheer size of the country and my time limits.
Look out for deals and sales.  In the UK, I swap between Citylink and Megabus.  The most I have paid for a journey across the country is 7 pounds, and the least is 1 pound.  The buses are decently comfortable.  Most are equipped with an on-board toilet and free wifi.  Citylink requires you to print out an eTicket while Megabus accepts written reservation numbers.
Although booking online can be cheaper, it is often easiest to arrive in a place and search out the cheapest forms of transport.  Hostel receptions and fellow backpackers are usually quick to share their positive and negative experiences with different companies—just remember to take everything that you hear with a grain of salt.


Step Four: Packing

What you bring with you can make or break your trip. It’s a difficult balance to find how much of what you need to bring with you. 
First of all, where you’re going will decide what you bring.  If you’re heading to Australia, all you need is shorts and t-shirts.  For the UK in winter, I brought sweaters and jeans.
Bring your favorites.  Yes, they might get wrecked, but at least you’ll love wearing them.  Bring clothing that can blend in to many different environments: church, in the morning, if you go; the beach in the afternoon, if one is available; hiking a mountain or shopping around town; all the way to the pub at night and back into your hostel bunk bed to sleep.  Low-key clothing is easier to re-wear.  This isn’t a fashion show, this is BACKPACKING, and no other backpacker is going to mock you for wearing the same shorts three days in a row.  You’ll be moving on too fast for anyone to catch on that you haven’t changed your shirt in a month.  There’s a magical contraption that can be found at some hostels to fix your backpacker smell.  It’s called a washing machine, guys.  Use it.
When it comes to packing, less is more.  Your hairdryer and flat iron aren’t going to work with the voltage, so say screw it and go natural.  Remember that the plug ins are different, so you will need an adaptor for all of your devices.  I brought a small laptop with me to the UK because I plan on being gone for 2 years.  I am so glad that I have it with me. 
You’ll want an iPod, because there is lots of waiting around, and a camera, because there is lots to document.  Speaking of documents, it’s a good idea to photocopy all of your identification and banking cards.  Google whether or not you will need a visa to get into certain countries and leave enough time to process the applications before leaving.  Some countries will not issue a visa unless you apply for it from within your home country.
Finally, take all of these wonderful items and stick them in a hiking backpack.  Some use the stuffing method while others are rollers.  I do a bit of both.  I leave a little space for souvenirs, but my budget doesn’t allow me to purchase much along the way.
Your main pack will probably cost at least $200, but it will be worth while to have a good quality bag that molds to your back when you are chasing down the last bus of the day.  Stick your important items in a day pack and sling it on your front.  Yes, you lwill ook silly and slightly pregnant, but this will even out the weight on your back and leave all of your necessary papers under your nose.  Money belts are unnecessary in my opinion.  Just be smart with your stuff.  If you leave something lying around, be prepared to part with it immediately.
Here is my last list of little things that you will most likely forget to take because you are so used to having them on hand at home:
                - flashlight, a lock, a roll of tape, specific medication, hand sanitizer, soap, a flashlight (so you don't wake up your roommates), an alarm clock, a good book, a notebook (electronics die), a sturdy water bottle, a Tupperware container, and some photographs of home to show to your new international friends/remind yourself why you left.
There is no point in bringing your own sheets because most hostels won’t let you use them and all hostels will provide them.  Instead of a large cotton towel, invest in a small quick-dry towel to save space.

Make sure that you can carry everything on your own.  Sometimes you will find people to help you cart your things, but for the most part it’s all on you.  Excited yet?

Step Five: Hostels, Camping, and Getting Stuck in the Rain
Although hostels may appear daunting and dirty, they are actually fantastic places—providing you choose the right one.  It all depends on what you want.
YHA or HI hostels are always a safe bet.  Although they cost slightly more than independent hostels, they uphold a five-star world-wide standard.  Personally, I found them rather lacking in character and culture.
If a hostel advertises that it is connected to a bar or pub, it is most likely a party hostel.  For some backpackers, this is ideal.  Unfortunately, most party hostels have strict rules about bringing personal liquor on site because they would prefer if you bought it from the bar.  Party hostels can be a great time, but they also guarantee you a headache, if not a hangover.  Probably not the best place to stay if you actually want to sleep.
I find almost all of my accommodation on I read a chunk of online reviews before making a choice.  It’s important to remember that reviewers often comment on their EXPERIENCE (which is influenced by personal circumstance) rather than the PLACE itself.
I usually opt for a place that is mid-range in price, colorful in character, and fitted with a kitchen, free wifi, and 24-hour reception.  Hostels have to pay a fee to booking websites, so the cheapest price can often be found through the hostel directly—though don’t hesitate to compare prices on several sites such as and  By emailing the hostel directly, I avoid paying a deposit or even giving my credit card number—allowing me to cancel without any possible fees up to the very last minute.
I have never attempted camping myself, though from what I hear it is a different experience from backpacking all together.  I have, however, travelled through Tasmania with a herd of campervans.  It was a wonderful journey through which I saved an immense amount of money (campervan= accommodation + food).
When travelling in the off-season, it’s important to contact hostels before hand to ensure that they will be open.  In busy times, it’s likely that they will be full.  However, if you are an extremely spontaneous person, you may find yourself jumping on a bus in the morning with absolutely no idea where you will be sleeping that night (as I did).  Although this is a great, exciting way to live life and travel, you also risk ending up with no accommodation (as I did).  If you are able to book a hostel, I suggest doing so.  Most hostels will refund some (if not all) of your money if you decide to leave before your previously chosen departure date.  On the other hand, you can almost always extend your stay if you find yourself somewhere that you simply can’t leave.

Step Six: Food
A huge part of culture is food.  However, an overpriced restaurant is by no means the only way to experience the unique taste of a place.  Finding meal ideas in a grocery store can reveal as much—if not more—than a pre-cooked joint.  Cooking your own food is also a smart way to save coin.  Most hostels have a kitchen with frying pans, plates, and everything you need to make a good meal.  I often make a little extra and save it in the fridge overnight.  When I head out in the morning, I take my leftovers for lunch.
The majority of hostels only have stove tops.  Don’t expect good equipment or extra spices.  If you’re lucky, some previous backpackers may have dumped some pasta, sauce, or cereal in the “Free Food” basket or shelf.  It’s always a good idea to see what’s available before shopping.  For example, do you need butter or oil to fry your vegetables?  Can’t live without salt in your rice?  Taking other traveller’s food is never a good way to make friends.
That being said, the kitchen is always a great place to meet people.  Everybody’s got to eat, right?  If you’re traveling alone, you will probably have to share a table with someone else.  Don’t see this as a burden—take it as an opportunity!  The kitchen and the common room offer safe environments to chat about your day and find a travel partner.


Step Seven: Keeping in Contact
Staying in contact with friends and family back home is not only pleasant, it is also extremely accessible.  In most countries, free wifi can be found at countless cafes and bars.  Internet cafes can be rather pricey, but the connection is usually the best.  Skype, Facebook, email, and blogs are all great ways to stay close to the ones that you love while far away.
I wouldn’t recommend taking your own phone abroad unless it is unlocked and tri-band, in which case you can simply switch over the SIM card when you arrive in your new country.  When choosing your mobile provider, be sure to indicate that you would like to go with the company that offers lowest international rates.  But remember, when country-hopping, your provider may not work throughout your entire travels.   I chose to purchase a pay-as-you-go phone in Australia because I would be staying within the country for a significant period of time.  It’s a good idea to have some method of contacting your family in order to keep them up to date with where you are and where you are going in case something unplanned occurs. 
You may prefer to purchase calling cards.  This method of pay-phone usage can offer low call rates to specific countries.  I choose to have my own cell phone on me at all times in case of emergencies.  I also found a portable personal alarm to clip onto my purse at an outdoor store.  When you’re on the other side of the world alone, the only one looking out for you is yourself, so it’s important to take precaution.

Step Eight: Tours, Adventures, and the Exciting Stuff

Free walking tours are a great way to get orientated in a new place.  Hostel reception workers should be able to direct you to nearly anything that you want to find, see, or do.  However, there’s a lot more to any place than the usual tourist hot-spots.
I choose to splurge on sight-seeing. I don’t know when I will return to the places I explore, so I want to take advantage of the time I have and live like it's my last chance.
For a more authentic experience, I do wwoofing.  Wwoofing stands for Willing Workers on Organic Farms.  It is a world-wide culture exchange where an individual or couple offers 4-6 hours of work on a farm in exchange for accommodation and food.  As a wwoofer, you become part of a family for a certain length of time.  I have had both positive and negative experiences wwoofing throughout Australia and New Zealand.  I would definitely recommend wwoofing to anyone sick of living in hostels and keen to meet locals.  It only costs $20 to sign up and your membership is good for a year.  It is then up to you to leaf through different farm’s bios and contact the farms directly.

Volunteers are in high demand across the globe.  I spent three weeks working in an orphanage in Bali and it completely changed my life.  The orphanage where I worked was called Narayan Seva.  It cost me 350 pounds to stay there for one month.  I watched the money go towards precious food, shelter, and clothing for the children.  It was a fulfilling experience that one cannot achieve simply by sitting on the sidelines.
Working or studying in a place will give you an entirely different view of it and introduce you to a mulititude of different people.  Although it is easy to find under the table work, if you don't want to risk being deported, get all of the proper documentation first.  This may take weeks or even months before you leave, but generally cannot be done too far in advance.
Festival hunting is a great way to spend your time.  Before you leave, search up your favorite artists and find events that are going on in areas that you want to see.  There are annual festivals such as Oktoberfest and Edinburgh's Fringe Fest or random events ranging from intimate concerts to giant sporting events.  Having at least one destination with a purpose keeps you focused and driven when you start to feel blue.

Step Nine: Beating the Backpacker Blues
When you head out to face the world, prepare to feel a mixture of emotions.  You will experience fear, freedom, loneliness, adrenaline, and glee.  There will be times when you can’t figure things out.  You will most likely make a few mistakes.  You will probably miss a bus or train or end up lost, confused, alone and stressed.
The first thing to do is take a deep breath and act rationally.  You are the only one responsible for yourself while backpacking.  This is a huge maturing process, and although it is difficult, it is good.
There were several times I felt extremely depressed while traveling.  I felt lonely, insignificant, and small.  I would lie in my hostel bed and wonder why I chose to travel when I hate it sometimes.
And then I would go outside, and everything would change.
The sun shines, the mountains scream, and everything is unbelievably beautiful because it is all so unfamiliar.  Your experience while traveling depends on your attitude towards it and your ability to be rational when your emotions attempt to take control.
Rest on your new traveling buddies for support, but depend on yourself to make the most of your trip.  You have been given an opportunity that most people only dream about.
One of the most difficult parts of traveling alone is suffering through a lack of physical comfort.  When you make a friend somewhere, you will learn to hug them hard and appreciate the people who drift in and out of your life.
Don’t worry about what people back home might say about your trip: do what you want!  If you want to spend five months sitting on the beach and staring at the ocean, do it.  This is your vacation, your life—and you need to do whatever it is that will make you happy.
And remember, things could always be worse.  One day you will look back on all of your misfortunes and laugh.  Trust me.  One day soon, it will be just another good story to tell.

Step Ten: Coming Home
To some, the prospect of leaving home is terrifying.
To me, going back is.

Upon returning to your “old, normal” life, surrounded by people you know and love, you will be confronted by one of two situations.  First of all, you may realise that while you were gone, time did in fact move on.  Friends have left, buildings have changed, and life has gone on without you.  On the other hand, you may discover that everything back home is exactly the same as it was. 

Except for you.
Traveling is a growing, learning, and changing experience.  You will discover things about yourself, your life, and the entire world that you love and hate.  You will confront your fears and conquer them.  If you don’t, you’ve done it wrong.
It’s easy to slip back into your old routine and forget about your amazing adventure.  No one really asks much beyond “How was it?” anyways.  You might struggle to find your place within your old group of friends for a few weeks or months, but eventually regular habits will creep back and take over.
My challenge to backpackers coming home is not to mold back in, but to let yourselves stand out.  You just experienced a crazy, life-changing, awe-inspiring event.  Don’t push it so far away that you let yourself bounce back to whom you were.  At the same time, don’t hold it so close that you push others out.  It’s a difficult but important balance to achieve: keep and share everything that you have learned while being open to the future and dreaming of your next adventure.  After all, a true backpacker is never finished exploring.