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!




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 www.kayak.com   It is simple, effective, and almost always leads me to the cheapest flight.  It’s a good idea to www.google.com 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. www.eurail.com 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
www.nakedbus.com/nz/bus/  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
www.hostelworld.com. 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 www.hostels.com and
www.tripadvisor.com.  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.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

45 Seconds of Pure Bliss

The following video contains a few brief snap shots of the beauty that I have witnessed on my journey thus far.  The film is taken in Austria, Switzerland, France, and Scotland.  The song in the background is an intro that I wrote last night.  I recorded myself singing and playing the song on a voice memo on my iPhone, and then transferred it onto the video.

It's only 45 seconds - short enough to justify watching.  Feel free to leave a comment or share with a friend.  Enjoy!

Take 897 by Alison Karlene


 
(Just to clairify, this was actually my 5th take of the song,
completely unedited or autotuned.  897 sounded cooler.)

Monday, 5 November 2012

Sometimes I wonder why...


 
 
 

Why travel?  It’s a question often thought, but rarely articulated. 

 
It’s a completely reasonable question, to be fair.  Why would an individual want to leave their comfort zone, throw themselves out into the unknown, and willingly put themselves through extreme trials and tribulations that usually end in heart ache, homesickness, and an overwhelming sense of loneliness?

For me, the answer is simple.  To travel is to grow.  When you stop growing, you stop living.


Raise your hand right now if you’re curled up on a couch at home in a building you rent or own, if you’re at a desk job that is safe and confirmed, or if you’re wasting time between classes at a uni that promises you a degree leading to a bright future.

 



Do you feel comfortable?  Content?  Unfulfilled?

That’s how I felt at home.
 


Raise your hand right now if you’re perched in an internet cafe looking for a one-way flight, if you’re waiting at a train station with a pile of backpacks containing everything that you own, or if you’re planning the next day’s adventures with a group of Europeans you met the night before in the hostel’s kitchen.



Do you feel spontaneous?  Nervous?  Excited?



That’s how I feel every single day.  And I love it.

 
 
 
 Because even though there are extreme highs and lows when you take off and face the world, I would rather be off the charts with emotion and experience than stuck in one straight line.

 

Monday, 15 October 2012

For the First Time


I left the warm, salty Mediterranean waters of Southern France and trekked my way up to the East Coast of the Highlands in mid-September (have I really been here for a month already?!).  Although I suffered an extreme case of culture and climate shock, the transition went rather smoothly as I was welcomed into Scotland by my friend John and his over-friendly rugby team.


Despite being in the cold, wild, middle-of-nowhere up in Wick, I have found a surprising amount to occupy myself with.  From the moment I left home to my three month mark, this has been a vacation of “firsts”:


I have been paragliding in Austria, canyoning in Switzerland, swimming in the North Sea, drinking with the American army, gambling at Monte Carlo, and sleeping on far too many trains.

I was emitted into Bruce Springsteen’s concert for free in London, caught climbing buildings in Interlaken, and completely lost in London at night.  I convinced my mates to have a bonfire next to the North Sea in Wick and sprained my ankle cliff-jumping in Switzerland.

I learned how to care for birds, donkeys, sheep, geese, horses, and other people on a Normandy farm.  I was also head-butted by a goat.  Twice.

I went to a gay club, a Shakespearean musical, a Norwegian church, and a Danish rock concert.  I drank on the streets, danced on a roof-top, and went hot-tubbing on a boat.

I have secured two British bank accounts, a fixed Scottish address to an actual house, an NHI number to accompany my UK work visa, and a horrible English accent.

I began writing weekly articles as a columnist for a local newspaper, visiting countless castles, and turning my phone off more often than on.

I got a job, quit my job, and began to ask myself what I really want.



I am chasing my dreams and watching them unfold before my eyes.

And yes, sometimes things are difficult, and I find myself complaining about being lonely or bored or tired more often than I should.  I talk about 'back home' almost constantly and I really do miss Alberta.  I’m still young and liable to make mistakes or say too much, but I am honest with myself, my friends, and my family.  I am discovering myself and inventing myself.

And that, I think, is the greatest “first” of all.

Monday, 10 September 2012

French France - la vie de l'amour

 

                I have been roaming this wonderful country for approximately 2 weeks now—relatively, not a very long time—and I feel as though I’ve received a good grip on the unique French culture.  This is mostly a by-product of my time spent WWOOFing on a farm in the lower Normandy area.  Though I adored living in a renovated chapel hostel in Nice, I spent the days lounging at the beach with my American friends instead of truly immersing myself into the French culture.  But out here, cloaked beneath rolling green fields and endless grey skies, I am the only Anglophone for miles around.  I am forced (rather willingly) to learn a new language, lifestyle, and culture all at once.  It is quite overwhelming, but even more so—fascinating.  I understand that all of my points are extremely biased based on what I have experienced.  I do not wish to insult anyone, I would only like to delight others with the knowledge I have received.  Enjoy, and feel free to express your own opinion as well!
 
 

First of all, the French do not understand the meaning of ne touché pas.  For those of you too ignorant or stupid to figure out what that means, I’m trying to explain that the French are extremely touchy-feely.  They have no personal bubble.   In fact, they go out of the way to create physical contact.  If you are my parents or a conservative North American, my guess is that you just shuddered a bit or dropped your jaw or maybe, just maybe, let out a slight suppressed giggle.  That’s perfectly normal, because in Canada and other similar cultures we aren’t open to touching each other like the French do.  At home, when you accidently graze someone’s foot under the dinner table, you are likely to blush crimson and tuck your feet underneath your chair quickly.  The French just leave their intruding feet exactly where they land.   They’re not being rude—the French, I mean, I can’t speak for their feet—they just don’t really give a shit.  In their eyes it’s not a big deal.  And honestly, why should it be?

I don’t have time to recount the countless examples I have witnessed, but let me describe one more example whilst touching (excuse the pun) on another point: French men are extremely confident in their sexuality.  Not only do they wear ridiculously tight short-shorts and spend more time doing their hair than I do ogling it, but they also kiss each other when they meet.  Twice.  I was quite taken aback the first time I saw it, and even more surprised when it happened to me.  Two kisses on the cheek—left first, than right—is the socially accepted way to greet someone.  In fact, it is considered rude and distant if you don’t.  Children and old friends seem to be the most open with this odd custom, but even people I have never met before approach me for “faire la bise”.                                          
 
As my good friend Eli from Israel would quote off an outdoor shower in Nice: French men have no issues being labelled a “Publique Douche.” 


 


The final stereotypical notion I feel obliged to admit is the peculiar eating habits of the François.  They really do eat a fresh baguette a day, smoothing the white nutrition-less bread with butter and jam at breakfast and smelly cheese after lunch and dinner.  My belly was stuffed with carbs and red wine at every meal.  Flies buzzed around the food as my WWOOFing host gulped down cidre, wine, or a strong appertif.  Meals are a leisurely, social activity.
 
 

As much as I enjoyed experiencing authentic French culture in Normandy, I’m relieved to be back in the United Kingdom, surrounded by a familiar culture with respectful boundaries that mirror Canada’s customs.  As great as it is to experience something new, it always makes me that much more keen to return to what I’m used to—and hopefully this time, I’ll really appreciate it.

Monday, 20 August 2012

I am happy here.

I love to look back and remember, but I can't lose focus of where I'm going - or, more importantly, where I am.
Courtney and I had a wonderful, crazy four-week adventure through 5 different beautiful countries.  This video sums it up, but how can you condense one month into 5 minutes?  Regardless, watch and enjoy a brief depiction of our wild Eurotrip:



Monday, 23 July 2012

July 23, 2012


Courtney and I have been traveling through Europe for a solid two weeks now, and - like always happens while one travels - we have learned and experienced a lot.  I tried to condense our recent adventures into ten helpful tips that we have discovered first-hand.  Enjoy!


Eurotrip Life Lessons

#1. Contrary to the ancient myth and general public opinion, there is such thing as a friendly Brit.  We entered London July 10th under the previous assumption that British men were crude, drunken, and had really bad teeth.  None of this proved to be wrong; however, Courtney and I also had the fortune of meeting several kind Londoners based solely on our interesting accents.  We seem to have a knack for making friends in McDonalds and small, dark pubs; but our most wonderful interaction happened in the rain.  Classy army-veteran Mark offered to share his umbrella as Courtney and I had made every tourists' worst mistake—forgoing our raingear due to a misleading morning blue sky.  He offered countless random facts about Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, and the Parliament Buildings as we strolled the streets using his sturdy umbrella for shelter.  Afterwards, he led us down a side-alley where the second oldest pub in England, the Red Lion, was perched.  We were thankful for the friendship and we quickly realized that people are people, wherever you go. 



As a side note, London boasts impeccable fashion sense. Trends include shirts that are shorter in the front, quite see-through, and--my personal favorite--tights over shorts (I sorta fit in!).  It was impossible to open your eyes anywhere in London without seeing the British flag. Perhaps it was thanks to the upcoming Summer Olympics more than anything, but nevertheless, Courtney and I found a warm welcome in the rainy city through the patriotic people.
#2. You don’t need to clutch your bag like a newborn baby to avoid being pick-pocketed.  Yes, there are pickpockets, and you should be careful; but most tourists that find themselves targets and victims are doing something wrong.  It’s all about being smart with your valuable possessions.  After a long second day exploring London, Courtney searched her camera bag frantically for the key to the hotel room.  “It’s not here,” she insisted, and I checked my bag too just in case.  Defeated, we trekked into the lobby and explained what happened.  The man behind the desk handed us a new key hesitantly.  We returned to our room and Courtney dug into her camera case, emerging with—you guessed it—our original key.  It was a close call, in a way.  Turns out it’s much easier to suspect something was stolen by someone else rather than lost yourself.

#3. Alcohol is way more fun on the streets.  Oh, and don’t worry about bringing your ID, no one checks anyways.  When you go out for a smoke, it is perfectly acceptable to carry your pint out with you and continue to drink.  You can’t veer too far from the pub, but it’s still a step up from Canada’s strict policy.  Although neither Courtney nor I smoke,  we found it appropriate to venture outside and enjoy our drinks under the canopy of the bar, inhaling the fresh fumes of the night air masked by thick tobacco, like true Brits do.

#4. Always know the transportation cut off time.  The Metro is called the Tube in London, and red Double Decker buses are literally everywhere.  By the end of our week in London I finally felt as though I had a solid grip on the Tube underground, and I was confident in my ability to find our way home to King’s Cross Station at night.  However, Courtney and I forgot to take into consideration the closing time of the Tube each night—midnight.  An annoyed bus driver let us off in a deserted area of town, where strange men lurked in the shadows.  Jumpy and terribly afraid, we found our way to a bus station where the correct night bus number stopped and brought us home.  Nothing bad happened, but the situation we had got ourselves into was not one I wish to be in again.

#5.  Laugh at the metropolitan police.  Seriously.  They don’t do anything, anyways, as a few young Brits told us.  Courtney and I were sitting outside a large festival, Hard Rock Calling, listening to needtobreathe in the periodic sunshine when two cops noticed my giggle fit.  Sauntering over to us, one inquired, “What’s so funny?”  To which I hastily replied, “I was simply admiring your hat.”  He handed his hat to me and demanded that we take a picture.  Laughing, the four of us discussed backpacking and the dreary weather and Alberta.  We found a wonderful place to watch Lady Antebellum from the backstage entrance, when the same two cops approached us and offered us free concert tickets.  A man had offered them to the police, but they had to refuse—and instead of asking someone they really knew, they thought of us.  Courtney and I got through the muddy gates and ran up to the stage where we got to watch Bruce Springsteen in the open, clear air of Hyde’s Park. 

#6.  Cider is sweet, beer is black, and more than both are usually on tap.  I’m not used to cider back at home, but I love it here.  It tastes like apples or pears and flows freely from a keg.  Guinness is the national drink.  It looks like black, cold coffee and tastes ten times worse.  Courtney usually opted for Stella Black or Fosters and I would indulge in Magner’s Cider or Pim’s lemonade.  My favorite part was the pint glasses they'd serve: the brand of the beverage would always decorate the outside of the glass, so you would always know exactly what each glass contained.

#7.  Hostels over hotels, every single time.  Not only was our hotel room the size of a matchbox, but they never actually cleaned our sheets—the staff only made the bed.  We had approximately two centimetres of floor space each and a springy twin bed to share at night.  Although we had a sink in our room, we shared the toilet and shower with two other rooms on our floor.  Calculating in the extreme cost of food, a hostel is a much better deal and a far better way to meet fellow travelers.  Things to know for next time, I guess!

#8.  Trust your mom’s opinion, even when she sends you to a park overflowing with nudity.  Vigelands Parken, in the middle of Oslo, Norway, was brimming over with bright flowers, shirtless men playing football (soccer to us North Americans), and extremely inappropriate naked statues.  The castle, which was under construction, was much less impressive than the bridge of nude people and orgy tower.  Thanks mama!

#9.  Norwegians love wieners.  I know, laugh it up, Alison said wieners.  But it’s true.  They are long and skinny and flavourful and available at every gas station corner store.  Courtney’s relatives are addicted to the hamburger hot dogs and shrimp salad toppings, but my personal favorite is the bacon-wrapped cheese in a bun.  Takk!

#10.  When in doubt, jump shot.  Pretty smiling pictures get boring far too soon, so we began taking photo opportunities as a chance to do something ridiculous.  We got some strange looks and a few giggles, but the pictures ended up awesome.  You can’t force a smile while jumping in front of a grass-covered roof in the green hills of Norway.  As the sites bring out everyone’s camera, Courtney and I fooled around photo bombing the best ones, and ended up making more friends than enemies... so far. 

That's all for now, but don't fret - we've still got three countries left!
Until next time, hadda!

Monday, 9 July 2012

Pioneer Ranch 2012


Alright, so maybe it wasn't technically "traveling", but living and working 6 hours from home at a summer camp just outside of Rocky Mountain House called for some wild adventures. From horse back riding and canoeing to hiking and rock climbing, I was extremely blessed to spend 2 months with incredible staff members in one of the most beautiful parts of Canada I have ever visited. I captured a few moments of our rowdy activities on tape, including (but not limited to) getting thrown in the lake on my 20th birthday, canoeing down the North Sask, learning how to solo on Crimson Lake, and starting an epic mud fight in a bog containing much more than mud. Ick. Enjoy!

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Amber Bowerman Memorial Travel Writing Award

Travel writing is my ultimate dream, and it's unfolding into reality before my eyes.  I expressed my experiences from my travels last spring in a 3000 word short story, which has been shortlisted for the Amber Bowerman Memorial Travel Writing Award.  You can follow the links below to read more about this exciting opportunity I have been offered.



 
I have also decided to include a short excerpt for those of you who are curious about my writing style or intrigued to hear about my travels.  Enjoy!

The following is a passage from 'A World Away', a short story written by Alison Karlene Hodgins.

            " The beauty of backpacking unfolds in the constant ability to move on. Saying goodbye becomes as effortless as uttering hello. Another plane ride took us north of Australia to Indonesia. Bali was a feast for the eyes. The contrast to modern Australia was astonishing and mocking. I couldn’t absorb all of the details fast enough. The muggy air sweated with high-pitched singing prayers that mixed into cricket’s chirps at dusk. An inevitable thunderstorm followed each night without fail. Instead of the fresh smell that flooded Alberta’s plains after a rain shower, the streets stank of damp garbage. Humble abodes constructed from grey stone struggled to contain a hopeless, overflowing population. Every moment was noise I couldn’t comprehend. A chaotic clash of old and new, faded pastels and stone cold temples littered the cement alleyways. Scooters swarmed the narrow streets like infectious, uncontrollable locust. Workers were loaded into the backs of trucks, packed tight as cattle, as oblivious to my presence as I was of theirs for the past 18 years.  "

Copyright of Alison Karlene Hodgins, April 15, 2012

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

NZ 2011


Last spring, I spent two months exploring breath-taking New Zealand.  Mountains, valleys, ocean, volcanoes... This country has an abundance of everything!  I attended Capernwray Bible College ABS in the North Island for six weeks of my adventure.  I was constantly on the move for the remainder of my time. I discovered the highest north tip of the North Island, and trekked all the way down to crazy Queenstown in the south. It would be impossible to compress and express every moment I experienced; however, I decided to attempt the impossible with a 7 minute video that blends New Zealand's stunning beauty with its wild spirit. If you're not really into the tame and quiet, don't give up halfway through – remember: Queenstown boats the world’s 2nd highest bungee jump, 134m... And the way I look at it, if you never jump; you'll never know if you can fly.
Enjoy!

PS.  Turns out I can't fly.