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2013 in numbers and pictures

So, I haven’t been really good at posting this year. Constantly travelling made it harder for me to sit down and write, and travelling to places like Saskatchewan and Alberta made it difficult to find the motivation. Maybe that’ll be my 2014 resolution! In the meantime, here’s a quick rundown of my year, in numbers and pictures!

200: Nights spent in various hotels, houses, buses, trains and airports around the world
165: Nights spent in my own bed. It’s kind of insane that I spent more nights away than home!20131231-132305.jpg

33: Number of airplane rides. It’s come to my attention that I have flown more times this year than most people do in a lifetime. I’m not going to lie, I’m pretty tired. But I’m still, as always, itching to go on my next adventure.20131231-131446.jpg

100: Number of hours spent on trains. Taking the train across Canada does that! What a great experience, and I can’t wait to do it again next summer. My job really does come with awesome perks!20131231-131407.jpg

50+: Number of awesome new friends I’ve made, lucky me!20131231-131417.jpg

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4: Number of new countries visited

Looking back, I realise how great this year has been! I got to go to California twice, once with an old friend and once with my mum, I got to spend an amazing 10 days in Amsterdam with my bestie, I got to visit Ukraine with some awesome new friends, I met my all time favourite singer Passenger, I had a job that allowed me to really see and get to know my own country (like hiking around Lake Louise for work!), I got to visit family and friends across the country more than I ever thought would be possible, and I had a cozy house to come home to at the end of it all.

Happy new year to all of you, and here’s hoping for an even better 2014!

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Going to Southern California? Take a detour! Don’t miss Joshua Tree

My mum and I just got back from a week of holiday in Oceanside, half an hour north of San Diego. First of all, 7 days is wayyyy too short. My mum and were both sad to leave, and would much rather still be on the beach (although she’s in Paris right now, so I don’t know why she’s complaining!)

I’m going to write some more posts shortly, about how to spend a day in San Diego, and how to spend a day in Los Angeles (Ugh! Short answer: don’t)

In the meantime, I’m going to post a few pictures of one day trip that you should make: Joshua Tree National Park. We hummed and hawed about it for a while, and finally decided that we really wanted to go. And boy, were we glad we did!

Our day didn’t really go according to plan: we had planned on going in through the North entrance, driving through the middle, and leaving through the South entrance, then going to a town called Indio, the so-called date capital of the world, on our way back to Oceanside.

We started our day by driving to the North entrance, which was a 3 hour journey from Oceanside, only to be told that it was closed due to a flash flood. The South entrance was also closed, which meant that we wouldn’t be driving through Indio either. We turned around, drove 16 miles back to the Joshua Tree entrance, and went to see some amazing, nothing-else-like-it scenery. We drove right down to the Cholla garden, which was just incredible, then straight up again, back to our same entrance. This detour added an extra two hours of driving to our trip that way.

We decided that we still wanted to go to Indio, even though it was a 30 mile detour (each way!) for us on the way home, in the hope that Shields, Indio’s famous date store and café, would be open.

Well, it wasn’t. And then the GPS took us home on the sketchiest, mountainiest road ever. So, that part sucked. All in all, we could have skipped Indio and saved ourselves a lot of driving for nothing, but hey – live and learn! Hopefully you’ll research your trip more than I did. (All I did was think “Hey! Let’s tell the GPS to bring us to the centre of Indio!)

This awkward, unplanned, annoying detour notwithstanding, Joshua Tree is an amazing place to go. Do it!IMGP9406

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Mum and the Chollas

Mum and the Chollas

Cholla Cactus Garden

Cholla Cactus Garden

A dead cholla...

A dead cholla…

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Keyes view. Scared my mum by sitting (not really) close to the edge

Keyes Lookout. Scared my mum by sitting (not really) close to the edge

Actually pretty scary!

Kinda scary!

My mama, on the Hidden Valley Nature Trail

My mama, on the Hidden Valley Nature Trail

Mum wanted to go to Shields to buy dates. I wanted to go and see a movie: The Romance and Sex Life of the Date.


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On being impulsive and deciding to go to Ukraine

When I was in college, my friend and I always used to laugh at how different we were – she always spent a lot of time thinking things over, and making sure that the decisions that she made were logical, practical and cost effective. I, on the other hand, have always been known for my impulsiveness. Does something sound fun? I’m there!

I decided to go to university in Ecuador over the course of an afternoon. Sure, I’d been thinking about studying abroad for a while, but one afternoon I was bored at work and I googled what my study abroad options were. Within an hour, I decided on Ecuador (for reasons I absolutely cannot remember, likely because I knew nothing about it), and chances are that by the end of that week, I had signed up to the program. While I was there, I met Marina and I believe that our friendship was forged based on this impulsiveness – Marina can always be counted on for adventure. Want to fly to the beach for the weekend? Decide at the last minute to book a hotel downtown London? Take a 24 hour bus to spend a few days in Bolivia? Marina is your perfect partner in crime. A few years ago, Marina and I decided to go to New Orleans. This happened during a brief email exchange, that probably went something like this:

18/10/10, 11:00am Alex: “Hey, Marina! What about New Orleans for New Years?”

18/10/10, 11:07am Marina: “Hmm, I don’t know. I promised my parents I’d be home for Christmas this year.”

18/10/10, 11:20am Alex: “Ok! Why don’t we meet on December 26 then? Flights are cheap!”

18/10/10, 11:30am Marina: “Let me think about it”

18/10/10, 12:00pm Marina: “Ok, let’s do it!”

18/10/10, 2:00pm – Flights purchased

This year, one of Marina’s goals is to start a family. Long term, I don’t think that this will get in the way of our adventuring, but I do think that things are going to slow down for a bit, and I might have to spend a few more holidays with her and the fam in the UK over the next few years (boohoo). In the meantime, until Marina gets pregnant, this year might be our last chance in a long while for a solo trip. Because I’ve gone to London every year for the last 3 or four years, my only condition was that we go somewhere else, so that I could scratch off another country from my travel map. Marina suggested Holland, and I’m super down, since I haven’t been and I hear that they make great cheese.

Now, here comes the impulsive part! Marina reckons that she can take one week off work, but I’m getting two, and I figure that while I’m in Europe I might as well cram in as much as I can! Over the last two summers, I got really close with a group of international volunteers, and it means that I have a lot of places to visit around the world. Based on how cheap flights are, and how cheap travel within the country is, I decided on visiting Ukraine, where I have four friends to see. I made that decision on Monday night, and I just booked my flight (today is Wednesday)

Based on the little bit of research that I’ve done so far, it’s super easy to travel around Ukraine, but only if you speak Ukrainian. I’m equal parts super nervous and super excited about that, and my friends have already said that they’ll help me with buses and trains. And I’ve just ordered my phrase book. Eek!

Now, here’s where the travel blogging community can maybe help! I land in Amsterdam on November 2nd, and am planning to be there until about the 10th of November. Therefore, I have from November 11 to the 18th to make my way to my flight home from Kiev. I’m really excited to see how things will unfold, and what options will be presented to me. I have places to stay in Western Germany, Prague, and Vienna, not to mention cheap accommodation options pretty much everywhere. My options currently include going through Dortmund (Germany), Prague, Warsaw, Vienna or Dubrovnik.

Thoughts, or recommendations? I have 10 days to spend in and around Holland with Marina, and 7 days solo, to spend getting to Kiev. I’d like to spend at least 4 of those days in Ukraine, so that I can see my friends. SO MUCH DECISION MAKING, SO EXCITING!!


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On trying to blog while travelling and working full time

Turns out I was a bit delusional when I thought that I could spend the summer backpacking across Western Canada for work, and blog all the way. This was especially challenging because I thought that an iPad would be enough to write on every couple of days. It turns out that a lack of time, and no dependable WiFi connection, made this impossible. So I’ve just decided to put together a short post of pictures highlighting what I’ve been up to so far, and in the fall, when things have calmed down, I will be able to write longer posts about where I’ve been this summer. These pictures aren’t in chronological or geographical order because frankly, I’m just too lazy to sort through them.

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Reconnected with old students and ate a lot of fudge in Moosejaw, Sask.

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Discovered that Calgary is, in fact, a lovely city

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Spent enough time on the Prairies that I began to feel like a bit of a cowboy

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Went for a drive in the countryside of Saskatchewan, and found an abandoned bus

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Participated in a full on Mantracker activity

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Went sailing off the coast of Victoria, BC

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Went for a drive in the countryside of Saskatchewan, and found an abandoned bus

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Went to see the giant dinosaur in Drumheller, AB

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Discovered that Canada is even more beautiful than I thought, in Drumheller, AB

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Got to spend a day (of work) swimming in a lazy river in Kelowna, BC’s H20 centre

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Met the beautiful Marshall from Walk Off the Earth

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Hiked around Lake Louise

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Got to spend a day (of work) playing on bouncy castles

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Wore my first ever cowboy hat at the Calgary Stampede


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The time we ate everything at the Calgary Stampede

I was so excited to go to the Calgary Stampede, really really excited. I planned my entire summer around it, and told everyone I was going. By the time it finally rolled around, I couldn’t handle the excitement!

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The day started off really well with a Stampede Breakfast – for two weeks, all around town, you can have a free pancake breakfast. We ended up at one place that made bacon pancakes, which was a bit of a dream come true.

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We got to the stampede, and I was really excited because the first sign that we saw was for all kinds of fried food – I would finally be able to try things that I had only heard about!

Highlights of the Stampede included: pretending to birth a calf, a pretty cool water show, the opening act to the rodeo (not really the rodeo itself, that was kind of sad and scary) and meeting Walk Off the Earth. Turns out that the Stampede is pretty much one big fair, and I probably wouldn’t plan on going again unless I was in Calgary at exactly the right time.

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Otherwise, the most exciting part of the stampede was the food. We decided to photo document our food journey. As a team, we ate pizza, poutine, mac and cheese, chicken on a stick, schnitzel, frozen yogurt with all the toppings, cotton candy, donuts, and fried snickers and mars bars. Not bad for a day’s work! Our biggest regret is that we weren’t able to try the fried butter.

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When splurging is worth it

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I’m traveling across Western Canada for work this summer – that post is slowly being written. In the meantime, I’m sitting having breakfast in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and I’m going to chat about splurging!

While all of my summer travels are expensed as work trips, I work for a non profit and I really believe that it’s important to spend my budget reasonably. Also, the less I spend, the more I can travel throughout the year! Since this is summertime and the weather is beautiful, I decided to travel mostly by bus. I flew from Vancouver to Calgary, then bussed from Calgary to Edmonton, and Edmonton to Saskatoon. I’m getting a ride from Saskatoon to Regina, and finally will be bussing from Regina to Winnipeg, before flying from Winnipeg to Vancouver in August.

Everywhere I go, I am taking public transit, staying in hostels or university dorms, and eating at people’s houses or cooking for myself. I did, however, budget for the entire meal allowance that I’m allowed, which gives me a lot of wiggle room, and brings us to the point of this blog post!

Yesterday, I took the bus from Banff to Edmonton, which took about 5 hours. Then, I waited in Edmonton for 6 hours before boarding a 7 hour bus to Saskatoon. I arrived this morning at 6:30, much too early to check in to my university accommodation. I decided to head out and by to find breakfast, but that’s also a bit tricky at 6am. The first place I saw was the Holiday Inn – their breakfast buffet is $15, and includes fruit, yogurt, cereal, bacon, sausage, hash browns, eggs Benedict 3 ways, and a pot of coffee right at the table. The table has its own tv (royal baby news on all the channels this morning), and power outlets.

Who could ask for more? So, while I usually try to spend under $10 when I have to pay for breakfast, often spending just $4 at Tim Hortons, today I decided that I deserve the extra bit of luxury.

I might – might – also go for a massage (12km mountain hike + 12 hour bus ride), but that’ll be with my own money, of course :)

When do you decide to splurge, and when do you decide to save?

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