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Time to dust off the old blog…

It’s been a while since I’ve written, mostly since it’s been a while since I’ve had much to say. My first MSF mission was cancelled before it even started, so there wasn’t much to say about Lebanon (except oh my god, the food), and I’ve been living in Montreal for a bit now – the travel adventures have been few and far between!

But! It’s time to dust off the blog because boy, am I about to go on an adventure! I’m turning 30 next week and I decided to mark the occasion with not only a new country, but a whole new continent – I’m sitting at the airport, waiting for my first flight to Asia!

I’ll be spending the next 17 days traipsing around Malaysia and Indonesia – catching up with some old YPN friends, eating some delicious food, getting out of the endless Canadian winter an mostly just adventuring on.

My biggest problem is that I’m not that much of a planner – I got as far as booking my flight (All on aeroplan, no less! But that’s a blog for another day…) and booking hostels, but beyond that… I’m just throwing myself out there. I always figure, hey, as long as I know where I’ll be sleeping that night! (See, mom? Nothing to worry about.)

So, the first stop on my trip is an 11 hour layover in Turkey, inspired by Turnipseed Travel’s whirlwind round-the-world trip. I’ve got my visa, I’ve calculated the exchange rate, and I’ve written down the transit instructions from the airport to the Blue Mosque. That’s a good enough start, right?

  

I’ll let you know in 24 hours 🙂


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Leaving home, going home

I’m writing this a week before leaving Gibsons, but by the time it reaches your eyes, I’ll already be on my way home, away from home, towards a new home. I don’t know which is which.

The last few months years have been crazy. Moving to a tiny, beautiful town in British Columbia to do this crazy, wonderful, so frustrating but so rewarding job. Getting to travel all over the country, working with some phenomenal human beings, being so inspired that so many people are willing to try to make a difference. Learning so much about myself, becoming (sort of) more patient.

Fast-forward two years later, the unbelievableness of being hired by Doctors Without Borders. Meeting more amazing, inspiring humans who want to make a different kind of difference. Quitting my crazy job. Finding out where my placement will be. Packing up my life, finishing up my program, having last-for-now beers/dinners/walks/knit nights, worrying about war in the Middle East. Everything has felt so huge, organizing so many things, that I never thought about leaving, only getting to moving day.

Well, here I am, 8 sleeps away from leaving the home that I’ve been in for two years, and it’s only just hit me. I started looking for a picture to post on the morning of my departure, and in doing so, I found so many pictures from the last two years. Pictures of this stupid town that I’ve bitched about so many times, because there’s nothing to do and the ferry is so annoying and dammit, I’m scared of bears and cougars. But man, have I loved it. From the ladies at knit night who I’m proud to call my friends, to my neighbours and colleagues who kept me sane in the dead of winter, to my dear, dear friend Karen without whom I wouldn’t have made it here for this long. Pictures of my amazing Youth Peace Network families, people I’ve been so lucky to meet and I know will be a part of my life for years to come. Pictures of this incredible country, and all the accompanying memories of what this job has allowed me to learn and see.

I want to write more, but I’m about to get real depressing, so instead I’ll do two things: share some too many photos of this amazing life I’ve led, and use this opportunity to say thank you and I love you to those of you who have been a part of my life for the last two years, either here by my side or supporting me from a distance. Here’s to many, many more amazing adventures. May our paths cross again. (Especially you, Karen. You’re not getting rid of me that easily. See you in Cyprus ♥ And you, Newton family. Wherever we’re all together next, there’s a game of Cards waiting for us.)


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Where am I?

I just got off a plane, and as I took my first step onto the tarmac, I thought: “Where am I?”. My head reeled for a second until I remembered that I was in Edmonton. It’s not the first time that this has happened to me. I often forget what day it is, where I’ve just been, or where I’m about to go to next. It’s a pretty heady feeling, but I kind of love it too.

Since 2011, I’ve been lucky to have two amazing jobs – first as a Katimavik project leader until our federal budget was cancelled, and then coordinating an exchange program for the YMCA. These two jobs have allowed me to see a large part of Canada – Moncton, Halifax, and Charlottetown for Katimavik, and Victoria, Vancouver, Kelowna, Kamloops, Vernon, Calgary, Edmonton, Banff, Moosejaw, Saskatoon, Regina, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City with the YMCA. The past year and a half working for the YMCA has been insane, going back and forth and back again between all these cities – sometimes, I don’t have time to unpack before I need to pack again. It’s been an amazing, and crazy, journey. I’ve been so lucky to discover great non-profit organizations in all the cities that I’ve visited, and meet some amazing Canadians along the way. It’s also been pretty lonely – I live in a small town in BC where I’ve been lucky to make a handful of friends, but I travel every other week, which makes it difficult to commit to anything. That being said, it’s taught me to be ok with doing nothing, and it has done wonders for my shopping addiction.

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Now, I’ve given the YMCA my notice, and I’m about to head off to my next adventure. There’s one month left to this crazy job of mine. I’m in Edmonton for the next two days, on my last work trip – it’s the end of my two year jet-setting period! I’m off to equally, if not more, crazy settings – more uncertainty, and even less shopping opportunities! But I’m also off to a world of people who simply shrug and say “Yes, I’m on my way to Germany/Congo/New York/[insert country name here]”, and it’s no big deal – I’m looking forward to rejoining the global expat community where I’m not the only one coming and going all the time. Most of all, I’m looking forward to finding a sense of community again, challenging as that may turn out to be.

I still don’t know what accent I will speak my tomorrows in*, but now it’s time to pack and leave the place I’ve called home for the last two years. Wish me luck.

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*When it’s time to leave, by Cody Gohl

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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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
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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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Photo essay: Ukraine

I just got back from Ukraine. Though I still don’t feel like writing, I figured I could at least share some pictures with you all 🙂 ImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImage


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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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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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Which shoes to choose?

Lets face it. I have too many pairs of shoes. In fact, if you look at the very top of this page, you’ll see a page named ‘feet’ – this is because I like to take pictures of my feet in different places, but it has also shown me that I am always wearing different shoes. I may have a problem.

Today, however, I’ll make the most of the problem and run through a different variety of shoes and what they’re good for, when you’re travelling. Hopefully you can give me advice too, because I have yet to find the perfect shoe. (Christie over at ChristieThinks seems to be getting close!)

I want to start with an ode to my favourite shoes ever. I bought these at Old Navy, at the very last minute before leaving for my year abroad in Ecuador. If you are good friends with me in person, then I have told you about these shoes. They started to wear away at the sole after a year of wearing them everywhere around the world, and I gave them away. I still regret it. I have never stopped looking for their replacement, and still haven’t found their equivalent anywhere. Sigh.

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Converse

Not really ideal for much walking, but they do look fun and take up no room at all in your suitcase. The high-tops allow space for an insole, which helps give them more support. I do love my converse shoes, but I don’t really travel with them anymore.

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Toms

Kind of the same deal as converse – no real support, but they go with pretty much everything and are great to stuff into an already full bag, as they take up no space and weigh nothing. My man complaint is that they get VERY stinky, very quickly, and you can’t wear them extensively or they will wear out after a few weeks. I wore the light grey ones in the picture below for my entire week in San Francisco, and they were far from ideal – they killed my feet (although I did walk up to 10kms a day, so that’s my fault for not planning on better walking shoes), and they already smell too bad to wear anymore. From now on, I will keep them for shorter trips, and wear socks in them. I always bring the purple ones below when I travel for work, because they are great to wear inside at conferences and meetings.

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Rain Boots

Definitely one of my favourite types of footwear, but also completely impractical for travel. They make me feel invincible when I wear them, but they just take up so much room that unless you’re driving somewhere, you can’t really travel with them! Can someone invent roll-up, comfy rain boots with solid soles please?

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Winter Boots

Being from Quebec, I definitely know my way around winter boots. I went through the usual adolescent phase of refusing to wear them, but now I’m all about proper winter footwear. Problem is, they are also super annoying to carry around everywhere. I love my purple Sorels, but they live at my mum’s house because I don’t really need them in BC, nor do I want to take up valuable suitcase space for them! I also used to have a pair of Merrell boots which were beautiful, functional and warm, but the sole cracked after a few winters. Now, I make do with a pair of black Hush Puppy boots – they look good with pretty much everything, and while they are not very warm, they are exactly what I need for going to conferences in snowy places in the winter. The same problem remains though, that I have to wear them on the plane if I want to take them at all.

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Other impractical shoes

These include flip-flops, which I now only take on beach holidays, and slip-ons with absolutely no arch support, which I usually just wear around town when I’m at home. No sense bringing these travelling unless you’re not planning on doing much more than going to the beach.
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Big ol’ leather boots

Man, I love these boots. They are definitely my favourite style, and I can’t wait till autumn so that I can wear them again. The ones on top are my original, completely beaten up ones, that I still wear when it’s raining, or muddy, or anywhere that my shoes might get wet. They feel like slippers. The onesbelow are my ‘nice’ ones, that I’m (trying) to take care of.

I’ve been on a lot of trips with these boots – the only drawback is that the sole is a bit hard so my feet do hurt at the end of the day, but otherwise, if my trip consists mainly of city walking and no demanding terrain, I will continue to bring these with me. They just make me feel good! (And the ones cause the shoe-cleaning staff in airports to run after me)

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Actual, sensible walking shoes

That’s right, I actually do have some of these. Full on running shoes, that I never take anywhere unless I know that I’ll be out and about and running around, and unless I know that it’s a setting where I won’t care about how I look (Let’s be honest now. Style goes into almost every shoe decision that I make). The other shoes that I like for easy trails, and that are actually my favourite, are my Keen shoes – the blue ones below are a bit more city with less grip but tons of comfort and support (and the chickens approve), and my actual favourite, comfortable, tons of support, and grippy for easy to moderate trails, are my Keen Toyahs. Problem is? They are bulky and heavy, so not convenient to stuff in a backpack, and quite clunky, so they don’t go with everyday outfits.

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So, what’s the verdict?

The verdict is that I’m still trying to find the all around best travel shoes, and sandals! For this trip, I’ve decided to go with black Birkenstocks that go with everything, because I know that they offer comfort and adequate support for days of city walking and standing around, and I’ve just bought a pair of barefoot runners from Merrel (Pace Glove), based on the fact that they are light, squishable, offer moderate arch support, good enough traction, and that they are SUPER cute. (Seriously. I’m sad to say that looks have such a big part in this.)

I just finished the first day of my 4 week trip, and the Merrells remained comfy after walking all day. I’ll let you know how they fare on Banff’s trails, and during my Mantracker run in the Prairies.  Keep an eye out for pictures of my feet wearing them in different places across Canada 🙂



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In my bag: dry goods

 

Apparently, I haven’t posted in a month!

It all started with a monster university paper, which I left to the very last minute. It completely drained me of the will to write, and then work got really busy, and then I can keep making excuses, but the point is, it’s time for me to write again. And guess what? I’m going to write about packing… again!
This time, I thought I’d tell you about my favourite dry products. What’s the point? Well, it’s nice to be able to bring everything in a carry on, and it’s also nice not to worry about anything leaking in your bag. So, here’s a rundown of some of my favourite and not-so-favourite carry-on beauty bits. I’ve found that for any trip, all I need are the following 5 items, plus deodorant and contact solution.

1. Soap (obvi)

Any bar soap will do. I like the way this one smells. It’s that simple. I keep the cardboard box to carry it in between hostels.

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2. Shampoo

This is Lush’s Seanik shampoo bar, and I fell in love with it right away. I have short hair, and I’ve always struggled with shampoos that make my hair a bit too soft and a bit too limp, and then it just flops around all day. This shampoo has solved the problem – it contains sea salt, which appears to make my hair just messy enough to hold all day! Lush also has a bunch of different shampoos for whatever your needs are.

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3. Hair product

Speaking of short hair – this product has changed my life! It’s essentially rice powder, with a bunch of other things mixed in. Pretty simple – sprinkle it on, mess my hair around, and it holds all day. All I ever bring with me now.

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4. Laundry soap

The only way to travel for an extended period of time with a small amount of luggage is to do your own laundry. I love this soap, because it’s everything friendly, it’s canadian, and it has fun smells, like rootbeer float, pina colada, cupcake and key lime pie. These little bags are about $2 each at Ottawa’s amazing Terra 20, and are good for 2-8 loads. What more could you want! I haven’t tried it to hand-wash anything yet, but I’m sure that it’ll work just fine!
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5. Toothpaste

Now, this is an interesting one. Another great product from Lush, these Toothy Tabs come in many flavours and are the weirdest, freshest thing you’ll ever brush your teeth with. They are also very weird! The baking soda base has a bit of a salty taste, and honestly, it’s like having the full force of all the Lush store smells explode in your mouth all at once. My mouth has never felt cleaner than after using this toothpaste… But.

These toothy tabs are nice to have for a quick weekend getaway, something that just sits in the bottom of my quick escape bag, but I probably won’t buy them again. Sure, my mouth felt super clean right after I brushed my teeth, but in the morning, my mouth tasted weird. It also makes me gag in the morning, for reasons I don’t understand. $5’ll get you 40 tabs, which isn’t the best for my small budget. I also kind of got tired of the taste, and was left not wanting to brush my teeth.

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Bonus favourite dry product: Towtabs

These are AMAZING! These tiny little pucks, about the size of a peppermint candy, turn into a full sized cloth with just a drop of water.

I first bought them as a quick ‘why not’ purchase, to see if they actually worked, and they do! They really made me happy when I was in Africa – too often, there was no water in the house, and all it took was a capful of water to have a quick “sponge bath”. If you see these, grab them – you never know when you’ll need them!

What are your favourite travel products?