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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?


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Travel Tuesday

This week, I’ve been lucky enough to discover the world while staying at home.

The YMCA has a great program called the Youth Peace Network – every year, a dozen or so volunteers from around the world come and spend a summer in Vancouver to learn about Canada, and share their culture with us. I got to spend the last week with these wonderful people, from Kenya, Ukraine, Argentina, China, Brazil, Czech Republic, Zambia, Mexico, Senegal, Egypt, Belarus, Hong Kong and Colombia, and I’m excited to get to know them better as the summer progresses. I’ve learned a couple new words (my favourite so far is shlopentcy, Russian for flip flop), and made new friends that I will surely visit on my RTW trip!

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On making your favorite foreign dishes at home (don’t)

Hypothesis: I can make Mole Poblano at home

In 2003, I spent three months in Mexico, where one of the traditional dishes is Mole. When I first had it, I thought it was the worst thing ever, but it wasn’t long before it became my favourite meal. I’ve only ever had the real things once since coming back, when a friend brought some back from a trip to Mexico, so I decided that now was the time to make it myself. I made it once in Mexico, in preparation for the day of the dead festivities (it was a three day, multi-ingredient process), so I figured that I could fumble my way through making it here. I browsed the internet, used four different recipes to put together an ingredient list that resembled my days in Mexico, and got to work. Mole is not easy work!

This is what the mole looked like about half way through blending all the ingredients.

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Thank god I had made it before, otherwise I would have been REALLY concerned.

Anyway! I put it all through the food processor (if any of you ever attempt to make this at home, don’t believe them when they say that a blender will do. It won’t, and you’ll just have to wash extra dishes), and put it in the Crock Pot, as per Martha‘s instructions.

Result 

– It’s only the second time I’ve used my slow cooker, so maybe I just don’t know it well, but the edges kept burning, so my mole has an (unintentional) burny taste to it

– It’s lumpy – as fine a job as the food processor did, it can’t break up the nuts as well as a good old fashioned Mexican mill can

– It’s really sweet

– It’s not spicy enough (even though I used 12 peppers, of 4 different varieties)

– There’s a large pot of slightly off mole sitting in my fridge that I will likely not eat

Conclusion: I ain’t never making it again

Take it from me: if you want genuine, delicious Oaxacan mole, go to Oaxaca, or go to this website – Phil has offered me the BEST customer service that I have ever received, and I will be getting a few containers of genuine Oaxacan Mole Soledad in the mail in 2-4 weeks.

 


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Life at home

Since being in this job, I’ve spent most of my time on the road. The thing is, though, that when I’m on the road, it’s hard to keep track of office things – I get to spend time in person with my staff, and get to know the communities that my program works in, but then I don’t really spend time at the computer. This month is my busiest work month, so I’d already decided to stay home for a few weeks. I’m really lucky that I get to work from home, but I’ve been working most days for about 9 hours, and all on the computer. The work isn’t hard, and I don’t mind the hours, but it’s fiddly and annoying and makes my head hurt. I can’t wait until next month, when my job is to travel and hang out with kids all summer!

Anyway!

This morning, I was woken up by a phone call at 7, and I stared at a computer screen until 5pm. By the time everything was under control, my first thought was to go to bed, but I was feeling too restless. Based on the state of my kitchen, I knew that I wanted to get pizza for dinner, so I forced myself to get out of the house and go to the beach on the way to the pizza place. That’s right, I had to force myself out of the house. I’ve been inside for five days, and I always feel like the longer I spend time inside, the less I want to do anything.

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This is what happens when I bake while I work at home.

Well, I’m happy that I went out – a sunny day and the sound of the waves reset my brain to a more restful place, and I know what I’m doing tomorrow – more beach!

Here are some pictures of the place that I’m lucky to call home. I can’t believe that I forgot how nice it is to get out there.

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FAQ – How to breeze through airport security, in 7 easy steps!

I was just at a conference in Winnipeg, and I caught a ride back to the airport with one of the other attendees. She seemed a bit nervous about what to do at security – what goes where, what do they look for, etc. and had a lot of questions for me, so I figured I’d write a post since some of you might also have some questions. I’ve posted about carry-on luggage a few times, so it makes sense that I should now talk about how to prepare your carry-on to get yourself through security as efficiently as possible.

It’s all about being organized! It’ll help you get to your gate faster, the security guards will be friendlier, and it’ll make the people behind you happy. Wins all around! (Hint: the person behind you could be me. I fly almost every week. Let me help you make my life easier.)

This is my personal advice, based on what I do when I travel. I’ve heard a million stories from other people, who have gotten away with a bunch of stuff, and that might be you too. However, by following this list, you can be certain that you will fy through security.

1. Have your travel documents in hand – boarding pass and ID!

2. Make sure that your laptop and 3-1-1 bag are within easy reach

3. Make sure that your pockets are empty

4. Take off any jackets/hats/scarves/belts

5. Take off your shoes.

6. Know what’s in your bag

7. Get out of there quick!


1. Travel documents

I’m not going to lie guys, this is my biggest pet peeve. You check in, and about twenty feet farther is the security check point. Hang on to your boarding pass! If you’re like me and you want to eat and sometimes shop before you head to security, make sure that you keep your ID and boarding pass together in an easy to access place. The time to look for your boarding pass is NOT when you are standing in front of the agent!20130520-103227.jpg

2. 3-1-1 bags

A 3-1-1 bag is a small ziploc bag in which you put whatever liquids that you are taking on the plane. You can use the ones that the airport gives you, but a regular sandwich sized bag works too.

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– Make sure that all your liquids are together in one bag.

– Make sure that your liquids are under 3oz/100ml. I recommend putting your liquids in bottles that are 100ml or less. I’ve heard from other people that it’s ok to use bigger bottles as long as they are not full, but since there’s no way of proving how much liquid you’ve got, I’ve also heard about security agents not letting them through. If you run out during your trip, you can easily buy refills anywhere. The only thing that I haven’t been able to find everywhere is contact solution. If you are going on a longer trip and bringing only carry-on, I would bring more little bottles of contact solution, and bring dry versions of the other toiletteries I need, or buy them when I get there. TurnipseedTravel has compiled a beautiful list of options for you.

– Make sure that the bag is the right size.

– Make sure that it’s quickly accessible. There’s nothing worse than holding up the line because you’re rummaging through your suitcase, trying to find your little bag.

2.5 Electronics

The only thing that I’ve ever been asked to take out is my laptop, and that’s every time I’ve travelled. Be prepared!

3. Make sure that your pockets are empty

I’m just talking about metal here – change, jewellery, watches: these all need to go through the scanner. Otherwise, they’ll send you back and forth until they figure out what’s beeping.

4. Take off any jackets/hats/scarves/belts

Doing this means that they don’t have to ask you! I promise, they’ll love you.

5. Take off your shoes. You don’t always need to, but doing it in advance means that you’re set if they do ask you.

I just went through security wearing new Keen slip on shoes. The agent looked at them and told me to keep them on, and they beeped – apparently, there’s a metal shank through the bottom. Now I know! Two options: make sure your shoes are metal free, or just take them off.

6. Know what’s in your bag – toss any liquids, and leave awkwardly shaped things at home.

This kept happening to me: I have a nifty key chain that’s a spoon handle. EVERY TIME I go through security with it, they pull me aside and check by bag. They always let me leave with it, but I’ve decided it’s not worth the extra time, so I just leave it at home now. Same goes for you – know what you’re travelling with!

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7. Get out of there quick!

Once you’re through the metal detector and your bags are out, pick up your things and organize your bag somewhere else. This especially helps when it’s busy. At a certain point, when everyone puts on their shoes and belts right after the detector, the conveyor belt gets too full of bins to continue rolling, and stops the whole process. They have handy chairs and tables a few feet away from most security areas – use them, and help everyone out!