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Why your physical wellness is the best investment you can make

It was after harnessing as much courage as I could, that I recently found myself halfway up a mountain on a trail above Medellin, Colombia alone, muddy and incredibly sweaty. The trail, being on a mountain route, was steep and quite challenging at times, yet I was in my element: being outdoors and active has always been my thing. It was just after pausing to take in the landscape that the first drops of rain started to fall. Though I had the energy to keep climbing, I know Colombia doesn’t half-ass its storms. I turned back towards the farmer’s house below. Within minutes, it was deluging with the vibrant orange trails quickly turning to streams. I arrived at the bottom completely soaked with mud marks on my legs and tired muscles.

Moving from Toronto to Colombia has been an interesting personal experiment to say the least (and this is just the beginning). In making a transition like this, I’ve put myself in a situation where I no longer have a large social circle and comforts like my house, my routine, my directional awareness of my surroundings and even my ability to communicate are all gone. When I look at the elements that made up my day-to-day life a mere four weeks ago, there’s only one thing left: my fitness. During this transitional period, I’m glad for that.

I’ve been an active person for my entire life. In the early nineties when I was pint-sized but high energy, I danced, swam and pedaled my pink bike around and around the block. I spent my weekends playing tag and following the current of the stream by my house to see where it led. Soon after, I found my love for distance running and that never waned. I ended up in the fitness and health writing game.

It feels like by spending my youth as an active kid, I unknowingly set myself up to become a more self-sufficient adult. These days, I’m not only thankful that I’ve made myself into a physically active person but I also feel that this is the best investment I could have made. What’s more, is that I think putting time and energy into fitness is one of the smartest things any woman can do.

I spent the past few years writing about health and exercise. Through this work, one of the biggest things I wanted others to recognize is that the benefits of maintaining a decent fitness level go so far beyond looking trim and toned. While the workouts at first may seem to be means towards achieving a certain type of beauty, I don’t think that should be the point. Someone who makes athleticism part of her lifestyle is building a body that’s strong enough to take her on adventures no matter where she chooses to end up. Those activities could range from kayaking to hiking to climbing – you name it. Being fit enough to explore the surroundings through movement, I think, is one of the best things people can do for themselves. Sure, doing those planks and yoga poses may serve an initial purpose but once those ambitions have been realized, I think it’s about being fit enough to jump into physical activity purely for the enjoyment of it. For example, now that I’m spending much of my days on my own, I’m glad that I can hike tough terrain or spend an afternoon running without feeling exhausted. If I was starting from square one during this period, I’m not sure what I’d do.

This sort of a lifestyle is a big contributor to confidence, too. Believe me, moving to a different continent is a great way to test this trait. I may be nervous to venture out into the city (what if I get lost… again?) or talk to a stranger (what if my pronunciation is off… again?) but when it comes to moving my body, I know I’ve got this. With hiking, running or yoga, I know I’m well able to carry myself through – no matter where I am. That’s a confidence booster – one I’m glad for.

Everyone gets their fair share of curveballs to deal with. Keeping up with the workouts, I feel, is probably the best way to be proactive for those crappy days. To run or cycle or commit to those Tuesday night sessions is to contribute to overall wellness. When my body is stronger and fitter, I’m generally happier. When I’ve had a horrible day, I’m able to hit the roads for a tempo run and blow off steam and suddenly, the problem seems to have shrunk itself. Trust me, the workout has the power to benefit overall wellbeing. What woman wouldn’t want that in her life?

By the time I arrived home from my mountain hike in the rain, I was severely uncomfortable. First of all, my shoes were like a pair of waterlogged boats squishing with every step. Secondly, my white tank top was now see-through which, paired with my mud-stained shorts, didn’t make for a good look. The next day, my upper legs, not used to descending down a steep mountain were so sore I could hardly tackle a set of stairs. Still, it was one of the best days I’ve had in Colombia so far. Physical activity is a big part of who I am and I’ll continue to rely on that as I navigate this country. I’ve already planned my next hike here: a route along the spine of a mountain just outside the city.

 

Discover Dubrovnik, all the reasons you should

The Mediterranean is magical for not only its beauty, but also for the variety of cultures that call its shores home. It is without a doubt one of my favourite regions to visit on this planet for the beauty of the summoning blue waters and the history that each nation set along the coast has attached. Italy left me enchanted, Greece had me at Yassas ,  but it was Croatia that made my heart race and is strongly beckoning me back.

The moment our ship pulled into the cove, a short distance from the shores of the gorgeous port town of Dubrovnik, Andreas Bocelli came over the loud speaker and all passengers simply gazed in awe at the truly breathtaking scenery that in all my years traveling has never been matched. Surrounded by rolling hills that directly meet the Adriatic, and lined with windblown palms and old stone walls that beckon onlookers in for further discovery, my stomach leaped with excitement to step foot off the vessel and to see more.

The port town has become a tourist-filled destination over the years for good reason, as the beauty, matched with the cultural influences, architecture, hospitality and history, make it a must-see destination on your itinerary.

History & Sights

The old town within the walls of Dubrovnik includes an array of monuments and structures that remain symbols of the power struggle that the town had been plagued with right up until the early 90’s. Few of the buildings built during the Renaissance period survived the earthquake of 1667, but those which did, are worth a visit. These include the Sponza Palace, dating from the 16th century, that now houses the National Archives, The Rector’s Palace, which is a Gothic Renaissance structure, and is now a museum, and the St. Saviour Church, which is also a remnant of the Renaissance period. Stop by the ancient monastery and the forts which sit atop the hill of the old town, and you’ll have achieved gaining enough historical knowledge for your first visit.

Dining

Dining is made not only delectable but also delightful while in Dubrovnik. Many wonderful options for a scrumptious meal are offered directly in old town, of which include the 5- star locale, Restaurant Dubrovnik, that serves only the best quality Mediterranean meals that are complemented by service from warm and attentive staff. The notable fine-dining restaurant does come at a cost, yet is worth every dime.

For an experience that includes a seaside view and the most delicious seafood found in the region, visit Nautika Restaurant. Your meal will be accompanied by panoramic views from the gorgeously decorated terrace, including a sight of the two fortresses, Lovrijenac and Bokar.

Restaurant 360 offers up an experience that the name makes self-explanatory- a 360 degree view of the ancient town and all that surrounds it, from atop a wonderful patio. Service is warm and prices are reasonable. This is a wine-lovers paradise thanks to the tastings the restaurant provides A remarkable view, delicious cuisine and fine wine- what more could a lover of all things chic ask for?

Accommodations

Accommodations within this historical spot are difficult to come by, yet merely a walk away from the old town walls, travelers can find luxurious villas and retreats to enjoy more seaside views while unwinding after a day of discovery and luxury dining. Villa Dubrovnik, Villa Orsula and Villa Allure of Dubrovnik are the top picks for your most comfortable, chic and quality stay. Each is a short kilometer from the old town walls and offer luxurious accommodation either directly on, or overlooking the sea.

As an avid traveler, it is always difficult for me to part with a destination I have enjoyed great experiences in. However,  while leaving the port of Dubrovnik, the captain played Andreas Bocelli once more, only this time it was his masterful piece, “Time to Say Goodbye,” and tears actually welled in my eyes at the sheer beauty and bittersweet moment during which we sailed away. I vowed to return and suggest an initial or return visit to each and all of you to this incredible destination.

 

 

 

 

Why you need to visit Lamma Island

Beyond the concrete towers that encapsulate Hong Kong’s skyline lies a hidden gem in the South China Sea. Originally known as Pok Liu Chau, Lamma Island is the tiny 13-square-kilometer destination that everyone should add to their bucket list. Although, sadly, there are no llamas, as the name may imply, this island is a true haven away from the dense commotion of central Hong Kong.

Lamma Island boasts some of Hong Kong’s finest natural landscapes, complete with thick greenery, swimmable beaches and a refreshing dose of ocean air. You can catch a ride to the northern village of Yung Shue Wan, or the eastern Sok Kwu Wan in just 20 minutes from Victoria Harbour, or 40 minutes from Aberdeen.

Whether you’re planning a day trip or a weeks-long getaway, here’s why this island will provide you with the perfect change of pace:

The Beaches

A spacious, tidy beach is a relic that’s hard to come by along the coasts of Hong Kong and mainland China. Lamma Island, however, has plenty of swimmable beaches with white sand and (mostly) clean water. Hung Shing Yeh is the island’s most popular beach in the main town of Yung Shue Wan, and despite being ordered to get out of the water due to a nearby oil spill during my own beach day, it’s definitely worth a trip. If you’re looking for a quieter spot, Lo So Shing beach is a must-visit, or you can explore the island’s coast, which is speckled with a ton of secret sandy shores. There is one beach, however, on the southern tip of the island that’s reserved for our marine animal friends. Although accessible by foot or private boat for some of the year, Sham Wan Bay is closed to the public from June to October, as it is the only remaining nesting site in Hong Kong for endangered sea turtles.

The Food

Hong Kong is internationally renowned for its seafood, and some of its best can be found on Lamma Island. Home to one of the territory’s oldest fishing villages, Sok Kwu Wan was once the liveliest fishing centre in Hong Kong. The village residents have been practicing this art for centuries and continue to use traditional fishing techniques to this day. Both of the island’s main towns are lined with seafood eateries, most of which come equipped with patios that overlook the ocean. And if fish isn’t really your thing, not to worry! Lamma is home to a hefty population of expats, many of whom have opened their own restaurants with an international flare. You can find delicious Spanish tapas, traditional British pubs, aromatic Indian grub, and plenty of cozy vegan and vegetarian cafes.

The Hiking Trails

With no cars or buses, Lamma Island can only really be explored by bicycle or by foot. Luckily, there are numerous trails traversing the island’s landscape.The most popular trail is known as the Lamma Island Family Walk and takes you between the major towns of Yung Shue Wan and Sok Kwu Wan in about one and a half hours. The trail is mostly paved with clear markers and fresh fruit stands along the way, and it’s easily doable for beginners. It will bring you through the rolling green hills of the island to various lookout points where you can catch the sunset and see the glitzy shimmer of Hong Kong’s concrete jungle across the channel.

For the history buffs, Lamma’s trails are also decorated with remnants of the past. Along the way, you’ll find one of many small caves that were built by the Japanese during their occupation of Hong Kong in World War II. The caves were dug to hold speedboats that would be used in suicide attacks on enemy ships. Although they were never fully in use, the caves are untouched to this day, and are now known as the Kamikaze Grottos.

The People

Lamma Island is home to approximately 6,000 residents– not many, compared to the millions of people that populate the rest of Hong Kong. Some locals have lived here for generations, with roots reaching back to the island’s booming fishing days. However, Lamma’s laid-back energy and undeniable charm has attracted expats, artists and wandering nomads from all corners of the globe. It’s also been a recent draw for many workers who’ve opted for a daily ferry commute over the dreaded apartment hunt in mainland Hong Kong. The apparent multiculturalism has infused the island with a free-spirited vibe that makes it one of the best corners of Hong Kong if you’re looking to meet new people.

The Peace & Quiet

Lastly and, in my opinion, most importantly, Lamma Island is a slice of serenity in the foreground of cosmopolitan chaos. There are no cars and no skyscrapers to pollute its natural beauty, in fact, government restrictions forbid any units to be built over three storeys high. This not only curbs the number of residents, but it also opens the view to the skies above- something that’s quite a rarity on the mainland. If you really want to bask in the silence, avoid the island’s busiest time, which is summer weekends when a wave of mainland citizens come rushing in for the prime beach-lounging hours. But, just as quickly as they appear, they vanish at the call of the last scheduled ferry.

If you want to experience Lamma Island and all it has to offer, I suggest planning your trip soon. As the island gains popularity with visitors from near and far, an increasing number of developers are setting their sights on this relaxed hideaway. It may not be the same place in ten, or even five years from now, so hurry up and pack your bags!

Ireland Inspiration: six places you must visit on a trip to Ireland

If there’s one thing that St.Patrick’s Day is especially good for, it’s the ability it has to bring on a strong case of wanderlust. It’s no wonder Ireland gets a reputation for being a magical, fairytale-like place: with its cobblestone roads, ancient castle ruins and perfect green fields, this island looks made for the pages of a storybook. Each year as St. Patrick’s Day arrives, many are bombarded with images of Ireland that look nearly too perfect to be true. For the avid travellers out there, this annual holiday may make booking a flight all too tempting. If considering a trip to Ireland across the Atlantic, there are several corners of the country well worth a visit. (Trust us, they won’t let your Instagram down.) Sure, Dublin may seem the most obvious spot for a tourist and while the city is as vibrant and lively as one would expect, there are several other areas to make the trip one for the books. Below, a few suggestions.

Limerick

Readers of world renowned author Frank McCourt, who won a Pulitzer Prize for the memoir Angela’s Ashes, need to make a visit to Limerick a top priority. Though the book is quite a sad story, fans of his work will see where he developed his Irish humour and can be sure to stop by iconic locations like the River Shannon during their stay.

Cliffs of Moher

These cliffs are at the top of many a traveller’s bucket list for good reason. Visiting the Cliffs of Moher is one of those experiences that actually does leave a traveller breathless. The west of Ireland has a reputation for being absolutely stunning and this gem is one of the main reasons why. The photo ops at this natural tourist attraction are aplenty. Standing 214 metres at their highest point, the cliffs are too pretty not to plan a tour. While there, keep eyes peeled for the 30,000 birds who call this place home.

Galway

Outgoing women who journey to enjoy a good party best get acquainted with the city of Galway. Situated on the coast, Galway smells of saltwater and is the perfect place to spot quaint fishing boats. The nightlife here is incredible. Take a girl pal out for the night and commit to a pub crawl along the cobblestone roads. Be sure to sample local brews of course. Looking for a day trip outside of the city? Visit the former village of Claddagh just a short drive outside of the city. It’s famous for, you guessed it, Ireland’s iconic ring.

Ulster

Exploring the streets of Ulster in Ireland’s North will satisfy the politically savvy wanderer as much as the visitor interested in art. Painted during the politically unstable period, many of the murals on city walls and houses served as propaganda and contributed to the tense atmosphere of two rivalling sides: the north and the south. Since then, some have been painted over to show more cheerful scenes, however  many originals still remain.

Aran Islands

A trip to the Aran Islands is an absolute must. Found at the mouth of Galway Bay, seeing these picturesque islands is bound to be the highlight of the trip for most tourists. Don’t believe it? Consider that National Geographic named the location one of the world’s top island destinations. These islands will seem like a throwback in time. One area that can’t be missed: world heritage site Don Aonghasa.

Comeragh Mountains

Active travellers get the hiking gear ready. For the athletic wanderer, a visit to the Comeragh Mountains is a great spot to explore Ireland by foot. The mountains have many trails to choose from and taking in the site of Coumshingaun Lake (a glacial lake) is the cherry on top of an epic day trip. The mountains are found in Waterford county which is also famous for its crystal so if visitors are looking for a rather fancy souvenir, that’s well worth the investment.

St. Patrick’s Day: How personal tradition defines the way we celebrate our holidays

 

By Sinead Mulhern

When St. Patrick’s Day rolled around each year while I was growing up in Alberta, my mom and I would get to work whipping up batches upon batches of clover-shaped cookies. In the middle of March, winter showed no signs of letting up in the Prairies and so it only seemed natural to stay inside, roll out the dough and fill the house with the agonizingly sweet smell of nearly-baked goods. In our prep, we’d throw into the bowl flour as powdery as the snow heaps outside and whirl it together with crystals of white sugar. While they baked, we mixed up the icing – green of course – ready to coat each little clover with a generous layer. Then, I’d proudly bring them to school to share with my classmates. Being  the Irish kid in the class, it was my special treat.

As traditions go, this possibly was simply an idea one year, before carrying on to the next and the next. Eventually, supplying my peers with these shamrock treats became part of my St. Patrick’s Day routine. Once, I even remember when Paddy’s Day eve rolled around and we had both forgotten so we woke up extra early and baked a double batch together in the indigo blue pre-dawn hours.

At school, I’d pass around the green snacks,  press play to an accordion tune and perform one of the jigs which I learned at dance practice in Edmonton’s Irish club. During those years, St. Patrick’s Day was the celebration of the country where both my parents were born and lived in until their mid-twenties. For me, it was green cookies and dancing and, of course, church and Irish brunch.

The latter would be standard for many Irish households living both in the stocking-shaped emerald isle or abroad – like us. The former though, are traditions we created ourselves. When the calendar turns to March 17, many in Canada will celebrate by clinking pints of Guinness or green-dyed beer. Packs of university students in North America will wear obnoxious amounts of green with probably at least one top hat and kiss-me-I’m-Irish sash in every group. In Ireland, some relatives of mine will take in mass and a breakfast of eggs and sausages after. Green sugar cookies will be few and far between, I know.

Though we religiously kept up our tradition for years, it eventually faded. I grew past the age where it would have been appropriate to pass around baked goods in class and we moved across the country,  well away from our Alberta kitchen with the snow piles out the window. While the sugary clover cutouts became a thing of the past, my mother’s and my love for working with food didn’t wane. Out were the cookies, in was the baked soda bread (a classic) or a piping hot pot of Irish stew (even more classic). Together, we busied our hands putting together recipes that were, this time, symbolic of the place where my mom grew up.

When I left home and moved to Toronto, I kept up our tradition of making food on this day even though we no longer lived in the same household. Just as I did when I was seven, I again made a point of sharing it with school friends. For a few years during this chapter in my life, I avoided the tacky party celebrations and instead whipped up a pot of Irish stew and a fresh loaf of bread for my best lady friend. Together, we drank beer well into the evening.

The food that I now make on this day is traditional, yes. But my tradition of working away in the kitchen on (or just before) March 17, and sharing with friends has nothing to do with Paddy’s Day really. That habit stems from the days I spent mixing sugar cookies with my mom. The food has changed over time, the activity has not. This is how I, a daughter of two Irish immigrant parents, choose to spend this day. It’s interesting, how the customs we make for ourselves somehow have the most importance. Our personalized celebrations often trump how holidays are typically celebrated by the masses.

This year, the tradition, for me, has changed yet again. For the first time, I won’t be in Canada for this Irish holiday. I now reside in Colombia – over 6,000 kilometres away from that Alberta home and 4,000 kilometres away from my mom. The traditions I’ve set for myself will continue to evolve as I celebrate this holiday and the ones to come. As we head into Paddy’s Day, my mom and I have already discussed our menus. She’ll make her St. Patrick’s Day stew on the weekend whereas I’ve made mine already. The difference: mine contained a cup not of Guinness, but a local beer: Club Colombia Negra.

Five reasons why the career focused woman should go on a work retreat

 

By Sinead Mulhern

For me, 2018 marks the year when I turned an idea that had been brewing for four years into a reality. The notion of travelling for months on end had become impossible to ignore so before the timing became hopelessly complicated, I left my life in Toronto and boarded a plane to Colombia. This wasn’t in the fashion of your classic quit-your-job-and-travel story, but rather, as a way to travel while moving forward with my career. Conversations around travel often hint at getting away from work but for me, a woman who enjoys her line of work, my travel experience will be the opposite.

I believe that spending time abroad to enhance work life is the way to go and, luckily, there are plenty of work-travel retreats that make the transition less daunting. In the era when working remotely from a laptop is becoming the norm, there are several options that allow workaholics to commit to travel knowing there are like-minded individuals waiting on the other side. Programs like Be Unsettled and Remote Year offer more temporary stays around the world whereas artist residency programs or co-working houses, like Roam and We Live, cater to digital nomads who want a longer-term fix. Interested in taking work abroad? Below, find a few reasons why a work-travel experience is the best way for women to explore in 2018.  

Your career won’t stagnate.

My will to explore the world is a big reason why I ended up pursuing a career in journalism. Like many, I don’t need to stay put in one place to build upon that career. Before I left, I built a stronger network of clients so that I could make my version of work-travel a reality. I’ve expanded the topics I write about as well as the places in which my writing is published. Contrary to the belief that one must stop working for a period of time in order to explore foreign regions, travel can actually open new doors – professionally speaking. In other words, it’s not an “either or” ultimatum.    

The environment fosters personal growth.

While the projects may bring joy, work life can be enhanced further by attending a work-travel retreat. Just like the travel companies that cater to those who want to escape the office for a couple weeks, there’s no shortage of folks who plan travel experiences for digital nomads, freelancers or entrepreneurs. Relocating to foreign territory kick-starts some much-needed personal growth – instilling more confidence and inner peace. This in turn impacts professional life in positive ways.

You set your schedule.

More and more in recent years, I had been itching to pack my bags, board a plane and travel for longer than the quick in-and-out experience that my vacation time from my office job afforded me. Like many, at times I also took issue with working the same hours every single day. By signing up for one or two months of a remote work-travel program (or custom designing your approach like I’m doing) laptop workers can maximize productivity by working during their most constructive hours. Full disclosure: be warned that this could come at a financial cost – at least in the beginning. Adjust expectations accordingly.

New vantage points lead to fresh ideas.

Part of the day can be spent at a desk with a beach view and part can be spent eating local cuisine. Getting away from the daily grind for a month or a year – whatever you choose – will provide a new perspective since everything from the people to the cultural norms are completely different. Because of this, working professionals are likely to tackle projects with new approaches and a fresh pair of eyes.

Getting out of the comfort zone lends well to making bold moves at work.

When spending time abroad, even completing the most basic tasks can seem like an accomplishment – especially if there’s a language barrier. When simply ordering lunch or navigating transit becomes difficult, the things that seem intimidating at work become much more doable by comparison.

 

Metrolinx 2041 Rapid Transit Plan Approved: future looking bright for connectivity across GTA and beyond

By Jessica Ashley Merkley

Metrolinx, an agency created to improve modes of transportation in the GTA as well as the Hamilton Area, has now revealed their ambitious and detailed plan that will be ongoing, with a set date of completion for 2041.

The Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) was revealed this past week and is one of great ambition seeing as it is slated to involve 100 projects that will, in the end, result in better connectivity across the Greater Toronto Area and surrounding regions. The agency, which falls under the Government of Ontario’s Metrolinx Act of 2006, was created as a means to ease congestion on roadways and to offer alternative options to commuters.

Phil Verster, CEO of Metrolinx, spoke to the board about the importance of this plan’s approval, on March 8, 2018.

“This is a very important day,” Verster said. “It shows what good looks like.”

The RTP for 2041 was developed as a continuation of the initial plan and its success, termed “The Big Move.” Released in 2008, this first plan was the catapult to a $30 billion investment in rapid transit and resulted in a total of nine project completions of transit initiatives and projects. These include, Davis Drive BRT, the Mississauga Transit-way, running from Winston Churchill Boulevard and Renforth Drive, the Highway 7 bus rapid transit, running between Yonge Street and Unionville GO Station, in addition to the UP Express between Union Station and Pearson Airport.

The outline of the RTP’s focus first deals with the completion of current rapid transit projects, such as those scheduled for completion based on “The Big Move.”  The plan considers such projects “in development,” and developers are keen to first finalize these.

Additionally, the RTP is set on connecting a larger portion of the region with rapid transit. The GO RER, and subway lines are slated to be the backbone to those in the works and the intended network will bring connectivity to regional destinations, such as popular urban areas and high-density places of employment. This will be achieved by way of a light rail transit system, in addition to bus rapid transit lines (BRT), as well as express bus services offered more frequently and giving priority to those who need the services most.

Metrolinx’s RTP plan is also meant as a means to get the most optimal use out of the current transportation system by interconnecting the various options of transit by also offering the same cost and integrating the fares to passengers. Improving the ease with which commuters find their final destination from terminal and stations, by making stations more accessible for cycling, walking,  pick-up and drop-off, in addition to carpooling, also makes its way into this section of the RTP.

The plan intends to gain the backing of municipalities to work on a unified front and optimize land-use, as well as transportation. In addition, the RTP allows for alterations to the set outlook, for what is termed an “uncertain future.”

Transportation and connectivity for commuters is to be improved vastly due to  these set plans, over the upcoming decades.

http://www.metrolinx.com/en/regionalplanning/rtp/

Is all female travel the way to go?

By Sinead Mulhern

Of all my trips exploring Ontario cottage country, one particular weekend with my best girl friends stands out. Now that I’ve just left Canada, I’m sure I’ll value these memories even more in the months to come. The girls who I grew up with were – and continue to be – a boisterous, foolhardy crew and so when, in our early twenties, one of us suggested a canoe camping trip, the idea took hold. We crammed our gear into the truck, drove north, packed the essentials into two silver canoes and paddled through the waters of Pointe au Baril in Georgian Bay. That weekend, we chopped wood, built raging fires, constructed a tarp shelter to weather stormy hours and cracked cans of beer as we dipped our paddles into the bay, our battered muscles moving the canoe forward.

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Trips like this and others that followed lead me to strongly feel that all-female trips are an experience like no other. Whether travelling with a group of lifelong friends or meeting a pack of adventurous women halfway across the globe, the benefits of exploring with other women are not in short supply. Cement-strong bonds form fast when exploring unknown territory plus instances of everyday sexism are fewer. This in turn affords the space for female travellers to move confidently and develop necessary travel skills. There’s the fact too that some women simply prefer to travel in an all-female crowd.  

I’ve been lucky to have always had a band of lady friends eager to accompany me in my adventures. My crew from childhood also experienced not just cottage country but the nation’s capital, Toronto and Alabama. When I visited a friend in Brazil, I quickly became pals with her two best friends as we road tripped up the northeast coast for a beachy weekend. In 2016, a close friend and I flew south to see the third woman in our troop who had recently become a Colombian transplant. There, we chatted about relationships and early career goals and raided each other’s suitcases. We went to a Caribbean island laughing over boozy coconut cocktails by turquois shores and commiserating over sunburnt skin at night. These memories, to me, are priceless.

Not every woman with a case of wanderlust has an all-girl group on board. What then? Those curious about travelling the globe are spoiled in 2018 – not just for choice but for style of travel. If my personal experience sparks envy, know that many travel companies have stepped in to do the heavy lifting. If spending the next vacation abroad surrounded by a like-minded sisterhood sounds appealing, know that cementing plans is just a matter of finding the all-girls-club that fits.

WHOA Travel is one-such example in the sea of female travel groups. The boutique adventure company is founded by Allison Fleece and Danielle Thornton who stepped aside from their careers after an adventure in Kilimanjaro. They inspire women around the world to step outside of their comfort zones by booking one of their tours. Adventure Women is a company of a similar concept run for women by women. Its focus is to take other adventurous ladies on active trips for once-in-a-lifetime experience. Collectively its organizers have been to 65 countries. In other words: they know their stuff.

For the woman who craves solitude during the day with a little company later on, all-female hostels and hotels are a smart choice. Hostelle, for example, is a wise play on words “hostel” and “elle” to indicate that this place is for women and girls only. Started by Bianca Brasdorp, this Amsterdam abode is a comfortable zone for any woman – backpacker or business tripping nine-to-fiver – who finds herself in this corner of Europe. Closer to home, Canada’s capital also sets a positive example with Barefoot Hostel, a space which, since 2016, has been inviting to women of all ages and backgrounds. These are just a few. Whether a woman is looking for beach glamping or a rigorous trek, there’s an all-female crowd waiting. She just has to look.

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My friends and I packed up and canoed down the river well before dawn. We arrived home our feet black from going barefoot all weekend and our air-dried hair wavy and clinging to the smoky campfire smell. That trip was one for the books: I became closer with those girls and learned how to make a roaring fire. Since then, we’ve moved farther first to different cities and then countries. At the time, it was a simple long weekend away. Now that we’re dispersed, I think back on that trip as a cherished memory.

 

5 of the best places to ski in Canada

After watching two straight weeks of the Olympics, does anyone else have the winter sport bug? I just want to get out on the ice or hit the slopes — preferably a smaller version of the Olympic venues to match my skill level. While it may be easy to strap on a pair of rented skates and drive to your local community skating rink, it is a lot more complicated to plan a skiing trip.

First of all, most resorts are a fair distance from larger cities, which means you will have to drive. Some ski resorts offer shuttles, but they can be costly and most require you to get to a bus station or loading zone. Second of all, you want to look at the quality of snow and the level of the hill. Lastly, you need to consider ski rentals and possible instruction for beginners.

There are dozens of amazing ski resorts across the country — so many choices, so little winter left! If you need a little guidance, here are five of the best places to ski in Canada:

Whistler, British Columbia: This is one of the most popular skiing destinations. With over 200 runs, 16 alpine bowls, and three glaciers, there is something for everyone, regardless of skill level. It was also the location for all skiing and snowboarding events during the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, so it will really make you feel like a true athlete. There are a number of resorts to choose from, so no matter your budget or the purpose of your trip, you are bound to find a deal that suits you.

Banff, Alberta: There are three resorts in the area with interchangeable lift tickets!  With one of the longest ski seasons in the country, The area is known internationally as a prime tourist destination with a number of non-skiing activities available for those who may not be as athletically inclined. The only problem is that the resorts aren’t in central Banff, so having a car is necessary.

Mont Tremblant, Quebec: This is the perfect ski resort for beginners or day trippers. There are nearly 100 downhill trails in addition to a pedestrian village with shops and restaurants. It’s a great location for snowboarders, with 18 acres of ramps, rails, jumps, and an Olympic-caliber superpipe.

Kamloops, BC: Sun Peaks is the third-largest ski resort in Canada, with over 124 trails for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and tubing. With 124 trails, there is something for athletes of all skill level. The resort ambassador is also Olympic gold medalist Nancy Greene — so if feeling like an Olympian is your goal, this is the destination for you.

Fernie, British Columbia: This ski resort is right in the middle of the Canadian Rockies, which makes it less of a tourist destination and more of a place where real enthusiasts gather. There are 142 runs, five alpine bowls, and tree skiing with a vertical drop of 1,082 meters. The snow at this resort is all natural, with an average annual snowfall of 875 centimetres. The resort is open year-round.

Where is your favourite place to ski? Let us know in the comments below!

An eruption in paradise: Bali in the wake of Mount Agung

Flights booked, bags packed – my partner and I were about to embark on the common-held dream of backpacking Bali.

“You’re still going?” a friend asked us a few nights before our departure. Her voice brimmed with bewilderment. “Haven’t you heard? They evacuated half of the island!” An impromptu Google search confirmed her cause for panic. “Travel Warning in Effect!” the headlines shouted. “Experts Warn of Mount Agung’s Massive Eruption!”

We shrugged our shoulders, crossed our fingers and headed to the airport as scheduled. We agreed that if Mother Nature was going to blow, we were prepared to witness her fury firsthand.

Bali sits in the southern part of the Indonesian archipelago as the only predominantly Hindu island in the mostly Muslim country. For the Balinese locals, Mount Agung is a volcano that bears a sacred importance. Along with being the highest point on the island (and, therefore, the closest to the heavens), many locals believe that it is a replica of the cosmological Mount Meru, which, in the Hindu religion, is considered to be the centre of all universes.

I had always heard of Bali to be a magical meeting point of spirituality and nature. When I arrived to the island, this truth was confirmed. Inside and out, the beauty of Bali was overwhelming. It’s an island that people often perceive as the ultimate paradise, but its merit goes so much deeper than the lush tropics and sunny coastal beaches; there’s something present in Bali that I can only describe as an ‘aura,’ created and sustained by various pieces of a cosmic puzzle- the people, the culture,  the environment, the spirituality and, above all, the devotion. Our first days on the island were seasoned with this energy.

Walking down the streets of each city on our journey, it was almost impossible to miss a holy ceremony or celebration taking place. The narrow sidewalks were lined with “Canang Sari,” handwoven coconut leaf baskets filled with flowers, small gifts, and incense as an offering to the gods. Nearly everyone smiled, said hello, and radiated a spirit of gratitude and love. And although many areas were heavily occupied by western expats and tourists, it seemed a place where locals and visitors thrived in creative harmony.

Prior to hearing about the brewing rumbles of Mount Agung, we planned to summit to its peak, but decided otherwise as the entire island (including myself) waited in anticipation for the volcano to explode. Instead, we opted to drive our motorbike to Mount Batur, another sacred volcano just 18 km northwest of Agung. It was far enough away that it sat outside of Agung’s evacuation zone, but many had still chosen to flee the area.

The foggy, uphill winding roads that led us to Batur and its surrounding villages were eerily quiet. There were very few locals, let alone tourists, frequenting what once were busy streets. As we parked our bike near a small market, a herd of nearby shop owners rushed to our side. They yelled about their products, waved fruit in our face and pulled us every which way. They begged us to purchase souvenirs, got angry when we politely declined, and watched in resentment as we eventually got back on the bike to continue our trip.

It was in that moment that I felt a shift in perspective.

My previous notion of a harmoniously tuned relationship between locals and tourists quickly transgressed into something that mirrored dependence. Of course, I understood the desperation for making a sale in an almost abandoned town, and such a scene is common in many tourist spots around the world, but the sense of despair revealed a fragility that I hadn’t yet noticed.

As we continued our journey, I looked around at all of the restaurants, resorts, and yoga studios that were overflowing with western tourists- a flock of simultaneous “Eat. Pray. Love.” journeys meeting at the epicenter of spiritual practice. “How much of this was built for indulgent visitors?” I thought.  

I couldn’t help but draw parallels between Mount Agung’s imminent eruption and the tourism industry’s imminent effects on Balinese culture.

See, Agung’s last eruption was in March, 1963, and just one month prior, a purifying ritual called Eka Dasa Rudra was to be performed by Hindu priests at the Besakih Temple on Agung’s slope. According to ancient texts, the ritual must be carried out at the temple every 100 years in order to maintain purity and protect humans from disaster at the hands of the gods. But, as the volcano began to quiver and bellow, the priests took it as a divine sign to postpone the ritual. Indonesia’s president at the time, however, urged them to continue through the warning signs, as he had invited foreign visitors from around the world to attend the event.

To the Balinese people, Eka Dasa Rudra wasn’t performed properly. In fact, it was tailored to accommodate foreign guests. As a result, many locals believe that its 1963 eruption, which destroyed villages and killed over 1,000 people, was the gods’ punishment.

If this moment in history isn’t already symbolic enough, you should know that Besakih Temple, which sat on the volcano, was largely untouched by the vicious lava flows that devastated the villages below. Most of the surrounding area was left in ruins, but Besakih stood tall‒ an emblem of devotion that, at that time, was spared.

I pondered on this story for the rest of my trip. Luckily, we left before Agung revealed its fury again in November 2017. When I read about the eruption in the news, I found little information regarding the spiritual importance of the volcano or how the locals were coping. I did, however, read plenty about its disastrous impact on Bali’s tourism.

“What would happen to Balinese culture at the whims of the tourism industry?” I thought to myself. “Could the island sustain its divine energy?”

But, in the spirit of Bali – in it’s exclusive wonderment to the rest of the world, I knew the answers to these questions were simply worries, curiosities of the future, not to be meditated on, as divinity is a power that, akin to a volcanic eruption, moves on its own terms. A feeling that I will never forget.