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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.

5 tips to pack light on your travels

Travelling can be exhausting, especially if you are going on vacation solo. The biggest source of this fatigue is packing. You need a certain number of outfits for each day, and then you need options for if the weather is cold or hot, or if you are spontaneous and decide to go out for the night. And then there are the killer shoes — one is good for walking, one for dancing, one for rain, one for snow, and one for the beach.

It’s not just the act of packing either. It’s the weigh-in at the airport, baggage claim, lugging your suitcase around the city for half a day while you wait for your hotel room to be ready. And then there are the extra fees if you do any shopping while abroad!

Don’t stress too much. There are ways to pack light while travelling that will allow for plenty of shopping space and a lot less hassle. Here are five tips:

Pack outfits, not options: This will save you so much room in your suitcase. Do you need a pair of pants for every day of your trip? Probably not. Choose a minimum number of bottoms and one or two shirts per bottom. While packing, you can sometimes fall victim to the “options” mentality, in which you pack numerous tops with numerous bottoms so you have a lot of choice. While choice is great, it is not prudent for light packing. Outfits are complete looks, and therefore you only bring what you know goes well with other items in your bag.

Bring laundry detergent: Who says you can’t do laundry on your trip, especially if you are away for over a week? Bring some detergent that is sink-friendly so you can wash undergarments midweek if you need to. I travelled through Europe for three weeks and this saved me! It meant I just had to pack a few outfits, wash, and re-wear!

Sorry ladies, limit your shoes: Shoes are the hardest part about packing for a trip. On the one side, you want something practical and comfortable if you plan on doing lots of walking. But, what if you want to go to the beach? What if you want to dress up for dinner? What if it rains? This is a constant problem, and my only advice for you is to choose two, and then add flip/flops if the beach life is for your. It seems impossible, right? But honestly, no one is going to look at your feet while you are on vacation – so go with comfort first. Invest in good walking shoes that are waterproof. This ticks off two boxes. Then, choose a pair of nice shoes that you can wear with both jeans and a dress. My go-to is a cork-heel sandal, as it is relatively comfortable and works with everything.

Bare minimum makeup: Hair products, foundation, brushes, and jewellery are some of the bulkiest items you can put in a suitcase. Go minimal — either purchase mini bottles of these items or get a travel pack from the drug store for shampoo and soap. Think about what you will be doing. If you are spending time on a beach or in the water, you don’t really need much makeup to begin with. Bring foundation or concealer, some mascara and eyeliner, and a lipstick for the evening. Eyeshadow will melt if you are going somewhere hot and there is no need for blush if you are wandering through a cobblestoned town in Amsterdam. In terms of jewellery, pack easy to match items like stud earrings or simple necklaces. If you want something funky for a fancier night out, that’s fine, but limit it to one look.

Backpack it: If you plan on doing any exploring or long adventures, make sure to have a small backpack to bring with you. This way, you can pack a few granola bars or a bottle of water with you for easy travel. You can purchase small locks and use it for your big pockets so that when you walk through large tourist hubs, you don’t have to worry about theft. It’s a lot easier than keeping your passport or wallet in a purse that is easy to grab. Having a backpack also gives you a little more freedom if you, let’s say, want to ignore my rule on shoes and truly believe you need an extra pair. Simply put it in your backpack and when you get to the hotel, remove it. This saves on any extra weight limitations you may have and allows you to pack an extra towel or necessity in your suitcase.

Bonus: roll, don’t fold! You can fit more if you fold your clothing in half and then tightly roll them up. You can fit double the amount of clothing in your suitcase this way.

Remember, that if you don’t have enough of something, you can always go to the store!

Eurostar launches direct rail from London to Amsterdam

Over four million people travel by plane between London and Amsterdam every year, making it one of the most  — now, they have another option.

Eurostar announced they will be launching a new high-speed direct rail service in between these two major systems, to be operational by April 4. The company will take advantage of one of the busiest traffic routes in Europe, creating a direct transit corridor that stops at Rotterdam and Brussels.

“The launch of our service to the Netherlands represents an exciting advance in cross-Channel travel and heralds a new era in international high speed rail. With direct services from the UK to The Netherlands, France and Belgium, we are transforming the links between the UK and three of Europe’s top trading nations,” said Eurostar Chief Executive Nicolas Petrovic.

“Our new route marks the culmination of the extensive investment in high speed rail on both sides of the Channel. With £1 billion investment in our new state-of the art trains and enhanced connectivity on the European network passengers can now enjoy fast, seamless rail connections between the UK and mainland Europe and a transformed travel experience.”

The cross-Channel rail operator is marketing itself as the more economic and sustainable transportation option, saying a trip from London to Amsterdam will emit 80 per cent of the carbon emissions as a flight between the two tourism hubs. Other benefits include express service, free wifi and onboard entertainment, fast check in, as well as free baggage allowances for two bags/suitcases and one piece of hand luggage. All baggage is taken on board so there is no ned to line up to reclaim your property.

Tickets will go on sale starting Feb. 20, at 35 Euros each way. There will be two trains running per day at a speed of 300 kph and the trip will take approximately three hours.

Who doesn’t love the train?

Why I’m working for myself during my “year off” travelling

The phone call that determined my present lifestyle happened nearly two years ago in the midst of a bout of post-travel blues and a too-short adventure in Colombia. I had just come back from two weeks in Medellin and returning to the grind brought on a feeling not dissimilar to the familiar nag one gets upon putting off a major project. I knew I wanted to travel more extensively, but didn’t know when. When I expressed this to my nomad of an older brother, he gave it to me straight: “Before you look for your next job, just take a year or six months off.”

I have just taken that plunge.

If each job is a stepping stone, my latest move is the first block on a detour that’s taking me South, back to The City of Eternal Spring to travel and freelance from a new place. I‘ve left my job and rid my apartment of the possessions that made it more than just a configuration of walls and halls. My plan: say adios to Toronto and travel South America for a year – tops. This is not, however, a stunt to escape my line of work. I’m part of the group of people who love their work. I’m ambitious. I always was. Since journalism is well-equipped to be transient, I’m taking my assignments – and new ones – with me to Colombia.

During this chapter I’m my own boss, and that is equal parts thrilling as it is uncomfortable. This is week number one of a lifestyle I’ve decided to sample for 12 months. I’m leaving my comfort zone approximately 4,000 kilometres away because I’m curious to know what happens when you hit pause and realize the person you most have to answer to is yourself. Contrary to my routine up until this point, I’m the one who sets my pace and the expectations. I’m the one responsible for the re-evaluations that come with that too. I’m the one who creates the assignment, even if it’s daunting.

This is a decision that comes during an era where articles geared towards career-minded women like me reflect the cultural climate, using words like ”entrepreneur” and “side hustle,” but also terms like “burnout” and “imposter syndrome.” I’m still early in my career and yet I relate to all four of those terms. The first two empower and motivate. As for the latter two… not so much, and I’m not willing to be confined by them.

I’m part of the large group of women who love their work, but I’m also part of the large group of women who spread themselves too thin, self criticize, and go about their work giving more without receiving more, and then judging the final product too harshly. Call me a millennial, but I think that cycle begs for a revamp – and I don’t feel bad for saying that. There is so much I’m appreciative of (my physical being is healthy and intact, I finally have a degree and years of hard work to my name, I’m financially stable, I have a solid support network) that I now want to build upon that, pen stories that have an impact, and not let it go to waste.

In overhauling the day-to-day routine, you decide what you toss out and you move forward with what can make you better. Sometimes, that’s a tough call to make and yes, it’s often daunting, but rarely has succumbing to intimidation led to the best path.

On dark, quiet nights, I often sat alone at my desk after a long work day in commitment to the side hustles that padded the bank account and afforded me the chance to do this. My current exercise: making sure I don’t tear down what I built for myself in confidence.

Why your next vacation should include a cycling tour

Can you imagine yourself biking along a field of wildflowers, herds of cows, or even up brisk mountains or along the coast of the ocean? The wind is rushing through your hair and the smell of the salty breeze hitting your cheek. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it?

When most people decide to travel as part of a tour, the first thing they search for is the form of transportation — will I be riding on a bus with 40 other people, will I use a cruise ship to get from one destination to another, or will the group be transported by train to each city? What most travellers overlook is the sustainable option of cycling.

I know exactly what you are thinking: that seems like a lot of work for a vacation. I considered a cycling tour a few years ago when I was looking to travel through Europe. I had just started to bike over the summer and thought it would be a great way to see the countryside of Italy — however, the more I read about it, the more the thought of riding 70 to  80 kilometres a day terrified me. I didn’t want to be that person who had to call a cab in the middle of nowhere and spend a mini-fortune getting back to the hotel.

But, there are a variety of cycling tours available for people of different fitness capabilities. After doing more research, I found quite a few tours that range between 30 and 60 kilometres per day, and that as long as you understand the hill gradients involved in the routes, it’s not as physically exhausting as it may seem.

The advantage of going on a cycling tour is the ability to move at your own pace. Most are self-guided, so while you travel with a group of people, what you do and see is entirely up to you. Feel free to stop at a small village for a glass of wine, wonder a few shops, hike through some ruins, or sit by a stream and relax those muscles. It’s a much more natural way of seeing a country. Instead of spending your time lining up for tourist attractions that are more than often overrated, you will actually get the opportunity to experience the culture of a place. A cycling tour is the perfect option for an explorer, someone who has an intense passion to learn and see more than what is often printed in a list of “top must-see places”.

And then there is the fitness aspect. Eat cake, drink wine, and enjoy delicacies from around the world, because you will most likely burn off all those calories when you hop back on that bike! Your bags are typically sent along to each hotel in a support vehicle, which means you don’t have to worry about travelling with all your luggage.

The final benefit is that cycling tours are often well-priced, as the costs only include accommodations (which are usually quite luxurious), and a few meals. The transportation is all up to you!

Here are a four tours to explore:

Cycle through Tuscany: This guided tour is incredibly intimate, which means you are bound to meet some great friends while enjoying the sights of Italy. The daily bike ride is relatively short, with the longest route being 55 kilometres; however, Tuscany is naturally hilly. This tour offers a few meals and complimentary wine after your bike ride. Travellers will be staying at a mix of hotels and apartments.

Cycle through Spain: For those looking to bike a daily 30 to 60 kilometres a day, this tour through Spain is for you. Travellers will spend two days in each city exploring the various cycling routes and getting to know each village. Discover seaside resorts, dormant volcanoes, and fishing villages. All breakfasts and one dinner are included.

Cycle through Peru: This tour is recommended for active travellers who enjoy hiking, cycling, and kayaking. Instead of biking to each destination, this tour is comprised of shorter local bike tours, which means beginners may be more drawn to it. A number of cultural destinations are included, along with guides to explain the history. The accommodations are a mix of hotels and campgrounds, so this tour is for those who truly love the outdoors and aren’t afraid to rough it.

Cycle through Croatia: Vineyards, forests, and the Adriatic Sea — what else would you need for a cycling tour? Explore the coast while cycling through local villages and tasting homemade wines and fresh fruits. Similarly to the tour through Tuscany, the longest ride is about 50 kilometres, but there are a few steep climbs. Most of the villages have deep historical significance, so history buffs rejoice!

When choosing a cycling tour, make sure to note which ones include rented bikes and helmets. Some tours may require you to bring your own bicycles while others will provide them for you.

Happy trailin’!