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Why transformative travel will change your life’s journey

In a society ruled by expected instantaneous results and smart devices, it’s often healthy to tap into your inner peace. This can be done through self-reflection or connecting with the elements around us.

While indulging on you inner journey, try escaping on an outer journey too. “Transformative travel” is a term coined by travel industry experts to describe a vacation that helps the traveller connect with their deeper self and inspire consciousness in the world. The Transformational Travel Collaborative is an organization founded on the basis of encouraging travellers to indulge in personal and inner journeys while on vacation.

The purpose of travelling is usually to immerse yourself in the local culture. This is often done by interacting with locals, going on excursions, and enjoying unique delicacies But have you ever felt worn out after a vacation like that one? It’s almost like you need another vacation after your vacation!

 

Instead of traditional travel, try travel with purpose. Travelling by itself helps you to discover, grow, and evolve, but it can also play a big component to healthy living and elevated growth.

Veronica Persaud, a travel consultant and franchise owner of Veronica Persaud- Dream Vacations, views travel as a connecting component of our life’s journey. “When someone travels they not only discover new things about the world around them, but most importantly, how they fit into this world! It’s like being a part of one grand puzzle, each piece as important as the other,” she told Women’s Post.

This new approach to viewing travel is heavily linked to wellness. Transformative travel promotes luxury retreats that have a more natural and artisanal design rather than modern or urban. Every part of your getaway should be peaceful in some aspect — this can include yoga, fitness, or wellness-related activities. Many travel agencies have jumped on this wellness trend, promoting fitness and health rather than local nightlife. In St Lucia, for example, the official tourism board has declared November as the inaugural Adventure and Wellness Month.

Even celebrities have started to promote the idea of going off the grid and focusing on your mental well being. In 2016, Chrissy Teigen, model and co-host of Lip Sync Battle, went on a wellness retreat to Bali, Indonesia. Her collection of majestic and soothing images on her Instagram helped spur this kind of movement forward. The family stayed at the COMO Shambhala Estate, which is a wellness resort offering activities such as hiking, swing yoga and rafting. It also housed a resident nutritionist for designed health plans. On her Instagram, Teigen captioned,

“My body and mind have never felt so clear. Thank You for getting me to move again… and giving me some much needed body and nutrition schooling.”

To Amy: the most patient human in the world

A post shared by chrissy teigen (@chrissyteigen) on

 

Transformative experiences that take place while travelling have a long lasting effect on psychology and emotion. For a more transformative travel experience follow these tips by Women’s Post:

  • Consider your intention for travel
  • Write down the goals for your trip — for instance: make a marriage stronger, connect with family, mental health or learning a creative trade.
  • Be vulnerable and humble — don’t just view a country for its glamorous tourist bits, but speak to a local about their lives and the conditions of that country.
  • Do less — take time to relax and experience the feelings around you
  • Have gratitude for your new perspective
  • Recall your insights gained by the trip and give yourself a short break upon returning home and restarting work

Your personal purpose and connection also transcends to a consciousness of the world, resulting in your desire to make meaningful changes once you return home. If you are thinking of where to start a journey like this, consider Dream Vacations. 

What are your thoughts on transformative travel? Leave a comment below!

 

Eat, explore, and relax in South America

Popular vacations typically include European back-packing trips or Caribbean cruises, but let us not forget about South America and all the beauty this continent has to offer. Truly different than the North — South America is home to some of the world’s most natural wonders as well as culture, activity, food, and dance. Here is a breakdown of the top places you should visit in South America, if you are looking for a different type of vacation. Let us explore, eat, and take ease:

Explore:

In the past few years, many travellers have decided to indulge in vacation spots that have more to offer in terms of eco-tourism. With pristine rainforests and exotic wildlife, every day in South America is an adventure.

Colombia
The Amazon adventure: Colombia is home to about 55 natural reserves and 23 of them have park rangers to help tourists engage in safe and fun adventures. The Amazonia also occupies 42 per cent of Colombia. The Amazon River that passes through Colombia is home to famous Anaconda snakes and pink dolphins. The Amacayacu Park is the most easily accessible spot and is located on the southern side of the Amazon River near the city of Leticia. The visitor’s centre of the park has been closed since 2012 due to severe flooding, but accommodations have been made with several Indigenous communities in the area that offer camping, cultural display, and craft activities.

Pink Amazonian Dolphin

Guyana
If you are ready to immerse yourself in a truly natural rainforest experience, Guyana is the place for you. Located along the northern coast of South America, this English-speaking territory is home to vast areas of untouched land, from savannahs to a portion of the Amazon rainforest. The Amazon Rainforest stretches into nine different countries in South America, with the majority in Brazil. The Iwokrama Reserve located in central Guyana is home to the Iwokrama Canopy Walkway in the Mauisparu region. This is the only tourist canopy walkway in the Guyana shield. The canopy, which is located 100 feet above the forest floor,  cost US $180,000 to construct and is made using adjustable steel cables and aluminum. The canopy has a unique design that allows trees to grow normally between the four spacious platforms. Tourists can spot wildlife, including the famous spotted jaguar, as well as engage in bird watching and night walks to explore biodiversity in the area. At the base of the canopy walkway is the Atta Rainforest Lodge where guests can stay overnight.

‘On the Canopy’ Iwokrama Guyana

 

Eat:

South America is home to many different cultures and meals, including arepas in Venezuela and peanut soup in Suriname. There is something unique to find in every country.

Argentina
This beautiful and vast South American country is home to one of the most spectacular landmarks, the Andes mountains. Argentina is also known for its food, in particular their steaks. The cut of steak is very important in Argentina and many farmers raise their cattle as free roaming. In Argentina, they also cook the steaks through a process called asado. Asado is similar to what we would refer to as barbecuing, however, it is slower and smokier. The primary base for asado are compressed charcoal pieces instead of propane. There is a popular steakhouse in Buenos Aires called La Brigada where the steaks are so tender they can be cut with a spoon. Some popular choices include ‘Asado De Tira’ which are essentially short ribs and ‘Bife De Chorizo’ which is a juicy sirloin steak.

Chile
The love affair with Chile and red wine dates back to the 16th century. The most popular types of wine available is Cabernet Sauvignon, Pais, Carmenere and Merlot. There are many varieties of vineyards in Chile and many are located in the southern region near the flat lands at the base of the Andes Mountains, providing a stunning backdrop for wine tasting and exploring. Chile is voted as one of the top ten wine producers in the world and some one of the most popular spots includes Casablanca Valley, which is located along the coast near Santiago and Valparaiso. One of the most popular times to travel to Chile for wine tasting is during the Grape Harvest Festival, which takes place from March through April.

 

Ease:

An important part of a vacation is the relaxation — a time to be lazy and to enjoy the simple things in life, even if that includes reading a book on a sandy beach or relaxing by a midnight bonfire.

Bolivia
This relatively small South American country is landlocked between Peru, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay, but still has its own unique cultural experiences to offer. Bolivia is known for the world’s largest salt flats, located in the southern region of Uyuni. The stunning salt flats attract wondering tourists due to its unique ecosystem and stretching views of the glistening salt late. There are, however, many areas in Bolivia that offers different experiences. For something more low key visit the region of Copacabana, located near the border with Peru, which offers a warm and comforting feel of a small town. Copacabana is nestled between two hills near the Titicaca Lake, one of South America’s largest lake. Copacabana is also known for its many churches and religious festivals. The stunning Basilica of Our Lady of Copacabana takes up a whole block in this small town. The Basilica is home to the Camarin de la Virgen de Candelaria— a famous 15th century statue. Legend says that if she is removed Lake Titicaca will rise up in rebellion.

Basilica de Copacabana

Brazil
This list would not be complete without one of the largest and well known countries of South America —Brazil. Various parts of Brazil provide different experiences, from carnival in Rio de Janeiro to the famous rodeo. If you are looking to relax along a beach you are in the right spot.  Copacabana beach is the most famous beach in the country, but if you are looking for something more tranquil and quiet, Prainha beach may be the best choice. Located just a short drive away from the busy Rio de Janeiro, this beach sits at the forefront of rainforest covered mountains. This is the ideal getaway from all the excitement and hectic nature of travelling. For more information and the best rated places to stay in Brazil, consider using a site such as AllTheRooms.com that offers comprehensive event guides for different areas and the best suggested places to stay.

Prainha Beach – Rio de Janeiro


Hope you enjoyed our short trip around South America and let us know in the comments below where you plan to visit next.

8 movies that will make you book your next flight

What if I told you you could go on vacation right now? Art mediums like books and movies can transport you to far-off lands, but it can also encourage people to take real trips to other countries. The sensory experience of film can transport you to another world entirely, exposing you to culture, food, music, and art in the span of 90 minutes. So take this journey with Women’s Post as we list eight movies that will inspire you to travel.

Thailand-The Beach (2000)

Like the name, this movie was filmed on location from the streets of Bangkok to Maya Bay in Ko Phi Phi Leh, Thailand. Based on a novel by Alex Garland, this adventure packed film follows a young American tourist. Leonardo Dicaprio plays the young American who finds himself travelling to a secluded island in the Gulf of Thailand and joins a secret community with magical blue waters and pristine lagoons. Despite the wonderful visuals of this movie, this films isn’t all paradise.

 

Spain- Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)

As the title suggests, this Woody Allen film transports you to the streets and ways of Barcelona, Spain. This romantic comedy follows two American friends on vacation in Barcelona where they put their inhibitions to the side and indulge in a weekend of seduction by a Spanish painter played by Javier Bardem. Woody Allen captured many stunning visuals in this film while promoting the Catalonia region of Spain. Scenes are also filmed in Oviedo, the northwest Spanish countryside. One scene of the movie also captures the Church of La Sagrada Familia, a famous unfinished Roman Catholic Church from 1882. The architecture and seen in this movie will be greatly appreciated.

Scotland/ United Kingdom- One Day (2011)

While I may never forgive the ending of this movie, this film captures scenes from Scotland, France and England. Most of the production took place in Edinburgh,Scotland, where the lead characters of the movie attend University. Scenic views also includes the Brittany region of France and several shots of London. The movie follows two university friends, who always find themselves connecting over the years, eventually invoking feelings of love, disappointment, bad timing and hurt.

India/France-The Hundred- Foot Journey (2014)

I discovered this film by mere chance on a long flight — the irony is not lost on me. After watching, I was ready to fly to India and to the French countryside instead. The Hundred-Foot Journey is a witty comedic film with the backing of two powerful people. Produced by Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, this film tells the tale of a family’s journey from Mumbai, India, to opening up a restaurant adjacent to a Michelin star restaurant in the French countryside. Filming took place in the south of France in Saint Antonin Noble Val. The movie captures the beauty of Southern France and included scenes from Northern Paris.

Colombia- Love In The Time Of Cholera (2007)

Filmed in the beautiful seaside town of Cartegena,Colombia, this movie visually captures many interesting scenes of Spanish culture. Love in the time of cholera is based off the famous Spanish novel in 1985 by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. This classic tale of a love triangle captures the rustic day to day life of a Spanish lifestyle, with vibrant colours. Scenes also include street markets in Bolívar, Colombia and a historic church.

Italy- Under the Tuscan Sun (2003)

This classic Romantic comedy tells the tale of a recently single American woman( portrayed by Diana Lane), who impulsively buys a villa in Tuscany and embarks on restarting her life. The beautiful and stunning scenes showcase the beauty of the countryside. The location of her new villa is in the town of Cortona,Tuscany. Shots also include scenes from Florence and Rome.

 

France-Paris Can Wait (2016)

Diane Lane returns again to deliver another witty romantic and comedic role of an American woman travelling abroad with her husband. While deciding to disconnect from her busy husband and taking the scenic route, Lane’s character travels with her husband’s associate. The pair drive from Cannes to Paris. Like the title of the move, very little of Paris is seen. Starting from the French Riviera, the pair drive the countryside of South-Eastern France, there are shots in Aix en Provence, Lauris,and Cadenet, France.

 

Indonesia/ Italy/ India – Eat,Pray,Love (2010)

I don’t think this list would be complete without the ultimate wanderlust movie. Eat, Pray, Love is the wildly popular film based off a bestselling memoir of the same name. The movie recounts an American woman’s journey to finding her true self after her divorce. Her travels include eating, praying, and obviously, loving. The movie highlights, Italy, Indonesia and India. Filming locations included, Bali, Naples, Dehli and New York City , encourages viewers to take a short trip around these amazing countries.

 

Hope this list is able to fulfill some of your wanderlust and you’re off to book your next flight.

Let us know in the comments below some movies that have inspired you to travel and explore. Bon Voyage!

5 ways to enjoy your staycation in Toronto

Do you have some vacation time coming up this summer — but don’t feel like (or can afford to) going on an international trip? Whatever the reason may be, it might be worthwhile to think about a staycation.

A staycation, in case you are not familiar with the term, is essentially a vacation where you are at this moment. You can make it a nationwide staycation or maybe narrow it down to the beautiful and diverse streets of Toronto. The city life isn’t for everyone, but there are enough places in Toronto that will make you fall in love with it for all the right reasons. So grab a few friends, your family, a loved one, or venture out on your own and enjoy these spots. Women’s post has compiled five Toronto hotspots you may enjoy this summer.

St Lawrence Market

Toronto natives may be familiar with the sprawling and rustic look of St Lawrence Market located along Front Street or in the Esplanade. This classic farmer’s market is an indoor structure with over 100 various vendors, offering prime cuts of meat, creamy cheeses, artisan bakers, fresh fruits, aromatic spices, antiques and hopefully almost anything you will find around the world. Touring St Lawrence market is like taking a trip around the world in the span of a few hours. Allow yourself time to soak up the mix of culture and eclectic vibe from many of the vendors. Some places to check include Carousel Bakery, offering the classic peameal bacon sandwich, Churrasco’s,with Portuguese style chicken and Raani Foods, offering a variety of Indian curries and chutneys.

Interested in learning more? The St. Lawrence Market also hosts a number of events and private dinners.

Kensington Market
Kensington Market

Kensington Market

Kensington Market has long been known for its unique vibe in the city and many tourists come to the area thinking that it will be a similar situation to St Lawrence Market. Kensington market is an outdoor collection of diverse shops, with something for everyone on each corner. In 2006, the market became a national historic site. Nestled between Little Italy and Chinatown, expect a wide selection of street foods, vintage clothing and one of the most amazing and one of a kind gift shops in the city, Blue Banana Market. And be sure to take pictures of the artistic graffiti walls.

Mill Street Brewery Tour- Distillery District

Niagara may be great for wine tours, but Toronto is home to a collection of craft beers and brews that you might want to indulge in. Mill Street Brewery was founded in 2002 and is named after Mill Street in the historic Distillery District. The district is home to Victorian industrial buildings, dating back to 1832, when it was a collection of buildings operated by Gooderham and Worts Distillery. Restructured and reopened in 2003, the district offers a selection of dining experiences, shops and cultural events.

Miraj Hammam Spa- Shangri-la Hotel Toronto

One day is all you need, and while there might be be spas on almost every street corner in the city, the experience at Miraj Hamman Spa by beauty brand Claudalie Paris offers a truly relaxing, wholesome, and cultural experience . Without giving away too much details, the spa is described as “ a voyage inspired from the ancient rituals of the Middle East to the Vineyards of Bordeaux.” Choose treatments of your choice but also be advised to check prices beforehand.

Spa
Caudalie Spa Treatment Room

 Drake and Gladstone Boutique Hotels

If you are looking for a different experience and you want to spend a night or two away from home, there are many boutique hotels in the city that you can easily enjoy. The Drake Hotel and The Gladstone Hotel are just two examples along the vibrant street of Queen West that promotes art, culture and entertainment. The Drake hotel is home to delicious foods, 19 guest room, and even and underground bar featuring different DJ’s. The Gladstone hotel, features guest rooms that are tiny but each with a unique theme and designed by different artists. There is a Canadiana room, a Teen Queen room, and a Biker room among other 34 choices. Staying at the Gladstone is like being a part of art.

 

Let us know in the comments below some of your staycation choices.

Explore BC’s Rich History by Visiting Hope, Boston Bar and Yale

“The Rail Line is an Amazing Piece of Canadian and British Columbia History” – Yale Historic Site Management

We thought we knew about B.C.’s rich, historic life line until our road trip to Hope, Boston Bar, and Yale. The drive from Vancouver was rapturous; urban life slowed to a tranquil pace as we moved closer to our final destination. The road we travelled had long stretches of windy roads, surrounded by mountains. There was no need for music playing in the car as the trip played to its own scenic symphony. One of the highlights was discovering the drinking water in Yale was, without exception, the best that we have ever tasted.

The word ‘Yale’ can be found in two different locations — Yaletown, which is one of Vancouver’s trendiest neighbourhoods, and plain old Yale with its less than burgeoning population of 150 that was once a boomtown of 30,000 gold miners during the gold rush of 1858. It was one of the most popular places in Canada, with 17 saloons, a tent city that offered a general store, a dentist, medical doctor and barber, along with a gold panning site, a bath house, court house and of course, a jail. Once reality set in that most folks were not going to strike it rich, many followed the train out west for jobs in what became known as Vancouver’s Yaletown. Yale is known for playing a vital role in the growth of B.C. and Canada and was once the largest city north of San Francisco and west of Chicago. Yale was established in 1848 as a Hudson’s Bay Company trading post.

Photo by Tourism Vancouver

Boston Bar:

Our first stop was to ride the Hell’s Gate Tram which opened in July 20, 1971 by Habegger Engineering Works of Thun, Switzerland. It carries about 530 passengers per hour and is known as the steepest fully suspended air tram in North America. It is called Hell’s Gate for a reason – as they say on the Hell’s Gate website: “Simon Fraser’s voyage in 1808, stating in his journal that “no man should ever pass through here it was truly like passing through the gates of Hell!”

Despite being afraid of heights, it was worth it! While most gondolas ascent upon boarding, the entrance to Hells Gate tram is at highway level, far above the raging Fraser River, taking enthralled visitors on a breathtaking, if not steady plunge to the viewing platforms, which also has a restaurant and what might be the biggest fudge store in Canada. What motivated me was hearing my partner, John, rave about the world class fudge. During the descent, I enjoyed every minute, taking in the views of the mighty Fraser and Cascade Mountain range.

Photo by John Moe

Ward’s Tea House – Part of the Historic Yale Site

 “We heard that train-a-comin’- it was rolling around the bend!” Actually, it thundered around the bend within 20 feet or so of our first stop at Yale, Ward’s Tea House.

As we ate our delicious lunch served by Jacquie dressed in period costume, we were told that trains pass on a regular basis through the town. For both of us, myself being from a hobby farm in Richmond and John from rural North Burnaby, this just brought back childhood memories and sleeping was not a problem, even with trains whipping by close enough to see the conductor’s face. The Ward’s Tea House is a charming place, serving home style hot meals such as my favourite, Chicken Pot Pie. The tea house went through a facelift recently and now has a new kitchen, sitting area, and patio.

 

Yale:

 We learned that Yale helped to build Canada’s national railway in the 1880’s.

Another fun fact: In the 1860’s, with the construction of the Cariboo Wagon Road, Yale became the main terminal for one of the largest paddle wheeler routes in North America. The 1880’s saw the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway with construction headquarters housed in Yale. A National Historic Site monument to Chinese railroad workers is the first monument in Canada to be inscribed in English, French, and Chinese.

1870s Creighton House:

The manager, Deb Zirvini, gave us a tour of the museum, including gift shop, archives, and the Beth Clare garden. Their indoor exhibits include artifacts and photographs that showcase the diverse history of Yale. A collection of First Nations baskets, Gold Rush, Chinese and Pioneer artifacts, piano, railway exhibits and the first-ever revolver produced by Smith and Wesson that was used by Ned Stout in the late 1850s.

Gold Panning:  

If you have always wanted to try gold panning, this is the place to be! It was fun and we gave it a try with a little assistance from Crystal, our tour guide, who showed us how it works. It was an interactive experience and is for all ages. I did find gold, but just a tiny spec. 

1880’s Ward House:

Photo by John Moe.

We were warned that trains pass through day and night and we were supplied with earplugs. We were privileged to experience a night in the Ward house, which was built in 1863, burned to the ground in July of 1880, and rebuilt by Johnny Ward in August, 1880. It was like time-travelling. The house was fully furnished in period décor, beautifully restored to original condition. Looking at pictures on the wall, heavy pans that weighed a ton, added to the authenticity. I wondered what it would have been like cooking in these pots on a wood stove. The bathroom had the toilet tank high on the wall, requiring a tall person, which neither of us is, to flush. John was able to reach from his toes.

We were the first journalists to ever be invited to spend a night at the Ward House, which is quite an honour. The heritage home is just steps from the historic Pacific Railway line that was built in the 1880’s. We enjoyed our overnight stay and were treated to a healthy breakfast. The orange juice was delightfully served in jam jars.

Yale Historic – walking Tour:

We took in a bit of exercise for the day by doing the 45-minute walking tour of Yale. We went down to the Fraser River and walked along Front Street, heading past some truly historic places like the property where the original Hudson’s Bay Company store was located, the Post Office, Chinatown, the Jailhouse, and then made our way back to the Ward House.

Blue Moose Coffee Shop:

We had dinner at the Blue Moose Coffee Shop right in the heart of Hope, which offered gourmet sandwiches. With its trademark stuffed Moose to greet visitors, the coffee shop also sells craft beer.

 

During the summer holidays, you will love the charm of the locals and will appreciate the rich, important contribution to Canadian history from Yale. So why not come by, ride the Hell’s Gate tram, spend a day at the Yale Historic Site, and stop in Hope for lunch. You won’t regret it.

 

By Christine Blanchette and John Moe

Thank you to Destination B.C. for your support.

Harrison Hot Springs: favourite getaway for locals and tourists

“Country roads take me home…” this song by John Denver could have been inspired by the route to Harrison Hot Springs, British Columbia. Just substitute Lillooet Ranges for Blue Ridge Mountains and the mighty Fraser for Shenandoah River. There could be no more appropriate song running through my head while driving to Agassiz, a small community located in the Upper Fraser Valley region. With picturesque mountain views, wide open vistas of farmlands with rolling hills and the smell of country fresh air, it was almost heaven, and the serenity reminded me of growing up on a hobby farm in the Eastern Townships, in Richmond, Quebec.

Outdoor Activities: Agassiz, B.C.

About 5km outside Harrison Hot Springs we made a couple of stops, firstly at Farm House Natural Cheeses. Featuring a country style store with seemingly every kind of exotic cheeses you could desire, including hand made artisan cheese produced on site. My partner and I enjoyed the company of goats and dairy cows at some of the large and tidy barns. At our next mini tour, we visited the Back Porch Coffee Roastery, where the owners, Dan and Lynda welcomed us into their studio. We noticed an antique coffee roaster dating back to 1919, as well as other collectibles and antiques. Their expansive property was immaculately kept, with manicured lawns surrounding heritage buildings loaded with character, to go with a million dollar view.

Both the Farmhouse Natural Cheeses and the Back Porch Coffee Roastery are ideal tourist stops for the whole family. It was a chance to unwind before heading to Harrison Hot Springs, which was our ultimate destination.

We were excited to visit Harrison Hot Springs, as we always enjoy running the trails or the lakeside pathway and then soaking in the hot springs pool after a workout. Harrison Hot Springs is a small, friendly resort community of about 1,500 people. There are so many outdoors activities, from boating, fishing, golfing, kayaking, etc. It is THE place for a runner’s getaway or just a gorgeous destination to escape from the city, about a 130km drive from Vancouver. Harrison Hot Springs is at the Southern end of Harrison Lake in the Fraser Valley and is world famous for its natural healing hot springs, which attracts tourists and locals alike year round.

Photo by John Moe.

Spirit Mask Trail:

We walked the Spirit Mask Trail, which is a circuitous 1km route through pristine forest lands just a few minutes from the village, though it seemed longer as it was enjoyable not just for the walk through the woods, but because many trees are decorated with carved masks from local artists. Each mask depicts a different mood, creating a thought-provoking setting. The walk is fun for the whole family and is a wonderful photo opportunity.

Spirit Mask Trail. Photo by John Moe.

Health/Wellness – Muddy Waters Café:

After our workout it was time to refuel with some healthy eats at Muddy Waters Café, which is family owned and located in the heart of the village. We could feel a sense of community spirit upon entering the room. Located on the main strip with spectacular mountain and lake views, we were greeted by manager, Richard Fife, who recommended the yogurt plate served with an assortment of fruit along with homemade jam and healthy grain bread, while my partner, John had salmon over scrambled eggs with fresh fruit. Richard says proudly, “we source all of our food locally,” which includes an extensive menu for vegetarians and meat lovers alike. We enjoyed our breakfast in this charming café that also offers specialty coffees, which we couldn’t refuse. Overall, if you are a foodie you will want to try out this place.

 

Black Forest Restaurant:

You can virtually enjoy a slice of Germany – right in the village since 1975 – at the Black Forest Restaurant where naturally, you will find the most delicious black forest cake. This family-run business offers authentic German food, with all spices coming directly from Germany. If you like beer with your bratwurst, the restaurant offers the Krombacher Pilsner, which is an exquisite German brew, served in B.C. exclusively at Black Forest restaurants in Harrison Hot Springs and New Westminster. We enjoyed our meal, which was recommended by owner and chef, Vic Singh. His wife Kamal says, “we also offer vegetarian plates.” The restaurant is in the heart of the village, offering delicious German cuisine, along with breathtaking views from its upstairs patio deck.

Harrison Beach Hotel:

A better view will not be found at Harrison Hot Springs than from our suite at the Harrison Beach Hotel. Stepping onto the huge balcony from the front room, I knew instantly this was what the doctor had ordered. It not only offered stunning vistas of the lakeshore and beyond, closer inspection revealed kitchenette with fridge, separate bedroom, two TVs and coffee. If you thought you’d seen it all when it comes to towel art and design, you’d best make the trip. The design art towels for the bathroom made me feel almost guilty for actually using them. Importantly, the coffee maker, together with Starbucks coffee, was a much-appreciated convenience for runners and writers like us.

Harrison Hot Springs offers something for everyone, from a stroll through the village, to soaking in the hot springs, to running the lakeshore pathway and much more. At just a stone throw from Vancouver, it’s the perfect getaway where you are limited only by your imagination.

Looking for more getaways? Check out Christine Blanchette’s adventure in Abbotsford B.C.

 

By Christine Blanchette and John Moe

Instagram: runwithit_christineblanchette
Twitter @christineruns
runwithit.ca

How to budget for the new year

Personal finances can get complicated. Should I invest, save, or spend? How come I only have a few bucks to spend at the end of the month? Where did all my money go?

These are all very real questions people ask on a daily, sometimes hourly basis. A monthly budget will help you answer at least some of these inquiries — and if all else, it will help you save up for that much-needed summer vacation.

To help you out, I’ll go through the basics.

Find a mode of keeping track of your spending and income: If you don’t want to invest in a personal accountant, purchase Quickbooks or some sort of accounting software. You can also get started using an excel sheet. Whatever you use, make sure you are able to alter numbers as the month progresses. Keeping a firm track of your finances, no matter how depressing, is the only way to create a successful budget.

Fixed costs: Fixed costs exist and there is nothing you can do about it. The mortgage payment, rent, insurance — all of these things need to be paid promptly and on-time, so ensure they are a priority in your budget. If using quickbooks or an excel sheet, these payments would go at the top of your list.

Varied costs: This section includes cell phone bills, groceries, Internet, and cable. You have a little more control over when you pay these items and how much they are, but know there are always consequences for late payments. This should be the second section of your budget. When doing these calculations, make sure to note interest rates for late fees so you are aware of what happens if you don’t pay on time.

These varied and fixed necessary costs should, ideally, make up half of your monthly income. This may mean you have to adjust your Internet packages or change cell phone providers for a cheaper deal.

Calculate the small things: Toiletries, groceries, your morning coffee — anything that you purchase on a monthly basis needs to be in your budget. Don’t omit anything, even if you do drink an embarrassing amount of Starbucks. The point of this exercise is to see if you can decrease your spending while still ensuring you have the necessities of life.

A key tip for these calculations is to always over-estimate: If you think you spend $50 a week on groceries, say you are going to spend $70. If you think you spend $2 a day on coffee, double it! One day, you may get a pastry with your coffee and it will screw your entire budget up. If you overestimate and you have money left over, all the better! You can either spend it or put it into your savings account. Either way, it ensures your budget is more accurate. It’s always better to have money leftover at the end of the month than realize you spent more than your allowance.

Savings/Paying off Debt: It is imperative that you include a section for savings and debt in your budget. If you don’t, you will never save any money. Decide on a monthly amount you will put into a savings account of your choice, and count that money as already spent.  If you have loans or a credit card, use some of these funds to pay it parts of it off. Try to use 20 per cent of your monthly income to pay things off and save up.

Always put some money aside for “fun”: Let’s be realistic. At some point in the span of a month, you will go out to dinner with friends, see a movie, or  take a day trip somewhere. If you don’t set aside some cash for entertainment, a) you may go a little insane and b) you’ll end up spending more than you’d like on a spontaneous splurge. The remaining 30 per cent of your budget can be spent on these activities, although if your priority is paying off debt, swap the numbers with your savings. The idea is to give yourself a weekly or monthly allowance to spend on fun things — that way, you don’t feel deprived, but at the same time, you don’t overspend.

Keep your receipts and actually look at them: This is the hardest habit to break. Most people try to avoid those pesky small pieces of paper in their wallet, but it really is necessary. If you use quickbooks, this will allow you to keep track of all your payments by manually inputting your spending. If you use excel, it will help you reflect on what you spent money on, and where you can cut back. Not to mention you may find a lot more deductibles come tax-filing time.

I hope this helps you create a basic budget. Remember, keep track of everything — no matter how depressing it will be. Who knows? Maybe after a few years you won’t need such an intensive system, but for now, embrace it! Think of what you will do with those savings. Will you buy a house? Go on a vacation? The possibilities are endless — but only if you budget.

Escaping the city to Mont Tremblant

Do you want to know about a secret get-away spot in the mountains with great french beers and fresh air?

I recommend heading to Mont Tremblant National Park in Quebec to find your wild soul within. I felt I needed to get out of the big city and find some peace and quiet, and this French destination was the perfect place.

I rented a car, packed up clothes and snacks for my family, and hit the road. I stopped over in Ottawa to visit Parliament Hill  and to eat a beaver tail before heading further east to the Laurentian Mountains. Mont Tremblant is a popular destination for skiing and snowboarding in the winter and rock climbing, canoeing, and hiking in the spring and summer.

This string of mountains is located approximately two hours east of Ottawa, six hours from Toronto and one hour from Montreal by car. The Laurentian mountain range is one of the oldest in the world and there are over 9000 lakes in the area. An abandoned railway line, la P-tit Train du Nord runs 230km from St. Jerome to Mont-Laurier and is one of Canada’s longest linear parks used for cycling, hiking, and cross-country skiing.

Mont Tremblant Village
Mont Tremblant Village

We drove into Mont Tremblant wearing our city attire and quickly changed into warmer clothes and shoes. Initially, the town seemed unimpressive until we drove up the hill and witnessed the lake and mountains at sunset. The Mont Tremblant village resembles a fantasyland with cute cottages surrounded by the mountains. The village was impressive from afar, but the businesses were mostly corporate, which was disappointing. I had hoped for authentic Quebecois shops that reflected the history of the area, but it was more of a commercialized resort.

We quickly moved on to the National Park, located 30 minutes to the east of the town, and headed to the Discovery Centre. It was a building that had friendly bilingual staff, trail maps and information, filtered water and coffee, and washrooms. We set off on an 11 km hike and reached the viewpoint called La Roche in about two hours. The path was well set and there wasn’t too much foot traffic.

Mont Tremblant National Park path
Mont Tremblant National Park path

We enjoyed the top of the climb by eating dark chocolate and trail mix while looking at the Laurentian Mountains for miles down the valley. The view as incredible and it was peaceful being away from the noises of city traffic and sirens. There was still snow on the ground and I recommend wearing boots and winter gear if hiking in April or early May. On the way down the hill, my cousin and I took both hands of my five-year-old and we slid all the way down on the snow. It was an enjoyable experience and my daughter laughed the whole way down.

Mont Tremblant is an easy getaway for nature lovers and in its peak months, is full of activities to do. Though I visited off-season, it was calm and quiet, which is exactly the escape I was craving. It is important to show children the value of natural excursions and I got to witness how happy my daughter was when she is in the outdoors. I will definitely be back to camp, hike, and rock climb in the warmer weather and I hope to see you there with your family and friends.

Do you have a favourite getaway spot within six hours of Toronto? Let us know in the comments below.

 

Hitting the road with your kids in tow

Going on a road trip with kids can be a challenging experience, but if you have all the right preparations in place, it can create some of the best memories.

I am often filled with wanderlust and a desire to hit the open road, and I bring my daughter along for the ride. We have driven from Vancouver to Calgary, down to Seattle, across the great Canadian prairies to Winnipeg, and down to Chicago. We’ve also cruised through Ontario and into Quebec and New Brunswick. We have had many great adventures and some trying times as well. Throughout these ordeals, I have learned a few secrets on how to travel with my little lady.

Most importantly, be prepared for the worst. As morbid as this sounds, it is essential for the safety of your kids and yourself. Bring extra clothes in the car, blankets, a first aid kit, and a car charger in case of emergency. Also, bring a lot of snacks and water. Driving across to Vancouver a couple years ago in the summertime, an accident shut the highway down leaving us stranded on a one-way road for seven hours in rural B.C. Without snacks and water, things could’ve become quite terrible.

Another winter drive back from Vancouver left us in a freak blizzard where several car drivers teamed up and pushed our cars up a steep and icy hill. Without extra layers and blankets stored in the car, my daughter would’ve become quite cold. I always carry child gravel as well. On especially hilly drives, I have learned my lesson on how dire an upset stomach can really become. Also avoid dark drinks and messy foods. A change of clothes and hand wipes can help with a variety of spills.

Another challenge is keeping your child entertained. My daughter is five years old and talks like there is no tomorrow. It is cute, but can become distracting while driving to an unknown destination. My daughter’s LeapPad and headphones are an absolute lifesaver when driving. My daughter uses her LeapPad camera to document our trips. She mostly photographs her feet, but it is fun to see our travels through her eyes.

Bringing a baking tray to put on their lap for colouring and playing with toys is a good way to avoid the common occurrence of dropping unreachable toys onto the car floor (most annoying thing ever). I also recommend bringing washable markers and craft supplies that do not stain. After renting a car for a drive to Quebec City, my daughter decided to use her marker to decorate the car door and I spent a few hours scrubbing it off upon arrival.

Other creative activities include making food necklaces out of Cheerios and pretzels in advance for easy munching on the road. Using paper bags to create surprise bags with from their toys and a few cheap add-ons such as stickers or stamps is also a simple addition to a road trip if your child is getting really bored. You can also put different destinations on the bags, for example “open when we reach highway 22”. It keeps kids interested in the journey, though it could prompt an “are we there yet?” scenario.

Playing audio books or kid’s music is good family entertainment. I have many fond memories of my daughter and I rocking out to the Frozen soundtrack. As well, games such as “20 questions” can help keep your child entertained. Have your child ask you questions to try and guess what animal you are thinking of. Another fun game is “would you rather?” where you give two ludicrous outcomes and your child has to decide which one they prefer is way to pass the time. Just make sure you aren’t too distracted too drive.

Before leaving, I always have all of the toys, snacks and other supplies positioned in easy-to-reach places for my daughter and myself. Her water bottle is in her cup holder, snacks are beside her with a variety of play options and I put other toys and options on the passenger seat for easy access when she eventually drops all of her toys. Preparation ultimately makes our driving adventures fun and we love going for a cruise together.

Good luck, and remember: you do not have to stay home just because you have kids. Instead, create a wanderlust baby and hit the road in style.

My daughter and I hitting the road. By Andrea Hunter
My daughter and I hitting the road. By Andrea Hunter

Villa Arches in Sint. Maarten

St. Martin or Sint. Maarten is the smallest island in the world to have two different countries each governing one half. The north side of the island is French, while the south side is Dutch. Our villa, Villa Arches, is on the Dutch side,  just south of the French border in Dawn Beach.

The villa is perched on the east side of a mountain and has a wonderful view of dawn beach and the morning sunrise. With warm red italian tiles and wide doors open to let in the cool breezes from the ocean, it is a terrific spot to watch the large boats come in to anchor in the protected cove far below, and also take in some sun and a swim in a good-sized pool.

The villa is well stocked with pots and pans, a coffee maker, and utensils and, unlike a lot of islands, the wifi and electricity was reliable and never went out during our stay.

We had dinner at “Big Fish” a fantastic seafood restaurant in Oyster Pond right beside Dawn Beach. The restaurant is owned by Teresa and Mike Wilson, a terrific couple from Toronto – who started the Fox and Fiddle chain of restaurants. Their sushi chef was terrific, but so too was the snapper, shrimp dinner and passionfruit sorbet. It’s a must visit when in St. Martin.

We drove around the island and stopped at a couple of beaches – Friars Bay, Le Gallion – which were too crowded for our liking. We read about Happy Bay beach, which is a short hike north of Friars bay, and were delighted to find it after a wonderful walk along the coast.

We had lunch in Grand Case and ate at a beach bar with an amazing chef. The beach is narrow with restaurants built right up against it. The only drawback was that it lacked beach chairs, so it is not a great place to take elderly visitors – although the kids enjoyed it.

The butterfly farm is a great place to visit on a sunny day and the market in Marigot (French side) and Phillipsburg (Dutch)- filled with colourful wraps, bags and jewelry were filled with activity.

Photo by Sarah Thomson
Photo by Sarah Thomson

Villa Arches is conveniently located so that excursions around the island didn’t take more than 30 minutes and it was nice leave the bustle of Marigot and come home to a quiet villa with the sound of waves breaking on the shore far below.

The only negative draw back is for those who must get sun –  the villa is tucked onto the east side of the mountain so by 4 p.m. the sun is blocked by the mountain, making late afternoon sun tanning impossible. But, we found that by that time in the day we’d had enough sun that it was rarely missed and the warm breezes with a cocktail sitting out on the deck more than made up for the lack of sun.

Wherever we go, I find it is the people who make or break a vacation. We rented a car from Dollar-Thrifty SXM and unfortunately had a tire blow out on the road. They were terrific people and delivered a new car to our villa. While we waited on the side of the road for our taxi to arrive – numerous locals stopped to make sure we were okay and offer help. The locals are terrific.

The only negative attitudes we experienced during our trip came from the people representing the Westin Resort at Dawn Beach. We were flagged down by two of their sales people – they were friendly but wanted us to scratch some tickets to win a prize once we had taken a 90 minute tour of the Westin Dawn Beach and learned about their fractional ownership units. The sales people warned us that other staff might try to take their commission so we should hold on to our scratch tickets and we could win a stay at the resort, an Ipad, or a$1000. We received two sets of cards – two weren’t winners and two were. But the prize was a stay for four at the Westin Dawn beach that could not be used in the week that they are issued. They were also non-transferrable.

The Westin Resort at Dawn Beach is just down the hill from Villa Arches and I wanted to check out their beach to see if my mother could swim there. I also wanted to check out their service, thinking that if they had to sell fractional ownership it might be abysmal. Customer service is so easy, but can be completely messed up if the staff don’t feel encouraged or supported. We poked around and found the restaurant and beach practically empty. I decided to talk to a supervisor about getting a day pass to review the resort.  When I spoke to him to see if we might purchase a day pass in order to review the resort, he claimed they were completely sold out. I told him the place was practically empty, but all he did was shrug. So we decided to ignore him and use the beach facilities anyway.

The beach chairs were mostly empty and the waves were pretty rough, but we had a nice swim and left without anyone the wiser. What irked me most was that the supervisor refused us access to review the resort while, at the same time, they are paying people to go out and lure possible customers into the resort. Terrible management and customer service. If a resort like the Westin at Dawn Beach has to sell fractional ownership  then they obviously aren’t providing the highest possible service at the best possible price.

Instead of luring people to the resort with “scratch tickets,” simply try welcoming everyone who walks through the door, offering them a free drink at the beach bar, and enticing them to come back everyday and spend money at the restaurants, on beach chairs, and towels — giving them great service the entire time. It’s much more likely their next stay will be with you. Instead the Westin Dawn Beach gave the impression they were trying to be an “elite” club while behind the doors the room was empty.

I highly recommend spending $3500 and renting Villa Arches for a week – where the customer service from the owner far exceeded anything the Westin Dawn Beach can offer!