Tag

travel

Browsing

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!

 

The Fountain residence – Anguilla

Warm breezes greet you as you exit the airport in St. Martin, add in a short 20-minute ferry ride and you will reach the white sand beachs and aqua-blue waters of Anguilla — pronounced AN-GWILL-A. We drove (on the left hand side of the road) from Blowing Point, the southern tip  of the island, up the main road to Shoal Bay on the north east side. The road was dotted with small homes, with free range goats and chickens everywhere.  The island is relatively flat, but the roads curved around small hills with beautiful ocean views visible with each turn. Once we reach the main turn off to Shoal Bay, the larger villas and hotels start to appear, followed by a beautiful view of the white sand and amazing blue water.

Fountain residences is located at the southern end of Shoal Bay Beach. There are two complexes, each with beautiful landscaping. The only difference was the view: one had an open ocean view and the other behind it was limited to a pool view. There is a hill to the west that blocks out  the sunset, but we were able to see the waves breaking on the shoal far out in the bay. It’s a short walk down a path to the white sand beach of Shoal Bay.

Our two bedroom unit was clean and furnished nicely with teak and wood trim. The appliances are new and our concierge, Whitney, was a terrific help. She purchased groceries and stocked our fridge for our arrival. Her advice on the best restaurants on the island was excellent. The villa; however, wasn’t truly big enough for six people. We found the sitting area on the deck outside a bit small for all of us, with only four chairs around the dining room table the space was limited. We had to ask the staff for chairs so that all six of us could sit around the table.

The windows lacked screens – this is a pet peeve of mine. I don’t  want to fly south and stay close to the ocean just to shut all the windows and blast the air conditioning. I’m not alone in wanting to have the windows open, but there were too many mosquito’s to do this without screens. This meant we had to leave the screendoors open all night, which made us a bit uncomfortable. It may be a small detail, but towel racks on the outside decks to hang up wet bathing suits are also needed.

The manager of the residences was extremely friendly – giving us access to the barbecue, extra dining chairs, and a free bottle of wine that we enjoyed immensely! The cleaners come everyday and were friendly and kind, providing us with extra towels and frying pans when needed. Given the location close to the beach I suggest they mop the floors daily as the sand fleas tracked in from the beach dotted our legs with bites.

Crocus Bay Beach.
Crocus Bay Beach.

Anguilla is a beach destination. Most of the beaches have restaurants with beach chairs out front. Crocus Hill Beach is by far the best for anyone wanting a calm peaceful swim in a protected bay. Da’Vida restaurant and its neighbouring beach bar occupy most of the beach and their food was exceptional. We stayed and watched the large sail boats come in during the afternoon, and rented some paddle boards to venture around the point to paddle through caves filled with birds. Small manta rays floating under the boat dock entertained the kids for hours.

Unfortunately, the Fountain Residences don’t supply beach chairs, but they suggest you hike to the other end of the beach where there are chairs to rent ($10U.S./day) at the Merriman Beach Bar. I’d recommend they invest in a few chairs and sun umbrellas, as it was impossible for my elderly mother to make the hike all the way down the beach. But, if you like playing in the waves and body surfing – Shoal Bay Beach is the place to go.

Anguilla has art galleries around every corner and a lot of very good restaurants – Cafe De Paris in the west end is a must for chocolate croissants.

We visited and swam at dozens of  perfect white sand beaches, surrounded by aqua-blue water. If it is a beach vacation you are after, Anguilla is the island for you!

GlobeTrotter Woman: Luggage and handbags for the professional woman

The 21st century businesswoman is a traveller. Deals are now brokered on trains, planes and automobiles, and important meetings can happen at a moments notice. It’s important to have the necessary equipment to deal with these types of business scenarios, and GlobeTrotter Woman has you covered.

GlobeTrotter Woman offers sleek and elegant luggage equipment and accessories that will meet the needs of the professional women on-the-go. The items they sell are unique and stylish—each has been hand-selected to ensure the highest quality. The products are presented in a beautifully clean website that is easy to navigate, so you can shop from the comfort of your home.

The company’s goal is the following: “We want to bring you a touch of elegance and practicality as you conquer the world.” And their products really do meet that criteria.

Their Ultra-Light Luxurious Luggage Set is made of jute tweed and consists of five elements. It has two wheeled Pullmans, one duffel bag, one carry-on and one garment bag. The entire set is priced at a reasonable $239.99. Other products of note include a security-friendly laptop bag (which is TSA compliant) and a genuine leather carry-on rolling laptop briefcase. Both are professional looking and practical—two aspects that are common in all of GlobeTrotter’s products.

Travel accessories include high resolution binoculars, phone charging wallets, and suitcase GPS trackers. The company also offers sport gear and electronics. All of these items are great to have in your bag in case of emergency meetings or trips.

The company also launched their G Lux Line this week, which includes a number of elegant and classy high-end leather bags. These gorgeous bags are made to order, by hand, in Italy.

GlobeTrotter is a startup that understands the international aspect of business and knows that professional women deserve to use the best tools out there .

PRACTICAL. RESISTANT. ELEGANT.
​JUST LIKE YOU.

logo

Tips for travelling alone as a woman

I spent the month of September travelling across Europe. I ate snails in Paris, rode a gondola in Venice, visited flower markets in Amsterdam, and walked through the colleges in Oxford. This was my first time travelling internationally, and I did so on my own.

There are a million articles out there about why travelling alone is something every woman should do. They cite the newfound confidence a woman can achieve and how much she’ll learn about herself.

At the same time, every article cites safety concerns—be careful when getting in a cab; don’t dress like a tourist (whatever that means); be aware of your handbag. Sometimes, its enough to frighten you. I know that before I left for my trip, my mother’s friends helpfully told us about all the times their daughters were pick-pocketed or attacked while abroad.

The Government of Canada even writes about how to safely travel as a woman. The page is called “Her Own Way” and begins by stating in a matter-of-fact manner that “Women travel for countless reasons, whether to discover new frontiers, pursue business opportunities, or simply to rest and relax – not unlike men.” Thanks for the clarification Ottawa.

While I may mock some of the information presented on this website, they do make a few valid points. For example, always do research before you travel to ensure there are no cultural differences you should be aware of, especially when it comes to gender. Accept the cultural practices of the country you are visiting—if women dress more conservatively in that country, it is polite to do so as well. Be safe when travelling in dark and lowly-populated areas. Only use legal forms of transportation.

Actually, a lot of those tips apply regardless of gender.

Some of the information, however, is a bit over the top. The Overseas Romance section explains that “while abroad, a foreign affair with a fairytale ending may be more than a flight of the imagination, but it may also be fraught with danger and disappointment.” I wonder if this would ever appear in a travel tips page for men. By the way, there is no “His Own Way” page posted by the Canadian Government.

I agree that women can be more vulnerable when they travel. I noticed that many of the pedlars and vendors at the tourist destinations I visited flocked towards women—single women in particular. They would yell “Hey, Lady Gaga!” as I walked by and would follow me or grab at my hands. Usually people back off if you make your intentions clear. Essentially, as long as you were cautious and aware of your surroundings, you were fine. Be smart and your travel experience will be amazing.

Here are some of my travelling tips:

1. Pack light: Pack only what you need, which I know is easier said than done. It’s better to have the freedom to bring items back home with you. I packed two dresses and that was enough to keep me comfortable on my evenings out. It also allowed me to buy a few items without going over my weight limit.

2. Do what you want to do: The best part of travelling on your own, regardless of your gender, is that you get the opportunity to do what you want, without having to compromise with your friends or colleagues. Take advantage of that and do as much as possible!

3. Take chances: Always try something that you’ve never done before. I like to think I developed a “never say no” mantra. Sadly, this mantra cost me a pretty penny, but it was worth it!

4. At the same time, make sure you are safe: It’s great to take risks and try things you’ve never done before. In fact, I encourage it. However, if that risk puts you in harms way or makes you uncomfortable, feel free to say no.

5. My final tip is to save up enough money to travel comfortably—because staying in hostels and participating in the “backpacking experience” is only exciting for the first week. After that, you’ll dream of a clean bathtub and room service. If you are going to travel—go big or stay home.

And, in case you were wondering: My two favourite destinations were the French Riviera and Oxford. Stay tuned for a post about those fantastic experiences.

Hamilton: The Location For Your Daycation

Can’t take time off work to go on vacation? Plan a day-cation to Hamilton, Ontario. With only a couple of hours away from Toronto, you can go on the road trip you desired– without all the pit-stops. Whether you want to immerse yourself in the beauty of mother nature or just get away from the hustle and bustle of city life, Hamilton has various peaks and creeks for you to enjoy.  The best part? It’s free! You’re welcome, folks.

Devil’s Punch Bowl 

 

11301618_10156368524675377_585088909_n

It’s easy to see where this falls gets its name from. The 37 meter waterfall has been a attraction to many tourists, and has even made a movie appearance in the 2005 horror film, Silent Hill. With many haunting stories as well as its unique details, this punch bowl will certainly quench the thirst of your inner geologist and paranormal enthusiast.

11421495_10156368524865377_1289307033_n

Steps away from the Bowl is a breathtaking lookout of Hamilton, where you can enjoy a panoramic view of the city’s gems, including Hamilton Harbour, Lake Ontario, and Stoney Creek Castle. (Quick tip: End your day at the lookout to enjoy the sunset with your loved ones!) The beautiful scenery, the convenient benches, and the calm ambiance creates the perfect atmosphere for a little down time.

 

11419790_10156368555030377_250783602_n

 

Albion Falls

Looking for an adrenaline rush? Albion Falls is the place to go! Whether you choose to stand on the top of the falls and feel the current moving under your feet or you want to admire the water falling from down below, this popular tourist attraction will have you feeling on the edge of glory.

11419762_10156368525070377_40100653_n

The steps to climb up the falls is nature’s way of inviting you to come and realize the true meaning behind TLC’s “Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls.” It’s not everyday you have the opportunity to sit near a waterfall, let alone in between it. It’s a great location for bloggers, photographers, and couples looking for engagement or wedding photos. Besides, the sound of the water, the coolness of its splashes, and the overall beauty of it will make anyone forget all their worldly thoughts. Did you get finish that project you were working on? Who knows!

11426976_10156368524350377_752190346_n

Tew’s Falls

Simple and refined is one way to describe Tew’s Falls. Hamilton’s highest waterfall. Unlike Albion Falls, however, this waterfall requires a bit of a hike to reach the bottom. You can choose to skip the hike and take in the pleasure from afar but like most nature enthusiasts, a walk through some greenery never really feels like ‘exercise’.

11350046_10156368523820377_2105528865_n

Not tired yet? Another 20 minute walk away is a gem called Dundas Peak. On your way to the peak, keep on the lookout for scenes such as this one. Yes, there are eagles (at least that’s what we thought they were) in Canada. Who would’ve known! Their majestic soars through the sky will leave you wanting a little bit more…

11419790_10156368555030377_250783602_n

A little bit more is exactly what you’ll get. Dundas Peak provides a stunning view of the city beneath you. Filled with lush greenery, this scenery is worth the hike. Take a seat, catch your breathe, and take in nature’s beauty. Just don’t be afraid to look down!

Have fun and don’t forget to let us know how your trip went by tweeting us @womenspost!

Featured Image

Jerusalem: In search of identity

By Gabriel Levin

“The eyes of all the Jews in the world praying right now are on you”. Our tour guide Yuval is explaining how Jews all across the world face the Western Wall when they pray. Our group of 39 young adults from across Canada are in Jerusalem on the third day of our Birthright Israel trip. The program Birthright Israel sends young Jews between 18 and 26 from all over the world to Israel for free.

Despite being afraid of tour groups, my addiction to travel, as well as a curiosity to see Israel, could not let me pass up a free trip. The people who fund Birthright do so in order to create a link between the Jews in the Diaspora and Jews in Israel. My own Jewish roots are complex. I grew up religious and was immersed completely in Judaism. My friends were all Jewish, my school was Jewish, my life was Jewish. At 15 I decided that the religious life was not for me, I abandoned almost everything Jewish. My trip to Israel was about not only seeing a new country filled with culture and history, but also about perhaps finding my own sense of what it means to be Jewish.

As I write, the trip is just starting to settle nicely into memories. My experience as a whole was mixed. I’m not someone who enjoys traveling in groups. The hours spent waiting… for people to use the bathroom…for people to get on the bus… for people to finish shopping are incredibly frustrating.

Also, because of the super security on the trip, it often felt as if we were looking at Israel from a distance rather than actively discovering it. For me, as pretentious as it may sound, there is nothing I prefer to sitting in a café on a busy boulevard and just watching the new city go by. On the other hand, Israel is absolutely gorgeous and ripe with the history and myth that are fundamental to Western culture. We visit a valley where David fought Goliath; a mountain where the Zealots held off the Roman army; a river where Jesus was baptized (not that Birthright stressed the Christian or Muslim importance of Israel), and so on.

Birthright also brings Israeli soldiers along with the group for a few days, which gives the group a chance to interact with real Israelis. As a Jew, it is incredible to be in a country where almost everyone is Jewish. There is a commonality; a mutual understanding there that is not present anywhere else in the world for me.

One of the discussions the group had in Israel was about our loyalty to Israel versus our loyalty to Canada. This is always a tricky question because it is the basis for so much anti-Semitism, dating back thousands of years. The idea that Jews’ loyalty will never be the state they live in but lies elsewhere is even written in the Bible: Exodus 1:10 says “Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land.” It’s a very difficult position to find myself in, because I love Canada. To me, Canada is the greatest country in the world. At the same time, I know history and I know that again and again throughout history, countries in which Jews have felt secure were ultimately not secure. In the end, there is no such thing as security for Jews. Israel, in that sense, acts as a security blanket for all the Jews of the Diaspora. So, I do have loyalty to Israel, but it is different from my loyalty to Canada.

Ultimately, my quest to understand my Jewishness was not answered with any finality. As usual, I was looking for easy answers where there are, of course, none. Being in Israel opened up new questions and new ways of looking at myself as a Jew. I know I will spend the rest of my life trying to answer them. Some people define their Jewishness based on religion, some on race, and yet others on culture. I have attachments to all three identities. Why is it that I feel attachment to other Jews? Is it common history? What makes me feel so attached to Israel? Is it purely self-interest or is it something more? I may have to go back to find out for sure.

First publisher in Women’s Post Jan. 2005 print edition