Tag Archives: Europe

Barcelona, Spain: A Photojournal

Well, yes… I’ve been home for a couple weeks now, but the backlog of work has been crippling (not to mention I’m working on a new project that has been demanding all of my free time!). Check out these photos from Barcelona, Spain!

We visited the Torre Agbar and saw Gaudi’s work at the Sagrada Familia and the Park Guell. Those pictures inside the church are from La Sagrada Familia, and let’s say that many fantasy scenes will be inspired from my visit that day. We also visited the small nation of Andorra (see the 12th century chapel among the mountains), and when we weren’t walking the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona, we ate tapas (small plates) by the ocean.

Stay tuned for writing-related posts to come soon!

Top 5 Lesser-Known Places You NEED to Backpack!

I haven’t done a travel post in a while and I’m not going to lie, the travel bug is biting again. So, while I’m planning my next backpacking trip, I’ve also found myself looking through photos and reading my travel journal and it’s making me pretty damn nostalgic. In doing so, I’ve realized that a lot of my favourite places have been the ones that not a lot of people have been to, let alone know about.

Here’s my top 5 lesser-known places that you need to visit RIGHT NOW!

5. Sint Maarten / Saint Martin

I went to Sint Maarten with my family when I was in my first year of university. To be honest, I had never heard of it before. In Canada, when we think Caribbean vacation, we generally stick to Cuba, Jamaica, Mexico or the Dominican Republic.

After going to Sint Maarten, I’m kind of glad we decided not to go to any of those places. While we were there, we didn’t stay in a resort — we rented a villa. Normally that would be considered risky, but the island is extremely safe. We even walked around at night in the city, without once being stopped. On top of that, the island is beautiful and relatively unspoiled by the resort vacation culture. I’ve never been a fan of resorts, so I was so excited to be able to experience the island like a local. And it’s an awesome thing too! We got to tour the old colonial Dutch and French forts in our own rented car!

Also, Maho Beach is definitely one of the oddest yet most exhilarating experiences the island has to offer. The beach is located behind the Princess Juliana International Airport and is known for the aircraft that fly in close proximity to the beach and beach-goers.

The photo below is not photoshopped.

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4. Durban and KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa

Never before in my life had I thought I’d be able to see and swim in the Indian Ocean. Well, on my trip to South Africa, I got to do it! And it was amazing. To be honest, I didn’t do much when I was in Durban, but I didn’t need to. I spent a great, lazy day lounging on the beach and stayed in a very affordable hotel that overlooked the ocean. The weather was hot and the beach was vacant when we went in May as it was the southern hemisphere’s autumn. The locals thought 25 degrees Celsius was chilly… Whaa?

Also, the Oribi Gorge is just an hour drive from Durban and it offers stunning views of KwaZulu-Natal and this terrifying, epic opportunity to sit on Leopard’s Rock.

3. Luxembourg City, Luxembourg

Inside the Bock Casemates!

Inside the Bock Casemates!

I’ve been to Paris and I loved it. And then I went to Luxembourg City. To me, Luxembourg has the same feel as Paris, except it has half the tourists. Its cobblestone centre is romantic and historic, and Luxembourg itself has a rich history of struggle and triumph. Furthermore, the city is built on a beautiful landscape of gorges that offers stunning views of the city and the Bock Casemates. The Casemates are a network of caves that once served as the city’s defense against its multiple invaders. For around 10 euros, you can explore them all on your own!

All in all, Luxembourg City is a little expensive, but if you’re looking for a romantic getaway and you’re tired of the crowds of Paris, definitely give it a try.

2. Piran, Slovenia

If you’re looking for somewhere semi-remote on the Mediterranean, then Piran is the place to go. Piran was once part of the Roman Empire and its car-free centre has narrow passageways that are very similar to Venice. The best part? It is inexpensive and relatively tourist-free! If you can handle going a little out of your way to get there (it took us two lengthy bus rides from Ljubljana and almost getting lost on the way back), then this is a great place to sail on the Mediterranean, enjoy amazing sunsets, and wander the narrow streets of the city centre. We spent an entire day exploring and swimming, and my only regret was that I didn’t stay there longer!

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1. Cape Town, South Africa

It’s funny, people always talk about how beautiful Cape Town is, but to be honest, I’ve met very few people who ACTUALLY have been there. I understand it is a little out of the way for the average North American backpacker, but seriously, it is worth the flight(s) and possible lay-over.

When I landed in Cape Town, I had one thought: beautiful. And I’d been backpacking through South Africa for a full week and a half previously. Seriously, the landscape is amazing. We spent a lot of time driving around and the only negative I can think of was that we didn’t have enough time to stop and get out of the car at every single gorgeous view. On top of that, Cape Town is home to a penguin colony at Betty’s Bay and there are various opportunities to go shark cage diving, two things that made my time in Cape Town unforgettable.

And the weather is perfect. Your average South African finds 22 degrees Celsius chilly on an autumn day, but I invite them to visit Canada in October.

This view, doe.

This view, doe.

How I Stopped Caring and I’m Better Off

So, here’s the deal. I graduated university in April. I left on a plane ten days after my last exam and travelled to South Africa and Europe for forty days. While I was abroad, I managed to secure a publishing contract after YEARS (legit, like 7 years) and then get a contract for a day job to carry me until I can *hopefully* be able to make my writing my work.

My secret? I stopped caring.

Old Life Philosophy: Micro-manage the crap out of everything and then beat yourself up when things don't go EXACTLY as planned.

Old Life Philosophy: Micro-manage the crap out of everything and then beat yourself up when things don’t go EXACTLY as planned.

Okay, backtrack. I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea. I do care. I cared very much about getting my post-secondary degree. I cared very much about being able to uproot my life for a while and live out of a backpack. I cared and continue to care very much about my writing because ultimately, writing is my art and my child and without it, I’d be completely lost.

What I stopped caring about was all the pressure that I was putting on myself.

Before I completed my university degree, I was in a different place. I had three manuscripts that seemingly no one gave a rat’s ass about. I had the daunting task of trying to find a job in this rough and often hopeless-seeming economy. Worst of all, I had this fear welled so deep inside me that I would never get to live my dream of being a writer. I worried that I would lay on my deathbed decades from now and realize that not only had I not achieved my dream, but I had wasted my whole life with nothing to show for it. I felt hopeless.

And then I boarded a plane and everything changed, almost as soon as I landed in Paris from my first overnight flight. It wasn’t that nothing really mattered anymore because a lot of things did, it was just that I seemed to have developed a distance from everything in my life. Sure, the physical distance was there, but there was also a mental one — an emotional one.

I learned to live in the now. I stopped worrying so much about what I was going to do once I graduated, what would happen when I returned home, and how I would feel if I failed the one thing I so desperately wanted to do. I also realized the immense pressure I had been putting on myself. It was the pressure to succeed for myself and a fear that I would fail and have to live the life that society envisioned for me. I became okay with not having a clear-cut direction for a little while and best of all, I stopped caring.

Drinking in Durban in the daytime? I just don't care!

Drinking in Durban in the daytime? I just don’t care!

I didn’t care that I had no job. I didn’t care that society was trying to convince me that my dream was unable to be achieved. I didn’t care that I had very little money and that I would return home to face an abyss with little more than a grand to my name. I just knew that I loved something so much that I trusted I would find a way to make it work.

And the moment I stopped caring and stressing, things fell into place. I was twenty-five days into my backpacking trip, checking into a hostel in Heidelberg, Germany when I got the email I would be a published author.

So, stop caring.

10 Tips for Backpacking the World

Over my 40 day backpacking trip through South Africa and Europe, it’s safe to say I learned a lot. In fact, you can read about the major lessons I learned here. For this post though, I think I’ll touch on something more practical. This is for all the prospective backpackers or the ones who have just booked their adventure and are itching to go.

View of the Adriatic from Piran, Slovenia!

View of the Adriatic from Piran, Slovenia!

10. Book Early

I’m not a last minute person. If you are, that’s completely okay. However, if you already have a target destination, book as soon as you can. Waiting only drives up flight and accommodation prices. Example: I paid $1300 Canadian dollars for my round-trip flight to South Africa while booking 6 months in advance. If I had waited until the month before, I would have paid $2500.

9. Pack Duct Tape

Seriously. It fixes everything. And when your shampoo leaks all over your stuff from being knocked about while walking, flying, or catching a train, it is a life-saver.

8. Leave a Copy of your Documents at Home

My partner and I almost had a panic situation in South Africa when we thought we lost very important documents that would hinder our return home. Though we found them, it could have been disastrous and seriously put a damper on our trip. Make copies of your passport, travel insurance and other important documents and leave them at home. That way, should disaster strike, you can get someone to scan them to an embassy to save your behind.

7. Slow Down

I made the mistake of jam-packing my 40 days. I rarely stayed in a location longer than 3 nights. What I discovered though that this made for very hard travelling. I became very tired very quickly and found I was not quite processing everything. I found I wasn’t enjoying it as much as I wanted to, and all the moving around made it feel like a chore.

Do you see the exhaustion?

Do you see the exhaustion?

So, slow down. Relax your schedule. Take a day or two to just do nothing. In fact, you’ll need to just do nothing every once in a while, especially with long-term travel.

6. Don’t get too Photo-Happy

Photos are fine. Travelling behind your camera lens is not. Enjoy it, because living vicariously through your photos when you get home isn’t half as fun.

5. Check Visa and Travel Restrictions

This could seriously save you time and headaches. Find out all you can about entry into the countries that you would like to visit. Does your passport allow you to travel there? Do you need a visa? Some visa processes take MONTHS to complete.

4. Bring a Travel Journal

As a writer, this was a must for me. I wrote down everything I did and everything I felt. I also used it as a muse for long train and airplane rides. When I got home, I was surprised at the material I had written. It now serves as a great memory keepsake AND as inspiration for my writing.

3. Say “Yes”

Some of the best experiences I had were the times when I had no plan and I just went with the opportunities that presented themselves to me. That’s how I stayed with a host family in Cape Town instead of some dodgy hotel. That’s how I climbed the Alps in Austria.

I got to climb these! Okay, maybe not this one, but one of them!

I got to climb these! Okay, maybe not this one, but one of them!

Be safe, of course. If your gut says no, then pass. Be careful to avoid scams, but if it seems safe enough, what’s the harm? It could end up being the best moment of your trip.

2. Be a Minimalist Packer

There are probably a billion websites and videos and blogs telling you what you should and should not pack. My advice to you? Pack the essentials. No, you don’t need every article of clothing you own and the kitchen sink. I thought I did when I left, but trust me, I was wrong. All the things I thought could be useful or maybe I’d need, I never. even. touched.

Leave that at home. It’ll only weigh you down. And when you’re lugging your backpack through city streets, lost and just wanting to find your accommodation, you’ll thank me. Besides, if there’s anything you don’t have and you absolutely need, the reach of global capitalism has you covered.

1. Just Go… NOW!

What are you waiting for? Seriously. The longer you delay, the less likely it is to happen. There will be no perfect opportunity. No one will hand you a flight ticket and get your life in order for you. If you want to travel, the time is NOW. Everything else will work itself out. Trust me.

Here's a picture of a penguin I took in Betty's Bay, South Africa. How can you say no to travelling with a face like that?

Here’s a picture of a penguin I took in Betty’s Bay, South Africa. How can you say no to travelling with a face like that?

Where are you travelling to next?

3 Things I Learned While Backpacking the World

There I was: I’d just finished my Bachelor’s degree, I’d worked 4 jobs to pay for my tuition, and I took my remaining money to fund my dream trip through South Africa and Europe. I spent two months away from my little Hobbit hole in southern Ontario, visited 10 countries, and took more trains and planes than I can even fathom (though, I now have an aversion to ticket machines. Stress level through the roof).

Sounds amazing, right? Well, it was. But it wasn’t just because I got to see all the places I’d only ever read about on Wikipedia. I happened to learn a few life lessons along the way.

1. Travelling is Fantastic Inspiration

It’s no surprise that I’m a writer. I live, eat, and breathe writing. I talk so much about it now, I make myself nauseous – and everyone else, I’m sure. Shameless self-promotion has become my best friend (check out my page for the latest release details for my first novel).

However, before leaving on this trip, I’d hit a wall. I felt drained, uninspired, and not enthusiastic about my work. But that all changed. Travelling was like breathing fresh air. I’d seen so many places and met so many people of differing life stories that I found inspiration from things I would never have encountered within my everyday 50-kilometer radius. It gave me new experience to draw from. It gave me a new sense of purpose and motivation. I came back ready to pursue my dreams.

2. The World Isn’t Such a Bad Place

Grab a pillow: it’s story time. I was still in undergrad. I had this dream of uprooting myself for a bit and going away. So I did. South Africa was the first stop. I went with a fantastic group of people, and our flight actually started us off in Johannesburg.

You should have seen the reactions I got when I told people.

“Johannesburg?” Someone said. “Be careful! It’s a dangerous place! You could get killed.”

Real talk for a second: Johannesburg can be dangerous… but so can everywhere else. All it takes is the wrong place and the wrong situation and bad things can happen. Hell, I got mugged in my own neighbourhood – and it’s a pretty safe neighbourhood!

The point is, there’s a lot of good too. Most everyone I met while travelling was awesome. I never found myself in a situation where I felt unsafe. If anything, people were eager to meet me and to help. Not everyone was an axe-murderer who wanted to steal my money.

Look! I didn't die!

Look! I didn’t die!

3. There’s No Place Like Home

But you already knew that, right? I mean Judy Garland said it like 8,000 times during the Wizard of Oz, and I adored that movie as a kid.

But I guess I never really internalized it. It’s one of those situations where you never really realize what you have until it’s gone. Halfway across the world, I missed my family and friends and my partner of two years. Even when I returned, it was like I saw things in a new light. I appreciated all the people who supported and loved me. I even appreciated all the things I had found draining or mundane.

And I appreciated my car. God, did I miss my car. (Cue ticket machine-induced stress).

Gondola, you say? Where's my car?

Gondola, you say? No, no. Car, please.

 

Where have you travelled? What did you learn?