How to Spend Five Days in Japan: Kyoto

Kyoto is almost as magical as Disney World. If you only have time for one city in Japan, I would choose Kyoto over Tokyo. Also, does anyone else find it really entertaining that Tokyo and Kyoto are anagrams of eachother? No, just me? Ok.

Anyway, how I got to Kyoto was almost as awesome as Kyoto. The incredibly fast bullet trains (aka shinkansens) were out of my budget, so I decided to take an overnight bus after two days in Tokyo – worked out well, since I also saved money on accommodation! I was expecting it to be a relatively sleepless night, as most overnight bus rides are.

BUT. This was the greatest overnight bus of all time, I talk about it constantly. The seats reclined so far back I was basically lying down, each chair had a little dome that you could pull over yourself to make it feel more private, and it was totally dark and silent the whole night. I slept for over eight hours, with zero interruptions, and woke up to the extraordinary view of the Kyoto river just as we pulled up, rubbing my eyes as I peered out the window slightly disoriented.

The first thing that I did in Kyoto was have a nap. I said it was because I really wanted to try out a capsule hotel, but if I am telling the truth it is because I was lazy and also needed a shower. Side benefit – I got to try out a capsule hotel! I think I paid about $20 for a 2.5 hour stretch of time at nine hours Kyoto. I truly think that being able to rent a place to nap is the greatest idea of all time. I got to shove all my stuff in a locker and use the included toiletries and toothbrush, AND A ROBE AND PAJAMAS. Then when I got in the capsule, I could set the alarm to wake me up gradually with light, for the exact time I needed. Truly the best nap of my life.

Anyway, I am realizing this entire post has been about sleeping. Let’s talk about the actual reason you’ve come to Kyoto – sightseeing!

I was in Kyoto at one of the two best times of year. It’s a great destination year-round, but if you want to be wowed, cherry blossom season and autumn are the best times. Autumn apparently comes later to Japan than Canada, so in mid-November the beautiful colours were in full swing. Everywhere I walked the trees were almost the best attraction, and the ancient temples and shrines looked even more beautiful with the vibrant red backdrop of nature. Let’s get into where I went and what I did!

Free Walking Tour

I love doing walking tours to orient myself to a city, and this was a great one. It was the first thing I did after the aforementioned nap, and was a great way to learn about some shrine etiquette AND spot some geishas. Our guide explained the history and culture of geishas to us (they are not prostitutes!) and we got SO lucky in the Gion district, seeing multiple geishas rushing to lessons or appointments.

It was so cool, and our guide said it was the most he had ever seen in one day. This area of town itself is so historic and beautiful, and I loved wandering through it.

Philosopher’s Path and Kyoto’s Temples

I actually missed out on some of the most famous temples in Kyoto – like the Golden Temple. I honestly just wasn’t too fussed about temple after temple, even though they look beautiful. I was more in the mood for hiking and nature! However, I certainly made time for the Philosopher’s Path, which is a gorgeous 2km path leading along a canal and between some of the city’s most famous temples.

It was quite busy when I walked along, but it was a really lovely stroll, especially with the fall leaves. I ended up at Ginkaku-ji and decided I wanted to go for a hike. I sat down at a restaurant, ate some amazing ramen, and googled a hike nearby.

Daimon-Ji

This was the best thing I did in Kyoto! When I hiked, I had some extremely vague directions, but fumbled my way through it – when I just googled the hike, though, I found this site. It even has pictures, so if you save this site in advance the hike will be a BREEZE.

Anyway, the hike itself was lovely – but the atmosphere at the top was the best part. I was the only foreigner that I could see, and there were tons of families picnicking, chatting, and just enjoying their days. I found a perch and read, journalled, and people-watched to my heart’s content. And of course, had a solo photo shoot!

Let’s end this post the way it started, by talking about sleeping:

Jam Hostel Kyoto Gion

I really liked my hostel. It’s owned by a lovely woman (who speaks great English and is happy to chat) who also owns the sake bar on the bottom floor. I love hostels attached to bars; it makes it so easy to make friends and it worked out perfectly here! I sat down for a sake tasting and ten minutes a lovely British girl named Jo sat down and we started talking. We ended up going out that night together for dinner, and meeting up the next night for dinner and drinks. We had a great time trying out lots of different restaurants and bars; the food in Japan was SO good. I somehow managed to leave the country without eating any sushi, which I’m still really confused by, but everything else I ate was amazing.

One of my favorite moments in Japan came as I was walking back to my hostel, full, happy, and maybe a bit tipsy. I took a random route and ended up walking down Pontocho Alley, which is apparently known as one of the most atmospheric dining areas in Kyoto. The lanterns were lit, every bar was buzzing, and I felt very content with my life and with Kyoto.

Next up: my thoughts on the two most famous day trips from Kyoto!

How to Spend Five Days in Japan: Tokyo

Japan has fascinated me ever since I can remember. Last year, when I found a super cheap flight to Hong Kong, I knew I wanted to combine it with a hop over to Japan, even if I wouldn’t be able to see much of the country.

Through the magic of budget airlines, a friend living in Tokyo, and affordable transportation, I was able to make it to three cities in Japan. And not just that: I did it on the cheap! Whenever I told someone I was going to Japan, they said, “Ooh, it’ll be expensive there.” I found it to be pretty darn affordable, even without really trying to scrimp.

If you only have a short time to hit some of Japan’s highlights, here’s what I’d recommend, starting with…

TWO DAYS IN TOKYO

I knew I would fall in love with Tokyo. I love big cities (although as the years go by I’ve become more and more of a country girl), and I couldn’t wait for Tokyo to join my list of favorite modern cities: Shanghai, Hong Kong, New York…

The moment I landed, I was enchanted. The customs officer sweetly pointed out to me that I had written my birthday as November 11th, 2016, not yelling at me like they would have in some countries. (Cough cough, the United States).

Then I embarked on my journey to my friend’s house in the expat district of Roppongi: multiple trains later, I stepped out from the underground to the city of my dreams.

Tokyo is very much a city of neighborhoods, and I tried to see as many as I possibly could.

Marunouchi

You’ll probably end up here at some point, since it’s the home of Tokyo Station. The other main sight is the Imperial Palace, which made for a lovely stroll. However, I was a little underwhelmed by the total lack of signage or information: I left still knowing nothing about the Japanese royal family. If you find yourself looking for some good eats in Tokyo Station, I recommend T’s TanTan: it’s a busy little vegetarian ramen restaurant and it was SO yummy.

Akihabara

This is the “electric town” of Tokyo. It’s the home of hundreds of electronic shops, which makes for a glittering spectacle of flashing neon signs. It’s also the home of some of Tokyo’s most famous cafe’s….everything from hedgehogs to cats to maids. If you haven’t heard of a maid cafe, it’s a restaurant where the servers treat guests as their “masters”, and it is SUPER weird. The very young-looking girls standing outside the doors trying to entice diners made me very uncomfortable, but it was definitely a sight to see.

Asakusa

Senso-ji is a famous Buddhist temple in Asakusa, and you really can’t leave Tokyo without seeing it. The walk up to the temple from the subway station is full of souvenir shops, unique looking snacks, and anything you could imagine: it’s very touristy, but also very charming. I had a wonderful time at this temple – an old Japanese man offered to take my photo and walked me around to have a precious little photo shoot:

Then, while I was sitting on a wall, drinking my coffee and people watching, a group of children came up to talk to me. This has happened to me in a few countries, where schoolkids approach tourists to do an ‘interview’ and practice their English. It’s always adorable because the kids are so nervous. These kids were from the countryside and gave me some green tea in exchange for speaking with them. Then they wanted a photo with me. SO cute.

Harajuku

Everyone has heard of Harajuku! It lives up to all the hype. It’s the fashion mecca for young Japanese kids, and young tourists as well. I wasn’t here to shop, but to people watch – you’ve probably seen photos of the outrageous outfits paraded around the famous Takeshita Dori alley. The rest of the district is very charming as well, the type of place I’d love to live with all kinds of independent coffee shops and restaurants.

In the alley, every store is bursting with clothes and accessories that my mind could never dream up. There are also crazy snacks, from giant cotton candy to excessively stuffed crepes. Go here on a Sunday morning for the best people watching, but any day of the week your mind will still be blown.

Shinjuku

Three great things happened to me in very quick succession in Shinjuku.

  • I found a 48 hour unlimited metro pass on the ground, right before I was about to buy my own
  • I saw a group of Japanese toddlers dressed as firefighters milling around and trying to take a photo, and I almost exploded from the cuteness
  • I walked into the Meiji Jingu Shrine right as a traditional wedding procession was walking by

Needless to say, this was a good couple hours. Meiji Jingu Shrine was one of my favorite temples for the setting: I took a lovely stroll through the woods after my visit and felt like I had stepped back in time to ancient Japan.

The next highlight in Shinjuku are the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Buildings. I went up here to have lunch with a view! The observation tower is free to visit, which made it an easy choice. Look at this amazing skyline!!!

Shibuya

I went here for one reason: the Shibuya Crossing. One of the most mind-blowing things about Japan is its efficiency and organization. Every time I was on a train I was shocked by the total silence, and the way that absolutely everyone was so courteous of one another. A dream come true compared to my Toronto commutes.

This crossing is a defining example of that, with an amazing number of people moving in perfect unison to make it across this intersection in any direction. The popular tip is to go into the Starbucks above the crossing for a great view, which I did: it wasn’t very busy, but I also wasn’t there at rush hour. I’ve also read that the Keio Inokashira Line Shibuya Station give a great view.

Roppongi

Like I mentioned, this is where I stayed, in my friend’s beautiful and modern condo. It’s known as the nightlife district – my last night we went out for dinner and drinks, and I can see why it’s so famous. Even on a weekday it was one of the most lively nightlife areas I’ve ever seen! Tokyo Tower is also nearby, so there is a great view of it from Roppongi.

Now, full disclosure: I didn’t have time to venture past these most touristy districts of Tokyo. Obviously this is a pretty surface view: but with a short time in Tokyo, you can’t go wrong with a wander in each of these areas!

 

My 9 Favourite Hostels Outside Europe

I recently extended another Boston work trip to include a weekend, and this time the Hostelling International Hostel had a bed available! I was excited to try my first real North American hostel, which I assumed would be a totally different breed from the ones I’ve stayed in on almost every other continent.

When I walked in, I was hit with insane deja vu; it looked exactly like the hostel I stayed at in Berlin: One80 Hostel. I knew right away that it was going to be a much more enjoyable stay than I had predicted, and I was right! I fell so in love with this hostel that on a flight, I made a list of the 21 best hostels I’ve ever stayed in: from Hong Kong to Salzburg. The post got so long I split it into two; here’s the list of all the hostels I’ve loved outside Europe.

NORTH AMERICA

HI BOSTON: BOSTON, USA

Duh – I just talked about this one. This hostel had everything I love about international hostels: group activities, amazing location, free breakfast and great hang-out space. Side note, I can’t believe I just used the phrase ‘hang-out space’….

One of my favourite streets in Boston, and so close to the hostel!

Anyway, I had a blast here. I often expect Hostelling International hostels (the international accreditation organization) to be kind of stodgy and institutional, so this one exceeded all expectations. I also got to enjoy my first night as a legal 21 year old in the US with some of my roommates, which was very exciting.

AFRICA

HOSTEL RIAD BIK: MARRAKECH, MOROCCO

I can’t totally explain why I loved this place so much. I read some reviews and they’re all fairly mediocre – the facilities are a bit run down and there’s not a ton of space. But like most of my Morocco trip, the good outweighs the bad. The staff here was SO friendly – I wrote about them here – and the roof terrace holds some of my fondest memories ever. Also, it’s almost appallingly cheap.

What a great quality photo.

So happy that I was on my phone. Anyway, I miss this terrace.

CAMPING POISSON SACREE: TODRA GORGE, MOROCCO

Thinking back on this place, I would NEVER want to stay here alone – it was literally empty until we arrived and the only staff were men. But with the four guys I was travelling with, it was amazing! I wrote a whole post about this place, but suffice it to say the staff, location, and beds were practically life-changing.

My favourite quote from the post: “Cooking in hostels in an art which I have not yet mastered, while lying on a canopied sofa in the Moroccan twilight drinking wine is one of my greatest skills.”

KENDWA ROCKS: ZANZIBAR, TANZANIA

Not technically a hostel – technically a resort. But I still booked a dorm, so I’m saying it counts. Honestly the room was kind of shitty, buuut I got to stay right on the most amazing beach in the world and use all the resort facilities and that 100% made up for it.

SO glad I had water on my camera lens for all of these photos.

This place is where I got over my biggest fear in the world and went scuba diving, where I had the most romantic evening of my life with a French architect, and I will always want to return.

THE GREENHOUSE: ARUSHA, TANZANIA

I should hate this place, because it left me hungover for my first day of driving six million hours in my safari car. However, the people I met here were so lovely that I could never hate it. Also, my dorm bed was a DOUBLE BED – just for me. And all my meals were included. For the price I was paying ($15 USD a night), I couldn’t have asked for more value. The hostel is a haven for volunteers in the local area, and hanging out with people my age with so many stories to share was so much fun.

I apparently didn’t take a single picture in Arusha, so here’s a photo of a lion WITHOUT ZOOM.

ASIA

SHOESTRING CAVE HOUSE: GOREME, TURKEY

Turkey. This country keeps calling me back, and my heart breaks for what is happening there now. Cappadocia was an amazing trip, and one that was very unusual for me – the purpose of going was the hot air balloon ride, and they’re very weather dependent. In an effort to make sure I got that hot air balloon ride I stayed here for five nights, which is a lot longer than I normally stay in one place.

The plethora of cave hotels, built right in the fairy chimneys that Cappadocia is famous for, makes choosing accommodation here pretty overwhelming. I was overjoyed when I found this super affordable dorm in a cave, which seems to be more rare. Nothing like sleeping in an actual cave, and the pool deck has amazing views of Goreme – there’s a picture below.

Also, I just remembered how incredible the breakfast here was. It’s included, and I honestly just teared up a little bit thinking about how good it was.

JAM HOSTEL KYOTO GION: KYOTO, JAPAN

Honestly the actual hostel portion of this place wasn’t anything to write home about (although I also can’t complain). The reason it made this list is the fact that it’s attached to a sake bar!!! I really wanted to try sake in Japan, but was very intimidated by it; I didn’t understand how to order it or what it was.

So this place was perfect – one evening after dinner I plopped myself down at the bar and ordered a sake tasting. The owner of the hostel, who spoke amazing English, brought me a flight of local sakes and explained them. It was surprisingly good, and a few minutes later a British girl showed up to do the exact same thing. We bonded and chatted and ended up spending the rest of our evenings in Kyoto together, exploring and drinking.

URBAN PACK HOSTEL: HONG KONG

My first moments in this hostel, I had just finished about 36 hours of travel across the world. I was exhausted, confused about where I was, and it was also my 21st birthday. I walked out onto the balcony, saw this incredible view of a beautiful mosque and of course the iconic HK skyline, and rejoiced in the fact that I’d finally made it to a city I knew I’d fall in love with. (Spoiler: I was right).

The iconic Hong Kong skyline – just steps away from the hostel.

This hostel just felt so Hong Kong to me, with the cramped yet livable rooms, its location halfway up a skyscraper, its buzzing vibe. I met some awesome people here as well, and spent a good portion of my trip with them. The location, too, is pretty much all you could ask for in Hong Kong – zero complaints.

The Best of 2016

In my mind, 2016 is kind of broken into three completely separate parts. From January to April I was at university for the last semester, working at a cafe and hanging out with friends constantly. In May and June I went on an incredible whirlwind trip to eleven countries. In July I moved to Toronto and now I have a grownup job and sit in an office staring wistfully at my world map all day.

However, a surprising number of these 20 highlights happened in the school or the work part of 2016. Be forewarned that this is a very long post.

Going on a camping safari in Tanzania

I think in 80 years, my safari in Tanzania will still be the number one coolest thing I have ever done in my life. Sure, there were tsetse flies and both extreme cold and extreme heat, and a lot of time in a car, but thinking back on my 6 nights camping in the wilds of Africa none of that matters.

I watched thousands upon thousands of wildebeest make their way across the savannah, sitting on top of the Jeep and marvelling at how far I could see. I darted back into my tent in the middle of the night after seeing glowing eyes staring at me from the grass. I woke up to the most incredible sunset straight from my tent, and felt at peace.

Overcoming my fear of water by scuba diving in Zanzibar

Every time I think about the fact that I went scuba diving, I am in awe of my bravery. That may sound dramatic, but until literally last year I held my dad’s hand the whole time we snorkeled and sometimes cried into my mask because I was so irrationally afraid of the water. In Zanzibar, I saw a dive shop, marched myself over to sign up for a one day discovery course and then sat on the beach contemplating how afraid I was. I got in the boat, thought about all the ways I could die, and then threw myself backwards into the Indian Ocean with my heart in my throat.

And it was pure magic.

Taking the Sound of Music bike tour in Salzburg, Austria

Despite the fact that I only spent four days in Austria, three of the things on this list happened here. I think I need to go back to Austria…

Since the moment this tour began, I’ve been trying to figure out how to do it again and take my mom with me. We LOVE the Sound of Music and the only reason that this tour wasn’t perfect is that my mom wasn’t there to experience it with me. My morning of riding out into the Austrian countryside, singing along to Do Re Mi and dancing around filming locations pretending to be Liesl will always be one of my fondest memories.

Hiking Pulpit Rock in Norway

Have I annoyed you all yet by continuing to rave about Pulpit Rock? Yes? Oh well, I’m going to keep doing it. You may notice that five of the items on this list are hikes; 2016 was the year I discovered that I actually do like hiking and now the first thing I do when planning a trip is check whether I can hike there. Anyway, I already wrote a whole post about this hike and I even used the word magical in the title (so dramatic) – here it is.

Hiking Ben Vrackie in Scotland

Another hike you say? Yep…I started my two month trip this summer with this hike, and it couldn’t have been a better kickoff. This random, not very well-known hike in Scotland was absolutely breathtaking and all it made me want to do was hike all over Scotland. My sister did a 10 day Scotland trip in August and did basically all the things I wanted to, and now we are seriously discussing opening a hostel in the Scottish countryside or trekking the West Highland Way together.

Scooting around Cappadocia

Oddly, my hot air balloon ride was not the highlight of my Cappadocia trip. It was incredible, but the day where my American friend Julie and I rented a scooter and drove wherever the wind took us stands out more in my mind. I was lonely in Cappadocia, the sole backpacker in my cave hotel’s dorm and shocked by the sharp downturn in tourism in Turkey.

When Julie arrived in the dorm I literally walked over and said, “Oh my god I’ve been so lonely, will you be my friend?” Somehow that worked, and we spent the rest of our time together. We climbed castles, feasted on Turkish food, got lost, and later went on the weirdest double date of my life with these two creepy Turkish guys. We also spent an amazing night dancing in a local bar, this time with less creepy Turkish guys.

I often say that Turkey is my favourite country, and I am heartbroken for what has been happening  there. It’s a magical place.

Visiting Anne Frank House in Amsterdam

I had a weird obsession with the Holocaust as a child, and I’ve read Anne Frank’s diary a million times and cried every single time. I managed to find a last-minute ticket through sheer luck (if you’re going, try to get one in advance) and on my last rainy day in Amsterdam I went and cried for a few hours. It’s impossible to describe how impactful this place was; they have set up the exhibits and memorials incredibly well and I believe everyone should know the story of this incredibly inspiring girl.

Spending the evening with the orchestra at Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna

It’s no coincidence that two of these favourites happened with the same people. I met two girls from Chicago on my Sound of Music Tour (see above) and we traveled to Vienna together. I told them about a free concert by the Vienna Philharmonic happening at the Schonbrunn Palace, we picked up a French boy from their hostel, and off we went for one of the most special nights ever.

After an epic quest to find the only store in Vienna that was open (I think it was a public holiday) we bought a crap-ton of wine, bread, and cheese and made our way to one of the most beautiful palaces in Vienna. Obviously, it was packed, so we made our way to a hill behind the actual orchestra, ignoring signs that said we wouldn’t be able to hear.

The signs were in fact correct, but it didn’t matter. We got tipsy, talked about our favourite international misadventures, chatted to random strangers around us, and I kept having those moments of perfection where I stopped to take it all in.

Near the end of the concert, we decided to leave and avoid the rush. We ended up walking by the orchestra at the perfect time to hear AND see the final flourish – that’s right, there were fireworks.

Amazing.

Hiking Lion Rock in Hong Kong

If you had asked me during this hike if it would ever make it to a highlight list, the answer would be a firm no. This hike was REALLY HARD and I thought I was going to die. I actually hiked to Amah Rock first, which was a waste of time, then up to Lion Rock, and it was so hot. I’m much better at handling cold than heat (thanks Canada) and I have never sweat so much in my entire life. I considered giving up about 7 times but when I made it to the view, it was all worth it.

Hong Kong itself was a highlight, just like I expected it to be – it’s an unbelievably cool city with so much to do and see, and the cute Swedish boy I met certainly didn’t hurt.

Hiking Daimonji Yama in Kyoto

Japanese temples and shrines are gorgeous, but I find when I travel solo, going to these kinds of places means walking through in half an hour and leaving. In Kyoto I felt kind of listless after hitting the major highlights in a day, so I googled ‘hiking in Kyoto’ and found this gem. It was extremely confusing to find because there were no English signs, but if you use these directions you’ll be set.

The hike isn’t too hard, especially compared to some of the others on this list. At the top, there’s a very convenient area to picnic, chat, or read and journal – I did all of the above. I was the only foreigner for most of the time, and tons of Japanese families and groups were there. The atmosphere was great and the view was just incredible.

Hiking Mount Tampa in Brasov, Romania

When I arrived in Brasov, it was raining. When I left three days later, it was still raining. I napped and hung out in the hostel lounge much more than I would care to admit, because I couldn’t motivate myself to get out and do anything.  Luckily, the one time I dragged myself out of bed was great enough to make it to this list.

I booked my hostel (Kismet Dao) solely because a dog lived there, and when I got there I learned that if you walked the dog you got free beer. Um, win-win situation much!? I put on my sneakers and leashed up Zara for what I expected to be a light stroll around town. However, Zara had a mind of her own and since all I knew in Romanian was  thank you and no, controlling her was a challenge. She led me to what appeared to be her favourite path and we ended up climbing a mountain.

Going on a pub crawl in Edinburgh

I loved Edinburgh in general, but one of the highlights was the pub crawl I went on. I may not have thought so the next morning, but the girls I met were so fun and the pub scene so buzzing that the hangover was totally worth it. The hostel employee running the pub crawl was also a riot, with the most Scottish accent ever and the most Scottish beard ever.

Strangely, one of the highlights of the pub crawl did not happen in a pub. I only took one piece of photo ID with me because I didn’t want to lose my passport three days into my trip. At one spot the guy refused to let me in without another piece, which made me sad because the drinking age in Scotland is 18, and I was 20. I look sixteen.

Anyway, I had to run back to the hostel to grab my passport and the walk took me down the most charming little alleyways and streets I’ve ever seen – and the fact that I was already a pint of beer in just made me more pleased with my surroundings. It was strangely lovely and I will never forget how happy I was in that moment!

Visiting Iceland

The only country which is itself a highlight on this list. Iceland was the last destination on my insanely packed 2 month trip so I was worried that I’d be so tired (and maybe even jaded) that it wouldn’t impress me. Not so. Yes, I was exhausted, but Iceland is so COOL. I wrote about the logistics of planning a trip to Iceland already, and still need to sit down and try to remember the details of both tours I took.

But suffice it to say that there is a reason everybody gushes so much about Iceland. The sights are beautiful, the people are beautiful, the prices are horrifying, and you will never forget your time here.

Touring the Human Rights Museum in Winnipeg

Totally never thought something in Winnipeg would be on this list. My sister moved to this fairly remote Canadian city for work. I had visited on a layover just to be able to say I’d visited all ten Canadian provinces, but hadn’t explored the city in depth. We found a cheap flight, split the cost and I was off to visit on a packed weekend.

Most of the time was spent snuggling doggies and eating junk food, because dogs and junk food are two of our favourite things, but we also made time for some sightseeing. The only must-see on my list was the Human Rights Museum, which I’ve heard only amazing things about.

It lived up to my expectations: the design, exhibits and educational value of the museum is stunning. I learned a ton. I was very moved to see Malala Yousafzai’s bloody school uniform on display; I have so much admiration for Malala and loved her book.

Wondering at the Austrian National Library in Vienna

I am SO obsessed with libraries. Many of my fondest childhood memories occurred in our local library and I read a lot, so anywhere with books is a draw. When a library is historic and stunning, I can’t resist but to stop by. That’s why in Vienna, my very first stop was the Austrian National Library – I saw it on Instagram and immediately knew I had to go.

Did I wander the library pretending to be a Hapsburg princess? Perhaps. I was totally captivated by the amazing room, the exhibits on Hapsburg royalty, and even the smell of old books. I could have spent hours here.

Spending a solo Thanksgiving at the Stratford Theatre Festival in Ontario

I love plays and solo travel. I couldn’t afford to fly home for Thanksgiving, and it’s never been a huge deal in my family anyway, so I decided to take a weekend trip in my new province. When I realized that I could get youth discounts on tickets to shows at the Stratford Theatre Festival, I was sold!

I stayed in the weirdest hostel ever (it was attached to a hospital and I was the only one staying there) but at least it was cheap. I saw incredible productions of Shakespeare in Love, MacBeth and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe!

My emotions were all out of whack in October; the three-month mark was one of the toughest adjustments in moving and starting a new job. Solo travel always centres me, and this quick trip was exactly what I needed.

Pretending to be rich in Muskoka – Ontario’s cottage country

One of my best friends, Nicole, was working at a swanky resort (the JW Marriott) in Muskoka, which is the gorgeous lake country 2-3 hours north of Toronto. I headed up to visit her and see if I could take advantage of the resort facilities without staying there. The answer – yes. During Nicole’s shifts I walked in like I owned the place, plopped myself down by the pool and tried to put on my best snooty rich person face.

It was so relaxing to pretend to be rich for a day, and having my every whim catered to was just delightful. Top it off with the chance to see one of my best friends and the gorgeous surroundings of the resort and it was the recipe for a much-needed escape from the blistering heat of Toronto.

Visiting New York for the fourth time

It never gets old. My friend Emma was in Toronto, so of course we decided to travel a 10 hour bus ride south to NYC and spend like 36 hours there. Because we took Greyhound and Greyhound is the worst company in the history of capitalism, our bus was delayed almost five hours and we were stuck in Scranton, Pennslyvania for EVER. We did make it, though, and once we made it we had a blast.

Our hostel had the comfiest beds known to man and we took in two shows: Fiddler on the Roof and An American in Paris. I literally go to New York just to see Broadway shows…no regrets. It was HOT and EXPENSIVE and TIRING but would I do it again? In a heartbeat.

Graduating university!

Somehow, this milestone pales in comparison to all the other amazing things I did in 2016. While during my third year of university I travelled more than I went to school, in my fourth year I think I only left the province twice, and it was all job interview-related. Despite this, I had the most incredible time during my last semester of school.

I worked at an Italian espresso bar, finally falling in love with the community vibe of my small university town. I finally made the close groups of friends I’d been searching for, spending my free time with so many people I absolutely love. Since I was also finally legal drinking age for the whole school year, I took advantage of that a bit as well..and by a bit I mean all the time.

I also barely had to put any time into school because I had completed most of my courses. I may have skipped classes every now and then (or all the time), but by fourth year I had mastered the art of getting good grades while putting in very little work.

I never understood why people say your university years are the best years of your life, but now I get it. I will remember how happy and free I was during my last semester of university forever.

Extending a work trip to Boston

My second week at my new full time job in Toronto, I flew off to Boston for a work trip. I felt very glamorous and everything about it was very exciting to me. I think it’s funny that my superiors, who travel all the time for work, are so jaded about it while the hotel bed is enough to make me clap with glee. I guess that’s what happens when you have a spouse and children to come home to!

Anyway, I wanted to extend the trip for a weekend and managed to get my way. I stayed in a lovely Cambridge Airbnb and powered through the Boston heat to sightsee. A highlight was ordering a cocktail at the Cheesecake Factory and not getting ID’d (I was 20). After my whirlwind weekend I was off to a paid-for Marriott and a packed week of meetings and orientations, which at the time was fun and exciting!

I completely adored Boston, but the highlight here was the fact that my flights were free 🙂

It has been the most incredible year and it has felt like an entire lifetime of experiences. I can’t wait to see what 2017 brings – in the first two months, I already have trips to Boston, London and Colombia booked!