Best of 2019

Every year, I write these massive recap posts with my favorite highlights of the year, even when I have been terrible about blogging for the rest of the year. I’ve done 2016, 2017, and 2018, and now it is time to recap the best of 2019 – one of the craziest years of my life. I am never quite sure if these are interesting to anyone else, but I look back at them SO much myself, so here you go!!

In 2018, I moved home to Nova Scotia. At the very end of the year, I met a boy – and I can’t make that a highlight because it technically happened in 2018 but it was definitely one of the most important parts of my year. However, I also went on a 4.5 month trip so I have a LOT of travel highlights. I could make this a list of 50 things, but for everyone’s sake I will try to condense slightly. These are in chronological order, and a strange number of them are specifically about hostels. Also, I  made this cool map of my round the world trip so for reference – here is my route!

map

Continuing to explore Nova Scotia

100% the best part of having a boyfriend has been having someone to drag on weekend trips with me – especially someone who can drive. A side perk is that we also have a blast together on these weekend trips! In February we stayed at the most charming little farm Airbnb in rural Nova Scotia and despite the freezing temperatures it was so cozy in the cabin with a woodstove. This is where we decided we were officially dating, so it will always have such cute little memories for me 🙂

We also went to my cottage for his birthday weekend right before I left on my trip, which holds a few more mixed emotions..but I LOVE my family cottage and I loved showing it to him.

When I got back, I dragged him on another weekend trip to make sure he still liked me! We drove up to Cape Breton and stayed in a YURT which I have been wanting to do ever since I learned what a yurt was. We hiked, got hit by a car at a gas station (super fun), and I even had a few driving lessons. It was lovely and a great way to end summer.

Biking around the North Shore of Oahu

The beginning of my trip was REALLY fricking hard, and I wrote about it here, but one evening was where I remembered how much I loved travel and almost cried because I was so happy. When my friends and I biked back from an evening of drinking on Sunset Beach, it was pitch black and we kept going down the wrong path and one of our bikes didn’t work, and it was absolutely pouring down. I couldn’t stop laughing, and I knew that everything was going to be okay.

Snorkelling in the Gilis, Indonesia

During my 3 nights on Gili Trawangan, I didn’t do much except eat and drink. One day, however, I went out on a full-day snorkelling tour for the crazy good price of $10!! It certainly wasn’t the best snorkelling tour I’ve ever been on – the boat was old, lunch wasn’t included, and every single boat went to the same spots at the same time, but….$10. I jumped off the top of the boat, got stung by jellyfish, made amazing new friends and started to fall completely in love with this corner of the world and its amazingly affordable adventures.

Hearing the Dalai Lama Speak

I already wrote about this in my Best of India post. It wasn’t a perfect day, and it ended with some severe illness, BUT I saw the real life Dalai Lama in person and heard him speak and I will never forget it!

Wandering off the Beaten Path in Sikkim, India

Sikkim left the best impression of India, and made me yearn to explore the areas nearby – Bhutan, Tibet, Nepal.

I felt like a really intrepid explorer, wandering through a place that had very little written about it on the internet, and entering a province where you needed a permit. This was a bit of a hindrance, because as a solo traveler you need other foreigners to travel the most beautiful areas with, but it was still worth every long Jeep ride and I met a few really amazing people.

Exploring Athens with my parents

Athens is one of my favorite cities in the world, and I LOVE when I get to meet up with my parents on my travels. I flew to Athens, so thrilled to be leaving India, and so excited to be reunited with my parents in the beautiful Airbnb they booked. We had a great time exploring in the heat, eating yummy food and I’m sure they were glad to see me alive!!

My precious backpacker parents!!!!!

Exploring the Greek Islands by Yacht (again)

Honestly, the best thing in the world is living on a yacht. My hair is always full of salt, the beers are never cold, and trying to sleep in a tiny unventilated cabin is a challenge, but man, it is blissful. Add that to the fact that I was reunited with my best little travel buddy Haley, and I get a bit teary when I think about this week.

The islands and sea caves that we moored at were breathtaking and I really couldn’t process that I was there – but that might have been the hangover. Time seemed to slow down and speed up simultaneously, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Hiking in Albania from Theth to Valbona

In the remote northern mountains of Albania, we took one of the most scenic ferry rides in the world and then stayed at a warm and cozy homestay where meals were served lovingly by the matriarch, teaching our new friends cribbage and falling asleep to the sound of pounding rain on the peaks. The next day, we hiked for almost 12 hours through a mountain pass, the views getting more beautiful every second. We passed locals who waved gleefully, including one particular character who was dressed in a full suit and seemingly just doing this hike with no effort while we panted up every incline. The summit was freezing cold and the patches of sun were burning hot, and we snapped at eachother as we got more and more tired, but even our crankiness couldn’t mar our awe. At the end of the hike, we sat at the first restaurant we saw and ordered beers and french fries, and both of them were the most amazing things we had ever tasted. We managed to lug ourselves to a guesthouse, checked into the first room they showed us, and slept for hours and hours after a delectable 7 course dinner. In the morning, a worker introduced us to FOUR PUPPIES and bought us coffee before we headed off back to the nearest city, blissful and relaxed despite our aching muscles.

Really, just all of Albania

The above anecdote pretty accurately sums up our time in Albania. It was one of the most amazing places I have ever been. Every single local we met went out of their way to befriend us and help us and give us countless free beers and shots of raki. The hostels were never more than 10 Euros a night and they were some of the most beautiful boutique hostels I have ever seen. The food is incredible, the beer is less than a Euro, the scenery changes as you travel the country from top to bottom but it is unfailingly beautiful. I can’t wait to share more about my new favourite country, but go now, before everyone else discovers it – as long as you are comfortable with a little bit of chaos any time you try to get anywhere!

I was this happy the whole time I was in Albania

Paradise at the Grove Hostel in Montenegro

There are some hostels that just feel like home. When we arrived at the Grove, we knew this was going to be one of them. We had just endured a very long journey from northern Albania on a very intense hangover, and it was a million degrees. We arrived to a family dinner and a free beer, before we were each given our OWN DOUBLE BED in a dorm. For 10 Euros, you get this bed, you get access to family dinners (5 Eur a night for absolutely incredible food), 1 Eur beers, and get this – the hostel staff rounds up a group to drive off for an activity every day. We went to a beautiful local beach, and I wish we had stayed longer to experience more of the surroundings. As it was, we didn’t need to leave except to walk up to nearby Stari Bar for an iced coffee or groceries. If I ever open a hostel, I want it to be just like this one.

I have three photos from Montenegro. Here is one.

Celebrating my Best Friend’s Birthday in Serbia

Haley and I had been travelling together for about a month before we got to Belgrade, arriving just in time for her 25th birthday. Basically I can sum up our time in Belgrade with the following:

  1. We got tattoos from a guy who….didn’t speak very good English
  2. We bought the cheapest bottle of vodka in the store, which we literally had to open with a knife because it didn’t have a CAP
  3. There was no cap, so we drank all of the vodka (sharing some, of course, with our new friends) and had a truly ridiculous night out.

….this is the only photo I have from Belgrade. And possibly the worst photo of myself ever. So I am putting it on the internet.

10/10, Serbia rocks.

Returning to Cheers Hostel

I stayed at Cheers Hostel in Istanbul four years ago and I literally have not shut up about it since. I dragged Haley here and she was immediately sold when she heard about the golden retriever. The hostel owner remembered me and my sister, asked how she was doing, and was thrilled to hear she was getting married in the fall. The view from the bar upstairs was even more stunning than I remembered, and the rooms just as cozy. And of course, Zaman the dog is still a sweet pure angel from heaven.

I did have a very different time here – we went out a LOT. It was our last 3 nights together and again, we immediately made some amazing friends.

Pretending I Lived in Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv was my first intro to the real Middle East, after a few days in Istanbul. I stayed at Hostel Florentine, and I had a few nights before my friends arrived to join me for our Middle Eastern leg. I was exhausted from our last night in Istanbul, where I literally went from a nightclub to the airport (that’s another story) and I really thought I was going to get a good night’s sleep in Tel Aviv. However, I forced myself to socialize so I headed up to the communal rooftop. I inserted myself into a group of chatting travelers, we started playing drinking games, and the next thing I knew we had a little family. This hostel was another place where you immediately feel at home, and if Israel wasn’t so expensive I would have loved indulging in all of the nearby restaurants and bars – I mean I still loved it, but I also had a pang every time I handed over my shekels.

Tel Aviv’s beach is amazing, and I love how open Israelis are – random groups of friends would come over us to chat, and not in a weird hitting-on-us way, they literally just wanted to chat. I knew I would like Tel Aviv, and what do you know – I was right.

A New Best Friend in Egypt

On my G Adventures tour in Egypt, I got paired with a roommate who I immediately disliked. I have no idea why, because 5 minutes into the next day we were giggling in the souks and buying eachother friendship necklaces. We had an absolute blast ditching our tour to do activities on our own to save money, finding the nearest pool and grabbing a beer, gossiping on the overnight train from Cairo to Luxor (I love overnight trains SO MUCH), jumping off the top of our traditional felucca boat into the Nile, and having Instagram photoshoots at every temple we visited. Andrea was so there for me during a week that I was very emotionally overwrought, and I am so thankful that we were roomed together!

One Last Hurrah in Dublin

I arrived in Dublin sick, tired from several long layovers and redeye flights, and to be honest, I was excited to get home. I had one last night at a hostel before I went back to my family, my dog, my home and the boy I was pretty sure I was in love with. I could have just slept for 16 hours, but I decided I needed to have one last big night: and thus I did. As had become so natural to me after 4.5 months, I met a friend in the common area and Hannah and I teamed up for the hostel pub crawl and headed over as it started to rain. We drank many Guinnesses (I don’t even like Guinnesses), did many free shots, and stumbled home around 5AM – I had to be up at 8AM for a VERY important flight. I made it, passed out for the duration, and disembarked in Halifax to power-walk through the airport and cry in my parents’ arms.

The one photo I took in Dublin. LOL.

My Sister’s Wedding

My older sister Anna got married in October!!!! She lives in Winnipeg, but the wedding was at a beautiful oceanside resort near Halifax. It was literally the perfect day, and I cried a LOT, especially at my parents’ speeches. It was amazing to meet my new brother-in-law’s entire family and we had a lovely few days of celebrations.

My wonderful family!!!

Coming Home

I never would have thought that moving back to Nova Scotia would feel like this much of a highlight, but I am so happy to be back. I returned to a promotion, so I now run my very own travel agency. I also returned to the previously discussed boy, and at the beginning of December I moved into his house. We have a Christmas tree, a chore schedule, and I have never felt so domestic, or so happy.

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

I felt ALL the feelings this year, saw some of the most iconic places in the world and literally circumnavigated the globe. But the biggest lesson that I learned is how to be happy in one place. However, that doesn’t mean I’ll stop travelling…very much the opposite! In the next 6 months I have a work trip to Southeast Asia, and I’m introducing my boyfriend to the backpacker life with 2 weeks in Peru. I can’t wait to see what 2020 holds.

2017 Travel Goals

2017 will be the first year of my life that I have a full-time job  for twelve straight months. Writing that sentence practically caused me physical pain. I am the model of a commitment-phobic millennial, so despite the fact that the last few weeks at my job have actually been pretty good, the thought of the next twelve months (and longer) at this desk is scary.

Also, I realize  that I am very lucky to have this great job right out of school, and I shouldn’t be complaining. But I’m going to do so anyway.

My favourite way to make 2017 seem less intimidating is by planning trips and adventures. My day planner is packed with tentative long weekend jaunts and a few longer trips. I wanted to write this post to make sure I actually accomplish some of my travel goals in 2017: otherwise, who knows how quickly the year could slip away!

GO ON A MULTI DAY HIKE

This is the one I’m most excited about! If you read my Best of 2016 post you may remember that I talked about how strange it is to realize I’ve become a hiker. If you haven’t, five of my highlights are hikes and you should go read about them.

Anyway, in 2016 I want to take this to the next level and go on a trek. I will admit it’s very likely that this will happen since I have one planned for February, but it still counts as a goal. The thought of hiking continuously for multiple days makes my entire body feel sore already, but even some of the four-hour hikes I’ve done have felt life-changing: think what a four DAY hike could do!!

More on my plans: I’m off to Colombia for nine days in February and the anchor of my trip is the Ciudad Perdida trek; kind of an off-the-beaten-path Machu Picchu. It’s four days through the jungle and I’m SO excited.

KEEP LEARNING LANGUAGES

Learning languages is my favourite activity, as nerdy as that is. There’s something so magical about teaching your mind some new sounds and then being able to actually talk to people across the world with those sounds. Every time I communicate in a new language it blows my mind – I speak French pretty much fluently, and have picked up enough Italian, German and Spanish that I can get by. However, Spanish is definitely the weakest link out of that list.

On this trip I learned a lot of German swear words.

Since I’ll be in Colombia to immerse myself, and Spanish is such a widely spoken language anyway, I want 2017 to be the year that I drastically improve my levels of Spanish. It’s also the perfect time to do it because I’m living with two Spanish-speaking guys who I can force to practice with me. I’m already fairly confident in my Spanish reading abilities, so speaking and listening are the goal for 2017.

DON’T FOCUS ON COUNTING COUNTRIES

One of my main sources of anxiety in life is the worry that I might not be able to visit all the places I want to visit. Ah, the luxury of my first world problems. However, this worry often stops me from revisiting places, in favour of whirling through a bunch of new countries. There are a few places I consistently return to (London and New York come to mind) but those really just keep happening because they’re convenient. There are so many places I’m desperate to see again like Italy (all of it), Switzerland (more of it) and Austria.

Would go back to Austria in a heartbeat

There’s nothing wrong with going back to somewhere I love deeply, and I need to recognize that! I’ve been to 35 countries, which is not bad for a 21 year old, but it’s not all about the list. Aside from that, I sometimes book a trip to a new country rather than an unexplored region of an old one (like the west coast of the US or anywhere other than Paris in France) just because I want to see new countries. A valid reason, but not a good one.

Again, I’m already on my way to achieving this – next weekend I’m headed to London for the fourth time – but like I said, I always seem to end up in London! I just want to remember that even if I only visit one new country this year, there’s nothing wrong with that.

MAKE THE MOST OF WEEKENDS

It is frightening to me that I’ve been at this job for six months – the days feel like they each last an eternity, but when I think back on the last six months it feels like no time at all. I don’t want to feel like that six months from now, because I need to intentionally fit things in other than work. I’m still not adjusted to the 9-5 model; I tend to get home, crash on the sofa and watch 6 consecutive episodes of Jane the Virgin or whatever show I’m binging at the moment.

A particularly delightful weekend in 2016

I need to figure out how to fill evenings with more happiness, but weekends are an easier battle – I can book trips! I did pretty well in the latter part of 2016 with trips to Stratford, Muskoka, New York and Winnipeg, but I can do better, especially with my long weekends. Tentatively this year, aside from two long trips (Colombia in February and somewhere else in September) I’m hoping to make it to Montreal, Miami, Cuba, the Bruce Peninsula, London (already booked) and Iceland. Ambitious, but doable.

TAKE BETTER PHOTOS

My dad is a great photographer, and I’ve always been very mediocre. I have a few photos I’m really proud of, but the vast majority of my travel shots are just okay. I’ve definitely seen an improvement since the beginning of my travels, particularly in the realm of solo travel self timer pics, but there’s a long way to go. I also used to edit my photos in Lightroom but then got too lazy, and I’d like to get back into this – they look SO much better when I touch them up. Basically, just putting more effort into my photography is all that really needs to happen.

See my dad’s photography?! I must make him give me lessons.

VISIT MY SIXTH CONTINENT

This goal is also cheating, since I’ve already booked my flight to my sixth continent. However, I’m super excited about reaching that milestone so I’m putting it here anyway. I’ve never been to South America, and my trip to Colombia will get me there in just under a month!! After that, all that’s left is Antarctica, and I need either a lot of time to wait for a good deal or a lot of money to just book something, so that’ll have to wait. I’m pretty proud that I’ll have been on six continents (and to more than just one country in every continent!) by age 21.

What are your travel goals for 2017? 

Summer Plans

I’m two months into my very last semester of university, and I am simultaneously so ready for it to be over and can’t believe it’s really happening. I’m excited to start my big scary job in Toronto in July (read more about that here) but I am definitely more excited about the trip I have planned in May and June. I have basically no schoolwork and my hours have been cut at my part-time job, so I have a lot of spare time which I have been dedicating to obsessing over this trip. I spend a lot of time reading guidebooks and blog posts, watching Rick Steves videos and just basically drowning in excitement. I told you where I was going in the post about my job, but here’s a more detailed look at my very scattered three-continent trip:

capture

SCOTLAND (4 nights)

Westjet is one of my favourite Canadian airlines – they have the best service I’ve experienced domestically, and one time they actually flew me out to Calgary for a business competition so that was cool. Recently they’ve added a lot of European routes and they are SO convenient – most flights from Halifax, where I live on the East Coast, go through Toronto, but in the summer Westjet has a ton of direct routes. I snagged a sweet deal on a direct overnight flight to Glasgow, so I arrive there and then hop on a train straight to Pitlochry, in the Highlands. After two days there, where I’ll hopefully be climbing Ben Vrackie, I head down to Edinburgh to explore one of the cities that I’ve been dying to see! Anywhere with castles is cool in my books.

The view from Ben Vrackie - Source

The view from Ben Vrackie – source

Gorgeous Edinburgh - Source

Gorgeous Edinburgh – Source

Accommodation:
Pitlochry Backpackers
Castle Rock Hostel

ENGLAND (4 nights)

I’ve been to London twice and explored a fair few other places in England, but this time I’m hitting up a new city, York, basically just for the Minster, and then spending a few nights in London. I usually try to get out of London pretty quickly because of the prices, but this time I’m staying with a friend who I met in Perugia, Italy – I can’t wait to reunite and see this city on a more local level! We’ve bought tickets to see The End of Longing (a play written by and starring Matthew Perry, who I shall always call Chandler Bing) and I also want to see the Museum of London.

The York Minster - Source

The York Minster – Source

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One of my favourite views in London

Accommodation:
Airbnb
Friend’s house

NORWAY (6 nights)

I have been dying to go to Norway for years, but I figured I’d save it until I had more money. I do not currently have ‘more money’, and yet I am going anyway. I fly into Stavanger, where I am staying at a beautiful lodge hostel and will be hiking Pulpit Rock. Then it’s off for what’s supposed to be one of the most amazing train rides ever – eight hours to Oslo. Two nights in Oslo was about all I could afford, but I’m excited to see this fascinating city!

The breathtaking Pulpit Rock - Source

The breathtaking Pulpit Rock – Source

Stavanger - Source

Stavanger – Source

I can't wait to explore Oslo - Source

I can’t wait to explore Oslo – Source

Accommodation:
Preikestolen Hostel
2x Airbnb

FRANCE (5 nights)

I couldn’t go back to Europe without going back to Paris. I was only there for two days last summer, which was just not even close to enough – so I’m back for five days! I’m staying in Montmartre literally just because I loved Sacre Coeur so much. I may actually go to the Louvre this time, but I’m planning to spend most of my time wandering neighborhoods and expand my super cliche love for the city of light.

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Accommodation:
Plug Inn Hostel

THE NETHERLANDS (2 nights)

Honestly I’ve never really felt a draw to Amsterdam, but it’s kind of one of those places you have to see, and it’s not as if I don’t want to go. It worked out super well en route from France to Austria, so I’m spending three full days there. Plans so far only include the Anne Frank house and attempting to bike. I found a really good deal on a sleeper train from Amsterdam to Salzburg, as well – I love sleeper trains because a) I just love trains and b) they save you spending money on a night’s accommodation!

Okay, I guess it's beautiful!! Source

Okay, I guess it’s beautiful!! Source

Accommodation:
Hostel Meeting Point

AUSTRIA (4 nights)

I was SO sad about not getting to Austria last summer, and I tried to squeeze it in at least a million times, but it never happened. This time I knew I had to make it to Salzburg and Vienna. I am 200% obsessed with the Sound of Music, and the real Von Trapps lived in Salzburg, so that’s basically the coolest thing ever. After some research, I have determined that with just a bit of mild trespassing you can actually access the meadow featured at the beginning of the movie, and so I will obviously be doing that. In Vienna, I’m excited to visit the famous cafes and the Hofburg Palace – especially this unbelievably beautiful library.

The amazing view of Salzburg - Source

The amazing view of Salzburg – Source

Austrian National Library - Source

Austrian National Library – Source

Accommodation:
Yoho Hostel
Hostel Ruthensteiner

TURKEY (1o nights)

Ah, Turkey. I adored Istanbul so I’m going back, and seeing another few famous Turkish places. First I fly into the Cappadocia region, where I’m staying at this amazing cave hostel with an amazing pool and an amazing terrace and amazing everything. For amazingly cheap. Obviously I’m here to take one of the famous hot air balloon rides, but also to hike! Then I fly to Izmir, and I’ll be staying in Ayvalik, a gorgeous little beach town. I may even take a day trip to Lesvos, in Greece, but it depends on the refugee situation! From here, I take a night bus to Istanbul and check back in to my favourite hostel of all time – Cheers, featuring the cutest golden retriever ever. I want to explore more of the Asian side of town while I’m in Istanbul.

I cannot wait for this once in a lifetime experience in Cappadocia! Source

I cannot wait for this once in a lifetime experience in Cappadocia! Source

Ayvalik - Source

Ayvalik – Source

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Accommodation:
Shoestring Cave House
Taksiyarhis Pension
Cheers Hostel

QATAR (0 nights)

From Istanbul, it’s off to Africa!! First, I have a day long layover in Qatar, which I will hopefully spend on one of Qatar Airways’ free city tours of Doha that exempt you from the visa requirement and also provide air conditioning and water (good during a 42 degree Ramadan). If not, I’ll still venture out in a cab and try not to melt. Why miss the opportunity to explore a new city and country?

Doha's skyline - Source

Doha’s skyline – Source

TANZANIA (13 nights)

I could not be more excited for this. I was originally going to spend my whole trip in Southern Africa, but all the activities and safaris would have added up and been insanely expensive. Even my two weeks in Tanzania is pretty budget-busting, but how could I say no to sleeping under the stars in the African savannah and relaxing in a bungalow on the beaches of Zanzibar? I arrive in Dar es Salaam and immediately hop another flight to Kilimanjaro, before somehow making my way to a nearby town where my safari pickup will happen the next morning.

I’m booked on a 6 night budget safari with Duma Explorer; we’ll be seeing Lake Tarangire National Park, the Serengeti, and the Ngorongoro Crater. I mean even just the word Serengeti evokes such incredible images in my head; I can’t imagine how beautiful the reality will be. I have not been camping in 10 years, so logically I’m getting back on the horse in…the wilds of Africa. It should be an experience. After safari, it’s off to Zanzibar for a relaxing stay full of sunbathing, snorkelling, and beach walks. I haven’t decided where to stay yet, because there are simply so many incredible beaches with dirt cheap private bungalows.

The Serengeti. I'm so excited I could die. Source

The Serengeti. I’m so excited I could die. Source

Zanzibar, aka paradise - Source

Zanzibar, aka paradise – Source

Accommodation:
Tents 🙂
Undecided

GERMANY (1 night)

Flying to Berlin and then Reykjavik was the easiest way for me to take advantage of a crazy good flight deal from Reykjavik to Halifax, so that is what I am doing! I’ve only been to Munich when it comes to Germany, and it’ll be interesting to see such a different city from the Bavarian one I visited. I’ve been taking German as an elective at school all semester, so maybe I’ll even be able to try out some of my language skills! I have two full days in the city before a super late flight out to Reykjavik.

Berlin Cathedral - Source

Berlin Cathedral – Source

Accommodation:
One80 Hostel

ICELAND (3 nights)

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but I swear Iceland is suddenly the hottest destination around. Everybody is going or wants to go, and it’s not hard to see why! Icelandair makes it really easy for Canadians to go – I just found my parents a crazy good deal on a trip Halifax-London, Paris-Iceland and Iceland-Halifax. Their sales can be really, really affordable, which might soften the blow of the prices in-country! I know I want to see the Blue Lagoon and do the Golden Circle Tour, but otherwise I’m not really sure!

Landmannalaugar - I'm really hoping I can make it here! Source

Landmannalaugar – I’m really hoping I can make it here! Source

Accommodation:
Hlemmur Square Hostel

My European Adventure: Month 2 Recap

Month 2 saw me in fewer countries and moving a little more slowly, although I did manage to hit 20 countries visited in my life! I’m aiming for 30 I somehow feel more relaxed and more frantic – and still trying to settle into au pairing. We’ll see how that goes, but for now here is month 2!

Where I’ve Been

Countries: 3
New countries: 2
Country count: 20

3 nights Marrakech
8 nights Essaouira
2 nights Rabat
2 nights Casablanca
3 nights Marrakech
1 night Milan
3 nights Munich
3 nights Rome
1 day Florence
5 nights Pavia

Highlights

Marrakech. I just tried to pick something to write about my time in Marrakech and too many things came to mind at once. That’s interesting, because Marrakech was one of my least favorite places in Morocco! All the great times I had there, however, are about the people I was with and not the place itself. We had one wild night out at a casino (I have no idea what it was called or where it was) where I flirted with the bouncer to avoid an exorbitant $20 cover charge, and we continued to barhop to some of the weirdest bars I’ve ever been in. We went to a hammam (aka naked spa) that turned out to be coed, and I had to get comfortable with my body really quickly. And we spent long lazy afternoons on our rooftop, laughing and flirting and tanning.

The aforementioned flirting taking place as I snapped this photo.


 

Pretending to live in Essaouira. Almost everything about my week working at a hostel in Essaouira was wonderful. I spent maaaybe $3 a day, all of that on crepes, and just did some minor cleaning and laundry at the hostel each morning. I’d spend my afternoons wandering the town, reading on the beach, chatting with storeowners. This was also where the four guys I was travelling with left me, and it was the perfect adjustment to being alone. Watching sunsets from the city walls was a magical experience every single day.

The sunset was this magical every single night.


 

Avicii. Three years of travel later and this is still one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. I went to a free Avicii concert in Rabat with a group of random Moroccans, and we danced all night. It was absolutely incredible and such a cool cultural experience to chat with the girls in the group.


A shopping mall. Yes, in Casablanca, I spent an entire day in a mall. I was burnt out from my first real experience of dirt-cheap backpacking in a less developed country. So when I got to Casablanca, I went to Starbucks, I went to American Eagle and bought a romper, I saw a movie (dubbed in French), I ate Thai Express and I finally bought a new English book. The air conditioning almost brought me to tears and I have never been so happy to be in a nondescript mall. Sometimes ya just need it!

I also went to the mosque!


In Munich I was super infatuated with one of the guys I was staying with, aka one of the guys I travelled with in Morocco. He was over 6 feet tall and had an adorable German accent, what can I say? Anyway, my last night in Munich with him was something out of a YA novel – we rode his bike around the city and I sat on the handlebars screaming internally about how precious it was. We went to a few clubs and danced, then as the sun was rising we grabbed pretzels and beer from a corner store and hung out on a rooftop, watching Munich wake up. It was adorable and memorable.

The streets of Munich with my other German host.


Neuschwanstein Castle. I’m going to write about this day in detail (update – here it is) but visiting this fairytale castle with my German friends was something out of a fairytale.


Our neighborhood in Rome. I don’t think this was the last time I’ll be in the Eternal City this summer, but it was so magical to stay with my parents in a gorgeous apartment in Trastavere. It’s a touristy neighborhood, yes, but it doesn’t feel as touristy as the areas around the Colosseum and Roman Forum: the quiet streets exude Italian magic. Despite how hungover I was on my first day here (see above about watching the sunrise in Munich – I proceeded to immediately get on a flight), it was a glorious trip.

Steps away from our apartment!


Lowlights

Touristification in Marrakech. Is that a word? I don’t think so. Anyway, even though Marrakech was a highlight above, like I said – it was probably my least favourite place in Morocco. It had so many more tourists than anywhere else we visited, and the touts were much more aggressive. Also, there were snake charmers in the main square and I am TERRIFIED of snakes.

Look how busy! Ick.


Sleeping in the Milan airport. For some reason, I always think that staying in an airport overnight to save money will be worth it. IT NEVER IS. I had the worst rest of my entire life – there was construction everywhere, I was freezing cold and the lights never turned off. The worst part was that every time I went to the bathroom I had to drag all my crap with me – solo travel problems. I would like to say never again, but realistically I’m going to do this again.

What’s next?

Well, I wasn’t sure whether to put the start of au pairing into the highlights or lowlights, because I feel a lot of feelings. So I decided I’ll just wait and write about it next month when I’ve had a little more time to contemplate. Stay tuned!

The start of au pairing…and the first of my weekend trips in Rome! Cinque Terre is on the docket, and I’m thinking Lake Como as well.

The Next Adventure: A Summer in Italy

It’s almost exam season here at Acadia and I’m so excited to get this semester over with and head off to Antigua for Christmas. I’ve been so busy with final projects and I can’t wait to get back to blogging more often.

You should have already noticed my first piece of exciting news – I redesigned my site! I bought a brand new theme from Amanda at The Suitcase Designs (she also blogs at Living in Another Language) and I couldn’t be happier with the result. I think it looks much cleaner and I’d love to know if you agree!

Next, I have some even more exciting news – I’m moving to Italy for the summer!! Ever since I found Ashley’s blog and read about her experiences as an au pair in France I’ve wanted to au pair in Europe…and I’m making that dream come true! If you don’t know what an au pair is, it’s basically a live-in nanny. I’ll be living with an Italian family and helping take care of their children! Italy has been at the top of my bucket list literally since I can remember and I don’t know how I’m going to get through the winter semester considering how excited I already am. My plans have provided some handy procrastinating tools – I can map out some weekend trips, and figure out what I’m going to do for the month of May!

MAY

My contract doesn’t start until the beginning of June, and I have no intention of lazing about at home for the month prior to my trip. However, I also can’t go in the Schengen Zone (for visa purposes) which encompasses almost every country in Europe. Therefore, my very rough potential itinerary includes the randomest of places:

  • Ireland
  • Scotland
  • London
  • Morocco
  • Turkey
  • Bulgaria
  • Romania

I’m trying to convince my sister to come with me, but whether she goes with me or I’m travelling solo, I’m so excited for this part of the adventure. We’ll see how drastically my plans change, but for now it looks like I’ll be knocking off a few bucket list destinations!

JUNE

The family is based in Pavia, which is about 20 minutes outside of Milan. During this month the kids will be in school, so I’ll be watching them before and after. This leaves me most of the day free, as well as every weekend!  Pavia is a gorgeous university town, and Milan is utterly breathtaking. The thought of living 20 minutes from MILAN is astonishing – I can’t wait.

JULY/AUGUST

In the summer, the family I’m working for packs up and goes to Trieste, where the father works. I had never heard of Trieste, but the first time I googled it I was shocked at its location. It’s a beautiful port town that’s basically in Slovenia, which will give me some great opportunities to explore both Slovenia and Croatia.

Look out for a summer full of posts on European weekend trips, the daily life of an au pair, and much, much more! While this trip won’t be the easiest on my budget, how could I pass up a summer of free room and board in Italy? This will be an incredible opportunity to explore Italy and Europe itself…now to get through the brutal Canadian winter.

My China Itinerary

I posted about how I’ve changed around my itinerary for China on my blog’s Facebook page – which, by the way is new! I’d love if you could give it a like. Since my trip is all I think about at the moment I felt the need to post about it here as well!

My original plan was to fly into Beijing for five nights, then fly to Hong Kong and spend three nights there before heading home. I was so proud of the awesome flight deal I found! Then, the Hong Kong protests started and kept escalating until I panicked and changed my flights. Several people have reassured me that I’d be safe, but I just wasn’t comfortable taking my first solo trip somewhere that is in turmoil. I had to pay a steep change fee plus a fare increase to United, so my decision was certainly not cheap….but in my books, worth it for my peace of mind – and my parents’!

When I was rebooking my flights, there was absolutely nothing affordable to Beijing, and I had resigned myself to paying a ridiculous amount since my trip was coming up soon. Then a friend gave me the bright idea to check other cities – so I’ll now be flying into Shanghai. Booking that flight made the little wheels in my head start turning…how many places in China could I cram into my 12-day trip? Turns out it’s four.

BEIJING

Although I fly into Shanghai, this is really my first stop. I land at 1:40PM and allowing lots of time for customs, getting lost, and a long bus ride, I’ll be on my first sleeper train at 6:14PM. Then I spend 4 nights in Beijing for a combination of sightseeing & the conference that is the reason I’m headed to China. I’ll be staying in the Peking Yard Hostel. Thing I’m most excited for here: The Great Wall!

On my 5th night in Beijing, I’ll board another sleeper train, this time to Datong.

DATONG

I was really upset I wasn’t going to be able to see Datong on my first trip to China, so I’m glad I can now! I don’t remember where I first saw the Hanging Monastery, but I’ve been wanting to see it for YEARS.

Most people only spend a day in Datong, which was my plan too, but the train schedules made that impossible! Instead, I’ll be staying at the Garden Hotel, which is the number one hotel in Datong. There are only two hostels in town: one which has horrifyingly bad reviews and one which is closed while I’m there.

Two days in Datong will allow me to split up the main tourist attractions here: the monastery and the Yungang Grottoes.

After the second day, I’ll leave fairly early at 4:40PM on, you guessed it – another sleeper train! I am all about saving money on hostels. Off to Xian!

XIAN

If my trip was even one day longer, I would have added it on to my time in Xian, but alas I will literally only have 12 hours here. Of course, I’m here to see the Terracotta Warriors! Other than that, I’m planning to check out the Great Mosque and the Muslim Quarter.

I leave at 9:00PM on my final sleeper train of the trip.

SHANGHAI

I’ll be staying in Shanghai for two nights, at the Blue Mountain Bund Youth Hostel. I had no idea that Shanghai was the biggest city in the world, but that sounds right up my alley – big cities are my thing. I feel like I could be happy just sitting on the Bund (see picture below) staring at the skyline due to my obsessive penchant for skyscrapers.

However, I’m definitely going to make time to see Yuyuan Gardens, the French Concession Area, and perhaps an Acrobat show. I’m also excited about going up the Shanghai World Financial Centre.

I fly home on the evening of my third day in Shanghai, spend a week at home and then jet off to New York City! I couldn’t be more excited for both of those trips, and although changing my flights was expensive and frustrating, I can’t wait to see all of these places. I’m sad to miss Hong Kong, but I’ll get it next time!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on my China itinerary – any suggestions for the places I’m going?

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