An Ode to Hostels: Featuring Montenegro

There’s a reason that a lot of backpackers (including myself) start to dream about opening a hostel of their own. The magic of a good hostel transcends the destination, creating family and community. It can be a particularly beautiful setting, or a serendipitous group of people coming together. It can be the staff, or it can be a dog.

The hostel garden

Actually, that last one might just be me. But in any case, I love hostels that stick in my memory for years after, their atmosphere giving you your own little piece of paradise to look back on. And the Grove Hostel in Stari Bar, Montenegro, will always have a special place in my heart.

When we left Albania, we knew we wanted to spend just a couple days in one spot in Montenegro. We had moved around a lot, so we just wanted to stay put and didn’t really want to be in the top tourist spots during the heat of July. Some random backpacker in Saranda told us about an amazing hostel with double beds in Montenegro, so we embarked on one last exhausting Albanian bus journey to make our way there. Our first impression of Montenegrins was a bit odd: our cab driver from the bus station to the hostel kept badgering us about how old we were, what we were doing, etc – fairly normal, except then he referred to us as ‘beautiful little babies’, which was creepy and weird.Regardless, once he got us to the hostel we knew we had found something special. We were welcomed with a free beer, which is always an excellent start. We claimed our very own double beds, started chatting to everyone around us, and felt right at home. Highlights included the stunning garden, with a little plunge pool, a meandering creek, and mountain views.

One of the best things this hostel does is the family dinners. For 5 Euros, you get to eat the amazing food that the hostel volunteers whip up nightly. When I was there they did a pizza night with the traditional wood-fired pizza oven out back, they did a curry night, and…something else that I can’t remember, but I know distinctly was delectable. They accommodate dietary needs easily and happily, but it’s not just the awesome food that makes these dinners memorable. They make it so easy to bond with everyone that you don’t even need to try. The first night I was a bit nervous, as always, about sitting down and chatting to so many new people, but by the end of the night we felt like we had a new family and were participating in a rousing game of Uno!

The roomy kitchen

They don’t pack people in – they could fit tons more beds, but they specifically limit the number of guests that can stay there. By sacrificing increased revenue, they allow more of a community feel, because it’s just the right number of people so that you can get to know them all by name.

The other main draw of the hostel was the fact that every day, a volunteer runs a free day trip for guests. We were there on a Sunday, when there isn’t one, but the next day we partook in a lovely beach trip. They have a old minibus they use to shuttle you around, so we piled in and went to spend a few hours on the coast. It wasn’t the most amazing beach I’ve ever been to in my life, but it was a nice respite from the heat and hey – it was free.

This is a drone shot from the hostel – the beach was NOT this empty when we went, nor am I 100% certain it was the same beach!! It looks similar.

And….that is pretty much all I can say about Montenegro. We walked up into charming Stari Bar, the town nearby, a few times for groceries and iced coffee. I can’t say I learned a single thing about Montenegrin history or culture, so I will certainly be back to do so.

The real message of this rambling is to communicate my love for a good hostel. Sometimes it’s the people that make a place, and it’s easiest to meet those people when you’re staying at a hostel specifically designed to do that. I have two other posts on some of my favourite hostels in the world – one in Europe and one outside of Europe but here are some others that I’ve stayed at since those posts were published three years ago!

Florentine Backpackers Hostel – Tel Aviv, Israel

Honestly, I loved this one for the same reasons as above. They do family dinners, everyone hangs out on the rooftop terrace, and it’s easy to walk in and find a family.

The view from the rooftop terrace

Joey’s Hostel – Agra, India

I was in Agra for one reason – to see the Taj Mahal. I was sick of crowds and sick of heat, so I booked a stay at a hostel 400m from the World Wonder, specifically so I could get there at sunrise. The hostel was lovely – air conditioning in the rooms (very important in 47 degree heat), super helpful staff, and of course, the location. If I had been there any other time of year, I would have spent all my time on the rooftop terrace, overlooking the Taj Mahal, but with the heat I could genuinely only stay up there for five minutes at a time. Regardless, this is the view:

Tagalong Backpackers – Gangtok, India

India’s hostel scene is really just starting up, and particularly in more remote regions it is almost non-existing. In the north-east area of Sikkim, up by Bhutan and China, there is basically one hostel. Luckily, it is absolutely fantastic. It had its quirks, certainly. The food menu in the ground floor cafe is extensive and diverse, but almost everything I ordered was unavailable and it usually took about an hour to get my food. But that’s just part of Sikkim’s charm. The beds are quite comfortable, and I slept well despite having the loudest snorer of all time bunking below me.

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It’s just nice to see a place that cultivates the backpacker atmosphere in such an out of the way town, with a book exchange, espresso machines, and comfortable sofas.

North Shore Backpackers – Hawaii

I wrote a whole post about my time on the North Shore of Oahu, but this was one of those beach hostels you could very easily stay at forever. I got into bed every night with sandy feet, salty hair and couldn’t wait to get to one of the nearby beaches every morning. I had a very hard time emotionally here, but in hindsight it’s a magical place and I must go back immediately.

This beach was right across the street!

Now I want to open a hostel. Probably not the best economic climate to do so in, but Haley and I talk about everything we’d want in a hostel and who knows – maybe one day we will.

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 ūüôā

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.

ūüôā ūüôā ūüôā ūüôā

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.

A Weekend in Waikiki

Waikiki was where I regained confidence in my ability to travel alone. I had honestly expected to dislike Waikiki, thinking it would be like Cancun or Miami, just another touristy beach with highrises lining the ocean.


It WAS always packed and the highrises were present, but despite my doubts I found myself falling in love with this corner of Oahu. I stayed at the Seaside Hostel Waikiki and it was delightful – I also came at the perfect time. On Thursday nights they have free pasta, so I sat myself in the lobby awaiting my favorite food. I had decided my first night was the perfect time to prove to myself that I could make friends – even though I absolutely know I can, EVERY time I go on a trip I have to remind myself that I am not in fact a weird loser who everyone will hate.

So I did! I caught up on my journal (to give you an idea of how much I write, this was day 5 of my trip and I was on page 30) and eventually wandered over to a table to of international-sounding backpackers and asked if I could join them. I feel like this sounds really pathetic, like I’m talking about running for president rather than just saying hello, but I am VERY shy. Don’t judge me.

Anyway, obviously they were lovely and we chatted about my trip, their trips, Hawaii and of course, the frightening state of America. And bonus, the free pasta was great!

Now to actual activities in Waikiki. I hiked Diamond Head, which I dont think anyone leaves Honolulu without doing. It was honestly stunning! However, I forgot to sunscreen, so I didn’t stay at the top for too long because I could just feel myself getting sunstroke. Highlights included obviously the view, the beautiful giant dog I met named Casey (creeper photo below) and the sweet sweet feeling of air conditioning when I got on the bus back to Waikiki.

The next day I thought I should go see a waterfall so I headed off to Manoa Falls. The bus is an easy and popular option, but beware it is only hourly – so try to schedule yourself wisely to avoid waiting around. The walk to the falls was stunning, and very familiar – some of Jurassic Park was filmed here! However, it did start raining partway through and I got completely covered in mud. It’s also quite a crowded trail and the amount of people walking at a snail’s pace in front of me was quite infuriating.

As the cherry on top, when I got to the waterfall there was NO WATER!! I hadn’t thought to check water levels, stupidly – so to be totally honest, this walk was not worth it. It would be, however, if there had been water.

When I finally got back to my hostel, muddy and cranky, it was time to pack up for a 4am shuttle pickup. If you have an early flight or prefer the convenience of a direct van, Roberts Airport Express was perfect! I paid $15 for pickup at the hostel, which was much cheaper than a taxi.

So I had originally booked a Jetstar flight to Sydney for $220, which didnt include any food or entertainment or baggage. I was kind of dreading 10 hours on what I basically thought would be Ryanair. Before I left for Hawaii, I got an email that the Jetstar flight had been cancelled and I would be flying on Qantas – which is consistently voted one of the top airlines in the world. It was the BEST FLIGHT EVER. I got upgraded to an exit row, after a very confusing exchange where the flight attendant asked whether the 4 year old girl next to me was my child, and when I said no, asked if I was over 16. Um, yes. There were at least 20 movies I wanted to watch, the vegetarian food was delectable and I slept for at least 3 hours. I’m still not over this lovely surprise.
We crossed the international date line and I was officially in a country I hadn’t seen in 20 years – Australia!

Four Days on the North Shore of Oahu

I just spent four nights at a beautiful beach side hostel on the North Shore of Oahu, hiking in the mornings and relaxing on the beach in the afternoon. It sounds picture perfect, but I also cried at least once every day I was there.


I forgot how HARD solo travel was. And I don’t just mean figuring everything out all by yourself, or making friends, or speaking different languages, I mean having to spend so much time by yourself. On my last big solo trips, I was so comfortable with being alone not because I didnt have friends at home, but because I’ve always valued my solitude and it wasn’t that much of a change. This year, I moved home to Nova Scotia and I live with my best friend, down the street from my parents, AND I met a boy. So basically, I’m barely ever alone anymore, and I got used to it. Throwing myself into 4.5 months of alone time was very jarring and I’m still not quite adapted.



Anyway, emotional trauma aside, I have been doing some amazing things. The hostel I stayed at, Backpackers Hawaii, is full of chickens and lizards and it doesn’t have air conditioning, but it was perfect! The dorms have a kitchen right in them, everything you could need is walking distance away, and it’s got that cool surfer vibe.

The road leading up to my dorm

On my first day, I hiked up to the Ekuhai Pillboxes and loved it. The Pillboxes are old military installations and they have amazing views out over the North Shore. If you do this hike, it starts at Sunset Beach Elementary and the trail to the first pillbox is really clear. Keep hiking parallel to the coast and you’ll reach the second pillbox, with a giant peace sign painted on it and WAY better views. I stayed up here for over an hour chatting with other hikers and journalling. Also, near the base of the hike is my favorite little smoothie food truck – Sunrise Shack. So yummy!


After my first day it started raining, so some of the more challenging hikes I wanted to do were thwarted by mud. One afternoon I walked up to an old sacrifice site about thirty minutes from my hostel – less of a hike and more of a terrifying walk along the sides of many, many switchbacks that cars came careening around. Also, there was a homeless man with a giant knife on his back walking up too who said a very creepy hello to me. At the top I admired the lovely view of Waimea Bay, and then asked a nice couple if they would drive me down the hill to avoid death by car or homeless man – they were happy to do so and it turns out they live in the same city as me!!

Waimea Bay from the bottom

Waimea Bay from the top

Speaking of Waimea Bay, this is actually the only place I was able to get in the water up here. I am honestly a terrible swimmer – I can get by, but I have no faith in my ability to escape a strong current and I’m terrified of waves. The North Shore is known for huge swells and strong currents, which sounds like my personal hell. So any beach with waves on the shore was out for swimming – at Waimea Bay it was flat enough for me to get in for a dip.

My favorite beach, however, was Sunset Beach. The first morning I was kind of jetlagged so I woke up around 7 and decided to take advantage of the beautiful morning light. I walked over 4 miles down to Sunset Beach and I could not believe how beautiful it was with the golden reflections of the sand and water. It felt like something out of a fairy tale.

Sunset Beach early in the morning

I also came back the next day with some friends from the hostel – we rented bikes, which was a much smarter way to get there. We bought some beer and biked over, getting caught in the rain halfway through. Arriving at Sunset Beach it was absolutely POURING so we took shelter unsuccessfully under a tree until we moved into a bathroom (lol) to stay dry. We had a lovely evening playing drinking games and laughing and finally running over to the beach when sunset appeared and the rain tailed off. This night really restored my faith in solo travel.

Sunset Beach at….sunset



Final thoughts on the North Shore: it’s amazing but it’s one place I think I would have enjoyed more with a friend. It’s so quiet and I just wasn’t ready for this kind of spot yet. I was surprised how easily I could do it on a budget though: the hostel is $32 US a night, I easily ate well on $20 US a day and you can get around with either buses or bikes.

Even to get up here if you’re pinching pennies or can’t rent a car, it’s a long bus ride from Honolulu but you get to see the whole Windward coast in relative comfort. And for $5.50 for a day pass, it’s the best deal in town. I’m on the return trip right now, ready to enjoy Waikiki Beach and hopefully cry a little less!

Best of 2017

Last year, I wrote a massively long Best of 2016 post and I still reread it constantly, every time I want to reminisce on how awesome that year was. I don’t know if anyone else found it as interesting as I do, but either way I really enjoyed writing it.

This year, I was thinking about writing one but I didn’t think there would be enough highlights since I didn’t travel as much. Then I realized I had been to Chicago, Vancouver, Victoria, Nova Scotia three times, Colombia, Greece, Italy, England, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. So I guess 2016 just really spoiled me; because objectively this was still an awesome year. When I actually got in to writing this post it was so nice to reminisce on everything wonderful that happened this year. Also this is long again. Sorry.

Sailing around Greece

Obviously, this is number one. I wrote a whole post about my week with MedSailors aboard a yacht, but suffice it to say this will be a tough adventure to top. Honestly, the best thing about this week was that I didn’t touch my phone after the first day. It was so freeing to actually live in the moment and not worry about posting the perfect snap story.

Me and Haley still text constantly about this trip, and we are definitely still planning to do the same in Croatia ASAP.

Exploring the Cotswolds

I LOVE England. I’ve been five times now, and I always try to make it to somewhere new while I’m in the country. In January I headed over to Surrey to visit my friend Brooke, who was au pairing for the sweetest family of all time. On her weekend off, we bussed to Cheltenham to visit my parents’ friends Rob and Karen. I’ve seen them lots of times over the years, when they come to Canada or when we go to England, and they are possibly the best hosts of all time.

Me and Brooke were just grateful that they let us crash with them, so we weren’t expecting the royal treatment we got: a personalized tour around the Cotswolds, wonderful home-cooked meals accompanied with lots of wine, and definitely more generosity than we deserved!

It couldn’t have been a more perfect weekend getaway, and I know I’ll be back to the Cotswolds. Every town was breathtaking and charming, especially since it was January and they weren’t packed with tourists.

Seeing the northern lights

On a related note, I flew to London via Reykjavik on Wow Air. I paid $400 CAD for the ticket, which was a darn good deal for a flight to Europe – but of course it came with the reduced service of a budget airline.

Right before I checked in, my dad sent me a message suggesting I get a window seat on the left side of the plane in case the northern lights were out. I took his advice, not really expecting it to happen. About halfway through the flight, the flight attendants announced that we were about to see the Northern Lights out of the left side. I immediately threw my book down and pressed my face against the window.

I don’t have a photo of the Northern Lights because I was busy crying. Here’s Iceland.

For the next twenty minutes I couldn’t take my eyes off the sky: as a child I loved the His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman, following a child named Lyra in a magical world. A lot of it takes place in the Arctic, and the northern lights feature heavily. I felt like Lyra, staring out at the sky and feeling strangely spiritual. It was a beautiful experience (I sound like a hippie) and I can’t WAIT to see the northern lights again.

Falling in love with Naples

Something I have learned this year: I do not appear to be destined to visit the Amalfi Coast. Three times I have booked and paid for a stay there, and three times something has gone wrong and I didn’t make it. ¬†Our flight to Naples was so delayed that we couldn’t get to Positano without paying a truly absurd amount of money for a cab.

So we hopped in a cab to downtown Naples instead, at 1AM, without a place to stay. We went to the hostel we had booked for the NEXT night, assuming they’d have availability, but we were out of luck. We eventually found somewhere, and crashed around 2:30.

With this inauspicious start, our time in Naples could have been total crap. On the contrary, we fell in love! The castles and forts have stunning views, the people are so friendly, every alley is stunning. Naples certainly has a special Italian magic, and I would go back in a heartbeat.

Properly seeing Chicago

My previous experience in Chicago involved an unplanned overnight layover. I had been wanting to go back since then, so in June my friend Sunjita and I flew down for a weekend and had an absolute blast.

This was also the weekend that Porter Airlines delayed us over 4 hours on the way there and OVERNIGHT on the way back, and I swore off Porter forever. However, Chicago was worth it.

Ironically, in my Best of 2016¬†post I talked about two awesome girls I met in Austria. They lived in Chicago, so we stayed with Kim and spent the whole weekend with them!! It is so, so nice to actually reunite with friends I meet abroad, and I can’t wait to see them again.

Anyway, Chicago is awesome. We went to a taco festival, tanned at the incredible beaches (who knew?), and tried the life-changing deep dish pizza. 10/10.

Our Meteora Hotel Room

I am confident that this is my favorite accommodation of all time, and I’ve stayed in some pretty awesome places from houseboats to resorts. We stayed in dirt-cheap hostels for our entire Greece/Italy trip EXCEPT in Meteora. I came upon Hotel Doupiani House and once I saw the view I knew we had to stay there.

This was our view!

Everything about our room was perfect, and the staff at the hotel were unbelievably helpful and sweet, but the best part by far was our balcony. We sat out there until late in the night, drinking a bottle of wine and catching up on all the gossip that we had missed in eachother’s lives.

Meteora is a magical place, and staying at the Hotel Doupiani House is an amazing way to make it even more magical.

One of my favorite photos from Greece

Hiking Grouse Mountain

If you read my Best of 2016 post you may remember that I have suddenly found myself really into hiking. Obviously, there were gonna be some hikes on this list as well. I visited Vancouver for the first time since I was three in May, spending two days in Victoria and two days in Vancouver. The indisputed highlight of my trip was hiking up Grouse Mountain!

Look how Canadian I am in this photo. Shorts in the snow! It was great to hike this right at the beginning of the season since it was fairly empty, but I did trip into the snow and get soaked at one point. Good thing I was sweating from the hike!

The view from the top is gorgeous, but the hike itself was a great experience as well. I met a lovely Austrian couple and we chattered away in German and English about their trip to Canada and my trip to Austria. We hiked most of the way together which was a nice change since I usually hike solo! It was probably the hardest hike I’ve ever done but well worth the effort.

Going back to Carter’s Beach

Carter’s Beach is a specific place in Nova Scotia, but really this highlight is just about learning to appreciate my home province again. I never realized how much I would miss the ocean when I moved to the middle of the country, and now every time I come home for a visit my first request is to visit a beach.

Carter’s Beach in particular is one of the most surprising beaches I’ve ever been to. The water is beyond freezing, but from the look of it Carter’s could be in the Caribbean. Being away from home has made me fall so much more in love with my home and I have loved being back here for Christmas!

A Day in Paradise in Colombia

Every single day in Colombia was amazing, and I still need to write a few more posts about it. The best day, though, was on our boat trip to the Rosario Islands. I don’t want to give a ton away here because I’m dying to write a really detailed post and use every single one of my photos, but basically, I had no idea this kind of water existed off the coast of Colombia. The Caribbean coast here is such an underrated gem and I had the time of my life snorkelling, hanging out with a random extended family from Miami, and getting a really great tan.

This is the aforementioned random family from Miami

Jungle Living in Minca

Another Colombia entry. Warning, the next one is Colombia too.

Anyway, Minca was so cool. Staying in a jungle cabana was such a lovely way to connect with the sights and sounds of the jungle, and I will never forget how lovely it was to wake up and grab coffee while everything around me woke up. The second night, staying in a dorm bed perched at the top of the building, with a totally open wall to my right, was simultaneously terrifying and extremely peaceful.

Ugh, now I miss Minca.

The Most Fun Five Days Ever in Cartagena

A friend recently asked me what to do in Cartagena, and I said, “I went to a rooftop that was really nice. But it was my friend’s apartment so you can’t go there. Otherwise I don’t know, just like walk around.”

Really, that sums up my time in Cartagena. I didn’t really DO a lot, but I sure had a lot of fun. Our hostel, Republica, was pretty much the definition of a party hostel, and we took full advantage of the party.

From having a beer on the city walls, to exploring a different nightlife district every night but always ending up in the same club, to the pool parties at the hostel, there was definitely a lot of drinking involved in our Cartagena stay. The vibe of the city just makes you want to live it up, and we did.

Also, I met a very cute and very tall Australian boy, which never hurts.

Quitting my job

Remember what I said about sailing in Greece being my number one highlight of the year? I take it back, quitting my job was DEFINITELY the best thing I did in 2017. I was so deeply unhappy sitting in an outdated office in a sketchy part of town, doing work I physically couldn’t have cared less about. One day I arbitrarily applied for a few travel jobs, hoping someone would throw me a rope that would convince me to take the plunge and quit.

Now I have fun coworkers who do things like get me sweet 16 cakes for my 22nd birthday.

Flight Centre called me in for an interview, and I made it through the process. I was hooked! I make a ton less money and work a lot more hours, but I am also about 1000% happier as a travel agent than I was as a “Category Shopper Development Analyst” (Barf)

How fitting to end on the best decision I’ve ever made. To 2018 – hoping for even more adventures!

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 ūüôā

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!

The Ten Places I Most Want to Live

Sometimes I visit a city and¬†absolutely adore it, but would never want to live there. Examples that come to mind are Goreme in Cappadocia¬†(too small and remote), Dar es Salaam (too bustling, although I’d probably give it a shot), and Florence (too touristy for its size). On the other hand, there are the places that I visit, completely fall in love with,¬†and¬†immediately develop a burning desire to settle down¬†and stay a while. There are so many places I haven’t been, and I bet there are hundreds of other cities that would give me this feeling, but so far here are the places topping my list for a sojourn. Realistic or not, these places are constantly in my dreams and wishes! Without further ado, here is an excessively long article detailing the ten places I most want to live.

BUDAPEST

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When I wrote about Budapest¬†previously, I described my total lack of expectations and how quickly me and my sister realized that this was a special place. We still talk about Budapest an annoying amount, sometimes just texting each other ‘ugh I miss Budapest’ and spending a few minutes reminiscing. A girl who went to my high school also interned there for a summer, and I stalked her Instagram excessively to see her incredible photos of Budapest living. The cost of living is unbelievably cheap, the history and sights are amazing, and compared to some other places on this list its hardly touristy at all. If I ever settle in Europe, it just might be here!

VIENNA

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The instant I walked outside in Vienna I decided it was the most livable place I’d ever been. I still don’t really know what made me think this – maybe it’s just the combination of everything that makes Vienna great. It’s a little more modern than places like Budapest or Prague, but almost just as cheap. It’s one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen, with my favourite architectural cities sprinkled everywhere. There’s also amazing access to the outdoors (by that I mean vineyards) when you’re basically still in the city. There are so many cultural events and a famous orchestra to indulge in, it’s got amazing transport connections, and I speak a little bit of German. It’d be much easier to learn and communicate in German than it would in something like Hungarian or Czech!!

PARIS

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So typical. Every time I think about living in Paris, I imagine myself sipping a cappuccino in a cafe while writing a book, speaking French to handsome waiters and taking evening strolls along ¬†the Seine. I know that Parisian life is less romantic than we all make it out to be, but it’s undeniably more romantic than a lot of places. I wouldn’t want to be in Paris long-term because it has its issues too, but I think for anything under a year I would love pretending to be a Parisian. And maybe I could finally become 100% fluent in French! Honestly I don’t even feel the need to tell you the other reasons I want to live in Paris because who doesn’t have the same dream?

SHANGHAI

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Ah, Shanghai. My solo trip to China was full of firsts so I look back on the whole thing as an amazing memory and experience in my life. Shanghai is my fondest memory, though – despite the rain and my total exhaustion while I was there. Beijing was too smoggy, Datong too….everything, Xian too touristy, but Shanghai was just perfect. I obviously love big cities, and this is one of the biggest, but it’s so easy to get that small town feel in areas like the French Concession. There’s access to every amenity you could want, but you also get the feeling of being somewhere so exotic and cool. It’s VERY high up my list to learn Mandarin, and what better place? The airport can get you anywhere, the public transit system is practically flawless, the food is one of my favorite cuisines, and I really just want to walk along the Bund and see that skyline again.

BRISBANE

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This one is kind of cheating because I have already lived there. To be fair, I was 3. I have always felt a connection to Brisbane despite my foggy memories of the city; my desire to go back and revisit my childhood stomping grounds has only gotten stronger as I’ve understood more about travel. A working holiday visa for Australia is definitely on the cards for me; it’s a place full of places for me to see¬†again and places for me to visit anew: Sydney, Melbourne, Tasmania, Adelaide, Perth…the list goes on. Now it would be great if flights to Australia would stop costing like $6000. (Just kidding, you can find way better deals than that. Promise!)

BUCHAREST

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I literally stayed in Bucharest for a night solely because I had a flight out of the city the next day. I did absolutely zero research, had seen absolutely no pictures, and basically had no idea what I was getting myself into. I arrived at my randomly chosen hostel, befriended an Australian girl, went up to the rooftop bar and basically had a heart attack because it was so beautiful. On some streets, I could have sworn I was in Paris. Bucharest hosts a very unusual combination of rundown, post-Communism buildings and absolutely architecturally stunning buildings. Walking around was a treat, and the nightlife was some of the best I’ve ever seen. The area I stayed in was¬†buzzing¬†and I could have stayed a week. I also knew absolutely nothing about Romanian history, and my free walking tour (with a very cute guide, which is always nice) was very illuminating and really taught me a lot about the hardships this country has gone through. Our guide was probably in his 20’s, and he still had stories to share about not having electricity and free access to media – absolutely unbelievable. It’s cheap, it’s got a language I could learn (Romanian is very similar to Italian!), it’s historical and it’s beautiful. It’s got it all.

NEW YORK CITY

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And yet another very typical response. I’ve been to New York four times now, and each time I remember why I love it so much. The hustle and bustle of this city makes you feel like anything is possible and it’s got the same reasoning behind it as Paris – it’s just so easy to imagine myself living that stereotypical 20-something life here, albeit with¬†much less money than anyone I’ve wanted to emulate on Gossip Girl or Sex and the City. Even if it’s just for a month, I’d love to see what New York living is¬†really like – I don’t think I could afford any longer than a month!!

TRIESTE

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This is also cheating. However, I only lived in Trieste for about a month and a half, and I’d like to experience actually living in my own apartment rather than feeling constantly uncomfortable in my au pair house and dreading the next day of work. Side note, I can’t believe I still haven’t written about au pairing! I’ve just added it to my to do list. My friend Pam, who blogs in Italian and English, lives in a gorgeous apartment in downtown Trieste and her life is basically what I would want to do next time. But about Trieste itself – what a shock this city was to me. When my au pair family said they were moving there I googled the location, thought, “Oh! Near Slovenia and Croatia! Ok cool!”, said yes, and then proceeded to move there. Trieste deftly combines Italian, Slovenian and Croatian influences into one melting pot of incredible coffee, a gorgeous main square, and the nicest people in Italy. This is where I learned Italian and the base I used to explore Venice, Verona, Ljubljana and more. Best of all – there’s only ever a fraction of the tourists that crowd the rest of Italy!

PRAGUE

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I have just noticed an interesting trend…four of these destinations (Prague, Vienna, Budapest and Bucharest are in Eastern Europe, or maybe Central depending on where you draw the line. I’d also consider Trieste pretty Eastern European. I had no idea I had even been to that many places in Central/Eastern Europe, much less that I wanted to live there!! Anyway, so Prague. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you may remember the numerous disasters that befell me on my January 2015 trip to Prague. It still shocks me that I’m able to look back on Prague so fondly, considering that I felt like I was going to die, but I guess that really says something about the city. Honestly, my main reason for wanting to live in Prague is pretty stupid. There’s the cheap cost of living, great transit, same good connections as Vienna, beautiful architecture….but what I’m really interested in is the fact that it’s a winter wonderland. I may complain about winter every single day that I’m cold, but as a Canadian I’ll take shivering in my parka over sweating in my shorts any day. It sadly didn’t snow when I was in Prague, but it was still magical, and I’d love to spend the winter revelling in the magical feeling of Prague in winter. (Told you it was dumb).

ZANZIBAR

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Ah, Zanzibar. I spent 2 days in Stone Town and 3 days in Kendwa at the end of my recent trip to Tanzania. When I was little, I thought that Zanzibar was a made-up place because the name was so exotic and it sounded so cool (maybe also because I was stupid). However, Zanzibar is absolutely real and absolutely perfect. Kendwa was legitimately paradise. There are not enough positive words in the English language to describe how perfect the water is. I swam, lay on the beach, went to a full moon party, tried¬†scuba diving, watched sunsets, and basically died over how great life was. I am too high-strung to live on an island paradise for long, but I can’t imagine anything better than settling down on Zanzibar (maybe even in Kendwa?) for a few months. I would get¬†so¬†tan and¬†so happy. To quote my Instagram caption from the following photo, “Messy hair, messy heart, messy life, but it’s okay cause I’m in paradise.” I can’t think of anything that better sums up how I felt on this incredible island with so much culture to offer alongside its beauty.

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Philadelphia: Underwhelmed by American History

When my flight to Philadelphia was cancelled, I figured the benefit was that my schedule change allowed me to explore Philadelphia for a day. But now, every time I sit down to try to write this post I realize I have almost nothing to say: hence why the post that should have come before all the Belgium and Prague ones is actually last. I felt very neutral about Philadelphia, which could have been due to the dreary weather, or being sick, or having to lug my backpack around, or….maybe the city just didn’t speak to me. I love big cities, and I’ve fallen in love with Chicago¬†and New York City, and Philadelphia just couldn’t compare with its more impressive and more vibrant counterparts. Perhaps if I had more of an interest in American history I would have explored the sites with more excitement, but in my eyes US history just pales in comparison to the much richer past in Europe, Asia and Africa. Despite my lack of enthusiasm, I tried to explore the downtown core, admiring the gorgeous architecture on buildings like City Hall and moving on to more specific attractions.

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I grabbed brunch at a cafe in the Reading Market after wandering past the vast selection of ethnic foods. I could see this being an awesome spot for locals to wander on the weekends: I’m obsessed with markets and this was a pretty good one!

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I walked rather quickly through the Independence National Historical Park; by this point I was kind of over Philadelphia and ready to head back to the airport. I could see the Liberty Bell through a glass window, which is good enough for me, and the architecture on this historic mile was stunning! I’m beginning to realize that I’m obsessed with architecture by how many times I use that word in every post I write.

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Have  you ever been totally underwhelmed by a destination? Have you visited Philadelphia? Did you like it? 

New York City at Christmas: A Whirlwind Layover

What are two of my favourite things in the entire world? Christmas and New York City. When my family had to change our flights to Antigua, I lobbied hard for one that gave us an overnight layover in NYC, and much to my delight I won over my parents. They were unconvinced that we’d have time to go into the city, but I was set on going in no matter what. If you’ve ever been to New York City at Christmastime, you know that this was an excellent decision: the city is nothing short of a magical paradise. We were frigid since we didn’t want to bring our bulkiest winter clothes to the Caribbean, but it was absolutely worth it. (Side note – sorry for the terrible quality of photos in this post!)

We booked a Newark airport hotel for the night, and once our indescribably slow hotel shuttle finally showed up we dashed to our room to get ready for our evening in the city. Making it to the Amtrak station about 30 seconds before the hourly-ish train left, we ran madly through the station and hopped on the train. This event set the scene for the whole night: a completely whirlwind evening that saw us rushing and running to pack in as much as we possibly could. While mom and I had each been to New York twice, this was my Dad’s first experience and we wanted to show him our favourite things! First stop? The Macy’s Christmas windows!

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I had completely forgotten that these windows existed, but my mom reminded me and I happily photographed every single one while grinning like a little kid. Each window was supposed to represent a different planet, and some of them were pure magic! It must be hard to come up with a creative idea for the display each year, but they succeeded this year in my eyes. I tore myself away from the Christmas magic, and after confusedly consulting a map we began our trek up 5th Avenue to hit NYC’s Christmastime highlights. When I was in New York City in November, there was a bustling Christmas market and skating rink in Bryant Park, so I begged to go back only to find that it didn’t seem very open. Disappointment!

The New York Public Library is one of my favourite city icons as an avid book-lover, and Dad wanted to see it too. The building is just gorgeous, and the wreaths around the lions’ necks was an adorable Christmas touch! If we had more time we would have gone in, but there was no way we could fit that into our schedule.

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One of the highlights of my night was the light show on Saks Fifth Avenue. This was another surprise: the street was packed and a countdown flashed on the side of the building, so we waited to see what was happening. I filmed part of the show (check out my Facebook page for the clip!), but suffice it to say I got a bit teary. I could spend hours watching those Youtube videos of people who sync up their house’s Christmas lights to music, and this was even better.

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Our last stop was possibly the highlight of my entire life. I don’t know why I share these things on the internet, but immediately upon getting my first glimpse of the Rockefeller Tree I burst into tears – ask my parents, I’m pathetic. Christmas is such a special time and it’s always meant so much to me, and seeing this amazing tree and watching the crowds gaze up at it in awe was amazing. I could have stayed here for hours.

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To end our night, literally ran through Times Square, giving Dad a brief glimpse before we caught the train back to our hotel. We got home around 1:30AM, exhausted and sore but so glad we took the change to head into the city. If you’re considering heading to New York City at Christmas, don’t pass up the opportunity – and try not to cry when you see the tree!