HMS Warrior and HMS Victory in Portsmouth

One for the History and Boat-Lovers!

I know one or two people who could probably do a better job to this topic than me, but I’ll do my best.

Portsmouth, located in Hampshire, England, is the home of two very cool old ships.

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The HMS Warrior: an armoured frigate that never saw real action since it was rendered obsolete pretty much as soon as it was finished being built. Not great for the British Navy in the 1800’s, but great for history nerds and/or maritime enthusiasts! It’s in almost PERFECT condition.

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If I knew stuff about this stuff, then I could tell you more stuff.

If I knew stuff about this stuff, then I could tell you more stuff.

As far as I know, the brass lines on the deck are like tracks for the cannons! Pretty cool!

As far as I know, the brass lines on the deck are like tracks for the cannons! Pretty cool!

Staring down the barrel of the gun... no fear!

Staring down the barrel of the gun… no fear!

This ship is big. I'm not sure how big, but too big for me to steer on my own!

This ship is big. I’m not sure how big, but too big for me to steer on my own!

The HMS Victory: a 104-gun ship of the line – the stuff history and fantasy is made of! Currently in dry dock, this is bar far the coolest ship (I believe the condition of this beauty is such that it would collapse under its own weight if ever again it was put to sail).

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Dry docks are seriously the coolest things!!

Dry docks are seriously the coolest things!!

You can’t talk about the Victory without mentioning Lord Nelson. Nelson commanded aboard the Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, and was famously shot mid-battle. When he died, his crew preserved his body for transportation back to England by placing him in a barrel of some kind of alcohol. There’s a nasty rumour (or perhaps it’s touching if you’re not disturbed by these things), that the crew all had a toast to Nelson and drank the liquor their Lord’s body rested in. Gross.

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I’m not sure what else Portsmouth has to offer, but if you like boats, it’s certainly worth a quick visit!

Doc Martin’s Portwenn: Port Isaac, Cornwall

Doc Martin is a popular British TV dramedy series that features a grouchy, socially awkward surgeon who is afraid of blood.

Doc Martin's Martin Clunes posing with a chicken.

Doc Martin’s Martin Clunes posing with a chicken.

The show’s fictional location of Portwenn is filmed in the supremely beautiful and tiny village of Port Isaac, Cornwall.

lil' bro "looking ill" in front of the building used for Doc Martin's medical practice.

lil’ bro “looking ill” in front of the building used for Doc Martin’s medical practice.
An actor he will not be.

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Port Isaac

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I couldn't believe how green the ocean was here!

I couldn’t believe how green the ocean was here!

Low tide in the harbour.

Low tide in the harbour.

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To get an idea of how small the town is, here’s a (bad) picture of how the buildings are shaped to fit into every cranny of the space between ‘roads’:

Look especially at the building fitting into a narrow corner in the background!

Look especially at the building fitting into a narrow corner in the background!

The village is also home to the very talented and locally-well-known group, the Fisherman’s Friends. The Fisherman’s Friends sing primarily sea-shanties featuring haunting harmonies, and often perform on the beach in Port Isaac’s harbour:

Cornish fishing villages are some of my favourite places to visit. Port Isaac’s ‘fame’ does nothing to detract from it’s quaint beauty.

BOATS!

BOATS!

Budget Travel Tips: 8 Desperate Ways to Finally Afford that Trip

Times are tight. I know it, you know it, we ALL feel it. Many people are opting out of travel altogether. So the question looms: is it still possible to travel on a tight budget?

I would argue that it is almost not.

It isn’t uncommon to see tips on travelling on a budget such as these from Reader’s Digest. Even though these can be valuable for a novice, comfortable traveller to cut down a bit on the overall cost of vacationing, they do not remedy the fact that travel is too expensive for most people these days.

So there’s nothing to do but give up, lock yourself in a dark room, sit in a corner, listen to Coldplay and sulk about your immobilizing debt that prevents you from experiencing life, right?

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That completely depends – how badly do you want it?

If you want it bad enough here are 8 things to consider to maybe, actually, potentially make travel a possibility for those with the dark cloud of financial hardship raining overhead.

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1. Convenience and Comfort? Ha!:

If you have the luxury of being time-and-place-flexible, there are sometimes affordable deals to be had!

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Flying to cool places

Do your research. Look at multiple airlines and their options, check out the budget airlines and where they fly. What time of year is cheapest? Peak-season travel is sickeningly expensive, so look at off-peak flights.

Try Skyscanner– they will give you a good idea of what the cheapest available options are, but do your own poking around too!

Bring only carry-on luggage (preferably a backpack!! For the reasons, see this post). There are many budget airlines in Europe and the UK, but they often charge a significant fee for checked baggage.

IMPORTANT– Speaking of budget airlines: be wary of them! Some do not have assigned seating and will OVERBOOK their flights ON PURPOSE in order to make more money (*cough* Ryan Air *cough*), and they count on the fact that someone won’t show up or will be late. ARRIVE EARLY, and be aggressive when boarding. You’re welcome.

One of the biggest expenses when travelling is food. The best way to cut down your food budget is to grocery shop rather than eat at restaurants or pubs. In the UK, for example, many shops have a £3 “meal deal” where you get a sandwich, bag of chips and a drink. Not the healthiest way to sustain yourself abroad, but certainly one of the cheapest!

2. Scrap Your List of Destinations:

If you have considered travel, ever, you probably have a mental list of the top places you’d like to visit. Murphy’s Law demands that these will likely be the most expensive places to get to. Throw it out. Embrace the possibility of new places!

For example, Brussels is somewhere I never expected to go, but I enjoyed it! (Not exactly a dirt cheap example, but the best personal one I have!)

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If I hadn’t gone to Brussels, I wouldn’t have seen street art like this:

What?

What?

Or this:

WHY?!

WHY?!

If, during your travels, you are lucky enough to find yourself nearby a more expensive destination that you MUST see (for example, Paris is a popular and pricey place to lust after), then spend as little time there as possible. 2-3 days is sufficient to explore a city-centre by foot.

3. Terrible Transportation:

Direct flights are lovely, but awful meandering ones are generally cheaper. Decide how much savings your time and physical comfort is worth (if you can’t bare the thought of embarking on a 1-2 day flight-hopping spree when the direct flight is 8-hours or less, you don’t want it badly enough).

Also, flights that leave at horrible times like 4am are generally cheaper than pleasantly-timed flights.

"Friends Fare" is a thing in the UK... if you have 3 friends. No more, no less.

A “Friends Fare” discount is a thing on UK trains… if you have 3 friends. No more, no less.

If you are ‘on the road’ and travelling from city to city, there are multiple options available to you (especially in Europe). There are flights, trains, coaches and…. BUSSES. Pick the bus that takes about ten times longer to get to your destination than any other method of transportation, and it’s likely the cheapest.

I once took a city-style bus in England from Exeter to Poole (a distance that should take less than 2 hours by car, but took over 5 hours by bus – with no stops!!! How is that even possible?!). City-style bus means NO TOILET… again, with no stops. It was an excruciating journey. This should be illegal – but at a fraction of the cost of the train, it was the only option in my range of affordability.

When in a location, WALK EVERYWHERE. Transportation within cities is so expensive, especially to and from airports. Use it as little as possible.

You can find some of the most beautiful places just by walking!

You can find some of the most beautiful places just by walking!
Arthur’s Seat Summit, Edinburgh

4. Travel with a Buddy:

Try to find a friend to go with that is in the same situation (or at least very open minded). This can be a challenge, but in the end you can both save money than if you were alone. Of course, the simplest reason for this is room-sharing, but also watching each other’s backs.

The biggest savings when travelling with a buddy (and I hate to say this) is HITCHHIKING. As a woman, I would never hitchhike alone. As a snobby person, I would never hitchhike at all. If you play it safe, however, you can get far on very little money. A friend of mine recently admitted their travels included a lot of hitchhiking, and this warmed me to the idea. Use common sense and be picky – don’t put yourself in a situation where you feel unsafe, and don’t hitch at night! Check out these tips.

5. Consider Long-Term Travel:

Find work, meet people, couch surf, move on.

For positive and real-life tales of SUCCESSFUL long-term EXTREME budget travel, check out the supremely cool Wandering Earl! He’s much more experienced at all of this than I am!

Earl, wandering.

Earl, wandering. My lil’ bro met up with him on his travels and he’s apparently a really cool guy 🙂

6. No Partying OR Partying for Board:

Choose one of these things. If you have all of your accommodation booked in advance, no alcohol, no partying. If not, choose bars and clubs with no cover fee, and then meet as many people as possible to find an available couch!!

I have never partied to find a place to crash... it sounds dangerous.

I have never partied to find a place to crash… it sounds dangerous.

7. Forfeit the Tourist Attractions:

CN Tower, Toronto: $32- $89cnd

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Eiffel Tower, Paris: €15

I thought seeing it from the ground was good enough!

I thought seeing it from the ground was good enough!

Big Ben, London: £15

This is not the tower of London, but it's a nice picture.

Maybe that doesn’t seem like much, but these admission prices could also be your food budget for a day or two! Save it for when you’re rich.

8. Hostels vs. Hotels:

Hostels can be hit or miss. Again, do you research! I use hostelworld.com and have never been disappointed. Look the cheapest available of course, but use the Internet to check where the hostels are located so you aren’t booking something in the middle of nowhere.

A small but very good hostel.

A small but very good hostel.

Normally the more beds in a dorm the cheaper it will be per night… so mentally prepare for 12 other people ruining your sleep schedule, coming to bed at 4am, getting up at 6am etc. Bring earplugs.

Don’t assume hostels will be cheaper than hotels. Of course, they normally are, but when my lil’bro and I recently went to Paris, we booked a one-star hotel, as it was cheaper than Parisian hostels. There’s an option on Hostelworld for hotels.

It’s very important before booking a hostel to read some of the customer reviews. Hostelworld is great for accurate reviews! If the reviews terrify you, don’t book the hotel. It’s usually fairly obvious when someone has just had a bad experience, ie. noisy streets on a weekend (duh), people drunkenly having sex or masturbating in the same dorm, loud snoring – these things aren’t the hostel’s fault. Bring earplugs. BRING EARPLUGS.

Check for bedbugs when you arrive, then forget about how awful the rest of it is.

HOW DOES THAT SOUND?

Does thinking about these things give you a tingle of excitement? Or does it inject fear and bitterness into your beautiful dreams of travel?

Do YOU have what it takes to be an extreme-budget traveller?

Enjoy your travels, be they desperately budget or gloriously comfortable, because travel is the best and most enjoyable education.

Clovelly: A Glimpse Into the Past

You'd think England had excellent weather all the time!

You’d think England had excellent weather all the time!

Ever wondered what an old fashioned English fishing village looked like? Then you need to go to Clovelly in Devon. Clovelly was a functioning fishing village until the early 1900’s, and then someone thought, “Hey! The world is changing, but let’s keep Clovelly exactly the same!” (I’m sure that’s exactly how it happened).

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Old drainage method! Yay history!

Old drainage method! Yay history!

Clovelly exists now primarily as a tourist attraction, but it’s certainly worth a visit.

Tourists, tourists, tourists, tourists rockin' everywhere.

Tourists, tourists, tourists, tourists rockin’ everywhere.

The Harbour

The Harbour

Looking up at Clovelly from the harbour

Looking up at Clovelly from the harbour

Clovelly, located right on the ocean of course, also scales a very steep hill. All the buildings are listed, and residents of the wee village must keep their dwellings as historically accurate as possible.

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Hallo dawgy!

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P1070545Cars are not allowed, so everyone who lives there has to be extremely fit, or never leave their house. Supplies, garbage, and other large loads are brought up and down the town’s slope on wooden skids by skinny, muscly, eighteen-year-old man-boys (the only age and fitness group with the energy to do this job day in and day out).

When the village was still functioning, they used donkeys for this job. When the transition was made to tourist town, the donkeys ferried children up and down the hill.

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Nowadays, however, the donkeys are not subjected to this torture. They are just there for tradition’s sake behind this very secure fence:

Excuse me, I'm not sure if anyone's told you this before, but, that's not a real fence.

I’m fairly certain string doesn’t conduct electricity.

Also, CATS!

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Clovelly has a lot of cats – these aren’t just random cat pictures!

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Also, LOL

I enjoy hilariously-named British roads.

I enjoy hilariously-named British roads.

Read my Mum’s blog about Clovelly and other English gems!

Penzance and Marazion: Home of St. Michael’s Mount

In Cornwall, England, you can find the most wondrous places.

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At the Southwestern most tip of the island that is Britain resides a town called Penzance. Larger than most seaside towns, Penzance lacks the dated and tacky tourist arcades and pseudo show-gardens like its smaller counterparts (for example, Exmouth, Dawlish and Teignmouth – more on them another time!).

Penzance High Street

Penzance High Street

It has a more actually-lived-in feel, which I prefer to the ghosts of seaside towns past. Penzance is a strange blend of English and ‘tropical’. There are palm trees everywhere! It’s an odd phenomenon. It felt wrong, but somehow right.

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And of course the beach was fantastic. Long and sandy, very characteristic of Southern England.

High tide, so no beach at the moment!

High tide, so no beach at the moment!

There is, however, something that makes Penzance extra-special. The next town over, called Marazion, is the home of the fantastic St. Michael’s Mount. Marazion is within walking distance of Penzance – though I would recommend taking the bus if you are on a schedule!

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The Mount is another plateau (somewhat similar to Tintagel) that rises from the sea just off shore. It is accessible on foot at low tide via causeway. At high tide the only way out is by boat. Why would you want to go out there? Because there’s a castle on it!

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Due to its unusualness and its stark beauty, the Mount has been used for myriad things dating back to the 5th century, including army barracks, a monastery, and a wonderfully defendable castle.

The castle on the Mount

The castle on the Mount

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The views from atop the castle were stunning.

You can see the submerged causeway!

You can see the submerged causeway!

The gate.

The gate.

The gardens have a separate entry fee, which we skipped.

The gardens have a separate entry fee, which we skipped.

When I visited the Mount in the spring of 2012, they were setting up to film a movie called Mariah Mundi and the Midas Box which is due to be released in 2013….

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The old-time style set.

The old-time style set.

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The coolest part about the filming was watching the amphibious bus/terrestrial boat ferry cast and crew back and forth from the set to the mainland.

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We were blessed with excellent weather for our day trip to Penzance, but I think that even with grey skies, this spot should be on the list for anyone travelling in the UK!

On the train-ride back to our home base, a man was playing harmonica and his dogs were singing along. Oh, Cornwall!!

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http://www.stmichaelsmount.co.uk

King Arthur at Tintagel, Cornwall

Tintagel is a small Cornish coastal village with one very important claim: it is the alleged birthplace of King Arthur (or according to some sources, the site of his conception – lol).

Not to be mistaken as the mysterious “Camelot,” Tintagel boasts an old castle ruin that mostly dates back to the 13th century, with evidence of Roman habitation as early as the 6th century (www.tintagelcastle.co.uk).

Arthur or no Arthur, the most spectacular thing about Tintagel Castle is its location.

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The Cornish coastline is some of the most beautiful and dramatic scenery I’ve ever seen. The castle is perched atop a plateau that juts out into the ocean. I imagine this being a perfect spot for a castle, as it would be terribly difficult to besiege.

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So many narrow steps! It would be impossible for an army to make an effective attack.

So many narrow steps! It would be impossible for an an effective attack by an army.

So high up!!

So high up!!

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Not much of the castle remains, mostly just foundations. Some of the newer sections of the castle still stand, and are still, in every sense of the word, old.

Foundations

Foundations.

More foundations

More foundations.

Newer section of the castle.

Newer section of the castle.

It's not terrifying at all walking under a broken wall...

It’s not terrifying at all walking under a broken wall…

Slightly scary broken wall.

Slightly scary broken wall.

This hotel is often mistaken as Tintagel Castle by North American tourists who don't understand what 'old' means!

This hotel is often mistaken as Tintagel Castle by North American tourists who don’t understand what ‘old’ means.

Like all good castles, Tintagel had it’s own church. The church was not located on the plateau like the rest of the castle, but on the mainland. That meant if you wanted to go pray, you had to walk all the way down the steps and up again to the church. You had to really want it!

View of the church ruin from the castle.

View of the church ruin from the castle.

View of the castle from the church.

View of the castle from the church.

Inside the church.

Inside the church.

This was my second trip to Tintagel, and I will never, ever get tired of it!

Lil'bro pretending to jump off the cliff.

Lil’bro pretending to jump off the cliff.

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10 Tips for Easier Travel

Travel is stressful. As a seasoned traveller myself, I have made many mistakes and experienced much stress and have therefore accumulated a bit of airport travel-savvy that I’d like to share with you. Follow these steps, relax, and enjoy your travels!

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1. Pack light:

I cannot stress this enough. I have now travelled to and from the UK twice with 2 suitcases. It’s the worst. Adding on the usual $100 fee for an extra checked bag (depending on the airline and whether or not you have a first class ticket – which I’ve never had the privilege of), plus the terrible experience of lugging two bags through a busy airport – I assure you, IT’S NOT WORTH IT!!!

I don't think the cat needs to come...

I don’t think the cat needs to come…

When I start packing, I want nothing more than to cover all possible bases. Like this:

“What if I get hungry, or thirsty, or bored, or need to wrap something, or lonely… what if there are no chairs, or stairs?”

Pack what you think you need and then HALF IT.

Bring versatile things. One pair of jeans, plain t-shirts, shoes that can be worn casually or in a dressier setting, one purse (that is also preferably part of your carry-on), one jacket, and ladies should bring one or two dresses that can be beach or party appropriate!

A quick, summery option to take you from beach to bar!

A light, summery option to take you from beach to bar!

This of course all depends on the duration and destination of your trip, but the general idea applies to all… PACK LIGHT.

2. How to pack:

I use an excellent method of packing that makes the most out of limited space. It’s not exactly a secret, but it was passed down from my grandmother to my mother to myself. Instead of folding your clothes or laying them flat, roll them. Roll them as tightly as you can.

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This method is proven (by me) to fit about 75% more stuff in a suitcase than folding. The downside of this is that you inevitably end up with more weight. This is where you have to make a decision about what is more important. Do you really need an extra 2 pairs of boots and your cat? Even better, use this method to bring the same amount of stuff but in a smaller suitcase!

As for your carry-on luggage, I would highly recommend that you choose a backpack. This saves you from the difficulty of maneuvering both your checked suitcase and a rolling carry-on: it can be tricky! There are certainly specific things you will need in case the airline loses your checked bag (see tip #4), but I have always found my travels more enjoyable when I only pack my carry-on to a maximum of 75% full. That extra 25% is to be filled with snacks for the flight once you’ve passed security! That way, the food doesn’t contribute to your total weight (well, not your luggage weight), and you can rest assured knowing you have something more delicious in your future than airplane food.

Another good thing is to put all your liquids and gels under 100mL that you are carrying on into a small re-sealable plastic bag at home, so you don’t have to root around in your bag to do this at the airport.

**If you know for sure your bag is overweight and you want to avoid paying the overweight fee, there’s something you can do to shave off a few pounds. I don’t recommend this, but it did get me out of paying overweight fees on my recent return to Canada.

Here it goes: In your carry on, pack a collapsible or reusable bag, like mine from Longchamp.

I LOVE my Longchamp!

I LOVE my Longchamp!

On the day of travel, wear as much stuff as possible. I wore my heaviest boots, leggings under a floor length skirt, t-shirt, cardigan, jean jacket and two more jackets (I zipped the outer one so it just looked like I was wearing one bulky jacket). Once you’ve checked your bag, proceed directly to security. When you remove your jackets (as you must these days to go through security), do it so they stay within each other and do so early in the line-up, so the security staff don’t notice your multiple jackets. This way, they look like one big jacket when you plop them in one of those plastic bins.

Once through security, grab your stuff, walk out of sight, get your collapsible bag out of your carry-on and shed your excess layers. Yes, you will have one extra carry-on bag now, and you still have to be careful not to attract notice from the airline workers when you are boarding (they can make you check you extra bag, and you’ll have to pay for it) but as long as you keep your cool and don’t appear to struggle, you’ll be fine! Remember, this is unfair advantage and should only be used in weight emergencies.

3. Don’t be ignorant about your luggage weight and size:

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Nothing annoys me (and airline staff!) more than people who argue about their luggage. It wastes time and is futile. Look up on your airline’s website what your luggage allowances are for your specific ticket. Measure and weigh your bags before leaving home so you know what to expect at check-in. If your bags are overweight it’s your own fault. Don’t argue, just pay the fee and be wiser next time!

4. Keep ALL important belongings in your carry on bag:

Everything of value you should carry on your person at all times while travelling. Of course, there are the obvious things like your passport, travel documents and money. You should also carry with you any documents that you will need once you reach your destination (hotel details, addresses, booking numbers, concert tickets, future travel documents, any important medication WITH your prescription if possible). If your airline loses your bag, you will still be able to have a semblance of a vacation. To read about my recent experienced with lost luggage, click here.

5. Ladies, use a cross-body purse:

For safety and security, travel with a purse that zips closed and has a cross-body strap. My travel purse also has a flap over the zip. This ensures minimal risk of pick-pocketing or purse-snatching! Wear it your whole vacation for maximum security!

For extra protection, wear it the other way around so the flap can't open without someone pulling it away from your body.

For extra protection, wear it the other way around so the flap can’t open without someone pulling it away from your body.

6. It’s better to be 4 hours early than 5 minutes late:

This is pretty self-explanatory. Your tardiness delays everyone on the plane. It can cause people to miss connections, delay other take-offs and landings at the airport. I was late once, and received the most awful glares from the other plane passengers. When the airport says, for example, be 3 hours early for international flights (again, usually found on their website), they mean it – this isn’t to annoy you, it’s a necessity. Also, when you do arrive the recommended 3 hours early, check-in and security lines are usually shorter and less stressful (no need to clock-watch!), which means more time to relax after security!

7. Drugs, drugs, drugs:

I get very travelsick. I cannot travel without the help of some sort of anti-nausea medication. Gravol in Canada works for many people (not me, unfortunately), Dramamine from the USA (like a dream), and Travel Calm and Joy Rides in the UK (work the best for me). The best part is that these often make you so drowsy, you sleep for most of your flight.

8. Travel with a buddy:

I always find that when I’m travelling with someone, the stress level goes way down. You can bounce things off one another, entertain one another, and help carry each other’s bags.

9. Travel in the off season when possible:

Rates are lower, airports are less crowded. Awesome.

10. Don’t stress, just accept the situation:

I used to stress about travelling a lot. I especially dreaded the 8 to 10 hours of flight time I typically would have to endure (flying from British Columbia to the UK).

This doesn’t sound particularly ground-breaking, but to be perfectly honest I just started to accept it. I accepted that the flight was going to feel like my whole life, like forever. Once I resigned myself to this fact, they weren’t so bad. Also, no clock-watching!

I can haz holidayz?

I can haz holidayz?

What travel tips do YOU have? Which of these tips will help you in your future travels?

Thoughts on Loneliness

They say that even when surrounded by people, you can feel alone. Perhaps even more so than when you are, physically, alone.

Parisian love locks - not everyone is lonely!

Parisian love locks – not everyone is lonely!

During my recent travels I have felt lonely. A lot. I have also thought about what it means to be lonely, how we become lonely, why we feel loneliness.

This guy is so lonely he's going to extreme measures to attract attention. Cover up, buddy!

This guy is so lonely he’s going to extreme measures to attract attention. Cover up, buddy!

With travel, you have to accept a certain amount of loneliness. When I first arrived in Edinburgh, I was living in a hostel. For two weeks I flip-flopped between hyper-social and super-introvert. It’s like you have a certain amount of social energy, and when you are thrust into an extreme social environment like a hostel (especially when you’re travelling alone), it burns out quickly and you must retreat back into yourself, perhaps more so than you would normally, just to refuel. These are the hardest times when you’re travelling, because you see everyone around you socializing and having rad times, and you can’t muster one drop of the energy required to join them.

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If you have been travelling on your own and have not experienced this, then I congratulate you. You are better at this than I.

Of course, when I packed up my life and moved blindly to Edinburgh, I expected to feel lonely until I settled in and built myself a new life. What I didn’t expect, however, was how long this loneliness would last, and how much a part of me it would become. Don’t get me wrong, I have always highly valued my ‘alone time’ – even when I lived with a dude, and especially with my myriad roommates over the years – but now it has taken on a different quality, or maybe I am just more critically aware of it.

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I find that my feelings of loneliness are directly related to (or the same as) the presence of my own personal happiness in any single moment. If I have a productive day, for example, I am happier with myself. Even if I spend that day alone I do not necessarily feel lonely. The inverse is also true; when I do nothing, I feel less happy with myself and am more susceptible to loneliness – even if there are people around. This fact about me may have always been true, but I was not aware of it until recently. I love learning stuff about yourself, you feel so much more in tune with what you need!

Evidence of past productiveness: thesis notes

Evidence of past productiveness: thesis notes

Loneliness, or aloneness, can sometimes be exactly what I want. My favourite example of this was recently, when I went with my brother to the Muse concert in the Stade de France, Paris. The absolute best moment was during Madness; I closed my eyes and through some kind of magic, the thousands of people in the supermassive stadium disappeared, and it was just me and Muse and the music. It was glorious. Having my own isolated experience, and then looking over to lil’bro with tears of his own emotional reaction to this song, well, it was a good feeling. A shared loneliness.

M-m-m-m-m-m-m-m-mad-mad-mad

M-m-m-m-m-m-m-m-mad-mad-mad

Now that I’m back at home for the time being, I was hoping that my new ever-present quality of loneliness would subside. It has to a degree, but the only time it disappeared almost completely was when my best friend was visiting for a few days last week. Since I was around both my family and a friend, I felt more fulfilled than just with one or the other. I still think, however, that it is with myself that I need to feel content to eradicate loneliness altogether. I guess it’s time to start figuring out what I want out of life and what I need to do to achieve it.

The cold, slippery railroad of life. It's a perilous journey!

The cold, slippery railroad of life. It’s a perilous journey!

In the meantime, I got a cat.

Winston LVOES ME!

Winston LOVES ME!

We’ll Always Have Paris: A Brief Vacation with a French-Hater

There’s a wee little French city that has been the destination for romantics and shopaholics alike for many a decade. It’s called Paris – maybe you’ve heard of it?

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Like many others before me, and many more to come, I have had an obsession with going to Paris ever since I was eleven years old and was growing into my appreciation for all things adult, romantic and materialistic.

Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame Cathedral

In my recent adulthood, however, I have heard things that have marred this dream and given me a dose of reality (probably a good thing). Paris stinks, it’s dirty, it’s crowded, it’s expensive, Parisians are rude, the Eiffel tower costs your first born child to walk up it, lots of people try to scam you, the whole city is a tourist trap. All these things put Paris a little further down on my list of places to go before I die, but when presented with the opportunity to go, I wasn’t going to say no!

S'up?

S’up?

Having freshly moved to Lyon (him) and Edinburgh (me), my lil’bro and I decided in December 2012 that the following June we would meet in Paris for a few days to see the city. Oh, and also OUR FAVOURITE BAND. Muse. For me, this was going to be the perfect mini-vacation! Paris, Muse, and my brother – who I hadn’t seen in almost a year due to our recent voyages.

Check out the reflection in lil'bro's glasses!

Check out the reflection in lil’bro’s glasses!

The only problem was, in those 6 months, lil’bro developed a deep, lingering hatred for the French. Mostly this was due to the lack of communication, organization, desire to be efficient and a general attitude of malaise within any French bureaucratic system. For example, in order to get a bank account, he needed an address. In order to get an apartment, he needed a French bank account – a conundrum that was a pain to resolve. My favourite story was lil’bro’s attempt to apply for medical insurance. He went multiple times during posted office hours to the office where this was to be done only to find it closed with a posted sign saying “Fermé sans raison” <Closed for no reason> (this may, however, be an exaggeration born from frustration – a trait that comes from my Mother’s side of the family. NOTHING she EVER says is accurate).

Well, I arrived in Paris; still hopeful that it would be everything I wanted it to be.

Within the first few hours I was scammed out of €5 (my fault for being naïve and too nice), was an intended pick-pocket victim (best anti-theft device ever: giant box of tampons at the very top of your bag), hit-on by a Moroccan guy (which made me uncomfortable because his Dad was right there), and harassed by aggressive panhandlers on the train. Whatever, I thought, I’m in PARIS!

Yay! We're in Paris!

Yay! We’re in Paris!

Omg, I don't f***ing care!

Omg, I don’t f***ing care!

When I finally arrived at our 1-star hotel (really not that bad for what we paid), I hunkered down to wait for lil’bro to arrive in a few hours. Then the lightning storm happened. If I typed out everything that occurred in the next twelve hours this post would more resemble a novel, so I will summarize using bullet points:

  • My side: Lightning storm knocks out Wi-Fi, my phone stops working, no way of finding out that lil’bro’s plane has been delayed – hours of worrying what’s happened.
  • Lil’bro’s side: plane late, phone dead, address for Paris hotel on phone, discovers bag was left in Berlin. Bag has phone charger, Muse tickets, plane ticket back to Canada. F**k.
  • Airport says to call next day with hotel address so bag will be delivered, lil’bro skeptical about French promises.
  • Lil’bro asks for computer access to get hotel address since he has no idea where to go, none available. Random girl takes pity on him (he’s adorable) and he uses her personal phone to check hotel address.
  • Lil’bro waits for bus to get to metro, empty bus passes many waiting people. Next bus is LAST bus, not everyone fits on, lil’bro is skinny and angry, gets on bus.
  • Bus takes him to metro, doesn’t know which metro to take, guesses. Guesses RIGHT, happens to find map, miraculously finds hotel. Hotel front door is locked, yells outside for me, I hear him, let him in. He’s safe, sweaty, four hours late and PISSED OFF. It’s 2am.
  • Next morning, call airport, takes 8 tries. They can’t deliver bag after all, but bag is now in France and no longer in Berlin. We TELL THEM we will come pick up bag at airport, they agree.
  • Get to airport, bag has been put on flight to Canada. Has the flight left? No. Go get the bag then. Eye rolls. Agrees.
  • Finally get bag. Lil’bro’s hatred for France has tripled.

Able to relax at least a little, we go wandering around the downtown core and, to be fair, it’s pretty beautiful!

Sacre Couer Cathedral, our favourite building.

Sacre Couer Cathedral, our favourite building.

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Sacre Couer

Pantheon

Pantheon

Palais du Luxembourg

Palais du Luxembourg

I would definitely come back to Paris, but perhaps not until I have a bit more means, seeing as it’s difficult to find even a shot of espresso for less than €3, let alone any decent affordable food.

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We had some trouble getting to the Muse concert too. It was rush hour and people were squeezing themselves onto the metro to the point of overflow. Of course, the trains won’t leave if the doors can’t close, and lil’bro and I were completely exasperated by these people who were more concerned with getting on the train than allowing it to leave, thus causing everyone else to be delayed. It got to the point where station staff had to pull people off and man the doors while they closed.

But, of course, THIS made it all worth it!

Muse! Muse, Muse, Muse!

Muse! Muse, Muse, Muse!

Cool floating lightbulb :)

Cool floating lightbulb 🙂

Muse was flawless; their set-list was literally a copy-paste of my personal list of favourites. Chuffed to bits!

A Love Letter to Canada

Canadian-Flag

My Dearest Canada,

I love the UK very much, and I’m sorry, but I needed to give our relationship a chance. We certainly had some good times. While I lived in Edinburgh I was able to experience so much. Some of it was good: beauty, history, independence, travel, solitude, friends and personal growth. Some of it was bad: finances, my living situation, jobs, cold people, short winter days, the inability to foster my own happiness, and increasing loneliness. In the end, the bad outweighed the good, and though I am stronger for the experience, Canada, I have returned to you.

Saltspring Island, BC

Saltspring Island, BC

Your beauty is boundless. From the mountainous west coast of British Columbia, to the vast flatness surrounding my current small-town Ontario residence.

Looking from the Malahat to Willis Point, Vancouver Island BC

Looking from the Malahat to Willis Point, Vancouver Island BC

Mt Baker from the Malahat, Vancouver Island BC

Mt Baker from the Malahat, Vancouver Island BC

Quallicum Beach, Vancouver Island BC

Quallicum Beach, Vancouver Island BC

Jellyfish forest (NOT usual!), Todd Inlet, Vancouver Island BC

Jellyfish forest (NOT usual!), Todd Inlet, Vancouver Island BC

Winter in Stratford ON

Winter in Stratford ON

The universal friendliness of your people is overwhelming. My first day back, I was smiled at and greeted by so many people that I ran to a mirror to see if there was something on my face! There wasn’t. This is just the way of Canadians. I had forgotten. And though the Canadian sense of style may not be up to par with the UK, there is a much greater appreciation for inner beauty.

Ziplining in Esquimalt, Vancouver Island BC

Ziplining in Esquimalt, Vancouver Island BC

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Warship graveyard, Powell River BC

Although we have our problems and our history, I still believe that you, Canada, are the lesser of many greater evils. And though I may very well walk away from you again in search of greener pastures, I will always, unfailingly, return.

Happy Canada Day.

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With everlasting love, (and a new patriotic t-shirt)

Ambling Alana xox