Planning

Planning

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There aren’t many things I enjoy more than planning vacations. Call me crazy, but I love the lists, research, and scheduling that goes into it almost as much as experiencing the trip itself. Give me my iPad, an Excel spreadsheet, and wifi and I could peruse SkyScanner all day.

While planning, I find my Type-A personality is actually a blessing instead of a curse. I’m a firm believer that chance favours the prepared meaning that I’m the one who not only always has a Plan B, but also a Plan C and D. Just a note to the ‘go-with-the-flow types – I’m aware that most people aren’t quite as rigid as I am with plans, but this method works for me. You may prioritize certain aspects of your travels different than I do, these are just my personal suggestions. If I had the guts to buy an open ended plane ticket to a foreign country I would, but I know myself and that sounds like stage one of a minor panic attack :)

My next big trip is going to be backpacking across western and central Europe. Like many other recent grads I feel as though it’s a right of passage to be able to say I roughed it in hostels. I’m hoping to be able to spend 2 months taking in all the sights, culture, and food I can.

The first thing I did when I started conceptualizing my trip was print out of map of Europe. If you’re a geography whiz you can probably skip this step, but I found it useful to be able to visualize where each city was in relation to the others. I then went through and highlighted the cities that I wanted to see – don’t hold back, you can pare the list down once you take time and money into consideration.

At this point you need to start looking at limiting factors, the main ones being time and money. Both will unfortunately dictate the extent of your trip, with money usually being the most unforgiving. Once you determine a rough budget you’ll be able to determine how long your trip can be.

The beauty of Europe is that there are so many ways to stretch your dollar – one site I found useful was TrekHard, which has a calculator that will show you an estimation of your daily cost per country based on a number of factors such as accommodation and transportation. It’ll also give you an idea of which countries are more expensive so you can either limit the days you spend there or avoid them all together. I originally wanted to stay in Zurich for a festival, but after seeing how much it would cost decided Prague was a much more viable option! The time of year you travel will also come into play, summer will be much more expensive than winter for obvious reasons.

After deciding on the where and when comes the fun part, IMO – scheduling. To get stated you’ll need the map you highlighted, a list of each cities’ main airport or bus/train terminals, a calendar, pencil and LARGE eraser – you’ll be doing a lot of revisions. My absolute favourite flight app is SkyScanner, it’s similar to Kayak, but specializes in flights within Europe. You have the option of “watching” flight searches and they’ll send you emails when flight prices change. The explore feature is amazing as well – it’s really useful when you’re trying to find the cheapest way to travel between cities – it lets you choose your departing airport and then shows you the prices of flights going into surrounding airports… if you’re really brave you could theoretically plan an entire itinerary using it! I redid my itinerary 8+ times during the planning process, it was a lot of extra work, but this way I ensured I was taking the most economical route.

Trains are another option to consider when going between cities in close proximity. Eurorail passes, especially with student and off-season discounts, are extremely affordable. Overnight trains also kill two birds with one stone, you avoid paying for a hostel and wake up in your next destination!

When looking for somewhere to stay I turned to Hostelworld and Airbnb. Both are great because they include reviews from people who have recently stayed there. When reading through reviews I scan for three main things: location, amenities, traveller tips/suggestions. The location is always most important to me – I’m looking for somewhere that’s close to the metro/public transportation lines. Second thing I look for is an overview of the amenities – were the showers clean? were there any recent bedbug complaints? were the people at the front desk friendly and helpful? As I’m reading the reviews I also like to write down any suggestions the commenters have left, these could include anything from what time is best to see the sunset or the name of a fantastic restaurant around the corner. If there seems to be a never-ending list of reviews try and keep to the most recent – I usually go as far back as year then call it a day. I wouldn’t want to be judged presently by how I was a year ago so I figure the hostels shouldn’t be either.

What steps do you take when planning your trips? Are you more of a planner or a go-with-the-flow type?

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Battling the Winter Blues

The aftermath of last winter's snowstorm

The aftermath of last winter’s snowstorm

I’m a summer baby in every sense of the word, I was born on a hot summer night in August and have reveled in warm weather my entire life. As a child I spent my summers running around the park behind my house, playing in the forest, or pool hopping. If it was above 20 degrees Celsius you could count on me being outside soaking up every ray of sunshine I could. While some people complain about blistering 30 degree weather, I’m completely in my element – those days with heat wave warnings, they’re my favourite. I’ve always associated the heat of summer with absolute freedom; as the days grew warmer I was that much closer to ridding myself of the responsibilities of school and whatever stress came with it. Summer is synonymous with happiness to me, so when the cooler weather inevitably rolls around you can imagine how my mood plummets.

Living in Canada means that I’m subjected to seemingly never-ending winters. The first snowfall marks the beginning of my own personal hibernation season – my motto is if it’s below freezing count me out. Aside from the obvious social drawbacks of being cooped up all winter, living as a weather-induced recluse is mentally draining.

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This year, I’m trying to brainstorm ways to keep busy during these frigid months in hopes of improving my outlook on the snowiest season. In typical list-loving fashion I’ve created an index of activities and things I want to accomplish between November and March. I’ll probably be adding to it over time, but here’s what I have so far!

1. Host a dinner party
2. Learn how to make chicken pot pie
3. Build a snowman … while singing do you want to build a snow man :)
4. Take my younger cousins out
5. Decorate my house for Christmas
6. Host a fondue/cocktail party
7. Make all of the hot chocolates on this infographic
8. Go to the Toronto Christmas Market
9. Go skating at an outdoor rink
10. Knit a scarf
11. Take photos of a fresh snowfall
12. Make a festive bread pudding
13. Make homemade dog treats
14. Make a printed t-shirt
15. Sew another shirt – I made one before Europe but bought material to make a second, the design’s from this blog!
16. Buy another onesie … I’m on a hunt for a panda one!
17. Make a list of New Years resolutions
18. Make a perfectly roasted chicken
19. Clean up my Macbook
20. Organize my closet
21. DIY some Christmas gifts (maybe bath bombs? I LOVED these when I was little)
22. Create a monthly meal plan – and stick to it
23. Learn to make gnocchi
24. Perfect my hummus recipe
25. Learn to make falafel balls
26. Make a croquembouche tower – preferably for my dinner party
27. Learn to make my Dad’s beef stew
28. Make a mini terrarium for my room
29. Organize my new Filofax (it should be shipped just in time for Christmas!)
30. Write Christmas cards to both my Great-Grandmothers
31. Visit at least 2 restaurants on this list
32. Make a custom ceramic mug with a sharpie (I love this one!)
33. Make my own body butter – I need to find a good recipe for this … my Bath and Body Works bill has been getting out of control.
34. Redecorate my room
35. Continue planning my next international adventure
36. Perfect my mussels recipe (I’ll be doing a post on this soon!)
37. Find the perfect winter soup recipe
38. Purchase the perfect over-the-knee boot
39. Go on a winter hike
40. Go tobogganing
41. Bake the perfect chocolate chip cookie
42. Learn to make the Butterbeer that was at Harry Potter World
43. Make a photo album of my last Eurotrip
44. Make a Cake Batter Protein Shake (recipe here)
45. Watch all the old Christmas classic movies – I’ll never grow out of watching Rudolph
46. Learn how to waterfall braid
47. Clean out and reorganize my closet
48. Learn to make sushi
49. Redecorate my bathroom
50. Spend more time with family and friends

As you can see a lot of them have to do with food – the only upside I see to cold weather is that gaining a pound or two isn’t as easily detected under big sweaters – not to mention that it’s near impossible for me to lose weight while stuffing my face with turkey around the holidays!

I’m hoping by the end of this winter I’ll feel more like this …

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Do you like winter, or dread the season like me? What are some things you do to keep busy when it’s cold out?

Day 7: Split

Never. Drink. Croatian. Moonshine. If you don’t take any other advice from the TYW Croatia section of my blog, please remember this. I have five years of university parties under my belt and only once have I ever felt as bad as I did that morning, and that happened to be the last night I drank tequila. The only silver lining of the situation was that I wasn’t nauseous, I was just plagued by a skull-splitting headache. Luckily I had also woken up pretty early and was able to down a few bottles of water before really being forced to get up.

By noon all the girls were up and we were cleaning off the deck in preparation for the regatta! We unfortunately still hadn’t learned to put away all of our cups before going to bed so our boat was housing a small army of bees. I actually have a serious bee allergy – the last time I was in Croatia I got stung and my ankle swelled to the size of my thigh and I couldn’t walk for a week – so I spent the greater portion of my morning hiding below deck.

Once the bee infestation was taken care of we changed into our regatta costumes and said goodbye to Hvar! We had been looking forward to the regatta all week – our costumes were pretty great if I do say so myself. In true Canuck fashion we had ordered Canada flag bathing suits and those ridiculous umbrella hats that can be found at Dollaramas around Canada Day. The other boats thought they were hilarious, especially because of our boats “Canadian Girls” nickname that was coined at the beginning of the week.

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The day of the regatta was also my birthday, and there was no better way to completely rid myself of that pesky Croatian Moonshine hangover than to do a birthday funnel as we sailed! The film crews boat was beside us most of the time and later said they were having a hard time getting usable pictures of us because the funnel was in every shot. Ooops.

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James was quite possibly the best skipper on TYW and so naturally we were one of the leading boats in the regatta. We were about halfway to Split when tragedy struck! Ok maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but we realized we were missing the papers we needed to be able to dock at Kastela so we had to turn around and head back to Hvar, forfeiting the race :(. I ended up napping once I heard the bad news and actually slept until we arrived back in Split. Apparently our boat had gone through almost two cases of beer – no regrets during regatta.

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Docking back in Kastela Marina almost seemed surreal – it felt like just yesterday when we had checked-in and packed up the boat to depart on our yacht week adventure. It was really bittersweet. On one hand I was very excited to use the showers at the marina, but on the other I felt as though I would gladly sacrifice the health of my skin, liver, and sanity for another week of fun. I opted out of a fancy birthday dinner in favour of pick-up pizzas and some red wine that could be enjoyed on the boat. We sat and reminisced about the week and all the fun memories we had made before gearing up for our one last hurrah at the Vanilla Club in Split.

We took a bus arranged by TYW into Split and arrived at Vanilla around 11:30pm. The venue was great, it had a massive patio and two large bars. It didn’t actually reach capacity until much later in the night; I imagine a lot of crews were stuck packing up their things in preparation for our early disembarkation the next morning.

If I haven’t mentioned it enough, the music on TYW was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G and the DJs really outdid themselves the last night. My favourite of the week by far was Roman Cleiss (Here‘s his Soundcloud), he’s a French DJ who played a lot of Oliver Heldens-esque sets throughout the week. Towards the end of the night TYW set off a huge firework display, whether this was something they did to end every week or just because ours was the last week of the summer, I’m not sure. I of course lost track of time and ended up missing the last bus (it left at 3AM) so I stayed back with one of my friends.

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Saying goodbye to all the friends we had made during the week was really sad – but I’m hopeful that we’ll be seeing each other again next year (I’ve already started tentatively planning my next yacht week)! True to their tagline, it really is nothing like the real world. When you’re on TYW it’s like being in your own little universe full of amazing parties, places, and people. You only really understand how amazing it is after living it – I know it sounds somewhat cult-like, but once you experience it, you’ll understand. Looking back, it still seems surreal and somewhat unexplainable. All I can say is that it was the best week of my life and the perfect way to celebrate my 23rd birthday!

Have any of you been on TYW, something similar, or want to go?? If you have any questions about TYW I’d be happy to answer them :) or what are some of your vacation-of-a-lifetime stories?

TYW Packing List

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                                        Everything fit – it was a MIRACLE.

In hindsight, I really wish I had gotten around to writing this post as I was actually packing for my trip so I could express, in detail, how frustrating it is to pack in a relatively small backpack for an extended period of time. I can’t even recall how many times I revised my packing list over the summer – I was constantly adding things to bring. To be honest, I don’t think I really appreciated how limited my storage space was until I tried to physically fit everything into my backpack.

I ended up getting Gregory Cairn 48 ($250.00 CAD) that’s pictured below. It got the job done and I really can’t complain about the quality – it held up to being dragged across the floor at most airports, there were plenty of pockets for extra storage, and the top portion expanded quite a bit.

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My one serious piece of advice is to do your research when you’re looking to buy a backpack! I can’t stress this enough, if I could do it over again I would have compared a few models before making my purchase. There are so many backpacks on the market with additional features and add-ons that would have made my life MUCH easier. When I was shopping I just walked into MEC and bought the first one that:
a) I thought was pretty – at this point I had no idea how low on the totem pole aesthetics should be
b) Was appropriately sized for my height – being petite limited my selection to smaller backpacks as I knew I wouldn’t be able to carry XL monstrosities across airports and train stations. Truthfully, I even struggled lugging mine around.

If I were to look for a backpack now I’d want one that:

1) included a zip out cover – I purchased a separate bag to cover my backpack when I was travelling by air (I didn’t want the buckles and straps getting caught on conveyor belts and ripping). The bag was annoying to store and too big for my actual backpack which made carrying my bag an absolute NIGHTMARE. Think little girl dragging an XL hockey bag around Europe – ya, not enjoyable. Many of my friends had covers that could zip out from a bottom pocket… needless to say, I was envious

2) was front loading – my backpack was top loading and had a side zip which didn’t extend all the way to the top or bottom, so you could technically pull clothes out of the side, but it really just messed up everything in the middle when you tried to take stuff out. Basically repacked my bag every time I changed my clothing – NOT FUN. Part of this was probably my fault though – separate packing cubes would have definitely helped the process.

3) had an attached/zip-off backpack – so I had no idea these even existed until I was away, but it is utter genius!! The friend that I travelled Greece with had one and we used it all the time. My carry-on for half the trip was my red nylon Longchamp bag, which despite having a large storage capacity and being able to fold into next to nothing, is still a purse, and was just a hassle when I was riding the back of an ATV. Plus I’m pretty sure that one of my biceps is bigger than the other from awkwardly toting it around on one arm.

4) had wheels – ok so this isn’t crucial because I probably would have only used it in the airport or paved roads (I did not envy the people with rolling luggage when we were boarding/disembarking the ferrries), but hiking up the hill to the Metro station in Athens in 35 degree heat made me really appreciate the invention of the wheel – especially when a pair of them are attached to a 15kg backpack.

Of course I’m sure there are many more features you may want to consider when you look for your backpack – rain protection, compartments with extra security, etc. If you have heard of or own any backpacks with other cool features I’d love to hear about them! I’m seriously considering buying a new bag for next year if my budget allows it :)

My inherent indecisiveness really added to my packing frustrations. I had a serious case of the what-ifs every time I tried to eliminate an item of clothing from my list. What if my jean shorts rip and I don’t have another pair? What if I fall down and get 9 different cuts, but only brought 8 band-aids? What if one of my 7 bathing suits gets ruined and I’m forced to re-wear one? Oh the agonnyyyy. I was ridiuclous. And yes I ended up bringing not one, not two, but SEVEN bathing suits for yacht week. Dumb, dumb, dumb – I really only wore 3 of them throughout the course of my trip. So. much. wasted. space. No matter what you do DO NOT bring seven bathing suits – some people say you need one for each day, but realistically you won’t wear them all. Once the tan lines set in from one bikini top I was reluctant to switch. Next time I’d definitely purchase the same cut of top and bottoms in various patterns.

Now onto my list. Below is what I actually brought with me, and yes I REALLY overpacked. My saving grace was that it was summer and I’m relatively small, meaning that I was able to fit much more than I would have if I had travelled with heavy items such as jackets and sweaters.

Clothing:

– 6 pairs of shorts (3 fancy, 3 casual)
– 1 long sleeve shirt
– 1 zip up sweater
– 1 pair of jeans – medium wash and my go to for travel days
– 4 dresses (2 dressy, 1 casual, 1 maxi) – I REALLY regret not bringing more casual dresses because they could easily be glammed them up for going out at night
– 2 t-shirts
– 5 going out tops – cotton is your new BFF, I brought 2 silk blouses that haven’t recovered from being stuffed in a backpack for a month
– 3 casual tank tops
– 7 bikinis – DO NOT DO THIS. I even ended up buying another one, I can’t control my love for Calzedonia bikinis. ugh
– 1 Canada one piece swimsuit (for the Regatta)
– 2 bathing suit cover ups
– 8 crop tops – this was so excessive, I think I wore 4 of them
– 1 maxi skirt
– 3 miniskirts – I wore one of these. ONE!
– 2 pairs of pyjamas shorts
– 2 sleeping shirts
– 1 regular black bra
– 2 strapless bras ( 1 black, 1 nude)
– 10 pairs of underwear – once again excessive. It’s like I was preparing for the extinction of laundry machines
– 2 pairs of ankle socks

Accessories:

– Gold Marc Jacobs watch – why I thought it was a good idea to bring this I have no idea, I would have been absolutely beside myself if I had lost it
– Black leather bracelet – leather + salt water … enough said
– (Faux) gold locket – I was actually happy I brought this, it matched all my outfits and would have been no concern if it had been lost of broken
– Diamond Earrings – ya this was a big mistake, I actually forgot they were on and wore them on the airplane.
– Baseball cap – useful when trying to disguise how horribly hungover you are every morning
– Black side bag – something with a zipper preferably
– Carry-on bag – large red nylon Longchamp
– Canada flag umbrella hats – for the Regatta

Footwear:

– 2 pairs of sandals (1 dressy, 1 casual)
– 1 pair of sneakers – I bought white Supergas, which I am still in LOVE with, I didn’t even need to break them in before hand (a small miracle in my eyes)

I didn’t bring any heels with me and thank god. Flimsy ankles in 6 inch heels on cobblestone streets is just asking for an injury. Truthfully I had issues in my flip flops some nights haha

Electronics:

– iPhone
– iPod
– Headphones
– AUX cable
– Power converter – I brought two and found Croatian outlets used two-prong plugs that were a bit larger than those in Italy and Greece
– Portable power charger – this was so crucial throughout my travels, especially for yacht week. There were only a few power outlets on the boat and we weren’t guaranteed a spot on the riva every night so there were a few days we went without power. When you’re sailing between ports there is electricity if the motor is running, but keep in mind this uses up gas unnecessarily! I ended up buying the RavPower RP-PB07 for $39.99 CAD on Amazon and it lasted me the entire week, granted my phone usage was minimal.
– Camera – I barely used my camera because I brought my phone out with me at night
– Camera Battery Charger
– iPod/iPhone charger

Toiletries:

– Travel toothbrush
– Tooth paste
– 2 hair ties
– Body moisturizer
– Face moisturizer
– Sunscreen – I LOVE Arbonne’s, it’s spf 30 and isn’t greasy like other formulas
– Maui Babe tanning oil – Yes I’m a sun worshipper, but I love this formula because I don’t need to stay in the sun as long and they actual advise you wear sunscreen underneath it!
– Disposable razor – I think I bought 8 of these on the trip because I kept leaving them behind
– 2 Hair brushes – 1 round and 1 flat
– 1 Hair clip
– Shampoo/Conditioner – I have been hoarding those sample shampoo/conditioner combos that come in the mail for YEARS and finally found an occasion to use them
– Nail file
– Nail clippers
– Homemade beach hair spray (I’ll probably post on how to make this later)
– Tide-to-Go stick
– Q-tips
– Cotton pads

*Go out and purchase travel containers from the dollar store, I believe I got a set of 5 bottles for around $2 from Dollarama. It really doesn’t make sense to be carrying around a full sized moisturizer or suntan lotion when you only need a quarter of it!

Makeup:

– Waterproof mascara
– Liquid Eyeliner
– Naked 3 Palette
– MAC eyeshadow in Bronze – it’s been my summer shadow obsession since high school
– Make Up For Ever travel sized makeup remover
– Make Up For Ever green HD primer – so essential in masking redness when you’ve been in the sun a bit too long!
– Anastasia brow palette in Dark Brown
– Brow brush – I’m a Torontonian, we are OBSESSED with eyebrows. No joke. Having a bad brow day is equal, if not worse than a bad hair day
– Bronzer – My favourite is Hula by Benefit because of its matte finish
– Laura Mercier tinted moisturizer in Bisque
– Travel set of makeup brushes
– Nars blush in Orgasm

I am absolutely obsessed with cosmetics and I even impressed myself with how little makeup I brought. Salt water is basically natures magic, it clears up my skin and makes me hair actually behave when air dried. In my opinion, nothing can top the au naturel look of tousled beach hair and a nice healthy glow. Ok so I know tans aren’t really healthy, but can you blame me for wanting to look a little more like Jessica Alba and a little less like Nicole Kidman?

Medicine/First-Aid:

– Tylenol
– Seabands – these are elastics wristbands with a little plastic bead that goes over a pressure point to combat nausea. I wore them the first 4 days, but soon realized I was getting the dreaded “seaband tan” and took them off … I didn’t feel nauseous at all throughout the trip, even after removing the bands, so it’s difficult to say if they worked or not.
– Gravol
– Benadryl
– Imodium
– Tums
– Amoxicillin – I get strep throat a few times a year and actually felt a bit sick before leaving so I got the antibiotics as a precaution
– Polysporin
– Band-Aids – you will need these, be the hero and don’t forget
– Gauze
– Medical Tape

Other:

– Float – I bought 2 donut floats from the Dollarama. If you don’t have room in your pack don’t bother… the Getro just outside of Kastela Marina has a bunch of floats for sale, but they are around $10-15 CAD vs. the $2 I paid.
– Pack Towel – they’re lightweight, dry super quickly, and fold up into nothing
– Nylon bag – from the Dollar store for the beach/groceries
– Neck Pillow – $2 at the dollar store means I didn’t care when the beads exploded everywhere on the train to Florence haha (though my friend wasn’t pleased when we kept finding them in his hair)

Whew! Are you still reading? If you are, you’re a fantastic human being. I know that was a ridiculous amount of information, but I swear I’m just trying to be thorough. I had the hardest time finding a blog with a specific list of items to bring so if there are any other (mildly?) neurotic people out there planning for TYW I hope I was of some assistance.

My last tip is from my superwoman of a Mom …

Being the genius that she is, she suggested that I before I packed my bag I lay out all the clothes I was bringing and take a picture on my phone. This way I’d have something to refer back to when trying to make outfits instead of having to rip apart my suitcase yet again. It also helped me keep inventory of my clothes and make sure nothing was missing when I was moving from place to place. I literally have no idea what I would do without her.

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