Hotel Vyvant, San Diego, California

*The following opinions are completely my own, and I was not perked or paid in any way by Hotel Vyvant to write this article.*

I wound up in San Diego completely by accident.

I had previously spent a week in the LA and Santa Monica area for work, and had opted to extend my trip by a few days to spend some extra time with a relative who lives near LA.  However, when that fell through last-minute, I wasn’t sure what to do with my extra time.  I found the Amtrak website and saw that there was a train called the Pacific Surfliner that went from Los Angeles down the coast all the way to San Diego.  I had always wanted to take a trip on a train, and I had never been to San Diego before, so I booked my one-way ticket for early on Saturday morning.

From the second I stepped off of my train until the moment my plane home left the tarmac, I had a ridiculous smile plastered across my face.  San Diego was the most incredible American city I have ever visited.  I have never fallen so instantly, passionately, head-over-heels in love with a place in my life.  And staying at Hotel Vyvant had everything to do with that impression.

I can confidently say that Hotel Vyvant is the single most charming and hospitable place that I have ever stayed throughout my travels (and I have stayed in a lot of places).  This place was hard to track down – it was listed under the “other” section of Expedia, and the stellar reviews piqued my interest.  I ended up booking directly through the hotel’s website, and was impressed right from the beginning, after receiving a friendly confirmation email.  It was evident that Hotel Vyvant took an enormous amount of pride in their establishment.  I replied to the email explaining that I was a travel blogger who was traveling solo to San Diego for the first time, and I asked for any recommendations of attractions in the area that shouldn’t be missed.  They replied warmly with tons of information – I couldn’t wait to stay at Hotel Vyvant.

I arrived shortly after noon on a Saturday – check in wasn’t until 4 but they had my room ready for me, which was a nice surprise.  I was met by Bekah – who I believe is the general manager – and was shown around the property.  I couldn’t stop smiling.  This was the cutest little place I had ever been.  The hotel itself is located in a restored 1910 historical building, and is tastefully decorated with gorgeous vintage furniture, luxurious, comfortable beds and linens, all the modern amenities a person could ask for and more.  The hotel features 23 rooms in total, which range from queen bed rooms with shared bathrooms to “urban flat” suites with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a kitchen.

Hotel Vyvant Lobby

Hotel Vyvant Lobby

One of the Hallways

One of the Hallways

View of the terrace from the second floor

View of the terrace from the second floor

I was shown to my room, which was the “economy” style one bedroom with a shared bathroom, and honestly, in the 4 nights I spent at Hotel Vyvant, there was never a time that I needed the bathroom and wasn’t able to access it.  Sharing was no issue at all.  The room came equipped with a fluffy queen bed, a flatscreen TV, a sink, safe, and a full closet.  It provided more than enough space for one person traveling alone, and would suit a couple just fine as well as long as they were comfortable with a shared bathroom.

Economy One Bedroom

Economy One Bedroom

Sink area in Bedroom

Sink area in Bedroom

Shared Bathroom

Shared Bathroom

The highlights of Hotel Vyvant, for me, were the location, the offering of a complimentary breakfast and a complimentary happy hour on weekends, and the phenomenal staff – all of which helped to created an overall feeling of hospitality.  I felt as if I were staying with friends in their home.  The hotel is located in the quaint district of Little Italy, which I truly never wanted to leave.  It is a short walk to many conveniences such as shopping, ample restaurants and a 7-11 store.  Walk a bit further and you can easily make your way downtown, to the Gaslamp Quarter, to the harbour, or to stunning Balboa Park.  (More to come on all of those fabulous places in an upcoming article!)

Unwinding on the terrace

Unwinding on the terrace

Every morning, a complimentary breakfast was served in the lobby, consisting of fresh pastries and baked goods from a local bakery called Bread and Cie, greek yogurt, Safari Crunch granola, fruit such as apples, oranges and bananas, fresh brewed Dark Horse coffee, orange juice, and an assortment of teas.  On Friday and Saturday evenings, the hotel offers a complimentary “Happy Hour” on their charming outdoor terrace, which gives the guests a chance to socialize with one another while sampling local beer and wine and enjoying light appetizers.

Breakfast at Hotel Vyvant

Breakfast at Hotel Vyvant

Happy Hour

Happy Hour

Beer & Wine Selection at Happy Hour

Beer & Wine Selection at Happy Hour

Truly the most wonderful part about staying at Hotel Vyvant, though, was being taken care of by the spectacular staff.  Everybody I met was amazing.  I’d like to extend a special thank you to Bekah, Ashley, Connor and Taylor for making me feel so welcome and providing me with so much information about what to do in the area.  Everybody seemed so happy and pleasant and sincere.  I felt like I was chatting with old friends every day.

Taken from the terrace

Taken from the terrace

Thank you again, Hotel Vyvant, for such a comfortable stay.  I will recommend this property without hesitation to absolutely anyone traveling to the San Diego area, and I plan to return myself in the next year or so with my boyfriend.

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October 2014 Adventure Spotlight with Rachel from bettylivin.com – Waterton Lakes National Park, AB

This post is part of an ongoing monthly column called “Adventure Spotlight”.  If you’re interested in writing for ATA, click here.

Rachel and I found each other’s blogs by fluke, but were we ever glad that we did.  It turns out that we have a ton in common!  Her blog is focused on things like hiking and fitness.  She has spent many years in Waterton National Park, and although I have also been to Waterton for a few days this past summer, I wanted her to delve a little deeper into this magnificent park.  You can check out Rachel’s blog at bettylivin.com.

The Writer:

My name is Rachel and I’m a 29 year old communications specialist Monday through Friday and an adventurer on the weekends. I was born and raised in Fort McMurray, Alberta which is where I developed my love of the outdoors and snow. My family moved to Seattle when I was in high school and I stayed for 10 years before moving back to Alberta, this time to the sunnier and warmer south.

Rachel from Betty LIVIN

Rachel from Betty LIVIN

My adventures are pretty close to home because I’ve never had much extra money for travelling so I get my avdentures in wherever I am. The exceptions are my trips to Hawaii. My mom is from there and I still have family there. I even lived in Hawaii for a short period of my life so if I have extra money for travel, you’d better believe I’m hitting Hawaii.

My blog, Betty LIVIN is all about finding adventure as much as you can, whether it’s squeezing in workouts and sports during the work week or hitting the mountains on the weekend. My motto is “Life isn’t worth living without adventure”. A lot of people ask me where the name Betty comes from and that comes from three places:

-My Jeep Wrangler I was driving when I started the blog was named Betty

=A Betty is a term for a girl who surfs or snowboards and is morphing into a term for an outdoorsy girl

-Betty from the Archie comics was my ultimate role model growing up

Where:

Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada is my ultimate getaway. It’s gorgeous, not overly crowded and close to home!

Waterton Lakes National Park

Waterton Lakes National Park

Why:

When I first moved from Seattle, I moved to Waterton to work at a hotel there for a year. I was sick of the crowds and noise and hustle that comes with city living and I went to this teeny mountain town that has maybe 40 permanent, year round residents. I loved it though and in the short year I worked there developed a deep love for this park.

Top 5 Experiences:

1. Getting married here in the middle of a snow storm
I always wanted a winter wedding so when my now husband proposed I knew it had to be in Waterton in the winter. I wanted snow and gorgeous mountains in the background. However, a freak snow storm rolled in and prevented half the guests from attending and the low cloud cover hid all the mountains! So for my mountain wedding, I have maybe two pictures with an actual mountain in the background from a brief break in the snow.
But I wouldn’t have had it any other way, people still talk about my fairy tale snowy wedding and it gives me another reason to love Waterton so much.  You can see photos here.

Rachel's Winter Wedding

Rachel’s Winter Wedding

2. Climbing to the Peak of Mt. Vimy 
This still has to be the most epic hike I’ve done in the park to date. My cousins and I rode our bikes to the base of the mountain (about 3 miles) and hiked up. The signs SAY it’s 4 miles up, but we were all cross country runners and know what 3.1 miles feels like and this was way longer. During the last mile scramble up the shale I kept having to stop and rest. But like all hikes, when we got to the top, it was absolutely gorgeous and I love pointing to the mountain across the lake when I’m in the town and telling people how I made it to the peak.  Read more here.

Mt. Vimy

Mt. Vimy

3. Crypt Lake Hike
This is one of Canada’s top rated hikes for a good reason! No other hike makes you feel like a maverick hiker better than this one. You have to take a shuttle (or kayak) across the lake from the town site to the trail head. Guide books say that this hike is about 8.7 km each way and takes about 6 hours round trip. It took my cousin and I a total of 6 hours and 15 minutes to complete it and we ran down for 20 minutes so I would suggest you schedule at least 7 hours for it.
The climb itself is moderate but it’s a long distance. The best part is when you are almost to the lake and you have to walk through the small cave and then walk along the rock ledge hanging on to an iron cable.  Most people who visit the park make the time to do this hike because it is such an incredible experience.  Read more here.

Crypt Lake Hike

Crypt Lake Hike

4. Playing in Red Rock Canyon
I loved water parks as a kid and Red Rock is nature’s water park. It’s about a 20 minute drive from Waterton town site up the Red Rock Parkway. There is a parking lot and bathrooms and everything because it’s such a popular spot. Most people like to walk along the trail on top of the canyon and look down but the adventurous ones like to climb into the canyon to play.

Red Rock Canyon

Red Rock Canyon

I like to walk along the canyon and climb on the sides, walk through the water or slide down the natural water slide (it’s just a little guy, nothing huge). There has been a lot of flooding these past two summers and I watched how nature balances itself out. Last year a June flood caused a ton of grey shale and rock to come down from the mountains and it covered the entire canyon floor so it wasn’t red rock canyon, it was grey rock canyon. Then just a month later, another flood washed all the shale away to reveal the canyon floor again. I could go on for hours about how amazing this spot is.

5. Cross country skiing date
Finally, my last favourite experience is from when my husband and I were first dating and we went cross country skiing to Cameron Lake. My husband is not an outdoorsy guy but he was trying to impress me and we had a blast. He hasn’t gone with me since! Ha ha! So I treasure that date and I always enjoy cross country skiing in the winter. One of the hotels rents them for $15 for the day and Parks maintains tracks to the lake. If you don’t want to be on tracks, there are a couple side trails you can ski on which are more difficult but a ton of fun.

Cross Country Ski Date

Cross Country Ski Date

Something I wish I’d Known: 

I wish I had known this place existed and that they hired like crazy in the summer! Waterton is mainly a summer destination with only two hotels and one restaurant open through the winter. Students come from all over the country, U.S. and even internationally to work here for the summer and spend their spare time hiking and being outdoors. If I had known about this place, that’s what I would have done through university. Both my brothers have also done a summer in Waterton.

Best Piece of Advice:

I would say to research the hikes you want to do ahead of time. I always look up elevation gain and distance before going on a new hike to make sure I’m prepared with enough water, snacks or meal if it’s long enough. There is a “hikers café” in town that I have worked at called Pearls Café and they have guide books and staff who are knowledgeable about all the hikes in the park.

Thank you so much for sharing, Rachel!

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Merrell Women’s Siren Sport Gore-Tex Trail Shoes

*As always, the following opinions are 100% my own, and I was not perked or paid in any way by Merrell.*

What It Is:

Merrell Women’s Siren Sport Gore-Tex Trail Shoes – a medium-weight, waterproof, heavy-duty multi-sport shoe for hiking, biking, walking, running and adventure.

My Merrell Siren Sports…nice and dirty, the way I like them

My Merrell Siren Sports…nice and dirty, the way I like them

When I Used It:

Throughout all of my travels in Asia, including hiking up Mount Batur in Bali, hanging out with rescued elephants at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, exploring Koh Lanta in Thailand, and walking the streets of Narita, Japan.

During all of my light day hikes and adventures in Canada during the Spring and Summer of 2014 – including Dinosaur Provincial Park, Lake Agnes and The Glacier Skywalk.

My Merrell Siren Sports exploring the temples of Ubud, Bali

My Merrell Siren Sports exploring the temples of Ubud, Bali

What I Love: 

They are lightweight and compact for packing

They have decent tread when compared to a high-performance hiking boot

They are water resistant – Gore-Tex lining keeps feet comfortable and dry

Vibram Sole

They are super comfortable – required almost no break-in time

They are tough and durable…they still look fantastic even after all I have put them through

Nearly 1,000 feet above ground on the Glacier Skywalk in Jasper, AB

Nearly 1,000 feet above ground on the Glacier Skywalk in Jasper, AB

What I Don’t Love: 

The only thing about these shoes that I don’t love is that they don’t have any ankle support – but that is when you would turn to a full-support hiking boot.  I wore a different, full-support Merrell boot during my backpacking trip through Waterton this summer.

At the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai

At the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai

Where To Get It:

I purchased mine at Bass Pro, but they can also be purchased online at merrell.com, as well as at a variety of other outdoor retailers.

At the summit of Mount Batur at Sunrise

At the summit of Mount Batur at Sunrise

What It Costs:

Approximately $160.00.  Worth every penny.

Hiking near Elbow Falls, AB

Hiking near Elbow Falls, AB

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5 Inspirational Reads for Soul-Searching

5 Inspirational Reads for Soul-Searching - adventuretoanywhere.com

Since writing my last post on books I have read, Travel-Related Reads for Twenty-Somethings, I have been busy doing a lot of reading related to spiritual growth and transformation.  I wanted to share a few of my favourites with you.  I would recommend picking up one (or all) of them for your next adventure, or even just to have at home.

1. “Fear” by Thich Nhat Hanh

This book came into my life in an interesting way.  When I was staying in Chiang Mai, I found a book by Thich Nhat Hanh in a book exchange in the lobby of our accommodation.  It was just a little pocket book, so I took it with me, and Thich Nhat Hanh’s wisdom inspired me and changed me in ways that I can’t even put into words.  When I returned home, I decided that “Fear” would be the next book of his that I would read.  It is beautifully written, easy to read, and full of wisdom for difficult times.  Recommended for anyone who is feeling anxious, afraid, out-of-control, or overwhelmed by tragedy in their life.

book-fear

2. “Tiny Buddha’s Guide to Loving Yourself” by Lori Deschene

Tiny Buddha is an incredible blog-style community of inspiring people who are dedicated to sharing their stories related to change, life, love, relationships and spiritual transformation.  I have been following Tiny Buddha for a few years now, and I was ecstatic to see a hand-picked selection of stories available in a book.  A super easy and enjoyable read, Tiny Buddha’s Guide to Loving Yourself provides short, essay-style contributions from dozens of people just like you directly related to their life experiences and how they learned to love themselves.  Recommended for light-hearted, relatable reading when you need a bit of a boost.

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3. “Letting Go of the Person you Used to Be” by Lama Surya Das

Lama Surya Das is an american-born spiritual leader who follows the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.  This book is a healthy combination of his personal stories, practical meditation techniques, and essential wisdom for dealing with change.  Recommended for anyone who feels stuck in their past or anyone who feels trapped or limited by things out of their control.

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4. “The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari” by Robin Sharma

I found this book in a thrift shop, and decided to buy it simply because I had heard so many wonderful things about it.  I brought it with me on my backpacking trip to Waterton this summer, and I was able to finish it in only two days.  A truly captivating story about a big-shot New York City litigator who abandons his practice after suffering a major heart attack to undergo a spiritual transformation in the Himalayas.  This story will change you.  Recommended for anyone considering a lifestyle shift, feeling unfulfilled or empty, or someone looking for inspiration in everyday life.

MonkWhoSoldHisFerrari

5. “Buddhist Boot Camp” by Timber Hawkeye

This book is among my favourites, if not my absolute favourite book related to spirituality.  Timber Hawkeye, a long-time student of world religion, wrote this book to inspire and empower people by taking the sometimes complicated teachings of the Buddha, and writing them in simple, easy-to-read, and understandable short segments that can be read in any order.  The author has spent several years living and studying in both a Buddhist Temple and a Zen Monastery.  He writes with honesty, clarity, integrity and transparency.  I would recommend this book to absolutely every single person I meet.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a Buddhist, a Christian, or an Atheist…if you believe in kindness and compassion among humans, this book will speak to you, and it will teach you so much.

16283548Have you read any of the above mentioned books?  What did you think?  Which other books have you found helpful in your soul-searching journey?

 

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Lake Agnes Tea House, AB

Last week, I visited a place that I hadn’t been for almost 6 years – the Lake Agnes Tea House.  I went with Sean’s sister, Courtney, and Mother Nature provided us with an absolutely perfect late summer day complete with warm temperatures and cloudless blue skies.  So cloudless, in fact, that it made taking decent photos difficult!  But we weren’t complaining.

Lake Louise - adventuretoanywhere.com

Lake Louise

The last time I visited the Tea House was at the end of a week-long trek through Yoho National Park when I was 17 years old.  It was hilarious because we had been backpacking for 7 days and hadn’t seen any shape or form of personal hygiene at all.  We showed up in our gaiters, hardcore hiking boots, and mud-soaked clothes – while many people do this hike from Lake Louise in their jeans.

Lake Louise 2008

Slightly Overdressed at Lake Louise in 2008

But this time, we were clean, dry, and dressed for the occasion.  The hike begins at the Chateau Lake Louise parking lot.  We hit the trail shortly after noon, and it was absolutely packed.  If you’re new to solo hiking and are looking for a trail where you won’t feel isolated, this one is for you.  There were tons of people young and old hiking up to the Tea House.  On the Lake Agnes Tea House website, it suggests that the hike should take between 1-2 hours one way (3.5 km).  Courtney and I did it in just under an hour going at a fairly decent pace.  Be advised that there are two Tea Houses in the area – the Lake Agnes Tea House and the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House.  Pay attention to the signs to ensure that you’re on the right track.  Detailed directions can be found here.

The Lake Agnes Tea House Hike - adventuretoanywhere.com

The Trail to the Tea House

We were lucky enough to reach the Tea House right before the masses of other people we passed on the trail arrived.  It was busy when we got there, but we were able to get a table right away.  The Tea House is only open from June – mid October, and it is busy pretty much every day, especially during the summer months and on weekends.  Expect to wait a while for a table.  You can spend time taking in the beautiful views of Lake Agnes while you wait.

Lake Agnes - adventuretoanywhere.com

Lake Agnes

Clark's Nutcracker at Lake Agnes - adventuretoanywhere.com

A Clark’s Nutcracker perches near the Lake

Lake Agnes Tea House - adventuretoanywhere.com

Lake Agnes Tea House

Lunch at the Tea House was delicious and authentic.  All of their ingredients are either flown in by Helicopter a few times per season or hiked up daily by their staff, and most goods are prepared right in the Tea House’s kitchen.  We ordered a large pot of Masala Chai, two cups of soup with bread, an apple crumble and a chocolate chip cookie, and our lunch came to just over $40.00.  It was well worth the price, though, for the experience alone.  And everything was delicious!  The soup of the day changes, but if you’re up at the Tea House while they’re serving a curried green lentil soup, I absolutely recommend it.

Inside the Lake Agnes Tea House - adventuretoanywhere.com

Courtney at our table

Lake Agnes Tea House Menu - adventuretoanywhere.com

Lake Agnes Tea House Menu – Changes Daily

The Patio

The Patio

Lunch

Lunch

There are two additional hike extensions that you can choose to take from the Tea House – Big Beehive, and Little Beehive.  I hiked Little Beehive a few years ago and it was absolutely beautiful.  However, by the time Courtney and I were full of delicacies from the Tea House, we were ready to head back down.

The view from the top of Little Beehive - 2008

The view from the top of Little Beehive – 2008

Our Group at the top of Little Beehive - 2008

Our Group at the top of Little Beehive – 2008

It took us less than an hour to descend back to the Lake Louise parking lot.  We moved a bit slower on the way down, as we were stopping to take photos.  Once you’re off the trail, there is an opportunity to explore the area around stunning, world-famous Lake Louise.  Indoor washrooms are also available here.  There are outhouses up at the Tea House.

The Waterfall just below the Tea House

The Waterfall just below the Tea House

The view of Lake Louise from the Trail

The view of Lake Louise from the Trail

Courtney and I in front of Lake Louise

Courtney and I in front of Lake Louise

The hike to the Lake Agnes Tea House is suitable for any able-bodied person, and I would highly recommend it to anyone staying in the Calgary / Banff / Lake Louise areas.  It truly is a beautiful and unique experience in the Canadian Rockies.

Have you been to the Lake Agnes Tea House?  What was your experience like?

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Varadero, Cuba – S-Trip Grad Trip Review

The following is a review of my experience with S-Trip’s Varadero, Cuba Graduation Trip.  Even though this trip was over 5 years ago now, I remember it like it was yesterday.

My "Welcome Gift" from one of the staff..he climbed to the top of a tree and cut this down!

My “Welcome Gift” from one of the staff..he climbed to the top of a tree and cut this down!

Where I Went: Varadero, Cuba, on a Grad Trip with S-Trip

When I Went: June of 2009

Where we stayed: Sol Sirenas Coral, Varadero

Who I Traveled With: A group of 50+ 17 year olds on a high school graduation trip

Part of Our Group on a Party Bus

Part of Our Group on a Party Bus

What was the Travel Process like?

We were traveling from Kelowna, BC, so we had to overnight in Toronto on our way to Cuba.  This was all set up by S-Trip and included in the price of the trip.  Everything went very smoothly, all transportation was taken care of – including flights and transport to the resort from the airport.

Waiting to get on the bus to the resort

Waiting to get on the bus to the resort

What did you do during the trip?

We spent our days relaxing on the beach or in the pool at the swim-up bar.  There were a few days that we participated in excursions (see below).  At night, we either went to the nightlife activities included in the trip, such as the Pirate Cave night club, which was epic, or, if there weren’t any planned outings, we just partied at the disco at the resort.  One night we even took the party down to the beach with some drinks and Cohiba cigars and had an awesome time.

One of the pools

One of the pools

Did you feel safe?

I felt safe almost all the time.  This may have been partly due to my naiveté as a 17 year old Canadian girl, but there really wasn’t a whole lot to worry about.  The only place I felt slightly uneasy was in Havana because of all the chaos of the city and the armed guards on every corner.  Stick close to your group, use the buddy system and know your surroundings and you will be fine.

Havana

Havana

Did you have lots of freedom?

Yes.  The S-Trip staff didn’t really mind what we did, as long as they knew where we were and that we were safe.  They’re mainly there to ensure your safety but they’re also a lot of fun.

Maybe they gave us a little too much freedom…?  Just kidding.

Maybe they gave us a little too much freedom…? Just kidding.

Were you well taken care of?

Yes. Without being overbearing, the S-Trip staff were awesome at taking care of us while we partied, making sure that we made it home safe, and ensuring that we were having a great time.  A few of our group members (including myself) got quite sick, and they were well prepared and equipped to make sure that we were taken care of.

The Tight and Bright Party at The Pirate Cave

The Tight and Bright Party at The Pirate Cave

Was the resort nice?

The resort was an average all-inclusive resort.  The rooms had everything you needed but weren’t over-the-top, the grounds were well maintained and beautiful, and the pools were clean and common areas comfortable.  The best part about this resort is the beach.  It had the most incredible white sand and was lots of fun to party on at night.

Resort Lobby

Resort Lobby

Which excursions do you recommend?

We loved the Havana tour (included in the price of the trip) – which took us to many famous landmarks, markets, and the Cohiba Cigar Factory.  We also did the catamaran trip to Cayo Blanco, which is no longer offered through S-Trip (at least I couldn’t find it on the website), but if you have the opportunity to go, do it.  It’s so beautiful.  Just be wary of laying on the front of the catamaran while sailing – the combination of the motion, the heat, and the hangover created a few unhappy campers on our trip.

Cayo Blanco

Cayo Blanco

What do you wish you had known?

Cuba is not famous for its’ food.  We didn’t have any fantastic meals in Cuba, even outside of the resort.  Go for the experience, not the food.  Also, we went at the end of June, which means that there is an almost-daily dumping of rain in the afternoon.  It could be a perfect, crystal-clear and cloudless day, and then, within a matter of 5 minutes, these ominous black clouds would roll in and absolutely pour rain for about a solid hour, and then they clear out just as fast as they came in.  It was crazy.

Ominous Storm Clouds

Ominous Storm Clouds

Any other tips?

If you haven’t witnessed any first-hand displays of poverty before, be prepared to see some pretty heartbreaking stuff in Cuba.  For the most part, the resort is free of this, but as you venture into Havana, you will see just how poor some of these people truly are.  Bringing a few small gifts for the children in Havana is a good idea.  However – be prepared to be ambushed by groups of screaming children if you do have any treats!

The Beautiful Beaches

The Beautiful Beaches

I would recommend S-Trip to anyone looking for a fun trip and a great party.  If you have any further questions at all, feel free to give me a shout at admin@adventuretoanywhere.com.

Happy Adventuring!

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The Awkward Crossroads of a Twenty-Something Wanderluster

I turned 23 on the 1st of August.  23 is basically 25, which is almost 30, which is only 20 years from 50, which should mean that I should probably have my shit together by now, does it not?  I remember when I was growing up, and everybody told me that my teenage years would be the most awkward, uncomfortable, embarrassing and uncertain years of my life.  Those people were wrong.  My awkward, mushroom-cut adolescence has nothing on my 20’s so far.

7 Years Old and ready for a Freakin' ADVENTURE

7 Years Old and ready for a Freakin’ ADVENTURE.  Told you I looked like a boy.

I moved out of my parents’ house two weeks after my twentieth birthday and came to Calgary, Alberta, to pursue my education and dreams of becoming a hairstylist at a top Aveda salon in the city (check).  Once I completed my year of education, landed the job I wanted and got back on my feet, I took a celebratory trip to Ixtapa, Mexico with my boyfriend, Sean, and that was it.  The Travel Bug that I had fought to keep quiet for years with textbooks, multiple crappy jobs, insane schedules and other distractions was awakened, and there was no turning back.

All of the plans and ideas I thought I had made for myself vanished.  No longer was it important to be “Debt Free by 23″ (that didn’t happen PS).  Owning my own home before I was 25 was no longer a priority.  My dreams of moving to California to pursue my career disappeared.  I decided that getting a dog didn’t make sense anymore.  I put off financing a new vehicle.  Nothing else mattered but Travel.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you may know that my love for travel was sparked at a very young age.  I was fortunate to have two parents in the tourism industry and we were able to travel a lot when I was growing up.  My first overseas trip was a 10-day tour of Germany, Austria and Prague with my high school when I was 16.  That was when I caught this strange and beautiful disease called Wanderlust that people were always talking about.  After 3 years at a standstill, traveling to Mexico rekindled the fire, and I began planning our trip to Southeast Asia almost immediately after arriving home.

16 years old in Salzburg, Austria

16 years old in Salzburg, Austria

The obvious issue here was finances.  I had raked up a significant, scary amount of student debt in only a year, was living pay check to pay check, had plans to move in with my boyfriend in the near future, and my expenses were only going to increase.  I was torn between quitting my job, selling everything I owned, picking up my life and hitting the road for a year or more (and hoping that Sean would come with me), or sucking it up, working hard to climb the career ladder, saving money like crazy to buy a house, and settling into domestic life at 22 years old.  Both options had appeal, but they were both so extreme.  I thought that there had to be a way to achieve some sort of balance.

I spent the next 10 months working 11 hour shifts, being extremely frugal with my spending, wearing the same few outfits in rotation and spending a lot of time at home watching Netflix.  With the help of some of my favourite money saving tips and a ton of fundraising for the volunteer portion of our trip, I managed to save enough to make Asia a reality.  Our 5 weeks in Southeast Asia were incredible, and after recouping at home for a little while afterwards, I came to realize that my appetite for travel was still as ravenous as ever.  Wanderlust truly is like a raging fire, and the more you feed it, the bigger and stronger it becomes.

At Ubud Palace in Bali, Indonesia

At Ubud Palace in Bali, Indonesia

So here I am today.  23 years old, happy to still be renting this lovely little condo with Sean, slowly making my way up the ladder at work, and trying to figure out what the next step is.  I have come to realize that selling everything and traveling long term is unrealistic for us.  I spent $20k on my education, and I intend to get my money’s worth.  To walk away from such a beautiful career that I enjoy so much with a company that supports me the way they do would be a massive mistake.  We have a lot of stuff in this condo, and, while traveling definitely made me appreciate minimalism, I like my stuff.  I don’t know if I like the idea of selling off all of my furniture and having absolutely nothing to come home to one day when I do eventually return.  I like routine.  Some weeks I just want to cook my own food in my own kitchen, go to yoga class, watch movies, sleep in my own bed and enjoy the comfort of my own home.

Long term travel is simply not in the cards for us right now, and that’s ok!  It took me so long to come to terms with this fact.  Being a traveler, seeing the world, owning a travel blog and living an adventurous life can not only be accomplished by being on the road 365 days a year.  This summer, I have spent a lot of time being a tourist in my own backyard.  I even wrote an article called “6 Ways To Live an Adventurous Life When You Can’t Travel“.  However, the time has come to begin planning another trip.  I’ve got a few things in the works right now, and I can’t wait to share them just as soon as they are finalized.

I think Travel means something different to everyone.  For some people, trips out to the cabin in the summer is enough.  For others, an all-inclusive vacation every winter does the trick.  Some of us require multiple destinations per year that are exotic and unexplored and unique.  Find out what Travel means to you, and then find a way to build it into the life you already have.  Ahhh…balance.

For me, that balance has come from a very structured budget in which I put a certain dollar amount per pay cheque into my “Adventure Fund” to pay for the year’s trips.  This way, I can keep my wonderful job, I can still be putting a little money aside for long-term savings such as a down payment, I can still enjoy going out with my friends every now and then, and yes, I can also still travel.  The trips may not be as extravagant or as extreme as I’d like them to be, but for now, this is what works.  All you can do, is do the best with what you have to work with, right now.  That doesn’t mean that it has to be this way forever.  I won’t always have to be a budget traveler.  I won’t always have to scrape together funds in order to live the life I want.  But for now, I do have to scrape, so scrape I shall.  It’s actually kind of fun.  You are really forced to get creative with ways to save and generate money!

Remember, what’s right for you may not be right for somebody else, and vice versa.  I am extremely blessed to have found a man who shares my passions both for travel and adventure as well as balance and stability.  I am also very lucky that we have a strong, trusting relationship in which we both feel able to travel on our own when the other one doesn’t have the means to join us.

Maybe all of your friends are beginning to get married, and you’re still hoping for that steamy, whirlwind romance while traveling through South America or Europe someday.  Maybe your best friend just bought her first home, and you are living in your parents’ basement in between the time you spend living out of your backpack overseas.  Or, maybe you’re close to somebody who lives a nomadic lifestyle, and you’re transitioning to life as a new parent.  Maybe you’re just not ready to grow up at all, and you’re booking a one-way ticket to anywhere but here.  Whatever your life looks like, whatever your future holds, go after it with all your heart.  Travel means something different to everyone.  Adventure means something different to everyone.  Find yours, and chase it forever.

Two Wheels and Freedom in Koh Lanta, Thailand

Two Wheels and Freedom in Koh Lanta, Thailand

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September 2014 Adventure Spotlight with Adam from adamexcell.com – Brier Island, Nova Scotia

This post is part of an ongoing monthly column called “Adventure Spotlight”.  If you’re interested in writing for ATA, click here.
Adam Excell is an extremely creative freelance photographer, designer and illustrator.  He approached me with the idea for this spotlight article, and I was so excited to share more about Canada’s beautiful East Coast with all of you.  If you’re interested in checking out more of Adam’s work, check out his website at adamexcell.com.
The Writer: 
Hey, my name is Adam Excell. I am a recently settled resident of beautiful Nova Scotia. I grew up in a distant suburb Southwest of Toronto. My parents are passionate about wild spaces, and exhaustively pursued the wild to expose my siblings and I to all its wonder. As a child, summer vacations were spent canoe tripping through Algonquin Park’s backcountry with my family. Before I could paddle my own boat, my parents would load a 17′ Prospector with all of our gear piled underneath my sister, brother, and I. Upon graduating high school, I headed for Kelowna and spent the winter season snowboarding every day. At the end of the season I moved to Calgary in pursuit of the rockies (and maybe a little cash flow). I worked 4 day weeks, and spent my time off in the mountains. During this time, I was fumbling around with Adobe Creative Suite designing t-shirts for an Australian print company. I had a ton of fun designing, and moved back to Southern Ontario for a graphic design degree. Upon receiving my degree, I landed a job with Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC). The company resonates with my insatiable hunger for adventure, and has enabled me to get involved in a number of new outdoor activities. This past year has seen me transfer with MEC to Halifax, Nova Scotia, as I have always sensed the maritimes demanding my attention.
Where: 
Brier Island, Westport, Nova Scotia.
beautiful cove

Beautiful Cove, Brier Island in the Distance

Why: 
Choosing a spot to highlight in Nova Scotia was far more difficult than I thought. I have just returned from my second trip to Brier Island, and feel inspired to share this most recent experience.
Top 5 Experiences (it was all one really great experience): 
My friend Allison and I left Halifax around 9am, with a hefty 5 hours of travel ahead of us (including 2 ferries to the isolated island). By Nova Scotian standards, this is about as far as you can possibly drive in any direction from Halifax and is often a deal breaker for locals.
Within the first hour we hit scenic Wolfville, the gateway to the Annapolis Valley. In the distance, the red cliffs towering above the Minas Basin burn bright in the morning sun. From here we continued westward through the valley, where small farms and vineyards occupy the roadside. After about 3 hours of easy highway driving we hit Digby, where I consider the bulk of the drive to end. I know from here there is nothing but winding country roads and spectacular views of the Bay of Fundy and St. Mary’s Bay. I notice myself slow down, as rushes of cool sea air and warm sunlight flow through my car. We stop at a couple of beaches on the Digby neck before making it to the first ferry to Long Island. We arrive 20 minutes before departure (both ferries cross once an hour), and we walk along the small shoreline. The fishing buildings are old and tired, though offer their unique aesthetic to our appreciative eyes.
After a quick 4 minute traverse across Petite Passage, we decide on a quick lunch at Cory’s Cafe (the haddock burger was super tasty, cash only). On our way across Long Island we notice signs for Beautiful Cove, and decide to make another stop. A gravel road cuts through a small collection of seaside dwellings, and we find ourselves looking out from the Eastern shore of the Bay of Fundy for our first time. The water rolls calmly below us, and we catch sight of the Brier Island Lodge across Grand Passage. The town of Westport sits quietly on the opposing shore, where brightly coloured wharfs and houses are stacked neatly in a row. After a quick romp around the cove, we make our way to the ferry. We arrive just on time, and make the quick crossing to Brier Island.
Before heading to the beach, I decide to check on availability at the lodge. To my delight they have 1 room for the night which will be a reasonable $99, phew. We make a 10 minute drive through the town and across the island to Big Pond Cove, a secluded stretch of seemingly untouched white sandy beach. We absorb what’s left of the afternoon sun and jump through frigid waves as long as we can. By 6pm we’re sun kissed, famished, and make our way back to the lodge.
Upon entering the lodge’s dining room, we are greeted by panoramic views of Grand Passage and familiar faces from my previous visit. In our state, we make quick work of the haddock dinner special, and talk with the lodge manager Jess about our day. I mention that we plan on heading behind the property and across the island to Seal Cove, an incredibly picturesque spot to watch the sun melt into the water. Jess informs us that there is a cabin just off of the trail, and that we are welcome to spend our evening having a fire overlooking the water. The walk along the beaten path takes all of 15 minutes, where we are welcomed by a low sun burning pink through the ocean spray, and a harrem of seals orbiting a partially submerged boulder.
We spent the night at the fireside, keeping the flames low enough to allow the starry sky an opportunity to show off its lustre. The dense band that is the Milky Way slowly creeped its way across the sky as hours trickled by. I had brought a couple of headlamps with me, which proved to be essential in our safe return to the lodge.
Secluded Cabin facing the Bay of Fundy at Seal Cove

Secluded Cabin facing the Bay of Fundy at Seal Cove

Sunset at Seal Cove

Sunset at Seal Cove

With morning came the bustle of visitors throughout the lodge preparing for another day they will spend on whale watching tours. The water is currently filled with pods of humpbacks, and sightings are nearly guaranteed. Breakfast was buffet style, with plenty of early morning cuisine standards to start our day off right. A thick fog blanketed Long Island, and a cool drizzle soaked the backs of the lodge’s resident sheep as they groomed the property’s lawn.
After checking out we made our way through town, and noticed a used bookstore on the main street with all books half priced. This was an opportunity I wasn’t ready to drive past. A lovely retired couple greeted us as the front of their home, and warned us things were a “bit messy” as new windows were being installed. They had converted the front rooms of their humble abode into a book store of sorts, and the treasure hunt began. With a couple of “new to me” books under my arm, we continued across the island to West Lighthouse. Not to our surprise, we had the whole coast to ourselves. A candy cane striped lighthouse stood proud on the rocky cliffs that overlooked the Bay of Fundy. Hours passed easily as we hopped from rock to rock, traversing this wildly untouched shoreline.
By mid afternoon, we felt ready to get back on the road and head slowly for Halifax. We stopped to check out the Balancing Rock on Long Island. The approach is about 20min, and requires visitors to use about 300 stairs as they make their way down the edge of a cliff facing St. Mary’s Bay. The landscape visible from the observation deck is reminiscent of the steep wooded shores of British Columbia. It’s a pretty amazing sight, and well worth the exercise.
Something I wish I’d known: 
The island is tremendously remote, and with better preparation we could have circumnavigated the whole island in an afternoon. I would’ve liked to have brought more Nalgene’s, snacks, and maybe a stove for a hot dinner during the hike.
Best Piece of Advice: 
Try as hard as you can to resist making too many plans, and go with the flow. Nova Scotia is amazingly under-utilized and the people are all very kind. Without plans and timelines, adventures are so much more rewarding. Talk to as many people as you can, as the people you see out and about are doing the same thing as you and can offer really great advice for things to see and do. Have fun out there!
When you make it out to beautiful Nova Scotia, be sure to spend a day or two visiting the fine folks on Brier Island. If you have any further questions, please feel free to email me at hello@adamexcell.com
West Lighthouse, Brier Island

West Lighthouse, Brier Island

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Royal Tyrrell Museum – Drumheller, AB

Most people are surprised to hear that I have lived in Calgary for over 60% of my life and had never been to the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller until this summer.  We picked a sunny day in August to make the drive out to Drumheller and visit the museum, and I am so glad we did.

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The Royal Tyrrell Museum is the only of its kind in Canada as it is dedicated exclusively to Palaeontology.  Named after Joseph Burr Tyrrell – the man whose discovery of the first Albertosaurus in 1884 led to fossil hunting in the Canadian Badlands – the museum first opened its’ doors on September 25, 1985.  Although the museum is relatively young in age, it has established itself as Canada’s authority of Palaeontology, attracts up to 150,000 visitors annually, and houses some of the largest and most important dinosaur fossils in all of the world.

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Admission to the museum is extremely reasonable.  Rates can be found here.  Depending on how in-depth you wish for your visit to be, I would suggest spending anywhere from 2 to 5 hours at the Museum.  It is a massive facility, and will likely prove to be quite exhausting to little patrons.  The entire site is wheelchair and stroller accessible, contains a cafe, picnic area, gift shop, and can house large groups as well.  For more information on museum amenities, click here.

Fossil Preparation Area

Fossil Preparation Lab

Fossil Preparation Lab

Fossil Preparation Lab

Interactive Q&A With a Palaeontologist

Interactive Q&A With a Palaeontologist

Now comes the part where I compare Drumheller to another location in the Alberta Badlands that we visited earlier this summer, Dinosaur Provincial Park.  Many people make the mistake of thinking that the two are one in the same – and are then disappointed to learn that they are over 2 hours apart.  If you’re looking for a fun place to take the kids, an educational day at a museum, or a rainy day activity – then Drumheller would be your best bet.  However, if you’re looking for spectacular badlands, camping, and hiking – then Dinosaur Provincial Park is the place for you.  After visiting Dinosaur, I will admit that I was slightly underwhelmed by the badlands and hoodoos of Drumheller.

We thoroughly enjoyed the education that the Royal Tyrrell Museum provided, but we didn’t have much interest in the surrounding trails.  In Dinosaur Provincial Park, there were a few fossil beds you could view and short write-ups that you could read, but the education couldn’t compare.  However, the hiking and camping, and the scenery itself, was second to none in Dinosaur.  So consider your priorities before you make a decision as to which location to visit – but if you can visit both, I would strongly suggest it, as they both have incredible things to offer!

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Shelly - The Resident Soft-Shelled Tortoise

Shelly – The Resident Soft-Shelled Tortoise

Have you ever been to The Royal Tyrrell Museum?  What did you experience?  How would you compare it to Dinosaur Provincial Park?

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Homemade Pumpkin Spice Latte

I know, I know, what do PSL’s have to do with travel, you ask?  Absolutely nothing.  But here’s the thing – I am absolutely obsessed with this fall favourite from Starbucks.  We have steamy, passionate love affairs every year when the leaves begin to turn.

The only thing is…as someone hell-bent on traveling the world…I don’t enjoy shelling out $5 a drink on these things.  Nor do I enjoy thinking about how much sugar and how many calories they contain.  I decided to try a homemade alternative this year, and I was absolutely blown away by how amazing it was.

Essentially, this recipe is for a homemade Pumpkin Spice Syrup that can be made ahead and stored in the fridge for up to 10 days, and you can add it to your morning coffee or latte.

Homemade Pumpkin Spice Latte

Homemade Pumpkin Spice Latte

Here’s what you’ll need for the Pumpkin Spice Syrup:

-1 1/2 cups water

-1/2 cup honey or maple syrup (I used honey)

-1 tsp ground cinnamon

-3 tsp pumpkin pie spice

3 tbsp canned or fresh pureed pumpkin (note: NOT pumpkin pie filling!)

Directions:

Combine and whisk together water, honey, cinnamon, pureed pumpkin and pumpkin pie spice in a saucepan.  Bring to a rolling boil, whisking frequently.  Let cook for approximately 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow the syrup to cool before transferring it to a mason jar for storage in the fridge.  If you’d prefer it without the pumpkin fibres, you can drain the mixture in cheesecloth, although the fibres cook down to almost nothing and didn’t seem to bother me at all.

For the Pumpkin Spice Pumpkin Spice Latte (if you don’t have a fancy latte maker):

Brew your favourite coffee or espresso.  Heat either milk or cream (I usually use cream) in the microwave (or a steamer if you’re lucky) for about 30 seconds, and then froth the milk if you own a frother or a handheld frother.  (I got my handheld frother at Stokes for around $5).  Combine coffee with desired amount of Pumpkin Spice Syrup in your favourite coffee cup, add frothed milk or cream, and garnish with cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice if desired.  Proceed to cry tears of sheer bliss.  Enjoy!

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