Photo credit: Xavier Sotomayor

Last night I drove my daughter to a call-back for a modelling gig (think second interview). Actually, this one was more of an acting job. My brother had warned us that call-backs were much more difficult than initial auditions, so my girl was a little on edge, and a bit nervous.

Her name was called and about 20 minutes later she emerged from the audition room, her face the vision of worry and doubt. Disappointment. She began texting furiously to her friends but silent otherwise for the traffic-clogged drive home, aside from quickly expressing her frustration about her tremor (she has an essential tremor, and we’ve yet to find a solution to effectively managing it— any and all suggestions are welcome).

As her mother, I of course know her, and know not to initiate conversation when the vibe is high tension— she will talk when she’s ready. So I just sat there in the car next to her, and drove us home. Once home, she bolted for her room and shut the door.

I wanted to hug her and tell her that failure is inevitable in life. You win some, you lose some, as the saying goes. But I know it still sucks. Failure can play on our insecurities about ourselves and whisper in our ear that maybe we aren’t good enough. Make friends (or even acquaintances) with failure, and you start to realize that you are in fact, good enough, but maybe just not a fit in this particular case, or maybe this one thing just isn’t going to work out in our favour right now. Until we embrace failure as a normal part of the process of reaching our goals, it will always beat us up and leave us devastated.

There is a way to avoid failure, however: Do nothing. Don’t reach for goals. Play it safe— always. But what kind of life is that? Avoid failure and stagnate; embrace failure and grow!

She emerged a couple of hours later, feeling lighter as she snuggled up to me on the sofa. We didn’t say much about the day, but I did share with her a possible audition in which her competitors would have lost to her, because we all have weaknesses and things we are better at (and worse at), than others. We are not all built for everything. I reminded her that she will probably have 10 losses for every win in this industry, but that it’s okay. It just means she need to dust off the disappointment and look ahead to the next audition, the next opportunity.

And then the next morning we got an email from her agency. They were calling her back.

So there you go. The day before she felt she was losing and now she’s had a win.

Two sides of one coin, they are both equal and neutral parts of trying things and reaching for goals. May we really know that failure is not to be feared but to be embraced, and may we teach our kids the same early on.

 

 

Photo credit: Emma Simpson

Now that I’ve been working full-time for just over seven months, I realize I have put some personal goals on the back burner over the past little while. No need to beat myself up about it (or ever!), as life constantly changes, and with it, a change in priorities often follows.

Remember way back, Stephen Covey’s mantra of “beginning with the end in mind?” Well it’s kind of along that thinking that I have recently pondered what I want to accomplish next. And although for me, it is probably impossible to plan for the long-term (with this current job being a contract), I can set some short-term goals and start working towards them. I encourage you to bring your focus back to you, and figure out what it is you want to start, or maybe just get better at.

Exercise

Exercise suffered when I started this job but the last few weeks I’ve started getting up off my a$$ and moving. In fact, I’ve started setting my alarm for 5:45am each workday morning to start the day off with a 30 minunte walk/run, with a goal of running the whole way eventually. If my schedule allows, I also go for another 30 minute or so walk after dinner. I’ve also returned to exercising with free weights, stretching and other exercise in the evenings while I’m watching tv.

Chopsticks

Yes, you’ve read that right! I bought a set of chopsticks and have been using them instead of a fork for every meal. It’s a small, kind of silly goal, but I want to be as proficient in using them as I am with a fork. The struggle is real, my friends.

Reading

A long term goal of mine is to one day write a book, and I know I have along way to go to becoming a kick-a$$ writer, so I’ve started reading again – one chapter before bedtime – for the joy of it, but also knowing that reading is going to contribute to my bigger goal of writing better. My books of choice are currently travel memoirs (big surprise!).

And you? What goals have you set lately? Let me know in the comments.

Photo by Casey Allen.

Photo by Casey Allen.

One of my goals this year is to use this platform to write about some of the tougher issues in travel and the world that mean something to me. I feel I may be one of the many people who have found a new love for activism over the past few months, perhaps a bit of positivity that has come out of the changes south of the Canadian border.

So when I was notified of a missed #CultureTrav twitter chat hosted by the lovely Nicolette Orlemans and Jessica Lipowski, I was bummed I missed it, but at the same time inspired to write about the topic from the chat.

I have to admit, I’ve really changed my views in this area over the past couple of years. I think it’s been a combination of becoming a vegan and just reading a lot on animal welfare around the world. I started viewing animals differently, realizing they should have a right to simply live out their lives in peace and freedom. So I took a few of the questions from the chat and added my answers.  I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below!

Q: How do you think wildlife and culture intersect?

A: I definitely feel that wildlife and culture should intersect in such a way that both are supported and respected. Valuing life, whether it be that of a human or animal above profit and entertainment can go a long way towards ensuring a healthy wildlife-culture balance. I have to say the best place I saw this in action was in Costa Rica. It really felt like a peaceful co-existence between culutre and wildlife. It wasn’t unusual to see wild horses walking along a road or beach, or howler monkeys in trees close to where people were living. Of course it wasn’t perfect – I remember seeing a baby monkey lying dead on the road due to electrocution from the wires above. I think it would be challenging to have perfection, but I think a lot of other countries could make improvements.

Q: Give a shout-out to organizations and companies you applaud for supporting conservation. What sets them apart?

A: There are a couple of conservation organizations I support. In elephant sanctuaries, I follow both Elephant Nature Park and The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, and both take a slightly different approach to animal protection.

Elephant Nature Park in Northern Thailand is where Lek, her husband Derrick and team (including volunteers) rescue elephants and other animals from lives of captivity, work and entertainment, to a life of freedom at the sanctuary. They post numerous videos about the work they do, including the journey and elephant will take getting to the sanctuary. They also provide education on elephants and their right to live a free life. Their place is open to volunteers who can spend a day or extended period of time time at the sanctuary helping to care for the elephants.

The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee also takes in elephants who have lived hard lives at the hands of humans and allows them to live out their days in freedom. Their approach is different in that they try to duplicate an elephant’s natural habitat as much as possible, which doesn’t involve interaction with people (aside from the sanctuary workers). They don’t allow visitors or volunteers to interact with the elephants, but fans can watch them in their natural habitat through live, online streaming.

I have a lot of respect for the work Mexico does in protecting the turtles that nest along their Riviera Maya coast and feed along the ocean reef. I recently read that Akumal beach is now closed for snorkeling due to tourist overcrowding that was having a negative effect on the health and habitat of the turtles. I have snorkeled in that very spot and have been in awe of the giant turtles feeding on the grasses growing from the ocean floor. And I would love to do it again, but not at their expense. I’m happy the Federal Environmental Protection Agency is keeping watch and has taken action with the health of the reef and marine wildlife in mind.

Q: How can we be mindful of wildlife while traveling? Share your tips!

A: The best way we can help wildlife is with our dollars (or pesos!). If you see baby tigers being used for photo opportunities in Mexico or elsewhere, don’t engage. They have been taken from the their mothers and are often drugged to be docile around tourists. The handlers continue to exploit wild animals because of demand – tourists are supporting them with their dollars. Don’t pay to see animals living in cages or aquariums, or being forced to perform. Seek out opportunities to see animals in their natural, beautiful environments. And if you want to do more, support the rescue organizations and sanctuaries that are working to save animals from being exploited with your voice and funds.

Thanks again to Nicole and Jessica for hosting #CultureTrav chat on Twitter each month! If you love travel and culture you may want to join the conversation around a different topic each month. Visit the CultureTrav website or do a search for #CultureTrav on Twitter.

Let’s be real here. Travel is not always possible.

My last trip was in 2015 and it was a big one at that. Train travel through Europe over 12 days with my teen. That was living the dream, at least my dream.

But in the year and a half since then, life has gotten in the way. I was unemployed for 14 months (thankfully I now have a job, at least for the next year). And now we have to move.

Travel just isn’t in the cards for me again just yet.

For someone who loves to travel, this has felt like a set back at times.

Have you ever been held back from travelling? Did you find a creative way to scratch the travel itch?

Here’s what I’m doing about it…

This is Just Temporary

My mom gave me some simple words of advice many years back, and it was this: “Nothing lasts forever.” So if you too find yourself in lean times at the moment, know that this is just how things are today, but tomorrow they may be completely different. Nothing lasts, and almost everyone has them at some point in their lives. Look forward to a better future!

Read

I’m telling you – pick up a book set in another country (and preferably a country you’ve never been to) and be transported. You will learn some interesting things about the culture, food and lifestyle of some faraway land, that may just inspire you to add visiting that destination to your bucket list. Reading 1,000 Days in Venice planted within me a desire to return to that crazy city, but in the off-season time, when it is much less crowded.

Plan

Okay, so you can’t travel today. Or even in the foreseeable future. Where do you want to go once the clouds clear and your world gets brighter? Start listing your dream destinations. Law of attraction and all that states that like attracts like; what you think about you will attract more of. Think like a traveller and start planning.

Become a Local Tourist

I have lived in and around Toronto all of my life but had only visited the CN Tower once until my past birthday in October, when I decided to celebrate the day by walking along the Edgewalk. Call me crazy, but it was exhilarating and frightening, all at the same time. Become a local tourist and visit parts of your city you keep “meaning to visit” or haven’t had the time to get to in a while. Make the time, get out and explore, try new restaurants, take some cool photos and comb every inch of your city. And then share you photos on Instagram or wherever you’re hanging out online these days. Sometimes we are so close to a place, we don’t realize how cool it really is.

That’s a Wrap

So that’s it for me. I realize this stage is temporary. I’m currently finishing up 1,000 Days in Tuscany (written by the same author as the title mentioned above). I’m thinking about where I want to visit next (Holbox, Mexico and pretty much all of Ireland). And I’m committing to getting out into the many lovely Toronto neighbourhoods. Follow me on Instagram to see the photos that come out of my local travels!

 

 

 

 

The decision had been made to visit Merida. I had been traveling to Playa del Carmen for a few years on my own, and after frequenting Tulum on nearly every trip, I wanted to branch out further and see more of Mexico. With just my backpack, a map and an idea of a hotel I had read about, I set out. Nervous yes, but pushing through. I could do this.

After hopping on a morning bus from Playa del Carmen, I settled into my seat for the 4-hour trip. It ended up taking more like 5 hours after a couple of stops along the way, so I arrived in the “white city” at around 5pm, around the time I would assume residents were finishing up work, as the streets were quite busy with foot traffic.

I really tried to find the hotel I had read about, but the map wasn’t making much sense and I had this sinking feeling I was lost. I stopped to talk to a security guard standing outside an important-looking building, and with his little English and my little Spanish, he was able to point me in the right direction.

It was soon after this that I met Alejandro.

He was walking home from work that Monday afternoon and I was heading in the direction set out by the guard. We walked together, weaving in and out of the rush of people, until our eyes met and we smiled. I learned that his name was Alejandro, he was Mayan and was born and raised in Merida. He spoke English! I asked him if he could help me find my hotel and he suggested another hotel- one “much more beautiful, more reasonably priced, and closer to the Plaza Grande,” he said. I was in.

After checking into Hotel Dolores Alba for the next two nights (I especially loved the many Frida Kahlo paintings hanging throughout the lobby), Alejandro was again kind enough to show me around central Merida, all the while testing my Spanish (or lack thereof) and making sure I knew my way back to my hotel at every turn. We visited a Mayan textile and pottery store, enjoyed a fresh fish dinner (this was in my pre-vegan days!), washed down with a mojito while we overlooked the Plaza Grande from a nearby restaurant balcony. “Where is your hotel located from here?” He continued to test me. Ice cream and a free outdoor concert with traditional Yucatan dress and dancing at the Plaza Grande was next. Alejandro marked up my map of Merida, highlighting all the “must see” places for me for the following day.

Merida is a very old and beautiful city (and if I had taken better quality photos, I could have share them here!). Founded in 1542, Merida is the capital of the Yucatan state of Mexico is is very safe to visit. Its Spanish roots can be found in much of the architecture around town.

The following day I took the Carnavalito City Tour bus that left from the Plaza Grande for an awesome tour of the city. Oh yeah, while waiting for the bus, a much older man sitting a little ways away from me pointed at his arm and then at me and proclaimed, “blanca!” (white). Yes sir, I am white. Apparently it was a compliment.

I saw Alejandro again on the second night and we decided to end the very busy evening of touring around the city over one last mojito. Alejandro said it was considered Mayan tradition for him to buy this one (I had paid up to this point, which I considered a thank-you for his kindness in helping me find a hotel and for being a super tour guide).

We walked to a nearby bar and he once again asked me where my hotel was from where we were. My guess was wrong again, as he patiently pointed the opposite direction. I sat down at a table and ordered a mojito and Alejandro said he would be right back– he just needed to get some money from a bank machine.

Alejandro didn’t return to the bar that night and I never saw him again. I don’t know what happened to him, but I was thankful for the time he spent showing me his beautiful city. My experience would not have been the same without him. After finishing my my mojito, I paid the waiter and walked back to my hotel. And I knew how to get there– Alejandro had made sure of it.

As I lay in bed last night, feeling a little anxious about the first day back at work after the holidays (I’m on my own now!), one thing became crystal clear: I can’t allow this new job – as much as I’ve been enjoying it – to take over my entire life.

It’s so easy, for those of us who spend so much time at our jobs, and like what we do, to become consumed and put other meaningful things on hold, sometimes indefintely.

So in light of the new year, and my fabulous new job and schedule, here are three things I’ve been thinking about for how I’d like 2017 to look:

  1. I want to find some ways to exercise that will replace the walking outside I did all spring and summer and to supplement some of the time I spend at the gym. I’m thinking a weekly pilates class and a weekly visit to an indoor climbing gym to do some bouldering, and maybe even a yoga class on the weekend.
  2. I will plan for a little bit of travel. This current role I’m in isn’t permanent, so until it (or something else) is, I won’t be travelling as much as I normally would. So far I’ve got New York city for Easter weekend. I’m thinking about a road trip in the summer and Ireland in October, but these latter two are just thoughts for now.
  3. I’ve been feeling for a while like I want to contribute to some of the social and environmental issues in the world that are meaningful to me, and so I’m thinking that I will start using this platform – this blog, to accomplish that. I’m not sure exactly what it will look like, but I want to keep it positive and perhaps showcase solutions to problems rather than just rag on what’s wrong with the world. I want people to be motivated to be a part of making this world a better place for all of us – people/cultures, animals and earth/food.

What about you? Have you made any resolutions? Have you been pulled to do something you’ve been putting off? Please let me know in the comments!

As a lifelong lover of walking and hiking, I was thrilled to do research on a number of hiking spots around the world for an article I was writing for a client. I decided to include parts of the article here on my blog, even though I have not visited even one of these wonderful places.

For me, the beauty of travel includes dreaming that comes before the actual trip, and these places are definitely locations I dream of one day seeing. Hopefully you too love the dreaming that goes into planning a trip. And if you love hiking, you might just find some inspiration with these little-known hiking spots around the world. If you have any places of your own to add, please do so in the comments below!

Kalalau Trail, Kauai, Hawaii, United States

One of the most beautiful areas of the United States, Kauai, Hawaii would be an amazing place to stop to hike and camp. Kalalau Trail is part of the Hawaii State National Parks system and runs nearly 18 km each way along a beautiful coast, from Ke’e Beach to Kalalau Valley. Not for the faint of heart, this challenging but breathtakingly beautiful hike runs along the Na Pali Coast and takes between three to five days to complete.

The drier months of May to September see more hikers on the trail, so if you are looking to skip the crowds, plan to do this hike between April and October.

Photo by Mark GohPhoto by Mark Goh

MacLehose Trail, New Territories, Hong Kong

Hong Kong as a hiking destination probably fascinates me more than any other. I mean, come on, Hong Kong a hiking destination? Really? Apparently, the New Territories surrounding Hong Kong are very rural and quiet, providing a great place to strap on those hiking boots, especially if you are planning to visit Hong Kong anyway!

Named after Sir Murray MacLehose, the longest serving governor of Hong Kong who established the Country Parks and was himself an avid hiker, the trail passes through a variety of natural scenery including beaches and mountains.

Nearly 100km in length, the MacLehose Trail was historically used for fitness competitions by the British Army. As such, this trail is quite challenging, starting at the eastern beaches before ascending into the tropical mountains and winding past Tai Mo Shan, the highest peak at 957 metres high.

Although this hike takes five or six days to complete, much has been done to accommodate hikers, such as the addition of stone steps and pathways, free camping and the odd food vendor here and there offering refreshments. The best time to hike this trail is between November and March, when humidity is at its lowest.

Queen Charlotte Track, New Zealand

Located on the north end of New Zealand’s South Island, this 71 km trail runs from Ship Cove (where Captain Cook was known to frequent during the 1700’s!) to Anakiwa, and will take you between three and five days to complete.

What’s great about this hike is that due to the region’s temperate climate, it can be tackled year-round. This trail also offers accommodation choices after a day of hiking over sunny hills and along the dragon’s back ridge, ranging from camping to luxury lodges.

Long Range Traverse, Newfoundland, Canada

The Long Range Traverse is a seasoned hiker’s dream, especially if what you are seeking is solitude. With the absence of marked trails, this jaunt through Gros Morne National Park will take you 40 km through wild Canadian backcountry, over six days.

Starting at the Western Brook Pond you will use a map and compass (memories of Boy Scouts!) to make your way to the ending point at Gros Morne Mountain, a peak that reaches 806 metres high above the Gulf of St. Lawrence, stopping at designated camps along the way. It’s probably a little too advanced for me, but if you are an experienced hiker, it maybe just what you’ve been looking for.

It’s best to hike the Long Range Traverse between July and September, when weather conditions are at their best.

ontario beach days

Way back at the beginning of the year I had asked for advice on what beaches to visit in Ontario. I wasn’t taking any big trips this summer (not like last summer!) so I wanted a few ideas for day trips. Here are the three best beaches in Ontario I visited, and worth the drive if you are looking for a way to spend one of the few remaining summer days! All three of  these beaches are less than a three-hour drive from Toronto and can definitely be done as day trips.

Sandbanks Beach

sandbanks beach

Located in pretty Prince Edward County and east of Toronto, Sandbanks Beach sits on Lake Ontario. This beach is part of Sandbanks Provincial Park so there was a fee to enter, but the sand was light and powder-fine, rare for a lake beach and felt much like the Caribbean. The water was cold, but I was there in early July so that may have been a factor. With the summer we’ve had here in Ontario, I’m sure things have warmed up since then!

Longpoint Beach

longpoint beach

Southeast of Toronto is Longpoint Beach on Lake Erie. This was the first Lake Erie beach I had ever been to, and I was impressed, to say the least. Coarser sand that really heats up in the summer and I wondered if walking on that sand was anything like walking on coals. I tried to get from my blanket to the warm water as quickly as possible while still looking cool (I don’t think I succeeded). And yes, that’s not a misprint – the water was warm! This beach is part of Longpoint Provincial Park so again, there is a fee, but it is so worth it. It was probably my favourite of the bunch.

Southampton Beach

southampton beach

Southampton Beach is located northwest of Toronto, on Lake Huron. While not new to me, it is typically a quiet beach with nice sand and great if you prefer avoiding the crowds. I have a feeling the reason it never gets very busy is because entry into the lake is a blanket of stones and pebbles that can make getting in and out difficult. On this trip I discovered a new little spot at the southern part of the beach where entry into the lake is sandy as well! I kind of felt like I found a jewel that had been right under my nose all these years.

prayer

Las month I was fortunate to be invited to attend the Honda Indy in Toronto. I was treated to a box seat with food, drink and awesome, front-row seats. Thankfully, they also provided ear plugs!  Never having been to a race (except stock car racing up north when I was a child), I hadn’t realized how freaking LOUD a racing event could be!

race car

I am an observer by nature and in a new situation I am taking it all in. And so before the main race that afternoon, in addition to the singing of the U.S. and Canadian National anthems, the announcer prayed for the drivers. Over the loudspeaker. A Christian prayer.

I was and still am, puzzled by this. At a time and in a country where inclusiveness is paramount, I found it odd that a Christian prayer was permitted at a public event. This wasn’t a church service where people of a similar faith gather. It was for anyone and everyone to attend, so I wondered why it wasn’t religion-neutral or at least, a little more inclusive.

Now I understand the “why” about the prayer. Anyone who has witnessed an accident on the track can understand the role of prayer, as accidents are often devastatingly fatal. I get that. My issue wasn’t with the “why,” it was with the prayer itself. And it’s not like I was offended, per se, I grew up as a Christian. I can appreciate a prayer said in Jesus name. But if I were Jewish, Muslim, or Atheist even, how would I feel about being at the races that day? Would I have felt like I were on the outside?

race car toronto

I did some research via Google and my limited understanding is that Nascar racing has its roots in the southern U.S. And perhaps the majority of race car drivers and fans are Christians, I don’t know. I still feel though, that there could be a way for the Indy to be religion-inclusive while staying true to its roots. Maybe a few words could be said before the prayer, inviting people from all faiths to join together in prayer or positive thoughts.

After all, isn’t the purpose to wish good fortune and protection for the drivers by all?

 

Old Montreal

If I could recommend you see one Canadian city this summer, I would say, visit Montreal.

Stand Up Paddle Boarding on the St. Lawrence River

Stand Up Paddle Boarding on the St. Lawrence River

On an island located east of Toronto in the province of Quebec, I’ve always kind of considered Montreal the sexy, slightly European girl next door. She speaks French, is creative and fashionably dressed, and she’s famous for her poutine – what’s not to love?

This summer I was lucky enough to visit a friend in Montreal, and this was the first time I had been to the city during the summer months. My friend lives in the desirable Plateau neighbourhood and honestly, I want  to live there too now. Parks, shops, people out walking, biking, kids and dogs, it just seemed like a family-friendly, safe, and nice place to be. I even saw it ranked on a blog as the coolest neighbourhood in Montreal to live, and I agree!

We spent the first day walking for hours, exploring so much of the city, it was awesome. The Gay Village area was having an open art show along a pedestrian walkway that went on for several blocks and we walked through, admiring some of the art along the way. This city is mad creative.

Doodling on a car in the Village.

Doodling on a car in the Village.

Old Montreal was packed with people walking, sitting on patio’s and watching soccer (or football) in bars and pubs or gathering in groups on the street outside restaurants for the final minutes of a game. There seemed to be this feeling of festivity in the air wherever we went that was really great.

Old Montreal

We ate pizza and drank wine in Old Montreal.

We spent the early evening  taking in the views of Old Montreal from the rooftop patio at Terrasse sur l’Auberge, which is where the first photo in this post was taken. The other side of the patio provided an alternate view – the waterfront.

Views from the rooftop patio at Terrasse sur l'Auberge.

Views from the rooftop patio at Terrasse sur l’Auberge.

A tourist attraction that just opened this summer is the new observatory on the the 46th floor of the iconic Place Ville Marie building, located smack dab in the middle of the financial district. Au Sommet Place Ville Marie is floor to ceiling glass windows offering 360* panoramic views  of the city. What a great idea – Montreal, I am so impressed! On the 45th floor, visitors are treated to an interactive exhibition on everything Montreal, such as food, history, neighbourhoods, hockey or a host of other subjects of interest.  I thought it was awesome.

Oh, the views! Notice them reflected on the shiny, black walls.

Oh, the views! Notice them reflected on the shiny, black walls.

A birds' eye view of Mont Royale.A birds’ eye view of Mont Royale.

More city views.More city views.

On the first night I was there, the waterfront was buzzing with activity. There was some kind of rib cook-off with groups competing for trophies, hologram art installations projected onto buildings (which looked really cool in the darkness of night), Cirque du Soleil, and evening fireworks. Whew!

Evening reflections at the waterfront.

Evening reflections at the waterfront.

If you are unable to make it to Montreal this summer, plan for next. In 2017 they will be celebrating 375 years and rumour has it, this birthday bash will be like no other. Montreal is gong to be the place to be. I can’t wait!

 

If you enjoyed this post you may also like To Ottawa, In Search of a New Tradition or Quebec City: How Sweet It Is.