23-Hour Layover in Beijing

Beijing

Being capital of the People’s Republic of China, Beijing is the nation’s political, economic, and cultural center. Located in north China, close to the port city of Tianjin and partially surrounded by Hebei Province, it also serves as the most important transportation hub and port of entry. It is now known as one of the most popular travel destinations in the world, with about 140 million Chinese tourists and 4.4 million international visitors in a year.

24-hour Visa-Free Transit

The 24-hour Visa-Free Transit in China, also called the 24-hour Transit Without Visa (24-hour TWOV for short), regulates that visa is not required for air, train, and ship passengers transiting in mainland China for a stay of no more than 24 hours before heading for a third country or region. It is also possible to get a 72 or 144-hour transit visa with similar terms and restrictions.

Since our fight from Canada landed in PEK at 4:25pm, and our connecting flight to our final destination in Japan departed at 3:45pm the next day, we had nearly 24 hours layover time. I had booked a hotel near Wangfujing, hired a chauffeur for the next day, and had all detailed information of our planned layover in Beijing in both English and Mandarin, putting all chances on our sides. We only carried a small backpack each and had our luggages sent directly to our final destination. After reading loads of forums about mixed situations that happened to Canadian travellers during this political dispute, we were quite surprised that the whole process went so effortlessly (at least it did for us). We got our transit visa approved in no time, and passed customs successfully. We exited the airport and walked to the taxis. I was glad to have our hotel printed in Mandarin –it made up for an efficient, timely and appreciated communication with the driver.

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Wangfujing Street

Wangfujing Street is the rich affluent shopping area of Beijing including many famous western brands and stores. After walking down the main street, we arrived to the snack street.

Wangfujing Food Street is Beijing’s local foodies paradise. Amongst locals and tourists, we meandered through the crowd, our eyes wandering with curiosity on all to see such as scorpions, snakes, bats, and tarantula on sticks. We weren’t brave enough to try much (after being sick in the Sahara Desert, I sadly tend to be more hesitant of what I eat when I know I’ll be away from restrooms for a longer period of time – however this is a personal experience and I encourage everyone to try street foods), but I couldn’t be on Wangfujing Snack Street without trying out a scorpion. So I did it! The feeling of the fried legs touching the roof of my mouth was scarier than the taste itself.  JF had 2 and I’m sure he would had have more. I was content with my one bite. It’s those little things on my bucket list that make me so happy to check off. 🙂

Food 

When I was travelling in Tibet back in 2010, the food was interestingly a hard one for me to grasp. I like to think of myself as an adventurous foodie, trying whatever is served in front of me. Having this culinary curiosity, I got the chance to try some marvellous (and very interesting) flavours around the world. But from my experience in China,  Chinese cuisine never really much agreed to my palate. I’m not talking about American Chinese foods, but the real, authentic Chinese cuisine. Maybe one of the hardest thing is understanding the menu (which will likely be solely in Mandarin). The photos helped, but don’t necessarily reveal what kind of meat nor ingredients are part of the main dish. I found that there’s some sort of parfum, an interesting fragrance in the plates that we ordered. My partner ordered 3 meat dishes, and I ordered 3 veggie plates. My veggies were quite tasty, but I could only have one bite of his (plus I’m not much of a meat eater). I would definitely love to go back to China and explore more of their culinary world.

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Great Wall of China

Previously, back in Canada, I hired John Yellowcar whom I found on TripAdvisor. John is a Beijing, English speaking native who’s been chauffeuring visitors around the city for nearly 20 years. My correspondence with John the weeks prior to our trip reassured me. He gave us valuable information on taxis, airport customs, translation, etc. John picked us up at our hotel the morning of January 1st at 6:45am in his clean and spacious vehicle. At our great astonishment, the roads were empty due to New Year’s Day (January 1st). It took us around 1 hour to reach the Mutianyu entrance of the Great Wall. John helped us get tickets and directed us to the entrance where we had the liberty to venture on our own. By 8am we were in the gondola heading up to the stoned path. 

John picked us up at 11:30am where he had dropped us off. We headed back to the airport in no time. By 1pm we were back in PEK going through customs. Hiring John allowed us to see a great wonder of the world with a peace of mind. I would highly recommend him, or any great driver, if you have a layover in Beijing.

PEK Airport

PEK Airport doesn’t stand in my top favourite airports. But it’s not bad. Bathrooms are decent, offering both western and squat toilets. Although not very big, PEK offers a few shops and restaurants. Wifi is free, but remember that Internet censorship in China is among the most extensive censorships in the world due to a wide variety of legal and administrative regulations (social medias, YouTube and Safari didn’t work, although we managed to play Words with Friends). If you have a long layover, I strongly encourage you to look at ways to get a Visa-Free Transit to explore some parts of Beijing rather than spend it at the airport. 

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Safety in Beijing

It’s hard to have an opinion of a place while only being there for a day. But the general impression I got though, is that the streets felt much safer than what I expected. There wasn’t a time during this layover I felt threatened nor hassled. I am unsure if the police presence in the streets near Wangfujing were in conjonction with the western New Year’s, but the crowds were happy, the merchants helpful and friendly, and the streets rather clean. Even though I was traveling the streets with my boyfriend, I felt it would have been safe enough for me to travel solo. Again, I chose to travel by taxi and hired an English speaking private chauffeur, to ease things and save on time. And like in any other big cities in the world, you always have to exercise normal cautions. 

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Conclusion

The cleanliness of the streets, the kindness of the people and safety of the neighbourhoods definitely improved my perception of China. If you ever have the chance to have a long layover in Beijing, jump on the opportunity to explore the beauties of the city’s ancient past. I know I will come back. Hopefully for longer than a layover.

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Top 10 Things To Do in Hakuba for the Most Epic Winter Trip

Maybe you are the proud owner of an Epic Pass, or Hakuba has just been on your list for a while now. Either way, you’re excited to meet face to face with the breathtakingly beautiful Northern Japanese Alps and eat Japow for breakfast and traditional foods at night. 

Surely, Hakuba stands out as one of Japan’s top winter resort areas, offering some of the best winter sports action in Japan. The host of the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics consists of 9 ski resorts stretched across a broad valley, and provides more terrain, vertical rise and advanced ski and snowboard slopes than anywhere in the country. Abundant snow falls and excellent powder conditions make Hakuba a continuous top choice of skiers and snowboarders from around the world.

I recently got back from an amazing snowboarding trip to the Japanese Alps, and wanted to share with you my top things to do in Hakuba for the most epic winter trip. 

1. Book a Ryokan 

Ryokan are Japanese style inns found throughout the country, especially in hot spring resorts. Renting a ryokan is an amazing opportunity to experience the traditional Japanese lifestyle and hospitality. A typical ryokan has a relatively large entrance hall, with couches and chairs where guests can sit and talk. Shoes are removed at the entrance, and if slippers are provided, they must be taken off on tatami floors. The rooms offer elements such as tatami floors, sliding paper doors and windows, futon beds, Japanese style baths, a low table and floor chairs, sliding doors and some supplies for making tea.

Most ryokans feature common bathing area, usually segregated by gender, using the water from an onsen (hot spring) if any are nearby. High-end ryokan may provide private bathing facilities as well.

Renting a ryokan is a special and relaxing experience that everyone should take the opportunity to try.

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Our lovely host, Mayumi, at Pension Funny Inn

2. Soak in an Onsen (Japanese Hot Springs)

The hot springs of Nagano are treasured throughout Japan as some of the best. Among the most famous, the Hakuba Valley’s hot springs are renowned for their strong alkaline waters which leave the skin soft and smooth. The mineral water of the onsens is also famous for its healing properties, perfect for soothing sore muscles after a day in the mountains. Onsens in Japan have been used as a cure for physical ailments, as well for their beautifying properties. Soaking in an open-air bath under the backdrop of the Northern Alps after a day on the slopes is one of the highlights of a Hakuba winter vacation.

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Our private onsen at Pension Funny Inn

If your accommodation doesn’t have an onsen, click here for a list of local hot springs. And don’t forget to bathe your tootsies in Tsugaike Kogen in the foot onsen after a big day on the slopes (located near the base of the gondola).

3. Pack Up at the Convenience Store

While we enjoyed eating on lunch on the mountain and going out for dinner, we decided to pack up at the store for quick-to-eat, cheap and yummy breakfast goodies.

Onigiri is the staple of comfort food in Japan, and a very popular dish for breakfast. These rice balls have so many flavours like salmon, umeboshi, Japanese pickled plum, bonito flakes, different kinds of fish roes and so on. One onigiri in the morning and a cup of green tea kept me full for a whole morning on the slopes. Quick, healthy and delicious!

Also, nothing is greater than to start the day with a nice and warm cup of soup (your accommodation will most likely have hot water available at all time).

We loaded our bags with Ramen noodles, onigiris, egg salad sandwiches (incredibly yummy) and fruits (try the Nagano apples they are sublime). And of course sake, local beers and plum wine.

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Snacks for day 1 in Hakuba

4. Ride the TsugaPow DBD Trees

Located north end of Hakuba Valley, the resort of Tsugaike Kogan offers one of the best powder ski areas in Hakuba. For intermediate and advanced powder and trees seekers, the TsugaPow DBD (Double Black Diamond) area offers some of the best lift accessible powder runs in the valley. A 15-min safety course highlighting dangers, risks, avalanches, wildlife and rules is required to pass the gates.

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Riding the Tsugapow DBS trees

5. Hire a Backcountry Guide

The Japanese Alps receive an average of 12+ meters of beautiful powder snow each year, and no other mountain range in Japan has comparable terrain with amazing powder. If you wish to get off-piste, access epic terrain and ride the fantastic backcountry Hakuba has to offer, there are many companies in the valley that offer group tours of all levels, as well as tailored tours.

6. Eat and Drink in Echoland 

Rather than a single hub, Hakuba is a vast area with multiple villages. Known as the heart of Hakuba, centrally located between Hakuba 47 and Happo ski areas and surrounded on all sides by the Misorano area of smaller hotels, pensions, residences and holiday homes, Echoland has the highest concentration in town of bars, restaurants and shops in one small area, mostly all located on one street. There are some great little Japanese eateries and izakayas where no or barely any English is spoken, and you really feel like you’re in Japan.

Note that most restaurants on Echoland are extremely busy. It is extremely recommended to make booking wherever possible. Some restaurants won’t accept reservation, so arriving before 6pm help.

7. Experience a Japanese Izakaya

An izakaya is a typical Japanese gastropub where people enjoy coming for a drink and a bite to eat. Known for their bustling atmosphere, tapas and local sake to enjoy in a comfortable, relaxing environment, going to an izakaya with colleagues after work is a cultural habit in Japan. While the Japanese are generally very reserved, in an izakaya the atmosphere is very lively (literally a gathering to drink). It is a popular place for employees to meet after the day’s work to relieve stress and have a good time together.

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Izakaya Hie is one of the best and most atmospheric izakaya venues in Hakuba. The restaurant is housed in a quaint hut and needless to say, the food is beyond yummy. The place gets very busy, so booking ahead is advised.

8. Follow Hakuba on Social Media to Stay in Loop of What’s Happening in the Valley

After a fantastic day on the slopes, be sure to check out Hakuba’s diverse nightlife, which offers something for everyone. Whether you are in the mood for a quiet pub, live music performance or high-energy dance club, Hakuba’s après ski scene has it all. To stay in the loop of what’s happening in the valley, follow the official account Hakuba on social media.

9. Do visit the Snow Monkeys Park

It wouldn’t be a total epic winter vacation in Hakuba without a visit to see the monkeys of Jigokudani. Located near the base of the Joshinestu Kogen National Park, the Jigokudani Yaen Koen (otherwise known as the Snow Monkey Park) is home to a very special troop of monkeys. Those are the only wild monkeys in the world known to bathe in hot springs, making them truly unique. Whether you rent a car or go as part of a tour, the snow monkeys definitely need to be added to your list!

10. Have the Best Time

Sometimes we don’t realize how happy and carefree we really were until we no longer feel it. It’s important to recognize those moments and appreciate them. Take pictures and videos, and share them with your friends online, but remember to turn your devices off once in a while. Enjoy yourself, take in some culture, try traditional foods, chat with locals and embrace and respect customs and traditions. Some of you might surely come back, and others just know that they want to keep on going and discovering new and exciting places. Whatever you choose to do, cherish every moments and have the best time! You might just look back at this trip one day and realize how lucky you were to have fully experienced it.

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Arigato gozaimasu Japan!

Would You Dare to Live a Simple Life?

We spend our lives on the hunt, searching for happiness to fulfill the void. We live for paychecks that will allow us to purchase the things that make us look good to the eyes of others, distracting us from the things that are essentially important around us. It is a delusional craving for ‘’normality’’, trying to fit in a template that society created. But really, self-indulgence and excess consumption doesn’t satisfy this longing for meaning. Contrary, it creates an addiction of wanting more, an insatiable desire of always looking better, because we came to believe that looking successful is the key to happiness.
Since our young age, we have been influenced by mainstream media and social system. Society is a mould that forms and shapes our opinons and behaviours. It is a structure that we are taught to follow in order to “fit in”. It is hard to believe that we aren’t puppets of society, while people strive for a 6-figure income, a luxurious home in a popular neighbourhood, 3 cars parked in the garage and a wardrobe filled with fast-fashion clothes. It’s inevitable to think that there is something so attractive about the American Dream, this perfect and predictable life captured into Ikea frames hung in the staircase. We need this. Because they told us so.
We are zombies of our virtual world and live a life of filters that embellish our reality. We are dogs that salivate at the sound of our ringtone or the buzz of a notification. We live for this intangible reality, interrupting us to live the moment that is passing in front of us.
By believing that our human identity is defined by the things we own, rather then by the things we do and believe, we over consume and hide our true self behind materialistic things that have absolutely no value. Then we feel lost. We feel unhappy. We feel a void. So we buy more.
The core of the human existence is consciousness. Once we realize what we don’t need, we start minimizing. And once we get rid of all the overflow of unnecessities that cluster our hearts, our minds and our spaces, we start feeling free. And we start living.
We become aware that moments are more valuable than things. And most importantly, spending time with the people we love offers a greater sense of satisfaction and meaning than any materialistic belongings. We come to understand that life doesn’t have to be complicated. Maybe the little things are enough. Maybe what we have is enough. We are enough.
There is something extraordinary about living a simple life. Do you dare to try?
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Tackling the 75km West Coast Trail

I slipped my feet into the white sand. Its cool composure liberated me from the throbbing pain. I was too exhausted to jump into the ocean and wash out all the dirt on my face and my hands, and the sweat that has accumulated on my skin and my clothing. I laid there for a couple of hours, soaking in the warmth of the sun, the breeze of the sea, and the sand between my toes, thinking about nothing but: I did it!

Seven days ago, my girlfriend and I had packed our backpacks with everything we needed to survive for a week: camping gear, hiking clothes, dehydrated food, and survival kit. We had planned this trip for a few weeks and were anxious to finally begin. The West Coast Trail has always fascinated me. I’ve heard about it from fellow adventurers I’d met along my travels, and it seemed like the kind of adventure I had to put on my bucket list. I am no expert hiker, although I have several trips under my belt. The Pacific Northwest has been my backyard for over a decade now, offering many trails to wander, glacier-fed lakes to discover and mountain peaks to conquer. I have also hiked around Kathmandu, Nepal, staying in tea houses, eating home-cooked meals and carrying a small backpack. But the WCT was the kind of adventure I’ve never done before. It was a physical and mental challenge far beyond anything I’ve done. It was much more than just a stroll in the woods.

The West Coast Trail is a gruelling 75km long backpacking trail hugging the southwestern edge of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. Construction of the trail debuted in 1889, originally part of a communication system connecting the British Empire in North America by an undersea cable which ran all the way to India. After the wreck of the Valencia in 1906, the trail was improved to facilitate the rescue of shipwrecked survivors along the coast. It is now part of Pacific National Rim and is known as one of the world’s top hiking trails.

Day 1: Embrace the opportunity
Gordon River to Trasher Cove- 6km

Butch took us to the trailhead across the Gordon river with his fishing boat. We jumped off the craft onto the sand, only to be welcomed by a 52 rung vertical climb ladder. Welcome to the WCT!

My bag was heavy. It pulled my shoulders and the strap on my chest pushed my lungs making it hard to breathe. It wasn’t that the trail itself was hard, but rather acclimatizing to my gear. My 43 pound bag carried all I needed for surviving a week in wilderness. I did read it shouldn’t be more than 30% of my weight, yet bringing a deck of cards, a reading book, tank tops and too much food seemed to be essential and weightless at first glance. I regretted my amateur decision of bringing the unnecessary every step I took, carrying a bag nearly half my weight, turning into a turtle camouflaged by her shell. It was a slow march through the woods, travelling 1km an hour.

As I hiked I pondered what drew me into doing this trail. It wasn’t solely for the remote beauty of the coastline, the impressive old growth forests and the endless empty beaches. I wanted to test my capabilities, to see how far I could go physically and mentally. I was attracted to the sheer challenge, to the experience, to the accomplishment, to the opportunity to learn and to grow.

When we got to Trasher Cove, we set up camp on the beach, and watched the sun disappear behind the trees, leaving an orange glow over the ocean. As the sun dimmed its light, we called it a night.

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Day 2: Slow down
Trasher Cove to Camper Bay- 8km

The sunrise was sublime. The sky was clear and the breeze was invigorating. We started the day on the beach at low tide, hiking on black stone shelves, careful about wet surfaces. This part was so beautiful, and pretty enjoyable to trek. We walked through a cave and arrived at Owen Point where a group of sea lions sun bathed on a rock erected from the ocean.

We hopped from boulder to boulder, jumped over crevasses, traversed the edge of a gully holding on a slippery rope.

The magnificence of the views muted me. I was in awe taking in impressive images of the vistas. We took our time, slowing down to admire the incredible landscape.

When the tide rose up, we entered the forest and finished the trek inland. It was muddy, extremely muddy, and we had to be very smart about each step. This very technical day ended up at Camper Bay, where we arrived in our first cable car.

As the sun shied away behind the clouds, we gathered around the campfire with fellow hikers, discussing of food and gear, and sharing stories of the trail and of home.

We retired early to our tent, away from the beach and sheltered in the trees. Then the rain began.

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Day 3: Love the journey
Camper Bay to Walbran- 9km

It poured all night, and it wasn’t ready to stop. We broke camp, put on our monster backpacks and headed back on the trail as the heavy rain lashed. The course was challenging and we got to test our skills and our sense of humour on slippery logs, impassable headlands, uncountable ladders, broken boardwalks, thick patches of deep mud, suspended bridges and one more cable car.

It wouldn’t have been the WCT if it wasn’t for the wet weather, the rugged terrain, the remoteness of the trail. I was soaked, dirty, sweaty, yet I couldn’t be more happy to walk this incredible journey.

As we reached our couple last kms, the sun slowly penetrated the clouds. The forest canopy stood high above me as the sun rays filtered through old growth trees. I fell in love with the lonesome beauty of nature. It was raw, it was pure, it was terrifyingly beautiful.

The trail opened up to the creek, that ran into the ocean. We walked through the fog, shuffling our tired and wet feet in the sand. Campers setting up their tent, warming up by a fire, and collecting water greeted us with a smile. It felt like a parallel universe, being alone all day in the wilderness and arriving to a place temporarily inhabited by humans. I grabbed my flask of maple whisky from my bag, and took off my shoes. I didn’t want to start a fire, set up the tent, get fresh water nor cook dinner. I wanted to admire that well-deserved sunset.

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Day 4: Things aren’t always like planned, and it’s okay
Walbran to Cribbs Creek- 11km

The morning light seeped into the tent. I forced my feet back into my wet socks and boots, and strapped my loaded bag on my back. Our plan was to hike on the beach, but the creek was too high to cross that early. We changed our plan and headed inland, after crossing our third cable car.

It reminded me how in life things don’t always go as planned, and it’s okay. Sometimes we have to change our route or take a detour, but that doesn’t mean we’re not on track.

We arrived at Cribs Creek where I immediately removed my wet gear. I skipped dinner, still full from my decadent $22 cheeseburger I had at Chez Moniques’, a 77-year-old lady who opened up a burger shack in the middle of the trail on reserve land. I was exhausted and chilled to the bones, so after setting camp I crawled in the tent, zipped myself into my sleeping bag, and let my head sink into my pillow.

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Day 5: Keep going forward
Cribs Creek to Tsutsiat Falls- 16km

It felt like a never ending story. My bag seemed heavier than the first day, carrying wet and sandy gear. It was a constant effort to stay upwright. I longed for nothing more than water and to take my pack off my shoulders.

It was a slow progress, stepping one foot in front of another, carefully watching every movement, every step.  My eyes focused on the slippery roots, the sinking mud holes, the loose sidewalk. It became so technical I’d forget to look up. I had to stop, not only to rest my back from the load, but to admire the scenery. I stood in a world of infinite, pure and quiet beauty.

I’d take a deep breath, taking in all the fresh air and the beautiful images. Somehow it gave me energy to pursue. As it reminded me why I was there on this trail, how going forward was the only way to see more, to know more, to live more.

The last couple of hours were brutal. My body was about to collapse in the loose sand, my hair sticking to my face, my provision of water rapidly diminishing. I knew I had to keep going forward, because going back to where I started wasn’t an option. So I put one foot in front of the other, over and over again, because at least I was going somewhere. And I was going to make it.

I was drained, in pain and on the verge of collapsing when we arrived to the falls, but I was also over joyed and astonished of how far I’d gone.

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Day 6: Appreciate the details in each moment
Tsutsiat Falls to Darling Creek- 12km

We woke up to the roar of plunging waves. We admired the falls rushing their fresh water into the ocean bed. The birds songs travelling through my head overpowered the pain on my body. I was ready for another day.

We started off with a series of climbing ladders. I’m not sure if I got used to them, but I didn’t mind them. I had a couple days left on the trail and I was going to win. The clouds rolled in but it never rained. The overcast weather was ideal. There were some really nice stretches in the forest, and cliffside paths, with the ocean appearing in occasional views. I had to pause to appreciate the precious details of my surroundings. It was the lush greens of the trees, the water dripping from the tip of the branches, the sun filtering its timid rays through the fog, the sea foam caressing the sand…

It made me realize that since I’ve been on the trail, my mind never wandered like it does back home. I was so focused on each moment, on each step, free of appreciating the perfection of every circumstances. My mind wasn’t trapped in the past or the future. I was right there, in the reality of the moment, precisely where I was supposed to be.

When we arrived to Darling Creek, we found ourselves completely alone in wilderness. Hikers kept going further on to the next camp. We decided to stay, and enjoyed the whole beach to ourselves. We finally managed to have a raging bonfire, dry our clothes and boots, carved our names on a buoy and share our highlights of our trip, while sipping on the last drops of our whisky and savouring the ice cider I kept for our last night.

The sun came out for a last show of setting light and glow.

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Day 7: Push your limits
Darling Creek to Pachena Bay- 14km

We rose up to a moon crescent and a starry sky. It was 4am and we had a big day ahead of us. We couldn’t miss our shuttle in Pachena Bay back to Gordon River, and considering our slow pace, we had to have an early start. We poured the Bailey’s we kept for that morning into our coffees. I don’t know if it was the caffeine I didn’t have in a week, or the small dose of alcohol in my body, or a sudden boost of stamina on my last day, but I felt awake and energized. I knew I had to push myself even more today than the others. I had to, and I would. I was committed to accomplish this hike with bliss.

The first couple of kms were on the pebbled beach. We arrived at the other camp where everybody were still snoozing. We tiptoed through the tents and took the trail inland, making our way through the forest in the darkness of dusk.

This last stretch was the easiest of the whole trail, and we crunched distance like superheroes. I didn’t let my back, nor my blisters, nor my aching knee, nor my exhaustion discourage me. I was in such a mindset to push and keep going that I couldn’t feel anything anymore but my mind taking over my body. I was in a state I haven’t been in while, pushing myself well beyond what I thought were my limitations. I became numb to my pain, and felt the exhaustive exhilaration of pushing myself to my limits, with a burning desire to make it to the end.

We travelled 14km in less than 3 hours. And then there it was, the end. We have arrived.

We did it.

We signed off and unloaded our packs from our backs. We took off our shoes and our gaiters. We were the first ones of the day to complete the hike, and we had 4 hours before our shuttle. So we took the trail that headed to the white sand beach.

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Humbled and blissed

The coastal trail had humbled me. I was brought into the flow of life, embracing the immense beauty and magic of each moment. I had pushed myself further that I’ve gone before, and discovered a strength within that assured me that I could achieve anything I set my mind to.

The WCT reminded me the importance of setting ourselves goals, pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone, challenging ourselves to take one more step, running when we can’t walk anymore. By physically and mentally pushing ourselves, we discover that pain and exhaustion lead to incredible feelings of joy and success.

Life is about choosing our own path, taking risks, embracing uncertainty, taking the unpredictable turn, falling down, getting up, and never giving up when the road gets tough. We are stronger and greater than we think, and are capable of anything we set ourselves for. As long as we keep moving forward. As long as we have the right mindset and are not afraid to cross the creek and get wet.

Work Less, Live More, Spend Less, Do More: Part 2

I decided that I wanted to live a life doing the things that I love, and only work to be able to pay for the things that I need. And okay, a few things that I want too. I work a 4-day-week, and I take about 2 months or more of vacation a year. I don’t owe any debt, I have some savings, and I have all the time I need to do the things I love. The secret? I don’t own much, and I don’t spend much.

Of course there are things in life that involve money. I have to work to be able to pay for the necessities, such as my housing, and my food. Then I add the things I need in order to get going, such as my car and my phone. Add to this the things I can’t live without: wine and travels. That’s pretty much it. My wardrobe consists of only the essentials. I don’t shop, and if I do, it’s to replace something that broke or ripped. I realized that I didn’t need to make much money in order to live the life of my dreams. The importance is to decide what it is that is important for you. What are the things that make you the most happy? But mostly, what are the things you can happily live without?
 
Here are examples of things I did:
 
Cut on services
Cutting down on cable was a great first step. I love watching movies and documentaries, but I found that cable sucked my time away by sitting there and zapping until I find something average to watch. Instead, I read a book, take my dogs for a hike, or have a girlfriend over for a glass of wine.
 
Choose outdoor exercise
I don’t go to the gym. In fact, it’s never been my scene. Instead, I’d rather go for a hike in the wilderness or go for a nice long swim in a lake. Spending time in nature has strong benefits for the health, and it’s free.
 
Cook at home
I opt for home cooking instead of dining out. I put on some music, pour myself a glass of wine, and use whatever I have in my fridge to whip up a feast. I get to try new things, and never spend more than a few bucks a day. Plus, cooking makes me very happy 🙂
 
Choose free activities
When I spend time with friends, I much prefer outdoor activities that don’t involve much money. Going for a hike, a picnic, a canoe paddle, or a camping trip into the woods are just examples of really fun and free things to do.
 
Opt for travelling rather than touristing
People may find travelling expensive. They are right: After plane tickets, insurances, ground transportation and vaccines, it all adds up to be a nice bill. However, travelling is a choice that I make, just like someone will choose to buy a new car. I avoid all-inclusives, and I stay away from resorts. Instead, I choose backpacking and I stay in hostels, or host families. I try to live like the locals by attempting to assimilate to their culture and to adopt certain customs and ways of life. Once I am abroad, everything is so cheap. It costs me less to be overseas, than it is to be at home. Plus, I get to spend my money and my time within communities that are in need. It is true what they say: travelling is the one thing that costs money, but makes you richer 😉
 
Live in a trailer
When the housing crisis erupted in my town, I found the urge to find an alternative for accommodation. I wasn’t quite ready to settle and purchase a half million dollar one-bedroom condo, so I bought a trailer. I’ve lived in it for nearly a year now, and I can’t believe I haven’t done it earlier. I only have to pay the campground fees, and everything else is included. This way, I save over half of what I’d pay to rent in town. Plus, I don’t have any mortgage, and I can resell my trailer for the same value of purchase, or even more! Oh, and did I tell you how stunning my backyard is?
 
Adopt a mutt
I see way too many people parading with their pure breed dog in the streets. Paying $1,000 for a dog is absolutely ridiculous. Plus, pure breed are most likely to be in-breed, against nature, suggesting problems in the long run. If you want a dog, I urge you to save a mutt. There are too many dogs in the streets that need to be rescued. Not only are they free (after neutering/spaying and vaccines), but they are usually problem-free, friendly and loyal. I have two. They are my adventure partners and we do everything together. In fact, they keep me away from spending money and encourage me to spend more time outdoors.
 
Having time for ourselves is essential. We are only here once and it is important to figure out what matters the most to us. It’s to understand what it is that our lives are worth and how we can change our habits and spendings in order to enhance our time on this planet. It is to determine the difference between our wants and our needs, and define the success that we want to lead through our journey.
 
I might not have a fancy wardrobe, a shiny car, a well-combed pomeranian, or a luxurious home, but I am rich in time, and for me, it is all I need, and it is enough.

Work less, Live More, Spend less, Do More: Part 1

The world has created a society of consumerism, leading us to live a life of full time work, with little time to live a life of ours. It is a mentality of living to work, rather than working to live. The more we work, the more we spend, and the more we need to work again in order to pay for the things we most likely are not able to afford. And don’t need.
We have maxed out credit cards, mortgages that take a lifetime to pay off, car payments with laughable interests. We want to treat ourselves with shiny things because really, we deserve it. So we consume to follow the trend, to show we are doing well, to feel good about ourselves. We surround ourselves with materialistic things to make us look good.
Really, why do we want money so badly? To drive a nice car? To have a fashionable wardrobe? To eat at gastronomic restaurants? To add decadent decor to our home? To travel to luxurious all-inclusive resorts?  In fact, we want money for the image that it gives us: We look successful. We look accomplished. We look good.
A lot of people think that happiness comes from the things that we have, or the image that we reflect on others. Looking successful is important. But does that make us happy? I believe success is happiness. And I don’t believe it starts with money. In fact, I believe money is a poor illusion of success, and that people often wrongfully associate being rich with having money. Wealth should be defined by who you are, and not by what you own.
When I travelled to Thailand over a decade ago, my first trip overseas, I spent some time in the jungle of Chiang Mai. We trekked for 2 days, carrying supplies to a family living in the midst of the dense forests. Their location was so remote that they never ventured further. They bathed under the waterfall, fed from their garden and livestock, and played with whatever nature delivered them. With tourism expanding, they accepted to trade their home for supplies that travellers would bring along. They were so isolated, that the little boy was amazed at my friend’s blond hair and blue eyes, as he’s never seen such a thing before. The tribe was all smiles, pure and wide, as if they were the happiest people on the earth. I understood that they were happy because they never were exposed to the wants. They had a shelter, food and water, their family, and that was all they needed. And that was enough.
When I returned to North America, I found myself standing still in a middle of a time-lapse, as if everyone was rushing, living life on fast-forward, forgetting to pause a moment and breathe. It was a race against time, like what was waiting for them after life was more important than right now. I told myself I didn’t want to be part of this system. I wanted to have an authentic smile just like that family back in Thailand.