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.

img_2512-1.jpg

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.

IMG_1441

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. 

IMG_1538

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. 

zhang-kaiyv-693126-unsplash

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.

IMG_1567

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.

806b10b3-c9e3-47c9-b552-9d709742fc70
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.

img_0996
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.

19ec3939-fd05-44cd-b9e1-5ba7d3851035
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.

96abf62c-fcff-4d0c-8022-8957f3ae1008
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.

da02ab55-0103-41f9-be81-3610e7cbd4db
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.

c3f9d544-5882-4e85-864b-3523c3ebe6d4
Arigato gozaimasu Japan!

50 Sings You Are a Passionate Traveller

1. You keep thinking about the next adventure

2. Your Christmas cards are postcards

3. You never miss out on an opportunity

4. You have friends from all around the world

5. You are constantly planning, sometimes for trips you’ll never take

6. Money isn’t essential, experiences are

7. You spend more money abroad but when home, you shop at local stores

8. On your smartphones you have apps such as XE, Kayak, and What’s App

9. Your biggest collections are your passport stamps and flight stubs

10. You know greetings in many languages

11. Your Bucket List is 95% country related

12. Your permanent address is either your parents’ house or your best friends’

13. You speak more than one languages, or know how to get by

14. When someone asks you how many countries you went to, you need more than 2 hands to count

15. Your stories involve a country you have visited

16. There is no bad experiences

17. You master the art of packing light and tight

18. You met someone special each country you’ve been

19. If your friends invite you to join them at an all-inclusive resort, you might tag along. But you extend your stay of a few more weeks, then rent a car and experience the local life

20. You have at least one very romantic story abroad

21. You have couched surfed, floor surfed, airport seat surfed: you can basically sleep anywhere

22. Your jewelries comes from all around the world

23. You respect cultures, customs and religions

24. When it comes to food, bring it on. You most likely have tried something less desirable

25. Your home decoration consists of maps, photographs and souvenirs of your travels

26. You are a master at washing your laundry by hand

27. You have re-used dirty underwear before. And you might do it again

28. A hot shower and a flushing toilet are luxury

29. People come to you to ask travel tips and advices

30. What scare you the most are the things that excite you the most

31. You need to connect with nature daily

32. Your credit card statement is a travel story 

33. You are emotional when it’s time to get rid of that pair of flip flops you travelled with this past trip

34. You are compassionate and find meaning in giving your time to others

35. You name the airports by their codes

36. You are a pro at clearing airport security

37. There’s no such thing as getting lost

38. A night under 5 billion stars appeals you more than a 5 star hotel

39. You enjoy the crowded places, but find refuge in open spaces

40. Your phone has many different time zones, and your weather network shows different cities

41. You can’t imagine staying in the same place all your life

42. You rather own little and see the world

43. You hesitate in lending a book because it has that smell of the country you read it in

44. You prefer to give than receive

45. You are grateful for what you have

46. You believe that home is wherever or whoever with you want to be

47. Deep down you know that you will never be free of your wanderlust

48. You constantly daydream of your next destination

49. You understand that it is all about the journey and the people you meet along the way

50. You never really feel at home, because you have left your heart in many places

Hornby Island for a Family Vacation

Raised by a single mother and with an older brother that took on his freedom filled life as soon as I was born, I never really had the chance to understand the term “family vacation”. Of course my mom always made sure we would go on road-trips and explore the beautiful corners and cultural gems of the province of Quebec. It was always a memorable mother-daughter vacation, sometimes tagged with our furry friends.

My brother settled in British Columbia 15 years ago where he met his wife and her family. My first solo flight was when I was 15, to go and visit him on the other side of the country. I got really close to this new circle, a reconstructed family of many siblings. Now that my brother and I both live in the province, he on the island, and I in the mountains, we don’t see each other as often as we wish, but I try to commit to once a year since he now has two beautiful blooming boys. So, when my brother and his wife invited me to their annual family vacation on Hornby Island, there was no way I could miss this special reunion.

We left Whistler on Friday afternoon after work. We boarded the 5:20pm ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Departure Bay. The 1:40min scenic ride through the Gulf Islands was refreshing and relaxing, soothing a long work week.

IMG_6255

Once in Nanaimo, we drove north on Highway BC-19A. I had booked a campsite at Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park, just to make the trip less cumbersome and more enjoyable. Rathtrevor Park is located along the shoreline, in the city of Parksville. The campground is very clean and the sites are large, well-maintained and just few steps from the beach.

In the morning, Juno and I went for a stroll. We traversed the short path to the beach across an old-growth forest. The low tide left us with many treasures to find on the golden sand. I took deep breathes and soaked in the fresh air.

IMG_6257

After everything was packed up, we head back on the Oceanside Highway and drove north towards Buckley Bay. We hopped on the ferry towards Denman. Then drove accross the island and took another 10min-ferry onto Hornby.

Hornby Island has a small community of less than 1,000 residents, mostly artists, retirees, bohemians, and any lovers of the remote rural island life. We followed the road that hugged the sandstone shorelines, making our way to the northeast of the island. We arrived at Tribune Bay Campground, where we set up camp. The clouds slowly covered the sky, predicting a heavy rain. We set up a large tarp above our site, making our cozy home for the weekend.

IMG_2281

The rain arrived at the same time as my family. We greeted under the protecting trees. We built a shelter from pop-up tents and tarps where we found dry refuge for the afternoon. After dinner we sat around the fire-pit, catching up with the grown-ups while grandma told stories to the kids.

The weather cleared out the next morning and we spent the day at Tribune Bay Beach. The kids played in the waves, leftover from the stormy weather.

In the evening we headed to the Pizza Galore. We sat on blankets on the soft grass in the middle of an orchard. Under an apple tree we opened our bottle of wine and enjoyed delicious homemade pizzas. A live band paired our meals with notes of beautiful music while kids played hide and seek, and others played boardgames under the trees.

IMG_6293

The sunbeams scattered the sky. We spent another night around the fire pit, telling stories and playing games. And when the night reached its deep darkness, we took a stroll on the beach. We watched the constellations grace the night as the shooting stars ignited one by one.

IMG_0247

We woke up to a stunning sky. The rain evaporated from the heating ground. The kids rushed through breakfast, ready to hit the beach. We headed to Helliwell Beach, located on a headland at the southeast of the island. The sand is white, the beach endless, and the water of a crystal clear blue I have never seen in Canada.

IMG_0248

It was a beautiful day skimboarding, kayaking and paddleboarding.

The girls even opened up a sand spa for anyone keen of a natural seaside massage.

IMG_0281

It was time for me to head back. I kissed and hugged deeply everyone goodbye. As we drove away, I waived a last farewell to my brother still standing on the beach watching me depart.

The 3 ferries home gave me the time and the space to imprint all those beautiful memories I had made. I thought about my dear mother, who I wished could’ve made the trip from the East. I am so privileged to have the mother and the brother that I have, along with all my consanguinity family. I am also so grateful to be part of this circle of people that I have met at 15 years old, half way through my current life. I hope to many more family vacations.

IMG_0300

Whether they are your parents, sibblings, family members, affinities, friends, or whoever with there is a sense of belonging, unconditional love, mutual respect and care, acknowledge who those people are and make time for them, as often as you can. Family is not an important thing. It’s everything. Now if you excuse me, I’m going to call my mother.

IMG_6282

Sportfishing in the Cayman Islands

It was a gloomy morning in Grand Cayman, and the tarmac was still wet from the rain that heavily poured the previous night. We grabbed a quick breakfast at a coffee shop in Camana Bay, awaiting impatiently 8 o’clock to arrive. At the dock, Captain Jon, owner of Slackem Charters, and his First Mate Peri welcomed us aboard the ‘Keeping It Reel’ and showed us our ride and roof for the next 4 hours. The 62′ Ocean Sport Fisherman vessel was equipped with a spacious air-conditioned cabin, including a galley (kitchen), 3 state rooms (bedrooms) and 3 heads (bathrooms). It was large enough to accommodate our group of 10, and the crew of 2.

Since the weather seemed to clear out, I decided to climb upstairs and sit by the Captain. We slowly cruised towards the deep ocean. The usual calm and turquoise water was then choppy with shades of dark blues and greys, yet I could see some clear blue patches as we passed shallow areas. It wasn’t raining, but the clouds darkened the sky ahead making the picture beautiful and serene.

The 7 lines trolled behind the boat at different depths, and everyone was eager to catch a monster.

At times the waves picked up, and if I only knew the trick of starring at an immobile point in the boat instead of watching the moving sea, perhaps I wouldn’t have lost my breakfast croissant in the toilet. While I tried to stabilize my motion sickness, laid on the couch in the cabin and starring at the ceiling, I heard the Captain scream: “Fish, fish!” I jumped off my safe zone and hurried to the deck. Kayla, whose sea sickness was beat by excitement to catch a prey, grabbed hold of the rod. After sweat and strong efforts, she victoriously brought back the first mahi mahi onboard.

Back to my couch and to my ceiling… until I hear the captain once more: “Fish, fish!” It was a big one. I was dizzy, could barely balance myself on the deck, but what the heck -I haven’t come here just to stare at a ceiling! I was in, rod in hand, and ready to fight the beast. This is the moment when you hate yourself for gaining those extra few pounds from wine and cheese and slacking on workout and exercise. Captain Jon strapped me to the chair. I wanted to strangle everyone for their endless encouragement words that didn’t help at all: “You’re almost there!” “Ya right”, I yelled between two breathes. “I can see the line 100ft away!” My whole body was shaking, already aching for days. I want to die. I want to quit. No, I won’t quit. I’m gonna get this fish into this boat and thank it for the good fight. Then I’ll eat it. After sweating the last drop of water I had in my already dehydrated body, I saw the end of the tunnel, or rather the tail of the catch. It took 20 min, and a load of sweats and swears, but I reeled it onboard, and all by myself!

I didn’t feel sick anymore. I was too excited! IMG_5795 Everyone got turns to reel the rods.

Captain Jon thought at one point we had a marlin. I’ve never seen someone so excited! I’m still not sure what he yelled at Peri, maybe some fisherman slangs in a Caymanian patois. IMG_5839 On our way back, the sky growled and the thick black clouds released themselves. We sheltered ourselves comfortably inside the cabin and shared our experience.

When we returned to the dock, Captain Jon offered to filet our fishes. I couldn’t resist and went ahead and ate a big piece. I was followed by everyone else.

We thanked our crew and left with our ziploc bags. It was an amazing deepsea fishing experience with Slackem Charters. Captain Jon and his First Mate Peri were very helpful and knowledgeable. Not only their patience and work ethic made us feel very safe and comfortable, but their passion for the fish and the sea, and their willingness to go the extra mile made this day at sea a memorable experience. That day, we caught 10 mahi mahi. IMG_5849 And not that I want to brag, but I got the biggest one 😉

7 Ways To Cure Your Wanderlust At Home

Travelling months overseas and returning to the nest to feed on money isn’t always easy. We go back to commonness and boredom can easily come from daily routine. We feel strapped in normality with the urge to be on the road again living a satisfying life of adventures and discoveries. We constantly scroll down our travel pictures, chat too regularly with our friends met abroad, steadily look at flight sales and we wish we could throwback Thursday everyday. We withdraw ourselves from our current world and dream of our next escapade. The symptoms are right: we are diagnosed with wanderlust. This impulse to travel and explore burns our body with an aching fire. But until the time comes to fly away and vagabond another continent, there are a few things you can do to help cure your wanderlust, at home.

Keep Planning

Whether you plan the next big trip abroad, or simply a weekend getaway with your friends, planning soothes the wandering soul and energizes the spirit. Researching about a new location, new activities, new places to eat and to sleep is exciting and refreshing. It is always motivating and stimulating to look forward something.

IMG_5099

Set Yourself Goals

Setting goals not only allows us to have a better understanding of where we are going with our lives, but it also raises our motivation and self-confidence. While we are mainly focusing on planning and saving money for our next trip, doing a little bit of life planning isn’t a bad idea either. By setting the ‘big picture’, we can start to assemble the resources we’ll need to achieve our dreams. Open a saving account, and even if it is a little at a time, you will be grateful in 10 years that you put that  money aside. See yourself do the things you love. Work on the things you really care about. Set yourself the goals that will allow you to fulfill your short and long-term dreams.

IMG_8624

Be Creative

Just like artists, travellers are built with deep emotions. We are passionate, compassionate and loving individuals. We are inspired by life and are engaged in all its beauties. By writing about our wanderlust, or photograph through nostalgia, or paint our emotions, sometimes it helps relieve the itch and find clarity. Travelling is an inspiration booster, make sure you keep your inspiration alive.

IMG_3281

Try a New Activity

Trying something new is not only revivifying for the soul, but it also gives you the opportunity to meet new people and challenges your skills at something you’d never think you’d do. This winter, I took a shot at skate-skiing. We have such a beautiful terrain built here in Whistler, a legacy of the 2010 Winter Olympics, offering over 35km trails of nordic skiing. I’ve never tried downhill skiing before, being primarily a boarder, so it involved a few funny falls indeed. But to be out there with friends sharing the same first experience, meeting people with different conversation topics and exploring a new zone in my own town made me feel like I was a thousand miles away.

n-web_callaghan_by_Toshi_Kawano_from_TW_20
Photo by Toshi Kawano courtesy of Tourism Whistler

Go On a Road trip

You don’t always have to fly to cure a wanderlust. Sometimes you can just hit the road for a few hours and feel completely lost. Taking a couple of days away from what we know, and wander to a new town is refreshing and rejuvenating. Put on a good playlist in your car and head to a new town. To see how people live in a city nearby, do what they do, eat where they eat, play where they play – Sometimes only a few k’s can change drastically and make you feel like a world away.

DCIM100GOPRO

Explore Your Own Backyard

When I come back from travelling abroad, it takes me some time to adapt to everyday life, and then suddenly I fall back into a routine. That’s why I chose Whistler as my home base, a playground itself, so I can get energized by nature and adventures. While my goal at home is to focus on making money, and spending time with the ones I love, I make sure I get outside every day. From exploring a new forest trail with my dogs, hiking a new peak, camping a new ground, canoeing a new lake, snowboarding a new run, I find extreme satisfaction in simple moments, right here at home.

DCIM100GOPRO

Ask Yourself: Why Do I Feel Like Packing My Bag And Leaving?

Bored with routine? Life is lacking of purpose? Running away from something? Absence of inspiration? Missing your friends abroad? Lost in wanderlust? Sometimes it helps to know where the itch comes from so we can sooth the tingle.

Although sometimes, there’s really only one remedy…

Capucine 1019

8 Tips on Managing Money Abroad

Travelling abroad is an exciting adventure. And to make the most of this experience, it is primordial to plan the right budget and have plenty of funds. The last thing you want is having to cancel a skydiving jump over the Republic of Palau, or a hot-balloon ride in Tanzania, or a cycling wine and gastronomy tour in Burgundy because you are too tight with money. Sometimes opportunity only knocks once. 1. Plan a Budget Where are you going? For how long? How will you travel? What is the purpose of this trip? Who will you be with? Asking yourself questions about your trip will help you create an estimated budget. First, I start with the big expenses, such as flights, vaccinations, and visas. Then, after researching about the destination, I plan an average daily budget considering accommodation, food and transportation. I make an activity budget, such as important sights, concerts, and adventure trips. I also make a budget for others such as souvenirs, tips and treats to locals. I always allow extra for an occasional splurge (which in my case happens generally very often). o-BUDGET-TRAVEL-facebook-1050x700 2. Know the Exchange Rate I always refer to XE.com. I added the free currency converter app on my phone, and can easily search for live foreign exchange rates. Knowing the currency and the exchange rate of the country you’re visiting will save you a lot of time and hassle, and avoid the possibility of getting ripped off. When I crossed the border from Belize to Guatemala, many freelance money-changers tried to sell us their quetzal. At first I thought it was a scam, but knowing the exchange rate, I realized it was a really good deal. So I traded my Belize dollars and left with quetzal at an attractive cost, saving time waiting in line at the bank to convert money. mzl.efdkxboi.320x480-75[5] 3. Get Local Currency As a Canadian, I have opened a US bank account from the tip money I receive from American customers. As much as I try to only use local currency while abroad, I like to have a few US bills with me since it is the most freely convertible currency. Check with your bank if they carry the currency of the country you’ll be visiting. Buy some currency before you go, and try to get some small notes too. If you can’t, don’t worry. Airports have ATM’s to withdraw money at a very good exchange rate. Avoid airport currency exchange booths. Currency-Exchange-Rates-Today-Canada-695x494 4. Take Cash

Withdraw cash money from an ATM when you arrive. Depending where I am, and how safe I feel like walking around with cash money on me, I withdraw a certain amount that will keep me at least for a couple weeks, and hopefully more. Because my bank charges me $5 for every international transaction, I try to limit its usage. I try to never carry the whole amount at once, or at the same place. If going on day trips I carry just what I need. If travelling, I hide it in different places in my belongings.
cash_2196685b
Click here to know more on how to effectively carry money abroad.

5. Use Multiple Cards Debit card Besides withdrawing cash money, I never use my debit card for purchases. A trick that I do before I leave, is to go to the bank and claim a lost card. They give me a temporary one (the one I use while travelling), and I receive a new card in the mail (a backup card). Once I use this latter, the temporary one gets cancelled automatically. I keep both cards in different places. It is nice to have this option in case anything happens. ATM’s are found in most cities, are easy to use and usually have the best exchange rate. Make sure that the PLUS, Cirrus or Maestro network are available at your destination. Ask your bank about currency exchange and international fees, and advise them about your travels. Make sure your PIN is 4 digits, and if it is a word, remember the numbers. When I was still a rookie at travelling, I tried to withdraw money at an ATM in Costa Rica only to realize there was no letters on the buttons. Since I changed my PIN for 4 digits before leaving on the trip, I had not memorized the numbers. I tried thrice and my debit card got cancelled. Luckily I was travelling with a friend that helped me out, and I had a credit card. I learnt a good lesson.

imgp3526
Click here to know more on how to use ATM’s abroad.

Credit Card Having a credit card is a must for me. Not only it could save your life if anything happens, but it is also good for rentals, or to pay for an expensive activity you hadn’t planned on doing. Also, credit cards have the lowest conversion rate and are nowadays widely accepted, although some developing countries might require a minimum amount of purchase and could charge a fee of usage. By using credit card, I find it a convenient and safe way to travel without carrying too much money on me, while saving on exchange fees. With Internet banking available, it is easy to keep track of your expenses, and transfer money onto your card. Check with your bank if an international transaction fee is applicable, what insurances are available, and let them know of your travels. When I was in Belize and got invited to join a diving trip to the Great Blue Hole, I couldn’t say no. Since Belize was our first stop on our month journey around Central America, and such an expense wasn’t planned, I paid the activity with my credit card: Because there is no price to put for swimming with dozens of blacktip sharks in a natural wonder of the world. DCIM108GOPRO Prepaid Travel Money Card I’ve never use these types of cards, but I have many foreign customers at work using them with great satisfaction. By preloading money from your bank to your card at that day’s rate, the prepaid cards are supposed to give better exchange rate while collecting reward points. By simply topping up online or by phone, they become easier to use. They could also be cheaper than using debit or credit abroad. Research all the small-print charges and choose the best card for you.

whats-loaded-cards
Click on this image to know more about prepaid travel cards.

Bitcoin Debit Card Bitcoin is an online payment system that allows you to use global digital currency abroad. It is known to be easier to accept and cheaper to process than cash and credit cards, given the fact that you don’t need to withdraw money, avoid issues with handling local currency and don’t deal with foreign transaction fees.

03-Bitcoin-Attributes-791x1024
This image was taken from Xapo’s blog. Xapo is a bitcoin company that combines the security of a cold storage bitcoin Vault and the ease of a convenient bitcoin wallet. Click on the image to read the full post.

I have never heard of Bitcoin until a few days ago, but it seems like this decentralized cryptocurrency is being rapidly adopted by mainstream businesses, and is becoming an easier, safer and cheaper payment option. Whether Bitcoins could be the next payments revolution, do your homework and researches in order to find what best suits your needs. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Um63OQz3bjo#action=share 6. Track Your Expenses By keeping track of your daily expenses and spending, it will help you maintain control of your budget. It will give you an idea of your average daily spending, and where to cut if the need meets. You don’t want to run out of money at the least expected time. calculating-travel-expenses-14160479 7. Do What Locals Do Using public transportation, eating at food stalls, and shopping at markets will not only save you a large amount of money, but it will also give you the unique opportunity to truly experience the culture of the country visited. By interacting with local people and immersing into their lifestyles, it will create memories and leave you with a very rich experience, at a very cheap price. When my girlfriend and I took a trip to Maui, Hawaii, all we had planned was to rent a car and go with the flow. We met local Americans at a local fish eatery that invited us to stay at one of their empty houses in the country. We also met native Hawaiians that invited us to a traditional wedding in a gymnasium. From luau dinners, to boating with a family on a Sunday, to snorkeling secret bays and to drinking cava on the carpet floor, not only did we save money on accommodation and activities, but we also made a strong nod with locals and their families, and left with great stories.

DSC_0265
Our new Hawaiian family.

8. Travel Slow I used to rush and visit as many places as I could. My first trip abroad was in Thailand in 2003 and I travelled the whole country, from top to bottom in only a month. It was amazing, but there was a lot of jumping on trains, boats and buses for long periods of time, every few days. Now, instead of squeezing as many countries, cities and sights in one travel, I try to slow down and focus on a place at a time. By exploring the destination thoroughly, making new local friends, and experiencing the local culture, I get to have a stronger connection with the place. By staying in one place, I get to reduce the cost of transportation and get familiarized with local hangouts rather than tourist traps. Travelling slow is not only economical and easier on the environment, but it is also generally less stressful and extremely rewarding, making it an experience of a lifetime.

IMG_9396
Staring at the famous rock erecting from the sea in El Tunco, El Salvador. Not only did I fell in love with the place, but I got to live like the locals, tasting their lifestyle at a slow pace.

And you? How do you manage your money abroad?