The Okanagan, July 2010

Trip Cost $700, 5 days

The Okanagan is the Florida of Canada. Lot’s of fruit orchards, wine, rich people and retirees. While I’m mainly into partying, exotic locations, amazing churches and ancient ruins, it wouldn’t seem like the place for me, but if you go with the right people, it can be amazing!

My husband’s best friend had recently moved to a town called Vernon. Not the greatest place to visit. To put it gently, I never knew the smell of crack until I visited. Friends of mine searched for some famous British Columbia *cough* tobacco, and actually had a difficult time finding anything that soft. Instead, various shady characters offered pretty much everything you would see on a season of intervention. We wanted to go out to a bar, but quickly learned the only thing open past 10 were the two strip clubs in town. I’m an open minded woman who has seen her fair share of peelers in the past, but this was like nothing I’d ever seen before. A cover, and a bad one, for a brothel. The dee-jay had scars from what looked like a knife fight, and the girls “danced” in a dark corner of the club and were taken out by different men for….private dances. A shady experience, but a necessary one for a travel agent. When anyone asks me where they should visit in B.C. I know exactly where to send them.

Kelowna. A tourist-y city, and the main city of the Okanagan Valley. Lot’s of amazing ochre’s, wineries, great hotels, unique restaurants, shopping, and a lovely beach around the Okanagan Lake.

Of course, my friends and I got drunk at other strip clubs. What can you do?

All in all, anywhere in the Okanaga Valley is great place for any short vacation. If I weren’t hell bent on retiring to Costa Rica, this would be my second choice.

Costa Rica, January 2010

Trip Cost $1500, 8 days

When I was about 13 years old, I met a girl who had just moved to Canada from Costa Rica. She would tell me all about it and even teach me bad words in Spanish. I was always fascinated by the idea of a tiny county holding so much beauty. Rain forests, amazing animals, active volcano’s and black sand beaches. 10 years later, I finally went.

 

I stayed in a resort with a black sand beach with green parrots and fed adorable monkeys every day. The down side is about 5am every morning, the howler monkey’s get really loud. So bring ear plugs or don’t stay in the jungle. While our room was clean, there are a lot of insects and reptiles around. It took me some time to get used to the creepy crawly wildlife, but after a couple of days, I realized it was no big deal. I’m from Alberta, we don’t really have bugs, so I might be extra sensitive.

 

While black sand beaches are so, so beautiful. You can’t really lay, or walk anywhere the sun is shinning. It burns like white sand never could. Luckily, the country is home to some of the most beautiful white sand beaches as well. Black sand makes for great souvenirs for those who’ve never seen it.

 

One of the best days of my life was in Costa Rica. One morning, my (now) husband and I, went to a volcanic spa. We started by going up the volcano on horse back. The spa was completely outdoors and natural. You start by going into this steam cave created by the natural hot springs. The steam opens up your pours so you can reap the benefits of the next step. Covering yourself head to toe in mud that contains volcanic ash. Women all over the world pay unbelievable prices to get a small jar of this exact volcanic mud, so get your fill while you’re there and cover everything. Just hang out in the sun until the mud dries and then soak it off in the hot springs. It is so relaxing. This is what all spa’s should be like. Experiencing the beauty and benefits of nature, without aestheticians accusing you of washing your face wrong while they slather you with chemicals that have little (if anything) to do with beauty.

 

The great thing about staying in Costa Rica is that no matter where you stay, you can always spend a day in Nicaragua. I did. It was a stark contrast between the neighbouring countries. Nicaragua has a completely different political climate leading to completely different problems. In Costa Rica, school, all the way into post secondary is mandatory and free. In Nicaragua, only elementary is considered compulsory, even that, not all children attend. Nicaragua has a military, while Costa Rica abolished there military. These differences are apparent when comparing a major Costa Rican city to a Nicaraguan city. The Nicaragua portion of my trip was the part where I actually noticed I was in a different country and behaved as such. In Costa Rica, I might as well have been in an unusually beautiful part of Canada.

 

I did have the pleasure of checking out some active volcanos. Ryan and I even went right to the edge of an active one. It was very smokey, and felt posionous. Like chemicals were coating your teeth. Even with that unpleasantness, I wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything (including another day at the spa).

 

I loved Costa Rica, I would recommend it for anyone. Especially those of you who can’t seem to shake the Mexico habit.

Egypt, March 2009

Trip cost $5000(ish), 9 days

March 2009 my sister and I went on the trip of a life time, Egypt on Contiki. I can’t say enough about how great contiki is. If you’re in the age bracket (18 – 35), and have the money, you should seriously consider a Contiki trip.

 

We started, where anyone would start, in Cairo. There are 3 main things you need to see in Cairo; the pyramids (the sphinx included), the Cairo museum, and the market.

 

The pyramids are like nothing else on earth. No matter how much time you spend looking at them in pictures or on tv, the size of them will surprise you. They’re also not guarded the way you might think they are. Feel free to climb up them. I did. The other thing that surprised me is how close to the city they really are, you can easily walk to either KFC or Pizza hut, they’re both unusually close to the site. You can get inside the pyramids, but if you’re claustrophobic, I wouldn’t recommend it. As with any of the Egyptian tombs I have the honour of exploring first hand, it is very hot and small inside. I would recommend taking a camel ride around the pyramids, it is very worth it.

 

If you’ve been to the British Museum in London, the Cairo Museum is pretty similar. I was lucky enough to be there when the King Tut exhibit was there. Amazing. The one thing I regret most about my trip to Egypt was that I didn’t pay the extra to see the unwrapped mummies.

 

About 8 days before my sister and I arrived in Cairo, someone had blown up a large portion of the Cario market with the intention of killing tourists. If a 22 year old and her 20 year old sister can manage, I’m sure you can too. It is a gigantic bazaar where you can find….anything….just anything you want. Spices, street food, butcher shops, clothing, pets, there was even an entire store that sold only whips. While you should expect the typical tourist clothing, if you look in the right stores, their’s actually some really nice stuff.

 

If you can, buy Egyptian oils and Egyptian cotton sheets while in Cario. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to find quality products in the bazaar. That is one of the reasons I recommend Contiki so highly. They take you directly to high quality suppliers. I still have my oils and use them as perfume on special occasions.

 

After Cairo we took an overnight train to Aswan. The facilities were disgusting and you have to sleep with your valuables near by, plus it’s a very loud and shaky way to sleep.

 

Aswan is like a completely different Egypt than Cairo. It’s absolutely beautiful. We went to check out another market, but were interrupted by a sand storm which is more painful than I expected. Bring sunglasses.

 

Next we flew to Abu Simbel, I wish I could properly explain the awe I was in upon seeing this temple, but this blog would be the longest blog on the internet (that’s right, the whole internet) if I could do these wonder’s justice. It’s expensive, but again, completely worth it.

 

We then went back to Cario via cruise ship. This is the way to see Egypt! Private rooms, clean bathrooms, and you can sit on top deck and drink while you watch this amazing country go by and think about your amazing trip. It was truly amazing.

 

An Idiot Abroad

Karl Pilkington. Just thinking about him cracks me up. This loveable bald man has an interesting view on everything. He complains about the day to day, is confused by common sayings and loves (and believes) everything he hears about monkeys. He is the star of one of the greatest travel programs ever made, An Idiot Abroad.

The reason I love this show, is it’s unlike every other travel show. I love most travel programs, but it gets tiresome hearing about how fantastic it was to dip into an alley and sample the most unbelievable local cuisine, later to go on the most incredible hot air balloon ride over some tremendous site. While that sounds like a perfect day, even if I could afford some exclusive hot air balloon ride, I probably wouldn’t find it as outstanding/unbelievable/incredible/awesome/fantastic as the host would describe.

This program sends someone around the world who doesn’t think everything is great. He doesn’t try to use creative language to describe his experiences. He doesn’t do things normal people wouldn’t consider. He acts the way any stubborn, squeamish and tired person would act when presented with foreign and weird situations.

While Karl isn’t what I would call a normal human being, as far as travel shows go, he has the most normal experiences. Refusing to eat disgusting cuisine, complaining about weirdos, and being generally unimpressed with the seven wonders of the world. He says the strange and often rude things we’re all thinking, and gets away with it.

If you want a good laugh, and to see the downside of traveling, you should watch this show. You’ll never learn as much about strange toilets as you will watching An Idiot Abroad.

Mexico for Christmas 2009

Trip cost $1400, 1 week

I was talking to a girl several years younger than me about travel, she wanted to know where she should go after she graduated high school, I told her enthusiastically “Mexico!”. She said “I’d rather go somewhere with culture.” Ok…whatever. While Mexico is a great party destination, and a great place to relax, it does have culture.

Mexico is home to a number of festivals and ruins. The day of the dead is a national holiday, where families remember there loved ones who have passed away. It’s also a celebration of life. The celebration varies from place to place. Some towns have midnight dances, some towns celebrate something very similar to our Halloween. I haven’t been yet, but I plan to.

and I plan to look like this the whole time!

Mexico is a religious place, most people are Catholic, and Easter is a really big deal. Schools are given 2 weeks off and it tends to be the hottest time of year. You can expect serious crowds at the beach, but it would be one of the best times of year to check out the city streets. Many places have plays where they reenact the crucifixion on Good Friday. That’s right, it’s not just about chocolates and bunnies like some of those places with “culture”.

My experience with Mexico was the typical tourist experience. I spent a week in a 5 star all inclusive resort being pampered, waited on, and enjoying every second of my time. The weather was phenomenal, the beach was perfect, and the drinks were endless. A really relaxing vacation. When you’re tired of all that napping in the sun though, there are some sights you really shouldn’t miss.

Chichen Itza is a Mayan built city featuring a giant pyramid, it’s the most popular of all the archeological sites Mexico has to offer. One of the main reasons for it’s popularity is that tourists can pronounce it, our tour guide gave us a handy tip for remembering the name, it sounds like chicken pizza. It’s also one of the 7 wonders and about a 3 hour bus ride from Cancun. It gets really hot in the middle of the jungle, so don’t forget to bring your own water as it takes about half a day at least to see most of the ruins.

The pirate ships in Cancun may not be one of the 7 wonders of the world, but it is a great time for anyone who doesn’t get sea sick. There are 3, life sized pirate ships all crewed by movie pirates; Captain Hook, Captain Jack Sparrow and the all too freaky, Davy Jones (who did make a number of little kids cry so maybe take a different ship if traveling with little ones). They take you out on the sea for a few hours where they serve a really good steak and lobster meal and have unlimited drinks. The pirates perform a fantastic show where captains from other boats swing by rope onto your boat and have a sword fight. It’s really well done and another fun diversion from resort living.

I love Mexico, and I’m sure I’ll return before 2012 is up.  Perhaps an end of the Mayan calendar party is in order. I can’t think of a better way to ring in the “end of the world”. Spooky!

Norway. A Nice Place To Visit And My Friend Wants To Live There.

Trip cost $1990, 1 week

In 2008 my sisters and I went on our second trip to Norway, first time as adults. The tickets to get over there were pricey, but we had family to stay with so that was our only expense. We took with us 2 of my sisters closest friends DinDin and Kaylyn.

Our first stop was in Oslo, that’s where most planes will take you. I have an Uncle who lives in Oslo and he showed us some of the sights. I was lucky enough to see Frogner Park for a second time in my life.

The first time I had the privilege of walking through this unbelievable city of statues I was 12 years old and completely uncomfortable and offended by the nudity. Naked statues everywhere!

10 years later I have enough perspective to really appreciate this artists skill and dedication to his life’s work. The sheer amount of sculptures is impressive, not to mention the detail of expression these works of art posses.

Take a look at the angry boy

or this statue made popular by an internet meme.


The most impressive work in the park has to be the monolith.

After our all too brief time in Oslo, we went on a long and winding drive to Trondheim . While I appreciated my chance to see the country side, I couldn’t wait to get into bed.

Trondheim is absolutely picturesque. We spent much of our time visiting, but we did get to see a few sites. The Nidaros Cathedral being the main one.

I did a terrible job taking a picture of it, sorry!

What metal fan could go to Norway without asking about the church burnings of the 90’s? My first trip to Norway would have been in 1998, and the arsons would have been fresh in the minds of many Norwegians, I was 12 and didn’t know anything about metal then. When I returned in 2008, nobody really knew what I was talking about, but they did take me to a black metal exhibit at the Ringve music museum. It was…ok…

The rest of the museum is far more impressive. I’ve never seen so many unique instruments from around the world. It also contains Chopin’s death mask and casts of his hands.

We did get out to one of those famous fjords, but I can’t say we did much about it. Even though it was July, we were fully dressed. Perhaps in another 10 years I’ll appreciate a beach without beach weather.

Though it’s been 3 and a half years since our girls trip to Norway, we still talk about it often. Kaylyn, one of the girls with us, is moving to Oslo next week. I guess you could say we enjoyed it!

7 Tips to Get Your Dream Vacation Cheap

7 – The internet is your friend. Cheap hotels aren’t always seedy hotels. The internet is a great tool when trying to book a frugal vacation. You can find out which hostels are the cleanest and safest, and if you’re into actually getting some sleep, which hotels you can trust even though the price makes it look iffy. Keep searching. Type “free things to do in _______” and there will be at least a little good information.

6 – Talk to everyone. Talk to people who have been there, who want to go there, have seen a show on it, anything. You never know where the best ideas are going to come from. Never stop talking to other people, even once you get to your hotel, keep asking everyone what are the best things to do. People love to brag about the deals they’ve discovered!

5 – Go with friends. Every travel company has discounts when you go with 10 or more people. Try to find something that gives you a discount for 4, or as many as you have going with you.

4 – Book around the most expensive part. If you’re flying overseas and staying in hostels, your flights are going to be the most expensive. Find the most frugal flights and book the rest later. If you’re taking a month long cruise, find the inexpensive cruise first and book the flights after.

3 – Narrow down what really matters to you. Sometimes, a room with a view isn’t really the most important part. If you’re anything like me, you don’t spend very much time looking out of the window in your hotel room. Sometimes you don’t need a guided tour for the entire trip. If you really want a guide, try doing part of it with a tour group and another part on your own. Much less expensive and you get to see what you want on your own terms.

2 – Travel in the off season. I had a really great European vacation for very little just because I went in September. Be flexible with your dates.  Sometimes leaving a day sooner or a day later will save you hundreds.

1 – Charity. Do some good in the world! Find a cause you really care about in any part of the world and volunteer to help out. Once you have a cause behind you, fund raise like crazy to get there.