A brief outline of all the trips I’ve been lucky enough to experience! Feel free to ask more details for any of them or share your own experiences in any of these places!
My introduction to the world
Children are crazy. They are fearless, with few responsibilities and nothing stopping them from taking every opportunity given to them. Adults on the other hand, are fearful, sometimes broken, often full of responsibilities causing a consistent battle to balance time, money and health. These limitations prevent them from enjoying life to the fullest, and in my opinion hinders ones ability to travel. I feel more than blessed to have got the chance to join a high school trip to France to practice my French as a child. I had never been out of North America nor on a plane but once that permission slip was signed I was eager and excited to meet the world.
The trip was 10 days adventuring all around France, starting in beautiful Paris. As a 16 year old girl I was living the dream. Here, I was a beautiful foreigner, seeing a part of the world I had only dreamed of visiting. Here, I was only a speck in a crowded square of the Eiffel tower, but I loved it. I will happily be a tiny speck in the world if it means I get to experience the beautiful giant world that we live in.. and here, I was legal drinking age. First, be sure to grab yourself a glass of champagne at the top of the tower, really get the “I’ve made it” feel going. Of all places to have your first legal drink, Europe is the place to do it. Europeans have such a casual drinking culture, you can sit in an outdoor square surrounded by several shops and bars and happily grab a drink from one place, food from an another then sit In the square and enjoy the weather. Do note the laws have since changed to 18 years old, but the lax drinking culture is maintained. Here, my friends and I got a taste of independence, and our thoughts and dreams spiraled in every direction dreaming up where our lives will lead us with this new perspective on the world.
While being a speck in the world is great, it can get claustrophobic if you’re just a speck in the crowd of dozens of tourists trying to get “that shot” of the Eiffel tower. To get out of the crowds you can enjoy the adorable restaurants, filled with beautiful calming French music and roses on the tables that fueled my little girl dreams of going on dates with boys then getting kissed in the rain on the cobblestone streets. Just steps away from the tower you can find the beautiful Seine river and walk along it to find many other historic sites. Being Canadian I oohed and awed at every historical building, as some of their structures were older than my entire country! The time put into those buildings were beyond my comprehension as the details were finer than anything you see today and the machinery was much less developed.
If you’re not up for the walk down the river, I definitely advise jumping onto one of the river boat tours. My group and I found one that toured down the river during dinner time, giving us the opportunity to try some more French cuisine, and it conveniently lines with sunset – depending on the time of year of course. Therefore on your ride home you get to enjoy the Eiffel tower lighting up the city, which has a certain je ne sais crois beauty about it. Off the boat you can grab a chocolate crepe for dessert and check all your Paris must-do’s off the list. Be sure to venture away from the main tourist areas to find cheaper food, you’ll find crepes double the size for half the price! Even all these years, and travels, later, it is still one of my favourite boat tours, and best memories of Paris!
Good to note that the metro system in Paris is very well laid out to allow you to jump from destination to destination, just be cautious of pickpockets during crowded times.
We got to explore many other parts of France with our bus picking and dropping us off more places than I can remember.
6 things worth checking out on your trip to France:
- Eiffel tower – obviously
- Tour Montparnasse; stand alone high rise building with an observation deck allowing for outstanding views of the entire city (where you can get photos of the Eiffel tower rather than being at the top of the Eiffel tower)
- Le Louvre; museum – home to the Mona Lisa
- Champs-Élysées; beautiful trees hanging over the street and containing the Arc de Triomphe in the center of the square
- Château de Chenonceau; beautiful castle out of the main city, while the one’s closer to the city were wonderful this one will always be my favourite due to the fact that you can rent canoes and kayaks and go around the moat of the castle! A view of a castle you will not often get to experience
- Pont du Gard; an ancient roman aqueduct crossing the Gardon River, memorable for its size and beauty, moreover for the fact that the river is refreshing and you can swim in it and jump off the rocks surrounding it
So for all you high school students debating joining class trips, my best advice is to go! Explore the world, worst that could happen is you learn you hate it and don’t need to waste your own money when you’re older.
For any parents struggling to justify getting the money together to send your kids, if it is possible I believe it is an incredible opportunity for you to give your children and they will come back gleaming with appreciation and love.
For those of you who missed the opportunity to travel in the past and stuck in your day jobs, I encourage you to take a leap of faith and book a flight to wherever your heart desires!
In order to achieve your dreams, you need to know your dream in the first place
My Introduction to Volunteering
A million dollar vacation for mere pennies (thousands) if I help some people. Sign me up!
My life got real interesting in 2015 when I got the chance to join an organization called VESA – Volunteer Eco Students Abroad, through my university. The trip was advertised to immerse you into Fijian cultures by doing a home stay in a village while you worked to reconstruct their local school. When the job was done you then got to relish in the beauty of the Fijian islands and explore the crystal blue ocean that surrounds it. I had looked into volunteer travel groups or mission trips in the past, and growing up I think most of us had this idea in our heads that they were free, and we could just help out somewhere and get an unreal trip from it. Unfortunately, that is not the case as most volunteer trips you’re paying for the work that you will do, or rather the supplies required and meals, then work for free, but all for the greater good and helping those that live with much less than you’ll ever have. Being a university student piled in debt that was hard to wrap my head around at first, but it is FIJI, so the saving began.
Volunteers are not paid, not because they are worthless, but because they are priceless!
The moment you stepped out of the temperature controlled air craft you were hit with a wave of heat. It was as if a radiator was pointing straight on me and no matter what I did I couldn’t move away from it. The organizers met us, threw us on a bus with dozens of other students, all just as steamy as I. It was then that you could take in your surroundings of the less than appealing airport, surrounded by gates that looked like they belonged more around a prison, and no other buildings were in sight. I thankfully had met up with, now lifetime friend Carly, on our layover so I wasn’t arriving alone and didn’t have to sit on the bus of awkward acquaintances as I prayed for air-conditioning in the hotel. The first two days were full of meet and greets, scouting the group for those that had our humor and spending every minute possible in the pool. We took our much over sized bus down a road that shouldn’t have had motorized vehicles, never mind a coach bus, to go to a zip line and we all destressed before the work began.
On the third day we took a long bus ride across the island to go to the village Naqali where we met with our new families for the time we were there. Arriving here was a breath of fresh air, with the most amazing welcome group singing on our arrival and the sheer excitement in everyone was outstanding. The villages in Fiji very much run by the motto it takes a village to raise a child, as I can honestly say there were plenty of children that I never knew the parents of several children due to the fact that everyone treated them like their own.
The work began the very next day and we certainly worked hard to deserve the play we would later enjoy. Each morning we met at 8am, after being woken by the roosters around 5am… walked two kilometers to the school – this being one of the closest towns to the school, other families had to walk much farther, and worked until dusk. The school consisted of 6 buildings which all needed a lot of work, and an incinerator and compost area needed to be built. The jobs required hard work in the heat, and you certainly had to get your hands dirty. At dusk we walked back as quickly as we could to be able to shower before nightfall. Our showers in this village consisted of walking to a bridge – with pieces missing – see picture below, then jumping off it into the water, applying shampoo, jumping again, conditioner etc. Generally the sun would set during this and the adventure through the dark back to the village was much less pleasant than in the light.
It was a blessing and a curse that we were technically there during their winter. A blessing for the fact that I may very well have melted if it was summer, but a curse because much of the beautifully delicious Fijian food was not ripe. In more developed countries we are lucky enough to simply import the freshest food from whichever country was growing it best during each season. This small Fijian village was not so lucky however and eating root vegetables with most of our meals was certainly very different for most of us. Most of the vegetables could be compared to very starchy potatoes, a vegetable that most would consider starchy enough. A mystery BBQ sauce was our new best friend with every meal, and Carly and our other housemate Savanna and I often traded whichever food was… preferred by each of us on that particular day. Eating was important through and staying hydrated as in such a different place it was easy for us to get sick and unfortunately others on the trip learned that the hard way.
In saying all this, in no way was this trip anything but amazing. We learned a lot, and were so inspired by the people that hosted us. They saw themselves as unworthy to host us and consistently apologized for not being able to provide more for us. We didn’t need any more though. Our entire intention of going on this trip was to get an authentic experience, and we certainly got that. We learned these communities each took a turn preparing and delivering food to the school children every week, and families did everything for each other. We learned that in this community when a house was built it was simply given to the next person that needed a house. If someone was expecting children or a large family was residing in a small house they could evaluate who was most needing of the place and that person would get it. We learned that by rebuilding the school we were giving the children a much higher chance of being able to stay in school until they were at least 16 and we learned of the children who want nothing more than to learn. In so many ways though they taught us how lucky we are.
We saw families cry in joy for the work we’d done, we had people pray for us and thank god that we had been sent to them. It was truly a blessing and unforgettable experience.
I will never see Fiji as a million dollar tourist destination but rather as a home to people I call family, that have so little but such great morals and stronger family bonds than most western families. I will see it as a place filled with children that deserve education and have never taken a day of it for granted as we have, and a place filled with more love and appreciation than I could have ever dreamed of.
Feel free to contact me with any questions or more information so you can find your perfect volunteer trip! I’d love to hear about all of your experiences with Volunteer trips as well, good or bad!
The All-Inclusive Vacation
CUBA & JAMAICA
The famous all-inclusive resorts! In all honesty, I would love to have more of these in my life. I am always so focused on getting to see everything and enjoying the beauty of as many places I can fit into the time I have that I have to remind myself to RELAX. I have had to deal with many Hangry travelers due to the fact that I completely forget to eat when I’m caught up in the excitement. Moreover, when I travel I rarely focus on drinking alcohol, because I don’t want to lose time with the hangover or lose money with drinking. As I hope I’ve made clear by now, my travel is my life so getting a vacation in life is just as wonderful as it is for anyone else. It’s an all you can eat and all you can drink week or two of absolutely no stress. Other than a selection of excursions you can join, you have nowhere else to be but the pool or the beach and there are more bars than bathrooms in the resorts! (Don’t worry though, that blue dye in the pool thing when you pee is just a myth…)
My two all-inclusive resort experiences have been to Cuba as a graduation trip from high school with friends and a Mother daughter trip to Jamaica, which were both amazing! If you ask me the most relaxed I’ve ever been in my life the first thing that comes to my mind is sailing back to the resort after a long day of adventuring and swimming with dolphins on a pontoon boat. I was lying on the side of the boat with the sun sitting at the perfect spot in the sky to not overheat us but produce the perfect amount of warmth and happiness – yes I believe the sun and the sea produce happiness! The sway of the boat was as perfect as that of a mother rocking her newborn baby, and surrounded by friends and without any stress I fell in love with the sea, the travel and my life. I knew a city life would never be for me as this calm beauty was where I belonged.
As teenagers, diving into our college years and the ups and downs they will inevitably bring, we embraced the low drinking age in Cuba of only 16 and certainly did not let that go to waste. From late night swims in the pools and sunburns making us resemble the very lobsters we were lucky enough to eat, some mistakes were made. All in all however the trip was amazing and I do declare another friends trip is needed in the near future – so start saving.
The mother daughter trip to Jamaica was just as amazing and for its own reasons. While I am so big on seeing the untold secrets of every country it was wonderful to get away with my Mom and relax. I finally got to read books that I had started years ago and we were both amazed by the close interactions with alligators and crocodiles we got to experience on the excursions. It was a must to book every ‘à la carte’ restaurant and for the most part we ate like queens. No stress trips are the best for my Mom and me, and while she is always down for an adventure I’m thinking we need to book ourselves another all-inclusive as well!
Where should we go next?
The beginning of the backpacking!
With St. Patrick’s day closely approaching, a post about my trip to Ireland seems fitting! Green beer and leprechauns is what Ireland is all about, no? With the average Irish man standing at a mere 5’9’’ and ability to consume beer faster than most, yet remain standing till the wee hours of the morn, they are certainly the ones you want to be friends with at a party.
Ireland was my first stop of 5 countries on a backpacking trip with my friend Jessica that we went on as a post-graduation gift to ourselves. Her brother was in medical school there providing us with accommodations in Dublin, and helping to stick with our low budget plan. I feel as though we had exactly the trip you’d expect with Ireland. The island weather showed its true colours, we had a great night drinking and we hit up all the “must see’s” of Ireland. Starting in Dublin, we admired the water ways and beautiful bridges, as well as modern art pieces scattered around the city. We started with some exploring of the castles and old libraries nearby to get excited by the European culture and beauty of the century old buildings and made the MUST DO trip to the Guinness Brewery. I am happy to report I grew a new appreciation for Guinness and its creamy, caramel based delight and would confidently call that glass of Guinness the best I’ve ever had.
Dublin is a wonderful European city, however you need to leave the city to experience the true beauty of Ireland. We signed up for two bus tours – not usually my style but no regrets in this case. If you’re not able to rent a car, or don’t wish to bother with the hassle, there are many affordable tours that take you out of the city and into the sheep filled, coastal beauty of Ireland. Our first tour brought us through Irish country side, with stops at castles and old forts with the final destination at the Cliffs of Moher. These cliffs are famously known due to their appearance in the romance classic, Leap Year and more importantly Harry Potter. The rain stopped upon our arrival making for amazing clear views of the cliffs and the oceans. An animal pasture to the left of us and the ocean on our right made for a peaceful, authentic experience as we hiked across the cliffs.
The second bus tour we booked brought us to Giants causeway, a series of hexagonal rock formations resulting from Mother Nature’s incredible powers and questionable admiration for six sided shapes, or perhaps a result of giants forming and placing these rocks centuries ago. I’ll leave you to decide. The drive to the causeway was beautiful and included a stop at the craziest suspension bridge I’ve ever been on. The bridge was quite long and hanging across to an island, at heights much too high to survive a fall from. My ridiculous love for heights made the adrenaline rush and once on the island the view was that much better. The wind had another plan for our perfectly prepared hair in our photos – but only made our smiles that much bigger as we laughed at our struggle and insisted stranger take 500 photos, to increase chances of a good shot. The island life provides such wonderful coast lines but at the cost of a temperamental weather system and quickly passing clouds and storms.
Finally, we spent some time exploring the city itself, with brewery tours and a night beginning in the famous temple bar, and ending in a over packed tuk tuk attempting to imitate the Irish accent and learning the meaning of educational words such as bellend and bollix. The trip was nothing short of amazing, but interesting enough I left knowing that I would not like to move there, as I struggled with the rainy days outweighing the sunny ones. In all honestly though it’s more of an accomplishment for me when I find a country I wouldn’t live in, as my working holiday visas will one day run out and I need to have a few countries I’m happy not living In for some period of my life.
That wraps up the Ireland post, but remember, it was only the first country of 5 on this backpacking trip of a lifetime! So keep watch for the next post and gather ideas for your own trip! Keep an eye out for some tips on best ways to save money when backpacking and ways to avoid scams or safety concerns in new countries.
STAY WILD FRIENDS!
Netherlands was our second country during our backpacking Europe trip, and we explored the country top to bottom! Day 1 – Upon arrival we were thankful to get free accommodation with a friend in Leiden, with easy access to Amsterdam by train! We arrived just in time for a music festival where we got to dance around and experience our first European festival. Day 2 – we decided to head off to Rotterdam and get to Kinderdijk containing nineteen 18-th century windmills, for the most authentic experience of Holland I could possibly dream of. After leaving much too late, taking a train then realizing we also had 2 ferries to take, then it starting to rain, we were quickly losing sight of our dream for the day. Hungry and frustrated the goal became clear “WE WILL NOT BE HAPPY UNTIL WE SEE SOME WINDMILLS.” We then got on a ferry to get to the islands, where the drivers told us if we were to go we would not have a way back… but decided we did not care. The final ferry driver told us if we were to make a very quick visit then he would wait for us. Sure enough we sprinted into the field of windmills and had nothing but smiles on our faces as we ran through the rainy fields, all our dreams were fulfilled and not a single regret for making the journey. Kinderdijk IS A MUST SEE if you’re going to Holland. Day 3 – we went into Amsterdam, and while the rain certainly added an obstacle we had an amazing day :
See https://wheresemilyat.com/2019/07/29/a-rainy-day-in-amsterdam/ to read about our day in Amsterdam!
For our last few days we got the amazing opportunity to go visit some of my family that was living in south east Holland in Landgraaf. We were welcomed with open arms and got the chance to tour around Landgraaf. On the first evening, we popped over to Germany (as a Canadian this line seems so ridiculous) for dinner in a building that used to serve as the border crossing! It was amazing to be able to put all the things of my history books into reality! The second day we got to be in THREE places at once, by standing on the point where Germany, Belgium and Holland all meet. We had lunch overlooking the beautiful valleys and enjoyed the highest point in Holland… a mere hill. We then went to visit some memorial sites for those who fell as a result of the wars and were delighted with the history lesson from my family! It was an absolute delight getting to meet family members so far from home and further growing my travel family life! The final day we made our way back up to Amsterdam and enjoyed a day of sunshine for once, strolling through the canals and some parks before making our way to the airport for a short flight to Czech Republic!