Monday, August 31, 2009

Indulge a Little...You're on Vacation

I was searching around on and the travel section, when I found a blog posing the question about favorite vacation indulgences. Like most other people in this economy, I have cut back on small luxuries in my daily life. I avoid eating out, I have not gotten a manicure in over six months, and I try not to buy new clothes unless absolutely necessary--though that has been difficult for me to keep up. Also during my daily routine, I tend to concentrate on eating healthy and staying fit.

However, when I get the chance to go on vacation, I do tend to indulge just a little. The blog mentioned some standard things like upgrading a hotel room to a suite, or paying for guided tours, or visiting the spa. I enjoy these just as much as the next person. But I also like to indulge in other ways. After a nice meal, I always make room for a decadent dessert. Chocolate, cheesecake, ice cream, you name it, I'll eat it.

I also like a trip to the spa, but not just for a massage--which is very nice. I love getting my nails done. I always screw up my nails, so it's nice to have them professionally done once and a while.

Probably one of my favorite indulgences has nothing to do with shopping or personal health or eating. I love taking a day to walk or hike or drive--if necessary--to scenic locations. It is one thing I never get the chance to do when I am at home. I could always go out and get a nice dessert, or enjoy a manicure at the local nail salon, but rarely do I get the opportunity to see beautiful scenery. So when I am on vacation in an exotic location, I have to take the time to enjoy what is there. I think it is the most rewarding part of a vacation. Architecture, mountain ranges, beaches, forests, lakes. A never ending array of things to look at, be inspired by, or escape to. That's the kind of indulgance I enjoy the most.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Penning the Perfect Travel Memoir

This summer has been an emotional roller coaster. But, honestly, it has helped me more than I could have ever imagined.

I started the summer in job mode: searching everywhere for potential careers, picking up numerous freelance jobs, and constantly scouring for more and more opportunities to build my portfolio/resume. I was working two jobs--one an unpaid internship--to fill my days, and on top of that trying to schedule in activities to fill my evenings. Apart from the work, I was trying to formulate a good workout and healthy eating routine, which takes a little more dedication that I think I was really willing to give. By mid-summer, I was burnt out.

I did not know what direction my life was going, I was stressing myself out with all my freelance work which I was voluntarily contributing to, and I was being pulled in every direction. It wasn't until my boyfriend sat me down in a teary-eyed state and asked me straight out "what do you want to do? what makes you happy?" It took me less than a second to writing.

Yes, I am aware that this blog is about travel, so I am already doing something in my area of interest. But all these other tasks were just deterring me from my passion. I did all these things--internships, freelance--because I thought I was suppose to in order to get a writing career off the ground. Yes, they certainly help and I have accumulated a number of writing samples because of them. But in reality, they were becoming too much to handle.

Now, it is the end of the summer. I have let one of my freelance jobs go, and I'm keeping one just so I can continue to build my portfolio. My internship is ending this week, so I will no longer be stressing about various assignments about beauty trends and innovative packaging. I decided to slow down on the job hunt, because I do still have a year left of graduate school to finish and therefore a decent amount of time to search for future careers. But most important, I am writing my travel memoir.

I am now dedicating about 15-20 minutes a day writing down my travel experiences. I have decided to focus on my Europe trip last summer that lasted 7 long weeks. Already I have written three chapters or essays--not quite sure how the structure is going to be laid out. The important part is that I am writing and feeling good about the material I am producing. I can tell you, truthfully, that I feel a lot more relaxed, collected, and happy about where life is going now that I have a focus. After I get a few more chapters/essays finished, I am going to try to send the manuscript to a few agents or publishers and hopefully get lucky. I know it can be a long process, but this is something I truly love to do, so why waste my time doing anything else?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Killing Time in the Vancouver Airport

I had the unfortunate luck of having a delayed flight out of Vancouver a few days ago. I had just spent a relaxing weekend in Whistler--as my previous entry talks about--and I was heading back to reality in Chicago when I looked at the screen and saw a two hour delay next to my flight number. To make matters worse, being the worrier I am--and my mom being ten times worse--I was already at the airport two hours early for the orginal scheduled departure. I had over 4 hours to wait. Thankfully, I had a good book to read as well as my journal to write in.

But it can be a bit tedious reading for hours on end, and my eyes can start to hurt after looking at tiny type for too long. So the first thing I did--since it was early--was grab a coffee and a damn good cinammon roll. I usually don't indulge on such fattening and sweet food for breakfast, but I felt I deserved something delecatable to help me get through my long wait in a practically empty airport. I ventured over to the gate and took a seat. I decided to take the time to write more about my weekend and pulled out my journal. As I was penning away in earnst, more and more people began showing up, delivering the same sigh of annoyance as they saw the bright red DELAYED sign flashing. I was able to get in touch with my boyfriend to find out that the delay was weather related and it was pouring down rain in Chicago. With this information, I was able to start up a couple conversations with people who were curious about this inconvenience. Many people were only flying to Chicago to make connections to their final destination cities, so the airport became a frenzy of paniced people worrying about getting home. I felt bad, because thankfully Chicago was as far as I had to go, so it was just annoying for me to have to wait longer to get home. Whereas other people could have been stranded or stuck in other cities overnight.

To break away from the hectic ticketing area and all the families rushing around trying to find other flights, I wandered over to the duty free shops, hoping to find some good stuff to purchase. But usually the stuff they sell is really expensive. Plus, I had no room to put anything in my already overstuffed carryon. But shopping certainly killed some more time, and I was able to explore more of the airport. If you have ever been to Vancouver you know, the airport is amazing. It's massive, first of all, and the Native American decor is beautiful. I loved all the wood carvings and paintings of native tribes, it was very indicative of the culture they have in Vancouver. As most know, the 2010 winter olympic games are going to be held there, and I love how they are bringing in regional tradition with all the Native American characters and legends.

In my efforts to pass the time, my stomach began to grumble. Clearly that cinammon roll was not enough to suffice me for the full four hours. So I went in search of something more fullfilling. I found it in Tim Hortons, a coffee chain throughout Canada. They not only have a range of pastries, bagels, and coffee, but they also have a number of sandwiches, paninis, and salads. I opted for a yummy looking chicken salad sandwich and an ice tea. I felt I needed to be a little healthier with my lunch selection, seeing as my breakfast had been a sugarfest. After purchasing a snack for the four hour plane ride--yeah, on top of the delay, the flight still takes that long--I headed back over to the gate to find a seat and enjoy my airport meal. I pulled out my book, because I can't seem to eat without doing something at the same time, and began reading while I took hungry bites from the whole wheat roll. It was delicious! I really wish they had Tim Horton's in the US. Maybe someday they will.

With a full stomach and my mind preoccupied with my book, the rest of the time appeared to fly by and before I knew it my flight was finally boarding. As I sat happily on the plane, ready to head home, I thought back fondly on my unwanted time in Vancouver airport. Truth be told, it was not as bad as I had anticipated. In fact, it was kind of relaxing, laid back and carefree. A perfect end to my long weekend away from reality.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Weekend in Whistler

Last weekend, I had the privilege of spending a vacation in Whistler, British Columbia. It was absolutely incredible.

After a four hour flight from Chicago to Vancouver International Airport, I met my parents at the baggage claim and we picked up our car. The drive up to Whistler, while dreary due to bad weather, was gorgeous. The mountains peaked through low clouds, creating almost an eerie feel, and yet breathtaking. The ocean came right up to the foot of the peaks, and you really understood why they call it sea to sky country.

The drive was about 2 hours, only because construction along the highway for the Olympics was being done, so without that it would be a shorter commute. We entered the adorable ski town of Whistler, and I immediately felt at home. Being from Colorado, I miss the ski/mountain town atmosphere, so I welcomed this experience with open arms. My mom pulled up in front of the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, and I was immediately grateful that this trip was compliments of my parents. It's nice when you're a grad student who makes little to nothing to have a weekend away with the parents.

We checked into our rooms, the hotel being incredibly accommodating to our needs, and then immediately came back down to the lobby area for a drink and some dinner. Everything at the hotel was delicious, and my tuna nicoise hit the spot. Seriously, if you're in Vancouver, fish is the best thing to order because it is so fresh and they certainly know how to cook it. The first night was spent just catching up with my parents, chatting about life and my future, and before we knew it the bar was almost closing.

The next morning, my dad and I got up early and walked down to the lower village for ziplining. We signed up with ZipTrek and did the Eagle tour. Though it was a little pricey--$119--it was well worth the money. Five ziplines through the gorgeous mountains, and over a beautiful glacial river. We also got to experience a 2200 foot zipline. I don't know how fast I was going, but it was intense. Our last zipline, we got the chance to do whatever we my dad and I went upside down. What an awesome experience.

As for Whistler village, there are plenty of shops, boutiques, and restaurants to keep you occupied for hours. We wandered around and found some gifts for people back at home, as well as some treats for ourselves. Since the weekend was pretty much open to whatever we wanted to do, we took the chance to relax a little bit. We went for hikes around the base of Blackcombe mountain, as well as took the chairlift to the top so we could ride the peak-to-peak gondola--the longest one in the world. And of course my mom and I had to get massages to destress us from out hectic lives at home. And to top off our trip, an outdoor market took place on the last day I was in Whistler. There were fruit and vegetable vendors, pastry chefs, artists, photographers, jewelry makers and more. I love wandering through the various stands looking at what each one has to offer. And, of course, I bought some things.

Even though I was only there for about four days, and it wasn't even ski season, I fell in love with the area and would definitely go back for another visit.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Ghan: Australian for Train

Just recently I heard that a good friend of mine, Melissa, was accepted to graduate school in Australia. I have had the privilege of traveling to the land down under twice before, once when I was 7 and again when I was 14, both times to visit family. And now that I have a friend studying there, I think it's about time I made another trip. As I was browsing the internet for some fun attractions in Aussie land, I saw an article about the Ghan, a transcontinental train that runs north-south for 1,900 miles from Adelaide on the south end to Darwin on the north end. I was intrigued...

Originally called the Afghan after the camels that provided primitive transportation, it has been shortened to the Ghan, with a camel and a rider as it's signature symbol. The whole trip from south to north takes 48 hours, but I imagine it feels nothing like a cramped car ride in a cross country road trip. First of all, it is described as part cruise train, part working train. Second, it only has four stops along the entire route, meaning the annoyance of stop-and-go travel is gone. There are three levels of service: Red, Gold, and Platinum. Gold and Platinum passengers get to eat together in the dining car — three meals a day included for them — and Red passengers bring their own or order from the snack bar in their section. Red passengers get a tiny sleeping alcove or a reclining seat, Gold get a small, private room with a toilet/shower and a ladder to a bunk bed, and Platinum get comfortable staterooms with double Murphy beds and attached private bathroom. Doesn't sound too shabby.

The dining cars operates in the same way as a cruise ship does, seating strangers together to fill tables of four. If you have a Gold or Platinum level, the food is served on heavy china dishes on white linen table clothes--I'm reminded of the old western films. For dinner, roast duck salad, roast vegetables and rice served as little fried balls called arancini, curry of kingfish or kangaroo steak. For breakfast, gammon steak and red capsicum ragout or a warm smoked salmon crepe with asparagus, or the usual eggs to order. For lunch, smoked lamb with zucchini and bean salad or roasted pumpkin and artichoke tart. High class.

When the train does stop, passengers are free to disembark and roam the city. The Ghan provides Whistle Stop Tours for people who want a special look at some of the unique Australian destinations. The tours offer everything from guided walks and cruises to quad bike and helicopter rides. And yes, these do cost extra, to answer your question. So for the more frugal traveler, I suggest getting a good guide book and exploring the city on your own.

The Gold and Platinum options give passengers a free shuttle bus to their hotels once the final destination city is reached, while Red passengers have to find their own mode of transportation to their accomodation--if they have any. Needless to say, the travelers with a little extra cash should opt for the higher levels od service which provide them with some quality and relaxing perks. If you're a backpacker...go with the Red.

Now, I don't know if Melissa would be up for this trek through the heart of Australia, but if I'm making the trip over the Pacific to see her, maybe she'd be up for a two day train ride with me. I'll have to suggest it to her.