Work-life balance has always been something that I’ve struggled with. When I worked at Free The Children, they pushed the term “work-life integration” instead of work-life balance. Basically, the idea was that the stuff you do from 9 to 5 should … Continue reading
For those not following my daily Instagram posts or Snapchat stories…
WE GOT A DOG!!!!
Please meet our sweet girl, Ellie!
Ellie is a four year old chihuahua mix who loves napping on the couch and giving lots of kisses. She’s 12.4 lbs (we just had her weighed at the vet) and has the most adorable little snaggle tooth. Ellie is still a bit nervous with all of the new surroundings but she’s already the sweetest thing and absolutely has my heart. Case in point: on her third night with us, she finally worked up the courage to come into our bedroom. For a good half hour she ran from one side of the bed to the other, putting her paws up and hoping one of us would lift her into bed. We didn’t want her up in the bed so decided not to lift her. And while I know that was the right decision and Ellie wasn’t negatively affected, I did lie there crying that she wanted up on the bed and we weren’t letting her. Poor Colin thought I was losing it!
So how did we end up with a dog?
About two years ago, shortly after Colin and I met, I began fostering a sweet anxious dog named Waffles. I was completely in love. But I knew Waffles wasn’t going to be a good fit for me longterm. She was very anxious, and needed someone with her 24/7. She would cry and paw at the door when I went to the bathroom. Luckily, I worked in a pet friendly office but I wasn’t sure if that would be the case forever. It was stressful to have a dog at the office and to always have to pass on after work drinks or activities because Waffles needed to go out and get home. I loved my month of fostering Waffles but was very happy when she found her furever family.
When Colin and I were looking for an apartment, we were ideally looking for something pet friendly, because we thought we might have to take in Colin’s family cat. But we quickly learned in Vancouver’s crazy rental market, you can’t be too picky. So we stopped prioritizing pet friendly places yet still managed to find one. Our building is completely pet friendly – there’s even a grass terrace on the floor below us perfect for Ellie’s walks.
So once we moved in together, we talked about maybe getting a dog as a Christmas present to each other. We both grew up with dogs and with me working from home, a dog could be a real possibility. We figured we should get settled first and then introduce a fur baby. But then we thought, it would be a lot more fun to get a dog in the summer when the weather is good instead of in the cold and rainy winter. So we were thinking about summer. But then I joined a bunch of dog adoption sites on Facebook….whoops!
In the first month of us living together, I was constantly sending Colin pictures of adorable dogs I was seeing on these dog adoption sites. The wonderful guy that he is, he put up with all of the pictures and would listen to me talking about the cute pups I was seeing online. We talked about fostering, but decided it might be too hard to part with a dog.
And then I saw a picture of Ellie (previously named Colleen). She was the perfect size and perfect age; we wanted a smaller dog since we’re in a one bedroom apartment and an adult dog so we didn’t have to worry about training. We also wanted a dog who was fairly low energy, since we’re not big athletes, and one who wasn’t going to bark or have any behaviour issues. Ellie fit the bill perfectly. I sent the photos to Colin and he agreed that she looked great. And then I took it a step too far: I posted on the Facebook page asking if she was still available and ended up chatting with her current foster mom. Ellie’s foster mom was telling me all of the wonderful things about her and I knew she was right for us. I sent Colin a screenshot of our conversation with the title “REMEMBER YOU LOVE ME.”
Colin, who was only sitting in the other room, came over to my desk. I was hiding my face full of nerves, guilt and embarrassment that I had let it go this far. I nervously asked Colin if he would be okay if we put in an application for her and he, the sweet guy that he is, agreed. He knew how much I would love having a dog around when I’m home alone and saw how perfect Ellie would be for us.
So from there we applied, did a home check, visited Ellie at her foster’s house and then picked her up on Monday! We’re currently doing the foster-to-adopt program; we foster Ellie for two weeks and if it works out, we then adopt her. We’re 5 days in and it’s definitely working out. On her first day, Ellie stayed in her crate all day long and we struggled to get her out for a walk. But by day two, she was out on the couch with us. Now she’s next to us all the time, exploring the other rooms of the apartment and she’s even over her fear of the elevator!
We’re really loving having Ellie around. It’s been an adjustment for sure – I’m waking up much earlier than I used to and spending more time working from the couch so Ellie can sit next to me. As I type this, she has her little head on my leg, fast asleep. It’s the cutest thing! Once I publish this, I’ll have to wake her up for her last walk of the day. Fingers crossed she does her business and we don’t wake up to any surprises on our floor!
PS: We chose the name Ellie for a couple of reasons. First of all, we really didn’t like the name Colleen. Colin has an aunt named Colleen, I have a friend named Coleen, it’s very close to “Colin” and is just a strange name for a dog. We toyed with a few ideas and realized we wanted a more human sounding name (so no silly puns or naming her after food). We settled on Ellie in honour of two people: Ellen Degeneres, because both Ellie and Ellen are very kind and give lots of love, and Eliza Schuyler, one of the protagonists from our favourite musical, Hamilton. Of course, I almost never use her real name preferring nicknames like Smelly Ellie or Ells A Bells.
It has been exactly one week since Colin and I moved into our new place in New Westminster!
And I’d have to say, I think we’re doing very well for our first week together. We had the place all unpacked by Day 2. And in this first week we’ve managed to get rid of all of the empty boxes, go on multiple trips to IKEA and Walmart, grocery shop, clean, hang pictures and not kill each other 🙂
Our first night here was exhausting. We spent all day moving from my house, moving from Colin’s house, unpacking the essentials and cleaning. Luckily we had some awesome friends help us, but the 28th was still a very tiring day. We both felt like we were staying at someone else’s house for those first few nights. But now it is really starting to feel like home.
I love that our bed is finally not shoved up against a wall so we can both have nightstands. I love that we have photos of our friends and family on the wall. I love that we have giant windows which let the sun stream in (on the rare Vancouver spring day where we get sun). I love that we have fresh tulips on the table – a gift from Colin’s mom. I love that we take turn making meals in the kitchen and go grocery shopping together. And I really love that we have a garbage shoot on our floor so we don’t have to go outside to take out the garbage!
Okay, enough rambling! Basically, I am really loving our new home and living with my guy. I’m excited to finish up the last touches we need to settle in, have people over and explore our New West neighbourhood. Here are some shots of our place:
Home sweet home!
Generally speaking, I am not a fan of all-inclusive resorts.
What’s not to love about AI resorts?
I have no problem with beaches, pools, buffets and all the margaritas you can drink. I love aqua aerobic classes and cheesy nightly shows. So why do I usually turn my nose up at AI resorts? Because I don’t think they’re real traveling. And yes, I acknowledge that this is my inner travel snob talking!
To me, traveling is discovering new places, trying new foods, seeing attractions, interacting with local people, learning more about the local culture and having genuine experiences in a new place. Most of that is hard to accomplish at the swim up bar of a resort. That’s not to say it’s impossible – you can always leave the resort, go into town and discover something new. But I think the problem is when people don’t. I know lots of people who don’t experience more of the world outside of their AI resort.
So what changed?
My perspective! I still don’t think spending a week at an all-inclusive resort is traveling. But, I do think it is a vacation. And those are sometimes not the same thing. In my opinion, a vacation is a break from your real life where you get to relax and recharge. On vacation you don’t have an itinerary and you’re not constantly on the move. It’s not always possible to fit in a lot of “vacation” time when you’re busy traveling through a new country. But an AI resort is all about the vacation!
Our trip to Mexico
Colin and I just got back from a week at an all-inclusive resort in Huatulco, Mexico. I was hesitant when this vacation opportunity first came up. I really didn’t want to spend money on a week at a resort. But the idea of ticking Mexico off my list (I can’t believe I hadn’t been to Mexico yet!) and spending time with my boyfriend in the sun, instead of alone in Snowcouver, sold me on it.
And I’m super glad we went! Things have been a bit stressful in the last month or so preparing for our move, Colin’s mom selling the house and trying to fit my freelance work and new job opportunities in where I can. It was really nice to take a break from it all. I originally thought I would bring my laptop and just do my freelance work in Mexico. But I wanted to have an actual vacation. So I worked hard ahead of time and spoke with my editors so that I could have a full week off. I still did a bit of work but I was mainly in relaxation mode!
I loved our routine in Mexico: sleep in late, head to the Mexico restaurant for breakfast, meet Colin’s family on the beach, grab lunch, switch to the pool, shower up, go to dinner, and then enjoy some music or entertainment outside. We mixed things up with some aqua fitness classes and catching some of the nightly shows as well.
And we also did some non-resort activities. We took a cab into town one day and got to visit the local market, a church and a famous pizzeria. We also went on a snorkelling excursion, but I got seasick and came home early. And we did get to practice and use our Spanish, which was a really fun challenge. I loved using my limited language skills with the staff and learning new words en espanol! So we did get a dose of “travel” on our vacation.
So really no complaints about lying under beach umbrellas, dipping in the ocean, grazing the buffet (there were churros!), dancing to a DJ and drinking way too many margaritas. But now we’re back to real life: packing, cleaning and working. While I don’t miss the constant sunscreen application, I do miss the waves, drinks, sun and chill vibes that you might only be able to find at an all-inclusive resort.
I am a freelance writer.
That sentence on its own is pretty terrifying, to be honest. But it’s true! I am currently a full time freelance writer – meaning that my current and only source of income is freelance writing. I have been doing some freelancing on and off since 2012. But it wasn’t until I quit my job in October and took off to Vietnam for a month that I found myself freelancing full time. So it’s been two and a bit months now and so far, freelancing is a work in progress and something I’m learning as I go. Overall, I have to say that it’s going really well! There are lots of aspects of freelance writing that I love and many I’m still getting used to. Financially, it’s also working out and I’m actually making a decent amount seeing as I’ve only been doing this a short time. But despite how well things are going, I’m still scared. These are the five things that run through my mind pretty often and what I’m trying to do to stop them.
5. I’m scared I will hate writing.
Sometimes I’m scared I will hate writing. I have countless unfinished stories and starts of novels on my computer that are proof that I can fall out of love with my writing. And I get those feelings again when I find myself working on an article that I’m not passionate about or not interested in. When writing was just a hobby, it didn’t bother me too much that I would start a story and not return to it. But now that I rely on it for my income, I don’t really have the luxury of hating my writing and not returning to it. I have to keep going. And that is scary.
The cure: I went into my freelance “career” (can we call it a career yet?) with this fear in mind. And someone pointed out to me that even though I may have dropped stories or given up on ideas over the years, I have always consistently wrote. Since penning a play in high school, I have always returned to writing in some form. That’s almost a decade of writing! I also have this Hemingway quote up on a board by my desk which reminds me, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now.”
Other things I’m doing to ensure my love for writing doesn’t burn out is splitting my jobs into smaller tasks, taking breaks, working on client projects that I enjoy and always having some fun writing that’s just for me to fall back on, like this blog!
4. I’m scared no one will want to hire me.
I think this one boils down to our universal fear of rejection. Most people in regular 9-5s don’t have the opportunity to experience rejection all that often. As a freelancer, the chance of getting rejected comes up almost daily. Especially when I was first applying to jobs, it was hard to grow a thick skin so quickly and get used to the idea that some people will not want me. This also relates to a fear of having no money, since rejections are closely tied to my income.
The cure: This is definitely still something I’m working on. One thing I do to help is look back at the jobs I have gotten. I have about six clients that I am currently working for and have been hired by more than a dozen in my time freelancing. That’s twelve people who wanted to work with me and enjoyed my writing. That’s something! I also have a list of all of my published work and accomplishments, which helps to boost me up when I do get a rejection. Another thing I want to put together is some positive responses to my work, milestones I’ve hit and things that inspire me to write to help me get out of any rejection slumps.
3. I’m scared all my current clients will drop me.
With freelancing comes instability. None of my jobs are guaranteed. This isn’t something I had to worry about working at UBC. There was no way the university was going to run out of money and eliminate my job. And if they did, my union would be working hard to get me a sweet pension. But as a freelancer, I don’t have any of that. I could wake up tomorrow and have emails from all of my clients saying they no longer require my servces. That’s the scary reality of being a freelancer.
The cure: The first step to getting over this fear is just accepting that instability is a risk of freelancing. If I want to freelance and work for clients on my own time, I have to be willing to take the risk that the work could dry up. Practically, I feel better knowing that I have something to fall back on. I have my savings and I am confident that I could pick up a job in retail or serving if I really needed to. This fear also helps to motivate me to always be on the lookout for new clients and opportunities for work.
2. I’m scared no one will understand my work.
I don’t mean that I’m scared no one will understand my writing because I’m writing incredibly complicated and deep stuff. I mean that I’m scared no one will understand the type of work that I’m doing. The idea of being a freelancer is foreign to most of the people in my family and friend group. I don’t think it’s intentional, but it feels like it’s looked down upon by some. I had some conversations over Christmas and it felt like I had to justify what I was doing to people who just thought I was taking a break from real work. Another issue I’ve run into is people not understanding my need to work. I don’t have an office I go to where I can put in 8 hours. I have my desk in my living room and I divide up my work time throughout the day. But I still need to put in that time. So just because I’m home, it doesn’t mean I can get up and do errands or hang out. I’m working! And if I’m honest, this is a part of my freelance job that I also need to get better at. I need to get better at creating those boundaries that respect my time to work and my space. Because when I don’t, I spend all my non-work time stressing. My job doesn’t end at 5:00pm so if I put away my laptop to do something else, odds are I’m still worried about all of my unfinished work.
The cure: I know the cure to this one lies in me. I need to be more confident in my own work. I think a lot of this fear is my own projection and self-doubt. At Christmas my family treated my job like it was fake because that’s how I introduced it. I was self-deprecating and joked that I was working in my pajamas all day (not a joke though, I do work in pjs most of the time). I have to ask for what I need and explain to the people around me what my work schedule looks like because it’s so different from what they’re used to.
1. I’m scared I’m not good enough.
This one definitely has to be my biggest fear. What if my dream career is something I suck at? It was easier when I was working at a job I didn’t care about that was easy to do. But it’s a whole new thing to feel unqualified or inexperienced at a job I love and want to make a lifelong career out of. I have this fear a lot when I’m applying to jobs; it goes hand in hand with my fear of rejection. It also creeps up when people make snide comments about the type of writing I’m doing. No, I’m not writing the great American novel or hard hitting journalism. But I am writing. I’m writing for a living. And I want that to be enough.
The cure: Again, the cure to this one definitely comes down to my own confidence. I need to get more confident in my writing. How do I do that? For me, it helps to look to my past work. I try to keep track of times when I’ve felt good enough and celebrate my small wins as a writer. It also helps to remember that I am new to this and can only improve from here.
All of these fears are legitimate and I feel them on a regular basis. But they don’t cripple me. It helps to have this blog as a place where I can explore these feelings and put them down on (virtual) paper. As you can see, I’m still working on these fears. I have some cures in mind but I don’t always remember to implement them. I want to figure out a better routine for my writing and work on keeping myself motivated. I’m still learning!
But one thing I know for sure is that I am so much happier now working as a freelance writer than when I was working my 9 to 5 at UBC. I am excited about my work. I don’t wake up dreading the day and counting down the hours until I can go home – partially because I’m already home. I get to control my own schedule and do the work that I want. I get to write! It’s amazing and despite my big fears, I’m very happy to be doing it.
I think it’s safe to say that 2016 really wasn’t anyone’s year; I mainly blame Trump. But even though it wasn’t a stellar year, I still love to look back to recount the highs and lows and see what’s coming up for 2017.
I usually start my annual round ups by looking back at the previous year’s and seeing how well my predictions played out. Except, this year I took an accidental blogging hiatus from September 2015 until April 2016. Whoops! So I didn’t actually write a round-up for 2015. But I think I can safely say that my life is pretty different than what I thought it would be at this time last year. That actually seems to be a trend every time I write one of these reviews! Should I be surprised that my life is constantly changing?
So here’s a quick recap of my 2016:
In January, I had just finished spending my first Christmas with the Marriotts in Vancouver and had just moved into my new apartment. I was a month into my brand new job at UBC and was hosting Sophie, my previous roommate, on the couch in my studio apartment. Things were squishy but it was a fun-filled month.
Sadly, Sophie returned to Ontario in February and I was roommate-less for the first time in a year. Besides that, February was business as usual as far as I can remember.
March was a busy month! My mom came to town so I got to enjoy lots of quality Moo time with delicious dinners and outings around Vancouver. We also celebrated Colin’s birthday and at the end of the month, we took off to LA!
We started the month of April in Los Angeles where Colin, his mom Margie and I spent 6 days thanks to a amazing flight deal. We packed in a lot during our short trip such as a basketball game, hockey game, city tour, beach day and visit to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter! Later that month, Colin and I celebrated our one year anniversary.
May was another busy month. We went to Victoria for Victoria’s Day, saw Macklemore and Matt Corby in concert, watched Billy Elliott and I started my new gig at the Allard School of Law at UBC.
If I thought May was busy, just wait until June! I spent the first couple of weeks getting settled in my new job. We also had Colin’s aunt, who had been sick, pass away, which was tough for the family. At the end of the month, it was off to Toronto for Colin and I where I got to be a co-maid of honour at my friend Kimberley’s wedding. We then took off for a quick couple of nights in Montreal. We got back to Vancouver, unpacked, repacked and left the next day to spend the long weekend in Pender Harbour.
Our original plan for July was to do a roadtrip out to Calgary to visit Colin’s family and hit the Calgary Stampede. Unfortunately, with Colin’s work schedule, it didn’t happen this year. Maybe in 2017? But we did manage to get away to Harrison Hot Springs for my birthday weekend where we indulged in massages, courtesy of my mom, and a fancy birthday dinner. July was also the month where I got to see Newsies, Rock of Ages and a Vancouver Festival of Lights fireworks show!
In August, I headed back to Toronto where I was in yet another wedding. This time, I got to watch my best friend Andrea marry the love of her life. When I got back to Vancouver, my cousin Ryann and
her boyfriend were in town thanks to med school placements that brought them out west. It was so fun to hang out with Ryann and Alex, go out to some great meals and experience Vancouver with them. Adding one more show to our year (we really see a lot of theatre!), Colin and I went to The Book of Mormon (his second time seeing the show, my fourth) with his good friends from high school.
Unfortunately, September was the big low of 2016. Towards the end of August, Colin’s dad Randy entered the hospital and on September 8th, he passed away. The short 11 days we spent in the hospital is still a bit of a blur and doesn’t quite feel real. Even though it’s been months, I still sometimes find myself waiting for Randy to come in from his workshop in the backyard when I’m staying in Surrey.
October was a month of a lot of changes, definitely spurred by the great loss our family suffered in September. I decided to quit my job, booked a fairly spontaneous trip to Vietnam and finally said out loud that I want to be a writer. We ended the month with my last day working a 9-5 at UBC (maybe forever!) and a complimentary stay on Granville Island thanks to a contest I had won earlier in the year.
I started this month by living with Colin and Margie in Surrey for 12 days before heading off on a three week trip to Vietnam with my friend Emilie! It felt great to get on a long haul flight and check somewhere new off of my bucket list. There were definitely moments that I did not enjoy – when I was too hot and just wanted to lie in bed with air conditioning all day. But overall, I loved the trip! Highlights include our perfect day in Hoi An where we hit the beach, went to a cooking class and got dresses made, cruising beautiful Halong Bay, going on my own writer’s retreat to Phu Quoc Island and all of the delicious and cheap food we enjoyed!
I got back to Vancouver just in time for the most festive month of the year. I had a couple weeks in Vancouver where I split my time between my Kits apartment and Colin’s place in Surrey and tried to fit in as many social catch ups with friends as I could. And then it’s back to Toronto for Christmas. I didn’t get to go home last year, so it’s really nice to know I’ll be spending the holidays with my family and Toronto friends. But it’s also very hard to leave my Vancouver family behind, especially since they’re a smaller group this year after some pretty significant losses. December was also my first official month of what I like to call “fake employment.” I’m really giving this freelance writer thing a proper shot. And, a bit to my surprise, it’s working out. I’m not rolling in the dough, but I am making a decent amount of money from something I only got serious about in the last two months of the year.
I’m posting this on the eve of my flight to Toronto, so I assume the last 8 days of the year will be filled with chilly Toronto temperatures, lots of happy reunions with friends and family, all of the Christmas songs and decor I could want, and more food than one should reasonably eat in 8 days.
This is my favourite part! I love looking ahead and trying to predict what the next year will bring me or writing down some of my hopes and goals. I used to do resolutions; I’m not sure I’m going to make any for 2017. I like the idea of setting goals and having affirmations to guide me through the year, but I don’t want to rush to come up with a list just to meet an arbitrary deadline.
So what is happening in 2017?
Career: I would love if I could be a full-time freelance writer in 2017. It would be the dream to make my living just from my writing. However, that might not be realistic, especially since I’m just starting out. So I’m looking to pick up clients and get some steady gigs. But I’m also applying to some part-time stuff so I can still focus on writing but have something more steady on the side. I hope by the end of January/February, I’ll have that a bit more figured out. But if I could end 2017 confidently saying, “I’m a writer” when people ask what I do, that would be huge. I can’t even put into words how happy that would make me to be able to boldly say that.
Living: Surprisingly, I managed to stay in one apartment for a whole year (I can’t say the same about any of my jobs…). But as I shared previously, the plan is for me to give my notice when I get back from Toronto because Colin and I will be moving in together in March. We’re looking for a spacious, modern and affordable apartment in New West, preferably right by the skytrain. Any leads?
Travel: My first trip of the year will be in February. Colin and I are joining his mom and some other friends and relatives at an all-inclusive in Huatulco, Mexico for a week. I’m not usually a fan of all-inclusives but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit a country I’ve never been to, hang out by the beach with my boyfriend and escape a dreary Vancouver February. Other potential travel plans include a family trip to Europe in May with my stepmom’s side, a possible trip with my mom in September and a little surprise I’m working on for the summer!
Anything else? I think that’s all I’ve got planned for 2017 so far! I kind of love that the year is open and that I can take advantage of any opportunities that come my way. You know I can’t resist a good deal on a flight! But I’m really stoked for the things that I do have planned. I’m trying out my dream career as a writer and I’m loving every minute of it. I’m months away from moving in with my boyfriend and getting to live out my domestic fantasies in decorating a new place and maybe stepping up my cooking game. And I’ve got lots of exciting travel plans on the horizon. 2017 is sounding pretty stellar already.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! All the best for your own stellar 2017 🙂
Whenever I go on a big trip to somewhere new I know I’m going to learn my way around a new place, learn local customs, learn a bit of the language and learn about a new culture. But I never count on learning about myself.
My trip to Vietnam came at a huge point of transition for me. I had essentially quit my job to go on this trip and was/am forging down a brave new career path to follow my dream of being a writer. The trip was also exactly two months after the loss of Colin’s dad, which really put everything in my life into perspective. Vietnam was both me running away and starting fresh. Whenever my life is in flux, my instinct is to get on a plane. When I’m bored of filling out job applications, I look for flight deals or read through other travel blogs. Travel is always the answer, no matter what the question.
Except, this time it felt different.
A part of me was scared to go to Vietnam. After my disastrous trip to China last year, Vietnam was sort of a test. Could I do it? Was I still a traveler? Obviously this trip was a million times better than the China one, based solely on the fact that I planned it myself and I wanted to go. But I was still nervous. I think a large part of why I wanted to do this trip with someone was to help me really commit to it. If I had a China meltdown all over again, I had someone there to help get me through and as an incentive to stay.
Luckily, Vietnam was not China Trip Part 2. There was never a point where I wanted to throw in the towel and move my flight up. But some things did definitely change in my travel style.
The first time I noticed this was when we were having dinner with my friend Jonathan and a new friend of his he had met on his travels. We were asking her about her trip and she explained that she was travelling for 8 months through Asia, Australia and parts of Europe. My immediate reaction shocked me. As soon as she said that I thought, “No thanks!” Which is crazy! If you had told me two years ago that I would be turning my nose up at 8 months of travel, I never would have believed you. That was the dream! But I guess my dream has sort of changed. I’ve talked before about wanting to travel at a slower pace and not rush from city to city, which I think has a lot to do with my disgust at the idea of spending 8 months on the road.
This showed up in other parts of our trip. I’m sure Emilie would concur that it took a lot to get me out of the hotel room some mornings. I was having a hard time getting motivated to go out and see the city. The idea of putting on sunscreen and lacing up sneakers pained me. A lot of that had to do with the heat – I do not do well with humidity. But I think there was probably more to it than just hiding from the sun. As I’ve said before, I am a homebody who loves to travel. It’s a very weird dynamic and sometimes one wins out over the other.
Another part of this feeling was missing out on stuff at home. Even though Colin and I had lots of time to prepare for this trip, including the 14 days straight we spent together leading up to it, I really missed him. It’s hard to not be with the person you see and talk to all of the time. Colin was so great about messaging me and having a couple long chats on Skype but I still missed being with him. And I missed experiencing the trip with him. I have always been a huge proponent of solo female travel and people travelling without their partners. We met lots of people on the road who had left their significant others behind. I’m really happy that I got to do this trip with Emilie. And Colin was super supportive of me going. But all that being said, there’s still that part of me that would have wanted him there.
Another aspect of home that affected the trip was the pressure of my current job situation. As I wrote above, I quit my job a couple weeks before going on this trip. Thinking back, I still believe that quitting was the right decision. I was unhappy in that job and heading in that direction. This is the time for me to try something that I actually want to do and not be stuck in a soul-sucking administrative job. But it’s stressful! It was hard spending 3 weeks away knowing that I wouldn’t be coming home to a 9-5 or a vacation days paycheck. I was also keeping up with some of my freelance assignments, which was a bit to juggle at times. And anytime I took a break to watch a show or even write a post for this blog, I felt guilty that I wasn’t applying for jobs and attempting to figure out my life.
So yes, Vietnam was a very different trip from any I have taken in the past. I still had an amazing time and wouldn’t trade the experience. I’m so glad that I went (besides the horrendous jetlag I currently have; not so glad about that). I needed something to shake up my year and help me start this writing career track on a new foot. I think Vietnam was that. But it also has made me think about the type of travelling I want to do in the future. I don’t know exactly what it will look like but I want to find something that will make me happy. Or maybe it’s about accepting that travel, despite the perfectly filtered Instagram photos and adorable souvenirs, is not always fun. Sometimes you have a bad day, even when you’re living the dream and travelling in a new country. So maybe that’s the lesson I am actually learning: how to be okay with travel not always being 100% fun. Look at that! The lesson even changed from the beginning of my blog post to the end 🙂
Speaking of changes, it seems that my living situation will also be changing soon. Colin and I are planning to move in together in the spring, hopefully into a nice apartment in New West. So if you hear of anything, let us know!
After parting ways with Emilie in Hanoi, I headed back down south to Phu Quoc Island. Originally, I had wanted to go over to Cambodia and see the temples of Angkor. But the flights to Cambodia were pretty expensive. It would’ve been cheap to bus but I didn’t have the time. So I settled on Phu Quoc for a chance to relax on the beach, get in some writing and enjoy time away from a busy city.
I got to Phu Quoc and checked into an upgraded room at a really nice hotel. As soon as I put my bags down, I headed right out to the beach! My hotel was only a 2 minute walk from the beach, which was perfect. The beach itself was really beautiful. It wasn’t as crowded as the beach in Hoi An and also looked a bit more rustic. Unfortunately, all of the beach chairs/umbrellas were either owned by beachfront resorts or very expensive to rent for the day. I decided to just put my towel down on the sand and get into the water.
Once in the ocean, I really felt the peace and quiet I was looking for from Phu Quoc. I was virtually alone in the ocean and the water was so calm and cool. I stayed there for a while and then returned to my blanket to dry off and watch the sunset.
The rest of my days in Phu Quoc involved more time at the beach and a lot of time writing in my room (and watching the new Gilmore Girls revival on Netflix). Unfortunately, being in the south, Phu Quoc was very warm so it was hard to do much else besides jump into the ocean and back to my air conditioned room. I sampled some local food, including freshly caught fish, but didn’t do too much exploring. I had given myself permission to not really be a traveler for this part of my trip. I didn’t go into town, go on any tours or rent a motorbike to see more of the island. I was really just looking for a chance to relax a bit and get ahead with as much writing as I could. I still felt guilty, especially the day when I skipped the beach entirely and holed up in my room. It’s something I want to work on when I travel, and in my daily life: dealing with expectations I have for myself and the ones that I imagine other people have for me.
One of the bonuses of going to Phu Quoc was that it wasn’t a big tourist destination or very well known. I was looking forward to the fact that no one would be able to say, “What do you mean you spent all your time in your hotel room with only a few beach breaks? How could you not go out and see XYZ?” But I know that’s a shitty way to travel and something I need to work on moving forward. I don’t want to go places just to get a passport stamp or cross it off a bucket list. I want to enjoy my travels. And I want to be okay with taking time for myself to watch Netflix in a hotel room, despite being in a cool foreign country.
But more on that in my next post! Title TBD but I want to explore my travel style and thoughts on future travels. This trip really opened my eyes to the type of traveling I want to do going forward and how different that might be from what I used to think.
The big excursion of our Vietnam trip was a two night cruise on Halong Bay, a beautiful area made up of almost 2000 limestone islands scattered around a peaceful and scenic watery bay.
To get to Halong Bay, we joined a tour group and started out on the four hour drive to the Halong Marina. Choosing a tour to go with was half the battle. We had read lots of reviews online and heard that prices could range from dirt cheap to absolute luxury. In the end, I’m really happy with the tour we ended up going with. We paid $110 USD/person for the two night cruise, which is about middle-ground for cruising prices. That included transportation, accommodation, activities and food.
Here are some highlights from the cruise:
After getting on the boat and cruising for only a few minutes, we were already in the middle of something pretty special. It was so peaceful to be out on the blue water and taking in all of these gorgeous limestone islands jutting out at random throughout the bay. My favourite part of the cruise was just hanging out on the top deck and being in awe of the impressive scenery. And despite Halong Bay being very popular, it never felt like our area was crowded with boats.
Emilie and I were pretty nervous about the food. Emilie especially, being a vegan, was worried they wouldn’t be able to cater to her needs. But were we ever wrong! The food on the boat was AMAZING! We ate family style, seated across from an adorable old Spanish couple, and had so many delicious dishes hit the table. I was amazed with the variety of dishes and the quantity. The fresh seafood was definitely a highlight! And Emilie ended up lucking out as well: she received at least 3-4 special veggie dishes just for her at each meal. It got to the point that she was sharing them with the whole table because it was way too much food for one person. And I’m glad she did because they made her an awesome veggie curry one night that was delish!
I was also really nervous about where we would be staying. After our disastrous hotel on our last overnight tour in the Mekong Delta, I had very low hopes for this cruise. Luckily, I was wrong. Our cabin on the boat was small but quite clean and nice. We docked overnight so it wasn’t too rocky or anything either, which my seasick-prone self really appreciated. And our hotel on Cat Ba Island, where we stayed the second night of the cruise, was so nice! It was a pleasant surprise and made our return to Hanoi even harder.
On our first day of cruising, we stopped to visit the Surprise Caves (I don’t think that was their official name but it’s what our tour guide, Popeye, told us to call them. He probably shouldn’t be the authority on real names…). We walked up some steps and then inside a series of three caves. And yes, it was surprising! Every time we walked into the next cave room, we were blown away by how big the space was and the cool features along the walls. Our guide liked pointing out different shapes in the rocks, which Emilie and I decided to try our hand at as well.
After the cave, we found a quieter spot on the bay and were invited to go kayaking. After a traumatic kayaking experience with Emilie last summer (it wasn’t all that bad, I just panicked and tipped), I decided to pass on kayaking. But Emilie really enjoyed it and even got to see some local monkeys!
The next day we started off early to get to Ti Top Island – a lookout point for Halong Bay that is 535 treacherous steps up. I was not feeling those steps and really struggled getting up them but I did make it! And I’m really glad I did. The view was beautiful! It was cool having an overhead shot of Halong Bay and seeing all of the islands and boats. Our tour guide had arranged for us to arrive at Ti Top at 7:45am, which made the walk up the stairs even more painful, but I was grateful for his choice. We were the first tour to arrive so had the lookout to ourselves for a while. Plus, there was only one set of stairs to get up and down, so as we were walking down, things were getting very crowded with people coming up. I would not have wanted to try climbing up those stairs with tons of people coming down at the same time and stealing my railing.
Other activities included beach time, hiking in a national park on Cat Ba Island, visiting Monkey Island and free time around Cat Ba.
The views again! I could’ve spent the entire cruise just sitting on the top deck getting whiplash trying to take in all of the scenery. The best part of Halong Bay is Halong Bay! This was definitely one of my most favourite experiences from our trip and maybe from all of my travels in general. If you haven’t been to Halong Bay, I definitely recommend it!
After Halong Bay, we returned to Hanoi, which I shared about in my previous post. From there, Emilie headed home to Vancouver and I flew to Phu Quoc Island for a writing retreat/beach vacation. More on that in my next post!
Next up: Let’s go to the beach!
Hanoi was our last city together and the farthest north Emilie and I would be heading. We had heard that Hanoi would be a lot busier and dirtier than Ho Chi Minh City, so we were preparing for the worst. But I don’t think it was all that bad! We were also told that Hanoi, since it was in the north, would be a lot cooler. Unfortunately, that was also not true and we suffered through more sweltering days.
Vibe of the city
Hanoi kind of had a cool city vibe. Emilie actually said that it was one of her favourite spots; she liked that it was less touristy and more real. I loved that there were such distinct streets and neighbourhoods. For example, our hotel was located on Toys Street where every other shop was a toy store. To get there we had to drive through Clothes Street. And to get to one of our favourite restaurants we walked down Shoe Street and Home Improvement Avenue. Basically, every few blocks had a different niche.
But people weren’t wrong about the streets being busy. Most of the shops exploded onto the sidewalk or opened restaurants onto the sidewalk so we spent most of our time walking on the road and trying to avoid cars and motorbikes.
Our favourite foods
We made a few awesome foods finds during our time in Hanoi, mainly thanks to Emilie’s awesome app, Happy Cow, that locates veg-friendly restaurants with good reviews. On our first night, we went to this fried wrap/pancake restaurant where you get to assemble the wraps yourself. We actually ended up going back there for our last dinner in Hanoi too. Another great find was a bun cha restaurant with delicious bun noodles. It was the spot where local food tours visited, so I think we made the right choice.
Right around the corner from our hotel was a bun stand that sold delicious chocolate buns. Our hotel breakfast was sort of lacking so this was a nice supplement. And then there was the great smoothie place that we stumbled upon. One night after dinner, Emilie and I were saying how much we would love to get some fresh smoothies. So we started walking, down Kitschy Home Decor Lane, and happened to find a tiny little smoothie shop on the corner with tons of cool combinations. So yum!
Hoa Lo Prison
Emilie and I aren’t huge museum people. We actually hadn’t done too many educational or historical activities throughout the trip. But we decided to pay a visit to Hoa Lo Prison while we were in Hanoi. The prison was originally built by the French to house Vietnamese prisoners and then by the Vietnamese to house American POWs. It’s the prison where John McCain was held. It was really interesting to walk through the actual prison and see the rooms and all of the old artifacts. But what was more interesting was the spin put on the museum. The treatment of the Vietnamese prisoners was depicted as very bleak and cruel while the treatment of the American prisoners was shown as pretty cheery. For example, there was an entire exhibit about the different torture devices used on Vietnamese prisoners. Meanwhile, the room talking about American prisoners showed them decorating a Christmas tree and playing basketball. Emilie and I both admitted that we don’t know enough about Vietnam’s history but the visit to the prison definitely wanted to make us learn more.
There’s this lake near the Old Quarter of Hanoi that is really pretty. On our first day in the city, Emilie and I decided to just walk around it. Our first stop was this red bridge that goes across the water to a temple. Except, they wanted to charge us to go across and the temple seemed pretty mediocre. So we just stood on one side and admired it. The gate was also quite pretty, there was a pagoda we could look at and the cutest group of little daycare kids walked by. They were all in a row and had to hold onto the shirt of the kid in front of them. Too cute!
The Mausoleum & One Pillar Pagoda
On our last day in Hanoi, Emilie and I walked over to some of Hanoi’s most famous sites. It was a bit of a long walk, in lots of heat and, to be honest, the monuments at the end were a bit of a letdown. The mausoleum is where Ho Chi Minh is buried. And according to a Google search, CNN ranked it the 6th ugliest building in the world. I didn’t think it was all that ugly but it was a bit of a letdown. We couldn’t even get close to it, or else guards would blow a whistle and make sure you got back to standing behind the line.
Next was the One Pillar Pagoda, which Ho Chi Minh had demanded be built after he had a dream about it. But it was also a pretty big let down. It was tiny! Like the size of a treehouse on one very thick pillar. I guess I’m glad we saw them, since they are some of Hanoi’s more famous monuments, but I definitely don’t think we would’ve missed anything if we hadn’t gone.
Ever since we first arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, Emilie and I have walked past tons of spas and the promise of $6 manicures. So on our last day in Hanoi, we decided to splurge and spend the afternoon at a really nice spa near where we were having lunch. We ended up paying for the more expensive pedicure, a whopping $15, for an hour worth of bliss. We were very tempted to add on a massage or something after we were done so we could stay in the heavenly spa a bit longer.
Hanoi was also the last city Emilie and I were hitting together. We did two days in Hanoi, two days in Halong Bay, and another day in Hanoi. So after our afternoon at the spa, we had dinner back at our pancake/wrap restaurant and then the next morning, we were saying our goodbyes over pancakes. It was so wonderful to have a full two weeks of exploring Vietnam with Emilie. She was the perfect travel companion and our travel styles (air con breaks, cheap eats and in bed by 9) meshed perfectly. And if it wasn’t for her, I probably would’ve spent all day lying in the hotel with the air conditioning blasting and eating at the closest restaurant. I hadn’t travelled with a friend for a while so this was a really nice opportunity to do so and spend more time with Emilie in a new country.
Next up: Cruising Halong Bay!