2.0.1.3.

My last post was almost 3 months ago, partway through my Australia trip. Unfortunately, my blogging skills fell by the wayside since then. I completely forgot to recap my rainy but awesome week in Melbourne. The city is all about cool, culture and coffee.  Luckily for me, it also involved visits with my good friend who was studying there and a road trip along the Great Ocean Road. We were able to see the 12 Apostles and koalas in the wild! Spotting (aka screaming so loud I scared my wonderful friend who was driving on the left for the first time) my first bundle of grey fur high in the tree tops was such a thrill. I had a perma-grin for about an hour.

After Melbourne, I flew back to Sydney and then to Vancouver where I spent a week catching up with friends and finishing up my final presentation from my international service learning trip to Swaziland. By mid-October, I was “home” (wherever that really is these days) back in Toronto where I have been ever since.

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January – April: 

The year started off with me working two jobs and taking an online course. Needless to say, I was busy! During the day, I got to experience my dream job, working as a Youth Programming Intern with Free The Children. The whole thing came together really fast during my Dec 2012 finals and started on Jan 2. I met some of the most committed, generous and friendly people who taught me so much both in and out of work. My four months at FTC were a wonderful opportunity that included multiple trips to Seattle and the chance to meet some of my idols (Hi Craig!). I really look forward to rejoining the FTC family in the not-so-distant future.

We Day

Team Washington taking charge at Seattle We Day!

At the same time, I was still busy as a residence advisor at UBC. So every morning I would leave campus around 7:30am and return by 6:00pm spending my evenings and weekends with my floor & community. Despite my co-op schedule, I was still able to organize some fun events for my residents and stay really involved with our residence musical, 9 to 5!

Hamsley

Hamsley ❤

May:

May was a big transition month for me. I literally spent each weekend in a different city (5 cities, 4 countries!). I lived on my own, with my own kitchen, for the first time. I attended classes in the Psychology of International Development to prepare for my trip to Swaziland. And I got to spend a long weekend at home with my family after finishing my last trip to Seattle with FTC and before my week in London that proceeded my journey to South Africa/Swaziland.

June – August:

I spent the summer of 2013 in Mbabane, Swaziland volunteering in program coordination for SOS Children’s Villages. I lived and worked with the wonderful Ale and we had many highs (trips to SA, chicken wraps, movies, Kruger, certain workshops) and lows (the cold, waiting for transit, overly affectionate men and other workshops….). During our time with SOS we learned a lot about working across cultural borders and adapting our psychological background to development work. We also got to experience some amazing adventures from daily life with our host family to special events like Bush Fire and a traditional Swazi wedding/bull slaughtering. We also managed to fit in some awesome trips to Malelane (where we saw a lioness in Kruger Park!), Cape Town (the best birthday weekend ever), Johannesburg (visiting the Apartheid Museum on Nelson Mandela’s birthday) and Durban (for our final week of sun and fun).

lioness

One of the highlights of our night drive through Kruger Park

horseback riding

Taking our host brother horseback riding!

cape point

Cape Point, Cape Town, South Africa

hbd madiba

Happy Birthday Madiba! Such a privilege to witness some of your work. Rest in peace.

Durban

Beautiful Durban 🙂

September:

I spent about 2 weeks back in Toronto; which was just enough time to wave hello to friends/family, unpack my bags and repack them again for Australia! On Sept 10 I started the long journey to Sydney, Australia (checking the 6th continent off my list). I spent the first two weeks dog-sitting in the small town of Yamba on Australia’s east coast. It was a quiet town but a nice introduction to Australia and a fun opportunity to live alone, take care of the beautiful Molly and appreciate some gorgeous Australian scenery.

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Molly taking a dip in our local river

October:

After my stay in Yamba, I transitioned to the big city of Sydney. I had a full schedule for Sydney and was able to fit in everything (Blue Mountains, Opera House, Harbour Bridge, Koala Sanctuary, Fleet Review, beach time) except running into Prince Harry. Sydney was amazing and definitely a city I can see myself returning to and settling down in (for a little while). After Sydney, I flew to Melbourne for my last week in Australia. Melbourne was more laid back and more rainy, but it also offered a more cool-city vibe. Plus it had the added bonus of being temporary home to my good friend Malindi – who showed me around a bit. Highlights of Melbourne include discovering the hidden shops/restaurant-filled alleys, walking around the botanical gardens and our amazing Great Ocean Road road trip! After Australia, I spent a crazy (and jet-lagged) week in Vancouver catching up with a few friends and working with Ale to present our final piece on our Swaziland trip.

wild koala

Spotted! Koala in the wild!

fireworks opera house

Fireworks over the Opera House!

November:

By November, I was back and settled into Toronto life. I was still getting through my 4 online courses and I had begun working (seasonal job at Bath & Body Works as well as tutoring a friend of my brother’s in French). It was a bit of a transition being home. I haven’t been home for 3 months straight in the last four years. It was odd trying to fit back into a routine of going between my parents’ houses and adapting to new schedules, new people (both of my parents “adopted” cousins) and being a 21 year old back home. I have loved being able to spend so much time with family and friends, but it’s definitely a very different life than what I was used to in Vancouver, Swaziland or Australia.

Halloween shenanigans

Halloween shenanigans in St Catherines

December: 

This last month has been a little crazy. I had exams in all four of my classes that kind of snuck up on me (and also had to be written in the far away land of Markham) as well as more shifts at work and lots of holiday prep. Both of my parents ended up hosting Christmas gatherings so there were lots of presents to buy and wrap, decor to hang and food to prep. Christmas is my favourite time of year (evident by my 400+ song Christmas playlist) and I always refuse to go away for the holidays, regardless of how cold Toronto might be. I love getting together with everyone and my extended family results in multiple festive meals ranging from Dec 21 to Jan 4.

Christmas with PRALM

Merry Christmas from freezing (literally, see #icestorm2013) Toronto!

Looking back on 2013:

This was the year I worked my first 9 to 5 (actually 8:30 – 5) and got to do that work at a company I absolutely love. It was the end of my time as a residence advisor at UBC. It was the year I had an opportunity to live by myself and cook for myself! In 2013 I was able to cross two more continents off my list and visit multiple amazing cities all over the world. It was the year I had the experience of long term development work and life in a foreign country. I got to travel with a group, with a friend and solo. I turned 21! I “swam” with sharks. I fed kangaroos. I watched Macklemore perform in his hometown. I spent time in 4 continents, 6 countries, 10+ cities and far too many hours inside a plane.

Coming up in 2014:

Looking ahead to 2014 (aka tomorrow!), I’m starting to get excited for the things that are coming up. I leave Toronto on Jan 22 (hopefully with a full license!) and start my European adventures with a 5 day stopover in Iceland. After that I head to Amsterdam for my semester abroad at UvA. I’m excited (and nervous) to get back into the swing of school in a foreign country where I don’t speak the language and don’t know a soul. I’m already planning lots of European travels for long weekends throughout my 5 months at UvA. I’m hoping some family and friends from North America will also be able to come over and join me. After the semester finishes in June, I’ll have a bit of summer to either continue around Europe or return home to catch up with friends and family. By Aug/Sept I plan to be back in Vancouver to finish up my last few credits at UBC and possibly rejoin the rezlife family.

So 2014 will pretty much be split between Amsterdam/Europe and Vancouver, with bits of Toronto thrown in. I’m excited to explore new countries/cities throughout Europe and take on a new school and new life in Amsterdam. But I’m also excited to return to Vancouver (it will be more than a year since I last lived there by the time I return), my second home, and a place I can definitely see myself settling down in. But after 2014, my life becomes a bit of a mystery. The current plan is to graduate by May 2015 the latest, and then the future is a bit of a question mark….which is scary! But also, exciting! I’ve got a few ideas but nothing set in stone. Hopefully 2014 will turn some of those ideas into something a little more concrete.

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Very thankful for all of the love, learning and adventure in my 2013. Looking back, it’s so obvious that I had an incredible, blessed and global year. Can’t wait to bring these experiences and make new memories in 2014. Happy New Year!

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Sydney in Nature

Part 3 of my Sydney posts. Check out Sydney Icons & Shopping Sydney if you missed them! 

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Sydney is home to many gorgeous natural sights. Where some cities suffer from cement suffocation (looking at you, Toronto), Sydney manages to balance a bustling modern city with beautiful parks, gorgeous beaches, crazy cool mountains and delightful furry friends.

Right outside the famed Opera House are the Botanical Gardens; a gorgeous park that literally winds along Sydney’s busiest streets.  You can go from gridlock to greenhouse in a matter of metres.

Garden

The Botanical Gardens

The Botanical Gardens have lots of picturesque spots and are often the sight of many weddings. I especially loved the archways filled with flowers, ancient statues and rose garden.

The Gardens lead into another beautiful place, Hyde Park. The main walkway is shadowed by a canopy of tall trees and leads to an impressive fountain in the middle of the park.  To the left, is the famous St. Mary’s Cathedral. And to the right, lots of shopping!

Hyde

Walkway into Hyde Park

The beaches of Sydney are also pretty spectacular. I started my sandy tour with the idyllic Manly Beach, a ferry ride away from Central Sydney.

A few days later and I got a little more serious about my beach visiting. I did the well-trekked path from Coogee to Bondi beach. The walk is about 6km but with lots of uphills, downhills, stairs and people to weave around, it feels a lot longer.  It probably didn’t help that I felt a compulsive need to take a photo every 50 metres.

Blue

Gorgeous Sydney blue!

Coast

The gorgeous coastline…and a cemetery?

But the long walk was so worth it! Sydney’s coastline is incredible! There are a bunch of beaches to check out and lots of interesting sights along the way (like a cemetery). I would absolutely recommend this walk to any future Sydney-visitors.

Bondi

Made it to the very popular Bondi Beach

The Blue Mountains are located in Katoomba, about 2 hours from Sydney by train. The town is very small (kinda like Yamba) and it’s safe to say the mountains are the main draw.  You can take a local bus from the train station to Echo Point, for your first view of the mountains. After two hours of fairly flat train-viewed landscape, I was immediately taken with the huge expanse of hills, valleys and greenery. I did a baby-hike (20 minutes tops) to get a closer view of the stars of the Blue Mountains, The Three Sisters.

3Sisters

The Three Sisters

For the more adventurous (and less afraid of heights) people, there is lots to do at Scenic World, Blue Mountains’ viewing Mecca.  You can take a cable car across and then a separate one down to the base of the mountains.  Or you can take the world’s steepest railway to the bottom. Once you’re down there, you can enjoy a sky walk or a variety of hiking trails.  Unfortunately, being fairly uncomfortable with heights, I decided to keep my viewing on solid ground at the top.

BlueMountains

My view from the top, not too shabby

Looking to fill my Aussie animal viewing quota, I took a day trip to the Koala Park Sanctuary, about an hour outside of Sydney by train.  It was an awesome park; a cross between a zoo and a reserve. It was very quiet, and the animals had a very cozy natural setting. I wandered around and encountered wallabies, echidnas, wild birds and other native Australian animals.

Wallabies

Wallabies: basically mini kangaroos

Next, I walked into the open kangaroo enclosure where you’re able to feed, pet and snuggle up to the kangaroos! It wasn’t as impressive as my first time seeing wild kangaroos in Yamba, but it was still pretty amazing. They were very nonchalant about people petting them and were only too happy to eat right out of my hand!

Kangaroo

This hungry one almost jumped the fence!

Roo

RooSelfie

Selfie with a very disinterested roo

But the best part of Koala Park was obviously the koalas! An adorable little colony of koalas were sleeping in Eucalyptus trees in the centre of the park. They were so much smaller than I thought they would be. Sleeping, they looked fake! The stuffed animals I’ve seen are fairly accurate representations. I hung around for one of the employees to come and tell us more about koalas. After a brief lesson, she brought one guy, Junior, down from the tree and plied him with leaves while we all took turns snuggling up to him for a photo.

Junior

Me & Junior

Koala

I swear he looks plush!

In NSW, it’s illegal for non-keepers to hold koalas, so the best we could do was pet and cuddle with them. But it was still awesome! Their fur is incredibly soft and they’re just as cute up close. I’m hoping to see some wild ones before I leave Australia (fingers crossed!).

Junior

Junior working up an appetite from all that posing

From my meet with the koalas, I headed over to a sheep shearing demonstration. After a fairly lengthy talk about the history and present job realities of sheep shearing ($2.80 is the going rate for a sheep and shearers are expected to shear about 200 a day while some get up to 400), Justin brought out a sheep and a few minutes later, the sheep was naked! It was fairly impressive, and a little scary, to watch up close.

Sheep

Despite how this photo looks, I can promise no animals were harmed in the making of this wool blanket

On my way out, I wanted to say a last goodbye to the koalas. Luckily, the keeper was still there and offered to bring out another one for the small group of us hanging around. This time we met Kamara, an eleven year old female koala. Snuggling up to her was a perfect ending to my day at Koala Park Sanctuary.

Kamara

A final goodbye with my last koala!

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Shopping Sydney

2nd in my 3-part Sydney post. In case you missed part 1, click for Sydney Icons.

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During my week in Sydney, I got a little taste for some of its beautiful sights, natural wonders and spend-happy shopping culture. I am a huge fan of markets, among other shopping venues, and Sydney did not disappoint.
The Rocks
Mini Cupcakes! So adorable :)

Mini Cupcakes! So adorable 🙂

Street musicians perform at The Rocks

Street musicians perform at The Rocks

The Rocks is a cool area of Sydney right by the harbour. It has cool cobblestone and funky restaurants tucked into laneways. On Saturdays, The Rocks hosts an outdoor market that, while mostly outside of my budget, was beautiful and fun to walk through nonetheless. There are dozens of stalls set up selling cool varieties of homemade jewellery and crafts. Around the next corner, the craft stalls turn to food and luxury street meats are served up to eager pedestrians.  Alongside all of this is live music and great views of the harbour.

 

Queen Victoria Building (QVB)

In Australia, you can pick which sushi rolls you want. Each roll is about $2 and probably equal to 4-6 of the little cut up rolls we order at home

In Australia, you can pick which sushi rolls you want. Each roll is about $2 and probably equal to 4-6 of the little cut up rolls we order at home

Just a little mall filling a laneway

Just a little mall filling a laneway

The QVB is located on George St., one of Sydney’s biggest shopping areas.  Some areas are pretty extravagent (hosting labels like Chanel & Louis Vuitton) while others are a bit more budget conscious.  One part of this area is completely pedestrian friendly and shoppers take over running from big name brand retailers to tiny boutiques stuffed into laneways.  The QVB is at the centre of it all.  Apparently, it’s designed based on shopping hierarchy: the most expensive stores are on the top floor while the more discounted stores are at the bottom. So, I didn’t go beyond the first floor. But I did find a great deal on a new purse, really yummy sushi and a very cute German bakery! 
Sydney Fish Market
SEAFOOD

SEAFOOD

I was eager to check out the fresh seafood action at the Sydney Fish Market. Unfortunately, as I later learned, most of the action happens at the crack of dawn when the fresh fish is brought in and sold to retailers. So when I strolled in around 9:30am, it was pretty quiet. Nonetheless, it was pretty cool to see tables full of delicious looking seafood. I selected some salmon sashimi and sat outside by the water with the few other brave souls who could stomach seafood (and raw seafood at that!) before 10 in the morning.
St. Paddy’s & Market City
The view from the top floor of Market City

The view from the top floor of Market City

Market City

Market City

Market City is a huge complex in Sydney’s Chinatown. The first floor is home to St. Paddy’s Market: an indoor market with hundreds of stalls selling discounted scarves, jewellery, souvenirs, tech items, clothing. etc. It was a little overwhelming and took me quite some time to get all the way to the back (where the market strangely turns into a produce grocery store).  After walking a handful of aisles and picking up a few little things, I noticed there were a lot of repeats and decided to check out the rest of the building. The other floors house discount clothing shops, restaurants & an Asian food court. I resisted browsing (mostly) and convinced myself I didn’t need anything really. I did head upstairs for some coveted good-bad Chinese food (aka food court Chinese food).
More shopping to see…
Sydney definitely has a lot more shopping to see. There are a bunch of other markets that I missed like Paddington’s Market (only open on Saturday’s which was my designated stalk-Prince-Harry day) and a few I passed on my bus. As I said, huge fan of outdoor markets so will definitely try to check out more the next time I come back to Sydney!
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Next post: Sydney’s beaches, mountains & furry friends! 

Sydney Icons

My first post about my time in Sydney and I thought I’d start by addressing all things iconic about Sydney!

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On my first day in Sydney, I wasted no time heading down to Circular Quay to walk along the harbour. It was pretty busy (though no where near as crazy as the weekend) and I soon found myself in a gorgeous little area called The Rocks headed to The Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Ready to start my walk over the Sydney Harbour Bridge

Ready to start my walk over the Sydney Harbour Bridge

Starting at the harbour, you actually have to walk away from the bridge if you want access to it. There are 5 ways to get across the bridge: car, bus, rail, climb & walk. I, of course, chose the cheapest way and walked across the Sydney Harbour Bridge!

View from the bridge!

View from the bridge!

It was a beautiful walk with insane views of the ocean, harbour and Opera House. Unfortunately, I’m not crazy about heights so I had a hard time getting close to the iron-grate fence. About 15 minutes later, I arrived on the other side, walked around Kirribilli and decided to ferry back.

Taking the ferry back to Circular Quay

Taking the ferry back to Circular Quay

Sydney’s ferries are also quite iconic. They come in a few different sizes, can hold a scary number of people and act as a pretty great way to tour the area. Amazing views – especially when I took the ferry out to Manly a few days later.

From the ferry stop, I walked along the harbour to the Sydney Opera House. It’s much smaller in person, but still pretty impressive. It’s definitely an icon and worthy of the many photos it stars in, but I can’t decide if I actually think it’s pretty or not. The fact that it has the beautiful blue ocean as its backdrop probably doesn’t hurt.

I decided to see a production of Romeo & Juliet at the Opera House. It wasn’t playing in the main theatre, but a smaller one on the main level. It was awesome to not only be able to see the famous building but be able to go inside it.  The show was also pretty cool – they had a revolving set, modern costumes and wicked music.  But I had forgotten just how long Shakespeare could make his characters whine on for (3 hours!). I also started to find some serious faults in the world’s most famous love story (she was 13 years old and they knew each other 1 night before getting married).

On Saturday, I returned to the harbour for Sydney’s International Fleet Review.  A whole week has been set aside to honour the 100th anniversary of Australia’s navy.  War ships, tall ships, helicopters and army planes from all over the world were gathering in Sydney.  It was a pretty spectacular sight! The harbour was full of huge boats, roaring air crafts zoomed overhead, sailors popped up on every street and the harbour became a mob scene on Saturday.

The Opera House and just a couple people who decided to show up....

The Opera House and just a couple people who decided to show up….

Air show!

Air show!

This rockin' military band performed some traditional naval tunes such as Call Me Maybe & Moves Like Jagger.

This rockin’ military band performed some traditional naval tunes such as Call Me Maybe & Moves Like Jagger.

Every Sydneysider and tourist descended on the harbour to watch the official review (aka ships going past), crane their necks for the air show and be dazzled by the night’s fireworks and light show. Of course, I had to join them.  I walked across the bridge again and it was packed!  But on my ferry back, we were right in it with all of the ships and the start of a helicopter show.  A guy even waved to us from the copter.  I had to line up and have my bag searched to get anywhere close to the Opera House.  Once at the Opera House, I got to enjoy an overpriced chicken wrap while I listened to military bands and waited out the fireworks….

This shot doesn't do it any justice. So just take my word for it that the fireworks at Sydney Harbour are a must-see!

This shot doesn’t do it any justice. So just take my word for it that the fireworks at Sydney Harbour are a must-see!

….which did not disappoint! It was the most incredible thing and I’m so glad I got to see fireworks in the Sydney Harbour! They had a projection onto the Opera House and bridge explaining the history of the Australian Navy. I loved when they used the fireworks to help tell the story; they had a series of low red firecrackers to act as gun shots go off under the bridge as they described the navy’s involvement in WWI.  The best thing was that the fireworks were going on all around us. I literally kept turning in circles to see fireworks from every angle.  The display was amazing and it was kind of beautiful when everyone clapped at the end as the image of the Australian flag was proudly projected onto the Opera House.

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Next up: the natural side of Sydney (beaches & furry creatures) and lots of ways to spend some money around the city.

Undergrad Nomad: A breakdown of my travels during univeristy

Most of my big world adventures, and certainly my love for travel, have developed during my years as an undergraduate student at The University of British Columbia. I don’t know if it’s a personally trait I sort of grew into or the perfect destiny of inspiration and opportunity, but over the last 3-ish years I’ve been to four never-before-visited continents and taken a scary number of plane rides for a person who hates to fly.

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One hell of a commute: Toronto -> Vancouver

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Celebrating Christmas 2011 back home in Toronto

Starting at the most basic level, I “travel” every time I go from home to school or vice versa. Toronto is about five hours away by plane and I am lucky enough to fly home at least two or three times a year.  This doesn’t count my first year at UBC when I was a flight attendant friend’s buddy (aka free flights!). But the free flights were not always as glorious as they appeared: because I wasn’t technically related to this friend, my buddy status was relatively low. And since the YYZ-YVR route is exceptionally popular, I often spent hours and hours waiting in airports and took many interesting routes home (e.g. Van -> LA -> New Jersey -> Toronto aka 26 horrible hours). But flying stand-by definitely helped me get over my fear of flying (it’s now a moderate dislike); after moving from gate to gate waiting for my name to be called, getting on any flight was bliss.

Adding another continent to my list

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Hanging with new friends at a water park in Lima, Peru

In May 2011, after my first year at university, I found an organization I could volunteer with in Peru. I knew after volunteering in The DR the summer before, I definitely wanted to do something that would shock my system by reminding me of global realities and give me a chance to do some good. In all honesty, Peru was chosen mainly because it was one of the cheaper volunteer programs and since I was still a stand-by buddy, I could fly direct from Toronto for free. So I spent three weeks living with a homestay in Peru (my first homestay experience) with up to 14 other volunteers (plus the family!). I worked at a few different orphanages, schools, daycares and shelters.  I really enjoyed my time in Peru. I fell in love with the beautiful language and adorable babies I was taking care of and I made awesome memories with the other volunteers. Looking back, I wish I had put a bit more planning into that trip. We managed to do a bit of local sightseeing but I didn’t know what else I was missing (like the short flight up to Cusco to see Machu Picchu).

Last minute to Europe

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The stunning coast of Monaco

After my second year, the restless feelings that lead to this blog’s creation really started to eat away at me. I came back to Toronto without really having a plan. I had worked at restaurants the summer before and didn’t really want to do that again. But my prayers were answered in the form of a very good last-minute deal to Europe. It was one of those things I would usually click on, sigh to myself wishing I could do it and then move on.  But this time, I did it. I booked the flights, the trains, the buses, the hostels and a week later I was in London, alone, for my first ever trip to Europe.  Those three weeks through London, Paris, Nice, Barcelona, Madrid and Lisbon are still some of my favourite travel memories.  Every day was filled with discovering new parks, foods, statues, exhibits, etc. and realizing the photos I had been lusting over were now right in front of me. Eiffel Tower, Buckingham Palace, Monte Carlo… I was pretty much walking around each city with a big grin.  That trip was also a huge learning experience.  I had never travelled by myself. I had never planned my own itinerary. And at times it was really scary, really lonely and really exhausting. And it was only three weeks! But it showed me what I was capable of.  I can navigate in a brand new city where I don’t speak the language. I can eat at a restaurant and go to a movie by myself.  I can figure out what to do when I miss my night train to Lisbon and the ticket office is closed.  I overcame a lot of challenges and learned a lot about what makes a trip meaningful for me.  Am I doing this just for the photo opp? If I skip this, will I feel guilty because it’s something I want to do or something I’m expected to do? Two years later, and I still struggle with these questions and with feelings of loneliness, exhaustion and fear, but I know it’s not enough to keep me at home.

This time for Africa

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High fiving over our first African sunset

Africa was kind of like my Nirvana.  I’ve been volunteering and passionate about human rights issues since grade school. My first big volunteer trip, a month building schools/homes in the Dominican Republic in 2010, was the first time I got to see all of my fundraising and awareness raising come to life.  But my dream was always to go to Africa. I wanted to go to Kenya with Free The Children but I couldn’t afford it.  The DR, and then Peru, were much more economical options and I knew help was still needed there.  But the chance to go to Africa? Impossible to pass up.
My trip to Africa happened through UBC’s Go Global department of International Service Learning. Students apply, interview and hopefully get into a program.  My program was a psychology course focusing on psychological applications in developing communities (basically my dream academic course). So for the month of May, I attended twice-weekly lectures with about twenty other students.  At the end of the month, we all shipped off for different placements in Africa.  Alejandra and I headed to Mbabane, Swaziland for three months with the SOS Children’s Village. This was the first time I got to see long term development work on the ground.  Overall, I would say the experience was definitely rewarding and I absolutely am glad I decided to pursue this opportunity.  But, it was really challenging! It opened my eyes to a lot of problems that come with working and living in a developing community and it shed a bit of reality on a field I was certain I wanted to work in.

The land down under

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The famous Sydney Opera House ft. Half This Old Guy’s Head

After Swaziland, I spent a quick two weeks in Toronto and then jetted off to Sydney, Australia. I’m about two and a half weeks into this adventure, and so far it has been pretty amazing. I spent two very relaxing weeks in Yamba dog/house sitting. It was nice to kind of have that time to decompress after a very exhausting summer and then two weeks of non-stop family and friends. But by the end of it, I was itching for a city. Next stop: Sydney! I’ve just spent my first full day in Sydney and it is exactly what I was looking for. It’s beautiful, as evidenced by the fact that I spent most of my day walking around the Harbour gawking at the Harbour Bridge and Opera House (photos & details to come).  I’ve got the rest of the week in Sydney, a week in Melbourne, then I’m off to Vancouver for 5 days for a conference and then back to Toronto.  While in Australia, I’m still technically a UBC student – I’m doing four courses online (plus work for this upcoming conference and the psych class I went to Swaziland with).  I had planned to get ahead with all of my work in Yamba, which was do-able, but I can see that it is going to be a lot harder in Sydney and Melbourne. After spending all day walking around and exploring the city, it’s very hard to come back to my room and do an assignment or some readings.  And since I only have so much time in each city, I’m desperately trying to fit in as much as I can into each day. I have to keep reminding myself that I am student first, and need to dedicate the time to it (but it’s hard!).

Coming up…

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This gorgeous scene in Amsterdam awaits!

The next undergraduate adventure is happening in February, when I will be heading to the University of Amsterdam for a semester abroad (as long as all of my paperwork goes through!). I’m really excited to be able to have a big chunk of time (at least five months) to really settle in and call Amsterdam home. But I’m equally as excited to leave that home whenever time (and money) permit to see as much of Europe as I can.  I know I will face a similar challenge to my current online course work, since I’m technically going to Amsterdam to study, but hopefully I’ll be able to find a good balance by then.

How does it all add up? $$
I’m not rich. My parents don’t pay for my trips and I don’t have a trust fund. In fact, I have student loans.  And the majority of my belongings were on sale when I bought them. So how is any of this possible?

Flying home: This one I have been pretty lucky with. As I said, during my first year of uni I essential flew for free. Since then, the costs of each flight ($500-800 roundtrip) has usually been split between me and my parents. I’ve been the recipient of some airline miles and generous Christmas flights home.

Peru: Again, as I said, the flight to Peru was free. The weekly costs (homestay, volunteer placement, program fee, etc.) were pretty reasonable considering the other locations and volunteer organizations available. I actually paid for this one myself, with money I had saved from jobs during high school.

Europe: I lucked out with a really amazing flight deal, which helped keep costs down.  Besides that, I’m a fairly budget-conscious traveller and was able to not completely break the bank. I rarely ate at sit down restaurants (preferring take-away café sandwiches) and a lot of the attractions I visited were free (e.g. service at Westminster Abbey, reading in front of the Eiffel Tower). While I did splurge on one or two hotel rooms, I tried really hard to cut costs where I could. My parents gave me a little and I had some money saved from hostess-ing and working in residence at UBC.

Swaziland: Thankfully, I was eligible for award funding from my school which really helped with the costs.  After that, my mom and I sourced a reasonable flight and I used money I had made during a co-op semester and another year working in residence.

Australia: Probably the luckiest thing of all: I won a free flight! I entered an Air Canada travel story contest on a whim and a little while later I was staring at a free flight to Sydney! Unfortunately, the ticket expires at the end of 2013, hence my decision to do courses online and head down here now.  My first two weeks in Yamba were fairly cheap since I received free accommodation in exchange for my dog/house sitting services. There wasn’t much to do, so my only real cost was food. Here in Sydney, I’m staying with a homestay family and in Melbourne I’ll be renting a room from a local family; both options are much cheaper than hotels and allow me to do my course work without threat of lousy internet, noise or theft that might accompany a hostel.

Amsterdam: Currently, this one is a little up in the air. I believe I am receiving another financial award through my school that will cover the flight. And my regular student loans should cover tuition. But the cost of living is higher in Amsterdam and with all the cross-Europe adventures I’m planning…I could use a little money in the bank. Right now, I’m really hoping to be able to get a job when I get back to Toronto in three weeks.  Hopefully that will help make long weekend trips to Turkey, Croatia, Greece and Italy (just to name a few) possible!

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And that, is a fairly comprehensive explanation of where, why and how I’ve travelled over the last three years! Note: this summary doesn’t include a few mini trips like work trips to Seattle, reading break 2011 in San Francisco with my mom or a family trip to Atlantis in The Bahamas last summer.

Bye Yamba!

My first two weeks in Australia are coming to an end and they were relaxingly spent in Yamba, NSW.

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Yamba is a small town and I didn’t get up to a whole lot while I was there. I did really enjoy staying in Anne & Paul’s beautiful house, exploring the locals parks, beaches & lake with Molly and faking a real adult life by cooking for myself. A few highlights from my time in Yamba:

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Walking Miss Molly along Yamba’s dog-friendly beach

 

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Spotting kangaroos at the golf course! There were tons of them but this Kanga & Roo were my favourite.

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Pelicans on the waterfront! Hilarious creatures and one of many cool birds that call Australia home.

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The famous Yamba prawns! Delicious fresh seafood was definitely a plus. 

 

 

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Snuggle time with Molly after dinner 🙂 

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The Clarence River Market – lots of people, crafts & food! 

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Walking along the Yamba coast – beautiful! 

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Tomorrow morning, Anne is giving me a lift to the Ballina Airport where I will catch a flight to Sydney! I’m really excited to explore Sydney, walk along the beaches, see the Opera House & Harbour Bridge and spot Prince Harry, who will be in Sydney on Saturday! Bye Yamba! 

Siyabonga, See You Later & ‘Ello!

Over the last month I’ve stepped foot in 5 countries (4 continents), chalked up almost 50 hours in the air (possibly more in airports) and have finally made it to my next adventure: Australia!

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We left Swaziland on August 19th and boarded a bus for the longest ride of our lives (close to 12 hours) to Durban, South Africa.  The next week in Durban was fairly blissful.  We walked along the beach, visited cool markets, met up with friends, went to a South African braii, got our haircut, took part in amateur shark cage diving, went surfing (I just watched) and enjoyed some delicious seafood, hotel breakfasts and Indian cuisine.  There were a few hiccups, including a mouse-finding adventure in our hotel room, but overall it was an amazing week and a perfect end to our African experience.  Before we left for Durban, we were working really hard to finish everything for our project at our placement.  After finishing our final workshops, binders and reports, we had a last hurrah with our host family, went horseback riding, and savoured our very last chicken wrap an hour before the bus left.

From Durban I flew to Joburg, to London, to Vancouver and, finally, to Toronto.  Very exhausted, I collapsed into two weeks of visiting friends and family, celebrating birthdays, sending my sister off to university, helping mom pack and move to our condo and trying to get everything sorted out with my UBC online courses and upcoming trip to Australia.  On September 10th, I boarded my flight (with an extremely light and well-packed luggage, I might add).  Final destination: Yamba, Australia!

I landed in Sydney and took a connecting flight to the Gold Coast.  Once there, Anne picked me up and drove me to her home in Yamba.  Yamba is a small town on Australia’s east coast.  It’s known for fishing, golfing and tons of beaches, lakes and green space.  I arranged to spend my first two weeks in Australia house and dog-sitting in Yamba.  While Anne and her husband Paul are off in New Zealand, I’m hanging out with their collie, Molly, and settling into Aussie life.

Aussie life has been pretty relaxing so far.  I spent the first few days getting to know Molly and touring around Yamba.  I got to walk Molly along the dog beach and explore the “town” (approximately 2 blocks of shops) before Anne took me to the local golf course to see….KANGAROOS!

The roos were amazing! As soon as we walked onto the course, I started snapping away.  But we were able to get so close without the kangaroos moving at all.  At first we came across 4 of them grazing by the 8th hole.  They barely looked up; the kangaroos could care less about some over-excited Canadian hiding behind her camera.  And then we noticed a mama with a baby in her pouch. It was the cutest thing! And those pouches really stretch; there was one joey trying to jump in who I didn’t think would fit.  After a few more minutes, the roos hopped on and we took it as our cue to head out.

Since then it’s been relaxing and rainy.  I’ve enjoyed spending time with Molly and having the house to myself.  I even managed to make a pretty delicious pasta featuring the famous Yamba prawns.  Looking forward to getting ahead on these online courses, taking a river cruise, chilling by the beach and spotting some more kangaroos! 

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Author’s note: I intended to include some photos with this post but my super slow super unreliable internet is not having it.  So just imagine a cute baby kangaroo, beautiful white sandy beach and adorable puppy!