In Defense of the All-Inclusive Resort Vacation

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.

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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.

The view from our room!

The view from our room!

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!

Hola Senor Iguana!

Hola Senor Iguana!

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.

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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.

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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.

Adios Mexico! Hasta Luego!

Adios Mexico! Hasta Luego!

Let’s Go To The Beach

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.

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Welcome to Phu Quoc Island!

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.

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img_20161125_153716The 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.

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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.

A little life update

I wanted to share a little life update and some upcoming plans (and, probably, posts) for the summer.

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So, first up, I have an update on the job front. I’ve been working at UBC in Admissions for the last 6-ish months.  However, it’s a contract position that ends in June so I was starting to look for something new. And, I’ve found it! As of May 30th, I will be the Student Services Program Assistant with UBC’s Allard School of Law. I’m excited that I found a position on campus and with more student interaction. It’s a brand new position, so I’m really looking forward to being able to add my input and see where things go.  As well, this job is just one building away from my current job, so I will still be able to stay in touch with old friends.

Yay for employment! This is a full-time on-going position so I don’t have to worry about a contract coming up.  Also, with an on-going position, I become eligible for tuition credits so I can take more of my counselling pre-reqs to one day apply for my Masters in Counselling (maybe? we’ll see!).

Besides a new gig, I’ve got lots of amazing plans upcoming for this summer. When I first came back to Vancouver, after spending the previous 1-2 years adventuring through Swaziland, Australia, Europe and Japan, I was a little disoriented. I was really excited to finish off my degree and begin a more settled life in Vancouver. But I was also itching to get back on a plane, pack a bag and take off somewhere new. I decided that I could still satisfy my travel bug by getting in some local travel.  And I’ve done that: with trips to Seattle, LA, San Francisco, etc. And I’ve got a bunch more planned for this summer!

May: So starting it off, Colin and I will be spending Victoria Day in Victoria!  I have been to Victoria a few times in the past but never overnight (except for work, which doesn’t count). And my favourite part is always the ferry ride there and back where I spend the whole time looking for sea creatures. So I’m excited to see what else Victoria has to offer.  And, outside of travel, Colin and I will also be attending a few concerts in May: Matt Corby and Macklemore!

June: And then in June, Colin and I are heading to Toronto to celebrate Kim and Joe’s wedding! Kimberley is the first of my friends to get married and the first time I’ve been a co-maid of honour so I’m all sorts of excited and nervous.  After the wedding, and a very quick visit in Toronto, we’re trying to plan a short few days in Montreal before coming home to Vancouver.  And we’re also seeing Billy Elliott in June, which I saw a long time ago in Toronto and loved.

July: As soon as we get back from Toronto/Montreal, we have 2 nights to rest and then we’re off to Pender Harbour.  Colin’s family has a place out there and every summer all the relatives come up with their trailers and tents for a little family vacation.  Last year, I got to spend a few days there when I got back from China and it was beautiful.  It was so nice to hang out by the water, sit around a fire and play lawn games.  I learned that I am horrible at horseshoes, terrified of kayaking and probably not ready for any deep sea fishing or paddle boarding.  But, I had an amazing time nonetheless and can’t wait to go up again this year.  And, in more theatre news, I’m seeing Newsies in July as it’s touring in Vancouver for 5 days.

More July: Not set in stone, but Colin and I are planning a roadtrip to Calgary for the Calgary Stampede.  I am super excited because I have never been to Calgary and haven’t done any roadtrips since I was a kid.  We have all of these wonderful places mapped out for our stops and have already begun work on our playlist and list of snacks to bring.  Plus, we’re planning this trip for my birthday weekend, which will be really special.  Hopefully we can get the time off work to make this one happen!

August: For the August long weekend, we’ve got another family trip in the works.  To celebrate Colin’s aunt’s birthday, we’re planning a few nights at a resort in Semiahmoo. I have never been or heard of this place but it sounds like fun and I’m excited for yet another local adventure.

More August: And, two nights after we get back from Semiahmoo, I’m off to Toronto again.  This time, for Andrea and Nader’s wedding.  I’m thrilled to be celebrating with them and to see my friends/family again. I haven’t been home for a while now – I was back in early December – so it’s nice to be going back twice this summer (despite what my wallet will argue).

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And I think that’s it! I am so excited for my new job and summer plans.  Knowing my life, there’s a good chance that some of this will change, things will be added, extended, etc. But that’s sorta the fun of it 🙂

6 months worth of updates

So about a year ago, I realized I had been neglecting my blog.  It kind of made sense, since this blog was born out of dream to travel and I wasn’t doing too much traveling a year ago.  But I found new things to write about: simple pleasures of everyday life, moving to a new home, family vacations and enjoying the on-going adventure that is living in Vancouver.

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And then in March, I forgot I had a blog again.

This time, it wasn’t for any lack of travel or adventure.  In fact, too much was happening in my life and I kept forgetting to write it all down.  So here are a few of the biggest updates from the last few months:

March: In March, I moved (again!) into an adorable and cosy 2-bedroom with my wonderful friend from work, Sophie.  Sophie and I had only met in January but barely a month later we were already looking at places together.  While it was rushed, here we are 6 months later and I couldn’t be happier.  Living alone was exciting, but I do tend to hermit when I’m solo (read: late nights in front of the TV with take-out and week-old dishes in the sink).  But now I have someone to watch TV with! We’re in a bit of a suburban neighbourhood of East Van but we’re enjoying it so far.  This was the first time either of us had signed a year lease and was the biggest step in settling that I’ve ever taken.

The bed I ordered and put together myself in my first unfurnished room!

The bed I ordered and put together myself in my first unfurnished room!

April: April was a pretty busy month for me! Unfortunately, it started on a sad note with my grandmother’s passing.  I flew back to Toronto for a quick weekend visit to be with family.  But back in Vancouver, things did seem to turn around.  I met a very special someone and we’ll be celebrating six months together in October.

Grandparents Canning on their wedding day :)

Grandparents Canning on their wedding day 🙂

May: May (and you might start to notice a trend here) was also incredibly busy.  It started with me fostering a gorgeous little puppy named Waffles who was the cutest and most clingy dog in the world.  We only had Waffles for 3 weeks and I still miss her, but I think I realized I’m not quite ready for full-time dog ownership.  Maybe when I live with a partner and have a flexible work schedule, I can revisit the dog situation.  But I wouldn’t be opposed to fostering again!

How cute is this puppy??

How cute is this puppy??

May was also the month where I officially graduated from UBC! My parents and siblings made the big trek from Toronto to watch me walk across the stage with 300+ other students at the ungodly hour of 8:30am on a Friday morning.

Quick snap of my diploma while I get ready to walk the stage!

Quick snap of my diploma while I got ready to walk the stage!

June: June was a bit of an up and down month.  Most notably, I set off for 6 weeks of facilitating in China through my job with Free The Children.  And while I have no desire to rehash the details, suffice to say that trip did not really work out and I was home shortly after Canada Day.  I also finished up my 10 months of serving at the Arbutus Club in June!

Last shift selfie!

Last shift selfie!

July: Coming home early was actually a huge blessing in disguise.  I got to take part in so many amazing summer activities and finally spend this season in beautiful Vancouver.  Bonus: I also got to see my mom who was in town for a wedding! Some of those summer activities included: concerts (One Direction, Journey and Taylor Swift (in order from worst to best performance)), camping (without running water, unless you count the insane amount of rain we got), kayaking (not my forte), FIFA World Cup soccer games and visiting Pender Harbour on the Sunshine Coast. I turned 23 in July and got to celebrate with my mom, my guy and some wonderful friends in my beloved city.

The beautiful Pender Harbour

The beautiful Pender Harbour

Kayaking: not my sport...

Kayaking: not my sport…

Swifties for life!

Swifties for life!

I don't know about thee, but I'm feeling 23!

I don’t know about thee, but I’m feeling 23!

August: August was a month of some big changes.  I decided to move on from my position at Free The Children to try something new.  And I got to go on another trip! This trip was a whirlwind 10 days in Toronto, Fort Erie and New York with my guy along for the ride. **I’ll probably do a separate blog about this trip, so more stories & photos to come!**  We did a lot of family bonding, friend meeting and sight seeing in a crazy but so wonderful 10 days.  I can’t wait to see my loved ones again, do New York in a less humid season and get in some more air miles with my new travel companion.

Brooklyn Bridge! One of my fave NY spots

Brooklyn Bridge! One of my fave NY spots

September: September has been all about settling into my new routine.  I’m working in an admin role at a counselling office which has a much different feel and different hours than my previous job.  I’m enjoying my new position, but it’s definitely a change from what I had been doing for the last nine months.  I think it was a good change, and important for me, but it does come with a few low points – such as missing all of my wonderful colleagues at my old job.

What’s next? I can almost guarantee that whatever I predict here is going to change but here I go!

I definitely want to continue blogging.  I love to write and use this medium to express myself and share my life with loved ones far away.  I should problem tie myself down to a schedule, but I’m not quite ready to make that commitment.  Can we tentatively say 2x per month?

I intend to continue in my current position and keep learning and growing in it.  But I also want to take on some side projects.  In January, I’ll be taking a course online at UBC in preparation for hopefully applying for a Master’s program in counselling.  Less than a month working at a counselling office and I’m already seriously considering a future in this field.  I’m still doing my research and won’t apply for some time, but I do want to start lining things up to make it happen.

In addition to my school course, I want to look for a volunteer or part time job opportunity.  I’d love to get some counselling experience, maybe through a mentorship or crisis line volunteer position.  I’d also love to do some freelance writing.  I’m still in the research stage on this too, but I’m definitely open to some new opportunities.

And then, in terms of my personal life, I definitely want to be more intentional.  Now that I don’t spend my 9-5 with most of my friends, I have to put in the effort to make plans to see the people I care about.  I have so many amazing friends here, one of the reasons I feel at home in Vancouver, and I want to cherish those relationships and not let them slip away.  I also want to do some things to better my daily life: try new recipes and pack lunches for work as much as possible, plan fun date nights that take advantage of this awesome city, head to the library and always have a book in my purse, keep on top of house cleaning, institute some sort of workout regime (my new office has a gym in it that I really need to take advantage of!) and still find time to indulge in take out sushi, my colouring book and nightly ritual of Jeopardy and House Hunters.

The Lees take The Dominican Republic!

Christmas is my favourite holiday. And I’m a pretty big supporter of spending the holidays back home with family and not escaping to some Caribbean resort.  But this year, I got to do both!

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I had a whirlwind tour of Toronto that lead straight into a sleepless Christmas Eve and 4am airport arrival on Christmas Day for our flight down to Puerto Plata.  14 Lees, including 4 under 8 years old, boarded the plane to spend a week stuffing our faces, sunning our skin and enjoying one another’s company. It was busy, humid and blissful – all at the same time!

Highlights of our trip:

Pools, beaches & endless drinks: Everyday was some lovely combination of wading in the Atlantic Ocean, playing in the sand, swimming in the pools and complimenting all of that water time with delicious strawberry daquiris (poco rum por favor!).  I especially loved watching Lee and Nathaniel dig huge holes on the beach (for hours!), doing hilarious aqua aerobics with my dad (who was the only male in the class), and catching our resident Water Baby, Lara, as she flung herself tirelessly back and forth in the pools.

Jade living the island life

Jade living the island life

The boys & a bird

The boys & a bird

All that food! Suffice to say, we ate A LOT in the DR. I honestly don’t remember feeling hungry at any point during our trip.  Some of the food was better than others; some was a lot better.  My favourite meal was our night at the a la carte seafood restaurant where I was ready to marry my salmon entree.  A few other dishes, like the warm bread pudding, chicken parm at the Italian restaurant, or the daily omelette station at breakfast were close competitors, but the salmon won out.  However, the insane feast they put out for New Year’s Eve (complete with ice sculptures, a sushi station and multiple roast pigs) was probably the most impressive to witness.

Nightly shows: Every night our resort put on a show.  And most nights it wasn’t that spectacular.  The magic show was creepy, the African show was a little culturally-insensitive and we never did make it to the tropical show.  But Michael Jackson Night was, surprisingly, stellar! We were blown away by the MJ look-a-like, the amazingly talented dancers and the perfect compilation of Michael hits.  We were that family clapping and singing along in the back row.  We’re sorry.

Jade & the cast of the Michael show!

Jade & the cast of the Michael show!

Dune buggies! While I opted out of the waterfall outing (it involved hiking and leaping – no thank you), I was pretty stoked for dune buggies.  Our family of five headed out to drive over bumps and through puddles on a course that took us into a forest, village, field and beach! It was crazy messy and a huge adrenaline rush to be going so fast.  I even put my fears aside and took the wheel for a stretch of it.  The whole morning was a ton of fun and I would definitely recommend it.  However, don’t wear flip flops to drive – big mistake.

Dune buggies!

Dune buggies!

A ride up the cable car: We headed off the resort one day and up the cable car (of which mountain, I couldn’t even say) to get a great aerial view of Puerto Plata.  The views were awesome and the cool trails at the top made for a very scenic mini-hike.  After the mountain, a few of us headed into the city centre for lunch, a walk and a visit to the Amber Museum.  Lunch was a bit of a gong show, but all in all the day was enjoyable.  It was nice to spend some time away from our resort and to practice my Espanol!

The views of Puerto Plata

The views of Puerto Plata

Shameless mountain-top selfie

Shameless mountain-top selfie

Ocean World: Another off-resort activity took us to Ocean World, where we snorkelled in a pool with fish, took in sea lion, dolphin and shark shows, played with birds and hung out on the beach.  Sure, it was a bit overpriced and definitely catering to tourists, but that didn’t stop us from being in awe of the amazing animals. Jade even has plans to get a degree in marine biology and return to work as a trainer!

Jade & Lara are all smiles!

Jade & Lara are all smiles!

Awesome family moments: The best part about our trip was spending so much time with this side of my family. Jadey and I roomed together, and got to bond over hilariously loud shower songs, early morning wake-ups and helpful sunscreen applications.  Dad worked hard at improving his (very limited) Spanish during our week in the DR and it was really fun to help him out with that.  Staying up late and drinking with our uncles will always be a fun time that Jade and I won’t forget.  And bringing out the girly side of our adorable cousin Lara by painting her nails and singing Frozen songs at the top of our lungs is easily one of my favourite memories.

Jade & baby Lara :)

Jade & baby Maddy 🙂

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From getting all dressed up for nightly dinners and dancing at the New Year’s Eve party to walks along the beach at night and a luxurious visit to the spa, this trip was certainly awesome and unforgettable.

Coming home?

Okay, I’m way behind on blog posts. Like 3 weeks behind. But in my defence, I’ve been really busy!

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In the last couple of weeks I’ve flown to Toronto, celebrated Christmas, flown to the Dominican Republic for a family vacation, rang in the new year, flown back to Toronto and (finally) flown home to Vancouver.

And while I’m no stranger to flights and coast-hopping, this time felt a bit different.  To start with, it was a whirlwind visit.  I only had about 4 days in Toronto before we left for the DR.  In those few days I managed to squeeze in quite a few family and friend catch ups.  My Toronto days essential broke down to: gift wrapping, brunch with James & Zab, gift shopping, x-mas dinner with my high school girlfriends, Brantford visit with my grandma and cousins, dinner with Auntie Hayley & Kaitlyn, brunch with Shelby, more gift shopping and wrapping, dinner with Kim & Sash, lunch and shopping with Simon, hair cut, dim sum dinner and sleepover with Pamela & Andrea, brunch with mom and, finally, Christmas Eve dinner with the Angs before getting to the airport for 4am for our DR flight! So, you could say things were busy 🙂

Christmas Eve with the Angs!

Christmas Eve with the Angs!

Donated 10 inches of hair!

Donated 10 inches of hair!

Dinner at Origin with Kaity, Mom & A. Hayley

Dinner at Origin with Kaity, Mom & A. Hayley

Headed to Brantford full of Christmas cheer

Headed to Brantford full of Christmas cheer

Christmas dinner with PRALM

Christmas dinner with PRALM

Brunch with my favourite Toronto boys

Brunch with my favourite Toronto boys

But busy was beneficial; I got to see so many people who I love and haven’t seen for a little while.  My dearest (but not necessarily nearest) are still in Toronto and it’s so important to me to be able to catch up with them whenever I can.  But, something did feel a bit different this time.

Toronto will always be my home. I’ve spent most of my life there.  All of my family and childhood friends are there. But this time didn’t feel like a homecoming. It felt like a tour.  Part of that is definitely due to the crazy schedule of dinners and brunches I set up for myself.  It’s hard to feel like you’re home when “home” is a series of meals with different people all around the city.  But the other part was my new definition of “home”.

Home has always been a bit of fluid term for me.  I attach it pretty loosely to just about anywhere.  The hostels of Europe became home to me in the Spring, my tatami mat bedroom was home for a month this summer in Japan and now, Vancouver is definitely home.  I don’t know if I could rank one home as more “homey” than the others, but there is definitely a new permanency with my Vancouver home that is pushing the status of Toronto home.

Now that school is done and I’ve started a full time job and am living in my own apartment, my Vancouver life is a bit more established.  My residency here is no longer determined by a four month school term.  There isn’t a set date when I’ll be leaving Vancouver.  And there isn’t a set date when I’ll be returning to Toronto for anything more than a week-long visit.  That both terrifies and excites me.

Sitting in my apartment, lunch packed for work tomorrow and a mountainous recycling box staring at me, I do feel at home. I’ve put up some photos, and my treasured scratch-off map, and things are really starting to feel homey.  I’m excited to get into a work routine and start some non-school after work activities.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t miss my family and friends in Toronto.  And it doesn’t mean I’m done with Toronto or closing the door on ever living there again.

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Because no matter where in the world I’m calling home, Toronto will always have a huge part of my heart.