The Camino de Santiago is an old pilgrims’ route that starts across the Pyrénées in southwestern France, crosses the north of Spain, and ends in Santiago de Compostela, a distance of 780 kilometres. It’s a well-known trail, and roughly 250,000 people hike at least some part of it every year. Yet, it is not the kind of trip you undertake on a whim.

Ildiko, a marketing professional from Toronto, had the opportunity to do the hike last fall, and she went on her own. I had read about the trail before (even considered doing it) so I was curious to learn about the experience first-hand. Fortunately, Ildiko agreed to an interview, and provided me with plenty of information and impressions.

Go grab a beverage, sit down comfortably, and read on!

(All photos courtesy of Ildiko J. Lorik.)

Hiking the Camino de Santiago solo Big Travel Nut: Hi Ildiko! What made you decide to hike the Camino?

Ildiko: The inspiration to do the Camino first came in the early 2000’s after reading Shirley MacLaine’s novel “The Camino”. It sounded like a cool thing to do “one day”, but I never actually got around to making it happen. Then last year, after my mother passed away and I negotiated time off work to deal with things (including taking my mom’s ashes back to her homeland in Europe), I wondered what would be the best way to use this valuable time off.

Initially, I just wanted to go to an ocean – it didn’t matter if it was a sunny tourist destination, or a remote, windy, brooding coastline. I was craving the sound of waves and an ocean breeze. However, when my boyfriend reminded me that I’d been talking about the Camino forever, and that it might be a great opportunity to do it, I realized that it would be the perfect way to honour the memory of my mother who had always loved walking and hiking too. And so it came to be.

In the Pyrénées, between France and Spain

BTN: How did you prepare for this trip? Any special training you undertook, or books you read?

Ildiko: First off, I interviewed two of my friends who had completed the trail a year prior to find out details about accommodation, what to pack, and things to watch out for. One of them even gave me a detailed packing list.

I also read two or three blogs that turned out to be incredibly useful in corroborating my friend’s packing list, recommending the John Brierly guidebook, and linking me to the Canadian Company of Pilgrims from whom I purchased my Camino passport (though I could have gotten a nicer one in Saint-Jean it turns out).

I spent a gazillion hours at Mountain Equipment Coop browsing their wares and figuring out which backpack, sleeping bag, and hiking shoes to bring along, plus a whole slew of other things from rain ponchos, wet bags, soap, etc. I had read that the pack shouldn’t be more than 10% of body weight to walk the Camino comfortably, so I was constantly assessing and re-assessing critical items vs wish-I-could-bring items.

I never was much worried about hiking the distance, as I’m relatively fit. My biggest worry had more to do with “carrying weight” and dealing with blisters (as I’m really prone to them). In the weeks preceding my trip, I started walking the hour to work with a backpack on, to get used to carrying weight that way.

BTN: How long did it take you to hike the whole route?

Ildiko: It would have taken me 33 days to hike the whole distance from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Santiago de Compostela. Unfortunately, I had major blisters starting on Day 4. I plodded ahead, but by Day 14, ended up visiting a doctor who told me to take a few days off.

I ended up taking 5 days off, and had to consider the options of either starting again where I’d left off and not fully completing the trail (as I had to get back to work by a certain date), or skipping ahead in order to get to the end of the trail. I did the latter and embarrassingly enough, did wind up missing 100 kilometres of the trail (in the middle of the plains).

A spectacular morning outside Itero de la Vega

By the way, there are several different Camino trails leading to Santiago de Compostela. I was walking on the classic path that is often called Camino Francés, or St. James Way.

BTN: Where did you stay during the hike? Did you book your accommodation in advance?

Ildiko: The trail is dotted with small cities and towns, and almost every place has some kind of accommodation for pilgrims. This ranges from hostels, to small hotels, to expensive paradors. I believe at one point in history, people opened up their homes to pilgrims, but that is no longer really the case (or wasn’t my experience).

A full listing is given out at the start of the trail, at the Pilgrim’s office in Saint-Jean, where you get your first stamp in your Camino passport. The listing shows all options available for the particular season and year, and includes details about number of beds available, pricing, laundry facilities, etc.

In addition, there are different Camino apps that you can load onto your phone to look up hostel information. I generally stuck to the list we received as well as the Wise Pilgrim Guides app.

Iconic view near Valtuille de Arriba

I had heard stories about being “stranded” along the Camino and not being able to get a place to sleep, but that must be during the summer peak season, as I had no trouble and didn’t call ahead or make any reservations until the very end for Santiago. To save money, I stayed in a hostel dorm room every night except for my second night in Burgos, and the 5 days where I departed from the trail.

As an aside, one can stay only one night at a hostel in any given town. If you want to stay a second night in the same town, you need to move to a hotel, or wait until every new pilgrim has accommodation, before asking permission to get into a different hostel for the second night.

BTN: How much stuff were you carrying?

Ildiko: Initially, I carried about 14 lbs on my back. Because I really dread carrying anything at all (I tend to suffer from major back pain), I had tried to whittle things down to a bare minimum without actually giving up things such as the backpack itself, sleeping bag, a change of clothes, etc.

During my five days off, I realized that the backpack had caused me to change my gait, which in turn, was likely the cause for my blisters. When I returned to the trail, I shipped a couple of pounds of stuff direct to Santiago (including tearing my guidebook in half and keeping only the latter half). I also started fast-forwarding the bulk of my pack to the next overnight point.

I had to buy a smaller daypack to keep some essentials on me, but the load was much lighter at only 3-5 lbs. These changes freed me up so that I could focus on my walking form and avoid further blisters and back pain. The only problem was that I had to “guesstimate” how many kilometres I would be able to walk on any given day, in order to decide to which hostel I should send my backpack.

Ildiko on the way to Triacastela

BTN: Where (and what) did you eat while walking the trail?

Ildiko: I initially misinterpreted someone’s online blog of 30/day expenses to mean Canadian dollars, when in fact it was Euros, so the trip ended up costing a lot more than I bargained for! Thus, I had to cut back on food a bit.

I usually had toast and coffee for breakfast, either at a café near my hostel, or in the next town.

For lunch in the first few weeks, I would buy baguettes, sandwich meats or cheeses, yogurt, and fruit at grocery stores to make my own sandwiches for two or three days at a time. For the later weeks, I skipped most lunches to economize.

For dinner, I ate Pilgrims’ Meals that were offered by the hostels, or I would go into town. Because of the large numbers of pilgrims coming through northern Spain, most towns have restaurants offering Pilgrim menus, meaning you can get a balanced meal with some kind of meat, potatoes or rice, and veggies for about 10 Euros. Wine was extra, and was cheaper than water!

BTN: What were the people like on the trail? Any trends regarding gender, age, country of origin?

Ildiko: While there was the odd family hiking the trail, most people were either single or in pairs.

I saw people ranging in age from early 20s (university students) to late 80s, but the majority of people I hung out with were in their 30s to 60s. It seemed to be a fairly even gender split.

There were an astonishing number of Koreans on the trail, but apparently there is a very popular TV show in Korea that has inspired them to go on the Camino. Talking to other people, the impression was that 40% of travellers were Korean, 40% European (many from Germany), 10-15% North and South Americans, and the rest other Asian, African, and Australian.

The youngest person I saw on the Camino: a 10-year old Korean boy who was walking with his dad 

BTN: People hike the Camino for different reasons. Did you meet any pilgrims that stick out in your mind?

Ildiko: Everyone I met had an interesting story, but there were some unique characters.

A German senior citizen in his 80s hikes the Camino every year from somewhere in Germany right through to Santiago without carrying any money or gear apart from what he wears on his back. Apparently, he is so well known on the Camino that people offer him free accommodation and food!

Angela was a transvestite who wore a wide-brimmed floppy hat and carried a huge stuffed toy Tigger. She was from England, and was doing the Camino for her second time. Although in her 60s, she had only discovered her gender identity about five years prior. Walking the Camino was an incredibly brave thing for her to do.

I also saw a very old pilgrim who walked in old-fashioned pilgrim garb with staff, tugging at an old rolling cart with his belongings, and his dog by his side. He looked like an anachronism, a time warp thing, coming straight out of the 15th or 16th century. I never got to talk to him, as he waved everyone away. He had already walked to Santiago and was now doing the stretch in reverse.

BTN: What were some favourite moments on your trip?

Ildiko: There were dozens, but here are my top five.

#1: A butterfly landed on my shirt while taking a picture of the France-Spain border. The butterfly ended up sitting there for 20 minutes, but disappeared when someone else tried to take a picture. I felt it was a sign from my mother.

#2: Hiking with Uffe and Georg (two guys I met on Day 1) for 3.5 days, then having a beer with them at our hostel in Cizur Menor. I felt like I “belonged”.

#3: Climbing the hill in Monjardin that was off the main path. My blisters were killing me, and I had decided to hike only 10 kms that day to allow my feet some recovery time. However, I started getting restless, so once I dumped my stuff at the hostel, I put on my crocs (with no backs) and wound up walking up the hill to a castle and a phenomenal view of the Camino and surrounding countryside. I spent at least an hour just roaming around. It was breathtaking!

Near Villamayor de Monjardin

#4: Hearing the most lovely live guitar music at the doorway of tiny Ecco Homo church in Valdeviejas.

#5: My evening in Linares, when fellow hiker Karime and I underestimated the size of the town and related meal options. It turned out that there were only three or four buildings of which one was a hostel, and another was a hotel with a restaurant, but they didn’t serve outsiders. Fortunately, they had a convenience store so we were able to buy some bread, canned fish, cheese, and wine and had the most fun and impromptu-style dinner.

BTN: What did you find the most challenging on this..
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(Scroll to the bottom for the Tilley hat giveaway!)

Twenty-five years ago today, I was lending in Paris on my first solo trip, which also happened to be my very first trip to Europe!

After at least 15 years of dreaming, working hard, and saving, I was finally making it happen, even if nobody else wanted to come with me. People always find excuses, and I was sick and tired of waiting for them to make up their mind.

I had managed to get three weeks of vacation in a block (not easy in North America) and I was going to visit France, Switzerland, and Italy. I knew some people in France and Switzerland that I was planning to meet, and had booked a tour in Italy, in order to make things less daunting.

Still, I was a bit of a wreck when I settled on that plane for my first trip across the Atlantic!

Receipt from that plane ticket to Paris, first time travelling solo, 1992!

Since then I’ve been on dozens of solo trips, on every continent, and travelling alone seems just as natural as living alone. I’ve grown a lot more confident and resourceful as well, and I know I can take care of problems when they arise.

Just for fun, I tried thinking about some of the things I learned during all those trips. Here is a list of 25 of them (in no particular order).

25 things I learned in 25 years of travelling solo 1. Strangers who are “too friendly” often have ulterior motives

People who approach you on the street out of the blue and start chatting you up like they’re your best friend are rarely good news. Don’t feel bad dumping them. You may have to be a little rude if they don’t get the message.

2. You can communicate a lot more than you think through gestures

Miming goes a long way, even if at time it means you may have to flap your arms like a chicken or pretend to wipe your butt.

3. The first day of a trip is usually the most expensive (and the worst)

Blame this on fatigue, jet lag, and unfamiliarity with the customs and lay of the land. It will only get better from here on.

4. You make friends faster when you’re travelling than at home

Strange but true. It could be the “holiday mood”, the fact that you’re less afraid of being judged when you’re meeting people you may never see again. Or it could be because you instinctively know that you’re more dependent on others in a foreign environment.

Making friends in Boquete, Panama

5. Water (and hot water in particular) is a precious commodity

One of the first things I do upon arriving in a new country is getting bottled water. Even if the tap water is potable, it may take your body a few days to adjust. Finding yourself without drinking water is one of the scariest things. And hot water showers are not guaranteed in tropical countries.

6. If all the meat you see in markets is hanging out in the heat and swarming with flies, you may want to become a temporary vegetarian

This is what I decided to do after arriving in India. Despite everybody’s predictions, I didn’t get sick at all during my three-week stay.

7. In the tropics, even one crumb of food left unattended will attract unwanted visitors

Most people learn this the hard way. Eat over a plate, or even over the sink, if you have to. It’s not worth spending your stay fighting off ants or cockroaches. In hot climates, even upscale properties are not sealed tight, and bugs (sometimes big ones) will come in if they smell food.

8. Always look where you’re stepping

This goes beyond the obvious dog poop as many countries (I’m looking at you Southeast Asia) have gaping holes in the sidewalk, big enough to swallow a person. It’s easy to injure yourself by bumping into things that you don’t expect to find on your path, or misstepping on the uneven ground.

Broken sidewalk in Chiang Rai, Thailand

9. Not all organized tours are made equal

On my first packaged trip to Italy, I found myself sharing a bus for 10 days with people old enough to be my grandparents, staying in suburban hotels, and eating hospital food. Not quite what I had in mind.

10. The concept of punctuality is unknown in most of the world

In Japan you can set your watch by the arrival time of your train. Elsewhere, not so much. The hotter the climate, the less punctuality seems to be a “thing”.

11. Many toilets don’t accept toilet paper

This is more common than you may think. Many old plumbing systems, including in parts of Europe, are not built to accept toilet paper. Always check and heed the signs. I have experienced this in Mexico, Cuba, Argentina, Thailand, and even Spain, among others.

12. People lie, all the time

They don’t always lie on purpose (although some do – there are lots of scams out there), but misinformation is rampant in some parts of the world. You will probably get more accurate information from your accommodation or the tourist office, than from a random person on the street. But that’s no guarantee. The solution: check online and ask more than one person.

13. Weird crap happens to you when you’re the most confident and unworried

For a Canadian, England is probably one of the easiest foreign countries to travel through. Yet London is the only city I ever got lost in, and England is the origin of this embarrassing anecdote.

14. Motion sickness is the worst thing ever

Well, maybe being stabbed or shot is worse, but you’re more likely to encounter motion sickness either on a bus, boat, or helicopter. If you’re prone to it, I don’t need to explain this one. Bring your favourite medication. It may be impossible to find overseas.

Cruising the Sans Blas Islands, Panama

15. Carrying too much stuff will make you miserable

If you’re solo, carrying more than two bags is unpractical. Having to drag around heavy luggage every time you change destination will get old really quickly (and risk injuring you). Here are my tips for packing light.

16. Serendipity can be a good thing

Some of my most interesting travel adventures have happened when plans got re-arranged at the last minute. Some countries like Sri Lanka, the island of serendipity are especially “good” for this.

17. Learning a bit of the local language goes a long way

Learn at least “hello” and “thank you”, just to be polite. If you expect that English won’t be widely spoken at your destination, also learn how to ask for the bathroom and order food/ask for the bill. Have a dictionary or a translation app readily available on your phone/tablet. (Google translate is good enough.) Even better, take a language class at the destination!

18. If you’re staying for a week or more somewhere, it’s worth renting an apartment or negotiating a discount on your hotel room

It will be cheaper and more comfortable. (Getting a discount may require you paying the whole week in advance, possibly in cash.)

19. You can do a surprising number of things for free (or cheap) in most destinations

Always do a bit of research to find out what you can do for free. Even pricey museums often have a free night. Tourist offices often have booklets with discount coupons for restaurants and attractions. Don’t pay more than you need to. Keep your money for those few top attractions you really want to see.

20. It’s easier to meet people in small guesthouses and hostels than in fancy or chain hotels

People’s sociability seems to be inversely proportional to the price of the accommodation.

Congenial houseboat hostel in Abel Tasman Park, New Zealand

21. Always have more than one way of getting at your money. And don’t keep all your cards in the same place

You never know when a bank machine will refuse or even swallow your debit/credit card. If all your cards are in the same wallet, and that gets stolen, you’re in mucho trouble.

22. Develop patience and a sense of humour

You won’t have a long travel career without both.

23. Keep your eyes on stray dogs at all times

One stupid little mongrel almost cost me the trip of a lifetime. Read about this scary story here.

24. Always use the toilet when you have a chance and avoid diuretics food/drinks just before a long bus journey

This includes coffee, fruits, and worse of all, both together! Not all buses have (clean) toilets or make bathroom stops. And the bathroom stop may be a ditch by the side of the road (not the best if you’re a woman).

25. Always recharge your devices when you have power. Don’t forget your adaptors in the wall outlets. Bring more than one adaptor!

Reliable electricity is something we take for granted. But in the developing world, power outages are common and random. And forgetting your only adaptor in a hotel room when you’re travelling with your phone, computer, and camera can be panic-inducing.

Final words and take away

I love solo travel, and although it was a little awkward the first few times, I’m now addicted to the feelings of freedom and independence it gives me.

In Rome, Italy, on my first solo trip (May 1992)

Two more things I’ve learned over time are that:

  • You always feel so energized after getting out of your comfort zone.
    Doing something for the first time, especially abroad, can be nerve wracking, but you will feel so good afterwards, and your confidence goes up a notch.
  • You’re more resourceful than you think.
    Don’t worry too much thinking about every possible thing that can go wrong before you leave, or you may never leave! Whatever happens, you’ll think of something and solve each problem as it happens.
Giveaway – win a Tilley hat!

To celebrate 25 years of travelling solo (the last 10 wearing my Tilley hat), I’m running a giveaway in partnership with Tilley Endurables, offering you the chance to win a Tilley Hiker’s Hat (pictured left), a US$100 (CDN$110) value!  This hat looks amazing, is unisex, and comes in five different colours. If you win, you’ll be able to choose your colour and size to make sure you get the perfect fit.

After you sign-in below, you’ll see a series of actions. Each one gives you several contest entries. Get as many entries as you can. If you’ve always wanted a Tilley hat but were hesitating because of the price, this is your chance! If you’re not sure, you can read my Tilley hat review.

The contest ends May 24 at midnight. (May 24 is the day I returned from my life-changing trip back in 1992.) The winner will be chosen at random and contacted through email.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Ever since I wrote my post “Solo travellers in your 40s or 50s” I’ve been amazed at the number of people reading the post (over 10% of my entire traffic) and leaving comments. It turns out that there are quite a few of us middle-age folks either travelling solo or considering doing so. If you are over 40 and planning a first solo trip, read on.

As I’m about to celebrate the 25th anniversary of my very first solo trip next month, I’ve been thinking more about the special challenges of travelling alone for the first time. I don’t think twice about booking myself a lone air ticket these days, but that wasn’t always the case.

When people talk about planning that first solo trip and being scared to death, I can relate to their anxiety. And the older you get, the harder it becomes to make changes and try new things. But I’m also very excited for them, because at the end of the day, travelling on your own terms and the freedom it provides are truly awesome!

Hiking solo in northeastern Argentina, going at my own pace, stopping for photos constantly

Below are some ideas on how to make your first solo adventure (and later ones too) less stressful and anxiety-inducing when you’re over 40.

Pack light

Nothing destroys the spirit and body faster than having to drag heavy luggage by yourself through the heat and uneven sidewalks of many world destinations. And that’s saying nothing of having to repack every few days. It can be a total drag (no pun intended), especially as you get older.

For this reason it’s worth spending some time carefully choosing your bags and deciding what to bring. Whatever you do, if you’re travelling alone, do not carry more than two separate pieces of luggage. Check out this article (with video) to see what I pack on a typical trip of anywhere from one week to 4 months. (Hint: it fits in the bags shown above!)

Start slow and easy

It’s common knowledge among experienced travellers that the first 24 hours of a trip are the hardest. You’re tired, jet-lagged, hungry, a little lost, and perhaps wondering what in hell you were thinking when you booked this trip. (It still happens to me on occasion.) Don’t worry, it will pass. Just follow these tips to make the first day as comfortable as possible:

Bring snacks

Not just for the plane, but to munch on during that first day when you’re likely to get hungry at odd times (like 4 AM) when local restaurants may not be open.

Choose a comfortable place to stay

Make sure you book a nice place to stay for the first few nights, even one that’s a little above your budget. If you’re a light sleeper, bring earplugs. (I never EVER travel without earplugs.)

Consider booking a tour

If you’re especially anxious, book a tour. It doesn’t have to be for your entire vacation. It could be a 4-day tour at the beginning of a 2-week trip, a 2-week tour at the beginning of a multi-month trip or just a day tour to give you an overview of the city and help you get your bearings. (You can book the latter after you arrive.) Read this two-part article if you’re trying to decide whether you should go on a tour or travel independently.

Pick your accommodation carefully throughout your trip

Meeting other travellers when you’re a young backpacker requires nothing more difficult than checking into a youth hostel. But as an older traveller, you may be looking for something a little quieter and more comfortable than a hostel.

Do not dismiss hostels entirely though. Most don’t have age limits, and some “boutique” hostels have started sprouting up in Europe, North America and elsewhere. If you want to socialize but not necessarily party all night (or hear others do so), read the descriptions and reviews on HostelBookers or Booking.com and choose “non-party” hostels. Not all hostels are created equal when it comes to rowdiness. Usually the quieter the hostel, the older the guests.

Socializing in a Buenos Aires hostel in my early 40s

If you’re the type of person who’s more comfortable with fewer people, renting an AirBnB room in a house lets you meet locals and perhaps a couple of other travellers in an adjacent room, creating a more intimate experience.

Of course you could just stay in a regular hotel, but unless you’re the gregarious extroverted type, you’re unlikely to make much social contacts there.

Arrange to meet people you know

One of the advantages of being a little older is that you’re likely to already know more people all over the globe. Family members, friends, current and ex work colleagues, even social media contacts.

When trying to decide where to go, figure out where you already know people. Or announce your destination on Facebook or Twitter, ask a question, see if any of your contacts/followers live there or will be there when you are.

It always feel nice to have a few lunch or coffee “dates” lined up when arriving in a brand new destination by yourself. You’ll probably be surprised to discover that some people you barely know are offering to show you around, take you to their favourite restaurants, etc.

Meeting up with my friend Lisa in Paris a few years ago

Arrange to meet locals

If you don’t know anyone at your destination (or even if you do), there are several ways to meet locals that don’t involve having to cold talk someone in a public place. The growing sharing economy offers a multitude of options and here are just a few.

The Global Greeter Network is a free service that matches travellers with locals in over 100 cities around the world. You fill up a form a few weeks in advance of your trip and are paired with a volunteer who loves his/her city and just wants to help visitors discover it.

With locals lists over 1200 things to do and food experiences to have with verified locals in 21 countries and 46 cities. This could involve joining a local to discover the best local food spots in Kuala Lumpur (US$14), making a traditional ceramic tile in Porto ($18), or even a taking a day hike to a waterfall with one night stay and two meals in a Sri Lankan village (US$57).

Even AirBnB lets you book experiences on their site now!

Being shown around by a Brussels local I met through the Global Greeter Network

Don’t travel too fast

Besides packing too heavy, the other thing that will exhaust you and make you grumpy pretty quickly is travelling too fast, especially on any trip longer than two or three weeks. What “too fast” means is different for every person of course.

On a short trip (1-2 weeks), you could even consider staying in a main city and day tripping to the surrounding areas. You often get discounts at AirBnB accommodation for staying a week or more. And in a hotel, you should try asking for a discount if you’re willing to pay for your entire week upfront.

On a longer trip, don’t schedule yourself too tightly and make it possible to change your itinerary, stay longer in a given place, and so on. Keep a day a week to do laundry and rest. In warm climates, people rarely own a dryer, so you’ll have to wait for your clothes to air dry. If you packed light as I suggested, you won’t have much to wear while you wait. Take this opportunity to catch up on your reading, writing, or sleep!

Know yourself

Not all solo travellers are the same, and solo trips are as varied as people. If you’ve always travelled with others before, you may discover that your personal travel style is very different from your friends’ or partner’s. Give yourself time and permission to discover who you are as a traveller.

I hope this has been helpful and inspiring to all of your brave travellers who are over 40 and planning a first solo trip!

If you’re still worried about being lonely, here is what not to do to meet more people.

Pin it so you can easily find it later!

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It has sort of become a tradition for me to review and summarize the year that’s ending, from a travel point of view. If you’d rather see where I’m going next, jump to the end!

This year I visited three new countries, re-visited three others, and even discovered a new spot in my own country for a total of 18 weeks away from home. I undertook four house-sitting assignments (providing me with 9 weeks of free accommodation), attended two blog-related events abroad, and celebrated 40 years of friendship with my high-school pal. It was a more expensive year than usual travel-wise, which is not surprising since I only travelled to developed (first world) countries, a rather unusual occurrence.

 New Zealand

The beginning of 2016 saw me in Wellington, New Zealand, wrapping up one house-sitting assignment and starting another. Wellington is a beautiful city when the sun is shining, which it did for most of my time there.

I spent the following two weeks travelling around the South Island, starting with Christchurch, where I was surprised to discover that re-construction efforts are still ongoing, five years after a devastating earthquake. I spent a week in the holiday town of Wanaka where I kayaked on a blue lake ringed by snowy mountains, hiked a few trails (including hitchhiking to reach Mount Aspiring National Park), and toured a couple of wineries in a funny French car. Next I travelled up the rainy West Coast where I was hoping to see the face of the Fox Glacier (rather disappointing this year) and the Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki (quite cool).

Pancake rocks in Punakaiki, New Zealand


After seven weeks in New Zealand I flew to Melbourne, Australia, for a week. It was my first time in this city and I really enjoyed its multicultural outlook, coffee culture, and laneways full of street art and cafés.

I then flew to Brisbane for a few days where the hot and humid weather took some getting used to. Brisbane surprised me with its skyscrapers, bridges, and urban beach. I expected something much more… provincial. I spent the next seven weeks in hot Queensland.

Fortunately, Tamborine Mountain where I house-sat next, was a little cooler. I had two separate assignments for the same homeowner totalling about two weeks, so I got to stay at their house for an entire month! It was very sedate up there, but fortunately the house and cats were wonderful and there were lots of Netflix movies to watch. I did manage a few trips into town though (three kilometres on foot) and the owner and her sister both took me around in their car (to the beaches of the Gold Coast and hiking on the mountain respectively).

Brisbane’s skyscrapers

At the very end of February, I was back in Brisbane for a few nights and then on to North Stradbroke Island for some sun and sand before yet another house-sitting assignment. I spent two weeks in the suburban town of Victoria Point, taking care of a very spoiled but beautiful Russian Blue cat.

On March 21 I returned home to Toronto, after one of my most insane series of flights ever: three flights and two layovers, one of which was 10 hours long. This is what happens when you try to piece together a one-way flight halfway around the world in the cheapest way possible!

Philadelphia, USA

Philadelphia had been on my radar for a couple of years, thanks to the Philly Tourist Office who are aggressively promoting the destination. When I received notice that Blog House was going to be held there in June 2016, I just had to apply! Blog House is a 4-day workshop where a small group of bloggers are mentored by successful professional bloggers (that is, bloggers who are actually running their blog as a business and making money). To my great delight, I was accepted and joined 13 other participants and 5 mentors in Philadelphia!

Elfreth’s Alley in Philadelphia, the USA’s oldest residential street (1702)

This was not a free trip though. In fact it was way beyond my normal travel budget (Blog House fee, hotel, etc). Fortunately they organized a lot of free events in the evenings, and I didn’t have to buy any food for four days. I met great people on this trip, even if Blog House itself was a little different from what I expected.


I travelled to Iceland, Denmark and Sweden for the first time this summer. There are two reasons why I didn’t make it to Scandinavia sooner: high costs, and the fact that summer, the best season to visit, is also the time when I normally stay home since it’s also the best time of year in Canada. But this year, TBEX Europe (Travel Bloggers’ Conference) was in Stockholm, so I took this as my cue to pop over there. I enjoyed my trip but I had to watch my pennies like crazy, choosing to stay in many AirBnB rooms with shared bathrooms.


After a quick stop in Montreal to visit family and friends, I boarded an Icelandair flight to Reykjavic, Iceland, for a 4-day stopover. Leaving 29C sunny Montreal to land in 9C rainy Rekjavic five hours later was a shock to say the least.

Twenty-four hours of light but highs of barely 13C gave a new meaning to the word “summer”. The country grew on me after a few days though, especially after my trip to Iceland’s South Coast where I got to see some of the natural features the country is famous for: black sand beaches, waterfalls, volcanoes, and glaciers. I also learned a lot of interesting facts about this unusual nation.

Skógafoss waterfall, South Coast of Iceland


Next, I hopped over to Denmark for 6 days, just enough time to visit the main sights of Copenhagen while trying not to starve (food is so expensive here) and then a couple of days in Helsingör where Hamlet castle stands. Hamlet was even in residence when I visited!


I spent the following two weeks in Sweden visiting Göteborg, Örebro (I have a friend there) and of course beautiful Stockholm.

The Stockholm and Swedish Tourism Offices really spoiled TBEX participants with two pre-conference tours, and for many, a post-conference FAM trip to a lesser known region of the country. I visited art museums with a guide, ate the Nobel 2015 dinner, and toured the region of Småland with a small group of bloggers for three days. And then of course, there were the parties, including one where I dressed up as a flapper from the 1920s!

View of Stockholm from City Hall tower

Montreal and Eastern Townships (Canada)

In early September I was back in Montreal for a very special event. My best friend from high school and I decided to spend a long week-end together in the Eastern Townships of Quebec to celebrate 40 years of friendship. She not only picked the destination but pretty much organized the whole trip since she was very familiar with the towns of Compton and Coaticook, making it a very easy trip for me.

It was a fun but busy week-end of agro-tourism, hiking and chatting. I was even able to get us comped tickets to Foresta Lumina, a sound-and-light show in the local forest that really put Coaticook on the map.

Hiking in Coating Gorge Park

Los Angeles, USA

My last trip of the year was to Los Angeles to visit another friend for American Thanksgiving in late November. There was a lot of eating involved, and not so much touring, but I still managed to see a few new neighbourhoods, including a hike to the Griffith Observatory at the top of Griffith Park, with amazing views over downtown LA and all the way to the ocean.

View of downtown Los Angeles from Griffith Observatory

Starting 2017 on the right foot

I hope you enjoyed my retrospective 2016. What’s next?

I’m leaving for Spain in two weeks, where I’ll spend most of my time in the Canary Islands, a Zika-free destination that claims to have the perfect weather. I’d be happy with sun and temperatures above 16C right now. Toronto is so bleak in winter, it makes me feel depressed and low-energy.

Before I go though, I want to wish a Happy New Year to all the travel nuts out there. Keep reading and keep travelling!

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The post Retrospective 2016 – a year in the first world appeared first on Big Travel Nut.

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