What to Know Before You Go: Canada

Last week my road trip besties and I got home from an amazing road trip through the Canadian Rockies. Last year while we were driving across country we decided we needed to keep this road trip life going and check out our neighbors to the north. So this trip has really been a year in the making. Canada is a pretty easy international trip. There is no language barrier, their customs and manors are pretty similar to ours here in the US (they may be a little nicer though), and it’s not a terrible flight.

But even though Canada is pretty easy, its not as simple as crossing a state boarder. There is still customs to go through, passports to be checked, and you are still a visitor in their country.

Getting In
Yes, it’s true, you need a passport to go to Canada now. For the past ten years or so you need a passport, or passport card, to get over the border. Working in the travel industry, I’m shocked how many people I come across that don’t know that by now. There are exceptions for minors crossing the border by car, but I would really look into travel.state.gov to clear up any questions if you’re a US passport holder. Otherwise, just get a passport. It makes everything easier. (And gives you an excuse to explore more.)

Canada is pretty strict about entrance into their country. They will do a background check on you and if anything comes up, you will be turned away. It’s pretty insane and I didn’t really believe it until I had a client that had a DUI from 20 years ago be turned away at the border. Yikes.

Driving Around
We are road tripping this week. Most international countries require a International Driver’s Permit, or an IDP, but Canada doesn’t. But they do require proof of insurance when renting a car. I brought my car insurance card just to show I was covered, otherwise they were going to make me buy Hertz’s insurance. Check with your insurance company to make sure your policy covers you outside of the United States.

Tipping Etiquette
The first time I went to Canada I was 18 and I had no idea you’re supposed to tip a taxi driver, in the U.S. or Canada. I’m not sure if I ever really paid a taxi before that. But that man yelled at us three little 18 year olds and I will never forget it. Know the area’s tipping customs. A quick google search before you leave should suffice but I like to look at a Lonely Planet book  before traveling to another country. They have an awesome survival guide at the back of all of their books that covers things just like this. In Canada things are pretty similar to America. And FYI, you should tip a taxi 10%-15%.

Have Your Back Up
Canada is pretty safe, but anytime you’re traveling, you should be prepared. I take pictures of my passport and drivers license and keep it in my DropBox. I keep my hotel confirmations and car rental agreements in there too and make sure someone at home has access to all the same information. Never keep your passport on you while traveling, lock it up in your hotel room, and always keep an extra credit card in your hotel safe. If your wallet gets lost or stolen while you’re traveling you will have the additional resources you need to get by.

To Do List Prior Before You Go:

  • Make sure your passport is good for six months from when you return to the United States
  • Talk to your car insurance provider if renting a car
  • Let your credit cards and banks know you’re traveling and find our which card has the lowest foreign transaction fee
  • Talk to your cell phone provider, most have a super simple and cheap North America plan
  • If bringing medication into Canada, you should bring a note from your doctor and defiantly have it in your carry on
  • Know their tipping etiquette

Where to Get the Perfect Instagram Shot in Banff, Canada

Last week I spent the entire week in Alberta, Canada exploring Banff National Park, Lake Louise, and bits of Jasper National Park and Yoho National Park. To say this trip was amazing would be an understatement. Anyone who’s been on Instagram in the past year or so has seen the amazing shots of girls in canoe in Lake Louise, or on top of the rock pile at Moraine Lake. We went and found some off the beaten path spots during our trip, but of coarse, had to keep in the oldies but goodies too. If you’re headed to Banff, here’s your insiders guide before you go of where to get the shot. A few I’ve already used on my own Insta feed.

Icefields Parkway– This secluded highway has amazing views since you’re driving straight through the center of the Rockies. We pulled off to the side and would run out to the middle of the street to get these shots. It made it so much fun and the snow-capped mountains with bright blue skies are absolutely stunning. We were kind of on a curve in the road so we made sure we had someone watching behind the photographer to make sure we were being safe. But hey, you do what you got to do to get the shot, am I right?

Waterfowl Lake– We did a lot of research on places to stop and check out along the Icefields Parkway but this was absolutely stunning and we ended up just stumbling upon it. Waterfowl Lake had so many places to take photos, sit on rocks, be on the lake bed. It definitely helped that we were there right at golden hour and the reflection of the mountains was a perfect mirror on the lake. Put this on your list.

Lake Agnus Teahouse– It was a HAUL up, but the views from the top were absolutely amazing. The trailhead begins right at Lake Louise and you hike 4.2 km up. There are rocks, and ice, and it was rough, but once you get to the top, there are views everywhere you turn. The tea house itself is so cute and quaint. The lake at the top is gorgeous and flows down the mountain. If you hike up a little further, on Little Beehive Trail you can see views of Lake Louise and Mirror Lake.

Lake Louise canoes– Pro tip: getting the quintessential cute photo, no life jacket looking like you’re the only one in the canoe shot is not the easiest. Go for a two-person canoe and then you have to row out pretty far. The lake isn’t that small. We did an hour canoe ride with three of us. The views of the glacier and the Fairmont are beyond anything you can imagine.

Lake Moraine– This lake had the best coloring I’ve ever seen. The blue was brighter than even Lake Louise, and when we were there, there were just a few canoes out, but they looked amazing. You can take the short little walk up Rockpile Trail to see the lake from a higher vantage point. It is everything these photos say it is. And then this log. Can we talk about the log? A little slippery but once you out there, it’s defiantly worth it.

Takakkaw Falls– Everything about this place was absolutely astonishing. We were here just as the leaves were starting to change colors, so the drive out to the falls was beautiful in itself. The road is much different than the highway or Icefields Parkway. The road is much smaller and it feels like you are driving through the tress. Once we got there, the small river that the falls lead into was gorgeous. The water was icy blue and there were so many places to get down into the water to get a great shot from a different angel. But what I loved the most about Takakkaw Falls was the view from the top. And this shot from the top of the rock, at the top of the falls was my favorite.

New England Weekend Getaway Ideas

Growing up it was always funny to me how much some people loved New England. The quaint beach towns and little shops and restaurants, I just thought every town was just like mine. And then I moved to Los Angeles, where you would assume the beaches are better than anywhere else. I was stuck in mobs of people heading to the same beach as me, fighting for a spot, and eating at over priced restaurants that were just ok.

Now as an adult, I appreciate my cute little home town, and I embrace the other towns and areas around me. One thing I’ve learned recently is you really never know where your path is going or where you’ll end up so I believe in living in the moment and taking advantage of what is around you.

I put together some of my favorite spots in New England that are perfect for weekend getaways. I included a few places I haven’t been but are on my bucket list to check out really soon.

Maine
My favorite ways to travel is to have no expectations and be shown around like a local (hence the reason I fell in love with Oregon). One of my best friends grew up in Maine on a cute little island. In college we would go up during the summer and explore her town, eat copious amounts of Lobster, shop all of the outlets in Freeport and spend the nights enjoying the lack of light pollution. This was before Portland (Maine) had become such a food and beer mecha. I would love to get up there again and really explore Portland as an adult, and as someone that appreciates food and drinks now.  I also never was able to stop in Kennebunk or explore north to Acadia and Bar Harbor area. There is still so much of Maine to see.

Newport, Rhode Island
Over New Years one of my oldest girlfriends got married in this magical town. I hadn’t been there since my cousin got married in Newport 20 years ago. This beautiful place definitely turns into a ghost town during the winter months, but in the summer the amazing views of the mansions on the cliffs, the legendary Newport Bridge and all of the gorgeous lighthouses in the area really set the stage for a perfect weekend getaway.

Cape Cod and the Islands
This summer I went to the Cape for 24 hours and it was just what I needed to start my summer. Nothing says summer in New England like Cape Cod. Even though I’ve been to this amazingly quintessential New England area countless times, I have never been out to Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket. Just a quick ferry ride from Hyannis, you can get to either of these islands and enjoy a perfect long weekend away from the rest of the world.

Long Island, New York
I can see Long Island from any beach in my town. The 11 miles across the sound seems so close on a clear day, but the hour and half ferry ride, or nearly two-hour drive through New York’s boroughs to Long Island makes it seem so much further. This summer I took two trips over to Long Island and finally got to see it more than just a shadow in the distance. One day we spent the day exploring Port Jefferson, walking in and out of the shops and eating and drinking our way through town. A few weeks later we took the ferry over again and explored the wineries on the north fork.

Finger Lakes, New York
During our drive across country last year, we stopped at a winery in Virginia and when we told the owner where we were from, he couldn’t stop raving about the Finger Lakes and their wines. I literally have never heard of New York having a wine region outside of the North Fork of Long Island, let alone, had I ever heard of the Finger Lakes. (To us in the Tri-State area, New York is the City and Long Island and that’s about it.) Then when every blogger under the sun went to Aurora last summer to check out the Mackenzie-Childs HQ, I decided I needed to put it on my list. The Finger Lakes area little further away, which is probably why I wasn’t able to get there this summer. A good 5 hour drive north-west of NYC, I would definitely want to take at least a 5-night trip up there. Wineries, beer, good food, and tons of hiking and waterfalls, this seems like it would be my paradise.

Burlington, Vermont
Most people think of Vermont as a winter destination, but for my non-athletic ass, I like Vermont in the summer the most. There are a ton of lakes you can play on and at night, the weather is perfect for a bonfire. Last summer a few of us went up to visit our friend who lives on Lake Bomoseen and it was a perfect end to the summer. But Burlington is an awesome place to check out if you’re not so into the great outdoors. There are tons of restaurants and shops up here on Church St. Definitely on my list of the fall or next spring.

Summer Must Dos in Connecticut

Summer in the Northeast is what we have been looking forward to pretty much since Thanksgiving. Once the weather starts getting cold, New Englanders go into pure hibernation so when the leaves start showing their buds and the flowers start parking out from the ground, everyone goes bananas.

People suddenly start remembering they should have been exercising all winter, ice cream becomes life, and every meal needs to be eaten outdoors… on a patio… with rose. Obviously.

My planner has been getting more and more full, and the Netflix binge watching has toned down a lot. It’s been pretty hard to keep up with my Braverman’s on Parenthood since Mother Nature decided it was time she started being friendlier.

I’ve started making my annual summer to do list.

Thimble Island Boat Cruise
Years ago my parents would take us to Stony Creek and the Thimble Islands, a little group of islands in Long Island Sound. Someone my cousin new had a house out on one of the islands and I remember running around exploring the little island like it was out in the Caribbean. Now that I’m not 10 anymore I know that Long Island Sound is far from the blue waters of the Caribbean but the little islands are still pretty cool. I can’t wait to take the tour around the islands, and then maybe check out the nearby brewery with the same name.

Connecticut’s Wine Trail
Last year I was able to check out a lot of the Connecticut wineries but honestly, I barely checked off half of the list of wineries around here. This year I am hoping to finish the list, and maybe even move onto some in the North Fork of Long Island.

Sunday morning hikes
There are so many hiking trails in Connecticut and I am looking forward to my Sunday morning hikes at Sleeping Giant and Devils Hopyard. Connecticut has so many good State Parks with awesome waterfalls and trails.

Book club and rose
Last month my girlfriends and I had our first book club of the summer. It’s basically a good reason to get together, spend very little money, and force ourselves to read. More on that next week but I will say, we jumped right in to our first book by asking the author to come join us for our meeting.

Explore NYC
I always say how much I take living so close to New York for granted. This summer I plan on getting into the city more often then I have in the past. Last month one of my friends from California was in New York and we were able to spend the day strolling Central Park and catch a Broadway show together. Earlier this month a few friends and I stopped into the city for an impromptu Monday night dinner. It’s always easier to get into the city in the summer and not have to deal with the snow and cold that the winter brings. Also having a drink, rooftop at Eataly doesn’t hurt either.

Eat all of the ice cream
Like I said, ice cream is life in New England during the summer. My first job was at one of our local ice cream shops but here most of them close for the winter. The spring weather has most of the shops open again and I’m ready for my weekly ice cream cone.

 

 

4 Days in the Yucatan Peninsula

If you follow me on Instagram, you definitely saw my oversharing from my trip to Playa del Carmen at the beginning of the month. Back in September I was lucky enough to be gifted a trip to Sandos Playacar for me and a guest (one of the many perks of working in the travel industry) and I figured it was the perfect halfway point for me and my west coast bestie, also named Megan, to meet up.

Being on different time zones and just busy all the time, it hasn’t been easy to keep in touch as often as I’d like so this was the perfect excuse to get together, catch up on life and relax a little for ourselves.

Thursday afternoon we each flew into Cancun airport, which is just a quick hour drive to Playa del Carmen. Because we were coming from different airports, and different coasts, my Jet Blue flight landed a whole 3 and a half hours before Megan’s. After clearing customs and grabbing my bags I headed out to the arrival area where they had a few options for outdoor restaurants. I sat down with a margarita, ceviche, and a book and hung outside, soaking up the Cancun sun for a few hours. Once Megan’s plane landed I took the free terminal shuttle over to where her flight was coming in from LAX and waited for her outside of the arrivals gate.

How we got there
Getting to any resort in Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya, or Cancun is pretty easy. I live by the motto of, if you don’t have a ton of time, spend the extra money for convencience. We had a private car bring us straight to our hotel. We used Olympus Tours and for just $214 roundtrip we were picked up right outside of the baggage claim. No stops at other resorts or waiting to pick up other guests. The next day we met up with Jorge from Olympus to set up our return pick up time and we were actually the ones to bring up doing another tour using Olympus. More on that later, but it was nice to not even think about being pressured into adding on tours or activities, which was awesome.

Where we stayed
Like I mentioned earlier, I was gifted a trip to Sandos Playacar by one of my business partners. When we got down to Playa del Carmen, our driver pulled through gates and I assumed we were at our resort, but we weren’t. Playacar is a gated little subdivision of Playa del Carmen with private homes, restaurants, clean streets and manicured lawns. It was really nice to know that we could go for a little walk around the neighborhood if we wanted and it would still be safe.

We stayed in a Junior Suite Select in the adults only section of the hotel. It was perfect. While Sandos Playacar is a great place for families, we weren’t traveling with kids so the adults only section was ideal for us. Our room overlooked the adults only pool with a swim up bar, and jacuzzi.

My favorite part of all inclusive resorts is that everything is included. You can throw your wallet in the safe once you get there and not worry about anything for the rest of your trip. We ate at a lot of the restaurants on property while we were there but my favorite was definitely Asiana, the Asian fusion restaurant.

I would say my only complaint may be the breakfast options. The buffet was the only restaurant open for in the mornings and it was busy each time we stopped in. One morning we opted for room service, but the options were very limited.

The beach at Sandos Playacar was amazing. I’m not much of a beach person. I love to go and sit but don’t usually get in the water. (My town’s beaches are on Long Island Sound… not ideal swimming water, and in Southern California, the water is pretty cold most of the year, so I’ve never really lived anywhere I’d want to jump in.) This was beautiful, and I could see my toes even when we were pretty far out in the water so that’s a win for me. The resort offered a ton of activities including paddle boarding, jet skiing, parasailing, and snorkeling.

What we did
Going down to Mexico we knew we wanted to visit some of the Mayan Ruins but we were torn on spending the whole day and heading to Chichen Itza or doing a half day trip to the much closer Tulum, with much cooler temperatures. Once we started talking with Jorge at Olympus Tours he convinced us to do both with a private driver and make a full day of it. (What can I say, we’re suckers.) He set us up with Living Dreams Mexico and our guide Edwin. It was seamless.

Our driver picked us up bright and early and drove us over to Chichen Itza where we were some of the first people to get into the archaeological site. Our guide was so knowledgeable and passionate about the history of the ruins and his country it was a perfect match for my history teacher travel buddy and I.

*Tip: Wear light fabrics like linen. It is HOT at the archiological sites and there isn’t a ton a shade. The best part of our private driver, after touring the sites he had cold, wet clothes for us to cool us down. A-MAZ-ING! Also, I opted out of jean shorts this day and stuck with a pair of Old Navy soft shorts.

After spending an hour or so getting a private tour around the ruins we headed to a local cenote where we were able to hop in and swim around for a little bit. It was a perfect way to cool down after spending the morning in the sun at Chichen Itza. Cenotes are scattered all around the Yucatán Peninsula. They’re caused by lime rock collapsing and Edwin told us that the Mayan people would sacrifice themselves in these natural sinkholes because they would be closer to the underworld. Chichen Itza has a famous cenote, Sacred Cenote, where a lot of Mayan people sacrificed themselves for rain, crops, and fortune.

We grabbed lunch at the hacienda on the property of the cenote and headed over to one of the few colonial towns that are still in tact from before Mexico got its independence, Valladolid. We were able to get out and wander around on our own a little here in this European inspired city. The cobblestoned streets were lined with pastel colored shops. Right in the middle of town was a square lined with trees and beautiful, Spanish inspired artwork. Megan told me that in the colonial times the colors of the buildings are what dictated what the building was. They didn’t have signs because they didn’t want the slaves learning how to read so color coding was how they operated.  (Even when the history teacher is on vacation, she teaches.)

After Valladolid we headed an hour and a half back to the Caribbean to Tulum. According to Edwin, Tulum’s ruins have been 100% uncovered where only 20% of Chichen Itza has been. It was amazing to see the city as a whole perched up on a cliff. There were look out towers and the foundations of homes that you would see surrounding the temple. This was absolutely my favorite part of the day and definitely a place where you could go without a guide and feel like you saw a lot.

Honestly, if I were to do it over, I may skip Chichen Itza. I know it is probably the most famous of the ruins, but it felt very inauthentic. We went early, and because we were with Edwin, we were able to skip the lines and get around most of the crowds but there were vendors everywhere. It felt like a tourist trap. Tulum was totally different. There were little restaurants outside of the archaeological site, in the little town, but inside the walls of the city there were no vendors or people trying to get you to buy anything. Edwin recommended us visiting Coba, one of the few ruins you can still climb, and I wish we had taken his suggestion and done that instead of Chichen Itza. But I felt like it was as if I were to have gone to New York and not seen the Statue of Liberty. Next time I go to Mexico, Coba is high on the priority list.

Three nights in Playa del Carmen just weren’t enough for me. Before going to Mexico I assumed it was a place where you would just go, sit on the beach with a cocktail and a good book, and that’s not my favorite type of vacation. Now knowing how much there is to do in the Yucatan Peninsula, and what a great value Mexico is for US travelers, I would love to plan a trip there again.

What I’d like to do, but we didn’t have time
-Snorkel the second largest coral reef in the world
-Visit Las Coloradas (the pink lakes about 2.5 hours north west of Cancun)
-Spend the day at the aquatic theme park, Xel-Há
-Explore Cozumel