Travelling- Then & Now

Firstly, 2013 was not that long ago; a mere 6 years and yet when referencing travelling internationally and how much data and mobile usage have changed in that time, it might as well be a lifetime!
IMG_4742_editedMy first major experience of travelling internationally was in 2010 and we used hostel computers to send emails back home. The idea of mobile data was still a foreign concept to me, as I still had a basic flip phone and therefore, not having data access was not at all out of the ordinary for me. Flash forward to 2013 and my first iPhone (yes, I waited until the 5 to get onboard from my Blackberry) was practically glued to me at all times. The novelty of a smartphone had just been experienced and I was hooked. This new found freedom to Google wherever and whenever and download app after app to play addictive games to waste hours upon hours was such a new experience for me. Which is what made my 2013 trip that much more difficult to get through without the easy access I was now accustomed to. At the time, Rogers who is my service provider, had 3 package options while travelling. I can’t remember the specifics but each one came with talk and text plans but no data whatsoever. I easily blew through my plans each month I was away (4 in total) and would have to get another and sometimes another still. If you used one plan up, you had to wait until your next billing cycle to get that same plan again, which meant I’d have to get the increasingly less talk and text plans as the month went on. Calling cards worked too but they can be a hassle to purchase and dial in a rush, so out of convenience I’d use my cell phone. My biggest reasons for using the talk and text up was of course due to travelling alone, I’d call my mother or a friend to chat or tell them about some amazing thing I saw that day. But often, I’d also use up my plans to call my mother for help finding a place or a phone number I needed if lost. I had written out loads of directions to my hostels, etc. before leaving and yet, inevitably, I’d end up lost or confused and need help. Asking strangers for directions in a place you can’t speak the language, sometimes very early in the morning or late in the night, is not the best of ideas as a female travelling alone. About halfway through my trip I was introduced to City Maps which is an offline GPS mapping app that allows you to search for addresses or places, gives directions and shows you which direction you are walking. The issue was you had to download the maps while using Wifi so if you forgot (like I did in Bilbao at 11pm) then you were screwed and would have to use your data to download or find a traditional map. I had used maps prior to learning about the app but sometimes the map wouldn’t show enough of the city and would be essentially useless for me to find my hostel. Also, nothing screams #tourist more than a giant map. That evening in Bilbao nothing was even open to find a map, so I opted to download the map and was hit with a $65 charge at home for the 2 mins it took to download. It’s also worrisome until you get your updated usage to know if you’ve properly turned off all the data roaming and mobile data so you would not be accidentally charged. The whole experience was a dance of plans and phone calls and map downloading and timing it all as best as I could and there was much room for error. In total, I spent upwards of $1500 in extra charges and plan fees during that trip and remember I had no data usage except that one charge either.
A while ago Rogers announced a “roam like home” feature which essentially allows you to use your current plan to travel to the US and Europe for an additional charge per day. For the US it is $7 /day and to Europe, it is $12/ day up to a maximum charge of 15 days per billing cycle. After 15 days, you do not pay more and keep using your current plan as normal! That means in comparison my trip to Europe now would result in a bill of only $720 with data usage for 4 months. I only just got to use this new option as I hadn’t been away in some time and so I was a bit nervous and apprehensive that I’d somehow come home to a crazy bill again. I read and re-read the description and small print to verify I didn’t have to turn off anything while travelling or that I’d have a hidden limit. I still nervously checked my account during the first 24 hours for any extra charges but I was completely safe and was able to search, Google, use my phones GPS, hire Lyft rides and call my mom all for a fraction of the price it was in 2013. My mind was blown!
Now, if you do not have a large data or talk plan then you still might need calling cards, maps and Wifi or if you are travelling somewhere not covered by this feature. I also cannot comment on other service providers and their travel options but I was pleasantly surprised by Rogers on this one. I only wish this was around in 2013! #rogersroamlikehome
This blog was not written to promote Rogers as a service provider, as I’m sure other companies offer similar travel options (or they should), but only to acknowledge how technology has changed in the last decade in one particular way (as it’s changed in many other ways too).
I hope this post helps you in your travels and if you don’t have data options, then I highly recommend City Maps to easily get around and not stand out like an obvious tourist.
Of course, if you are like me and take a hundred photos a day, you still might stand out! #sorrynotsorry
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Comment below if you’ve had similar experiences or any tips you have for getting around in other countries, I’d love to hear about it!
xo Shawn
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San Fransisco

My dad always had a painting hanging above our sofa of a darkened bridge at dusk with a sailboat in the foreground and ac its skyline in the background. It’s not of the Golden Gate Bridge but I always imagined it was for some reason and it became a bucket list to see it in real life. Originally San Fransisco was on our trip itinerary but when the trip plans changed I decided I was only going to go to Los Angeles. Something inside me didn’t sit well with my new plan and I debated back and forth for a while before finally deciding to add San Fransisco back in. I couldn’t be that close and NOT go!
I also desperately wanted to see Hearst Castle after my aunt and uncle raved about it and so I hatched a plan to fly into San Fransisco, see a couple key sites and then drive to Hearst Castle and then LA that first night. A lofty goal, I know, but I was sure I could do it. Then I arrived in San Fran and my heart was stolen. Needless to say, I did not make it to Hearst Castle.
 
I began my day on a 6:55am flight from Toronto to San Fransisco, landing at roughly 9:30am. I napped briefly on the plane but was pretty tired when I arrived. I found my way to my rental car (I had a previous reservation) and made a beeline for Lombard Street. Driving in a new city by yourself is always a bit intimidating but navigating the sloping streets of San Fran was a very different experience for me. I made my way down the winding Lombard Street, trying not to hit any of the tourists that were already out and snapping their photos. I quickly found a parking spot at the end and ran back to take my own photo from the bottom of the hill and then proceed to try and get out of my parking spot. Try was the operative word and after a few failed attempts where I kept rolling forward toward the car in front of me, I opted to find someone to help. I saw a landscape nearby and figuring he must be a local, I begged for his help in getting out of my spot. He explained a trick where you put your feet on the gas and brake simultaneously and then slowly remove the brake so that you’re able to move backwards up the hill. IT WORKED! The relief I felt getting out of that spot cannot be explained and I was thankfully on my way again.
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I made my way to the Fisherman’s Wharf next and found a much flatter parking spot this time. I walked around the wharf taking in the sights and sounds of the restaurants and shops lining the streets. The wharf is a hubbub of street musicians, tourists and seagulls and just has an electric sort of atmosphere. I loved it and decided right then and there that I was not going to make it to Hearst Castle after all. I made my way along the water’s edge and snapped a few pictures of Alcatraz, Pier 45 and the historic WWII war vessels docked there. I then stumbled upon Musée Mechanique, which is a fun museum filled with unique and vintage arcade games, all of which are still usable today. I spent quite a bit of time playing some games, snapping photos and checking out all the weird, quirky and sometimes creepy arcade machines.
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It was lunchtime now and I was feeling hungry, so I started looking at my available options. I’m not and never have been a fish or seafood person and being on the wharf, that was the majority of restaurant offerings. This is when I stumbled upon Boudin Sourdough and remembered another famous San Fransisco delicacy! Established in 1849, Bourdin is where sourdough is said to have originated (although some debate is out there). Since it was such a lovely sunny day this day, I opted to not eat at their restaurant indoors but instead purchased a loaf for the road. Their claim to fame is the unique shaped loaves they make fresh daily, such as bears, turtles, bunnies and other fun shapes. I chose a turtle and a souvenir baguette magnet to add to my fridge collection and headed back towards the pier. I found an outdoor local fast food type restaurant and sat in the sun enjoying some fries and a beer while people watching enjoying the view of the water.
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Conveniently, the stop for the historic cable car system was beside where I had parked and so I bought myself a return ticket to ride the route, which I was told was about 20 minutes total. There was barely a line but I had to sit inside, as the outside seating was full, vowing I’d get a standing position on the way back. After a fairly short ride, the cable car stopped at the end stop and I got off, expecting to turn around and hop right back on. Boy was I wrong. The line up at this end was 6 times longer than at the other end and I had to wait nearly 45 minutes before finally getting onto another cable car headed back. I luckily got myself a standing position on this car that was both exhilarating and terrifying. I also managed to get a few photos and videos (thank you random strangers) without dropping my phone which was an amazing feat. I thoroughly enjoyed the cable car and would highly recommend it to anyone visiting San Fran, even with the wait times at the end stop.
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After the cable car, I headed to Trader Joe’s (because wellness blogger) to get a few snacks to go with my loaf and headed off in search of the Full House hill from the opening credits. This hill is actually in a park space called Alamo Square and looks over the famous Painted Ladies, which are a group of Victorian homes that were re-painted and restored in the 1960s and are now historic landmarks. The actual Full House home is not here but about 10 minutes away and currently under extensive renovations. This was another bucket list moment as I grew up watching the show and definitely took too many photos and videos at this location.
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By now it was nearing 3:30pm and it was time to get my butt to the Golden Gate bridge. My first glimpse of the bridge literally made me squeal with excitement and I pulled over to get a few shots. As I drove closer and closer, my insides were jumping and I could hardly sit still. I found a section of parking just before the bridge but parking was a nightmare so I decided to just drive over it. I don’t know why driving over a bridge elated me like it did but I was overjoyed. On the other side, I found parking and took some more photographs before taking a short walk along the bridge itself (and of course taking more photos). I knew I need to get on the road at this point if I wanted any hope of getting to LA before midnight but my GPS was trying to take me away from the bridge and so I found my way over it one more time instead, navigated through San Fran rush hour and then began my trip to LA.
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I had planned to drive on the highway straight to Hearst Castle originally and then drive a bit of the coast once I was on my way down to LA. But since I was no longer needed to go to the castle and realizing it would be getting dark soon, I decided to head to the coast first and then make my way at dusk to the main highway, so I wouldn’t be on the coastal highway in the dark. By now it was closer to 5:30pm and traffic leaving San Fran was awful but once I was driving along the coast and looking out at the spectacular view, I was so content. I ended up driving past a beautiful little town that looked like something out of a “Visit California” guide book and ended up driving back to stop and take it in. I don’t even remember the name of the town but the whole place smelled like wildflowers and the surf was leaving a mist that twinkled in the setting sun. It was breathtaking. I just stood there for a bit taking in the view, the smells and the crashing sound of the waves. I didn’t want to leave, but sadly I had to keep going. I made my way to the beach front restaurant next to me only to realize it was the nicest Taco Bell I’d ever seen! I got myself a Pepsi (if you know me, you know) and got started back on the road. After a couple of wrong highway turns, a few GPS re-routings and a gorgeous sunset, I was finally on the main highway heading towards LA.
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By now, as you can imagine, I am exhausted. Three times I stopped at a rest stop, debated getting a hotel room for the night, cried in my car, got another coffee and headed back on the road. Construction brought a 5 or 6 lane highway down to one, very slow, lane that barely crawled along and made me cry at least one more time. At 4:00am on Saturday morning, after being up for over 24 hours, I finally made it to my hostel at the Freehand Los Angeles and to a whole new adventure!
 
Don’t forget to head over to my website http://www.thesleepypineapple.com for more blog posts including fitness, health and wellbeing!
xo Shawn

Hostels 101

I’ve just recently come back from a trip to California (see my Coachella post here) and since I was travelling alone for most of it, I opted to once again stay in hostels. Obviously, when I went backpacking in Europe I also stayed in hostels, as it is a much cheaper option but also more conducive to travelling alone. I have met some of the best people at hostels and had some of my favourite stories come out of those nights. My trips in the last few years have been with my boyfriend and so we’ve been staying in hotels or AirBNB’s since that is often cheaper than hostels for couples. As such, it’s been about 6 years since I have stayed in a hostel and now approaching my mid-thirties I wondered if I’d feel the same as I did in my 20’s. The verdict? It was just as I remembered it and just as memorable and fun. I also got some great stories out of it and a few new friends! Here are my tips to navigating hostels.

1. Do your research.

Don’t just pick any old hostel off of any old site. There are a few platforms that offer loads of reviews, photographs, ratings and pricing options. My favourite is Hostelworld as I find it the most user-friendly. Nowadays you can also book with the peace of mind knowing you can change or cancel your reservation with ease due to their improved cancellation policies. Some hostels include this in their prices and others charge a small fee for the service but it is a useful addition, especially if you aren’t sure of your dates. They also offer many details in the description of the hostels for getting to and from the airport, parking, lockers, public transportation, wifi and amenities. These sites are also useful for comparing hostels to see which might be the right fit for you. Finally, be aware of check-in and check-out times, especially if you are depending on changing in your room upon arrival. All hostels should store your luggage in a secure place if you’re not able to check-in or if you have time between check-out and your flight. But it can be annoying to change, organize your luggage and re-pack if you are just arriving and want to change before heading out. Being aware just allows you to pack accordingly and anticipate not being able to get into your room right away.

2. Choose your dorm wisely.

Yes, the cost is usually a factor in picking a hostel in the first place, so choosing the cheapest dorm might be the best option for you, but it’s not always. Depending on the hostel rooms can vary from 4 person dorms up to 16 persons or more. Obviously, with more people, it can be much noisier, so if you are a light sleeper this can be an issue. That said, it often depends just on who your roommates are and even 4 person dorms can be noisy if you get people that snore or just are inconsiderate. As a female travelling alone, I often choose female only dorms when given the opportunity because of safety concerns and overall comfort. My best tip for choosing your dorm is to look at the bathroom facilities, private on-suites seem like a good idea but upwards of 4 people can be very difficult for everyone to use when getting ready in the morning or for bed. It’s also more difficult if you have a nervous bladder or issues with IBS, etc. because of the close proximity. I actually prefer floor washrooms, as long as you choose a place that is clean and well maintained. I also prefer beds that have curtains to block light from your eyes when sleeping. Not everyone arrives during daylight hours or goes to bed early and lights can often be more disturbing than noise. If unavailable definitely get yourself a sleep mask!

3. Choose a hostel with a bar or restaurant.

Firstly, this is helpful for travelling alone if you don’t feel like eating out or making something. Often you can take-out something to your room or common area and just relax a bit while eating. Why I always try to choose a place that has a bar though is for the friend factor. It is the absolute easiest thing to simply ask your roommates “Hey, you want to go get a drink?”. Boom, instant ice-breaker! On top of that, if you’re like me and you don’t want to be out by yourself too late, then it also gives you a place to be social but close to your room, so you’re not trying to get home in a strange city all alone.

4. Make sure there are lockers and bring two locks.

Lockers are your best friend. This is where any personal belongings you want to keep safe are locked up. Obviously, passports and bank cards, etc. should not be left out of your possession, keep these things with you in a safe place. But things like, shoes, bags, jackets, jewellery can all go in the locker and be kept safer. Some hostels have large spacious lockers while others can be very tiny and only for essentials. Decide what’s important to you and try to plan accordingly. Some photos can be deceiving so if you need clarification, email the hostel and they should be very helpful at giving you dimensions or size comparisons. Make sure to bring 2 locks with you as your luggage will often not fit in the locker and need to be left out, so one luggage lock and one for the locker. If you forget or don’t have a second, the hostel will usually have some for sale at the reception desk.

5. Be open to the experience.

It’s not just for the broke backpackers. Hostels are the perfect place for solo travellers to meet new people and feel safer when alone in a new place. Be open to meeting people, ask them questions, make friends and go with the flow. Obviously, it is your trip and you should do all the things you want to do but some of my best times have been going to a tourist site with my new friends. Not everyone will be a lifelong friend and some people can be weird for sure (trust your gut on that), but it can be very worth it to talk to someone new and make connections. We are all different but have so many similarities and it’s in meeting new people from different cultures, that you really start to experience the joys of travelling.

 

If you enjoy my writing style and want to follow my wellness and lifestyle blog, check out http://www.thesleepypineapple.com

xo Shawn

 

My Coachella Experience

Where to begin…
Let me preface this post by saying Coachella was my FIRST festival experience EVER! I know, I know, it’s shocking given my love of music and the lineup of concerts I have attended. It’s true though.
The reason I have never attended a festival before is that I have some issues with claustrophobia (I’ve left subway trains and elevators due to panic attacks before) and I’ve just been afraid of what to expect with the crowds. I had always wanted to go to Coachella because, like most, I have followed the plethora of Instagram posts and fashion #ootd that circulate before, during and after the festival. I’m not going to lie, the hippie fashion and the idea of wearing glitter absolutely everywhere was my ultimate goal when I bought my tickets. #noshame
Originally, I was meant to go with someone else but after that fell through my cousin Jeni ended up signing on to go with me! Although I have kept in touch and spent some time with my cousin over the years, we have not spent time alone together like that since childhood and I can honestly say (I hope she will agree!) that we had the BEST time of our lives!
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We started our Coachella adventure by driving from Venice Beach to Palm Springs for lunch (and a photo op) before heading to Indio and our motel. We did make a pit stop at Target and I fully understand the hype in the US. Nearly $200 later, a couple of pool floats and a few bottles of wine, we finally made it to Palm Springs. We had a nice lunch at LuLu’s (although it took too long to get served initially) and I saved room for dessert which happened to be the biggest cotton candy I have ever seen! We then continued on to our motel.
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The Western Sands Motel was the most expensive shit hole I have ever stayed in, obviously because it was Coachella weekend and everything was exuberantly overpriced. But it did the job, the bed was clean and we were a mere 8 minute drive to the festival entrance. I’d do it all over again too, so that’s saying something.
We arrived around mid-afternoon and got to work getting glittered-up for day one! I opted for a classic high-waisted jean short and poncho combo with a silver silk tank top, on-trend bum bag and black boots. I loaded up on accessories, a crapload of glitter on every surface of my skin and hair and added every necklace and bracelet I own plus a scarf. The dust is real but for some reason, I never actually used the scarves I brought to cover my face; they looked darn cute though at least. My hair which had previously been a bit frizzy from the ocean air in Venice Beach, now magically became Insta-worthy waves from the mix of salt residue and desert heat. I’m still daydreaming about that hair…
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Since neither of us had been to Coachella before, getting around took a minute to get used to. We may have also entered the beer tent (a couple of times) thinking it was our VIP area and wondering why the lineups for drinks were so long… *facepalm* But eventually, we figured out our way around and took in some shows! Day 1 highlights for us were Diplo, Janelle Monae and Childish Gambino, the latter being absolutely incredible and unexpected in his musical brilliance.
Getting back to the motel was a lot harder to navigate then getting to the festival grounds (ps. Lyft was the best for that) and our first night we ended up walking all the way back, about 45 mins in total. But keep in mind a good 15 minutes of that is just exiting the grounds themselves. We didn’t have the hook up for any after parties and being that we both wake up regularly very early for our day jobs, we called it a night!
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Day 2 saw us blowing up our pool floats (I forgot how hard that was by mouth) and attempting to get cute shots in our not-so-cute motel pool. Thank you portrait mode! And once again we got ready in our Coachella-finest as we drank some more wine and Straw-ber-itas. This day I chose my new favourite leopard-print skirt with a low-back ribbed bodysuit and matching scarf. Once again my bum bag and boots made an appearance, as did the copious amounts of glitter and jewellery. We thankfully had a locker on-site, as this night we needed to go back for warmer layers as the evening wore on. We were warned the evenings got chilly but the first night had been so mild that the second night took us a bit off guard. This day we also ventured more around the festival and found a second VIP area, taking in more artists along the way. Highlights from this day included Maggie Rogers, Wiz Khalifa, Billie Eilish (who we admittedly had not heard of prior, somehow) and of course Weezer. I cannot believe it took me going to Coachella to finally see Weezer live but they did not disappoint!
Seeing as Kanye was set to host his Sunday service for Easter the following day (which we did not attend) and Kid Cudi was playing, I knew he’d make an appearance and thankfully I was right. This was the first time the whole festival that we both got a bit claustrophobic because the crowd was just crazy and we were in the thick of it. Now I’m not the biggest fan of Kanye but when he performs, you cheer and sing along, it’s what you do. It was a pretty epic experience for us both and I’m glad we braved the crowd! Tame Impala was the headliner this night but after a brief stopover at his performance, we moved on, definitely not our thing. #sorrynotsorry
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And just like that, it was Day 3. By now we both began getting some stuffy noses from allergies we thought but we were both excited and sad for our last day at Coachella. My hair was still on point though and that’s really what mattered most, let’s be honest. My outfit today consisted of a crochet crop top, black shorts topped with a long fringe wrap skirt and the same bum bag and boots previously worn. I had brought other shoes but the boots were so comfy I decided not to chance it with other footwear. This was the first day I tried on multiple outfit options but I wanted to really go all out! I did bring another outfit for later on but decided against the effort of changing as the night wore on. This was by far my favourite day at the festival as Jeni and I really got to have a heart-to-heart and bond a bit more. By now I also knew the pizza place was the best for food and we found a bartender who would make us lemon drop type cocktails (shots aren’t allowed technically). I haven’t touched on that yet but the food was pretty hit and miss inside the festival and drinks were ridiculously tiny. Although nothing was particularly awful, it was severely overpriced and even more so when you consider it was in US dollars ($16 US for a minuscule glass of wine? *another facepalm* Ok, give me two, thanks).
The highlights from the performances this day were Khalid, Dermot Kennedy, Zedd and of course, Ariana Grande. Zedd brought out both Maren Morris and Alessia Cara to perform their songs with him and I was again pleasantly surprised. He puts on a great show with remixes of everything from AC/DC to Queen! We danced the most to this show and couldn’t get enough. Fun fact, we both grew up in Brampton which is where Alessia Cara is from too and it occurred to me how lucky we all were to now be at Coachella!
The headliner was Ariana and by gosh did she ever deliver! The group of guys behind me kept screaming how much better she was live than on the radio and I couldn’t agree more. That woman can SING! She performed for about an hour and a bit in total and even brought out the Biebs himself (Justin Bieber) to an eruption of screams from the crowd. Again, love him or hate him, you cheer when he comes on stage. She was probably my favourite from the whole festival but I really didn’t see one bad performance, it was an incredible experience.
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Truly, I would do it all again in a heartbeat and desperately want to! This was by far one of the best experiences of my life and I think it was only made better by my cousin getting to attend with me.
I think she said it best, “nothing will ever be the same again after this”. #coachella2019
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xo Shawn Marie