Money Rules are Better than Budgets

Budgeting is a bit of a four-letter word in my world. I’ve never enjoyed budgeting. Tracking every expenditure, feeling guilty going over budget, or having to say no to fun outings… Just not my thing.

But despite my dislike for budgeting, I have always managed to live within my means and contribute excess funds to my savings and investments, even in the freelancing early days where my paycheques were pretty lean (more about my early freelance journey here, here, and here).

So how did I do it? How did I stay on budget without having a budget? Well, I’ve created a series of money rules that help me keep my spending in check. They allow me the freedom to spend money on things I care about and save money on things I don’t care that much about. Also, keeping these rules give me a loose budget because I know approximately how much I’ll spend per month based on certain things.

This is not a perfect system, and I’m certainly not recommending it to everyone. If you have debt you’re trying to pay off, or you struggle with over-spending, you might need adhere to a stricter budget. But, if you are generally earning more than you need and are self-motivated enough to keep your own rules, this might be a system for you!

So, here are some of my money rules that have kept me away from budgeting.

  1. I can go out for dinner as a social activity, not because I’m too lazy to cook. We all know going out to eat can add up! But it’s also one of my favourite things to do! So, to curb the spending on eating out, I’ve made it a rule that I (virtually) always go out for food as part of a social activity, not just by myself when I’m feeling too lazy to cook. This cuts back on the number of times I go, but also keeps it as a special, fun event that is something to look forward.
  2. I don’t spend money on things I don’t care about. I drive a 2003 Chevrolet Cavalier. It has manual windows and locks and no air conditioning. I bought it back in university and it’s the first and only car I’ve ever owned. Most of my peers – those of us creeping up on 30 – have long since upgraded their cars to something nicer. And while there’s part of me who wants to do that too (especially now in the summer! No AC can be brutal), I honestly just don’t care. So, I stick to my values and keep my old car. It does what I need it to do, it’s reliable, so there’s just no need to spend the money on an upgrade.
  3. If a mid-afternoon coffee is going to bring a boost (physical or psychological), it’s a valid expense. I used to feel so bad about buying coffee in the afternoons. Maybe it’s because of the constant shaming millennials hear about not being able to buy houses because we spend too much on lattes. But the reality is this: going for a coffee in the middle of the work day (even when I can make it myself!) makes me so happy. It boosts my mood and productivity. And, because I often walk to get a coffee, it gives me a bit of exercise too! And, because of rule #1, I don’t ever buy lunch during the work week, and so I save some money that way to go towards my coffee fund.
  4. I only buy clothes I will wear a lot and matches other items I already own. Pretty self-explanatory, right? Every time I buy a piece of clothing, I consider what I already have that it will match and whether or not it’s something I’ll get a lot of use out of. This also prevents me from buying duplicates – even if the leggings are cute, I have multiple pairs and don’t need (or won’t wear) any more!
  5. I always off my credit card in full every month – no excuses. This is a financial rule of thumb that EVERYONE should follow, but doing so has kept me out of any kind of expensive credit card debt.
  6. I make my money work for me. This includes a few things. I use a cash-back credit card for all purchases to get 2% on my top spending categories. I invest my excess money in index funds to take advantage of the magic of compound interest. And I keep my short-term emergency fund in a high-interest savings account so it at least earns a bit more than what the bank offers.

These simple money rules have helped me live within my means, save and invest, and generally stay within budget… all without actually putting pen to paper (or finger to app) to make a budget.

Your turn – what are your money rules?

Top 5 Hikes in the Tri-Cities (Vancouver Suburbs)

When I’m abroad and someone asks where I’m from, I always say “Vancouver, Canada!” Most people know where Vancouver is and have heard something about it – Vancouver is the land of beaches and mountains, the 2010 winter Olympics, and lululemon.

But the truth is that I’m actually from Port Coquitlam, a small suburb city about 30km east of Vancouver. Port Coquitlam one part of the Tri-Cities, with the other two cities being Coquitlam and Port Moody. The Tri-Cities aren’t as well known as Vancouver, but are definitely worth a visit in their own right!

One of my favourite parts of the Tri-Cities are the many, many hiking opportunities! There is honestly so many different hiking options in this area. It’s full of gorgeous lakes, forests, and mountains – so beautiful. And, the best part is that they aren’t as busy as many of the popular Vancouver hikes!

So, without further rambling, here are my top five hikes in the Tri-Cities:

View of Buntzen Lake

1. Buntzen Lake Loop

This is one of my all-time favourite hikes. Buntzen Lake is located just outside of Port Moody, in the township of Anmore. It is a beautiful lake with cold, glacial-fed water (you can still go for a post-hike dip, though!).

The loop is very easy to follow – just start right on the beach at the trail-head and follow the well-marked path all the way around the lake. You’ll have beautiful views of the lake the entire way and will love walking through the dense west coast rainforest.

If you want to level up this hike, you can add-on the Diez Vistas trail. This section takes you up to a higher elevation and will add on about three hours to the hike.

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Distance: 10km roundtrip
  • Elevation Gain: 110 meters
  • Time to complete: 3 hours (you might also want to budget some time to visit Brewer’s Row – a series of 4 craft breweries near Buntzen Lake in Port Moody)

2. High Knoll

This hike is one of the best views for not too much work – totally my kind of hike! It is located in Minnekhada Regional Park in Port Coquitlam. There is a few walking, hiking, and biking trails throughout the park, but this one is my favourite.

You’ll start by parking in the Quarry Road parking lot and will see the trailhead right from the lot. Follow the signs towards the High Knoll trail (there is also a Low Knoll – also nice, but less impressive views). The trail is fairly easy, with some ups and downs, and a final ascent at the end to the viewpoint, which is simply stunning!

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance: 7km roundtrip (out-and-back trail)
  • Elevation Gain: 180 meters
  • Time to complete: 2 hours

3. Crystal Falls

Who doesn’t love a good waterfall? Crystal Falls offers a beautiful forest trail to an amazing waterfall. It’s the perfect hike if you just have a short time and want to immerse yourself in nature. Crystal Falls is in Coquitlam and follows alongside the Coquitlam River. There is no real elevation gain, so it’s a great hike for someone who is a new hiker or to bring the whole family along on!

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance: 7km roundtrip (out-and-back trail)
  • Elevation Gain: minimal
  • Time to complete: 2 hours
There it is! Jug Island.

4. Jug Island Beach Hike

One of the most popular hikes in Vancouver is Quarry Rock, located in Deep Cove, with gorgeous views over the Indian Arm inlet. Well, just on the other side of that inlet – with many of the same views – is Belcarra Park, home to the Jug Island Beach Hike! This is one of my favourite hikes because it’s also the perfect place to go for a mid-hike picnic and swim.

The trail starts in Belcarra Park, where you can start the hike right from the parking lot. The hike is well-marked and takes you through a beautiful forest. There is some elevation gain, but not too much. The hike ends at the beach with a view of Jug Island, a tiny little rocky island that is very picturesque. You should definitely bring a picnic lunch and maybe your swim suit to go for a swim!

  • Difficulty: Easy-moderate
  • Distance: 5.5km roundtrip (out-and-back trail)
  • Elevation Gain: 100 meters
  • Time to complete: 2.5 hours (plus more time to swim!)
Sunset over Sasamat Lake

5. Sasamat Lake Trail

Okay, I’m a sucker for a hike and swim combo, and this is another great option! Sasamat Lake is located in White Pine Beach near Port Moody and is one of the warmest lakes in the area, perfect for a sunny beach day after your hike. The hike is quite short, just one hour, and many people will use it for trail running. The hike is a beautiful jaunt through the forest with great views of the lake!

I definitely recommend you bring your beach gear to enjoy a day relaxing in the sun afterwards. There is also a concession stand at Sasamat Beach so you can get a little snack!

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance: 3.2km loop
  • Elevation Gain: minimal
  • Time to complete: 1 hour (plus another few hours to enjoy the beach)

One Week in Croatia: The Highlights

My last international trip before COVID-19 hit and borders closed was Croatia and England in October 2019. It was a trip to remember, and Croatia will forever be established in my memory as one of the most beautiful countries in the world and one of my best trips to date!

Croatia has everything: good food, stunning scenery, gorgeous weather, and tons of culture. I had booked this trip on a bit of a whim – meeting up with a friend who was living in Europe – and I truly did no research before leaving. This is not typical, as I usually research things extensively. But for Croatia, I had no idea what to expect.

I didn’t even know what the weather was going to be like. I through in a bathing suit last minute, thinking, “You never know when you need this.” And little did I know, I would need it every day!

But enough about me and my lack of preparation… Here’s some details about how we spent one week in Croatia.

Split

We split our time between Split and Dubrovnik, with a few days in each city. We started out in the gorgeous city of Split. It is a stunning city, there’s no other way to say it! We had so much fun walking around the old town and along the coast. The weather was unseasonably warm for the end of October ( (around 30 degrees Celsius!) so we also went swimming every day.

Here are some of the highlights from the trip:

  • Walking tour of the old town: On the first day we took a walking tour with a local guide to learn a bit about the history. The old town of Split is actually preserved Roman ruins – the Diocletian Palace. The palace was huge, with walls that have now been turned into hotels, shops, and cafes! It’s pretty cool to stay right in the old town… you’re really staying in a palace!
  • Swim, swim, swim: I already mentioned that I was not prepared for the trip and hadn’t thought at all about the weather. I was also not prepared for how absolutely STUNNING the beaches and ocean are in Croatia. It was the bluest, clearest water I have ever seen. All along the coastline were little areas with ladders down into the water, with locals and tourists alike going for a dip. We swam every day and sunbathed on the rocks. Literal perfection!
Not sure if you can look cool while wearing a harness and helmet, but ziplining was fun!
  • Ziplining: After a few days exploring the city, we were ready for something a bit more adventurous! So, we signed up for a ziplining adventure up in the hills overlooking Split. It was so much fun! We went on about 7 ziplines, ranging in length and speed, and just had a blast zipping over the mountains with a stunning view of the ocean. It was something a bit different, and so, so memorable!
  • Island tour: The Dalmatia coast is dotted with tons of little islands, each one more beautiful then the last. We took a boat tour that brought us to a bunch of them – we would swim off the boat, go snorkeling, explore the islands, and just enjoy the boat ride. It was super fun and well worth the cost!
  • Sandwiches and views: Another thing my lack of research did not prepare me for was that Croatia is not super cheap, at least in terms of food and where we went (tourist central). Food was comparable to any other European city, or back home in Canada, potentially even more in the places we went, which were along the coast. But we found one shop that had delicious sandwiches that were super reasonable. The best part was it was located right on the promenade, so had a gorgeous view out over the harbour. We at there every single day for lunch!

Dubrovnik

To get to Dubrovnik, we took a four-hour bus ride. During the summer months there are ferry and boat options to travel between the two cities – I bet that would have been more fun than a bus! But in any case, it was easy to get to and we were happy to arrive in this gorgeous city.

Here are a few of my top highlights from Dubrovnik:

  • Walk the city walls: Dubrovnik is a walled city, so you can actually walk the perimeter on top of the ancient city walls. It takes about 2 hours to walk around and is 2km long. All along the way you have stunning views of both the city itself and the ocean and hills surrounding. It’s great to just take photos, grab a drink, and enjoy the scenery. It’s a little pricey, but oh so worth it. I recommend going in the morning when it isn’t too hot or busy yet!
  • Visit Lokrum Island:  This island is just a 20-minute ferry ride away from Dubrovnik, and is the perfect little oasis to get some R&R for the afternoon. The is a natural wildlife habitat with no motorized vehicles and is inhabited by a bunch of peacocks! It’s a great place to wander and explore and, of course, go for a swim in the Adriatic Sea!
  • Dubrovnik Cable Car: Sometimes it’s worth it to pay a little more for an exceptional view! The cable car was an awesome way to get outside of the city and see a different vantage point. It takes you up to a fort on the top of a neighbouring hill, from which you can see up to 60km away. We got a coffee at the top and enjoyed the panoramic views.
Swimming and sunbathing on Lokrum Island
  • Grab some food and enjoy the street performances: There always seemed to be some kind of performance happening in the old town of Dubrovnik – musicians, magicians, other street performers. A lot of the restaurants have tables outside that face into the streets, so it’s fun to get something to eat and just people watch. This is a great time to try some new foods, grab a drink, and just soak in the atmosphere!

Things to note

Here are a few other tips for your trip to Croatia:

  • Croatia is kind of cheap and kind of expensive: We were pleasantly surprised by how cheap (and nice!) our accommodations are, but that was about the only budget thing here. Food and activities were pricey, on par with other European cities like Paris or Rome.  
  • Be prepared for crowds: Croatia has just blown up in popularity, in large part thanks to Game of Thrones being filmed there. It is a really popular tourist destination, and you need to be prepared for crowds. We were there in the shoulder season, just one of the last weeks with cruises coming in (end of October). It was super busy, especially in Dubrovnik, but our guide said there was only one cruise ship and, in the summer, there can be around seven. So, just be prepared for there to be crowds.
  • The food is amazing! Tons of awesome things to try. Make sure you try Black risotto (made with squid ink), burek (savoury pies), and cevapi (minced meat). They also have gelato stands every few meters on the promenade in Split, just saying!

There are so many amazing things about Croatia, so I’ll leave it here and just say: You’ve got to go there! I know you’ll love it as much as I did.

4 Things to Splurge On and 4 to Save On Your Next Vacation

Traveling has been a huge part of my budget ever since I started earning an income back in University while working at Starbucks. I love to travel and am happy to drop a decent amount of money on a fun trip! But that doesn’t mean I want to waste my money or be reckless with it. Instead, I save up and plan my trips carefully to maximize my dollar.

I’m a firm believer that there are some things that are worth your money and others that just aren’t. Here are my top 4 things to save on and top 4 things to splurge on during your next vacation.

When to Save

Strategic savings in some areas can help your money stretch further, so you can splurge on things that you truly love! Here are some areas to save some money:

1. Food

No, not all food. And no, I am not advocating eating at McDonald’s in every country (though that is also a fun experience to try out their different menus!). What I mean here is that too often we get caught up with the fun experience of trying new cuisines that we get carried away and go out for every single meal.

While I firmly believe you should be trying new foods in each country, you don’t need to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at a restaurant. Instead, try one of these tips:

  • Grab some food at a grocery store and have a picnic in a local park! My sisters and I had a picnic lunch of baguettes and cheese every day in a park in Paris that had a view of the Eiffel Tower. Cheap and memorable!
  • Go for lunch at a fancy restaurant instead of dinner. Many places offer lunch deals, so you can try the same great food at a lower price.
  • Get some street food! Yes, you need to be careful to choose something that is clean and safe, but street food or small hole-in-the-wall places can offer the most delicious and affordable food out there!

2. Discount Days

A lot of popular attractions such as museums or art galleries will have free or discounted days throughout the week. It’s always worth a few minutes of research to see if where you want to go is offering this and then plan your schedule accordingly.

Another thing to check out is if the posted price of entry is suggested or mandatory. For example, most museums in New York are just suggested prices, and many in London are by donation. This way you can choose to pay what you can afford.

Of course, these are amazing places that could use your money to keep up the great work, but it also makes sense that you are on a budget and may not be able to afford the full price. Just be aware and decide what is worth it to you!

3. City Passes

This one might be seen as a little too touristy, but I do think that getting a tourist city pass can be a really valuable experience. I only had a few days in London, and so decided to get the London Pass. It gave us access to SO many of the top attractions around the city, and was definitely cheaper then purchasing them all separately.

Not only did we get to see some famous sites like the Tower of London and St. Paul’s Cathedral, but there were some lesser-known things we got to try as well. One of our favourite days was taking a boat down the canal in “Little Venice” – it was fun and we saw a totally different part of the city! We only knew about it because of the Pass, so it was totally worth it.

4. Souvenirs

I know, I know, shopping is fun! And souvenirs are important memories! Believe me, I get it. We all want something tangible and unique to remember our amazing trips by.

But honestly, most souvenirs just suck and are way too overpriced. And if you are shopping at any market, tourist shop, or the airport, you are getting ripped off. Instead of buying overpriced (and often tacky) souvenirs, consider these options as something to remember your trip by:

  • Photos. I mean, obviously.
  • Currency from the country. Take back a note or a few coins to keep and remember your trip by. I have a jar of this at home, and even made some coins into magnets on my fridge.
  • Quality items. If you do need to buy something, focus on quality items that you will use. I love my scarves, purses, and shoes I’ve bought in other countries, because they are totally useable in my every day life, and yet help me remember my trip by!

When to Splurge

Life is all about balance. Just as important as saving on things that don’t matter so much, is splurging on things that really matter. After all, you’ve worked hard to save your money and afford a nice trip, so let’s make the most of it! Here are four ways to splurge on your next vacation:

1. Unique Experiences

There is no shortage of fun and unique experiences while traveling. Even just walking around, exploring different areas and trying new food can be a unique experience! But beyond that, there are so many cool options that are only available in that country, perhaps because of the culture or environment.

When researching things to do, make sure to keep an eye out for experience that are a little different then what you would normally do. Here are two of my favourite experiences in a new country:

  • Something active. I love getting outdoors and doing something active while abroad, such as hiking or renting a kayak or something. One of my favourite unique and active experiences was our zip line and hiking tour in Croatia! This was so fun. We went on about 7 zip lines in the gorgeous hill side overlooking the ocean, with short hikes in between. It was a super cool way to experience the region, with a solid adrenaline kick to boot!
  • Food tours. this is one of my favourite things to do in a new city. Two stand-out tours were in Lima, Peru and London, England. Food tours are fun because of the food, obviously, but also because it takes a while to complete, usually about four hours, so you can connect with some other people and really get to know more about the country.

2. Safety

This may seem a little weird on this list, but I think it’s important to mention. In fact, before leaving on any trip, my Mom would always make me promise that I wouldn’t “cheap out” and avoid spending money when it came to things like safety, comfort and security.

Money can be very useful in getting out of potentially sketchy scenarios and staying safe. For example, if you are accustomed to taking public transit, you may be hesitant to splurge on a taxi. But if you are traveling alone at night, it may be the safer choice to get a taxi or go with another reputable transportation service, despite the additional cost.

Likewise, if you are uncomfortable in your shared hostel accommodation, definitely spring for a new private room or hotel. I’ve had my fair share of weird hostel roommates, and even one time where my and my friend didn’t feel safe around someone who cam back wasted. We left pretty quick and the hostel was super understanding, upgrading us to a private room.

There is no amount of money that is worth feeling unsafe or staying somewhere you are not comfortable.

3. Tours

Some people might think that going on a tour is a short cut and not something “real travelers” should do. While I also like to come up with my own itinerary and plans while traveling, or just explore at a slower pace, there have been a few times that tours have been the perfect decision.

Here are a couple reasons to choose a tour, even though it can cost more than a DIY approach:

  • Convenience. It is SO nice to just have someone plan something and tell you where to go and what to do. Show up at this time in this place? Easy enough! Tours are a very stress-free approach to traveling because you don’t have to do all the planning and booking yourself.
  • Maximize your time. Tours are a great option if you are short on time in any given location. I went on a 2-week trip to Peru a few years ago and we booked with Peru Hop, a hop-on hop-off tour company, so that we could see as much as possible in a short time.
  • Travel buddies! After graduating university, I really wanted to go traveling, but didn’t have anyone to go with. At that time, I wasn’t ready to venture out on my own, so I booked a 6-week tour through Southeast Asia instead. It was the best choice I could have made, because my tour buddies because friends to experience an awesome trip with. I don’t think I would have gotten as much out of it going by myself.

4. Accommodations (sometimes)

This one honestly could have been on both lists, because I also feel that it’s an area to save on. When you are spending most of your day sightseeing, do you really need to spend a ton of money on your accommodations? But then on the flip side, poor accommodations can really make or break your experience (looking at you, disgusting hostel in Glasgow…).

So, I recommend choosing a moderate accommodation 90% of the time – something clean, within budget, good location, etc. – and then splurge 10% of the time. An example of this is when I was in London by myself for a few days. I booked a few nights in a hostel to save some money. It was fine – clean, cheap, no weird people in my room. But on my last night in the city, I sprung for a hotel room. This was obviously way more expensive but was 100% worth the splurge. I slept amazing and felt so well rested. It provided a much-needed reset for the rest of the trip.

So, there you have it! This list is obviously non-exhaustive, but provides a place to start. I really see traveling as an investment – an investment in yourself, by expanding your horizons and providing memories for a lifetime! You work hard to be able to afford a trip, so might as well make the most of it by being selective in how you save and splurge!

Let me know your own ideas on how to save and splurge when traveling in the comments below!

My Experience at Machu Picchu

You know when you are planning to go to a famous landmark or site while traveling, you’re totally amped up and excited, but then it’s kind of a let down? There are a million people there, or it’s smaller than you thought, or it just wasn’t what you dreamed? It was just kind of… underwhelming?

Machu Picchu is not this.

Machu Picchu 100% lives up to its hype.

This looks like a postcard, right?! But I took it! That’s how gorgeous this place truly is.

A friend and I traveled through Peru in 2018 – you can check out my itinerary here. It was an amazing trip, and we saw so much! Machu Picchu was just one of many highlights.

We started our trip in Cusco, and spent a few days exploring this city and acclimatizing to the altitude. Cusco is the gateway to Machu Picchu, and many people will start their multi-day hikes from there, or even just do a day trip from there.

We decided on a 2-day, 1 night tour of the Sacred Valley. Booking a tour was a good option, as it took out a lot of the planning for us. Since we were just on a two-week trip, we didn’t want to spend a ton of time planning logistics.

We honestly were not sure if our tour company was legit or not, because we had tried to find the office one day in Cusco to pay a deposit… and, well, we couldn’t find it. Google Maps led us to a sketchy area of the city and we couldn’t find the office. So, we asked someone at our hostel to call the company and see if they were legit. He called and had a 2-minute conversation in Spanish and then told us, “It’s good.” So, we went with it. Turns out, totally legit, and actually did an amazing job with all the logistics and communications. The company was Viva Peru Tours, if you want to check them out!

On the first day, we traveled to two lesser-known Incan heritage sites, Pisac and Ollantaytabo. It was so cool to look through these massive ancient ruins and get to know more history of the area. These sites are totally worth a visit and offer a unique contrast to Machu Picchu!

Late that evening we arrived in Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu. We were prepped for our wake up call the next morning – 3am – to get up to the entrance when it first opens.  Yep, pretty early. We were assured it’s worth it, though, to get in before the crowds on a day-trip from Cusco arrive.

Because of our limited time farm in Peru, we did not plan any hiking excursion in Machu Picchu. It should be noted that there are a thousand hiking options, from the famous Inca Trail, to many others. There are tons of groups offering tours and guided hikes, so cheek out your options. But us? We took the bus up that hill. It’s steep. Think 30 minutes of switchbacks kind of steep. The bus was just fine with me.

We arrived at the entrance at 6am (along with the entire population of the continent, it seemed) and found our guide. Excitedly, we walked through the gates and entered into Machu Picchu. It was… well, kind of disappointing, to be honest. At least right at the beginning. There were SO many people. It was cloudy. Every single person stopped to take selfies right in the exact same spot. It was sort of underwhelming.

But that was just the start. It went uphill from there… literally.

We actually needed up ditching our tour group pretty quickly. The guide was pointing out a short hike up to a viewpoint and told us how cool it was, but then told us we wouldn’t be going there. And since it was only one-way through the site, we had to leave the group to access it. So, we did.

Best. Choice. Ever. The hike up to the Sun Gate was so worth it.

It took about 45 minutes to hike up, during which time, all the clouds left and the sun came out. We were rewarded by absolutely stunning views of Machu Picchu and very few people around us. Since the only people up there were those who were arriving from their multi-day hikes, and those like us who ditched the official tours, there just wasn’t a big crowd. It was perfect. We got some great photos, ate a snack, and just took in the breathtaking 360-degree views.

We ventured back down to meet the crowds in Machu Picchu, and walked through the ruins. It’s a wonder of the world for a reason, people. What they managed to do back in the mid-15th century, without modern technology on the top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere – amazing. There was no end of amazing photo ops, including the lamas that roamed the grounds.

Machu Picchu is 100% worth the hype. Here are my top tips for enjoying it:

  • Prepare yourself for lots and lots of people. There are a lot of tourists here – they will be in the background of your photos, and you may have to wait your turn to get a good pic somewhere. Prepare for it and expect it.
  • There are no bathrooms in the site… so just know that and plan accordingly.
  • Research your options – I highly recommend hiking up to the Sun Gate. Just know that you may not be able to stay with a tour group to do that, though. So do a bit of research and figure out what is important for you during that day.
  • Stay overnight in Aguas Calientes so you can get there first thing in the morning and beat the crowds coming from Cusco for the day.
  • Prepare yourself for any weather! It can go from super cloudy and overcast to hot and sunny in a minute.
  • Bring water and a snack! You’ll want to just chill for a bit and take a rest.
  • ENJOY. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Soak it all in.

We finished up by heading back to Aguas Calientes for the afternoon, got some lunch and went shopping, and then took the train back to Cusco. I’m so grateful for this experience and the memories that will last a lifetime.

Thanks for reading! Let me know if you’ve been to Machu Picchu and Peru – I’d love to hear your story!

That time I almost hiked in Peru.

Story time.

A friend and I went to Peru for two weeks back in 2018 (check out my itinerary here) and one part of the trip we were so excited for was an overnight hike in the Colca Canyon. The Colca Canyon is about a 3-hour drive from the city of Arequipa.

This canyon is big. Like, REALLY big. We’re talking twice the depth of the Grand Canyon here – 3,300 meters deep at some points.

The hike was going to take us right to the bottom of the canyon, where we’d sleep overnight, and then hike back out the next day.

I was really excited for this trip. I even bought new hiking boots and hauled them around in my backpack for the entire trip. I was also nervous. While I like hiking, it is quite the steep hike, and I read horror stories online about mean guides who would just leave the slow hikers behind in order to catch the bus back to Arequipa. I did not want to be said slow-poke.

Anyways, we were excited. What an experience! So, after a few days exploring Arequipa, we joined our tour. We left at 3am in the morning. Yes, you read that right – 3am. As we were leaving the city at that time, there were still tons of people out partying from the night before. We actually picked up two of them to join the tour – they hadn’t slept all night and I think were regretting their decision to sign up for a hike.

I was tired, but the scenery was super gorgeous to look at. About half way into the 3-hour drive, my friend taps me on the shoulder and is like, “I don’t feel good.”

Uh-oh. “Don’t feel good, how?” I asked.

“Maybe food poisoning.”

Oh boy. This was not going to be good. She assured me she could wait until we were at the next rest stop… she didn’t want to be “that person” who makes the entire bus stop for her.

And then I started feeling not-so-great. Something in my stomach just wasn’t quite right. This is really not starting to look good.

We arrived at El Mirador Del Condor (a lookout where you can see these famous huge birds, Condors) and we ran. Like RAN to the bathroom. Who cares about the birds, we gotta go! It became clear pretty quickly that we were not going to be able to hike for hours into a canyon without proper *ahem* facilities along the way.

So, we had to pivot and make new plans pretty quick. We could either get on a bus and head back to Arequipa, or we could stay overnight in the tiny town at the edge of the canyon – Cabanconde – and meet up with the group the next day. We decided on option #2, because why not? Always up for an adventure!

We said goodbye to the group, and checked into one of the only hotel options. It was, um, simple, I guess. Very, very simple. Clean enough, but super basic. We were grateful for a fully working toilet and beds to rest on. After a few hours, we were actually feeling a lot better. At least better enough to go out and explore the town. To this day, I’m not sure what ailed us – it was like a weird 6-hour bug, but that’s all. I’m so grateful we recovered enough to explore the area.

The town of Cabanconde is small, quaint-ish, and quite interesting. It did feel like a taste of “real” Peru, because it was so small and not very tourist-friendly. In fact, at the little tourist info centre, I asked the host, “Hola, hablas ingles?” (do you speak English?) – her answer? “No.” Many people who work in the tourist industry know at least a little English, but here I had to use my broken Spanish to get some answers about a few walks and trails in the area.

My friend and I set off on a trail to check out the canyon views. It. Was. AMAZING.

We were standing right at the edge of this amazing canyon, vast and huge. Simply stunning.

After taking tons and tons of pictures, we just sat there, at the edge of the canyon and took it all in. There was not another soul in the world near us. Just us and that amazing canyon.

We spent the rest of the day just wandering around, taking in the sights of the canyon and the town. We bought bananas and peanuts from a little store for dinner (figured that would be safe on our poor stomachs) and went to the hotel to watch the one English-speaking channels on TV before going to bed early.

The next morning, we met up with our tour group, had breakfast, and headed back to Arequipa. The people on our tour told us that it was a good hike and they managed to set record time getting back! It was a group of super sporty people, so I was not surprised by this. 100% I would have been the slow poke in the group… I would have struggled getting back. And, to be honest, our guide was also not the friendliest, so it’s possible we would have just been left behind in the dust if we couldn’t keep up.

I actually think this all worked out for the best.

We avoided a hike that may have been cool, yes, but definitely super challenging (for me, at least).

We saw the canyon, in all it’s splendor, from a totally secluded vantage point.

We experienced small-town Peru.

And we always have this story to look back and laugh on. That one time we almost hiked in Peru.

14 Days in Peru: a Trip to Remember

Machu Picchu – very much worth the hype!

Peru. Have you been? You need to. Peru has something for everyone – outdoor activities and adventure (sandboarding!), cultural sites that blow your mind (um, hello Machu Picchu), and food that you only dream about (ceviche, ceviche, ceviche). It’s a gorgeous, diverse country that I was lucky enough to travel through in 2018.

Since I was working a 9-5 office job at the time, I only had two weeks for this vacation. If you have more time, use it! There is so much to see. But, if you are limited on time, you can still see a lot in just two weeks. To maximize our time and make traveling a bit easier, my friend and I joined Peru Hop, a hop-on hop-off bus with pre-defined routes through the country. This made it easy to plan our itinerary, and also provided transportation, activity ideas, and people to connect with! Definitely recommend checking them out if you are short on time, or just looking for someone to take care of your transportation.

14 days through Peru was jam-packed. We started in Cusco then moved through the following route: Cusco > Sacred Valley (Pisac, Ollantaytabo and Machu Picchu) > Arequipa & the Colca Canyon > Huacachina > Paracas > Lima.

There is so much to say about each location, here is a brief overview – use it for inspiration on your own trip to Peru!

Days 1-5: Cusco, with side-trip to the Sacred Valley

We chose to start our trip in Cusco, primarily because we wanted to go the opposite direction of the typical Peru Hop itinerary. We figured the buses would be less crowded going the opposite direction, which they were. If you choose to start your trip Cusco, be aware of altitude sickness. Cusco sits at an elevation of 3,399 meters, and so the altitude sickness is real. Both of us felt pretty good overall, but noticed we were very short of breath while walking, especially up hill. Make sure to look up on this very real thing and prepare yourself to take it easy and acclimatize when you arrive.

Cusco is an amazing city, full of culture and interesting sites. It’s known as the gateway to Machu Picchu, but is worth a visit in its own right! Here are some highlights:

  • Take a free walking tour through the city.
  • Climb (slowly, the altitude really makes it hard!) up to one of the many viewpoints overlooking the city.
  • Take pictures with the alpacas and llamas around town (offer a tip or payment to their owners).
  • Visit San Pedro Market, and get something to eat – I recommend the traditional chicken soup. It’s super cheap, and great for a light meal when you are battling altitude sickness.

After a few days in Cusco, we left for our 2-day, 1-night tour of the Sacred Valley. Because of our short time frame, a tour was perfect – we saw so much and didn’t have to worry about any of the logistics. Some highlights were:

  • Visiting lesser-known Incan ruins – Ollantaytabo and Pisac. Both were super impressive and stunning to walk around.
  • Waking up early to get to Machu Picchu – because we stayed overnight in Aguas Calientes, we were able to get to Machu Picchu when it first opened. I would highly recommend this, because if you wait a few hours, you are visiting at the same time as all the day-trippers from Cusco. It’s already busy there first thing, so get up early to avoid the rush.
  • It is a one-way walk around the Machu Picchu, so we actually ditched our tour group pretty early on to hike up to the Sun Gate. SO WORTH IT. We got away from the crowds by hiking about 45 minutes up the mountain. This gave us gorgeous birds-eye views of the site without so may people around.
  • Shop for souvenirs in Aguas Calientes – seriously, everything you ever want is here, and after your day at Machu Picchu, you will want something to remember it by!
  • Enjoy the train trip back to Cusco – the scenery is stunning. The train has one car with open sides and a clear roof, so you can get a 360 view of everything around.

Days 6-10: Arequipa, with side-trip to Colca Canyon

Arequipa is the “White City (Ciudad Blanca) – because of it’s architecture built with white volcanic stone – and is surrounded by 3 volcanoes. The views from around the city are absolutely stunning. Most people stop through here on their way to the Colca Canyon, as we did. But there is so much to do and see in this city – here are some highlights:

Colourful walls of the Santa Catalina Monastery makes for good Insta photos!
  • Take a free tour around the city – there are tons of options. To be honest, our tour guide was very weird, and not really very good, AND we were the only two on the tour, but we still really enjoyed it and got to see the city. We also got a free Pisco Sour out of it, so that makes it worth it!
  • Explore the Santa Catalina Monastery, right in the middle of the city. It takes up a few city blocks, and is full of colourful buildings. Pay for a tour and get the full history of this amazing place. We were lucky to see the nuns who live there, which made it feel very authentic. We also got some pretty good Instagram pictures…
  • Venture out of the city centre – my friend was pretty tired one afternoon, so I went for a walk by myself. I continued out of the main square and shopping area and ended up in some less-touristy streets. It was pretty cool to just wander and explore – there was so much to see.
  • Despite being touristy, the main square in Arequipa is pretty cool. There is a view of the 3 volcanoes surrounding the city, plus tons of interesting people watching. We saw a wedding and an old car show parade while there. Just get a snack, sit down, and enjoy the sites.

After exploring Arequipa for a couple days, we embarked on another 2-day, 1-night trip – this time to the Colca Canyon. The excursion left at 3am (plenty of people still out partying when we left the city), with a couple hours’ drive to the canyon. The plan was to hike down into the canyon, sleep over night there, and hike back out. However, mother nature had other plans for us.

On the drive to the canyon, both me and my friend started getting sick – like, run-to-the-bathroom-immediately-at-the-rest-stop kind of sick. We knew we would not be able to successfully hike for the day without access to *ahem* the facilities.

So, we had to pivot. We ended up staying in a tiny village at the edge of the canyon. It ended up being pretty cool. Some highlights:

  • Walking trails at the edge of the canyon – after a few hours of rest, we were feeling well enough to explore the area. There were a number of walking trails all around, so we chose one that took us right to the edge of the magnificent Colca Canyon. It was stunning. Absolutely gorgeous. I actually think we got the better experience, seeing it from up top, rather then down at the bottom like those in our tour group.
  • There is not a lot of English in Peru, even in the tourism sector, and especially not in a small town. To find out anything, I had to speak Spanish, which was challenging, but made me pretty proud that I could actually converse!
  • Observing life in a small town – we got a different perspective of Peru while in this little town. It was cool to just sit, drink tea and observe the daily life in the town.

Day 11: Huacachina

Our next stop was one of the most unique places I have ever been to. Huacachina is a little oasis town in the middle of the desert. It is a small town – 100% tourist-centered – around a tiny man-made lake. All surrounding the town are kilometers of sand dunes. The two main attractions of this town are partying and sand-sports (sand-dune buggying and sand-boarding).

We were still recovering from feeling sick in the last place, so weren’t up for a night of partying (though we did grab a few drinks at the aptly named bar, Huacafuckingchina). The main highlight of this was our sand dune buggying and sand-boarding tour.

Dunes as far as the eye can see.

It. Was. So. Much. Fun. Seriously one of the best times I’ve ever had. We went ripping around on the sand dune buggying, up and down over sand dunes – dunes as far as the eye could see. The buggy would stop at the top of the hill and then we’d pull out old snowboards, repurposed for the sand, wax them up and go down the dunes. Most people would sit on them or lie down, like tobogganing, but a few tried actually standing. For me, it was enough of a thrill to go down on my stomach. It was crazy. There were some hills that were borderline dangerous how fast we were going down… such an adrenaline rush!

Day 12: Paracas

The most popular reason to go to Paracas is to visit the Ballestas Islands, fondly nick-named “Poor Man’s Galapagos.” This place has so many different animals including, sea lions, seals, Humboldt penguins, Peruvian boobies, pelicans, and so much more. We took a boat over to the islands and the guide pointed out different animals to us. It was cool, but I also felt a little seasick in the boat. It was worth it at its price point, but I can see why it’s called “Poor Man’s Galapagos” – just not quite the same level of impressive I don’t think.

The other reason to go here is to check out this whole-in-the-wall restaurant/art gallery that served me the best meal I had in Peru. No joke. It’s called Pukasoncco Arte y Restaurante, and I only found through a quick google search, looking for something with good reviews. Not only was the food amazing, but it was such a unique experience. The owner is an artist and chef, so he was working on some paintings when we came in, just in the adjoining gallery. He came over to seat us, took our orders, and then literally put on a chef’s hat and made our food. After serving us, he took off the hat and went back to painting. His artwork was as good as our food, so we left with full bellies and beautiful art souvenirs.

Days 13-14: Lima

My one regret of this trip was not spending enough time in Lima. We really just used it as a city to fly out of and only had a day to explore. I know we just scratched the surface and there would be SO much more to see here. A few highlights include:

  • FOOD TOUR. You’ve got to do it. We went on a 4-hour tour that took us through some different neighbourhoods of Lima. We tried a total of 6 or 7 different things on the tour, including beef heart, Peruvian-Chinese fusion food (called Chifa), street-cart health drinks, ceviche and other seafood, and local craft beers. It was a really fun way to see the city and try some new things.
  • Shopping – there’s just a lot of it here. Spend some time exploring and checking out different shops!
  • Lima is right on the Pacific Coast, and yet there isn’t an easy way to access the water. Instead, there is a park right up against a cliff that drops down to the ocean. It’s got some nice views to check out!
Getting drinks from the street cart on our food tour in Lima

Peru in 14 days was a whirlwind. There is so much to see and do, we barely scratched the surface. Thanks to Peru Hop, it was easy to get around and see so many places. I would go back to Peru in a heartbeat, with my main goal to 1) explore more of Lima, 2) actually go on a hike, and 3) visit the Amazon.

I hope this blog gave you some inspiration for your own trip to Peru!

Learning to Ski – a Memoir

When was the last time you picked up a new skill? Like really worked at something you’d never done before and mastered it? Honestly, I can’t think of too many things, especially in my adult life… except skiing. I learned how to ski a few years ago, when I was 25. I know that is not objectively old, but considering I live in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, Canada where EVERYONE skis, it was old. Skiing is almost synonymous to being Canadian; when I travel abroad and tell people I’m Canadian, their two questions are always, “Do you speak French?” (no) and “Do you ski?” (now I do!).

Skiing was something I always wanted to do, but had so many excuses – I’m too old, it’s too expensive, it’s scary to fall, etc. Mostly I was afraid of failing.

But one day, a friend told me about the “Never Ever Days” program being offered at Whistler. If you aren’t familiar, Whistler is a world-class ski resort in BC – people from all around the world come here – and it is generally quite expensive. But this program offered a 4-hour lesson, and free lift and rentals for… drum-roll, please… $25! Unreal promotion. The catch was that it was for people who never skied or snowboarded before – i.e. me.

So, I went. And I LOVED it. I had been preparing myself for the worst, that I might fall a bunch of times, or that it would be scary or boring or whatever. But I really, truly loved it.

So I booked 4 more lessons that season at another local mountain – Grouse.

And then I skied the next year.

(I took a year off the year after… life happened). But this year I went again a few times. And I have to say – I am good. Not double-black-diamond good, but I can ski! I really can. I skied at Grouse and Seymour this year, and even got to go with my sister once. I worked myself up to ski blue-level runs with ease, and finally find the ratio of fun-to-scary much more in favour of fun.

In short, I love it.

It is never to late to try new things. It is never too late to take a risk. You might fail, you might fall (I did, so many times), but it is worth it to try something new. Practice, practice, and practice some more. You might just end up loving it.

Apparently I freelance now.

I left my job in Dec 2020. It’s a long story, but the short version was that it wasn’t the right fit for me. I found it overwhelming and stressful, and couldn’t see myself there long-term. I was burnt out and needed a break. So I quit. I purposefully did not look for another job right away because I wanted to take some time to think and evaluate options, trying to figure out that next step. I really wanted to move into something that I loved and was passionate about – and if not passionate, then at least enjoyed and felt challenged by and purposeful in. I was prepared to take up to 6 months to try and figure this out, as I felt that was financially possible and enough time to find something new.

So the weeks went by, months went by. And no light bulb went off, no booming voice from the heavens, no job falling into my lap. Not even really an idea of what I wanted to do. People kept asking me “what is your dream job?” or “what would you do if money was no object?” The answer I kept giving them was, “I don’t know.” Which is true, I really don’t have a dream job. Sure, there are tons of things I would like to do, but nothing is really a dream or a passion. That’s not really how my personality is – I’m not really a dreamer/visionary kind of person.

Discouraged and feeling a little cash-poor, I started Googling “how to make money online.” Oh boy, did that open up a can of worms. Apparently there are a million ways to make money online, ranging from the super sketchy, to super legit. I stumbled upon Rev.com, a website that offers transcriptions services. I thought, “Hey, I speak English and can type – I can do this!” so I signed up, took the little test, and got approved.

Soon, I was making a whopping $8/hour on average. Wooo! Big money. I got a little faster at it, and probably hit about $15/hour. Not too bad. I did a few hours here and there, bringing in about $100/week. But the real beauty of finding Rev, was finding the world of freelancing. After starting to actually make real money with them, the idea just kind of stuck with me that there were other, potentially more lucrative, freelance services I could offer.

Queue the internet searches again. This time, for freelance writing, editing, and proofreading. This is when I stumbled on “The Proofreading Academy,” which offers a 45-hour course that guarantees you work with their company Proofed if you pass with 80% or higher. Seems too good to be true, but the internet assured me it was not a scam. I signed up and took the course (I’m currently waiting for my results to see if I passed with 80%).

Even if I don’t end up working for Proofed, I will forever be grateful that it opened my eyes even further to the world of freelancing. Armed with my newfound proofreading and editing knowledge, I set up an account on Upwork, a freelancing website, and started bidding for jobs. I bid super, super low (like $2/hour) to get people to hire me, and got a few 5-star reviews. Hey, not too bad. So I kept bidding and applying, and got a few more. Within 2 months I am up to 17 jobs and a 5-star average. I’ve made over $600. This obviously isn’t a lot, but there’s some momentum. Some clients have booked me for subsequent jobs, and a lot have given awesome feedback.

I dove deep into the world of freelancing, joining Facebook groups and watching YouTube “how to freelance” videos. I am now convinced that there is real money possible here. If I continue building momentum and honing my skills, I could make a career out of this.

I might not have to go work at an office again.

I might be able to work and travel.

I might be able to be my own boss and set my own hours.

This is the dream. I am so motivated to make this happen right now. I’m going to give it a real honest go for a few months and see if I can start covering my living expenses with my earnings. If I don’t get there, I’ll hit the job boards again. But I’m feeling pretty excited about this opportunity. This feels like something I can do, something I can work hard at and achieve, so I’m going to keep trying.

So when people ask what I’m up to these days, the answer is: apparently I’m a freelancer now.