Gypsy Wednesday – Swan Song or New Start for You?

Since I began full-time traveling nearly 4 months ago, I’ve had to accept the ebb and flow of life.

Gypsy Wednesday has been a blast for the past 9 months, without it I wouldn’t have met Keith Savage, Colin Burns, Colin Wright, and Christine Ka’aloa. Without it I wouldn’t have been able to express my feelings, the trends in travel.

Sadly, it’s time to let GW go.

To continue as I delve further into the travel life is proving difficult. At this point I would rather concentrate on pitching to editors, telling travel stories or capturing interviews on the road.

I also want to focus on producing a few e-books, which is hard to do when I have to coordinate a weekly feature that usually takes several days to compose.

BUT…

Another option I’ve been dancing with is inviting a guest writer on-board to take on GW. So, if you’re a new writer to the travel universe, want to gain exposure, or just meet other travelers email nomadic.chick@gmail.com. Pitch me, make it happen!

This isn’t a sad occasion at all, but a new chapter as I jump right into the thick of travel! I plan to bring exciting stories, wanderings, and much more!

My travels morph from sleepy Canada into a possible trip to New York, TBEX Europe, then onto India for most likely 6 months. We’ll see how I weather that one.

To those who loved and supported Gypsy Wednesday, thanks for all the masterful comments and lively discussions.

Also, let’s leave it to democracy, a poll is attached for your voting pleasure.

When it comes to Gypsy Wednesday…

(polls)

By |September 29th, 2010 |Categories: Life |7 Comments
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Social Media, Too Familiar?

Sometimes tough decisions have to be made.  Perhaps Delhi isn’t what you anticipated.  It’s triple the assault of rancid smells and malicious touts.  Simply too much city.  It’s time to go, accept, and move on.

Could be you’re in the same position as me.  Torn between a quick trip to New York City or devoting more time to Europe before I attend TBEX Copenhagen.  Just plain torn.

The choices. And at times these choices are tied to emotional responses, even determined relationships.

Take social media.  I was semi-immersed in it before Nomadic Chick came to fruition, now 9 months later, it is my second life.  I pretty much understand the ins and outs, thought I could chart it’s reasoning.

This week I made a decision.  I actually blocked a follower on Twitter, something I never once flexed in 9 months.

It started innocently enough.  People in the travel industry engage in reconnaissance to build up a Twitter account. One such individual found me, probably blurred past my bio, then clicked “follow”.

After that, they started tweeting.  I’m guessing seeking useful articles to retweet, chat to other travel enthusiasts, and so on.

This person chose to retweet an article of mine, but drizzled their comment with sarcasm.

I read over my mentions on TweetDeck the next day, genuinely taken aback once my eyes caught it.  Was I dreaming?  After a second, third reading it was clear – not nice.

I’m Canadian, we are nice.  In fact, told my best friend the other day how often I say sorry, and this must be beaten out of me prior to heading overseas.  Nobody wants to hear “sorry” for merely existing.

To nasty follower, I shot back a response to the effect of, “Guess you can’t please everyone, those were the best according to my picture-taking skills.”

Then, RED ALERT.  It must have dawned on follower that they stepped in a steaming pile, because their next tweet was a backwards two-step.

“Oh, didn’t know that was you.  They were lovely photos!  Just not the “best” in the world.”  Ouch!

Far as I can tell, never claimed so, and that’s what my next tweet entailed, “No need to say they are lovely, if you think not.  And just the best related to my site, so not the “best” in the world.”

A swell of red blinded me, you bet I was pissed off.  And maybe I was swimming in overreaction.  Could be.  Probably.

Instead of making any decision, I investigated.  See, I’m not a huge believer in cutting off anyone at the knees by pressing “delete”.  At least without informing them.

I took a peek at their profile page and saw a similar snarky comment directed at another traveler, correcting them on the use of ‘it’s’ and ‘its’.  Double ouch.

That drove me to finger my mouse and block them.  It just rubbed me in the most negative ways.  I huffed thinking, you don’t know me, what right do you have?

Maybe I’ve soundly alienated the overlord of the tourism industry, and will never be granted a press trip, even on my last dying breath, but what about principles?  Just being nice?

Afterward, I questioned it.  Does pressing “follow” automatically mean you “know” someone?

With the insane speed of social media, how much it shatters borders or prevents doors slamming in your face, no wonder follower and followee arrive at break neck intimacy.

My generation are half-breeds, weaned on a pencil case, well before we were handed a keyboard.  At times I get scrambled, discombobulated.  Unsure as to what “knowing” is in this world.

Whether I like it or not, I’m covered in social media from head to heels.  Not every follower will be gung-ho on what I say or do.

Yet the flipside, was the unfriendly fire necessary?

What I hope in the next 9 months is continue these lessons, because what I mostly feel is friendship, realizing that like the real world, not everybody agrees or gets along.

And yeah, work on that saying sorry thing.

I’m curious, what would you have done?

Photo: abooth202

By |September 24th, 2010 |Categories: Culture |36 Comments
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Gypsy Wednesday – Yoga + Travel

Welcome to Gypsy Wednesday!  Every Wednesday, I strive to highlight all the juicy morsels related to travel and beyond.

Travel is an exertion in mental and physical limits.  I’ve caught some recent articles about the benefits of yoga, particularly how it can be incorporated with travel.  The fashionable yoga set purchase yoga paws or reversible travel yoga mats, but sometimes forget what lies beneath the physical.

Yoga is thousands of years old, a meditation for the body, an elixir to a deeper understanding.

I liken it to a mainline, one that bears witness to how far you can soar.  In my estimation, across vast oceans and dense lands.

As a practitioner for over 10 years, yoga has taught me irreplaceable lessons.  I had unwittingly engaged in this ancient art not realizing how much it’s prepared me for travel.

Sometimes long-term travel can beat a person down.  Ayngelina’s post 12 Reasons I Hate Traveling illustrates these uneasy feelings acutely.

Below are some standard poses you can utilize on the road for some peace and quiet.

Downward Dog

Physical value: Stretches and strengthens the entire body.

Travel value: Keeps shoulders and spine limber against the weight of backpacks and cramped tuk-tuks.  Heightens focus and concentration, juice needed in copious amounts when juggling those overwhelming aspects of travel – food, transportation, lodging.

Seated or Lotus Pose

Physical value: Improves posture, stretches the legs, and opens the hips.

Travel value: Promotes inner calm, quiets the mind especially when rankled by a sleazy shop owner, who clearly ripped you off.

Seated Forward Bend

Physical value: Improves posture and stretches the hamstrings.

Travel value: Relaxes the mind and relieves stress, forces you to ignore outside stimulation like the Norwegian girl who scrunches a million plastic bags at 5:00 am or swelling anger (due to that Norwegian girl… ).

Standing Forward Bend or Big Toe Pose

Physical value: Lengthens the entire backside from head to heels.  Massages internal organs.  Great refresher to balance pounding the streets or sleeping in inhospitable guesthouse beds.

Travel value: Energizes you for the next moment, removes heaviness or dullness.  A blitz of events can overwhelm even the most seasoned traveler. And those moments DO rush at you.

Tree Pose

Physical value: Forges muscle in atypical areas, the ankles, thighs, calves and spine.  Builds balance and stability, all important aspects to fight the physical ravages of travel.

Travel value: A confidence builder that calms nerves.  Sometimes we doubt our decisions.  Every so often a negative travel experience or petty crime penetrates the idyllic bubble.  Refocusing internally can generate fresh energy to not only take heart, but continue on the road.

These poses are simple to execute and don’t require equipment.

With travel and yoga, it’s a layered cake.  Travel is the external stimulation of place and culture, in tune with the psychological changes.  Yoga strengthens our physical selves, but also our mental resolve.

No wonder they go hand in hand.

What kind activity re-centers you during those tiresome travel days?

Step by step instructions on the poses discussed above: Yoga Journal.

By |September 22nd, 2010 |Categories: Travel Tips |10 Comments

How To: Live Like a Nomad in Your Own Country

If you haven’t heard by now I kicked off my round-the-world trip in June, which isn’t special in itself.  What is strange was the decision to travel in my own country instead of opting for a full blown escape overseas.  Most travelers stretch their budgets by leaving their homeland, so where do I get the authority to stay put?

Some points to consider when traveling in your own country.

Rely On the Kindness of Friends

I’ve been lucky enough to see a fair number of provinces in Canada.  I also have an army of friends and family stationed from the Rockies to the salty East Coast.  One way to save money is to stay where you know people.  They also have to love you enough to put up with you.

Don’t view this as free loading though, always show appreciation for their hosptiality by buying dinner, cleaning up, offering to do laundry.  Just because you’re related or have known them since age 3 doesn’t qualify for thoughtless behavior.

The tally:

  • Calgary – brother and visit my mommy.
  • Toronto – old friend and fantastic new gal pal.
  • Montreal – new friend, but I did pay for a hostel for 5 days, $18 per night.
  • Saint John – best friend.

Do Weight Watchers Unintentionally

When eating out or drinking, having to pay in your own currency is undesirable.  My recommendations:

  • Order a lot of salad.  They are generally the cheapest item on a menu and can be filling.
  • Share appetizers – a good way to be satisfied and split the bill.
  • Restrict how often you eat out.
  • Suggest drinking at a friend’s place.  Alcohol is cheaper in liquor stores and goes longer.  A bottle of vodka or rum will last me two weeks.
  • If you do drink for a social event, try to limit it to 1 or 2.  Stick with pubs instead of nightclubs.  Most clubs have a steep cover charge.
  • Self-cater.  I try to spend a good portion of my budget on groceries and cook rather than eat out.  I also attempt to eat all the dishes I make so nothing goes to waste.

CouchSurf or House Sit

Besides staying with friends or family, another way to pinch dollars is CouchSurfing.  An old tune, well played on other travel sites, but it actually does work!  I decided to leave my friend’s abode in Laval and stay on my own in Montreal with a mix of hosteling and CouchSurfing.  The hostel was an unexpected budget surge, but not a regrettable choice.

CouchSurfing in Montreal is ridiculously easy, the city boasts a strong community, and I met fabulous people who I hope to see again.

House sitting is another fantastic option.  Some of my favorite resources:

  • Mind My House – International online resource to find a house sitter or home owner.  It only costs $21 CDN for a yearly membership.  I noticed a good concentration of North American house sitting opportunities.
  • House Carers – Same concept as Mind My House.  Yearly membership is slightly more, $51 CDN per year, but there’s a broad spectrum of countries to choose from.
  • How to Use Your Network – Sherry Ott offers some ideas on how to find short-term house sitting stints.

Keep the Transportation Low Key

Renting a car is an expensive prospect to enjoy the sights, unless you plan on splitting costs amongst friends.  I always take local buses or subways, even walking works wonders.  Once in a while your network of friends and family are kind enough to lend you a vehicle. Again, always gas up to show thanks.  Also, ensure your driver’s license hasn’t expired.

As for travel across the country?

If you plan on busing – book early!  This way you avoid paying more than you should.  I booked Calgary to Toronto at $77 CDN (+ taxes), an extensive trip of 19 hours.  Two major bus companies:

  • Greyhound – useful for all North American travel.  I mainly used it in Western Canada.
  • Megabus – Double decker buses with wifi on board.  Priced competitively to Greyhound.  A one-way ticket from Toronto to Montreal is $29 CDN. Cheap!

How about car pooling?  What a concept!

  • eRideShare - a website for carpooling or travel.  Create a free profile, list a trip or find matches for where you plan to go.  A terrific avenue for solo travelers to meet new people and share the gas costs!
  • digihitch - a detailed resource for those interested in hitchhiking or rail hopping.  Tips on how to do this smartly and safely.
  • Hitchwiki – online portal for information about hitchhiking.  Maintained by active hitchhikers.

I’m not eliminating air travel, once in a while you can procure a decent deal.  I managed to find a $99 seat sale from Vancouver to Calgary.  Slightly more than Greyhound, yet faster.  Mostly though, I stick to overland as a general rule and money saver.

Quick note, I did grab a taxi once in a while in Montreal, because the Metro shuts down at 1:30 am.  Sometimes fun just spills past your curfew.

To give you a clearer idea, my overall budget in Canada is:

Food (Dinners, Groceries, Snacks, Coffees) $980
Lodging $0
Thank You Costs $300
Transport $450
Local Transit + Gas $167
TOTAL OVERALL $1,897 *

*Over a 3 month period.

Not as trim as a Southeast Asia budget, but passable for North America.

Last minute things to consider:

  • Be discriminating with tourist draws.  Sometimes opportunities crop up, and usually of landmarks that you didn’t even have in mind.  I was granted a free visit to the ROM, thanks to my CouchSurfing hostess (she’s a member).  Or find gems that don’t cost much.  The Notre-Dame Basilica was a mere $5 for a tour and time to linger and snap photos.
  • Camping.  Some people swear by this.  It can be cost saving, but involves logistics in purchasing a camper van and than paying for insurance and gas.  Although, it is a terrific way to suss out provincial or state parks.
  • Coupons. Use them for grocery shopping or even restaurant excursions.  Trust.  Your friends will have extras lying around and some establishments hand them out.

Before you purchase a dirt cheap ticket to third world longevity, consider nomadism in your hood, it’s not only possible, but a way to enjoy your roots.

By |September 21st, 2010 |Categories: Travel Tips |25 Comments

Worst Washroom of the Week

Navigating the stairs of washroom doom?  Not a sound idea…

Montreal, Quebec

By |September 18th, 2010 |Categories: Montreal |7 Comments

Toronto Subway vs Montreal Metro – A Comparison

If you’re a Canadian, two major cities on everyone’s lips are Toronto and Montreal.  The two most populated cities in Canada boast extensive train systems, and yours truly had to navigate both on a daily basis.  So, how do the two stack up?

Access

Toronto: While in Toronto, I stayed in two fairly densely populated areas, Yonge and Spadina.  Both subway stations were a bit of a walk, at least 15 minutes.  The stations in general are laid out decently, but seem to cover a concentrated area.  The Yonge-Unversity-Spadina line is a U-shape, while the Bloor Danforth runs east and west, leaving out some grey areas in between.

Toronto platform

Montreal: No matter where I was in the city, or what time of day a Metro station was always near.  Whether hanging in Verdun, The Plateau, or NDG, I never felt stressed about finding a station to return to my hovel.  Montreal’s lines are organized by color and destination name, which renders it simple to understand, even if you’re a lowly Anglophone. The orange line is a U-shape, but two separate lines (blue and green) intersect at different zones in the city east and west.  That’s a lot of coverage.

Metro turnstiles

The winner? Montreal.  Excellent access all around!

Layout of Stations

Toronto: Their system is a veteran, first built in 1954 with 12 stations, but since then has expanded to 69 stations.  Accessing the platforms is either by turnstile or heavy, awkward revolving doors, difficult to push myself and a backpack through.

TTC revolving door

When you need to change trains at a major hub, the signage is overhead, easily readable with arrows to know which platform to switch to.  The one downside, sometimes signs that direct you to streetcars or buses are poorly spaced and could be missed in a snap.  Platforms are either up or down, with a set of escalators or stairs.  Some stations are finally implementing elevators for the handicapped, a smart initiative.

Montreal: Slightly younger than the Toronto system, it was inagurated in 1966, inspired by the Paris Metro.  All signs are color-coded to each line (orange, blue, yellow, green), an inviting visual to figure out where to transfer trains.  If you’re color blind, guess you’re screwed, but don’t fret, because each sign has destination names embossed in big, bold letters.  Phew.  Pretty much the same set up as Toronto, escalators or stairs access platforms or exits, and signage is plentiful.

Metro sign

Where Montreal loses is lack of handicap access.  Only seven stations have elevators.  Since I’m always injured or complaining of sciatica, oh Metro you suck.

The winner? Toronto.  While Montreal’s stations are superbly laid out, Toronto wins for improving their service for ALL users.

Aesthetics

Toronto: Ugly, ugly.  Colors are dull, grey, and uninspiring.  These old stations could use an upgrade from corpse to lively.  Another strange item, I was forever discovering random pools of water in an obviously dry subway tunnel in the middle of July.  I will say the Museum Station is the shining gem out of all of them.  Carved, intricate totems serve as pillars.

Museum Station

Montreal: A fair number of the stations are large and airy, decked out in colorful tiling.  Because the Metro is over 20 years old, some stations are in disrepair, but each station is unique, even upscaled with televisions!  The Place de Arts station caught my attention mainly because of eye-catching art as you exit the station.

Place de Arts Station

Television at Lionel-Giroux

The winner? Montreal.  European touches among the modern add flourish.

Cost

Toronto: The TTC still uses tokens (see picture), which constantly got mixed in with my change, it was the only sensible place to store them.  They are über tiny, a target for a hole in your pocket.  At $3.00 a pop, losing a token is not an option.  Day passes are $10.00 (good for single, family or group).  A weekly pass is $36.00, a bit steep.  A full-on Metro pass is useful for yearly users, so the dregs of tourists are left with single trip or daily/weekly passes.

Token for single fare

You have to pay an attendant or insert coins or dollars into a machine, which incidentally, ate my change.  Going forward, I referred to them as transit vending machines, the ones you kick to get the damn chocolate bar you paid for.  If memory serves, a measly $10.50 spat out 4 tokens.  My take?  Expensive transit.

Montreal: A single trips is only $2.75, already cheaper than Toronto.  Purchase a one day pass for $7.00 or a three day pass for $14.00. Even buy according to the number of trips.  I fell amore for the Opus Card.  It’s like a Starbucks card that you fill up with Metro trips at an automated machine that accepts cash, debit or credit card.  Simply place the card chip side on a slot on the machine, and purchase how many trips you want.  Once the transaction is done, remove the card and you’re ready to ride!

Automated machine - Metro

Opus Card recharging

The turnstiles and self-serve machines are the picture of efficienct automation. So French, so elegant.  All passes are implanted with a chip/barcode system.  Just place your pass over the scanner and the turnstile allows instant access.

The winner? La Montreal.  Catch up Toronto.  Tokens are so 1800’s.

Comfort

Toronto: Trains have large interiors, plenty of leg room or available seats.  The biggest perk?  Air conditioning in the sticky height of summer.

Interior Toronto subway

Montreal: No air conditioning, smaller cars, very tight leg room.  Pressing heat from the outdoors is the same level indoors.  I wilted many o’ time.  Date night turned into, “Take a shower and invest in face powder.”

The winner? Toronto.  Air-con is not overrated.

Maps

Toronto: Once you embark on your first subway ride, ask the attendant for a free TTC map.  It’s small enough to tote around in a daypack.  Subway cars also have maps posted, but if I got on at the wrong end, the map was out of sight.  Time where you get on in case you need to refer to a map.

Montreal: Maps galore are EVERYWHERE.  Before you walk down to a platform, once you’re on a platform, at either end of a Metro car.  You seriously can’t get lost, only if directionally challenged (moi, for instance).

The winner? A tie.  Although Metro maps are easy to identify, Toronto is just as accessible, it’s a matter of being aware.  An important trait in travel.

TTC Transfer (Toronto)

Conclusion

Both transit systems will get you where you need to go.  But for overall usability and ease, Montreal’s Metro is more superior.  Toronto has a fussy system with the tokens, even how their transfers work.  You can only utilize a transfer at the destination station when getting on a bus.  I was verbally slapped by a bus driver for trying to use a transfer that should have been used a few blocks back.  I’ve never been scolded for walking before!  I will say, their transfers are free without time limits, so that is a plus.  The TTC website isn’t overly straightforward.  Trying to do a basic map search proved annoying.  When googling the STM (Metro) website, you can get a map and fare info lighting quick.  And they’ve integrated technology so well that even your grandmother can work the Opus Card.

TTC (Toronto): www3.ttc.ca.

STM (Montreal): www.stm.info.

Photo: abdallah

By |September 17th, 2010 |Categories: Montreal, Toronto |17 Comments