Magic is a midnight lightning storm – Switzerland Part 2

Magic is a midnight lightning storm – Switzerland Part 2

You know when you’re reading a book or watching a movie and something absolutely magical happens that literally gives you tingles? And you sit there in complete awe of how beautiful the universe can be, thinking about how you’d love for things like that to happen way more often in real life?

I believe these magical moments are all around us, all the time, and we just have to keep our eyes open to see them. They can even come in the form of really small/mundane things like not getting a ticket even through you left your car parked illegally for hours at a time, or finding a pair of jeans that actually feel comfortable, or maybe just witnessing the barista getting your order right for once at Starbucks.  Maybe you’re really moved by Christmas lights, or gingerbread, or snow, and you love the whimsical energy that December inevitably brings. Whatever your magic, I know I’m not the only one that celebrates these little day-to-day victories, but I want to tell you about one of the more grandiose victories that I experienced on my recent jaunt through Europe, so let’s go back to Switzerland again.

One of the main reasons we decided to start in Switzerland (because it’s crazy to start there in the land of everything-is-more-expensive-than-you’ve-ever-seen-it) is because of a waterline tour that was taking place. What’s that, you ask?  The waterline tour is this beautiful gathering of slack liners from all over the world who come together to (you guessed it!) slackline! The difference being that these lines are rigged over water. You get on, fall off, get wet, level up, meet new friends, and experience a week of infinite adventure. When you’re not from Switzerland, that sense of adventure is amped up 100 fold and reinforced by how beautiful the landscape is. Honestly, it’s so surreal. Let me show you what I mean, just take a look at how gorgeous this place is…

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This enchanting place is called Sion– it’s surrounded by mountains and decorated by not one, but two castles. It was our first stop on the tour and the place where we pitched our tent for the first (of many) nights. Being there felt like being at camp and also a little awkward for me because I felt like the new kid tossed in amongst a bunch of old friends… because I was. To be honest I’m a bit of a shy person, especially in overwhelming groups where everyone knows each other except me. Having said that, people were beyond welcoming and lovely, and even though I was a bit out of sorts I knew I was amongst a wonderful group of people.

On the third day we were there we decided to take the train into town to do a little exploring and take a peak at one of the castles. Being from Canada, I was beyond excited to get a look at some castles…those things that people used to build, but don’t anymore, and don’t exist in North America. It’s all part of the Eurotrip, you know?

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We wandered through town and trekked up and up and up the hill toward the castle. Since this was the first week of the trip, I was just brimming with energy and stopping every few metres to snap a million photos. The trek was harder than you might think, made harder by the fact that the sun was swelteringly hot, but the reward was incredible…

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As I sit here back in my apartment a few months later, reliving this day, I can’t help but feel swept away by just how extraordinary it really was. Thinking of the me from that day, knowing now all the wild and crazy things that were to come, I just feel really proud of myself for finally making a trip like this happen. And this place, this moment, feels like the start of it all. This was magic and magic enough, but it wasn’t even the moment that I was talking about earlier. Yes! It goes on.

After we were done in town we headed back to camp for what was to be our last evening in Sion before moving onto Flims. That’s when we ran into one of our first obstacles: getting there. With no car, and a small budget, and not knowing anyone, this was proving to be tricky. The trouble was that taking the train wasn’t really an option. Well, it wasn’t a good option. Taking the train in Switzerland will drain your pocket faster than you can say please don’t. We discovered that when we initially tried to get to Sion from Zurich, which was far and beyond what we fathomed spending (we ended up taking a blablacar instead). And the trouble was worse because even if we could resort to the train, which we couldn’t, there’s no direct route from Sion to Flims. You have to go all the way back to Zurich first and around because of the mountain passes that prevent a train from being able to run in that direction.

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As you can see it’s just ridiculous to go around– even if you can afford it. Much better to go straight through if you can. We had to ask around and try to find a ride from the many strangers at our camp, most of whom already had full cars, whether with humans or slackline equipment.

It seemed like we were out of luck. My boyfriend kept wandering around trying to see if anyone could squeeze us in, and I went online to try to find us another blablacar, wondering if it was time for us to try our hand at hitchhiking…

When I saw my boyfriend returning I could read on his face immediately that something was up.

“I have good news and bad news,” he said, “I found us rides, but not together. I’ll be leaving tomorrow morning, and you’ll be leaving in about 20 minutes.”

I was a bit taken aback by that. I mean, we only had one tent… if I went that night where was I going to sleep? If I take the tent where does he sleep? Generally I just wasn’t happy about the situation because I think it’s best to stick together and we had only been abroad for a few days, not long enough to feel comfortable just yet. But, thinking about it- hitchhiking wasn’t really an option. Neither was the train. Walking was definitely out, so… that was pretty much that. We started googling reasonably priced hotels (which so far as I know do not exist in Switzerland)  for me to stay at for one night. I packed up all my stuff and walked across the campground to meet the people I would be traveling with to Flims. There was a group traveling together that night, probably about 4 vehicles full of people, and luckily for me, there was space in one of the vans for me to squeeze into. Introductions were made and we started talking about departure, etc. That’s when one of the guys said to me,

“By the way, we’re not going all the way to Flims tonight, we’ll be wild camping and driving the rest of the way there tomorrow.”

………

but… I don’t have a tent.” I said meekly.

and he just said, “No worries, we’ll sort you out.”

At this point I was pretty nervous. I mean I had that one rogue camping adventure which I thoroughly enjoyed, but that was with my boyfriend and two of our best friends, and in my own tent. This was driving through the swiss alps in the middle of the night with a group of strangers, without my boyfriend, having none of my own equipment, with no mobile communication, and sleeping I-didn’t-know-where in I-didn’t-know-what. The stress is understandable, right?  But, that was the situation so I gave them my bag, kissed my boyfriend goodbye, and got in the van.

Off we went, driving through the swiss alps in the middle of the night in a great big van. It was too dark for me to see anything, which I regretted, but as the night went on it started to rain and we found ourselves driving through one of the most tremendous lightning storms I’d ever seen. After many hours of this, the group (all the cars) took a little stop at the top of one of the mountain passes. The rain had subsided somewhat and everyone was deciding where we would sleep. We were in an oddball parking lot of a restaurant which had long since closed as it was probably around 1 or 2 in the morning at this time. With the rain relenting somewhat, everyone took the opportunity to get out of the car and stretch their legs. The parking lot overlooked the town below which was crested in valley and which, I imagined, showcased an enormously stunning view during the day. I walked over to the edge to look into the darkness in front of me, and what came next was the magical moment.

It was the lightning. It was like nothing I had ever seen. Each strike was wild and bold, and every time they burst out of the sky they cast a fleeting blaze of light over the valley below such that I could see the buildings and shape of it all. Flash after flash ignited like this, allowing me one of the most unique viewing experiences of a place I’d ever seen. It was captivating. Everyone was drawn in by the sheer magnificence of the show, and we all stood there admiring it. I was shivering somewhat from the cold so one of the guys came over to me and, without saying a word, cocooned me in a sleeping bag that he was already sharing with someone else. The three of us huddled together on that mountain and watched the sky explode. All was silent except for the the roar of the thunder, and the sound of the rain as it began to creep back in. It gave me all the tingles.

I think that one will go down in my memory bank hall of fame.

Thanks for reading guys, I know it was a long one. Hope you enjoyed.

xoxo

 

Let’s go back to Switzerland

Let’s go back to Switzerland

I’ve been home from my grand European adventure for almost a month now. In the last three weeks I’ve started three new jobs, gotten a year older, and donated even more of my apartment to charity (forever en route to minimalism). I’ve slipped gracefully(?) back into Toronto life– aka big-city-life aka sirens-never-stop-life aka never-see-the-stars-life aka it’s-actually-okay-here-life.

I usually find it a little difficult to adjust to my regular world after being away for so long (I was gone for over two months!) but this time it was rather unremarkable. Instead of being all ~woooowww I’m home! How novel~ I was just like –oh yeah. This is Toronto. Okay-

This morning I ran out of soap in the shower and it was time to bust open the last remaining piece of my adventure– a bar soap I purchased in Cologne, Germany. As far as I’m concerned I’m still overseas in my heart so long as the soap remains….

maybe that’s a little out there. But hey! This is my inner dialogue and I can pretend, okay!

Alright… let’s go back to the beginning.

On August 26th I was hastily cramming my new backpack full of what I thought was necessary for two months of life on the road. I went through my mental checklist– clothes, toiletries, tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, collapsible pillow– seemingly I was good. My boyfriend was a lot more confident in our packing abilities than I was, and so he waited patiently for me to say “oh but!” and “wait! what about” at least a few dozen times as we were preparing to leave.

We were subletting the apartment for two months to a couple from the UK who were miraculously a lot like us. The girl was around my age and we connected on some very key points so I felt pretty confident leaving my place in her care. I gave her my key and she said,

Okay, bye! Happy Travels!

Thus I left my home to be someone else’s home for a while, and I sauntered off to the airport weighing much more than I usually do when I leave my front door. As I mentioned a while back, this was to be my first ever proper backpacking trip. I was mostly excited, although somewhat unnerved… I mean, what was waiting for me across the pond? So many doubts running through my head: Can I really make this work for two whole months? What if I run out of money so fast that I can’t afford to eat and I end up sleeping in my backpack on some unknown European street, unable even to ask for help because I can’t speak the local language!? Oh god.

Despite these nagging doubts I actually went into this trip with a healthy attitude– I knew it wasn’t always going to be pleasant or easy (I was right), but I also knew the adventure would teach me so much (also right).

After checking in and with our burdensome backpacks vanquished into the ether it was time to board and get ready for one of the least pleasant parts of traveling… the dreaded flight. We were scheduled to land in Zurich around 8:30 in the morning, which I think is pretty brutal. I’d much rather land just before bedtime so I could sleep and adjust to the time difference. The thought of landing after an exhausting flight and then having to face a brand new day was a bit daunting. But hey, maybe I could sleep on the plane. I once slept through an entire flight (Auckland to Calgary) from beginning to end. Maybe flight miracles can happen twice?

 

Though our faces and hearts were optimistic, it was not to be…

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Somewhere, way up high in the sky, amidst this beautiful and seemingly zen window seat view, I got yelled at by the woman in front of me as I was innocently trying to sleep.

I think most people can agree how agonising it is to sleep on planes. No matter what you do there is absolutely no way to get a good night’s sleep or even moderately enjoy yourself. *inhale* You flip through inane magazines, watch movies you don’t really care to watch, half-heartedly read a book, or play chess with the computer and when all of that inevitably fails to entertain you, you toss and turn and pray to the universe that you might get just a small sliver of shut-eye, even though body part after body part is falling torturously to sleep and everything you ever learned about your breath and meditation is coming up short until there you are – somewhere in the sky in no man’s land – questioning your entire life and wondering how you ever found yourself on this god forsaken plane in the first place. *exhale*

Or at least that’s how it is for me.

So back to this woman… at some point during all of this turmoil I suppose I accidentally bumped her chair as I was shifting between uncomfortable positions, and where most people would feel a slight sting of annoyance and shrug it off, she decided to turn around over top of her chair to aggressively poke me and wake me up.

“You kicked my chair,” she just about yelled.

It was apparent that I had ruined her holiday before she even landed at her destination.

I was a bit dazed, but I immediately apologised and told her it wasn’t on purpose. I think most everyone in the world would understand, but no…

You’re making it so I can’t sleep!!” she exclaimed, and then she just stood there looming over me with hatred in her frazzled looking eyes, waiting for a more satisfying response.

So I said, “Yes, well I can’t either because there’s a crazy woman yelling at me…”

….

..

.

Okay I didn’t really say that. I took the boring road and just said I would be more mindful which I guess she accepted because she finally turned around and slumped angrily back down into her chair. But jeez it was a really awkward situation. I mean if I kick your chair, and you yell at me, and I earnestly apologise, then… what more do you want from me? Should I sing you a lullaby? Guide you into savasana? Prostrate myself at your feet? What?

Anyways there wasn’t much getting back to sleep after that, but it didn’t matter. The hours went by and we would be touching down soon enough. Switzerland was finally in sight through the plane window, and that little magical feeling was beginning to set in.

It was happening.

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There’s not much to say about that first day, it was all a bit of a haze. One thing I can say with confidence is that I took the world’s best nap which more than made up for the grind of the flight. We were lucky enough to stay at a friend’s apartment who was out of town, so we had a cozy bed, a kitchen, and a base to make the most of the first day– which was mostly wandering as you might expect.

Zurich is a lovely city with some really nice architecture and even nicer canals. Also, the day had literally PERFECT weather. Clear skies and bright sun. It was so hot and I was so glad I decided to pack shorts, although it turned out to be one of only three or so days where shorts were acceptable attire, and the rest of the time they just took up space. Another thing we learned that day which we had to relearn every week thereafter– grocery stores in Switzerland are closed on Sundays, and many restaurants as well. Just doesn’t happen where I’m from.

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When we finally felt tired from our long day, we decided to hang out with some ducks and get our feet wet in the water…

Well that pretty much sums up day one.. so that’s one down and another sixty or so to write about.

Have a great weekend everyone! xo

there and back again

there and back again

Hello friends!

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Maybe some of you thought I died on my travels, or maybe you thought I’d given up on blogging… more than likely no one has thought of it at all! But I’m here, I’m back! I didn’t die– although I came close a couple times. When I say I came close I mean in the most hyperbolic way possible, of course. Although you might think you were close to death as well if you wandered through a forest in Denmark and ran into this:

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It was the first of a few menacing mannequins/possibly demons(?) that made me think I was in the middle of a horror movie…

but then nothing happened. Still, what an adventure two months in Europe was! I think I took more than 2000 photos. So many things happened, I met so many people and I learned so much. I can’t wait to share the adventure with you all.  I’ve been readjusting to regular life in Toronto for the last two weeks and though I’ve been keen to start writing, I’ve also been busy trying to get some new projects off the ground here.

Now the most important question: how are you guys doing? Tell me things! Write me an email! Post a picture! Link me to your blog! I want to catch up 🙂

xo

Europe bound

Europe bound

My gut reaction to being overwhelmed with things to do is to do absolutely nothing.

I can’t tell if this is a productive way to handle my stress, and by that of course I mean it’s the worst way to handle my stress. Instead of doing what needs to be done I play a smoke and mirrors kind of a game with myself whereby I convince myself that I have more than enough time to do everything that needs to be done, even when it’s obvious I don’t. This gives me a lot of time to watch videos of baby elephants sitting on people’s laps and/or figuring out what to do with those adorable little trunks dangling from their faces, yet doesn’t really help me sort out the pesky to-dos.

This is a pretty exciting week for me, my boyfriend and I are preparing to go on a two month adventure around Europe, backpacking style. The words you’re reading right now are not actually written by a human but rather by an exploding ball of hysterical energy. I can’t wait to get started, but in the meantime my to-do list is just kind of… a lot.  You see this is not a trip we’ve had planned for any length of time, but rather a whimsical what-if that turned into a very committed and fairly long escapade which we didn’t really intend. We have lots of ideas and a few solid plans, but a lot of the trip is left open for wherever the wind blows us. That’s kinda what I love about it!

Now I’m trying to organise everything that I could possibly need for two months into a 60L backpack while also packing away all my belongings and preparing my apartment for sublet. Therein lies the stress, because apparently before I can have any fun I have to have a healthy dose of non-fun as a means of keeping all the wonderful parts in check. For example, I don’t really know what kind of weather to expect so I ought to prepare clothes for varying circumstances, yes? But I also don’t want to carry anything that I won’t use, and as I’ve never done the backpacking thing before I’m just scratching my head at what I could possibly need that I’m not thinking of. Are there any seasoned backpackers out there with any tips for me? Please share if so!

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Obviously I’m going to be sharing all of the best/worst/in between bits of the adventure here. And of course I’ll be bringing a journal for all the poems that may find their way into my head.

I’m always hearing that you should follow your bliss, and slowly I’m working out what that means to me and going for it. Right now it feels like I need to be traveling, so that’s what I’ll do.

Happy hump day, everyone!

 

Ziplining through Mexico

Ziplining through Mexico

A discovery I’ve made about myself in the last year or so is that I absolutely love having an adrenaline rush.

It was never the case when I was a kid or even a teenager. In fact when my family went to Canada’s Wonderland when I was very young I distinctly remember feeling overwhelmed at the idea of being on even the tamest rides. Seriously. I was standing behind my parents in line for one of those rides where you’re sitting in a little pod that lifts you up and spins you around upside down (you stay in by momentum). It’s a ride that isn’t even that interesting, let alone scary, but I can recall with great detail being a little girl in that line. The fear, the terror, the panic setting in as we inched closer and closer to the front of the line. It didn’t seem to matter how many smiling faces I observed from other park patrons, I ended up bawling at the prospect of actually getting on that ride and in the end I opted to just watch my parents go on. There I was, a little redheaded girl crying lamely as this gentle baby ride whirled her parents around for a gripping and worrisome 2 minutes. Afterward they took me on one of those old wooden roller coasters to show me how fun they could be and that there was nothing to be afraid of, and that thing was so wildly out of control to me that it only solidified my aversion to thrill rides and adrenaline sports for essentially my entire childhood.

Fast forward to now, and that couldn’t be more different. I love roller coasters, sling shot rides, sky diving, giant swing rides, hell even just regular swings. You don’t get much of an adrenaline rush on a park swing but I still love it. That little bit of weightlessness is very relaxing and enjoyable to me. When I was traveling around New Zealand back in November I would always go and swing in the campsite playground as my brother and father took care of all the campervan chores. One particular campsite had this miniature zipline and I probably rode that thing, no joke, about 15 times. Probably would have done it more if not for a bunch of actual kids showing up and spoiling my fun. I never managed to have a proper ziplining adventure in New Zealand, though it was something I wanted to do, so when Pam and I were in Mexico last month and I saw that zip-lining was on the list of potential activities I thought now is the time.

Fortunately for me Pam is very adventurous and easy going so it was not at all hard to convince her to go like it was to convince my brother in NZ. We took some time off from lazing around on the beach and flipped our way through some catalogues. We found an adventure that seemed to work well for us: it boasted various ziplines that take you through the mexican jungle (including the longest in Mexico — the superman), as well as some offroading UTV fun, and even a random water slide.

Normally these tours are provided to fairly large groups and take about 6 hours, but Pam and I were lucky enough to be guided on a private tour for two and so we finished in less than half that time.
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Upon arrival we were taken through a brief orientation by our tour guides, going over the basics of the equipment and safety. The most important thing for us of course is to get the basics of the hand signals so we could understand how to get from one end to the other without getting stuck. Which I can’t imagine happens too often.

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The circuit they take you through provides some pretty fun mission impossible type activities. We rappelled, climbed a woven ladder, and then shimmied our way awkwardly across a rope (above). Which, to be honest, was the most worrisome part of the day for me.

Next up was the UTV adventure, which Pam took the wheel for.

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Pam’s huge smile and my look of concern makes me laugh every time. We only nearly toppled over once. Not too bad for our first off roading experience.

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After that you take a little hike up to the Superman, the longest zipline in mexico where they lay you on your belly, load you up with weights and then send you careening off a cliff at 100 km/h to sail overtop the jungle.

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You can’t even see the landing zone from up there.

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As you can imagine it’s very exciting. You really feel a bit like you’re flying, and the views of the forest are obviously beautiful.

So that was our fun adventure day. Something to do when you need a break from playing in the ocean or lying on the beach.

If you’ve ever thought about going I’d highly recommend it.

Have any of you ever been? Experiences?

Thanks for reading! xo

Ola is the funnest form of hello

Ola is the funnest form of hello

When I came home from Mexico last weekend, even though I had only been for a week, I found myself wanting to say “Ola!” to literally everyone I saw.

It’s official, Ola is my favourite ‘hello’ word from any language. It outshines any english form (hey, hi, hello [yawn fests]), french form (bonjour, salut), italian form (ciao, salve), chinese form (ni hao), or japanese form (konnichiwa, moshi moshi) that I know. [I mean, moshi moshi is fun but it’s only applicable over the phone so you can’t just say it while you’re walking around, you know?]

I realise that this is just a small sampling of the languages available on earth, but these are the ones that I happen to know off the top of my head.  I love trying to speak in other languages, so anytime I get to travel somewhere where they don’t speak English is a real treat. I know some people feel nervous about speaking in other languages, and it’s totally understandable. So many fumbles will happen when you are trying to convey your meaning in another language, but I actually love the challenge and the resulting hilarity that can ensue from misunderstandings. (I have many of these stories from my time in Japan.) But this post is about Spanish, not Japanese!

My knowledge of Spanish is so completely basic, previous to this last year I only knew Ola, gracias, and cómo estás. Back in September I spent 2 weeks in Peru where I learned a teensy bit more. Just a few crucial things like “Tienes leche de soya?” (do you have soy milk? truly important), “¿Dónde está?” (where is ____? not as important as the last one, but still useful), “un poquito” (a little)… and that’s pretty much it. What’s amazing, though, is how many times I went out of my way to speak just those few sentences.

For example, walking around the town of Puerto Vallarta, I went out of my way to ask people where things were, even when I knew the answer.

Permitame senor/senorita, dónde está Starbucks?
Permitame senor/senorita, dónde está la Catedral?
Permitame senor/senorita, dónde está Planeta Vegetarianos?
Permitame senor/senorita, dónde está el Plaza?
or a few times at my resort:
Permitame senor/senorita, dónde está chips de plátano? (Where are the banana chips?! Seriously, they kept moving them around on me.)

“Tu hablas español?” they would ask, to which I would always reply, “ci! un poquito!” Then they would proceed to answer my question with more Spanish, explaining the location.  At the end of the explanation when I was stood scratching my head and staring blankly back at them, they would repeat again, slower, and with more gestures… because clearly I don’t speak even a little Spanish. But still, it’s fun to pretend and to try.

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Ola, boardwalk!
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Ola, catedral! Found you
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Ola, lord!
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Ola, Senor!
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Ola, ocean!
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Ola, puppy! (Cuddling is a universal language for cute puppies)
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Ola, kitty!

Spanish is certainly a fun language to speak, so it’s no wonder that in my head walking down the street in chilly Toronto I am saying “ola!” to everyone. Even when I was around other English speakers in Mexico I would say ola and gracias. It’s infectious in my brain, like my brain wants to be rewired into Spanish.

Which languages do you guys like to speak other than English? Even poorly! Do you get nervous speaking in another language? Which ones sound the nicest to you? And most importantly, what’s your favourite form of hello?

Most languages are prettier than English, don’t you think? (Sorry, English.)

Happy hump day, everyone. 🙂

The road taken – surprise week in Mexico

The road taken – surprise week in Mexico

I was woken up by a text message from my best friend in Calgary a couple weeks ago. I was a bit dazed from a rough sleep and it was still early morning, my body was protesting heavily as I rolled over and squinted at the blazing light of my phone screen to read her message:

“I’m planning to get away next week, do you want to come to Mexico?” it said.

Yeah right, I thought. Wouldn’t that be nice?  I responded very bluntly and swiftly: I can’t, sorry.

Because I couldn’t, you know? I have work, life in Toronto… it’s obviously too last minute… all that jazz. Plus, I’m sure she’s not serious. We’ve talked about running away for a trip together for ages but we’ve never made it happen so surely it wasn’t about to happen this time. I put the thought out of my mind and went about my day.

Later I was in my car and was overtaken by a dawning epiphany. Actually, I CAN go to Mexico next week. Why not? You only live once, Heather, so go to Mexico with your best friend! You’ve never been, and the two of you haven’t travelled together since you were children.

I messaged her at the next available opportunity my new realisation. Let’s make it happen. Now is the time for our beach holiday.

I said to her I’d go wherever she thought was nice. Bless her, she took care of EVERYTHING- coordinated our flights so that we’d land around the same time, booked our room, did all of the grunt work with our travel agent. All I had to do was wire her my share of the money when all was said and done and be on the plane when it took off. I can’t love my bestie enough.

I’ve decided I love spontaneous travel, I wish it could happen way more often. This is certainly the most last minute trip I have ever taken. Instead of spending last week bundled up in grey, cold Toronto, I was in a bikini admiring sunsets by the ocean in Puerto Vallarta…

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I think I made the right choice. Sand between my toes, spanish on my tongue, my best friend who I never get to see at my side, a drink in my hand… life is full of beautiful surprises. I love each year more and more.

Do any of you guys have spontaneous travel/roadtrip stories? Share them in the comment section!

 

 

I wrote this for The Daily Prompt, check it out if you’re interested in submitting your own.

PS you can see more photos of my trip on my instagram!