Camping on Maligne Lake

Camping on Maligne Lake is the ideal way to experience Spirit Island, one of the most popular attractions in Jasper National Park which frequently lands on “Most Photographed Places in Canada” lists.  Tourists come to Canada from all over the world see this tiny island.  Set against a backdrop of turquoise water and surrounded by massive glacier capped mountains, it’s hard to blame them.

Most opt for a 90 minute boat tour that drops you off at a view point where you get a hurried 15 minutes to soak in the view and snap as many pictures as you can.  As we began researching it quickly became clear that not only was this an Alberta Bucket List destination, but that the most Zen way to enjoy this world class sight would be to paddle the length of the lake  and camp along the way.  No doing things the easy way in a tourist boat for us! Continue reading “Camping on Maligne Lake”

Winter Zen at Emerald Lake

Emerald Lake in British Columbia is an enchanting destination in both winter and summer although it is often overshadowed by its more famous counterparts such as Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. While the crowds flock to Banff National Park in Alberta, those in the know head further afield to Yoho National Park, near Field BC, roughly an hour west of Banff along the TransCanada Highway. While not in Alberta, we decided it should be included in our Alberta Bucketlist because it is something extraordinary that can be visited on a weekend trip from Calgary or Banff.

Where to Stay at Emerald Lake

A site as captivating as Emerald Lake deserves equally exquisite lodging to round out the experience, and nowhere is more worthy than Emerald Lake Lodge. This iconic hotel is serious about allowing you to get away from it all.   There is no cell phone reception in the rooms, no Wifi (except at the lodge itself), and the rooms do not have TVs.  Instead, most rooms offer wood burning fireplaces, at the lodge itself there is a bar made of salvaged wood from an 1890s Yukon saloon, there is an outdoor hot tub with a view on the premises, and a few excellent restaurants, including one right on the lake.   Continue reading “Winter Zen at Emerald Lake”

Local Zen

Aside from a short jaunt to California to visit an old friend, we at Zen Travellers have been staying pretty local this year. In light of the sticker shock we experienced in the US after the Canadian dollar sunk, a wedding to plan, and bigger travel plans on the horizon, we’ve taken to trying to make the most out of our local surroundings. Luckily for us, Alberta and its environs deliver in spades.

Continue reading “Local Zen”

Zen Revisited

“I haven’t been everywhere but it’s on my list.” – Susan Sontag

Travel can lead to conflicting emotions and priorities. Consider the oft repeated Susan Sontag quote above and what it inspires. Most travellers know that it’s hard not to agree wholeheartedly with Sontag and want to keep exploring new places for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile they also know that it’s true that there is value in slowing down and savoring their surroundings in the present. That is the Zen way after all. But instead of being diametrically opposed, these conflicting priorities can be reconciled in order to achieve travel Zen.

Continue reading “Zen Revisited”

Stone Cold Zen – Embracing Canadian Winters

I wrote recently about how difficult it was to keep my spirits up when I was dealing with a serious knee injury last year. Part of why it was so difficult was because I was unable to do so many of the activities I loved like skiing and hiking. That got me thinking about Canadian winters and how they can be both brutal and beautiful at the same time. West coast winters are very rainy and dreary, but less snowy than other parts. The rest of the country typically experiences sub zero temperatures and big snowfalls. That is, unless it’s an el nino year like this one where winter comes all at once and then melts leaving everything brown and hardly conjuring images of the winter wonderland that people expect Canada to be.

Continue reading “Stone Cold Zen – Embracing Canadian Winters”

Trekking the Rwenzori Mountains in the Rain

Even the most Zen of travellers knows that keeping your spirits up in bad weather can be challenging. Especially if you are cold and wet, physically tired, mentally exhausted, or experiencing any other common travel-related ailment. Yet more often than not there are hard-won views, memorable experiences or at the very least, an important lesson to learn to make continuing on worthwhile.  This was the case when we went trekking Uganda’s Rwenzori Mountains in the rain.  
 

Continue reading “Trekking the Rwenzori Mountains in the Rain”

How we Made our Travel Dreams Come True in 2014

2014 was a banner year for us at Zen Travellers. Hard work, and deliberate and consistent budgeting meant that we were able to make one of our biggest travel dreams come true: a five week adventure in East Africa.

I had been dreaming of going back to Africa since my first time there in 2010. I had spent 5 months working in West Africa, and a month in Morocco touring around after my contract was over. The experience was incredible, but I still wanted to see the Big 5 on safari, watch the Great Migration, track gorillas in the jungle and watch more majestic African sunsets.

Sunsets like this (oh can I please go back??)

Unfortunately, I had that pesky grown-up business of student debt to pay off, monthly bills to pay and a retirement that hopefully involves a lot of travel to save for. When I returned to Canada from Africa the first time, I was broke having just finished grad school and not being paid exceptionally well during my internship. Still, I knew I had to get back, so I took contract job after contract job until I landed something permanent. After Philip successfully got me addicted to the insanely fun, but expensive sport of downhill skiing, I returned the favour by infecting him with the even-more-expensive travel bug. Together, we made a plan to scrimp and save as much as we could in order to make our travel dreams come true. At the same time we made sure to get out and enjoying the Canadian Rockies as much as possible since mountains make us insanely happy and too strict of budgets fail. Luckily for us, hiking and cross-country skiing are practically free. Downhill skiing on the other hand, requires some creative budgeting at times.

If you’re happy and you know it, put your tips up!

Our first order of business was to pay down our student debts, which we achieved in 2013. I had been making monthly payments as much as $1500 to pay it down as soon as possible. Every windfall from a bonus or gift or selling my car went straight to my student loans. Once they were paid off, I was used to living on less than my whole paycheque so I simply transferred equal amounts into savings.

Philip on the other hand, likes spreadsheets and percentages which he’ll likely do a guest post about sometime, so he saved by having a certain percentage taken directly off his paycheque every two weeks.

Other methods we used to save money for trips were:

1) Booking travel on points:
I had a mass of Air Miles that I had been collecting for ages and never put to use. So in 2013, I was able to fly to Winnipeg for a wedding, to Los Angeles to see the Rolling Stones and to Arizona for a family reunion for just the taxes and fees. These little, inexpensive trips satisfied my travel bug without breaking the bank, and I could continue to put money into savings for our East Africa 2014 dream trip. Another example is Philip used his Capital One Aspire MasterCard  to buy his flights to Africa and was reimbursed over $700.

Hiking in the Superstition Mountains in Arizona: a budget activity. 

2) You know those friends who say you can stay on their couch? Take them up on that: 
In 2013, we flew to Ottawa during the summer to enjoy Ottawa Bluesfest and Montreal Jazz Fest. A friend of mine from grad school had offered her couch numerous times and we finally took her up on it. By having somewhere inexpensive to stay, we were able to enjoy the festival and have a wonderful visit with our friends in Canada’s capital which is delightful in the summer. In the absence of a nice friend’s couch, try AirBnB or even Couch Surfing. As Ottawa Bluesfest spans almost two weeks, we saved vacation days for our African adventure by working from “home” during the weekdays which worked out perfect since most shows didn’t start until after 5pm.

3) The early bird gets the discount: 
Booking early is also a way to save money on travel as well. For example, we saved $75 each on our Bluesfest tickets by buying them early and our train between Ottawa and Montreal was only $50. If we had waited, the cheaper seats would have been sold out. When planning our East African adventure, we also saved over $100 by prepaying for our SCUBA lessons too.

4) DIY everything: 
It is amazing how much money you can save by doing things yourself. Whether it’s making your own meals or getting around East Africa on your own, DIY is one of the best ways to save money for travel and while travelling. For example, during our 5 weeks in East Africa we only spent a week and half on an organized tour. Although it meant a lot of research and planning on our part, we were able to spend 5 glorious, action-filled weeks in Zanzibar, Uganda and Kenya for what one tour operator would have charged us for 3 weeks in only Uganda. Personally, another benefit of DIY is that I feel a certain satisfaction from finding my own way around.

One drawback of DIY travel: this can be your view for several hours. 

5) Travel during shoulder season:
Travelling during shoulder season can also be a way to save money on trips. We made it to one of my favourite places on Earth, Whitefish Montana, twice during 2014 shoulder seasons. Prices for accommodations were substantially less in May and we were able to go hiking in Glacier National Park before the trails were cleared of snow in Alberta. Later, in November we celebrated Philip’s birthday at a VRBO condo right on the mountain for half of what it costs during the peak seasons. Saving on these little getaways meant that we didn’t have to hold back during our big East African adventure and caught the Great Migration, even though that meant travelling in Kenya during expensive peak season.

Amazing early season hiking in Glacier National Park

Now for 2015, we are planning on using a lot of the same tactics to make this year’s travel dreams come true. They include a week in Cuba, skiing in Colorado and Northern California, hiking in the Grand Canyon if we get a permit, and Lollapalooza if we can get tickets. So much to look forward to!

How do you make your travel dreams come true?