Friday, 17 January 2014

Traveling Abroad - A Note About Airbnb

Quite a few people have been curious about where my husband and I stayed during our 6 1/2 week long Euro trip this summer. He was planning the flights and train trips between each destination, a BIG task since we visited over twenty cities! So I was in charge of the accommodation. We assumed we would be staying in hostels and I started picking out ones we liked through a site called hostelworld. After picking out, but yet to book, hostels for about 1/3 of the locations, my husband bumped in to a site called Airbnb. Airbnb is an online service that allows people to rent out their apartments, condos, rooms, entire homes, boathouses, and I've seen some campers, cabins and boats.

The Airbnb site is easy to use, informative, interactive, visual and has a sense of security. The secure feeling comes from the Trust and Verification Process which requires you to: belong to more than one social media, scan in your passport and another piece of ID, and have information about yourself confirming your identity - making others feel at ease.

Airbnb kitchen in Gothenburg, Sweden.
We booked a total of 13 places with Airbnb and each stay was between 2-3 nights. Not knowing what the experience would be like before hand, we were very pleased with how it turned out. Almost every place we visited was exactly like the pictures and descriptions on the Airbnb website. The people were all very friendly, some being fellow travelers themselves. Some places were a bit more like bachelor pads, others you appreciated the special additions by the host.

Airbnb stairwell in Vienna, Austria.
The key things we liked about the Airbnb service were the prices and the secure feeling of the interactive website. Also contributing to the community aspect and secureness are the reviews and ratings. Shortly after you stay at a persons place you are expected to leave a review, along with ratings, for other travelers to review before they book. A plus side for the owners of said places? They get to review their guests! Very helpful for the next host.

Airbnb front entrance in Stockholm, Sweden. 
A downside to this way of traveling would be the research and time it takes to book ahead. Reviewing apartments and picking your favorite depending on location, price and amenities. This can be a big task, especially in large cities since there are so many apartments available. But if you like to plan ahead, are good with directions and feel comfortable in others homes, we would definitely recommend Airbnb for your accommodations.

Happy Travels!

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Euro Trip Packing reflections - clothes

After researching backpacks for our vacation, another subject I made sure to research extensively was what clothes to bring on a summer Euro trip. Between conflicting advice about what works, what doesn't, what brand is better, what you don't need to squander your money on, what is important to spend the big $$$ on and buying everything ahead of time to test it out, I felt like I was going in circles a bit. Fortunately the last tip did me wonders. The more I bought ahead of time and tried out, the more I knew what suited me best and I learned from the experience.

Top tips when purchasing/packing travel clothes and items. I recommend bringing or buying the following:
  • Clothes that don't wrinkle easily, but if you do, something with a pattern or fringe that hides creases
  • Items that wash easily and dry fairly quickly
  • Clothing that absorbs or doesn't show much sweat 
  • Comfortable clothes that appear neat and tidy 
  • Consider a light pair of jeans that dry quickly, even though some travelers advise against it, for the comfort fact, I was glad I did
  • Stick to a basic color palette that is easily interchangeable and flattering
  • If you need new shoes, buy your shoes ahead of time and break them in

Instead of writing a packing list, since there are so many available, I decided to reflect on what I'm glad I brought, what I wish I left behind and what I wished I packed, minus any obvious essentials.

What I am glad I brought and why
  • scarfdresses up casual travel day outfits 
  • dark colored jeanscomfy, light weight, easy to hand wash
  • casual cotton t-shirts - comfy, light weight, easy to hand wash
  • ruffled polyester tank top - absorbs sweat, doesn't show shape, dries quick,
  • cotton zip up sweater - for travel days, cold weather, layering
  • leggings (3/4 length & full) - under dresses on cold days & flowy shirts
  • cotton black shorts - for hot travel days, the beach, or a night in 
  • polyester PJ shorts - doubled as casual shorts or for under a short dress
  • short acrylic dress - for hot exploring days and over leggings on cooler days
  • polyester maxi dress - for humid evenings, or in between waxing
  • short polyester dress - hot and humid days, multipurpose, swim cover up
  • white bolero - can go into churches, hides tank top tan
  • 3/4 length cardigan - went with everything but the fabric is rayon - wrinkled :-( 
  • waterproof rain jacket - no liner, matte black color and stays warm (doesn't breath well)
  • thongs/g-strings - take up less space, dry fast
  • strap less bra & 2 reg bras - worth taking 3, don't take up much space
  • no show slip socks - for flats and Toms, prevents foot odor and blisters
  • bathing suit - one was fine         
  • Teva sandals - very comfortable but dressy, easy to break in, great reviews 
  • Toms - comfortable, breathable, although not much grip I had no trouble
  • black flats - needed them in rainy weather, Toms became too dirty
  • chunky necklace - really dresses up a semi-casual outfit 
  • travel wash pack - soap packets for delicates, lint removers, stain spot treatments
  • sink plug - a lot of sinks in Europe don't have plugs 
  • carabiners - for water bottles and keeping day pack safe from pick pocketing
  • Ziploc bags - various sizes - for dirty laundry, small items or leaky toiletries


What I wish I left behind and why
  • swim cover up - can use a dress
  • blue & gold dress - not practical (too flowy)
  • black dress - a bit fancier, didn't use but nice to have as an option
  • took too many under shirts (5) - only needed two
  • too many socks for runners - we ended up not doing any running and only a couple hikes
  • delicate bolero and white blouse - too delicate to wear with a day pack
  • navy 3/4 cardigan - I stuck to black for outer layers
  • black long sleeve cardigan - wore my zip up sweater (more comfortable & durable)
  • sailor shirt - the 100% cotton fabric wrinkled too easy
  • Grey dress pants - OK but could have worn them more, black jeans would have been better
  • money belt - too bulky under clothes, obvious when retrieving or putting away money, easy to lose money

What I wish I had packed and why
  • comfy and light Capri's or pants - good for hot weather but easier to travel in than a dress
  • little black bolero - used the white one a lot, would have been nice to have in another colour
  • portable cutlery and small fold up bowl - for hotels/B&B's without kitchenette
  • crystal light packs - for bad tasting mineral or city water
  • sanitary wipes - for spills, or bathrooms without toilet paper
  • Kleenex - brand of tissues in most of Europe were quite rough
  • mini soap bar & another wash cloth - we brought one cloth, could have used two plus soap
  • tea (a few packets) - better than buying a whole box that you then have to carry

Overall I am quite pleased with how my packing research paid off. My list of what I would have left behind isn't too long and the items it consists of were light weight and small. What I wished I would have packed, I could buy along the way if needed. Buying something along the way is almost always easier than packing every "just in case" item and carrying around WAY too much.

Some of the sites I found useful while researching for our trip:

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Euro Trip Packing Reflections - Backpack

During the planning stage of our Euro trip, I took note of the enormous amount of advice on the web. From packing, to flights, to trains, from what to wear and etiquette, there is so much to offer from travelers who have been there/done that and learned the hard way. I took note that finding a good back pack can really affect your travels and was amazed at the choices available. After many reviews and trying on a few packs, I decided on the Osprey Farpoint 55.

The 55 Litres is made up of two packs. A 40L main pack and a 15L day pack. Having the day pack was very convenient as I used it almost every day. I would only use my purse when we would be out for a short while and could get back to our room easily. Most days we would be out exploring from mid morning to dinner time, and the day pack was always filled with food, water and other essentials. 

There were a few cons with this back pack, but they are small and can be easily overlooked.
The Pros
  • Very good padding on the straps & waist belt
  • Balanced feel when wearing the day pack on the front and the main pack on the back
  • Sturdy all around including: tough fabric, strong hooks and clips, durable zippers (even when packed tight)
  • Contoured shape fit my back nicely, same with day pack
  • Can zip up straps easily and quickly when checking the main pack before a flight
  • Side handle is strong, sturdy and comfortable 
  • Can make a nice seat if needed ;)

The Cons
  • Day pack rubbed on my left arm when I was wearing short sleeves or a dress
  • The main pack shape is a little hard to pack (not much depth), but makes it easy to carry since it's close to your body and doesn't stick out too far
  • could use more pockets for organization, mostly in the day pack as I was constantly in and out trying to find small items

Overall I was, and still am, very happy I chose this back pack. Considering my husband bought the Osprey Porter 65 and found it quite uncomfortable, I am glad I spent the extra $$$. My husband didn't care for the straps on the Osprey Porter 65, they didn't have much padding and weren't contoured to his body very nicely. He and I both chose the Osprey packs due to the fact that they pack like a suitcase. No top loaders on this trip, we knew we were going to be packing and unpacking every 2-3 days and our patience would fall short. 

Packing Cubes, are they worth it?

When researching for our trip I noticed a lot of travelers recommended using packing cubes. Some highly recommended using them, while others used combinations of packing cubes, compression sacs and Ziploc bags. I decided to go with the Ziploc bags before we left, because I like a bargain. And that is the mistake I made, my dad has always said "quality or price, the choice is yours".

We packed up the day before our trip to walk in to town, as per Rick Steves advice, and were also trying to organize everything else before we left. One, we should have done this test at least a week or so in advance and two, I should have left more time to pack knowing not everything I intended to pack was going to fit. This would have given me time to realize that the Ziploc bags were not working, at all. I rolled my clothes, sucked out the air, slid the tab closed and stuffed all the little bags in to the main pack. As I was doing this, slowly the bags would expand with air and I would be opening them back up and sucking the air out. Since Ziplocs are so slippery, it didn't make it easy to fit everything in quickly and easily. I managed to frantically fit most of my stuff in and we walked in to town.

Up until the moment we left the next day, I was still trying to reorganize it all, leaving me with an unsettling feeling coupled with the anticipation of a 6 1/2 week journey. After dealing with the Ziplocs for a few days in London and realizing our next apartment in Amsterdam was near a travel store, I decided to spend the money on packing cubes. And I am SO glad I did!

I decided to go with Eagle Creek packing cubes. Two pack-it cubes, two half pack-it cubes and a toiletries bag. I cannot tell you how much easier this made the whole process. I could fit much more in the packing cubes than I could with the Ziplocs, the shape was better fit to my back pack (flatter) which made packing easier, the fabric wasn't slippery unlike the Ziploc bags so everything sat nicely together and I was able to toss everything in quickly and efficiently in a hurry.

The Osprey Farpoint 55 was made for packing cubes in my opinion, especially if you need every inch of space. If you don't, and aren't going for longer than a couple weeks, you could just fold your clothes as normal instead of rolling. My husband did this with his Osprey Porter 65 since he had room to spare, even though he was carrying a couple pairs of my shoes most of the trip...:)

I would recommend this back pack for travelling in summer months, and if you are travelling by trains and planes. If you are planning to camp, it may not be the best option as there are so many other packs suited to campers. We didn't do any camping, neither did we stay in hotels or hostels. We used an amazing service called Airbnb in which people rent out their apartments, condos, houses, rooms and I have also seen some boats and campers!

Hope this post helps anyone thinking of purchasing this backpack. All in all, it was a success!

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The Rest of Our Euro Trip

I thought I would be writing a few more posts about the food during our Europe trip. We dined in quite a bit more after London, Amsterdam and Scandinavia to save money, and I ran out of steam a bit to take photos...or sometimes forgot to. I still can't believe all that travelling is over. I realized today that I have more places I want to visit than before we left. I wouldn't have imagined that I would be adding so many more places to the bucket list. I guess that's why I have always heard travelers talk about how addicting it can be. 

A very sad banana in Nîmes, France. My husband says "French bananas are so dramatic". 

We packed a small lunch and snacks and headed to the amazing Pont Du Gard in Nîmes. We jumped in the freezing cold water after walking around in the heat for an hour or so. It took my husband a long time to convince me to jump in, and rightfully so! I didn't expect the water to be so cold. Very refreshing...

We didn't get to see much of Nice, France since we came down with colds.We rested up and headed to Monaco for our last day, a 20 minute train ride from Nice. It was amazing to be in the richest country in the world and only spend 4 (on bread and the toilet). 

A quick stop in Geneva, the street and building art is beautiful! 

Ahh, my beloved Insalata Mista! I ordered this many times while we were in Italy. The tomatoes were of course amazing, and the salad was moderately filling thanks to the corn. This one we enjoyed at Napule é in Lake Como near the place we were staying. 

On a hike in the Cinque Terre, Italy we spotted tomatoes ready for the sun in someones back yard. I would have loved to taste these after they were done drying. I have had store bought sun-dried tomatoes, but I don't think that is quite the same. My mom used to make homemade canned pickles when I was a kid, so much better than any store bought jar. 

We had veggie pizza at Gusto Leo in Florence thanks to the recommendation by Vegan Backpacker. Apparently a lot of bread and pizza dough in the north of Italy contains strutto which is Italian for pig fat. So we had to do our research before hand and make sure to ask senza strutto (without pig fat). This pizza was delicious and we went back the next day to order take out. They made it in front of us in a massive stone oven and it bubbled away under the hot flames, still bubbling as they slid it in to it's take out box. That's fresh pizza! 

Some more sun-dried tomatoes, this time in a market in Venice. I am still not sure why I didn't buy any to snack on...

Our last city we visited was Vienna and we found two Vegan buffets. One was Yamm! (not pictured) and the other was Harvest The Vegetarian Bistrot. Harvest really stuck out in our minds, the food was fresh, flavorful, filling and the prices were very reasonable. 

The atmosphere was great and the servers were very informative and friendly. 

There were so many desserts to choose from. I went with a chocolate walnut cake, delicious. A great way to cap off our last day in Vienna. If you are ever visiting Vienna, we highly recommend Harvest The Vegetarian Bistrot.  

We flew home from London to Vancouver again with Virgin Atlantic Airlines and had the vegan meal for a second time. It consisted of salad, rice with mixed vegetables and a fruit cup. They also brought us two vegan snacks, one was a hot sandwich, the other was a cold sandwich. We were so impressed with the service and options with Virgin Atlantic and would definitely choose them for an international flight again. 

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

London, Amsterdam & Scandinavia

We started off our Euro trip with a short stay in England, staying with family in Stoke Poges near Heathrow Airport. Then we moved on to Amsterdam, Oslo, Stockholm, Gothenburg and Copenhagen. Since we visited so many places, I will break them up in to a few blog posts. 

We flew to London on Virgin Airlines, our first time ;) We were really impressed with the service, amenities and options for special diets. When booking the flight we were able to choose a Vegan meal. The main was a chickpea curry, it came with salad, a bread roll and fruit. They also brought us a vegan breakfast roll in the AM.  

Best cup of tea I have ever had, Earl Grey at Stokes Park in Stoke Poges. Our relatives took us for Cream Tea, it was such a beautiful setting and the weather was gorgeous. 

There is a golf course, exercise club, spa, gardens and a cemetery.  

We stumbled upon a restaurant called Le Pain Quotidien in Covent Garden in London. And we were blown away! The food was delicious and they labeled their Vegan options. My husband had an open faced bean, avocado and hummus sandwich. I had gazpacho and a big salad with lots of bread. The waiter was so kind and brought us more bread when we ran out. Definitely recommend! We didn't realize it was a chain until we got to Amsterdam. We would have gone again but we wanted to save some cash.. 

To spend on Sorbet! Above is raspberry and mango sorbet, enjoying it by a canal in Amsterdam. 

Another mango sorbet. Yum! 

We dined in a lot in Amsterdam to save money, plus there was also a great grocery store called Marqt with tons of options around the corner. It was by far the best grocery store we found in Europe. 

Oslo was probably the hardest place for us to find food and REALLY expensive! I bought a 6inch Veggie Patty sub and a water from Subway and it worked out to about $15 CDN, ouch. The grocery stores also didn't have much for our regular staples, we would have loved to find some canned beans to make sandwiches... So we got creative and used potatoes instead. 

And reused the expensive subway wrapper ;) 

After a long day exploring Oslo, including Vigeland Park, the Ski museum and the Opera House, we decided to treat ourselves to a vegetarian buffet. I was so glad we found Vega Food Fair so we didn't have to cook. There were a few vegan desserts. I got a slice of chocolate cake - wicked good! And then I took a  slice of carrot cake to go, also good...but the chocolate cake won by far. 

In Stockholm we went to another vegetarian buffet called Hermitage. The food was so fresh and comforting on a dreary day. 

Everything on the menu was vegan except for the lasagna. The mixed vegetables were my favorite, the spices were perfect. Highly recommend if you are in Stockholm! 

There weren't many options for lunch and dinner in Gothenburg, but the grocery store was well equipped. We decided to make pasta and went with this one because of the name. You don't have to be mature to make pasta :) 

I didn't take any food photos in Copenhagen since we ate pretty plain. But I'd rather pack a lunch and be able to enjoy a view like this one. 

Monday, 23 September 2013

June and July Highlights

 I haven't been keeping up with blogging for the last while. The reason is very exciting though. My husband and I went to Europe this summer! I didn't realize how much planning is involved and I only did half of it, phew. A food related and exciting part (for me) of the planning was how we were going to manage eating plant strong while travelling. Luckily, there are many others that have shared this information. I was looking for tips on eating vegan, plant based, healthy and budget friendly. After a lot of research and bookmarking a few restaurants via Happy Cow, our main staples ended up being: oatmeal, bread, fresh local fruit and veg, more bread, hummus, canned beans, pasta, quick brown rice and rye crackers. A few websites that gave me these tips are: Vegan Backpacker, Healthy Vegan Recipes and Happy Herbivore.

In retrospect, it was much easier to stay vegan than (whole foods) plant based since we visited so many cities and had a lot of travel days. I ended up eating more processed foods than I had planned and found it a little difficult to avoid added oils. That said, this trip is probably the only one of its kind we'll do. We were gone over 6 weeks and visited almost 20 cities! As incredible as it was, I do miss my whole foods plant strong lifestyle and am excited to get back at it.

Here are a few food highlights from June and July before we left for our trip. 

Potato chickpea curry. I used the base of Fat Free Vegan Kitchen's Cauliflower Curry Soup and replaced the cauliflower and sweet potato with Yukon Gold potatoes. I do this with recipes when I don't feel like making a special shopping trip for the specific ingredients. This especially works with soups, use a base you like and see if the ingredients make a good fit. Sometimes, you can create something that's even better than what you started with! Or sometimes you end up with a bust, but that is how you find out what doesn't work, which is equally as important in my opinion.

Donut Peach from Kin's Farm Market on top of spinach. 

Kale from my parent's garden. I didn't realize that fresh really is better, until I tasted it ;) 

When my parent's were away in June I pulled out my mom's Chipster and made some sweet potato chips. 

And they turned out pretty good! A little uneven in some spots, but tasty. I microwaved them a little longer than the instructions for regular potatoes adding 30 secs at a time until there were no soft spots left. They were crispy, sweet and oil free! 

I went to a race by myself, it was my first time going alone and I'm glad I pushed myself to go. It was the Canada Day Rock in White Rock. A very hot day, so I'm glad we had an early start. 

I ate the other half before the photo - so hungry! 
Since the post race snacks were pancakes, brownies and birthday cake...I decided to look for an option that would keep me feeling good. There was a small restaurant across from the start/finish line called Karmel cafe. I ordered a vegetable wrap with no sauce and was happy to see some extra veg on the side. Great snack after running on a hot summer day. 

Now that we are back, I plan to write a little about our travels including packing, food and restaurants.