Packing Tips

As I have traveled a fair amount many of my friends ask me for tips on what to pack, particularly for longer trips. I have to admit, I’m not always the best packer. I often over-pack and struggle reducing the number of clothes I want to bring. But, I have managed to come up with some packing tricks over the years, some to try and overcome my over-packing tendencies, some to help with long trips with limited packing space. Below are my top tips. I would love to hear from others if they have any tips to pass along.

1. Always pack enough underwear to have a clean pair a day. Underwear is small, easy to stuff into small corners of your suitcase or backpack and no matter how dirty the rest of your clothes are, if you have a clean pair of underwear you feel infinitely better. If your trip is many months and this isn’t feasible, bring as much as you can (I always bring at least one month worth) as you will have to do laundry either way.

2. Bring layers. This is important whether you are going on a trip with many different climates or even just to a tropical island. Evenings can always cool off, or some places are so air-conditioned that the 30 degrees outside doesn’t even matter, you still need a sweater. Layers also allow for multiple outfits and versatility with minimum clothes. Thinner layers pack better and you can pack more of them without sacrificing warmth.


Biarritz in the South of France. The weather went from rain to hot and sunny throughout the day.

3. Gather up what you want to pack. Then cut it by about a third or more, especially if you are backpacking. Even though it doesn’t seem like much, or you can lift it after you have closed your suitcase, remember that you will have to carry it for longer than the 30 seconds you just lifted it. Whether backpacking from place to place or just carrying your suitcase up the many stairs at that adorable European hotel (that is much less adorable when carrying a huge suitcase up five flights of stairs where there is no elevator), it will feel much heavier when you are actually traveling. Plus most people need some room for souvenirs or shopping along the way.


Stairs in Dubrovnik. Carrying a heavy backpack up the stairs in the heat is not fun!

4. Pack versatile items. For women, dresses are great as they can be used in multiple scenarios. For shoes only bring a couple pairs, shoes are heavy so a couple of comfortable styles that can be used with any outfit will be enough. Bring sweaters or cardigans, they can be used to layer, will keep you warm, and can change the look of an outfit for variety. Only bring one jacket, a nice raincoat can be used in multiple weather situations, is usually wind resistant and is lightweight and will fold down easily for packing.

5. Especially for long trips, only bring the essentials for toiletries. There are not many places in the world anymore where you cannot buy replacements along the way. Bring enough for the entire trip of key items like contact solution, toothbrush, special skin care, makeup etc. that you are less likely to find where you are going. For items like shampoo, toothpaste and similar things, bring smaller amounts as they can be easily replaced if you run out of them.


6. Use an e-reader. Technology has made bringing books on vacation so much easier. I used to bring 3 to 5 books and then swap them out along the way, either with other travelers or at hostels. But books are heavy and cumbersome, e-readers mean you can take hundreds of books and only sacrifice a couple pounds of weight.


7. If you are traveling with other people, share appliances like hair dryers, power converters and chargers, if possible. Everyone will then share the weight and space to carry these items.

Hope these tips help. Happy traveling!



Rome – Truly the Eternal City

I decided to include Tuscany as part of my next trip to Europe. As I was having a glass of wine and looking through pictures of previous trips to Italy to gain some inspiration, I came across pictures of my trips to Rome. I absolutely love Rome.  Walking around the city past some of the most iconic ruins in the world never gets old. There is something about standing beside the Colosseum or wandering through the Roman Forum, sitting on the Spanish steps eating gelato or standing in St. Peter’s that just cannot be beat.

Roman Colloseum

Aside from the main monuments, every corner you turn in Rome could lead to another ruin as there are constant discoveries around the city.

Roman Ruins

Rome is also a great place to go as a single traveler. There is a lot to see, many other travelers to meet along the way as it is a popular spot on the tourist trail and lots of hostels or inexpensive hotels if you are on a budget. Plus most people in the touristy areas, main sites and restaurants speak English.  Rome is very walkable and easy to get around. Most of the main sites can be seen in one day (Colloseum, Roman Forum, Pantheon, Spanish Steps, Piazza Navona, Victorio Emanuele II monument, Piazza del Popolo and Trevi Fountain) and then another half day for Vatican City if you are in a hurry.  A more leisurely pace would still allow you to see everything in 2-3 full days. For single female travelers, the rumours about Italian men are generally true, they are flirtatious and persistent. However, if you aren’t interested I found a strong “no thanks” or simply walk away and although they may call out to you, they won’t follow you. As long as I was in the tourist areas I felt completely safe, even at night, and during the daytime I felt safe everywhere I went. As always, simply pay attention to your surroundings and you will be fine.




Roman Forum

Spanish Steps

Spanish Steps

Of course another one of the great things to do in Rome is to enjoy the food and wine. The restaurants around Piazza Navona are quite good and sitting outside offers a great view of the piazza to take in the view and people watch.  However, my best meals in Rome have been when I’ve found a smaller restaurant along one of the winding streets or when I’ve ventured away from the main tourist areas.  You don’t need to spend a lot of money to get a fantastic meal which makes it easy to enjoy the Italian cuisine on any budget. Grabbing some gelato is a must and so far I have not found a bad gelato place (although it is possible they exist, but I doubt it). You can find every flavour imaginable and the sizes range from small to gigantic. My personal favourite on a hot day is lemon or stracciatella.

Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona

There are some great day trips from Rome. My favourites are Ostia Antica and Tivoli. Both are a short trip on public transit from Rome. To get to Ostia Antica take Metro Line B to Piramide or Magliana and then take the Ostia Lido train. To get to Tivoli take a local bus from Rome and then once in Tivoli there is a bus to Hadrian’s Villa.  Ostia Antica is the ruins of an ancient Roman port, similar to the ruins found at Pompeii but not covered in lava and with fewer people. You can walk through the ruins and take your time as there are no crowds.

Ostia Antica

Tivoli is a charming sixteenth century town where you can visit the Villa d’Este which contains beautiful gardens and fountains. From Tivoli you can take a short bus to Hadrian’s Villa built in the second century by Emperor Hadrian. It is an excellent representation of Roman architecture with plenty of ruins to explore and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Tivoli Villa D'Este

Tivoli – Villa D’Este

Fountains - Villa D'Este

Fountains – Villa D’Este

Hadrian's Villa

Hadrian’s Villa

Hadrian's Villa 2

Hadrian’s Villa

Whether you are a foodie, love history or simply want to say you have visited Rome, you won’t be disappointed.

Vatican at Night

View over the Tiber River of the Vatican at Night

Dreaming of Greece

As I sat in Calgary for the first week of May and watched the snow falling all I wanted to do was escape to sun, sand and water.  I started looking through old pictures for inspiration and was drawn to my Greece pictures. The Greek islands are some of the most beautiful places in the world with breathtaking sites, beautiful scenery and a unique Mediterranean landscape. Symi island below is a great day trip from Rhodes.



View over Santorini

There are also so many islands to see that no matter how many times you go back you will find something new.  Plus if you are a history buff there are few better places in the world to feel like you are walking through history at every turn, even on the smaller islands, as the old roads, buildings and ruins remain.



If you are planning a trip to Greece, I found this great website with lots of information to plan a trip to any of the islands. There are great tips on tours, places to stay and unique features of each of the islands.  The cab tour of Rhodes was a great recommendation and it was a highlight of my trip.

View in Rhodes

The tour was all day and the driver took us around Rhodes from Rhodes City to Lindos.

As the islands are so close together, it is easy to take a ferry from island to island, or do a cruise of the area so you can see different places even with limited time. My first trip to Greece was on a cruise and it allowed me to see the sites of Athens and visit two of the islands in only a week.

Athens ruins

View from Temple of Zeus towards Parthenon.



On my other trips to Greece I focused on one island area. In Rhodes I stay in Rhodes City, explored the entire island and then did day trips to islands that were close by.  In Skiathos I spent the entire time in Skiathos relaxing at a resort with friends and touring the town.


Regardless of if you are looking for an active vacation or relaxation by the beach, Greece is a great place to vacation, especially as an escape from the cold and grey.  If only I was heading there tomorrow! Guess it will have to be only daydreams for now.

Iceland – Glaciers, Geysirs, Horses, Coasts and Lava Rock

I recently spent 6 days in Iceland, what a beautiful country. Weather in Iceland is unpredictable, at least at this time of year. Within an hour I experienced snow, sun, rain, snow, sun and more rain. Bring layers and definitely a rain coat/windbreaker. The wind can be brutal, on the South coast it was so strong I could barely walk when it was gusting. It is also quite chilly with the wind but without the wind it was 7-10 degrees and warm in the sun. The landscape is unique, like nothing I have seen before. The entire island was created by volcanic eruptions and is covered in lava. Moss then grows on the lava and eventually breaks it down into rocks and eventually soil. Many areas of the country appear desolate with just lava rocks and moss, often surrounded by hills and mountains. It is strangely beautiful. The lava also has led to the creation of black sand beaches, black cliffs and lava formations which rise out of the ocean. Many of the volcanoes on the island are still active and new eruptions are expected to occur. Fortunately none occurred while we were there!

Lava Rocks Iceland

The rest of the landscape is made up of mountains, hills, volcanoes, glaciers, cliffs, ocean and a scattering of small towns, fishing villages and farms.

Iceland Town

Reykjavik is the main city and approximately 200,000 people live there. The entire population of Iceland is only about 320,000 people who are scattered throughout the rest of the country. Reykjavik is a lovely city although much newer than I expected. As Iceland was so isolated for so many years, the city did not develop until much later than the rest of Europe. There are many colourful buildings everywhere, many made of corrugated metal which is unique in Iceland. Great views can be found at the top of the Hallfrimskirkja church and the 871 +/- 2 museum (yes, that is what the museum is actually called as Iceland was settled in 871, plus or minus 2 years) has a really interesting overview about the original settlement of Iceland by the Norwegian Vikings. It is a great walking city with lots of cafes (there is a fabulous cafe culture there) and great restaurants. One of my favourites was Tapas where you can enjoy an Icelandic feast of traditional foods, including puffin, fish and even whale.

View of Reykjavik

Lake in Reykjavik

There is so much to see and do, I barely scratched the surface. On the first day I arrived I went on a horseback ride on the famous Icelandic horse with Islenski Hesturrin tour company. The horse is unique to Iceland and has certain special features not found in other horses. Most notably is that the Icelandic horse has 5 gaits where most other horses only have 3 gaits. The most famous of the 5 gaits is the Tolt which is a smooth gait that feels like you are rocking instead of bouncing like a standard trot. The fifth gait is the Pace which is smooth and fast. These horses are also smaller, more the size of a pony, have shaggier hair and a friendly disposition. The Icelandic horses in Iceland are protected from exposure to other horses as once a horse leaves Iceland it is never allowed to return.

Icelandic Horse

Next sight-seeing adventure was a tour of the Golden Circle which includes a visit to Geysir, the Gullfoss waterfalls, Fontana hot springs, one of the places where the tectonic plates of Europe and North America meet in Iceland and Thingvellir. Geysir is one of the most famous sites in Iceland. The original Geysir was blocked by tourists throwing rocks into it but there is a current Geysir that blows every few minutes high into the air. All around the area are other bubbling steaming hot pools amongst the lava formations.


The Gullfoss waterfalls are gorgeous. There is a walkway to the bottom down a set of stairs where you can walk close to the falls. You can also walk across the top to look over the falls.


Thingvellir is an old site where the assembly was held, the Law Council convened and laws of old Iceland were recited starting during the Viking age. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


When we stopped at Fontana hot spring and spa, prior to entering the pools, there was a demonstration of how bread was traditionally made in the area using the natural heat created by the hot springs under the sand. The bread mixture was put into a pot, covered by sand and left to cook. Our tour group sampled the bread cooked the day before and it was hot and delicious. At the Fontana hot pools you can go into the hot springs or saunas all heated by the natural hot spring under the site. One of the pools is still natural and algae even grows in the pool. The other pools are man-made but still fed by the natural springs. One word of warning, before entering the pools you have to shower naked, without your bathing suit, in an open area (although men and women are in separate change rooms) to fully wash yourself. Not something we are used to in North America!


The continental tectonic plates of North America and Europe meet in Iceland. They are separating by approximately 2 cm per year and there are places in Iceland you can see where they have hit and separated. It also means you can find many places where you are in two continents at once, a unique experience in the world.

Tectonic plates

The next tour I went on was the Snaefellsnes peninsula with Iceland Horizon. What an amazing tour! The tour guide David is from the UK but has lived in Iceland for a number of years and was very knowledgeable. Snaefellsnes is stunning, we drove along the coast and stopped at multiple beaches, towns and coastal walks. Below are some pictures of what we saw.

Black sand beach Snaefellsnes

Church at Snaefellsnes

The final tour was of the South coast. As mentioned above the wind on the South coast is strong and gusts so hard that walking becomes more difficult and driving, especially if it is icy, is tough if not impossible. But it is definitely worth visiting as there is so much to see and as with the rest of Iceland, it is beautiful. We stopped at Vik where we also visited Reynisdrangur beach with tall sea rocks rising out of the ocean, then continued on to another beaches with numerous caves, then on to waterfalls (Skogafoss) where you can climb to the top of the waterfall up 492 steps, fed horses from a local farm, and Seljalandsfoss waterfall where you can walk behind the waterfall (you get a bit wet).

Farm by Eyjafjallajokull

Farm by Eyjafjallajokull volcano

Solheimajokull glacier

Solheimajokull glacier

Skogafoss Waterfall

Skogafoss waterfall

The final famous spot I visited was the Blue Lagoon. It is on the way to the airport so I stopped there before catching my flight back to Canada. There is an airport transfer bus that stops there and the lagoon has a luggage storage area located at the entrance. I recommend spending at least 2 hours there. It is a picturesque area and the colour of the water is amazing. Although it is a man-made pool it is still fed by the local hot springs. As with Fontana, you do need to shower without your bathing suit on before entering the pools. When you buy your ticket you are given a wristband which has a chip inserted and is used to lock your locker and pay for any drinks you purchase at the bar in the pool. You can also use the saunas or get a massage. Around the pool are containers of the white or black mineral mud to use to give yourself a facial. The mud can then be washed off in the pool as it is the same minerals already in the lagoon. It is a nice relaxing stop before the long flight home.